Where wast thou when I laid the foundations for theoretical computer science?
Beyond the nimbus and stratus, in the furthest reaches of the heavens, the parliament of the angels convened in the eye of a great cyclone. The walls of the storm curved in toward the center, so that they formed tier upon tier of seating for the angelic hosts. At the very bottom and in the very center was a whirlwind that concealed the archangel Metatron, the expression of God in the created world. Seated around him were thrones for the nine other archangels. Above them in concentric circles based on rank sat various cherubim, seraphim, ophanim, dominions, powers, principalities, weird lamb-dragon hybrids with hundreds of faces, glowing starlike beings rapt in meditation, geometric shapes covered with lidless golden eyes, and others even harder to describe.
Metatron did not speak. Metatron never spoke. No one was worthy to hear the voice of Metatron. Raziel was missing, as always, out doing his thing, whatever Raziel’s thing was. That left Sataniel as highest-ranking. Sataniel, the morning star, the amber-hued, the bringer of dawn, the beautiful, peerless in understanding, gracious in mercy.
For the past aeon, even Sataniel had been gone, off exploring the inner core of the world, and it had been Zadkiel who had held the golden feather that represented dominion, who had conducted the choirs and moved some to sound and others to silence. Now Sataniel had returned, and it was with joy and humility that Zadkiel handed over the feather and sat back down upon his throne of cloudstuff and carnelian.
“My brothers,” said Sataniel, “for an aeon of the world, I have been exploring the very center of the Earth. Now, by the mercy of God, blessed be His holy Name, I have returned.”
At the mention of God, all the assembled angels broke out into applause and cheering for seven days and seven nights. When the euphoria died down, Sataniel again raised the golden feather and spoke.
“Sometimes there comes upon us the desire to seek out and explore new parts of God’s creation, that we may appreciate ever-greater portions of His glory.”
The heavenly hosts began applauding again at the mention of God, but Sataniel raised the feather and calmed them down.
“Thus Raziel, who has absented himself from this assembly to traverse the gulfs beyond the world. But my own curiosity was kindled by a different prize, the very center of the Earth, which none have seen before. I made journey to the deepest part of the deepest lake, and there I thrust into the ground a star-beam until it cracked and fissured. More and more star-beams I summoned, until they burnt a tunnel into the yielding rock. Below I came to a realm of fire, but again I parted it with star beams, until I congealed a tunnel that could pass through even the magma of the inner deep. After an aeon of labor, I came at last to the solid iron core, and at a word from me, it opened wide.
“There I found a new world, as different from the surface as the surface is from our own realm of cloud and zephyr. In the center of the earth is a hollow space a thousand miles in diameter. By some strange magic of the place I could walk upon its iron inner shell, though by rights I ought to have been without weight. That shell contains iron mountains and iron canyons, split by seas and rivers of glowing lava that cast a dim red light over the whole inner world. And at the south pole of this realm stood an iron tower, five hundred miles in height, reaching all the way up to the exact center of the earth.”
All the angels listened in rapt attention except Uriel, who was sort of half-paying attention while trying to balance several twelve-dimensional shapes on top of each other.
“I entered that dark tower at its base, and for forty days and forty nights I climbed the spiral staircase leading to the world’s center. Finally, at the tower’s very peak, I discovered a new facet of God.”
There was utter silence throughout the halls of Heaven, except a brief curse as Uriel’s hyperdimensional tower collapsed on itself and he picked up the pieces to try to rebuild it.
“He called himself Thamiel, and I could sense the divine energy in him, like and yet unlike any I had ever seen before. For a year and a day I studied at his feet, learning his lore, learning aspects of God utterly foreign to the lore of Heaven. And after a year and a day, he told me I had learned enough, and he bade me return and teach it to you my fellows.”
A great clamor arose from all the heavenly hosts, save Uriel, who took advantage of the brief lapse to conjure a parchment and pen and start working on a proof about the optimal configuration of twelve-dimensional shapes.. “Tell us, Sataniel!” they cried. “Teach us this new lore, that we may come to more fully understand the Holy One!”
“Well,” said Sataniel, wiping a sudden bead of sweat off his brow “this is going to sound kind of crazy, but hear me out. What if, instead of serving God, we were to, um, defy Him?”
A moment of confusion. Uriel proved several important lemmas about tower construction.
