Musings With Lincoln, Part II

Continued from Part I.

I took a deep breath as I stared across my bed at our sixteenth President of the United States as he sat in my room’s armchair.  I was about to share some deep feelings, even if it was just to good ol’ Honest Abe.

“I’m scared that they’re going to go away,” I said finally.  “She’s got such strong feelings.  And I just sometimes get really scared that one day she’ll wake up and won’t feel that way any longer.  That it will all vanish as fast as it came on.”

I was still half expecting Lincoln to make some sarcastic remark, but the man just nodded solemnly.  “It’s understandable,” he agreed.

Another breath was in my lungs, but I didn’t have anything more to say.  That statement had pretty much summed it up.  “So what should I do?” I finally asked.  “Advise me, o leader!”

Lincoln, unfortunately, just looked back at me.  “I’m afraid that I can’t offer you any advice here,” he eventually commented.  “I don’t know any more than you do.”

I glared at the man.  “Fat lot of good you are,” I told him.

At this, Lincoln shrugged, back to his usual sarcastic, snotty self.  “That’s like punching yourself in the face,” he pointed out.  It was even more annoying because he was right, even if I didn’t want to admit it.  The man leaned forward, pointing one long, bony finger at me.  The digit didn’t quiver an inch.  “You’re going to have to ask yourself one question, though.”

“And what’s that?”

The president’s lips quirked up in a slight grin; he knew that he had my attention, that he had gained control of the conversation.  “Are you worth it?” he asked, the words barely audible.

“Am I worth it?” I repeated, not sure what the question meant.

Lincoln nodded.  “She believes that you’re worthy of those feelings,” he elaborated.  “Is she right?”

My mouth immediately opened to confirm this, but I paused.  “I think that I am,” I spoke slowly.  “But there will always be that little voice in the back of my mind whispering that I’m wrong, that I am not worthy.”

“So use that voice as a warning!” Lincoln seized on the chance to speak.  “Let it be a constant reminder of the work you have to do.  May you constantly stride to prove that voice wrong!”

It wasn’t a perfect answer, but it was an answer, of sorts.  I looked up at Lincoln to thank him, but the apparition was gone.  I was once again alone in my room.

I sat back on the bed, lacing my fingers behind my head as I gazed up at the ceiling.  Lincoln was never kind to me, but he was right.  And he had left me with a new perspective.

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"How would you improve a sport?"

It’s always been a dream of mine to see Battle Ball.

Start with football – two teams trying to get the ball (the “package”) into the end zone.  Keep the teams, the different plays, the armor and padding.  But let’s kick it up a notch.

Instead of just plastic padding, let’s give the players full-on armor.  I’m talking Kevlar and titanium plating.  I want full-on medieval knights plowing into each other.

Next up, we gotta address the fact that most of the players in a team end up just hitting each other and getting into a big scrum in the middle of the play.  Not too interesting.  So instead, I’m thinking that we’ll give them some tools.  The defensive linemen?  Let’s give them some of those full-body riot shields.  That’ll force the opposing team to keep their attention focused.

Imagine trying to get through a defensive line with THOSE!

But what will they even be blocking with those shields?  We need some offense in here!  So let’s give the linebackers some of those six-shot cannons used by riot police.  Don’t worry, they’ll just be loaded with beanbags.  Enough force to put a dent in the armor and knock someone off their feet, but not so powerful as to be lethal.  That would be sweet.

That’ll do some damage.

But this game still needs just a little bit more.  The one thing we haven’t addressed yet?  The field!  There’s all of this room for activities, and it’s currently just covered in grass.  How droll.  So I’m thinking that there ought to be retracting walls that rise up out of the ground, some ramps to jump off of, and maybe even a couple proximity turrets that fire off more of those beanbags.  Strategy then revolves not just around fighting the other team, but also handling the environment!  Each team’s home field could have their own arrangement of defensive countermeasures, to which the visiting team would be forced to adjust.

Teams of gladiators in full-on medieval armor, equipped with riot shields and beanbag cannons, battling up and down a booby-trap strewn field… what’s not to love about Battle Ball?

I would totally watch this.  I’d pay the exorbitant costs that would likely be involved in setting this up.  In fact, I’d want to do everything… except play.

Musings with Lincoln, Part I

He was sitting in the chair next to my bed when I walked into the room.  I groaned and chucked my book bag at his head, aiming for that ridiculous stovepipe hat that he always wore.

