Somewhere Down the Crazy River
“Parthus is for Seraphim,” said a male seraph in commoner’s garb. “Always has been, always should be.”
“We let aliens visit all the time,” said another. “What makes humans any different?”
“Do you know what kind of diseases you can pick up from the filthy beasts?”
“Do you know what kind of diseases you can pick up from Zeta Reticulans? And yet, you spend two weeks out of every year visiting their pleasure-ramas.”
“I get my jabs.”
“So get your jabs against human viruses. Problem solved.”
“I heard their viruses are impervious to inoculation. And that getting the shot will actually give you the disease. It’s a deep state population control experiment to prove Parthus is round.”
“Have you ever met anyone who’s even met a human let alone contracted an illness?”
“Well, no, but I heard…”
“Right, right, ‘you heard.’ From who?”
“I heard Adriel is having the humans kidnapped and brought here,” a female bar patron chimed in.
“That’s a lie concocted by the human symps in the media,” Norm replied. “Adriel is a great leader who’s looking out for the common folk. You’ll see.”
“Adriel is an authoritarian hack using xenophobia to cultivate her power,” a loud, slurring voice shouted from across the bar. “If she ever got some real power, do you think she’ll even remember you Common Folk?”
“Oh, look! It’s a has-been, weighing in on a topic he knows nothing about! Please, Raphael, enlighten us all. What did you learn about Parthus in your two millennia absence that makes your opinion worth a shit?”
“I know Adriel,” Ray replied. “Personally. Do you?”
“You know where he spent all that time, don’t you?” Norm address the bar. “Earth. Are you going to sit here and listen to the biased opinion of a human symp?”
Scattered ‘boos’ from amongst the patrons were directed at Ray. One added a ‘hear, hear’ for good measure. Ray scanned the crowd over his shoulder, his back hunched over and his face low in his pint. He scowled into his dwindling, golden libation. He pushed the glass away and a gave a few firm taps of his talon on the rim. The bartender’s head turned as if trained over the course of Ray’s inebriation to respond to the clinking with Pavlovian complaisance.
“Hitting the Ichor a little hard tonight. You okay, Ray?” the barkeep said.
Ray glowered at him from under heavy eyelids. He tapped the glass three times at a plodding, contentious tempo.
“Bad day, Ray?”
“If you rhyme my name one time…”
The bar keep leaned down to meet his drooping eyes. Ray slouched forward until their noses almost met. He tried to stare him down, but his head was being pulled to the floor by an invisible weight dangling from his nose.
“Talk to me,” the barkeep said.
“Nothing. Old beef.”
“I saw. Scared the shit out of some blue bloods at the Night Bazaar.” He poured Ray another glass.“Your boss looked pissed.”
“Lucifer isn’t my boss,” Ray jabbed his pointed index claw, hither and yon. “He’s the council Intelligence liaison. Or whatever the fuck he’s calling himself nowadays. There was a coup on this planet while I was gone. Lucifer and his bureaucrats took over with their over regulating and tangled nets of laws. The more you wall off your garden the more dangerous the Adriels and Yaldabaoths become. Everybody just assumes everyone else is going to fall in line. They never see the ones who live on the other side coming. They slip in and get their dirty talons on these Byzantine circuits of power and twist them. And then you have Mike. Burn it all down and apologize to the council later.”
“How was your time on Earth?”
Ray glared at the barman over his glass. “That was different. This is Yaldabaoth we’re talking about.”
“Now we’re talking about Adriel.”
“Who doesn’t have half the PR problems Yalda did. He had work behind the scenes where I could get away with burning a few things down. Adriel has something Yalda never had; the public. She’s a former protege of Lucifer. She knows the system inside and out. She’s going to play by the rules, until someone, Michael, fucks up”
“Is that what the fight was about?”
“More or less. I’m a hypocrite apparently.”
“Well, it does appear, from an outside perspective, that you’ve got a double standard for yourself.”
“I knew what I was doing.”
“He doesn’t know how the bureaucratic system works and he doesn’t want to.”
“And you do?”
“Call it a curse.”
“So what’s going to happen at that rally tomorrow?”
“I have no idea. I’m out of the loop. All I can do is hope Gabe can keep Mike cool.”
“I can’t look at this room anymore,” Abby said, throwing on a cloak. “I’m going out.”
“The angel said to stay put,” Bart said, pulling back the curtain and peeking outside. A crowd of Adriel’s acolytes were gathered under the balcony, shouting angry things at their window. “I’m happy to agree.”
“Well, I’m not. I’m not a pet to keep locked up. I can take care of myself.”
Bart positioned himself in front of the door, “Take a look out of the window and tell me if you still want to go out there.”
“I know what’s out there.”
“And you still want to go?”
“Yes. Now, please step aside.”
“We should really wait for Mr. Ray.”
“‘Mr.’ Ray sulked off to feel sorry for himself. Now, Bart, please, can you let me by.”
“If something happened to you out there I would never be able to forgive myself.”
“Then I can make it so you had no choice,” Abby’s hand caught fire and she glared at Bart with a face that couldn’t achieve full determination.
“You would never use that on me,” Bart grinned.
Abby’s hand extinguished and she let out a long grunt, “If you’re so worried about me, come with me.”