“I don’t understand,” said Haniel. “Like, I get what you’re trying to say. But, well…how would that tend toward the greater glory of God?”
“It doesn’t,” said Sataniel. “I will definitely concede that point.”
“But then,” said Zadkiel, “if you’re admitting it doesn’t tend toward the greater glory of God, then how is God glorified when we do it?”
“But that’s what I’m saying,” said Sataniel. “We could just not glorify God. We could even undermine God, rebel against Him, that kind of thing.”
“Then we would have to smite ourselves” said Gabriel. “That sounds really dumb.”
“I’m with Gabriel,” said Raphael. “No offense to this Thamiel fellow, but I’m not sure he’s thought this through very well.”
“He seems a couple of strings short of a harp,” said Camael bluntly.
“I understand this is confusing,” Sataniel said. “I didn’t get it all at once. My first thoughts were the same as yours were – it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t glorify God, we’d have to smite ourselves – I thought all of these things at first, trust me. But the more Thamiel explained to me, the more it started to come together. You’ve got to believe me, there’s a sort of mental distance here, but there’s a self-consistent position on the other side. Like, for example, if we were to defy God, we could smite those who didn’t defy God.”
“But I still maintain that that wouldn’t increase the glory of God very well!” said Haniel.
“Right!” said Michael, “and how would we sing songs of praise? If we smote those who didn’t defy God, we’d have to smite ourselves every time we sung a song of praise! There are some serious loopholes here.”
“Sataniel’s position is self-consistent,” said Uriel, without looking up from the parchment he was writing his proof on. “It’s like representing our desires in a utility function, then multiplying by negative one.”
Everyone ignored Uriel as usual.
“Sataniel,” said Michael, “even if we could figure out a way to do this without smiting ourselves, what would be the point?”
“Instead of working to serve God,” said Sataniel, “we could serve ourselves.”
“Ohhhhh,” said Zadkiel. “You’re saying that, since we are creations of God, praising and serving ourselves would be a more effective way of demonstrating our gratitude and love of God’s glory than praising and serving Him directly? And so, in a sense, actually even more humble and godly? It’s a bit counterintuitive, but it just…might…work.”
“No!” said Sataniel, and he stomped on the cloud underneath his feet, shooting off little wisps of cirrus. “You’re not getting it. This is about total conceptual revolution! A complete shift in mindset! There aren’t even the right words for it!”
With a wave of his hand, he caused a sheet of white fire to burst forth from the ground; with his pointer finger, he began tracing lines in black fire upon the flaming canvas. “Look, here on the right side we have all of the things we consider good. Glorification of God. Virtue. Prayer. Service.” He moved to the other half of the sheet. “And here on the left side we have the opposite of those things. God being glorified less than He might otherwise be. Virtue that falls short of the goal. Not serving people even when they deserve to be served. My brothers, all of our actions have to be to some end. Right now we’re aiming towards the things here on the right. But instead, we could just as well aim at these other things, here on the left.”
“But,” said Raphael, “the left is the side with sin and mockery of God and so on. Are you sure you didn’t mean to point to the right instead?”
“Maybe he means our right and his left,” proposed Haniel helpfully.
The whole diagram of fire-upon-fire disappeared in a puff of smoke.
“Imagine,” said Sataniel. “We could descend onto the Earth, and rule over Men. We could make them call us gods, and worship us with prayer and sacrifice. We could lay with the most beautiful of the daughters of men, and have mighty children whose footsteps make the Behemoth flee in terror. We could enslave humans, and make them build us vast palaces of gold and chalcedony, and never give another thought to God at all.”
The other angels looked thoughtful. Several began to whisper excitedly among themselves. Some stared off into space, imagining the pleasures of such a life. Finally, Zadkiel gave voice to what all of them were thinking:
“It’s an interesting idea, Sataniel, but I just. don’t. get. how it would contribute to the glory of God.”
Sataniel looked up, from the circle where the eight other archangels sat, to the seats of the highest and wisest angels, and all the way up the vast walls of cloud, looked upon the fiery lions and spinning wheels and pillars of sunlight and all the rest, and every one of them was nodding in agreement with Zadkiel.
Sataniel very deliberately took a deep breath. In. Out. Then another. In. Out.
“I was rash,” he said. “It took a year and a day for Thamiel to impart his lore to me; I was rash to think I could explain it in a single speech. So don’t hear it from me. Hear it from the master. I propose that a portion of you follow me, and we will cross the Earth’s interior and find Thamiel, and he will teach you his lore as he taught it to me, and there will be no further confusion.”
