THE DIVINE INVASION
The small animal, released from its cage, crept into Emmanuel's arms. He and Zina held it and it thanked them. Both of them felt its gratitude.
"It's a little goat," Zina said, examining its hooves. "A kid."
"How kind of you," the kid said to them. "I have waited a long time to be released from my cage, the cage you put me in, Zina PaIlas."
"You know me?" she said, surprised.
"Yes, I know you," the kid said, as it pressed itself against her. "I know both of you, although you two are really one. You have reunited your sundered selves, but the battle is not over; the battle begins now."
Emmanuel said, "I know this creature."
The little goat, in Zina's arms, said, "I am Belial. Whom you imprisoned. And whom you now release."
"Belial," Emmanuel said, "My adversary."
"Welcome to my world," Belial said.
"It is my world," Zina said.
"Not anymore." The goat's voice gained strength and authority. "In your rush to free the prisoners you have freed the greatest prisoner of all. I will contend against you, deity of light. I will take you down into the caves where there is no light. Nothing of your radiance will shine, now; the light has gone out, or soon will. Your game up to now has been a mock game in which you played against your own self. How could the deity of light lose when both sides were portions of him? Now you face a true adversary, you who drew order out of chaos and now draw me out of that order. I will test the powers that you have. Already you have made a mistake; you freed me without knowing who I am. I had to tell you. Your knowledge is not perfect; you can be surprised. Have I not surprised you?
Zina and Emmanuel were silent.
"You made me helpless," Belial said, "placed in a cage, and then you felt sorry for me. You are sentimental, deity of light. It will be your downfall. I accuse you of weakness, the inability to be strong. I am he who accuses and I accuse my own creator. To rule you must be strong. It is the strong who rule; they rule the weak. You have, instead, protected the weak; you have offered help to me, your enemy. Let us see if that was wise."
"The strong should protect the weak," Zina said. "The Torah says so. It is a basic idea of the Torah; it is basic to God's law. As God protects man, so man should protect the disadvantaged, even down to animals and the nobler trees."
Belial said, "This runs contrary to the nature of life, the nature you implanted in it. This is how life evolves. I accuse you of violating your own biological foundations, the order of the world. Yes, by all means, free every prisoner; loose a tide of murderers on the world. You have begun with me. Again I thank you. But now I leave you; I have as much to do as you have -- perhaps more. Let me down." The goat leaped from their arms and ran off; Zina and Emmanuel watched it go. And as it ran it grew.
"It will undo our world," Zina said.
Emmanuel said, "We will kill it first." He raised his hand; the goat vanished.
"It is not gone," Zina said. "It has concealed itself in the world. Camouflaged itself. We cannot now even find it. You know that it won't die. Like us it is eternal."
In the other cages the remaining imprisoned animals clamored to be released. Zina and Emmanuel ignored them; instead, they looked this way and that for the goat whom they had let out-let out to do as it wished.
"I sense its presence," Zina said.
"I, too," Emmanuel said somberly. "Our work is undone already."
"But the battle is not over," Zina said. "As it said itself, 'The battle now begins.'"
"So be it," Emmanuel said. "We will fight it together, the two of us. As we did in the beginning, before the fall."
Leaning toward him, Zina kissed him.
He felt her fear. Her intense dread. And that dread lay within him, too.
What will become of them now? he asked himself. The people whom he wished to free. What kind of prison will Belial contrive for them with his endless ability to contrive prisons? Subtle ones and gross ones, prisons within prisons; prisons for the body, and, worse by far, prisons for the mind.
The Cave of Treasures under the Garden: dark and small, without air and without light, without real time and real space- walls that shrink and, caught tight, minds that shrink. And we have allowed this, Zina and I; we have colluded with the goat- thing to bring this about.
Its release is their constraint, he realized. A paradox; we have given freedom to the builder of dungeons. In our desire to emancipate we have crushed the souls of all the living.
It will affect everyone of them in this world, from the highest to the lowest. Until we can return the goat-thing to its box; until we can place it back within its container.
And now it is everywhere; it is not contained. The atoms of the air are now its abode; it is inhaled like vapor. And each creature, breathing it in, will die. Not completely and not physically, but nonetheless death will come. We have released death, the death of the spirit. For all that now lives and wishes to live. This is our gift to them, done out of kindness.
"Motive does not count," Zina said, aware of his thoughts.
Emmanuel said, "The road to hell." Literally, he thought, in this case. That is the only door we have opened: the door to the tomb.
