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"The Devil's Bookseller" Part 4
Part 2 can be found here:
Part 3 can be found here:
THE BOOKSELLER HUBERT WALKED along the sunstruck cobbled street known to Venetians as the Via Littoratura, off the Grand Canal and just south of the Doges’ Palace. The summer wasn’t the best time to visit Venice; the stink from the canals assaulted the nose, the temperature drove most of the natives away for their yearly vacations, and life seemed to shut down in the sinking city.
Hubert hadn’t been to Venice in the last five years, and the decay of the place astounded him. The plaza in front of San Marcos was under a foot of water, and only a few brave souls sloshed through the standing water to visit one of the finest ancient churches in Europe. Several of the bridges were closed for repairs, and although there were numerous scaffolds embracing the bridges, there seemed to be no work going on. That was the way Venetians were, Hubert thought, the appearance of work was more important than the work itself. Talking to old friends who had lived there for years, he discovered that the city was sinking into its lagoon even more quickly than it had for the last two hundred years, but nobody seemed to know how to stop it, or even slow it down.
All things considered, Hubert thought, it was much like the rest of civilization today. Things fell apart, slowly at first, so slowly that one could barely notice them. Then, as time passed, the decay became faster and faster, until it seemed that pieces were flying off right before one’s eyes.
He walked along, enjoying the day as much as he could. Clouds of mosquitoes surged around him, biting, flying away. He had become used to them and no longer batted them away. He wore a heavy tweed jacket and a yellow necktie, despite the heat. He generally didn’t feel the heat very much, anyway. Even when he was a young man at Oxford, during the sweltering days of late summer when all the other underclassmen were wilting in their digs, sitting in front of fans and drinking cooling drinks, Hubert was out playing sports and dashing about, enjoying himself immensely.
The shop he was looking for was located at the far end of the street, where it ended, like the wrong turn in a maze, fight up against a towering brick wall. There were many booksellers on the street, which was where it got its unofficial name, places with large display windows showing one of the few things that Italians did really well, that being the publishing of the finest art books in the world. Some of these shops were incredibly large for a city were space was at such a premium as Venice. Others were intimate and dark, hardly more than front parlors of converted homes. Hubert wasn’t interested in any of these places, just the last shop on the Via Littoratura. It didn’t look like a bookstore at all as he stopped in front of it. The windows were barred at street level and heavily draped inside, preventing anyone from either breaking in or even looking in; a small bronze plaque hung next to the heavy wooden door, a door that was reinforced with iron bands and bolts that might have been used in the hull of an old steamship. The plaque read RIGGIO & RIGGIO, and was very small. It might have been an exclusive Swiss bank, for all the attention it called to the place. A small video camera was mounted next to the forbidding door, glaring down into the street. Hubert mounted the three granite steps and the door was buzzed open before he could reach for the doorbell.
The inside of the shop did indeed look like a Victorian home more than a bookstore—or any other kind of store, for that matter. The front room was a parlor, with heavy furniture and a deep carpet that came to Hubert’s ankles. Air conditioning hummed somewhere far away, and the air in the store was chill; Hubert was glad that he wore his heavy tweed jacket.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Hubert,” said the Blackamoor.
“Hello,” said Hubert softly.
The Blackamoor was the Riggio brother’s muscle and majordomo. Hubert didn’t know the man’s name, only that he was a rather old black fellow who disdained wearing suits and ties. Today he was dressed in pressed jeans and a tank top; he might be getting on in years, but the muscles in his arms and chest were still sharply defined, and in case any of the few select clients of the Riggio brothers made themselves a nuisance, the Blackamoor had a large black Beretta automatic pistol strapped in a belt holster hanging low on his left hip.
“We got your letter, sir,” said the Blackamoor, standing there in front of the only books in evidence, a large case filled with moldering leather bound editions in Spanish and Italian, books that Hubert had glanced at before only to find that they were garbage bought by the yard for decorative purposes. “Signor Jonathan will be in to see you shortly. Would you care for a latte, perhaps?” The man spoke perfect English in a high, sing-song voice, like somebody from the West Indies.
“Nothing for me, thank you.”
“Very good, Mr. Hubert. If you’d just like to wait here for a moment, then.”
The Blackamoor, as Jonathan Riggio called him, vanished from the parlor and Hubert walked around the room, glancing at objects on tables, looking at the bookcase filled with shoddy fiction, in case the brothers had changed anything. They hadn’t. Finally he sat down in one of the Victorian wing chairs that smelled faintly of cigar smoke.