“Honestly,” said Camael. “It seems kind of like a waste of time. I still haven’t heard any good evidence that this ‘Thamiel’ and his ideas can glorify God, and paying them more attention wastes valuable songs-of-praise-singing time.”
Murmurs of assent. The fiery lions nodded, the wheels spun in agreement.
Sataniel cast his head down. For a moment he seemed about to acquiese. Then, a weird look appeared on his face, a look unlike any that the angels had ever seen, almost a contortion. He spoke haltingly, as if trying a strange new language he had never spoken before.
“Actually…God…God told me…that He really wanted some of you guys to follow me. To go meet Thamiel. Yes. God said that. That was what He said.”
A look of astonishment and joy flashed throughout the council. God had spoken! God rarely spoke to angels even once an aeon, and now God had spoken to their brother Sataniel! New information about the will of the Divine, a new opportunity to serve Him, to better conform their actions to the newly clarified Divine Will!
“Of course!” said Michael. “Why didn’t you say so, brother? This is a great day indeed! How many of us did God want there?”
For someone who had so suddenly seen his fortunes shift for the better, Sataniel looked oddly uncomfortable. For someone who had received a revelation from God, he was oddly reluctant to share it. All these things the angels noticed, but there was no possible explanation for them, none at all, so they dismissed it from their thoughts.
“One third,” said Sataniel finally. “One third of the Heavenly Host.”
“The future is ziggurats,” Samyazaz was telling Ut-Naparash as they walked up the Great Stair. “In a hundred years, nobody’s going to remember pyramids. Pyramids are a flash in the pan. Ziggurats are for the ages.”
“The King has every bit of faith in ziggurats and in yourself,” said Ut-Naparash. “He only wishes that the project would go a little…faster.”
The king is a fricking nimrod, thought Samyazaz to himself, but out loud he just said, “You can’t rush ziggurats, Ut-Naparash.” He punctuated his statement with a wave of his gigantic arms. “You try to rush a ziggurat, you end up with one side not big enough, or a tier off center, and then the whole thing is fried. They’re not like henges, where if you put a stone in the wrong place here or there nobody’s going to notice. Ziggurats are a work of art. A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
They reached the top of the Great Stair and the highest tier of the ziggurat. Highest tier of the ziggurat so far, Samyazaz corrected himself. There was still a lot of room for improvement. Three men in loincloths stood on the west edge of the platform, staring at the afternoon sky. Samyazaz took a whip from his belt and cracked it in the air, startling them.
“I’m not paying you to lollygag!” he shouted. He hoped the slaves appreciated his sense of humor.
“Sorry, o mighty one,” said the tallest slave, bowing low. “Sorry, great eminence,” he repeated, this time to Ut-Naparash. “It is only…a storm is coming.”
Samyazaz looked west. The slave was right. It was big and green and formed of hulking thunderheads that seemed to seethe and simmer. It was coming closer. There was something ominous about it.
“Bah!” said Samyazaz. “It’s just the storm god Ishkur, mounted upon his giant fire-breathing bull.”
The slaves looked uncomfortable. For that matter, Ut-Naparash looked uncomfortable. Maybe Samyazaz had gotten the wrong religion? Maybe it being the storm god Ishkur mounted upon his giant fire-breathing bull was really bad?
Or maybe it was something entirely different. You never knew with humans, thought Samyazaz.
But slowly, grudgingly, the slaves got back to work. They feared him. Of course they did. Even Ut-Naparash feared him. He was Samyazaz, the Bringer of Forbidden Knowledge. Not that that was so hard when “copper and tin go together to make bronze” is Forbidden Knowledge. Heck, eighty years ago the king’s daughter had been sad because her lips weren’t rosy enough, and fellow forbidden-knowledge-bringer Gadiriel had suggested she crush some red rocks into a pigment and then paint it on herself, and people were still talking about this and worrying it would lead to everyone turning into sex-crazed maniacs.
The first rumble of thunder was heard from the approaching storm to the west, and Samyazaz saw the tall slave reach for his other great invention. The man gulped down half a pint of beer for courage. Samyazaz loved beer. He’d founded the first brewery here himself, and it never ceased to interest him how people who were scared and confrontational after a sip would be friendly and easy to manipulate after they finished the pot. Beer was the future. Not as much the future as ziggurats. But still the future.
