Fie Upon Thee, TekSavvy! Fie Upon Thee!

March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

The scene is Tuesday, after a long day of work and waiting for the technician to show up. The time is…irrelevant. It is late.

There is a knock upon the door.

Us: Thank God you’re here, technician! Please, render to us the sweet, sweet bounty of the internet! Save us from ourselves!

Him: You don’t have outside wiring installed. We’ll have to install it.

Us: How unfortunate! Shall you install it now? How long until the precious bytes are ours again?

Him: Nah, I don’t have authorization.

Us: …then get it.

Him: That takes at least 24 hours. You available any other time this week? Next week?

Us:This is most unfortunate. FOR YOU.

So…hopefully Friday. Hopefully? Maybe? Who knows. Who really knows at this point. That said, I actually have little beef with the provider, but come on! Why would you send a contractor out who can’t do anything when he gets there? Did you do this to tease us, TekSavvy? To draw out our enjoyment and make us savor it?

BECAUSE WE ARE ALREADY TEASED.

In any case, have some more story. There is more to this chapter, including a proper ending, but it needs a tonne of work and I don’t have any more time today where I have internet. So we will have to compromise, but I think you’ll survive the day or two until I can post the end.

Maybe.

XIV.

The Central Offices of Heaven were far less impressive than Patrick imagined. Oh sure, they were housed in a skyscraper that stretched miles away into the distance that was coated in diamond and was surrounded by legions of floating, singing angels, but it still bore a painful resemblance to the Toronto Dominion tower complex. In other words, it was a block a concrete. A fancy block of concrete, but a block nonetheless. The mind that had developed the careful whorl of the conch shell or the intricate beauty of the human brain had apparently been out to lunch when they needed an architect.

Patrick had imagined it to be a floating castle or perhaps a complex made entirely of clouds. To see that it looked just like a place that he very well might have wound up working in disappointed him. The others, however, were awe-struck.

“God’s breath! It’s magnificent!” Zizka breathed and loosened his tie. Phorcys whistled and Patrick cringed. Even his whistle was perfect, a note as shapely as his body. The two einherjar were entirely out of their league and stared at the soaring building with open mouths. Sure, they had been shocked at the size of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, but this was different. Yggdrasil, although it put the California redwoods to shame, was a part of their mythology. This soaring box of cubicles and glass windows was not and they felt it.

Patrick’s mind drifted back to the time they spent among the clouds in the boughs of Yggdrasil. He had spent most of it clutching onto the wood for dear life, hoping against hope that the winds he felt were only in his head. It was not.

Óðinn sat next to him, completely at ease despite the height, while Arngeir and Sævarr stood in awe of Slephnir. The eight-legged horse stamped and sniffed the foliage, not in the least bothered by anything going on around him. Patrick had never felt jealous of a horse before, or any quadruped more complicated than a cat (because cats can sleep at day and people think it’s cute), but he wished he had Slephnir’s head for heights. Or an eagle’s, if it came to it.

“You must find her.” Óðinn said in-between puffs on his pipe.

“Find who?” Patrick asked, who buried his face into the branch and prayed for a Gravol.

“Find your wife, your Amira. Take my einherjar with you, and find her wherever she may be. Before it is too late.”

“Why?”

Óðinn raised his bushy eyebrows behind his hat. “You do not want to find her? You have already tried, without success, have you not?”

“No, why does me finding her prevent Ragnarok or the destruction of Heaven?” Patrick swallowed bile but forced himself to keep talking. “I don’t know how well you knew us on Earth, but we weren’t in any way important. We didn’t even win the lottery and believe me, we tried. So why? Why do we matter?”

“You? You don’t matter, except that you are her husband and she will listen to you. Do not think so highly of yourself, Patrick. It does not become you.”

“Oh shut up. No-one back on Earth believes in you anymore, so there.”

Óðinn chuckled and offered Patrick his pipe. He had to poke him in the shoulder to get him to lift his head off the branch and practically jammed it in-between his lips.

