CW: self harm mentions and implications, government job, depictions of a panic attack, depictions of severe dissociation, angry voices in your head yelling at you, angels, mentions of genocide, Religious trauma discussion.
A thick mahogany desk sat in front of the brown haired girl with shaky blue eyes. Beautifully carved wood set together by gentle hands years ago. Or perhaps the beauty of itself was false, and it was one of those mass produced cheap pieces of shit. Ahlee didn’t know and she didn’t care to ask. Behind the desk sat a brilliant man in a suit that shone with the radiance of the sun. Ahlee thought about asking him to turn it down, but she thought it might be rude.
“Thanks for taking the time out of your day, Ms.Vespin. My name is Exadriel. I’m going to be interviewing you today. So, tell me. Why do you want to work at AWO. What is it that’s drawing you to our company today?”
Ahlee fidgeted in her seat. To tell the truth, she just needed the money. Ever since the coffee shop shut down she and Madelin were running on scraps. Madelin’s morals left her refusing to take jobs dedicated to her field of study these months and the two of them were just getting by. She wasn’t going to say any of that though. No, pity is not how you get a job.
Ahlee took a deep breath, “Well you see my last job was pretty great! I worked with people all day, and got to get really close to our regulars. It was really nice seeing some of the same folks over and over again. I’ve heard here, You all end up working with a lot of the same clients repeatedly, and you know, I really want that in a job. I want to get close to a group of people over a period of time and help their needs be met.”
A shadow fell across the room. Ahlee’s hand balled into a fist.
Exadriel’s eyes lit up, “Why don’t you tell us the truth, Ms.Vespin? You do not need to lie here.”
Ahlee froze, her gaze fell away from the interviewer. A ball of stress materialized in her throat, “Um, what do you mean?”
The Angel interlaced her fingers together, set them on the desk and leaned forward. Exadriel’s eyes bore into her soul, “You’re lying, Ms.Vespin. You know I’m an Angel, right? The office of Anomalies and Weird Occurrences needs to be able to trust you. So why do you want this job?”
Ahlee bit her lip and fingers dug deeper into her legs. Deep breathes weren’t working. The stress remained. Her control was faltering. Her eyes darted about nervously. Angels. It had to have been an angel, huh? It’s always the angels. Direct, to the point, and can see through every lie you tell.
Of course she had forgotten.
Exadriel’s eyes bore into her. She felt her breath accelerate and her heart soon followed.
Her fingers dug deeper.
“If you need to take a moment, you can. We reached out to you, not the other way around. Your work in the Bookstore is the reason why you’re here.”
There was no tone to read in the Angel’s voice. No body language to understand what their attitude was. The angel could have understood her panic attack perfectly but she had no idea if that was the case. Every job interview she’d ever been in flashed back into her mind. A guessing game where the other person already knew every card on the table. A subtle game where she had to figure out a language that everyone else was speaking but her. Ahlee hated talking to angels.
Ahlee held her breath for a moment. It was good money. It was incredible money. Her needs would be met, her little family she had carved out in Reinhold would be safe. Her partner wouldn’t have to keep pushing herself at a job she hated, she could help the community around her buyout the apartment building and keep them from being priced out.
Things would be great, things were great. They wanted her around. So why couldn’t she feel that way. The voice in her heart screamed at her, to leave, to run, to get away from the stressful situation that she was in. To never see any of them again, to go full dark mode and ignore the angel in front of her. Never to be seen again.
She took a deep breath and her hands relaxed leaving behind only red scratch marks against a sea of others like them.
“I mean, You’re an angel. Don’t you oversee over all of humanity?”
“I think what you’re thinking of is a Guardian Angel, Ms.Vespin. I am a Principality. I watch over a group of people, namely the Social Security Department of Anomalies and Weird Occurrences.”
“The name seems kinda clinical if you ask me.”
The angel scoffed, “It’s the government. When is it not clinical?”