He blocked the throw, of course, batting my bag down.  Those long arms gave him a reach far beyond my own.  “Ready to talk about it?” he asked, bringing one leg up over the other.

I glared at him briefly, and then flopped down on the bed.  “It’s nothing.  Really,” I insisted, refusing to turn around.

“Well, I see why they call me Honest Abe, and not you,” the man quipped in tones dripping with sarcasm.  “Come on, we both know that you’re lying.  You might as well just open up and start pouring out all those feelings bottled up inside your little brain.”

Still holding the pillow on which I had been laying in my arm, I sat up and turned around.  “You know, you’re a pretty crappy conscience,” I griped.  “What sort of conscience just insults the mind it comes from?  Aren’t you supposed to be encouraging me, building me up?”

“Hey, I’m a figment of your imagination,” Abe shot back.  “Besides, maybe the reason you’re always picturing me as the sixteenth president.”  He reached up and pretended to straighten the stovepipe hat balanced on top of his head.  “Or maybe you just like talking to a bona fide badass.”

I thought about pushing him further, but it really wasn’t of any use.  I’d never get anywhere arguing against myself.  “It’s a stupid thing,” I said instead, squeezing the pillow in my arms.

“It often is,” Lincoln agreed.  “But you might as well just say it anyway.  The sooner we’re done here, the faster I can be back inside your head, frolicking around without all this focus on me.”

“Look, it’s too much of a good thing!” I protested.  “She loves me, right?  And that’s totally fine with me!”

Lincoln tilted his head slightly, peering at me with those scrutinizing eyes.  “So what’s the problem?” he prodded.

I let go of the pillow and gestured with my arms, trying to communicate what I was feeling.  “It’s just so… so strong!” I finally managed to get out.  “And she’s just so convinced of it!  It kind of scares me a little, you know?  Like what if I mess it up?”

“Are you going to mess it up?” Abe asked.

This time, he wasn’t quite as quick with his reactions, and the pillow clipped the hat off of his head before he managed to get his arms up in time to catch it.  “Come on!” he yelled at me, his voice slightly muffled by the cotton covering his mouth.

“Don’t just throw psychology 101 questions back at me, then!” I retorted.  “Of course I don’t want to mess it up!  But it’s just so strong, so sure!  How does she just know like that?”

Lincoln managed to get the cotton out of his mouth, and then made a spitting noise.  “Ugh, a cat has been on this,” he complained.  “I always hated those damn things.  Shedding everywhere, and they don’t even show any affection like a dog.  And now I’ve got cat hair in my mouth.”

“I’m sorry,” I broke in.  “Can we get back to me?”

“Oh, yes.  Always back onto you.  Like I don’t even matter.  I’m the one who keeps you on the straight and narrow path, you know – you ought to be a lot nicer to me!”

“I listen to you,” I said.  “And that’s effort enough.  Now, how about some advice?”

The president sitting in my bedroom chair finally stopped picking at his tongue.  “I’m in your head,” he told me.  “And that means that I know this isn’t the real problem.  So why don’t we cut the bull and you just tell me what you’re really scared of.  Deal?”

I sighed, but the irritating personification was right.  “Fine,” I said…

To be continued!

The Cheat Code, Part III

My next class was Chemistry, a class where I usually paid attention, but my thoughts were anywhere but on the lecture.  Instead, I was playing back the events of the last half hour or so, trying to figure out what had been so different.  For twenty to thirty minutes, my life had just felt, well, different.  It was like someone had turned up the brightness and contrast on my vision, and while I was distracted, had given me a shot of adrenaline and serotonin in the ass.  What had happened?

I had been sitting at my desk in math, drumming my fingers.  I put my fingers on the side of my current seat and began tapping, trying to remember what the rhythm had been.  It had been the first couple measures of Metallica, and then that weird syncopated beat, and then back to…

My fingers keyed in the sequence, and as soon as I hit the last beat, it happened again.  This time, I was paying more attention, and I felt the world brighten around me.  It was a powerful sensation, making my whole body jerk.  I was left tingling and just feeling different.

I grabbed my chemistry book and flipped it open, picking a random problem set.  I knew every answer before I had finished reading the questions.  I scooped up my pencil and flicked it; it spun three times around my fingers, a blur of motion, before landing perfectly back in the cradle of my grip.

Awash in power, I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and quickly typed in the number written on the back of my hand.  “Hey Vanessa,” I texted.  “It’s Davis – how about I tell you a few more jokes over drinks tonight, maybe around eight?”  I didn’t even think as I typed.

