CHAPTER 1 - LAMENTATIONS
Surely it was impossible that the great glowing orb in the sky could be having a physical effect on him. He had looked on it for most of his adult life. And yet a man could bend his head down to the soil for a decade and suddenly look up and see.
It filled nearly half the visible universe. Those components of the universe that weren’t part of it were guided by its gravity, gliding round it in stately circles. And therein lay its ability to affect him. It was responsible for the tidal monsoon wind currently blowing at his back, dragged all the way round Mount Ararat by the massive planet’s gravity. Wherever Naphil was high in the sky, there the wind would be, always at his back. And were there not also old wives’ stories about tidal effects on the brain? The theory that lunacy wasn’t caused by the light of the moon, but its gravitational effect on the lunatic? Naphil’s mass was tens of thousands of times that of Earth’s moon.
“I LIKE LOOKING UP AT THE SKY,” boomed a voice from high above him. He turned and looked up, seeing only a cluster of warning lights on a great black shape eclipsing the stars. “IT’S STILL THE SAME SIZE NO MATTER HOW BIG I AM.”
“Are you happy in that body, Visible Friend?” said Mr Reborn-in-Jesus.
A massive hand the size of an open-cast-mining shovel span on the end of an arm the height of a church tower. “IT IS FUNCTIONAL. I HAVE TO BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO TREAD ON PEOPLE. AND I CAN’T REALLY PLAY DOLLIES’ TEA PARTIES ANYMORE.”
“Would you like to play dollies’ tea parties?” said Mr Reborn-in-Jesus.
“I WOULD REQUIRE A DOLLY AT LEAST FIFTEEN METRES TALL.”
Mr Reborn-in-Jesus frowned and leaned into his GPR roller.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING DOWN THERE?”
“Generating sound,” said Mr Reborn-in-Jesus. “This roller is heavy enough to generate sound impulses, which are picked up by the ground penetrating radar receivers I have dug into the ground around the field. I am looking for a radioactive meteor. I suspect one struck the ground hereabouts some time ago. It is contaminating the groundwater. What are you doing up there?”
“MR FENG WANTS AN EMERGENCY SOLAR ARRAY ERECTING AT THE NORTH POLE. HE CLAIMS TO HAVE DISCUSSED IT WITH YOU. THE SOUTH POLE RECEIVES VERY LITTLE SUNLIGHT DURING THE SUMMER.”
Mr Reborn-in-Jesus set his teeth unpleasantly. Even here, halfway round the planet, civilization’s insidious influence was creeping. “Yes. I remember the conversation. On the other side of that bluff, was our agreement. Where it can’t be seen from the house.”
“THOSE ARE MY INSTRUCTIONS. DO YOU MIND ME CASTING A SHADOW ON YOUR FIELD? I MIGHT STOP THE PLANTS FROM GROWING.”
“No, Friend, that’s fine. 23 Kranii doesn’t put out the sort of light they like.” He gestured across the fields at the gently glowing lines of UV filaments.
“THAT’S GOOD TO KNOW.” A foot larger than Mr Reborn-in-Jesus’ house powered out of the earth, raising a dust cloud larger than itself. The foot slammed back down into the ground; Mr Reborn-in-Jesus actually saw ripples of distressed soil spreading out from it like green-leafed liquid. He swallowed hard.
“What was that for?” he said.
“I GENERATED A LOCAL EARTH TREMOR. NOW YOU DON’T NEED TO PUSH YOUR ROLLER ANYMORE. “
Mr Reborn-in-Jesus scowled up into the dark. “Pushing the roller,” he said, “is a form of meditation.”
“OH. I’M SORRY. YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID.”
“You’re not so big I can’t put you over my knee, young lady.”
“A figure of speech. We will have to get you out of that chassis and into something more ladylike.”
“I AM NOT SURE I WOULD BE MUCH USE TO YOU AS A LITTLE GIRL.”
“That’s as may be, and all the girls are grown up now with no need for an artificial companion, but no bot who sat through school alongside all my girls and boys is going to spend the rest of their service life as a heavy construction unit.”
“I AM VERY GRATEFUL TO Mr SUAU FOR ALL HE HAS DONE. MY ORIGINAL CHASSIS WAS UNRECOVERABLE, AND IT WAS A STROKE OF LUCK THAT MY CPU COULD BE MADE TO FIT THESE PERIPHERALS.”
“Well, we shall have to see what we can do.”
“AS YOU WISH, FATHER. IN ANY CASE, NOW I’VE MADE YOUR TREMOR FOR YOU,YOU WILL BE ABLE TO GET HOME EARLY. MOTHER LIKES IT WHEN YOU GET HOME EARLY.”
Mr Reborn-in-Jesus smiled, an activity that, on Mr Reborn-in-Jesus’ mouth, simply amounted to a slight straightening of his habitual downturned frown. “Does she indeed.”
“OH, FOR SURE. HER WHOLE FACE LIGHTS UP. YOU ARE THE CHERRY ON HER CAKE AND NO MISTAKE.”
He grunted. “Silly old mare. Sticks with a bad product when there’s better ones on the market.”
Mr Reborn-in-Jesus continued to fail to frown up into the night as he lugged his roller homeward across the Hundred-Eighty Field.
The picture was a woodcut, made by the action of steel on plant matter a hundred years before the invention of graphics engines. It showed a sphere invaded by a series of cones, smaller ones inside larger ones, that extended to the sphere’s core. The sequence of cones formed a set of circular terraces starting at the sphere’s surface, getting smaller and smaller and more and more tightly constricted as they approached the centre. Directly above the axis of the cones, on the surface of the sphere, was a single word: GERUSALEMME. Directly beneath the sphere, and directly opposite the first word, was a conical elevation and the word: PURGATORIO. At the centre of the sphere was a figure, inhuman, three-headed, multiple-winged. The terraces inside the sphere were labelled LIMBO, SECONDO, TERZO, QUARTO, QUINTO, CITTÀ DI DITE. OTTAVO, MALEBOLGE, and CAINA ANTENORA TOLOMEA GIUDECCA.
The figure at the centre of the diagram was labelled LUCIFERO.
“At the centre of the world,” read Day-of-Creation from the screen, “is the Devil, entombed in the very floor of Hell. In each of his three mouths, he eternally devours a sinner—in one mouth Marcus Junius Brutus, in the second Gaius Cassius Longinus, and in the third Judas, the betrayer of Our Lord Himself—” Day-of-Creation, the youngest Reborn-in-Jesus child, had grown tall in recent years, but rather than becoming a thick-set, broad-shouldered percheron of a man like his brother Testament, seemed simply to be an elongated version of the small boy he had been years earlier.