In walked Jonathan Riggio, the younger of two brothers, the one still technically alive. Urban, the elder brother, it was said, still resided in the house, as a vampire. Jonathan was smoking a great big Romero Y Julietta cigar and talking too loudly, as if he was caught doing something he shouldn’t.
“Hubert! So good to see you!”
“Good to see you too, Jonathan.” Hubert rose to meet him.
“Did that Blackamoor bastard offer you coffee?”
“Yes, Jonathan, he did. And I declined.”
“Good. His coffee is for shit, anyway. We got your letter.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Are you in the city for long?”
“Not long enough, I’m afraid.”
They stood there for a long moment, two people who know each other, don’t particularly like each other, but are bound to be civil anyway.
“Not long enough to see our beautiful city, you mean?”
Hubert inclined his head. “As you say.”
“Will you follow me, then, Mr. Hubert?”
They left the front parlor and, with Riggio leading the way, Hubert was able to examine him a little more closely. Jonathan Riggio was one of those exceedingly rare of animals, a native Venetian with absolutely no taste whatsoever. He wore a Versace suit so ill-fitting that it must have fallen off the back of a truck. His thick wavy hair was pomaded like a 1920s movie star’s. His shoes, Hubert noticed with alarm, were plastic loafers with built-up heels to make him appear taller. He wore a Movado Museum watch that might have been stylish, if he hadn’t ruined the effect by strapping it to his wrist with a base metal Twist-O-Flex bracelet.
“How is business for you, Mr. Hubert?” Riggio asked over his shoulder as they walked down a long hall, decorated with questionable art.
“Never better, Jonathan.”
“So glad to hear that. So many booksellers are going out of business these days.”
“How right you are, Jonathan. Dropping like flies.”
They paused in front of a vault, the door shut and looking imposing. The floor of the house was tilted here, towards the back, and Hubert wondered if the weight of the strongroom was pushing the whole place down into the soggy earth. Riggio plunged his hand deep into the inside pocket of his jacket and rooted around for a moment.
“Are you looking for anything else today, Mr. Hubert? Other than what you talked about in your letter?”
“No, thank you, Jonathan. Just the book I mentioned.”
“Ah, yes,” said Riggio. “The book...” Still he dug deep into that pocket, searching, searching, until Hubert wondered if his whole arm was going to disappear in there, like some bad vaudeville comedian’s.
“You see, Mr. Hubert, I’ve just found a lead on a most promising shipment of plutonium.”
“What would I need with plutonium, Jonathan?”
“It’s very good stuff, if you get my drift. From Ukraine. Bomb grade. Very nice.”
“Not this time, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, well, if you change your mind...”
“I’ll be sure to let you know.”
Finally Riggio found what he was looking for, a slip of paper with the combination to the vault scribbled on it. Hubert tactfully looked away at a picture on the wall as Riggio struggled now to unlock the door. The picture was a Georgio de Chirico, one of his dream pictures, showing a woman in a deserted plaza, a strange sculpture in the foreground. Even though the painting was a very obvious forgery, it still managed to send a chill down Hubert’s spine, and normally he had very little time for modern art.
“How’s your brother, then?” he said, to make conversation.
Riggio didn’t answer immediately, he was having difficulty with the combination lock.
“Goddamn this thing... Ah, there we go. Urban’s, well, Urban is Urban, shall we say.”
“He in good spirits?”
“When I bring him fresh blood, yes.”
Hubert heard the door scrape open and turned around.
“After you, Mr. Hubert.”
The vault was very large, probably at least twenty-five feet on the side, and jammed with books. It was also filled with art, both modern and classical, and other things as well. A crate of Kalashnikov AKM assault rifles stood open in the middle of the floor, and Hubert nearly stubbed his toe on it in the dim strongroom.
“What’s this, Jonathan?” he said in surprise.
“I have to sell what people are buying, Mr. Hubert.”
“I’m surprised at you, Jonathan! Does the Guardia know about this particular adventure?”
“I pay the Guardia well to look the other way in certain things.” Riggio was staring at the floor, very ashamed.
Hubert snorted, about to say something cutting, then stopped himself. What a man did for a living really didn’t make any difference to him. Besides, why should a crate of black market machine guns bother him, when he knew full well that Riggio had a good trade in fissionable material, like the plutonium he had wanted to sell him? Perhaps it was simply the fact that his old dealer had decided to slum, as it were, in the low class market of stolen rifles.
