"The Wager": Part 2

(© 1998, 2006, Doug Tarnopol. All rights reserved.)

Mephistopheles had nothing to fear; the Lord would never find out that Nietzsche had the run of the palace. Nowadays, He just routinely rerouted damned souls to Hell.

It was an interesting managerial problem. As the Earth's population had exploded, Heaven had been forced to adapt its methods. The days of individual attention in the cottage industry that had been the immediate afterlife were long gone. By 1850, souls were being collected in a huge warehouse on the banks of the Styx, and the backlog was becoming intolerable. With the deaths of Taylor in 1915, and especially of Ford in 1947 -- both favorites of the Lord -- operations had become far more streamlined and standardized, but the surge in population still forced a rise in the workforce necessary to manage the ever-increasing thruput. The Lord kept creating more and more angels to handle the volume, but each one was a fixed cost, with a salary and benefits. The Lord, finally, had been too cheap to keep pace with the population explosion. Ultimately, Heaven had been forced into batch processing, and quality control was more a topic for endless discussion at meetings rather than a reality on the shop floor. Thus, Hell now suffered from far less oversight than it ever had before, to the delight of its rapidly increasing citizenry.

The Lord continued pacing.

"I've been watching humanity very closely this century, very closely. I knew they could never outgrow their selfishness, but I thought maybe science and technology would make that unnecessary. Maybe with enough productive capacity, they would be able to improve everyone's lot without much of a sacrifice."

The Lord spat.

"Fat chance. Their capacity for selfishness will always outstrip their capacity to produce. Plus, they have a problem: the more food they have, the more mouths they create. There's no way out of that bind."

"That's Malthus, right?"

"It sure is."

"He's up here, isn't he?"

"Of course."

Mephistopheles shrugged, drummed his claws on the armrest, and studied the ash on his cigar.

"No great loss."

The Lord ignored him. "I should put them out of their misery. I owe it to the rest of creation, which they are rapidly destroying!"

Mephistopheles couldn't resist. He smiled sweetly.

"That may be, but didn't Darwin demonstrate pretty conclusively that -- "

"Silence!" the Lord thundered. "I do not permit his name to be spoken in My presence!"

He swiped at His chair, sending it through a wall. His eyes blackened with rage.

Mephistopheles sat up. This wasn't the usual tantrum. It started to dawn on him that the Lord might actually be serious this time. He was mostly somnolent these days, but, as His track record showed, when He did become truly enraged it was wise to tread carefully. And the Lord was now angrier than Mephistopheles had seen Him in a couple of millenia.

He might be old, Mephistopheles thought, but He still has the rage of a jealous desert god. I have to find a way to dissuade Him...

Some angels came rushing into the room through the hole in the wall. Two of them were rolling in a new chair.

"Bring Me My fire and brimstone!" He bellowed. "We'll start with Philadelphia, where those two sinners live. What hypocrisy! -- 'City of Brotherly Love' My ass! They can't love! I've always hated that town, anyway -- all that 'Enlightenment' bullshit and stoves in the middle of the room."

An angel moved toward the raving diety, Palm Pilot in hand.

"I'm sorry, Sir, but we're out of brimstone."

The Lord blinked.

"Out of brimstone?"

"Yes, Sir. We hadn't used it in so long, it got cut out of the budget. You did tell us to keep costs down."

"When, may I ask, did this happen?"

"First century-ish, Sir. I'd have to look it up. But it was sometime after You blew up Vesuvius to get back at the Romans for executing Your son."

"I don't remember authorizing that!"

"Blowing up Vesuvius?"

"No -- stopping the brimstone shipments."

"Well, You did sign the form."

The angel poked his Palm Pilot and a scanned document replaced the earth on the monitor. The angel tried to suppress a yawn.

The Lord saw the letterhead:

A World-Class Kinetic-Force-Projection Boutique
Helping You Dominate the Spectrum Since 5000 BC

His signature was at the bottom of the form.

"Yes, all right, fine." The Lord asked sarcastically, "We still have some fire, I assume?"

"Just a minute; I'll check."

The angel pulled out a cellphone and punched in a number.

"Hello? Gabriel 347938? Yeah, this is Raphael 290478. The Chief wants some fire, pronto. Yeah. OK, hold on, I'll ask Him."

Raphael 290478 turned to the Lord.

"He wants to know how much You'll need."

"Enough to turn the Planet Earth into a smoking cinder instantaneously."

"Gabe, He says, 'Enough to turn the Planet Earth into a smoking cinder instantaneously.' Uh-huh."

Raphael 290478 sighed.

"OK, hold on."

He covered up the mouthpiece.

"Well, Sir, there seems to be only enough to melt the polar ice caps."

The Lord threw up His hands and moaned.

"That would flood most coastlines, which tend to be densely populated," Raphael 290478 said encouragingly. "You'd kill at least a billion, I would think."

The Lord looked at Raphael 290478 with withering distate.

"And with any luck, the increased temperature would kill off enough plankton to topple the entire food pyramid and oxygen cycle. Or possibly reroute the Gulf Stream..."

The Lord was livid.

"Are you fucking kidding Me? I want real firepower! An overwhelming demonstration of force! Why the fuck did I send you angels to the School of the Americas -- to learn how to fix elections? Can't we do any real destruction anymore?"

