When I say Raven I am referring to the Destroyer that was sent to end our world. After a few weeks of having her imprisoned here in The Cage the people assigned to guard, study, and find a way to kill her got tired of referring to her as the cumbersome titles that existed in the ancient religious texts or legends. So they named her and their superiors sent out a memo that expressing anything other than professional interest in The Destroyer was forbidden. That was before I was hired as the new expert on Norse mythology. Not sure what happened to the last one.
According to records a group of scholars figured out that the major religious predictions synced and that the date of the apocalypse would come within our lifetime. The government, having worked so hard to unify civilization, was not going to roll over and die. They suppressed the book that the scholars had published, disbanded the cults that had formed, and forcibly enlisted the scholars into the newly formed International Protective Agency. A lot of people had taken the idea as a joke and so it died out of public knowledge with relative ease. The government didn't think it was so silly, however, for they had been seeing strange things happen and it all made too much sense upon reading the scholar's book.
Two years ago Raven appeared. She was quiet at first as the apocalypse is more a snowball than a bang but the IPA was ready. They found her, imprisoned her in The Cage, and have been trying to kill her ever since. Nothing has worked. My job is to study Raven and help find a way to get rid of her and save the world. Weighty stuff. I did miss my daughters though. They stayed with my mother since my husband left me.
About a year and a half ago things started to happen. I mean, funny stuff that only the IPA would notice, being concerned with it. The cloud layer dropped lower. The deep oceans are starting to die, which could just be a result of the toxins that killed of most of the ocean life sinking deeper. Or it could be something else. Either way, the IPA was getting nervous and wondering if Raven's influence was leaking out. She couldn't escape, they knew that much. She'd tried. The containment fields and wards and runes of all sorts had held her. But somehow, the world was deteriorating, and people were starting to notice, although they didn't even know the reason for their own behavior.
Riots were up. Violence was rising. Divorce rate skyrocketed (I was one of those statistics). And then, a week after my husband left, and a year after Raven was imprisoned, I was hired by the IPA.
As researchers we were allowed access to one of the control rooms, the one installed with an audio channel leading in and out of Raven's prison. The psychology team used it but late at night it's empty and I'd taken to going down and talking to Raven. So had Ryan and Dave, fellow researchers. There were memos sent out that we shouldn't be doing this sort of thing periodically but they had no weight. It's like taxes. Everyone cheats and unless the government is feeling particularly irate at the moment nothing is done about it.
I usually showed up sometime after midnight. It was hard to sleep in the barracks. I'm not a military person and since there are so few women working there it's usually quite empty. Sounds echoed through it and I had bad dreams and wind up going to someone I know is guaranteed to listen and not repeat what is said. Raven didn't talk much. She'd answer direct questions, occasionally say what you were unwilling to say, but for the most part she just listened.
I was telling her about my daughters again when Dave appeared. I had the 'room in use' light on outside but he didn't seem to notice, or care. Just waltzed on in. I stopped in mid-sentence and on the monitoring screen I could see Raven raise her head.
Dave paused in the doorway, thinking for a moment.
He worked on the scientific aspects of The Cage. I only know him because he talked to Raven and we sometimes swapped interesting tidbits in the break room and had to share research for our jobs. That was about it.
"Am I bothering you?"
"No, just talking."
"Mind if I join you?"
I shook my head no and he pulled up one of the other chairs to the microphone. Swiveled it in his direction. I rolled my eyes and settled back in the chair. Sometimes egghead scholars had no sense of courtesy when knowledge was to be had.
"Raven," he said and I saw one of her eyebrows raise in the change of voice, "I've been thinking. Remember what you said last time, about this being on a schedule?"
She nodded. I looked to Dave for explanation. He switched off the microphone.
"The apocalypse is on a timeline, according to Raven," he said, "of course, everything is past due right now since we've kept her locked up. There's a lot of theories floating around about what should have happened by now - "
"I know; I've contributed to those." It's my job.
