Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
I WAS saved from answering that impossible question by an interruption - and was I glad! I suppose every man has doubts at times about God's justice. I admit that I had been much troubled lately and had been forced to remind myself again and again that God's ways are not man's ways, and that I could not expect always to understand the purposes of the Lord.
But I could not speak my misgivings aloud, and least of all to the Lord's Ancient Adversary. It was especially upsetting that Satan chose at this moment to have the shape and the voice of my only friend.
Debating with the Devil is a mug's game at best.
The interruption was mundane: a telephone ringing. Accidental interruption? I don't think Satan tolerates `accidents'. As may be, I did not have to answer the question that I could not answer.
Katie said, 'Shall I get it, dear?'
A telephone handset appeared in Katie's hand. 'Lucifer's office, Rahab speaking. Repeat, please. I will inquire.' She looked at Jerry.
'I'll take it.' Jerry operated without a visible telephone instrument. 'Speaking. No. I said, no. No, damn it! Refer that to Mr Ashmedai. Let Me have the other call.' He muttered something about the impossibility of getting competent help, then said, 'Speaking. Yes, Sir!' Then He said nothing for quite a long time. At last He said, 'At once, Sir. Thank you.'
Jerry stood up. 'Please excuse Me, Alec; I have work to do. I can't say when I will be back. Try' to treat this waiting as a vacation. and My house is yours. Katie, take care of him. Sybil, keep him amused.' Jerry vanished.
`Will I keep him amused!' Sybil got up and stood in front of me, rubbed her hands together. Her western clothes faded out, leaving Sybil. She grinned.
Katie said mildly, 'Sybil, stop that. Grow more clothes at once or I'll send you home.'
'Spoilsport.' Sybil developed a skimpy bikini. 'I plan to make Saint Alec forget that Danish baggage.'
'What'll you bet, dear? I've been talking to Pat.'
'So? What did Pat say?'
'Margrethe can cook.'
Sybil looked disgusted. 'A girl spends fifty years on her back, studying hard. Along comes some slottie who can make chicken and dumplings. It's not fair.'
I decided to change the subject. 'Sybil, those tricks you do with clothes are fascinating. Are you a graduate witch now?'
Instead of answering me at once, Sybil glanced at Katie, who said to her: 'All over with, dear. Speak freely.'
'Okay. Saint Alec, I'm no witch. Witchcraft is poppycock. You know that verse in the Bible about not suffering witches to live?'
'Exodus twenty-two, eighteen.'
'That's the one. The Old Hebrew word translated there as "witch" actually means "poisoner". Not letting a poisoner continue to breathe strikes me as a good idea. But I wonder how many friendless old women have been hanged or burned as a result of a sloppy translation?'
(Could this really be true? What about the 'literal word of God' concept on which I had been reared? Of course the word 'witch' is English, not the original Hebrew... but the translators of the King James, version were sustained by God - that's why that version of the Bible [and only that one] can be taken literally. But - No! Sybil must be mistaken. The Good Lord would not let hundreds, thousands, of innocent people be tortured to death over a mistranslation He could so easily have corrected.)
'So you did not attend a Sabbat that night. What did you do?'
'Not what you think; Israfel and I aren't quite that chummy. Chums, yes; buddies, no.'
"Israfel"? I thought he was in Heaven.'
`That's his godfather. The trumpeter. This Israfel can't play a note. But he did ask me to tell you, if I ever got a chance, that he really isn't the pimple he pretended to be as "Roderick Lyman Culverson, Third".'
'I'm glad to hear that. As he certainly did a good job of portraying an unbearable young snot. I didn't see how a daughter of Katie and Jerry - or is it just of Katie? - could have such poor taste as to pick that boor as a pal. Not Israfel, of course, but the part he was playing.'
'Oh. Better fix that, too. Katie, what relation are we?'
'I don't think even Dr Darwin could find any genetic relationship, dear. But I am every bit as proud of you as. I would be were you my own daughter.'
'Thank you, Mom!'
