Eventually Cecilia stopped. The bathroom was quiet, filled with the hum of a fan. Somehow she no longer felt tired.
She stood up…
And almost fell down again as her legs refused to work. Pins and needles filled her legs below the knees. She didn’t know how long she waited before she was confident she could move again.
Finally she was able to walk back into the bunk room.
It was the same, but somehow brighter. She noticed that the nightlights were cheery, with prancing horses on them. One of the children nearest to her had a faint smile on his face.
She limped to her assigned bunk and knelt beside it.
“Padre nostro, che sei nei cieli,”
The words were alive this time. She had a great Father in heaven. She had His shepherding Son.
“Sia santificato il tuo nome.”
Yes. Holy be His name.
“Venga il tuo regno, sia fatta la tua volontà…”
“Father… what is your will?”
Feed my sheep.
She looked up and looked around the room filled with sleeping women.
Whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.
What could she do for these women? Money. She had money.
Was there more?
Slowly, she turned and saw the holes in the wall.
Dark. Ragged. Mocking.
Cecilia stood with renewed strength and walked to the wall. She reached inside the hole and searched until she found the broken pipe. It was standard white PVC, shattered in the middle and not at a joint. The halves were close to each other so she pushed them together and found they fit without any missing pieces.
What she did next was something that only a crafter could really understand. To a non-crafter the pipe was a solid piece of plastic. To Cecilia, it was a vibrating structure of trillions and trillions of atoms gathered together in almost as absurd a number of molecules linked together into a regular pattern, all of which she sensed on an instinctive level.
The atoms in this case were hydrogen and carbon with a smaller portion of chlorine. Each element had a distinct flavor she recognized, though flavor wasn’t really the word for it.
The molecule was polyvinyl chloride, an ubiquitous petroleum product she had worked with so many times she no longer had to think about how it behaved.
The pattern was amorphous, almost liquid, with all the molecules jumbled together in a mess. Add a little heat and it would become a liquid again without any significant change in the overall pattern.
All of that Cecilia sensed just by touching the pipe and concentrating a little.
With a little effort she could alter what she sensed, changing the overall form of the material, moving molecules into different patterns, linking atoms into different molecules or pulling out particular elements to get a different composition.
Taking out the chlorine she could turn polyvinyl chloride into polyethylene.
Taking some of the carbon from that polyethylene would let her make polypropylene.
Taking all the hydrogen and chlorine would leave her with pure carbon.
Pure carbon could be any number of things, from graphite to diamond to carbon nanotubes.
Of course, taking out the hydrogen and chlorine would leave her with a very inconvenient handful of hydrogen chloride gas which she would have to store somewhere before she let go of her concentration. She usually made a small tank out of carbon fullerene for that purpose as there was very little that could corrode it.
In this case all she needed to do was convince the molecules at the broken edges of the pipe to flow back together. It took one second and about as much energy as it had taken her to push the pipe ends together in the first place.
That done, Cecilia stepped back from the holes and considered the wall itself.
The missing material in the holes was a problem, but she could probably open up the wall itself and retrieve most of the broken plaster from where it had fallen inside the wall. Gypsum plaster itself was soft and easy to work with, though getting what she made to look exactly like normal plaster would be difficult. Also unnecessary.
Repairing the paper layer of the drywall panel would be more difficult as that was made out of wood fibers. That meant each tiny fiber had been made by a living creature and was far more complex at the molecular level than it looked at first glance. She could do it, but getting it to look like the intact paper on either side would be tedious.
The paint solved that problem, however. It was natural latex paint with a little titanium dioxide to make it bright white. The structure of the molecule was more complex than polyvinyl chloride but it was just as easy to move around. No one would be able to see her strange looking paper under a coat of white paint.
The real problem would be the water damage. From where she was standing she could already smell the distinct mustiness of mildew and mold forming in the walls. Mold was a living thing, however small, which meant she wouldn’t be able to work with any material it was infecting. The easiest way to deal with it would be to change the structure of the wall material, possibly by turning the gypsum plaster to gypsum crystal. That would allow her to push out any infected material while also smoothing out the rough spots left by the loss.
It would also make the wall distinctly harder to cut through if anyone ever needed to work on the pipes again. Of course, if she made the panels removable by turning the fastening nails to screws and making perfect seams in the paint and paper covering each panel then getting at the pipes and wires in the wall would be even easier than it normally was.
The cross was the last item. She picked up the two halves and fitted them together.
There were only a few splinters missing. The wood was an even grained oak and had broken rather than shattering. Just like the paper it would be difficult to fix and make the seam look just right, but in this case she figured it was worth the effort.
She estimated that doing all of that would take her an hour. Maybe two. When she was done the wall would be better than new and the cross would be back up on it looking like it had never been broken.
She stared at the symbol in her hands.
Was that all?
The pipe was important. The wall had to be fixed. Putting the cross back on the wall would remind the women that someone was looking out for them.
Was that all?
“Jesus, how may I honor you more?”
Cecilia waited in the stillness, staring at the pieces of the cross.
This is my body, broken for you.
The words sprang up in her heart and shimmered inside her, slowly filling her with a subtle fire. All at once she was pierced with joy, dazzled with wonder and suffused with purpose. The cross in her hands seemed to glow as something beautiful bloomed within her.
Tears ran down her face again, this time for an entirely different reason. She wanted to sing, but the song was in her hands.
A vision. Inspiration.
Something to create.
She left the cross on the table and headed up the hall to the door out onto the street. She would need carbon, iron, aluminum, silicon, chromium, magnesium, and vanadium. There were other trace elements that would help if she could find them.
