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Both its arms and legs were overlong, giving the monstrosity a very sleek look. Cade had always appreciated a fast car in his youth, and the impression he got as he stood looking up at the synthetic creature was that it looked extremely fast—even standing still.
Cade turned and looked back. Dr. Caleb was walking toward him. He waited for the man to get closer.
“Are you going to do what I think that you’re going to do with these,” Cade asked?
“You already know the answer to that,” Dr. Caleb said.
“I think I do, Luke. I’d ask if you’re insane, but that’s a question I’ve known the answer to for all too long now.”
Dr. Lucius Caleb did not smile. And in the span of that moment, the light left them. Cade noticed that his other senses immediately adjusted.
“This is annoying, Luke.”
“I suppose you figured you were improving me. But every damned time something happens, my system—mind, brain, whatever you built—feels it necessary to adjust everything. Without consulting me first. I can barely supress it all at times. There is simply too much input.”
Cade heard Dr. Caleb sigh in the darkness. “At a time like this, you’re complaining?”
“You’re damned right I am, Luke. You call me an ingrate, but your Hubris is astounding.”
“I suppose you mean God created you a certain way and I had the audacity to improve on that, blah, blah, blah…”
This time it was Cade who sighed. “You are certainly touchy. And spend a day in this synthetic body before you run off about what’s been improved.”
Then, Cade heard a familiar sound that was entirely out of place in the facility: hooves.
“Cade,” Dr. Caleb asked into the darkness, “am I hearing hooves?”
“You are indeed,” Cade replied.
A single, dim shaft of light from above appeared in front of them. In the center of it stood a pitch-black billy goat with the most impressive set of horns that Cade had ever seen. The goat tilted its head left as it looked at them.
Five Years Ago
The Prince and the Pope had taken seats together with all of the leaders of the world’s nations.
The Prince stood, began walking around the large room. He smiled at some, patted others on the shoulder, and radiated amicability.
“For the last hundred years,” the Prince said, “we have all of us labored under the impression that humanity could be controlled against its will. That we could somehow steer world events, leading all of humanity to understand that it cannot sustain itself alone.”
As the Prince spoke, the translators in the room began to grow at first nervous, then terrified, then they all became enamored of something: none of them were needed. At first, each translator thought that they heard English from the Prince and thus began to translate. But quickly they knew better: each of them heard the Prince in their native tongue. So none any longer spoke but sat in awe; silent, listening.
“You all have seen my travels, my adventures. You all likely assumed I merely walked the path of the spoiled Blue-Blood. No one, certainly not me, could blame you. I must have appeared as some comic book character seeking to ‘find himself,’, yes?”
There was no one in the room who did not chuckle at the Prince’s joke.
“But,” the Prince continued, “though I did enjoy myself immensely, those days were not for leisure alone. I sought to know this world, this place that I have been sent to save. And I saw the pain that our wrongs have done. And I am here to right those wrongs.”
The hush that came over the room was palpable.
“We cannot, ladies and gentlemen, control mankind by forcing humanity to follow our whims. Not prosperity, not comfort, not war, not pestilence, not chaos has been able to steer our Wayward Mankind toward our collective goal; give it to our Modern Man, he has learned to adapt to madness in ways that no one could have imagined.”
Many in the room nodded their heads in approving gestures.
“I have a better plan,” the Prince said. “Let us show humanity my power, your power ladies and gentlemen. Let us show them that we are their true benefactors. We will give them all that they desire and so much more, and in doing so, they will love us and they will desire to do our will. And in their obedience we will watch their pain die away into laughter and peace.”
The room erupted into applause. Though the Prince had laid out no specific plan, they were all of them in an odd rapture of hope, of a future that saw them and all those they loved finally united together, as a single species, without the battles that had plagued the World of Man for eons.
As the Prince smiled, all hearts in the room melted into his.
Cade turned his body and head to look at Dr. Caleb. He pointed at the black billy goat. His tone was sarcastic.
“Oh no,” he said, “this isn’t symbolic at all, Luke.”
But Dr. Caleb was on his knees, shaking, eyes wide, looking upward into the dim light, behind and above the goat.
When Cade turned, the goat was no more. Some feet behind where it had stood a monster was shadowed.