I pity the small creatures the most, he thought. Those who have done the least harm. They above all do not deserve this. The goat-thing will single them out for the greatest suffering; it will afflict them in proportion to their innocence ... this is its method by which the great balance is tilted from rectitude, and the Plan undone. It will accuse the weak and destroy the helpless. it will use its power against those least able to defend themselves: And, most of all, it will devour the little hopes, the meager dreams of the small.
Here we must intervene, he said to himself. To protect the small. This is our first task and the first line of our defense.
Lifting off from his abode in Washington, D.C., Herb Asher joyfully began the flight to California and Linda Fox. This is going to be the happiest period of my life, he said to himself. He had his suitcases in the back seat and they were filled with everything that he might need; he would not be returning to Washington, D.C. and Rybys for some time -- if ever. A new life, he thought as he guided his car through the vividly marked transcontinental traffic lanes. It's like a dream, he thought. A dream fulfilled.
He realized, suddenly, that soupy string music filled his car . Shocked, he ceased thinking and listened. South Pacific, he realized. The song "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair." Eight hundred and nine strings, and not even divided strings. Was his car stereo on? He glanced at its indicator light and dial. No, it was not.
I am in cryonic suspension! he thought. It's that huge FM transmitter next door. Fifty thousand watts of audio drizzle messing up everyone at Cry Labs, Incorporated. Son of a bitch!
He slowed his car, stunned and afraid. I don't get it, he thought in panic. I remember being released from suspension; I was ten years frozen and then they found the organs for me and brought me back to life. Didn't they? Or was that a cryonic fantasy of my dead mind? Which this is, too ... oh, my God. No wonder it has seemed like a dream; it is a dream.
The Fox, he thought, is a dream. My dream. I invented her as I lay in suspension; I am inventing her now. And my only clue is this dull music seeping in everywhere. Without the music I would never have known.
It is diabolic, he thought, to play such games with a human being, with his hopes. With his expectations.
A red light on his dashboard lit up, and simultaneously a bleep-bleep-bleep sounded. He had, in addition to everything else, become the target of a cop car.
The cop car came up beside him and grappled onto his car. Their mutual doors slid back and the cop confronted him. "Hand me your license," the cop said. His face, behind its plastic mask, could not be seen; he looked like some kind of World War I fortification, something that had been built at Verdun.
"Here it is." Herb Asher passed his license to the cop as their two cars, now joined, moved slowly forward as one.
"Are there any warrants out on you, Mr. Asher?" the cop said as he punched information into his console.
"No," Herb Asher said.
"You're mistaken." Lines of illuminated letters appeared on the cop's display. "According to our records, you're here on Earth illegally. Did you know that?"
"It's not true," he said.
"This is an old warrant. They've been trying to find you for some time. I am going to take you into custody."
Herb Asher said, "You can't. I'm in cryonic suspension. Watch and I'll put my hand through you." He reached out and touched the cop. His hand met solid armored flesh. "That's strange," Herb Asher said. He pressed harder, and then realized, all at once, that the cop held a gun pointed at him.
"You want to bet?" the cop said. "About the cryonic suspension?"
"No," Herb Asher said.
"Because if you fool around anymore I will kill you. You are a wanted felon. I can kill you any time I wish. Take your hand off me. Get it away."
Herb Asher withdrew his hand. And yet he could still hear South Pacific. The soupy sound still oozed at him from every side.
"If you could put your hand through me," the cop said, "you'd fall through the floor of your car. Think the logic through. It isn't a question of my being real; it's a question of everything being real. For you, I mean. It's your problem. Or you think it's your problem. Were you in cryonic suspension at one time?"
"You're having a flashback. It's common. Under pressure your brain abreacts. Cryonic suspension provides a womblike sense of security that your brain tapes and later on retrieves. Is this the first time it's happened to you, this flashback? I've come across people who've been in cryonic suspension who never could be convinced by any evidence, by what anyone said or whatsoever happened, that they were finally out of it."
"You're talking to one of them now," Herb Asher said.
"Why do you think you're in cryonic suspension?"
"The soupy music."
"I don't --"
"Of course you don't. That's the point."
"Right." Herb Asher nodded. "That's my point." He reached out for the cop's gun. "Go ahead and shoot," he said. "It won't hurt me. The beam will go right through me."
"I think you belong in a mental hospital, not a jail."
The cop said, "Where were you going?"
"To California. To visit the Fox."
"As in the Fox and the Cat?"
"The greatest living singer."
"I never heard of him."
"Her," Herb Asher said. "She's not well known in this world. In this world she's just beginning her career. I'm going to help make her famous throughout the galaxy. I promised her."
"What's the other world compared to this?"
"The real world," Herb Asher said. "God caused me to remember it. I'm one of the few people who remembers it. He appeared to me in the bamboo bushes and there were words in red fire telling me the truth and restoring my memories."
