Aphelion Issue 223, Volume 21
November 2017
 
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Deus Ex Machina

A Mare Inebrium story

By Wishbone

Mare Inebrium universe created by Dan L. Hollifield

Note: This story is a sequel to Sociology Experiment. It might be a good idea to read that before this one.


A priest, a rabbi and a minister walked into a bar…

I know, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but for me, it was deadly serious. I never really thought they’d come after me, yet here they were. In real life, three such persons would not be seen walking into a bar, shoulder to shoulder, under any other circumstances. And certainly not the Mare Inebrium.

They were easy to spot, even among the usual crowd. Partly because they stood out from the rest of the clientele, both in manner and appearance. This was usually not sufficient to be noticed much in here, as in fact most of the clientele also stood out from the rest of the clientele in both manner and appearance. The usual crowd in the Mare was a mixed bunch. Lots of different people came here, as well as lots of different things, some of which I had not yet managed to convince myself were also people, even though I’d been coming here regularly for about a year now. But what made these three particularly easy to spot for me, personally, were their uniforms. They were dressed in the regalia of three major churches from the planet I grew up on, and I knew they had come for me. And I knew why.



What could possibly cause three otherwise peaceful, devout, religious men to travel all those light years to find a person they had never met, with their minds bent on murder? What could bond together three men who usually regarded each other, if not with outright hostility, then at least with an emotion somewhat short of fondness.

In their eyes, I committed the most unspeakable, unforgivable crime of all.

I killed their god.

Don’t get me wrong, I was not endowed with divine powers, and cannot really claim the title of ”deity-slayer”. All I did was to write a doctoral thesis, but it proved that their god was a fraud to begin with. The deity they worshipped was a fabrication of a team of alien sociologists, that conducted an experiment on Earth, to find out how religion could influence the development of a civilization.

Now, as everyone knows, disillusionment is never a pleasant experience. Imagine building your entire life around the worship of a supreme being, only to be told that said supreme being is really just a mostly unknown sociology professor from a mostly unknown university on a mostly unknown planet. You’d be pissed, I guarantee you, and you’d want revenge on those responsible.

Killing the messenger, was apparently what they had decided was the proper course of action. The mere fact that they had actually been able to put aside their own differences for the sake of hunting me down, was clear proof of their unusual monomania. So was their timing. It was evident that they had done extensive research before taking action, because the reason I was in here in the first place was to meet with Jehova, the aforementioned sociology professor. He was coming to Bethdish to collaborate with me on a paper, which was the logical extension of his and my thesis put together; a sociological review of the complete history of events, from the beginning of his experiment, up to, and including, the publication of my thesis, and the subsequent effects on Terran society.

Jehova and I had agreed that it would be fitting for us to get together in the place where we first met, the Mare Inebrium. The three “holies” had obviously counted on catching both of us at once. They would have too, if he had been on time, but at this point, he was an hour late. I was just about to go and make a call to the spaceport, to hear if Jehova’s flight was delayed, when the arrival of the holy threesome forced me to change my plans.



I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but part of my mind had been preparing for this moment. Not preparing enough I guess, for I didn’t really have a plan of action. Fortunately, I still had my back to them, as I had been watching them in the mirror behind the bar, so chances were that they hadn’t seen me yet. I didn’t know whether or not they knew what I looked like, but they could have. Hence, I wasn’t keen on doing anything that might attract attention to myself. I racked my brain, trying to think of some way to get away unnoticed. I decided that I needed help.

Max was a bit further down the bar, serving a customer. I motioned for him to come over. He saw from the look on my face that it was serious, so he gave a quick apology to the guy he was serving, and came over to where I was sitting.

”What’s up Robert?”, he asked, arching his eyebrows a bit.

”You see those three Earthlings that just walked in?”

I glanced at them in the mirror again. They were slowly coming down the steps inside the main doors, glancing about them with obvious distaste. To them, this place must have seemed like the ultimate Den of Evil, dedicated to every sin known to man (not to mention the sins of other races). Max grabbed a glass, polished it a bit with a towel, and then holding it up in front of him, as if to check that it was clean, quickly studied the three men. He put the glass back down, and started polishing another. I reckoned he was used to a bit of cloak-and-dagger, judging by his calm grasp of the situation.

”Strange outfits”, he remarked, ”Are they…?”

”Yes”, I replied, ”and they’re here for me. Can you help me get out without them seeing me?”

Max knew what I was talking about. In the year or so I had been living here in the City of Lights, I had been coming to the Mare Inebrium a couple of times a week. I’d told him the story of my thesis, and how I was fairly certain that it might get me into a whole lot of trouble some day. He was the one who’d told me to talk to Jehova in the first place. I’d asked Max about that later on. I wanted to know if he knew of Jehova’s experiment at that time, but Max denied it and I believed him. It was, as he said ”just one of those things”.

He mulled my question over for a couple of seconds.

”Yeah, I think I know a way. Just a moment Robert.”

He went down the bar to where Kazsh-ak Tier was holding court as usual, impressing others with his wild tales of glories past. The first time I’d seen this D’rrish, I’d been scared out of my pants, but in the time since I moved to Bethdish, we’d been introduced, and I’d actually gotten to know him fairly well. He was a very decent sort of bloke actually, provided you could see past his appearance, so to speak.

I took the opportunity to look at the three holies in the mirror again. As far as I could see, they were asking questions of the patrons closest to the exit. I looked down the bar, and saw Max leaning over the bar, speaking a few quiet words with Kazsh-ak Tier. The D’rrish then did something I’d never seen him do before. He turned one eyestalk to look at me, while the other flipped back over his head, to look at my would-be assailants. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see a completely different image with each eye, one of them even upside-down, but I suppose his visual cortex (or what passes for one in a D’rrish) was equipped for the experience.

They seemed to come to some sort of agreement, for Max nodded and motioned for Trixie to come over. Kazsh-ak Tier backed away from the bar, turned around, and headed for the three men, who seemed to be working their way through the patrons, asking questions. Trixie and Max spoke a few words to each other, after which Max came back to where I was sitting.

”Are your feet under the rail?”, he asked.

Strange question, I thought. ”No”, was my answer.

”Good”, he said, and moved my drink half a meter to the left. Okay, now I could see what he was up to.

”When I say ’Go’, jump”, he said. I nodded.

I thought I knew what Kazsh-ak Tier was up to as well, then. I looked at him in the mirror. He had almost reached my three would-be assailants.

”Welcome to the Mare Inebrium, gentlemen”, he boomed, swinging out his pincers in a curiously human gesture (and nearly decapitating a patron in the process. Fortunately, the guy in question was not yet drunk enough to have forgotten how to duck). Even through the usual din of the main room, I could clearly hear the D’rrish’s voice. The volume on his translator must have been turned way the hell up.

”Go”, said Max, grabbed my shirtfront, and pulled me over the bar in one swift motion. He was both stronger and faster than he looked – I didn’t even have time to jump. Fortunately, he arrested my fall half a meter above the floor, so I came down feet first. He poked me with his foot. I turned my head to look at where he wanted me to go, and saw an open, empty cupboard beneath the bar. I quickly scuttled in there, and he closed the door after me.

As I sat there in the unbelievably cramped darkness of the cupboard, totally oblivious of the goings on outside, it struck me that in all my life, there had probably never been a more appropriate time for a prayer than at that moment. The bitter irony of the fact that I myself had eliminated this option, did not at the time strike me as particularly funny.

Suddenly, the floor seemed to give beneath me. I jerked with surprise, but quickly discovered that the entire interior of the cupboard was moving downwards. A dumbwaiter! Very clever, Max.

The dumbwaiter kept moving for a few seconds, then stopped. My eyes were just getting used to the darkness, and I winced at the sudden light, as the door was opened from without.

”Fifth floor, ladies’ underwear”, Trixie grinned at me.

”Uhm…”, came my intelligent reply, as I struggled to get out of the cramped compartment. I looked about. This was clearly a storeroom for the bar above. Bottles, jars, cases and boxes abounded.

Trixie was looking at me quizzically. ”So, who wants you, and for what?”

I sighed. ”It’s rather complicated…”, I began.

”It usually is”, she said, ”Never mind, I suppose Max can explain to me later. Right now, what counts is saving your ass, right?”

”Right, so what do we do about that?”

”Nothing much, really. Max said to just sit tight until he called”.

We didn’t have to wait long. A couple of minutes later, an intercom buzzed, and Trixie answered it.

”All clear for now”, Max’s voice came over the circuit, ”I’ve got them isolated until we can figure out what to do about them. Robert, just sit tight, I’m coming down. Trixie? Could you come up here and relieve me?”

”Sure Max”, Trixie answered, and clicked off. Then she turned to me.

”Don’t worry”, she said, ”Max will be right down.”

I kind of gathered that from what he said, but you don’t argue with Trixie, at least not if you’re a humanoid male. She went back upstairs, and Max came down shortly after.