The security bolt on the door caught as she tried to slide it. Without stopping to think she remade it into a better mechanism and went out onto the street where her Porsche was still stranded.
She wiped the chrome off the bumpers and fittings with one hand, turning it into a small shiny ball the size of a marble and dropping it into her shirt pocket.
With some quick work she extracted the windows without breaking them and turned them into thick open-topped buckets with heavy handles. Into these went the iron from one of the bumpers, carbon ripped from the leather seats and the wood interior, and the magnesium from the shell of her laptop. She left the guts of the laptop intact but melted some other small electronics for the copper and trace elements they contained.
She hunted through the trunk for her electronics toolset and found several sets of clamps and pliers that contained vanadium. She also found cadmium in the red paint and took a helping of that to go with the vanadium and the chrome.
The only aluminum was one soda can but that gave her an idea for where to find more. She added the can to the buckets, took a handle in each hand and headed back inside. She set the glass buckets by the broken wall and went to the kitchen.
There she found the mandatory recycling bins: one full of plastic, one of glass, and one of crushed aluminum cans. They were almost full.
She melted their contents right there into carbon, aluminum, glass, and some trace elements. The chlorine gas from processing the plastic went inside a small carbon ball for later disposal elsewhere. She put handles on her materials and quietly put them with the others next to the wall.
Then she began her work.
The wall transformed to gypsum crystal shot through with small imperfections to make it translucent rather than transparent. The paper became a thin coating of diamond that would keep the gypsum from scratching if anyone touched it. The paint became titanium and carbon in her store of materials.
She was left with a blank canvas of pale, glistening crystal.
Cecilia stared at the blank wall with growing terror.
What was she going to put on that?
Had she really had some vision of an artwork from God?
The failed art student?
The defunct Catholic?
The broken orphan?
The spoiled rich girl?
The terror grew until she trembled. The room felt dark again. She was alone.
“Aiutami! Gesù, aiutami!” she whispered.
The silence shattered. Her trembling stopped.
Cecilia reached down and picked up the broken cross.
She would begin with this.
What was it? What did it mean?
It was the cross of Christ. It meant…
Judgment. The curse of sin. The wrath of God.
She shifted the atoms of the wood, stripping sugars and sweetness, leaving only the hard black of carbon.
Why the Cross?
She stared at the black judgment in her hand.
Justice. The law of God.
She made the carbon harder, turning it into black diamond. She sharpened the shape of the cross until it was a black sword.
This she held against the wall.
She stretched it, made it larger, thinner.
When it was right she melted it into the center of her crystal canvas.
She stared at the black cross until she realized she was stuck.
“What do I need?” she whispered.
A bible. She needed a bible.
Cecilia looked around the room. This was a place where there had to be bibles.
She found some on a small bookshelf in one corner. She picked one at random and looked for the place in the Gospel of John where it said, “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”
She read that chapter and the one before. Then she went to the same scene in Peter, Matthew, and Luke.
She returned to the wall, the book clutched in her hands, and stared at the cross again. Once more the flame was rising inside her.
Two more. She would need two more crosses.
That meant more diamond. She set the bible down and picked up a chunk of carbon.
Within minutes two smaller crosses joined the larger, one on either side. Cecilia considered again. Read some of the words again. Created again.
Hours went by unmarked. Minute after minute Cecilia took more of her materials and populated the canvas with life.
Finally she was left with a sea of dark faces staring at the empty central cross.
What went there?
Both. She gathered more carbon and shaped it into the song burning in her heart and hands.
In a moment a man of white diamond hung on the cross, faceless because she did not yet know the face, head bowed and body limp because His work was done. Iron nails pinned His arms wide, His feet together below. A crown of black thorns hung on His brow. An open wound glared in His side. Jagged marks scored His body all over.
She added red ruby for the blood, dark and vivid, flowing from the head, the hands, the feet, the side.
The man was the Light of the World, the Word of God, but the blood and the death were real.
Only, there was no light.
She stared at the piece. A relief of Calvary in glimmering gemstone.
Lifeless. Empty. Just like everything else she had ever made.
Again she trembled.
What was missing? Was there any way to put it there?
“What do I need?” she whispered.
She stared at the piece, waiting for an answer from the One it spoke of.
Was He there? Was He really there? Had He really been with her all along?
Shimmering glass beads. Cecilia remembered them from her youth. Her mother had told her they came from Mirano. The shimmer came from the foil within the glass.
She stared at the empty diamond figure on the cross. She knew what it needed. Only one color would do.
Gold. She needed gold.
She had a tiny bit from the electronics she had melted. Maybe a little more if she melted her computer…
She stared at the empty piece.
Her hand went to the gold coin around her neck.
Cecilia looked down at it and the Papal crest of Pope Leo XII looked back up at her, dull under the coating of soot. She turned the coin over.
Saint Peter stared at her instead.
“No.” She closed her hand around her father’s coin.
She looked back up at the piece.
At the Cross.
She looked back down at the coin and Saint Peter.
A tear fell on the coin, marring the soot.
Not alone. Not for one moment.
She melted the coin, watching as all the marks faded away and the dark impurities floated to the surface. She wiped them off with a finger and flicked them away.
Words rang in her head like a bell, ages forgotten, something her grandmother had read to her several times as a child:
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The words of Saint Peter. The fire in her heart rose to a blaze and the tears flowed from her eyes in a river.
She looked back up at the piece and plunged the shimmering metal into it. All through her work it went, joined by every scrap of silver jewelry she had on and every bit of copper she could find.
When it was done she stared at the piece again.
For the first time in her life Cecilia knew she had been made to be an artist.
“Is there anything left?” she whispered and waited in the silence.
One thing remains.