“La piccola signora likes to jest. I’m not going out there. I’m too hard to miss.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the strongest man in the Holy Roman Empire?”
“In the Holy Roman Empire. On Earth. A hundred miles away.”
“It’s a lot more than a hundred.”
“Cento, mille, milione, it’s far away from here. On a planet full of humans there are none stronger. On a planet full of angels I may as well be a frail wisp like you.”
“Perdono. My English. You catch my meaning though?”
“Then Pietro can come with me.”
Pietro looked at Abby and quizzed her with is eyebrows.
“He will not,” Bart said.
Abby folded her arms and turned her head to the side, “Fine...cowards.”
“I’m not that easy, Miss Abigayle.”
Abby bounced on her heel and drummed her fingers on her arm, as she looked off in agitated thought. She narrowed her eyes and turned her head to Bart. She stepped toward him, “You have to sleep some time.”
“Try me,” he folded his arms and looked down his nose at her, eyebrow arched.
He leaned down to meet her eyes, “Days,” he drug it out in long hiss.
“One time I stayed awake for two and half weeks...just to see what it was like.”
“Tell me, madamina. Have you ever seen Il Corvo sleeping?”
“Of course I have.”
“I had to have...at some point…”
“I can’t say when, but I know…” Abby furrowed her brow as she studied Pietro.
“You know why you’ve never seen Il Corvo sleep? Because he sleeps when he’s awake,” Bart flashed a broad grin. “He could be sleeping right now.”
Pietro looked at Abby while he bobbed his head in agreement.
“Oh, shush, you two are having me on,” Abby slapped Bart on the arm.
“No. He really does sleep while he’s awake. Have you ever noticed when he seems...detached?”
“More than usual? Yeah, I suppose I have. But I also swear I saw him sleep. It doesn’t matter. I’ll go out the window.”
“We’re three floors up.”
“I figured out how to fly without Ray towing me around...sort of...it’s awkward and I think I look dumb doing it, but I am getting better at it.”
Bart scoffed and Abby darted for the balcony and leapt onto the railing. Her hands were ablaze. Her feet began to separate from the railing, as she wobbled to and fro. She smiled at Bart.
“Uh,” Bart stammered, “Pietro,” he gestured to Abby.
Pietro sped toward the balcony and Abby lifted off. Pietro sprung over the railing and grabbed her by the ankle.
“I guess you’re coming with me after all,” Abby said to Pietro, who was dangling from her leg.
Bart bounded onto the balcony and swiped at Pietro’s foot. He missed as his son flew off with Abby.
“Che cavolo,” Bart climbed over the railing and dropped to the ground, three stories below. He landed with a thud, rolling forward and to his feet. He pursued the red streak in sky as the gathered mass of Adriel’s devotees threw trash and epithets after him.
“So,” Cletus said, choking on nervous giggles, “You’re the infamous Lucifer.”
“In the flesh,” Lucifer said from behind a manilla folder.
“So are the stories true?”
“Every one of them. How you feel about me depends on who told you the stories. Yes, I initiated the War on Heaven, or as we called it Operation: Nakach. It was just supposed to be a simple extraction. It turned into a war. I was responsible for re-engineering your DNA, increasing your intelligence rapidly. I was the one who pushed the committee into allowing me to teach you science and art. Yaldabaoth bred you to be inexpensive labor. We bred you to be an army, to fight against Yaldabaoth.”
“Well, I suppose you did what you thought was right.”
“Nobody thought it was right, we just told ourselves we didn’t have a choice. There were plenty of dissenters, Raphael and Gabriel being the most vociferous. We knew that filtering your primate drives and instincts through sentience and intelligence would result in a volatile condition. One that would make you extremely dangerous not only to yourselves, but should you achieve interstellar travel, likely the galaxy. Fortunately, you’re so bogged down in pointless conflicts over irrational ideologies, it’s slowed your technological development quite a bit. With the intelligence I gave you, you should be hopping the stars by now. So...hooray for the primate mind. Now, Mr.Wensleydale...alchemist...I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Has anyone else in your family exhibited the ability to use seraphic techniques, like Magick?”
“My daughter, my wife, her mother, her grandmother and so on.”
“Your genetic lineage includes seraphim DNA. From a specific seraph. Her name was Sophia and she was Yaldabaoth’s sister. She sacrificed herself to end the war. Vaporized. Centuries later, Ray discovered she had infused herself into the DNA of life on Earth. The highest concentrations were found in our new fledgling species: humans. Higher still in your genetic lineage. Unfortunately, he kept that secret until recently and even then we had to force his hand.”
“I’m part seraphim?”
“Yes. A small part, but yes.”
“Why can’t I use Magick?”
“It seems the presence of the ‘Y’ chromosome suppresses the expression of your seraphic genes. If you’d have met Sophia, you’d understand the...comment being made there.”
“I don’t even understand what you just said.”
“The seraphic traits only manifest in the females of your line.”
“Well...chin up...you’re a fairly accomplished alchemist from what I hear.”
A seraph of youthful appearance and demeanor stormed through the door of Lucifer’s office.
“Sir, there’s trouble at Adriel’s rally,” the seraph said.
Lucifer sighed and with a sallow face asked, “What did she do?”
“It’s not her, sir. It’s the Watchers and Ray’s humans.”