“Wow,” said Measure-of-Barley, leaning over the media centre. “I sure am glad we don’t live on Earth. Its geography sounds dangerous.” She grinned and rubbed Day-of-Creation’s paramilitary brush of a haircut until it fell into inappropriate disarray. Day was certain that the imposition of crew cuts on all males under the Old Earth age of twenty was not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but his mother behaved as though it was.
“OW! It’s a book, Measure! It’s a sort of big poem written by some repressed homosexual Earth guy, back in the days before they had rhyming technology. Most poems are about flowers, girls or war, but this one is good. People are tortured in it and stuff.” He opened another set of illustrations.
“Euwww,” said Measure-of-Barley. “He’s eating that other guy’s head, and they’re both—”
“Frozen in a lake of ice,” said Day-of-Creation, his eyes shining. “It’s, like, religious, but somehow also fun. It’s all smiting and no forgiving.”
Measure looked out of the pressure window across the darkened fields. “I’m going to miss having a Devil.”
“I don’t miss having a Devil in the Penitentiary,” said Day-of-Creation.
“I meant Uncle Anchorite’s servant,” said Measure. “I know Uncle Anchorite’s Devil is in a new chassis now, but his old chassis looked a deal like that picture.”
“Uncle Anchorite’s Devil was a robot, Measure. This book was written way before robots.”
“Gosh. What did they use instead?”
Day-of-Creation strained to remember. “Something mom called ‘The Lower Classes’.”
“Still sounds like some sort of robot to me.”
Day-of-Creation nodded. “‘Lower Classes’ is some sort of object-oriented programming voodoo, or I’m a Made Fifth Columnist.”
“I didn’t mean Mr Voight out of the Penitentiary when I said I missed having a Devil. Mr Voight was just a human being. He only called himself a Devil, when he was actually just the worst of bad men.”
“The Devil in this story is like Voight,” said Day-of-Creation, tapping the screen. “He’s in prison as a punishment for his horrible, awful crimes.”
“How is that possible?” said Measure. “The Book of Job clearly says the Devil is God’s servant. People from Earth are incomprehensible. What did the Devil in your poem do?”
“It doesn’t say,” said Day-of-Creation disappointedly.
“A Devil is a willing servant,” said Measure. “As in Clever Devil, Household Devil, Personal Devil, and so on. I can’t see what service Voight ever provided anyone, and I’m glad he’s dead.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Day-of-Creation. “I’m glad there isn’t a Devil at the centre of our world.”
A timer bounced up onto the screen. “Aw, rats. It’s time for me to strap my ass to a tractor.”
Measure riffled her brother’s hair again. “Dad wants the Meridian Field clear of rocks by sundown. The autoplough turned a share on a meteorite. It’s going to cost to fix.”
“So I don’t just have to ride Autopilot’s Mate on the harvester for a hundred kilometres back and forth across the same patch of red muck, I also got to go lay in a search pattern for the field destoner too? No fair!”
“Life isn’t fair. It’s a succession of tests set by the Almighty.”
“The Almighty is outside time, so he already knows my test results. Why doesn’t he just cut out the middle man and skip to the back of the book?”
Measure frowned. “Don’t let mother hear you talking that way, or you’ll be on stained glass window duty. She wants every last bit of pink glass out of Jesus’ face from the old west window picked up and re-fused back into the frame.”
Day-of-Creation grumbled. “We should help Messiahs who help themselves. He made the universe that blew His head out the chapel window, He can put His own head back there.” But he picked up his emergency pressure suit, slung it over his shoulder, and trudged dejectedly to the door.
“Queen to king’s pawn three—check.”
“Oh blast, I hadn’t seen that. And my knight’s in the line of fire too.” The voice was tinny and inhuman. A cluster of fine detail lasers tracked over the pieces on the board—the black pieces mined from one side of Saturn’s bi-coloured moon Iapetus, the white pieces from the bright side. Only one such chess set existed in the human universe, and advertisement of the fact that one possessed it would have drawn down a universe full of Moral Cleansing Bureau agents as surely as filings to a magnet.
“I really had hoped for better from you, though I am not surprised to be disappointed.” The Devil rose from the plastic chair and walked over to the plastic table, on which stood a plastic jug of water. He filled himself a plastic glass. “I really do wish you would provide me with a table set I’m capable of killing myself with. I am really not suicidal, as you know. My case history proves quite the reverse.”
“Hey! Don’t run away!” The manshaped robot folded its arms on the edge of the table. “I can get out of this.”
“I really don’t think so. You’ve used that defence thirteen times already. Only the last three moves have differed. I beat you every time. You’re getting stale.” The water was gulped down. “You’re getting sloppy.”
“I can get out of this. I can move my bishop—oh, hang on a minute.” The mechanical hand that had been about to move the bishop retracted hastily. The Devil guffawed and looked up at the fitfully twinkling ceiling.
“You know, someone really should get down here and do some maintenance. Half the UV strips down here are out of commission. I’m surprised I’m not getting rickets. And half these plants are dead. Where’s your old servant? The one with the claws. The one who looked like me. That one looks like a random abigail unit you pinched from a third rate hotel’s bot kennel.”
The random abigail looked up from the chessboard. “Hey. That random abigail’s sitting RIGHT HERE. Though actually, you’d be surprised at the accuracy of your assessment.”
“There’s a hotel up on the surface now.”
“Sort of. I’ll try and get some of these filaments fixed.”
“You don’t come down here any more yourself. Why is that?”
“I think we both know why that is. The fact that you know I don’t come down here anymore speaks for itself.” The robot gestured across the cave at a massive steel door, built to withstand blast. “Beyond that door is a tunnel twenty metres long, followed by another door just like it. Followed by another cavern like this one. Followed by another door just like the first two. All that space is flooded with sulphur dioxide. I’ve not been through that outer door in over a month. I have never been through either of the inner doors since you’ve been down here. So how can you know I never come down here? Plus, when you just said ‘there’s a hotel on the surface’ just now, it was not a question. It was a statement of fact.”
