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Authors: Robert Kroese

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BOOK: Mercury Swings
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“The jig is up, Gorak,” said a man wearing a folded leather hat that suspiciously resembled a fedora. “We work for the Akkadian Government. We’re taking you in and shutting this place down.”

The three gangsters turned to face the intruders, brandishing their spears.

“Seriously?” Mercury said, taking a sip of his sour juice. “Bronze age G-men? This is really getting out of hand.”

“And you are?” asked the Akkadian lieutenant.

“Name’s Mercury. Enoch the sax player and I were just leaving.”

“Oh, no you’re not,” the lieutenant said. “Everybody here is going down to the station for booking.”

“Look,” said Mercury. “I didn’t want to have to pull rank on you, but one way or another, Enoch and I are leaving. I suggest you drop your spears before I turn them into venomous snakes.”

This time everyone in the cave laughed.

“Seriously,” said Mercury. “I’ve done it before. Well, last time I tried it the spears actually turned into iguanas, but I had been drinking at the time.” He realized he was still holding the cup of foul spirits in his hand and did his best to surreptitiously set it down on the bar. “The point is, regardless of what type of reptile I turn your spears into, there’s a good chance that it will alter the dynamics of this situation in my favor.” Sensing that he was losing momentum, he added loudly, “IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?”

The various factions in the cave muttered amongst themselves. Several of the cave’s patrons had unsheathed flint knives and clubs.

“Okay,” he whispered to Enoch. “This could get a bit messy. Just stick close to me and try not to step on any iguanas.” He raised his hands in the air and focused his mind on harnessing the interplanar energy that would allow him to perform the miraculous transmogrification.

“Close your eyes,” whispered Enoch to Mercury.

Mercury was confused. “Huh?” he said, cleverly. “It would be better if I had my eyes open for this. Otherwise there’s no telling what might turn into an iguana.”

“Close your eyes!” snapped Enoch again, with an authority that stunned Mercury and shattered his concentration. The men with spears began to square off menacingly. Whatever Enoch was planning, Mercury thought, it had better be good.

Enoch hurled his shot glass against the cave wall, just above the torch illuminating the cave. Mercury, realizing what was about to happen, shut his eyes just as the ninety proof liquid burst into flame, filling the cave with a blinding flash of light. When he opened his eyes, Enoch was standing on the bar, saxophone in hand. He spun the saxophone upside down and brought the bell down on the torch, snuffing it. The cave instantly went black.

“This way!” hissed Enoch, grabbing Mercury by the cuff. With his angelic vision, Mercury could just make out a crack of light at the far end of the cave. A back door?

While the rest of the cave’s denizens blinked stupidly in the nearly pitch-black cave, Enoch and Mercury threaded their way through the crowd to a narrow tunnel that ultimately opened onto a rocky hillside. Clambering down the steep hillside into a valley littered with boulders, they were well out of sight by the time the first spear-toting thug emerged from the tunnel.

“Whoa-ho!” Mercury exclaimed, as they stopped to catch their breath. “What was that back there?”

Enoch grinned. “Improvisation,” he said.

“I’ll say,” Mercury replied. “Thank God for it too, because between you and me, I didn’t see the whole iguana thing turning out so well.”

Enoch nodded. “Shame about my sax, though. The last one took me three years to make, not including the time it took me to invent brass. Guess I’ll have to make another one in Babylon.”

“Yeah, about that,” replied Mercury. “We’re not actually going to Babylon. I mean, you’re not, anyway.”

“But you said your boss is in Babylon.”

“She is. Well, one of them is. Primarily I work for someone named Tiamat, in Babylon. I’m on the ziggurat.”

“You’re on what?”

“Step pyramid,” said Mercury. “Difficult to explain. Frankly, I’m not sure I understand it myself. You can’t build a pyramid that reaches the sky. I mean, the stratosphere is six miles up, and the slope of a ziggurat is one over two,
. The base of the pyramid would reach from here to Ur. It’s madness.”

Enoch stared blankly at him.

“Anyway, Tiamat’s my boss, but she’s not my
boss. I work for, well, Heaven.”

“Heaven? You are a servant of the gods?”

“Mmmmm,” said Mercury. “Here’s the thing. All that stuff about the gods, Marduk and Ishtar and the lot? It’s mostly a bunch of goat droppings. I mean, I used to play touch football with Marduk and let me tell you, that guy’s no god.”