My phone lit up with a reply less than a minute later.  “Sounds good :)” I saw displayed on the screen.

I quit out of the message application, and then ran a finger over the touch screen surface.  The “Stocks” app popped out at me.  Now that would be a fun experiment, I thought to myself.

Leaning back in the desk, I put my hands behind my head and briefly closed my eyes.  I still wasn’t sure what I had stumbled upon, but I couldn’t feel down or depressed while everything was glowing in my eyes.

All of my normal worries were washed away, replaced by easy confidence.  It didn’t matter what the world was going to throw at me next; I’d be able to handle it.  And so instead of concerns, I could think only of what I could try to attempt next.

The Cheat Code, Part II

There were only a few minutes left in class, and I was still trying to reason out what had happened as I packed up my still-blank notes and headed out of the room in the middle of the crowd of other students.  My vision still seemed to have that same fuzziness around the edges, and I felt as though someone had turned all of the lights up just a little stronger than usual.

I caught a flash of red hair next to me and turned to see Chris, my best friend, come popping out of the crowd.  “Hey Davis!” he greeted me, nearly bouncing off the ground with excitement.  Chris always gave off the impression that he’d just downed a half dozen energy drinks.  “Did you see who’s just over there?”

I looked up in the direction my friend was pointing, and my mouth dropped open.  On the other side of the hallway, leaning against the wall and looking bored, stood an angel.

As I watched, my mouth still agape, the woman shrugged and sent her blonde hair falling in new waves down her back.  The motion exposed her low-cut top and made the tops of her breasts jiggle slightly, irresistibly pulling my eye.  Her jeans hugged every curve of her long, slim legs, sending my imagination into overdrive.

I knew her name, of course.  Most of the school did.  That was Vanessa Miller, the collective crush of every single hot-blooded male.  She had posed for our school’s Hustler issue a year ago – copies of that magazine, dog-eared and treasured, could be found in most dorm rooms.  But unlike most models, she was also a good person in other respects.  She volunteered regularly and organized charity drives twice a year for the local homeless.  She was, well, perfect.

Chris poked me again.  “You should go talk to her!” he insisted.

Normally, I would have totally ignored this.  I wasn’t anything special!  What could I even talk to an angel like this about?  But that tingling feeling was still inside my head, and before I even knew what I was doing, my feet were carrying me across the hallway and over to stand next to her.

“Hey, Vanessa,” I said, my voice somehow not squeaking or cracking from nervousness.  “Waiting for class?”

The woman looked up at me, and I felt like her eyes shot right through me.  For one split second, I felt as though I was about to melt into a puddle of shame and soak down into the floor right there.  But then, to my complete and utter amazement, she smiled.

“Yeah, my biology class is about to start in a few minutes,” she replied, nodding towards the door across the hall.  “Usually, the previous class is done by now, but it’s running late today.”

“Biology!  I actually know a biology joke – wanna hear it?”  I didn’t know any biology jokes.  What was I saying?

But the girl next to me was smiling and nodding, and those big eyes of hers were on me.  And my mouth was somehow still running.  “What do you get if you inject human DNA into a sheep?” I asked.

I paused for a second, letting the suspense build, and then delivered the punchline.  “Kicked out of the research facility!” I finished with a grin.

Vanessa’s face froze.  I immediately shot into panic mode.  What had I just done?  I’d totally blown it!  That joke was so offensive, so out of line, that I’d be lucky if she didn’t report me to the college and get me kicked out.  She had been actually talking to me, but it had all gone wrong.  I got ready to make a run for it.

But then, incredibly, the girl burst into peals of laughter.  Not polite, quiet little giggles; no, this was real and genuine.  It lasted several seconds as I grinned wildly back, not sure quite what was happening.  She finally subsided and reached up to wipe at one eye.  “Oh my god, that’s so terrible,” she said, her voice still filled with mirth.  “I’ve never heard that before.”

I kept the grin plastered across my face and waited, not sure what to do.  Vanessa took another breath and let it out, and then looked at me again.  Her eyes looked suddenly thoughtful.  “Do you have any more jokes as bad as that?” she asked.

I tried not to nod too rapidly.  “Much worse ones,” my mouth promised, as my brain looked on helplessly.

The beautiful girl fondled around in her pocket and pulled out a pen.  “Let me see your hand,” she commanded.