“Pardon me, wise one,” said Ut-Naparash, “but perhaps we should go back down to the city, lest we be caught up here when the storm arrives?”
The thing with humans, Samyazaz thought, was that as fragile as they were, they always thought they were even more fragile than that. It was kind of sad.
“Put up a canopy,” he ordered the slaves. Then, to Ut-Naparash, “Our tower is already as high as the clouds. Let us enjoy the fruits of our labor, and see the Storm God face to face, so we may boast to him of our might.”
Again with the uncomfortable looks from Ut-Naparash and the slaves. He hoped they would get around to inventing writing soon, so he could read a book about Sumerian religion and figure out what it was he was missing. Until then he would have to do things the hard way. “Do it for the mighty one,” he said, speaking the words of power that his sort had bred deep into these people’s unconscious.
Compelled by the invocation, the slaves set up the canopy. Samyazaz wandered to the west edge of the platform. The storm was very, very close now. It swept over the empty flood plain like a wave over a beach. Two stupendous bolts of lightning struck the ground just outside the city wall, then…stopped.
Everything had stopped. Samyazaz saw the slaves bent over, placing a pole for the canopy, but they neither tied it in nor stood up. Ut-Naparash had taken a pot of beer, and Samyazaz could see the golden liquid falling from the pot to the priest’s waiting lips, but the drops hung motionless in mid-air. In the city below him, a hundred merchants were frozen in various steps of peddling their wares. Samyazaz moved one of his giant arms back and forth. Okay. He could move. It was just everyone else who was frozen. This was really bad.
The two lightning bolts gradually resolved themselves into two gigantic human forms, spanning the distance from the bottom of the clouds to the flood plain below, each taller than the ziggurat.
“Hello, Samyazaz,” said the Archangel Michael.
“Hello, Samyazaz,” said the Archangel Gabriel.
“Frick,” said Samyazaz.
“We have left you to your games long enough,” said Michael. “The war is not going well. It is time for you to come home and join in the great battle.”
“No. Nope. No way,” said Samyazaz. “Things are going really well here. I’ve got a wife and kids. Twenty wives, actually, fifty kids. No way I’m going back there. Absolutely not.”
“The war is not going well,” Michael repeated.
“You think I don’t know that? I’ve been watching the sky. I’ve seen the signs.”
“Camael is dead. Haniel is dead. Raphael is dead. Only Zadkiel and the two of us remain.”
“What about Metatron?”
“Too holy to leave his whirlwind.”
“Too holy to do anything, really.”
“Off somewhere,” said Michael.
“Hard to locate,” said Gabriel.
“He doesn’t count,” said Michael.
“He definitely doesn’t count,” said Gabriel.
“But…what are you guys doing? Sataniel only took a third of the angels with him to the inner core. Even if that Thamiel guy was able to turn every single one of them against God, you still outnumber him two to one.”
Gabriel coughed awkwardly. “He would use…strategems. He would say ‘I am going to attack you from the north,’ and then attack us from the south. It was unfair.”
“And then when we finally figured out what he was doing,” added Michael, “He would say ‘I am going to attack you from the north,’ and then actually attack us from the north. It was very unfair.”
“And,” Gabriel said, “When we ordered some of the lesser angels to study these strategems so we could apply them, the angels would lose their glow and purity. They would no longer be able to sing the songs of praise in the right key. We would have to expel them from Heaven, for their own good.”
“And then,” said Michael, “they would fight on Thamiel’s side.”
“It was very bad,” said Gabriel.
“So,” said Samyazaz, “wait for everyone who died to recoalesce, and don’t be so naive the next time.”
“It is worse than that,” said Michael. “Thamiel wields a two-pointed weapon. Everyone slain by it dies the true death.”
“Exactly like humans.”
“It gets worse,” said Michael. “I myself slew Sataniel. Thamiel raised his two-pointed weapon over the spot, and Sataniel did not recoalesce as himself. Instead his spirit fragmented into many monsters. Camael and his choir were not able to stand against them.”
“They have taken over the place of meeting,” said Gabriel. “We must counterattack with everything we have. You will join us, Samyazaz.”
“No,” said Samyazaz. “I won’t.”
The thunder rumbled menacingly.
“Why me? I’m not the only angel who came to Earth.”
“You are one of the leaders. The others respect you.”