He understood why Luke had dropped to his knees. Though the sensation he felt resonated to his synthetic system in no way like his old human self, he knew the feeling all the same: pure terror. The kind that renders a human man into a shivering mess. The Fallen angel before him radiated power and fear; he could imagine the violation of thoughts and memories that Dr. Caleb was likely experiencing at that moment. The shock of being utterly powerless before something with no compunctions at all.
Cade knew the creature’s name. But never had he imagined such avarice and animosity.
Though it had two arms and two legs, the fallen creature did not cause Cade to think of it as in any way human. Cade’s synthetic system told him it stood nine feet tall. The entirety of the monstrosity was black. As it breathed slowly, the sound was something akin to a human with advanced emphasyma.
The creature stepped a bit further into the light and Cade actually heard Dr. Caleb’s pulse speed up to a dangerous level.
Like the black billy goat, the thing before them had an impressive set of horns that jutted from the top of its head, spiralling upwards. They were at least two feet long. But the face and head were what made the creature truly awful. It looked something akin to a cross between a billy goat and something out of science fiction. Cade’s first thought was that of the ancient depiction of Baphomet that had been around for eons.
He couldn’t tell if it had on some kind of armor but, much like the synthetic body that Dr. Caleb has just shown him, the fallen creature’s muscular structure looked segmented. The thing’s arms were overlong and the elongated fingers ended in black talons. Those hands hung out around the thing’s knees. In the dim light, Cade could see that it had wings that were even blacker than its own skin; massive and not at all reptillian. More like black feathers.
It did not roar. Did not move. The creature merely stood partially in the light and stared at them. The only thing human about it were its eyes, making the overall effect even more disconcerting.
“Get up, Luke,” Cade said. “Get up. Do not offer this fallen thing fear.”
“I can’t,” Dr. Caleb said between sobs, “I’m not… I’m not built like you.”
Cade understood his old friend’s terror. The monster before them, however, could rip them both apart without much effort. “I know that, Luke. But believe me, I’m only still in one piece because it is at the moment prohibited to harm us. You may not be synthetic but we still have one thing in common, Luke: our will to get up and face Death head on.”
“Then help me.”
Without taking his eyes off the monster, Cade took several steps backward, reached down, grabbed Dr. Caleb’s lab coat, and yanked him to his feet.
“You could be a bit more polite,” Dr. Caleb said.
“We ain’t got that kinda time. Stay standing, no matter what, Luke.”
Cade turned his head slightly, just enough to make eye contact with Dr. Caleb.
“Would you bow to Hitler?”
Dr. Caleb said no more.
Cade looked upward and met the monster’s gaze.
“What is your business here,” he asked?
“Who are you, to treat with me?”
The voice the two men heard was not externally audible. That voice was in their minds. Though the creature’s facial features and eyes communicated with that voice, its mouth did not move. The effect nearly overwhelmed Cade’s senses. He watched in his periphary as Dr. Caleb’s kneeds began to buckle. He reached over and pulled the man back up.
“Stay strong,” he whispered.
The fallen creature spread wide its wings for effect. “I am a god,” it said within their minds, “and you a mere human.”
Cade actually rolled his eyes. “You’re the second of your kind I’ve met recently. You both say you’re gods but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re actually not.”
The creature’s eyes flared red. Cade had to chuckle because they actually turned red. He’d always figured that to be just a silly movie effect. Who knew, he thought to himself. Cade heard Dr. Caleb take in a lot of air fast. He held up his left hand slightly.
“Relax,” he said. Cade knew the fallen thing’s weakness: good, old-fashioned Pride.
“I will not stand here and treat with man so fallen as to have become likened to an intelligent ape,” the fallen thing said.
Cade couldn’t resist looking over at Dr. Caleb and raising his left eyebrow. He watched Luke almost manage a smile.
“Fella,” Cade said. He looked directly into the monster’s eyes. “I have zero fear of something like you that can kill this body. I was told to fear the thing that could take my soul. That isn’t you.”
Again the fallen angel’s eyes flared red. Cade watched as it nearly took a step forward. To his surprise, the creature supressed that pride and anger.
“You think that I cannot take your soul, ape?”
The fallen angel reached down and put its massive hand around Cade’s throat and lifted Cade to its own eye level. Cade could feel a tug, deep within himself, something that wanted his soul. Something that it could not have for two reasons, and he enjoyed the look of surprise on its face.