I held out the limb to her, and she carefully traced some numbers onto it with the pen.  “That’s my cell,” she told me, letting go of my fingers.  Her touch had been soft and warm, soaking into me.  “You should give me a call this afternoon.  Maybe we could go grab coffee or something and you could tell me some other jokes?”

“Definitely,” I promised, and I watched the girl walk into her classroom.  I didn’t risk moving for several seconds, fearful that my legs wouldn’t support me.

A moment later, as Chris came bounding over to me to see what had happened, I experienced another strange feeling.  The brightness that had seemed to suffuse the world abruptly faded, and the fuzziness at the edge of my vision snapped back to hard edges.  I slipped on the wall a little before I caught myself.  What had just happened?

The Cheat Code, Part I

I stumbled upon in math class, of all places.

Mrs. Jefferson may be a nasty old bat of a teacher, but her eyesight is still as sharp as ever, and we’d almost all gotten warnings at some point in the year for having our phones out.  I knew better than to rely on that method of distraction.  But really, anything is better than trying to learn differentiation.

So every day became a new exercise in sending away my mind.  One day, I counted every tile in the ceiling (548, by the way).  Another day, I used only the random accumulations of items from the bottom of my backpack to build a small working projectile cannon, which I used for the rest of the class period to launch small paper wads into Suzie’s hair.

But one day, I found myself with no other tools or implements to distract myself.  Bored nearly to the point of paying attention, I began tapping my fingers on the side of the desk.

I started with a simple repetitive beat, and then shifted into more complex rhythms.  My mind kept on switching between “Enter Sandman” and one of those songs where Lil John is always yelling, which made for some interesting beat patterns.  And to be honest, I’m not quite sure when the code actually hit.

But next thing I knew, I was looking up as someone yelled my name.  Mrs. Jefferson was looming over me, her eyes two hard points behind the bottlecap glasses.  “Davis!  Are you even paying attention?”

“Yes, I’m listening,” I stammered out quickly.  It was a blatant lie, but I hoped that she would just gloss over it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have that much luck.  “Well then, why don’t you take a crack at the problem on the board behind me?” Mrs. Jefferson suggested, a smile appearing at the edges of her lips as she gestured and stepped aside.

I turned my gaze to the chalkboard without much hope.  Sure enough, there was a doozy of a big problem up there, with plenty of symbols that were definitely not numbers.  But to my surprise, as I stared at the equation, it seemed to glow and fuzz slightly, and the answer was immediately clear in my head.

“Three zeta over two pi,” I recited, reading off the words burning on the inside of my forehead.

Mrs. Jefferson looked taken aback, but recovered after a second.  “Yes, that’s correct,” she said, and quickly moved on with the lesson.

I sat back in my desk, proud of myself but not sure how I had pulled that off.  I definitely hadn’t been paying any attention.  How in the world had I solved that problem?

To be continued!

Lazy Tuesday Morning

I stood in my living room, my robe hanging open around my waist, a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and a smile on my face.  The sun was pouring in through the mostly-closed blinds in my living room, and I could hear the sounds of faint sirens from outside, but I had nowhere to be.  And it was glorious.

I lifted my mug to my lips, taking a long sip of the hot liquid.  “Ahh,” I let out as I lowered the hot porcelain from my lips.  I had been a little reluctant to call in sick today, but this feeling was worth it.  Knowing that everyone else was headed off to their daily grind at their jobs, while I could sit on my own couch, in my own underwear, watching my own television as I drank my own coffee, made me curl up my toes from happiness.

Speaking of that, I sank down onto the couch.  I was careful to hold up my mug as I landed on the soft cushions, not wanting to spill any of the lifegiving liquid onto the fabric.  I pulled it off, took another sip as a reward, and then rummaged around for the remote.

I found it, pointed it at my television on the far side of the living room, and clicked it on.  The picture fuzzed into life to show ESPN.  Ah, yes.  The last thing I had been watching was that basketball game.  Shame, that had been.

I didn’t really have any program in mind; what was even on the air on Tuesday mornings?  Lazily, I began simply clicking down through the channels, waiting for something to catch my eye.

I landed on a news program.  Boring.  But as I paused for a second to lift my cup to my lips once again, something caught my ear.  “California,” the announcer had said.  What about California?

