Part of Apex of Creation
Why the everloving fuck did this case have to just keep getting weirder? I now had two unrelated witnesses - three counting myself - that had seen James Exosia vanish, and two of those also involved Emily Butler.
Goddamn, I couldn’t very well put this in a police report.
Or maybe I could. Allison Butler’s statement had ended up in her file, after all.
Ah, what the hell. Something fucky was afoot, and either shit was getting crazy or I was getting crazy. Probably both, knowing my luck.
But I still had an interview to get through, so I finished scribbling down Tomás’s statement.
“I don’t know if it was a set up or what, but I’m telling you, hombre, that was some freaky shit.” he continued. “And I’m fuckin done, señor.”
“I’m sure.” I replied, struggling to contain my own nervousness at the increasingly bizarre situation. “It may well have been a setup, for all we know.”
“Now you send me all the way to bum-fuck nowhere, you hear me, amigo? I’ve had it with this shit.”
“Of course. I’ll file the report and we’ll get you into witness protection as soon as possible.” I lied. We had Tomás on video in possession of illegal weapons. Those were going to be some nice easy charges that the District Attorney could use to pad her numbers. The only kind of “protection” Tomás would get any time soon was going to be the kind afforded by steel bars. He’d probably be on administrative segregation for his own safety too, since he’d just volunteered information to law enforcement.
Either way, Tomás Alvarez was still in custody, and that wouldn’t change if I could help it.
I closed my notebook, wished Tomás a speedy recovery, and left. Once I was in the privacy of my car, I downed half of my flask.
Special Agent Ramsey
The phone rang. I picked it up. “Special Agent Ramsey, this line is recorded.”
“*Agent Ramsey, I have an Emily Butler and James Exosia for you at the front desk.*”
“Excellent, I’ll be right down.”
I saved the report I was working on (an evidence compilation for an unrelated murder case), locked my workstation, and headed to the front lobby.
There were two college students waiting in the lobby, a boy and a girl. I recognized Emily from the case files. She was already wearing a visitor badge.
“Emily and James?” I asked. They turned to me, and I extended my hand. “Hi, good morning, I’m Agent Ramsey. Thanks so much for coming in today.”
I brought Emily past the security door, and left James waiting in the lobby. She was clearly nervous about being here. “Would you like some coffee? Hot chocolate? Water?”
She shook her head.
“Do you need to use the bathroom before we get started?”
“I’m all set. I think.”
“Alright.” I checked my watch. Dr. Roscoe was supposed to meet us for the interview, to make sure that Emily didn’t get overwhelmed. Sure enough, I heard a click click click of heels behind me.
“Samuel, hi. And you must be Emily. Hi, I’m Dr. Roscoe. I’ll be helping out with the interview today.” The two ladies shook hands, and Dr. Roscoe repeated all the offers for coffee and bathroom use that Emily had already declined.
With the introductions out of the way, I gestured at the door to the interview room. “Shall we?”
Emily was still visibly nervous, but seemed to steel herself as she marched in. We took care of the formalities, and Emily signed the “under penalty of perjury” paperwork. The formalities taken care of, I asked Emily to give her statement.
“Well,” she began. “My father is a horrible person.”
Emily spoke. I took notes. Dr. Roscoe listened.
To say that Emily’s father was horrible was the understatement of the century.
Emily’s interview session had gone well, all things considered. I lurked in a corner, invisibly channeling emotional relief to Emily as needed. Her emotions cycled through a vicious loop of emotional hysteria and cold stoicism. I gave her strength whenever she was on the brink of tears, and dialed it back whenever her own strength returned.
It was exhausting, mainly due to having to actually listen to her account of Nigel Butler’s crimes. He’d abused Emily for personal gratification and profit, and I wasn’t going to feel too bad about Nigel spending the rest of eternity behind bars.
As the interview wrapped up, I slipped into the lobby, where James was on his phone.
James looked up and rolled his eyes. “Ah geez. Now what?” he asked.
The security guard glanced over. James realized that he alone could see me, and put the phone to his ear, pretending to take a call.
“Emily’s doing alright.” I said.
“I watched. And helped her through it. I know I kinda screwed up with dealing with Alocer, and I needed to make it up to both of you. For all her insecurities and history, Emily is a strong woman. Her heart’s in the right place, even if her head doesn’t always know what to do.”
James fidgeted with the zipper on his jacket. “Well, I suppose that’s good. But why didn’t you tell me beforehand that you were going to help out?”
“To be honest - not that I could try to be anything but honest - you weren’t exactly happy with me before. And with good reason, too. I got chewed out by Michael for trying to trick you with the fake scroll.”
“As in, Michael the archangel?”
“Yeah. That Michael. Anyways, he assigned me here, to help Emily today, and told me not to mess it up. I figured that a human-angel shouting match in the lobby of a federal building would count as messing it up.”
“Heh. Well, if you were ordered by Michael to show up, I’m not going to hold it against you.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it.” I glanced at the clock on the wall. “They’re finishing up, so Emily should be back out soon. I have another thing to get to.”
James raised an eyebrow at me. “You can’t just… you know… pause everything?”
