|Chapter7 - The Wonderland Raid||Chapter9- To Hell ...|
The door to the bunker opened soundlessly. Liz and Rex walked to the command center where they found a somewhat sheepish Satan struggling to push what appeared to be a large circular bed with a satin comforter into his backpack. On a small, ornate table sat two half full wine glasses, an open bottle of champagne and an attractive food tray with avocado, prosciutto, cashews, crackers, and similar items.
"Oh goodie" said Liz with perhaps more sarcasm than was warranted. "A welcome home party."
"I had a visitor"
"Indeed" said Liz, seating herself "She seems to have left rather abruptly. Anyway, this party is thoughtful. But you seem not to have anything for Rex." Turning to Rex, she asked "I'm sure you do ham. You aren't Jewish or Moslem, right? See anything else you'd like?"
Satan started to say something, but thought better of it.
"I'll try the fish eggs. If they aren't compatible, they will come right back up. It's the canine way."
Liz fed various items to Rex while nibbling a cracker with avocado. She turned to Satan. "This stuff doesn't taste like sawdust. Can you conjure more of it?"
Satan looked up from poking the last corner of the bedspread into the backpack. "Of course I can ... Oh yeah ... The cafeteria ... different kitchen as it were. Why haven't I been feeding you from my backpack? Honestly, it never crossed my mind until now. What would you like?"
"A Whopper with double fries. And a beer."
Satan reached into the backpack and produced a tray with the fast food and a mug of beer. He followed it with a large slab of raw beef which he handed to Rex.
"Delicious." Said Liz. "Thanks
"Did you and your visitor work out some sort of arrangement?"
"We were working on that when you turned up. ... Oh, you mean about you. She made me aware of questions about your status. I now share her concerns. Not sure what I'll do about that. Haven't had time to think it through."
"I can imagine." Said Liz somewhat caustically.
Satan, who did not get to where he was entirely through stupidity opted for silence.
Things in the bunker settled back into their usual routine. Three days later, Liz looked up from a rather tedious, made for infernal TV, soap opera called "Ripped Bodices" and made a tentative attempt to catch Satan's attention. "Beelsie, you busy?"
Satan, who -- truth be known -- was playing a video game, pressed PAUSE. "Not especially" he said (truthfully for once).
"I have a question. You and God and who knows who/what else are omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, right?"
"Yet you've managed to get yourself deposed. And you negotiated with the great female force rather than simply throwing it into a fiery pit. And you couldn't even figure out how to serve edible food here in the bunker. How can that be?"
"Good Question. And one of no small interest to we quasi-deities. It's like this:
"We quasi-deities refer to Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotency as the three Os. A few of us actually embrace the Os. Nature does that, Fortune also, Incompetence (yes, incompetence is a deity, and a deity with many followers), a few others. The problem is that if you are everywhere, know everything, and can do anything, you can't relate to humans, animals, or anything else -- or at least nothing more ephemeral than a mountain range.
"And there are some problems with the Os.
"Omniscient means we 'know' everything. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean we understand everything. I seem to 'know' pi to a great many digits, but there are lots of things where pi appears that I don't remotely understand. For those uses I do know, I don't think I've ever needed more accuracy than 3.12. And there are organization problems. I think I probably know whether O.J.Simpson is a murderer, but I don't have the slightest idea how to get to that knowledge. If I ever really need to know, I'll just know ... probably. I "know" all there is to know about quantum mechanics, but I don't understand squat about it.
"Omnipresence? Yes, we can be anywhere or everywhere. That's good for what? If I'm going to carry on a conversation with you, I need to be where you are, not watching a soccer match in Tashkent or scuba diving in Bolivia. And being everywhere simultaneously gives most of us headaches.
"Omnipotent? Actions still have consequences even for deities. In theory, I can undo anything I do, but "can do something" and actually doing it are different beasts. In deity school, we bake a cake then unbake it. Let me tell you that unbaking a cake is a job you only want to do once in your life. Trying to keep track of an unfathomable number of molecules while you systematically reverse entropy on each and every one is about like digging a piano sized hole with a teaspoon. Not to mention that you'll be combing flour out of your hair for a week.
So in practice, we deities are fallible, make mistakes, and have regrets even though in theory, we need not.