“Ah yes, the iron law of existence: all things change. Even the gods men pray to. I have learned that lesson the hard way, Patrick.” His eyes misted for a second, but at a second when no-one was looking at him and therefore could not have possibly seen it happen. “You are not what I expected, if you are willing to speak back to a god in his own domain. That is good. You will need all your strength and more to recover your wife.”

Óðinn accepted the pipe back from Patrick, who’s diaphragm now did its best to cough up a lung, but who’s brain found it much easier to be up in the tree. “I do not know why it happened, nor do I know what it means, but your wife is in neither the Book of Life or the Book of the Dead. That, though not unprecedented, is quite the problem for those in Heavenly authority.”

“Why? What do they care about her?” Patrick felt warm inside, and as strong as an ox. The pipe was much stronger than he thought and had begun to make him light-headed and reckless. “Don’t even think she was baptized…or whatever it is that Muslims do.”

“They care about her because the rules do not apply. She may freely travel the world of spirits, she may ignore the rules of any angel or demon, and she may do as she wishes, unbounded by the power of others. Perhaps by accident, perhaps by design, she could destroy the boundaries between Heaven, Hell, or Midgard. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

Patrick took another puff of the pipe. He was surprised at how normal this all seemed now, like it was everyday that he shared a pipe with a Norse god while two einherjar climbed on top of an eight-legged horse only to get bucked off every time. Of course, while an angel watched him with some suspicion, desire, and hope all mixed into one anxious expression on her face.

“Where is she?”

“I do not know. My many eyes have seen nothing of her, nor have my ears heard of her passing. She is…gone from my sight.”

“Where should I start? I’m still not sure how this place even works, and, uh, my heavenly geography is a little rusty.”

And with that, and a little detour in a purple house that nearly broke everyone’s mind, they found themselves standing outside the Central Offices of Heaven.

“Alright, everyone remember the plan?” Patrick asked.

“Shut up, look important, and let you and Hai do the talking?” Arngeir volunteered from the back row. He glistened in the light, his mask giving him a touch of menace that was brutally out of place in Heaven. Patrick thought he’d look right at home wearing a bunch of spikes on him.

“Yep. And if they give us the run around?”

“Phorcys and I shall split off and, taking care not to be discovered, we will search through as much of the…magnificent building as we can, while Arngeir and Sævarr remain with you. If we are discovered, we are to claim ignorance and say…say…”

“You got lost looking for the washroom. Here’s hoping the angels don’t remember what those are for and just show you the exit. If not, it could get messy. Well, it might get messy anyways, but here’s hoping not, right?” Patrick tried to raise their spirits, but Arngeir and Sævarr had brightened up immensely when he suggested the violence. Patrick shook his head. It must be a sort of mindset that you get into where violence is something to be enjoyed instead of avoided. He conveniently forgot how much fun he had had playing Battle with the boys at Elysium.

He could not have known, however, that the two einherjar were currently the most dangerous things on two-legs in Heaven right now. Heaven still played by certain rules, including the rules of belief. Patrick believed that he could get sliced, diced, and dropped from immense heights without injury, and therefore could. Elysium had instilled that in thousands of warriors over thousands of battles over thousands of competitive seasons.

The two eniherjar, however, had not had that belief instilled in them. Instead, they had spent their lives tearing limb from limb and hacking people apart in the name of Óðinn. While in Valhalla, they got to take part in battles day in and out where einherjar died and were reconstituted every night without fail, thus instilling in them a sort of invulnerability.

It is significant, however, that einherjar were the ones being reconstituted, not angels. And to Arngeir and Sævarr, the angels did not look like the heavenly servants of the Divine God. They looked like humans with wings on their backs. And, if the einherjar knew one thing and one thing only, it was that humans could be killed. This went beyond belief and was cold, hard certainty, a certainty which had a power far beyond that of belief.

Not even Óðinn knew what would happen if violence broke out. However, the einherjar were fairly certain of what would happen, and had sharpened their blades accordingly.

