It took an angel to make me believe in love.
As a woman of science, I am an unabashed, agnostic atheist—until I meet my first angel. Aziel, with big, beautiful wings, claims he’s here to stop humanity from being annihilated. Sounds impressive, but I have questions.
Full of arrogance and demands, he wants access to my life’s work while blaming me for the coming apocalypse. It seems my innocuous signal seeking life beyond our galaxy succeeded. Someone heard my invitation, and now the world is in grave danger.
At least according to Aziel.
As I get to know him, I find myself reevaluating everything I thought I knew. More surprising than my sudden belief in religion, though, is my irrational love for an overbearing angel.
But will he defy Heaven’s orders to save me?
Like many stories, our heroine’s tale begins with tragedy…
They pulled the sheet over Mommy’s face, and I struggled not to cry. Everyone kept telling me I had to be strong.
I didn’t want to be strong. I wanted my mommy to open her eyes. For her to be alive. For someone to hug me.
Not Daddy, though. He was downstairs drinking again. He’d been doing that a lot since Mommy went to the hospital. I really wished he’d stop, though, because he stank and yelled about how he hated the world. I was pretty sure he also hated me.
I just wanted everything to be like it was. Instead, I got a lecture from my grandma.
“Don’t be sad, Lilith. Your mother is in a better place.”READ MORE
Better? I was six. I wasn’t stupid. I grimaced. “She’s dead.” Soon to be in the ground, rotting. I understood how nature worked. I’d seen the worms that devoured dead things in the garden when I discovered the remains of a cat under the bush.
“She is with God. An angel in Heaven, looking down on you.”
“God’s not real.” Even at my tender age, I had a firm response to that. Because if God existed, he wouldn’t have taken my mommy.
No matter how much Grandma argued, I wouldn’t change my mind. As I got older—and watched my father literally drink himself to death—we argued even more strenuously about religion. Grandma insisted on believing in the invisible man in the sky and just about had a heart attack when I said, “You’ll never convince me there is a God. But aliens, now that’s a different story.” Poor Grandma went into apoplectic shock when I wrote an essay for my English class in high school about how Jesus was an extraterrestrial, tortured by humans until he gave up on us and beamed himself up to his mother ship. My very liberal and progressive teacher liked it enough to give me an A-plus.
Grandma, on the other hand, grounded me.
It only strengthened my stance. Oddly enough, the arguments where I had to defend my beliefs led to me deciding to major in astrobiology, which also included software programming and computer hardware design. The robot I built to fight in underground battles—where the money flowed fast and furiously for killer machines—paid enough for me to live in my own apartment loft and buy pretty much whatever I wanted while my many scholarships paid for university.
When I graduated with top honors and a couple of degrees, I joined NASA—a lifelong dream until I encountered the reality. Their rules and restrictions chafed. Non-disclosures meant I couldn’t collaborate with my friends around the world. No more bouncing ideas. No more bringing work home and playing with it while listening to Beethoven full blast.
It stifled my creativity and passion. But worse was the constant nattering of activists who thought we shouldn’t rock the world’s axis by reaching out to extraterrestrial life. As if an evolved species who’d achieved proper spaceflight would be violent. I blamed Hollywood for always painting aliens as the bad guys.
During my tenure at the space agency, I wrote opinion pieces for scientific publications that got ridiculed by people like my grandmother. I truly believed life existed beyond our narrow world and wasn’t shy about stating it. Which was how my benefactor, Mr. A., found me. A rich believer who headhunted the top in the field, he offered the financing required for me to design and construct a communication device that could reach past our galaxy. And gave me carte blanche in my quest to contact alien civilizations.
That kind of freedom wet my panties.
But my work didn’t stop with just building a giant space telephone. My benefactor wanted to do more than just make contact. He sought colonization of other planets, which required spaceships capable of making trips in a timely manner. Weapons, in case we had to defend ourselves in the off chance the life we found wanted to do us harm—and for unexpected incidentals like space debris.
The team my benefactor assembled consisted of the best of the best. All nerds, all believers, all dedicated to getting off this rock called Earth.
We were close to having our first ship complete. It was a cruiser that could handle a crew of twenty and should be self-sustaining while it made its journey past our solar system. Given the other planets in ours weren’t habitable—ignore all the bullshit movies and books about Mars—we wanted to look elsewhere.
