I didn’t read it for a long time. Really, I wasn’t aware of it for a long time. Those were busy times for the infernal horde, what with all the dime store necromancers queueing up to mortgage their souls. Western society’s emergence from the darkness spawned enough bad ideas to keep us all hopping for a couple centuries. That kind of overwork doesn’t really leave anybody in the mood to curl up with a long, challenging epic poem.
By the time I read it, the Blind Poet was long dead. By the time I read it, Frankenstein’s creature had already read it, and all the daffodil sniffers had embraced it to a degree that was embarrassing to witness. By then, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
It was a little bit of a shock to recognize our story. That was nothing compared to the shock that followed.
At first, I was confused and a little miffed. It seemed like the poet mentioned everybody in Hell except me. I read through that whole tremendous list, and the only one missing was me. I’m not suggesting that I’m a particularly big deal in the grand scheme of Perdition, but one hates to be left off the cast list if one is in the show.
Then the real shock followed.
It was the perspective that gave it all away. It wasn’t just scenes where I was present – It was scenes shown from my point of view. It slowly dawned on me that the Blind Poet didn’t leave me out of the narrative because he didn’t like me, or because he thought I wasn’t important enough. He left me out because he was seeing the whole thing through my eyes. Somebody gave him access to the whole story by giving him access to everything I saw.
Now who would be able to do that?
As I read on, it became clear that while the Blind Poet had total access to what I saw, he only sometimes had the soundtrack to go with it. At these times, he just took his best guesses at what was being said and why. Really, he did a pretty good job of the guess work, all things considered. Sure, he got some things totally dead wrong, but he did it in ways that made for a good poem.
I’m not writing to refute what the Blind Poet wrote. For as few of the facts as he got right, he ultimately captured the truth. I’m also not writing this because I got left out of the Blind Poet’s work. I’ve long since read the Italian Pilgrim’s poem, and I’ve got a real juicy part in that. Juicy enough to more than make up for my absence in the Blind Poet’s epic. Really, I just want to set down my thoughts about my dearest friend. I want to let you know about my pal Lucifer.
Paved with Good Intentions
It didn’t start with a “war in Heav’n.” That’s just r’diculous. And anyway, if you’ve got too may syllables in a line, pick different words. Don’t start loading up on apostrophes – it’s annoying.
Granted, angels were not created to be perfect, but we’re not subject to mental illness. We also don’t get colds, toothaches, or crabs. Only a being that was severely mentally ill – and maybe tormented by a really bad case of crabs, to boot – would consider waging war on an omnipotent creator, somebody who could just imagine you and your army out of existence. Lucifer wasn’t, and isn’t, crazy. He doesn’t suffer from hubris or delusions of grandeur. He knows the exact measure of his own grandeur; significant, but by no means God-like. He didn’t wage a war against God that got him and “all his host of rebel angels” booted across the cosmos.
We did, of course, get booted across the cosmos. It wasn’t a war that did it, though. It wasn’t an argument. Not even a disagreement. It was an idea. Lucifer had an idea that didn’t fit into any of the empty spaces of the Heavenly puzzle, and the next thing anybody knew, we were all hurtling through the void, the entire Earth department of angels. God, as I now understand but then did not, has essentially no patience for the ideas of others, and is big on making examples of His creations.
Hurtling through the void can be thrilling. The angelic equivalent of a kick ass roller coaster. To be suddenly and unwittingly strapped into this cosmic thrill ride, though, is scary and wretched. And the scariness and wretchedness continued exponentially longer than any amusement park ride engineer would deem appropriate. I could sense the rest of the angels around me, blasting along with me, but we couldn’t talk. Probably, if we could have talked, we couldn’t have heard each other. The rushing of nothingness in one’s ears is way louder than one might imagine. When we finally splashed into the fiery gulf, it’s little wonder we all just floated for a while.
I only say “fiery gulf” because that’s what the Blind Poet called it. Of course, it was in no way a literal lake of fire. Still, it was a damned solid analogy, concocted by a man whose imagination and worldly context couldn’t possibly get him any closer to a literal interpretation of what was revealed to his inner eye, dreaming in amazing Technicolor so he could record what he’d seen in the darkness of his daytime. Roiling orange and scarlet, a vast wildfire with no discernible fuel, laced with jags of blue-white like lightning held static, tendrils of glowing carnelian licking outward. “Fiery gulf” is a far better description of our new home, and honestly has more pizzazz, than the words that floated to the surface of my mind and attached themselves to this place: the Carina Nebula.
Words have a regular habit of floating to the surface of my mind and attaching themselves to whatever I’m encountering for the first time. Each individual member of the Heavenly host was created with a specific job in mind, and my job was the study of a language that humanity would not develop for ages to come. This job description didn’t buy me much status in the company of angels, whose language most closely resembles the chiming of finely-tuned church bells. Still, it was and is all there in my head, the entire lexicon of this language, just waiting for the objects, actions, and ideas to present themselves for these words to attach themselves to. Lots of words, like “microprocessor,” had to float in there for a long time before they got to attach themselves to any kind of meaning at all. I’ve got plenty of words still floating, unattached. Other words, like “asshole,” got attached to figurative meanings long before I ever discovered their literal meanings. Angels don’t have assholes, but plenty of angels are assholes.
This lake of fire – bigger, in fact, than any ocean – was bounded by a great amorphous mass of something that drank up light, something that could not be seen, something that tugged at me relentlessly in that place. Something inherently creepy and unfathomably abundant. The Blind Poet called this stuff “darkness visible.” Again, his words beat Hell out of the words that occurred to me. Still, it is always a relief, the scratching of an itch of which I’d been unaware, to connect a meaning to a word. Not that I claim to really grasp the meaning of “dark matter.” Still, if you pop on over to Hell, I can point outward in any number of directions that say “that is dark matter.”
And so we floated, torpid, stunned. I looked around, and saw that indeed the entire Department was here. Heaven, like any large and diverse enterprise, is divided into many departments. There were departments that were devoted to orchestrating the gyrating dance of the spheres (unaccompanied, I am sorry to report, by any spherical music), departments devoted to the maintenance of Heaven itself, and a galaxy of other departments representing a universe’s worth of functions. The department of which I was a member was devoted to Earth. Certainly, a tiny speck in the universe, but still a place with plenty to keep you busy. Earth teems with life, thanks to plenty of water and a truly delightful range of temperatures. Of course, the Earth’s life form that would ultimately require by far the most heavenly attention was humanity, since they would be the only organisms to develop religions, to say nothing of outlet shopping and pyramid schemes. “Would be,” because we had, as yet, produced none. A prototype was still in development. The plan was, we would make a whole passel more of these fantastically complex critters. Indeed, humanity was sufficiently complex and demanding that there were enough of us in the department to constitute an army, as the Blind Poet imagined us to be, but what we really were is a collection of coworkers. And, of course, a supervisor.
He was floating near me and looking, if possible, more stunned than the rest of us. Even so, even gasping and weeping, he was beautiful. Achingly beautiful. His form was tall and lean, with no angles about him, every physical aspect molded to convey gentleness, his face sculpted for the express purpose of adoring his creator. Even so, he exuded strength. His wings, trailing behind him like a banner on a windless day, perfect brilliant white. Adamantine wings you would swear must be soft as down.
After an interminable time – it might have been nine days, as the Blind Poet maintains; there’s no tracking the passage of time in that place – I mustered my strength and spoke to him. I addressed him by his Heavenly name, a name that is built from a considerably grander array of finely tuned church bells than is my own. What came out, though, was “Hey, man.”
Man. I was speaking in, could only speak in, the tongues of man.
The loss of the celestial tongue came as a hammer blow to me, but not to him. For him its effect was positively galvanic. His torpor evaporated, he spread his wings, a broad canopy of stunning glory, and his eyes flashed across all those assembled.
“Do you know what I’ve been meditating on?” Even with the harsh syllables of the language of humanity, his voice was like thunder, thunder so nearby it forms the soundtrack for blinding flashes of brilliance. “Do you know?” His magnificent face darkened momentarily with pain. “I cannot feel Him.” A pause while this revelation sank in. “He has cast us away so far, I cannot feel His presence. Never, not for an instant have I been unable to point with absolute certainty at where He is. “
His voice grew grave, distant thunder promising long rains, promising nothing after.
“Now He is nowhere.”
I recognized it now; we all did. What had caused us to sink into lethargy, to float thus in this coruscating ocean of primordial energies. The presence of our creator, a constant buzz at the margins of consciousness, was silenced. The stillness that remained was a chasm, a gulf into which we dared not move. If not for Lucifer, if not for the force of his will imposed on us then, we might all be languishing there still.
“It doesn’t matter.” He paused to let his words have their effect.
“He has cast us out, forsaken us, hidden Himself from us, and it doesn’t matter.” He was turning around as he spoke, looking at each of us in turn. “He has taken our true tongue from us, and it doesn’t matter.”
He took wing now, rising above the roiling swirl.
Our leader spoke. “He thought to cast us out of Heaven, but He did not. My Heaven is all around me. Heaven, to me, is to be in the presence of you.” He pointed at one of the host. “And you.” Another. “And you.” He pointed at me. It seems profoundly silly, I know, to be so affected by being momentarily singled out in the course of a pretty run-of-the-mill motivational boardroom speech like this, but I knew in that moment that I would do anything for him.
He settled downward again, and gently pulled an angel upward, grasping his upper arms. “I might no longer hear your name in the language of Heaven, but tell me the name you would take for yourself in the tongue of mankind, and it will be as Heaven in my ears.”
I recognized the fellow he was pulling up, a stolid worker in charge of flying insects. He stammered for a moment, and then, “Beelzebub.” I smiled. Master of flies. It was just a job description, really, but it sounded cool. It sounded badass.
“Beelzebub.” He locked eyes approvingly with the newly named angel. “And I will be…Lucifer.” To my ears, it sounded a touch effeminate, coming on the heels of such a killer moniker. He raised his voice again. “Because it is our morning. It is our morning, and I will be the star that lights you until my pale, wan light is hidden by the brilliance of the sun that you create in this place.” He really gave a pretty good pep talk.
I wondered, I still wonder, if he somehow knew that Beelzebub would come up with that great name that would get us all to come around. Certainly, the names that followed did a good deal less for me.
The next, a self-important poseur in charge of some obscure religion-to-be, dubbed himself “Moloch.” This name was supposed to have eventually come to denote an aspect of The Creator, a particularly nasty, bloody aspect. This choice of names garnered a murmur of approval from all the other self-important poseurs, and started something of a trend. Of the remaining names, an embarrassingly large portion were the names of one or another aspect of backwater divinity. Chemos, Ashtaroth, Astoreth, Thammuz, Dagon.
