The angel falls in flames. I watch its descent through the smoked glass slits in my sun shield. Even then the brightness is too much, and I have to turn away or go blind. I take cover with the rest and hope this time the casualties will be minimal.
When it hits, it is like the end of the world all over again. Clouds of choking ash and smoke. Boulders raining like hail through the roiling miasma. Trees flung like spears. I take shallow breaths through my mask, crouched behind the flimsy protection of a bomb shelter, until the tempest passes.
After, we take a headcount of the survivors. We treat the injured as best we can. We lay the dead aside and mutter a hasty prayer over each body to bring them peace while they wait. It is all we have time for. Proper burial rites will be observed later.
The angel’s carcass lies shattered at the bottom of a crater. We approach warily, carrying blast shields before us in case of cadaveric spasm or a sudden expulsion of aether. Statistically, more people have died in the hours after angelic impact than during the crash itself.
Beneath it, the ground is cracked and smoking. Latent heat melts the outer layers of my boots so I leave a footstep trail of black rubber on blasted rock. Mishappen, semi-transparent pillars rise in radiating spokes away from the crater’s epicenter—sand cooked into glass at the moment of impact.
I am the first to reach the corpse. It lies in a carpet of adamantine feathers, nine wings crumpled around itself like a dead spider’s legs. One broken wing lies outstretched, and I walk along it, pacing out its length. I count fifty paces from tip to shoulder, though my measurement is not exact. I have to be careful to avoid stepping on any scattered feathers. They would slice through my flesh before I even knew I’d touched one.
At the shoulder, the wing’s mechanical structure and bone gears disappear into the soft meat of its body. Hot golden ichor seeps from countless wounds on its flesh. One of its many eyes stares directly at me, its iron-grey iris large enough to swallow me whole. There is no life left within, but that doesn’t stop the chill that floods my bones.
With sudden revulsion, I sink my knife in the creature’s eyeball. No reaction. A slow stream of ichor leaks from the wound, coating the knife hilt and dripping to the still-smoking ground. It hisses and steams when it hits. Already it is cooling.
With a shudder, I pull my knife back and wipe it clean.
“It is dead,” I confirm. My voice echoes strangely in the silence. But it breaks some unspoken barrier, and the others begin to speak and even laugh again. They swarm down into the crater to join me, bringing saws, knives, angle-grinders, empty liquor bottles, plastic crates, and heavy cable. The work begins.
The Heavenly War started long ago. Supposedly it doesn’t concern us, except when their misfired weapons eviscerate half the planet, or when the bodies of their dead soldiers pulverize a city upon entering the atmosphere. Nothing we can do to stop it, so we make the best of what we have, and use every scrap we can scavenge.
We move fast. Angelic ichor freezes solid at standard human blood temperature, so while alive, an angel’s body must burn with a heavenly fire to keep moving. After death, it’s a race against time to drain it before it enters a profound freeze impenetrable by any tool yet crafted.
First, the wings are plucked and the area cleared of feathers. We use large pliers to pull the razor-sharp pinions, and kevlar gloves to protect from accidents. These are stowed away in crates to be crafted into knives or hammered into gardening tools.
While this happens, we begin draining the ichor. The angel’s body is a series of interlocking wheels of iron, flesh, and eyes, the largest over fifty paces in diameter. Too heavy to lift. So we dig under it, jackhammering through layers of rock and slag until we have room to jam a bucket and siphon. Two deep incisions are made in the angel’s flesh in the shape of a cross. We siphon the ichor into block-shaped molds. Once frozen it can’t be thawed, but we can use the blocks for building material.
That done, half of us begin work on the wings while the others see to the body. The air rings with the sound of angle grinders, socket wrenches, and pneumatic drills as the light-weight structural steel of the wings is disassembled into parts to be used in our own scavenged vehicles.
I follow the group focusing on the interlocking rings of flesh. With angel-feather knives and aether-powered bone saws, we sever meat from its metal bones in twenty-pound chunks. Each chunk is passed down to be rinsed and salted, pulling any remaining ichor from its tissue. Properly stored, an angel’s meat can last for years.
I set my teeth and drive my knife into flesh. It’s going to be a long night.
The sun has long since set by the time I step back and wipe sweat from my face. Lit by shining white floodlights, the crater is an antlike hive of activity. Human silhouettes casting long black shadows across yawning expanses of angelic bone. It will be days before the corpse is fully picked clean and disassembled, but now I need rest.
On my way out, I lay claim to a fresh cut of salted meat, wrapping it in clean cloth and pocketing it for dinner. At the crater’s rim, the arcing steel beams of the angel’s wings lie neatly stacked, and along them hundreds of boxes of golden feathers, salted meat, bottled aether, nuts and bolts, ichorite bricks, and a growing pile of bones. Six eyeballs, each as big in diameter as I am tall, lie strapped to transport pallets, empty pupils gazing in random directions. We will use every piece.
At home, I grill the meat over a cookfire and slice it into twelve pieces to serve. Far more mouths to feed than just my own family’s tonight. Refugees from the angel’s impact are many. I’m thankful we have the food now to feed them all.
As the plates are passed down the tables, we join hands and raise our heads in prayer.
“Bless us, oh Lord, and these Your gifts, which we have received from Your bounty. As You have provided for us in the past, so You provide for us still. Remember us, we pray, and may Your blessings never cease. In Your name, Amen.”
© 2023 André Geleynse