Please do not distribute or post elsewhere. You may share the link. Copyright CC Bridges 2021
A Little Less Conversation
Kayla disconnected herself from the net and blinked slowly to let her body grow accustomed to seeing with her own eyes instead of the lobes of her brain wired into the chip implanted just below her left ear. It was always a bit disorienting, no matter how many times she did this.
And to be honest, she didn’t like hooking up to the ‘net. Kayla liked having her physical hands on things, usually in the guts of some machine. But they’d asked her to teach this lecture at the University, and Kayla couldn’t say no to the opportunity.
It had been nice to be recognized for her accomplishments, and the part of her that had been a kid on the streets of Old Trent could marvel at suddenly being called “professor” and looked to for her expertise. At one point in her life she’d never thought she’d leave the 4 square miles of her father’s junk yard.
A rattle at the window caught her attention. She stiffened, at first wondering if she was hearing things, because that sounded like…
Kayla got to her feet, a lecture on her lips. Gabe knew better than to go out flying alone at his age.
But when she threw open the tall floor to ceiling window – the kind that was common in all residences in floating cities – she didn’t see Gabe. There were two young men standing on her platform. One staggered to his feet, remarkable only for the shock of blond hair that curled into a haze around his head, like a glowing halo.
The other, oh the other, was an angel. He stood tall, with long lean limbs, straight dark hair around a face that was all angles, with silvery-blue wings extending from each shoulder.
It took her a moment to realize what was wrong. This angel didn’t have a halo, the device that connected all angels on the same network, that gave them access to a single hive mind.
An uneasy feeling grew in the pit of her stomach. “Who are you?” she demanded, dispensing with any niceties for the moment. It had been a long time since she had to worry about fearing for her life. Kayla didn’t like the sensation or it’s creeping familiarity.
The stranger didn’t seem to pick up on her wariness at all. He broke into a wide grin, one that seemed oddly familiar. “Are you Kayla Werth? You look just like your image. I’m Nicky Caldwell-Abraham. I know that’s a mouthful, but my dads tried combining their names, but both Caldham and Abrawell sounded silly. So here we are.” He paused to take a breath. “You can call me Nicky.”
Kayla stared at him for a moment, before her eyes widened. She knew where she’d seen that grin before. “You’re Hank’s son?”
“He’s one of my dad’s, yes.” Nicky nodded. “The other is Ian.”
Now that he mentioned it, she could see Ian in his dark eyes and heavy brown. “How?”
Nicky raised his hands and wiggled his fingers. “Science!” He giggled a bit at his own joke. “Genetics engineering and a portable mechanical uterus, but who wants to get technical?”
The angel behind him cleared his throat. Nicky turned to face him. “Oh, right. This is Tal.”
“He’s an angel,” Kayla swallowed hard. “Are you here to arrest me?” She carefully did not mention Gabe and her dad just downstairs in the level below.
Nicky looked so shocked it was almost laughable. “What? Oh, no, he’s not that kind of angel, and even if he were, Heaven doesn’t have any jurisdiction here in New Canada. Besides, you didn’t do anything wrong, my dads gave you those ID chips, which actually, is what made it super easy to find you.”
He was giving her whiplash. Kayla rubbed her forehead, which was starting to pound in time with her pulse. “You’re not making much sense.”
“I get that a lot.”
“If I may?” Tal cut into the conversation. He had a deep rumbling voice, a sort of sexy growl if you were into that sort of thing. And from the look Nicky threw him, he was definitely into that sort of thing. “Much has changed in the city you once knew. I understand it will take much time to understand, but Nicky and I have come to ask for your help.”
“You are the author of “Advanced AI Dynamics in Mechanical Constructs,” correct?” Tal asked.
“You’ve read my work?” Kayla had been publishing in machinist journals for a decade. Her research involved new ways for AI to interact with mechanical constructs. Her entire academic career had been a result of her successfully transferring her dog, Trixie’s consciousness, into a mechanical body. Said dog was currently downstairs with Dad, or else she’d never let these strangers get anywhere near Kayla.
“It’s incredible.” Tal nodded.
“Ok, enough flirting, big guy.” Nicky squeezed Tal’s shoulder. “Dad recognized your name, and said he knew you, so I figured we’d come out for a visit.”
Kayla’s lips twitched. “Most people would send a message on the ‘net.”
“And that’s the problem.” Nicky made finger guns at her. “There’s something wrong with the ‘net.”
Tal outlined the problem, which apparently had its origins 25 years ago when Gabe tore a hole in the original Angel Network by his defecting. They’d thought it hadn’t touched Heaven’s network, which was separate. “But things have been happening. Ghost angels appearing in cyberspace.”