A viable planet for colonization wasn’t the only reason we wanted to escape this galaxy. A few of my colleagues theorized that by proving we’d achieved space travel, intelligent life would finally deign to acknowledge our existence. I hoped to get a reply to my messages before that. Was I selfish enough to want the glory of discovery to myself? Totally.
I spent a decade working on not only a communication system capable of rapid messaging past our solar system, but also devising an onboard version for the vessel we’d nicknamed Supernova—a nod to the company Novae.
While I’d managed to detect a few anomalies with my auditory receptors—or, as my colleagues called them, space ears—nothing definitive screamed “alien life.” I tweaked and strengthened my signal, having gone from sending out waves emitted from probes to evolving to more maneuverable drones. Dozens of armored machines, sent in waves, always moving, spaced out far enough they could bounce signals off each other, reducing the time lapse for send and receipt. With them, I extended my reach. My message—Hello, is anyone out there?—in numerous languages, pushed farther and farther past our solar system and into the next.
Unfortunately for humanity, someone heard it.
The signal drew Aziel’s attention, and his booted feet dropped from the table with a thump. He sat up and frowned. Surely, he’d imagined the—
It repeated. Aziel leaned forward, and his hands went to work shifting the sound around, analyzing it before contacting Metatron.
“You’d better not be complaining again about taking a turn in the Echo Chamber.” The principality for the vessel replied aloud via their communication system rather than inside Aziel’s head.
“Not this time.” Aziel wouldn’t apologize for being bored. A warrior wasn’t meant to spend so much time sitting. “We caught a signal.” And before Metatron could ask, Aziel added, “From what I’ve deciphered, it appears a planet with life is trying to make contact.”
Silence followed his statement.
“You’re sure?” Metatron asked softly.
“The maps don’t show anything in this sector.”
“Then why did the supreme commander send us here?” Aziel questioned, not for the first time. Being sent so far away felt like punishment. For what? Or should he ask who?
“It is not our place to question, and yet I do believe we’ve just discovered the why. Can you trace the signal? On second thought, let me send Zakai to take your place.”
Aziel might have argued for the sake of arguing; however, there was no denying Zakai had an affinity for the Echo Chamber, a room that controlled their vessel trajectory, caught and sent signals, analyzed data, and more—the more being something Aziel struggled with. He excelled at the more physical aspects. If the signal didn’t turn out to be a hoax—and even if it did—it might be time for Aziel to brush up on his fighting skills.
It turned out they had time to prepare. The message undulating past them didn’t leave an easy trail. Zakai appeared convinced that the origin location must be hidden within the signal, but it would take time to decipher, given they didn’t recognize the language used. Although, Leox, their onboard specialist when it came to foreign cultures, claimed it felt familiar.
No matter how many times Zakai played it for them, fast, slow, with certain frequencies highlighted, it sounded like gibberish to Aziel.
Given the signal’s discovery, they remained slow-moving in the general area, scanning as far as they could reach, waiting—hoping for an end to the monotony.
The next time the signal pulsed, Zakai proved ready and latched their sensors on to it, following it as far as he could before losing the faint trail. Whoever sent the message didn’t add anything to prevent its decay as it traveled.
But they had patience, and Zakai thought it might be following a pattern, given it was the same message as the first time.
Being ready and expecting a third, Zakai flung them in the direction of the pulse, the trail stronger the farther they followed it.
It led them to a spiral galaxy not on any of their charts.
The rendition hung in the air as the crew eyed it, especially Metatron. “Can you detect anything past the nucleus?” Metatron asked, indicating the center of the oddly spinning galaxy.
Zakai shook his head. “No, but I have to imagine if a signal can make it past, then we should have no difficulty.”
“Should.” Metatron grimaced at the word. “I’d prefer a firmer answer before taking us in.”
“What does the supreme commander say?” This came from Huud, their newest recruit. He’d yet to learn that the supreme commander did not involve himself in the small, day-to-day choices.
“We were sent here for a reason. That reason is inside that galaxy. But before we go in, I want to send a report of our discovery. Aziel and Elija, be ready for possible conflict. Leox—”
“I know. Go digging to see if I can find any mention of this place, which either spontaneously appeared in this sector or was intentionally erased.”
The very idea had Aziel blinking, but not for long. Let Leox figure it out. He might get to fight something.
The spiral galaxy didn’t prove dangerous at all. No strange tugging on their vessel, and their minds remained theirs…although communication proved spotty. Zakai claimed the spiral had a shredding effect on their usual methods, which made the intact one from an unknown source all the more interesting because, as Zakai mused, “How impressive that some primitives have developed a communication method that is currently superior to ours, at least in this galaxy.”
