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Aberrant RPG - The Angel of the Abyss


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<h1 align="center">The Angel of the Abyss</h1>

<h2><a href="mailto:ezrael@altavista.com">Written by Matt Rossi </a></h2>

<font size="4">From a pirate datafeed, September 17th, 2007 - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma</font>

The camera, if there is a camera (such is no longer certain) focuses on the tense standoff between the demonstrators from the family of Elise Burrows and the faithful from the Church of Michael Archangel. The Audio-feed begins with a wail of static, a disturbingly human sound.

A shrill woman in her fifties, with the kind of face you only get in people trapped in a trailer park years after they'd assumed a house would be their next step, screamed into a bullhorn. No one could understand what she'd said, but the sign she wore around her neck (Purity is strength) told her opinion quite clearly.

The crowds mutter and clash, swinging signs at each other, yelling and growing more and more angry as harsh words cover the distance between them. Someone on the Burrows side of the divide finally hurls something in an arc, a red and white object that glitters for a moment in the midday sunlight.

Later, after the feed is analyzed by the 'responsible' media (The folks on N! Prime, CNN, and VSNBC) it is determined that the object was a can of soda. Coca-Cola, to be exact.

The crowds, the people within them now fully transformed into the mob animal, break through their police cordons and smash into each other like armies from a thousand years gone. Overwhelmed and unprepared, the police fall back to the relative safety of their vehicles, trying to let the armored Riot Squads in to do their work.

Then the gunshots, bright white flares of light and a sound like fireworks trapped in an old trash can, the metal kind.

Screams and teargas grenades are too late. A young man, barely in his twenties at best, falls to the ground with his chest soaked with blood.

This was not enough to stop the riot.

What came next, however, was.

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Witness report - James 'Jimmy-Boy' Mican

I heard the gunshot and I knew, just knew that one of those Texas boys had gone too far. Now, I'm a believer in the Church and in Deacon Piper, but sometimes people gotta remember to temper belief with common sense. We ain't at war with the Aberrants yet, even if we should be, and shooting up a crowd of monster sympathizers just makes us look the worst.

I didn't see that boy fall.

But I sure as hell saw him get up again.

There was a roar of flames, but they weren't flames. They were black, black as the night sky when the moon's away, so black they actually made the air around them darker.

Then he stood up...and up...and lifted into the air. The flames were eating him from the inside, and black wings ripped through the skin on his back, which was becoming black and shiny like the metal on my daddy's old sidearm, the Colt .45 he brought home from Vietnam.

"You want an angel?" His voice was a howl; I've never heard anything like it. I actually wanted to wet my pants, but I didn't have anything in me. "You want an angel so bad, I'll give you an angel."

Then he pointed at someone...I guess it was the boy with the shotgun...and those black flames just poured out of his hand and wrapped around him. He didn't even have time to scream before being...I don't even know what happened to him.

He wasn't burned to death.

He wasn't anything I've ever seen before, other than dead and withered. Then the Aberrant looked at us, and his eyes...his eyes were purple, glowing, and like the eyes of a goat with the hourglass pupils. His skin was now entirely black metal, like the wings, and he was huge.

"I'll give you a Goddamn angel of the abyss."

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O'Dell sighed and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He'd been working on the article for hours, and didn't have anything to show for it. Well, he had a whole lot of cold, useless facts, and nothing about them.

Nothing to make them more than that. He didn't even know the guy's name. Nobody in that crowd seemed to know who he'd been, not even after O'Dell had gone digital and scanned the image into a photograph (being able to make up enhancement programs on the fly came in handy for that, although he'd felt a little guilty about using his powers to do it) could anyone say for sure who he was. It was fairly obvious, even before the shooting, where his sympathies were, but no one knew him.

What only made it worse was the fact that he was so utterly different now. He had wings like a dragon's sticking out of his back! He was seven feet tall and apparently made out of black iron and he glowed with black flames that ran up and down his body in swirls and whorls. Yet he'd managed to keep a low profile for three months, and that was the most daunting part of the whole experience.

Yawning, stretching and blinking, O'Dell stood up and reached for the coffee pot. Alone like he was, he didn't often bother to use a cup. He only came to the offices at night, especially now that he didn't even know exactly who, ultimately, he was working for. He knew that the offices used to belong to the Boston Phoenix, which was bought four years earlier by the Medias Res corporation, which was a wholly own subsidiary of Globalnet Incorporated, which was more or less owned by three or four different holding companies which were held, in turn, by other holding companies and so on. This encouraged his disrespectful side, which in turn forced him to guzzle black coffee from the pot even though he could feel the sharp stab of acid trying to eat its way through his esophagus.