“You’ll be selling drugs next, Jonathan.”
“No, not drugs, Mr. Hubert. That’s an infamnia. I would never sell that shit.”
“Very well, Jonathan. You do have the book I wanted?”
“Sure, sure, just let me find it...”
Hubert turned to look at some of the paintings while Riggio went through his stock. There was a very pretty Canaletto pastoral there, as fake as a three dollar bill, even in the dim light, but still very pretty. Hubert wondered who Riggio sold all this garbage to.
Hubert turned around and saw Riggio standing there, wringing his hands like a liberal Democrat at a Klan rally. “Yes?”
“Are you sure you want this book?”
“Of course, Jonathan. Why do you think I came all the way here?”
“This is a very bad book, Mr. Hubert.”
“Nonsense. There’s no such thing as a bad book.”
“How about Mein Kampf? Wouldn’t you call that a bad book?”
“Mein Kampf is nothing but a number of pieces of paper, with patterns of ink, bound together with glue, thread, and bound, depending on the edition, in paper, cardboard, or leather. It is nothing more. Books are like guns. They are tools. It all depends what use one puts it to that might or might not make it bad or dangerous.”
“Spoken like a true businessman,” said Riggio, with a heavy sigh. “But this particular book, this is different.”
It was Hubert’s turn to sigh. “How so?”
“It is evil, Mr. Hubert.”
“You sell plutonium. You sell Kalashnikov guns. How much more evil can it be than those?”
“If you were just some silly fellow how happened into my shop, I would tell you how dangerous this book is. But you are not. You are Mr. Hubert, you own the most renowned occult bookstore in America, so I will not waste your time or my own pleading with you. You have sold many books, I am sure, that are terrible in their content. I know this to be true, because I have sold them to you myself. I know the tastes of your customers. Let me finish by saying, Mr. Hubert, that I wouldn’t want to be in your shop the day that the customer who wants this book comes in.”
“Have you the book or not, Jonathan? I haven’t come here to debate with you about it.”
Riggio turned and plucked the book off the shelf and handed it to Hubert as quickly as he could. It evidently wasn’t quickly enough for poor Riggio, for he rubbed his hands on his jacket like he wished he could wash them. “There you go, Mr. Hubert.”
Hubert turned the book over in his hands. It was much smaller than he had expected; for its age, it was tiny indeed, slightly smaller than a modern hardcover novel. As its leaves were of parchment, it was very heavy. The leather of the cover was worn thin in places, particularly around the edges.
“Yes,” Hubert said. “Yes.” He held it to his nose and sniffed carefully. It was remarkably free of mold. “Yes, I’ve very pleased, Jonathan. You did well.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry it took me so long to find it for you.”
“To be honest, I didn’t expect you to find it at all. I feared they might all be destroyed.”
“They should have been.”
“Oh, come on, Jonathan. You wouldn’t be making a nice profit selling it to me if it had been destroyed.”
“It is the work of the devil.”
“Is that what’s got you so worked up? I’ve never seen a religious side of you, Jonathan. I’m amazed.”
“You shouldn’t be. There’s two sides to every man, his worldly side, and his spiritual side. I don’t normally mix the two.”
“You’re brother’s a vampire, Jonathan. And you take care of him. You’ll answer for that with St. Peter, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Perhaps I shall. But my brother has to answer for it too, and it is mainly his problem. Besides, he is my brother, his is family, and you know how that is to us Italians.”
“Oh yes. Rather.”
“You are sure you want it?”
“Indeed I do. I can hardly credit that I’m standing here with it in my hands at this moment.”
“Well, then lets go and have a drink and discuss terms, shall we?”
HUBERT IS FLYING BACK to America, snuggling down into the deep rich leather seat in the first class section of a United 777. Normally he is a man who watches every dime he spends, and so rarely indulges in the luxury of upgrading his coach ticket, but this time he does, because he is so happy with his new acquisition. He is drinking a free cocktail given to him by a pretty young flight attendant, it is an indifferent Scotch, not like the single malt that he likes, but if this is how the other half roughs it, Hubert is all for it.
All in all, it has been a remarkably successful buying trip.
