The Journey

They jumped up in unison, with all their strength, eyes focused on the stars above, one hand each reaching upward. Since they were angels, they didn't return to the ground - they kept rocketing upwards, away from the horizon, into the heavens.

Jude turned to his fellow traveler. "Ronan, how you feeling?" He had a such a casual way of talking and Ronan wasn't sure he liked it. He would say things like "my man" and "say it ain't so" that Ronan had always thought were beneath the dignity of their job. Now they were on a journey to another planet and he couldn't even finish a full sentence with the right grammar.

"I'm alright," Ronan said, trying to find a tone somewhere between Jude's friendliness and his own natural formality. He was also lying. This was his first time on a real assignment and he didn't feel so good. He worried that he hadn't prepared well enough during his training. He worried that he wouldn't do well. He worried that he would be a boring travel companion on the way to the other planet. He wasn't so alright after all.

"That's my man," Jude said, predictably. He was smiling like always.

After getting a little further from the planet, they had to start thinking about how to get to their destination. The direct route would have taken them too close to some asteroids they would have preferred to avoid. They decided to take a longer way around some clouds and planets, through a pretty empty stretch. It would take less than a day to arrive, do their job, and return, and Ronan would be able to see his family again for dinner.

After what seemed like only a few minutes, Jude looked significantly at Ronan. "On your right," he said simply. Ronan looked to his right and gasped. A great craggy ball of ore filled his eyes. It was traveling just a little faster than they were through the emptiness, right alongside them. It was dark, only illuminated by the light that came naturally from Ronan's body.

The more he looked at it, the more he felt like he could never look away. What seemed like just a ball at first was a whole world. Each corner had a unique angle, and little crannies gave way to greater caves holding deep darkness within. Behind it, a trail of brilliantly sparkling dust marked its path, flickering as it caught the light from Ronan and Jude. The surface itself looked busy with activity, as a patchwork of holes sprouted jets and plumes, some brief and some enduring, of icy, dark, pure, flowing water that rushed into the void beside them only to sit there still for the rest of eternity.

Jude kept smiling. "A comet," he clarified. Ronan had suspected that's what it was, but he had never been so close to one.

He knew he wasn't supposed to, but Ronan couldn't resist. He veered closer to the comet until he was able to reach out and touch one of its more prominent outcroppings. It was cold, but not as cold as he expected. Ronan wondered how it could be so warm. Maybe it had a secret supply of lava underneath the surface, he thought, or maybe -

"It just came from circling that star," Jude explained, as if reading Ronan's mind. Ronan could see a great white star behind them, and remembered that comets swoop close to hot stars briefly, then spend months or decades curving through the infinite blackness in preparation to swoop in again. This comet had just completed a swoop, and was just beginning its long cold journey. Ronan wondered whether he would be the only one to touch it for another year or millenium. He felt a strange kinship with it, as if his own lonely life had been the life of a comet. But he was still waiting for his swoop near a star.

He had to withdraw his hand from the cold surface as he and Jude needed to continue to navigate to their destination. The comet itself had started to curve away in the other direction anyway. Ronan came to his senses and asked Jude what they needed to do next.

"There it is," Jude said, pointing. "The planet we're going to." The pointing didn't help much, since it looked like there were hundreds or millions of stars and planets in the direction where Jude was pointing. But it reassured Ronan to know that Jude knew the way and was calm through it all.

They continued the journey, mostly in silence. Occasionally they had a chance to see a new star Ronan had never noticed before. Finally they drew close to the destination planet.

"Be careful," Jude warned. "It feels a little funny when you start getting into the atmosphere." Ronan was glad for the warning. He had trained for this but he had never really done it before. He felt even more reassured when he felt the light touch of one of Jude's hands around his left arm. Pretty immediately he found out why Jude was holding on. As they went into the atmosphere, his motion started to feel suddenly rough. He realized that he was feeling some friction from the air, and also, as they got lower, wind and pressure patterns.

He wasn't used to this feeling at all - nothing in training had prepared him for it. One particularly strong gust pushed him so he and Jude both started to rotate a little, around each other. The way they spun together in the wind was a little like a dance. For a second, Ronan caught Jude's eyes, and saw that he was still calm, still smiling. The wind made it hard to hear anything but he thought he could see Jude's lips mouthing "Stay calm." It was easy to stay calm when a calm guy like Jude told him to.

Finally, they reached the ground. Their navigation had been spot-on. Ronan could see exactly why they were needed exactly here, exactly now. Jude was already walking his lumbering walk towards a huddle of people.

In the center of the huddle, a young woman held a baby. The baby was suffering, sputtering, coughing, struggling. A man, maybe the baby's father, stood over the baby, trying inneffectually to help him. The scene was tense, and each face showed its own kind of mourning and worry and desperate hope.

Jude and Ronan lost no time. They walked up and stood just behind where the mother was sitting. They put their hands on the baby's head. No one could see them - Ronan understood that anonymity was part of the job. They quickly but carefully blessed the baby, promising him a restoration of health and a path to a fulness of joy. The baby started to breathe more normally again. He stopped struggling and stopped crying. His mother started crying, with joy. His father stepped back and closed his eyes, maybe offering his own secret prayer. The huddle loosened and people started to hug and sign with relief.

Jude stopped for just a moment, but not very long. He turned to Ronan. "My man, let's let them have this time to themselves. We can head back and wait for our next assignment." Ronan was glad that his first day of work as an angel had gone well, all according to plan.

With that, they jumped up in unison, with all their strength, eyes focused on the stars above, one hand each reaching upward, heading home.

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