“…I say again, California has just been hit by a devastating series of earthquakes,” the announcer repeated, his eyes wide.  “The activity has apparently triggered a massive tectonic fault shift, splitting off most of the state from the rest of the country.  Emergency evacuations are underway, but they are hindered by…”

Slowly, as if in a dream, I turned my head to gaze towards the windows where the blinds were drawn, blocking out the view of the street.  Now that I listened, that I really listened, I noticed that the sirens from earlier hadn’t stopped.

I leaned forward and set my coffee cup down on the table in front of the couch.  I used both hands, making sure not to spill a drop.  With my drink secure, I then slowly rose up to my feet.

I walked over to the blinds, my hand hesitating as it reached for the drawstring.  Thinking better, I raised a single finger, pulling down one of the thin metal slats, and lowered my eye to stare outside.

My house had been built up on a hill from the street; I’d always resented that, since it gave me trouble with the mower.  But now, I seemed to be on an island.  In both directions, up and down the street, there was at least six inches of water covering the pavement.  I watched as my garbage bin floated by, bobbing slightly up and down.  It had been garbage day this morning.

I didn’t know what to say.  “Huh,” I said in lieu of actual thought.

My gaze rose to stare across the street.  Jenkins’ house was over there, but unlike mine, his house had been built in a slight depression.  He had made the most of this with elegant landscaping that I had no hope of matching, making sure that his house always drew the eye while mine simply made it sore.  Plus, I was pretty sure that the mean-tempered coot was stealing my paper.

Now, there were at least three bundled papers floating wetly outside his front door, bumping against the handle.  As I watched, a shape flitted behind the door’s frosted glass, and the door opened.  The water and floating paper boats came rushing in, and I could swear that I heard a faint curse from the far side of the lane.

A slight grin on my lips, I turned back around and ambled back to my coffee.  I picked up the mug and the remote, hitting the channel button again.

Ooh.  Community was on.  Pulling my legs up onto the couch beside me, I watched the show’s opening credits roll.  And with a whistle, I settled in to enjoy my day off.

Too Hot to Handle, Part II

“Trust me,” John had promised as we caught the maglev train back towards his neighborhood, “I’ve got something that will blow your mind.”

I had nodded, but I secretly hoped that this man wasn’t going to turn out to be some sort of sex-obsessed pervert, or perhaps have some unhealthy addiction.  I wasn’t up for that, and the moment he pulled out the leather mask, I’d be gone like the wind.

The door had finally recognized John’s genomic signature, and slid open with a faint whoosh.  John smiled, reached down and caught my hand, and tugged me inside.  Hoping that this date wasn’t about to go south, I followed him in.

We passed through his kitchen, a living room, and then into darkness.  I got the feeling that we were standing in a large area, but as John pulled the door shut behind us, all light was extinguished.  “This is my pride and joy,” John’s voice said in the darkness.  “I built most of it myself.  I can spend hours in here!”

I opened my mouth to ask what it was, exactly, but then John clapped his hands together twice, and ambient light bloomed.  And I recognized exactly what we were standing in!

The room was a massive cube, the walls, floor, and ceiling covered with a gridlike pattern.  I spun around, my mouth falling open.  “You have a Second Realm world!?” I gasped.  “And it’s huge!  This must be twenty feet on a side!”

John looked so happy that his smile might split his head in half.  “When you mentioned at dinner that you played, I knew that I had to show it to you,” he said.  “I really wanted to have a simulator that’s immersive, where I don’t have to worry about bumping elbows with someone else.”  His eyes dipped briefly.  “Do you want to try it out?”

My rapid nodding was all the answer he needed.  He clapped again, and the light darkened, the tiles covering all of the room’s surfaces rippling into digital light.

A small window popped up in front of me, the hologram hovering at shoulder height, prompting me for my login information.  I keyed it in, but a glance over to the other side of the room revealed that John was already connected.  His character profile was surely saved on the computer here, easily accessible for quick loading.  By the time I had entered in all of my information, waiting for the servers to sync up, John was fully dressed in his digital gear, checking his spell bindings.

As my own character began to load, I sized him up.  Light blue clothes, a crystalline staff, waves of tiny ice crystals radiating out from him in a constant aura – it was easy to see his class.  “Frost mage, huh?” I quipped.

“Some of the best crowd control in the game,” he retorted.  “Besides, like that old movie said, the cold never bothered me anyway!  What about you?”

The last customizations of my profile were still initializing, but my spell bindings were at my fingertips, ready to be unleashed with a tingle.  As my headgear – a protective set of goggles – materialized on my face, I brought my hands up.  “Your polar opposite,” I told him, wiggling my fingers in one of the sequences I’d memorized.