Switched the microphone back on.
"So, Raven. You carry out all the stuff that's going to destroy the world, right? So if we're keeping you locked up here, what happens to the timeline?"
"Okay, can you be more specific? Like, what happens when the schedule gets behind?"
She just tilted her head, a sign that she doesn't understand what he's asking. Raven's appearance was not as deceptive as we first thought. Her understanding of some things is that of a child while in other things her knowledge far surpasses ours.
"Let's say, hypothetically, that you get released. Do you destroy everything at once until you get back on schedule, do you resume at the point you were interrupted, or do you just get pissed off, throw the schedule out the window and blow shit up?"
"It depends on when I am free again."
She was an optimist. Knew this wouldn't last forever.
"It depends on what part of the timeline I am released. Certain things will happen without my intervention and I must sync my actions with those things."
"That's great," I said, pulling the microphone back towards me, "got what you wanted to know Dave? Cause I was talking here first."
Petty. But I was tired and irritated and didn't want to get involved in research at two am.
"Right, right. I'm good. Just woke up with that thought and was curious."
Rolled his eyes and left. I asked Raven if she knew what it was like to have family shortly after.
"Not in the sense you do. There are beings you would call my brothers or sisters who watch over this world at certain times."
I was surprised to hear there was more of her. With a bit of nudging she explained that something watched the world and when their era was over called in the next of her kind and left to wherever she would go when she was done here. Didn't seem to know what that place was. I asked if she was the Midgard Serpent at that point and she just gave her standard response to those sorts of questions. A smile and a phrase. I am the ending.
Next day Dave hunted me out. We were in the hallway and he took my arm and dragged me into my office. Shut the door. Not that it'd do much good; I suspected the entire place was bugged.
"Jenny," he said, "be straight with me. What exactly do you talk about with Raven?"
"Stuff that I can't talk to anyone else about," I said. I was moody.
"You're as obscure as the girl. Picking up her habits? C'mon, tell me."
"Just stuff that's on my mind," I snapped, "You know, the kind of stuff you'd tell a friend but not your co-workers. I don't have any friends here in case you didn't notice."
"Oh. Well, uh, she told me to talk to you today so I was wondering why. Would you like to get lunch?"
And so I asked Raven that night why she was playing matchmaker.
"I'm not interested in another husband," I told her, "mine was a waste."
"Ah, love. Why do you want us to fall in love?"
"I don't. I thought he should talk to you as well as talk to me. Since you both seem to like talking."
"You think we should be friends."
She shrugged. I sighed, bid her goodnight, and went back to my bunk.
Two days later, another memo. No talking to The Destroyer except for professional purposes.
"My questions are professional," Dave said with a righteous tone, dropping the memo into the delete folder of his computer, "We all know that you're the deviant."
I rolled my eyes.
"And my questions are harmless. Let's go, I'm starving."
By that time Ryan had gravitated to eating with us. His specialty was in Christian lore, specifically the book of Revelations. We made an interesting combination.
"You been watching the news any?" he asked, showing up a bit late.
Sat down with a tray. I made room for him.
"Things are getting worse. The latest riot was in the capital itself and nearly two thousand people died when the police tried to disperse it. Experts say it's the overcrowding that's causing it. Know what else? Raven was really edgy today as well. I heard from one of the psychologists that she was pacing the room for a couple hours before sitting down in a corner and appearing to go to sleep."
We all knew by that point that she never slept nor ate.
"Yeah, we know, not a coincidence," Dave said, "She's getting uptight cause the apocalypse isn't going as planned."
"Feel bad for ya Dave."
We both stared at Ryan.
"Dude, you go on leave in a week. Don't you remember? Have fun out there in the madhouse."