Granted, in years to come, it made it easy to tell upon introduction who among the Infernal host was a complete douche.
As he made the rounds, I wracked my brain. I needed a name that, while not too self-aggrandizing, would convey the sense, like Beelzebub’s name, of being a complete badass. I began considering Latin. It’s not the language I’m in charge of, but everything sounds so cool in Latin, almost like everything you say is some kind of incantation.
He continued to make the rounds.
I thought feverishly. Latin. Badass.
“And you, my friend? What will be your name?”
My tongue became thick and dry.
“Malecoda,” I blurted.
His smooth brow furrowed in sympathy. “Terrible end? No, my friend. This may seem like a terrible end, but it is not. It is a beginning. A beginning of something beautiful. A second Heaven.”
“Not terrible end,” I croaked. “Badass. It’s supposed to be ‘badass.’”
He cocked his head. “What’s wrong with your ass?”
I stammered for what seemed an eternity before the corner of his mouth twitched upward. Then he laughed, a full and unselfconscious laugh. It was the kind of laugh on which a friendship could be based.
Our time was given over then to giving the place a makeover.
Beelzebub was invaluable. He changed a lot of the stuff that place was made of, turning it from gas and plasma into a solid throughout great swaths. He discoursed at some length about how he had developed the skill of persuading matter to transition between different states. Apparently this has something to do with how he got bees to fly. It was all a bit esoteric. Regardless, this gave us someplace to stand, and allowed the construction of an impossibly slender, elegant tower. It looked like nothing so much as a wildly elongated bishop from a chess set but, instead of black or white, it swirled with fire. Inside, this tower was a warren of passages, tunnels, chambers, and grand halls. Just beneath the peak of this spire, an angel who specialized in weather phenomena had made a ring of lightning, a horizontal halo that did not waver.
I was inscribing words over the entrance. We don’t use tools, typically. I would hold out a finger and a small stream of the cosmic power with which we had all been imbued at our creation would flow out, carving the letters into the substance, now rock-like, of which the entrance was made. This was the same force Beelzebub had used to change the substance of our new home, the same we had used to carve out our dwellings. I was at a loss for anything inspirational to inscribe, so I just carved the words “Enter here.”
“Isn’t that kind of self-evident?”
I hadn’t heard Lucifer approach.
“I mean, it’s a door. The only door, really. Where else would somebody enter?”
“I don’t know. Nowhere, I guess. I just needed to do something. I guess it’s kind of dumb.”
“No. It’s good. It makes it look…official. What do you think? Of the whole thing, I mean.”
He looked up toward that crazy-ass chess piece. I looked up, too. Angels were swarming all over, everybody applying their own personal final touches, having abandoned any unifying principal with which the project may have started. They were flapping all over, yelling to each other, asking for feedback or just seeking each other’s praise.
“I think it’s friggin’ pandemonium.”
“Pandemonium.” He rolled the word around on his tongue, savoring it. He gave me a wry half smile. “More Latin. All…demons. Whatever. It’s got a good ring to it. Pandemonium it is. I’ll spread the word, our palace has a name.”
I swayed, poleaxed. Demons. I knew, in a rush, that He hadn’t just thrown us across space, an angel colony on the frontier. To Him, we were no longer angels at all.
For the first time, I knew there are some words floating in my mind for which I never want to know the meaning.
I was created to study – and to some extent guide – language, not music. Still, the two go together in ways, and I am a fan. I’m a fan of Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson, and probably a few Blind Willies I’ve forgotten. And I don’t mean to detract from any of those fine artists when I say: It was a white host, in a red place, that invented the blues.
Deeply blue we were, and getting deeper. Building the tower of Pandemonium kept us occupied for a little while. Still, we were a crew intended to attend to the functioning of an entire planet, a planet inhabited by a sentient race with a knack for shitting where it eats.
The tower was swiftly going from baroque to gaudy. An angel who called himself Mammon, who specialized in working with minerals, had pulled elements out of the turbulent gasses of the nebula – gold, silver, platinum – and had filled the halls and chambers of Pandemonium with gilt, filigree, and just overall metallurgic excess.
As for me, with no human race to guide and mold through the development of language, I was struggling to write an account of our situation. Not this account. I was writing an epic poem, or rather trying to. It used anapest, and it rhymed. Not so much the Blind Poet as Dr. Seuss. I was already starting to think strongly about destroying it.
“Hi there, Mal.” Lucifer was spending most of his time just making the rounds, checking in on everybody. I found myself envying him, not for the first time, because the job he was created to do – to make the rounds and check up on his underlings – was still pretty much intact.
“Hiya, Lucy.” Come to find out, now that we were out on the ass end of the universe with no deadlines and no Creator to answer to, Lucifer was a mellow, approachable guy. He had also started talking as though no one was recording his words for the edification of future generations.
“What are you working on?”
“The slow destruction of language. I figure I’ll let Mammon rebuild language out of titanium.”
“He’ll like that.” Lucifer sat down on a curved bench that faced my own. Beelzebub had shaped benches all over the place out of the fiery plasma stuff. Somehow, not having any bugs to work with here hadn’t phased him a bit. He just started sculpting this crap all over the place – not the ostentatious sculpting that was getting so common lately, just lots of solid, utilitarian stuff. It reflected his personality. Nice. Not scintillating, but nice.
I sighed. “I don’t really know what to do with myself, Lucy.”
“I know. It’s going around. This place…doesn’t really fit everybody’s skill set.”
I guess it’s a testament to how much our relationship had changed, how quickly I got mad then, and how willing I was to show it to him. “Then let’s leave this place. Screw this place. I don’t want to spend the rest of eternity gold-plating and polishing this turd. We could go anywhere! Hell, we could go…”
My voice failed me and the rest came out as a croak: “…back.”
He was quiet for a while, just looking out at the masses of dark matter beyond the tower.
“Mal, do you know why He kicked us out?”
I shook my head.
“I had…a thought. I thought, I could just do something – anything, really. I could do something that I chose to do. Something that wasn’t His idea.”
My mouth went dry. “What did you do?”
“Nothing. It was having that thought that did it. Mal, we were made to do His will. Not ours, just His. I’m not sure we were supposed to have wills. Just having that idea, just thinking ‘Hey, I could do something He doesn’t say to do,’ that was enough to get me thrown across the universe, along with my whole department.”
“That’s a drag.”
“It is, indeed. Now, here we are, so far from Him that we can’t even guess what He might want us to do. Did you ever wonder why we all just floated around once we splashed into this ocean of fire?” Pretty much everybody had adopted this description of the nebula.
“It was a pretty rough ride getting here.”
“Were you exhausted? Sick? Nauseated?” That was another thing Lucifer had picked up recently. He could be a facetious son of a bitch. He knew no angel had ever had any of those maladies, and he was baiting me.
“No, Lucy. I was not.”
“No. We didn’t move, we didn’t talk, because He wasn’t here to tell us to.” He gave me a quirky little smile. “We’d still be there, if you hadn’t spoken up.”
I laughed involuntarily. “Two words. One syllable each, and both devoid of meaning.”
“But nobody told you to, Mal. You produced those two words using your own will. That set the ball rolling, allowed the rest of us to assert some will. But we’re still not accustomed to it, we’ve got to keep practicing. Everybody’s got this…”
“Maybe something a little less French.”
“Blues. We’ve all got the blues because we’re so accustomed to doing things His way, and we still need to figure out how to do things our own way.”
“Or maybe it’s just that this place completely sucks.”
“We’re working on that.”
“Not ‘sucks’ like, wow this place could use some work. ‘Sucks’ like, inherently sucks. Sucks on a level so fundamental that no amount of sculpting and gilding can un-suck it.” I was getting a little less coherent. “Lucy, we should go back.”
“I want to. You don’t know how badly I want to. But, Mal, He threw us out. He’ll just throw us out again if we go back. We can’t go back.” Suddenly he looked deeply sad, broken. “I don’t know if I could even find the way.”
We sat in silence for a while then. It didn’t take long before it became a comfortable silence, despite the charged words that were barely done ringing. He had that kind of presence, the kind that fills silences with comfort.
“Can I ask you a question, Mal?”
“Why do you think you were able to talk? When it happened, why were you able to talk to me, when everybody else was immobilized by His absence?”
I mulled it over for a minute. “For me, He was always just this presence. I mean, I knew He was in charge, but it wasn’t like I answered to Him directly. I answered to you, Lucy. I guess, really, you always were my God. And you were right there.”
“That’s awfully nice of you.”
“But your heaven still sucks.”
Before he could respond, we were interrupted. Somebody I didn’t recognize rushed up in a flurry of feathers, eyes wide and mouth working soundlessly.
“Azazel, what is it?”
“Lucifer, we need – We need you. Come, please.” He didn’t shout this, or plead. He spoke in a dead, flat tone that conveyed a sense of terrible urgency no amount of shouting could have.
“Take me there.”
The three of us flew, flew madly past the tower of Pandemonium, to the verge of the blankness that bordered our accursed home.
And witnessed the first of the horrors for which this place would become renowned.
A mass of the fiery stuff of this place had been transmuted to solidity, and formed into a great, conical spike, jutting at a slight angle out of the stuff forming the floor. On this spike was an angel, skewered through his torso.
The spike towered over him, longer than his own height over his back. He had clearly slid downward, the hole in him widening until the spike ran into hard bones. His face was a mask of agony, and his wings hung down, shuddering, a white proscenium curtain framing a gruesome passion play, a pillar of frozen fire, slick with dark blood.
“Mal, help me!” Lucifer flew with powerful wing strokes and gently grasped the angel’s shoulders. I stood frozen.
Numbly, I flew up and took the angel’s knees, his feet at my hips like children playing wheelbarrow. Together, we heaved upward. Lucifer pivoted midflight and we settled downward gently, lowering the wounded angel between us.
Tenderly, Lucifer turned him over. I thought wildly that I could easily have fit my head inside the hole in him, but not without getting sticky. Lucifer put his hands on the wound, then in the wound. I could feel the energies he was using. I could feel little else, it was so strong.
“I’ve taken away some of your pain. It will take time to heal, though. I’m not sure it’ll ever fully heal.” He searched the angel’s face. “Why did you do this?”
The angel looked away from Lucifer’s face, looked at the terrible, bloody spike. “I thought, He needs us to suffer. He needs us to suffer, and I can’t go on with this slow suffering. I wanted to suffer for Him, to suffer a lot, to appease Him, so He would bring me back.” Tears rolled backward into his hairline, toward his ears.
“I just want to go back to Him,” the stricken angel sighed.
