Cross Your Fingers Then Restart
Nura Square, where Adriel was holding her rally, was littered with groaning, battered seraphim. Each had at least eight humans clinging to them a piece, pummeling them with their tiny fists. Adriel was crawling along the ground with one human per limb and another wrapped around her neck, gumming her cheek with its toothless maw. She bumped into a booted leg. She grabbed ahold of the ankle and craned her neck to see how it belonged to. Ray stood over her struggling in vain to hold back a laugh. She looked to him with pleading eyes as she collapsed in a dogpile of tiny, ape creatures that were punching and kicking at her. She winced at Ray, panting.
“Are you going to keep the peace, peacekeeper?” she whined.
“I’m just waiting to see how this plays out,” Ray crouched beside her and held his hand over his involuntary smile. What he couldn’t hide were his convulsing shoulders.
“This isn’t funny.”
“You should see it from this angle,” Ray lifted off the human that was gnawing on Adriel’s face.
“I’ll eat her face,” the human bellowed.
“I don’t think you could eat a sponge cake,” Ray said.
“If I still had me teeth, she’d be nothing but skull.”
“I believe that,” Ray said, handing the wriggling human off to Michael.
Around the rest of the square, the Watchers and a contingent of Lucifer’s still loyal agents gathered up the humans, and took Adriel’s followers into custody, putting them into the back of a hovering wagon full of bruised and battered seraph.
Ray latched handcuffs around Adriel’s wrists and yanked her to her feet. She yelped.
“I'm injured,” she barked. “This is police brutality. Government oppression.”
“I bet your body isn't as injured as your pride,” Ray said. “This wasn’t the epic battle I expected this to end in. How about you?”
“Is this what you want? Our pristine world crawling with filth.”
“Not at all. That’s why I’m arresting you,” Ray pushed Adriel at Uriel, who led her into the back of the wagon. Ray waved as the doors shut and the wagon pulled off.
“Agent Raphael,” Lucifer said, handing him a stack of papers.
“I know,” Ray said. “Good job.”
“I suppose. I was handing you your next assignment.”
“What fresh hell have you consigned me to this time?”
“You are to escort the humans back to Earth. While you are there you are to establish your new department and monitor those humans with preternatural talents. As well as monitor for any extraterrestrial threats.”
“I’m going to be operating from Earth?”
“Since we can’t seem to keep you away, but you must operate in secret. The humans cannot be allowed to learn about the existence of other life outside their world until they are fit to do so.”
“What about the ones that are already here?”
“I suspect they’ll be dismissed as lunatics. Remember, Agent Raphael, this is to be kept strictly covert.”
“I know just the place.”
It took a couple days for Ray to return all the people to where they belonged. Most upon returning were subject to exorcisms by the local priory or found new vocations as the town idiot who had wandered into a faerie circle after hitting the bottle a little too hard the night before. Ray dropped Abby and Cletus off at their home. They fell into their respective beds and slept like the dead. Bart and Pietro were dropped off in the woods just outside of Glastonbury where they told Ray they were looking for ‘work’. Ray and Stovall arrived at the tor and made their way down to the abandoned depot.
“Under this rock, I shall build my bureaucracy,” he sighed, breathing deep breaths of the stale air.
“Hallelujah,” Stovall said, stoking his pipe.
“Can the potty mouth in the workplace, Agent Stovall.”
“Yeah, you like that?”
“I could get used to it.”
He enlisted the monks, the Disciples of Michael, who had lived there for generations and had, in the past, tried to manhandle him with some sort of makeshift kung fu, as file clerks, administrative assistants, and general office help. They were glad to aid in the cause of a seraph, even if that involved a great deal of collating and spreadsheets with pivot tables. Some of the more capable ones were enlisted as field agents. Ray's eyes and ears in the world.
One such monk was named Dowland. Dowland was young, scarcely out his teens and quick to fight. Ray assigned him to partner with Stovall. Stovall was to keep him in line and he was to remind Stovall who and where he was whenever he succumbed to his unfortunate temporal affliction.