I chuckled. “That’s not quite how it works. That doesn’t affect angels. Or demons. Only objects, and humans who aren’t-”
James shook his head. “Alright. I’m not gonna pretend to understand how that works. Trust me, I’ve tried. But if you have something to do, then go do it. I won’t stop you.”
“Alright. Take care.”
I vanished, and reappeared in my office. Checking the clock, I slipped out, and made my way to the central elevators. A handful of other angels were also waiting. With a ding, the elevator door slid open, and we crowded in. Someone pressed the button for the highest floor.
I stepped off the elevator on the top floor. Directly ahead was the antechamber to the Throne Room, but that was not my destination. I turned to face a door on the right. A pair of sphinxes prowled back and forth, guarding it.
During Lucifer’s Rebellion, I’d seen a single sphinx eviscerate four angels with one swipe of its razor-sharp claws. Afterwards, I’d heard through the grapevine that the sphinx’s victims had spent months battling infection, fever, necrosis, and organ failure. Although their innate immortality did guarantee eventual survival, the wounds had to heal normally.
I had no desire to experience that for myself. With a gulp, I approached the sphinxes. They glared intensely at me, but let me pass, along with the others. I opened the door, and entered the War Theater.
I was one of the last angels to arrive, judging by how full the auditorium was. I found a seat, and waited while a few more last-minute arrivals trickled in.
And then Michael entered, instantly commanding the attention of everyone in the room. He marched to the front, put his hands behind his back, and cleared his throat.
“It has come to our attention that Lucifer has been overthrown as leader of the Rebellion.” An enormous holographic image of Lucifer’s head appeared above Michael.
“His throne has been seized by the fallen angel known as Aamon.” The Lucifer holograph moved to the side, and a huge angry Aamon head appeared.
Michael continued. “Aamon is cruel, ruthless, and perhaps most critically, does not intend to abide by the policies of his predecessor. He views humanity as pathetic weaklings, useful for nothing other than supernatural fuel. Where Lucifer seeks to tempt men away from the light, and reap their soul after death, Aamon would rather torment anyone - mankind included - not loyal to him.”
Michael took a deep breath.
“With Aamon in command of Hell, the nature of sin and temptation is changing, almost overnight, from mere deception to outright conquest. Hell’s tactics are escalating, and our response must adapt. The battleground is shifting, from the hearts and minds of man, to Earth itself.”
The hall erupted with hushed murmuring, as everyone whispered something to their neighbor. An angel down in front spoke up. “Lucifer’s an archangel. Fallen, but still an archangel. So how did Aamon overthrow him?”
“In an earthly conflict last week, Lucifer inadvertently exposed himself to the divine glory of Heaven. Since then, he has been severely weakened, similar to what happened following the forced expulsion that put an end to his rebellion. While Aamon would ordinarily stand no chance against Lucifer, in this case, it was Lucifer that stood no chance against Aamon.”
“Why?” someone else asked.
“Aamon” Michael replied “views himself not as a servant of darkness, but rather as its harbinger. Where Lucifer’s strength is in words and manipulations, Aamon’s is in brute force and raw power. He saw Lucifer’s weakness as an opportunity to change the fundamental operations of Hell, to a style that better suits his preferences. And of course, consolidates power to himself.”
“What does he want?” asked yet another voice.
“Given free reign, Aamon would corrupt and demolish humanity, drawing off their broken souls to fuel Hell’s battle against Heaven. Lucifer was playing a much longer game, and Aamon is effectively trying to progress to the finale as quickly as possible. Make no mistake: Aamon’s decision to dethrone Lucifer does not make him our ally. He is just as fallen - and just as dangerous - as Lucifer.”
Michael paused, then asked “Any other questions?”
The auditorium was silent.
“Excellent. Retrieve your arms and armor and stand by for individual orders. Dismissed.”
An aqueous chemical reaction is performed in a bomb calorimeter. The starting temperature inside the calorimeter is measured at 290.0 K, and the finishing temperature is measured at 291.2 K. If the total mass inside the calorimeter 10.0 g, how much heat energy was released from the reaction?
I read, and then re-read, the problem. “It doesn’t have a heat capacity.” I said. “We need heat capacity to go from temperature to energy. And it doesn’t say how many moles of reaction are happening.”
Emily frowned. “It says aqueous though. I think we’re supposed to assume heat capacity like water.”
“Oh, right. So that’s…” I flipped to the physical property data tables in the back of the textbook. “4.186 joules per gram Kelvin.”
“So ten grams of mass, one point two Kelvin temperature change…” Emily scribbled furiously and jabbed her finger into her TI-89 calculator. “Fifty point two joules. It didn’t ask for energy per mole, just total energy.”
Before I could read the next problem, there was a low rumble. Emily and I paused and looked around, trying to identify the source. We realized it was coming from above, and looked up just in time to pull back from the body falling from the ceiling. It slammed onto the table with a clatter. At the same time, we caught the all too familiar stench of hot sulfur.
“The fuck…?” I asked. I thought I was done with Hell, but Hell, it seemed, had other plans.
The figure coughed and rolled over. It was Lucifer. He was covered in sweat, hair and face were streaked with ash, and dark bruises were visible on his neck. His clothes - once regal - were torn and shabby.
Lucifer wheezed, coughed, and spat blood. “I need help.”
This chapter was written with the support of my Hybrid-tier patron:
- Olli Erinko