Putting the pot back on the hot patch built into the coffee maker, O'Dell put his hand in the small of his back, yawned and bent over backwards. It made him look like a human gumby doll, tall and angular, and with exhaustion came the sparks from his eyes that betrayed him as a nova.

He was more fortunate than many. It was impossible to tell what he was by looking at him, until he got tired and the electrons around him began to dance. On the other hand, he wasn't strong or fast or beautiful the way so many others were. He was so mundane it was almost funny.

Maybe that was why he kept falling face-first into these kind of stories. Tragic mysteries, eruptions that brought misery with them like an inverted silver lining. Dark cloud, darker shadow.

Packing up his files and discs in his battered valise, O'Dell decided to lie and call it a night, even through it was fast approaching six in the morning.

It made sense to him. But he was a notably perverse guy.

The elevator ride, the walk through the lobby and the march through the parking lot while feeling for his keys in his pockets, all of these were normal. He'd reached his car (an ancient 92 Taurus he'd probably never be able to replace unless the gods of money smiled down on him) and dropped the valise on top.

That was when his cell-phone rang.

"Son of a bitch with sagging teats." He dragged the phone out of his inside pocket and flipped it open. "O'Dell."

"Hello." A very long pause. "This is odd. I'm not used to talking to reporters."

"Okay. Well, then, you could always just hang up. Wait, I know. I'll do it for you." Before he could get the phone very far away from his ear, the voice spoke up.

"I hear you're doing a story on me."

"Am I?"

"I was in Oklahoma City on September 17th. More specifically, I erupted in Oklahoma City on September 17th."

"Did you?" A number of possibilities rushed through O'Dell's mind; one of his co-workers was pulling his chain, one of the Michaelites had found out his semi-secret and decided to give him a gut full of lead after tricking him into a meeting...or maybe, just maybe, someone he'd talked to hadn't been totally honest with him. Imagine that. Someone doesn't trust a reporter. What cynical times we live in.

"You're beginning to sound like a broken record, Mister O'Dell. Yeah, I did. If you're serious about wanting to do a balanced story, then we should probably meet. But since I'd rather not be arrested by the Directive or Project Utopia, we'll have to do it my way."

"Arrested? What for? From what I can dig up, it was self-defense..."

"Not what I've been doing." The voice was very quiet now. "My friends can only ensure that this line stays clean for another sixty seconds. Are you willing to meet with me or not?"

O'Dell took five seconds to decide.

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The top of the Prudential building at 5:57 AM on a February morning is not the best place to be; all of Boston is still wrapped in that peculiar pre-dawn blue shadow, while the sky bleeds from a wound that's just out of reach.

Plus it's damn, damn cold. The wind did what it usually does and blew cold air against him, making him tremble (if it weren't for his total disdain for the particular metaphor, he'd have said it cut through him) and stick his hands deeper into his Macintosh trenchcoat.

Then he saw it.

Rising up from the sunrise side of the building so that his giant, motionless wings were backlit by the sun, the subject of his inquiry rose up over the edge of the roof and above, red light highlighting each of his rippling black scales.

He was beautiful. Sort of the way a Nile Crocodile or a Great White Shark would be, if they could talk. His feet touched down on the rooftop, and his wings folded up around him and then...

Then the infolding happened. The black flames that seemed to be leaking from his body rolled in, and his skin softened as he shrank a whole foot in height and his wings melted back and away and his eyes reformed...and what was left was a young man with olive skin and eyes like polished topaz, a man with a certain frailty in the way he moved.

"God, I haven't...not in months...so weak like this." He twisted his head sharply to the left while snapping his jaw at the air for a moment. "And my voice is so...sorry, I'm getting caught up in nothing. You're Paul O'Dell?"

"Yeah. By the way, I have to congratulate you on your discreet, stealthy entrance. I'm sure no one noticed you."

He smiled, a somewhat lopsided grin that looked more than a little forced and sat down on one of the exit vents littering the rooftop

"Did you get up here okay?"

"Sure." Electronic keypads are my friends, but there's no reason to tell you that "So...other than your colorful nom du guerre, you have a name?"

"You can call me Malak. It's the closest thing I have to a real name now. So, are you ready to hear my story?"

"Knock yourself out. You're the one worried about being arrested."

Malak nodded, and began to speak.

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In order to understand what happened to me, you have to know about Elise Burrows first. She and I...she and the six of us, I should say...we had something really great for a while. I'm not going to sit here and say she was some kind of saint like people do after someone dies. She had her faults; a wicked temper, sarcastic to the edge of laceration, and a tendency to break your stuff when she borrowed it. But when Elise decided she was your friend, she'd go to hell and back for you.