”Quite a fix you’ve gotten yourself into, eh Robert?”

”Tell me about it”, I sighed, slumping down on the floor with my back to a cupboard door. Max grabbed a bottle from one shelf, and two glasses from another.

”You look like you could use a drink”, he said, as he poured a generous measure of the golden liquid into the glasses. He handed me one, and I gratefully accepted it.

”I can’t remember a time when I had more use for one”, I said, raised the glass in a toast, and downed half of it. Max looked at me, worried.

”You’d best stay down here until they leave. What do you think will happen when they don’t find you? Are they gonna give up and go home?”

I hung my head with a sigh, and shook it sadly. ”No such luck, I’m afraid. They’re not just looking for me willy-nilly through the galaxy.” I explained to him about my planned meeting with Jehova, and how their timing told me they’d been dead sure where and when to find both of us together.

Max mulled the situation over, and was just about to speak, when something clicked in the back of my mind.

”What did you mean when you said you had them ’isolated’?”

Max put a smug grin on his face. ”Uhm, well, this building has some pretty amazing defense systems. The building’s AIs have the capacity to alter the apparent topography of certain parts of it. So I asked them to create a sideroom which is basically an infinite transparent maze. The three holies are in there right now. They can see and hear patrons drinking and laughing at the other end of the room, but they’ll never get there. Likewise, they won’t find the door out of there until I give the word to the AIs.”

The concept sounded somewhat familiar. ”Like a holodeck?”, I asked.

”A holodeck?”

Well, no, Max wouldn’t know Star Trek. ”Never mind, I get the idea. That sounds great. So we have time to plan… what? What can we do?”

”Well”, Max said, ”you said your friend Jehova is on his way here, right? So I’ve arranged to have him picked up and brought here. Also, this is basically a religious conflict, yes?”

”Well, yes”, I said, ”what of it?”

He gave me a funny look. ”Hmm, no, I think we should wait until Jehova gets here. Then we shall see. I may have an idea though. I gotta head back up to the bar. You just sit tight here, and I’ll bring down Jehova as soon as he shows up.”

So, once again, I resigned myself to wait. Thankfully, he left me the bottle for company.



Fifteen minutes or so later, Max returned, this time in the company of Jehova. I was glad to see his greyish complexion and completely dark blue eyes again, and he and I greeted each other warmly, albeit a bit awkwardly, due to the circumstances.

”So”, Jehova said, ”what exactly is going on? Max tried to explain to me, but I admit I didn’t quite understand fully what it is we’re up against”.

”Well”, I began, ”it’s like this:” I told him about the three holies, and how they each came from a religion which was descended from his original experiment. As I explained, his expression turned more and more grim. Finally, he sat down heavily against a cupboard, just as I had done a while before. Max handed him a glass which he had thoughtfully poured during my explanation. Jehova gratefully accepted it.

”Oh boy”, he said, his voice for once sounding as old as himself, ”what a mess!”

”I’ll drink to that!”, I said, and did. He followed suit.

”You know”, he said, when he came up for air, ”I can actually sympathize with them. After all, I did hoax them well and good. I can understand their anger.”

Actually, he had hoaxed some of their remote ancestors, but I wisely kept quiet. I didn’t really know what to say, anyway. I bore my share of guilt as well. After all, had it not been for my paper, the religious masses of Earth would have been none the wiser. So we both kept quiet, thoughtfully sipping our drinks, until finally Max broke the silence.

”Still Jehova, I don’t suppose you want to go and surrender to them? I think that would be very unhealthy, don’t you Robert?” Max looked to me for backup.

”He’s right”, I said, ”I feel bad as well, but those people will kill us both, probably in the most painful manner they can think of. Trust me, Earth history clearly shows that no one have ever matched so-called ’holy men’ in viciousness and brutality. They won’t listen to apologies, and they wouldn’t care either way.”

”No”, sighed Jehova, ”no, I don’t want to do that. I’m not an Immortal, you know, my race is merely very long-lived, compared to most other races. I can be killed as easily as you can Robert. But what can we do?”

”Well, I have an idea which may work”, Max said. We both looked at him hopefully. ”We could ask the gods for help.”

I was too dumbfounded to look at Jehova, so I have no idea how he reacted, but I dropped my jaw at that statement. I always found Max to be incredibly competent and intelligent, but now I began to think he’d lost his marbles. ”Uhm, gods, Max?”, I said, cautiously, ”what, should we, like, kneel down and pray?”

He looked at me with a curious expression. ”You really don’t know?”

”Know what?” This was getting really confusing. I looked at Jehova, but he was simply looking at Max, expecting him to continue. Apparently he had some idea what was in store.

”Robert”, Max said earnestly, ”gods are not just figments of people’s imaginations. There are real gods, and maybe we can get them to help you.”

I looked at him with a blank expression. ”Max, uhm, I’m not religious myself, but…”

”No”, he interrupted me, ”you don’t understand. It’s not a matter of faith, but of fact. Gods exist. They even have a special room here at the Mare Inebrium. It’s called the Pantheon.”

I looked to Jehova for guidance, and he nodded at me in agreement. ”It’s true, Robert. I’ve never seen them, but I have heard that the Immortals of Bethdish have actually communicated with their gods. Also, the existence of the Pantheon room here at the Mare is common knowledge.”

I felt my head spinning, trying to cope with this sudden upheaval of my view of the universe. I had always seen religious people as leading somewhat sad existences, putting their faith in non-existent beings, looking to these for help when they themselves couldn’t cope with the problems of the real world. In retrospect, I saw that part of my joy in writing my paper had been to prove conclusively that they were wrong and I was right. Was I wrong then, after all? No, I decided, the god I had denounced as a fraud, really was. After all, I was standing next to him at the moment. But now it seemed that real gods did exist, also. I pulled myself together.

”Okay”, I asked, ”what do you think the Bethdish gods can do for us then?”

”Oh”, Max said hastily, ”the Bethdish gods are elsewhere at the moment. Nobody knows exactly where. The gods who frequent the Pantheon are from all over the galaxy.”

Curiouser and curiouser. ”Okay, but what do you suppose they can do?”

”I’m not sure, really. We’ll have to ask them.”

I looked around the storeroom, wondering whether to kneel and start praying, and half expecting some alien god to pop out behind a refrigerator and go ”Boo!”. Max read my mind.

”No”, he said patiently, ”we’ll go up to the Pantheon and ask them. It’s on the second floor. I’ve already told them you have a problem, and one of them is willing to hear your case.”

Oh.



”This is it”, Max said, as we stopped outside the entrance to the Pantheon Room.

”It’s… rather impressive”, I said. ”Very… elaborate”. I looked at Jehova.

”True…”, he said. After a while he added: ”Looks a bit silly though, doesn’t it?”

Max sighed and shrugged. ”I know. You try and satisfy the design specifications of a hundred deities, see what you come up with”.

I could see his point. Step 1: Imagine the pearly gates of Heaven, as described in the bible. Step 2: Mix it up with the gates of Hell. Step 3: Then mix it up with the gates of whatever place some weird alien god chooses as his or her place of residence. Step 4: Repeat step 3 about 50 times, and you’ll have some idea what the doorway we were facing looked like. It was huge, it was magnificent, it was without a doubt the weirdest jumble of designs and materials I have ever seen. All manner of creatures, trees of all kinds, spaceships, weapons, all thrown together in a crazy conglomerate, like something out of a mad sculptors nightmare. At a glance, I could see details in gold, silver, marble, wrought iron, wood, granite, shale, even clay. And that cat-like head over there, with one fang broken off, appeared to be carved in bone.

”Well”, said Max, ”Shall we?”

We went through the entrance, and I for one was rather disappointed with the featureless hallway which lay beyond. It culminated in a set of very ordinary wooden double doors.

”Remember”, Max said with his hand resting on the doorknob, ”These are gods we’re going to talk to, some of them with rather short tempers. Gawk all you want, they like that well enough, but whatever you do, don’t insult them”. Then he opened the door, and we went through, into…

I honestly don’t know how to describe it. Any words I may choose will be sure to come nowhere near a fitting description of my first experience of the Pantheon Room. Still, I shall try.

The first misconception lies in the word ”room”. The Pantheon isn’t a room, it’s the biggest effin’ hall you could ever imagine! I’ve seen space cruiser hangars that would fit neatly into one corner of the Pantheon, and you wouldn’t notice it was there. I tried to judge the distance to the far wall, but it was hard. The perspective seemed to be playing tricks on my eyes somehow, but as far as I could tell, it was at least a kilometer away. The side walls both seemed to be about 200 meters away from me, placing the door in the middle of the wall. None of this was even remotely possible. About 20 meters before we had reached the entrance to the Pantheon, the hallway had rounded a corner, which would put that hallway somewhere between those two rows of tables over to my left. The far wall, I realized, would actually be on the other side of the building my apartment was in, with the Pantheon intersecting five or six city blocks on the way.

