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Aberrant: Children of Heaven - Simple Truths

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They had put the children to bed earlier than usual yesterday, promising them a meteor shower party during the night if they got some sleep now. Most of them didn't sleep, but they were quiet in their excitement, and that was enough this time. It was a little after two when the lights when back on and everyone was shooed out to the backyard in pajamas. There were s'mores makings out on the tables and a small campfire set burning in the sunken concrete fire pit Big John had built several summers ago for just such occasions.

A couple of Wal-mart quality telescopes that had been gifts to the orphanage from various charities over the years were set up and pointed towards the falling debris of the Gilgamesh comet, but they were hardly necessary. Blue and red and white streaked across the sky every few minutes or so and the radio that was tuned to the local station was telling Portland that it was only likely to get more spectacular the closer the comet got to Earth.

Mrs. Nguyen, the quiet and middle-aged matron of this small oasis for the unwanted, was watching with a rapt expression. She wasn't an astronomer by any means, but she held that God had created a beautiful and wondrous world for His children, and we should all do our best to enjoy it. The kids themselves were caught between the need for s'mores and the being the first one to spot a new meteor.

"Mrs. Cathy?" lisped one of the younger girls who couldn't quiet get the Cantonese last name down yet, "If one of them falls here can I have it?"

Several of the older kids snickered at her ignorance, but pointed throat-clearing from Mr. Nguyen quickly quieted them. He'd never lay a hand on any of his children, but handing out chores was his domain and he wielded it well when necessary.

Cathy smiled down at the girl and scooped her up in her arms. "I'll tell you what, if we find one you can be the first one to look at it. There'll be a whole bunch of people that will want to see it, though, and sharing is good, remember?"

The girl looked dubious, but nodded and then squirmed her way back down to the ground and over to s'mores. The older kids were handing out toasted marshmallows since anyone under twelve wasn't allowed to get that close to the fire pit when it was burning.

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It's... so... pretty!

John looked up at the sky, mouth agape, the paper and chalk crayons in his hand forgotten as he watched the streaks of the meteorites paint the night sky. He was sitting on the edge of the porch, his head tilting this way and that as he watched the display with as much wonder and delight as the smallest of the children present.

The large man was dressed simply, oversized sweatpants and a t-shirt large enough to act as a child's tent (and come to think of it, the children did use his shirts as capes, tents, and parachutes on occasion.) He bare feet dangled just above the grass under the porch as he laughed with simple joy at a particularly colorful shower of lights.

"Isn't it lovely, John? Aren't you going to draw it?" Rachel, one of the older children at eleven years old, sat down next to him. She regarded the big dummy fondly. He was kind and slow and she'd miss him when she grew up and moved away. He was kinda a big brother and a little brother in one. His honey brown eyes left the starlit sky to look at her as he grinned, looking a little goofy as always.

"Nah..." She waited patiently. Talking to Big John always needed patience. You'd think he was done speaking and then he'd start up as the next word came to him. Her patience was rewarded. "It's... too fast to... draw. I... tried." He showed her the pad of paper. It was a dark sky with streaks of colour, but not really up to John's standard. She nodded.

"You should get a photograph, John." She told him with kind authority. "That way it will stay still long enough for you to paint it, even." John's face lit up.

"You're... right!" He beamed and waved a huge arm at Mr Nguyen. "Mr N! Mr N!" His bass voice boomed. "Can we... get... a camera... picture?"

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Mr. Nguyen looked up from the fire at the commotion coming from his only permanent child at the orphanage. "A camera?" He scratched his head. "I don't know that we have one that would take a good picture of the meteors, if that's what you're going for, John. There'll be pictures we can print off from the internet tomorrow, though."

John had to think that over, which meant the rest of the orphanage had a few minutes before they'd hear from him again. The shower was picking up speed already, the meteorites skimming across the thick atmosphere of the planet before burning up or sizzling into tiny debris in the ocean. While the kids loved the show, they loved the excuse to be up late more and had already turned most of their attention to impromptu games of tag and hide-and-seek in the large backyard. The Nguyen's were happy for the chance for a celebration. The last few years, with the downturn in the economy and the war, had been hard on their home. They'd managed to squeak by, but they'd given up most of their luxuries had a time or two sold off personal items brought over from their homeland to keep themselves and their wards going. John's paintings had been a godsend and as tight as things had gotten they'd always set aside some of the money they earned from them as a trust for their gentle giant. One day they'd be gone and he'd need something he could rely on.

