This story was rejected by what, do you think I’m going to tell you? LOL, so I decided I’d post it here. If you like it, I’ll be sure to share the anthology with you when it comes out because every single story in it is guaranteed to be even better than this! Anyway, in the meantime, since they didn’t want to make money from it, everyone gets it for free.
Yes, both of you.
Miriam squinted at the Angel. The Angel had the grace – no pun intended – to look sheepish. Pun … possibly intended on that one, Miriam conceded to herself without breaking squint. It was a good squint and it’d be a shame to stop halfway.
“Look,” the Angel intoned, an irritating whine underlying her heraldic glory, “I’m just passing on the orders here.”
“If God didn’t want me to keep shooting messengers,” Miriam told her, “He’d come down and splatter me Himself. Or at least send a messenger telling me I’m fired,” she added in a mutter with a hopeful lift at the end. The Angel gave her flame-wreathed scrap of bramble a half-hearted shake, and Miriam sighed. Angels really were the most useless, wretched creatures in all creation. “Fine,” she said, “tell me again.”
“He Who Is Namèd ‑ ”
“Not like that.”
“Lo! ‑ ”
“You somehow made it worse.”
The Angel’s heartbreakingly beautiful countenance adopted an expression that suggested she was suffering from constipation. Heartbreakingly beautiful constipation, to be sure, but constipation nevertheless. “During your last debriefing, some of the civilians under your watch fell to worshipping … ” the brambles rustled and spat sparks as the Angel tried to avoid concluding the statement.
“You can say it,” Miriam encouraged. If her youngest brother had been here, he would have told the poor thing to stop beating around the bush. The Angels really didn’t know how good they had it.
“ … a – a sheep,” the Angel’s voice cracked, whether in trepidation or hysterical laughter was unclear. She went on in a firmer tone. “The graven image of a sheep, all in gold.”
“There’s no need to be coy,” Miriam said, “we’re not just talking about a very handsome sheep and a bit too much time spent out in the wilderness here, are we? We’re talking about a mad Kernian God-Sheep from the Infinite Crazy Whatever-the-Fuck, right? That’s what you said.”
The Angel closed her eyes. “Yes.”
“I know I’ve been gone a few hours, but there was this stupid insistence on classical retro stonework for the new regulations,” Miriam waved a hand at the tablets, just barely resisting the urge to turn the gesture into what her brothers called an unscheduled wrath of God event.
The Angel shrugged. “They got bored.”
“Maybe they’d be less bored back in Egypt,” Miriam growled, then waved her hand again when the Angel lowered her bramble and looked at her with ridiculously hurt eyes. “Never mind. Just – I want to be clear on this, okay? This time it isn’t one of God’s things where it’s Him going by another name, or it’s some boozy friend of His, or He’s testing this batch of civilians to make sure they’re ready to be His, whatever it was, the chosen control subspecies or ‑ ”
“Yea, all things are a test.”
“You’re not doing great things for your chances of getting out of here un-shot, you know.”
“It’s a proper enemy God moving in on His turf,” the Angel said quickly.
“And I’m not expected to actually square up to the mad ruminant?”
“Just deal with the briefware issue,” the Angel said. “Bring them the new regulations, discipline them for the violation, remind them of God’s love.”
“One reminder coming up,” Miriam said sourly. “And stop calling them briefware.”
“The mortals,” the Angel amended. Miriam squinted at her again. “The civilians.”
“Close enough,” Miriam sighed, and bent to pick up the new regulations.
“Lift with your legs,” the Angel suggested.
“Fuck off with your wings,” Miriam replied curtly.
† † †
She was Chief Domestic Theological Enforcer of an elite force known as the Faithful Fists, a force of which her brothers Aaron and Moses were also a part. She hadn’t chosen the name. She hadn’t chosen the role. In fact, she’d had about as little say in any of it as her youngest brother had when he’d been left to the mercy of a river shortly after being born.
Mind you, like with her brother and the river, things had generally turned out okay for Miriam so it didn’t pay to complain too much. Especially not once you knew how short-tempered God was.
She’d gone through the usual youthful phase of wondering why Aaron, four years her junior but by far the more politically-minded; or Moses, three years younger still but actually part of the ruling Egyptian dynasty, had not been given this charge instead of her. Moses suggested that while there was certainly some satisfying storyteller symbolism in the tribulations of the third and youngest child that appealed to the Powers that Be, she was the eldest and therefore the responsibility was hers.
Aaron theorised that Miriam just ‘had that kind of face’. Neither explanation was entirely without merit.
