In Vodka Veritas

From the Story Arc: One Bottle of Stoli

Previous Story in the Arc: No Easy Answers by John Murdock (Tuesday, December 26, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Rum And Empathy by Belladonna Aura (Thursday, December 28, 2006)

(posted Wednesday, December 27, 2006)

The Second Bottle: In Vodka Veritas


“Bella—“ said the voice behind her, as Belladonna Aura paused to unlock her door. “You must stop avoiding me.”

Bella folded the keys back into her hand, and turned to face Seraphic Flame. “And you know why I have been avoiding you,” she said, evenly.

A wave of love surrounded her like two gentle hands. “I know better than anyone,” Sera replied, her mild eyes warm and understanding. “Come, come in. You and I must speak. And over vodka, if you prefer.”

Sera didn’t drink. This was extraordinary…

Well Bella didn’t usually drink, but…well one advantage to being a healer was that you could fix your own liver damage on the spot. And one advantage to being the kind of healer Bella was, she could make herself sober in next to no time.

To face Sera…she was going to need some liquid courage.

She followed Sera into the apartment; her friend deftly scooped up a bottle and two glasses from the end of the counter as they passed it. Clearly Sera had been waiting for her. Making their way into the atrium-like center, the sunken place full of huge planters known as “Sera’s Garden,” Bella chose a spot beneath one of the transplanted trees and put her back against it.

Sera poured both of them drinks, then settled herself next to Bella. “You were my first friend here,” she said quietly. “I scarcely knew what to do with myself. So many people, so much noise, so many minds…I only knew that the Infinite had sent me to CCCP because there were those here who would need what I could do.”

Bella remembered that; the odd, flame-haired, ruddy-skinned woman standing quietly in the HQ meeting room after being inducted by Saviour, looking both incredibly lost and incredibly poised. And then…with odd second-sight, she had seen what Sera truly was…seen the sketched suggestion of wings, the glow…

Seraphic Flame, the strange creature who only had a call-sign, no “real” name, because until that moment she had appeared on the Plaza of Atlas Park…she had not, in the sense most understood it, existed. And to an extent, she still had not “existed.” She had needed no food, no housing, she would appear as a mortal only when she chose to. “Semi-incarnate” was what she had called it. “You were my pupil, my protégé,” Sera reminded her. “You and I are sisters-in-soul. I cannot leave you in this state without explanations.”

“Explanations of what?” Bella asked dully, staring at the glass in her hand.

“When I first came, there were things hidden even from me,” Sera said carefully. “I knew, for instance, that John was in great need of me. I did not know, however, that we would fall in love.”

Bella nodded. One of Sera’s abilities as an angelic creature was to see the myriad and tangled webs of the future—but anything that affected her, personally, she was not permitted to see. John Murdock, newly come to the CCCP, scarred and crippled emotionally from his stint in “the Program” and the results of that, had been in desperate need of emotional help. So great was his pain, in fact, that Sera had not, at first, been able to approach him herself. It had been Bella that had spoken with him, helped him through his first catharsis, in a sense done the prep-work so that Sera could show him, in a way that he could not fail to recognize, that a great many things he had always believed were simply not true. For one thing, that death was not an end…and that the woman he had loved, Alyson, was not gone forever.

But Sera had known, and had not been permitted to tell either Bella nor John himself, that his powers were killing him. Suddenly the other half of that knowledge hit Bella—at the time, when she as his medic had discovered this, all she had thought about was John…

“You were falling in love with him, knowing he was dying…” she said, slowly.

Sera nodded, eyelids lowered. “Yes,” she said, simply. “I took him to the edge of the Heart, you know, before he knew he was doomed. I brought Alyson to him. And when he learned of his fate, he could have chosen not to take return. He could have chosen to go on with her. And I knew that all along.”

Bella swallowed her drink at a gulp. It was horrible enough that Zach was…but she could not imagine facing that. Loving someone, knowing he was dying, and knowing he might well choose to go on with…someone else. Because he loved that someone else more…

“I would have finished what I came for, and gone back to my siblings,” Sera said into the silence. “And I still would have been with him in the broadest sense.” She smiled slightly. “It is not possible to be jealous in the Heart.” She lost her smile. “But more things than just that were hidden from me, at least until now, and that is what I need to speak with you about. But you must not reveal these things to John.”

Bella refilled her glass to give her some time to consider that. “Why?” she asked, finally. She had never, ever known Sera to keep a secret from John, unless….

“It is not permitted,” Sera said. “It is permitted to you that you may better understand, but…these are things he must learn for himself.” Taking Bella’s silence correctly as assent, she continued. “One thing, the first truth, he has learned for himself. John Murdock truly died that last day…the Kheldian fusion did not save him.”

