by Andy Hewitt
They came out of the clouds; dark bodies, insect-limbed at a distance, zephyr blown petals falling in the afternoon sky. At first they just seemed to tumble aimlessly past pilots who were too concerned with their enemies to pay much heed. If they weren’t firing cannons at you, they weren’t important.
This indifference did not last long. Wings unfurled, The Shy moved like angels, effortlessly gliding on unseen currents of convection. They were beguiling yet intimidating; serene yet betraying an air of superiority and menace. In those moments when they first arrived everyone thought they were a new form of enemy. Thankfully for us, only our enemies were correct. As the guns fell silent, briefly, there was a hum on the very edge of human hearing. The wings flapped, everywhere people looked they saw shimmers, everywhere they turned there were planes falling from the sky. No visible harm had been done, and yet every craft in the livery of our enemy was no longer airborne.
Our pilots fled. These creatures, these weapons appeared to cause our men no harm, but they could not just stay and find out. Only as the war continued did we begin to get any understanding of what we were dealing with. They would appear from clouds and destroy our enemies time and again. Our air superiority was guaranteed and our nation’s morale lifted up as high as the bodies that wrought such beautiful destruction. They were our guardian angels. They had come to save us; silently taking apart the enemy’s defences, paving our way to victory.
Nobody ever heard them speak, or saw them anywhere other than the clouds, until the day the surrender documents were finalised. There was little pomp or ceremony as the contracts were signed. We knew that we were only victors due to the strange creatures that had come to be known as The Shy. Our enemies knew it too, and what’s more they knew we had as little clue about The Shy’s origins as they did.
I stood there, watching peace become official, when the doors opened and in they came. Just two of them, utterly mesmeric as their translucent wings shimmered in front of my eyes; their very biology displayed as fractal art. We all heard them, or sensed them, or at least felt something. They didn’t speak, but we garnered impressions from them, imprints of thoughts and feelings. This was a time of satisfaction for them, but not of joy. They were the last two that remained, and all the others had left once more. They would never return, unless war broke out again, and they could not promise which side they would be on should that happen. The warning was unspoken, but very real.
I was shocked, but evidently someone else was not, had in fact been counting on this. How they knew The Shy would approach us I still do not know. Even my security clearance has its limits. So as they turned to leave, somewhere between a vision and a melody, shots rang out and they were stilled. Eight men in loose, dark suits ran to them immediately, and restrained the bodies that were turning limp. Darts loaded with sedatives hung from the bodies, fast-acting and somehow tailored to this strange biology. Perhaps one had missed its target, as a brief wing flap saw two men turned to red stains and half a wall demolished, but it was a brief resistance. The Hierarchy had decreed that they must be kept, probed and understood, and so they were.
One of them died that night. The chemicals worked too well and slowed down her heart to the point that it stopped. The other, the one who had seemed stronger even in collapse, she lived, but fastened in a cell that we called a laboratory. Her wings were fastened so tightly that no movement was at all possible, even though this clearly caused intense pain.
And so we studied them. Ours was not to make moral judgements, which would have been heresy. Instead we observed as The Shy reacted to our questions, mostly trying to mask her thoughts, but letting them spill out when she lost concentration.
Sometimes calm, sometimes disbelieving, sometimes vituperative.
Two years and all we found out was that they were not from another place, rather another time. Our best estimate remained that they are from our future, or rather the future that would have been had the war continued to rage. There was something, some way of it ending, some event that humanity had barely survived, had left us in tatters. They had come to change that. Conversely, some believed that they came to stop our enemies from winning the war; that victory would have seen their arrogance grow, leading to even worse times and a human race destined to immolate itself.
It was speculation. The works we made in that lab and others like it could hardly paint us as saints, deserving of angels. If war was to break out again then we would surely not be so lucky to have The Shy on our side for a second time, would we?
So we broke her. We extracted from her everything she knew, slowly, and we built our arsenal. We tested what hurt her and what might have killed her. We rent first her mind and then her body asunder, for the greater good.
We will protect our own, for if there is another war, and there is always another war, we must be ready to face not just our enemies, but our angels.
And next time, they too shall fall.
Andy Hewitt works doing boring things in London, where he lives with his wife and their 18 month old daughter. When he is not being shackled by chores, babysitting, bottles of wine or other such manly duties, he occasionally finds the energy to write things. He can be found on Twitter, sometimes, where he is less entertaining than he had hoped - @doctorcuriosity
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Things that Fly'
'On a Wing and a Prayer'