The Devil stooped by the bubbling water that swirled from the plunge pool at one end of the cavern to a swallow hole at the other, looking at his own disjointed reflection. “How can I know you never come down here. Let’s see. Have you ever tried to find a pearl in a box of ping pong balls? Horribly difficult, I imagine. You must understand that I am trying to describe sight to a blind man here. But now imagine that your pearl is no ordinary pearl. Instead of a white, ping pong bally colour, it is a rich and lustrous black, rather like my own soul. You can find the pearl, because you know what colour it’s going to be. I can find your mind, see it moving around even beyond these thickest of thick walls, because I know what colour it’s going to be.” The Devil nodded at the chess table. “Black... and white.”
The robot sat and looked at the chesspieces. “I see. You do realize this means we are not going to be able to play anymore?”
“I am unconcerned. You suck at chess. If it hadn’t made your flame burn brighter I wouldn’t even have bothered playing you.”
If a robot had been capable of looking sad, it would have done so. “I see. Well, you are better than Hernan will ever be. I will have to kidnap someone closer to my skill level.” It rose to its feet. “You are getting both stronger and more cunning. I will have to be more careful.”
The Devil looked into the robot’s eyeless face. “Why are you even bothering to keep me alive down here?”
“I had a grandfather, when I was young. A very clever man, who never considered himself to be clever, but who could fix anything. From a hairdryer to an autofellatrice to a personal flyer, he could turn it from a hunk of rust into a functioning hunk of something. And in his workshop, he had spare parts hung up from before the dawn of time. Thread tappers he’d bought thirty years earlier, and never used since. Cables and connectors manufacturers had stopped using decades ago. Because, you see, he never threw anything away. Not if it could be useful.
“Be seeing you.”
A suffocating cloud of brimstone stench rolled downhill from the steel gates as the robot walked uphill toward them—then they gnashed open and shut, once only, with a sound like the universe’s biggest gong being hit with the universe’s biggest wrecking ball. The Devil stood looking up at the doors, very thoughtfully.
“DEVIL! It’s time for your rustic smock to be laundered!”
“He ain’t going to understand that, Measure,” said Day-of-Creation to his sister as she called out into the dark.
“He can distinguish between different human voice patterns,” said Measure. “Mr Suau said so.” Measure was allowed to wear her hair as she wanted, and even excused the mandatory one-thousand-brush-stroke combing régime all other Reborn-in-Jesus girls had been forced to endure. Measure was her mother’s last and best toy, the youngest daughter, the last doll to leave the dolls’ house. Her departure, however, was only a matter of time, even considering the small number of starship crews who visited Mount Ararat. After all, her elder sister Unity was engaged to be married—had been so for years—and peer pressure was bound to kick in at some point.
“If he’s in the right chassis. When he was first made he was in an advanced combat shell with hearing that could pick out an action cocking at over a hundred yards, under fire. Now he’s a scarecrow. Most likely all he can do nowadays is tell when magpies are sitting on him.”
“He’s an agro maintenance unit,” said Measure severely, “not a scarecrow. He has duties above and beyond running up and down the South End field waving his arms and yelling two hundred and fifty-six preset phrases. When his stick’s planted in the soil, he’s sending out ultrasound pulses to detect uncleared rocks, stop the ‘raxes from raiding the crops, and locate leaks in the field lining. He can even shoot seed down it.”
“He’s a scarecrow, sis. He has a big scary pumpkin head.”
“He only has a pumpkin head because you and Testament and Magus picked it from the agribiz catalogue. He could have had a hemp sack head, or a comforting smiley face, or a frankly disturbing flashing head of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“I like his big scary pumpkin head. He is scary. I’ve been afraid of him all my life.”
Measure swept the roboscope left and right across the silent field. “I’m not picking up his CPU transponder at all... maybe I wasn’t listening to Mr Suau right when he told me how to configure this thing. Devil may be scary, Day, but if it weren’t for him we’d all be—well, we wouldn’t be. He protected us for years, and it’s only right we should find a new chassis for him now his old one’s out of action, same as we did for Visible Friend.”
“He’s an illegal combat-capable, Measure. If anyone finds out we’re harbouring him, he’ll—”
“—probably be pressed into service running a cruiser’s gunnery array,” finished Measure. “That’s what Mr Suau said. It’s not safe to send your bot downtown for groceries on Farquahar’s World anymore. It’ll be EMPed and wired into a starship under the Essential War Materials laws. They need all the late-model CPUs they can get.”
A distant, seismic rumble could be felt through their feet; pebbles were actually skating across the soil.
“Visible Friend’s on the move again,” said Day.
“She was always so light on her feet,” said Measure wistfully. “She used to walk on tiptoe, so she would grow up to be a ballerina.”
“She was programmed to do that,” said Day severely. “She was programmed to be ever so cute. So we would love her and never want to be without her.”
“And now she’s ever so cute and sixty metres tall,” said Measure.
Day grinned. “You remember when we overrode her programming to make her think she was being followed by a giant electromagnet?”
“YES,” bellowed an immense voice out of the dark. A searchlight stabbed out at them, blinding them unerringly, then winked out again.
Day-of-Creation looked down at his feet in embarrassment.
“It was funny at the time,” he said.
“You know,” said Measure, “some creeps actually believe it’s bad for folk to love their bots. They say it’s bad for the economy that we don’t all go out and buy a new bot every ten years. Nowadays manufacturers build programmed obsolescence into their bots’ personalities. After ten years, your dishwasher starts answering you back and leaking dirty water over your kitchen floor.” She gave up on high technology and switched on the halogen bulb duct-taped underneath the roboscope, immediately illuminating a scary pumpkin face about a metre away. The face contained sensor clusters recessed into the spheroid head, looking out through a jagged mouth and triangular eyes. The ruby red ladar sources that normally gave the scarecrow Devil his scary glowing eyes were not lit inside the carapace. Measure’s torch moved across to Devil’s shoulder. A magpie chattered back at her. There were a cluster of them, using his arms as a handy perch. One of them seemed to be trying to constrict a nest in his head.
“Aha,” said Day.
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Measure. “His CPU should be showing on the scope.”
“If his CPU is here,” said Day, pointing to a ragged calico maintenance panel hanging open in the agro unit.
Measure’s eyes widened. “Someone’s taken his CPU?”
Day’s insides were squirming like a nest of snakes. “Even in a smart trouser press, that CPU would be dangerous.” He looked back towards Third Landing. “We ought to get back and tell Testament.”