'But we are all related,' I objected, 'through Mother Eve. Since Katie, wrinkles and all, was born while the Children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness, there are only about eighty begats from Eve to Katie. With your birthdate and simple arithmetic we could make a shrewd guess at how close your blood relationship is.'
'Oh, oh! Here we go again. Saint Alec, Mama Kate is descended from Eve; I am not. Different species. I'm an imp. An afrit, if you want to get technical.'
She again vanished her clothes and did a body transformation. 'See?'
I said, 'Say! Weren't you managing the desk at the Sans Souci Sheraton the evening I arrived in Hell?'
'I certainly was. And I'm flattered that you remember me, in my own shape.' She resumed her human appearance, plus the tiny bikini. 'I was there because I knew you by sight. Pop didn't want anything to go wrong.'
Katie stood up. 'Let's continue this dip before dinner'
'I'm busy seducing Saint Alec.'
'Dreamer. Continue it outdoors.'
Outside it was a lovely Texas late afternoon, with lengthening shadows. 'Katie, a straight answer, please. Is, Hell? Or is this Texas?'
'I withdraw the question.'
I must have let my annoyance show in my voice, for she turned and put a hand on my chest. 'Alec, I was not jesting. For many centuries Lucifer has maintained pieds-`a-terre here and there on earth. In each He had an established personality, a front. After Armageddon, when His Brother set Himself up as king of earth for the Millennium, He quit visiting earth. But some of these place's were home to Him, so He pinched them off and took them with, Him. You see?'
'I suppose I do. About as well as a cow understands calculus.'
'I don't understand the mechanism; it's on the God level. But those numerous changes you and Marga underwent during your persecution: How deep did each change go? Do you think the entire planet was involved each time?'
Reality tumbled in my mind in a fashion it had not-since the last of those 'changes'. 'Katie, I don't know! I was always too busy surviving. Wait a moment. Each change did cover the whole planet earth, and about a century of its history. Because I always checked the history and memorized as much as I could. Cultural. changes, too. The whole complex.'
'Each change stopped not far beyond the end of your nose, Alec, and no one but you - you two - was aware of any change. You didn't check history; you checked history books. At least this is the way Lucifer would have handled it, had He been arranging the deception.'
'Uh - Katie, do you realize how long it would take to revise, rewrite, and print an entire encyclopedia? That's what I usually consulted.'
`But Alec, you have already been told that time is never a problem on the God level. Or space. Whatever needed to deceive you was provided. But no more than that. That is the conservative principle in art at the God level. While I can't do it, not being at that level, I have seen a lot of it done. A skillful Artist in shapes and appearances does no more than necessary to create His effect.'
Rghab sat down on the edge of the pool, paddled her feet in the water. 'Come sit beside me. Consider the edge of the "big bang". What is there out beyond that limit where the red shift has the magnitude that means that the expansion of the universe equals the speed of light - what is beyond?'
I answered rather stiffly, 'Katie, your hypothetical question lacks meaning. I've kept up, more or less, with such silly notions as the "big bang" and the "expanding universe" because a preacher of the Gospel must keep track of such theories in order to be able to refute them. The two you mention imply an impossible length of time impossible because the world was created about six thousand years ago. "About" because the exact date of Creation is hard to calculate, and also because I am uncertain as to the present date. But around six thousand years not the billion years or so the big-bangers need.'
'Alec... your universe is about twenty-three billion years old.' '
I started to retort, closed my mouth. I will not flatly contradict my hostess.
She added, 'And your universe was created in four thousand and four BC.'
I stared at the water long enough for Sybil to surface and splash us.
'You've left me with nothing to say.'
'But notice carefully what I did say. I did not say that the world was created twenty-three billion years ago; I said that was its age. It was created old. Created with fossils in the ground and craters on the moon, all speaking of great age. Created that way by Yahweh, because it amused Him to do so. One of those scientists said, "God does not roll dice with the universe." Unfortunately not true. Yahweh rolls loaded dice with His universe... to deceive His creatures.'