But that was just the walls. Much more disturbing was the ceiling, or lack thereof. The walls appeared to recede upwards into a black void, until they disappeared from sight. Yet strangely enough, the place seemed to be lit by… something. Many somethings, I should say, for the lighting varied a lot, with some areas very dark, others glaringly bright, but all without any visible sources of light. Just… the void. Heck, the dance floor even had multicolored discolights and strobes, but there was no telling where it all came from.

Ah yes, the dance floor. Did I mention it was 50 meters wide? And started about 50 meters into the room? And to all appearances seemed to stretch the entire kilometer length of the Pantheon? At least I couldn’t see where it ended, and it seemed to go on forever. On both sides of the dance floor I could see different areas, decorated in wildly differing styles. These, like the dance floor itself, seemed to stretch, one after another, the entire length of the room, but there was something very screwy about the way they receded into the distance. They appeared to get smaller and smaller, not just by being farther away, but literally diminishing in size.

I was getting crosseyed by the weird sights in here, so I closed my eyes and rubbed them. I was brought out of it by the sound of Max clearing his throat. I turned my head to look at him, and noticed that he wasn’t looking down the length of the room, but to the right. I followed his gaze, and gasped at the sight of the person standing there. Actually, ”person” is probably the wrong word, because this was clearly a god. How did I know? Trust me, I knew. It’s not something I can explain, but I knew. He seemed to radiate some kind of divine energy, but how I sensed it I have no idea.

He was a humanoid. Actually, he looked perfectly human. I know that many races resemble humans so much that you cannot tell they are aliens from outward appearances only. I suppose he belonged to one of those, insofar as a god can be said to belong to any race. To me, he looked to be in his mid-twenties. His hair was straw-colored and short, his eyes were grey. He was dressed in a close-fitting black tunic, over which he wore a brown cloak with the hood thrown back. He also wore black pants, and for some reason, a black glove on his right hand, but not his left.

In my mind, I dubbed him Master. He looked quizzically at Max and gestured towards myself and Jehova.

”These are the ones you say need my help?”

”Yes”, Max replied, ”If you’ll just hear their stories, you can decide whether the matter deserves your attention.”

He looked at us. First at me, briefly, and then at Jehova, extensively. The glance I got didn’t seem patronizing or anything, he simply looked at me, saw me, moved on. Jehova, on the other hand, seemed to fascinate him somehow. He studied him intently for a minute, and then seemed to come to a decision.

”Very well. Tell me what your problem is, then we’ll see.”

I started fidgeting a bit, at a loss for what to say. Luckily, Jehova spoke up.

”I suppose I had better begin. I started this whole thing, after all.”

He told his story, from the forming of his group of sociologists, through to the conclusion of his experiment. The deity listened, apparently fascinated by Jehova’s story, occasionally giving a little nod, shrug, or other small gesture.

While Jehova explained, I took the opportunity to take a better look at my surroundings. I mean, all I really noticed before was the sheer size of the Pantheon. Now I took the time to take a closer look at the interior of the place. For instance, behind the deity was a bar. Not just a bar, mind you, but a horseshoe-shaped bar, with the open ends meeting the wall to the right of the entrance as you came in. It appeared to seat about fifty people, and was made of some sort of dark polished wood, resembling mahogany. Behind the bar, that is, behind the far side of the bar, was an area with small circular tables and chairs. The odd thing about the tables was not the fact that they didn’t have any legs, I was used to the floating tables down in the main bar, but these appeared to be hanging, not floating. A golden circular rod protruded from the center of each table, and stretched straight up into the void above, until it was lost from sight. Behind this area, I could see a row of booths with couches around low square tables.

As Jehova told his story, more people drifted over to listen. A group was forming behind Master. Some of them were clearly other deities, but I noticed that some of these people appeared to be just that, simply people. Well, not exactly. They also seemed to radiate some sort of power, but one that was very different from that of the gods. Again, don’t ask me how I could tell, I still have no idea myself. As Jehova told his story, some of them appeared to be taking notes, some in notebooks, some on electronic pads, and a few even on cocktail napkins.

Max noticed my puzzlement and leaned over to whisper in my ear. ”Writers”, he said, ”they hang out in here as well as the gods.” By now I had given up trying to understand what was going on around me, and just accepted Max’s statement, telling myself to ask him at a later time. Preferably one where I was not trying to cope with asking alien gods for help, whilst being chased by religious killers.

By and by, Jehova came to the conclusion of his story, and looked at me.

I picked up the story, more or less where he left off, telling briefly of the development of Terran religions since Jehova’s team left the planet. Then I told of my own part in all this, beginning when I first set foot on Bethdish, and ending with the three holies entering the Mare Inebrium tonight of all nights. It was clear, however, that my story did not command the same amount of interest from Master as Jehova’s had. He listened politely, but with nowhere near the same amount of fascination as before. Some of the writers seemed to like it though.

After I finished my part of the story, Master spoke up. ”I don’t think you need my help in this matter.” Just that, nothing more. He looked expectantly at Jehova, as if waiting for some specific reaction. Jehova and I just looked at each other with expressions that were half ”Huh?” and half ”ARGH! What the hell are we gonna do?!?”

Just then, we heard a voice coming from the back of the crowd that had gathered. ”’Scuse me, pard’n me, can I get through?” There was something about it that rang a bell in the back of my mind. I had definitely heard it somewhere before. I looked at the part of the crowd the voice had come from. The crowd parted, a person came forward, and I became convinced that whatever sanity I had left had finally checked out.

It was Elvis. Presley. The King Himself. Yes, the very same, the rock’n’roll star from the 20th century. The guy who still has millions of fans on Earth, ranging from people who just like his music, to fanatic cultists who perform weird rituals to prepare for The Return Of The King.

Elvis stopped some distance away and looked inquiringly at Jehova, who didn’t really know what to make of him. After all, he didn’t know about Elvis and his career on Earth, and therefore wasn’t really surprised to see what to him appeared as a total stranger. Elvis appeared to reach some sort of conclusion, and closed the distance between himself and Jehova to a single pace. He looked uncertainly at Jehova, then he spoke up.

”I’e uh, I’ve herd your words and uh, I jus’ wanna say that I’m one of your flock. Lord… Thou art my God.” With this, he kneeled down in front of Jehova and bowed his head.

I was too flabbergasted to do much of anything, but Jehova’s reaction to this was astonishing. He looked down at Elvis with curiosity all over his face. Gradually, his expression turned to one of growing puzzlement, and finally into awe, as if he had just had a massive realization. He raised his head, staring into the distance, and began to shake all over. A low rumble began in the distance, approaching quickly and increasing in intensity. A sudden wind seemed to come out of nowhere and whip his clothes and hair. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning arched out of the endless void above, and struck Jehova. He lit up like a neon sign, throwing his arms wide. The lightning bolt writhed and wavered, always touching Jehova at one end and disappearing up into the void at the other. How long this lasted I don’t know. It could have been a second, it could have been a minute, but at the end of it, the lightning bolt flicked off, the wind subsided and the rumble grew quiet. And still Jehova stood with his arms spread wide and his gaze fixed on eternity. A complete silence followed. And then, with a sound like a thousand tiny silver bells all struck in perfect unison, a halo wrapped itself around his head. Jehova lowered his arms, drew a single large breath, and let it out in a long, slow sigh.

”I am a god!”, He whispered, almost too quiet to be heard.

And it was true. Even disregarding the evidence of the halo He now sported, I could clearly feel the same power emanating from Him as I had felt from the other gods.

For a moment, there was absolute stillness, as if time itself had frozen in its tracks. Then Jehova lowered His gaze to look down at Elvis who was still kneeling in front of Him, head bowed. Jehova placed a hand on his shoulder.

”Rise, My son!” Elvis raised his head and stood. Jehova looked at Master, and gave him a nod and a smile. Master returned both, and looked like he wanted to say ”I told you so.” Then he turned and walked away. The crowd began to disperse. I saw many of the writers scribbling furiously as they walked away.

Jehova turned to myself and Max. ”Gentlemen, let’s retire to the bar. I’m sure we could all use a good stiff drink! Would you lead the way?” The last was for Elvis, who smiled, turned and walked towards the bar. I looked at Max, hoping to find some sort of guidance in this hour of complete disconnection from reality. He simply shrugged, and followed Elvis and Jehova. With a sigh of resignation, I did the same. Elvis took up position behind the bar, while the rest of us sat down in front of it.

I finally decided that if the universe was going to try to drive me insane today, I wasn’t gonna go without a fight. I managed to find my voice and demand of Jehova, ”What the hell just happened?!?”

”Patience Robert”, Jehova told me with a tired smile, ”let’s have that drink first.”

I felt that I was growing rather short of patience. On the other hand, His argument was irrefutably an excellent one. For the second time in a day, I found myself in more need of a drink than ever before in my life, so I nodded in agreement.

