XII. The Shape I’m In
Ray soared through the concrete corridors of the city with Cletus and Abby dangling from each arm. A contingent of the media clustered around the events at the museum broke off in pursuit of Ray, like slime mold oozing toward a corn flake. Selkie had transformed herself into a creature that resembled an octopus. She was swinging from building to building leading Ray on a chase through the rooftops. She stopped once finally clinging to the gleaming, glass surface of Vyx Tower. Ray swooped close and hovered.
“Ray,” Selkie cheered, “You can fly now? Not just kind of bob around?”
“How do you know me?” Ray asked.
“Role-playing, Ray? And you brought a cute friend for me? Where did this new adventurous streak come from? And please tell me the old guy is just here to hold the camera.”
Selkie ran up the side of the building and onto the rooftop. Ray flew up to find she had transformed into a female seraph. He set Abby and Cletus down and approached her.
“What are…” Ray was cut short by Selkie’s lips pressed against his, her tongue invading his mouth. He turned his head and stepped back.
“Are we switching?” Selkie asked. “You want me to be the aggressive one now?”
She grabbed his collar and pulled him back to her.
“I want you…” Ray started.
“That’s all I needed to hear.”
“...to tell me who you are and what you’re doing here.”
“I’m authorized by Parthi Security to apprehend any being with malicious intent.”
“I like the idea of bondage, in theory. It never works for me in practice.”
Ray groaned and looked around, rubbing his forehead. He saw Cletus pretending he was somewhere else and Abby holding a ball of fire in her hand, with her brow furrowed.
“The cute, little human is a firestarter?” Selkie asked. “Wow, Ray, you really cut loose since you locked me away in your asteroid.”
“How do you know me?’ Ray shouted, grabbing Selkie by the shoulders.
“In a lot of ways,” she smiled and rolled her head back as if offering her neck.
Ray grabbed her hands and slapped bindings on her wrists. Her hands became narrow and the cuffs dropped off.
“See?” she said, holding up her reconstituted Seraph talons. “Doesn’t pan out in practice.”
“Enough,” Ray pulled his pistol.
“Fine, we skip to the end,” Selkie said, her smile tightening, changing her demeanor from coquette to killer, “I was going to give you one final ride before I shoved a dagger in your eye for locking me up, alone in your personal prison for decades,” she pulled a crimson dagger as long as her forearm and held it to Ray’s throat. “I guess you really do hate me, now.”
“Hate you? I don’t even know you.”
“Stop it, Ray,” her black, seraphim eyes began to glisten. “Everyone hated me for I had done. I wanted you to be the one person who didn’t, but when I needed you, you threw me in a hole and forgot. You forgot about me. How could you forget about me?” she said, racked with sobs.
“If it was a snake…” Ray said. “You're angry with me for things I haven’t done yet.”
“No, listen, I’m not from this time…”
“Stop it,” she lunged with her dagger and Ray grabbed her wrist.
“Listen, you’re Seraph, you know who Yaldabaoth is.”
At the mention of the name, Selkie froze and her eyes swiveled, searching for a route out of her growing anger.
“Yaldabaoth has somehow harnessed time travel. He sent me here from 600 years in the past. We haven’t met yet.”
Selkie began breathing heavy, shivering in a melange of terror and rage.
“Selkie, I promise you, I won’t make the same mistakes my next time around. I won’t forget you, again. Just calm down.”
“Yaldabaoth?” Selkie said through a clenched and quivering jaw, “Is he here?’
“In the flesh,” a voice chimed from behind her.
Selkie’s mouth dropped open and her breathing increased its pace. She twirled around and hurled her dagger. Yalda caught it in mid-flight by the blade.
“This is very nice,” he said, lobbing the blade back to Selkie, “It’s a family heirloom if I’m not mistaken. I feel privileged you used it to try and kill me.”
“What a stroke of luck for me, Selkie. I didn’t know you were on Earth.”
“I’ll kill you.”
“No, you won’t.”
She roared and charged Yalda, who stood smiling.
“Has the silver moon ever hung so low in sight...” he hummed.
Selkie stopped and fell to her knees, holding her ears. “Ray, make him stop.”
“Yalda, what are you doing now?” Ray shouted.
“As it does…” Yalda continued.