Ahlee laughed softly, another deep breath graced her lungs, “To be honest, I just really need the money. I’m desperate. You’ve seen the human economy. We’re okay right now, but we’re stressed a lot that things are about to get worse.”
“No, I simply exist in the department. My duty is one called of God. I do not watch over your ‘Human Economy.’”
Ahlee frowned, “Got it.”
The angel nodded and then placed two of its hands face down on the table, “So it’s money you want then. We have numerous NDA’s that will send you straight to the Thrones if you end up speaking these things to others. There is also a Human Non-Compete Clause that you must sign. As long as you follow our rules, you will be allowed in. But break them and there will be consequences, I assure you. Cosmic Consequences. If information of our dealings reach the wrong people, you will not be the only one punished. There are others around you whose safety Your job will be for.”
“Listen, I’ll do anything you tell me to really. With enough training, I can do anything. I just need a mentor of sorts. That’s it.”
The angel cocked it’s head and raised an eyebrow, “Ms.Vespin. You and your team already have the job if you want it. This interview is just for our records.”
Ahlee paused, “Wait, what do you mean, my team?”
“Well you were not the only one that witnessed the unraveling of reality. There were others with you. You are their leader aren’t you? They’ll follow where you point them right?”
Ahlee blinked wordlessly.
“Apologies, have I said something incorrectly? We angels are not exactly gifted with your Human social graces you know.”
“No no, you just shocked me is all.”
“Ms.Vespin. Your work against The Conductor is something that we in the Social Security business have been trying to figure out. We have no idea how you pacified her grip on our reality. These entities, these Celestials. They operate outside of normal rules. Not even God understands what it is that you all did. So you all and your team, those friends of yours, even your little sister if you want it. Her gifts at the arcane arts are something we’ve never even heard of. Are they demonic in nature?”
Ahlee’s face twisted up in confusion. Wait. They wanted all of them? Each individual person in her group of friends. Not just her. All of them.
“The Social Security Department of Anomalies and Weird Occurrences hires a large number of anomalous entities, Ms.Vespin. Myself included. The Devil you call your wife is welcome too.”
Ahlee frowned again, “So you’ll acknowledge that she’s my wife, but you won’t call me Mrs.Vespin?”
Exadriel paused for a moment, and then nodded. “Oh. Apologies, you are correct. That is the correct terminology for humans isn’t it. Apologies, Mrs.Vespin.”
Ahlee’s rage briefly subsided, “Huh?”
“I’m sorry, is there more? She’s your wife. The correct terminology is Mrs.Vespin.”
“No wait, you’re an angel, you’re called of god. That’s my wife. I’m a girl. She’s my wife.”
“Sorry. It’s just… a little strange. I thought Angels would be homophobic considering…”
“You have never met an Angel before, have you Mrs.Vespin? We do not have a concept of your human gender. If you are married, you are married.”
“Okay but, like churches?”
“We do not participate in human affairs unless deemed necessary. This conversation is deviating off topic. Is your team ready?”
Ahlee mind fizzled, “Sorry, I thought you only wanted me.”
Exadriel shook their head, “We want all of them, Mrs.Vespin. Your younger sister is also welcome to continue her studies at bogharts, but we do also have a school here for cases like this provided the legal guardians consent.”
Ahlee’s mind cracked and fingers once again dug into her legs, the room swam in her vision. Panic set in again.
She gulped, “Ah, you mean my parents?”
“Yes. Her Human legal guardians.”
She felt like she wanted to vomit, “Oh, I don’t know if that’s the best idea.”
“Her parents have already consented Mrs.Vespin. All that is left is to ask her yourself, and we’d like you to do that. We are angels after all. Children can see our true form and we’d like to avoid a confrontation. Her magic is quite powerful after all.”
If there were words being said, Ahlee couldn’t hear them. Parents.
The people she had run away from. The people she had left behind. Parents. Parents. Your parents.