Look at it this way. I made mistakes. I got deposed. In a world where deities really were omniscient, all those polecats who deposed me would only need to find the support of one minor God -- the prince of paperclips, or the Fons the Roman God of wells and springs -- and I could be locked out of Hell forever. As it is, I stand a reasonable chance of pulling off a counter-coup.
Liz, who now knew considerably more than she really wanted to know about the three O's took the opportunity to change the subject. "How's the coup coming?"
Satan rocked his hand palm downward. "comme ci, comme ca"
He thought for a while. "I probably need troops. I could hook up with the Ku Klux Klan or Hells Angels -- thugs like that. Folks who are always good for a brawl. But they aren't very reliable allies and they'd be enemies soon enough so I don't want to put too much resource into arming or organizing them. I really need a constituency that has power or numbers or both and has some reason to support me. Fallen angels, fascist thugs, freemasons, religious fanatics, starving peasants ... something like that. I don't really have one.
"And I don't have an organization. I have some friends. Some of them would probably help me if I asked. But I don't really have disciples or followers. You and Rex might be as close as I come to that. Of course, my opponents don't really have followers either. And probably many fewer friends than I do. But they currently have control of the police, the borders, the food, money, drug, and booze distribution systems, so no one in the civil service -- and Hell has a vast civil service -- is going to be anxious to cross them unless they see a need ... or potential profit.
"You're omnipotent. Can't you foretell the future then do whatever is necessary?"
"I can foretell almost everyone's future, except my own and that of people like you who interact with me. Couldn't predict their future without violating my free will. Trouble is that almost all of what interests me involves people who interact or will interact with me.
"Go to a fortune teller?"
"You mean an oracle?"
"Yep. There are lots of them. I'd probably start with the vile tempered bitch who lives over the deli in Hamtramack. She owes me. Trouble is that the oracle's prophecies -- all the oracles -- are never in English. They all sound like Alan Greenspan or worse. They never tell you 'Don't invade Iraq, you dolt.' They say something like 'The servant of Ishtar sleeps and is best not wakened while the current economic moderation holds.' And once you decode them -- if you can -- all they do is tell you what not to do. And I suspect that, none of them has ever been right very much ... ever. They survive by making vague predictions that will be true no matter what happens. You will meet a tall dark stranger .. yep, it seems likely. If you wait long enough, you probably will.
"Strictly speaking, Cassie isn't an oracle. But I'll give you that her prophecies were accurate and crystal clear even though no one wanted to hear them. If she were available I'd be talking to her. Trouble is that she looked at Europe after World War I, and said 'You'd have to be nuts to stick around and watch this trainwreck play out.' and disappeared. No one knows where she went."
"So," asked Liz. "What are you going to do."
"I dunno. Temporize. Set up a government in exile? Maybe try a proxy fight? Nuke them? Not easy to decide. ... I could procrastinate. I'm world class at that."
"So," said Liz. "We're going to hang out here for the next few millenia? No offense, but this isn't exactly what I envisioned for my afterlife. Maybe I should go try to get my records straightened out."
"Well, you're free to do that, but I think it might be a bad idea. I'll check with the UFF and see what they think."
"The Universal Feminine Force"
"OK, I'll wait a day or two and see what they have to say."
So they returned to their chick-flicks, video games and other entertainments. Two days later, Rex let out a terrifying howl, jumped up and shook himself down. Liz ran over. "Rex, are you OK?". Meanwhile even Satan had rushed across the room looking sincerely worried. ... Well as sincere as the Father of Lies can look.
"Yeah," said Rex. "I'm fine. Nothing but a bad dream."
"What sort of dream?" asked Liz.
"You know the one. You're in college and coasting through your last semester, partying like mad. Then you get a call from Admissions that says you're 3 units short of graduation requirements and need to sign up for a course in Lithuanian History or Aboriginal Art right now if you plan to get a degree in June."
"I know that one." said Satan. "Turns your soul to jello. And it's one of the many bad things in the universe that are not my fault ... at least most of the time.... Funny thing is, I never went to college. Just to quasidiety Summer Camp. But the dream still does me in."