“Right! So let’s go!” Patrick tried to rally his troops but they were too awed by their surroundings, or what they had heard at the house, to respond as he wanted them to. They walked through the revolving glass doors of Heaven filled with apprehension, fear, glee, excitement, and horror all jumbled into one.

The lobby was huge, beautiful, and almost empty. Light shone through windows that soared up like the arms of ecstatic worshippers towards a golden chandelier roughly thirty storeys off the ground. Marble statues of holy men and women, reminiscent of St. Peter’s square, stared down like judges from plinths above even Arngeir’s head. Their heels clicked on the tiles as they walked towards the only feature in the room: a circular desk with a single female-looking angel sitting at it.

This particular angel smiled at the group as they approached her desk. If she was bothered by the presence of armed vikings and terrified-looking warriors, then she didn’t show it. Patrick was struck by the perfection of this place, encapsulated in the perfect form of the angel’s teeth. They were like the marble blocks that made up the room: perfect, square, and so white it hurt to look at them for too long. He briefly wondered why angels even needed teeth, but then quickly hoped his teeth were also white. He kept his mouth closed just in case.

“Hello, and welcome to Heaven. How can I help you?” She asked with dulcet tones of honey and milk and delivered as smooth as a recording. In fact, she might as well have been a recording. When she had been created, she had been created with a particular task, in this case, to direct those with business to their appropriate destinations. Beyond that, she wasn’t even sure she could stand up. It simply wasn’t considered necessary for her ever to need to, and so she could not. She could, however, set even a charging rhino at ease with her voice.

Patrick’s group lost what little fire it had in them. It’s hard to be motivated at the best of times, but even harder when a sweet voice asks how she can help you. No-one said anything for a minute. Not that nothing was said, but nothing of value. Phorcys “Err-ed”, Zizka “Umm-ed”, Arngeir snorted, and Patrick opened his mouth but could find nothing to say. Worry for the colour of his teeth caused him to close it again. Hai just looked like she was walking the line between annoyance and fear. The plan, it seemed, already had run into a snag.

The useful silence went on so long that a distinct air of awkwardness filled the room. Although it could have fit a thousand people (if physical location was a problem in Heaven), it currently fit seven people and a mass of awkwardness that was rapidly approaching critical. The angelic secretary tried again.

“Hello, and welcome to Heaven. How can I help you?” Although phrased the same way, she twisted the last vowel to emphasize the question. My work here is done, so now you need to say something.

Zizka, seeing the hesitation in his companions, stepped forward and took that bullet. “Greetings, dear Messenger of God. We seek…who do we seek exactly?”

“The King?” Phorcys offered with a shrug.

“No, not Him!” Zizka looked scandalized. He had the most trouble with Hai’s admission that God was gone and had mentally filed it away under “things that are too big to think about right now”. “No, we request an audience with, er, He that determines admissions?”

“Saint Peter the Rock?” The secretary asked. “He is currently out of his office. If you would like to leave a message, please press one.”

Zizka looked blank. “One what?”

Beep!” Zizka jumped back as the secretary emitted a sharp, electronic beep. Her eyes momentarily went out of focus, but then she smiled again and fixed the same smile on them. “Hello, and welcome to Heaven! How can I help you?”

Zizka looked baffled, so Phorcys stepped in. “Here, let me give ‘er a go.”

He swept up to the desk, a vision in silk and stripes, and thumped a finger down on the desk. “Now look here, hun, we got some right important people upstairs waiting for us. You just wave us on through now, y’hear?”

She smiled back, blankly. “Did you ask for,” her voice switched to the bass rumble of a blue collar man, “maintenance?” Her voice abruptly switched back to her regular intonation, and also scared the crap out of Patrick. “If so, please press two.”

Phorcys, if he was anything (which he was), he was stubborn. “I don’t wanna press two! I want to speak with…the guy! You know, the bloke upstairs with all the robes! And the sword? Yeah! Him! Send us up!”