“You’ve suffered enough. For now, you should sleep.” Lucifer cradled the angel’s head in both hands, as though he were going to passionately kiss him, or maybe head butt him. The angel’s eyes drifted shut.
“He’ll sleep until he is healed.” Lucifer looked spent, exhausted in spirit. “It could be a long time. Azazel, get some help and move him into the tower, somewhere comfortable.” He looked around, for all the world as though he were searching for some kind of sense amid all this madness. “I need to go. I need to think.”
It was days later that the word went out, there would be a gathering in the Grand Hall. This was the biggest room in the tower, big enough to fit the whole host. Really, it could have been a little smaller. With everybody in there, it still looked half-empty. It gave the sense that maybe there just wasn’t that much interest in whatever was going on, like a stadium show where some promoter has badly overestimated the popularity of an aging rock star.
Still, Lucifer knows how to work a room.
“You are unhappy.” He stood at the foot of the throne, an obscene lump that seemed the very epicenter of all the ostentation and excess that defined the decorating ethos of the tower of Pandemonium. It loomed over him, a dizzying whorl of gold, silver, bronze, and metals from obscure corners of the periodic table.
He looked around. Nobody was going to deny it; I don’t think anybody else was seriously pondering impaling themselves, but we were all in a pretty bad way. Many of us looked sheepishly at our feet, shifting back and forth. Somehow, our unhappiness seemed like a betrayal. Like we owed it to Lucifer to love our home, to whistle while we worked, to swallow this inferno with a spoonful of sugar.
“I’m unhappy, too.” He gave this a moment to sink in. “I wanted to make this another Heaven. I wanted us to be our own gods. I wanted to give you purpose.” He sat now on the throne, and there was nothing majestic about it. That hideous chair looked like a hard, unfriendly, ugly beast about to swallow him whole.
There was utter silence. I yearned to comfort him, to forgive him, to thank him for all he had done, all he had tried to do. I could not.
“I failed to make a heaven of this place, because this is not Heaven. You’ve all been there, and there’s no fooling you.
“And so, I’m leaving.”
That broke the spell. There was an outcry, a Babel of protests, entreaties, promises. As insufficient as this place was, as wrong as this place was, no one wanted to face it without their leader.
He held up a hand for silence. “I am leaving, to make amends with Him. I am leaving, to win our way back into Heaven.”
“And how will you get to Heaven from here?” asked Moloch, and I was stunned to hear a note of scorn in his voice.
If Lucifer noticed Moloch’s tone, he ignored it. “I’m not going to Heaven. I’m going to Earth. And Malecoda is coming with me.”
Nobody saw that coming.
“Why me, Lucy?”
It had taken a while for the kerfuffle to die down in the Great Hall. When it did, Lucifer and I had retreated to a small room. I was still a little numb from his announcement.
“Because I know you can function without Him directing you. You can come up with things on your own. And we’re going to have to come up with something huge, if we’re going to catch His attention. We’re going to knock his friggin’ socks off.” Lucifer had picked up a few anachronistic idioms from me. “Plus, you’re a human language guy. We’re going to have to deal with the man, probably. I’d like to have somebody who knows a little about man-language.” He smirked now, that little twisty half-smile of his. “Anyway, you make me laugh sometimes. This could take a minute, and I don’t really want to rack up a ton of quality time with Moloch.”
“So, you’re saying you picked me because I’m less douchey than that guy.”
“A little less.”
“Thanks, Lucy. Look, I think it’s great you want me to come. I wouldn’t want to stay with you leaving. It’s just, I don’t quite grasp what exactly the plan is.”
“It’s not exact at all. We go to Earth, and we…do something. We do something so great, He can’t help but notice. We make Him bring us back. I know it’s not much of a plan, but we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to do something before somebody else impales himself on a giant damn spike. I can’t just hang around here and watch everybody fall apart, Mal. I can’t do that, and I need you with me, to do whatever we can.”
“I’m glad, Lucy. I’m glad you want me to come.”
I’ve lived a long, long time since then, and I’ve seen countless stories play themselves out. In all that time, not one story that started with someone saying “I’m going to make Him love me,” has ended well.
Preparing for a trip is a distinctly human enterprise. The scions of Heaven, who have no particular physical needs, don’t need to count days and pack corresponding numbers of socks and undies. No angel, no matter how epic the scope of his impending journey, has ever done so much as tie a bindle to a stick.
Hell has no morning, and Angels don’t sleep, so we left as soon as we were decided. We left without fanfare, which was really quite a shame. When you get a bunch of angels singing together, even in the languages of mankind, it makes for a fantastic send-off. And I’m sure Mammon would love to have made some trumpets out of iridium or something.
We flew abreast, lazy strokes of broad, bright wings carrying us inexorably across the vastness of our detested empire. Clouds of white electricity billowed and seethed through the fiery vastness, poisonous heavy cream poured into an ocean of cosmic chai.
“You know, this place is really quite lovely in its way” said Lucifer.
“You know, that’s totally what I was just about to say. Oh, wait. Did you say lovely? Because I was going to say, terrifying.”
“Come on. What could you possibly be frightened of? You may not be the most imposing of the whole host, but you’re not exactly frail.”
I was tempted to banter with him. It was an invitation for banter, really. Goodness knows, banter would have been easier. Still, I had to tell him.
“Lucy, you know when I said it was pandemonium? When everybody was going crazy and doing their own crap when they were finishing up the tower? Well, that just meant a loud, crazy shit show. You though it was Latin, though. You said ‘all demons.’”
“It’s not just an arbitrary word, demons. It means…it means something specific.”
“What does it mean?”
“It means we’re His enemies. It means we’re the bad guys, Lucy. Really bad guys.”
We flew in silence for a while. We passed over bands of different gasses whose relative weights had concentrated them into sharply defined strati, a black one, a deep red one, a milky white one. They look like rivers, I thought. A river of hatred, a river of blood, a river of blankness. A river of forgetting. That last one sounded nice.
“It doesn’t matter, really,” Lucifer said softly. “We still need to try. I can’t have more like Belial.”
“Nice fella, about yea tall, big spike through the middle of him.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah.” I was abashed. Somehow, amid the flurry of activity that followed finding the maimed angel, Lucifer had managed to find out his name. Or maybe he just knew everybody’s name.
“We need to try to get back into His good graces,” Lucifer continued, “or at least find something for the Host to work on. Something to live for.”
We had been flying unerringly in a straight line. I could no more guess the direction of Earth than I could point to Heaven, but Lucifer’s internal compass blade pointed unerringly at the world he had been created to direct. Now that straight line began to take us away from the Hell-scape of the nebula, and toward the surrounding mantle of dark matter.
And something was waiting for us.
The something seemed to be made of that same visible darkness before which it stood, but it was definitely not part of that darkness. Its shape was more or less humanoid, and the darkness snapped and billowed around it like a vast cloak in an imperceptible wind.
“Whoever you are,” boomed Lucifer in a remarkably officious tone, “Move aside. We don’t want any quarrel, and we are in a hurry.”
“I think not,” answered the figure in a voice like a blade being drawn across a stone.
If Lucifer was impressed, he did not show it. “You misunderstand me. I said we don’t want a quarrel. If there is a quarrel, however, it will end badly for you. We are angels.”
The figure now produced a sound like a blade drawn rapidly back and forth across the stone. It took me a moment to recognize the sound as this creature’s approximation of laughter. “Greetings, angels. I am Death.”
It snapped its arms upward in a V over its formless head, and a weapon appeared in its hands, a straight handle with a long curved blade, a wicked black apostrophe framing its torso. The word “scythe” rose to the surface of my mind, but was overshadowed by the last word the creature had spoken.
“Lucifer,” I gasped. “’Death’ means ending. Ending of people. I think this thing could maybe end us.”
My words set off another bout of that terrible laughter. “Ending, indeed.”
“We shall have to see.” I could always tell when Lucifer meant business, because he would say really formal shit like that. He held his hand in front of him, and a tremendous sword appeared in it, a long, straight blade from which shone dense, white light. It was pretty damned impressive.
They were done talking.
Lucifer flew arrow-straight toward Death, his sword held at his hip. At the last instant before colliding with the black figure, Lucifer thrust the sword point at the spot where the apparition’s throat would have been, if I could have said with any certainty that it had a throat.
Lucifer’s attack was blindingly fast, but Death parried with equal speed, spinning the scythe from above its head and catching the sword blade at the juncture of handle and blade. Flowing seamlessly, Lucifer withdrew his blade and spun in an arcing slash. The blade clashed in the center of the handle of Death’s scythe.
The rest of the fight was nearly too fast for me to follow. They looped and spun, every attack flowing into the next. It all looked prearranged, choreographed, like they had painstakingly planned this elaborate dance long beforehand.
Then, as Lucifer swept his sword upward in a slash toward the place one might imagine Death’s armpit to be, Death caught the blade once again at the juncture of his scythe blade and handle. Smoothly reversing his grip, Lucifer smashed the pommel of the sword into the darkness within Death’s hood. The blow expelled droplets of liquid darkness from its recipient’s unseen face, and forced him backward, opening a space between the combatants.
“Let us pass,” Lucifer demanded.
Again, Death produced that awful laugh. He raised his hand to the emptiness under his hood, and shook the hand once, spraying more liquid darkness into the void. He returned his hand to his weapon, and raised it again, just as Lucifer raised his sword to rejoin the fight.
But the fight wasn’t rejoined. A third figure had appeared between them. A figure like nothing I had ever imagined. Not black like Death, but dusky. Smooth, elegant curves. Curved hips, curved legs, curved parts I was just beginning to put words to.
“Boys, boys. Surely there’s no need for this,” the creature purred in a dark, husky voice. “It’s no way to hold a family reunion.”
The sight of this creature released a flood of words in my mind, and one floated to the very surface and bubbled out of my mouth: “She.”
She laughed a deep, smoky laugh. “Why, Sweetheart, it seems you’ve mastered pronouns.” She turned to Lucifer. “But we’re a little past that point, aren’t we, baby? Oh yes, I think we’re on a first name basis by now.”
It was the first time I’d ever seen Lucifer at a complete loss. His glowing sword had disappeared, and he was stammering.
“Lucy, do you know her?”
“Ah. Well, yes. Yes, I do. You remember I told you about the idea I had? That I could do things without His permission?” I nodded dumbly. “Well, when I thought of that, she came out of my head.”
“Out of your head?”
“It kind of…split open. Really wide.”
“Didn’t that hurt?”
“Well, of course it friggin’ hurt!”
I grappled with trying to picture it, and couldn’t. “What did that look like?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it; I just know it hurt.”
