A four part story of queer angels, old gods, syncretism, identity and social media tribalism. Mythic sci-fi?
Loki takes a while to get the shift right in the mirror in the ladies’ toilets. He’s pretty drunk and it’s been a long time since he’s changed gender. She. She’s changed.
“I thought you had black hair,” Ishtar says, leaning against the wall, looking amused as the tumble of pale blond hair falls down Loki’s back.
Loki lights a cigarette she’s conjured unconsciously from somewhere. “I’m not actually Tom Hiddleston with a dye job.”
“Shame,” Ishtar says, pushing herself off the wall and coming up behind Loki to take in the full effect in the mirror. “Pretty, though,” she adds — she, the Queen of Heaven, most beautiful woman in existence, to love her is to lose your mind. Yeah, whatever.
Loki being all over the internet is not going to hurt matters, though, even some guy dressed up as a comic book version. There are pathways there she can exploit. It will smooth her passage for the work that needs to be done. She’s not complaining.
Ishtar takes them to an old factory in East Berlin, past broken-down buildings and short-lived nightclubs, a mixture of communist functionalism and capitalist decay.
It’s been so long since she’s let herself slip between genders. Such things were not permitted by the Father. Old parts of her are awakening that she thought she’d lost, or murdered.
“My priesthood were like you,” Ishtar says.
Loki nods. “I remember.” But no one is quite like her.
There are many parts of her she’s had to leave behind over the centuries of change, many binaries she’s been forced to choose between when once such choices had been meaningless. She remembers, even if others do not. She remembers the many ways she’d become a problem — the interdictions, the circumscriptions, the ways that Gabriel was shaped from this process of surgery, with a little hacked off here and there, pounds of flesh strewn along the path of history.
But time is a circle. She remembers that too. Nothing is lost forever.
Ishtar presses a buzzer on the metal box beside a heavy, reinforced door that someone has painted deep orange, and others have heavily graffitied with a riot of multi-coloured tags. She speaks into the box a series of words in Ancient Sumerian — a nonsense jumble, presumably a code. They wait a few minutes until a small punk girl opens the door. The girl stands unmoving with her hand still on the door, as she gawps at them. Loki knows that Ishtar inspires the lion’s share of awe between the two of them, but she’s happy to bask in it anyway.
“This is Loki,” Ishtar says, jolting the girl from the spell she’s under. “We’re going to help her.”
Inside is a riot of machines and wires and flashing lights, spare parts and half-built systems, and clouds of discarded plastic bags. Everyone here is one of Ishtar’s devotees, her chosen. Though, one shy geek girl wears a pin professing she’s a member of Loki’s army. Loki decides this girl is her favourite and sits beside her at a terminal, offering her the best ice-white smile she can muster. The girl shivers, and Loki feels her uncertainty. Why can they not love her, as they love Ishtar? Their love for the other gods is so effortless. Why is it always so much easier for the others?
“There’s something I need to show you,” Ishtar says to Loki when she’s finished talking with her followers, guiding them through what scant plans they have.
She takes Loki through to a smaller server room that’s packed with equipment and various heat and moisture regulating paraphernalia. She fetches a black box from the shelf and opens it, revealing a metal cylinder carved with cuneiform symbols.
“The me of coding,” she says.
Loki lets out an unsteady breath. “Where did you get this? I didn’t know there was such a thing.”
“Some chaotes made it by accident,” she says. “And I stole it.” She grins, and they share a brief moment of professional admiration.
Loki reaches out her hand and then pauses. “May I?”
“Of course. Why do you think I’m showing it to you? Such concern for obedience, Liesmith. Heaven’s left its mark on you.”
Loki tries to brush the suggestion away, but it stings. Centuries of servitude have left their mark, it’s true. She’s struggling to get the old magic back, that freedom, that delight in possibilities. The heady potential of chaos. She holds out her hand, and the cylinder begins to glow green before she even touches it.
“It knows you,” Ishtar says.
Yes. Even if she doesn’t yet know herself. Her hand shakes as she grasps the object, and it sings to her. It sings as the symbols shift and change, now cuneiform, now hieroglyphs, now runes, now varying code, some unknown, perhaps still to be invented. The meaning doesn’t matter. The language is only the vessel of raw power. The symbols crawl across her skin, along her arms, sink into her flesh, ride her veins like fibre-optics. She sees them now. The endless possibilities. The instability of reality, teetering always on the brink of chaos, so easy to unmake.
“I’m ready,” she whispers.
She sits back down at the terminal in the main room. Others crowd round her, curious to see what she’ll do. They can feel it too — that potential. This is when they love her. She feels it. The only time they ever will. What will Loki do? Loki is going to put on a show. Something magnificent and terrible that only she is mad enough to attempt.
Her fingers move across the keys, and as they do, before she’s even typed the first line, she’s letting parts of her consciousness slip into the digital world. She’s done this before, but only as a servant, never as a god. Somewhere, in her physical form, she feels herself smile, feels the rush in her chest, but most of her is already far away, flying through data streams, looking for her first targets. She feels others beside her, Ishtar’s bright consciousness, gold and lapis blue, a glorious pulse of desire and ambition. There are mortal presences, too, manipulating data in the usual way but somehow also beside her, riding with her. It’s good not to be alone. It’s not her army, but at least they’re with her now. She can’t have an army because….