When he had finished his business with Jonathan Riggio in Venice, he took a train to Berlin and found a large collection of a man who had recently died; he bought most of the collection for a song. None of the books in the collection were particularly rare, or valuable, but since they were concerned with Wicca witchcraft and other subjects the Goths enjoyed, he knew he could turn a fine profit on them. After Berlin he took the Chunnel train to England and stayed with an old friend for a couple of days and visited his old alma mater Oxford. And when the plane lands at JFK in New York he will stay in that city for a day or two and perhaps catch a play, see what the Met has to offer, and perhaps do a little more buying.
He finishes off his Scotch and hands the empty glass to a passing attendant. Time for a nap, he thinks, and drifts off to sleep.
Down under his seat rests his carry-on bag, an inexpensive Samsonite fabric over-the-shoulder model. Inside are the normal items of any traveler; a change of clothes should his check-on suitcase get lost by the airline, a shaving kit, a few medications, a passport and tickets for the connecting flight. Also in the bag is a book.
The book is bound in black leather, worn thin on the edges. The leather is stretched over the stout cover boards, which was cut from the heart of an oak tree. The binding is sewn, unlike most books produced today. In the snug darkness of the Samsonite carry-on the book glows dimly, as if it has been irradiated by Jonathan Riggio’s black market plutonium. It is warm to the touch.
When Hubert passes through customs a few hours hence he will surrender his bag for inspection, and the customs officer will open the book and see nothing that he will be able to recognize. It is printed in Latin, in a very close script that makes it almost unreadable even to Latin scholars. And that is exactly what the customs officer will think that Hubert is, a scholar, a man with his head in the clouds, toting around some obscure text. He will look inside to make sure the pages haven’t been hollowed out to receive a few packets of drugs, see that they are whole, and put the book back into the bag. He will handle the book very carefully, because it is obviously very old and perhaps valuable.
Which it is. The book is over five hundred years old. It was printed in Linz, Austria, by a student of Gutenberg. The printer, a very old man at the time, was in terrible financial difficulties, besieged by creditors. He was also a very religious man, who up to that time had never accepted a commission unless it was to produce a bible, a religious tract, or a bull from the Vatican; this one time, however, he did take the commission of the book, a secular book, in Latin, from a local nobleman, no questions asked. The print run was absurdly small, even for that era. The nobleman wanted only a dozen copies struck, and for this he paid the man what was a year’s pay for a skilled laborer. The printer did as he was told, pocketed the money, and six months later hanged himself.
A few months later the Inquisition came knocking on the nobleman’s door, took him into custody and seized his library, which numbered more than two hundred volumes, a large collection for the time. In the nobleman’s library the inquisitors found numerous pornographic works, books written in the German vernacular, which had been outlawed by the Church, and several copies of the book he had commissioned with the old printer. The nobleman was burned at the stake, and most of his library was used as the kindling. Before getting roasted, however, the nobleman was put to the question. The Jesuits, aided by thumbscrews and the strappado, quizzed the nobleman about the special book he had printed. The other books in his collection were not very important to the Inquisition; they certainly were not grounds for the nobleman’s fiery death. The nobleman was no hero, and confessed almost immediately to ordering a dozen copies of the book, which he had distributed to friends around central Europe.
Word was sent to Rome to Pope Alexander VI about the book, along with the nobleman’s pornographic works, of which the Holy Father was an avid collector. The pope was briefed about the existence of seven copies of this book, and Alexander, one of the most venal, worldly, and depraved men ever to govern the Holy See ordered at once that all copies of it were to be found and burned, along with anyone possessing it. The fact that a man like Alexander was so upset and terrified of the book speaks volumes, and the Jesuits fell to work with a wonderful vengeance. It took them three years, but they found all seven copies and executed the owners, and the owner’s families for good measure.
And so the book should have ceased to exist. All twelve copies burned.
But the old printer had made himself a copy, a thirteenth copy, which he had hid among his other drafts and proofs. Six months after he had delivered the commission of twelve books to the nobleman he cracked open the copy he had kept for himself and started to read it.
A few hours later his wife, calling him to dinner, found him hanging in the barn.
The United 777 zooms through the dusk. The sun goes a little faster than the jetliner, but the plane makes a valiant attempt to keep up. As a result, up here at thirty-seven thousand feet, the line between light and darkness stretches to a hour or more.
Hubert stirs in his shallow sleep.