Jehova turned to Elvis. ”I think what we need are four Bible Combos.” Elvis’ face lit up in a smile. ”Comin’ right up, Lord!” He began finding glasses and ingredients.

Max seemed to take a professional interest in this matter. ”Bible Combos?” He asked.

”Elvis’ own recipe”, Jehova explained, ”he has only ever made it for himself, as no one here would understand the reference.”

”You’ve been here before?”, I asked.

”No.”

”Then how’d you…”

”I just know”, He stopped me. I decided not to pursue the matter, but Max wasn’t finished.

”What”, he asked patiently, ”is a Bible Combo?”

Jehova looked at Elvis who was busy mixing drinks. ”Can I tell him?”

Elvis smiled at Max and said ”Sure, Max is my friend as well as my colleague.” He looked back at Jehova. ”Besides, it’s about time somebody else learned about it. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be a hit down at the main bar.”

Jehova turned to Max. ”How much do you know of Terran history and religion?”

Max shrugged. ”Enough, I think. Talking to Robert here has taught me a lot about the religious issues on the planet.”

”Okay then. The Bible Combo gets its name from the Christian religion which Elvis grew up in. It is actually not one drink, but two, which have to be consumed in a specific order. The first one is like The Old Testament. Filled with fire, brimstone, suffering and cataclysmic events. The second one is like The New Testament. Filled with love, healing, release from sin and the promise of a better future. Together, the two make up a Bible Combo.”

Max smiled at this description. ”Neat!”

”How do you know…”, I began, then continued hastily when I saw Jehova about to speak, ”Never mind, I know. ’You Just Know’.”

Elvis had finished mixing the drinks, and placed two tall glasses in front of each of us. The left one, which I took to be The Old Testament, was nearly black at the bottom, changing color towards the top into an angry red. To the right, The New Testament was hot pink at the bottom changing over yellow into white at the top. Jehova raised the glass on the left. So did we.

”Gentlemen, let us drink.” Whereupon He tipped the glass and downed half of it. The rest of us followed suit.

Max whistled appreciatively. ”It sure fits the description!”

I wanted to agree with him completely, but unfortunately I couldn’t speak at the moment, not to mention breathe. I had no idea what was in that drink, but it nearly took the top of my head off! After a few seconds, I did manage to draw in a rasping breath. Gradually, I regained control of myself. I seemed to be the only one having trouble. But then of course, Elvis was the inventor of the drink, Max I knew for a fact to be able to drink nearly anything without batting an eye, and Jehova was, apparently, a god. Which led me back to my original question.

”Okay”, I managed to croak, ”so what the hell happened?”

”Yes”, said Jehova, ”this deserves an explanation. I understand what happened, but I don’t think I can put it into words adequately. I know that Max knows more of these things than he lets on, but I think Elvis would be the best to explain it. He’s had a long time to try and explain it to himself.” He looked at Elvis, and so did Max and I.

Elvis nodded, thoughtfully. ”You’re right Lord, I have. It took me a long time to figger out, but I’m purty sure I know how it works now. I s’pose what happened to You is a lot like what happened to me, only bigger. Y’see, back when I was a musician on Earth, my fans – well, some of’em – they just well, worshiped me… I didn’t like it much, tho’, beggin’ Your pardon Lord. But they made me out to be more’n I was. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I faked m’death and hitched a ride on a flyin’ saucer that happened by. But the fans, they just built me up bigger’n’ever, and there was more’n’more of’em all the time. They was all believin’ in me like I was You Lord. All that faith, aimed at me like the biggest firehose that ever was… But Lord, I never lost faith in You, and I never let that fan-worship go to my head. But all that faith forced somethin’ on me. I stopped growin’ old – I even got younger-lookin’ after a while. For a long time, I roamed from one place to another through the galaxy. It was nice to be able to move about without people recognizin’ me an’ fawning over me all the time. But I never really found a place I could call home. Then one night, I wandered in here, and felt at home for the first time in ages. Somethin’ about this bar – I knew that this was where I was meant to be, from the day I was born. And praise Your blessin’s, but I even get to sing here once in awhile. A man misses not usin’ his god-given talents, even though I now know You didn’t give’em to me Lord. But You’re still the God I’ve known all my life, an’ I’ve tried to live by the rules You gave to Moses on the mountain. But back to what I was gettin’ at, Lord. You’re in the same boat as me, but the faith and worship heaped-up on You has got to be astro-nomical! The difference is, You’ve never been aware of it. When You realized it, it musta opened some sorta floodgates, and it all just came tumbling down over You. You may not have been born as God, Lord, but You made Yourself into one just the same. You’ve still got billions of worshipers, stretchin’ all the way back through time. They all believe in You – they all have faith in You. There ain’t no two ways arguin’ about it, You are the Lord, my God. Jehova, King of kings, an’ Lord of Heaven.”

Elvis fell silent, and we all looked at Jehova. His face took on a pained expression. ”You’re right, I made them believe in Me, but I haven’t lived up to that belief. They trusted Me, and I betrayed that trust. All those prayers, unanswered, all those voices, unheard. Some god I’ve been.” He hung His head.

I didn’t know what to say, but Elvis did. ”Now, waitaminute Lord. You didn’t know about all those people, and You only just now became a real god. And You did do something for them, You taught’em rules to live by, in order to lead a good life. And one of the things You taught’em – well, us – was forgiveness. You didn’t mean any harm by what You did, You were just tryin’ to learn somethin’. And for what it’s worth, Lord, I forgive You.”

Jehova slowly raised His head. He had tears in His eyes, but He smiled at Elvis. ”That’s worth a lot. Thank you Elvis.”

”Well, Amen!” Elvis said. ”Let’s drink to that!”

I was rather terrified of having another pull of that drink, but I raised my glass along with everyone else. The others downed the rest of theirs. I thought ”What the hell, might as well get it over with”, and followed suit. Actually, it wasn’t nearly as bad, now that I was prepared. I managed to take a breath after just five seconds this time. Still, I was sure hoping that The New Testament lived up to its description, every bit as much as The Old one.

”So…”, I said, ”Now what?”

Max spoke up. ”Well, the way this is turning out, what we’re looking at here is an attempted deicide in the Pantheon. I have to go and call the Reever to warn him.”

Jehova interjected. ”Don’t do that. Oh, call him if you must, but please tell him to stay out of it. I’d like to handle this Myself. I assure you I can take care of it.”

”Well, I’ll try, but he’ll at least want to know about it.”

”Oh, and while you’re down there, could you let our three ”friends” out of the maze room you’ve placed them in?” He acquired a slightly puzzled frown. ”My powers don’t seem to extend beyond this room.”

Max smiled wryly. ”Safety precaution. Otherwise, some god with a few too many drinks inside his belt, might accidentally annihilate this entire tower in a fit of rage. And for other reasons too.” He cast a slightly nervous glance in the direction of one of the writers, who was sitting at a nearby table, typing furiously on a laptop. He looked back at Jehova. ”Don’t worry. I’ll ask Bobby Blue to let them out and show them the way up here, after the Reever and I have gone. Should I wait for a while, to let you prepare?”

”Don’t worry about that. Time is no longer an issue.”

”Okay then. We’ll be back soon. I’ll just take this with me” He took his glass of New Testament, gave us a wave and left.

Someone called for Elvis on the other side of the bar. ”’Scuse me Lord, Robert. Catcha later.” He went to take orders. Jehova and I were left alone on our side of the bar. For a while we sat in a somewhat awkward silence.

”So…”, said Jehova.

”So…”, I agreed. I cast a nervous glance at His halo. Then I gave up all pretense. ”Look, I don’t really know how to handle all this. I’m friends with God? I mean, I was before too, but that was just… you God, not ”GOD” God… Am I making any sense?”

”Robert, you don’t have to feel bad that you feel weird. Trust Me, I feel the same way. My being a God is just as new to Me as it is to you. In some ways it’s harder for Me, as I’m the one who’s been… changed. However, with Godhood also comes knowledge and understanding, and that helps a great deal. But believe Me when I say that I am scared out of My mind about what just happened to Me.”

”Yeah, but…” Again, I glanced at His halo. This time He noticed.

”Hold on, Robert.” He closed His eyes for a moment. Suddenly, the halo flicked off, and the power He radiated seemed to vanish. He reopened his eyes, and he was just Jehova, my colleague, the sociology professor. He smiled at me. ”Is that better?”

I surprised myself by actually exhaling a small sigh of relief. I smiled back at him. ”Thank you, much better.”

”I’m still me, you know”, he said. ”Between us, nothing has changed.”

I thought about that for a while. ”Okay then”, I said, ”but it takes some getting used to. And this is just the last thing that’s happened today. And we still need to figure out what to do about the three holies. God! Oh, sorry” I looked at Jehova apologetically, but he merely smiled at shook his head. I continued, “This day certainly hasn’t developed the way I planned. All I thought I’d be doing tonight was to sit down and have a drink with a colleague.”

”Well spoken”, said Jehova, ”but that’s not too late. Come now, we’re here at the bar. Let’s have that drink.”

