Apartment in Queens, New York
He carefully wrote out the name and address on the plain manila envelope with his black sharpie. It whispered across the surface as his elegant but simple strokes spelled out the name James Randi. He stopped for a moment, the quiet dulcet tones of the classical music in the background was swelling up now and he listened. He ignored the palsied shaking of his left hand. There was no time for fear.
His eyes drifted down to the small pile of photos stacked up next to the open envelope. The top photo was a wide angled shot of an African village, thatched huts and low hanging solitary trees with scrub brush everywhere. It was almost clichéd as if he had taken a photo of an African village set in the back lot of Paramount. He only wished that were true. In the wide angled shot there were plumes of black smoke rising up in several locations throughout the center of the village. His thoughts, unbidden as always, drifted back to that moment in time. His eyes lost their focus on the photo and he was no longer in his quiet home in a non-descript neighborhood of Queens. He was stalking through the deep scrub brush of the African village.
The heat was oppressive and the sweat clung to his body unwilling to leave and unable to really cool him in this Subsaharan warmth. He had heard of the atrocities committed here in Darfur and like many of the Western journalists here he was losing hope that anyone cared about the Africans dying in the wastes of this forsaken place. As he walked into the village he was painfully aware of how alone he was here and how exposed should rebel or government forces decide to descend on this village and finish what they had obviously started. He could already hear the lamentation of the women. It was a mournful yet desperate dirge that refused any succor or solace.
It was the wailing of the women, the gnashing of the teeth of the men that must have attracted it here. The sounds of death in the old ways. The way people used to mourn before things got so civilized. But he was getting ahead of himself, wasn’t he? He stepped between huts and abandoned carts, weaving through the debris and the occasional crater caused by some form of ordinance. Perhaps the government had sent another of it Russian made bombers up north to deal more death to these villagers. It had happened before.
He camera whirred and clicked in rapid fire sequence as he took his shots while moving through the village, a discarded doll, a shoe left in the dirt, blood smeared across a doorway. It was all a flowing narrative and he was capturing it as best he could in this miserable heat and squalor. The smell struck him as soon as he approached the town center and he immediately knew what the fires were. People were burning. He pulled his camera up before him like a weapon, fingers tense as he prepared to take his shots.
He stepped over a dead mule, the flies already swirling in angry buzzing clouds. His eyes narrowed on the ruined town center. The market was on fire and there were people trapped within some of the flaming wrecks. A lot of people. The bombs struck at midday when many of the villagers were gathering what they could for dinner. The people who did this knew precisely what they were doing when they carried out the attack. He began snapping photos, lens quietly clicking as it focused in on the flailing limbs of the trapped and burning, capturing the expressions of pain and anguish. The lost hope was stamped across the faces of relatives. He had to keep taking the pictures because if he stopped, even for a moment, he could actually begin to comprehend what he was actually seeing and he would lose all sense of composure and self control.
People were trapped in the rubble and being burned alive and there was nothing anyone could do about it. He captured, with numb resolve, the desperately futile attempts by relatives and good Samaritans to douse the flames with buckets of water or dirt. He continued snapping pictures as they worked furiously. Suddenly a young girl rushed up to him and began tugging at his arm and speaking to him in machine gun like delivery. She was begging him, begging in the most heart wrenching manner for assistance. All he could do was drop his camera for a moment and shake his head sadly. Tears welled up in her eyes and she pulled now, almost as if trying to physically drag him to the scene. He continued to shake his head and then weakly responded in his stilted version of her dialect that he could do nothing.
She shook her head and wailed, slapping herself on the sides of her forehead and falling to her knees. She sunk down into the packed earth and sobbed into it as if it were her mother’s breast. Her body shifting back and forth furiously as if trying to burrow into the ground to escape her grief and her cries were like knives in his heart. He stared down at the sight dumbly, unsure what to say or do. His Western mind was unprepared for this level of grief.
“It is like music don’t you think, Jude?”
He froze. The voice was soft like silk sheets on skin. The person stood beside him, materializing out of the air like a shadow escaping the noon day sun.
“The anguish, the terror, the guilt. When death comes for humanity it is the most feared and awesome event in their too brief lives.” His eyes slowly turned to regard the person. He stood taller than Jude, black as obsidian in the sun and wearing simple white shirt opened at the chest with filthy khakis. His feet were clad in battered hiking boots. The boots were splattered with what he guessed were ancient blood stains. “Imagine it, Jude. You come into this world and breath for the first time you have simultaneously taken one more step towards death.” The newcomer turned his head slowly to face him and it was so achingly graceful that Jude wanted to weep. “The moment you are born you are dying. That is the paradox in which you live.”