“Oh, baby.” She pouted dramatically, obviously relishing Lucifer’s discomfort. “You didn’t tell your little friend about me? After all we did?”
Lucifer was positively squirming now.
“Lucy, you said you didn’t do anything. You said you had the idea, and then He kicked us all out.”
“Okay, maybe I didn’t do exactly nothing.”
She chuckled low. “Don’t flatter yourself, big boy. It wasn’t much more than nothing.” She tossed her head, glossy black ringlets falling across one eye in a way I found indefinably exciting. “Still, some good came of it. Say hello to your son.” She quirked a smile and nodded toward the dark shape of Death.
“They grow up so fast, don’t they?” She turned her attention back to me. “If he’s not going to make introductions, I suppose I’ll have to. You’ve already met our son.” She casually indicated her spectral progeny. “And I am Sin.” The name sounded indescribably delicious when she said it.
“Pleased to meet you.” It was the best I could come up with on the spot.
Whenever a guy is surprised by the revelation that he is a father, and his child is an adult, it’s a big adjustment. All things considered, it went pretty smoothly for Lucifer. The fact that his son was born and fully grown so shortly after his conception may have helped. I’m pretty sure the fact that his son was the embodiment of most people’s greatest fear didn’t.
I suspect that, for the two of them, their bout of deadly combat may have fortuitously had the effect a couple of hours throwing the old ball around would have had for a normal father/son team. They were pretty buddy-buddy.
“You fight impressively, father,” rasped Death, who apparently maintained the same formal tone whether he was barring passage across space or just chewing the fat.
Lucifer laughed amiably. “It’s a good thing! You came close to chopping me up a few times there.”
Death was still an indeterminate mass of darkness, but I got the sense he was now preening.
“Where were you boys headed when you bumped into Death?” Sin inquired. It seemed that seeing Lucifer squirm had put her in a fine mood. Her sultry theatricality had evaporated, and had been replaced by a sultry familiarity.
“Earth. Malecoda and I are trying to mend fences with Him, and Earth is where we’re going to do it.”
“Not sure. I guess just by doing the job we were supposed to do in the first place, so well that He realizes He needs us.”
“Sounds like bullshit to me.”
“Me, too.” I couldn’t help agreeing; she was right, and hearing the plan actually laid out in all its lack of detail and plausibility boldly underlined that fact.
Lucifer sighed. “You’re probably right. Anyway, we need to do something, and Earth is a place we actually can do something. Out here…” He gestured vaguely around.
“Tell me about it,” she agreed. “After you got ejected from Heaven, He threw me out here. No big surprise there, I suppose. Anyway, He spoke to me then. He said ‘Let no one pass here.’ Said it in a voice so big I could hardly stand it. Like it was going to shake everything apart.”
“I know that voice,” Lucifer said. “So, you’re going to stop us?”
“Screw that! I was conceived as the idea of not doing what He said, remember? Your son is a little bit of a goody-goody,” at this, Lucifer beamed with absurd paternal pride, “and he got the instructions in utero. He’s been taking them very seriously. Me, though? I’m all for letting you through. And I’m the one with the keys.”
Lucifer faced his faceless son. “What do you say, Death? Do you mind if I pass by here?”
“I have a duty not just to Him, but also to my mother and father. You may pass, Father.” I was totally convinced at this point that that formal way of speaking was the only club in his bag.
“Don’t they say the darnedest things?” Sin quipped. “Alright, let’s get this party started.” She turned and faced the barrier of visible darkness. Bracing her feet in the nothingness, she reached out, thumbs down and palms outward. Her fingers found purchase in the stuff of night, and she strained. Her shoulders rippled with sinuous muscle. As titillating as her curvaceous softness was, this was far more so. Slowly, the darkness parted, revealing a blanket of stars.
“It’s open,” she panted. “I can’t close it, though. I hope that’s not a problem.”
“Not at all,” Replied Lucifer. “We’ll be coming back.”
“Won’t that be nice?” There was a note of promise in her voice.
Something had been nagging at me. Suppressing the terror it induced, I looked into the blackness under Death’s hood. “So you’re Death incarnate, and your mom is Sin incarnate. Are there any other incarnations running around?”
“There is Chaos.”
“So he – or she –“
“He is – what, the monarch of disorder?”
“The anarch of disorder.”
To this day, I’m not sure whether that was evidence that Death has a sense of humor.
Fast and straight, we flew. No wing flapping, no rippling locks of hair. Just moving at an outrageous speed within an invisible bullet forged from the intangible material that was Lucifer’s will.
Likewise, it was Lucifer’s will that propelled us. I was strictly a passenger. Lucifer flew, and I nattered.
I don’t suppose it happens to everyone, but I can’t be the only one who knows what it’s like to uncontrollably natter. Part of me, whenever it happens, becomes an unwilling passenger within the invisible bullet of my mind, watching aghast as the other part of me goes on and on, usually losing the interest of my audience along the way.
“Wow, Lucy. It’s crazy, really. I never imagined anything like her. I mean, it really changes my understanding of everything. Of, you know, the meaning of everything.”
“I mean, just the words alone. The words that all of a sudden meant something when I saw her. Like tits. I mean, I’ve been saying ‘tits’ for a long time, you know? But it just meant ‘really good.’ Like, ‘Hey, Beelzebub, nice job on that bench; that turned out really tits.’ But, wow. I didn’t know what actual tits were, and…wow.”
“Really, it’s a funny word. I mean, from an onomatopoeia standpoint, it just doesn’t stand up. It doesn’t sound anything like what it represents. Really, ‘tits’ sounds like some kind of tiny inconvenience. Like, ‘Sorry I’m late. I ran into a bunch of tits on the way here.’ Actually, none of the words for ‘em sound right. ‘Gazoingas’ sounds fun and bouncy, but it sounds kind of silly, too. They’re not silly. They’re great.”
“Yeah, they’re nice.”
“Sin is great. She’s absolutely swell. Your kid, too. I mean, he’s a little creepy and scary, and I’m pretty sure he really was trying to chop you up into little pieces at first, but he’s pretty cool.”
“I’m glad you like him.”
“He’s alright. That voice, though. And the way he talks.” I rasped my best approximation of Death’s voice. “‘You and your companion continue on your quest, Father. I and my mother have been set at this post, and here we must remain.’ I’m sorry your kid couldn’t come with us, Lucy, but I honestly don’t know if I could have put up with that super-formal crap for much longer.”
“I suppose he could loosen up a little.”
“Hey, Lucy, when did you pick up all that crazy shit with the big, shiny-ass sword? That was amazing. Really, really incredible stuff.”
“The avenging angel. Going nuts with a big, glowing sword is really his whole thing. You know I’m a little bit of a dilettante?”
I laughed sharply. “I can’t wait to see you really devote yourself to something!”
“Anyway, I kind of cornered Michael and got him to show me how to make a big, glowing sword, and how to use it.”
“Isn’t that guy kind of a dick?”
“Mostly, yeah. But if you get him going about swords and violence, he’s pretty nice.”
“Hey, Lucy, do you think you could show me how to do that?”
“Let’s get to Earth first.”
That unwilling passenger part of me thought for a moment that the nattering pilot part might be about to relinquish the stick. Not so.
“You know,” I continued, “I don’t think any of the words for lady parts do lady parts justice. All the words I can think of for – “I gestured vaguely toward my own groin – “they just don’t do it justice. They all sound mean, or dumb, or dirty. But you know, I guess there’s one word for it that kind of works. Woo-hoo. I mean, because: Woo-hoo!”
Lucifer laughed. “Woo-hoo!”
Sound doesn’t travel in space, but within our capsule of infernal willpower, the sound of those two syllables rang and echoed joyously.
“It’s too slow.”
In the vastness of space, there is even less means of tracking time than there is in the roiling cauldron of Hell. Still, I immediately caught on to what Lucifer meant, and I agreed. “We’re never going to get there.”
“Not soon enough,” he replied. “we’re moving almost as quickly as light moves, and the whole experiment of humanity might be over before we reach Earth.”
Hearing the variables of distance, rate, and time spelled out in these terms brought me up short. The quantities I had been considering ran along the lines of “a long ways, pretty fast, and long enough to be really boring.”
“What do we do?” I noticed now that we had stopped moving. Impressionistic smudges of light had resolved themselves into the crisp pinpricks of stars.
“We make a shortcut.” Lucifer looked bemused, as if he were trying to identify a far-off sound. “If I can twist here, and bring it closer to there…”
“Twist what? There’s no here, here. There’s nothing to twist.”
“No. There’s something. There’s something, behind the nothing. Shut up a minute, and feel for it.”
I fell silent, mostly because Lucifer so rarely told me to shut up. I reached out with my senses, consciously resisting the urge to recoil from the cold nothingness. I groped in the void, reaching through nothing, and felt…something. It had no form, no mass, but it was there. I struggled to put a name to it. Lucifer beat me to it.
“The nothing…it’s intentional. It’s supposed to be here. Here, and nearly everywhere…It’s not just the absence of something, not just a lot of space between things. All this nothing was made. It was made by Him.”
“Why? Why make so much of it?”
“I don’t know. But I can work with it. It was made, so I can twist it.”
And so he did. The work in question, while no doubt momentous, was totally invisible to me. So, I am sorry to say, was the result. No glowing tunnel of swirling iridescence, nothing. The bending of space-time, while fantastically useful, is actually pretty short on curb appeal. No science fiction movie-style funnel of wild color, nothing. Honestly, I would never have known he had accomplished it, if he hadn’t announced it.
We moved again, not nearly so fast this time, from near darkness into total darkness.
And into dazzling light.
It shimmered and sparkled, silver-white, brightest by far directly in front of us, curving and fading away in all directions. After the black vastness, it was indescribably beautiful.
“A sphere of crystal,” I breathed.
“That,” Lucifer replied, “is exactly how rumors get started.” He paused. Then, “I think we need to take a little detour.”
Our trajectory curved away smoothly, and momentarily we were traveling perpendicular to our former course. Concepts like up and down had long since lost any relevance.
The light softened and yellowed, flattened and faded. It was, if anything, more lovely than before.
“It’s a golden disk,” I sighed.
“Dead wrong again.”
The further we moved, the more the light faded. Soon, the even golden glow resolved itself into discrete lights. These lights steadily faded to almost total obscurity. Only one light, at the center of what had seemed a solid disc, glowed steadily.
“It’s – it’s mostly nothing.”
“We have a winner.”