”Right.” We both raised our glasses, The New Testament this time. I for one was very grateful that the first one was empty. We clinked our glasses and drank. This one fitted its description just as well as the other one. It was as if all my troubles just melted away, and all of a sudden, I felt like ”Oh. Well that’s all right then.” This was definitely going to be a big hit down at the main bar.

We both heaved a tremendous sigh of content. Then we both began to chuckle. It was that kind of drink.

”So…”, said Jehova.

”So…”

This time, the silence was thoughtful, rather than awkward.

”So”, said Jehova again, ”what do we do?”

”Well, what can we do?” I looked at him. ”What can you do?”

”It’s no longer a matter of possibilities, but a matter of choice”, he said. ”We don’t have to worry about getting out of this anymore. What we need to figure out is what we want to accomplish. I mean, I could kill all three of them with a snap of my fingers…” He looked uncomfortably at his hand. Then he looked at me. ”…But I don’t want to do that. Agreed?”

I thought about it. I knew the three were after my blood, but I was no killer. Did I want to punish them? Sure, but to kill them? I shuddered. ”Agreed”, I said.

”Okay, then. So what do we want to do?”

I had no ready answer for that, but something else occurred to me. ”Wait a minute. How much time have we got? They’re gonna be here any minute now, aren’t they?”

”Not to worry, Robert. As I said to Max before he left, time is no longer an issue. Look around you.”

I did. At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I noticed. Nobody was moving. I turned to look at Elvis, who’d gone to serve someone at the other side of the bar. He was mixing a drink, pouring a clear liquid from a green bottle into a shaker. The stream of liquid was suspended in mid-air, unmoving. Neat trick, I thought.

”Are they gonna be allright?”, I asked, a little concerned.

”Sure”, he said, ”I haven’t done anything to them, I’ve done something to us. I’ve stretched our time duration, in order to let time pass us more slowly than it does everyone else. When we’re ready, I’ll let it back to normal, maybe even narrower than normal, to pass time quicker until they get here. Do you follow?”

Well, that was a brainteaser. I thought about it, and finally thought I understood what he was talking about. It was like having a pause and fast-forward button for the world. I relaxed and took another pull from my drink. It was still just as good.

”I follow. So now what?”

”Well, if we don’t kill them, and we’ve agreed that we won’t do that, what are we going to do about them? We have to make sure that others of their kind don’t do the same.”

But how were we to accomplish that? I looked at him expectantly. “Can’t you, like, ‘divine’ a solution?”

“I’m sorry Robert, but no. Even though I now have divine knowledge, wisdom is, unfortunately, not part of the package. Nor is intelligence. You have as much chance of figuring a way out of this as I do. I am not omnipotent, nor omnipresent. I don’t think any gods are. I think that kind of power would require the worship of the total population of a couple of hundred planets through millions of years. I don’t think this has ever happened. Probably the closest ever to achieve it would be the Bethdish gods, wherever they are. The Immortals are the only people ever to keep a religion for that long. But they were never very numerous, so the sum total of faith is still not enough to reach that level. Mind you, this is a very simplistic explanation. Godhood isn’t really an exact science, you know. But I still think the Bethdish gods must be some of the most powerful in the universe.”

This was quite a mouthful, but it still didn’t get us any closer to a solution. “Yes, well, as I understand it, nobody knows where they are. They certainly aren’t here, so they can’t really help us, powerful as they may be.”

“True”, Jehova said. We maintained a thoughtful silence for a moment. Then he continued.

“These are your people. You must have some idea how they think. How can we get them to give up this quest for revenge?”

I shrugged. “Well, I suppose we could scare the hell out of them, that would get’em off our backs, but it wouldn’t help us with respect to others with the same idea.”

I thought about it. What would they be thinking? What would we want them to think? For the first time, I began to examine the motivation of the three holies in detail. Until now, I had assumed that they were after revenge, driven by anger over the disillusionment we had given them. But could that really be true? Put yourself in their shoes, Robert. If you were a devout, religious man, what would drive you into a killing frenzy? I thought back on the history of Earth. And then the answer came to me: Sacrilege!

“They don’t believe it”, I said quietly.

“What?”

I looked at him. “You. Me. Us. They don’t believe it. They can’t believe it. They think we are lying.”

Understanding entered his face. “Oh. They think we are blasphemers.”

“Exactly.”

He mulled it over. “Well... So?”

“Hang on.” I stared at my drink and thought furiously. A plan was beginning to form in my mind. Yes.

I looked at Jehova again. He looked at me expectantly. “I have an idea that might work.”

...

We were standing near one corner of the dance floor. Ahead of us it stretched, seemingly all the way to the impossibly far wall. From here, the actual distance to it seemed even harder to judge. The areas that stretched from the dance floor to the wall to each side, which I had earlier taken to merely differ in decoration, took on a whole new perspective, when seen from this close. Or this far. There is no way I could adequately describe the visual impression, but I am going to try. The area closest to us, for instance. The side that bordered on the dance floor seemed to begin about 10 meters to our front and left, and stretch about twenty meters away from us. At the same time, it seemed to begin about a mile away, and stretch for several miles away from us. It looked like one of those dioramas you see in roleplaying shops. Gentle grass-clad slopes, woodlands, yellow corn fields, and in the middle, an honest-to-God medieval castle with towers, buttresses, and even a moat and drawbridge. The perspective was impossible to figure out, though. I couldn’t tell if that was a huge castle seen from far off, or a miniature scale model, seen from up close. I know, it doesn’t make any sense, nor did it to me as I stood there looking at it.

I was getting both cross-eyed and dizzy, and welcomed the sound of Jehova’s voice when he spoke, as it gave me something else to focus on.

“Don’t look too much at that, Robert. From this vantage point, it’s not healthy for your eyes.”

“I have to agree with you on that. What do we do now? Where are we going?”

“We are going to create more proper surroundings for the execution of your plan. Let’s start by finding a good spot. Walk this way.”

I followed him out on the dance floor. He stopped at about the middle of the dizzying diorama to our left, and turned towards me.

“Let me show you how this works, Robert. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to look at that area now.”

We both turned to face the diorama. We were about five meters from where it began and the dance floor ended.

“Now keep your eyes open and walk towards it.”

I did as he asked. Suddenly, about two meters from the edge, everything changed. The two perspectives, “small landscape up close”, and “huge landscape far away” seemed to melt into one another, and become “huge landscape up close”. The edges of the diorama zoomed away in both directions, until they were lost from sight, and the landscape stretched as far as I could see. I was still standing about two meters from the edge of a perfectly normal dance floor, but beyond that edge, all I could see was, well, a perfectly normal medieval rural landscape.

“Okay”, I said, “that was weird. But at least my eyes no longer want to flip back inside my head and orbit my brain counter-clockwise. Are they all like that? All these side areas, I mean.”

Jehova nodded. “They differ wildly in style, but they all have that effect, yes.”

“So we walk back a few steps, walk a bit further down, walk forward a few steps, and there’s a whole new world?”

“Oh, we don’t need to do that. At this distance from the edge, that zooming effect you just saw is permanent. We just walk.”

He turned right, took a step, and was gone. He didn’t simply vanish, he “zipped” out of view, much like a spaceship switching to hyperdrive in one of those classic flat sci-fi movies. Startled, and afraid of losing him, I ran after him. Big mistake. I immediately saw someone zoom past me in the opposite direction. I assumed it to be Jehova, but it was really too fast for me to see any details. To my left, different landscapes shot past me too fast for me to see anything but that they were indeed very different from one another. My brain kicked in, and I tried to stop, but I guess I ran about four or five steps all in all, before coming to a halt.

I turned around, looking for Jehova, but of course he was long out of view in the opposite direction. Then I turned to look at the landscape I had stopped in front of.

It was a coastline of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry, rising towards a hill-top on which perched a huge rock monolith. Surrounding the monolith sprawled a city born of some feverish nightmare. I stared in awe at the unbelievable size of the greenish stone blocks, at the dizzying height of the great carven monolith, at the vast angles and stone surfaces - surfaces too great to be of human origin, and impious with horrible images and hieroglyphs. The geometry of the place seemed abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours. Up the hill marched a line of titan oozy blocks which could have been no mortal staircase. The very sun of heaven seemed distorted when viewed through the polarising miasma welling out from this sea-soaked perversion, and twisted menace and suspense lurked leeringly in those crazily elusive angles of carven rock where a second glance showed concavity after the first showed convexity.

I stood frozen in place, my eyes nearly hurting from trying to grasp the warped perspective of this twisted architecture. With the strain they had been under since I entered the Pantheon, I was beginning to worry a little about whether they might actually sustain some long-term damage.