Kayla tapped her lips, subtly engaging her net connection. She did a quick search, pulling data on the two young men in front of her with lightning speed. She wasn’t surprised to find a note from a familiar account that simply said “Help my kid. I know he’s a bit rough around the edges, but he’s got a good heart. Really bad taste in men, but what can you do? – Hank.”
“I can’t help you,” she said, holding up her hand when Nicky opened his mouth to speak. If she let him start talking, she’d never get a word in. “You need to speak to my father. He’s the expert on the net, not me.”
Nicky nodded very seriously. “Where can we find him?”
“Downstairs, follow me.”
Kayla took them both to the lift, not the staircase down the hall from her office. If this angel was anything like Gabe had been when they first met him, stairs would be a foreign concept. Her home was shaped like a cylinder, with the kitchen and living areas downstairs, and her private bedroom and office upstairs. All external windows were also doors, because that’s how it worked in a floating city.
Dad and Gabe lived in the next cylinder over, but they visited frequently. They were having lunch together today, but Kayla had to give her lecture first, so Dad and Gabe offered to wait. Trixie had been happy enough to sit at Dad’s feet, as if she were still flesh and blood and needed to cuddle for warmth.
“Dad! Gabe!” She called as the lift doors opened. Kayla didn’t want them to be taken by surprise. “We have guests.”
Dad, sitting in the large armchair that was more his than Kayla’s, startled awake. He must have been dozing. Now in his late sixties, he started to feel his age, more than he should in a city where people frequently lived to be 100. But Dad always said he’d lived a harder life than any of them, and he embraced his greying hair and sore body.
At his movement, Trixie got to her feet and started to bark. Kayla crouched down and called her over. She’d have to properly introduce her guests if she wanted her little guardian here to stop with the alarm. “Trixie. Pause.”
The body she’d constructed for the dog looked similar to her old one, but Kayla never managed to find faux fur that soft. You couldn’t tell from afar, but once Trixie got close her glowing eyes gave the game away.
“Hey, girl.” Nicky bent down and held out his hand.
Before Kayla could give a command, Trixie licked his skin. She moved to sit and held out a paw, which Nicky shook happily.
“Well, Trixie always has been a good judge of character.” Dad got to his feet. “Who do we have here?”
The angel had retracted his wings when he followed Kayla and Nicky into the lift. Yet, to Kayla, there was still something unnatural about him. “Where’s Gabe?”
“Here.” Gabe emerged from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. He enjoyed cooking, now that they were someplace that offered food beyond nutricubes. “We have guests? I need to put some more food on.”
The years had been kinder to Gabe, but they were starting to show. He was almost three hundred years old. But the only outward sign was the way his hair had gone silvery white. He came over to Dad’s side and their fingers tangled together.
Yeah, after nearly three decades together, they were still in love.
“Gabe?” Tale repeated, then his violet eyes went wide. “You are Gabriel 1089!”
Before any of them could respond to that, he was across the room, kneeling before Gabe, his head bowed. “I am honored to meet you.”
Gabe blinked. He looked over at Kayla. “Um. Thanks? I guess. But you really have to explain what’s going on.”
“Believe me, I wish I could,” Kayla said drily. “These two are from Heaven…”
“Old Trent,” Nicky put in. “I’ve only visited Heaven.”
“And if you couldn’t tell, that’s Hank’s son.” Kayla sighed. “I’m not sure what the kneeling is about.”
“You are the angel exile who changed everything for us all,” Tal spoke in an awed whisper.
“You know what,” Dad sighed. “I think we should have this conversation over lunch. Come on.”
He was right. Over the dinner table it was much easier for Nicky to tell his story, in between bites of Gabe’s delicious food. It had been a long time since Kayla had thought of Hank and Ian, and she was glad they were both well and happy – and apparently fathers. She’d have to send Hank a message back.
Tal took over the narrative when it came to the problems in the network. It seemed unbelievable – how the original angels glitched, broke free from their hive mind, and started their own new society. Nevermind the nonsense about the God AI.
“And these ghost angels,” Dad said. “They are trapped in the network without bodies?”
Tal opened his mouth, and then closed it. He tilted his head to one side, reminding Kayla a lot of Gabe in the early days. “We don’t know if they are actual consciousnesses or simply, a remnant of one.”
Dad looked over at Kayla. “I have my theories. But if I’m right, I’m going to need your help.”
“Of course, Dad. I can teach my class from anywhere.”
Gabe put his hand over Dad’s on the table and squeezed it gently. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Dad took a deep breath, before taking the time to meet the eyes of everyone at the table. “Yes. It’s time we go home.”