18 January 2003

By Whistling in the Dark


Cobias was a Reliever, and he was very serious about his work. As with many of Lightning's helpers, his wings looked more mothlike, with brown wings and bluish veins like thunder. It was thought the oversized blue spots and smoothing features on Cobias meant he was approaching fledging, and the odds on favorite was Elohite, but the hatchling's personality suggested that more clearly than any markings.

Today, he was to collect the reports from Saint Robert on the intake nozzle for the coolant subsystem as part of the overall Paladin project, bring those reports to data analysis, perform the computer modeling, distill the model data to spreadsheet, export the spreadsheet fields into the overall Paladin report, spot check, proofread, collate and bring the results to Dasbriel in time for the Cherub to report back to Zadkiel's representative on the Paladin's progress, only he couldn't find Saint Robert to save his ineffable soul.

He had checked both Saint Robert's cubicle and the lab, which is where the thin mustached Saint could usually be found. Failing at both of those, he checked with personnel, only to find that contrary to standard procedure, the Saint hadn't signed out.

The Personnel Kyriotate smirked at Cobias's expression. "Saint Robert never checks out," it said. "Especially not today."

"Today? What is today?"

"18 January, as the Mortals reckon time."

Cobias blinked. Time in Heaven, of course, doesn't work like Time on Earth. Dates mean little. One takes the time one needs to do things, and finds in the end that somehow it all works. "Should... that date have some significance to me?"

"Not really. Until today, it didn't even have significance to Saint Robert. Excuse me, Helper. I have duties."

"You're looking for Saint Robert?"

Cobias blinked again, and turned. And shrank back, impassivity or no, at the sight of the tremendous Cherub before him, resplendent in golden fur and mane, his wings pattered and a hint of ozone about him. "Y-yes, good Master," the Reliever said. He had only rarely spoken to a WordBound before, and never to the Angel of Scientific Procedure. "Do you know where I might find him? He is supposed to--"

"Well, whatever he's 'supposed' to do will probably have to wait, Hatchling." The Cherub sounded amused. "Or possibly even be reassigned. But if you're truly that keen on finding him, you might have to ask at the Cadre house."

"The... Cadre House, Master?"

"Mm. It's in the Baazar quarter of the Heavenly City. He's one of the Organizers. Something of an irregular legion of Saints against Hell. Very irregular, if you ask me. Anyhow, they'll know where he is. If you think it's that important."

Cobias swallowed. "Master, the Paladin Project is my assigned duty, and Saint Robert is needful for it. There is nothing more important."

This brought a chuckle. "Very well, Cobias. Seek out Saint Robert there, and see if you still feel that way."

Cobias buzzed into the air and away, wings beating. He wasn't sure why the Cherub was so amused, but he was sure his opinions wouldn't change. After all, if he were permitted a hope, Cobias hoped he would fledge Elohite, even as his inclinations seemed to follow. He believed, quite fully, that emotionalism could only get in the way of the work. Nothing would change that.

The bazaar was confusing -- it always was, Marc's Angels being more interested in possibilities for Trade than efficiency. All around, goods and services were being traded for markers -- the marker being a unit that designated a certain amount of volunteer effort above and beyond one's Heavenly Duties, since the Angels wouldn't trade for Essence as was done in Hell and all needs were provided for, of course. One could devote as little or as much time to the betterment of the Heavenly City as they wished, receive markers in accordance with that time, and use those markers in the Bazaar to their Heart's content. Cobias had no markers, of course, but helpful angels and blessed souls were willing to help him find the Cadre House.

It looked almost quaint -- a brownstone in the midst of the quarter. It was a club, truly, and no doubt there was service within for members, but it was also next to a rather large Heavenly Tavern on one side, a large Coffee House on the other, and was kitty corner to a branch of the Library. (The Library was itself singular, of course, but in many places in Heaven there were outbuildings and seemingly standalone branches where research or reading might be done. Only by going deeper in the stacks did one discover they were in the true Library itself, and sometimes leaving the Library left an Angel or blessed soul far far away from where they began.) A flag was hanging from the house -- it looked rather like a jolly roger, only beneath the skull was a crossed sword and quill.

And, rather unexpectedly, it seemed to be festooned with roses.

Positively festooned. They were draped over the windows, and lining the stairs, and gave the old building a festive, crowning air. Across the top of the the door, cut into the stone, was a legend. "THE RIGHT HONORABLE St. ROBERT'S CADRE OF MALAKIM" it read, with "CONVENTION HALL" under that. The work looked recent, but in Heaven that could mean many things.

Cobias rather shyly entered, and enquired with the Mercurian at the door. Said Mercurian was of Creation, and had apparently been assigned here by Trade, who he confided to Cobias he'd been working with. When asked about Saint Robert, the Mercurian got a smile and led Cobias inside and upstairs.

Upstairs was something of a supper club, with an old gentlemen's air. There were some signs of a recent party having ended, and more of those ever present roses, and in the corner sat three Saints and an Ofanite who were enjoying a meal. Well, one of the Saints wasn't so much sitting as standing near to them, practicing with a rather heavy, dangerous looking sword.