Just then, I heard a noise. A kind of hideous squelching sound that sent shivers down my spine. I looked at where it seemed to have come from. I just managed to see a vague shadow, huge and monstrous, lurking in a dark recess between two walls, when a long, green, slimy tentacle shot out of the murky darkness and wrapped itself around my waist. Panicking, I tried in vain to free myself, as the hideous appendage pulled me towards the opening. I heard a strange twanging sound, a dark figure flashed in front of me, there was a flash of light, a blood-curcling low-pitched roar, and I felt the tentacle releasing its grip on me. I fell shivering to the ground, covering my head with my arms. The roar died away with a series of flapping and splashing noises, as if a gigantic jellyfish was galloping away across a rocky surface.

“Are you okay?”

I cautiously raised my head. Master stood in front of me, brandishing some kind of sword. The blade appeared to be two and a half foot of green laser beam, starting at the handle, and apparently not too eager to continue onwards at the speed of light beyond that length.

“Aga… Aba… Gah?”, I stuttered. I looked at the ground, where three feet of tentacle lay twitching. I gave a little yell and jerked away.

“Hey, take it easy! He’s gone!” He kicked at the tentacle, sending it sliding into the water where it sank to the bottom. I heard a swishing sound, and Jehova stood beside me to my left.

“Robert! Are you all right?!?” He looked first at me, then at Master. Master did something to his sword that made the laser blade retract into the handle with a kind of hissing sound. He spoke to Jehova.

“I think he’s fine, he just had a rather unpleasant experience.” He turned to look at me. I finally found my voice again.

“Rather unpleasant… What the hell was that?!?” He gave me a sympathetic look.

“That was Cthulhu. I’d advise you to stay away from him. He likes visitors, but they rarely like him back. He’s not exactly what you’d call social.”

Jehova was wringing his hands. “Oh dear me, this is all my fault”, he said apologetically. “I’m sorry Robert, I shouldn’t have left you alone like that. You had no way of knowing how things work around here.”

I don’t know if I was getting hardened by the evening’s events or if I was simply in a state of shock, but I managed to put a half-smile on my face as he helped me to my feet. “Don’t worry Jehova, I’m getting used to it.” I turned and held out my hand to Master who took it.

“Thanks for saving my life. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, let me know.”

He smiled at me. “Sure. I have to go now. May the Force be with you!”

With that, he turned and stepped across the horizon.

I looked in the direction he’d disappeared. “Jehova, my friend, I’ll say this much: whatever else one may call it, an evening in the Pantheon isn’t boring!”

I turned to look at him, and then glanced at the hideous city. “Um, can we get out of here now? This place gives me the creeps!”

“Yes, certainly”, he said, “We also still have a lot to do.”

“Right”, I said, “I’d nearly forgotten about them. So now what?”

He looked thoughtful. “Perhaps you’d better take my hand, so we don’t get separated again.”

I felt a bit like a little boy out shopping with his mother, but I took his hand as I wasn’t keen to repeat my most recent brush with death. Together, we walked a few steps back the way we had come. With each step we took, the landscape, now on our right, changed. Desert, swamp, forest, ice, desert again, hi-tech metropolis, some kind of pirate city, and finally a desolate prairie landscape which we stopped in front of.

“Okay”, said Jehova, “now do what I do. Face the prairie.” We did. “Now take a step sideways with your left foot, without lifting your right.” We did, and suddenly, we were standing at the border between the prairie and the landscape to its left. This consisted of rolling hills, covered in grass which was, for some reason, purple. The border between the two landscapes was fuzzy somehow. It was impossible to tell exactly where one ended and the other began.

“I need my full powers for this, Robert. Do you mind?” He looked at me expectantly.

I shrugged. “Do what you must.”

With a twang, the halo returned, as did the aura of power. I could cope with it better, now that I knew He could switch back at any time.

“Now watch this.” Jehova held out His arms in front of Him, pointing along the border with both hands. He then swept His arms slowly outward, and as He did, the two landscapes receded away to either side of us. When His arms were pointing straight out to the sides, each border had disappeared into the distance. I was reminded of Moses, parting the Red Sea, which I found to be a rather appropriate comparison, all things considered.

“Neat”, I said, “but what exactly are we doing?”

“Executing your plan, Robert. But if we are to stage a play, first we have to set the stage.”

It looked rather like a stage, in fact. As far as I could see, the ground seemed to be a very nice polished parquet floor. I had a feeling though, that this was not what Jehova intended, but merely the “default” surface in this area of the Pantheon. I was not disappointed. Jehova gestured, the floor shimmered, and turned into a parched wasteland. An unbroken expanse of dry, red, cracked ground, similar to what you see on the bottom of a dried-out lake. In fact, it looked exactly like Death Valley, back on Earth.

“So, this is the stage, then?” I asked.

“Well, this is the downstage area. We are going to be upstage in this production, and I rather think that the two of us need a different backdrop.” He walked forward into the wasteland and I followed Him. When I turned my head after only a few steps, I was not even remotely surprised to find that I could no longer see the edge of the dance floor behind me. Looking up revealed another aspect of these side areas, or at least of this one. The black void which served as a ceiling in the rest of the Pantheon, was here replaced by a deep blue sky, not a cloud in sight. From exactly over my head, a threatening sun glared relentlessly down on the bleak landscape.

After a couple more steps, Jehova stopped. “This is far enough. There is no need for us to exert ourselves. When our friends arrive however, the walk will seem much longer to them. We’ll want them to be somewhat intimidated before the grand finale. And on that note…” He gestured again, and again the ground shimmered.

I couldn’t help myself, and a giggle escaped me. Jehova grinned at me.

“Fitting, don’t you think?”

“Very” I said. “You hit it spot on.”

In front of us, the ground had changed. It now looked like the perfect image of Heaven, as depicted in countless murals in European churches. All white fluffy clouds, sunshine that was bright and friendly, but without the harshness of the sun in the wasteland, and to round it off, a series of white raised steps atop which a massive white throne rested. The steps and the throne were not made of cloud, but nevertheless had an ethereal quality about them, like a mirage.

Jehova admired His handywork. “I think it’ll do nicely.” He turned towards me. “Now Robert, when they get here, just follow My lead and play along. I’ll do the talking, but first we’ll want to give them some rope and let’em run with it. Whatever they intend to do, don’t worry. I assure you that they cannot harm us.”

“Okay” I said, “so now we wait, right?”

“Not for long. Max and the Reever are coming.” He gestured with His head back towards the wasteland. I turned and, peering through the heat haze over the ground, spotted two black dots what seemed like miles away. They were growing rapidly though, and within seconds had swelled to the figures of Max and the Reever. For all their apparent speed, they seemed to be walking perfectly normally towards us, as if they were wearing seven-league boots. More of the twisted perspective in here.

I decided, that if and when I ever got back to my apartment again, I would sit down and look at my coffee table for a couple of hours, just to give my eyes a break.

As they walked up to us, I was stunned by the appearance of the Reever. I’d seen him before, so his appearance shouldn’t really have surprised me, but he always seems somehow to be more than you remember. As if you can only store a compressed or abridged version of the memory of him. He was always somehow bigger than I remembered, somehow more graceful. It’s easy to say that he’s two meters tall, built like a Greek god, and his unlined face makes his age impossible to guess – but actually seeing him somehow makes that description fall flat. Maybe it’s the power he radiates. I was becoming aware of many sorts of power auras that day, and the Reever had one too. Not like the gods’ or the writers’, it was different. The same, but… Different. Feeling that power made it blindingly obvious that this was a man you’d better stay on the good side of. He was dressed in a tight fitting blue and black suit, and matching body armor. Across his back, a broadsword was slung, and in his hand he carried a long staff with complex patterns on it.

Max carried out the introductions. The Reever looked us up and down, and then said to Jehova “So, you’re the god they’re trying to kill.” He did not seem as impressed as a normal man would have. I suspected this was not the first time he’d dealt with gods.

Jehova looked at me before answering. “I’m afraid so. Both Robert and I seem to be targeted for execution.”

“Hm!”, the Reever said, confidently, “We’ll see about that. When they get here I’ll…”

Jehova raised a hand. “If I may, Reever?”

The Reever looked like he wasn’t used to being interrupted, but said “Go ahead.”

”I know this is your jurisdiction”, Jehova said to the Reever, ”but I’d really like to take care of this Myself. Robert and I have a sort of plan, you see.”

“I can accept that”, said the Reever, “but I need to observe the events, and take action if I find it necessary”.

“That is your prerogative”, Jehova said. He waved His hand (more for effect than necessity, I think), and a balcony appeared in mid-air to our right. It looked like it had come from one of the ancient opera houses of Europe, back on Earth. The railing was made of gilded twisted pillars, decorated here and there with small figures of cherubs, the two seats were upholstered in thick red velvet, the back of the balcony was sealed off with two thick red velvet curtains, and, Max told me later, in a compartment in the armrest of each seat lay a small pair of antique opera glasses. A wooden staircase led up to the rear of the balcony.

Jehova appeared suddenly to be wearing an ushers uniform. Somehow, tickets appeared in Max and the Reevers hands.