Jude shook his head slowly. “Who are you?” he asked quietly. There was an awesome sense of power around him, like standing next to a livewire and he was dimly aware that the activity around them, the dying and the screams were all slowing down and muted as if the world were pausing out of respect for his conversation with the stranger.
The stranger smiled softly as if at a private joke. “I am a traveler in your world, I come and go as I please and where I go death follows me.”
“You’re not human.” Jude replied without thinking and immediately had no idea why he just said that.
“I am more than anything you have ever known, Jude, son of Gregory. I am the sword, the scythe of the One Above All and in my passing entire nations have wept bitter tears. The first born tremble at my name.”
Unspoken, Jude heard a single name whispered with reverence in his head. “Uriel.”
The black Adonis like being said nothing but pursed his lips as if contemplating his next words carefully. “Follow me.”
“What?” Jude stammered.
“Follow me, Jude. I have many roads yet to travel and this continent pleases me. The people here still know how to grieve. They are still connected on a primal level to death and mortality. Your sterile world repels and abhors me. Death in your world is a clinical state with consequences tied up in paper work and inconvenience. Here. In this place.” Uriel slowly raised his arms as if to embrace some unseen thing on the ether. “Death is still felt.”
“This is insane.”
“No, this is life and death happening now. There is something coming. A great message that might make even your great Empires in the West feel again. I wanted to bask in the cold glow of entropy one last time before I must leave this place.”
“I’m talking to the angel of death…” Jude whispered to himself in disbelief. “I finally lost it. I’ve seen too much.”
Uriel suddenly reached out, at least Jude guessed he reached out because he must have done it between the blinks of an eye, for the in the next instant Uriel’s hand grasped Jude’s chin tightly and forced him to look into his eyes. And in the angel’s eyes he saw pool of white within white and something else. Something dark and chittering like a mad insect.
“FOCUS child of Seth.”
Jude’s hair grayed at the temples and he felt a palsy come over him, hands shaking and his bowels released their contents without hesitation. He stood in abject terror, rooted in place and suddenly everything Uriel wanted and said was the sole thing in Jude’s universe.
“Follow me, you will know my wake for in it there is pestilence, war and famine. Follow me throughout this continent and see my great works. For when I am gone there will be none like me again in this universe. I am the One Above All’s scythe, where I go, humanity dies. I am not just some quaint Angel of Death, I am entropy incarnate. I weep for your world for my touch is far more merciful than what is to come. The Morningstar has always been too…blunt an instrument for my taste.”
Jude said nothing but his tongue lolled in his mouth and his vision began to fade. He could hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears and the roar of blood., His heart was slowing, inexorably slowing to a dull thrumming and he could feel ice collecting where Uriel’s fingers touched his flesh, his blood had instantly recoiled at the touch and remained away from the points of flesh on flesh contact.
“Within your bloodline is carried the ancient gift like the one borne by the Witch of Endor and all that ilk. You can see me for what I am. So follow me, Jude, I choose you as my final witness in these dark days. A prophet for a new age.”
Uriel released Jude’s chin and watched the young man for a moment as blood rushed back into his face and graying cold clammy skin slowly regained its luster. His hair remained grey and his cheeks had sunk in slightly. There was no doubt these were scars that would remain. One did not touch the divine without scars remaining to mark its passage.
Uriel looked back over the crowd of screaming refugees, the world apparently was coming back up to speed and volume and nodded as if coming to a decision. “Peace be with you and my peace I grant you.” He whispered and suddenly every single living thing in the town square down to the angrily buzzing flies dropped to the earth in an instant. Uriel nodded in satisfaction turned in a slow beautiful motion and strode away. In the glaring noon day sun Jude saw the hint of ebony wings jutting from his back. He numbly looked around and then realized what had happened and acted as only he could. He lifted his camera.
He snapped back to the here and now and saw that he had finished writing the address. He sighed softly and coughed. Blood speckled down on the white coffee table. Yes, one did not walk with the Angel of Death and remain untouched. He gently took the stack of photos and scanned them one last time before slipping them into the envelope. Each photo a place in Africa, each one a record of devastation and death and each one followed by a photo of a black man, black enough to have been carved from obsidian like a walking statute and beautiful, so beautiful that in many instances the photos of his face simply blurred as if man’s technology simply could not capture the sheer grace of the being, and in many of these photos there were the onyx wings unfurled like a predatory hawk as it strode through the wreckage of its passing.
