Well, since the Valentine’s SDMB short fiction contest has started, I figured I might as well share the one contest entry story that I’ve written and not yet posted to the blog. This was from September 2010, and it was this idea that I eventually expanded into my Nanowrimo 2010 story.
Oh – and the answer to my Crusader Challenge is at the end of the story. 😉
The onus of Grace
Richard sighed as the Hornet cruised down the road. The sun was setting, and the energy patterns of every person in every car on the freeway seemed to blur and meld until it was a multicolored aurora, like the Northern lights come down from the sky.
For a moment, the vision made it hard for him to concentrate on where he was steering, and then the defense system kicked in and he was just looking at taillights ahead of him and headlights in the oncoming traffic, like any ordinary person would see.
“Is it bad?” Jessie asked him. “I could drive for a few hours.”
“No, it’s fine now,” he assured her. “Just a bit of an overload of aura vision. I’ve turned it off for now.”
“Is it like that for you?” she asked, curiously. “A light switch? Or more like tuning out some distracting piece of music – you still hear it, but it isn’t as bad if you’re not paying attention?”
“I suppose, more than anything, it’s like a different eye that I can open or close inside my head,” Richard said after a moment.
“Eww, sounds a bit gross when you say it like that,” she kidded.
“Yeah, but the analogy works. I can still see close or strong auras faintly, like you can see the sun even when your eyes are closed. I can still sense your energy, faintly pink, and yet somewhat cool at the same time. But most of the rest of the people on the road, I can’t sense.”
“Okay, then – what does it mean, if somebody has an aura strong enough that you can sense it at a greater distance than anybody else?” Jessie continued. “Is there anybody else you’re picking up now?”
“Somebody who just passed us by,” he said, waving generally behind them and to the left. “Nobody else on this side of the highway.”
There was a silence for a long moment, as Jessie waited to see if he would answer the other side of her question, and Richard thought to himself about whether he would, and what kind of answer would be appropriate. As he considered, Richard stole a glance at Jessie out of the corner of his eye, without taking all of his focus off the road ahead of him. She was a short girl, at first sight looking younger than her twenty-four years, with curly hair in several shades of light brown. She was comfortable somewhere in the range between ‘slender’ and ‘not’, quiet without seeming withdrawn, and a joy could be seen in her eyes and on her face that was hard to describe very well.
She wasn’t a classic girl next door or quintessential beauty, but Richard cherished her with all of his heart. He wouldn’t be here, on the road, with her if he didn’t.
“Having a strong aura like that, it can mean a lot of things,” he told her slowly. “Sometimes in means somebody who just has a very forceful personality, or who has an unusual talent.”
“Like a musical genius, you mean?”
“Yes, or an intellectual genius, for that matter, or a highly trained and driven athlete.” There were some talents that Richard knew about that he wasn’t sure Jessie was ready to hear about yet, abilities that she would only know about from fictional stories and television shows, and he was glad that he’d been able to avoid mentioning them yet without either lying directly or making her suspicious. “Sometimes somebody will have a strong aura, not because of anything they are yet, but just because they have a significant destiny, because they’re inevitably going to be in the right place at the right time for something important.”
He took a deep breath. “And sometimes, when I can pick out an aura even at a great distance when I’m not trying, it’s not because of the strength of their aura itself, but between me and the Virtues.”
Jessie was silent for a long moment again, and he was starting to hope that she wouldn’t comment on that. “You mean, when somebody’s part of an assignment, somebody that you’re supposed to help or guide, their aura shines out to you more brightly than normal, that kind of thing?”
“Yeah, I guess it’s more like that than anything else.”
Again silence hung between them, but in this silence there were words, words that Richard imagined they were both thinking so hard he could hear them. ‘Like the next assignment that you didn’t report to get, because you fell in love with me and knew that the Virtues wouldn’t let us be together.’
He gasped as the two cars collided, feeling the sickening lurch of impact.
But a heartbeat later, they were still driving along, through the darkness and past the streetlights, and no sign of an accident anywhere else on the road. Had that been a precognitive vision, sent to him by ‘them’? Or just an ordinary nightmare, after he fell asleep at the wheel for a split second.
Yeah, right – like anything about him was normal.
“Listen, Jess,” he muttered, feeling his tongue dry in his mouth as he spoke, such an odd sensation.
“We should get off the highway for a little while, Richard,” she said. “There were signs for a rest stop motel, a few miles back. We’re probably nearly there. I’ve been trying to get some sleep so that I could spell you at the wheel, but I haven’t been able to relax.”
“No, that’s alright,” he told her, trying not to worry. After all, if the virtues really wanted to track him down, how much did it really matter how many miles they’d been able to drive away from Buffalo?
Not that it was hopeless. He was off the angelic radar, they couldn’t tune into him just by thinking about him, or Jess; he’d made sure of that much.
