By Jo Hart
"What did you expect?" said the thin figure in the black suit. "I'm a demon."
"But you still came here."
She shrugged. "I had no choice."
"You had a choice."
"Please don't wind me up, Emil. You --"
"Please?" The man she was speaking to lit up a cigarette as he cut in. "Since when do your type ever ask for what they can take?"
The demon pressed the lips of her vessel together and closed her eyes; she looked tired and not a little desperate, however she tried to hide it. "You.won't.like.me.if.I.lose.control." Her face was a mask.
"It's hard to control, isn't it?" Emil murmured.
"I thought there was a deal on the table," she said eventually. Her voice was carefully neutral. "I was mistaken."
Emil grinned. Outcasts learned to treasure such illicit enjoyments as came their way, and irritating demons happened to be his personal hobby.
The woman plucked her briefcase from the chair, waving the cigarette smoke away from her face with a precise movement. "Good day," she said, meaning the exact opposite.
The office door swung shut before she reached it. It was heavy, and it was locked.
"Indeed," the man leaned back in his chair, his voice gravelly and precise. "Now sit down, Elea, Renegade Habbalite of Factions. You want to join Universal Exports, and I have the paperwork and the permission. But our Director doesn't like the word "deal", as that implies that you could possibly negotiate your way out of it. That won't happen. I'll go through the terms . . . "
Most renegades never redeem and join the ranks of the angels. Some have never heard of redemption and would dismiss it as a lie. Others are only interested in following their own selfish desires, unbeholden to any god or demon prince. Similarly, most outcasts are never located by the inquisition; many eventually Fall but a sizeable proportion simply go their own way.
Really, there is a vast pool of celestial talent out there just going to waste. Talent that, whilst it has crossed the line and declared its independence, could still be useful to either Heaven or Hell. And come to think of it, sometimes jobs come up that truly require secret and expendable operatives. One would expect a longterm outcast or renegade to know a lot about working quietly . . . it makes sense to use the most appropriate tools for the job.
So it should be no surprise that Jean has quietly operated a temping operation for such die-hard celestials for a long time. Disguised as a mortal corporation, employees are carefully headhunted and recruited into the secretive heart of Universal Export. The corporation provides roles, the corporation provides vessels, and the corporation provides work; not fulltime work, but employees know to expect the phone-call that means they have a job to do. In return, the corporation also provides security, a haven from Dominic and Asmodeus' watchful minions (after all, if the Archangel of Lightning can't organise ids and alter computer records on a whim, then who can?), and a place for these lonely creatures to finally mix with their own kind. It is even possible to arrange for dissonance and discord to be removed. No strings attached. Do the work and get the payment.
Jean does have a sleeping partner, an influential infernal figure who organises paperwork and takes care of the demonic side of things. Only very high ranking managers in Universal Export even know that he exists, and none of them know who he is, although it isn't impossible to guess that a demon prince is involved. Indeed, some of UEs missions might be interpreted as serving Hell more than Heaven. But beggars can't be choosers, and neither can outcasts and renegades.
There are some rules, of course.
- Never speak about the real corporation. Even an Archangel is not immune to the Inquisition; Michael's trial proved that. Jean cannot afford for Heaven's less pragmatic superiors to find out that he works with demons. Universal Exports maintains its privacy by any means necessary. It is run by an Elohite, so that truly does mean *any* means necessary.
- No recruiting. Employees include both outcasts and renegades. They are forbidden from trying to incite other members to either fall or redeem. Most employees regard this as a good thing; they are allowed to maintain whatever worldview they choose. The no redemption side of the contract, combined with the first rule, has meant that redemptions are vanishingly few. (In order to redeem, a demon would have to work out that an archangel was involved in running the show, and, of course, be willing to die in order to serve Heaven - among hardcore renegades, this attitude is rare to say the least.) The only angel who did redeem whilst working for Universal also vanished soon afterwards.
- No exit. Once in, never out again. This rule isn't necessarily stated up front, although it could be deduced.
The silent partner is of course Asmodeus. Who can say how many renegades have been classified as "potentially useful" and steered deliberately into Universal Export's clutches? Demons of the Game don't know, of course. Even those involved in tracking down renegades who were recruited don't know that their failure to catch their prey was preordained by the Prince of a Thousand Eyes; and they are still tortured for their failures ...
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