With a “foomph” of ignition, a ball of fire grew out of the empty space between my hands.  I brought it down in front of me, marveling at the constantly shifting texture.  John certainly hadn’t skimped on the graphics engine!  I couldn’t even spot the individual pixels.

When I glanced back up, John was grinning once again.  “A firebug, I should have guessed,” he said.  “Goes with your hot… personality!”

I laughed despite myself, but then gave him a mock scowl.  “How dare you insinuate anything!” I told him.  “For that, I’m going to kick your ass!”

The flag of a duel came dropping down between us.  John raised an eyebrow, and then his hands.  I could see the light glinting off the ice crystals forming a sphere between them.  “Are you sure you want to do that?” he asked.  “You might want to chill out.”

“Oh, I’ll show you!” I told him, raising up the fireball and readying myself as the duel counted down.  “I’m too hot for you to handle!”

Too Hot to Handle, Part I

For the first time in as long as I could remember, the smile on my face wasn’t forced as I followed the man up the steps to his house.  Sure, my last few first dates had crashed and burned, but this one had yet to spontaneously self-destruct!  I was even starting to feel hopeful that it would lead to more.

John, at the doorway to his house, turned and grinned back at me as he slid his palm across the biosensor.  “It takes a couple seconds for the genome scan to fully complete,” he apologized as we waited for the maglocks to disengage.  “You’re sure that you want to come inside?”

I looked back at him, stepping up to the top step to join him.  “Absolutely,” I replied.

The date had quickly climbed over that awkward sensation of meeting a complete stranger with the possibility of seeing them naked at a later point in time.  I had left early, making sure that I would arrive at the restaurant on time, but John had still been sitting there waiting for me.

He had looked just like the picture posted on his ElectroDate profile – he was wearing a gray suit instead of a blue one, and the tie in the picture was absent, but he still had the slightly mussy brown hair and that same goofy smile.  Between his cream shirt and gray suit, he was a sight of neutral colors – a direct contrast to me.

As I had settled into the seat opposite him at our table, I had to fight myself to stop from running my fingers up through my burning red hair.  It was a telling habit, a clear sign of nervousness, but I could never totally squash the motions.  I wedged my fingers beneath me, catching them between my black cocktail dress and the seat cushion.

But after the usual introductions, backgrounds, and small talk (“So what do you do?  Oh, that’s so interesting!  I have an uncle who was in that field”), John had paused, leaning forward to gaze intently across the table at me.

“Listen, Kate,” he spoke up, his voice earnest.  “You seem nice, but I want to make this clear right away.  I’m not looking for just something fun.”

Not looking for something fun?  I quirked an eyebrow at him, and he suddenly looked flustered as he realized what he’d just said.

“Not that I don’t want to have fun,” he kept going quickly, trying to recover.  “I mean, I’m a fun guy!  Not a fungus.  But I don’t just want to have fun, you know?  I want something more serious, a real relationship.  One that could lead to marriage.”

My eyebrow climbed higher.

“No, not like that!” John burst out.  “I mean, I’m not proposing on the first date!  That would be crazy.  And I’m not.  Not crazy.  Or proposing.  But I want to find someone who thinks that they might want to in the future.  To be proposed to, not to be crazy.”  He threw up his hands in frustration.  “Is this making any sense at all?”

I reached out and caught his hands out of the air, holding them briefly in my own.  They were big, lightly callused – the hands of someone who took good care of himself, but still put them to use.  “I feel the same way,” I said honestly.

At this, that goofy smile appeared once more on John’s face, and we resumed our talking.  But now, the conversation felt smoother, more flowing.  We got each other’s jokes, listened intently to each other’s stories, and by the time the serving bot was bringing by our dessert, I had accepted his invitation to go and see his house.

“Trust me,” John had promised as we caught the maglev train back towards his neighborhood, “I’ve got something that will blow your mind.”

To be continued on Wednesday!

Azrael & Mephistopheles, part II

At this comment, the devil took another large drink.  “Shit,” he said with feeling.  “That one was actually on us.”

Azrael raised an eyebrow.  It was rare to see any demon, much less a Lord of Hell, accept responsibility for any wrongdoing, however small.  “Care to elaborate?” he asked.