'Why would He do that?'
'Lucifer says that it is because He is a poor Artist, the sort who is always changing his mind and scraping the canvas. And a practical joker. But I'm really not entitled to an opinion; I'm not at that level. And Lucifer is prejudiced where His Brother is concerned; I think that is obvious. You haven't remarked on the greatest wonder.'
'Maybe I missed it.'
'No, I think you were being polite. How an old whore happened to have opinions about cosmogony and teleology and eschatology and other long words of Greek derivation; that's the greatest wonder. Not?'
`Why, Rahab honey, I was just so busy counting your wrinkles that I wasn't lis'
This got me shoved into the water. I came up sputtering and spouting and found both women laughing at me. So I placed both hands on the edge of the pool with Katie captured inside the circle. She did not seem to mind being captive; she leaned against me like a cat. 'You were about to say?' I asked.
'Alec, to be able to read and write is as wonderful as sex. Or almost. You may not fully appreciate what a, blessing it is because you probably learned how as a baby and have been doing it casually ever since. But when I was a whore in Canaan almost four millennia ago, I did not know how to read and write. I learned by listening... to johns, to neighbors, to gossip in the market. But that's not a way to learn much, and even scribes and judges were ignorant then.
'I had been dead nearly three centuries before I learned to read and write, and when I did learn, I was taught by the ghost of a harlot from what later became the great Cretan civilization. Saint Alec, this may startle you but, An general throughout history, whores learned to read and write long before respectable women took up the dangerous practice. When I did learn, brother. For a while it crowded sex out of my life.'
She grinned up at me. 'Almost, anyhow. Presently I went back to a more healthy balance, reading and sex, in equal amounts.'
'I don't have the strength for that ratio.'
`Women are different. My best education started with the burning of the Library at Alexandria. Yahweh didn't want it, so Lucifer grabbed the ghosts of all those thousands of codices, took them to, Hell, regenerated them carefully - and Rahab had a picnic! And let me add: Lucifer has His eye on the Vatican Library, since it will be up for salvage soon. Instead of having to regenerate ghosts, in the case of the Vatican Library, Lucifer plans to pinch it off intact just before Time Stop, and take it unhurt to Hell. Won't that be grand?'
'Sounds as if it would be. The only thing about which I've ever envied the papists is their library. But... "regenerated ghosts"?'
'Slap my back.'
'Slap it. No, harder than that; I'm not a fragile little butterfly. Harder. That's more like it. What you just, slapped is a regenerated ghost.'
'Should be, I paid list price for the job. It was before Lucifer noticed me and made me a bird in a gilded cage, a pitiful sight to see. I understand that, if you are saved and go to Heaven, regeneration goes with salvation... but here you buy it on credit, then work your arse off to pay for it. That being exactly how I paid for it. Saint Alec, you didn't die, I know. A regenerated body is just like the one a person has before death, but better. No contagious diseases, no allergies, no old-age wrinkles - and "wrinkles" my foot! I wasn't wrinkled the day I died... or at least not much. How did you get me talking about wrinkles? We were discussing relativity and the expanding universe, high-type intellectual conversation.'
That night Sibil made a strong effort to get into my bed, an effort that Katie firmly thwarted - the went to bed with me herself. 'Pat said that you were not to be allowed to sleep alone.'
Pat thinks I'm sick. I'm not.'
'I won't argue it. And don't quiver your chin, dear; Mother Rahab will let you sleep.'
Sometime in the night I woke up sobbing, and Katie was there. She comforted me. I'm sure Pat told her about my nightmares. With Katie there to quiet me down I got back to sleep rather quickly.
It was a sweet Arcadian interlude... save for the absence of Margrethe. But Katie had me convinced that I owed it to Jerry (and to her) to be patient and not brood over my loss. So I did not, or not much, in the daytime, and, while night could be bad, even lonely nights are not too lonely with Mother Rahab to soothe one after waking up emotionally defenceless. She was always there except one night she had to be away. Sybil took that watch, carefully instructed by Katie, and carried it out the same way.