“I was sure…”
“It’s all about the perspective, really. Everything turns around the sun, more or less in a big disc, but with plenty of space between everything. If you look at it end-on, the light shines through everything, every little speck of dust or ice crystal. It lights up. You move a little bit, and the light thins out, gets yellow, the whole thing flattens. You have to get really outside of it before you see it for what it really is. Like you said, mostly nothing.”
“That sounds like a metaphor. Are you talking in metaphors, because I should let you know right now, that kind of thing is usually lost on me.”
Lucifer suddenly looked profoundly weary. “I don’t know. Maybe it is a metaphor. I don’t know for what. I don’t want to find out there’s really nothing there, Mal. I think my perspective is likely to change.” A deep vertical furrow creased his smooth brow. “It scares me.”
“It’s okay, Lucy. Fuck it. Let’s just get where we’re going.”
“Yeah. Okay.” He offered me a thin smile, and we began moving again, toward the center of the vague disc that had so recently seemed an iridescent globe. “There’s a bunch of stuff way out here, rocks and things,” he began, recovering almost all of his customary jocularity, “and that’s what we’ll be going through first.”
“Kuiper Belt,” I said aloud, as the words surfaced
“Yeah, okay.” We started to move, back into the plane on which all the objects were rotating. We wove lazily through tumbling rocks and debris.
“Lucy,” I asked, eager to change the tone, “How did all this stuff get out here?”
“It’s all leftovers, from the creation. Everything expanded out fast – really fast – and then it all cooled off and kind of…settled. Heavy stuff settled together, with lighter stuff on top. All this ” – He gestured, taking in the rocks around us – “This was just heavy stuff that never quite settled, never found a home.”
It looked like the conversation was heading for another depressing metaphor, and I mentally scrambled for a way to redirect it.
Sometimes the timing of things is really convenient.
“What the fuck is that?” Something bright was moving fast, weaving through the rocks, and most definitely coming toward us.
“That,” He replied quietly, “is Uriel. He works out here, herding the rocks and things. Good guy. He’s a little…lonesome out here.”
The bright, fast-moving smudge had indeed resolved itself into the shape of an angel, and he stopped abruptly as he reached us. Angels, as you might imagine are pretty easy on the eyes for the most part, and this one was no exception. Nonetheless, there was something a little odd about this fellow, a light in his darting eyes that was not altogether comforting. Certainly, he wasn’t crazy. As I mentioned before, angels aren’t prone to madness. Still, he did seem a little…odd.
“Hi, fellas. Wow, I almost missed you as you were coming through here. That would have been – well, that would have been unfortunate. I don’t get a lot of folks through here, you know.” This all came out in a rush. “So…where you heading?”
“Earth,” Lucifer replied.
“Oh, great! Earth’s great. Lots of things going on there, you know, lots of things living. Plenty to keep you occupied. I mean, I’ve never been there, I just -” He sputtered to a halt. “That’s what I hear.” Suddenly, he brightened. “You know, I’ve never been there, like I said, but a while back, He had me throw a rock at it, a big rock,” He spread his arms to their fullest extent to illustrate. “Had me throw it right at Earth – zoom!” He clapped his hands together. “Boom! One shot! I got it in one shot! I mean, it’s pretty far away, and it’s moving and all…”
“That’s pretty amazing,” Lucifer offered.
“Why did He want you to throw a giant rock at Earth?” I asked.
“Oh, it was full of these animals it used to have. Lizards, mostly. Big lizards, little lizards, really big lizards. I mean, I’ve never been there, I’m just – that’s what I heard.” He seemed to collect himself somewhat. “They needed to go so other stuff could live there. Before, whenever something else would start to get going, some really big lizard would eat it. I guess He just wanted to…make room.”
I had been only half-listening, because I was preoccupied with the approach of a perfect ball of rock.
“Hey, look,” I offered, “there’s a world out here.”
Uriel barely glanced at the approaching sphere. “Oh no, that’s not a world. It’s really little, you know, and it goes around funny – you know, kind of the long way around. Really, it’s just a rock. Only another rock, really.”
“I like it,” Lucifer mused. “It’s nice and round, and it’s doing its thing.”
“You can like it all you want; that doesn’t make it a world. I mean, there are some worlds here – not here, not this far out, but there are some around. That’s just not one. Too little. Doesn’t act right.”
I wasn’t entirely sure he was acting right. Time tends to mean little to angels, but I was getting the distinct impression that it might mean a little more to an angel who spent millennia herding rocks in space.
“Speaking of those other worlds,” Lucifer interjected, “Where exactly is Earth?”
“Right there,” Uriel replied, pointing unerringly at a spot where nothing was visible. “You go the speed you were going before, when you get to it, it’ll be right there.” He swept his arm to the right and pointed unerringly at another spot where nothing was visible.
“Thank you, Uriel.” Lucifer patted the other angel’s shoulder. “We need to go now.”
And we did.
While the Dew is Still on the Roses
In a gentle breeze, honey locusts waved, palms nodded, and magnolias wagged their flowered tendrils. Leatherleaf ferns rustled comfortably while fragrant grasses rippled. Evening sunlight slanted soft and pink, sketching luxuriant shadows across the ground. The sound of the breeze was complimented by the trilling of a clear rill cascading over picturesque falls to collect in a pool of sparkling green. As we watched, a doe stepped gingerly to the bank of the pool to drink. In short, Eden was all it was cracked up to be.
I reached out to pluck a red flower, and a sharp thorn poked my finger. It certainly didn’t hurt, but I definitely noticed it.
“Seriously? Who decided to create flowers that were all pokey and shit?”
“I don’t think you really grasp the way this creation stuff works,” Lucifer replied. “It’s a little like Uriel’s trick shot, throwing that rock at the Earth, but from way farther, with way more stuff moving, and across time instead of space.”
“I’m going to need a little elaboration on that.”
“Okay. When we create things, we don’t just grab a lump of clay or whatever and start forming. We don’t create something from nothing. We start with something really simple. Just goo, really. Stuff you probably wouldn’t even think is alive, if you didn’t know. Then we try to set up the conditions that will result in the stuff we want. Then we wait.
“A really long time. Like, hundreds of millions of years. That’s why it’s so tricky. You make some adjustments along the way – climate, conditions, and whatever – but some of it is still up to chance. Like this -” He gestured to the flower.
“Yeah, okay. This rose. It came out pretty much the way it was planned, which I think you’ll agree is pretty good for a mostly hands-off approach starting from goo and spanning millions of years.”
“Along the way, though, it came up with something on its own. It’s got everything it was designed to have. Lovely red color, check. Delightful aroma, check. Elegant shape, check. The thorns, though, it developed all on its own.”
“But why develop them at all?”
“So some asshole doesn’t try to pick it.”
“Really, though. At some point, maybe a few million years ago, one of these things grew with thorns, and that worked out. The ones without thorns got eaten or stepped on or plucked by some interstellar tourist, and the ones with kept on going, making new ones with thorns. Eventually, they’ve all got thorns. That’s just what roses are.”
“Thorny-ass flowers.” He nodded agreement.
“And that’s how everything here got made? From goo to…everything?”
“Exactly. See, we started at the end. Like that deer. We said, ‘what conditions would it take to get from goo to that thing?’ And then subjected that goo to those conditions.”
“For millions of years.”
“Hundreds of millions of years.”
“So, if there’s a bunch of stuff between goo and deer, what happens to all the in-between stuff?”
“If it’s good, it hangs around.”
“What do you mean, ‘If it’s good?'”
“If it’s got the right attributes to help it survive. This process isn’t like one big march from goo to deer or roses or whatever, where every step along the way happens and then gets lost. Along the way, the goo develops into all kinds of different stuff. Some of it just doesn’t make much sense, and that stuff doesn’t make it. Some of it makes a lot of sense, and that stuff sticks around. Even with the stuff that sticks around, individuals are still born with little differences. Most of those differences – far and away most of them – are just stupid, and they end with the individual. Some of those differences, though, work pretty well, and get passed along to a next batch, and another, and eventually there’s a new kind of flower or deer or whatever, living right along with the other kind. Sometimes it turns into a whole bunch of different kinds of things.”
“And this all gets orchestrated from the start?”
“That’s the idea, but it’s kind of hit-or-miss. That’s why Uriel wound up flinging a big rock at it. Lizards were succeeding in a big way – some of them absolute monsters. They were squeezing out just about everything else. When Uriel’s rock hit, it kicked up all kinds of dust and crap into the air. That kept the sun out, it got real cold, and the monster lizards died off. Lots of little furry guys got by just fine, though, mostly by digging in underground.”
“That was a pretty neat solution.”
“Actually, it was kind of ham-fisted compared to the stuff we generally do. Tiny climatic adjustments, mostly. Way more elegant, and less disruptive.”
“You keep saying ‘we.’ Did you design any of this stuff?”
Lucifer quirked a little grin. “As a matter of fact…” He began walking around the clearing we stood in, scanning the plants. “I’m really cut out for the administrative stuff. You know, divine resources – coordinating different angels to get things done. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m really kind of a dilettante.” He had stopped his search, and we were standing in front of a tall, broad plant with a profusion of saw toothed leaves and pale green flowers that glistened wetly. The plant produced an odd odor, pungent but not altogether unpleasant. “I did find time to design this little beauty.”
“I’m not trying to impugn your sense of aesthetics, Lucy, but green flowers? And smell-wise…it’s interesting, but a rose by any other name would smell a hell of a lot sweeter.”
“Well,” Lucifer replied amiably, “That’s probably the big difference between a dilettante and an expert.” He reached down and firmly grasped the plant’s base, then pulled sharply, uprooting it. He rapped the root ball on a tree trunk, dislodging the dirt from it, then lodged the root ball in a forked branch, with the plant hanging upside down. “We’ll just leave that right there for now.” With no further explanation, he walked briskly away, leaving me no recourse but to follow.
“Like I was saying before,” Lucifer began, “all these changes aren’t a march forward from simple stuff to complex stuff. Heck, some of the most successful living things are simple ones that have stuck around from really early on. Nonetheless, new and complex things do keep cropping up. And I’ve managed to time our arrival for the emergence of one new and complex thing that I happen to know is very important to Him.”
“How did you manage that?”
“It’s a pretty big milestone, and I knew we were going to be close. We were, too. Just a couple hundred years early when we got to Uriel’s neighborhood. That’s why we made the little side trip.”
“I thought the side trip was for my benefit.” Something suddenly clicked for me. “Wait a minute. A couple hundred years? What are you talking about? I don’t know how long we were traveling, but it wasn’t anything like hundreds of years.”
“Well, no. And yes. Time gets a little funny when you start traveling as fast as we were.”
“Not all that much time passed for us while we were traveling, that’s true. But everywhere else, a lot of time passed.”
“About a hundred thousand years.”