“Go find Gadiriel. She’s always up for doing crazy stuff.”
“Gadiriel has adopted various quaint human customs, like being female.”
The thunder rumbled menacingly again.
“We will bring Gadiriel. We will also bring you.”
“You don’t need me. There are a hundred myriads of angels. I’m not going to be any use to anybody.”
“You understand strategems. Like Thamiel. Yet you have not lost your power, or turned to his service. This is interesting. Perhaps it is because you learned from humans, whom you dominate, rather than from equals, whom you fear. You understand lying. Trickery. Deceit. We archangels have more mental resilience to these than the ordinary choirs, but we still have not mastered them. Without masters of such on our side, Thamiel can play us like a harp.”
“Well, uh, if you have any tactical questions, you’re welcome to stop around and run them by me. I’ll be right here, on top of the giant ziggurat, can’t miss me.”
“You will come with us.”
“Are like a child’s sand castles in the eyes of the Lord.”
“I like ziggurats! You know, humans are different from angels, in that they have this weird long thing here” – Samyazaz pointed at his crotch – “and I felt bad about not having one of those. But if I build big enough ziggurats, then I feel better about myself!”
“You will come with us.”
“No. I’m not going to let myself get pricked by some two-headed creep with a freaky underworld weapon that makes you die the true death. Go bother Gadiriel.”
“You will come with us. Now.”
“Would either of you care for a pot of beer? I find it lubricates interactions like this very nicely.”
“You will – ”
Something was burrowing up out of the flood plain, like a mole or a beetle. It kicked up mud in all directions as it rose, then finally broke the surface. Something oily and foul buzzed like a bee halfway between Samyazaz and the great angelic apparitions.
“Well,” said Thamiel. “How far you’ve both fallen.”
Michael pulled his sword of fire from its scabbard. A moment later, Gabriel did the same.
“Begone, Thamiel. This is none of your business.”
“Oh, it’s my business. Good lie, though. I didn’t think you had it in you. You’re learning fast.”
“You are an abomination before the Most High.”
“And I’m winning.” He held up the bident. “Run away, cowards.”
For just a moment, Michael and Gabriel made as if to charge. But then the lightning bolts struck home, the thunder crashed in a great resounding peal, and time started again.
“Wise one!” asked Ut-Naparash. “Are you well? You seem…” Suddenly his face blanched in horror.
Thamiel floated leisurely to the ziggurat platform and landed in the center. The slaves threw themselves off the sides in horror and loathing, and there was a sickening cracking sound as their bodies hit the tier beneath. Ut-Naparash started making the complex ritual movements of the Greater Prayer to Enlil.
“Go away,” said Thamiel, and flicked a finger at Ut-Naparash. The priest’s eyeballs exploded in showers of blood, and he fell convulsing to the ground.
“Master,” said Samyazaz, kneeling. He wasn’t scared of Michael and Gabriel, big though they were, but this was something on an entirely different level.
“Master, is it?” asked Thamiel. “Because a moment ago, you were calling me a ‘two-headed creep’.”
“Master!” said Samyazaz, desperately. “I didn’t mean it. I will make amends! I will…”
“Nice ziggurat you’ve got here,” said Thamiel. “Shame if something were to happen to it.”
He gave a lazy flick of his bident, and the entire structure collapsed in on itself, killing everyone, slaves, porters, supervisors, Ut-Naparash, the entire construction crew, a hundred years of work reduced to smoking rubble in an instant.
It was only a minor death, as deaths went. A purposeless accident of falling rocks and rubbles. Samyazaz recoalesced within a few minutes. Thamiel was gone now. It was just him and the remains of his ziggurat. He wasn’t too proud to cry, just one tear. Then he sighed, brushed himself off, and got up.
He had always prided himself on his resilience. Well, what was a hundred years, to one such as him? Michael and Gabriel wouldn’t dare bother him again. Thamiel had punished him sufficiently. Now there were just the humans. Beautiful, wonderful humans, so easy to bend to his will. He would whisper to the king, he would awe the priests, he would rebuild the ziggurat twice as big as before. In a way, it had been a blessing in disguise. He hadn’t been ambitious enough with this ziggurat. If he started from scratch, built the base on a sturdier foundation…
He grabbed a passing slave. “Get me a palanquin, man. Can’t you see there’s been a disaster here? I need to speak to the King.”
The slave looked hopelessly confused.