"I didn't go to college either," said Rex. "If I did, I'd probably die of old age before I got a degree. But when the dream comes, I don't remember any of that. I just know that I'm in deep, deep trouble, with unknown (and unknowable) consequences."
"Yeah, I've had the dream too. And I haven't even finished college. Probably won't, finish it, I guess. Anyway, are you going to be OK."
"I'll be fine." Said Rex. "I don't suppose that anyone would like to rub my belly."
Rex flipped over on his back, and put his paws in the air. Satan enthusiastically rubbed Rex's belly until Rex finally dropped his paws, rolled over, stood up, wandered off, curled up under a console and went to sleep.
"Funny thing about dreams" said Satan. "We generate some of them. Have a whole department in charge of that. Anything involving pride, power, lust, patriotism, ecstacy, worldly wealth ... that probably came from us. And God used to do them. Finally gave them up because they were so often misinterpreted. But some of them just appear ... and we don't know where they come from."
"Examples?" Asked Liz
"The college dream Rex just had. There's no obvious lesson. It doesn't encourage moral or immoral behavior, so why would heaven or hell bother with it? Yet it's ubiquitous. We can't figure out where it comes from or why /Qui bono/? No one that we can see."
"Well, how about the last product from heaven's dream department before they downsized it? You're living the good life in the islands -- it doesn't matter what islands. You go out for a drink one night with a few of the regulars -- Ernie Hemingway, Hunter Thompson, Jimmy Buffett. You get into chugging some rum thing that tastes like mangos. And the last thing you remember is declaring loudly 'They taught George W Bush to fly an airplane. How hard can it be?'
"You wake up with a splitting headache, and a throat that feels like a refrigerator veggie tray that hasn't been cleaned for months. It must be morning because the sun is shining. You're all alone in the single seat of a small plane. Apparently, flying a plane isn't all that hard because you seem to have gotten one off the ground, into the air, and to have engaged the auto-pilot. Outside, you can see hundreds of square miles of blue sea and a single sand spit with a couple of trees you think to be coconut palms.
"You look under the wings. Wheels. No floats. You have not borrowed/stolen/(or for all you kow) purchased, a sea plane.
"You look at the instrument panel. There's some sort of navigation device showing what you take to be a latitude and longitude. That's less than useful as you are only vaguely aware of what lat-lon are and have somehow neglected to memorize the locations of anyplace you'd prefer to be -- which is virtually anywhere. There's a radio with a blinking yellow MALFUNCTION light. And most important, there's a gauge that says FUEL. The needle is to the left of E. The engine starts to sputter.
"Y'know what. You're going to try to land on that sandspit notwithstanding that you have not the slightest idea how to do that. No drinking water? No food except maybe a few coconuts you have no idea how to open? Those log like things in the shallows might be crocodiles? Sure might.
"That's when you wake up.
"The lesson you're supposed to take away is that actions have consequences. Look before you leap. Avoid intemperate behavior ... etc.
"According a poll of 387 dreamers the lesson the 296 of them learned was 'Avoid mango flavored rum drinks.' Most of the reminder took away 'Maybe you should take flying lessons'
"That's when the folks in heaven threw in the towel.
Liz thought for a while, decided she was out of questions and went back to her console. Satan did the same. Rex was dreaming a happy dream of chasing squirrels who were too damn dumb to climb trees.
The next day, Liz looked up, caught Satan's attention and asked "Heard from the UFF yet?"
"Called their hotline." said Satan. "In order to better serve me, they have placed me in a wait queue. The current estimated wait time is ... uh ... 116 hours. My call is very important to them."
"OK, I guess I can put my busy life here on hold for another week. Can I ask a question?
Satan nodded encouragment.
"All these cute little reality persuasion tricks you do with your backpack. Could I learn to do them?"
"I don't know. Probably some of them. I don't know how many or how well, or if doing them would give you headaches or colic."
"Would doing them cost me my immortal soul?"
"Of course not. They're just tricks -- like a stage magician disppearing a coin or a math whiz multiplying 1359 times 1358 in her head. If you have an aptitude, you can learn to do them. No aptitude, you can't.
"How would I go about learning to do them?
