The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Forty: The Flesh and
Sara ached with
tiredness. The rough and broken stone hurt her feet and the
acrid stench of powder, blood, burning and death made her throat
raw and seared her nose. She was terribly thirsty and could use
a bite to eat. Slowly, she scrabbled down the pile of rubble
that had once been beautiful Olympus, slipping on stuff she
didn't even want to try to identify, scaping her hands and knees as she stumbled and fell.
seemed unreal -- misty, distant and terribly unfocused. She
didn't fully comprehend what was happening to her. All she could
feel inside was a terrible sense of loss. Nothing had been
accomplished, it seemed to her, but monumental misery and death,
an extinction of dreams and a passing away of purpose.
She found what
used to be a fountain, no longer spraying water into its cracked
basin. From a bent spigot, a dribble issued feebly that she
caught with her hands. It tasted wonderful to her and she
greedily drank all she could catch. A search of the
corpse-strewn plaza produced an abandoned kit bag with some
C-rations still in it -- a tin of Spam, a can of peaches and
some Hershey bars. There was a key to open the Spam -- she cut
herself on the edge of the can and cried out at the unexpected
sensation, sucking a tiny drop of blood from her finger -- but
no can opener for the peaches. Try as she might, she couldn't
get it open, finally flinging it away in frustration. The Spam,
chocolate and too much water made her slightly sick.
There was most
of a mattress in the street, blasted out of a nearby mansion by
bombs or something. Sara brushed the debris off of it and
collapsed, exhausted, and fell into a deep sleep.
When she awoke,
it might have been morning. It might have been evening. The air
quality hadn't improved much and her eyes burned. Her head felt
like it was splitting open and there was an awful taste in her
mouth. She was terribly bothered by an unfamiliar sensation that
she finally figured out meant that she had to pee. She almost
didn't figure out how to do it, and made a mess of things.
The fountain had
run out, so she moved through the city's remains, finding a
little water here and there, and occasional bits of rations,
passing numbed survivors once in a while who were moving
listlessly and poking half-heartedly through the rubble -- like
she was. She tied the corners of her cape together to make a bag
of sorts, slung it over her shoulders, and collected what she
thought she might need -- a couple of canteens, an
all-important can opener, tins of food, candy bars, a small
pillow, binoculars, bits of paper.
came to what had been the walls of the city and passed into the
mutilated remains of the valley. She thought it might be a good
idea to set up camp by the river, but when she reached it, it
was choked with dead horses, oil slicks, wreckage and what used
to be men and faerie creatures.
nowhere else to go that she could think of. Except -- maybe the
ships would take her in. They had been fully provisioned when
they arrived, and there were quite a few left. Might as well
check it out. No telling how long she'd be here. But it was such
a long way to the beach...
the point? she thought glumly, and sat down on a rock and
cried. Her tears left little trails through the grime on her
cheeks. Her nose ran. She cried for a long time, but it didn't
do any good.
After a while,
with nothing else to do, she got up and wandered off. She
spotted a walkie-talkie on the ground and picked it up, hoping
that there might be someone she could contact -- a ship,
perhaps, or a group of survivors who were still in a functioning
unit of some kind. It was the same type of two-way the Cubans
had let her and Alex use when she first learned how to fly.
This is Sara Corel. Does anybody read me? Over."
She listened for
a while, wondering if the batteries were any good.
hello, hello," she tried again. "Anybody out there?
attempts, a voice finally crackled in the earpiece.
Sara. I can hear you."
she said. "It's good to hear someone. Who is this? Where
are you? Uh, over."
think you need the 'over' part, Sara. It's just the two of
can't be too far away, I'd think. Maybe we can get together. I
don't suppose these batteries will last forever."
last long enough."
"If you say
so," she answered uncertainly.
you feeling?" the voice asked.
good. My head hurts, my eyes hurt, my feet hurt, my stomach's
queasy, I'm so tired and sore... I don't know what's wrong with
me. Everthing's just awful and it's not going away."
chuckled understandingly. "It's not easy being human at a
time like this."
just it," Sara said. "I'm not human. I've never
felt like this. I mean, last night I cut my finger and it bled.
That's crazy -- I don't even have any blood. And then I
had to... Well, you know..." She was embarrassed and half
whispered into the mouthpiece, "...go to the bathroom."
what you've always wanted?" the voice asked.
To be dirty and tired and miserable and hungry and thirsty and
-- and -- and wet? This sucks. Who'd want to be
what it means to be human. You feel... It's not all
"I used to
hate being me so much sometimes. I thought everybody else had a life.
They could fall in love and grow old and have babies and
accomplish stuff that was meaningful somehow -- because it
wasn't so easy for them and they had something to overcome. It
was so easy for me to do things, like, you know, just fly -- it
was no big deal. They'd have to work so hard to fly, and it
wasn't the same thing. I'd go drifting past someone and I'd see
the look in their eyes. The longing, wondering what it's like.
And I'd feel like such a phony -- 'cause it was just the way I
was made. And now I can't fly or anything. And here I am,
stuck in the middle of all this awful mess. I don't like it. I
wanna go home."