Her smile faded under the Phyrigian’s barrage.

Patrick, who had had experience with phones, remembered another encounter he had with angels. He smiled broadly and plopped his elbows on the desk (the finest dark wood edged in, yes, gold. Heaven has taste a plenty). The secretary looked at him with an amused smile, because that was always how she was supposed to look, but Patrick could see uncertainty tugging at the edges of her mouth. Her hand hovered near a telephone, but the look she shot it meant she probably didn’t know how to use it.

“Hi, my name is Patrick. This is Jan, Phorcys, Hai, and those two dour fellows are Arngeir and Sævarr. What’s your name?”

Several divine circuits shorted in the secretary’s brain. Her face scrunched up into a pained look that reminded Patrick of a bulldog and said, “Hellllllo, and welcome to Heaven? Hooooooow can I help you?”

Patrick shook his head. She was just like Azrael, except more linguistically challenged. She was obviously trying to say something, but didn’t have the tools to do it. Patrick understood. There was nothing worse than trying to talk to someone, say, a French-speaking cop in Switzerland, when you both knew you were attempting to communicate but were just unable to.

“I guess most people don’t ask you that, do they?”

“Helllllllo.” The sad decline at the end of the word was undoubtedly a negative.

“Do you have a name?”

“How! Can!” These were more eager and seemed affirmative, but a cloud passed over the secretary’s face and her voice dropped to nothing. “Iiiiii. Help. You?”

“What in God’s most Holy Name is going on?” Zizka asked, pronouncing every capital letter. He seemed offended. “Why can not she speak with us? What happened to her?”

“She can’t speak with us because she’s not meant to.” Hai filled him in. “She’s just a puppet, designed to fill a role and nothing else. Whoever designed this room thought that there should be a secretary, and made a secretary for it. I doubt that she’s even so much as seen another soul, much less spoke with one.” There was an edge to Hai’s voice that surprised Patrick. He was shocked to see the way she looked at the secretary. She didn’t look at her like she was another being, but like she was a thing.

“That is…blasphemy!” Zizka’s mouth hung open. “How could…how could God do this to any of his creation? I was taught that all the choirs of angels have their roles, no matter how humble. But for one touched by the hand of the Creator to be nothing more than a…puppet? That is unthinkable!” Zizka frowned in a way that said he would not have believed such a thing if it hadn’t come from the mouth of another of God’s angels.

“You’d be surprised at how much of what you think is God’s work isn’t.”

Yep. Aha. There it was. Patrick might have only been a mere man, but even he could taste the bitterness that filled Hai’s voice. That meant that something was bothering her, likely something about their current situation. Was it the other angel? How she was being treated? Was there some sort of connection between…her situation and Hai’s?

Patrick decided that he would only get into trouble if he looked too far into this but mentally filed it away, just in case.

“Ah, dear Hai, are you giving away all our secrets? Tsk tsk, we wouldn’t like that very much, would we?”

An angel, tall and handsome looking, stepped out of a door hidden between the statues of St. Ajora of Weedle-Einheim and St. Boniface the Bug Basher. “He” was a tall androgynous angel with six broad, snow-white wings and short blond hair, and despite wearing a simple black suit and a tie with Snoopy on it, everyone subconsciously drew back half a step.

Except Hai. Patrick also filed this away for reference and huddled behind her.

“Hello, Gabriel.”

Uh-huh. Yeah. That was bitterness.

Gabriel walked towards the group, his plain shoes clicking ominously across the tile floor. The smile on his face was as fake as the secretary. In fact, his whole body just seemed wrong to Patrick. Gabriel walked stiffly like its knee wouldn’t bend, and its face didn’t move like a humans. The angel’s features looked like they were carved out of skin and bolted on to his face. The fake rictus of Gabriel’s smile looked like it would be more in place on a dummy than a servant of God. Like it was designed by someone who only had a familiarity with how faces looked but still wanted to mimic them. It gave Patrick cold chills, and he tried to huddle further behind Hai’s wings without looking like he was hiding behind her.

