Among Others, A Thing That Will Make You Sad

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Overheard in my store today:

Two customers talking to each other.

“Yeah, we have a lot of crafts for the kids. Things like that, and some tie-dye for when we do Native American stuff.”

Tie dye.

Native American.

An Apsáalooke warrior, wearing the traditional tie-dye of his people

WHY ARE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BUY THINGS SO DUMB?

In other news, Redshirts has been finished! I have many things to say about it, and I will say all of them on Sunday! Let the suspense trickle through you!

Finally, have an update for our story. I’m writing these with what I’ve said needs to be fixed in mind, so hopefully these will be some finger-lickin’ good reading for you.

Or, an appropriate analogy that isn’t quite so creepy. Enjoy!

 

XVIII.

Patrick stepped out of the house and immediately began falling again. Gravity, if pressed for comment, would note that in Heaven, he was essentially powerless and his domain stopped long before the place that Patrick resided in. Gravity, however, would also snicker behind everyone’s back as it watched Patrick flail his arms uselessly as the floor of Heaven rushed up to meet him.

Panic reared its skittish and tiny head before practice took over and Patrick remembered how to fly. The feeling was, as before, wonderful. Wind blasted through his hair and sent shivers down his spine. The stomach-churning feeling of weightlessness warred with exhilaration while euphoria egged them on. For a second, Patrick forgot the weight of his assumed responsibilities and let out a happy whoop as the world passed beneath him.

Buildings, forests, seas, and fields raced by underneath: some familiar, some not. The tips of skyscrapers reached up to claw at him and he narrowly avoided colliding with the tips of minarets, churches, and fast-food restaurants. Souls that bustled through the vastness of paradise looked up in wonder as he zoomed around buildings and dived under bridges. They couldn’t understand how he was not terrified he would fall. They were wrong to do so, because he was terrified he would fall. He just knew that it was impossible for him to fall. That, of course, did not stop his body from reacting in complete terror mode, most often reserved for those about to go into combat or piano recitals.

The terrified, exhilarated, and bemused soul, however, continued unerringly forward towards the gleaming skyscraper of the Central Offices of Heaven. It rose out of the ground like an inverted icicle and sparkled in the perpetual dawn light. From afar, so far away Patrick would not have been able to measure it in miles, it looked wondrous and innocent. Patrick knew otherwise. It wasn’t a diamond beacon that shone for the masses: it was a thorn in his side that would have to be removed.

The thorn, however, still had a sting. As he got closer and closer and the building grew larger and larger, the Angels that guarded it from the sky, literal swarms of them, converged on Patrick. While most angels that Patrick had met were human in shape or appearance, these were definitively not. Some were human-shaped, but had crystal skin and were carried aloft by feathered glass wings. Some had the bodies of men and women, but had four-sided heads of screeching eagle, bellowing ox, roaring lion, and yelling human that could swivel to face him with any one. They roared, screeched, yelled, and screamed an aural assault which was enough to turn Patrick’s certainty into fear.

He didn’t stop, however. Instead, he did what any right-thinking person would do in that sort of situation: he put his head down, closed his eyes, and began swinging his fists wildly in a windmill motion while yelling like a little girl.

As a result, he didn’t see the host of einherjar, lead by the one-eyed Óðinn atop Slephnier, that descended from the clouds and engaged the angelic guards. Patrick didn’t see the slaughter as the angels and eniherjar were literally torn to bits (vikings, as a people, and angels, as a concept, are very thorough), but he heard the mighty din as warrior clashed with warrior and war returned to Heaven.

He did feel a slight tap on his shoulder. Patrick ignored it, but it tapped him again. He ignored it a second time, but it tapped him incessantly. Firmly resolving not to open his eyes until it was all over, Patrick hunched his shoulders and ignored the feeling in his shoulder.

“Three times then, you ignore me?” Óðinn asked.

“Only because it isn’t safe. It’s a well-known rule that if you keep your eyes closed, nothing can hurt you.”

“Everybody knows that only works if you are wearing a blanket and your parents tucked you in for the night. I assure you that the diamond building you are approaching at great speed will hurt you immensely.”