Measure blew out her breath scornfully. “Testament won’t know what to do. He only knows what Mr Suau had time to teach him before he left for the recruiting station on Farquahar’s.”
Day looked up into the night. Even against the light pollution from Naphil’s ring system, the twinkling was visible. Warfare in the Farquahar’s World system, only light-weeks away. Explosions bright enough, briefly, to outshine the sun they were in orbit around. The Made were in this area of space. It would only be a matter of time before they were here too.
“Uncle Anchorite, then. Devil was his bot, he should know what to do about it.”
Measure hugged herself in the gathering cold. “You think he’ll be in his hermitage this time in the evening? And you know he doesn’t really live down there in any case.”
“We can leave him a message, and he’ll get it when he comes up from the inside of the world.”
“If he ever does. He’s been underground for days now. And none of his eyes have been out—you know, those artificial insects he uses to see what we’re up to? Oh, they’ve been up and buzzing, but they’ve been behaving like insects, flitting round at random, settling on things insects might choose to settle on. It’s been a week since any of them have tried to follow me into the shower.”
Day moved off down the edge of the South End Field, waving another torch to right and left, looking for rocks big enough to trip him as he walked.
“Be careful once you get past the end of the field, brother. The ground drops away quickly.”
“I’ve been out by the Chasm in the dark before, Measure. I can find the way down to the hermitage in my sleep.”
“Yes, well, don’t feel you have to prove it. Keep your eyes open.”
Measure’s concern was well-founded—the South End Chasm was a sheer drop of a thousand metres, one twentieth of the diameter of Mount Ararat, as if two worlds had been imperfectly crashed together to create one, and the Chasm was the seam that had joined them. But there was a gentle set of ledges leading down to the clifftop cave where the hermit had his official home, and soon Measure and Day were standing at the cave mouth, peering politely into the gloom. Occasionally the Anchorite was known to actually sleep here just for the look of the thing, particularly if there were offworld visitors.
Measure stirred the torch beam round the rough-cut chamber. “Day,” she said, “his mattress is gone.”
Day-of-Creation frowned. The room had hardly ever contained anything more than the Anchorite’s mattress. “Has he ever taken the mattress away before?”
“Taken it away? I’ve never even known him wash it.”
Day-of-Creation made a face. He looked round the walls. He looked up at the roof.
“Measure,” he said. “Turn that beam off a second.”
Obligingly, Measure-of-Barley killed the light. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she could see, burning under their own power out of the many glassy chiselled planes of the ceiling, the words:
HAVE LEFT TO SET THINGS STRAIGHT.
DO NOT GO DOWN INTO THE WORLD
MATTERS ARE AWRY DOWN BELOW
I APOLOGIZE TO ALL CONCERNED SHOULD THERE BE
B. H. III
“Heck and dangnation,” said Measure.
“He actually admitted that was his actual name,” said Day. “Button Humpage the Third, the Great Dictator. He’s never admitted that before. Heck, I wouldn’t want to admit to that, even if I didn’t have half the galaxy looking for me.”
“He’s gone. He can’t go.” Measure’s voice was incredulous. “It’s him who protects everyone. It’s him who keeps the peace. Him and Devil.”
“Father would say that it’s God who keeps the peace, though I’m not quite sure,” said Day, looking up out of the cave mouth at the dangerously twinkling stars, “why he saw fit at the same time to create a sky full of folk who fix to do murder on us. At least we know now who took Devil’s CPU. Maybe he thought he needed it.”
Measure shrugged stiffly. “Devil belongs to him, I suppose; he can do what he likes with it.”
“Where’s he gone? Where can he have gone? He can’t have gone back into human space. They’ll spend a whole year umming and aahing about how many knives, how many cuts, and who gets to carve first.”
“And the Made aren’t his best friends from Sunday school either,” said Measure. She looked at the dogeared copy of Vegetius’ De Re Militari on the stone-cut shelf. “He’s running. He’s running scared. He’s left us all behind to die.”
“I’m grateful for your discretion,” said the elderly barbarian. He was talking from inside a massive growth of beard that looked like it had only recently been hacked back—blood was seeping from fresh cuts on his cheeks, clotting in the uncombed tangle of the remaining foliage. He was wearing a military EVA suit so elderly that it seemed to be almost entirely composed of emergency patches.
“Not a problem,” said the captain of the Moist Mother Earth. “Privacy is a service we accord to all paying passengers.” He politely omitted to mention that this particular paying passenger had only secured passage from the surface of Mount Ararat to a slightly higher orbit occupied by a drifting derelict, and that he had paid enough for this very short trip to secure a passage to New Earth and back. The captain was beginning to think that prying into this particular passenger’s privacy might be a lucrative business move.
The Moist Mother Earth had now locked trajectories with the derelict. The captain had known it was a military ship, a relic of the bad old days of the war against the Made, days it now seemed were here again. His father and grandfather had told him horror stories of the old wars, of the pride of the Dictator’s fleet, the very highest technology Mankind had had to offer, being outmanoeuvred, outthought and outshot by tiny units of Made men-o’-war. This ship was a veteran of that time, equipped with an FTL weapons system by the look of the ouroboros coils of tachyon decelerators constricting her amidships, capable of blowing other vessels apart before the light of her drive flare had even appeared in their telescopes. She looked built to put down in an atmosphere too—there were wing surfaces, belly strakes, vertical lift nozzles, and a rudimentary heatshield. Most intriguingly of all, she was painted the meteoroid-flecked Tyrian purple of a forgotten, reviled empire.
There was also another ship docked with her. A ship in the new, non-confrontational, carefully neutral sky blue of the rightful government of human space. Not a military ship, though, but an artisan, bristling with manipulator arms. The government livery had been painted on to her recently over an earlier, shabbier paintjob involving the words BOSVILLE, INTERSTELLAR, FLOTSAM, and RECLAMATION.
The old aborigine swore with surprising creativity, and added: “That’s all I need.”
“We can’t dock now that government vessel’s already interfaced, sir. That old gun scout only seems to have one ship-to-ship docking port.”
The government ship, meanwhile, had two docking ports. Its other port was also occupied, however—specifically by an intra-system shuttle, a relatively new model, its junk bumpers still white and factory fresh, having only ever collided with a few microgrammes of astrogravel in its service life.