"Well, there's the rub. You ever notice that sometimes time seems to pass more slowly than others? That's not just an illusion. Time really runs at different rates for different people at different times. Most people can learn to control it. ... BUT, it takes most people about thirty years of meditating 8 hours a day, six days a weak to get temporal rates control down. And that's only the first, and easiest trick. Learning persuasion trickery is a long haul sort of thing.
"Give me a couple of days, and I'll try to find you some persuasion aptitude tests that'll give you an idea how much you can expect to learn and how long it'll take.
Liz nodded. "I'd appreciate that. By the way. How's the coup coming along?"
"Not all that well. I think I need a ring"
"A ring? A ring-tone? Or something like Stonehenge?" Liz was puzzled.
Rex who was curled under Liz's console with his tail draped across his nose, opened one eye and drawled. "More like Tolkein I should think"
"Exactly like Tolkein" said Satan. "Liz, You should know that Tolkein's stories weren't entirely fiction although he embellished a bit. There really were/are rings. Hundreds of them. An Egyptian breakfast cereal company stamped them out back during the tenth dynasty. Cheap things made by Ozymandius industries. And there really was a battle between some good guys and bad guys, although it was more of a bar fight than a vast battle. Anyway, most of the rings were just cheap pot metal things hammered out by slaves in about a minute and passed out as prizes in baskets of cereal, but somehow a handful of real magic rings got into the mix. There are five that we know of.
Sauron really did have one of them. He didn't forge it. He's a klutz. Couldn't forge a fishing sinker, much less a ring. He stole it off a seven year old in Thebes. And Gollum did destroy it. Two are currently lost although some of us suspect that she has one of them. One is in the Central Museum in Hades although the elves are trying to get it back. The lawsuit has been grinding on for 14 centuries so far and probably will continue for another 14. I used to have the fifth, and I know where it is hidden.
"So, where is it?"
"About a 20 minute walk from here. In Hell."
"So, you're going to stroll into Hell, grab the ring, stroll out, and come back here and destroy your enemies remotely? What could possibly go wrong? Do you want me to arrange a party to celebrate your return? Maybe I can invite your manifestation bimbo. Do you have her cell phone number?"
"Well, getting into Hell won't be a problem. There are almost as many roads to hell as there are intelligent entities in the universe. And getting into the Pentagram building won't be a problem. We'll just mix into the workers during the morning rush ..."
"We?" Liz broke in. "Who is this 'we' you speak of red man?"
"You and me. Getting to the ring won't be a problem. But there's a problem. I can't safely use the ring. I can't even safely handle it. I have no desire to end up like Sauron or Smeagol. That's why I didn't take it with me when I left. Rex, however, should be able to use it with virtually no risk ..."
"Define and quantify 'virtually'." Growled Rex.
"The experts say that their computer models show that the rings can only cause significant mental disturbances in primates."
"Let me guess, the same experts that project dramatic, irreversible, global warming based on computer models that have never been validated?"
"well ... yes ... some of them."
"And the models are the same models"
"Of course not. They've changed dozens of lines of code."
"Riiiight. And why would I want to bet my future on these experts being right?"
"They're experts?" Said Satan hopefully.
There was an awkward pause.
"And I would do this because?"
"Because the ring will allow you to smooth over relations with your pack?"
Rex scratched his ear with his rear paw, his brow furrowed. "So, I'm going to use this ring -- which I'm going to wear ... where? -- to reprogram the pack. And that won't affect them? Or me? And we will all howl together in perfect harmony for all eternity?"
Satan started to speak, hesitated, then said slowly and quietly. "You're right. That's not the way it would work. Something would go wrong. It always does. Forget I suggested it."
"Would it be dangerous if I used the ring to solve your problems and let time cure mine?"
"No ... Yes ... I really don't have the slightest idea. I expect that it would be a heck of a lot safer for you than your using the ring to solve your problems. But safe? I honestly don't know."
Rex frowned, wrinkles furrowing his brow. "I dunno Beels. On the one paw, I'm happy to do a favor for a friend. On the other, it sounds dangerous. And to be honest, I'm not wild about the idea of your owing me a big favor. I'm not sure that'd be healthy."
Liz broke in. "Before you two go too much further, you might want to look at this." She gestured to the monitor screen in front of her.