Aziel took it to mean they’d be encountering a worthy foe. He trained even harder with Elija and the others.
The farther they penetrated the solar system revolving around a singular sun, the stronger the message being beamed. Leox deciphered it first, claiming their trouble arose because it consisted of more than a hundred languages repeating the same thing.
Hello. The people of Earth greet you. Followed by coordinates that Zakai called interesting, given they used a numerical base rather than a location imprint. Then came another surprise—a device pulsing the signal. Not a planet or any living beings.
It was Leox who declared after studying it, “It’s a beacon. One of many.”
A correct assessment as they came across more of the things, all pushing the same signal.
Metatron ordered the first few collected and disabled for study. Once they’d gathered a few, Metatron had them destroy the ones they came across later.
Even without the coordinates, it soon became evident where they were headed. The galaxy had few planets, and only one was truly suitable for life.
The signal’s origin turned out to be a small world, its surface mostly water—a rare resource. It teemed with life—green foliage, dumb beasts, and two-legged beings similar to them.
They observed and studied from the cantorii—the name given to the choir scout ships—the sprawling cities, the winding and connecting roads, the machines, the smog, the noise, the people.
So many people. But they weren’t the exciting part.
It was Zakai who announced, “The planet’s teeming with suul.” The energy left behind when living organisms died. Much more powerful than astralya—matter collected from the decaying stars they passed—which powered the cantorii.
Metatron asked, “How much suul?”
The amount Zakai calculated based on readings shocked. They’d stumbled across a treasure. But it wasn’t the only surprise. Leox’s report of the planet’s inhabitants revealed evidence that, despite the spiral galaxy not appearing in their location maps, it showed signs of having been visited before.
What did that mean?
“We’ve found a lost flock. Secure the planet for harvesting,” Metatron announced.
While some ensured the cantorii and its containment units were ready, the warriors and scholars on board had other jobs.
Aziel’s task? Stop the signal before it drew anyone else.
An angel landed on the roof of my apartment building as I was having a cigarette. Eyes wide in disbelief, I muttered an irreverent, “Holy shit.”
The man with the impressive wingspan heard and arched a brow. It should be noted that he had a distinct set of brows, darker than the hair on his head, which was a long, wavy mane that hinted of gold in the light cast by the lamps ringing the terrace that attempted to appear parklike with its potted trees and plants.
He took a step toward me, his massive, dark wings extended before drawing in tight. I eyed my cigarette and sniffed it. Smelled like tobacco and not Mary Jane. I didn’t feel high, but I obviously hallucinated because, at forty-seven years of age, I knew that what I saw couldn’t be real.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again to see him studying me.
“Are you Lilith Faust?” The angel said my name in a deep timbre.
“Fuck me,” I muttered.
Doomed. Totally doomed. I should have listened to Grandma, apparently, because here I was, obviously dying, and instead of being thankful that an angel fetched me instead of a demon, I couldn’t stop cussing. In my defense, given my agnostic nature, I’d never expected to go to Heaven. Not to mention, my sins were many and numerous.
Lying. Did it all the time.
Swearing, I think we ascertained that already.
And fornicating. Oh, how I loved to fornicate. Some women were proud to announce they’d only had a handful of lovers. Poor things. It explained why so many married couples appeared miserable. Experience and different flavors, that was the spice of life. For me, at least. I might change my mind if I ever met a man who didn’t bore me out of bed. Hell, they usually bored me in bed after a few romps.
The angel cocked his head and stared at me. Head to toe. His gaze lingered in a few spots, which led to me tilting a hip and taking a long draw of my cigarette before blowing rings. Most people had moved to vapes. Me? I liked the feel and burn of the real thing. But, holy crap, did I get some nasty looks for doing it. The judgy-pants should calm the fuck down and enjoy a cigarette. Personally, it helped me not kill people, along with that first coffee of the day.
The angel’s face, carved granite with a hint of bristle along the jaw, held a glower; however, it wasn’t his handsome appearance that hypnotized me. It was his wings. Tucked at his back, as black as the clothes he wore. Thigh-hugging pants, knee-high boots, and a shirt that wrapped around his torso to accommodate those wings. And was that a freaking sword strapped to his side?
“Who are you?” I asked, blowing out another ring of smoke.