“It’s all right,” said the bearded savage. “I’ll do an EVA.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” said the captain. His own EVA suit was inspected on a weekly basis by a fellow crewman who was rated to maintain it and did not stand to gain financially or socially in the event of his death. The old man’s suit looked as if it had last been inspected by factory quality control, and the captain didn’t think they would have passed it even then.
“I like the feel of absolutely nothing close to my skin,” said the oldster, and winked at one of the Moist Mother Earth’s female crew.
“The captain of the salvage vessel is warning us off,” said the ship’s comms officer. “He’s saying that this is his fairly staked claim and we have no right to interfere.”
“Whose shuttle is it that’s docked with the salvage ship?” said the old man, though he knew the answer already. The comms officer tapped her interface briefly, then said: “It’s registered locally to a Mr T. Reborn-in-Jesus. I believe he is on board, arguing with the salvage operator over the ownership of the wreck.”
The lines in the ancient aboriginal’s face seemed to be scored more deeply than ever.
“That ship is not a wreck. Tell them its owner is coming over.”
The owner and operator of Bosville Flotsam Reclamation, Lothario Bosville, sucked on a disgusting bulb of sour coffee. The process the provisioners used to ensure milk didn’t spoil on long space voyages worked perfectly, and made it taste like it had come out of a quite different part of the cow.
“We found this hulk floating without power in an uncontrolled orbit, dear young shaver,” he said, gesticulating with his coffee bulb at the unsettlingly solid local in front of him. “By law it is the right of me and my boys to take her for salvage.”
Mr Bosville’s boys, who all stood to earn large bonuses from the discovery of an entirely intact military vessel, folded their arms menacingly in agreement, though Mr Bosville strongly suspected the young man’s gravity-conditioned muscles could twist their arms around their heads like neckties. No matter. There were ways of subduing uppity natives that did not rely on brute strength, and the Petulengro’s emergency stores contained many intriguing home-made devices designed for this specific purpose. Many of them were electrical in operation, and had originally been built to tranquilize cattle. Looking at the span of the young man’s shoulders, Mr Bosville was glad of that design heritage.
“This ship is not a wreck! Everyone on Mount Ararat has been aware of it for years! If you had only bothered to check with the local authorities, you would know this!”
“The local authorities?” Mr Bosville winked at one of his boys, who grinned and disappeared discreetly from the derelict’s bridge. The special equipment would not be long in arriving from the Petulengro. “In a solar system with a population only just over one hundred, would that be the local authorities and his dog?”
“There has been a local landing beacon and emergency station on Mount Ararat for many kilodia! You cannot fail to have noticed that!”
“Mount Ararat,” said Mr Bosville, “is a very long way away.”
“It is only a few thousand kilometres!”
“Then I suggest you try walking home.” Mr Bosville pulled out a massive off-grey handkerchief and mopped at his scalp stubble. “You might not have noticed, my young scamp, but there’s a war on. Leader Vos has announced that your and my human species needs all the lightweight alloys and functioning plasmadrives it can get its hands on. It is the duty of all those loyal to our pure human genome to seek ’em out.”
“Ah, so you admit that the drives still work!”
“Dear lad, the vessel was abandoned, whether her drives still work or not. The only thing that would stop me from taking her as salvage would be the presence of an owner, and since I can see no owner—”
“I WOULDN’T TAKE THAT AS EVIDENCE OF THE OWNER’S ABSENCE,” said the ship’s intercom system suddenly.
Mr Bosville started as if the very walls had spoken, which was, in actual fact, the case.
“Who am I speaking to?” he said.
“LOOK IN THE SHIP’S REGISTRY,” said the walls. “I APOLOGIZE FOR NOT HAVING MADE MYSELF KNOWN EARLIER. I WAS OUTSIDE CONDUCTING REPAIRS. I WILL BE INSIDE SHORTLY.”
Mr Bosville looked at one of his boys, who shook his head.
“We saw no-one outside this vessel,” said Mr Bosville.
“THAT IS IMMATERIAL. I AM THE OWNER OF THIS SHIP, AND AS SUCH AM ENTITLED TO SPEND ANY TIME I WISH INSIDE OR OUTSIDE HER.”
Bosville was exasperated. “This is a military vessel! It is illegal for a private citizen to own a military vessel!”
Across the bridge, one of Bosville’s technicians was leaning over a console. He had the look of a man who, before gaining access to the ship and trying to take her for salvage, had failed to see the ghost who owned her.
“Um, Lotho—” he began.
“DID I SAY I WAS A PRIVATE CITIZEN?” said the walls. ”WE HAVE MENTIONED THAT THIS IS A MILITARY SHIP. MILITARY SHIPS HAVE SECURITY SYSTEMS. WOULD YOU LIKE TO FIND OUT HOW EXTENSIVE THOSE SECURITY SYSTEMS ARE?”
“Is that a threat?”
“Uh—Lotho—you really need to come and take a look at who this ship is registered to—”
“OF COURSE IT’S A THREAT. WHAT A STUPID QUESTION. PLEASE LEAVE THIS VESSEL NOW, OR I WILL BE FORCED TO ACTIVATE ITS ANTI-INTRUSION DEVICES. THEY ARE DESIGNED TO DEAL WITH MADE IN HEAVY COMBAT ARMOUR. I WOULD IMAGINE THEY WOULD MAKE SHORT WORK OF YOUR SOFT PASTY FLESH.”
Bosville looked at the single security expert on his crew, and saw him looking round the walls in apprehension. This told him all he needed to know.
“Very well. Under threat of physical violence, we are leaving. But this is not over.”
“YOU ARE ONE HUNDRED PER CENTCORRECT. IT IS NOT OVER YET.”
The crewman who had been looking at the registry swallowed hard and began mouthing a prayer to his personal gods.
“What did he mean by that?” said another of the crew.
“It means we should leave,” said a third crewman. Looking at Bosville, he said: “Sorry, Lotho. I know whose voice that was, and so do you. I’m out of here, and so will you be if you have any sense.”
“So it’s mutiny now, is it?” said Bosville quietly.
“It’s self preservation,” said the crewman.
Some of Bosville’s boys dithered in the derelict’s bridge, unwilling to leave the protecting influence of their captain. Appearing to lose his temper, he shooed them out with a spadelike hand scarred by cosmic ray impact. “Away! Ungawa! Scat!”
Grudgingly, they sidled out of the cabin. Only the man who had been checking the vessel’s registration records remained, looking at Bosville questioningly. Bosville nodded to him.
“Not you, Israel; you may remain.”