“Good,” Jess told him. “And a motel room has a few other – obvious advantages. I mean, we said that we loved each other, I’m running away from school, from my entire life, you’re leaving your mission and your superior angels, and here we haven’t even gotten further than first base.”
“I, umm, I know,” Richard admitted, feeling a blush covering his face. “About that, umm, never mind.”
“Are you sure?” she pressed softly. “You can tell me anything, Rich, I’m serious about that.”
“That means a lot to me,” he said, and took a deep breath. “Once we’re checked into the motel, okay?”
“Of course. No sense getting you worked up while you’re still driving.”
“Well, you’d better make a lane change,” she pointed out. “Or we’ll pass it by.”
“Oh, right.” Quickly he threw on the turn signal and checked his blind spot.
It didn’t take too long to get checked into room 42 at the Lake View Hotel, courtesy of a grandmotherly woman at the front desk who kept smiling at both of them in a tolerant but knowing way. Richard even insisted on carrying Jess in his arms as he stepped in through the doorway, though they weren’t newlyweds by any stretch of the word.
And his arms trembled, shaking the girl he loved as he recognized the forty-something man already sitting on the bed, inside the dark, locked room.
“What the hell are you doing here, James?” he asked as he set Jess back down and turned the light on.
“Come on, Richard,” Virtue James said as he stood up and offered Jessica a handshake. “You know why I’ve come. I suspect that what you’re truly wondering is how I found you.”
“Alright, how?” Jess asked, clutching at his hand and pulling it as hard as she could, nearly knocking the senior angel off balance despite her relatively light weight. (Of course, strictly speaking, James and Richard had no weight at all, but it seemed like they were as massive as comparable living men would be.)
“You thought of nearly everything – except for our precognitive gifts, Richard,” James told him. “Just as you have the ability to sense glimpses of the future for your assigned mortals, I can do the same for my own charges – and one of my charges is you. When you went absent without leave, I could tell that we would meet again, and I caught a glimpse of the where. I didn’t know that you would make it here this soon, actually, but I was quite prepared to wait.”
“What if somebody else booked the room first?” Jess asked him. “How would you have explained yourself?”
“Well, they wouldn’t necessarily have been able to see me here, and I would probably have backed off just a little to give them privacy, while staying close enough to spot Richard if he came to visit them. Fortunately, none of that was necessary.”
“Fortunate for you,” Richard grumbled, and pulled out a chair. James waited a moment for him to sit down, then caught the hint and took the chair himself. Jess sat on the bed herself, not quite in the spot that James had taken, and leaving a spot next to her for Richard to take, which he did, holding her hand in his. “So, what happens now? Do you send in the tall and brawny Seraphim to drag me off to my next assignment, whether I like it or not? And watch over me, to make sure that I don’t run away and find Jess again?”
“Come on, what kind of slave-driver outfit do you think we’re running?” James asked, with a slight smile. “No, on second thought, don’t answer that. But no – although I do wish that Miss Arlens and you hadn’t – fixated on each other, and we of the Hierarchy do everything that we can to make lower-level angels think that such relationships are impossible; we do have certain protocols that can be followed in these circumstances, at my discretion. I don’t want to put you in a position where you resent your work, or have any reason to give less than one hundred percent to the mission.”
Richard and Jess looked into each other’s eyes and took a moment to digest that. “Alright, keep talking,” Jess prompted. “What exactly do these protocols mean?”
“Richard keeps taking missions,” James told them both flatly. “But as long as the two of you want to remain… involved, we’re not going to do anything to drive you apart. I’ll make every allowance for it I can, whether that means centralizing Richard’s work in the Buffalo area, or wherever else you may want to settle down, Jessica – or expediting his travel to see you, or facilitating your travelling with him as he does his work, even giving you a cover or alias.”
“I see,” Richard said, thinking of that. It didn’t seem like a bad alternative, compared to what else he’d been thinking of, but… “And if that’s the carrot, what’s the stick? What if I refuse to work missions regardless?”
“Then, James told him coldly, standing up, “it is out of my hands. You were blessed by the almighty with his grace, Richard, and sent down to Earth to do His work. If you refuse, well… then I think it is likely you will not remain upon the Earth for much longer. I’m not entirely sure what that means. Nor do I want to.”
James habitually pulled folders from the inside pocket of his blue overcoat and tossed them down on tables. He indulged that habit now. “Here’s the dossier on your next assignment, Richard. You’ll have to turn around in the morning – he’s back in Hamburg. Oh, and do me a favor and go back on the grid once you start work, okay? I’d like to be able to keep an eye on this job.”
And with that, James the Elder strode out of the room and into the night.
Okay, and finally, here’s the answer. No, I am not a sucker for twilight, that’s a lie. I haven’t really given it a huge chance, but I don’t like anything I know about it. It turns out that I don’t have the stuffed rabbit anymore, but since I said ‘might’ and I wasn’t sure at the time I made the post, I don’t count that as a lie. The rest of it – including the other stuffed animals, is about as true as anything I can say about myself.
Thank you all for your comments!