Two rows back, an investment banker is wide awake, staring at the plastic ceiling overhead. A moment ago he was thinking about a deal he is working on with a major steel company. Suddenly a thought comes into his mind. I shall kill my wife and children when I get home, he thinks. And he starts planning.
Three rows forward a woman who has never been airsick before in her life is violently ill, grabbing the barfbag just in time.
Several seats to Hubert’s left, a woman and child are sleeping. The child, an infant girl, suddenly stiffens as a violent nightmare rips through her brain. The nightmare is so terrible the infant is unable to waken, unable to squirm, unable to make a sound. The girl’s mother stiffens too, and begins to shudder, for she is having exactly the same nightmare herself.
Others in the first class cabin are oblivious. Not all are effected.
The book now in Hubert’s carry-on bag had been returned to shelf by the printer who had made it a few minutes before the old man gave himself a hemp necktie. The collection of books was later sold by his wife to a merchant in the old Hanseatic city of Bremen. The merchant was very good with numbers but was otherwise totally illiterate, however, he wanted an impressive library of books to grace his workroom, to awe his clients, and since he had the money, he bought several collections at what would today be called estate sales.
The book rested there on the shelf for the next fifty years. The merchant’s eldest son took over the business after his father’s death, and the son was illiterate too. As a result the book was never opened, and so it sat, surrounded by religious tracts and bibles and bound papal bulls, which acted on it rather like the lead and graphite that surrounds a nuclear reactor’s core. The merchant’s son died without leaving an heir, and the residence and workroom were cleaned out by the son’s lawyers. They took down the books from the shelf and discovered a strange thing; the book now resting under Hubert’s seat looked fresh and bright as the day it was printed, while those books surrounding it looked as if they had been through a fire, a flood, and a swarm of locusts, all combined. The parchment and vellum of these books was illegible, crumbling, destroyed.
For the next four hundred years the book traveled from owner to owner, from city to city. As the modern era progressed there were fewer and fewer people who could actually read it as Latin slipped into disuse. It went from Germany to France, from France to England. From England it was bought in a second-hand bookstore by a naval officer who was buying up a cache of books to entertain him on a very long voyage to the South Seas; the officer was classically educated and one night, after standing a demanding dogwatch, went below to read himself to sleep. He opened the book and started to read. At eight bells the surgeon was called to the wardroom by a distressed servant and found the officer had cut off his toes, all the fingers on his left hand, his nose, and his penis with a razor. The officer died late the next morning from shock and was buried in the deep Pacific. His belongings were auctioned off to the other officers and the book was bought, along with all the others belonging to the officer, by the ship’s purser.
The purser, who wasn’t a great reader and had no Latin anyway, was paid off at the end of the voyage back in Portsmouth and then emigrated to the New World, settling in Halifax. He never did open the book, and lived to a grand old age and passed away peacefully in his bed. The book was cast upon the winds once more, and disappeared from sight, only to reemerge in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the end of the 19th century.
It was there that a French diplomat found it in an occult bookstore, not too different from Hubert’s All Nations. The diplomat, a collector of strange and supernatural books and manuscripts, purchased it, along with a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for a couple of hundred rubles. At the beginning of the First World War he was called home to Paris, and the book went with him. This owner unfortunately is fluent in Latin, and one sunny Saturday when the Germans are so close to the capital one can hear their artillery, the diplomat opens the book. Smoking a good cigar and drinking a fine white wine, he begins reading.
Six months later, after half a dozen prostitutes are found butchered on the Left Bank, the diplomat is charged with their murders. He confesses, and is guillotined, face up, so he can watch the blade hurtling down at his throat, the preferred method of execution for particularly hideous killers.
The book goes back into the shadows. Waiting. Glowing softly in the dark.
It is finally found by Jonathan Riggio, a somewhat shady import-export specialist, at the behest of an American collector of occult books. Hubert now owns it. He paid $50,000 for it, money that Jonathan Riggio will never have the chance to spend, for even now, as the United jet passes into American air space, Jonathan Riggio is putting the business end of a Browning pistol into his mouth. Jonathan Riggio reads Latin perfectly.