The words swam around in her head, the world swam. She felt like vomiting. She wanted to vomit. She could not vomit, she didn’t know how to do that on command. Or if that was even smart. What would happen if she had to talk to her parents again. Of course they said yes to an angel. Emilia was a kid, she shouldn’t have to go through stuff like this. She should be having fun. She should be learning and being a normal kid and having friends. Not going to that oppressive special school for special people like her. She should be free to be herself. She should be able to express herself dad. She should be able to call herself a woman and just have nothing else change. Why do you have to keep making problems. She should just be allowed to be herself and be happy. Isn’t that what god wanted? Isn’t that what-
“Ahlee. AHLEE. AHLEE VESPIN. HELLO. CAN YOU HEAR ME.” The angels voice boomed through the room.
But Ahlee couldn’t hear it. Her ears were ringing. Brilliant light shone around her. The room spun. The light hummed. The sound of cars and roads echoed around her. The voices in her head grew loud. Her hand slowly reached for the sword at her hip. Vision blurred and the room turned red.
Clarity came back for a moment as the familiar sound of an unsheathing of a knife rang through her ears. Her eyes widened as she looked up and saw an angel standing above her in full radiant glory. A brilliant beam of light as the Principality revealed it’s true form.
Exadriel’s voice boomed across the room, “AHLEE VESPIN, BE NOT AFRAID. THIS FORM IS DESIGNED TO SOOTHE THE HUMAN MIND. THERE IS NO THREAT HERE.”
The voice gargled in her ears. She couldn’t listen. She had to leave. She had to leave.
The voice in her head echoed, “LEAVE. LEAVE LEAVE NOW. LEAVE LEAVE. IT’S JUST THE PAST ALL OVER AGAIN.”
The voice in her head was right. It had protected her in the past, why wouldn’t it do so now? She backed up out of the chair and it fell over, clattering to the floor. She flinched again. Her grip tightened on the knife.
The clarity splashed in her mind. No. Not again. Not like this. The angel hasn’t done anything wrong. I am having a panic attack. Another panic attack.
The voice continued, “LEAVE. LEAVE YOU HAVE TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW. BAD. ENEMY. BAD BAD. BAD. IT’S JUST THE PAST AGAIN”
She looked up at the angel, the words kept coming out as garbled. She couldn’t calm herself like this. Not with them. She ran out the door behind her and quickly put the knife away, diving down hallway, after hallway hoping to find any kind of exit.
This wasn’t working.
She saw a bathroom on the left and dived in, bumping into someone and slamming a stall door shut and sitting down.
With shaky hands she pulled out a set of wireless earbuds inside her ears and pulled out a phone. With shaky fingers she clicked on a familiar song and started rocking herself on the toilet seat. She was alone. She was safe. She could meltdown here. She could fall apart here. She tapped on an app and then tapped the button that said “noise canceling.”
Relief flooded her as the sound of lights flickering and running water were drowned out by nothing other than a wordless song. She took a deep breath and her heart rate slowly settled.
Her eyes darted and she stared down at the bottom of the stall and saw feet facing her. Soft careless lo-fi played in her ears. She took out an earbud and softly called out.
“Sorry, I was asking if this was a C-37”
Ahlee blinked, “huh?”
“Ohhhh gotcha. C-36 then. You’re new here aren’t you? What’s your name?”
The voice in her head pounded, “Don’t trust her. She’s one of them.”
She took a deep breath. This is a random person that works here. She has codewords. This is something that happens a lot.
The voice echoed back, “Why do you think we can trust some random person whose knocking on the door? Abnormal behavior.”
Ahlee kept her focus tight. Exadriel said that we already had the job if we wanted it. We are wanted here and panic attacks when dealing with strange and unusual things is probably something that is normal. Maybe they’ll be different.
The voice was silent for a moment and then spoke, “I hope you’re right.”