Mephistopheles’ drink was nearly empty, and a cherub scurried over to retrieve the glass and bring him a new drink.  As soon as the new frosted glass was in his perfectly manicured hand, he took a pull and consumed more than a third.  “We were testing out some new portal systems,” he finally said.  “Larger openings.  Armageddon’s coming, you know.  Gotta figure out how to move our troops around.”

“And what, you just left one of these things open?” Azrael picked up, aghast.  “You figured that no one would stumble upon a literal portal to Hell?  What if one of their satellites spotted it!?”

“It’s cloaked!  Give us some credit!” Mephistopheles interjected.  “And we had it over a mile up in the air.  Who’s going to ever bump into that?”

Azrael rolled his eyes.  “Someone sure did,” he muttered under his breath.

“Listen, we’re on damage control,” Mephistopheles insisted.  “We’ve already knocked together a mock-up, dropped it at the bottom of the ocean, and our people at the news networks are pushing towards it.  This whole thing will blow over.”

“A mock-up?  What happened to the actual plane?”

Mephistopheles rubbed his face with one hand.  “The thing crashed right through our invasion launch cavern and ended up taking out Beezlebub’s summer palace,” he complained.  “Now we’ve got a metal tail sticking out of his lava fountain, slaves working around the clock to repair the damage, and a whole bunch of Buddhist souls from on board that we can’t get rid of.”

This opened up a whole new debacle.  From an inside breast pocket, Azrael withdrew an elegant fountain pen and inscribed a few notes on the scroll.  “We can probably get in touch with Hotei.  That chubby excuse for a god can probably pull away from his eternal buffet long enough to do something.”

“Please,” Mephistopheles replied sincerely.  There was a definite advantage to this face-to-face meeting between the archangels and the Lords of Hell; while it took some humility, things certainly got done a lot faster than through the normal bureaucratic channels.

The archangel’s snifter of scotch was nearly gone.  He glanced down at the list on his lap.  “Well, there’s just that last item that we tabled from before,” he said.  “We need to take some action about that.”

“How long has this thing been tabled for?  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” asked Mephistopheles.

Azrael had to quickly count on his fingers.  “Two millenia?  Might have been a little longer.”

“Ugh,” the devil groaned.  “Refresher?”

The archangel disliked flashy magic, but he spun his pen in a slow circle over the scroll, making the words change beneath the ink nub.  “Looks like we had some guy proclaim himself a god,” he read off.  “Whole bunch of trouble went down, we both slipped up, and the aftershocks of all of this has been causing ripples and problems all over.”

Mephistopheles considered this for a few minutes, and then took a contemplative drink.  “Well, my drink is almost gone, and these stupid bodies can’t hold a buzz,” he complained.  “We’ve tabled this for a couple millenia, and nothing’s fallen apart yet.”

Azrael nodded.  “Move to table?”

“Move to table.”

The angel rose up from his seat, stretching out his limbs.  “Ugh.  I can’t wait to get out of this body.”  He tossed back the last of his scotch, tossing the glass back down onto a table.

One of the cherubs came up to the archangel, bobbing at his elbow.  “Sir, the bill?”

With distaste, Azrael turned and glared at the little angel.  “Are you kidding me?” he thundered.  “Do you know who I am?  We made this whole thing on another plane, just for meetings.  What in the world do you need money for??”

The little cherub looked uncertain, but he stood his ground.  “Sorry sir, but not money – karma,” he insisted.  “We have to pay the karmic balance for the drinks, sir.”

Azrael was still about to argue, but Mephistopheles snapped his fingers, and a few shining tokens appeared out of thin air and tumbled into the cherub’s outstretched hand.  “I got this one,” the devil commented.  “You can pick up the tab next time.”

Together, the devil and the archangel strolled out of the lounge.  Azrael knew that he should hate this manifestation of evil, but they had been meeting so long, had talked and griped together so long, that he actually felt closer to him than to many of the other angels.  Metatron was an insufferable know-it-all, Gabriel had a frustrating tendency to gloat, and Michael was never able to remove the stick from his ass.  But Mephistopheles’ lack of any respect towards authority was refreshing, a nice change from the stuffy bureaucracy he usually had to face.

“So, meet again in another couple years?” Mephistopheles asked at the door.

“Let’s make it next year,” Azrael replied.  “Follow up on that plane, you know.”

The two men stepped out through the door, out into the nothingness on the other side.  For just a second, both of their bodies were outlined in a glow; Azrael’s figure lit up in white, while Mephistopheles’ shape imploded into blackness.

And then they both were gone.