I discovered one amusing thing about Sybil. In sleep she slips back into her natural shape, imp or afrit, without knowing it. This makes her about six inches shorter and she has those cute little horns that were the first thing I had noticed about her, at the Sans Souci.
Daytimes we swam and sunbathed and rode horseback and picnicked out in the hills. In making this enclave Jerry had apparently pinched off many square miles; we appeared to be able to go as far as we liked in any direction.
Or perhaps I don't understand at all how such things are done.
Strike out 'perhaps' - I know as much about operations On the God level as a frog knows about Friday.
Jerry had been gone about a week when Rahab showed up at the breakfast table with my memoir manuscript. Saint Alec, Lucifer sent instructions that you are to bring up to date and keep it up to date.-
`All right. Will longhand do? Or, if there is a typewriter around, I guess I could hunt and peck.'
'You do it longhand; I'll do a smooth draft. I've done lots of secretarial work for Prince Lucifer.'
'Katie, sometimes you call Him Jerry, sometimes Lucifer, never Satan.'
'Alec, He prefers "Lucifer" but He answers to anything. "Jerry" and "Katie" were names invented for you and Marga -'
'And "Sybil",' Sybil amended.
'And "Sybil". Yes, Egret. Do you want your own name back now?'
'No, I think it's nice that Alec - and Marga - have names for us that no one else knows.'
`Just a minute,' I put in. 'The day I met you, all three of you responded to those names as if you had worn them all your lives.'
'Mom and I are pretty fast at extemporaneous drama,' Sybil-Egret said. 'They didn't know they were fire-worshipers until I slipped it into the conversation. And I didn't know I was a witch until Mom tipped me off. Israfel is pretty sharp, too. But he did have more time to think about his role.'
'So we were snookered in all directions. A couple of country cousins.'
'Alec,' Katie said to me earnestly, 'Lucifer always has reasons for what He does. He rarely explains. His intentions are malevolent only toward malicious people which you are not.'
.We three were sunbathing by the pool when Jerry returned suddenly. He said abruptly to me, not even stopping first to speak to Katie: 'Get your clothes on. We're leaving at once.
Katie bounced up, rushed in and got my clothes. The women had me dressed as fast as a fireman answering an alarm. Katie shoved my razor into my pocket, buttoned it. I announced, 'I'm ready!'
`Where's his manuscrip?'
Again Katie rushed in, out again fast. 'Here!'
In that brief time Jerry had grown twelve feet tall - and changed. He was still Jerry, but I now knew why Lucifer was known as the most beautiful of all the angels. 'So long!' he said. 'Rahab, I'll call you if I can.' He started to pick me up.
'Wait! Egret and I must kiss him good-bye!'
'Oh. Make it snappy!'
They did, ritual pecks only, given simultaneously. Jerry grabbed me, held me like a child, and we went straight up. I had a quick glimpse of Sans Souci, the Palace, and the Plaza, then smoke and flame from the Pit covered them. We went on out of this world.
How we traveled, how long we traveled, where we traveled I do not know. It was like that endless fall to Hell, but made much more agreeable by Jerry's arms. It reminded me of times when I was very young, two or three years old, when my father would sometimes pick me up after supper and hold me until I fell asleep.
I suppose I did sleep. After a long time I became alert by feeling Jerry sweeping in for a landing. He put me down, set me on my feet.
There was gravity here; I felt weight and 'down' again had meaning. But I do not think we were on a planet. We seemed to be on a platform or a porch of some immensely large building. I could not see it because we were right up against it. Elsewhere there was nothing to see, just an amorphous twilight.
Jerry said, 'Are you all right?'
'Yes. Yes, I think so.'
'Good. Listen carefully. I am about to take you in to see - no, for you to be seen by - an Entity who is to me, and to my brother your god Yahweh, as Yahweh is to you. Understand me?'
'Uh... maybe. I'm not sure.'