Patrick opened his eyes and saw Óðinn smiling at him from atop his horse. Sparkling blood dripped from the tip of a black spear and splattered on Slephnir’s back but that was nothing compared to the look Patrick saw on the being’s (god? Pretender? Angel? Patrick preferred to be as inoffensive as possible at this time) face. Óðinn didn’t wear a grim smile, or even a fierce violent grin. Instead, it was the wide-open gormless smile of someone having the time of their life. Except for the fact that a broken angel was spitted on the end of his spear and he was covered in sparkling rainbow blood, Óðinn looked like he was on vacation. Which, in a way, Patrick supposed he was. That realization, however, did not makeÓðinn look any less terrifying.

His point about the wall, however, was received by Patrick. Patrick opened his eyes in time to see the diamond wall a bare inch away from his face. With a thought (in this case, that thought was: Ahhhhhh!), he swerved up and took off towards the skies of Heaven. They were the wonderful blue of the Caribbean in summer and, yes, clouds drifted serenely across the Heavenly dome. Óðinn shook the bits of angel off his spear and urged Slephnir to follow Patrick up the wall of the tower.

“What are you doing here?” Patrick yelled over the wind in his ears.

Ragnarok has not begun but in a way, Patrick, the end Times are upon us! Whatever it is that you’ve started here, this place will never be the same again, and no right-thinking einherjar lets change happen without a fight.”

“But…they’ll try to destroy you! Gabriel was already talking about bringing your model off-line. What will happen now that you’ve actually risen up against him?”

“What will happen? There will be blood and death and great songs to be sung. My people come from a time when death was guaranteed, Patrick. It was not a thing to be feared, because fear was for thralls and weaklings and they were warriors! Death was for all men, and so the einherjar embraced it. They chose how to die, spitting their curses in the face of the enemy and spilling their blood in great, meaningless streams. You do not understand, Patrick. For us, it does not matter if we win or lose. It never did. What matters is that we fought, and that we fought bravely.” Óðinn smiled and his face went dark. “But I will never let a wine-drinking, horn-blowing man-slut such as Gabriel tell me when to die.”

Patrick knew that he should feel inspired by this speech, but he couldn’t shake the grotesque discomfort he was feeling at the expression on Óðinn’s face. He had never seen someone who was eagerly anticipating, who flat out wanted, who enjoyed the coming violence. He was only grateful that Óðinn was on his side.

“What should I do?” He choked out.

“Free your friends! Destroy Gabriel! Rescue the one you love!” Óðinn wheeled Slephnir around. The horse shared in his master’s bloodlust. Bits of angel and feathers were caught in Slephnir’s teeth, and his eyes shone with what was most definitely desire. “Fight, son of man, fight until your are crushed beneath the slowly-turning wheels of Time and until you come out again!” With a happy yell, Óðinn plunged into a crowd of crystal angels and sang as he decapitated them with a single sweep of his spear.

Patrick turned back to the sky and forced himself up and up and up. The tower, which before had seemed to have dimensions that, although they would have boggled the mind of any sane architect, were passingly related to reality. It went up, for example, and it would stop at some point.

The tower seemed willing to contradict that last assertion. An unseen pressure exerted itself on Patrick and tried to fight his ascent. It wanted to weigh him down, to stop him from rising up. He gritted his teeth and fought it, willing himself to climb faster and faster.

His eyes rolled and watered and when he forced them forward they were squished back into his skull, rendering him blind except for what was directly in front of him. The world collapsed until he travelled up through a tunnel with darkness on all sides. Still he forced himself on. His body burned with the memory of pain but he ignored it as best he could. The pain flared angrily despite his efforts until his lower body now blazed with it. He flew so fast that he very well could have been burning.

A sort of anger arose inside Patrick’s belly. Although it burned the same, it was more than anger. It was a feeling he had never been familiar with before. This is it, it rumbled inside him, this is the moment. You didn’t know you had been preparing for it your whole life and beyond. You couldn’t have, and it has come. You could stop, and at once the hurt would go away. You could agree to Gabriel’s demand and you would be happy forever. You could forget all about Amira, Hai, Gabriel, and the others. You could leave it all, all of it behind. You face a crossroad, a point to choose. What will you decide?

