A four part story of queer angels, old gods, syncretism, identity and social media tribalism. Mythic sci-fi?
His body stretches across the Cour Napoleon, surrounded by the rubble his fall has made, the cracked stone and concrete. If he moves a leg, his foot will crash through the glass pyramid, but he’s still. He must move. He must shrink his vast body to fit the proportions of the mortal world. But he can’t find the will required. A light breeze ruffles the feathers of his wings.
Few in the crowds of tourists can bear it. Some have fallen to their knees and are openly weeping in the street. Most turn away, gather up their loved ones and return home, or the closest haven they can find. One or two hardened souls point their iPhones at him. He sheds tears for them, for their lost awe and wonder, these maimed souls. His tears puddle beneath his face.
A hand touches his arm. A small hand, but he knows it doesn’t belong to a human.
He blinks his tears away and shifts to find Michael. Michael in his favourite form strongly resembles an actor from a war film the archangel has watched a million times. He even wears the khaki t-shirt, the dog tags, the crumpled look and the soot-smudged face. His wings and divine light are hidden by illusion. But for all his worldly appearance, his feet don’t quite touch the ground.
“Come, old friend,” Michael says. “You need to leave this place.” His tone is soft, so soft, as if a higher volume would wound Gabriel, shatter him like glass.
“Why are you here?” Gabriel asks. “You shouldn’t talk to me. I’m forsaken.”
“No,” Michael says. He pauses, takes a breath, and Gabriel realises he’s exhausted. It’s not easy to tell because he hides it well, but Gabriel has known Michael for millennia, in his many forms, and has loved him for as long. He’s gone very still, his face mask-like, eerily calm. This is Michael at his most overwhelmed, deadening all his emotions, burying them deep until his consciousness is as calm as a field before battle, as peaceful as a graveyard. It’s how he leads, how he bears to witness the atrocities he must, without breaking. Later, he will sit in darkness and drink whisky and watch his favourite films, read his favourite poetry, and somehow he’ll be all right.
Gabriel can’t be hard or silent or blank. That’s not what he was made for. He must be joyous, glorious, and compassionate; he must be the herald and the communicator. He must forge unions between God and man; he must represent His glory. Past tense. Not anymore.
“He’s gone,” Michael says. His throat ripples as he swallows and in his eyes is a glint of emotion, a plea. Help me. I need you. It’s enough. It’s the only thing, in fact, that can give Gabriel a reason to move, to draw in his form until it fits this world.
He begins the process of ravelling up the stuff he’s made of, the raw energy that God has moulded into this shape, this particular myth-form that pleases Him best.
“What… where?” Gabriel asks, when he’s a more reasonable size. Difficult to form the right question. He’s still naked, and now that he’s smaller, he feels his nakedness beside Michael’s clothed form, feels exposed in a way he did not before.
Michael helps him up, as Gabriel imagines modern clothing to wear — something neutral, unnoticeable in the crowd. Michael would rather manipulate the mind of every mortal they pass than not go about looking like a 1970s Martin Sheen. Gabriel imagines a soft sweater, imagines the texture against his skin. It would be pleasant to wear the real thing. Perhaps he will find one, later. Something soft, in pale blue, like the sky he fell from.
Michael moves a curl from Gabriel’s face, bringing him back to the present. “He’s gone into the void to fight Lovecraft’s gods.”
“But…” Gabriel protests, rubbing his eyes, wishing he’d wake up from his nightmare. He can feel his desperation rising, that same emotion he’d felt when he’d looked into the face of God and known he was losing his argument in a very final way. “I told Him they weren’t real. He wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t get Him to understand what a cult following means in modern times. I tried to explain a meme, and He flew into a rage. He thought I was mocking him.”
“But now He believes in those creatures,” Michael says. “How long before He shapes them from the chaos? And then, how can He ever win?” It’s a dreadful thought. Incomprehensible. “He’s become more wrathful,” Michael adds.
Gabriel nods, trying to calm himself. No use replaying it. They’ve had this conversation before. And then Gabriel had decided to take action. Like a fool.
“The modern world shapes Him,” Michael says, “pulls Him in a particular direction. No place for compassion, now.”
“I tried to tell Him our fears.”
It had been a mistake, but it was done. How to tell the Lord Almighty that He’s becoming the God of angry tribes once more, shaped by the anger of humanity, by their twin drugs of outrage and righteousness? The answer is, you don’t tell Him, because if you do, you fall.
“I need your help,” Michael says. “To speak with the others. Some will try to take advantage.”
“The Adversary won’t listen to me.”
“But the others may.” The scattered old gods for whom the Almighty had found no place in His plan. “I feel the pull of the old shapes,” Michael admits. “Do you feel it?”
Gabriel shakes his head. “Not yet.” It’s been a long time, and his current form is so far from those earlier ones. But Michael is not so very far from Mars, at least. And from there, it’s only a short step to those other ancient forms he had once taken.
Around them, mortals are walking away, confused. Those who had wept dry their eyes, their dread sinking back into their bellies where it would remain, unnamed.
“Come,” Michael says, a tentative arm on his shoulder. “There’s a hotel I know not far from here, run by one of my people.”
“He will come,” Gabriel says, trying not to think of the Deceiver, in case somehow he unwittingly conjures him up.
“What do we do?”
“We pray to Christ, not to the Father. We speak to Ishtar and try to get her on side. We remain vigilant.”
The hotel is a small boutique place, owned by a WW2 resistance fighter, now run by her son, as she’s too ancient to manage the way she once did. She sits at the reception, overseeing the place. She and Michael knew each other, of old. She shows them to their room herself.
“This is Gabriel,” Michael says in French, before she leaves them.
She fingers the crucifix at her neck and nods but says nothing as she closes the door.
“I need to return,” Michael says, looking out of the window as a pink evening sets over Paris.
“He’ll come soon,” Gabriel says. He’s not strong enough to defend himself. Only Michael is proven against the Deceiver.
Michael turns his head from the window. Reality ripples around him, and for a moment he wears a gleaming cuirass and holds a spear. So close. Mars is so close to him, has never been far away. “The Host needs me. They need leadership.” Always the general.
“I need a laptop,” Gabriel says. “If you want me to help.”
Michael nods. “I’ll return as soon as I can. I want you to speak to Ishtar, try to make a deal. We need her power.”
“She’s in Iraq, no?”
Michael nods. “But there are artefacts in Berlin. The Pergamon Museum. I think if you visit there, you could summon her.” He pauses. “In Enki’s name. She always liked Enki.”
“I don’t….” It was simpler for Michael. He had always been a god of war. But Gabriel had been many things — messenger, go-between, mischief maker, magic weaver, shape-shifter, thief… herald. “Michael, please… I don’t trust myself.”
Michael comes over to the bed and bends to kiss him on the forehead. The softest touch of his lips. “I trust you, Gabriel. But call me if you need me. I’ll always come.”
Gabriel attempts a smile to please Michael. But the truth is, the end has already begun. And he’s here to usher it in.
Read Part 2 here.