And now the book is coming back to the New World, stowed away in Hubert’s bag. It seems to know it, and sends out tendrils of matter smaller than any sub-atomic particle; tendrils of pure, unadulterated evil, that spread through the first class cabin, touching some, moving past others. This matter, this superstring evil, is completely capricious. It cares nothing for whom it might damage, whom it might pass. A thin tentacle of it penetrates the aluminum cabin deck and descends deeper into the airplane, touching the checked-on baggage. A small dog, a Pekinese, sits shivering in its kennel, unhappy about flying. The tentacle senses a living being close to it, and curls its way towards the kennel. The Pekinese starts to bark, more and more frantic, until, suddenly, its tiny lungs explode and it falls to the floor of its kennel, dead.
Further down, into the very guts of the airplane. The tendril coils into a fat wire buss and rests there for a moment, wondering if it should do damage. The electricity within the wires around it hum and crackle and the tentacle listens to it for a moment, like a terrorist skulking under the overpass of a superhighway, wondering if he should light the fuse of his bomb. For a moment the tentacle heats and becomes very hot, and the insulation around the wiring blisters and starts to cook off. At the last moment the tentacle suddenly cools, and the insulation holds. Like a highly successful virus that knows not to kill its host too quickly, the tendril and the book it is attached to realizes that it would be foolhardy to crash the plane, thus destroying itself. The tentacle retreats up into the bag under Hubert’s seat, and the book stops glowing for the moment. Up above, Hubert’s shallow sleep grows a little more deep.
FIFTEEN MILES AWAY FROM the stern of the United jetliner flies another aircraft, this one much smaller and very much faster. It is an Air Force F-22, its tailfins showing the markings of the 108th Fighter Wing, based at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. It fairly strolls along, subsonic, behind the lumbering passenger jet. The pilot, Lieutenant Jerome Galworthy, is a young man, not long out of flight school, and is putting in his hours stateside before being transferred overseas. Galworthy has the United jetliner painted with his laser, and is practicing his attack drill on it, like it was a Russian bomber invading American airspace. Normally such tactics are frowned upon both by the FAA and by the Air Force itself, but fighter jocks have been playing these games for years, and there is a tacit understanding between the airlines and the Defense Department that such things still go on.
Galworthy rides along behind the 777, rocking a little in his ejection seat, for the backwash of the big airliner is still perturbing the atmosphere, even here, fifteen miles back. Galworthy has a good signature, the target is painted.
“Boom!” he says. And he has a kill. At least, a virtual kill. He turns off his laser and targeting instruments and is about to pull away to return to base when he hears the voice of God through his headphones.
Shoot it down.
Lt. Jerome Galworthy is a very religious man. There was a time, when he was not much younger, that he wanted to become a minister in the Baptist church. He didn’t, and entered the Air Force instead, mainly because he always wanted to hear God tell him what to do, but God never spoke to him. But He was speaking to him now, Galworthy was sure of it.
Shoot it down.
Without thinking, Galworthy turns his laser on again and paints the target. With the flick of a couple of switches, he arms two Raytheon SuperJagoff AR-7 air-to-air missiles suspended beneath his aircraft’s wings. Wait a minute, he thinks. Whoa! Hold on! He’s violated procedure by arming the missiles! Without being armed, they are as dangerous to the United jetliner as a couple of logs. Now armed, all he has to do is press the FIRE button on his joystick and they will drop from the F-22's wings, their chemical rockets will light, and they will zoom away, homing into the heat signature of the 777's massive Rolls-Royce engines. When they are close enough, the warheads will explode, each a hundred and fifty pounds of amatol, more than enough to blast the wings right off the airliner. And then the fuselage of the 777, like a great arrow, will dive into the Atlantic ocean. Voice of God or no, he simply can’t kill a couple of hundred people—
SHOOT IT DOWN!
The voice is so loud in his headphones he almost blacks out. His ears will ring for almost a week afterwards. He knows it is the voice of God ordering him to do murder just as he would know the voice of his own father, telling him to get off his lazy butt and go out and cut the grass. There is no doubt in his mind at all. For a moment he wonders if he’s gone nuts, if something important has broken in his mind, driving him insane. This is not the God that he loves and goes to worship every Sunday, this is the Old Testament God, ordering the sacrifice of Isaac.
He disarms the missiles and shuts down the laser and turns the F-22 about, out of the United 777's wake. He feels a coldness in his soul.
So be it, says the voice of God, and is gone. Galworthy is never to hear it again.
He glances over his shoulder and sees the navigation lights of the 777 disappear into a cloudbank. That was close, he thinks. So close. He turns for home. For a month or so afterwards, however, Lt. Galworthy feels that he did the wrong thing.
© 2012, John Steven Anderson