“Why him?” said the young local, who had introduced himself by the outlandish name of Testament Reborn-in-Jesus.
“Because he knows,” said Bosville, lowering his voice and watching his departing crewmen’s backs, “what’s about to happen. And so, I suspect, do you.”
Testament thought briefly. “Yes,” he admitted. “Yes, I think I do. I’m really very sorry,” he added.
There was a brief hiss of mating serpents—gas pissing from an airlock’s emergency valves—and then a CLUNK of hulls separating.
“That’ll be my own crew abandoning me,” said Bosville, appearing to shed no tears. “They possess some rudimentary logic skills of their own, you see—they can put a face to a voice just the same as I can. But they have not worked things out quite as far forward as I have, which is, after all, why I’m the captain and they’re—”
There was a sound of movement, of steel shields sliding over external ports. Through the doorways leading off the bridge, small pools of starlight that had formerly shone in from outside windows had turned black.
“Blast doors down,” nodded Bosville. “This is a warship, after all.”
“Boss,” complained Israel.
“They burned and left us,” spat Bosville savagely. “They don’t deserve no warning.” Turning to Testament, he said: “That grinding you can hear now is a couple of armoured turrets turning in their mounts. Turning slowly, it’s been a couple of decades, they’ll be cold-welded well nigh solid. But they are turning. And they are lining up on—”
The bridge shook briefly, and thunder rumbled through it; then the entire ship tilted crazily, so that Testament had to spread his hands to avoid bouncing off the walls.
“—my ship,” said Bosville sadly. “First sound was this ship’s guns firing—something with recoil, hydrogen plasma would be my guess. Second sound was a rain of scrap metal that used to be my dear old vessel’s hull.”
He extracted a long cigar from inside his EVA suit, lit it with a welding attachment on his suit finger, and began, against all safety regulations, to smoke it on board ship. “You were right, young man. This ship does appear to be pretty much scarily functional.”
He reached out and hung his hat on a nearby security sensor cluster. It was a tweed hat with a jaunty red feather in it.
“LOTHARIO BOSVILLE,” said the wall speakers menacingly, “YOU ARE STILL ON MY SHIP?”
“Ah, so you know who I am, then,” said Bosville brightly.
“I BOTHERED TO CHECK YOUR REGISTRATION RECORDS,” said the speakers. “IT WOULD APPEAR THAT YOU KNOW WHO I AM TOO.”
“I certainly do, your worship,” said Bosville. “I also note that you seem reluctant to activate your terrifying anti-intrusion systems.”
Testament felt his stomach contort under the influence of unseen forces as a spitting, writhing ball of white-hot fire suddenly flared into being in mid-air in the centre of the bridge. Bosville watched it float at arm’s length.
“THIS IS A BALL OF MAGNETICALLY SUSPENDED PLASMA. I CAN PROPEL IT INTO ANY AREA ON THIS VESSEL. IF IT TOUCHES HUMAN FLESH, IT WILL PUFF IT INTO GAS IN AN INSTANT.”
“Ah, but you got to know where I am first, your eminence,” said Bosville, looking at the hat slipped over the sensor cluster, his eyes nervous despite his bravado. He looked up at Testament, and produced a single-shot hand laser from his robe. Such weapons, containing virtually no metallic parts and as concealable as nursed grudges, were highly illegal. Bosville tapped it to his lips to indicate simultaneously that Testament should be very, very quiet and that if he wasn’t, Bosville could easily make him quieter. The walls did not answer. Bosville shrugged off his utility jerkin, leaned out of the doorway to the bridge, and flung the jerkin onto another sensor cluster in the companionway outside with pinpoint accuracy. As soon as that cluster was obscured, the plasma ball raced out into the companionway. Bosville remained in the bridge, watching the ball’s progress, and beckoned to his remaining crewman.
“I will be off now, your worship. I’ll be somewhere on your ship if you want me, though you will not know where. You can’t have cameras everywhere, and I am good at hiding out on board ship. Sooner or later you’ll have to make planetfall, and we will part company. It is, of course, in my best interests as a living businessman for you to make planetfall as soon as possible. So I’ll make a deal with you. Israel and I will repair your vessel’s systems, as and when we find systems that need repair. We will be like magic elves that live in your wainscoting and come out at night to make everything shiny and new. We will work tirelessly to send you on your way. And in return, you will stay out of our way. And when we do make planetfall, of course, I will simply report that our vessel was attacked and destroyed by unidentified pirates.”
The walls, again, did not answer.
“I see we got ourselves a deal?” said Bosville, though it was a question rather than a statement.
“GO ANYWHERE NEAR THE COMMUNICATORS, WEAPONS, GUIDANCE SYSTEMS, OR REACTORS AND IT’S WAR,” said the walls.
“Excellent,” said Bosville. “That leaves us the air conditioning, then.” In a considerably lower voice, he added to his confederate:
“He’ll still do for us first chance he gets. But if we do a spanking good job, he might think twice about it, at least in the short term.”
“I take note of your reluctance to harm this young lad here,” said Bosville, looking at Testament. “You could have whizzed that plasma ball of yours all round the bridge at lightning speed and killed us all. Friend of yours, is he?”
The walls did not answer.
“Thought so,” said Bosville. “He’ll be coming with us. As insurance against you defaulting on your part of the deal.”
“I AM UNACQUAINTED WITH HIM,” said the speakers. “HOWEVER, HE IS ONE OF MY BELOVED SUBJECTS, AND AS SUCH HIS LIFE IS DEAR TO ME, AS I SEE THE FALL OF EVERY SPARROW. IF YOU HARM HIM, YOU WILL TAKE MUCH LONGER TO DIE.”
Mr Bosville stared at the walls.
“Lords,” he said. “He didn’t even bother to pretend he wasn’t still fixing to kill us. Come,” he said to Testament, gesturing with the lasercutter again. “And do not run, unless you feel you can run fastern light.”
The meteor impact alarm was sounding. The impact buffers were coming down over every window on the Reborn-in-Jesus household, and family members were filing into the radiation cellar. Shun-Company Reborn-in-Jesus, mother to many, was wringing her hands as she looked out over the fields. She had been aged by living in an environment which constantly threatened to kill her, but the wrinkles and grey hairs, like a patina on a portrait, had curiously only served to make her look stately rather than decrepit. Her skin had once been soft as blossom; it now seemed solid as bronze.
“Where’s your father?”
