God sighed, and the bundle of rags at his feet shook nervously.
Both He and the vibrating rags were in one of God’s favourite parts of Heaven...The White Room. Although it was called The White Room, it wasn’t exactly a room, in the conventional sense.
Oh, it had walls and a ceiling and a floor. Somewhere. And it might even have had a window or two and a door. Probably somewhere else.
But mostly it had whiteness. Lots of it
There was even a rumour that it had a white sofa and a small white coffee table. But where they were in all the other whiteness was anybody’s guess.
“It’s no use, boss”, said the rags. “I’m just not cut out for all this secret agent stuff.”
“Nonsense, old friend,” said God, who was sitting on something...white. It might have been the sofa. But then again, with God, you never knew.
“I can’t think of anyone better suited to be my eyes and ears. We go back a long way, right?”
The rags grunted and mumbled, pathetically. “ Suppose so.”
“Been through thick and thin, eh?”
“Oh hell no,” said the rags, shaking even more rapidly. “ Not ‘the speech’ again. Not the ‘you’re my right hand man’ thing with the ‘what would I do without you’ bit tagged on at the end. Please God no – if you get my drift.”
“But that’s exactly what I need you to do old buddy”.
“Eh?” said the rags.
“Please God”, said God.
“But I’m crap at it. I’ve tried it before, thousands of times.”
“That means you’ve had lots of practice,” said God.
“No it doesn’t, boss. It just means I’ve been crap thousands of times”.
God softened his voice. “Gabriel, you’re just too modest. Now pick yourself up, brush off your wings and at least think about it.”
The bundle of rags unfolded, sort of fell away into grubby garment folds, and in its place stood the most famous of all of God’s angels, Gabriel. Savour of souls. Bringer of mercy, (well, so the calling card said). Cleaner of Angelic robes, except his own ( at a favourable discount).
All three feet nothing of him.
“But please don’t take too long to make up your mind. And for heaven’s sake, take off those blasted Ray-Bans!”
“It’s this room, Boss,” pleaded the angel. “Every time I come in I get snow blindness. Can’t see anything for days.”
“Oh?” said God, surprised, “I find it rather restful.”
“Restful? How can it possibly be restful? I can’t see a thing except you! Any minute I could bump into something large and painful...or trip over something small and breakable. Can’t you at least introduce a little colour? Maybe co-ordinated furnishings or a bit of Feng Shui?”
“Gabby, old friend,” said God, frowning, “we’ve got problems. Big ones. These earthly anomalies are getting worse.”
Gabriel saw the worry in God’s face. “Worse, eh?” he said, wondering what could be possibly worse enough to worry the Creator of the Universe and everything in it. And lots outside it, too.
God leaned forwards, put his elbows on his knees and rested his face in his hands, looking down at the small angel.
“You have no idea,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s this technology lark. It’s gone too far. We can’t have good and bad things happening in the world just because technology either saved the day or buggered things up.
God pounded the unseen arms of the chair he was very possibly sitting on. “Next thing you know,” he remarked, “they’ll be building altars to technology and making human sacrifices to ensure that the technology stuff works. Or blaming each other or some poor unfortunate if it doesn’t. Before you know it they’ll be saying ‘Oh you remember that God bloke. Turns out we didn’t need him after all. Now we’ve got technology all our prayers are answered. Hallelujah!’ ”
God thumped a heavenly balled-up fist into the palm of his other hand with a resounding smack. “That’s my word!” he hissed. “Not content with taking our worshippers and our powers, this technology lark is taking our well-known phrases and sayings.”
His voice took on a strange, soft, quivering aspect.
“Hell naaah!” said Gabriel, trying to be positive and optimistic.
“Hell yeah!” insisted God. “I knew it was only a matter of time before things turned belly up. I mean, how long can anyone keep all that ‘all powerful being’ stuff up, eh? A few thousand years? Few million?” he added.
Gabriel reached out and patted the back of God’s right hand. “There...there...” he said, with as much calmness and soothingness as anyone so small could muster, when faced with anyone so almightily powerful. “You’re just making yourself all upset. Just how bad is it?”
“Oh, it’s bad alright,” said God, shaking his head slowly.
Gabriel was sure he could detect a slight tear in God’s left eye. ‘Hellfire,’ he thought. ‘Things must be friggin bad if the Boss is nearly blubberin.’
He looked up at his old friend. This omnipotent being who had relied on him and trusted him since…well….nearly since the beginning of time.
Raising himself up as high as he could ( he could just clear the Godly knee),Gabriel puffed out his chest, fluttered his wings and said, “Okay boss. I’ll do it”.
There was a short silence and then the voice from above that he knew and loved so much said, “Righty ho, then. Better fill you in on the big picture. I’ve put together everything you’ll need for the mission, now that you’ve accepted it. I hope you don’t mind.”
As he looked into the eyes of God ( now miraculously no longer watering ) Gabriel could swear he saw a small speck of either relief or triumph, he couldn’t figure out which. But he had the distinct and clammy feeling that he’d just been conned. “Oh hell” he thought. “If I can’t be conned by the Boss, then who the blazes can I be conned by?”
Shrugging and shouldering acceptance of his fate, Gabriel’s eyes followed God’s right hand as he gestured to an angel who had suddenly appeared beside, and above, him.
“Mother?” said Gabriel, startled, looking up.
“Hello sweetchucks,” said a tall, bald geeky-looking angel in a white lab coat with a rack of pens in the breast pocket.
“Gabriel,” said God, “ you know Mother, don’t you?”
Mother nodded at Gabriel. Just a slight acknowledgement, accompanied by the merest of smiles. Regulation size and shape.
Gabriel nodded back. “Been a while,” he said, slightly nervously. Then he remembered the reason for his nervousness.
