Authors: James Blish
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After such knowledge, what forgiveness?
T. S. ELIOT
Woe, woe, woe to me inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet
The Fall of God put Theron Ware in a peculiarly unenviable position, though he was hardly alone. After all, he had caused
it – in so far as an event so gigantic could be said to have had any cause but the First. And as a black magician he knew
better than to expect any gratitude from the victor.
Nor, on the other hand, would it do him the slightest good to maintain that he had loosed the forty-eight suffragan demons
upon the world only at the behest of a client. Hell was an incombustible Alexandrine library of such evasions – and besides,
even had he had a perfect plea of innocence, there was no longer any such thing as justice, anywhere. The Judger was dead.
‘When the hell
he coming back?’ Baines, the client, demanded suddenly, irritably. ‘This waiting is worse than getting it over with.’
Father Domenico turned from the refectory window, which was now unglazed, from the shock wave of the H-bombing of Rome. He
had been looking down the cliff face, over the half-melted
, shops and tenements of what had once been Positano, at the drained sea bed. When that tsunami did arrive, it was going to
be a record one; it might even reach all the way up here.
‘You don’t know what you’re saying, Mister Baines,’ the
white magician said. ‘From now on, nothing can be over with. We are on the brink of eternity.’
‘You know what I mean,’ Baines growled.
‘Of course, but if I were you, I’d be grateful for the respite… It
odd that he hasn’t come back yet. Dare we hope that something has after all interfered with him? Something – or some One?’
‘He said God is dead.’
‘Yes, but he is the Father of Lies. What do you think, Doctor Ware?’
Ware did not reply. The personage they were talking about was of course not the Father of Lies, the ultimate Satan, but the
subsidiary prince who had answered Ware’s last summons P
sometimes called Baphomet, the Sabbath Goat. As for the question, Ware simply did not know the answer; it was now sullen
full morning of the day after Armageddon, and the Goat had promised to come for the four of them promptly at dawn, in ironical
obedience to the letter of Ware’s loosing and sending; yet he was not here.
Baines looked around the spent conjuring room. ‘I wonder what he did with Hess?’
‘Swallowed him,’ Ware said, ‘as you saw. And it served the fool right for stepping outside of his circle.’
‘But did he really eat him?’ Baines said. ‘Or was that, uh, just symbolical? Is Hess actually in Hell now?’
Ware refused to be drawn into the discussion, which he recognized at once as nothing but Baines’s last little vestige of scepticism
floundering about for an exit from its doom; but Father Domenico said,
‘The thing that called itself Screwtape let slip to Lewis that demons do eat souls. But one can hardly suppose that that is
the end. I expect we will shortly know a lot more about the matter than we wish.’
Abstractedly, he brushed from his robe a little more of the dust from his shattered crucifix. Ware watched him with ironic
wonder. He really was staging a remarkable recovery; his God was dead, his Christ was exploded as a myth, his soul assuredly
as damned as that of Ware or Baines – and yet he could still manage to interest himself in semi-Scholastic prattle. Well,
Ware had always thought that white magic, these days as always, attracted only a low order of intellect, let alone insight.
‘I wonder where Mister Ginsberg went?’ Father Domenico said, as if in parody of Ware’s unspoken question. Again, Ware only
shrugged. He had for the moment quite forgotten Baines’s male secretary; it was true that Ginsberg had shown some promise
as an apprentice, but after all, he had wanted to learn the Ars Magica essentially as a means of supplying himself with mistresses,
and even under normal circumstances, his recent experience with Ware’s assistant, Gretchen – who was in fact a succubus –
had probably driven the desire out permanently. In any event, of what use would an apprentice be now?
Baines looked as startled as Ware felt at the question. ‘Jack?’ he said. ‘I sent him to our rooms to pack.’
‘To pack?’ Ware said. ‘You had some notion that you might get away?’
‘I thought it highly unlikely,’ Baines said evenly, ‘but if the opportunity arose, I didn’t mean to be caught unprepared.’
‘Where do you think you might go where the Goat couldn’t find you?’
No reply was necessary. Ware felt through his sandals a slow shuddering of the tiled floor. As it grew more pronounced, it
was joined by a faint but deep thunder in the air.
Father Domenico shuffled hastily back to the window, Baines close behind him. Unwillingly, Ware followed.
On the horizon, a wall of foaming, cascading water was coming towards them with preternatural slowness, across the deserted
floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The water had all been drained away as one consequence of the Corinth earthquake of yesterday,
which itself might or might not have been demonically created; Ware was not sure that it made much difference one way or the
other. In any event, the tectonic imbalance was now, inexorably, in the process of righting itself.
