By William J. Keith


It just appeared on Marc's desk while he was out, of course. Made of stone -- real stone, mined from Earth and each chess piece individually made into a celestial relic with great care.

Marc studied it for a long time -- a long time for Marc, at least. David was obviously sending him a message, and the style was important. The Archangel of Stone had something to say to Marc, and he felt that requiring Marc to figure out the message would have some additional salutory effect. It might help convince him of something, or it might provide some information that David knew Marc needed to know about himself, but could only try to get Marc to provide personally. Or maybe there was another reason entirely -- Marc knew perfectly well that David was slow and of few words, not stupid. If he felt he had something to say, it was worth Marc's time to figure out what it was.

It was White's move. Black had a threat in development, coming down the center. White's King had not moved, though Black's had castled, giving Black room to mount just such an assault. The best response was probably...

Marc looked again. There were some real inefficiencies in White's position that needed to be remedied, although occasionally matched by some in Black's. The White King was strangely still; its Queen was locked in a holding pattern by one of Black's Knights; the Black Queen was supporting a number of Black's pieces and only marginally threatened by the White King's Knight. The two dark-square bishops had each other pinned, at least for the moment. One white pawn, close to the Queen in the center, seemed to be doing little of use. One of White's Rooks might have been setting up for a later checkmate run, but there was a lot of work to be done yet -- that was perhaps a little cocksure at the moment. Most bothersome, though, was that White was split. Left of center was almost wholly divorced from right of center, leaving the King in danger, and supported mostly by the other Rook, which was itself relatively undefended. Black was far more badly fractured, but there was a kind of chaotic, fluid strength in its broad reach.

The best response for White was assuredly the King's Knight. But there were two ways to go. One, the more aggressive, would take the Knight into contention for the center, right into the path of the oncoming attack. It might deflect Black's thrust, but it led into a complex series of...

"...trades..." Marc's expression turned into one of pleased enlightenment. David had done it again.

White's other choice for the Knight was back to the second rank. It could be interpreted as a retreat, a loss of advancement, but what it gained in trade was twofold. Firstly, it defended the Rook, making Black's attack a pointless sacrifice if it kept up with the same line of assault. Second, the Knight got out of the way of the Queen and a bishop, allowing both to protect and be protected by pieces on the other side of the board. With a single move, White could unify its structure and set the board for a number of strong checkmate threats.

Marc glanced at the Rook he would be protecting. Naturally, it was made of rough-hewn stone of all sorts. He wryly looked at the Black Queen that the Knight was momentarily abandoning its meager hold on. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, David," he chuckled.

He summoned a Reliever, which fluttered into the office. "Yes, Sir?"

"Go to the Catacombs and say that you have a personal message from Marc to David. Tell him, 'Knight to King's Bishop 2. Let us meet at the site of Sutter's Mill, next local dawn.' Then return here with any reply."

"Yes, Sir."

He waited a bare few minutes, working in the meantime, before the Reliever returned. "He nodded and bade me return, Sir."

"Thank you, Helper." He dismissed the Reliever. Before it had left, though, he called out. "Wait. Tell me, what did you think of the Archangel of Stone?"

"I thought he seemed very strong, Sir. I was a little afraid of him. Until he smiled."

Marc nodded thoughtfully. "Understandable, -?"

"Just 'Me' right now, Sir. I haven't picked a name yet."

"Well, you have a while yet to consider it. However, I'll soon be in need of some extra presences in a mining country. Spend a week in the Catacombs familiarizing yourself with various sorts of mineral wealth without disturbing the environment, and I'll consider assigning you to help an angel on Earth duty."

"Thank you, Sir!" The Reliever zoomed out of the office to begin his task.

Marc smiled. It was a small tie for unity, but it was as real as you could wish.

Marc corporealized some way off from the monument proper and walked in wearing comfortable hiking clothes -- just another tourist in California, out for an early-morning walk, taking in the sights. He breathed in the pre-dawn air, felt the history hanging over this place. As the sun peeked over the hills, he felt a moment's amusement -- Archangels received a measure of Essence at dawn, too, although it was difficult to notice in the wash of Essence and Forces flowing about your Word.

"An interesting site you choose, Marc."

"A place where the wealth of the Earth was found, where a nation's history and myth were changed forever by the gleam of a distant dream of gold. Something for either of us, so neither could claim advantage." He turned around to face David, and just managed to keep from wincing -- David was naked, as usual. He hoped no real tourists showed up soon. "Or perhaps it should not have been a concern. If I interpreted your message aright, you were making an overture to the Peace faction?"