Ahlee finally broke the silence outside her head, “Ahlee. What’s a C-36”
“Hi Ahlee! I’m Lana. I work here at AWO. A c-36 is when a new hire has a negative reaction to seeing anomalous activity or behavior exhibited by a member of AWO. It’s more or less code for a panic attack. I can show you where the panic rooms are if you want. You just missed it by a few doors.”
Ahlee took another deep breath and stood up. Clinicality sure was everywhere. “yeah okay.”
Max chuckled, “You’re gonna have to open the door for me to help you.”
Ahlee paused. Something about that felt a little symbolic. Why did that keep happenning.
“Sure, one second.” Ahlee picked up her purse and pulled out a tissue, wiping tears and mascara from her face. She threw the strap over her shoulders and unlocked the bathroom door. Before her stood a relatively short girl with pink hair and bright green eyes. She smiled warmly and started walking out.
“Here, Just down this hallway. I think it’s the best room in the building honestly.”
Ahlee nodded wordlessly as she followed.
“So what department are you being hired on for?”
Ahlee gulped and took another deep breath. She reached into a purse and pulled out a tiny red switch that she flicked back and forth, “uh, Search and Rescue.”
“Search and rescue. Nice. Those spots have been empty for a while. Kinda cursed if you ask me. But you don’t feel cursed. So maybe that’s a good thing.”
“Yeah, I’m from the Curses department. They recruited me after my fae powers started manifesting all out of control about a year ago. Kept making people forget me. Got it under control now and they’re like hey we could use a curses expert.”
“Damn, that must have sucked.” Ahlee said, nerves loosening.
“Ehhhh, turned out the people who kept forgetting me weren’t worth keeping around. But what about you? What got their eyes on you?”
“Do you remember how a few months ago reality started unraveling?”
“Oh yeah! Couldn’t get my laundry machine to work. It kept speaking in Latin.”
“Yeah. Uh, turns out the Creator of our Reality was like mad messed in the head and kept trying to start over reality. And because of that, the entity that was designed to end our reality got pissed and I had to fight him and it sucked.”
“Oh shit. Who else did you fight with?”
“What do you mean?”
Lana smiled, “Well, It’s Search and Rescue. That’s always a team of people they recruit all at once. Who did you Fight God and win with?”
“Well, it wasn’t God God. Apparently she’s some kind of Meta Entity? And she was the one that made the Capital G god. She exists outside of our Reality. Anyways, I got together with my wife, and a bunch of my coworkers and regulars and we kinda just beat the shit out of this guy. And then the uhhhh, I guess Conductor. Was like ‘alright, time to restart this reality’ and we were all like ‘As members of this reality, I object.’”
“So not only did you fight and kill one of these meta entities, you convinced another to not kill everyone who existed.”
“Yeaaaah, I still have nightmares about that. But like, Connie’s cool. She’s not a bad person. She just didn’t really know.”
“She didn’t really know her creations wanted to live?”
“I guess? I’m not so sure why she keeps trying to start things over. It was kind of humbling you know. It’s like. Dang, even God, I mean. I guess even Meta Entities can also get fucked up. It kinda just put everything into perspective.”
Lana closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief, “Sounds like you’re the perfect fit for the job then.”
Ahlee froze in the hallway, “Wait Why?”
Lana stopped and pointed at a door with big letters above that read “PANIC ROOM. FOR USE IN C-36, AND C-37 ONLY.”