He had indeed forgotten. I noticed a sharp increase in the amount of time he spent talking to Raven. One time, I bumped into him on my way to the room myself. He had just left, chalk white. Didn't say a word. I watched him go, than ran into the room myself, turned on the microphone, and asked what had just happened. That was the first time Raven told me that I shouldn't talk to her at that time and should just leave. I went back to my bunk and didn't sleep for the rest of the night.
Then he left for leave and I never found out what had happened. Raven was talking more, asking questions of her own. Uncomfortable ones that I suspected she already knew the answers to. Ones that I had to go with rote reply with or risk treason if I spoke my mind. I think she knew that too, for she would often look up at the camera and very gently shake her head from side to side each time I lied to her.
More memos about not talking to Raven. I started to cut our conversations short and skip going some nights, although that left me wide-awake and tossing in my bed.
A month into Dave's absence and he left messages for both Ryan and I. Requesting that we meet him at some bar. We both put in requests for a leave off of base and the superiors assumed we were going on a date and permitted it. We had the evening off. Dave met us in the back of the bar. He looked horrible, like he hadn't slept or eaten for the entire time he'd been gone from The Cage. Didn't give us an explanation, just loaded us up into his car and drove us a few miles out of town.
I recognized the area. It was where they had captured Raven. There had been a fierce fight there and lots of people had died, as well as massive structural damage to the buildings. The media billed it as an insurgent group skirmishing with the police. Dave stopped the car at one of the buildings that had collapsed. No one had rebuilt it yet.
We got out. Followed him into the pile of debris, sliding and cursing on the uneven ground. Finally, at the deepest portion of ash, he stopped. Pointed to the ground.
"What the hell is this?" Ryan asked, "I could be doing important research."
I knelt and poked at the ash. It fell away in a clump and I saw green beneath. Ryan shifted to pay attention when he heard my sharp intake of breath. Underneath the layer of ash was a plant. Tightly curled, but as I brought it up to the pale sunlight that managed to pierce the cloud layer the leaves unfolded and the top split into a purple wisp.
"My god," I whispered, "it's a flower."
I hadn't seen one of those since I took my daughters to the National Greenhouse.
"Here? Growing naturally? How?"
Ryan knelt for a closer look. Dave launched into his narrative.
"I think its Raven's doing. We all know that she is some sort of being – angel if you will – appointed to watch over the earth and see it through a certain time. But she never calls herself the apocalypse like we do. Just the end. End of what though? Our era? We've had plenty of eras end."
I could not tear my eyes away from the flower.
"Maybe our previous guardian angel had seen that the world was getting ready to destroy itself and called her in to usher us into the next era. And maybe that involves the destruction of civilization as we know it, so that things might survive."
"New Zion," Ryan said and I knew he was quoting something from Christianity.
"Perhaps. Let's go to where I've been staying, we're going to attract attention here."
I carefully shoveled the ash around the flower so that it could still taste the air but be hidden from sight by passersby. We returned to his car and he fixed us coffee once in his apartment.
"Here's my proposal," he said, switching on the viewscreen as he did so. Switched the channel to the news and set the volume to mute. I saw an image of a tower pouring out smoke. Some apartment that had its power source explode because a landlord neglected its upkeep. Normal stuff in the poor parts of the city. "Raven needs to be set free."
It took a long time for either of us to speak.
"Yeah," Ryan finally said, "Frankly, I'm not sure what Raven is. She might be an angel and if so, I'd rather not piss off the one who sent her. Or she might just be a force of this planet and in that case, what she's here to do needs to be done."
"Jenny?" Dave looked to me.
"I just want my kids to be safe," I whispered.
"How about a better world for them?"
I didn't answer.
"Look, I have a plan. Hear me out, then go back to the base and think it over. If you're in, contact me tomorrow and we'll launch it. Right?"
"And if we betray one another?"
They were both looking at me. I sat very still and didn't say anything. Dave sucked in a deep breath.