Elise was the core of our circle. She was the one who found all of us. I grew up across the street from her, but we didn't really meet until Junior High, and by then she'd assembled most of the others already. There was Janice Liebmann, who had a granola and longhair vibe even in 7th grade, and Skivathi Garudasanas, who was double outcast in our town because he was the son of two recent immigrants and also because he was noticeably gay, even before he was interested in sex, and there was Wayne Barlaw, who somehow managed to stay inside the lines of the incestuous 'society' of teenage kids and yet hung out with the collection of freaks Elise was assembling.

He never betrayed that, either. None of us did.

Now, while she was assembling this cadre of hers...and it was always hers, we all knew that...I was living across the street. I'm a foster kid, spent all but four of my years as a ward of the state (and when that state is Oklahoma, you've got problems, believe me) and by the time I was twelve, they finally placed me with an actual family.

I took to the Harris' right away. They had their problems, God, did they have their problems, but they were actual people with good intentions. Their son Edward, I called him 'E' and eventually everyone else did, too, he and I became as close as two kids could who weren't brothers and never would be. Eddie's mom's last name was Beltran and that made him and I kin, both halfbreeds.

Then, I met Elise. She was odd, but I dug that about her. E and I were going to Hawthorne Junior High (Hawthorne's our home town, a small suburb of Oklahoma City, and in general it's easier to just say you're from OK because no one knows squat about Hawthorne) at the time. I met her first, which is funny considering what happened between her and E.

She was bent without being obvious about it...no colored hair like Skivathi, no mane like Janice, no burning stare like Wayne. It was in the way she walked, in the way a trailing edge of unease passed over other people's faces when they saw her coming, and in the way she held herself almost regally despite what anyone thought of her.

And in her homing sense for the twisted, which showed itself when she walked up to me with a big smile on her face.

"I don't know you. I think I should. My name's Elise."

I still see that day when I close my eyes. She was slight...she had a core of steel, but she wasn't much to look at her...shorter than me by about five inches and probably hovering around the hundred pound mark. I remember taking her hand and doing something I'd seen in a book one of my previous host families had owned, pressing it to my forehead.

She thought that was funny. It made her smile, which made her whole face look like a cloud had just parted and sunlight was flooding down on us. She was one of those girls who wasn't pretty, but she was beautiful when she wanted to be.

And yes, I fell in love with her then. I think we were all in love with her, even Skivathi, in our own ways.

I introduced her to E, who would never have had the stones to talk to her otherwise, and that was the group.

We were the pariah dogs of the school, right into High School, but it wasn't so bad. Wayne was our connection to the upper world if we wanted it, which we usually didn't. Elise would lead us into what passed for a nightlife in Oklahoma City, a few anemic clubs where loud and poorly remastered terr'r would compete with hardcore technovox and, in words I've stolen from a poem I barely remember, kids like us from all over the area would grow suicidally beautiful and try to knock each other out of our heads.

Elise wanted so badly to be a nova. She never said it, of course...it was beneath her to say it...but we knew. E understood it best of all, because he wanted it too, and that was why they ended up an item. Oddly enough, of all of us, I was completely uninterested. Not that I didn't think it would be cool, but it seemed a long shot and if I was going to waste my time dreaming about something, somehow figuring out a way to go to college seemed to be as good a way as any.

Then it happened.

We went to the wrong club.

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"Quit poking me, E." Elise was giggling in that way she did, giggling without a smile or any sign that it was amusing her at all unless you watched her face battle to keep the laughter in.

"I'm not poking you...well, I am, but not now...I'm tickling you."

"Well, if you want to poke me later, cut it out!"

"Ah, young love." I looked over the back seat of Wayne's old 90's Impala, which had been his dad's car before Mr. Barlaw'd shelled out the cash for a new Impetus, and smirked at them. "You see, my twin slaves of eros, you sicken us. So stop it."

"Fuck off, Buzzkill." Elise swatted my head softly, almost like a pat but with a little shove added, and looked over at Wayne. "So, are Skivathi and Janice meeting us there?"

"That's what they told me." He was wearing his camouflage outfit, a black leather jacket and dark black jeans that kept his parents from freaking out about hanging with us while satisfying Elise's sartorial minimum requirement. I really don't know why Wayne hung out with us, exactly; I guess he just fell into her orbit and couldn't get out again, which was kind of the way for all of us.