Rex and Satan came over and looked at the screen. On the upper left was a blue-white puzzle piece globe under which appeared 'WIKIPEDIA The Free Encyclopedia'. The article title was "Rings Of Power". A prominent banner proclaimed "This article contains information of questionable origin, statements that we believe to have been planted by interested parties, and some stuff that appears to have simply been made up. There are also some statements that seem possibly to be completely truthful. You can help Wikipedia by identifying and obsfucating the latter."
"Ehr, Is that the real Wikipedia?" Rex asked.
"Well, no, not really. It's the version that you get if you go through routers in China, Oklahoma, Tennessee, or Hell, or if you use certain cable companies. But it's close enough for most things."
"What did you want us to see?" asked Satan.
Liz pointed at the second paragraph. "Seven power rings are known to have existed. One was destroyed by the proto-hobbit Gollum. A second is on display in the Hades Central Museum. The third is believed to be in Wonderland although there are conflicting stories about who controls it. Another was controlled by the devil. As a result of the devil's recent promotion to CEO emeritus in order to spend more time with his family, there are differences of opinion about its current whereabouts A fifth is believed to be in the possession of Dick Cheney and/or Darth Vader (assuming them to be different entities). The sixth is known to have found its way to the Vatican in the twelfth century and is thought to be lost in the Vatican archives. The seventh ring was melted down for its precious metal content by a coin dealer in Beirut It is not known if any of its powers were transferred to the resulting specie. Neither are the whereabouts of that specie known.
"So," said Satan, "If we believe this -- and we need to remember, it's Wikipedia, there were two more rings than I thought. One has been melted down and the other is lost in the Vatican City. How does that help me? If the Catholics have decided to lose that ring, it's lost. And the other is gone."
By one of those coincidences that never happen in real life, but without which novels would not be possible, at this exact same moment, Melinda (remember her?) was lining up shots of Jack Daniels and bottles of Heinikens in front of a mousy little man in a pub in Beirut. The mouse's companions -- all of whom were many sheets to the wind -- were racously placing bets. One of them -- the biggest -- hauled a knife worthy of Crocodile Dundee out of an ankle sheath and slammed it point first into the bar.
Having gotten the attention of his companions, he then proceeded to make a complicated announcement in an incoherent jumble of Arabic, French, English and his native Bulgarian. None of his companions understood more than about six words. Despite the total incompehensibility of the speech, the message was clear. There were rules to this contest, and long-knife was going to make sure that they were observed. No one argued.
Melinda stepped behind the bar and started mixing a pair of Margaritas for the couple in the back corner of the bar. While her hands were under the bar, she sent a quick text message.
The Bulgarian pulled a leather bag from his pants. Big man. Baggy clothes. Lugging more hardware than your average camel in a caravan. He shook a pile of cash in several currencies, three small diamonds, a credit card (stolen) onto the table. He communicated that he was betting on the mouse by giving said mouse a solid, friendly, thump on the back that narrowly missed crippling the poor wretch for life. Several of the group faded back to the second row -- closer to the exit. Three of the remainder produced cash, a medium sized emerald, credit cards (stolen) and a letter of credit. The bets were covered.
A customer slipped quietly in through the door to the bar. He took a seat far away from the bar. Melinda took him a beer, then stood next to his table apparently engaged in some light banter.
The Bulgarian yanked the knife out of the bar, raised it, slammed it into the bar again. The mouse started methodically downing shots and beers while the Bulgarian cheered him on. The shots went down. Five ... Six ... Seven ...
The customer near the door took out a cell phone and dialed a number. Melinda and the customer ducked under the table. An explosion rocked the bar. Men in police uniforms raced in through the door. Chaos ensued. The crowd at the bar was quickly and efficiently rounded up. The bets vanished from the bar. The knife remained.
Melinda sat down at the table with the customer near the door. She helped herself to a swallow of the customer's beer. "How'd you do?" she asked.
The customer dug into his pocket and put a wad of American 20 and 100 dollar bills, a diamond, and a credit card (stolen) on the table.
Melinda's eyes opened wide. "Pretty nifty"
She dug into her jeans and came up with an emerald, two 20 pound notes, and three gold coins.