"Sirs," the Mercurian said. "A Reliever of Lightning is here to see you. He's looking for Saint Robert."

The three paused and looked amused. "Come in, come in," one, who wore a grey jump suit, said, waving the Reliever over. "Join us. Embrail -- have the kitchen send up a sandwich and an egg cream for our friend. Today, all are welcome -- even if he's late!"

"Oh... Blessed Saint... thank you but no. I'm already."

"I insist, young man." Cobias didn't correct the Saint. One didn't do that if they didn't want the Archangel of the Sword angry at them. Instead, he fluttered close and settled, being given a stool to perch on by the Ofanite, who darted across the room for it.

"Mm -- Young Helper, you're well met today. Come to wish them well, eh?" the Saint was saying. "Well, you're too late. They're off, somewhere or other, and Blessings go with them."

"Off? But... but I must find him! He has report data I need, and without it I can't--"

"Where are your manners, Doc?" the Ofanite said. "You haven't introduced us."

"Ach. You're correct, of course, old man. Well. I am Saint Edward, but please -- call me Doc. This is Saint Lyon, and 'Saint' Isaac, the old faker, and that one over there practicing his backswing is Saint Poul."

"I need the practice," he said, smiling slightly. "She disarmed me depressingly easy."

"But... good Wheel," Cobias said, looking at the Ofanite, "you can't be a Saint. You're an angel."

"Honorary," Isaac said. "All perfectly honorary. These fellows say I put in my time on Earth and deserve the honor, and get surly if you disagree. Now, you're here to see Saint Robert, because he has some work to give you, yes?"


Saint Lyon smiled slightly. "It's going to be rather a long wait, I'm afraid. He's just off on his honeymoon."

"Second honeymoon," Saint Poul cut in.

"Nothing of the sort," Saint Edward snapped. "This is Heaven -- no giving of wives and husbands, remember? They're just off on a very long, very extended, very deserved affair."

Cobias blushed. "You mean... he's... shirking his duties for... for...."

"Son," Saint Lyon said quietly, "don't finish that sentence. Not unless you want the entire Cadre demanding satisfaction with you, one at a time."

Cobias shut up.

"Mmm. You're confused," Isaac said. "Nothing to be ashamed of, young man. I got confused all of the time. However, I promise you that Saint Robert is not shirking a thing. You can ask our Bright Leader if you don't believe me."

Cobias paused. The Ofanite wouldn't make reference to the Archangel of Lightning unless he were certain, but that didn't make him right. "What do you mean?"

"Son," Saint Edward said, "once upon a time there was a writer who many people loved, and others hated, but all of them listened to. His work was unrelenting and his spirit that of the finest of men. And, like all who enter the Gates of Heaven, he achieved his Destiny. In his case, through his writing, through the values he imparted and the virtues he inspired to generations of readers."

"But as with many others," Saint Poul said, picking the story up, "he almost didn't make it. He might have been a minor writer, barely remembered. And then he met a woman."

"This woman was far more than a wife," Isaac said. "In fact, she wasn't a mere anything. A genius, beautiful and graceful, a champion ice skater, a computer scientist years before such things were common, possessed of many languages, many skills, many passions and more hard common sense than most people I met."

"In fact," Saint Lyon said with a grin, "when the writer patterned some of his heroines after his remarkable wife, many readers complained that no one could be such a superhuman. They forgot that life is far more interesting and remarkable than most fiction."

"Without her love, her will, and her tireless help, the writer would have died much younger... and likely have been remembered as a promising, minor science fiction writer and spinner of boy's tales," Saint Edward said. "Instead, he was one of the most significant writers of the field -- his works stretching beyond genre and infecting the mainstream with his ideas and ideals."

"And if he met his Destiny through his work," Isaac said, "she met hers through enabling his. And she was very happy with that life."

"For fifteen years they have been apart. Until the eighteenth of January, which is today." Saint Poul almost smirked. "And now, even as those she left behind mourn... we celebrate, because they are back together, now and forever."

"You want to know where they are?" Saint Edward smiled. "Perhaps they're at the prow of a ship, sailing beyond the sunset to new Heavenly lands together. Perhaps they walk the Savannah together, playing with the cats they knew in life. Perhaps they're ice skating through the Cathedral of Creation or travel in Elephants through the Bazaar."

"Wherever they are, they are together, at last. And both of them are finally, truly in Heaven." Saint Lyon smiled too.

"Now tell me, Helper," Isaac asked gently. "Is Saint Robert's report truly important, compared to that?"

There are moments who define who one is, and who one will be. For Cobias, this moment surprised him, and changed him. Later, he reported that the work would need to be rescheduled, while Saint Robert saw to more important business. And for those who saw the reliever, they noticed that instead of the emotionless Elohim, he seemed to have taken on some feline aspects, as if reconsidering Fledging as Cherub, those embodiments of Divine Love. In either case, Saint Robert and Saint Virginia gave the Reliever, the Paladin Project, and all unimportant things no thought whatsoever.

In Memoriam
Virginia Heinlein


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