Ultimately, though, she didn’t know why she’d been chosen and she didn’t ask anymore. She didn’t need to ask, because she knew there was no reason. Not really. If not her, then someone else. Maybe somebody better, probably – she flattered herself – somebody worse. And if it was somebody worse, then that would be her fault for stepping aside.
It was easy at the start. At the individual level, cruelty and injustice were simple little things, and her youngest brother was in a position to expose a lot of it. All it took was one additional person to step in, to stand up. If that person could put the offending party through a thick masonry wall just by levelling a finger and saying Stop That, then so much the better. A person in need was saved, the resultant triangle of gravel and offal was tidied away by a suddenly-eager-to-pitch-in local community, and all but one person involved learned something.
Even at a communal level it wasn’t hard in principle. You could tell who needed help, who was being hurt and who was doing the hurting. Where it got difficult was when populations banded together and codified injustice, to keep those in need where they were. When what was wrong and what was illegal started to drift apart. When city-states and nations formed up and faced off. When cultures coalesced out of the seething sludge of confusion and anger that was the human condition.
Nations had armies, and made war on one another for reasons that always seemed so clear. They’re coming to take our food. They’re going to march into our homes and murder us in our beds. They’re going to make us wear those stupid pants. Madness, but simple madness. Armies went where they were told. Nobody had to like it … but nobody wanted to be the first to let go of the stick, either.
Cultures were more difficult. Every human had an army inside their own head. An army that went where it was told, perhaps, but one that made alliances in the most chaotic and inconvenient times and places imaginable.
So sometimes, just to keep everything from flying apart, God reached down and gave one of those quiet internal armies direct access to His divine power. A one-person holy war. A human weapon of mass destruction, capable of enforcing the will of Earth’s true landlord on its rowdy tenants. And sometimes that meant killing firstborn sons, and sometimes it meant punching a bunch of slave hunters in the face with a sea, and sometimes it meant climbing up mountains at close to ninety years of age and having annoying conversations with wingèd bureaucrats and then stumbling and sliding your old arse back down again with a bunch of bullshit beautifully carved on stone tablets for no satisfactory reason.
That was the job.
† † †
Aaron and Moses met her at the base of Sinai, on the outskirts of the ramshackle little community their people had settled into.
“Did you ask about the priesthood misunderstanding?” Aaron asked before Miriam even had a chance to slap the dust off the backside of her flowing enforcer uniform.
“It wasn’t a misunderstanding and you’re still in charge of the monkey parade,” Miriam informed him.
“I take it from your good mood that it wasn’t Gabriel you talked to,” Moses noted with a smile.
“No, just some flunky with a burning piece of underbrush again,” Miriam hefted the stone tablets. “Got some new regs.”
“Oh excellent,” Moses said. “They’re always good for a laugh. Did they specifically say stop killing each other this time?”
“I didn’t read them yet,” Miriam looked down at the top slab. “Oh look, yeah it’s right there. About halfway down, after all the stuff about how God’s really really important,” she looked back and forth from brother to brother. “Speaking of which, apparently we weren’t the only ones doing handicrafts today.”
Aaron rolled his eyes. “Some nitwit got it into their heads that you weren’t coming back,” he told her. “Announced that it was every man for himself and that the infinite marches of the great tunnel in the sky would give this exodus of ours a bit of epic grandeur.”
“And did the fact that there’s no fucking tunnel in the sky, and I was only gone for half the morning, have any impact on this delusion?” Miriam demanded without much hope.
Aaron shook his head. “Not when the Golden Sheep Itself appeared before them and announced that any who wished their souls to wander the tunnel for eternity would be baptised ‑ ”
“Baap ‑ ” Moses began with a grin.
“We promised we weren’t going to do the sheep jokes,” Aaron said flatly.
“I don’t remember agreeing to that,” Moses replied. “Anyway, half of them are convinced you’ve been gone for years. Bad batch of the funny stuff. Remember that party we sent scouting, who came back saying they’d found a country full of giants? Turns out they were giant frunk dealers.”
Miriam grunted. “Apparently this is a top-level fuck-up between the Big Guy and the Kernian Pantheon,” she said, “but we’re the sandals on the ground. The mess down here is ours to clean up.”
“Okay,” Aaron straightened, and even Moses’s irrepressible mood sobered a little. “We’ll follow your lead, Chief.”
Over the blood-soaked years, Miriam had come to realise something about the power imposed upon her. When you could wave a hand and, if not fix everything, then at least fix everything aside from who was going to clean the carpets, it reduced each problem you faced to a simple question. A simple question that armies and their leaders asked – and answered – on far larger scales than the likes of the Faithful Fists.