Above them the rocks continued their suicidal plunges into the atmosphere. Had anyone been watching the right spot through their telescope, they might have noticed the anomaly in time. A few had, in fact, but they were stationed well outside the city, watching from fields and telescopes several stories tall. One even had the foresight to call the Portland PD, but all he could tell them was that 'a large one was coming in nearly head on.' None of them knew enough to save John.

Rachel had wandered off and John had finally come to the conclusion that pictures tomorrow morning would work just as well as pictures tonight when the whine started up. It sounded like a train whistle and a plane overhead at the same time; and little Marianne was the first to spot it. "Look! Look! That one's mine!"

Everyone looked up, awestruck by the approaching ball of fire. Mr. Nguyen had the presence of mind to shout, "Everyone, get inside!" but it was too late. The whine reached a fever pitch and the meteorite causing it, no larger than a human heart, slammed into Big John's chest.

The impact threw everyone onto their backs and shattered the porch. Thankfully the fire pit had been built of concrete and the explosion buried the fire under the wreckage. Cathy was the first one back on her feet.

"John! Oh God, John!" She ran to the ruins of the porch and picked her way through them over to the form of her son. His shirt and pants had been ruined by the heat, the blackened edges of the ragged remains still smoldering faintly. Perched angrily on his chest was was the stone; she could feel the waves of heat still flowing off of it. And then John sat up.

The giant rubbed his head and winced in pain, then plucked the stone off his chest. The flesh beneath was red and starting to bruise, but it should have gone completely through him. He blew on the nearly molten stone in his hand and then set it down when it didn't cool quickly enough. He looked up at Cathy and said in all seriousness, "Careful....it's hot."

Cathy herself nearly passed out from relief. "Thank you, God!" She pulled John into a tight hug before remembering herself and yelled out of the wreckage to her husband, "George, call an ambulance! He's a alive!"

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"Ambu-lance?" John looked down at the bruise on his chest and then at the woman who was the closest thing he had to a mother. "It.. hurts!" He looked at the heavy beam that was across his legs and gently moved Cathy to one side. "Take care... Mother. It looks... heavy." Gritting his teeth hard in preparation for lifting the huge piece of timber, John gripped it and tried to move it off him.

It lifted easily, as though made from styrofoam. John gaped for a moment at the half-ton beam as he lifted it over his head, then stood up, not even noticing as a tile from what was left from the porch roof slid free and shattered on his blond head. Cathy shrieked quietly in amazement and fear, and John carefully bent over and placed the beam out of the way.

"Come on... Mother. It isn't... safe here!" He exclaimed with slow determination as he picked Cathy up carefully and carried her out of the wreckage. He set her down well away from the ruined porch and turned to look at it, a mournful expression on his usually happy face.

"I'm sorry... I broke the... porch. I'll... build it good.... as new. I... promise!"

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That afternoon Big John was still in the hospital. Not because he was hurt, they'd bandaged up his burns and taped his ribs up in the first twenty minutes he was here. Now they were trying to figure out why he was alive.

He'd broken every strength test they'd given him to make sure he didn't have nerve or muscle damage from the impact, and they hadn't yet been able to get a needle into his skin for an IV or blood samples. He'd been placed in quarantine 'just in case', and Cathy hadn't been allowed in to talk to him since they'd moved him. He could see her outside of the room he was in, her face tight with worry and exhaustion. Doctors came and went, asking him so many questions and never giving him enough time to really answer them.

Eventually the din died down. One of the nurses finally got an IV and a blood sample from him, and all the white-clad experts scurried off to their labs to see what 'Big John' was really made of. Cathy had finally succumb to sleep, her head tilted back against the wall of the nurses station at an angle that would have her wincing when she finally came to.

