Deus Ex Machina
A Mare Inebrium story
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
”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
”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
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
”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.
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
”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
”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
”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
”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
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
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.”
”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
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
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
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
”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
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.
”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
”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
”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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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,
“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
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.
The safeties were clicked off three blasters. I looked nervously from one to the other.
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
“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
“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
“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,
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
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
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
“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
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…
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
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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