Bella did a double-take. “Wh-what?” she managed.

“I did not know this either,” Sera sighed. “Although…I should have. And now I must explain. When a mortal life ends, the soul has many choices. For some, their very belief system demands that they go on to a ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ as they envision it—though really, this illusion usually does not persist more than a millennia at most. Some begin a journey of exploration. Strong emotional ties often bind two or more together, and they may take that journey together. Or if they choose to return to the mortal world, to learn or to teach, and they have such ties, they will often arrange to return together in some way.” A faint smile touched her lips. “Like Aedan did.”

Before Bella could react to that, Sera was continuing. “Now, when a soul reincarnates, unless it is an extraordinary one like Kyria, it does not recall former incarnations. In fact, these incarnations, the memories, the personality, are all sealed away and inaccessible in the Heart of All Time. They are like pearls on a string; the string is the soul, the pearls are the incarnations, but the soul can only see the pearl it is in. Only when the soul is disincarnate can it see the whole string.” She took a deep breath. “And when John died, that is what happened. The memories, the experiences, the personality that was John Murdock, was sealed away in the Heart. I should have known this. That I did not…I was bereft, I was blinded and deafened, I was alone, and I was experiencing true mortality for the first time.”

Bella nodded. Sera had paid for the miracle of John’s “return” by sacrificing her angelic nature and becoming truly mortal. It had been devastating for her. She lost, at a single blow, her direct connection to the Infinite, most of her powers, the ever-present and comforting voice of her siblings known as the Song of the Seraphim, and for the first time in her long existence, she had truly been alone.

“The miracle that I bought was this…that the Kheldian energy given by Home World could be used to house the soul that had been John immediately, rather than forcing him to be reborn in the—classic—manner. Being as that was its most recent memory, it took the form of John. Being as it came into the world an adult, it was permitted to it that it share some of the memories of John. But nothing that would mark him as the John that I had known. That incarnation was over. The person that was called Blaze Phoenyx was meant to be a new incarnation. Completely. And whatever Blaze and I would have or not have together was meant to be on that basis. That was why he would not recall us.” Sera regarded her friend with the glass cradled in both hands, untouched. “There were—are—things that the soul called John chose to do, needed to do. But he did not need to be ‘John Murdock’ to do them.”

Bella felt stunned. Now all those things that she had thought she knew seemed…skewed. Partly wrong, partly right. And the magnitude of all of this left her feeling as if a bomb had gone off in her lap.

“You see,” Sera said, quietly, “Why you would not want this for yourself.”

To look at someone who looked like, sounded like, even in part acted like Zach—and yet, someone who did not know her—

Suddenly, vividly, she recalled Sera enduring just that; hour after hour, day after day. It had been bad enough for John’s friends…but for his lover and beloved?

“…oh god…” she moaned. Miracle? It must have been more like a curse. But—

“But you got him back—“ she said. “You got John back….”

Sera nodded gravely. “My taking John so many times to the Heart before he died…it established something within him, at the level of the soul rather than the personality. And the soul…what we had together went beyond the personality of John Murdock. It, too, was a deep bond of the soul. And that soul was already on the verge, I think, of becoming like Kyria. But those things alone were not enough and I myself am not yet sure of all the reasons why he came back to me, nor why he was permitted to.” She hesitated, and added softly, “And I cannot discount that a part of it might have been his vow that he would.” After a long silence, she continued. “I am not a Seraphim anymore, though I wield the Seraphic Flame. And as I am still incarnate, there are things I may not see, for any number of reasons. So much of the knowledge that I once had access to is no longer mine, nor will be until this mortal life is over. I may not know the whole truth until then. Or…I may only learn it when he does.”

Bella could only shake her head. “Even if I was stupid enough to make a clone of Zach—“

Sera shuddered. “There are so many things that could—move in—“

“Oh no. Once was enough.” Bella hugged herself. “I was lucky it was someone, well, good that moved into ReBear. It could have been a monster.” She swallowed hard. “So…even if I had the equipment, and made a clone of Zach, had the personality recordings, and even if I had the miracle to put him in that clone…”

“It would not be ‘Zach Marlowe,’” Sera said, very gently. “That life is closed. And the soul in that body, though it was he…might not choose to love you. I knew that, with Blaze. I faced that. And it was agony.” She looked deeply into Bella’s eyes, and compassion suffused her expression. “Oh…my poor, poor dearly beloved friend…”

The bottle of vodka tipped over and spilled out into the planter, as Bella took refuge in Sera’s arms.