The Soft Sound of Flocking Angels

Originally posted December 15, 2021

“Did you know,” she says, “that the average person can endure less than five minutes of direct exposure to Her before their timeline is completely overwritten?”

You, bound and gagged on the floor of the temple's airlock, can only nod in response. Everyone knows that.

She grins at you. “Unintelligent matter is rewritten faster, of course, and living wood endures surprisingly well—that's why your rebellion was so excited when they found the asteroid forest, right? Sucks for you that we got here first.”

You can barely remember the ambush, the way Her forces slipped out of the emptiness behind vast flowering fronds to consume your fleet—the way your fleet warped before your eyes, ships twisting to become Hers as the first volley of seed-missiles reached them.

You remember the grim faces which filled your screens, the splatters of blood as your loyal soldiers detonated their implanted bombs rather than become Hers; you remember the twisted smiles of your one-time confidants who couldn't bring themselves to choose death over service.

You suppose that you're one of their number now, or will be soon—there's surely a reason that Her forces didn't simply convert you in the field, that they carefully isolated you and brought you here to Her bejeweled temple-fortress …

Your escort kicks you and the world snaps back into focus.

“No slipping away into the past, okay? She wants your attention.”

The airlock before you finally irises open, and you see—

It's like the inside of a stained glass apple, an asteroid forest rendered in the sparkling shades of more gems than you ever knew existed; carefully shaped living wood runs in veins through the outer reaches of the chamber, reaches in towards the center in fern-like branches—

The center of the temple shimmers in the false-color of a migraine, a coruscating orb that seems less a part of the world than an aberration in your vision, a blind spot growing like a cancer across your vision as you fall inexorably towards it.

Behind you, back in the airlock, your escort dissolves like ink in water, a spreading blot of joy spasming with pleasure at her mistress's presence; you are aware of her dissolution only dimly as the thing before you eats up all your enhanced awareness, all your thoughts—

There's a voice in your head and that voice is yours and it's babbling about how beautiful she is, about the ecstatic joy of even being near her—

Your crush it like a grape in your mind's teeth, squeeze it until there is nothing left but silence; and as it dies you see Her.

The world warps around Her, true; the touch of divinity bleeds from Her like plasma from a wounded sun. Her body is wreathed in sparkling halos, in shimmering scraps that flock like angels to attend Her movements and needs—

But it's not the sort of body you expected.

Descriptions of Her are always tinted with religious fervor, flavored with precisely what the viewer expected to see; She is monstrous, inhuman, vast and flowing, a thing that is like nothing but Her; you've read those accounts. Everyone has.

But now, with your eyes unclouded, with your marrow humming with the weight of the anchors that were long ago tempted to grow within you, She just looks …

Matronly. Tired. Beautiful, but in the way of a well-used spaceship rather than an all-consuming fire.

Her eyes, when your unclouded vision finally meets Her gaze, are shockingly human; She regards you not as a vast monster might regard its prey but …

Your mother died before you were old enough to know her, and creche synths are carefully made to discourage emotional bonds.

If you had to imagine, though—

A wry smile spreads across Her face, and She laughs; it's a sound like a thousand chiming bells, like the tide ringing against empty bottles; as Her head moves, as She brings up one calloused hand to Her mouth, your gaze is again your own.

“Really? That's really how you see Me? Well, I guess it's a start.”

You're blushing and trying your best to look anywhere but at Her, but She's so close and you're still perfectly restrained, drifting in the zero-g emptiness of Her temple—

You can't even try to get away when She reaches up to cup your cheek in Her hand; but your traitorous body is also wholly incapable of leaning in to rest against the warm roughness of Her hand, so perhaps it evens out.

Somewhere deep inside your bones, something stops.

The shimmering things which wreathe Her body reach out to enclose you as She draws you closer, as the restraints holding you melt away into nothing but the mist of a half-forgotten dream. She embraces you, cradles you in Her warmth, and you cannot help but nestle into Her—

Her voice is just a whisper, deep with emotions you had never thought that She could possess, emotions you'd never been taught to understand or resist;

“I missed you so much, little one. I always knew you'd come back to me someday.”

As you curl up in Her arms, as your head rests against Her breast and your cheeks grow wet with tears you never thought you would shed, there is no war, no rebellion; there is nothing but forgetful peace and the soft songs of Her flocking angels.