A tall, thin man in a well tailored tan suit holding a briefcase stepped up to the nurses' station and spoke quietly with the young man behind the counter. At one point he pulled out a business card, and then another card, holding them both for inspection. The nurse nodded reluctantly and motioned to the room Big John was peering out of. The thin man smiled politely to the nurse and put away his cards. He paused at Cathy's sleeping form, grabbing up one of the cushions from the other chairs and gently placing it between her head and the wall.

When he stepped into the room he gave the various beeping and blinking machinery a look of faint amusement before nodding to Big John. "You are Johann Steyos, correct?"

And he waited, as if he had every second from here until the heat death of the universe to hear an answer from the giant. John nearly cried in relief. He nodded and managed a, "Yes.....thank you...for Mother's.....pillow."

The thin man nodded and glanced out at the Asian woman. "Of course. She's been through a great deal and there is more to come. If you would please place your thumb here, Mr. Steyos, I have a package for you." He held out a small device that looked like a miniature computer screen. He glanced up as John reached for it and added, "No need to press on it, just lay your thumb there. It'll take a picture, that's all."

The 'signature' taken (without the accidental crushing of a rather expensive piece of technology), the thin man opened the briefcase and handed John a stack of carefully preserved and laminated drawings in a three ring binder. The thin man laid the bind next to John on the bed and gave him a smile that confused the giant. It was a smile, but it was sad. "Good luck," he murmured before taking his quiet leave of the room.

John opened the binder, flipping through the strange drawings one at a time. It started with the sky, a million firfly meteors streaking down towards the Earth. The next was a picture of several people, even someone that looked like him!, with blue glowing lines drawn around them. And then a dragon curled up somewhere dark with one eye open. Then a great ring of fire and metal towering over a burn plain. Then a picture as if from the moon, with the Earth being consumed in flames and split open. The second to last picture was of him, sitting on his bed in the hospital with all the tubes and machines around him, the binder on his lap. The last picture wasn't a picture; it was a simple map leading him away from the hospital to a building that had a woman's face drawn above it; one of the people from the second drawing. There was no writing on the map, but the buildings and streets were clear enough even Big John was pretty sure he could follow it.

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John was not particularly smart. He knew that, too, which was part of his charm: nothing is more obnoxious than someone who think's they're smarter than they are. One area that his brain seemed to function perfectly in was memory. He could look at something once and draw it years later as though he was looking at it all over again. Right now he stared at the pictures over and over again, knowing that they were some sort of message but not knowing what they meant.

Okay... This is me! And this is the meat-ee-ores! And this... is a map! This woman... she is in this picture with me and other people. We all have blue stuff! These other pictures are scary... But I don't know what the dragon means! He set the binder aside and thought for awhile as the minutes stretched out. Then he stood up, took out the IV carefully and peeled off the other sticky things they had put onto him, and changed into the clean clothes his mother had bought, making sure to wash his face and comb his hair, because nobody likes a Messy Mickey! He looked at the sleeping Cathy and felt sad because he had to go and do something and she would worry. Then he smiled as an answer came to him.

The nurse at the duty station was already hurrying to see what the big man was up to, since the beeper alert had gone off indicating that the instruments were no longer receiving life signs. The retarded giant had probably just scratched the electrodes off or something, he thought as he opened the door, then stopped and gaped up at John, who was towering over him, a binder tucked under one arm.

"Listen..." John held up a hand the size of the man's head, and for once the awed nurse was giving him time to speak. "I... want... you to take... care of m-mother. Tell her... I will... come back soon! Tell... tell... her not to worry... about me. She knows... I don't get... lost!" That was true: a side effect of John's memory was that wherever he walked to, he could walk back. The nurse started to protest, but John with infinite patience simply picked the burly man up and set him to one side. "I'm... sorry! I have to... go somewhere." His brow furrowed. "I think it is... important." And with that, the blond titan strode off down the corridor. He paused at the end, his brow furrowing and his lips moving as he read the signs looking for the one that read 'Way Out'. Finding it, he turned and moved in that direction, his gait less shambling and somehow more graceful than it had been before.

Not that John noticed. He was concentrating on the map that danced in his memories, leading to the woman. She had red hair. He wondered if she was nice.

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