The pain climbed up Patrick’s body and the tunnel dwindled until he was a rocket that burned down the darkness towards a tiny point of light. It was attractive, certainly, that option. He knew that he could, frighteningly easily so, let himself fall. Just the slightest twitch or break in his focus and he would explode into nothingness as he fell to the ground; a meteor to be burned up on impact. He could enjoy himself forever. It was tempting, but useless. Contemplating that choice was impossible because his mind dwindled and receded until it was nothing more than pain. Pain, and one syllable that squirmed and writhed and popped into his consciousness and spilled over the hurt:

No.

The feeling in his stomach bucked approvingly through the swamp of agony he had become. Then fly, you bastard. Fly.

Roaring filled his ears and the pressure of air that wasn’t there forced his eyes flat. His nose began to flatten against his face, slowly squashed into nothing as his lips ground themselves into mush against his teeth. His mind could barely register that against the noise and the pain, but there was one thing it could still register:

No. It whispered.

NO. It yelled.

He flew so fast that a cloud bank as grey as steel seemed to be falling on him as he rose to meet it. It challenged him with depressingly solidity, as though it was more than just a wall of water vapour. Patrick, lost inside his own brain, screamed as he crashed into it with the sound of the world ending.

NO. It roared.

And there was silence. A golden sun shone in a blue, blue sky upon a world made of clouds. They gently rolled away into the distance, broken only by the diamond top of the tower. The pressure that had tried to stop Patrick disappeared and now he gently floated, like a bubble caught on the wind. He drifted towards the top of the tower, only vaguely registering the building as he grew closer. The pain receded immediately and was replaced with the strange sensation of his face popping back into position.

He alighted on top of the tower. It was a flat square that was covered in a beautiful garden. Flowers in shades of purple and blue and red that had never been seen on Earth bobbed their heads as gentle breezes ruffled the leaves of oaks, sycamores, and baobab trees so ancient they remembered when Yggdrasil was young. Patrick’s feet were lost in soft grass blades that reached up to his knees. He walked, suddenly barefoot, and revelled in the soft perfume of broken grass.

A white-robed figure strolled through the garden, a pair of clippers in bone-white hands rasping as they cut willy-nilly from the bushes. It moved erratically, bouncing from plant to plant like an insane pinball in slow motion. It hummed “In the Garden of Eden” in a not half-bad falsetto.

Patrick took a step and the thing’s head spun around. The sight of the thing’s face shocked Patrick. There was no face. Beneath the hood, which must have been starched to eternity in order to stand up like that, there was simply nothing. No face, no head, no neck, no things.

“Hello! What are you?” The thing asked Patrick. “I’m The Voice, but most folks call me Metatron. Are you a flower?” Metatron raised the clippers in Patrick’s direction.

“Uhh, no. I’m Patrick. I’m not a flower.”

“Oh.” The clippers drooped in what looked to Patrick, somewhat disconcertingly, to be disappointment. Metatron’s voice was thin and reedy, and fell in the exact geographical middle between “male” and “female”. It, even though Patrick guessed it was an angel of some sort, turned towards Patrick and revealed the extent of its deformity. The robe was open and showed that Metatron lacked any sort of body. Even the hands that held the clippers were gloves sewn into the sleeves of the robe. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m looking for a way into the tower. Do you know any?” Patrick was curious, but in a rush.

“Yes.” Metatron didn’t offer any more and turned back to clipping the hedges. Patrick realized that the flowers which had been savaged by Metatron a moment before had begun to bud again. After a significant pause, Patrick prompted the angel again.

“Can you show me?”

“Of course!” Metatron pointed to a trapdoor set in the middle of the garden. It was made of thick wood banded with blackened iron and looked as heavy as an elephant. “It’s the only way down, but you can’t use it.”

“Why not?”