We pulled into the parking lot, one of those run by a sallow-face teenager with acne scars so bad he'd been shunned for years and was probably cooking up revenge fantasies about everyone he met. Elise flashed him her smile and he was hers in a second, the way everyone was. We parked with no problem, even though the lot was pretty full and getting out again would be a bitch, and then the four of us headed across the street to the club.

There was nothing on the outside to identify it...just a bleak facade from a theater that had died out in the bend of the century when the Megaplexes came to Oklahoma and squashed it. Now, at least for a night, it was something else entirely.

It was Eruption, and we were there to bask in trickle-down divinity.

Walking in, we were practically hit in the face by the smell of sweat, cheap alcohol and the sickly aerosolized sweetness of 'Edge Drinks,' cheap cocktails of vitamins and engineered caffeine derivatives with five times the bite. And no, no matter what anyone tells you, no one has ever become a nova by drinking one.

Wayne and me began scouting around for Janice and Skivathi while E and Elise lost themselves in the crowd and the music. It wasn't anything we didn't expect from them.

"God, I need to get some soon. Watching those two has my back hair standing up." Wayne snarled at some skinny languid types, who scattered out of our way, and we followed the edge of the bar around the place. The old theater had been cleared of seats, and inside the sloping room people danced in a gyre while three modified computer-projectors used the flat white of the screen to show constantly changing patterns of light and color.

"I know what you mean." I looked over at a pretty girl with dark brown hair hanging down her back chatting with some guy, and in shock I realized it was Skivanthi in a rather stellar drag. This bothered me slightly, probably because I've always been a bit twitchy about that kind of thing (hey, when your dad makes a sport of raping you when you're a kid, you get these issues) but nonetheless, I had to admit that he made a smashing woman. "Uh, I see Ski, by the way. Just to warn you, he looks like Leelee Sobieski tonight."

"Wow, someone's been watching The Kirbans." Smirking at me, Wayne plowed into the crowd with both elbows working, and soon enough we were standing next to Skivathi. "So I said to him...howdy, boys, this is someone new I met whose name is hardly important...there are always infomercials you could work." As usual, the target of Skivathi's personality nodded absently, like a wild animal cornered and helpless.

"You seen Janice around?"

"She already left. Met someone she 'felt a bond with' and decided to go drink coffee and think about the nature of reality." Skivathi opened his mouth to say something catty, but he never got the chance.

Because, even over the loud music and the strange uniform noise made by hordes of people dancing, that was when we heard the world end.

It's amazing that all it took was a group of idiots and a pipebomb to do it. The dull whumph of the thing going off was followed by a few seconds of confusion and then, a shriek that stabbed through my head and made my face twitch.

I ran against the crowd...after all, it was what Elise had trained me to do...and there it was. Several of the poles which had been supporting various colored lights over the old theater were blown loose and lying on the floor on top of someone.

And as soon as I managed to slip around the last of the fleeing, I saw E looking up at the ceiling with a frozen slack face, and I knew who that broken body was.

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"That, more or less, is how I ended up at that protest. The bombers were a bunch of jackasses who read the Church of Michael Archangel OpSite and decided to practice what was preached, and since they couldn't find any novas they settled for blowing up a club with people who like novas." Malak was staring at nothing while he spoke, his eyes unfocused and slightly wet. "They got convicted, the Michaelites decided to protest it, and we decided to tell them to fuck off. A lot of people who didn't really give a crap about Elise when she was alive decided to show up now that she was dead, and it all blew up on us."

"And you erupted." "And I erupted. If the definition of irony wasn't so twisted by your generation, I'd say it was, O'Dell. But you'd almost _expect_ the guy who doesn't really care one way or another to end up a nova. Although, in my case, the word Aberrant fits." He turned away from O'Dell and walked to the edge of the rooftop, sunlight now streaming down on both of them from the yellow ball hanging over the eastern horizon. O'Dell could see the big LNG tanks. "So that's me in a nutshell of infinite space, O'Dell. Hope it helps you with your story."

"Wait a minute." O'Dell took a step closer to the edge himself, resisting the surge of vertigo that nearly made him toss his stagnant coffee from a few hours before. "What about what you said on the phone? About things that would get you arrested by the Utopians?"

"What about them?" Black fire erupted from his eyes as he turned and looked O'Dell square on. The scales rippled out onto his face as he swelled up, hard and inhuman muscle filling out his frame, and his black wings tore forth from the skin on his back even as it, too, became glittering scales. Now that he was looking, O'Dell could see that the hairs on his head were made of individual strands of gunmetal blue steel, draping down his neck and back. "I never said I was going to tell you what they were, did I?"

Then he leapt into the air, his wings motionless and edged with that flame that eats light, and O'Dell lost sight of him in the sun.

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