“Gentlemen, if you’d like to take your seats, the show is about to begin” Jehova tore the tickets and gestured at the staircase. The Reever raised a single eyebrow and Max grinned at Jehova. The pair of them went over and trundled up the squeaking staircase to the balcony.

“Ever thought about going into show business?”, I asked Jehova.

“I’m thinking about it”, He said, “it’s fun.”

His voice took on a more serious tone and the ushers uniform reverted back to His own clothes. “Robert, the three holies are coming. They are armed, and I’m pretty sure they are intent on violence. I’d like you to stand two steps down and to the left of the throne. I guarantee you, you will not be harmed in any way. Now, our friends Max and the Reever did the seven-league walk through the wasteland, but I think the three holies should have the benefit of walking the entire distance, don’t you? Don’t worry, I’ll fast-forward us through it, so we won’t have to stand here waiting for an hour or two. When they come, I want you to let Me do the talking. I’ll let you know if I want you to do anything.”

“No problem, Jehova.” I had no idea what to say to them, anyway. Jehova looked down at Himself. “And now, for maximum effect…” The halo and aura faded out. He mounted the steps and sat on the throne, and I went to stand where he had indicated, and looked out over the wasteland. Almost immediately, three specks appeared in the distance. They rapidly grew in size, and were soon recognizable as people. I could see the fast-forwarding effect. They approached at about the same speed as Max and the Reever had, but where those two had appeared to be walking at a normal pace, the legs of these three were a blur.

The fast-forwarding subsided as they came close. Their last few steps were in a normal tempo. They stopped about ten meters from Jehova, about five meters from the edge of the wasteland. They looked hot, tired and sweaty. They surveyed their surroundings.
I had a thought and glanced to the right, but Jehova had apparently made the balcony invisible, so it wouldn’t be a distraction.

I swept my gaze back to the three holies, who returned it. For some reason, they chose to focus on me first. The center one, the priest, spoke.

“Are you Robert Landis?”

“Yes”, I said, trying not to let my voice betray the anxiety that was bubbling up inside me.

He stared at me coldly. “We’ll deal with you later.” He looked at Jehova.

“You are the one who calls himself Jehova?”

Jehova maintained his perfect appearance of the calm sociology professor. “I am.”

The priest nodded once, satisfied. “We find you guilty of the utmost sacrileage and blasphemy against God. For this crime, we sentence you to death!”

Each of the three holies reached into their clothes and pulled out a blaster. They looked shiny, new and deadly, and were definitely not of Earth manufacture. I guess they had acquired them locally after landing here on Bethdish. They all held on to them a bit awkwardly, and were clearly not familiar with using a handgun.

All three aimed their blasters straight at Jehova. He held up a hand.

“Wait!”, he said, “have you thought through the consequences of this? You may be about to do something you will regret later on.”

The priest sneered. “We will regret nothing. God guides our actions.”

“Are you sure? Might you not be acting out of a personal need for revenge?”

The rabbi spoke up. “This is not revenge, it is divine justice.”

“In the name…”, the priest began.

“Please”, Jehova said softly, “do not do this. Nothing good can come of it.”

The minister gave a short, barking laugh. “Ha! The blasphemer begs for his life!”

The priest raised his voice. “In the name of the Lord! Execute the sentence! One…”

The three holies again aimed their weapons at Jehova. He simply sat there, looking every bit like a tired middle-aged professor.

“Two…”

The safeties were clicked off three blasters. I looked nervously from one to the other.

“Three!”

Three triggers clicked. Three blasters discharged. Three energy bolts hit Jehova in the chest. The expected result did not occur, however. Instead of vaporizing large parts of his anatomy, the bolts seemed to energize him. He gripped the armrests of the throne, his halo flicked back on with an audible twang, and the aura of power I had noticed earlier, swept outward from him like a tidal wave.

“ENOUGH!”, He thundered. The three holies were frozen, mouths agape, blasters still pointing at Jehova. He looked at them, and the weapons immediately glowed white-hot and melted between their fingers, seemingly without harming them. Jehova continued in His now very Godlike, booming voice.

“For too long you have done evil in My name. You have misguided, enslaved, blackmailed and killed innocent people, claiming that this was My will. That time is at an end!”

Jehova stood, and took a few steps down towards the three holies. The ground of the wasteland began to tremble. I could see it actually vibrating, although nothing could be felt in the cloudscape that Jehova and I were standing on. The earth around the three holies began to crack, sections of it falling away, revealing a sea of roaring flames beneath. Within seconds, all but the spot where the three holies stood plummeted out of sight, and they were now isolated on a tiny island above the raging inferno.

“And now, you seek to complete your horrendous crimes. You come here bearing your evil ways with you and try to kill Me, the Lord, your God!”

By now, the three holies were cowering in fear, but at the same time were spellbound by Jehova, and could not take their eyes off Him.

“And not only would you seek to kill Me, but the Archangel Robert as well!” Jehova swept back His arm to indicate me.

I felt a curious sensation, like a tingling breeze, sweep over me. I looked down at myself, and noticed to my astonishment that not only had I acquired an impressive physique, I was now dressed in sandals, a short skirt and a gleaming golden breast plate. A sheathed sword hung from a belt around my waist, and huge, powerful, white-feathered wings sprouted from my shoulders.

“Go with it, Robert”, I heard Jehova’s voice in my head, “act a bit like an angry archangel.”

What the hell, I thought. I experimentally beat my brand new wings, just enough to lift me a meter into the air. Don’t ask me how I knew how to do this, because I haven’t the faintest idea myself. Hovering there, I grabbed the hilt protruding from my scabbard and drew forth a long blade of flaming ice. At least that’s what it looked like. I twirled it around a bit (again, don’t ask me how I knew how to do it), and pointed it at the three holies. A tongue of flame shot out from the tip of the blade for at least a couple of meters.

Jehova thundered on. “You come here and seek to judge Me. It is I who judge! All the knowledge I gave you, you have corrupted and perverted over the years to serve your own ends. I shall make sure that the truth will be known once again. But first, I shall send My judgement unto you, and that judgement is… DAMNATION!!!”

And with that, the small island the three holies were standing on crumbled, and they fell screaming into the eternal fires of Hell…

…Only to float gently up into the air again, immediately afterwards, apparently unconscious. The wasteland reappeared beneath them, as if nothing had happened.

“What’s going on?”, I asked Jehova and landed.

“They’re alive and well Robert, but they are unaware of their surroundings. I am speaking to them in their minds”.

I thought that over while I scabbarded my sword. “What are You saying to them?”

Jehova shrugged. “The truth. That I am not a vengeful god, but a forgiving one. That they will not die, but on the contrary, they will help Me spread the true word to My misguided followers”.

I grinned at him. “In other words, You’re preaching at them”.

Jehova smiled. “Indeed Robert, that’s what I’m doing. Oh, by the way, I’d better let our friends out of the balcony”.

We both turned our heads to the right, and the theater balcony reappeared before our eyes, containing a smiling Max, and a somewhat irritated Reever. They came down the stairs and walked our way, and we joined them at the foot of the steps. The Reever opened his mouth to speak, but Jehova jumped in ahead of him.

“I know, it was naughty of Me to seal off the balcony, but I did not want any interference. Besides, I know that you could have nullified My powers if you so wished. I only sought to delay you long enough for you to think the situation through once more. I hoped you would see what I was trying to do, and indeed, it seems that you did.” Jehova smiled at the Reever, who opened his mouth again, then closed it. Finally, he grunted.

“Hrmpf! Well, I admit I got angry when I found out that we were sealed in. When they shot You, I tried to jump at them, with… embarassing results.”

“Hit a forcefield and fell flat on his ass!”, Max said to me in an exaggerated stage whisper. The Reever shot him a dirty look. Then he continued.

“But You are correct, it did give me time to think, and I must say that You handled the situation admirably. As well as”, and here he smiled, “very entertainingly”.

I came up with my usual line. “So”, I said, “now what?” I looked down at my body, experimentally flexing my new impressive muscles, with a pang of regret that this was only a temporary condition.

Jehova looked at me. “You should be able to turn that on and off at will.”

I must have looked flabbergasted, because both Max and the Reever gave off small chuckles. I focused, thought about my old body and what it looked like. Suddenly, I felt the tingling sensation again, only backwards. When I looked down at myself again, I was back to normal. This time, the look on my face must have been downright hilarious. All three of my companions guffawed. I gave them a dirty look, which by no means diminished their laughter. I closed my eyes and imagined my archangel body again. Again the tingling, and when I opened my eyes again, I was floating a meter up in the air, my wings beating slowly to keep me there.

I smiled, then sighed as I landed next to the others. “That’s great”, I said, “but I suppose it ends when I leave the Pantheon, doesn’t it?”

“Of course”, Max said, “the rest of the building is shielded against divine energies. However, outside the building is another matter…”

I looked at Jehova. I’m pretty sure that a fierce hope was burning in my eyes.