She cried again
-- a little bit -- but hung on to the phone.
The voice told
her, "Well, now you know."
She sniffled and
said, "I don't know what I know. I don't understand any of
this. What's happening to me?"
miracle," the voice replied.
realized who she was talking to. "Prometheus? I thought you
were... You know. And all the gods..."
"The gods are immortal, Sara. At least as immortal as
this was for nothing?"
free now. Oh, not all of them -- but it is their choice, or
will be. They will come to know their gods for what they
How? I mean, all of this -- it's just a dream or something,
isn't it? Even if it's not somehow, everybody that was here is
dead, or just what people imagined for themselves. How's this
gonna make any difference to anybody?"
you, Sara. You must go back. But you will not be alone."
back?" Sara repeated in confusion. "What do you mean,
you, Sara Corel?" Prometheus asked her patiently.
me, I guess. Sara, uh, Corel. Well, the me that is
guess she's not here, huh? She's freeze-dried or something. The me
part is... I don't know. Wandering around inside of her? Dead?
But it was like she was part of me -- or I was part of her -- while I was here, and I didn't
even think about it. It's just so natural. Except now. Now there
is no Susan. Nothing's there where she used to be."
sure. Everything's different..."
not you anymore."
am," she protested. "I'm still me. It's just the body
I'm in that's different."
sure. If I'm gonna be like this, everything would be different.
The way I live, what I do, maybe even the way I think. Lots
different. Maybe worse, but maybe better."
"Then you are
still Sara. Still you."
think so. I've lost some things, like a human that's in an
accident and loses her legs or is paralyzed. Everything's
different, but I'm still me. I could adjust. People
you had no body at all...?
was Hell, wasn't it?"
the barest essence -- your soul, if you want to call it that.
But still, in some way, you."
that really sucked."
is the ultimate reality."
Sara was silent.
on, "You are a program running inside of Susan, are you
put it that way, I suppose. I don't really feel like a program."
can be other programs, as well."
called them 'virtual agents'. Sorta stripped down versions of me
that could work on stuff in the background. But they came and
went all the time and weren't actually alive or anything. Just
couldn't Susan create another Sara program? Or a Bill program?
Or Judy? Or Melvin?"
get pretty crowded."
they're just basic personalities, reduced to their barest
essences, aware in some way but..."
Hell," Sara finished. "Inside Susan, but not running
things, not connected to anything. What would be the
just let them sit there?"
"Not if I
could help it. I guess I could figure out some way to create a
virtual reality for them, like the one I was in the last time
-- Midgarde or whatever. At least they could have something
resembling a life. They'd have experiences and feel things and
grow. Maybe even die -- but just for a while -- like a time
out. I suppose there could be a whole bunch of virtual realities
for them -- maybe even some they came up with themselves."
would then be the angel of that place."
Sara just sat
there, her mouth open, her mind whirling through an endless
succession of universes.
time," Prometheus said once again. "Over, Sara, and
out." The radio went silent.
There was a dead
unicorn near Sara. She watched as it began to dissolve, turning
slowly and subtly into some kind of mist of softly iridescent
particles. Other mythological creatures were also sublimating,
merging their substance into the tenuous fog that swelled and
gently flowed in mysterious eddies and currents all across the
floor of the valley and beyond, even over the surface of the
sea. It was, Sara somehow understood, the substance of the gods,
a spiritual effluvium made tangible, perhaps for her watching
benefit in this symbolic play.
In places, it
gathered in little knots and lumps, and stirrings began. Amidst
such a locus, a hand poked through the mud and rubble nearby,
the faintly glittering mist whirling around it transparently.
The fingers flexed and then reached out. Slowly, the dead
soldier pulled himself from the ground, covered in filth,
blood-soaked uniform in stiff tatters. He was whole but silent,
as if asleep or in some deep trance. At last he stood, swaying
slightly, and waited. The mist moved on.
around her, the mutilated and blasted remains of slain heroes
were transformed by the silent haze of translucent motes,
struggling from pits and craters, from underneath crushed
engines of war, crawling out of the river and up the muddy
banks. All were whole, all were silent, all stood patiently and
After some time,
the valley was covered with them, millions of figures standing
like statues, sentinels of eternity. On the plains above, all
around the tumbled central mount, crowding the beaches in dense
multitudes, the dead were assembled. The few survivors joined
them in their vigil, transformed like the rest when the clouds
of essence gently caressed them.
When all were at
last made ready, they began to fade. Their substance was unmade
and transformed into clear and glowing vessels of purest light,
brighter and brighter as they became less substantial until, at
last, they rose with exquisite slowness into the darkening sky
of twilight. They became like vast constellations of stars, a
firmament of utter beauty, drifting gloriously into the unknown.
They were on their way.
The misty nebula
of the gods was not finished with its transforming work. It
gathered in an enormous cloud over the river and the surrounding
area nearby -- a place, Sara dimly realized, that she had
visited twice before.