The Goat remained unaccountably delayed… but the tsunami was on its way at last.
What had been Jack Ginsberg’s room in the palazzo now looked a great deal more like the cabinet of Dr Caligari. Every stone,
every window frame, every angle, every wall was out of true, so that there was no place to stand where he did not feel as
though he had been imprisoned in a tesseract – except that even the planes of the prison were crazed with jagged cracks without
any geometry whatsoever. The window panes were out, and the ceiling dripped; the floor was invisible under fallen plaster,
broken glass and anonymous dirt; and in the
the toilet was pumping continuously as though trying to flush away the world. The satin-sheeted bed was sandy to the touch,
and when he took his clothes out of the wardrobe, his beautiful clothes so carefully selected from
dust fumed out of them like spores from a puffball.
There was no place to lay clothes out but on the bed, though it was only marginally less filthy than any other flat surface
available He wiped down the outside of his suitcase with a handkerchief, which he then dropped out the window down the cliff,
and began to stow things away, shaking them out with angry coughs as best he could.
The routine helped, a little. It was not easy to think about any other part of this incredible impasse. It was even difficult
to know whom to blame. After all, he had known about Baines’s creative impulse towards destruction for a long time and had
served it; nor had he ever thought it insane. It was a common impulse: to one engineer you add one stick of dynamite, and
in the name of progress he will cut a mountain in half and cover half a country with concrete, for no better real reason than
that he enjoys it. Baines was only the same kind of monomaniac, writ large because he had made so much money at it; and unlike
the others, he had always been honest enough to admit that he did it because he loved the noise and the ruin. More generally,
top management everywhere, or at least back in the States, was filled with people who loved their business, and cared for
nothing else but crossword puzzles or painting by the numbers.
As for Ware, what had he done? He had prosecuted an art to his own destruction, which was traditionally the only sure way
a life can be made into a work of art. Unlike that idiot
Hess, he had known how to protect himself from the minor unpleasant consequences of his fanaticism, though he had turned out
to be just as blindly suicidal in the end. Ware was still alive, and Hess was dead – unless his soul still lived in Hell –
but the difference now was only one of degree, not of kind. Ware had not invited Baines’s commission; he had only hoped to
use it to enlarge his own knowledge; as Hess had been using Baines; as Baines had used Hess and Ware to satisfy his business
and aesthetic needs; as Ware and Baines had used Jack’s administrative talents and his delight in straight, raw sex; as Jack
had tried to use them all in return.
They had all been things, not people, to each other, which after all is the only sensible and fruitful attitude in a thing-dominated
world. (Except, of course, for Father Domenico, whose desire to prevent anybody from accomplishing anything, chiefly by wringing
his hands, had to be written off as the typical, incomprehensible attitude of the mystic – a howling anachronism in the modern
world, and predictably ineffectual.) And in point of fact none of them – not even Father Domenico – could fairly be said to
have failed. Instead, they had all been betrayed. Their plans and operations had all depended implicitly upon the existence
of God – even Jack, who had entered Positano as an atheist, had been reluctantly forced to grant that – and in the final pinch,
He had turned out to have been not around any more after all. If this shambles was anyone’s fault, it was His.
He slammed down the cover of his suitcase. The noise was followed, behind him, by a fainter sound, about halfway between the
clearing of a throat and the sneeze of a cat. For a moment he stood stock-still, knowing very well what that sound meant.
But it was useless to ignore it, and finally he turned around.
The girl was standing on the threshold, as before, and as before, she was somewhat different. It was one of the immemorial
snares of her type; at each apparition she seemed like someone else, and yet always, at the same time, reminded him of someone
– he could never think who – he had once known; she was always at once mistress, harem and stranger. Ware ironically called
her Gretchen, or Greta, or Rita, and she
could be compelled by the word
but in fact she had no name, nor even any real sex. She was a demon, alternately playing succubus to Jack and incubus to
some witch on the other side of the world. In theory only, the idea of such a relationship would have revolted Jack, who was
fastidious, in his fashion. In actual practice, it did indeed revolt him… insufficiently.
‘You do not make me as welcome as before,’ she said.
Jack did not reply. This time the apparition was blonde again, taller than he was, very slender, her hair long and falling
straight down her back. She wore a black silk sari with gold edging, which left one breast bare, and gold sandals, but no
jewellery. Amidst all this rubble, she looked fresh as though she had just stepped out of a tub: beautiful, magical, terrifying