Temple of Ceaseless Compliance, Eternal City, Heaven
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Oh nameless one, Lord and God of all, we prostrate ourselves in your presence service. Please accent these trivial offerings of our strength and support that they may lessen the great burdens of your everlasting care for us.”
Lemuel-Lan-Michael was sprawled on his face in front of the altar. This was a small temple, one that he had never heard of before and it seemed new somehow. He could smell the raw stone, the freshly-sawn wood of the altar table. It also seemed to be a poor temple, the semi-precious stones that layered the walls were of inferior quality and the workmanship seemed hurried somehow. That was all the information he could gain with the quick glances he had been able to make between choruses. Them the chant would start again and he would go along with it. Being a part of this congregation was vital if he was to maintain his cover and infiltrate the Second Conspiracy.
It didn’t help matters that the case was hitting his home life. He was having to be away more and more often, for longer and longer periods. It wasn’t that his mate was complaining, the duties of a female mate in Heaven were clearly defined. Serving her mate was one of them, nagging him was not. But there were ways a female could convey her displeasure and recently Lemuel-Lan had been on the receiving end of them all. The message had been quite clear, his absences from his home were not appreciated and she was even implying that there might be more behind them than his work. There were those masters of a household who might have chastised their mates for such insinuations but Lemuel-Lan was not one of them. Instead he just resented the implications and let them seethe in the back of his mind.
The latest repetition of the chorus finished, Perpetiel-Lan-Paschar rose to his feet and extinguished the bowls of burning incense that had filled the room with their odor. When he had arrived, Lemuel-Lan had found the scent of the incense pleasant but now, after six hours immersed in the aroma, the thick, clinging clouds were sickening. They hung around him, irritating his throat and stinging his eyes. His throat felt sore from the constant chanting, his stomach was turned by the smell and his head ached. In short, in a phrase that he would never dare admit in public, he felt like hell. It was almost enough to make him feel that his mate was right and that added to his distress greatly.
“Perpetiel-Lan-Paschar, we have done well tonight. Six hours of adoration will surely aid The One Above All in his care for us.”
“We can but hope so, Most Lordly Ophanim, but we must beware falling victim to the sin of pride. Even our most valiant efforts are as nothing compared with those of The Nameless One. Please, Most Noble One, I crave your indulgence and beg you to excuse my impertinence but do you feel unwell?” And if you don’t, we’ll have to double up the dosage next time.
“My throat is sore and my head aches. But these are minor things, nothing to be concerned about.”
“Perhaps I may offer a little help?” Perpetiel waved to one of the other angels who disappeared into the shadows. A few seconds later he emerged, bearing with him a cup. “We have an elixir here, one that is a sovereign remedy for a sore throat. And these.” He held out a pair of tiny white tablets. “Are of wonderous efficiency in quelling the pains of a headache.”
“Thank you Perpetiel-Lan.” Lemuel took the tablets and swallowed them, washing them down with the contents of the cup. Although it was dark red, it wasn’t the wine he had expected. Instead, it was a fruit-flavored drink, deliciously chilled. It soothed his parched throat and calmed his stomach. As he stood in the temple relishing the flavor, he felt the throbbing in his head slowly start to subside. “These are indeed of marvellous effect. What are they?”
“The tablets are called Tylenol, Most Noble One. And the drink is called Gatorade.”
“I have not heard of these?” Lemuel was curious but within the curiosity was a thrill of pleasure. Was he finally on to something?
Perpetiel looked guilty. “They are human products, Most Noble One.”
Lemuel looked at him, his bearing crying out in condemnation. “Human products? Here? This is forbidden?”
“An old rule Most High, from the days when humans were foolish and ignorant. But, if they help us provide support to The One Above All, is not their use justified? The ban on them dates when their use was for evil and inspired by The Eternal Enemy. Yet now that Enemy is dead, killed by humans. Surely it is the use to which a thing is put that is important, not where it comes from?”
Lemuel nodded slowly, his headache already faded to a memory and his stomach calmed. “There is much wisdom in what you say Bene-Elohim. If something aids Our Most Heavenly Father, then surely there cannot be sin in it.”
“This is the teaching of our temple indeed. Here, Most Noble One, take this small bottle of Tylenol, as a gift in celebration of the honor you do our small temple.”
“A kind gesture and one most appreciated. We will gather again tomorrow?” Perpetiel nodded, carefully hiding his smile. Lemuel-Lan took the bottle and placed it in his robes. For the last ten nights, every time he had turned to his mate, she had refused him, claiming she had a headache. Now, if nothing else, he finally had a solution to that particular problem.
Michael’s Palace, Aukumea, Heaven
Michael-Lan twisted on the couch, his body writhing. “Get those wretched things out of me!”
“They have gone deep, Greatest of the Archangels. One may have broken a bone in your shoulder and the other has penetrated far into your chest. Already your wounds close around them. We will have to cut as deep to remove them.”