`A is to B as B is to C. To this Entity your lord god jehoyah is equivalent to a child building sand castles at a beach, then destroying them in childish tantrums. To Him, I am a child, too. I look up to Him as you look up to your triple deity - father, son, and holy ghost. I don't worshipe this Entity as God; He does not demand, does not expect, does not want, that sort of bootlicking. Yahweh may be the, only god who ever thought up that curious vice - at least I do not know of another planet or place in any universe where god-worship is practiced. But I am young and not much traveled.'
Jerry was watching me closely. He appeared to be troubled. 'Alec, maybe this analogy will explain it. When you were growing up, did you ever have to take a pet to a veterinarian?'
'Yes. I didn't like it because they always hated it so.'
'I don't like it, either. Very well, you know what it is to take a sick or damaged animal to the vet. Then you had lo wait while the doctor decided whether or not your pet could be made well. Or whether the kind and gentle thing to do was to put the little creature out of its misery. Is this not true?'
'Yes. Jerry, you're telling me that things are dicey. Uncertain.'
'Utterly uncertain. No precedent. A human being has never been taken to this level before. I don't know what He will do.'
'Okay. You told me before that there would be a risk.'
'Yes. You are in great danger. And so am I, although I think your danger is much greater than mine. But, Alec, I can assure you of this: If It. decided to extinguish you, you will never know it. It is not a sadistic God.'
`"It" - is it "It" or "He"?'
'Uh... use "he". If It embodies, It will probably use a human appearance. If so, you can address Him as "Mr Chairman" or "Mr Koshchei". Treat Him as you would a man much older than you are and one you respect highly. Don't bow down or offer worship. Just stand your ground and tell the truth. If you die, die with dignity.'
The guard who stopped us at the door was not human, - until I looked again and then he was human. And that Characterizes the uncertainty of everything I saw at the place Jerry referred to as 'The Branch Office'.
The guard said to me, 'Strip down, please. Leave your clothes with me; you can pick them up later, What is that metal object?'
I explained that it was just a safety razor.
'And what is it for?'
'It's a... a knife for cutting hair off the face.
'You grow hair on your face?'
I tried to explain shaving.
'If you don't want hair there, why do you grow it there?' Is it a material of economic congress?'
'Jerry, I think I'm out of my depth.'
'I'll handle it.' I suppose he then talked to the guard but I didn't hear anything. Jerry said to me, 'Leave your razor with your clothes. He thinks you are crazy but he thinks I am crazy, too. It doesn't matter.'
Mr Koshchei may be 'an 'It' but to me He looked like a twin brother of Dr Simmons, the vet back home in Kansas to whom I used to take cats and dogs, and once, a turtle - the procession of small animals who shared my childhood. And the Chairman's office looked exactly like Dr Simmons' office, even to the rlolltop desk the doctor must have inherited from his grandfather. There was a well-remembered Seth Thomas eight-day clock on a little shelf over the doctor's desk.
I realized (being cold sober and rested) that this was not Dr Simmons and that the semblance was intentional but not intended to deceive. The Chairman, whatever He or It or She may be, had reached into my mind with some sort of hypnosis to create an ambience in which I could relax. Dr Simmons used to pet an animal and talk to it, before he got down to the uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and often painful things that he had to do to that animal.
It had worked. It worked with me, too. I knew that Mr Koshchei was not the old veterinary surgeon of my childhood... but this simulacrum brought out in me the same feeling of trust.
Mr Koshchei looked up as we came in. He nodded to Jerry, glanced at me. 'Sit down.'
We sat down. Mr Koshchei turned back to His desk. My manuscript was on it. He picked it up, jogged the sheets - straight, put them down. 'How are things in your bailiwick, Lucifer? Any problems?'
'No, Sir. Oh, the usual gripes about the air conditioning. Nothing I can't handle.'
'Do you want to rule earth this millennium?'
'Hasn't my brother claimed it?'
'Yahweh has claimed it, yes - he has pronounced Time Stop and torn it down. But I am not bound to let him rebuild. Do you want it? Answer Me.'