“Aziel of the Fifth Choir. Are you Lilith Faust?”
“You don’t look like a singer.”
“And you are dumber than you appear,” was his terse response.
The less-than-angelic reply had me laughing. “Well, fuck. Either I’m higher than a newt, or you’re a fallen angel.” It made more sense that the Hell-bound version would be the one to collect me.
He recoiled as if I’d slapped him. “You dare to insult one of Elyon’s Warriors?”
Apparently, an angel’s jaw could drop. “How do you not know God’s name?”
“Because I thought God was God’s name.” I rolled my eyes. Talk about having a messed-up dream. I blamed my grandma. She died about five years ago in hospice but spent those last few weeks telling everyone she knew that God awaited her. That she’d finally be joining my mom, her only daughter. I was kind enough not to argue at the time.
“Elyon is God, which you should know, given he is responsible for you being able to speak.”
Despite having what appeared to be an angel in front of me, I blurted, “I don’t believe in creationism. I’m an atheist.”
When he blinked at me in confusion, I explained, “I don’t actually believe in God. Or Heaven and Hell, for that matter.” And yet, I now had to wonder, given the winged man in front of me. Funny how, despite being skeptical about religion, the moment I’d seen this guy, I’d assumed angel. Me, a scientist, who knew just how far we’d advanced when it came to genetics and cybernetics.
I sidestepped, hoping to get behind him for a look at his wings, but he shifted to keep me in sight.
He argued, “God is real.”
“Says you. All religious nuts believe in the invisible man in the sky.”
For some reason, he found that amusing, and the corner of his lip lifted. “Denying his existence won’t change your fate. God truly exists. As does Heaven.”
“You forgot Hell.”
“Hell is why I am here. It cannot be allowed to find this planet.”
“Um, doesn’t Hell already know about Earth, given that’s where all the bad people go?”
“If Hell had found you, we would not be talking,” was his flat reply. “Now, enough of your useless nattering. Are you Lilith Faust?”
“Depends. What do you want with her?”
“None of your business.”
“Are you here to kill her and take her soul?”
His brows drew together. “What are you blathering on about, female? Are you addled in the head?”
So much bullshit in those queries. I shook a finger at him. “One, I don’t blather. Nor am I fucked. You’re an asshole for even suggesting it.”
“You are obviously not whom I’m looking for.” He whirled away from me and eyed the rooftop with its scattered plants, clear glass railing for an unobstructed view, and the furniture scattered all around in seating groups. It looked especially pretty at Christmas, with snow and multicolored lights making it festive.
“Now you sound just like my grandmother.” I stubbed out my cigarette. “Well, fuck you and the wings you flew in on.”
“Profanity is a sin,” he admonished. “Control your tongue, female.”
Cue the misogyny. “Listen here, asshole,”—I put extra emphasis on the latter—“I don’t give a shit if you’re a nutjob who believes he’s doing God’s work, calling me ‘female’ is some misogynistic bullshit.” Agitated, I lit a new cigarette and puffed smoke in his direction.
“A simple ‘no, I am not Lilith Faust’ would have sufficed. Instead, you chose to profane and disrespect one of Elyon’s Warriors. Then again, I should have expected it given the state of this world,” he grumbled.
“If you don’t like Earth, leave.”
“I can’t. Not until I’ve located Lilith Faust.” He remained firm on that point.
“What if she doesn’t want to be found?”
“Be quiet. I tire of your voice.”
“Then go away.”
“Why is simple instruction so impossible for you to obey? Are all the people on this planet so woefully ignorant?”
“Did you just call me stupid?”
“Yes.” He didn’t even pretend.
This dream sucked. But, apparently, I couldn’t wake up. However, I could walk away.
“Wow, you are some kind of twatwaffle. Since I’m not up to your snotty standards, let me make this really easy. Buh-bye.” I made a rude gesture as I headed for the door back into the building.
“I haven’t given you permission to leave.”
“Don’t care. You don’t get to tell me what to do.” I kept walking, wondering what unresolved Grandma issues I had to be suddenly dreaming about an angel.
“I am ordering you to halt and tell me, do you know Lilith Faust?”
“And she lives in this building?”
“Yup.” I pulled on the door to go back inside.
Exasperation filled his huffed, “Where?”
I paused at the edge of the frame and cast one last glance at him before saying. “Right in front of you, dickwad.”
“Wait, you’re Lilith Faust?”
I shut the door and locked it as my reply.COLLAPSE