Selkie cried and clutched her head, driving her claws into her scalp. Blood streamed down her face.
“Yalda,” Ray shouted, again.
“...on this warm summer night.”
Selkie began to grow in size. Her skin became grey and reptilian and white fur wings bristled into vibrant, blue feathers. A long red tongue rolled out of her fanged mouth and she flexed her elongated talons.
“What did you do to her, you diseased maniac?” Ray asked.
“Let me tell you what you have to look forward to,” Yalda replied. “You two used to make the angel with four wings,” he winked and made a circle with his thumb and forefinger and slipped his other finger in and out, “You guys were real happy. A happy Ray is just some shit I can’t abide by in my galaxy. So I…” he waved his fingers around his head. “The humans have a word for it; Manchurian Candidate. I fucked with her head so she goes postal every time I recite that poem.”
Selkie stood over Yalda and flapped her wings.
“Who am I speaking with?” Yalda leaned forward and cupped his hand to his ear.
“Shiva,” Selkie replied.
“Good, girl. Now go nuts.”
Shiva leapt off the building and slid down the side, grinding her claws on the glass windows, shattering them.
“The last time she destroyed a whole Parthi metropolis. So many dead children. And you, lover, locked her in a rock in space and threw away the key. I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.”
Ray grabbed Yalda by his lapels.
“Ray, I gotta run. I have to put down a mutiny.”
“Did the Draconians shift alliances? Who would have foreseen that?”
“It’s Blaylock. I would be proud if he wasn’t fucking up my plans.”
“You’ll even stab yourself in the back.”
Yalda dropped a smoking canister on the ground.
“Cyanide gas,” Yalda said. “Fine for us. Extremely toxic to humans, will kill your pets in seconds. I’d get them out here if I were you.”
Ray created a gust to blow the gas clear of Abby and Cletus. Yalda ran through the door to the maintenance access, shouting mocking salutations.
A somewhat more distinguished looking Ray stepped from the life shuttle that was parked at the top of the museum steps. Cameras and shouting reports swarmed to him. Flashes and lights glared in his face and glinted off his eyes.
“Sir, are you an extraterrestrial, or is that a birth defect?”
“What can you tell us about the octopus you were seen chasing earlier?”
“Sir, are you an angel, and if so can you get us an interview with God?’
Ray paused, “Which god?”
“The god of Abraham, sir.”
Ray tightened the corner of his mouth, “You’re about to meet him.”
He continued to lope through the horde toward the museum entrance, which was blocked off by police tape. Ray swung his index claw without losing a step and sliced the tape.
“Sir, you can’t…” a police officer shouted until an older cop put his hand on his shoulder and shook his head.
“Just make sure people aren’t being injured, officer,” Ray said over his shoulder as he continued in.
As Ray, entered the Great Stair Hall he was met with a blonde woman in a grey jumpsuit with matching long overcoat, a raven-haired woman in a blue dress, and a man in a red robe holding a sword. All their clothing was woven from untreated magnesium alloy thread that glinted and sparkled. Except for the man, who wore cargo shorts and a printed t-shirt underneath his bulletproof cloak.
“That fabric is loud,” Ray said, his hands behind his back, “And decidedly not of this planet.”
“Ray,” Cheryl said. “How did things go with the shapeshifter chick?”
“Shapeshifter?” Ray asked.
“You must be Now Ray,” Sophie said, “The one who stalks me. You’ve never watched me in the shower, have you?” she gasped, “Or having…”
“No,” Ray held up his hand and turned his head, “And even if I did, we’re a different species. It wouldn’t have gotten past clinical.”
“You made me feel better and worse at the same time.”
“And I don’t stalk you, but we’ll get that later. Where’s Yalda and what about this shapeshifter?”
“Yalda, buggered. Future Yalda. I think,” Hunter said. “Ray the younger went after the shapeshifter.”
“She acted like she knows you,” Sophie added.
“She seemed pretty warm for your form,” Cheryl poked Ray.
“Please don’t tell me that’s a human sexual euphemism.”
“It’s a human sexual euphemism.”
“Selkie’s here,” Ray ran his hand down his face.
“That’s the name.”
“And Yalda’s here.”
“Been on that one.”
“This metropolis is in serious danger.”