"Hey," Mephistopheles interjected. "That's the second time today! Don't take the name of my home in vain!"

"Fine, fine. Take it easy."

The Lord rolled His eyes and flashed Raphael 290478 a look. The angel covered up his laugh with a cough. It was as unconvincing as it was meant to be.

Assholes, Mephistopheles thought.

The Lord cut off Raphael 290478's mirth. He was getting down to business.

"All right, Raphael 290488. I want you to listen to Me very carefully."

"290478, Sir."


"My name is Raphael 290478, not 290488."

"That's what I said."

"No, Sir. You said, '290488.'"

"No, I didn't, I said -- Wait, why the fuck am I arguing with you? I'm omniscient; I know what I said! Now, listen, all I want to do is wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. What can we do right now? Plague, locusts, what have you got? Talk to me."

"Hold on."

Raphael 290478 had a brief, quiet conversation with Gabriel 347938. The Lord smoldered with frustration. He turned to Mephistopheles, and in a bid for upper-executive camraderie said:

"Can't get a fucking thing done around here."

"So I see." Mephistopheles smiled.

The Lord gave him a dirty look.


The Lord turned to Raphael 290478.

"I think the best thing we could do at this time is to send a Divine Wind that will cast the humans into a deep sleep. Sooner or later, they'll starve to death."

"Will they feel any pain?"

"No, Sir. As I said, they'll be asleep."

The Lord was crestfallen.

"Not particularly dramatic, is it?"

"Perhaps not, Sir, but it's the best we can do on such short notice. This was not in the product-development queue, as I'm sure You know."

Before the Lord could unleash His frustration on Raphael 290478, Mephistopheles cleared his throat loudly. The Lord checked Himself and turned to the demon.


"I have a proposal for You."

"You do." The Lord was immediately wary.

"Yes. Look, You obviously lack the means to make Your point with Your usual subtlety -- "

"That will soon change," The Lord interrupted. "Raphael 590478, how long will it take to prepare a good, old-fashioned planetary smiting?"

Raphael 290478 began to correct the Lord, but thought better of it.

"One moment. I still have Gabriel 347938 on the line."

He spoke into his cellphone.

"Gabe? Have you been listening? Good. What's the best estimate? What? Oh, OK."

Raphael 290478 turned to the Lord.

"Forecasting's not his department. I'm being transferred."

The Lord exhaled impatiently. Raphael 290478 held up his hand.

"Hello? Gabriel 347938 told you the deal? Great -- how long? What? OK. Hold on."

He covered up the reciever.

"I'm sorry, Sir, Michael 721307 has to boot up his workstation. The mainframe is down again. This will just take a couple of minutes; he's got all the necessary data on the workstation."

The Lord was nearly at the end of His rope.

"Son of a bitch! Why did we build our information systems in-house? What did I say? I said, 'Buy, don't build.' We're not a fucking tech company. I knew we should have gone with IBM."

"We had no choice, Sir," Raphael 290478 replied. "As I'm sure You'll recall, IBM refused to sign on to our service-level agreement. It would have meant killing one of their employees every time we had a problem. Not that that bothered them, but we couldn't afford the replacement cost they demanded."

"We could have if your fucking union had taken the pay cut I suggested!"

Raphael 290478 shrugged his shoulders as Michael 721307 got back on the line.

"Yes? What? Mike, you're breaking up...Mike?"

The Lord was nearly on top of Raphael 290478.

"What? What happened?"

"I lost the call. It's tough to get reception in this office."

The Lord clenched His fists and closed His eyes, making a huge effort to calm Himself. He opened His eyes and saw Raphael 290478 looking placidly at Him like some immovable object.

"Raphael 690488, what is that contraption over there on My desk called?"

"Next to the printer?"

"Yes. Next to the printer."

"Oh, that's a telephone."

"It sure as fuck is. Now, why don't you go over there, pick it up, and call Michael 890-whatever-the-fuck back on the landline?"

"Well, it might be busy. He's probably trying to call me back."

The Lord screamed at the top of His voice: "Get the fuck over there and call him right the fuck now!"

Raphael 290478 stretched his arms, yawned, and said, "Whatever You say, Chief."

He picked up the line just as his cell went off.

"Should I answer that or call Michael 721307 on the landline."

The Lord was near tears. "Answer your cell." He turned away in disgust and paced up and down behind His desk.

Raphael 290478 shrugged his shoulders and answered his cell.

"Yes? Yeah, I lost you. So, what's the deal? OK, hold on." Raphael called out to the Lord, who was still pacing: "Forty-eight hours at the earliest, Chief."

The Lord stopped and spun around. "Make it twenty-four. I want every angel, cherub, and seraph off his fucking ass and on the factory floor churning out death. The more pain it will cause, the bigger the bonus will be. Capish?"

"Yes, Sir!" Bonuses were unheard of.

Raphael 290478, suddenly energized, saluted and left, talking rapidly into his cellphone.

(© 1998, 2006, Doug Tarnopol. All rights reserved.)


  1. Like it. God as frustrated plant manager. Keep it coming.

  2. My faithful reader! Thanks, pawl...

    Another installment is available.


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