The customer examined the coins, then the emerald. "Probably you should keep the coins. I don't recognize them, so I can't give you more than melt value less my commission. But they might be worth more. I can give you $1700 for the rock."
"And how much do I owe you for staging that incident?"
"Nothing. The cops -- they're real by the way -- get to keep what they grabbed. I get what I grabbed as payment for producing the event. You get what you grabbed as a finder's fee."
"$1700 would be my Europass out of this dive. Done." She handed him the emerald. He dug $1700 from an inside pocket and handed it to her. "Free for dinner?" He asked. She thought for a moment. "Thanks for the offer, but I suppose mixing business and pleasure is a bad idea. Besides which, your wives and families are probably waiting for you."
"Alas, they surely are. Vaya con Dios. And a piece of probably unnecessary advice. Were I you, I'd make it a point to be a substantial number of kilometers away from this bar when the crew that just left gets out of jail in about two days." He stood, bowed, and left the bar.
Melinda went back to the bar and announced to the handful of customers. "Listen up everyone. I just quit. Help yourself to drinks. Payment is on the honor system. The owner would appreciate it if the last person to leave cleaned the place up and locked the door. Have a great evening." She ducked into the tiny office, changed clothes, and altered her appearance as much as possible. On her way out, she removed the knife from the bar and slipped it into her backpack ... just in case.
And now, we segue back to Satan, Liz and Rex
"So," said Satan, "I reckon that I have to make a choice."
At that point, his cell phone rang. "That'll be the UFF Hotline. I'll put this thing on speaker.
"Good morning, afternoon or evening as the case may be. If you are female, say or push one. If you are male, get the hell off this line."
"One" said Satan in a falsetto voice.
"We don't believe you. Say 3.141592"
Satan started to key in Pi, an effort that quickly stalled when he couldn't find the decimal point on his keypad. (Hint: The asterisk might work ... or not).
"We didn't tell you to press anything. We told you to say 3.141592. Clean the wax out of your ears, you oversexed, underbrained, whacked out, dimwit. So, for now, Farewell. Do us both a favor. Don't call back."
There was a click, followed by a noise like a paper shredder digesting a sheet of tinfoil, followed by a dial tone.
"What just happened?" Asked Liz
"Oh, they disconnected us. They can be a little difficult to deal with."
"You seem remarkably calm about it. Aren't you annoyed?"
"I would be if I hadn't taken advantage of our brief interlude of connection to hack their computer system. They'll be calling us in something like 12 to 19 minutes to ask me to -- pretty please -- restore their meeting schedule database, and tell them the new password on their budget. Which is 'Voldemort392Rulz' BTW."
"In the meantime, I still need to figure out what I'm going to do and I guess there's only one way to do that" Satan reached into his backpack a hauled out a shiny red sphere.
"Is that a magic eight ball?" Asked Liz
"Of course not. It's a magic four ball. Much advanced over that silly eight ball thing. Besides which, the magic eight ball uses patented technology. This is open source."
"Can we play catch with it after?" asked Rex.
"Of course" said Satan. "On to the planning"
Satan addressed the four ball. "Are you there"
The four ball replied in a very pleasant tenor. "As I see it yes"
"Passed your self-checks and all?
"Better not tell you now"
"Can you phrase that in English?"
"That was English"
"OK, OK. Can you elaborate?
"Well, to be honest, I'm feeling a bit off. And when I ran a Principal Component Analysis on white noise, I didn't get the usual hockey stick. And ..."
"Doesn't sound all that serious to me. Maybe a couple of asprin and a brandy or two after our session?"
"You may rely on it?"
"Right then ... I wish to resume my proper place running the netherworld. If I do nothing, will my situation be restored?"
"Don't count on it."
"Let's cross check that." (sotto voce) "These gadgets are kind of like politicians. You can't entirely trust them.
"If I wait, will it be to my benefit?"
"Outlook not so good"
"Well, then, should I organize an invasion?"
"My reply is no"
"Right. Maybe I should try something more subtle? Maybe I can subvert some key people. Plant some news stories. Grossly exaggerate some minor problems. Get the news media on my side. Riots in the street. That sort of thing?"
"I can sue."
"In what court? Are you insane?"
