Flash: Glass Ceiling Policy

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash, Cropped by Erin Penn

The Angel Cassiel flowed through the reception area, nodding once to her gatekeeper before continuing to her roost, an office of steel-clear providing an uncompromising view of the Black surrounding the space station. Every turn of the station brought new stars to the loathsomely familiar constellations as ships arrived and left the busy port. She stared out the invisible wall, hungry to dive into the endless sky as soon as her tour as co-station master ended.

Behind her, at the standing desk shoved against the far wall, the gatekeeper who had followed her into the nearly empty office ripped the countdown calendar page indicating the start of a new day. The countdown calendar was a personal indulgence, technically a waste of material where every atom used by the fabricators had been transported distances measured in light years. Fourteen gave way to thirteen and she stretched out her cream-feathered wings, cracking her shoulders. The tips brushed both walls in the sixty-foot room and her alular quills tickled the twenty-foot ceiling. No other place on the station outside of the ship bays allowed her to fully stretch.

Pulling her wings back in, she felt them brush the boy behind her, annoying her. He knew better than to follow her in until she completed her morning stretch. “This had better be important, Gate.”

“Station-Master, I have a woman waiting for you.” She saw his quick bow reflected in the window. No human eye would be able to pick it out; steel-clear did not reflect in the human spectrum, but Angels eyes dive higher and lower though they don’t share this fact with their outdated ancestors. They could encourage their scientists to make steel-clear completely non-reflective but being able to see your opponents when they did not know you could was an advantage worth keeping.

Turning to face the male, Cassiel crossed her arms across her bare torso. “I have no appointments.”

“That is true, Your Imminence. But I do believe you will wish to speak with her.” The gatekeeper kept his eyes lowered to her soft boots, like they had never drunk in the beauty of her fully outstretched wings.

Cassiel cocked her head to the side and down, looking at him through her left eye more than her right. “A precarious supposition.”

He flinched, not enough for anyone but an Angel to notice, and kept his eyes firmly on the split-toe end of her boots. “Indeed.”

“Could you expand on your hypothesis, Gate?”

“The woman is a rat, a Pure rat. Terror clings to her.” Gate’s voice carried no more inflection than reporting incoming cargo load. Less, as she had raised him up to direct service during this unwelcomed but required assignment specifically for his interest in the boring, the orderly, and the procedural. That and his unusual insights, so she listened carefully to his not-quite advice. “Only something she believes would interest you would bring her to the upper-levels.”

“I care nothing about what she believes.”

“Ah, but it would not be enough for it to just interest you. Terror would have kept the rat in her hole otherwise.” A slight tinge of disdain shaded his final words. “What she has is valuable.”

Cassiel closed the diving membrane on her eyes, narrowing them in thought. Relaxing her arms and wings, she nodded in the human fashion, “Bring her.”


Moving swiftly to the reception area, Company then bent under his standing desk to find the waif still curled into the furthest, darkest corner where he had left her moments before. She hadn’t run out on him, thank the Stars.

His blue-black curls fell forward as he crouched as far down as his six foot ten frame allowed. “She will see you now,” he spoke gently, tentatively reaching out a hand just a couple inches. This time the girl did not scoot further back, but jerked a nod before crawling out.

He moved back as she emerged. Slouching his broad shoulders to appear less threatening to the little female, who was the shortest full adult he had ever seen, maybe five foot under light gravity, he asked, “I will need your name.”

Hugging herself with bony hands over threadworn, patched clothing, the woman nodded again. “Yes, Spanner.” Her voice barely a whisper.

Company felt reassured. He had done a quick DNA search on the female when he had found her under his desk this morning and the name Spanner Clave Solonandra showed up as a match. How she managed to hide her existence on the station to only be recorded five times in a place where most people have DNA tested that many times in a single day, and how she managed to get into his office without setting off any of the alarms remained a mystery, but he had uncovered the correct name.

Looking into her eyes, as humans do, Company gave her a couple quick instructions. “Speak clearly. Keep your eyes lowered. Answer all questions, but do not speak unless spoken to.” He smiled as her lips pressed together. A bit of fire lit her brown eyes, smoldering behind the terror. For a moment he could see why his siblings found Pure-breds and Light-Mods attractive; he had always found them a bit dull, in wit as well as being. “The proper address for the Angel is Your Imminence or Station-Master.”