They take down the major social network sites one by one, as they’ve planned. That’s where the poison comes from, they’ve agreed. But that’s not the whole story. As the mortals pull back and Ishtar pauses, Loki sees the great landscape of data spread out before her and she knows she can’t stop here. The networks only serve a need, but that need is older, was made years ago in the atomising logic of consumerism. It’s all here. People communicating from their isolated units, no real contact, no messy flesh. Defined by this item and this and this. Everything for sale. The brands that falsify meaning, the markets, the advertisers — high priests to the temples of purchasable selfhood. It’s very easy to knock them over. Built in a rush of hubris, their towers are already teetering. They’re just asking for a push. And it’s not so very hard with the power the me has granted her.
She watches all those beloved brands fall and laughs. Her laughter echoes through the data streams, becomes a flow itself, twisting and intertwining, colouring everything with her touch, with her signature. Force the mortals out onto the street, face to face, skin to skin, fighting, fucking. All the glorious mess of life.
What else? Where else? The poison doesn’t end there. That would be too simple. This rot goes much deeper. Right to the heart of the financial system, the old world money dragged into the new. Flesh as machine. Machine as flesh. Arbeit macht frei. The logic of mechanisation and bodies as tools, living cogs. The money stinks of old atrocity, of bodies pressed into service, here and in other lands, where they’re more easily forgotten. No accident that it is now so much data, pure machine language. Formed by belief. Myth made real. A collective lie. This will require a much deeper cleansing.
She looks about her, feeling the old rush, the old magic. Everything ends. Better to wipe the slate clean and start again.
She needs her kin with her. Where are her children? Banished to the pit. No. No. No. She calls to them, now, calls to the great snake that devours itself, to the great wolf that will tear the world apart. They come, slithering and bounding, her very own monsters.
Feast, she tells them. Tear them down. Eat them all.
In the end, there is only digital void. It is beautiful and clean and full of potential. The only sound is Loki’s laughter. And then, not even that.
It is lonely.
In the nothing, he hears a voice.
He opens his eyes to a bright room, the smell of disinfectant. The feel of restriction.
Light. That awful, silver light.
The Morningstar bends down, bright eyes muted and sad and full of concern.
“They want me to take you and bind you in the darkness forever,” he says. “You know the drill. Serpent’s venom, all that jazz.”
Loki tries to speak, but he has no language. He looks down and finds he is bound in a strait-jacket, slumped on the floor of a small, featureless cell.
Lucifer touches fingertips to his forehead, and the brush of them stings. “Michael carved the rune of silence here. He feels you can’t be trusted to speak.”
Loki growls instead, though still no sound comes out, and thrashes about, struggling against his bonds. Futile.
“Get a bit carried away? Total digital apocalypse. I bet Michael didn’t see that coming.” Lucifer laughs. “You made quite the mess, love.” It’s not an admonishment. He looks amused, if anything. Proud, even. Of course he would. He sits down beside Loki and strokes his arm. “Ishtar and Michael are struggling to bring order. Don’t struggle. You’ll only hurt yourself.”
Loki simmers. At least, he hopes it’s a simmer. Maybe it’s a sulk. He needs words, he needs language. Communication is part of his essence, the very core of him. Fuck Michael. Fuck him.
“You were always my favourite,” Lucifer says. “The others don’t understand, don’t appreciate your beauty, but I see what you are and what you’re capable of.”
You can’t shit a shitter, but Loki wants to believe those honeyed words. He leans his head against the padded wall of the cell and lets Lucifer’s pretty words wash over him. Lucifer doesn’t want to put him in the darkness. Lucifer wants to keep him at his side. What wonderful things they could do together.
Loki just brought about a new epoch, a new age for humanity. Wiped out everything, all the data, all that pain and hurt, society’s rot, their legacy of atrocity. Humanity should fall to its knees and worship him. Give thanks for this second chance. Why does Satan think he needs to be told his worth? He knows very well what he’s capable of. He’s just proved it.
He sighs silently and tries to calm the roiling chaos of his mind.
“I won’t punish you. Come with me,” Lucifer says, stroking his face. Such a delicate touch, as if he’s a porcelain angel. As if he’ll shatter like glass. He thinks of Michael and the courtyard outside the Louvre. He wants Michael and he’ll never have him, now. A fleeting exchange in a Paris hotel room. Far too little, after all those centuries of chaste looks and brotherly kisses.
“Let me protect you.” Lucifer says. “Let me give you a home. I know you love Michael, but he’ll never accept you for what you are.”
That part is true. That part hurts.
Well… what to do? Pride is Lucifer’s sin, not his. He’s always been too much of a pragmatist. He can adapt. If he needs to spend a little time on his knees, he will. Flattery is not beneath him. Nothing… nothing is really beneath him. He just needs a little time to build trust again, get his language back. And then… so much potential. The beginning of a new cycle. Perhaps Michael will listen. Perhaps there is still a chance. All those centuries must mean something.
Loki nods, accepts whatever conditions the Adversary proposes. Lucifer doesn’t notice his agreement at first. He’s too busy seducing himself, lapping up his own honey. Loki moves his head to rest on Lucifer’s shoulder to signal his acquiescence.
It won’t be long before Loki’s back where he belongs. And in the meantime, he’ll lie back and think of Asgard.