Liz asked, "Since when do magic eight balls question the user's sanity"
"It's a magic four ball" Said Satan. "Enhanced capabilities. And it's right. Unless I can somehow get Scalia and Thomas onto the court, I wouldn't stand a chance."
To the four ball, "Right then. A principled stand? Write a couple of books. Do the talk show circuit. Maybe arrange for a Nobel Prize? Get a UN resolution"
Liz and Rex snickered. Satan turned to them looking hurt. "What's so funny about that? Kissinger got a Peace Prize for ending a war that wasn't over. Are you saying that I don't have better character and a better cause than Henry Kissenger?"
"My sources say No" intoned the four ball with a possibly poor sense of conversational timing.
At that point Satan's cell phone emitted a raspy and not especially pleasant version of 'In the Court of the Crimson King'. Satan flipped it open and said "Hello" holding the phone at an odd angle. The response was a roar of inarticulate rage and a bright orange flame nearly 40 centimeters long. ("Damn Harry Potter stuff" Satan muttered). After 20 or 30 seconds, the flame sputtered, flickered, and winked out leaving a curlyicue of black, sooty smoke. Still holding the phone such that his face -- including a sleek goatee and mustache he had somehow acquired clearly patterned on the V for Vendetta/Anonymous Guy Fawkes Mask, Satan spoke. "Why yes, I might have made a few long overdue upgrades to your computer system."
The flame was shorter and briefer this time. "Of course not. You know very well that we need to run a fast as we can just to keep up. Bound to be a few glitches. The price of progress."
The flame shot out an incredible distance catching the Four Ball which promptly disappeared in an immense shower of comet-like sparks. "So much for that game of Catch" muttered Rex ruefully.
"Well, I'm sorry you feel that way. Tell you what, I will light a candle for you the next time I go to mass."
Another epic flame. Satan set the phone on the console, and turned to Liz. "Liz m'dear, if you will look into my backpack, there should be an asbestos glove right on top. Could you hand it to me?" Liz looked, and handed Satan a rather odd looking glove with three fingers bracketed by thumbs on each side. She looked at Satan's hand. Three fingers, two thumbs. Satan put the glove on and picked up the phone -- glove covering the speaker. He told Liz, "Thanks. There should be a tennis ball in there also. If you are in the mood, toss a few to Rex. He'll tire out long before you do."
To the phone. "Well, OK. What you propose would be quite awkward and anatomically quite difficult. I don't think I'm going to do it." Smoke, but no flame came out from under the glove.
"I suppose that I ~~could~~ put things back the way they were, although the new arrangement is really quite superior as I'm sure you'd come to understand after a little training that won't cost much at all." This time the flames welled out from under the glove.
"Yes, of course it's going to cost you something."
"Absolutely. Of course you can sue me. I think you might have a case. But keep in mind where all the lawyers and most of the judges end up. And I don't think I'd be inclined to set your computers right until the case has been settled. ... and all the appeals are sorted out ... and the appeals of the appeals ..."
"What do I want? I'd like to be connected directly to the UFF hotline without the nonsense and gatekeeping."
"Yes, that's all."
"When? Why not now?"
"You don't think I'll keep my word? I am shocked ... shocked ... that you could doubt my word."
"My record? By all means check my record? When have I ever failed to keep a promise? Show me a modern American politician (other than Carter) who has a better record of truthiness, integrity, and consistency."
"... I most certainly did NOT lie to Eve. I may have held back a few trivial details, but I really did not lie to her. Ask her.
"She's witness protection and can't be reached? That's hardly my doing.
"OK, how about I demonstrate my high character and good faith by restoring your budget password, You connect me to the UFF, and when I'm finished there, I'll fix everything else?
Satan took a pen like object from his shirt pocket and pressed the cap. There was a momentary digital shreik. He then spoke into the phone, still holding the speaker away from his face. "The budget should be fine. After you check, could you put the UFF on the line?"
There was a long delay punctuated by the occasional sound of the tennis ball bouncing around the bunker, the chatter or Rex's claws on the metal floors and an occasional loud thud when Rex caromed off consoles due to the poor traction afforded by the bunker floor.
Eventually Satan spoke into the phone. "Why yes, it is a fine day."