What is the minimum number of people who need to die, in order for this issue to go away?
It wasn’t that having this power – or being a soldier in an army, Miriam supposed – made you less human. It made you more human. Too human. It took away the layers of illusion in which most people were permitted to wrap themselves.
Was that all Gods were? People to whom the answer to this question came as quickly and as effortlessly as its implementation?
This was the sort of thinking that Moses always told her would get her in trouble.
† † †
It gave her a certain satisfaction to march into the council pod and drop the set of regs, shattering the fancy stonework into several pieces with a resounding crash.
“Hey, what the fuck,” one of the appointed leaders – Miriam had never bothered to learn the civilian authorities’ names – said blearily. “I almost shat my robes.”
“Wake up,” Miriam roared in her best training-ground incantation voice. She reached back without looking, and Aaron put the staff in her hand. She grounded it hard, splitting the pod’s light composite flooring and one of its flexi windows with another deafening crack. The muddy-eyed idolaters yelped and stared at her with something approaching consciousness. She levelled the staff at the Golden Lamb. “Whose work is this? God is pissed.”
“Well maybe He shouldn’t have forsaken us,” one of the councillors had the audacity to mumble.
“You and the next nine generations of your frunk-fucked line are only going to exist because He hasn’t given up on your sorry arses yet,” Miriam promised direly, “even if the Fists are just about ready to. It doesn’t even look like a sheep,” she added. “It looks like a fucking cow.”
“We only had an Apis statue,” another councillor said. “We tried to make it look … woollier.”
“You failed,” Miriam said, “on every conceivable level. You’re lucky the God you were trying to convert to is mad. This probably would have just annoyed a sane God,” not that any of us would be likely to recognise a sane one, she added to herself.
“The Egyptians used to let us worship any God we,” the civilian leader gathered himself up in his nearly-beshitted robes enough to start, then wilted under Miriam’s glare, “chose to,” he concluded feebly.
“Was that the only freedom they gave you?” Aaron asked while Miriam was preoccupied with trying not to fling the man into Earth-adjacent deep space. The leader huddled deeper into his chair. “Then maybe you should shut your mouth before it attracts locusts.”
The civilian leader shut his mouth and looked queasy, as did everyone else in the pod with a couple of un-frunked brain cells to bang together. They knew, of course. They may not have seen it all, the Fists’ brutal march – their brutal wade – through Egypt, but they’d seen enough. They’d seen the aftermath, and they’d heard all the stories.
The Faithful Fists had clipped and guided and shaped the forces arrayed against them, from the highest authorities on down, turning a slave revolt into a nation on legs. They’d crushed and flattened and cast bodies and weapons aside like chaff in the wind, and they’d done it all with unspeakable efficiency and according to instructions from On High that nobody understood, or dared to question after a while.
Armies went where they were told. It was armies that fought wars, carried out campaigns. What the Chief Domestic Theological Enforcer and her team did, what they’d been doing since their activation … it hadn’t been a war. It wasn’t a genocide, or even the averting of a genocide.
It was topiary.
“What are you going to do to us?” one of the councillors quavered.
Miriam closed her eyes. She was suddenly as weary as if – she nearly laughed – as if she’d climbed up a mountain and then back down it carrying rocks.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Really?” Aaron asked in mild surprise.
Miriam tossed the staff back to her brother. “Tell them I did something,” she said to the councillors. “Make up something impressive,” she gestured at the Golden Whatever It Was. “Tell them I melted that down and made you drink it. I don’t care.”
“Wait – how would we be able to tell anyone that happened if ‑ ” one of the slightly less drug-addled councillors began.
“Be convincing,” Miriam growled. “And I don’t want to have to come and visit you like this again.”
Outside the slumped frame of the council pod, Miriam stood under the baking sun and closed her eyes, sighing.
“Chief?” Moses stepped up beside her. “Miri?”
“I’m okay,” Miriam said. “Just … tired of not knowing what not to do until someone does it and I’m expected to wipe out their entire genetic lineage because of it.”
“Maybe if you didn’t throw away the documentation every time,” Aaron said glumly. “They’ll have to make more regs now.”
“Fine,” Miriam growled. “Have them make twenty regulations next time. Make a million. You really think it’s writing this shit down that makes people behave?” she opened her hand, felt the holy fire, heard her brothers step back smartly. “It’s this.”
“Well I hope you’ve got enough, sister,” Aaron said, “because for every ten that are impressed by the sight of an exploding dipshit, there’s a hundred that get angry. And there’s nothing in God’s creation more dangerous than an angry human.”