“But our scholars teach that Marduk is the greatest warrior of all the gods,” Enoch said.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Mercury replied, “but the guy can’t find the end zone to save his life. The point is, the sooner you drop all this polytheism stuff, the smoother the transition is going to be for you. There’s just the one God. Everybody else is just middle management.”

“Transition?” Enoch asked, puzzled. “Transition to what?”

“Ah, here it is!” Mercury exclaimed. Enoch turned to look in the direction of Mercury’s gaze.

A glowing pattern of light about two feet in diameter had appeared on the ground a few yards away.

“What on earth…?” Enoch gasped.

“Interplanar portal,” Mercury said. “Step on it, and it will take you where you need to go.”

“And where is that?”

“No exactly sure,” said Mercury. “They don’t tell me much. All I know is that my superiors have decided to extract you from this plane. Your gift, see, your musical ability? You weren’t really supposed to have it. Jazz music isn’t supposed to be invented for another 3800 years. Your presence here is screwing up the Divine Plan. I mean, already we’ve got speakeasies, the mafia and the Untouchables back there. What’s next? Flappers? Silent movies? This isn’t the Roaring 1920s B.C., you know.”

“I’m not sure I completely follow you,” admitted Enoch.

“Of course you don’t,” replied Mercury. “None of this should make any sense to you. It’s all one giant anachronistic fustercluck. Now step on the portal, please. Those things cost a fortune to keep open.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Well, presumably my bosses will have to extract you in another way. They’re itching to try out this new pillar of fire thing they’ve been working on.”

“So the gods are going to –”

“God,” corrected Mercury.

“So God is going to kill me because I play jazz?”

“That’s a vast oversimplification, but in the interest of keeping things moving – yes, God is going to kill you because you play jazz.”

Enoch frowned. “So I die in a pillar of fire or I die by stepping on this… portal.”

“Oh no,” said Mercury, reassuringly. “I mean, yeah, a pillar of fire will kill you, no doubt about that. But this,” he said, gesturing toward the glowing pattern, “This is just a portal. A doorway to another plane. You should feel flattered, really. This is the first time they’ve bothered with an actual extraction. Usually when they need to take someone out, they use lightning – or a pulmonary embolism, if they’re trying to be covert. So yeah, I’d go with the portal if I were you.”

“Fine,” grumbled Enoch, eyeing the portal. “I’ll go. I’ll even accept monotheism if I have to. But I want a new saxophone.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” said Mercury. When Phil comes by with your harp, tell him that Mercury said you could have a saxophone instead. He owes me one. A favor, I mean. Not a saxophone specifically.”

“Don’t move!” yelled a voice behind them. “You’re surrounded!”

Bronze Age G-men emerged from behind several boulders, spears at the ready.

“Go!” cried Mercury, and Enoch stepped onto the glowing disc. He immediately vanished, and a split second later the portal disappeared as well.

In unison, the men surrounding Mercury hurled their spears at him. Mercury stood unflinching in the midst of the assault as he was mercilessly pelted with what turned out to be half a dozen very confused iguanas.

The G-men, frightened and now unarmed, ran away screaming.

Mercury chuckled and picked up an iguana that was trying to hide behind a rock near his foot. “Another job well done, Spearie,” he said, stroking the iguana’s head. “Time to head back to Babylon. Those ziggurats aren’t going to build themselves.”




Follow the angel Mercury as he gets into even more trouble in
Mercury Rises


The Domesday Book used by the angelic Apocalypse Division is not to be confused with the survey of England conducted by the Normans in 1086 A.D. For one thing, despite the name, the Norman record is oddly unconcerned with domes. In contrast, the angelic Domesday Book is, as the name indicates, largely a schedule of dome construction.

In 1921 B.C., the Spiritual Gifts Department was still part of Prophecy Division. Given Prophecy’s tendency to “give away the store,” as the mortals say, it’s no surprise that humanity was subjected to such absurdities as Samson killing 300 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey and the prophet Balaam being rebuked by his own ass. These and several other regrettable ass-related incidents led eventually to the infamous “Special Commission on Miraculous Asses” (SCOMA) and, ultimately, the restructuring of Prophecy Division.


Two-handed applause had not yet been invented.

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BOOK: Mercury Swings
2.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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