|How F'd Are We? by Beki Yopek|
The Reaper whispered like a gossipy schoolgirl from his carved office chair in the Motery Center. "The Korean War was when we learned the worst about The Pneuma Coalition. They kept soul farms hidden below the Earth in caverns.”
“In that tone of voice," I murmured back, "I thought you'd be telling me who's having a workplace affair."
Neither of us was even thinking of the Sunday harvest we’d just finished. I managed to forget the sweaty blazer and blouse clinging to me only because I smelled like I'd spent eight hours fighting demon thieves. The Soul Fountains were flowing like usual thirteen stories below us. Reap’s office was silent except for his phalanges drumming on his glass desktop. Firelight LEDs danced and shimmered overhead, lighting the brick room lined with file cabinets. Contressa could come in early for her bodyguard shift and I wouldn’t notice even if she screamed like a banshee.
Cackling, Reap went on. "We do not know if Avarice or Apathy is leading The Coalition. You live in New Purgatory, so you must fly past Apathy's keep on your way to work."
I nodded and fanned myself with my shirt. "It’s so like Apathy to set things up so he doesn’t have to do any work. Not that the SPD could act if we brought them these Case Notes for evidence. Ending a soul ring like The Coalition’s would take decades and thousands of angels ditching their duties to root them out.”
The Reaper steepled his phalanges. "How well equipped are Apathy and Avarice?"
I brushed back my scarlet hair. “Avarice owns Hell's version of Hollywood, and Apathy's slaves would do anything for him. The guy’s got a moat around his castle filled with motes. Full ones. And he’s got thousands of living humans stashed in caves in case of emergency. He's probably got even more souls than that.”
“The word The Coalition seems focused on is, ‘emergency,’ “ Reap rasped. “If humanity drives itself into the ground, Apathy will have what everyone needs. If The Coalition engineers an Earthly emergency, Apathy will have what everyone needs.”
Overwork and hunger clawed at my mind and stomach. The salt taste of Terrence’s warm skin under my tongue was not the distraction I needed right now. This morning with my angel with benefits had been the most explosive sex yet and--no, focus. Focus.
No one from The Coalition had bitten on our bait. We’d made ourselves look weak and open for a sneak attack, yet no one had struck. Not Avarice. Not Pride. Not Voracity. Apathy wouldn’t come himself, the lazy-horns. But someone had broken in a few days ago and stolen one of our Case Notes only to put it back again as though nothing was out of place.
My body ached for more release. The mellow chill of a Moloch and Coke. That buzz combined with my angel with benefits’ tongue--
“No, Ava,” I snapped at myself. “Think. What can we do with what we’ve learned?”
The Reaper tilted his skull at me. “Are you asking me or yourself?”
“Look at Skully the Comedian over here,” I hissed. “What if The Coalition knows we're setting up this trap?
"Because we did not spring it when the initial break-in occurred. We are waiting to hook bigger fish, and that is the deception."
“Avarice and Apathy have got to be the biggest fish. Apathy seemed interested in your scythe too. The future of his plans mattered more to him than a one-object fix. From what we know of him over the decades, he'd be too smart to rely completely that.”
“That is bizarre. We’ve repelled hundreds of demons intent on obtaining Seversoul. It would benefit The Coalition to try and steal it, but they have never made the attempt.”
"And why is that?"
"Because I am too--what is the phrase? Badass?"
We had a good chuckle at that. I didn’t want to think of the power The Coalition would have if they stole that scythe either. Reap lived in the Sixth Circle where there was nothing but roiling charcoal clouds, graveyards, and The Vault Cabins. He was so secluded that only myself, Contressa, and Prudence even knew where he lived. Good thing too. A being like The Reaper who could fly without wings, carried a scythe that absorbed souls, and had bones blacker than a tuxedo would attract tons of needy demons wanting favors.
Raising a finger, I poked the air with each thought. “Apathy commented on your memory during the Korean War.”
“That matters not.”
“Terrence can’t do crap to get the SPD on our side without dozens of eyewitnesses.”
“That’s your man-toy’s name?”
“Prudence developed that GlassEye spell or whatever you called it to stop cameras from seeing us.”
“That was before her fall, and is not even relevant here. The Coalition will set off our trap today, and I have brimvisibility ready when they do.”
I stabbed that finger down on the glass and cracked it with a nail. “Maybe we should take Prudence’s fall more seriously. Why did Prudy fall recently? Why didn’t she fall when she designed a spell that blocks all cameras on Earth from seeing demons or angels? Anything that benefits The Coalition is enough to get most angels to fall, and then they join up.”
I let the subtext hang there like B.O.
“Avaline,” The Reaper rasped. “We bought time with a double shift Friday. Jack Te-Konos and The Coalition interfered in Nepal and New York this week. The headway we have made is already gone. We released Hildariel from duties as my bodyguard, and that means another double shift after today. We have baited the trap as sweetly as we could. If The Coalition will meander into it, today will be the day. You can ponder the fallen virtue later.”
He was already calling Prudy, 'the fallen virtue.'
Jack’s words from decades ago echoed in my head. We were about to be flying around in a hurricane whether this plan worked or not. I hissed, "The Coalition already engineered one disaster on Earth, and that was the Cuban Missile Crisis. They’re taking advantage of today’s disasters to engineer another one. I know Avarice. I know Pride. If they pull another Missile Crisis off and we can't stop it, Earth won’t be around in 2016 for us to harvest from anymore."
Reap ground his teeth. "Then you should speak with your man-toy soon and get us help from the SPD."
"Good idea, but not enough. We need to do more. If I was going to build a better system for harvesting souls than The Coalition’s, I’d need more time." I flexed both wings to try and vent off some of the frustration seething in me. "What if they don’t bite? What if they let us waste all this time?”
"Focus on tomorrow's disasters tomorrow. The Cuban Missile Crisis is The Coalition's biggest violation of Heaven Law. We were there in anticipation of a soul harvest so massive we called in the Volunteer Guardian Angels and the Make A Sin Foundation. Write this down, quickly and have faith in my plans. We may need to spring the trap and fight for our lives at any time.”