"Leap of faith, man, your department. We're sunk anyways so Jenny might as well know. Here's what we do." Dave would sneak into the power plant of this portion of the city and blow it up. The resulting chaos should tip off a riot. The police would have their hands full and would hopefully allow Dave to sneak into the governmental power plant that supplied energy for the containment fields around Raven and either destroy or disable it. Ryan would be in The Cage, disabling security mechanisms around Raven's cell. Then I would sneak in and break the mystical wards holding her in place with that down. And then… Raven would do what she was sent here to do.
That left me with one problem.
"Dave. You're going to get killed, you know. Raven won't be released by the time they catch you for disabling the generator."
"That's okay," he said softly, "I asked Raven about the timeline again. There's an appointed time people are supposed to die and many of us are past due. That's how your predecessor died – his time expired and he went past the containment fields and Raven killed him."
"You're past due," I said.
He looked even more haggard when I said that.
"I asked, and she said yes. And that when she got free, she would kill me along with the rest. So it's okay if the police kill me. You can ask about it yourselves, but I don't recommend it."
Then Ryan and I left, talked about silly things in the hallway, he pretended to kiss me goodnight, and I went to my bunk. Showered, went to bed, and at around one am crept down to talk to Raven. I had one question. Just one. I had to know before I either betrayed them or helped them.
"Raven," I said, "My children. Will they be safe?"
The riots started an hour after the generator blew. By that time, Dave should already be heading into the government one. I was in the breakroom, watching the news. Ryan was in another breakroom, close to the security control center. The viewscreen went dead and seconds later the lights followed it. Emergency lights kicked in. I took a deep breath and tried to ignore my pounding heartbeat and sweaty palms. Started walking towards Raven's cell. I punched in my access code and prayed Ryan was on schedule and got the security overrides disabled. The door slid open and I resumed breathing again. There were no alarms, no automated turrets spinning in my direction. One thing left to do.
The door to Raven's cell opened and I found her standing in the middle of the room, her eyes wide and her hair spreading slightly as if it were charged with electricity.
"Don't kill me just yet," I said quickly, "I've got to disable the wards first."
"I'm not going to kill you. The fields around me are weaker. Who did this?"
"Ryan and Dave."
I knelt and inspected the various runes around the door. Pulled out a knife and debated on which would be fastest to break first.
"Just this central one," Raven said, pointing at the floor, "I can break the rest myself then."
I moved and started cutting through the lines engraved into the floor. Outer circle first, working in, until each line of power was severed and the circle became just a bunch of meaningless scribble. Raven sighed then, and looked at the ceiling. It tore away and I screamed, covering my head with my arms. The pale sunlight shone down on us and I looked up, astonished. The bunker was deep underground but Raven had blown out a tunnel clear to the surface of the earth.
"Raven," I said, struggling to find my legs and my voice, "I know you're going to be busy here, ending the era and all." She smiled when I said era. "But can I ask a favor?"
And she didn't even ask what it was, just held out her hand. I took it and then she flew. No wings, nothing, just simply flew out of the tunnel and into the air, her hand tight around mine. I found it difficult to breath. Then she broke the cloud layer and I no longer cared about silly things like breathing. For the first time in my life I saw a blue sky and the sun and it sent tears streaming across my cheeks.
"This is what you and your children will see, and their children, and so on," she said, and pulled me close to her chest and dropped through the air again.
She found my mother's apartment and simply walked through the wall and into the living room. My youngest daughter came running, screaming my name and hit me about the knee. My two other children followed suit, as well as my mother, who simply stared at Raven.
"Take them into the desert," she said, "You'll be spared the sight of the destruction to come that way. There are exiles and refugees already living there that can help you. Take food and water though."
"Raven," I said, "You said I would see the blue sky again. Does that mean..?"
She nodded. I would survive the ending of this era. Then she turned to go, walked out through the wall again, and flew off into the air. I could see buildings start to crumble in her wake.
"Let's go," I whispered to my children, gathering their hands in mine.
I was ready to see the last of this era of the world.