“I know,” Miriam said. She was thinking of Gabriel. Her friend. And the conversation they’d almost had, at least a dozen times over the years. The one where the irascible old Archangel finally admitted that smiting and brimstone and wrath weren’t getting the Big Guy anywhere with His infuriating primate project.
“We know you know, Miri,” Moses said, and she opened her eyes to see him smiling again. “But sometimes … ”
“Yeah,” Aaron said, also smiling. “Sometimes … ”
Miriam grinned and finished their informal little Faithful Fists motto. “Sometimes it’s just too much effort not to punch someone in the face with a sea.”
† † †
When God appeared to Miriam, she usually didn’t have to climb a hill beforehand or bring a bucket of water to pour on the underbrush afterwards. Usually, she didn’t even have time to wipe her arse or jump out of bed. She felt the power inside her curl, and then God reached out and took hold of her and put her down somewhere they could have a chat.
“‘Make up something impressive’,” God said with a vast chuckle. “I like that.”
Miriam knelt and bowed her head, because she wasn’t a fucking idiot. “Divine One.”
“You spared Me an … embarrassment today,” God told her. Miriam glanced up briefly, just long enough to catch a fleeting impression of musk and nectar, strange animal skins and musculature stupendous enough to make even a well-preserved damn-near-nonagenarian feel woefully inadequate. As brief as her look was, of course, God noted the question in it. “No, it was a real incursion, if a minor one. Not one of My games, as you think of them, but something of a testing of our defences. Sometimes when You poke an insane God, Your mortals pay the price for it.”
Miriam knew better than to deny God’s assessment of her opinion. “Thy will be done,” she said.
“Well?” God pressed. “You obviously want to say something to Me. Stop sending My Angels back up the stairs in tears, woman, and out with it. Or do you want Me to bring Aaron to do the talking for you, as usual?”
“The Faithful Fists … ” Miriam barely stumbled over the stupid name. “The Faithful Fists have been on assignment for a long time with this group. I’ve begun to question how much of our aid would be unnecessary without – without our interference in the first place.”
“Don’t bullshit Me, lass,” God said jovially.
Miriam shrugged to herself. Alright then. “You told me to go back with Aaron and Moses and free these people,” she said, “and then You tried to kill us when we were on our way there, just for a laugh as far as I can tell. Then you made the Egyptian leaders refuse to see reason, so You could use me to spank them. And now You’re just marching us around, handing down rules that You’re perfectly aware humans will never be able to follow, and then expecting them to mete out punishments on each other for breaking those rules. I’ve seen children play with dolls with more respect.”
“Ah,” God said. “The dolls want respect, hmm?”
God chuckled again. “I watch over all the humans of the Earth, lass. Yes, sometimes that requires some juggling, because humans hate unanimity even more than they hate humans with different-shaped beards. Or whatever it is this month. And sometimes … yes sometimes it requires a spanking.”
“The regulations ‑ ”
“I could stop them,” God went on inexorably. “I could take hold of their little strings and pull them up short. I could do that every time they start to go wrong, until the last spark in them goes out and we’re using your entire world to farm low-grade monkey meat. Gods have taken the battle out of mortals more times than you can ever know, and the bones of those mortals are now naught but stone.
“There is only one way for organisms to escape their primordial legacy, Miriam. The only way out is through. The only ones who can make it happen is them. In the meantime … well, let them blame Me for the things they do to one another. Let it motivate them.”
“But eventually it will end,” Miriam said, “won’t it? They’ll get better, they’ll get through, and they’ll stop.”
“They’ll stop, in time,” God agreed placidly. “One way or the other.”
Miriam felt the power stir, knew she was about to be returned to her post.
“What happens when they blame You enough, and are motivated enough, to do something about it?” she asked.
God grinned, bright and unbearably feral in the dark that gathered in the moments before Miriam’s unceremonious pick-up-and-drops.
“They know where I live,” He said.
 No, I’m not actually upset. It actually would have been weird if they did choose this story. It’s very specific to my literary urverse – and even within that context it’s pretty niche – it has no real plot or resolution or character arcs, and the anthology brief was “war, but make something about it different-y.” Which is arguably not what this is. This is just a snapshot of the “real” version of biblical events, and doesn’t have much of a story. Also I wrote it in about two hours. Mind you, the same went for my first published work, so what the heck.
So it’s all good, honestly. And the one person likely to comment has already read the story and been instrumental in its editing and revision, so thanks again Aaron! Screw it, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, right?