“They’re burning me alive!” Michael gasped with pain. “What did the humans do to me?”
“They shot you.” The doctor spoke with unseemly relish. “Twice. With bullets the like of which I have never seen before. I don’t think they like you.”
Michael-Lan opened one eye and looked carefully at the doctor. It occurred to him that the human was speaking to him much the same way as he, Michael-Lan, spoke to Yahweh. “Get the bullets out. Now.”
“All right.” The doctor didn’t seem at all sympathetic but he got a long pair of probes from his bag and stuck them into the bullet hole in Michael’s shoulder. The probes slid in deep and he could feel their tips touching the chips of bone in the wound. As he had feared, or hoped he wasn’t quite sure which, the bullet had hit the bone in Michael’s shoulder and splintered it. The bullet had penetrated more than 20 centimeters and the wound path ended in a gaping cavity, one that showed every signs of burn as well as explosive damage. The doctor reflected that human bullets had improved a lot since one had killed him a few years earlier. He probed again and this time he found the end of a solid object. Once he had it, it was relatively easy to get a grip on it and pull it out. He dropped it into a dish where it landed with a dull-sounding clinking noise.
“It’s not iron or steel, something much denser and harder. Tungsten carbide probably. I’m going to have to lavage the wound.”
“What?” Michael’s voice was shaky. The pain from the surgery had distressed him more than he had let on.
“Lavage it. Wash the wound cavity out. There’s a dozen or more fragments of bullet jacket in there, and something that looks like the residue of an incendiary mixture. Hold still, this will hurt.”
The doctor worked for a few minutes then sat back. “Right, we started with your shoulder because that was the easiest one to deal with and it showed me what we face. Otherwise I would have been poking around blind. Now, the one in your chest. I ought to put you out for this, it’s going to be rough.”
Michael nodded weakly, if the hit in his shoulder was the easy one to repair, he didn’t want to be awake when the main event started. He felt a mask being out over his face and his doctor’s voice speaking quietly. “Lee-Ann, we’re going to put Michael-Lan to sleep now. Keep a careful eye on his breathing and make sure he doesn’t get too much of the anaesthetic.
“Very good Doctor Gunn.”
“David, please, or I’ll call you Nurse Nichols. Shannon, how is our patient doing?”
“He seems stable Doctor… Sorry, David. It’s hard to say, his reactions are different from ours. He’s sliding under now though.”
“Good, let’s get started. This could be risky ladies, we don’t know what the guys down there are using but it’s nothing like the bullets that finished us. We can’t be sure the wretched thing won’t go off when we pull it out.”
Shannon Lowney shuddered, the last thing she remembered from her life on Earth was the crazed man standing at the door of her clinic, firing at her. Then the blackness and waking up surrounded by the white light of Heaven, Michael-Lan standing by her to welcome her in.
Doctor David Gunn was probing the wound in Michael-Lan’s chest. It was similar to the one in his shoulder but deeper, the bullet had penetrated more than 30 centimeters and gone straight through his sternum. There were bone fragments all over the wound and he had to remove each one of them. “The sternum is broken right across, whatever this bullet was, it must have been designed to penetrate armor. Suction, Lee-Ann, normal blood is bad enough, this silver stuff is a real nuisance. Another major wound cavity, the bullet looks as if it combined explosive and incendiary fillings. Both lungs are damaged and leaking blood, we’ll have to over-fold to correct that. Metal fragments, at least a dozen of them.”
“I’m beginning to see why we screwed Satan over so badly.” Lee-Ann Nichols glanced around to make sure nobody had heard her comment. With Hell safely in human hands, being sent there wasn’t the threat it had been once. Now, it might almost be interpreted as a promise. But who knew if the Angels hadn’t already found a new punishment for humans who defied them. Anyway, the medical team who lived in Michael’s palace had a luxurious life compared with those in the slums surrounding The Eternal City. She had a thought, suddenly, of the films she had seen of the Second World War, and of human guns surrounding The Eternal City and pouring artillery fire into it.
“Focus, Lee-Ann. This guy is our meal-ticket remember. Without him, we’d be swabbing floors at best and screaming in Hell at worst.”
“Like the man who killed us.” Shannon spoke with quiet hate. John Salvi had died in prison and his Second Life body hadn’t been found yet, as far as they knew anyway. He was still somewhere in the Hell-Pit.
“I said focus.” Gunn snapped at them. “You’re lucky, the bastard who killed me is still alive, he’ll duck Hell completely. More of these metal fragments in the wound. We’ll have to lavage again and the lungs are still leaking. Michael’s a tough one, no doubt of that.”
“All the angels are.”
“True. Right, as far as I can see, the wound is clear and we’ve got leakage down to a minimum. No bubbles. Let’s get him sealed up. Get the extra sharp needles, penetrating this skin of his is a job all on its own.”