"Sir, I would much rather start with all-new materials.'
'All your guild prefer to start fresh. With no thought of the expense, of course. I could assign you to the Glaroon for a few cycles. How say you?'
Jerry was slow in answering. 'I must leave it to the Chairman's judgment.'
,'You are quite right; you must. So we will discuss it later. Why have you interested yourself in this creature of your brother's?'
I must have dropped off to sleep, for I saw puppies and kittens playing in a courtyard - and there was nothing of that sort there. I heard Jerry saying, 'Mr Chairman, almost everything about a human creature is ridiculous, except its ability to suffer bravely and die gallantly for whatever it loves and believes in. The validity of that belief, the appropriateness of that love, is irrelevant; it is the bravery and the gallantry that count. These are uniquely human qualities, independent of mankind's creator, who has none of them himself - as I know, since he is my brother... and I lack them, too.
'You ask, why this animal, and why me? This one I picked up beside a road, a stray - and, putting aside its own troubles - much too big for it! - it devoted itself to a (and fruitless) attempt to save my "soul" by the rules it had been taught. That its attempt was misguided and useless does not matter; it tried hard on my behalf when it believed me to be in extreme danger. Now that it is in trouble I owe it an equal effort.'
Mr Koshchei pushed his spectacles down His nose and looked over them. 'You offer no reason why I should interfere with local authority.'
'Sir, is there not a guild rule requiring artists to be kind in their treatment of their volitionals?'
Jerry looked daunted. 'Sir, I must have misunderstood my training.'
'Yes, I think you have. There is an artistic principle not a rule - that volitionals should be treated consistently. But to insist on kindness would be to eliminate that degree of freedom for which volition in creatures was invented. Without the possibility of tragedy the volitionals might as well be golems.'
'Sir, I think I understand that. But would the Chairman please amplify the artistic principle of consistent treatment?'
'Nothing- complex about it, Lucifer. For a creature to act out its own minor part, the rules under which it acts must be either known to it or be such that the rules can become known through trial and error - with error not always fatal. In short the creature must be able to learn and to benefit by its experience.'
'Sir, that is exactly my complaint about my brother. See that record before You. Yahweh baited a trap and thereby lured this creature into a contest that it could not win then declared the game over and took the prize from it. And, although this is an extreme case, a destruction test, this nevertheless is typical of his treatment of all his volitionals. Games so rigged that his creatures cannot win. For six millennia I got his losers... and many of them arrived in Hell catatonic with fear - fear of me, fear of an eternity of torture. They can't believe they've been lied to. My therapists have to work hard to reorient the poor slobs. It's not funny.'
Mr Koshchei did not appear to listen. He leaned back in His old wooden swivel chair, making it creak - and, yes, I do not know that the creak came out of my memories - and looked again at my memoir. He scratched the grey fringe around His bald pate and made an irritating noise, half whistle, half hum - also out of my buried memories of Doc Simmons, but utterly real.
This female creature, the bait. A volitional?'
'In my opinion, yes, Mr Chairman.'
(Good heavens, Jerry! Don't you know?)
'Then I think we may assume that this one would not be satisfied with a simulacrum.' He hummed and whistled through His teeth. 'So let us look deeper.'
Mr Koshchei's office seemed small when we were admitted; now there were several others present: another angel who looked a lot like Jerry but older and with a pinched expression unlike Jerry's expansive joviality, another older character who wore a long coat, a big broad-brimmed hat, a patch over one eye, and had a crow sitting on his shoulder, and - why, confound his arrogance! - Sam Crumpacker, that Dallas shyster.
Back of Crumpacker three men were lined up, well-fed types, and all vaguely familiar. I knew I had seen them before.
Then I got it. I had won a hundred (or was it a thousand?) from each of them on a most foolhardy bet.
I looked back at Crumpacker, and was angrier than ever - the scoundrel was now wearing my face!
I turned to Jerry and started to whisper urgently. 'See lhat man over there? The one -'
`Be quiet and listen.'