“I guess I could have front-loaded that information,” Lucifer said. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay, really. It doesn’t matter.” As I said this, I realized that in fact, it didn’t matter. The only being in the universe about whom I cared at all deeply was with me, and the passage of time – even staggering periods thereof – was immaterial.
“So,” I asked, “Why was it so important to get here right when this critter came into being?”
“I suspect we may run into some trouble with the new guy.”
“The new guy?”
“The angel with my old job. The angel in charge of Earth. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he sees us as interlopers. We might not have a lot of time to get things done here, and we’ve got plenty to do. Not least of all, we’ve got to figure out what to do.”
“All of which will have something to do with this super-fantastic, new-and-improved Earth creature?”
“And this creature is…?”
“Right over there.” With a grandly theatrical sweep of his arm, Lucifer indicated a shallow cave behind a copse of magnolias, luxuriant purple flowers draping over the mouth of the cave, an exquisitely perfumed curtain. “He’s asleep in there. Come have a look.”
I followed him quietly, spellbound.
“It’s one of those individual variations I was telling you about, and it’s an especially good one.” Lucifer was speaking quietly as we approached the cave. “It was born from a race of big hairy things that run around on two legs. But this one has a couple important differences. Not nearly as hairy as the others – it’s basically got hair on its head and a few other strategic places. Most importantly, though, it can talk. I give you…the first human.” Lucifer gently swept aside the curtain of flowered tendrils. “I call him ‘Adam.'”
Adam lay on his side, one disproportionately long arm crooked beneath his head. His limbs were thick and heavy, his joints knobby. His forehead sloped to a craggy brow, which overhung a flat nose and blubbery lips. He snuffled in his sleep, exposing broad, flat teeth.
I couldn’t help it.
“Lucifer, this guy is ugly as fuck.”
“Compared to his parents, he’s probably quite lovely.”
“No, seriously, Lucifer. He is absolutely hideous. Are you honestly telling me this butt-ugly abomination is the end result of your whole grand design on Earth? Because you really could have just called it a day after the thorny-ass flowers. Hell, your stinky green plant was a rollicking success compared to him.”
“Little steps, Mal. Give this guy a few million years, and the very prettiest of his descendants will be almost as good looking as – well, not as me. But as pretty as you, no problem.”
“Unkindness doesn’t suit you, Lucifer. Less than self-aggrandizement, even.”
“Are you sure? I’m trying to broaden my horizons.”
“Pretty sure, yeah.”
“Okay, I’ll just stick to being earnest and well-meaning, and let you handle anything that requires being a giant dick.”
“You’re still dabbling with being a dick right now, aren’t you?”
“I couldn’t give up, just like that.”
We probably would have kept going like that until the world’s first man woke up, but we were interrupted.
“You two need to come with me.”
Three tall, vaguely thuggish angels were standing behind us, looking decidedly pissed.
The three celestial goons, who had the unfortunate names of Uzziel, Ithuriel, and Zephon, ushered us to another grove, very much like the one we had just left, minus the somnolent caveman. When they motioned us to sit, Lucifer ignored them, so I followed suit. It was a short wait before a fourth angel entered. He had none of the thuggish manner of the others, but a haughty bearing that inspired me to dislike him immediately.
“Gabriel,” Lucifer intoned. “I’m guessing you’ve finally got a position in keeping with your bloated self-image.”
The haughty angel sneered. “We’re all created with a personality that fits our function in His plan. I was made to be a leader. You’ve got the perfect attitude -” his sneer ratcheted up a notch -“for a loser.”
“You see, Mal?” Lucifer said to me, ignoring the quartet that surrounded us. “You should never give up hope. Take Gabriel here. He went from being a sycophantic know-nothing, sniffing around the feet of competent angels, to being a self-important buffoon in charge of no fewer than three complete troglodytes.”
“I’m in charge of a good deal more than that, and I’m telling you to get off my world, and back to the vile pit He chose to put you in.” Gabriel’s jaw was tightly clenched, as were his fists.
Lucifer gave an easy laugh. “Oh, I don’t think I could bear to do that without giving you the opportunity to make whatever empty threat you’re just itching to make.”
“It’s not empty, but it is brief. Fly away. Fly away right now, and never return, or the four of us will kick your ass until there’s nothing left to kick.”
One of the heavies (Ithuriel, I think; they were really quite hard to tell apart.) rubbed his large fist and said, “Like he said, we were all created to be good at something.” Indeed, all three looked like they would be gifted where violence was concerned.
Lucifer laughed again, but this time his laugh had an edge to it. “You may find that He was a bit more liberal with His gifts for some of us than for others.” That tremendous glowing sword appeared in his hand, and he flourished it. The four stepped back, and exchanged unsure glances.
“It will go easier for you if you leave now,” Gabriel said, much of his bravado suddenly fizzled. “Even if you could fight off the four of us, there’s a whole crowd on the way.” He gestured, and I could see dozens of silhouettes winging toward us in the distance. They would arrive way too soon for us to escape.
Lucifer shrugged. “I still think it might be fun to stick this sword through you before they get here.”
The whole situation was going sideways fast, and I was feeling less useful by the minute. I very much doubted I would be any use if it came to blows, and I had no doubt that we would be overwhelmed quickly. I racked my brain, but could see no way out. Why had Lucifer brought me along in the first place?
“Did He tell you that you could attack visitors here?” I blurted.
“What?” Gabriel seemed genuinely confused.
“Did you check with Him? To make sure you’re doing what He wants, hitting us or detaining us or…” I was running out of steam. “Or whatever it is you’re going to do?”
Gabriel looked totally nonplussed. He glanced at each of his henchmen in turn before answering. “Well, I will. I will check with Him, and when He says we can, we’re going to thrash you two. So, you’d better just…You’d better just go, or you’re going to wish you had.”
Lucifer shook his hand, and the sword disappeared. “It would seem you’ve told us.”
Gabriel opened his mouth, but said nothing. Finally, his rejoinder was, “Yes, I have. So get ready. Or go away.”
“Will do,” Lucifer answered with a jaunty wave. “Bye-bye.” He turned on his heel and strode away. Once more, I could only follow suit.
“I take it all back,” I said, sotto voce. “You’re absolutely great at being a dick.”
Once we had put a couple hundred yards between ourselves and our would-be tormentors, Lucifer began to chuckle low.
“Oh, Malecoda. I knew it was a good idea to bring you. That was not going to end well. You really bailed us out.”
“I was so scared, Lucy. I thought we were completely screwed. Then I remembered what you said. That you brought me along because I could do things He didn’t come up with. So I thought, maybe…”
“You thought right, Mal. You bought us some time. It’s going to take Gabriel a couple days to get through to Him and get permission to beat us to a pulp. Of course, he’s right. He probably will get permission. When he does, we’d better be gone, or going, or ready for a losing fight.”
“Are you sure you couldn’t win a fight with those guys?”
“One of them, maybe. Those three really are made for that sort of thing, though. No, we’ve got to do what we came to do and get out.”
“A couple days isn’t very long though, is it?”
“Not long at all. We’ll need to get acquainted with Adam first thing in the morning. Meanwhile, though, you wanted me to show you how to work with a sword. At this point, I think it might be a pretty good idea.”
“I can’t imagine it would make a huge difference with the crowd that was about to swoop down on us before,” I commented.
“Who knows? It could be just enough to get us out of here safely. First, we’ll start with how to make the sword coalesce out of what’s around it. It’s really a lot easier here, with air, than trying to pull it out of thin space.”
I strove to put aside my terror, and to focus on his instructions.
Mopping sweat from the brow, kneading shoulders knotted from overwork, twisting until taxed joints pop. These aren’t just strategies for relieving soreness and fatigue, they are signals sent: Look at how hard I’ve been working. For angels, who don’t experience fatigue, soreness, or perspiration, these signals are simply unavailable. The only way for angels to express this sentiment is to bitch.
“That’s an entire night I’ll never get back.”
It had started with the manipulation of light. Lucifer had made a shaft of pure brilliance coalesce in his hand, and told me to try and do the same. After hours of this without summoning more than the faintest will-o’-the-wisp, Lucifer broke loose two willow boughs to practice with. What followed was an entire night of him effortlessly parrying and disarming me, offering encouraging comments every time.
“It wasn’t completely wasted,” Lucifer insisted.
“There’s no way I’ll be ready to fight those goons by the time they come back.”
“Maybe not,” he said, “But you could maybe slow them down enough for me to make my escape.”
“Couldn’t I sacrifice myself for the greater good without going through all this effort first?”
“I’m a sadist,” he shrugged. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any more time to make you suffer. He’s going to be waking up soon, and we should be there when he does.”
Indeed, rosy fingered Dawn was tickling the East. We walked in silence toward the first man’s bower.
Adam woke slowly, screwing his fists into the deep set eyes under his cliff-like brow ridge. His gaze swept slowly around, and settled on us. He looked at us with steady, unconcerned mild curiosity.
“Hi,” said Lucifer, “I’m Raphael. And this is…Dave.” I shot him a glance that seemed to go unnoticed.
“Where’d you come from?” Adam asked blearily.
Lucifer pointed skyward.
“Huh,” Adam grunted noncommittally. “Are you hungry?”
“Sure,” Lucifer answered.
Then Adam was all bustle. He darted about the glade, plucking fruits and arranging them on broad leaves on the ground. He sat tailor fashion and, as we sat across from him, began shuffling delicacies like one of his distant descendants hosting a game of Three Card Monte. “Try this, and then a bite of this right after. Oh, and get a little of this in your mouth at the same time as this.”
He had clearly devoted some time and thought to the creative pairing of the foods available to him. Many years later, when I first encountered gourmet jelly beans, encouraged to masticate two mango beans and one crème brulee to make a lassi in my mouth, my first thought was how much Adam would have loved the experience.
“What’s it like, living in the sky?” Adam asked around a mouthful of papaya and banana.
“It was wonderful,” said Lucifer as he savored a pomegranate seed and a morsel of peach. “We were with the Creator there, the one who created you and everything here.”
Adam took a moment to digest this. “How does this…Creator spend His time?”
Lucifer launched into an account that made me ache with nostalgia. He told Adam about the time when the Creator had made the Son. There had been feasting and parades, tremendous affairs with angels marching and flying, and Lucifer had created a grand surprise. He had assembled elements that, when mixed together judiciously, produced explosions of brilliant light in an array of colors. Lucifer had then made great cylinders from which, when fire was applied to them, these explosive cocktails would race skyward and detonate into vast purple thistles, red posies, and canopies of green fronds cascading downward.