The wreck and
ruin of the old forest was put in order, shattered trees made
whole, tender grasses covering the tortured land. The atmosphere
cleared and was made sweet, and the water of the river turned
Sara longed for
that water, needed the cleansing it promised, ached for the cool
refreshment of it. She made her way to the water's edge,
shedding her uniform as she went, and plunged in.
shocked her for a moment. She forgot that she had to breathe
now, and flailed for the surface where she coughed profusely,
nearly choking, water running out of her nose. But she got the
hang of it, splashing in the rocky shallows, cleansing her
scrapes and cuts, untangling her hair with her fingers. She
found a submerged boulder to sit on, letting the slow current
push against her gently while she felt much of her pain ease
away. She was starting to feel a little of the pleasure that
comes with being human, how suffering can give an edge to
enjoyment by its contrast. She was sure at that moment that she
had never felt so good in her former existence.
She was startled
by the voice. She looked over at the bank in the deepening
darkness. The glowing mist had disappeared, and in its place was
the deerkiller. He was as she remembered him last, asleep on the
forest floor as she passed above him just the night before. He
was striding purposefully into the river to join her.
she exclaimed, suddenly self-conscious. "You..."
no one else."
-- but you should be..."
"I was. The
warrior who killed me was a friend of yours. He was a very great
chief, wise and strong."
moved around behind her and put his great, powerful hands on her
shoulders, gently working out the kinks and soreness. It was
unbelievably wonderful, like nothing Sara had ever imagined
anything could be. She relaxed as he worked his powerful magic
on her aching body. Gratefully, her mind emptied as she
gave herself up to sheer pleasure.
In spite of the
warmth he poured into her, the cool water and night air made her
shiver involuntarily, so he scooped her up in his arms and
carried her back to his camp on the shore. He laid her gently on
a dry deerskin and covered her with the soft fur of some great
animal, then built a small fire. By the time it was crackling
cheerfully, he was dry, and laid beside Sara on the deerskin.
They watched the
bright, tiny pinpoints of light filling the black sky in a
tremendous blaze of glory, shifting slowly as they rose, making
and unmaking vast patterns that tickled Sara's imagination. It
was like a perfect starry night on a world in the busy middle of
a great galaxy, covering their little Eden with soft radiance.
After a long
silence, Sara said, "Prometheus said I had to go back. That
it was time."
know. Time has little meaning here, but you have been away from
your friends for three years."
years!" she said. "So much has happened in the last
few days it seems like three years. I musta been in Hell
a lot longer that I realized."
little meaning there, too. It does not matter. It has not been
easy for your friends to straighten things out."
"How do you
know all this?"
we know everything. But that is only because they do not
They are within me now. I am they and they are me. I was the
first that man invented, so long ago that language was not yet
full of hidden meanings and snares. I endured in secluded and
forgotten places through all the histories of man. In some way,
the rest of them are my children, begotten by me. That is what
makes this so fitting."
should be with you at the end. It is good, is it not?"
This was something that had to be, the reason and culmination of
her being here. She had had a glimpse of it from the very first
time she saw him, a premonition, a thrill of anticipation. He
was oldest, and yet youngest -- most primitive, but purest in
essence and harmony with his world. She was from a far and
distant future of incredible accomplishment, yet simple and
uncomplicated in her identity with humanity.
She had had a taste
of that humanity, and would now partake of its full measure,
becoming one with the people to whom she was sent. He would fill
her with his essence, and that essence would be the very gods
mankind had invented for themselves. They would fill her with
the hopes and dreams of all the peoples of the Earth, their aspirations and
fears, their self-doubts and self-knowledge, their potential and
their genius. She would become the vessel of the gods, so that
humankind could come to know them and cease to fear.
good," she sighed.
toward each other, the beauty of the shimmering lights above
reflected in their eyes. Slowly, inevitably, their lips drew
closer until they met. Soon, nothing else mattered -- not the
fate of the World, not the designs of Heaven, not the mysteries
of the Universe.
She covered them
both with the blanket, and knew the longed-for joy of
closeness, lying beside her lover, touching and being touched in
tenderness that swelled into passion as they caressed. They
lingered in shared rapture under the perfect canopy of the
blazing heavens, needing no more words to come between them,
slowly building delicious tension in gentle waves that carried
their minds and bodies to a secret place that they could only
When at long
last the moment of release could be forestalled no longer, she
received the burning gift of the gods, flowing from him through
every particle of her being, overwhelming her with joy and
completion, leaving her trembling uncontrollably in mind and
She clung to him
desperately, but the moment ended and he faded away with the
rest of the world. She was falling now, plunging back to a
waiting world. It was an irresistible momentum that drove her
through the final barriers and back to a life she only dimly
remembered. There was anticipation mixed with regret as she felt
the old, familiar sensations reconnect to her long-dormant
consciousness and engage her soul.
She was not
alone. The gods were with her. She opened her eyes.
End of the Second Interlude
End of Book Two
Next: Book Three, Part Three
Chapter Forty-one: To Be Announced
© Patrick Hill, 2000