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Bargain with angels, p.1
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       Bargain with Angels, p.1

           S Egneus
 
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Bargain with Angels
Bargain with Angels

  Susy Egneus

  Short story

  COPYRIGHT: S. Egneus 2014

  ***

  The sudden whiff of acrid smoke that came through the breathing filter took Paul completely by surprise. First of all, nothing but particles of air should be able to get through that filter, although in fairness, smells had never been tested on it as far as he knew. Secondly, there was nothing that could burn Topside, which meant there couldn’t be any smoke. That would indicate he was hallucinating, which in turn meant he must be overheating or getting UV poisoning. Great. Images of throwing up in his suit went through his mind, but he pushed them away. Get a grip on yourself, man. He had monitors for that sort of stuff, no need to feed the paranoia.

  Paul released a sip of recycled water into his mouth and stared up the desolate slopes of Mount Sinai. Miles of ghostlike wasteland stretched eerily before him, surrounded by lapping grey water. Idyllic, if you were fond of barren and infertile land. The old mountain was no more than an island Topside now. Not too long ago this had been a popular tourist destination; now the Sinai Peninsula was the bottom of the sea. The Suez Canal had become an ocean and covered once fertile land. Nothing lived there anymore. To Paul, it was paradise. He detested living underground, resented being controlled by the weather and confined to a cave, no matter how adequate it might be.

  Right on cue the weather alarm startled him with its shrill warning that the sun’s deadly UV rays were about to break through a lifting cloud cover. Even greater. He was hot enough already. Paul thumped his left shoulder to switch it off. Blasted thing nearly punctured his eardrum every time it went off.

  Tapping his com-link lightly, he cleared his throat. “Ground crew to weather station, Frank do you read me?”

  Frank, the only other person Topside, was currently sitting in their makeshift base on the other side of the slope, trying to make sense of Paul’s weather satellite tracking programme. It was slow and frustrating work, plagued with system failure. Paul knew only too well that they were fast approaching the Council-given deadline to prove that he was right, that the satellites were all still out here, ready to be re-activated from their sleep mode.

  Static rattled in his ears, then the reassuring sound of Frank’s burly voice. “What’s up boss? Getting lonely?”

  “Just checking you’re not sleeping on the job. You checked the controls lately? No alarms gone off or anything?”

  “Nah, she’s all sweet around here mate, no contact with the satellites yet and the power is surging still but the programme is operational and searching. Why do you ask?”

  “I could smell smoke a minute ago, I’m sure of it, just don’t see where it would have come from.”

  “Smoke,” Frank chuckled. “Have you been sniffing the air or something? That stuff messes with your brain. Mind you, not that it would hurt you anymore than that stuff you smoke, ay mate.”

  Paul made a face behind his visor. Completely untrue. Smoking was forbidden in the caves, and he had only tried it once. No point wasting his breath arguing though. They had known each other too long. “Whatever you say Frankie boy, I’m taking a look around. Something might be burning.”

  “Yeah, both our asses will be if we don’t come through.”

  “Don’t I know it? Keep your eyes peeled anyway.”

  “Sure. Just don’t get lost out there mate, big boss daddy would miss his favorite son-in-law if he didn’t clock in tonight.”

  Paul grimaced. Nothing could be further from the truth and Frank knew that too, of course.

  Ignoring the rising heat and refocusing on the terrain ahead, he set off in the opposite direction. Time waits for no man, especially one with a Topside curfew.

  The process of the work was in itself pretty basic. All he had to do was to strategically place receptors in the ground. With most of them in place they should then be able to connect with the satellites through the receivers. Paul had come across the old satellite-blueprints of the polar orbiting Nimbus50 amongst his grandfather’s stuff. The blueprints dated back to 2014, some years before the remaining population headed underground in an effort to shelter from the ravages of nature. With some further digging he’d found out that the Nimbus50 range had structural components that made the satellite’s decay date close to extinct. Also, because Nimbus was a ground-to-satellite-to-ground communication system, Paul now pinned all his hope on these old pieces of space junk.

  The ground ahead appeared flat, but he underestimated it and slipped, sending him crashing down the slope. Pain shot up his right leg. Carelessness was something he didn’t have time for. Carefully he checked himself. No tears in the suit and no visible dents in the gear that had tumbled with him. Gently leaning onto his leg, relief flooded through him as it took the weight. No breaks there either. Lucky. Relief quickly gave away to anger. What was he doing over here anyway? Smoke, my ass. Who was he kidding? Six hours Topside and his brain was starting to short out. Yeah, that was it.

  Paul straightened. He’d done enough surface work for today, and may as well head back to base to give Frank a hand putting it all together. Frank might be good at his job, but wasn’t always the sharpest tool in the shed. What mattered was that he believed. Paul knew that once his programme worked, the weather could be predicted to allow them all some time Topside. Then they would be able to understand what was happening in the rest of the world as well. Maybe in time they could all move outside again…

  His grandfather had served in the international peace keeping force Multinational Force and Observers as an infantryman from a country called the Americas. He had been the first generation underground, choosing to stay here at his post, with the rest of his battalion. Made a new life for himself, and died here, far from his original home. He had kept meticulous notes from this time when people’s ignorance of the Laws of Nature peaked; resulting in polar ice caps melting due to a global warming no one could stop. The Wrath of God, he’d called it. Raising water levels re-captured landmasses inhabited by humans. The overcrowding that followed gave way to riots, wars and disease, successfully culling over half of the Earth’s population. And if that wasn’t enough, the Wrath continued with acid rains, polluting the air to an extent that it had become un-breathable, as the ozone had all but disappeared. Paul wished he could have met the old man. Maybe he was right now walking in his grandfather’s footsteps?

  He suddenly stopped. Where was he? Something was not right. The smell hit him head on. Gasping for breath, he stared, not believing his eyes. What the…?

  In front of him was a creature that could only be described as an Angel.

  Paul recognized the winged messenger from Heaven from words of the old Book his grandfather had saved. In it they were described as tall and graceful, just like the one in front of him. Except this one was naked and bleeding from scratches all over its pale body. One wing was twisted at an odd angle and smoke was rising from underneath its body where it kneeled on the ground. Was this really a bearer of the Good News his Grandfather had mentioned?

  The Angel looked up and their eyes met.

  Paul stood rooted to the ground, failing to ignore the tingle of fear rising through his body. A smooth voice suddenly resonated through his head, rattling his eyeballs.

  “Human, you fear the unknown yet you stay. Why?” The Angel’s lips never moved and it stared at him with glassy green eyes.

  Paul tried to say something but his tongue felt thick and raspy and no sound came out. Narrowing its eyes and with a distinct edge to its voice, the Angel continued. “You have killed your planet, yet you want to live. You have slaughtered your children, yet you are multiplying. How long, human, did you think you could get away with it? Speak, human. My time here is short and my b
usiness urgent.”

  Paul was unable to take his eyes off this creature. Maybe he was hallucinating? It certainly looked real. What was he supposed to say? What did people usually do when they met an Angel? Should he fall onto his knees and show himself a humble servant or should he offer it a first aid shot perhaps? Or UV protection?

  The Angel interrupted his thoughts impatiently. “Are you incapable of speech, human?”

  Paul blinked. “Are you for real? I mean, what are you doing here? Who are you?” His words sounded muffled behind his filter mask, but the Angel stared at him intently. He swallowed and continued, “Are you hurt?”

  “Yes, human, I am hurt. Beauty, however skin deep, cannot prevail in this hell you call your home. Nothing can prepare you for the devastation of a planet such as
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