Measure looked at Day-of-Creation, who said: “I think he’s out near Visible Friend’s left foot. He took the roller out looking for underground mascons. Number Three Meteor Refuge is out that way; he’ll be fine.”
“Yes; I think I can see him now.” Mrs Reborn-in-Jesus was wearing her heavy outdoors poncho, stocked with dozens of utility pockets in a brightly-coloured grid pattern, that her third eldest, Magus, had brought back from Más Altiplano. One of the pockets contained a clockwork radio transceiver, which she had just wound up to full power and was using to locate the transponder pills she had forced her family to swallow several months earlier. The clockwork device had been a cheap geegaw acquired from a tramp trader, and had initially failed to work properly; it had recently been repaired by Mr Suau, Mount Ararat’s robomaintenance engineer, before he left for the wars. It was now clearly showing Unity, Mrs Reborn-in-Jesus’ eldest, at the South End Saddle landing field, helping Magus, Only-God-Is-Perfect, God’s-Wound and Apostle to shepherd everyone who had elected to leave Mount Ararat onto the Prodigal Son, the family starship. Names were long and Biblical on Mount Ararat due to the fact that everyone in the world’s northern hemisphere, with only one notable exception, had either arrived onplanet on the Utanapishtim, a christian colony vessel, or was descended from somebody who had. The world’s local variant of christianity had been sorely tested over the years, and had been forced to adapt to its environment; but it still involved abstention from murder, false witness, raising up graven images, building towers whose tops touched heaven, and doing as you wouldn’t be done by, and in that respect remained substantially orthodox.
Measure and Day were close by. Of Mrs Reborn-in-Jesus’ extended family—no less beloved than her own children—One-Small-Ewe-Lamb, Eat-Thou-Not-The-Flesh-Of-Man and Lie-Not-With-Thy-Sister were also helping with the evacuation of the temporary settlement in Mount Ararat’s southern hemisphere. News had just come in that the Made—former servants of mankind, artificial men and thinking machines varying in size from microchips to planetoids—had not, as previously thought, been completely and irrevocably defeated in a war between Man and Made a generation ago. Instead, it seemed, they had simply been lurking beyond the limits of explored space, growing slowly in strength, multiplying, planning an exquisite vengeance. New Earth, human space’s richest and most populous world, had had her military facilities reduced to fragmented wreckage in one bewildering assault. The Made had not gone for a gradual war of attrition against humanity’s outworlds—they had struck straight for the heart.
There were three missing transponder signals on Shun-Company’s display. Two had been missing from the display for a long time, and were unlikely ever to return. The third, more worryingly, should have been there, and wasn’t.
“Where’s Testament?” Out in the fields, clusters of micrometeor impacts clattered like tracer fire, spitting up rock splinters where they landed.
“Uh, I think he took the shuttle up,” said Measure. She bit her lip and looked up at the aerial bombardment. “To, er, look at Uncle Anchorite’s ship. To see if it could be used for spare parts. And if, erm, any of the weapons systems still worked.”
Mrs Reborn-in-Jesus’ hands twisted tightly, as if imagining Uncle Anchorite’s invisible throat between them. In the Ninety East Field, something flamed down from heaven, glowing brightly, and impacted, hurling chunks of heatproof silica in all directions; everyone shrank behind the comforting blocky shadow of the Penitentiary, Mount Ararat’s maximum security penal institution, which faced the Reborn-in-Jesus house across the square.
“That, uh,” said Day-of-Creation, hesitant to deliver bad news, “looked like the nose off of Testament’s shuttle.”
At that moment, they heard the ear-torturing feedback shriek that announced an incoming bulletin from the planetary comms tower.
“CALLING MOUNT ARARAT,” bellowed the speakers on the tower. “THIS IS THE COMMONWEALTH NAVAL VESSEL DELENDA EST CARTHAGO. THERE HAS BEEN A REGRETTABLE INCIDENT INVOLVING A DISCHARGE OF THIS VESSEL’S ONBOARD WEAPONRY. THIS HAS RESULTED IN THE DESTRUCTION OF A VESSEL REGISTERED ON MOUNT ARARAT, FOR WHICH THE OWNERS WILL OF COURSE BE COMPENSATED. NO MOUNT ARARAT CITIZENS ARE THOUGHT TO BE AMONG THE DEAD AT PRESENT. HOWEVER, THERE IS ALSO AN ONGOING SITUATION INVOLVING UNWANTED INTRUDERS ON THIS VESSEL. NONE OF THOSE INTRUDERS ARE THOUGHT TO BE MOUNT ARARAT CITIZENS, WHICH IS GOOD FOR MOUNT ARARAT, AS THEY WILL SHORTLY CEASE TO BE CITIZENS OF ANYWHERE. THERE WILL BE A DEBRIS HAZARD ON THIS ORBIT, THE CONFIGURATION OF WHICH I AM SENDING WITH THIS MESSAGE. APOLOGIES FOR THE FACT THAT WE CANNOT SUPPLY DETAILS OF THE EXACT OWNERS OF THE DESTROYED VESSEL, AN INTRASYSTEM SHUTTLE, AS OF COURSE WE HAVE NO ACQUAINTANCE WITH MOUNT ARARAT OR ANY OF ITS CITIZENS.”
Day-of-Creation sprinted to the comms tower, flipped open a maintenance panel, pulled out a microphone cable and spoke breathlessly into it. “Uh—this is Mount Ararat here and we acknowledge. Do you need assistance.”
“NEGATIVE. WILL RETURN IN TRIUMPH SHORTLY.”
Day looked back at his mother’s urgently entreating face. “There may be a Mount Ararat citizen on board your vessel, by the name of Testament Reborn-in-Jesus. Can you confirm or deny?”
“I CAN CONFIRM THAT HE IS HERE AND HAVING A SPLENDID TIME. WE ARE ALL DOING SPLENDIDLY. EVERYTHING IS SPLENDID.”
A plasmadrive teardrop, red as blood wept by a statue of the Virgin Mary, flared in the sky downring from Mount Ararat. Somewhere in the middle of it would be a spacecraft manoeuvring towards coordinates her pilot considered safe for FTL transition.
“Something is badly wrong,” said Day. “But Testament is alive. Uncle Anchorite would not have lied to us about that.”
“Not like he lied to us about being a harmless monkish ascetic who knew nothing about the deaths of so many of our fellow colonists, you mean,” said Mrs Reborn-in-Jesus acidly.
