0001: Angels.

The angels appeared to Jefry Thrice-blessed Hapus and spoke to him out of the black-hole darkness in the dead of the night. He was wide awake and scared. He couldn’t have been more than five years old.

There had been a fire earlier that evening. One of those dirt-cheap Minmatar appliances that FreeEx hauls in had shorted out, melting the wiring’s plastic sheathing, and set the drapes over the kitchen window ablaze. His family—dad, mom, and Thrice—were all in the other room at the time, watching old Mind Clash reruns, when his father smelled the smoke. Odysseus Cestille Hapus dashed into the kitchen, started hollering for his wife to get the fire extinguisher, and then tore off his pajama top and proceeded to begin beating the fire with it. It was a heroic effort, even though with all his flapping he might have done just as much to fan the flames hotter as he did to smother them out. Unlike the cheap material of which the kitchen curtains were made, his pajama top was flame resistant. (“Good ol’ Gallente ingenuity,” as Odie might say.) Before Lydia Ashkind Arnoux-Ryu could locate and unstrap the ancient fire extinguisher from its alcove in the back of the hall closet, Thrice’s father had put the fire out.

But the damage was done. Soot marred a full half of the clean white kitchen ceiling. The frilly lace curtains that had once picturesquely framed the large window over the sink were nearly entirely burned up, and the appliance (a can opener? a reciprocating laser knife? no one seems able to recall) that had started the whole thing was melted beyond recognition. Most of the rest of the kitchen was intact, although some of the counter around the sink was charred.

The worst of it, though, was the smoke. For such a small fire, it had produced a tremendous volume of sticky black smoke, most likely from the melted plastic. And that smoke had traveled throughout the house, coating everything. In the days to come, even in the back bedrooms inside of drawers that were closed during the fire, they found a thin layer of the gritty tar on top of the clothes within.

Whether out of a concern for everyone’s health or merely a result of being a little unnerved by the whole thing, neither Lydia nor Odysseus were interested to sleep in the family home that night. Dad, Odie, messaged his folks at their house on the other side of town, and the three bundled up into the car to make the trek to spend the night over there.

Of course, Thrice remembers none of these details. He can recite them based on what he’s heard of the story from others over the years, but he doesn’t really remember any of it happening, doesn’t actually have any of his own first-hand memories of the event. At least not until he woke up in the middle of that night. That he remembers perfectly.

Thrice was sleeping on the floor at the foot of the bed that his parents shared whenever they visited his grandparents. It was an ample queen set up in a guest bedroom in their house. And usually a trip to see Grandma and Grandpa meant a holiday or some such and thus evoked nothing but good thoughts—pleasant recollections of the past and thrilled anticipations of the future.

But this visit was different, was harried and harrying. Fear gripped Thrice in his bowels, had punched him in his guts and wrapped its fiery cold fist with his intestines and would not let go. He’d managed to pass out as soon as he’s laid down, but now the urgent need for rest had passed. His eyes were wide open, staring into the black emptiness of a space that had always felt secure and relaxing and now seemed only and wholly a blank space desperate to be filled with the threat of danger. He lay there, starting at every imagined noise, fit to come out of his skin at the slightest provocation.

And, sure enough, that deep, unfathomable blackness did begin to fill. And at the instant he realized that something was there, a thrill of terror tripped through the young boy’s brain.

Then, a most unexpected thing occurred. Just as quickly, the terror vanished, the fist in his guts withdrew, and a calm came over him. It was a different, deeper peace than he had known before, and it had a different feel to it than the comfort of his grandparents’ home. It was richer and bigger somehow.

Here is what Thrice saw: A sphere composed of equal parts red and blue, both simple primary colors, emerged from the darkness. It seemed the sphere was a long ways off, starting as a point of light and gradually getting larger, as if approaching him. The red and blue shifted, moving, pulsing, almost dancing across the surface of the sphere. And as odd and potentially unsettling as this sight might seem, Thrice found it incredibly fascinating and deeply soothing.

Just when the sphere was about the size of a ball from a child’s game and was almost near enough to touch (in fact, Thrice may have even reached out his hand to try to touch it), there came a voice. It was not audible, but it was no less mistakable than if it had been. It was like the words bypassed language and were placed directly into his thoughts, were written on his heart by a mighty, gentle hand.

“You are safe. Nothing will harm you. You were made for a purpose. You are very precious. Everything will be all right.”

And that was it. The sphere dissipated, melting away as does a dream when one awakens. Thrice smiled, eyes already closing into sleep. “Angels,” he whispered.

Thrice would forget all about it by morning and not think of this event again for many years. But the sense of purpose, the belief that everything would work out one way or another, stuck with him, seemed to shine brightest in the hardest moments of his life.

Of which, we shall see, there were to be quite a few.

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