“Where is your soul?”
“Somewhere else,” Cade replied.
“Then,” the fallen angel said, “you are no longer in His image. You are already lost.”
When the thing laughed inside their minds, Cade heard Dr. Caleb hit the floor again. Part of him wanted to punch the craven coward who was so full of hubris but the problem there was that he understood. Dr. Caleb had never believed in God, religion, any of it. The fallen angel Dr. Caleb had dealt with was far more diplomatic and genteel than the goat monster that had Cade by the neck. Luke was experiencing the raw power of aged Evil without compunction first hand.
Though he knew that his words were pushing both of their luck to the brink, Cade allowed himself one last quip.
“Wrong again, Billy.”
This time, the fallen angel audibly roared. Cade felt his synthetic neck being crushed.
22 Years Ago
The two men sat in an old pub, at a window booth, and drank together.
Cade watched Dr. Caleb sit his beer on the coaster.
“Cade, what makes you think that your God doesn’t make all sorts of dispensations concerning a man’s soul? Why would he be so cruel as to condemn a man to being lost simply because an idiot human—myself—didn’t properly preserve the man’s so-called soul?”
Cade put his beer down and looked his old friend in the eyes. Rather than speak yet, he pulled a cigarette out of his pack and took his time lighting it. Dr. Caleb hated them, he knew, but Luke had also agreed to frequent that particular pub because it allowed smoking.
“How many times now have you called me a ‘science denier,’ Luke?”
Dr. Caleb laughed. “Go on,” he said.
“Doesn’t this universe have rules? Iron-clad rules that govern how it works?”
“Of course it does,” Dr. Caleb replied.
“Is that cruel,” Cade asked?
“It simply is.” Dr. Caleb and Cade both drank from their respective beer mugs.
There was banter going on throughout the bar, media screens everywhere taking up any space not contained already by noise. Sirens blared nearby. Someone outside shouted at someone else for standing them up for so long. But Cade heard none of it, only the discussion at the table.
“The rules state,” Cade said, “that I cannot jump fifteen feet straight upward on Earth’s gravity, right?”
“Oh God,” Dr. Caleb said. “Talk about apples and oranges. I’m talking about a man’s soul—your department, I might add—and you’re talking about wanting to be a superhero.”
Cade laughed. He lit another cigarette and took several drags from it.
“Why do the rules exist, Luke? What’s the point of the rules of physics, the universe, whatever?”
Cade watched Dr. Caleb’s mind work. Both men knew each other well enough to know the questions that were setups. He knew Luke understood that aspect of the question, so he let the Good Doctor take his time answering. Several more puffs on his smoke and Dr. Caleb answered.
“To maintain order,” he said, “and decrease entropy as much as possible.”
“Suppose I need to jump fifteen feet straight up because there’s a mother and her three children trapped in a burning building. No one can do anything to help them; not Fire Rescue, not the Police Dept., not even the North American Guard unit. Should the universe, for one second, alter the rules so that this one family can be saved? And, if it doesn’t, are the rules then cruel?”
Cade watched as Dr. Caleb sat back in his seat and smiled.
“You’re grinning,” Cade said, “why?”
“That’s ridiculous, Cade. A ridiculous argument.”
“Answer the ridiculous question, then.”
“It can’t be answered. It just can’t.”
“Interesting,” Cade said. “Another beer?”
4 Years Ago
“Have you all ever wondered,” the Prince said, “whom God truly is?”
The crowd went mad. The city in Israel had become the central hub for all religions worldwide. The leaders of every religious sect in the world were gathered to hear the Prince and the Pope on the momentous day. The world had all gotten the message: God was on Their way. There would no longer be any need for division once the Prince greeted and introduced what mankind had long thought of as ‘God’ to the world.
“If there is a word that all of humanity can claim any familiarity with, no matter the continent, nation, border, language, or ethnicity, it is ‘God.’ Today, we will meet God, and all of the world will unite under Their banner! There will no longer be any need for war. No need for struggles between religions as to whom the real god is from this day forward! The unity that all of mankind has for so long now sought shall be ours!”
The Prince waited as the applause went on for over a full minute. He smiled wide as the people praised his words.