[You know who you are! ;) ]
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"This is irregular, highly irregular."
The palpable tension in the room was approaching nail-biting intensity as the dark-suited figures bent their heads over the document, dissecting each phrase at length. The speaker glanced carefully towards the top table where the icy deliberations had drawn out for long hours. His companion, a shorter man with a manically plastic smile and eyes hidden behind tinted glasses, just smiled the more widely. They stood at the far end of the long room, by a plated window which looked out onto wide grey plains.
"Irregular problems call for irregular solutions, Jean my friend. Think they'll be able to sort out the fine print in time for a photo-shoot at dawn?"
"Given that an average bolt of lightning carries a static potential of the order of 6 gigavolts, do you know how many direct strikes to the generator it would take to short out your entire remote broadcasting unit?"
Nybbas' smile tightened up a notch. "My /friend/, I am picking up the definite vibes that you would prefer it if I were to talk to someone else."
"Yes," said Jean blandly. "Precisely one." Sparks flickered across his hand as he pressed a finger to the metal window-frame, outlining the milk-white digit against the darkness outside.
At the opposite corner, a woman flinched from where she was also gazing out at the night sky and glared at the two speakers, as the jolt of static lifted the leaf-green hairs on her arm. Her hand leapt from the window instinctively.
"I'd thought you were supposed to be aiding in resolving the mediation," the archangel of lightning observed, having adequately acquired her attention. "Wasting time on thousand-yard stares barely seems the speediest way to do that."
Lilith bit back the first comment that came to mind. Blasphemy seldom went down well, although the reaction was always guaranteed. "Patience, impatience," she chuckled throatily, walking across to the pair. Her eyes gleamed with dangerous bottle-green lowlights. "We've come a very long way in these negotiations. Further than many," she glanced deliberately towards the now-silent figure that was the prince of factions, "would have believed possible."
"Geased into silence?" Nybbas grinned again as he followed her gaze, although the expression was hollow.
The woman tilted a hand, her own eyes registering almost nothing. "The main articles are agreed. The libel is singularly intolerable and dangerous. Marc is doing a sterling job on tidying up the last few minutae and sticking points. Since neither of you were helping in any major way I hardly think you have any right to complain." The barb in her smile was aimed directly at Jean.
Any reply was lost in the distraction as the meeting at the main table broke up. Men and women exchanged more relaxed comments from their seats or stood up and stretched as an indication that the more serious discussions were on hold. Marc sat back in his chair at the head of the table, took off his wire-rimmed glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes briefly. Even the archangel of trade's famously good humour was beginning to look frayed and weary. Behind him, Baal interlinked his vessel's fingers and cracked his knuckles with deliberate precision before resting one gloved hand on the table and leaning forwards to exchange a brief comment with the archangel of judgement, silent in whispering robes.
"Ten minute break."
Marc cleared his throat after making the announcement and glanced round the room at the other archangels and demon princes. They were so close now. He stood up slowly, having received no indication of acknowledgement from any of the other superiors, and joined the other three by the window.
"You look like shit," Lilith said sympathetically, reaching out towards his face.
"I could have a make-up team here in seconds."
Nybbas shrugged, and the smile didn't slip an inch under the two withering gazes this garnered. Marc batted the green hand away and just shook his head.
"You have hopes for an agreement soon," Jean said to him in a more sympathetic undertone. "This is why you cannot allow yourself to collapse. Make time later."
The other archangel nodded wearily, to all of the comments. "It just comes down to agreeing what a suitable punishment would be. We know who they are, we know how to arrest them, we have agreed the charges and the rough magnitude of the crime, we have the hard evidence as provided by several superiors aligned with both the infernal and the divine, and as approved by both judgement and the game."
"So what's the current state?" Nybbas asked, cradling a small electronic dictaphone between his own fingers. The artefact emitted a quiet click and whistle as the heads began to move.
Marc rubbed at his eyes again and replaced his glasses, plucking a notepad from an immaculate breast pocket. "Let me see... we have a range of differing proposals. In alphabetical order they run as follows. Andrealphas is keen to inflict some punishment in person but didn't stipulate what that would be."
The other three rolled their eyes in unison. "He what?" asked the woman. "But he was one of the only people to be presented in a thoroughly /good/ light."
"Doubtless he simply wants to take the opportunity to satisfy his own carnal nature," the elohite observed coolly, the barest twitch of distaste across one high cheekbone.
Marc shrugged in agreement. "Yes, it isn't personal in his case. Asmodeus wants them hung, drawn and set to churning out training videos for his organisation. Baal wants them for target practice, so does Michael. Beleth wants them trapped in Giger's nightmares. Blandine wants their dreams stripped. Dominic wants them locked up. Janus.. "
"Oh c'mon," Nybbas interrupted the list. "He wasn't even there!"
"Janus wanted it put on record that he doesn't care," Marc continued, giving the demon prince of the media a shut-up-now glare. "Jean suggested that they volunteer for testing. So did Vapula."
This earned a frown from the aforementioned archangel. "Look," said Marc, "it isn't my fault you fall into the same patterns of thought."
Lilith interrupted with a well-timed cough as Jean was about to reply. "He's tired, Jean darling. He didn't mean anything by that."
The mercurian groaned under his breath and shook his head. "Yes, alright, sorry. Where was I.. oh. Right. Kobal said he didn't care but remembered at the last moment that he did have something else in mind, but he didn't see fit to share it. Kronos wanted them to run for parliament. Eli wants to write witty rebuttals about them I think -- or take them out for a drink. Malphas wants to get them to all write about each other. Laurence wants them to polish his cathedral floor with tissues -- something about hard work being good for the soul. I wanted a full restitution for the damage to my character and reputation. Nybbas wanted them for his 'Running Woman Death Match' quiz show. Haagenti wanted them for lunch. Jordi wants them torn apart by wild dog packs. Novalis wanted it put on record that she isn't vindictive at all but after the banana episode she wants.."
He consulted the pad and squinted at his scribbled notes. "She wants to have them planting trees until their wretched backs are broken from the effort. Yves wants them for his collection. David wants them to test out his new assault course. Gabriel wanted to forge them into some new front-line smiting team."
"The Smite Girls? Oh yes..." Nybbas kept his voice pitched low enough that only one of the others could catch the comment, but she gave him a hard paddington glare.
"Belial said he was quite happy with his portrayal but would incinerate them anyway. Valefor .. hasn't shown yet. And Saminga wanted to kill them." Marc finished and flipped the pad closed.
"Predictable," said the others in unison.
Jean considered Lilith with quiet eyes. "And yourself?" he asked finally, adding "You were waiting for one of us to ask so please enlighten us."
"I have a proposal," she smiled. It was an unpleasant smile. "All of you want them. Quite a lot in fact. They /will/ want not to be taken quite a lot also after someone has explained the consequences of their libellous 'Bond Trailers'. When the break is up, I was going to suggest to my colleague here that we propose setting year-long geases on each of them. One year in service to each superior as due payment for the crimes, but it would require an agreement by all here present that they will be in a fit state to be handed over at the year's end."
Nybbas grinned. His expression didn't alter an inch. "I like it. It has style, flair, we can send a camera crew round to see how they are getting on. Lilith baby, you are just /made/ for TV! Its a surefire hit."
"It has advantages and drawbacks," Jean agreed. "Quite possibly an optimal course."
Marc caught Lilith's eye. "Well," he said, "If you can get Saminga to agree to the no-death clause then you just might have yourself a deal."
She met his gaze with a more honest smile. "Darling," she said. "I was going to propose that they go to Saminga /last/"
"I like getting into hot water, it keeps me clean."
G. K. Chesterton
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