Abby and Cletus awoke in the morning, fixed their breakfast and settled into their old routines like they were never gone. The little cottage still bore the scars of their row with Cardinal Martel and a family of foxes had set up in the fireplace. Cletus set about mending the broken front door and Abby filled the cracks in the wall with fresh wattle and daub. Neither wished to take on the task of evicting the fox tribe from the fireplace.
“What’s to be done about the foxes?” Cletus asked.
“You mean Hedy, Siegfried, and Fang?” Abby asked in reply.
“Don’t name them. We need to get them out of here.”
“I was thinking of training them.”
“To do what?”
“I don’t know. They’re like dog-cats. I bet they could be trained to do something.”
“One tried to bite me.”
“That was probably Fang.”
“Well, if you’re going to keep them, which I strongly advise against, they can’t stay in the fireplace, unless you never want a hot meal again.”
“Who’s going to get them out?”
Cletus stared at Abby.
“Rock, parchment, cleaver? Abby said.
Cletus sighed and put his hand out. They counted to three. Cletus made a fist and Abby made her hand flat.
“Rock beats cleaver,” Cletus said.
“No way, this is parchment,” Abby said putting her hand over his fist. “Beats rock.”
“Your game isn’t fair. Parchment and cleaver are identical.”
Bart and Pietro planted themselves on a street corner in Glastonbury town square. They were surrounded by a gawking crowd as they performed mystifying tricks and daring feats of athleticism. Bart had the attention of all eyes gathered there, as he balanced himself on a beer stein. He had several more steins stacked one upon the other in either hand and had several more wobbling on his forehead. Pietro, meanwhile, slipped among the crowd slipping valuables from the pockets of the enthralled observers. He filled his pouches with the pilfered loose change, trinkets and the odd bit of food. One fellow had some strips of jerked beef in his pockets. Another had a half eaten apple. Pietro took it all. One can’t be picky when one’s living off the fat of other people’s land.
A tall man, with blue eyes so pale they were almost white, milled through the crowd. He held his long, crooked nose in the air as scanned among the gathered throng, squinting his glassy eyes. He stroked his red handlebar mustache as he observed Pietro darting to and fro, producing valuables from the pockets of the unwary audience. The tall man wound his way closer to Pietro, positioning himself in his path, so as to make himself the next intended victim of the fleet boy’s indiscriminate larceny. He watched as Pietro relieved the woman standing next to him of a small, gold locket. He waited with his hands at his side, loose and ready to strike. As Pietro plunged his hand into the man’s pocket, he grabbed him by the wrist and lifted him off the ground, dangling Pietro before him at eye level.
“What’s all this, then, ya little scamp?” the man said with the calm tone of a schoolmaster quizzing his student. He smirked as he awaited a reply, looking Pietro in the eye.
Pietro remained silent.
“Cat got your tongue, then?” the man said, “maybe you’ll be more inclined to ask questions down at the constabulary.”
Pietro pulled a dagger and swung it at the man’s arm. He grabbed Pietro’s other wrist and shook the dagger loose.
“Attacking a constable? That’s serious stuff, boy,” the constable looked at Pietro sidelong.
“Who’s the big fellow, then” he gestured toward Bart, “your dad?”
After his death glares proved useless, Pietro gave a solemn nod.
“A nod’s better than naught,” the constable said. “But we’ll get you to wag. Come along.”
The man approached Bart and tapped him on the belly. Bart lost concentration and fell off the stein. The other mugs came crashing to the cobblestones and Bart landed flat on his rear.
“Please don’t approach during a performance,” Bart said.
“Show's over, m’lord,” the constable said.
Bart saw Pietro dangling by the wrist from the man’s hand.
“Who are you?” Bart said, pulling himself to his feet.
“Constable Barrie,” he said. “If you’d come along with me please.”
“What did we do? We’re but humble street performers, begging for our bread.”
Barrie tapped the pouch on Pietro's hip. It gave a dull jingle, “This sack of pilfered goods says he’s a pickpocket and you an accomplice which are just fancy words for criminals. Now you can either come peacefully or I can call the whole brigade down here to secure your arrest. Your fate is more or less yours in this matter.”
Bart stood and sighed, “Che sera sera.”