"You are a very sick man. You think you're in cryonic suspension and you remember another universe. I wonder what would have happened to you if I hadn't grappled onto you."
"I'd have had a good time," Herb Asher said, "out on the West Coast. A hell of a lot better time than I'm having now."
"What else did God tell you?"
"God talks to you frequently?"
"Rarely. I'm his legal father."
The cop stared at him. "What?"
"I'm God's legal father. Not his actual father; just his legal father. My wife is his mother."
The cop continued to stare at him. The laser pistol wavered.
"God caused me to marry his mother so that --"
"Hold out both your hands."
Herb Asher held out both his hands. Immediately cuffs closed around his wrists.
"Continue," the cop said. "But I should tell you that anything you say may be held against you in a court of law."
"The plan was to smuggle God back to Earth," Herb Asher said. "In my wife's womb. It succeeded. That's why there's a warrant out for me. The crime I committed was smuggling God back to Earth, where the Evil One rules. The Evil One secretly controls everyone and everything here. For example, you are working for the Evil One."
"But you don't realize it. You have never heard of Belial."
"True," the cop said.
"That proves my point," Herb Asher said.
"Everything you have said since I grappled onto you has been recorded," the cop said. "It will be analyzed. So you're God's father."
"And that's why you're wanted. I wonder what the statute violation is, technically. I've never seen it listed. Posing as God's father."
"Who's his real father?"
"He is," Herb Asher said. "He impregnated his mother."
"This is disgusting."
"It's the truth. He impregnated her with himself, and thereby replicated himself in microform by which method he was able to --"
"Should you be telling me this?"
"The battle is over. God has won. The power of Belial has been destroyed."
"Then why are you sitting here with the cuffs on and why am I pointing a laser gun at you?"
"I'm not sure. I'm having trouble figuring that out. That and South Pacific. There are a few bits and pieces I can't seem to get to go in place. But I'm working on it. What I am positive about is Yah's victory."
"'Yah.' I guess that's God."
"Yes; his actual name. His original name. When he was living on the top of the mountain."
The cop said, "I don't mean to compound your troubles, but you are the most fucked-up human being I have ever met. And I see a lot of different kinds of people. They must have slushed your brain when they put you in cryonic suspension. They must not have gotten to you in time. I'd say that about a sixth of your brain is working and that sixth isn't working right, not at all. I'm taking you to a far, far better place than you have ever been, and they will do far, far better things to you than you can possibly imagine. In my opinion --"
"I'll tell you something else," Herb Asher said. "You know who my business partner is? The prophet Elijah."
Into his microphone the cop said, "This is 356 Kansas. I am bringing an individual in for psychiatric evaluation, a white male about --" To Herb Asher he said, "Did I give you your license back?" The cop put his gun back in its holster and rummaged beside him for Herb Asher's license.
Herb Asher lifted the gun from the cop's holster and pointed it at him; he had to hold both hands together because of the cuffs, but nonetheless he was able to do it.
"He has my gun," the cop said.
The intercom speaker sputtered, "You let a slusher get your gun?"
"Well, he was running off at the mouth about God; I thought he was ..." The cop's voice trailed off lamely.
"What is the individual's name?" the speaker sputtered.
"Asher. Herbert Asher."
"Mr. Asher," the speaker sputtered, "please return the officer's gun."
"I can't," Herb Asher said. "I'm frozen in cryonic suspension. And there's a fifty-thousand-watt PM transmitter next door playing South Pacific. It's driving me crazy."
The speaker sputtered, "Suppose we instruct the station to shut down its transmitter. Then will you return the officer's gun?"
"I'm paralyzed," Herb Asher said. "I'm dead."
"If you're dead," the speaker sputtered, "you have no need of a gun. In fact, if you're dead, how are you going to fire the gun? You said yourself that you're frozen. People in cryonic suspension can't move; they're like Lincoln Logs."
"Then tell the officer to take the gun away from me," Herb Asher said.
The speaker sputtered, "Take the --"
"The gun is real," the cop said, "and Asher is real. He's crazy. He's not frozen. Would I arrest a dead man? Would a dead man be flying to California? There's a warrant out on this man; he is a wanted felon."
"What are you wanted for?" the speaker sputtered. "I'm talking to you, Mr. Asher. I'm talking to a dead man who's frozen stiff at zero degrees."