A few minutes cursing and swearing later, the bullet hole in Michael’s chest was sewn up. Gunn flexed his fingers and dabbed some iodine on the spots where he had jabbed himself. In a way it was quite a relief to see red blood again. “All right, he’s done. Now, lets take a look at the other one.”
“Do we have to? You know who he is?”
“Yeah. But treating those who need it is part of the job description. Who and what they are doesn’t enter the equation. It was people who disagreed with that who killed us, remember. Now, let’s see. Fragmentation damage, one eye gone, multiple broken bones, radiation burns…. radiation burns? What are our boys using down there? There’s been no word of them tossing a nuke.”
“Shush David. They might not know about them.” It was clear who Lee-Ann meant by “they”.
“Surely they must. We know Michael-Lan’s been to Vegas and they let a lot of them off around there in the fifties and sixties. Anyway, you’re right. Don’t tell them anything we don’t have to. Now back to Uriel-Lan. Other burns, white phosphorus poisoning, severe concussion, multiple penetrating bullet wounds. Oh my, we have our work cut out ladies. Clean up the theater and wheel him in.”
The Oval Office, The White House, Washington D.C.
“We’ve had a message from Pyongyang, Mister President. Kim Jong-Il has offered to join the Human Alliance and contribute a fair proportion of the North Korean Army to the H.E.A.”
“Has he now? What does he want?” President Obama was wary. His early optimism about international relations had become more clouded with experience.
“He wants a seat on the Council at Yamantau….”
“No way. The Council is the preserve of the nations that have been in this war since the beginning. The ones that put up a fight from the start. North Korea let our people do all the bleeding and dying, no way are they coming in and grabbing a seat now.”
“Prime Minister Putin said the same thing Sir. Only he added a few spectacular Russian obscenities. Very impressive vocabulary the Prime Minister has.” Hillary Clinton looked quite respectful. She’d memorized the more lurid language for use in the next row with her husband. “They want free oil, enough to run their military and civil economies and then some, free food for their entire population. They want military equipment to bring their armed forces up to the latest standards including F-22s and M1A4s. Not the B2 version, they want the 120mm gun tanks. The list of military equipment alone goes on for quite a few pages.
Obama sighed. Negotiating with the North Koreans was positively painful. “Who do we send?” His tone was almost despairing.
“I thought Joe Lieberman Sir.”
“Nice one. Do it. Now, what else?”
“Myanmar Sir. There’s a ceasefire in place and we’ve left the previous junta in charge of the northern third of the country. For a while anyway. They’re trying to contact Michael-Lan-Yahweh, they’re telling him they have a huge stockpile of drugs they have to get rid of before we capture it and burn the lot. So they’re offering it to him for whatever he wants to pay. Better a low price than none. But, there’s no reply as yet. We’re still hoping of course. If it doesn’t work, we’ll head north and finish taking over.”
“Thank you, Hillary. Janet, internal security?”
“We’re clearing up after the FBI’s screw-up. Judge Candlass made the right choice in my opinion but its made rolling up the network that much more difficult. One thing does amuse our people, commenting on the whole mess, Lugasharmanaska said that succubae used to recruit the extremely religious by pretending to be angels.”
“That’s no surprise.” Leon Panetta wasn’t impressed. “False flag recruiting is as old as humanity. It all goes to show, if you’re going to betray your country, do it for the money. You’ll never have any idea who you’re really working for.”
The working group laughed. “Funny, that’s what Luga said as well. Problem is though, the FBI can’t use the list they wormed out of Branch. Since they got the list illegally, any arrest they make based on it will be illegal and any information they got from those arrests will also be illegal. So, they have to pretend it doesn’t exist. We’ve sent copies of it around the world though, if anybody on it turns up somewhere where the controls aren’t so tight, well, you know the rest.”
“That sounds like extraordinary rendition.” Holder was visibly angered.
“No, we’re saying if anybody on the list leaves the country voluntarily and goes somewhere by their own choice, that’s good for us. We’re not picking them off the streets and sending them. The law enforcement agencies are continuing their investigations from the admissible evidence and that’s quite productive. Anyway, we’ll see how well we can stop up the leaks to Heaven.”
“Doctor Surlethe, anything to tell us?”
“No good news, no, Sir. We have a portal signal from the Uriel rescue and we’re analyzing it now. Once we’ve done that, perhaps we can duplicate it.”
“We still haven’t got through to Heaven?”
“No Sir. After trying for more than a year, we’re still stuck. One thing Sir, not scientific. We’re coming up to the first anniversary of the victory over Hell. We ought to have a celebration, a big one. People are getting dispirited, tired of the hardship and deadlock. Some really good street parties, a few parades, lifting the meat ration for a week or so will work wonders.”
Obama nodded. “Good idea. We’ll announce it next week. Make it a three-day vacation and tell everybody there’ll be another when Heaven falls. Thank you people.”