He nodded at me solemnly. “Yes Robert, if you wish, the effect is permanent. I was not joking about you being My archangel. If you want the job, that is.”

I could not fathom the possible consequences of such a choice. “What…”, I began, then stopped.

“What would I want you to do?” Jehova shrugged. “I am not asking you to give up your regular life. In fact, I plan to keep My own teaching job, though I am going to ask for some leave of absence so I can figure out what to do with all of this. All I ask is that you help Me occasionally, as My archangel, if I need it. Do not worry, I shall try to ask in advance so you can plan ahead.” He smiled at me warmly.

I thought about it, hard. Then I looked Him straight in the eye and said “I can do that.” I knelt down in front of Him.

“Oh, for My sake Robert, get up! You are My friend, not My follower.”

“Sorry”, I mumbled as I got to my feet again. “So now what?” I felt like that was all I’d been saying all day. I gestured at the three holies, who were still floating in mid-air above the wasteland. “Are You done preaching at them?”

“Yes”, Jehova said, “I have told them the message to deliver to Earth, and made sure that they can not do any creative rewriting of it on their way there. Now they are simply sleeping.”

“So”, Max said, “are You gonna wake them up and send them on their way?”

“No, I would like to stage the final act of our little play here.” He looked at the Reever. “But for that, I would like to ask your help.”

The Reever seemed a bit taken aback by this request. “Um, certainly, but what can I do that You can not?”

“You can do things in the rest of the building that I can not.”

His face brightened. “Yes, so I can. Well, what do You need me to do?”

Jehova gestured with His hand. “I need you to use your staff. Let us go down to the main bar. Oh, and let us pick up Elvis on the way. He was the key to this whole new development, I think he deserves to see the end of it. Plus”, and here He smiled cryptically, “we shall have use for his particular skills.”



Twenty minutes later, we were all seated at the main bar. The three holies, still sleeping, were seated at a table a short distance away.

After we left the Pantheon, the Reever had taken control of the three holies. I had no idea that his staff was anything but a staff, but apparently it can do all sorts of weird things. At this time, he used some function in it to levitate the three holies, whilst keeping them unconscious.

We must have been a hell of a sight as we entered the main bar. First came Max, followed by the three holies, floating and unconscious, followed by the Reever who controlled them with his staff, and finally, bringing up the rear, Jehova, Elvis and myself. Jehova and I were of course both back to normal, no wings or halos, but still, the entire line of us must have looked most peculiar. I looked around as we made our way through the main room, but curiously enough, no one was looking at us.

I sidled up to the Reever, and looked up at him. Man, this guy was impressive. “Uhm… Reever?”

He turned his head slightly in my direction, while still keeping his eyes on the three holies. “Yes Robert?”

I swallowed. It’s not that I was afraid of him, I knew him to be a good guy, but I felt so out of my league with all that had happened, and felt that I’d asked so many stupid questions that day, that I was getting uncomfortable with it.

“Uhm, why isn’t anybody looking at us? We can’t look exactly normal.”

The corner of his mouth curled upwards briefly. “S.E.P field.”

“What”, I asked hesitatingly, “is an S.E.P field?”

“Somebody Else’s Problem.” He didn’t volunteer any more information, so I drifted back to Jehova who looked at me questioningly. I merely gave a small shake of my head. I’d given up trying to understand what was going on around me.

Together, we managed to maneuver the floating holies into sitting positions at an empty table near the bar. We ourselves took up position at the bar a short distance away, where we had a clear view of the table.

“Won’t they spot us as soon as they wake up?”, I asked the Reever.

“No.” Again, that infuriating half-smile.

“Here ya go, Lord”, Elvis said from behind the bar, as he handed Jehova a tray of drinks. I recognized them as three Bible Combos, and couldn’t help a little chuckle.

“Fitting, don’t you think?”, he said to me, smiling. He took the tray over to the table, placing The Old Testament in front of each of the three holies, with The New Testament right behind it. He returned to the rest of us.

“You can wake them now, Reever.”

The Reever did something to his staff. I didn’t feel any different, but the three holies immediately began to stir. Suddenly, all three of them bolted upright, and looked wildly about them. They even looked in our direction, but just as the Reever had said, they didn’t notice us. I had no idea why this was, but decided that it was somebody else’s problem and thought nothing more of it.

The three holies looked at each other, their faces pale, bewildered and shocked. Apparently deciding that the matching look on the others’ faces meant that they had indeed had the same experience, they all three buried their heads in their hands, as if furiously trying to make sense of what had happened. The priest was the first to raise his head. For the first time, he spotted the two glasses in front of him. Slowly, mechanically, he reached for the front most glass, The Old Testament, as if guided by a will not his own. The two others reacted to the movement, spotted their own glasses, and reached for them as well. They each looked the others in the eye, and then as one downed the entire contents of the glasses. They put them back down, and repeated the process with The New Testament. Each of them sat back and stared into the distance.

About two minutes went by. The rest of the bar was its usual rowdy self, but the three holies registered none of it, each completely lost in his own thoughts.

The priest was the first to get up. Slowly he stood, as if having trouble remembering the sequence of muscle movements. The two others followed suit. Slowly, like a group of sleepwalkers, they left the bar, single-file. None of them had uttered a single word since waking up.

Max was the first to break the silence. “Well, I guess that’s that.”

We all tore our gaze away from the main doors that the three holies had departed through. I cleared my throat.

“I suppose it is.” I looked at Jehova. “Do you think they’ll convince everyone on Earth?”

“No, not really. That’s why I promised to lend them a hand with the work. I told them I would come to Earth personally, to prove my existence and to spread the word. Your people have been trying to get my attention for so long, I think it’s time they met with a little success. Would you care to join me… Archangel?”

I swallowed. Earth. I had thought I would never be able to set foot on my home planet again. The idea suddenly filled me with longing.

I felt my lower lip tremble slightly. “Do you think it’s safe?”

“Perfectly safe, Robert. Nobody can harm us anymore.” He frowned. “Well, some might be able to, but no one on Earth could.”

I could go home! Probably not to stay, as I liked it here on Bethdish, but I could visit Earth again. I heard myself say “I’ll go with you.”

“Good. We won’t leave right away. Let’s see what those three can accomplish on their own. They’ll need a couple of months to get back. Then we’ll give them a couple of months beyond that, so we’ll have plenty of time to prepare. Our professional lives need not be disturbed overly much by this.”

Suddenly, my thoughts drifted back to the reason we were both here in the first place. Our professional lives.

“Jehova”, I asked, slightly alarmed, “what about our paper?”

“Our paper?” He looked puzzled. Then he remembered. “Oh, that. Hmm, yes…” He pondered this for a moment. Then he smiled. “Well, maybe we should let that wait until after our tour of the Earth. I think we might have some more interesting sociological developments to write about at that time, don’t you?”

I felt a smile slowly spread across my face, as I thought about the ramifications of that statement.

“Yes”, I said, “indeed I do…”



Excerpt from The Third Testament:
And so it came to pass, that the three misguided ones entered the Pantheon, and found themselves in the presence of He whom they had accused of blasphemy. And they found that He was God…

THE END



Copyright © 2006 Wishbone


You can E-mail Wishbone at: duncan DOT idaho AT jubii DOT dk
(Sorry for the cumbersome email address, but Iím getting enough spam as it is, so I donít want any bots to be able to read it. And yes, Iím a Dune fan).


Bio: Wishbone is 28 years old and lives in Denmark, where he works as a software developer. He lives with his girlfriend, stepson and cat in a three-room apartment. Most of his work in literature (he also considers science fiction to be literature) has been writing critiques of other peoplesí stories, since heís better at that than at writing stories himself.



My own comments for this story:

After writing ”Sociology Experiment”, I felt I had still more to say about Robert Landis, and what happened to him after the events of that story. My problem was, that while I had a lot more to say, I had no plot to hang it on. In short, I needed a punchline. One evening it came. The trouble was, it had to be the first sentence of the story to be most effective. That’s a bad position for a punchline. Fortunately, I found that that one sentence seemed to create a story all by itself. The basic plot just followed that line like a natural extension of it.

Okay, as good as that sounds, it’s not entirely accurate. It is true that a plot came to me immediately after I had written that line, but that plot has since been changed completely a couple of times. Or at least the ending has. Ending meaning, in this case, the last 90% of the story.

I have to thank Dan for all his help during the writing of this. From plot ideas, to answering questions about silly details in the Pantheon, he has been a tremendous aid over the years (yes, this story was years in the making).

I also want to thank Nate for his comments. He read what I used to consider the final version of the story before it was published, and his feedback really helped me to tighten it up in places.

Finally, I want to thank Bill Wolfe for inadvertently destroying my original plot, but in return inspiring the new one. Both of these things he accomplished unknowingly with his Mare story “Where Angels Fear To Tread”, by defining how gods are created in this universe. I took this and ran with it, employing the same mechanism under a different set of circumstances.


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