The archangel reached the desk and awkwardly bowed to the group. His body didn’t move, it just suddenly bent at a ninety-degree angle and after a second, straightened. There was no sound or motion to either action, and Patrick was really starting to get bothered by the situation. In all honesty, he had been bothered the moment he began speaking to the secretary angel, but this really bothered him. Gabriel seemed important; an authority figure. Patrick wanted to run very far away, preferably before receiving any sort of talking to. He gazed longingly at the door, but restrained himself. For the time being.

“I am Gabriel, Archangel of the Highest Order of Heaven, Messenger of God, and currently the CFO of Heaven. I could not help but overhear that you were looking for, how shall I put it, “he who determines admissions?” Well, of course I couldn’t help but overhear you. I know everything that happens in this building. Every. Thing.” He burst into high-pitched screeching laughter like water from an over-pressured tap that was abruptly cut off. The smile remained. It was unclear to the group whether Gabriel’s mouth had moved or not.

“Come with me. I’ll show you to him. Hai, would you please lead the way? I want to speak with Patrick.”

Hai, with a look of pure murder on her beautiful face (an expression that so pained Patrick he wanted to reach out and take her into his arms and comfort her), flew ahead of the group and grumbled to herself. Gabriel put his doll-like arm around Patrick’s shoulder, which was awkward for the both of them. For Gabriel, because he was at least a foot shorter than Patrick, and for Patrick, because the archangel’s arm felt like cold plastic with fluid pumping in it.

“Now, I don’t know what you’ve heard about our little operation here, Mr. Flanagan, but I assure you that everything is on the up and up. And up we go!” The tiles they were walking across suddenly detached from the floor and shot up into the sky. Hai continued walking forward despite their break-neck vertical ascent, and wherever she was about to step tiles flew up to receive her foot. The platform slowly disintegrated behind the group as they walked, meaning that Arngeir and Sævarr were jostling each other forward and acutely felt the collapsing tiles with the soles of their feet.

“You see, you may have heard ridiculous things, such as the fact that God has disappeared, or that there exists the attempt to create an alternate paradise for those souls that did not profess the One True Faith. Those suggestions are patently ridiculous.” Gabriel strolled in what Patrick assumed was nonchalance, except it looked more like a Barbie doll having a seizure. The archangel even tried to do air quotes, but it failed when his fingers got stuck halfway down and pointed out a perpendicular angle.

“Uh…ok.”

“These things you have heard, they are untrue. Falsehoods. Lies.”

“People can tell lies in Heaven?” Patrick asked, partially bewildered. What with the floor and the moving and the lecture from the walking Gabriel action figure (“Now fully poseable!”), he was having trouble keeping up.

“No, not people. Angels. And that would make an angel into a sinner, and I know you know what happens to angels who sin, Patrick.”

“Something about eternal fire and damnation?”

“You got it, partner.”

Hai suddenly froze in the air and her limbs snapped out like she was the Vitruvian man. The force that had grabbed her spun her around and a look of terror was carved into her face. Her lips quivered and tears poured down her face.

“I…I didn’t want to, Patrick. Please…believe me!”

“Believe you? Why would he believe you! You’re a liar! A liar! Heaven is no place for liars!” Gabriel shouted at her in a voice of venom and fire. Hai flinched back from his words and Patrick was shocked to see lines cut into her face with every syllable. Blood ran down her face and mingled with the tears.

“Hey! What the Hell do you think you’re doing? Stop it! Let her go!”

Patrick tried to grab onto Gabriel, but a wave of force slammed into him and knocked him to the ground. His mind, which still thought in terms of causality (and, incidentally, good and evil), registered that this should cause him immense physical pain. It did.

He rolled, gasping, and tried to catch his metaphysical breath. Zizka shouted and rushed at Gabriel with Phorcys a step behind him, only for both of them to be blown off the platform with another wave of force.