“That’s the best possible choice for you and your son’s welfare. We may able to rehabilitate you yet,” Barrie said, smiling.
Barrie snatched the pouch from Pietro and tossed it to a man at the front of the crowd. He returned a quizzical look.
“Sort your valuables,” Barrie said.
The man swiveled his head from side to side and clutched the pouch to his belly and the crowd began to dogpile him.
“Peacefully,” Barrie shouted over his shoulder. “Don’t make me send some men down here to do it for you.”
Ray leafed through the endless piles of files and scattered papers on his desk. Stovall sat in the corner, leaning back on an office chair eating nuts and tossing the shells into a metal wastebasket on the other side of the room. Crack, munch, plink, crack, munch, plink. Ray grumbled and turned his head to Stovall. Stovall stared off into space and continued his feast. Ray sighed and returned to his work. Crack, munch, plink, crack, munch, plink. Ray ran his fingers through his hair and scratched his head. Crack, munch, plink, crack, munch, plink. Ray slapped his desk.
“Don’t you have stuff to do,” he yelled at Stovall.
Stovall looked back with surprise.
“Stuff?” he asked.
“Yes, you’re an agent. Go be an agent. It’s not an honorary title.”
“What stuff should I be doing?”
“Find humans with extraordinary abilities. Looking for aliens. That’s what this department I’ve been punished with does.”
“Okay…” Stovall looked at Ray with confusion.
“Go take the kid, whats-his-name...”
“...Dowland and go do agent stuff.”
“A boss should really know his employees' names. It helps build a mutual respect.”
“Would you get the hell out of here?” Ray pointed at the door.
Stovall strolled out the door with his hands in his pockets. Abby walked in past him.
“You’ve got a visitor,” Stovall said. “Should I tell her you’re busy?”
“No,” Ray barked.
“M’lady,” Stovall said doffing his cap to Abby and disappearing down the corridor.
Abby entered and looked about the office askance, nodding her head, “This all looks very...clerical.”
Ray leaned back in his swivel chair and let his head roll back. He let out a loud groan at the ceiling.
“It’s a nightmare,” he said. “I can’t order a box of paperclips without filling out a million requisition forms. I know they have to travel several light years to get here, but I need some damn paperclips since I was left without a working matter printer.”
“I’m not going to pretend I understood even half of that, but I do understand crushing ennui,” Abby said, flopping into the chair in front of Ray’s desk.
“Crushing ennui is a little dramatic...no, it’s pretty accurate. Lucifer knew he was killing me with this.”
“Seems the only true thing I was raised to believe about him is that he’s a jerk.”
“Pencil pusher...So what’s the source of your crushing ennui?”
“It’s so quiet here,” Abby sighed.
“That’s good, right?” Ray asked.
“I guess. Not being harassed by a crazy cardinal or some zealot firebrand is nice…”
“I’ve been training with Grandpa again and...it’s boring not being able to use what I learn in practical situations. I’m sick of setting scarecrows on fire.”
“We learn martial skills in the hope we never have to use them.”
Abby gave a half-hearted nod.
“You’re right. Crushing ennui.”
A seraph ran his talons through his wild black hair, grumbling as he tapped at a computer screen. He scrolled through endless sets of numbers and figures, leafing through screens and screens of data. He cracked his knuckles and rubbed the back of his neck, before putting his head in hands and letting out a long, low groan.
“Is there something I can assist you with, Lord Yaldabaoth?” a cardinal said, leaning on the shaft of a long hammer.
“Not unless you have tons and tons of gold you can pull out of your ass,” Yalda replied. “Adriel failed. So that’s another source of income I can no longer count on. Fucking Ray. You know how much money that asshole’s cost me in the last year alone?”
“Perhaps you’d be interested to know my spies have informed me that the Archangel Raphael is here on Earth?”
“That is interesting,” Yalda’s eyes darted as he thought. “I got it. I have an idea to get my shit back together.”
“These monkeys love a hero, right? So let’s give them one...if only I still had Shiva’s number…” he snapped his fingers. “Adriel would know. Ever been off-world Martell?”
“Get your sneaking pants on. We have a jailbreak to pull off. And stop calling me ‘lord'. It’s weird.”