Every prophet needed his gospel. Every prophet needed to warn the people. Jude Sanchez was no different. He had to warn the world that Baldricks were not the only thing that stalked them from beyond. He sealed the envelope.
The knock at the door came while Commander Nigel ‘Sharkey’ Ward, DSC, AFC, RN (Retired) was eating his breakfast. Cursing the interruption at this hour of the morning he made his way to the door.
“Yes, what is it?” He asked before taking in who his visitor was.
To his surprise he saw a very young looking Sub-Lieutenant, Ward noticed the wings on his sleeve marking him as a naval aviator, with two armed bluejackets, both wearing the brassard of the Naval Police, standing behind him.
“Commander Ward, Sir.” The young officer said.
“Yes, how can I help you, Sub?”
“Your presence is required at Yeovilton, Sir.” The Sub-Lieutenant replied, handing Ward a sealed envelope.
He was shocked to discover that is was from the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Jonathan Band, himself. It informed him that the Royal Navy was returning the Sea Harrier FA.2 to service and as part of this was recalling as many retired Sea Jet pilots to service as it could. As the senior Sea Harrier pilot, and pioneer in operating the aircraft, his services were required for refresher training. Admiral Band also offered him a promotion to Captain should he accept this post, if not he would simply be conscripted as a pilot at his former rank.
“Give me ten minutes to pack a few things, Sub, and those two Regulators won’t be necessary.”
Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire.
The aerodrome echoed to the sound of four Rolls-Royce Olympus turbojet engines being throttled up to full power. A great delta winged shape emerged from behind one of the hangars and made its way towards the runway; Vulcan XH558 was back in service.
Taking their lead from the USAF, the Royal Air Force had been scouring the countries aviation museums for aircraft that might possibly be returned to service. A small collection of various kinds of Tornado and Harrier were already on their way to RAF St. Athan, or BAE Preston for refurbishment, while a small collection of Blackburn Buccaneers was currently being assembled. Finally the air force’s attention had focused on the only remaining airworthy Avro Vulcan B.2 left in the world. They were also now looking at the Vulcans and Victors maintained in taxiable condition, as well as those held in static condition.
Meanwhile the volunteers of the Vulcan Operating Company had either found themselves back in the RAF, or conscripted into the air force. The technicians, assisted by a team brought in from the rest of the air force, had been working hard for the last couple of weeks turning XH558 from a display aircraft into a warplane once again. One advantage that they had discovered was that the modern electronics that they had installed took up less space, and were lighter than the 1950s equipment that the aircraft had once carried; that left more capacity for fuel and weapons. Spares was a potential issue, though at least the VOC had assembled enough to keep XH558 going for a while, and fortunately Rolls-Royce still had the details of how to build the Olympus engine. If push came to shove though, some spare parts might have to be manufactured from scratch.
If returning XH558 to service was successful it would serve as the model for XL426 and XM655, both of which were potentially airworthy, and for any of the other surviving Vulcans and Victors that were in reasonable condition.
For the entirety of the past week RAF armorers had been conducting weapons fit tests, confirming that yes, the Vulcan could still carry 1,000lb bombs, and just as their counterparts in 1982 had discovered, that she could carry three 1,000lb Laser Guided Bombs in its bomb bay. They had also double checked that it could still carry another weapon it had once carried too.
As one of the aircraft chosen to carry the ill-fated Skybolt missile XH558 had two underwing pylons that had been used in the Falklands War to carry Shrike missile and ECM pods. These pylons had been reactivated so that once again they could be used for weapons, or jamming pods.
Today XH558 was heading off to the RAF bombing range at Garvie Island to test her newly restored capability, her belly full with twenty-one 1,000lb bombs. Her pilot and co-pilot advanced the throttles forward to the stops and the bomber began to accelerate down the long runway, once used by SAC bombers on Reflex Alert and roared into the air as if she was young again.
“London Military this is X-Ray Hotel 558, requesting permission to climb to flight level thirty and proceed on flight plan, over.”
“Roger that, 558. Welcome back to air force, over.”
(Thanks to Stravo and Jan who wrote the first and last parts of this respectively.)
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others