Although this only took a second, it is important to remember:

A second is a very long time.

Sævarr drove low and, rolling his arm over his shoulder, drove his spear through Gabriel’s body. Arngeir, not to be outdone, brought his sword crashing down on the archangel’s head, splitting it in two and flicking one of the halves off the edge. He turned the swing into a backpedal and planted his shield in front of Patrick, while Sævarr pulled his spear out of Gabriel’s body and menaced the archangel with the blade. They worked as one perfect team, with each motion expected, guessed, and acted upon by the other. It was like watching two musicians play the duet they had played together a million times before. It was beautiful.

It was also pointless. Gabriel chuckled in his fire hose way and turned his smiling half-face on the vikings.

“I knew you too would be trouble. Odin was getting too big for his boots even before we put him in charge. He’s going to pay for this one, yes he is. Yes he is! He can’t help you here, einherjar. You’re mine, now.”

“No,” said Arngeir in his deep burr of a voice, “we are Óðinn’s. And we are our own men.”

Sævarr kept his spear tip dancing in front of Gabriel. “And we are his,” he gestured towards Patrick, “but never yours, demon.”

Gabriel’s eye went wide and the angel’s ruined body went stock still. “Demon?” His whole body quivered like a plucked string. “I will forgive you. We ought to forgive the sins that others inflict upon us. I forgive. Seven times seven times I forgive.” His voice turned beatific and he looked to the ceiling. Light streamed through a stained-glass window depicting St. Michael vanquishing the dragon.

“But you forgot to say that you belong to God. And He is a jealous God. You are His, as I am, and I do His work. And I, I do so love to do that work.”

Gabriel snapped his fingers and the platform on which the vikings stood collapsed. They dropped instantly and were lost to sight. That left just Patrick, Hai, and the maimed Gabriel on the platform, which was still rising at incredible speeds.

“What you do not understand, Patrick, is that God has not left. He cannot leave. He is immanent in all places and all times. There is no-where He is not.” He leaned down and stuck his ruined face into Patrick’s. The single eye goggled at him. It rolled and spun without focusing on anything, and Patrick retched at the smell of spilled brain and angelic fluid.

“You have learned things you ought not to have, Patrick. But I forgive you. God forgives you. Seven thousand times seven thousand times we forgive you. You have been lied to, and the liar shall be punished. But soon, we will all sing together in the glory of God. Would you like that? Would you like that, Patrick?”

“What…” his breath failed him for a moment, “what are you going to do to her?”

“She has failed in her design. It was faulty. We shall have to scrap it and go with a new one.” It was said so matter-of-factly, so patiently that it was clear Gabriel considered Hai nothing more than a tool to be used. That was unacceptable to Patrick. True, he had only known her for a little while, but this was Heaven. He had known her for what was practically an eternity. It may very well have been. And however short that eternity may have been, he liked her.

Maybe a little more than he ought to, but he liked her, God-dammit. And you didn’t throw away things that Patrick O’Flanagan liked without consulting with him first!

“You…you…won’t let you do that. You son of a bitch.”

Gabriel sniffed. “I am no-one’s son. I am Gabriel. And your concern for her is misplaced. She had been manipulating you from the start. You proved more resistant to her charms than anticipated, and her failure started a chain of events that ultimately led you here. If she had succeeded, you would have never seen me, and if she failed, you coming here was inevitable. We are Legion, Patrick, and we are Eternal. There is nothing we cannot see and nothing we cannot plan for. And now that we have you back here, we may restart the process, and this time, with a more suitable model. There will be no failure, and if there is, then we will be having this conversation again, soon. Except likely without the einherjar, they are going to have to be removed. It is a pity, but as I said, Odin is becoming too troublesome. It would be best to scrap his model and try again.”

Patrick managed to stumble to his feet. “I’m not going to let you do that.” He spat out blood, even though his soul didn’t have any, just because it looked cool.

Gabriel laughed again, screeching like an owl. “How in the name of God are you going to do that?”

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