He bowed and waved his hand to the doorless entrance to the Station Master’s personal office. The airlock seal guarded the reception area. If the window went  in the oversized room, everyone in reception would die too. Not that many people came to the barren reception area. Since Angels had been created to lead ships through gravity folds between the stars, the only being at risk with the large stretch of steel-clear was whomever sat Gate. In his case, the risk was minimal, his mod-genes gave him nearly five minutes without efficiency loss to make it to an outside lock. The little one before him, though, would be dead.

She inhaled sharply entering the room. Stunned, like so many before her, she froze; her eyes drinking in the unending Black and Stars. Company gave Spanner a gentle push between the shoulders, feeling the thin, delicate bones under the loose clothing. She stumbled forward into the presence of the Angel.

He whispered, “Eyes.” knowing full well Cassiel heard him but would choose to ignore it. Unlike many of the Highest Soarers, Cassiel didn’t place much weight on obeisance. It’s one of the things he liked most about her. She didn’t need to ground others to soar.

A lifetime habit dropped the rat’s gaze to the floor as he knew it would. She spasmized something between a bow and a curtsy and moved to press her back against the wall. Seeing her sidling toward a corner, Company stood close to her, herding her to the proper distance to stand in front of an Angel.

The woman wasn’t just scared, fear had replaced her bone marrow. What had brought her here? The terror, or something beyond?

“My Gatekeeper says you have something of value for me.”

The woman jumped. Brown eyes snapped to Company, curiosity questioning, before dropping them back down to the floor at her feet.

“If I give it to you, I want to be put into a zoo.” The half-starved girl stated firmly.

“A zoo?”

Company watched the Angel’s shadow on the floor expand as the wings spread slightly. Out of the corner of his eye he observed the woman.

“Below they say you got zoos for pure. I want to go to one.”

The wings spread slightly and closed like a human breathing deep, or a bird about to pounce. Company stilled.

“Preserves have been created for Unmodified Humans of exceptional qualities. You do not have such.”

“Are you sure? I got info no one else got.” Desperation lanced through the confidence tones of the girl’s reply.

“Gate, it bores me. Remove the female and yourself. Faction shall replace you.”

Wincing at the instruction, Company turned toward the woman who just may have cost him his life.

“Wait!” Spanner took several steps toward the angel. “Please I can’t stay here. I can’t. Can’t.” Her shadow showed her looking upwards and holding something out. “Here, take this.”

Castiel’s shadow moved not at all.

Spinning around, the girl took several quick steps away from the Stationmaster and shoved a small data clip into Company’s hands. “Please, just gimme something.” He felt her hand shivering during the exchange. “Whatever it’s worth to you.”

“I’ll reward you appropriately.”

Taking the angelic proclamation as consent to proceed, Company manipulated the object around discovering the most unusual reproducer he had ever seen. Someone had taken a recorder and jury-rigged a small reproduction cube. None of the tiny buttons indicated their function. Stepping closer to the woman, he held it out to her. “Could you activate what you want to show us?”

She quickly pressed a series of buttons. A palm-sized image, amazingly crisp for the apparent quality of the recorder, started in motion of a dark room with some small gleaming items – pipes, clear containers, metal surfaces. Company squinted to make sense of what appeared.

Behind him the angel cooed thoughtfully, the human equivalent of “hmm”, before asking “Is the date stamp correct?”

“Yes,” came a firm reply.

Glancing at the girl, Company watched as her face filled with assurance. This was what was valuable, and the angel just acknowledged the fact.

“What sector?”

Not seeing the interest on the small screen, Company watched the fox-like face instead. It gave so much away. “I-i-i don’t know.” The girl shook her head, clearing the momentary confusion. No one but maintenance and the high upper levels use the original sector designations. She rubbed her leg. “I guess level three, Schwepps nest.”


Of the five Orcian nests located on the station, the Schwepps were the biggest and most productive. Also the most viscous for controlling the levels assigned to their patrol. “I will be able to find it.”

“Very good. Do it and report back in three hours.”

“It’s good stuff, right? You said I get something.”

“True. Your goal coming here is never return to the lower levels?”

“I guess. And food – the zoo they feed you and keep you safe.”

“Very well. Gate, add this appliance to your request and I will sign it. The restriction will be to leave it’s mind functional, I might need it later.”

(Words 1,743; first published 12/1/2019)

Family Business Series:
Flash 1: Open Door Policy (12/31/2017)
Flash 2: Glass Ceiling Policy (12/1/2019)