And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the possible values of x and f(x).
July 29, 2001
Gulf Of Mexico
Winter ended. Summer passed. Another and another. Uriel taught Sohu for eight more years after the eclipse, eight years without her aging a day.
In 1993, Sohu used Kefitzat Haderech to join her family in Colorado for Hanukkah. Her father said nothing when she came unannounced, striking the table deep in her father’s bunker in the form of a lightning bolt, just smiled, and said she was welcome, and that he hoped this meant she would be visiting more often.
In 1994, when Sohu was twelve years old by the calendar, Uriel suggested she get a Bat Mitzvah. “I’m not Jewish and I never age!” Sohu protested. “WHAT ARE YOU?” asked Uriel. “Half Hopi Indian, a quarter Hindu, and a quarter comet,” she said. “WHAT DO HALF-HOPI QUARTER-HINDU QUARTER-COMET PEOPLE DO WHEN THEY TURN TWELVE?” asked Uriel. “Order in pizza,” said Sohu. So they did.
In 1995, Sohu mastered Turkish, just to make Uriel happy, and Proto-Turkic to boot. Then she learned Aramaic, so she could tease him about a language he couldn’t understand.
In 1996, Uriel declared that Sohu understood Yetzirah sufficiently to attempt contact with the world above it, Briah. The first time Sohu touched Briah, she accidentally made all the rivers in the world run in reverse. “AT LEAST YOU ARE CONSISTENT,” Uriel told her.
In 1997, Sohu declared that she was going to learn to cook. She brought a stove, an oven, and several cabinets full of ingredients back with her to the hurricane and very gradually progressed from awful to terrible to at-least-better-than-manna. She made Uriel try some of her concoctions. He always said they were VERY GOOD, but when pressed he admitted he didn’t have a sense of taste and was calculating in his head how the gustatory-receptor binding profiles would work.
In 1998, Sohu stayed in the hurricane almost full-time, trying to get a sufficient grasp of the archetypes and correspondences that she could touch Briah without messing it up. The going was difficult, and the occasional successes almost inevitably marked by failures that followed soon afterwards.
In 1999, Sohu stood with her stepmother, her brother and her two sisters in Colorado Springs while her father’s army went off to war. Her heart soared at the glory of the moment, and she wondered if it had been like this long ago, in the days Uriel used to speak of when the heavenly hosts would march forth against Thamiel. She searched the higher worlds for omens of their defeat or victory, but all she managed to do was make all of the rivers run in reverse again. “FROM NOW ON, NO MORE GOING TO BRIAH UNTIL I TELL YOU TO,” Uriel warned.
in 2000, Sohu interrupted her meditations to attend her stepmother’s funeral. Her father looked older. Much older. She had the strangest feeling that she had seen him like that once before, a long time ago, but she couldn’t quite place the memory.
In 2001, she was sitting on her cloud, studying Torah, when Uriel suddenly asked her “DO YOU FEEL IT?”
“YOU TELL ME.”
She stepped into Yetzirah, examined the archetypes. Looked out through the dreamworld, saw all the dreams in place.
She needed a higher vantage. She very gingerly took another step up, into Briah, the place that even Yetzirah was a metaphor for. There were no archetypes in Briah, only wellsprings of creative energy that might eventually become archetypes. Something about a mem. A samech. A lamed. Mem connected Hod to Netzach; Samech connected Hod to Tiferet. Lamed connected Hod to Yesod. Hod was splendor, Hod was energy channeled for a purpose. Mem. Samech. Lamed. M-S-L. Three different aspects of splendid, directed energy.
A roaring sound brought her back to Assiah. Uriel reached out and caught the missile bearing down on them, pinched the flame coming out of its rear with his fingers.
“Oh,” said Sohu. Then “No.”
“Don’t do it.”
“Anything! Don’t do whatever the missile is about! Either it’s a trap from Thamiel, or it’s a well-intentioned offer that will blow up in your face. You remember what Father told you. You are not good at this sort of thing. Just send them a polite ‘thanks but no thanks’. You don’t want – ”
Sohu shut up. Uriel was looking at the message a little too long. She couldn’t get a good read on him. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
“IT’S FOR YOU,” he said, and set the rocket down on her little cloud. The cloud strained under its weight, but didn’t break.
Sohu, said the message on the side of the missile. It was her sister Nathanda’s handwriting, blocky and forceful. Father is dead. Other King killed him. Can explain later. We need you. Come home.
