TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Terry Galvan.They have been writing SFF “on the side” for 18 years, including a fantasy trilogy and many short stories. After some years in academia, a Fulbright grant, and a corporate job, they decided to pursue SFF writing professionally. Terry has been a monthly flash fiction contributor to Unreal Chicago since 2016, and most recently appeared at Volumes Bookcafe’s reading series Deep Dish and Meekling Press’ showcase “How to Not”. SFF is Terry’s “natural element” and most of their work centers on intersectional feminism. Their protagonists are the mothers, midwives, curanderas, and priestesses often taken for granted in the genre; their plots follow the complex decisions they make as they create, negotiate, and dismantle power systems, magical or otherwise. This is The Gift of the Nephil
“So, how long til you can fight again?”
The angel looked down at the wispy remnants of his body suspended in the asphodel bath. The pink liquid smelled pleasantly of hydrangea and juniper as it lapped at his cells knitting themselves back together. Reconstitution was a long and painful process; each atom dragged against time and gravity and he called them back one by one.
“Oh, seven years, give or take,” he told his son, who peered over the side of the sarcophagus-shaped tank.
“Seven years!” his son exclaimed.
“Oh come now. That’ll give you plenty of time to study, and to train—”
“But what about Mom?”
The angel shifted the feathery outline of a wing in the bath. “Your mother…will be fine. As she always has been.”
“But Dad! The demons! We were still there fighting when you—the demons got her, Dad!We have to go back for her!”
The angel shuddered. Yes, the woman he loved—illicitly loved—would suffer, and it was his fault. He had ill-advisedly taken his family with him on his most recent mission, to retrieve
some long-lost relics from a mountain tomb, when a horde of demons ambushed them. Seven well-aimed thrusts of their black adamantine blades was too much for the angel to sustain, and
the particles of his consciousness hurtled to opposite ends of the realm. It left him just enough energy to whisk his son to their home, but not enough for his mortal wife. His son’s brow furrowed. “Why don’t I just—“
“Absolutely not!” The angel’s voice boomed with Heavenly authority. “If you use your powers again, they’ll know you’re nephilim for sure. They’ll find you, and they’ll kill you.”
Heaven feared nephilim more than Satan himself. The illegitimate offspring of humans and angels had strange, unpredictable powers, which threatened Heaven’s careful regulation of life, the universe, love, and time. Therefore, Heaven made a point of tracking down and executing all nephilim careless enough to reveal themselves. This angel had kept his family a secret. He knew his fall from grace was imminent; it was a mortal sin for an angel to love anything of Earth more than God. Even so, he was starting to understand why things were they way they were. His own rambunctious nephil teenager, with some very clever coding, could manipulate the shape and size of time itself—a prospect he found absolutely terrifying.
“Dad. You said decades pass in the blink of an eye for an angel. Seven years—they wouldn’t even notice—”
“No, son. I won’t lose both of you.”
The nephil stormed out, back to his bedroom of amethyst pillars and opal screens. Snow-covered craggy peaks surrounded his father’s aerie for miles and miles, hidden from
humans and angels alike. He couldn’t understand why his father was so unconcerned about his leaving his mother at the mercy of demons. Rebellion thundered in his half-mortal mind. His thoughts were too fast—faster than humans, faster than angels, faster than the machines built by both. That, he figured, was why it was so easy for him to hack the servers in Heaven that regulated the time- space continuum. Tweaking a few things in the API—the speed of light, for example—allowed him to move to whatever point in time or space he desired.
And yet, speed alone wasn’t enough. His sixteen short years, sheltered by his parents, meant he barely knew his enemy. He had little idea about how Heaven reacted once they realized they’d been hacked. He’d already been caught three times, and Dad had gotten him out of trouble each time, but he couldn’t rely on that now.
Thus the nephil seethed. He lacked his father’s millennia of hindsight and his mother’s mortal pragmatism. He suffered the full emotional range of a human, but had the powers of an angel. He was not going to let Mom go. So he hacked. The nephil easily guessed his father’s password—angels were very predictable—and used his own denatured blood to bypass the two-factor authentication. He lifted admin credentials left open by a lazy Heavenly programmer, and soon the backend of Heaven’s timeservers spread in ticking, glittering glory across the opal screens.
He used to spend hours just reading the programs, fascinated by the nuanced controls Heaven placed around the laws of physics and of love. But today, he rushed to find the tags he assigned to his own family ages ago. Once he found his mother’s location and timespeed, he injected his own program into the interface, strapped his own adamantine sword to his belt, took a deep breath, and hit the return key.