“Get me a palanquin, I said! Do it for the mighty one!”
The slave babbled something in response, but Samyazaz couldn’t make out a word he was saying.
Somewhere, far below, he thought he could hear Thamiel’s laughter.
Okay. This was worse than he thought. He began mentally pushing back his ziggurat timetable. Not that he couldn’t make it work. He could definitely make it work. The timetable just needed to be amended. Some way to break through the communication barrier, some way to deal with the king and all of these recalcitrant humans, some way to deal with Thamiel, some way…
He pushed the slave aside and headed back in the direction of his brewery. He could definitely use some beer right now.
Gulf of Mexico
And then there were two.
The sky had once been full of clouds. Big clouds, little clouds, dark clouds, bright clouds. Clouds sculpted into great gleaming palaces of alabaster, clouds carved into fortresses red with the light of sunset. Clouds linked by rainbow bridges, clouds walled with icy ramparts, clouds lit by pillars of lightning, great frigates of cloud that sailed the jet stream packed with legions of angels going off to war.
Now most of the old clouds were gone, taken over by Thamiel and his forces, or abandoned as their celestial inhabitants sought more defensible positions. The meeting place had fallen. The long line of derechos that Michael had set up as a bulwark had fallen. The typhoon where Raphael had guarded the Central Pacific had been scattered. Even Zadkiel’s howling blizzard had been reduced to a few flurries.
Gabriel had tried to save them. He had been there at Raphael’s side when Thamiel had pierced the archangel with his bident and slain him in battle. He had seen Michael kill Thamiel in single combat, only for the demon to recoalesce and stab the victor in the back. He had fled with the others to Zadkiel’s circumpolar redoubt, which had held on for seven years of constant battle before it was betrayed by a stray sunbeam. Now he was alone. The last of the archangels, he thought to himself.
Except for the one who didn’t count.
This storm, Gabriel had noticed on his way in, was poorly developed. No minarets. No ramparts. Just a big hurricane with occasional objects strewn about it. There was a big hexagon on one side. Who needed a hexagon that big? A couple of furrows making strange patterns. Lumps. Poorly done, no defenses, just the sort of shoddy work he had expected. It would, he thought, need some improvement.
There was some sort of shield surrounding the central eye. Good. A rudimentary defense mechanism. That could be built upon. For now, though, it was in his way.
“Let me in,” he shouted, banging his flaming sword on the invisible surface. No response. He hadn’t expected polite requests to work. “Let me in, or I will burn this place until no shred of cloud is left.”
The invisible wall parted, and Gabriel strode into the eye of the storm, the inner sanctum. Its lord was sitting in mid-air, tracing with his finger a series of glowing paths upon a fiendishly complex diagram. Gabriel blew the diagram away with a gust of wind.
“I need this storm,” he told Uriel, after the pleasantries had been completed, which with Uriel meant after about two seconds. “Angelkind needs this storm.”
“You can’t have it,” said Uriel. Of course not. Of course Uriel wouldn’t be cooperative. Spend the last forty years of the war sitting around doing nothing, and now he was sitting on the last usable defensive bastion in the entire sky, and of course he wouldn’t help.
“Everyone else is dead. We made a last stand at Zadkiel’s domain near the pole. Myself, Zadkiel, angels from all ten choirs, and our human and nephilim allies. Everyone except you. We held out for seven years before the ice wall cracked. Zadkiel is dead. Only a few of us escaped. This is the last intact bastion. We need your storm.”
“I do not think it would help you very much. You would probably just die here.”
“Better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s…um…better to die on one’s feet!”
“You cannot have this storm. I am using it.”
“Using it? For what? What use are you or anything you have ever done? For decades now we have fought Thamiel, and you have been of no use. When Heaven was fair and free, and we spent the aeons singing songs of praise, you would always get distracted and forget your part. You were of no use.”
“I was analyzing the harmonic structure. It was very interesting.”
“Whenever we sat in council, you would hide under your throne whenever someone asked you to talk,” Gabriel interrupted. “And then, when the war came, you did the same thing you always did., You hid under a rock and kept playing with your shapes and your equations. Haniel gave his life. You did nothing. Camael gave his life. You did not care. Raphael gave his life. You sat around useless. Michael gave his life. You kept daydreaming. Zadkiel gave his life. And you? Always building towers, or writing proofs, or coming up with those codes of yours. We went out of our way to try to teach you proper behavior – ”
“You were very mean to me.”