“Because Gabriel told me not to open it. He told me it was vitally important that I wait here. In the mean time, I tend what’s left of the garden. I think He would be mad at me if I left and He came back.”

Patrick heard the capital “H”s in Metatron’s words but dismissed them. He walked over and gave an idle tug on the giant handle set in the door. It was heavy as blazes, but rose a few inches without too much effort.

“No! Stop! You can’t do that!” Metatron rushed over and anxiously wrung its hands. “You’re not supposed to!” It whined.

“Really? Why not?”

“Because Gabriel told me not to open it! Or else the Garden!” Metatron’s voice trailed off, implying that the horror at that possible end was too grave to vocalize.

“But he never told me not to open it. He didn’t tell me to stay and tend the Garden either. That’s what he told you, but you’re not me.”

Metatron stopped dead mid-wring. The robe went stock still and didn’t even flutter in the breeze. Patrick shrugged and opened the door. He grunted and strained against the heavy wood and although it fought every inch of the way, it slowly yielded and allowed itself to fall open. It fell with a muted thump against the thick grass.

“It’s not locked. Why wouldn’t he lock it if he didn’t want you escaping?”

“Can you think of a better lock for an angel than a promise?” Asked Metatron. Patrick could not.

They both leaned to look inside, and Patrick saw a brightly lit room that was carved out of crystal. A sparkling escalator with golden steps rattled up to a landing from which someone could easily step through the trapdoor and onto the roof. Patrick gingerly stepped down, but was assaulted by nothing worse than the worst muzak in the universe. Dimly, Patrick realized that it was an angelic choir’s cover Gregorian cover version of Like A Virgin.

He pressed a little button on the side of the escalator and the thing rumbled to a halt. It shivered into motion again, this time going down.

“Wait!” Metatron cried out eagerly and stepped down to join him. “Wait for me, Patrick!”

“Aren’t you supposed to stay back up there?” Patrick asked, but nonetheless waited for the angel to join him.

“No. I was asked not to open the door, never to stay behind. That was Gabriel’s specific order,” and suddenly Metatron’s voice changed timbre and took on the strange, stilted dialect of Gabriel, “Please, Metatron, I beg of you this boon: do not open this door. In time, He will return. I know this.”

Metatron’s voice changed, and became a smoother, mellower and deeper form of the voice it normally had. “Of course, brother.”

Patrick turned around on the escalator to look at the angel. “Was that your voice?”

“It was, once.” Metatron’s voice returned to it’s thin and reedy register. “It’s been a very, very, very long time since I needed to speak.”

“I thought they didn’t have time in Heaven.”

Metatron laid a surprisingly heavy hand on Patrick’s shoulder. “We have eternities here. More time than we know what to do with, really. Sure, we don’t have time as you remember it, but that works both ways. Being locked out of Heaven for even a moment can feel like forever. Hello friends!”

Metatron waved at a window as they rattled past an angelic office. Patrick blinked, rubbed his eyes, and looked again, hoping his eyes were lying to him. Unfortunately for Patrick, they were not. Two einherjar were inside, beating a photocopy machine into bits with their fists. Two einherjar; one who was very tall with a red beard, and a dark-haired one that was much shorter.

“Arngeir! Sævarr! I’m here! I’ve come back for you!” Patrick vainly tried to yell at them through the glass. He got Arngeir’s attention, who waved an angel’s arm at him in recognition. Arngeir tapped Sævarr on the shoulder and pointed to Patrick, but the escalator sped up and carried them away.

Patrick turned to Metatron, suddenly excited.

“Metatron! Those are two of my, well, friends, I suppose! They came here with me, and somehow escaped Gabriel! I have to help them!”

“Oh, are you planning on fighting against Gabriel? That’s a bit strange, isn’t it?”

“Not really. I mean, he captured my friends, tried to wipe my memories away, and wants to stop me from reuniting with my wife. Hell, by this point it would be remiss of me not to fight him.”

Metatron stroked an invisible beard. “That doesn’t sound like the Gabriel I know.”

“I’m not surprised to hear that. You know what I think? I think this all has to do with God leaving. How…long has He been gone?”