Mother looked into Gabriel’s eyes and slowly walked over to him, swaying his hips in the best John Wayne impression Gabriel had ever seen. The little angel backed off slightly.
“Well, little fella...nice to see you again,” said Mother. “What…no hug?”
Gabriel blushed and moved slightly away from Mother. “…er…no thanks. I gave up hugging knees for Lent. I’ll pass, if it’s alright by you.”
Mother smiled a tiny smile. “Of course,” he said. He turned to God and nodded. “Okay if I begin? There are some things you might need on this mission.” He glanced at God, who nodded his approval, leaned back and folded his arms. Then he reached into a pocket, pulled out an object and handed it to Gabriel.
“Let me guess,” said Gabriel, “it’s a pen with cleverly concealed memory-loss button in case I’m discovered.”
“Very good”, said Mother, clearly impressed.
His hand went to another pocket and retrieved a pair of spectacles. Gabriel let out a long, boring sigh. “No contest,” he said. “Thick, black, horn-rimmed glasses. Perfect for an impenetrable disguise. Also contains anti-demon power-spray in the left arm and emergency rations in the right.”
“See,” said God, smiling proudly. “Didn’t I say he was the right one for the job? Eh...didn’t I?”
Gabriel shrugged. “Well, I have done this a few times before,” he said. “Admittedly not for a while.”
“You’re too modest,” remarked Mother, “I remember the last time.”
“Yeah,” said Gabriel, with an inward glance. “That funny little Austrian fella with the short moustache Wanted to take over the world or something.”
Mother cocked his head and looked at the little angel with fondness. “And you were the one in the bunker who, shall we say, made him reconsider.”
Gabriel puffed out his chest just a touch, remembering the terrified looks in the eyes of the soldiers – and the funny little Austrian fella - as they witnessed a three-feet tall bungle of feathers pop into existence amongst them. He sighed. Happy days.
Mother produced a third item and placed it carefully in Gabriel’s hand. The angel looked at it and said, “It’s a tiny heavenly communicator with an internal guidance system and voice activated tracking device. Come on now, every trainee agent knows that.”
“It’s a watch,” said Mother, as the interest waned slightly in his eyes, “you’ll need it to tell the time.”
“Well…two out of three ain’t bad,” said the little angel. “Anyway, I’m an angel. I don’t need to tell the time. I’ve got the Force.”
“Well…that’s where it get’s a bit tricky,” said God, pulling on the lobe of his right ear and thinking that maybe ‘The Force’ wasn’t such a cheesy term after all. “You see, ever since my powers started getting weaker, there have been a few glitches in the old angelic ability stuff.” He shrugged apologetically, “ Sorry.”
“Anyway, it doesn’t tell earth time….it tells divine time,” said Mother. “Much more accurate. You might need it if things get a bit hairy down there and time starts running out.”
“Where the hell would it run to?” asked Gabriel, smiling.
“Look...I’m not much for gadgets. So if you don’t mind I’ll wing it without them.” Suddenly he laughed, “Oh...wing it...see...wing it...angel...it’s a joke, Mother!”
Mother shrugged. “Please yourself. And be careful with that sense of humour. One day somebody just might decide to park it somewhere painful where only surgical gloves and Vaselene can reach.”
Gabriel felt his sphincter muscles tighten.
“Oh and another thing,” said God. “You’ll be taking Azriel.”
“What?” shrieked Gabriel. “No way Jose! He’s a bloody psycho. He’s the four horsemen of the whatsit….”
“Apocalypse,” said God, helpfully.
“Bless you,” said Mother.
Gabriel started to look around, although all he could see was God, Mother and the same old whiteness stretching into infinity...or maybe just a few feet. “Well whatever they are, he’s the four of them all rolled into one pretty-boy smiling maniac. I’ve never seen anyone enjoy inflicting so much pain on so many people in so little time.”
God sighed. “Nonsense. He’s just a little headstrong.”
“Headstrong?” yelled Gabriel, who by now was beginning to panic. “I wouldn’t call the Crusades headstrong! I wouldn’t call lifelong vows of celibacy headstrong! I wouldn’t ca….”
“Somebody call my name?” asked a voice. “Funny how whenever someone says it I can hear it no matter how far away I am.”
The voice belonged to a stunningly handsome angel, dressed completely in black, which was appropriate since he was also known in certain circles as The Angel of Death.
“Hello, Azriel,” said Mother. “You never call, you never write, a person could think you just didn’t care.”
A small shiver ran down Gabriel’s spine and a funny tinny taste crept into his mouth. “Hiya Al. It must be a real shit to be so damned popular. Tell me, do your parents know you’re out so late?”
“Ah,” said Azriel, patting the little angel’s head. “It’s the short, fat, hairy one. Hello Gabby.”
“Save the meet-and-greet stuff for later,” said God, suddenly very businesslike. “You two will be working together so get used to it – very quickly. Gabriel’s in charge. Azriel, you’re second in command. And if either of you argue any more I’ll use what little powers I have left to beat the crap out of both of you! Capishe?”
“Why does he suddenly sound like Marlon Brando?” said Azriel to Mother.
“It’s Marlon who sounds like him,” replied Mother.
Azriel’s eyebrows arched. “That’s a frightening thought.”
“Hey you guys, I’m right here,” shouted God, raising a hand and pointing to himself repeatedly. “See? I’m not a hospital patient and you’re not doctors crowded round the end of my bed. So give up with the third person stuff.”
They looked suitably chastised. “Sorry Boss,” they muttered in unison.
Gabriel decided to change the subject...quickly. Turning to Azriel, he smiled and said, “So...you mean you actually had a thought?”
Azriel laughed. “I think so, yeah. Scary, ain’t it.”
“I think,” said Mother, “it’s time we spoke about The Eye of God.”