Needless to say, the nephil was surprised when the program dropped him into the hallway of his mother’s office building. Crouched and brandishing his sword, the nephil looked gravely out of place. Clean two-toned walls, shiny teak floors, and the buzz of conversation rose around him. A placard on the orange door before him announced his mother’s title: Senior Vice President of Development and Security. He tiptoed forward and pushed the door open. There was his mother, resplendent in her blue suit, chewing on the green straw of an iced Starbucks as she squinted at her computer Screen.
She whirled around in her chair, almost dropping the coffee. “Oh, honey!” She jumped to her feet and embraced him.
“Mom—you’re all right.” He hugged her back, her steady human heartbeat and earthen musk soothing him.
“Honey, how did you get here so fast?” She held his shoulders, amber eyes burning.
“I came as fast as I could! I thought the demons got you.”
“Oh, no, baby,” she shook her head. “I can handle demons much better than you or Dad.”
Her son blinked.
“Demons are businessfolk, sweetie. They’d much rather strike a deal than fight a duel. If your father had any sense, he’d know that.”
“Are you saying—you made a deal with them?”
“Not really. I just took advantage of your father’s…departure…to have a chat with them.”
“Mom. What did you say to them?”
She sighed. “I told them they could have my soul after I die, so long as they protect you
from Heaven for the rest of your life.”
The nephil stumbled back against the door. “Mom!”
“Sh, honey. I made that decision ages ago—back when I decided to go through with the whole giving-birth-to-a-half-angel thing. Couldn’t just leave you vulnerable after I was gone, and
obviously your dad’s pretty useless.”
“Mom! You can’t—“
“Hush. It’s my soul and I’ll do what I want with it.” She crossed her arms like she did to scold him when he ate too many hyacinth pastries and ruined his appetite for dinner. “But now
you’ve gone and time-traveled again, haven’t you? Did you use Dad’s VPN? I told you, they’re heavily monitoring it—“ Both of their smartwatches blared alarms and flashed red. She scowled at her wrist. “And now they’re coming. Did you even cover your tracks? Have I taught you nothing?”
The nephil’s brain shriveled with shame. “Mom—agh, I’m sorry, I—“ he paced the room, cursing his own rashness.
“The demons will come if I call them,” she gestured at her watch. “It would be messy. But there’s an alternative.”
She put her hands on the table, the same hands that had placed his own on the keyboard, the hands that taught him to code, taught him to hack, taught him to think for himself, regardless of what Heaven wanted. “Unlike me, and unlike Dad—you can use your powers to hurt, or to heal. To do, or to undo.”
“What do you mean?”
“You can hack the timeserver again.” She gestured at her empty chair. “Go back. Make it so your father never met me.”
The nephil’s stomach turned to ice. “You want me to undo our family?”
“Our family’s illegal, baby. There’s no place in Heaven, Earth, or Hell for us, and I’ve made you both suffer so much already—“
“Mom, no.” The nephil gripped the back of the chair. “Mom, you’re a goddamn saint. And you—“ He sat down abruptly and began to type. He had left a backdoor open—sort of on purpose, sort of on accident. It was probably how he got caught so fast, but he even as Heaven rushed down to slaughter him, they had failed to patch it. He injected a much simpler redirect between a couple of lines. “We’re going forward, not backward.”
“Our family’s not illegal. We’re a family. Just because there wasn’t a place in the past doesn’t mean there’s not one in the future.” His fingers flew with an angel’s speed and a mortal’s skill, checking his work this time, sealing off pathways and leaving false trails to beguile any Heavenly programmers who came after them. “And if there isn’t, I’ll make one.” The glass in the office window began to crack. Silver-heeled boots banged sharply on the teak in the hall. The stringent floral scent of angels on the warpath burned in the air. “Dad can’t die, so, we’ll just catch up with him. In seven years, he said.”
The woman who had damned herself for love swallowed. Remembering her husband’s choice to fall from grace to stay with her and their child, she nodded. “Would you like to do the honors?” Her son pulled out the chair for her. She sat down and skimmed her son’s new code. He had fixed his old mistakes, and by her reckoning, built a sound boat for them to travel across time in. She smiled, took her son’s hand, and hit the return key. With a resounding clack, they disappeared.
Molly Southgate is 12 years old. According to her IMDB page, she has performed in 5 films, 1 industrial documentary, 9 Chicago plays, 4 Chicago stage readings, an Iron & Wine music video, multiple commercials, and she has hosted or guested on over 500 podcast episodes. Molly is also a food blogger on Instagram and has Somehow found the time to act in Super Richard World III right here at Otherworld Theatre.