“Now, who the fuck is Shiva,” Cheryl threw her hands up.
“Shiva is what Yalda turned Selkie into.”
“Well, start with who Selkie is please?”
“She was, what you might consider, my wife.”
“Cute,” Sophie chirped.
“Yaldabaoth tore us apart bit by bit until our marriage broke up. She started spiraling and getting into criminal activity. She fell in with Yalda. He tortured her until he broke her remade her into a creature he calls Shiva. Just to get back at me.”
“Cute,” Cheryl said.
“She destroyed an entire city. I had to do something and no prison was going to hold a shapeshifter, so I marooned her in a decommissioned seraphim outpost. It was just until we figured out what do. That was a few decades ago. We never figured out what to do. Now somehow she's escaped and came to Earth.”
“Somehow,” Cheryl shrugged, and then said into her collar, “Piper, Carl, we’re on again, in five.”
“What’s the plan?” Hunter asked.
“I’ve had to do this before. Just get her attention, I’ll take care of her.”
Ray’s shuttle tore low over the city streets, kicking up the litter in the gutters as he whipped overhead. Shiva had thrown an occupied automobile through the glass windowed lobby of Vyx Tower. She ripped a hole through the hood and reached for the screaming occupants. A ball of fire struck her on the back of the head. She turned in time to receive a vial, shattering in her face, igniting the chemicals within. She wiped the burning oil from her face and wiped it on the hood of the car, which started bubbling and hissing. Ray fired a shot that struck her in the shoulder. She charged them undaunted. She swept Cletus and Abby away and grabbed Ray by the neck with her talon and lifted him. The squeal of tires tearing at the pavement was heard and a Pontiac GTO lurched to a halt. Cheryl's head popped out the driver’s side window.
“Put the archangel down, shifter,” she said, flicking the trigger of her taser, making it throw off sparks.
Shiva roared like an angry raptor. She threw Ray to the ground and leapt toward Cheryl. She was intercepted midway by a two-ton exoskeleton, piloted by a one-ton man. Carl struck Shiva and she smacked against what was left of the concrete wall of the building across the street. She picked up a piece of concrete debris and hurled it at Carl, sending his suit sliding backward into the lobby of Vyx Tower. She started pounding on a steel support, shaking the building. Debris fell from the lobby ceiling.
“Carl,” Ray wheezed, lying on the ground, “There’s people in that car. Get them out of here.”
Carl scooped up the car and removed it from the building. He tore off the passenger side doors that had been dented shut and the occupants scampered out and took cover. Shiva continued to batter at the exposed support beams. She wound up for another swing and found herself drawn to the sound that emanated from behind her. Ian was playing a lilting rendition of ‘Serenade to a Cuckoo’. Shiva gazed in curiosity as she crept near him.
“I don’t want to say anything to the guy,” Cheryl said to Sophie, “But there’s something off about his playing. Sophie?”
Sophie stood lips parted and gazing as if she was transfixed by a swinging pendulum. Cheryl snapped her fingers and Sophie blinked back into the present.
“What were you saying?” she asked and drifted back into her reverie.
“Yeah, I don’t get it either,” Hunter mumbled and stubbed out his cigarette.
Present day Ray swooped down in his shuttle and hovered over Ian and Shiva, aiming a rifle out of the side hatch. He pulled the trigger and a dart pierced Shiva’s neck. Her head wobbled and her eyes fluttered as she faltered. She reverted to her Seraph form and fell to the ground. Ray picked her up and carried her to the shuttle and placed her inside. A swirl of wind formed around him and voice boomed over a public address system.
“Did we miss it?” said Wolf, hovering over them in the Starcrossed.
“We missed it,” Holly replied.
“Great job, guys. Everybody really pitched in. Yay.”
“Nice of you to make it, Joneses,” Ray said. “Where have you been?”
“Gift wrapping your present,” Wolf replied.
Past Ray and Now Ray were sitting, squeezed side by side, in Bart’s increasingly crowded basement. Bart was navigating the mass, handing out sandwiches and beer.
“Should we be touching?” Past Ray said to Now Ray. “Are we going to destroy the universe?”
“Sometimes I think we already are,” Now Ray replied.
“What did you do with Selkie?” Sophie asked.
“I put her back for now.”
“Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about this black site you’re running,” Past Ray said.
“I too have questions,” Cheryl said.
“Here here,” Wolf said.
“Look, it’s hard to explain,” Now Ray said.
“What’s hard about this? You’re running a black site. I’m running a black site...eventually. What the hell happened to make you think that was a good idea?”
“Live in Yalda’s galaxy for another 600 years, then see how you feel.”
“I don’t think that…”
“Do we have time for this?”
“Fortunately for Now Ray, we don’t,” Luna said. “The big question is what we do about this guy,” she pointed to a hooded figure tied to a chair in the middle of the room.
She pulled the hood off and Yalda’s bruised but grinning face looked back.
Cheryl picked up the first pointy object she could find and stuck it to Yalda’s neck. Yalda tilted his head back as if to give her a better slice.
“Which one is this?” she hissed.
“Blaylock,” Wolf replied.
“I cut his throat right now and none of this ever happens.”
“Summary execution is preferable to incarceration without due process?” Now Ray said.
“A lot of other things never happen too,” Luna said. “Like Holly. Ray would have never put us through the program if he wasn’t a threat.”
“What program?” Past and Now Ray said.
“Genetic enhancement to create super soldiers.”
“First black sites, then genetic manipulation,” Past Ray said, and sighed, leaning his elbows on his knees and rubbing his hands, “What happens to me?”
“I can’t answer to the second charge,” Now Ray replied.
“Yet,” Past Ray said standing, “It stinks down here. I need air.”
He left basement through the street entrance. Abby followed. Cheryl and Sophie went after them. Abby and Ray stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the night sky.
“You probably shouldn’t be standing out in the open like that. Looks like you're putting on an alien’s idea of a Ren Faire out here.” Cheryl said. “You’ll draw attention to our secret hideout. ”
“I can see why you’d want to keep that place a secret,” Ray laughed.
“I can’t see the stars,” Abby said.
“Light pollution,” Cheryl said. “See, nothing to see, let’s get inside.”
Sophie opened her hands and gathered the light from the street lamps to her. In the center of their view, Ray and Abby could see the sky become flooded with stars. They stood and gazed at the view as Cheryl did an impatient dance.
“Plenty of time to stare at stars after we take care of Yalda,” Cheryl said.
“Take care of Yalda and then what?” Ray asked. “Replace him? Surveillance of non-suspects, black sites, genetic manipulation. It sounds like if Yalda hadn’t invented time travel, I would have.”
“You don’t know what’s happened between then and now, to make you make those choices,” Sophie said.
“I still made those decisions. And it sounds like I can’t make it right either. I can either engage in a repugnant practice like weaponized genetic manipulation or erase a little girl from existence. Apparently, I throw my future ex-wife in a secret prison, because the alternative is killing her. Everything with Yalda is a devil’s bargain. Meanwhile, I put my foot down with Jones against killing him. So I can carry around a sense of righteousness while I lock people away in secret and ruin a family’s lives. Because I didn’t kill the most dangerous being in the galaxy. I wonder what I say to myself the next 600 years, to make that square with myself. Or the next three hundred years after that.”
“You’re just going to have to find that out in time. But from what I hear about you and what interaction I’ve had with two of your incarnations, I’m sure you weighed your options well. You seem like a good person, Ray. If that ‘person’ applies to an alien. Plus, you wouldn’t be hanging out with Grandma Abigayle if you weren't.”
Ray laughed, looked at Abby and shook his head, “Rosenkreuzes are a lot of trouble sometimes. I’m just glad they’re trouble for the right people. We’ll worry about what we do with Yalda after we’ve got him. Until then, there’s work that needs doing.”
“Great, can we go back in?” Cheryl asked.
“You really should get that fabric treated. It isn’t supposed to worn while it’s so spangly, it’s meant for combat protection,” Ray said, stopping to regard Cheryl and Sophie’s choice of battle gear.
“Yes, please,” Cheryl groaned. “I feel like a disco.”
“I kind of like it,” Sophie said, juggling splinters of light in her fingers.
“You look like how I imagine faeries to look,” Abby said.
“Speaking of, we should update your peasant girl thing,” Cheryl said. “If we’re rolling into battle against the most dangerous entity in the universe, you're gonna need some fly, bulletproof duds yourself.”