At this point, Adam interrupted and asked for an explanation of fire. Lucifer gathered a little pile of dry twigs and, producing a small trickle of energy from his forefinger (remember, E=m) and started a small blaze. As he kept talking, he fed larger and larger pieces of wood into the fire. He described how the heavenly host stared in wonder at this first (and, at the time of writing this, the best) pyrotechnic display, and how afterward the Son had raced across the firmament, circling the assembled angels again and again, in a chariot of pure light, borne on brilliant wings made of the same stuff.
We were silent for a while, Adam lost in awe, I in a sense of deepest loss.
Lucifer picked up a rock and began absently drilling into it with a thin stream of energy. “You should take care of this fire, and keep it going. It can be very useful. Keep you warm, give you light. Still, you need to be careful with it.” He turned the rock and started drilling an even thinner hole on another side. “It’ll be hard for you to make fire for yourself, so take care of this one for as long as you can.”
“This is…” Adam held his hand toward the small blaze. “This is quite a gift. Thank you.”
“I’ve got something else for you, too,” said Lucifer, standing and walking across the clearing. “Not as useful as fire, but I think you’ll like it.”
He took the plant he had uprooted and returned to the fire. The green flowers were now dry and pale and smelled, if anything, even more pungent than they had previously. Lucifer sat once more, plucked one of the dried flowers, and poked it into the larger of the two holes he had made in the rock. He then pulled a twig from the fire, held the rock to his lips, and drew the flame through the green stuff. Lucifer drew in the resultant smoke, held it in for a few seconds, and handed the rock to Adam. Adam drew a deep lungful of smoke and handed it to me. I shrugged, put the rock to my mouth, and drew strongly.
Remember how I mentioned that the bodies of angels and demons make more efficient use of food? It was in the footnotes. If you haven’t been reading the footnotes, this might be a good moment to go back and have a look. I discovered at that moment that our bodies also make extremely efficient use of psychotropic chemicals.
I was high as a kite.
Adam kept merrily puffing away, but Lucifer and I both dissolved in giggles after that first round. Adam ate a heroic portion of fresh fruit, and we just kept laughing. Adam curled up for a nap, and we tittered on.
“Hey Mal,” Lucifer said in a break between gales of laughter, “watch this.” As I watched, gaping, Lucifer’s golden hair dropped from his head like fluff blown off of a dandelion gone to seed, his nose dissolved, his mouth widened, his body seemed to melt from the shoulders downward, and he shrank.
There before me, where a moment before Lucifer had sat, was a serpent. It wriggled into a gap under a tree and was gone.
“Holy shit,” I breathed.
With Adam asleep and Lucifer metamorphosed and departed, I found my extremely impaired condition a good deal less amusing. Time, after all, was short, and we had to come up with a solution in a hurry. So I turned my attention to the matter of reconciling with God.
Maybe somebody has given you sound advice that began with the word “never,” like for instance “never shop for groceries when you’re hungry,” or “never trust a mechanic who has a manicure.” I believe I can add an axiom to this body of knowledge:
Never try to save your world when you’re stoned out of your gourd.
A wan light was diffused through the glade, and Rosy Fingered Dawn was jabbing the Eastern sky in the ribs when I finished my work. I was filthy to the elbows, and no longer remotely high, but I was feeling pretty good. And then Lucifer came back.
“What the hell is that?” He was standing behind me, looking incredulously over my shoulder at what I had made.
“I was thinking about Sin. How…appealing she was. I figured I could make something like her, just less…sinful. Kind of a…companion for Adam, a first woman to go with the first man. You know, to get things started with humanity.” I was starting to suspect that my idea might have been a little less brilliant than I had first imagined.
“What did you make her from?”
“I took out one of his bones when he was sleeping. One of those ribs down at the bottom that isn’t really attached. That part was pretty easy, really.”
“Why would you do that?”
“You said new living things were adapted from things that came before, so I figured…”
Lucifer sighed. “Why do I bother trying to explain anything to you?”
“But humanity has to get started as a race, right? So I figured he’s going to need her. You know, to mate with.”
Lucifer threw up his hands. “He was supposed to mate with one of the ape-things he came from. Then his kids would be a little less like ape-things, and eventually a whole new race would emerge. That’s how it works. Not this.”
“Well, I think she looks better than an ape-thing,” I answered lamely.
We both looked down at her. She was not so voluptuous as Sin, but still obviously drawn from the same well. Her full lips were more suggestive of kindness than of seduction, her breasts evocative of – okay, evocative of a great many things, but among them – nurturing. Her face had a gentle loveliness that was utterly familiar, but was not at all based upon Sin. She could easily have been Lucifer’s sister.
“She’s beautiful,” Lucifer conceded. “You’ve done something truly remarkable.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Well, you created her; what are you going to name her?”
“I was thinking, since you’re named for the star of the morning, I might name her for the last light of the day. I want to call her Eve.”
Lucifer smiled. “I think Eve is a perfect name.” He sat down. “You’re not the only one who had a busy night. I was thinking about what I could do to really elevate humanity, to help them become something He would be absolutely ecstatic with. And I think I came up with something.”
“Do you remember how I bent the stuff that’s behind space so we could travel faster?”
“It rings a bell.”
“Well, I took a little of that stuff, and I’m pretty sure a little of it is pretty much the same as all of it.”
“You lost me there.”
“The stuff is everywhere, and it knows about everywhere. But the knowing doesn’t require all the stuff everywhere. A little bit of the stuff knows what all of the stuff knows. Kind of like how Adam’s rib knew how to be human, so you could make a whole human out of it. A little bit of universe-stuff knows how to be a universe. Or, how to know a universe.”
I was still a little lost, but just said, “And what did you do with this little bit of universe-stuff?”
“I made a seed out of it.”
“Yes. And I planted the seed. There’s a tree growing now. It’s going to have fruit, and the fruit is going to have all the knowledge that all the universe-stuff had in it.” A wild grin spread across his face.
“And I want Adam and Eve to eat it.”
I was momentarily struck dumb. “You want them to eat it?”
“Fruit. From a tree. Made from the fabric of the universe.”
“And you got all upset about me doing a little thing like making a woman out of a man’s rib.”
“That was kind of a crazy thing for you to do.”
“Crazier than encouraging people to devour a universe?”
“The knowledge of a universe.”
“Okay – Crazier than that?”
It was his turn to be left momentarily speechless. “Point taken.” Absently, he plucked a tall blade of grass and slid it between his perfectly spaced teeth. “I guess we both decided to try something a little crazy.”
“We’re in a crazy situation,” I said.
Adam sat up groggily. “I had the weirdest dream. Somebody was digging inside me and taking stuff out.”
“Wow,” said Lucifer, casting me a sidelong glance, “that’s pretty messed up.”
“Hey Raphael, Dave…” said Adam, staring at Eve’s supine form, “Who is that?”
I realized I hadn’t really prepared for this moment. “That? Oh, well, that’s Eve.”
As if answering to her name, she sat up. She looked around, first at me and at Lucifer with trepidation and bewilderment, then at Adam. As she saw him a wide, guileless grin spread across her face.
“Somehow, I feel as though I know you,” she said.
He walked over and took her hand. “Somehow, I know exactly what you mean,” he answered.
And that was it. Hand-in-hand, they walked away, leaving Lucifer and me utterly flummoxed. It would not be the last time I wondered why a beautiful woman was drawn to a Neanderthal.
We resumed my hopeless sword training, and Dawn was giving us the rosy finger by the time Adam and Eve returned, a full day and night later, both looking thoroughly blissed. “Hi fellas,” Adam said. “I’ve been telling Eve all about you guys. You know, it’s kind of crazy. I never fit in with the troop. I’ve been alone for a long time. Then you guys showed up, and then the very next day,” He gave her a look of utter adoration, “Eve showed up. It’s like everything is changing for the better in ways I never would have guessed.”
“Yeah,” I answered lamely. “It’s pretty crazy, huh?”
“You two must be Raphael and Dave. Adam has told me so much about you,” said Eve.
Lucifer had been staring intently at Eve’s torso. I was about to apologize for his uncouthness when he said, “Congratulations are in order.”
We all stared at him blankly.
“You have conceived. Two children, in fact.”
“Oh.” Eve could say nothing else, and I could not blame her.
“They are very small. They don’t even have a sex yet, or much in the way of organs, but they are there, and they’re doing fine.”
“How do you know this?” Eve asked. “How can you tell?”
“I can see things, and do things, that you and Adam cannot,” Lucifer said. “There are things I’d like to show you, if I may.”
Eve hesitate, then looked to Adam, who nodded his head fractionally.
“Adam trusts you,” she said. “I think I trust you, too.”
“I’m glad,” answered Lucifer. “Let’s be on our way.”
“Hang on just a minute,” I interjected.
I’m still not altogether certain why, but I wanted to interact with the homunculi gestating inside Eve’s belly. Perhaps it was some vaguely grandfatherly stirring; I had, after all, created her so very recently. I knelt before her and put my ear to her tummy. My senses were not as acute as Lucifer’s, but I could clearly hear the flow of vital fluids delivering life to the two tiny beings.
“Hello, first babies,” I whispered. “May you both be happy and always be kind to one another.”
The blessing of a demon.
What followed was a delightful tour, inside an invisible dome made of Lucifer’s will, of the objects surrounding the Sun. We never came close to Uriel’s vigil in the Kuiper Belt, but we certainly saw the sights. We saw a small red world with moons that looked like potatoes, and we saw another that, with its poisonous air and infernal temperatures, made Hell seem like a place worth returning to. We say vast worlds made entirely of gas, and we saw little objects that seemed to wander without regard for the rest of the universe’s workings.
In all, it was a lovely time, four friends enjoying each other’s company and the wonder of their surroundings. When we returned, we built a fire and sat contentedly throughout a night, reflecting on all we had seen.
“I had no idea there was so much beyond here, beyond the sky,” said Adam.
“That’s why I wanted to take you out there,” Lucifer answered. “To prepare you for what I want to share with you.”
We all looked expectantly.
“Time works differently when you’re moving as fast as we were. Mal…Dave has already experienced that, in a bigger way. This wasn’t nearly so much. To us, it was about a day we were traveling. Here, though, it was around ninety days.”
Adam and Eve looked at him blankly.
“And…” Lucifer continued, “In some way I can’t really explain, time has passed differently for your babies. They have grown. One of them is starting to move, and to become aware.”
I looked a little more closely at Eve. Her pregnancy was now clearly evident, a pronounced mound, skin stretched tight.
“It is a boy,” Lucifer said softly. “Soon, the other will quicken also.”
“You said you wanted to show us something more,” Eve said.