"Yes. We should not be so concerned with advantage over each other. I could wish as well that we were not split into the War and Peace factions, but those are differences that I think will not be resolved until Armageddon, if then."

Marc pitched his voice softer, so as not to seem to be rebuking David. "Some would say, my friend, that in those differences we could find strengths, ones we could not find in sameness."

David treated Marc to a piercing glance. "Sedimentaries are generally the weakest of stones, and there are strengths in sameness as well. However, I am not unmindful of your point. Organized division of labor is one of the first signs of community -- indeed, of civilization." Marc nodded in agreement. "And one of the first signs of morality -- indeed, of sentience -- is a realization that rules and laws apply to oneself.

"I have watched Heaven since the Fall for some short time now..." Marc smiled. Twenty thousand years, a geological pittance. "...and seen it splinter and grow farther apart. The Seraphim Council squabbles and divides its efforts. Laurence ignores Novalis, something I am guilty of as well, and yet something like half of the wisest beings in existence see her as useful and noble. You and I are at odds, as much as you are with anyone; Michael in his pride is rejecting Yves, a dangerous course to my mind. Gabriel and Eli, two of our oldest and brightest, wander Earth, and those who care for them seem helpless to do anything about the tensions their actions are causing. Some of us, names needing not be mentioned, will give a Servitor a slap on the wrist, and that for form's sake only, if one Archangel's Servitors or another are maliciously hindered, or at most hindered for the sake of one of Heaven's Words gaining ground at the expense of another.

"We are forgetting our own lessons. Alliances, friendships, loyalties, the strength of unity -- these are things a Mercurian should surely understand, or a Cherub, or the Archangel of Stone, and yet we do not apply them to ourselves. We lose ourselves in our Words and forget that we are thinking beings as well as concepts. When this happens, tension develops as naturally as such tensions arise in the world about us." David gestured expansively, taking in the land about. "Of course men must tear and scar the rock with their tools to extract its wealth. It lessens the crust of the Earth minutely, and demeans not the ore used so. Of course a dream can be shattered by strife, for even righteous struggle is not without pain and sacrifice. A dream can stop a war, too... or lure people into unproductive idleness without struggle. Of course the roots of a tiny plant can break stone, must feed from the minerals within, and the sands of the desert must sweep over crops and bring a village to the edge of starvation.

"We fall into these patterns of thought and thus contend with each other, to the detriment of the very concepts we seek to advance as we lose each other's support. It is the selfish error of Hell, where all seek to make themselves supreme and none but grudgingly helps another. Let us avoid this trap. Let us make efforts to reconnect with one another. Let us make Heaven once again a community."

Marc waited after the speech was over. "You came to me first because we are known to be at odds, so that if we agree it will carry weight. Because I know something of getting two sides to see something in each other. Because I can speak persuasively even to the neutrals."


Marc looked away. "I suspected this was your cause when I figured out your message. Great board setup, by the way." He quirked a corner of his mouth. "We should bring something more persuasive than words. A shared mission, I'd think."

"You have one planned?"

"I have just the thing." Marc flourished a paper. "Indonesia. Sulawesi's a mess. Chaos."

"Newmont's problems."

"That's right. The island needs a real trade structure, enforced by a central government with a clear mandate and the will to use it. The mining companies and the squatters need to either get together, or find a way to resolve their differences. The companies would get their mining done, the squatters would hopefully have jobs, the levels of mercury and other nasty stuff getting into the environment (and the workers) would decrease drastically, and the government gets its tax flow. It's an all-around win, and we can set both Trade and Stone angels to work on getting the place whipped into shape -- make a community there, one with laws governing trade and the work of the mining that provides the island with its lifeblood. We work from the government and the corporations, you work with the native miners and the ones who support them." "I will consider." David decorporealized, just in time for the first group of tourists to appear around the bend in the trail. Marc spent a few minutes chatting them up and describing the history of the place as engagingly as any tour guide could have, before taking his leave to applause from the delighted tourists.

One week later -- by Methuselah's beard, David must have felt strongly about the problem -- David sent his agreement to Marc, and nearly a hundred Servitors to the region, awaiting orders from a ranking angel of Trade. Marc acknowledged on the spot, privately observing that when Stone said it was going to do something, it did it wholeheartedly.

One hostility down... well, no, hopefully on the way down. Just a Council full of them to go.

Man, Marc was looking forward to this.


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