No, thought Sohu.
Father did a lot of things. He fought demons, he saved cities, he found the Explicit Name, he rebuilt nations. But he didn’t die. It wasn’t in his nature. He wasn’t immortal. He was just too busy. Dying wasn’t convenient to his plans. He was the Comet King. If something wasn’t convenient to his plans, it didn’t happen. Heaven and Earth might fall away, the mountains could crumble, but the Comet King’s plans proceeding in an orderly fashion, that was fixed.
Father couldn’t be dead. It was a trap. Thamiel or someone. Her family’s enemies. The Untied States government. Someone was faking the death of the Comet King. Right?
She remembered their last conversation. He was grim, yes, he’d lost some of his hair, there was an edge to his voice, but…dead? It didn’t make sense. Other people died, and the Comet King mourned or avenged them. The Comet King didn’t die. Father didn’t die. It was…it was like Uriel dying. The world wouldn’t allow it.
“Uriel,” she said, her throat clenching up, “get me TV, or radio, some kind of news source.”
The angel created ex nihilo a large copper rod, suspended it in the air, then performed some sort of magic around it that turned it into a radio receiver.
“…still recovering from the Battle of Never Summer,” said a crisp male voice in Mid-Atlantic English. “The Comet King’s body was retrieved during the fighting by his daughter Jinxiang and is now lying in state in Colorado Springs. The Other King seems to have been severely wounded as well, and his army has halted their advance into the Rockies. We turn now to…”
Sohu sent a bolt of lightning at the copper rod, and it tarnished into a beautiful verdant green, then crumbled into dust and fell into the sea below.
A second later, Sohu followed.
She dove headfirst off the cloud, shouting incantations, plunging faster and faster until she glowed like a meteor. She struck the ocean, but didn’t stop, shot all the way into the furthest depths of the sea. She came to rest in front of a monster of the deep, one of those horrible fish that are all mouth and jaws. She punched it in the nose.
“Don’t just float there!” she said. “Defend yourself!”
The anglerfish looked at her, confused. This situation wasn’t in its behavioral repertoire.
Sohu punched it again with her left hand, the hand on which the Comet King had placed his sign long ago, his promise to come to her aid if she were ever injured.
The anglerfish finally came to a decision and bit her left hand off.
Sohu floated beneath the sea for one second, then two seconds, then three seconds. Nothing happened. She watched in the anglerfish’s ghostly half-light as a stream of blood leaked into the water around her. No sudden flare of power. No one appearing by lightning bolt to defend her. She couldn’t believe it. She kept waiting. Five seconds. Ten seconds. Twenty. The anglerfish munched on the hand contentedly, not really sure what had provoked this stroke of luck but content to enjoy it.
She shot up from the depths, into the light zone, then into open air, then back to the hurricane.
“YOUR ARM IS BLEEDING,” said Uriel. “I CAN FIX…”
“He’s dead,” said Sohu, as she traced letters in the air, causing the bleeding limb to cauterize and heal over into a stump. “He’s really, really dead. I don’t…he can’t…he made me promise I wouldn’t die before him, but I never thought…never thought that…”
“THERE.” said Uriel. Then he repeated: “THERE.”
“Where?” asked Sohu.
“I AM NOT SURE. I AM TOLD THIS IS A WAY TO CONSOLE PEOPLE.”
“What?” she asked. Then “Why? Uriel, how could this happen?”
“I AM NOT SURE. THE OTHER KING CONCERNS ME.”
“I CANNOT GET A GOOD READ ON HIM.”
“You’re practically omniscient! How can you just…not be able to read a whole king?”
“I DO NOT KNOW.”
“God. This is so awful. I’ve got to go help them.”
“YOU MUST STAY HERE.”
“What – no! My family needs me! They’re going to be so – Father needs me. If he were here, he would want me to help.”
“HE WOULD WANT YOU TO STAY HERE AND DEFEND THE MACHINERY OF HEAVEN.”
“He would want me to help my family. And Colorado. That’s what he cared about.”
“HE CARED ABOUT THE WORLD.”
“That’s not true. That was…an act he put on. He loved his family and his people more than anything.”
“I DO NOT BELIEVE YOU ARE RIGHT.”