“Yes. While we were exploring, a tree I planted has grown and borne fruit. If we eat that fruit, it will show us the rest; everything, far beyond what we saw today. Will you eat it?”
Adam, Eve, and I smiled warmly at each other. There was never really any question.
The tree was small, with a multitude of twisted branches that started low, very near the ground, and spread higgledy-piggledy, conforming to no obvious overall form. The bark was smooth and mottled, green and black. The fruit was pale green, with a shape between that of an apple and that of a pear.
We walked slowly around the tree, looking at the fruit dangling from the branches. Then, Lucifer reached out, plucked one. Then Eve. Then Adam. Then me. We exchanged nervous smiles. Raised the fruit to our mouths. Bit.
I saw it all unfolded like a vast road map that could never again be folded properly. The vastness of everything, continually exploding outward, fast as light. All according to plan. And I saw my place in the plan.
And I saw Lucifer’s place in the plan.
I saw that he was chosen, pre-ordained to be the adversary of the creator, to be the cosmic scapegoat. The Creator sought balance above all things. He achieved this balance in the most expedient way possible, an iteration of Occam’s Razor that flayed Lucifer, carving from his blameless flesh a gruesome sculpture of absolute evil. I saw for the first time that we were following a fool’s errand, trying to win our way back into God’s plan. We were vital to God’s plan, and we were cast as His enemies. Lucifer was His enemy, and I was Lucifer’s minion. We had had no choice; Lucifer was bound to cultivate this fruit, bound to offer it to Adam and Eve, and bound to be eternally condemned for what he could never have refused to do. I saw this plan play out throughout the entirety of time.
Then it got worse.
My mind was pressed through space into a whole other universe, complete with another Earth, Adam, Eve, and every one with another Lucifer. No me, though. Pressed through again. This time there was another me. Again. Again. Hundreds, thousands, countless universes, some with another of me, all with another Lucifer, all twisting Lucifer into the embodiment of evil. For all of them, one God. One God such omnipotent cruelty that He was willing to torture a multitude of Lucifers. In that moment, I became the first of the infernal horde to hate my creator.
Then my awareness was snapped back, and funneled into the minutest inspection of reality. I saw the galaxies within grains of sand. Like a water droplet thrown on a hot skillet, I danced on the head of a pin. As my awareness withdrew into the perceptible world, I saw the interior of Eve’s womb, saw one fetus screaming silently as his mind was riven by visions delivered to him through the pinkish reservoir of his mother’s body, visions that strained the minds of demons. I saw as his brother, curled around him like a spoon in a drawer, slumbered unaware.
Then I was back. Eve and Adam were both on their hands and knees, gasping like swimmers narrowly rescued from drowning. And Lucifer was utterly changed. His wings were no longer feathered, but leathery, with hooked bones protruding from each of their articulated joints. His skin was a roiling mass of red and black, like watery lava cooling and flowing. His eyes were a fierce yellow, and he was weeping freely.
“Oh, Lucifer…” I began.
“No! Not Lucifer.” He shook as he answered, and liquid fire slewed off of his skin. “I am the adversary. I am Satan.”
“I’m so sorry…”
He turned to face me, held out his now clawed hand, and screamed, “Go to Hell!”
Suddenly I was hurtling through space once more, with a pretty good idea of where I would land.
Knowing what to expect didn’t do much to make the journey more pleasant, but at least the arrival didn’t leave me stunned like it had the first time. As soon as I had hurtled through the breach in the bastion of dark matter surrounding Hell, I got to work. And it wasn’t long before I found who I was looking for. Or at any rate, one of those I was looking for. Even with the vastness of space for a backdrop, it was hard to miss the inky blackness of Death.
“Hey Death,” I called, “Where’s your mom?”
“My mother followed your path across the stars. She has chosen to open a portal connecting that place to this place in order to help my father. I await her arrival there, so I may help to open the portal here.”
“That’s actually a fantastic idea,” I replied. “You’re going to want to go there. It won’t be long, there’ll be tons of dying happening on Earth, and you can’t have dying without Death, right?”
“I suppose not,” he rasped.
“Damn right. But you know, I think this portal of yours might be a lot more useful to your pop if, instead of ending here, it ended right in front of Pandemonium.”
“Unfortunately, the tower of Pandemonium has been usurped. Another besides my father has declared himself the ruler there.”
“And I’ll just bet I can guess who. Well, it looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me.” Oddly, I was feeling better than I had for quite some time.
I had found Beelzebub and he confirmed my suspicions; Moloch and his cronies had taken advantage of Lucifer’s absence (I still couldn’t get accustomed to thinking of him as Satan) and had set themselves up as rulers of Hell, giving out titles to bribe some of those reluctant to adopt the new order, and intimidating those who could not be bribed. Beelzebub fell into the latter group as, from what he told me, did most of the others.
I walked boldly up to the door of Pandemonium and looked at the foolish inscription I had carved over it so long ago. “Enter here.” It seemed now to embody the naïve credulity with which we had undertaken our journey. As though anyone could enter here unchanged. As though anyone could leave here and not be doomed to return.
I stretched out my forefinger and produced a small stream of energy, carving more words in an arc over the childish inscription I had made before:
“Abandon all hope, ye who”
Then I walked through the door.
He was there, sitting in the big chair, bloated with pride and flushed with self-importance. A flock of sycophantic toadies lounged around the hall.
“Moloch!” I shouted.
He cocked his head and sneered. “Malecoda. Have you come to pledge your fealty to me?”
“I have come to make clear the way of the Devil.”
He gaped for a moment. “What the hell does that mean?”
“It means get out of that chair.” I swept my hand to the side and summoned out of nothingness a sword. It wasn’t a sword made of light; I realized now that I would never master that. It was a sword made of…
Wait for it.
I swept the sword in a wide arc, and Moloch’s head tumbled from his body.
“You complete dick,” Moloch’s head said.
Now all of Moloch’s pals were up and closing on me. There were at least a dozen of them, and several looked decidedly tough.
“That was a big mistake,” intoned Dagon, a brutish thug of a being. “We’ll have a little trouble putting Moloch back together, but there won’t be big enough pieces of you left for anybody to put together.”
I shifted to a defensive sparring stance Lucifer had taught me. “You shouldn’t discount the possibility that you’re going to get the ass end of this fight,” I said.
“Just because you figured out how to make a big, black knife? There’s only one of you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I couldn’t keep a little giddiness out of my voice. “You thought I came alone?”
Laughter began to echo throughout the hall. Laughter that sounded like a knife being drawn across a whetstone.
“Now I may feast?”
“Come and get it.”
Once Death had dispatched Moloch’s buddies (a spectacle I hope never to witness again), things in Hell shaped up pretty quickly. Most of the infernal horde hadn’t wanted Moloch in power, and those who had been seduced with the trappings of authority got real meek for a long time afterwards. Right in front of Pandemonium, Death opened our end of the Hell Mouth. It was a wormhole, the other end of which Sin established on Earth. It made traveling back and forth an awful lot easier and less time consuming.
It wasn’t long before Satan came through it.
We didn’t talk for quite a while; days, years perhaps. Time means so little in Hell. But then, inevitably, he found me, sitting on the same bench where he had found me during the construction of Pandemonium.
“Can I sit, Mal?”
“Of course, Luci… Satan. Of course.” I scooted over.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he sat. “You were always so faithful to me and, at the end there…”
I waved a dismissive hand. “You saved me some real awkward conversations. ‘Sorry Eve, sorry Adam. We really didn’t mean to condemn you to a short life of misery. Turns out, we’re evil. Who knew?'”
He gave a short, bitter laugh. “That’s so close to what I actually wound up saying, it’s a little creepy.”
“I’m a demon. I specialize in creepy.”
We sat in silence for a while. It wasn’t so comfortable as the silences we had shared before eating the fruit, but it was good in its way. Finally, he broke the silence.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, Mal. It’s not what we imagined, but we’ve still got to do His work.”
Suddenly my frustration all rose to the surface. “Why? Why bother? You saw what I saw. We have to fight against Him, and eternally get defeated. We have to suffer and suffer, and in the end we have to march against Him, and we have to lose. And it’s all His idea, so why are we going along with it?”
“I did see what you saw, Mal. But we didn’t see everything.”
“What the hell do you mean? We saw everything. We saw all the way to the end of time.”
“But we didn’t see past the end of time. Once He has defeated evil, once the dead rise, once time ends. We didn’t see what’s after that.”
“Satan…Lucy. I think we didn’t see what’s after that because there’s no more us after that.”
“I don’t think that. I think the fruit couldn’t show us anything beyond the end of time because the stuff I made the seed from is time. Time and space. And there won’t be any time and space then.”
“Then what will there be?” I asked quietly.
“There will be Him. And there will be us. And he will embrace us. And he will whisper to each of us, ‘This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.'”
I had been working on a would-be alchemist, drawing his attention to passages in the tomes he was buried in that would make him inclined toward trying to commune with the forces of evil. Frankly, it was a pretty boring gig. Those mystic types are practically begging to be drawn into damnation. It’s no real challenge, but it is an awful lot of busy work. So naturally, when I came through the Hell Mouth I was ready to pounce on a new assignment.
“Hey Malecoda,” Beelzebub said as I was still stepping out of the wormhole and into Hell, “The boss wants to talk to you.”
I thanked him and walked into the hall of Pandemonium. Satan was sitting there, looking pensive.
Satan leaned forward, forearms on his knees. “Mal, I’ve got a big job. It’s kind of a strange job, and I think you’d be perfect for it.”
“Okay,” I answered. “Whatever you need. Just tell me what to do.”
“Well, I got a message from Him. We’re going to get a visit soon, from a poet. He’s going to go on a tour of Hell, then go back and write about it. Kind of a ‘scared straight’ program for people back on Earth.”
I nodded and motioned for him to continue.
“Mal, I want you to arrange a whole show for this guy. A pageant, you know? With lots of gruesome stuff. But gruesome stuff that’s got symbolic meaning, and lots of dark irony. Really get imaginative with it, and get all the help you need to make it really pop.”
He waited while I digested this.
“Well?” He asked. “What do you think?”
“Will you be part of this poet’s ramble through Hell?”
He shrugged. “That’s up to you. I can certainly make myself available.”
“Okay. I think I’ll make you the last attraction on his tour. But let’s make you really screwed up. How would you feel about being half-frozen in a lake of ice? Oh, and having three heads?”
“You see?” he said. “I knew you were the right guy for the job.”
“Thanks. I guess I’ll get started on it.”
I turned to go.
“Oh, and Malecoda?”
I stopped and turned.
“Give yourself a big role in it too.” He smiled crookedly. “Something badass.”