"Much colder than that," Herb Asher said. "Ask them to play the Mahler Second Symphony. And play it the way it was originally written; not an all-string version. I can't stand any more of this all-string music, this easy-listening music. It's not easy for me. At one time I had to listen to Fiddler on the Roof for months. 'Matchmaker, Matchmaker' lasted for days. And it was at a very critical time in my cycle; I was --"
"All right," the speaker sputtered reasonably. "What do you say to this? We'll have the FM station play the Mahler Second Symphony and in exchange you'll return the officer's gun. What is the -- Wait a minute." Silence.
"There's a lapse of logic here," the cop beside Herb Asher said. "You're falling into his idee fixe. You know what I'm hearing? I'm hearing folie a deux. This has got to stop. There is no FM transmitter broadcasting South Pacific. If there were, I would hear it. You can't call the station -- any station -- and have them play the Mahler Second; it won't work."
The speaker sputtered, "But he'll think so, you stupid son of a bitch."
"Oh," the cop said.
"Give me a few minutes, Mr. Asher," the speaker sputtered, "to get hold --"
"No," Herb Asher said, "It's a trick. I won't give up the gun." To the cop beside him he said, "Release my car."
"Better release his car," the speaker sputtered.
"And take off the cuffs," Herb Asher said.
"You'll really like the Mahler Second Symphony," the cop said. "It's got a choir in it."
"Do you know what the Mahler Second has in it?" Herb Asher said. "Do you know what it's scored for? I'll tell you what it's scored for. Four flutes, all alternating with piccolos, four oboes, the third and fourth alternating with English horns, an E-flat clarinet, four clarinets, the third alternating with bass clarinet, the fourth with second E-flat clarinet, four bassoons, the third and fourth alternating with contrabassoon, ten horns, ten trumpets, four trombones --"
"Four trombones.?" the cop said.
"Jesus Christ," the speaker sputtered.
"-- a tuba," Herb Asher continued. "Organ, two sets of timpani, plus an additional single drum off-stage, two bass drums, one off-stage, two pairs of cymbals, one off-stage, two gongs, one of relatively high pitch, the other low, two triangles, one off- stage, a snare drum, preferably more than one, glockenspiel, bells, a Ruthe --"
"What is a 'Ruthe'?" the cop beside Herb Asher asked.
'Ruthe' literally means 'rod,'" Herb Asher said. "It's made of a lot of pieces of rattan; it looks like a large clothes-brush or a small broom. It's used to play the bass drum. Mozart wrote for the Ruthe. Two harps, with two or more players to each part if possible --" He pondered. "Plus the regular orchestra, naturally, including a full string section. Have them use their mixing board to downplay the strings; I've heard enough strings. And be sure the two soloists, the soprano and alto, are good."
"That's it?" the radio sputtered.
"You've fallen back into his delusion," the cop beside Herb Asher said.
"You know," the radio said, "he sounds rational enough. Are you sure he's got your gun? Mr. Asher, how does it happen that you know so much about music? You seem to be quite an authority."
'"There are two reasons," Herb Asher said. "One is due to my living on a planet in the star system CY30-CY30B; I operate a sophisticated bank of electronic equipment, both video and audio; I receive transmissions from the mother ship and record them and then beam them to the other domes both on my planet and on nearby planets, and I handle traffic from Fomalhaut, as well as domestic emergency traffic. And the other reason is that the prophet Elijah and I own a retail audio components store in Washington, D.C."
"Plus the fact," the cop beside Herb Asher said, "that you're in cryonic suspension."
"All three," Herb Asher said. "Yes."
"And God tells you things," the cop said.
"Not about music," Herb Asher said. "He doesn't have to. He did erase all my Linda Fox tapes, however. And he cooked my Linda Fox incoming --"
"There is another universe," the cop seated beside Herb Asher explained, "where this Linda Fox is incredibly famous, Mr. Asher is flying out to California to be with her. How he can manage to do that while frozen in cryonic suspension beats the hell out of me, but those are his plans, or were his plans until I grappled him."
"I am still going there," Herb Asher said, and then realized that he had made a mistake to tell them this; now they could track him down, even if he escaped. He had done a foolish thing; he had said too much.
Regarding him intently, the cop said, "I do believe that his self-monitoring circuit has notified him that he has spoken injudiciously."
"I wondered when it would cut in," the speaker sputtered.
"Now I can't go to the Fox," Herb Asher said. "I'm not going there. I'm going back to my dome in the CY30-CY30B System, You lack jurisdiction there. Also, Belial does not rule there. Yah rules there."
The cop said, "I thought you said Yah came back here and, I would presume, if he did come back here, he now rules."
"It has become obvious to me during the course of this conversation," Herb Asher said, "that he does not rule here, at least not completely. Something is wrong. I knew it when I started hearing the sappy, soupy string music. I especially knew it when you grappled me and when you told me there's a warrant out for me. Maybe Belial has won; maybe that's it. You are all servants of Belial. Take the cuffs off me or I'll kill you."