Jerry's brother was speaking. 'So who's complaining? You want I should put on my Jesus hat and prove it? The fact that some of them make it proves it ain't too hard - Seven point one percent in this last batch, not counting golems, Not good enough? Who says?'
The old boy in the black hat said, 'I count anything less' than fifty percent a failure.'
'So who's talking? Who lost ground to me every year for a millennium? How you handle your creatures; that's your business. What I do with mine; that's my business.
'That's why I'm here,' the big hat replied. 'You grossly interfered with one of mine.'
'Not, me!' Yahweh hooked a thumb at the man who man who managed to look like both me and Sam Crumpacker. 'That one! My Shabbes goy. A little rough? So whose boy is he? Answer that!'
Mr Koshchei tapped my memoir, spoke to the man with my face. 'Loki, how many places do you figure in this story?'
'Depends on how You figure it, Chief. Eight or nine places, if You count the walk-ons. All through it, when You consider that I spent four solid weeks softening up this foxy schoolteacher so that she would roll over and pant when Joe Nebbish came along.'
Jerry had a big fist around my upper ~ left arm. 'Keep quiet!'
Loki went on: 'And Yahweh didn't pay up.
'So why should I? Who won?'
'You cheated. I had your champion, your prize bigot, ready to crack when you pulled Judgment Day early. There he sits. Ask him. Ask him if he still swears by you. Or at you? Ask him. Then pay up. I have munition bills to meet.'
Mr Koshchei stated, 'I declare this discussion out of order. This office is not a collection agency. Yahweh, the principal complaint against you seems to be that you are not consistent in your rules for your creatures.'
'Should I kiss them? For omelets you break eggs.'
'Speak to the case in point. You ran a destruction lit test. Whether it was artistically necessary is moot. But, at the end of the test, you took one to Heaven, left the other behind, - and thereby punished both of them. Why?'
'One rule for all. She didn't make it.'
'Aren't you the god that announced the rule concerning binding the mouths of the kine that tread the grain?'
The next thing I knew I was standing on Mr Koshchei's desk, staring right into His enormous face. I suppose Jerry put me there. He was saying, 'This is yours?'
I looked in the direction He indicated - and had to keep from fainting. Marga!
Margrethe cold and dead and encased in a coffin shaped cake of ice. It occupied much of the desktop and was beginning to melt onto it.
'I tried to throw myself onto it, found I could not move.
"I think that answers Me,' Mr Koshchei went on. 'Odin, what is its destiny?'
'She died fighting, at Ragnarok. She has earned a cycle in Valhalla.'
'Listen to him!' Loki sneered. 'Ragnarok is not over. And this time I'm winning. This pige is mine! All Danish broads are willing... but this one is explosive!' He smirked and winked at me. 'Isn't She?'
The Chairman said quietly, 'Loki, you weary Me'- and suddenly, Loki was missing. Even his chair was gone. 'Odin, will you spare her for part of that cycle?'
'For how long? She has earned the right to Valhalla.'
'An indeterminate time. This creature had stated its willingness to wash dishes "forever" in order to take care of her. One may doubt that it realizes just how long a period, "forever" is... yet its story does show earnestness of purpose.'
'Mr Chairman, my warriors, male and female, dead in honorable combat, are my equals, not my slaves - I am to be first among such equals. I raise no objections... if she consents.
My heart soared. Then Jerry, from clear across the room, wispered in my ear, 'Don't get your hopes up. To her it may be as long as a thousand years. Woman do forget.'
The Chairman was saying, 'The web patterns are intact, are they not?'
Yahweh answered, 'So who destroys file copies?'
'Regenerate as necessary.'
'And who is paying for this?'
'You are. A fine to teach you to pay attention to consistency.'
'Oy! Every prophecy I fulfilled! And now He tells me consistent I am not! This is justice?'
'No. It is Art. Alexander. Look at Me.'
I looked at that great face; Its eyes held me. They got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I slumped forward and fell into them.