“When I was little, every night, no matter how bad things were, he’d come and spend time with me and my brother and my sisters. He’d read us stories, or discuss the events of the day with us. He’d come to us with his problems, and ask us how we’d solve them, and then…then…he’d tell us why it wouldn’t work, and Nathanda would always want to negotiate, and Caelius would always want to start some complicated plot, and Jinxiang would always want to fight, and I was too little to even say anything but he’d always just smile at me and say ‘Sohu is right, I should stay very quiet and wait for things to develop further, good job Sohu!’ and kiss me on the cheek, and I would laugh, and everybody would laugh.” Sohu started crying.
“I ALSO HAVE A STORY,” said Uriel. “I WANTED TO KNOW WHY HE SENT YOU TO ME. I ASCENDED TO BRIAH AND READ THE OMENS. HE SENT YOU BECAUSE HE THOUGHT THERE WOULD NEED TO BE SOMEBODY TO MAINTAIN THE UNIVERSE IF HE HAD TO KILL ME. HE THOUGHT I WOULD BE ANGRY IF I KNEW THIS. BUT IT DOES NOT BOTHER ME. THERE NEEDS TO BE SOMEONE BESIDES ME. HE WAS RIGHT. THE COMET KING CARED ABOUT THE WORLD. IT WAS ALWAYS FIRST.”
“That…that was who he was. He always wanted what was best for everybody. That was all he ever did. Try to help people.” Sohu started crying harder. “Father…was so sad for his last few years. I always thought…he’d get over it, that he’d meet someone else, that he’d feel happy again. After everything he did, Father deserved to die happy. But he must have…been…so miserable. Uriel, how do you bear it?”
“The world…is so sad? Mother…gone. Now Father is gone. Thamiel always wins in the end. And the Machinery is going to fail soon, and Father isn’t around to help, and how do you bear it?”
“I know one of your books on humans probably says that humor is supposed to cheer us up when we’re sad, but please, not now, I don’t think I could…”
“A spider who?”
“A SPIDER BEING BROKEN, OR BECAUSE OF BEING BROKEN, RISE UP AND BUILD ANEW.”
In spite of herself, the corners of Sohu’s mouth almost started to smile. “That was actually not completely awful,” she said.
“And you’re right. I’ve got to stay strong.” She briefly disappeared into her cottage, started taking out her books and possessions, loading them into the flying kayak.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“Getting ready. People need me.”
“I NEED YOU.”
“You’re…you’re Uriel. You don’t need anything.”
“I LIKE YOU.”
“I like you too.”
“YOU ARE MY FRIEND.”
“I’m sorry I have to go. But Father’s dead. Nathanda says they need me. You’ve never had a family. You wouldn’t understand.”
“YOU ARE MY FAMILY.”
“IN THE OLDEN DAYS, THE ANGEL SAMYAZAZ AND HIS FOLLOWERS FLED HEAVEN TO ESTABLISH A KINGDOM ON EARTH, WHERE THEY LAY WITH THE DAUGHTERS OF MEN. I DID NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THE DAUGHTERS OF MEN WERE SO INTERESTING. UM. BUT. UM. YOU ARE VERY INTERESTING.”
“Um,” said Sohu.
“YOU ARE NICE AND YOU ARE SMART AND YOU HELP ME FEEL BETTER WHEN THINGS ARE BAD AND WHEN YOU ARE AROUND EVEN THAMIEL DOES NOT BOTHER ME AS MUCH. I DO NOT WANT YOU TO GO.”
“I’m sorry, Uriel. I like you too. And I’ll come to visit often. Now that I know Kefitzat Haderech it won’t be hard. I can come visit sometimes and you can keep teaching me.”
“CELESTIAL KABBALAH IS NOT SOMETHING YOU CAN LEARN PART-TIME.”
“You told me I’d never learn it in a human lifetime anyway. What’s the difference?”
“RABBI TARFON SAID: IT IS NOT TO YOU TO COMPLETE THE WORK, BUT NEITHER ARE YOU FREE TO DESIST FROM IT.”
“Well, Rabbi Tarfon didn’t have a flying kayak. I’m free to go wherever I want.”
“Father needs me, Uriel.”
“PLEASE STAY. JUST FOR ONE MORE DAY.”
“What difference does one more day make?”
“MANY THINGS CAN HAPPEN IN A DAY.”
Uriel was, as usual, unreadable.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll stay a day. One more day.”
Uriel was barely listening as he manipulated the strings of letters around him. Something was up, that was for sure.
She sighed and went back to her cottage to cry.