“Uncle Anchorite hasn’t been dishonest about his murdering activities for quite some time, mother,” reminded Measure. “He has been quite open and up front about them. So Testament must be alive. But he’s in danger. And the shuttle’s all blowed up.” Tears were welling in her eyes.
“Uncle Anchorite said his ship had been boarded by pirates,” said Day.
“It’s Made,” said Measure. “It’s Made troopers, here like they’re everywhere else, here to wipe out all humanity, and they’ll kill us all—”
“We will muddle through,” said Mrs Reborn-in-Jesus firmly. “Heaven will provide.” She looked up at the stars. “Coming in at the last minute and taking all the credit after we’ve put in all the groundwork as usual.”
Day looked up at the rain of ironmongery in Mount Ararat’s paper-thin sky. “And lo did manna fall from heaven,” he said sarcastically.
A chunk of manna hit the ground in the Ninety East Field and detonated with a brilliant carmine glow.
“Lithium,” said Mrs Reborn-in-Jesus. “All this metal is not as useless as you might think. Mr Feng may be able to shape it into construction members. We could use it for emergency patching. Once the shower’s over, get out to the tractor. It will be just like it was when you were all small. We will go out on a meteorite hunt.”
“We should be going down to the landing field to say goodbye to Magus,” said Measure.
“There is no need,” said Mrs Reborn-in-Jesus. “He will be back directly. Now come in before you catch your death, the pair of you.”
“STEADY WITH THAT CRATE. It is FRAGILE. It contains the crystallized soul essence of over FIFTEEN HUNDRED ANGELS. Raphael, Uriel, Michael, Kuan Yin the Compassionate Bodhisattva, Wovoka, and Diana, the People’s Princess. It is not to be hefted around like a sack of cat litter.”
Magus looked up from where he was supervising a triage of ladies’ wardrobe luggage. “Dr. Bamigboye? Is there a problem?”
Bamigboye, wearing his very best brilliant white angelic healing hat with its tripartite nodding silver tassel, hurried over to Magus. “Young Mr Reborn-in-Jesus sir, yes there certainly is. Your rude stevedores are mishandling items of cosmic significance. Every time an angel’s soul container breaks, an angel dies forever—”
Magus nodded to the men hefting the heavy leatheroid trunk up the ramp into Prodigal Son’s hold. “Leave it.”
Dr. Bamigboye’s jaw dropped. “I beg your pardon?”
“You were told explicitly: Nothing to be packed that is not essential for day-to-day existence. That is to say, clothes, food, payment instruments, personal toilet items.”
The Doctor threw his arms about the crate. “But this is essential for life! Life continues! Death is not the end!”
“You will have ample opportunity to test that theory if you don’t get that crate off my loading ramp right now.” Magus wheeled on a personal servant who had been attempting to steal past him laden with cases. “You! What’s in those?”
“Madame’s shoes,” said the servant miserably. He was a slight, unobtrusive specimen, with eyes that stayed fixed on his toecaps at all times.
“Take them back to the rover. Madame will have to make do with one pair of shoes.”
“Madame will not like it,” said the servant.
“Then Madame can stay here on Mount Ararat,” said Magus, “out beyond the pale of humanity’s defences, while the Made sweep in from the stars.”
The servant looked at his own one pair of shoes sadly, then nodded and waddled away over the concrete towards the rover. When Magus turned around again, he found himself confronted by a face seemingly belonging to one of Bamigboye’s angels. Eyes of impossible lambent aquamarine beauty were fixed in a face pale as porcelain, framed by hair styled into decorative curlicues, baroque and golden as picture scrollwork.
“Mizz Llewellyn Revilla,” he said. “You have only one suitcase.”
“I have done this before,” said the angel, smiling with perfect teeth.
“I expect so,” said Magus.
Via a complex set of circumstances, Madonnita Llewellyn Revilla, heiress to the vast Llewellyn-Revilla void toilet fortune, had had her consciousness replaced with that of an entertainment-centre simulation of Helen of Troy. The simulation had proven significantly more agreeable than Mizz Llewellyn-Revilla’s original personality, and was doing its very best to learn every facet of its body’s former existence in order to pass itself off as a human being. Since being transferred to a human body, the simulation had injured itself a number of times due to the fact that it had, for a short while, also taken up temporary residence in a virtually indestructible robotic combat chassis—Uncle Anchorite’s Devil. For the first few days after being transferred into its current human body, it had attempted to walk through doors rather than opening them, had crushed highball glasses in its fist in fits of pique, and had absent-mindedly smashed its tiny perfect hand into solid walls, expecting those walls to break. The wounds were healing well, however, and Dr. Ranjalkar’s skin-coloured dressings were virtually invisible.
Magus leaned in close and whispered:
“Are you nervous about meeting your parents for the first time?”
Mizz Llewellyn-Revilla smiled thinly. “It will be nice to have parents. I was hatched from an egg, you know.”
With that possible best of conversational non sequiturs, she swept past Magus onto the ship.
All around Magus, people were arguing, trying to smuggle on board Latvian crown jewels, collections of sacrificial daggers, and wardrobes full of elderly ladies’ figure-belying intelligent underwear. God’s-Wound was arguing with a woman who insisted that Prodigal Son divert twelve light years to her winter chalet habitat on Dry Aspen, while Unity, Magus’ elder sister, was yelling so loudly at a gaggle of couturists in the Llewellyn-Revilla retinue that her mood-sensitive dress was a mass of crashing thunderheads. Not only guests, but also staff were leaving the South End settlement. South End Mount Ararat had been home for some time to a gravitational health spa for the credulously wealthy; nevertheless, the spa’s staff had been allocated as much space on Prodigal Son as the spa’s customers, and being treated on the same level as those who had previously served them was presenting conceptual difficulties for some of the former patrons.
“Do you think it’ll be safer on New Earth?” said one of the aristos’ adherents; and what she was actually asking Magus, pleading with her eyes, was Say something to make everything magically all right.
“God will provide,” he said, and realized instantly that he’d said the wrong thing. The dinnerplate-sized upside-down pentagram tattooed on her face should have provided a clue; she was one of the retinue of Milton Ariel, the popular telesatanist. She scowled at him and kissed the inverted cross pendant at her throat.
“Where’s your god now,” she said.
Magus kissed his own crucifix back, but refrained from telling her the most secret and unexpected of the many places his omnipresent god was currently occupying.