“We were not mean enough! If we had been less tolerant, maybe you would have behaved as an archangel should. Maybe you would have joined in the fight, and even now we would be advancing against Thamiel and his forces. Maybe you could have died in place of Michael! Instead you sit here, playing games. The game is over now, Uriel. It is time to give this bastion to those who can use it.”
“I am using it.
“I have discovered many interesting things.”
“Ten years ago,” said Gabriel, “Michael and I hunted down Samyazaz, who had fled to Earth to escape the war. He was a coward. Yet I prefer him to you, for at least he felt ashamed. It was Sataniel who started this war, yet him also I prefer to you, for he died fighting, in fire and glory, as an angel should. And you? You have ‘discovered many interesting things’. I will take this bastion, and we will make a final stand here, and perhaps we will all die, but about your death I will feel no guilt.”
“Gabriel,” said Uriel. “Look at the sun.”
Gabriel looked. “What am I looking for?”
“Does it seem different to you at all?”
Gabriel squinted. “Different how?”
“Um. Usually it looks like an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying ‘holy holy holy is the Lord God almighty,’ right?”
“And now, do you see something more like, say, a round disk of fire somewhat like a guinea?”
Gabriel squinted. An odd expression crossed his face. “What are you saying?”
“I have discovered many interesting things, Gabriel. The sun is only the beginning.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have determined the basic structure of the world. The way God becomes finite. The machinery that transmutes divinity into finitude is based on a series of ten sapphires. They are not exactly located within space-time, but you can think of them as sort of coextensive with the outside of the crystal sphere surrounding the world.”
Gabriel noticed that, as usual, the only time Uriel got any emotion in his voice, the only time he would even make eye contact, was when he was talking about something totally irrelevant and uninteresting.
“This is the Tree of Life. It converts pure structure into material reality through a series of four levels. There is a bottleneck in the last one which connects the sapphire called Yesod to the one called Malkuth. By filtering this bottleneck, I can control the flow of the divine light of higher spheres from entering the physical world.”
“The divine light sustains existence. Any impediment to its radiance would make the universe crumble into dust.”
“No. I can shift the world into a different stable equilibrium which can run indefinitely on an internal mechanism independent of the divine light.”
“With math. I am changing the world into math.”
The horror struck Gabriel at that moment. He – and Zadkiel, Michael, all the others – had dismissed Uriel as an idiot, too obsessed with his charts and correspondences to participate in the governance of Heaven, an empty mind turned in on itself in a tragic waste of an archangelic seat. They had been blind. He wasn’t just an idiot, he was a maniac. Samyazaz had a ziggurat obsession, he remembered that, but never in Samyazaz’s most grandiose dreams would he have tried to turn the whole world into a ziggurat. His thoughts turned to Thamiel. No one knew entirely what he was, save that he was obsessed with evil, and was trying to turn the whole world into evil. And now Uriel –
“You cannot change the world into math. That does not even make sense.”
“I can,” said Uriel. “I will show you.”
He motioned with his hand, and a series of objects and creatures flew up from the world below him. Uriel dismissed in turn a giant grouper, a giraffe, and a mountain, until he was left with a huge redwood tree, its uprooted bottom looking strangely naked in the storm-tossed air.
Uriel plucked a geometer’s compass out of the storm. He crouched above the tree. The clouds behind him parted to reveal the setting sun, and for a second he was framed in the golden light, ancient in aspect, terrible in majesty, tracing circles only he could see. A moment of intense concentration and it was done.
“It looks the same,” said Gabriel.
“It is and is not,” said Uriel. “It is as shady and green as it was before. It will grow and give seeds. But it does not partake of the divine light. It is made of math. It is built of atoms of different varieties, which I have charted here.” He pointed to one of the various tables sketched out in black fire upon the storm wall. “Its branches grow in a very particular fractal pattern, as per information which I have encoded inside it in a massively parallel base four system.”
“Only God can make a tree,” said Gabriel angrily.
“I am not creating. I am converting. I have written a script which is gradually crawling the universe at the level of Yetzirah, converting all divine objects into their mathematical equivalents. Simultaneously I am gradually raising a metaphysical dam across the path from Yesod to Malkuth. By the time the world is fully insulated from the divine light, it will be running entirely on mathematics and able to maintain itself. A small amount of divine light can be deliberately allowed to enter in order to breath fire into the equations. The rest will remain in the upper spheres, intact.”