"You can help me by explaining why you felt it necessary to intervene in the matter of a young lady who was engaged in planting surveillance devices in 'her' bastion."
"No, No. I don't have any problem with your intervention. Quite the opposite. But the damsel in question is under my protection
"Attorney-client privilege? You aren't her lawyer. Now that you mention it, I know that because I'm her lawyer."
"doctor-patient? Hey Liz, you ever talk to a doctor named ... what's your name? ... Jezebel? ... You have a last name Jezebel? ... A doctor named 'Jezebel Screwyou? ... Not that you can remember? ... Ms Screwyou, I'd like to speak to your supervisor." Satan removed the phone from his ear in time to avoid incineration of his eardrum.
"Yes, Peggy? Is that really you? Hey, this is Beelzie. Great. And how are things amongst the manifestations? No, No. Well, yeah -- that'd be about what you'd expect doncha know. I'm calling about Liz. No, she's fine. But she'd like a little closure. Any chance of getting her records sorted out? Yeah. Yeah. That bad, huh? Well, I reckon that's what they get for going with the lowest bidder. She can do that, but isn't that going to take about 100,000 years? Oh. No, I grok that. Out of your hands? OK. Anything else we should know? Of course I have a need to know. Peggy, do you have any idea how long it's going to take to process paperwork for a security clearance on me. It'll take me a decade just to list my residences? I understand, not under your control. How about if I file a Freedom Of Information Act request? 100% redaction? OK, you're right that would be a waste of time. By the way, I'm considering using her for a ring bearer, any problem with that? No, she won't be wearing it. I'm nasty, not nuts. Anything I can do for you? Well, yeah the fact that I'm temporarily a pariah in the netherworld might limit my utility. OK then, give me a call if you get some free time. I'll take care of drinks and dinner. Give my best to everyone.
Satan put the phone down and turned to Rex and Liz who had given up on the Fetch game. "That was my old friend Peggy"
"Peggy is the friend you were 'negotiating' with while we were scooting around in Wonderland?"
"No, that friend's cousin. Peggy really is just a friend. She prefers girls to boys by the way. I can probably fix you up."
Anyway, she says they have looked into Liz's situation. There's no chance of recovering her actual records. The storage media for three entire minutes of afterlife history is toast. The backup was written to tape -- which won't read back even with the help of genuine magic. The only other way to get legitimate papers is through the Admissions office.
But fake papers will work about as well for most purposes. So I made Liz a set. They are in my bag.
The UFF definitely has looking into Liz on its to_do list. They are dead sure she's here in the afterlife for a reason. But they don't have a clue what that reason is or whose agent she is. That last may or may not be true. No way to tell. They'd like the opportunity to look over Liz's papers and see if there are any clues to her provenance. So I made a copy." He reached into the bag and pulled out an envelope identical to the envelope sitting on Liz's console. "And I'm going to Fed Ex it to them."
"My provenance!!! Let's talk about your provenance lobster-man.
"... and how are you going to arrange a Fed Ex pickup?"
Satan -- whose skin color had indeed been drifting from Cancun brown toward bright scarlet over the preceeding few minutes -- quickly readjusted his skin color back to the normal human range. "Now, now. Provenance is their choice of words, not mine. I'm only the messenger. As for Fed Ex, there's a pick up box on top of that rock we were shading next to up on the surface. (Rex looked slightly perplexed and muttered something to the affect that with sentances like that in play, it was no damn wonder dogs had trouble decoding prepositions). They'll bill my account"
Satan pulled an empty Federal Express box out of his bag, and dropped the envelope into it. He then removed his wand from the bag and tapped the box which promptly sprouted wings and flew off down the tunnel."
"Isn't that magic and doesn't the box need an address?"
"Yes it's magic, but my successors have outsourced magic detection to some outfit in Mumbai that is no more capable of recognizing magic than Sarah Palin is of getting a fact straight. And no, I don't need an address. The UFF will be looking for the box and will pick it off before it gets to the regional sorting center at Cologne."
"Wouldn't it have been easier just to tell the box to fly to the UFF?"
Satan paused then said, "Y'know, I could have done that. I didn't think of it."
|Chapter7 - The Wonderland Raid||Chapter9- To Hell ...|
... To be continued ...