“What do you mean? That’s a hard question to ask in Heaven, you know.”

Patrick thought of how best to phrase his question for the half-insane angel. “How long does it feel like He’s been gone?”

“Oh, that? Forever. And ever. I can barely remember what it was like with Him here, and even that’s fading. It’s like He’s fading away completely. I don’t think I’ll like it much if He fades completely.”

“And no offence, but you seem a little crazy because of it.”

“None taken. I think.”

“So if He’s gone, it looks like that left Gabe to run the whole show. I don’t know how you folks handle pressure, but if I was him I would definitely go bonkers without the Big Boss to run the show. I think it became to much for him, and he went on a little power trip. Figured he could do the whole thing better than the Big man. I guess that’s why he cut you out of the loop, right?”

“That sounds about right, but that’s not why he would have removed me.” Metatron shook his head in a flutter of fabric, a very disorienting motion for Patrick’s still human-eyes. “Oh no. He got rid of me because I speak with God’s Voice.”

“You…what?”

“I speak with God’s Voice.” Metatron repeated, but slower, as though he was talking to a child. The more Metatron was back inside the offices, the more lucid he became.

“Like, metaphorically, or actually?”

“Actually.”

“For real?”
“It is absolutely impossible for me to lie.”

“Are you doing it now?”

“Oh no. No no no. You’d know it if I was doing that. There tends to be choirs of angels and trumpets and all that. It’s why I don’t have much of a body. Don’t need one. I’m the Voice made, well, as close to carnate as possible here.”

“Well, that does explain why Gabriel would want you out of the way. One word from you and his power crumbles.”

“I wonder where Michael went. If what you say is true, then he never would have stood for what Gabriel’s doing.”

“Don’t worry on that regard. Everything I’m saying is completely true. He did it all and worse, and he’s a bastard for it.”

“So you say. But you are mortal, and so there is the possibility of error. I must speak with him before I make any judgements. I must be certain.” Metatron paused for a second. “Incidentally, are you quite prepared to enter into combat with Gabriel?”

“More than ready!” Patrick smacked one fist into the palm of the other. His blood was rising and Azrael’s voice repeated itself inside his head like an ad for running shoes: just do it.

“Good.” The escalator approached an ornate landing fronted by two gigantic, glittering golden doors. Doors which swung open with ponderous creaks as they drew near. “Because two of his most loyal servants are behind that door and they hunger for your blood. Good luck!”

Metatron stepped around a stunned Patrick and slipped through the rapidly-widening crack in the door. Two armoured figures, each a good foot taller than Patrick, covered in glittering plate armour and bristling with sharp-looking weapons, passed the Voice and advanced menacingly upon him. Patrick slowly backed away until his foot stepped off the edge of the platform and onto nothingness. The golden escalator had disappeared and was replaced with an enormous drop.

One of the figures stopped and raised his visor. “Heya, Patrick!” Phorcys happily shouted from inside. “How are ya?”

“I’ve been better! Don’t often get menaced by guys with spears!”

“What? They’re halberds!” Phorcys corrected him. “But yeah, guess you’re going to get chopped up. Sorry about this!” Phorcys slipped his visor back down with a clang and swung the halberd around, forcing Patrick into the approach of the other guard.

“Wait! Why are you doing this?” The other guard hadn’t paused and was almost close enough to menace Patrick with the tip of his shining halberd. To be more accurate, almost close enough to menace him more.

“Seems like the right thing to do, innit? That, and Gabriel rummaged around in our heads for a bit. Don’t know up from down right now, but he ordered us to cut out your lights and hang you by them and that makes the most damn sense in the world. Zizka’s got the idea!”

Patrick ducked to his right, narrowly avoiding being chopped in two by the other guard’s (who must have been Zizka) halberd. “This is highly unfortunate!” Patrick screamed, sounding only a little bit like a young girl.

“Not really for us, when you think about it.” Phorcys replied, the cheer in his voice only slightly muffled by his helmet. Zizka raised his halberd to swing again.

 

 

 

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