“Well, This is AWO. We’re not designed to kill anomalous entities. No. That was a past department. We don’t do that anymore. See the monsters that exist outside in the world are just as ‘human’ as you are. All of them are subject to that exact thing you’re experiencing. Panic attacks, meltdowns, you know, the works. They’re intelligent just like us. Search and Rescue is called Search and Rescue for a reason. You’re not saving just your fellow humans. You’re trying to save the Monsters as well. Like sure. Dragons, right? They’re real. The stories are real okay? Dragons are real and sometimes they’re assholes. But these are creatures who have existed that long for a reason. They are Dangerous. However they’re very solitary creatures. So they’re stuck in their own heads a lot. Kinda have meltdowns a lot. But if you go out and kill them then what about the others right? What about the other dragons that are good? Should we kill all dragons just because of one bad dragon? Of course not, that’s called Genocide, and is a warcrime. And also, it’s bad. The worst people in history do that. Shouldn’t everyone get a second chance?”
Ahlee stood there and looked at Lana. She took a few steps forward and stared inside the panic room. The colors in the room were muted. The lights made no sound. Over to her right were three chambers labeled ‘quiet rooms.’ To her left there was something strange.
“Are those Gaming pcs?”
Lana shrugged, “people cope with the impossible in different ways. You’d be surprised how cathartic a multiplayer game is with your friends.”
“No, I know. I just…”
“Didn’t expect it? Listen. It’s a lot nicer here than other jobs, but we work with the strange, the unusual, and sometimes the horrifying. This can be a stressful and you have to keep your mind sharp. You have to keep your will strong, and your sanity together. The angels just decided it’s easier to just give you access to all those resources that humans use rather then it is to try and force you to work in conditions you can barely survive in. It’s really about efficiency in the end but You can’t help but look at it and think maybe there is a shred of kindness in the divine.”
Ahlee chuckled, “Raised in a church?”
Lana smiled and sighed, “Why is that always obvious?”
“Because there’s only a few people I’ve ever met that hate god that much but find it in their heart to forgive whatever the idea is.”
Lana turned to Ahlee with a straight face, “Oh no, Gods real.”
Ahlee took a step back with shock, “Wait, seriously?”
Lana got a real serious look on her face, “yeah, hun, we work with ANGELS, what did you think he was fake?”
Ahlee’s eyes darted around, “wait Seriously? Have you met him?”
Lana broke facade and laughed softly, “Nah, just messing with ya. If I was going to divulge department secrets to someone who hadn’t even said yes yet, I would lose my job. We have no idea. The angels talk about him, but we can’t find him. Whatever it is that guides the angels is entirely unknown to us. We’re just as clueless as you are.”
Ahlee couldn’t tell why but something about that was comforting. Something about that made her smile.
“Feeling better Ahlee?”
Ahlee nodded, “I think so.”
“Ready to go see the Exadriel again?”
Ahlee did a double take, “Were you just calming me down to make me go back in there?”
Lana shook her head, “No. This is just my job. I’m the Curses department. I take care of c thirty-sixes and thirty-sevens. C-37’s are the ones that usually end up getting cursed and I have to figure out what it is they’re cursed with and how to counteract it. Fun job most days. Always get to see something new. C-36s are just the easy ones.”
“Do I have to go see Exadriel right now?”
“Not really. I was just asking to see how you felt about it. Judging by your response, that’s a no. That’s fine. Remember they’re an angel. They are eternal and ancient and their perception of time is messed up and you could leave for a year, come back and they’d be like ‘ah, just needed to step out for a moment?’”
“That is reassuring, thank you. So I can come back whenever?”
Ahlee’s body visibly relaxed, “Oh thank you. That’s a weight off my shoulders.”
“Yeah, take your time. But not too much time that you forget, okay? We could really use your groups judgment here.”
“Yeah. Yeah! Thanks. I just need to talk to my wife first. And my Friends. And my…” Her eyes narrowed at the thought of explaining it to her coworkers, “coworkers.”
“Need to use the panic room before you go?” Lana said, gesturing inside.
Ahlee shook her head and headed towards a bright green exit sign at the end of the hallway, “Nah. I think I just need to leave right now. Take some time to think about it.”
With that, Ahlee stepped outside and Lana waved out at her as she left. Today was not the day to choose, but a decision needed to be made. She breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the decision was not urgent.