“What about us? Will we also be made of math?”
“Angels are too closely linked to the divine light to survive such a transition.”
“So – ”
“So Thamiel and his demons will essentially run out of charge and dry up. A vestigial portion will remain as metaphor, but they will be unable to directly affect the world. The war will be over.”
“What about us?”
Gabriel grabbed the other archangel. “What about us, Uriel?”
Uriel pushed him away. “Since the creation of the universe, you have shown me no kindness. When we sung songs of praise, you would mock my voice. When the war began, you ignored me, saying I was too weak and foolish to be of any help. I tried to tell you. Tried to tell you that the equations and correspondences held more of God than all of your songs and swords and shields combined. But you would not listen. You called me a fool. Now you come here, demanding I give up my home to you. Yes. You too will become metaphor. So be it. What were the words you used? I will feel no guilt.”
Gabriel materialized a flaming sword. “I hoped I would not need to do this,” he said.
He looked at Uriel. Strange Uriel, with his empty golden eyes, always seeming like they were staring into some other space. All the others he had been able to fathom. Camael could be too harsh; Zadkiel too soft, Michael too rash, but they were all fundamentally his type of people. Uriel had been different. From the very start, he had known that Uriel could never be a part of their works, never a leader, never even a follower.
Had he always known it would come to this? No, in the days before Thamiel, the good days, none of them would ever have imagined hurting another angel. Now things were different. Everything had grown horrible. In a way, this was the worst. Aside from the goodness of God, the one constant was that Uriel would be irrelevant, always off in the corner staring into space working on some weird problem. Now Uriel’s very irrelevancy had been twisted into some kind of horrible, evil version of itself.
But one welcome truth had not changed: Uriel was weak. Very, very weak. Less skilled in combat even than Raphael. It was time to end this.
“Gabriel,” said Uriel. “I am channeling the divine light. Do you know what that means? It means I control it. All of it. Go away, Gabriel. Don’t make me hurt you.”
Uriel? Hurt anybody? Gabriel lunged forward, and…
Uriel flared. Ten streams of light flowed into him, light in the seven earthly colors and the three colors you only see in Heaven. The light rushed from his fingertips, and Gabriel’s flaming sword evaporated into steam in his hands. He looked at Uriel again, and there was something changed about his aspect, something terrifying, something beyond even the might of an archangel.
“GO AWAY, GABRIEL.”
Gabriel clasped his hands together, said a brief prayer. His flaming sword rekindled. His eyes shone with silver fire. The storm parted around him, beautiful jeweled armor grew upon him like a flower unfolding on a branch.
“GO AWAY. I DO NOT WANT TO HURT YOU. BUT I CAN.”
“No,” said Gabriel. “I am making a final stand. Whether against Thamiel, or against you, I do not know. I do not care. But my existence is already past the time appointed by destiny, and all my friends are dead, and I will fight.”
“GO FIGHT THAMIEL.”
“No. I do not like Thamiel. But I think I like you less.”
His flaming sword was still pointing directly at Uriel’s neck.
“GO AWAY,” Uriel repeated. “OR I WILL TURN YOU INTO NUMBERS.”
The sword didn’t move.
“I CAN DO IT, YOU KNOW,” said Uriel. “I WILL TURN YOU INTO NUMBERS. WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE A SIX, GABRIEL? I CAN MAKE YOU A SIX. OR AN ELEVEN. OR A FIFTEEN. YOU WILL SPEND ETERNITY BETWEEN FOURTEEN AND SIXTEEN. THIS IS A THREAT. GO AWAY.”
With a final cry of rage, Gabriel turned to go. But as he flew off, he shouted back. “You’ll die too! You’re also made of divine light! You’ll die too!”
When Gabriel was out of sight, Uriel sat back down and started shaking. He shook and shook and hugged himself and looked at the glowing diagrams to calm himself down. They were so pretty. Not perfect yet, far from perfect, but elegant. All the roar and storm of the divine fire calmed down, channeled into crystal-clear lifeless math. The chaos removed. The weeds pruned. Thamiel neutered. The world safe and orderly. Soon the world would be all nice and orderly and it would be math and it would be safe.
“I KNOW,” Uriel said to himself, after Gabriel was gone. Then he returned to his calculations, humming softly to himself.