The cop, reluctantly, removed the cuffs.
"It would seem to me, Mr. Asher," the speaker sputtered, "that there are internal contradictions in what you say. If you will concentrate on them you will see why you give the impression of being brain-slushed. First you say one thing and then you say another. The only lucid interval in your discourse came when you discussed the Mahler Second Symphony, and that is probably due, as you say, to the fact that you're in the retail audio components business. It is a last remnant of a once intact psyche. Understand that if you go in with the officer you will not be punished; you will be treated as the lunatic that you obviously are. No judge would convict a man who says what you say."
"That's true," the cop beside Herb Asher agreed. "All you have to do is tell the judge about God speaking to you from the bamboo bushes and you're home free. And especially when you tell him that you're God's father --"
"Legal father," Herb Asher corrected.
"That will make a big impression on the court," the cop said.
Herb Asher said, "There is a great war being fought at this moment between God and Belial. The fate of the universe is at stake, its actual physical existence. When I took off for the West Coast I assumed -- I had reason to assume -- that everything was okay, Now I am not sure; now I think that something dark and awful has gone wrong. You police are the paradigm of it, the epitome. I would not have been grappled if Yah had in fact won. I will not go on to California because that would jeopardize Linda Fox. You'll find her, of course, but she doesn't know anything; she is -- in this world, anyhow -- a struggling new talent whom I was trying to help. Leave her alone. Leave me alone, too; leave us all alone. You do not know whom you serve. Do you understand what I'm saying? You are in the service of evil, whatever else you may think. You are machines processing an old warrant. You do not know what I've done, or been accused of doing ... you can make no sense of what I say because you do not understand the situation. You are going by rules that don't apply. This is a unique time. Unique events are taking place; unique forces are squared off against one another. I will not go to Linda Fox but on the other hand I do not know where I will go instead. Maybe Elias will know; maybe he can tell me what to do. My dream was shot down when you grappled me, and maybe her dream, too; Linda Fox's dream. Maybe I can't now help her become a star, as I promised. Time will tell. The outcome will determine it, the outcome of the great battle. I pity you because whatever the outcome you are destroyed; your souls are gone now."
"You are an unusual man, Mr. Asher," the cop beside him said. "Crazy or not, whatever it is that has gone wrong with you, you are one of a kind." He nodded slowly, as if deep in thought. "This is not an ordinary kind of insanity. This is not like anything I have ever seen or heard before. You talk about the whole universe -- more than the universe, if that is possible. You impress me and in a way you frighten me. I am sorry I grappled you, now that I have listened to you. Don't shoot me. I'll release your vehicle and you can fly off; I won't pursue you. I'd like to forget what I've heard in the last few minutes. You talk about God and a counter-God and a terrible battle that seems to be lost, lost to the power of the counter-God, I mean. This does not fit with anything I know of or understand. Go away. I'll forget you and you can forget about me." Wearily, the cop plucked at his metal mask.
"You can't let him go," the speaker sputtered.
"Oh, yes I can," the cop said. "I can let him go and I can forget everything he's said, everything I've heard."
"Except that it's recorded," the speaker sputtered.
The cop reached down and pressed a button. "I just erased it," he said.
"I thought the battle was over," Herb Asher said. "I thought God had won. God has not won. I know that even though you are letting me go. But maybe it is a sign, your releasing me. I see some response in you, some amount of human warmth.'"
"I am not a machine," the cop said.
"But will that continue to be true?" Herb Asher said. "I wonder. What will you be a week from now? A month? What will we all become? And what power do we have to affect it?"
The cop said, "I just want to get away from you, a long distance away."
"Good," Herb Asher said. "It can be arranged. Someone must tell the world the truth," he added. "The truth you know, that I told you: that God is in combat and losing. Who can do it?"
"You can," the cop said.
"No," Herb Asher said. But he knew who could. "Elijah can," he said. "It is his task; this is what he has come for, that the world will know."
"Then get him to do it," the cop said.
"I will," Herb Asher said. "That's where I will go; back to my partner, back to Washington, D.C."
I will forego the Fox, he said to himself; that is the loss I must accept. Bitter sorrow filled him as he realized this. But it was a fact; he could not be with her now, not until later.
Not until the battle had been won.
As the cop ungrappled his vehicle from Herb Asher's he sai a strange thing. "Pray for me, Mr. Asher," he said.
"I will," Herb Asher said.
His vehicle released, he swung it in a great looping arc, and headed back toward Washington, D.C. The police car did not follow. The cop had kept his word.