It's been two years,
and you've been waiting with bated breath to find out:
will Gavreel and Verin get back together? Or was their love
doomed from the start?
Well, gather the kids around your favorite chair and read them the exciting
The transport pulled in to Hades station and Verin was the first off;
not surprising since he was also the only passenger. He recognized the
night shift workers at the consoles, and nodded to the nearest one.
"Hi, Verin. You were out again? Didn't I just see you come in last
"Yeah, I'm working extra these days. I'll see ya."
He went through the revolving door and out into the familiar hot air of
Hell, refreshing after his time on Earth. Despite his quarters being off
to the left, and anxious to get home, he turned right and walked further
into the working district.
It was his habit these days to take the long way around, because any
demon even appearing to have some idle time in the eyes of the foreman
at the Second Pit was likely to be pressed into service with the labor
crews. Even though it hadn't been in active service long, the OP was filling up faster than had been projected. Those humans
could be pretty darned naughty!
In fact, the just completed trip was
his second of the day. He'd arrived
back from one job and returned to Earth for another as soon as the
transport was ready. In all, he was working six different humans at the
same time; even with that load, he was spending more time on Earth than
was strictly necessary. He didn't want to find himself on a sulfur gang,
or worse, and figured he'd gain a lot more experience than anyone else
in his class while making himself scarce in Hell for a while. On the
other hand, he was running the risk of becoming a red flag in the
accounting office; with so many active projects, he was running up the
balance on his expense account, passing out more temptations than
were normally required for the routine cases he was given.
His route took him past the management portal of the USB. Someone was
just coming out and Verin saw him casually toss a piece of paper at the
trash can, totally oblivious to the the fact that he missed by a least a
cubit. Verin picked it up and was about to drop it in (he was a very
considerate demon, most of the time) but first uncrumpled it and took a
glance at it. The bold USB CONFIDENTIAL centered at the top made
him decide not to throw it away after all. He quickly stuffed it in his
pocket, deciding it would be safer to read it after he was safely alone
at home. For a brief moment, he considered following the litterer, but
decided against it when he saw him turn toward the more ritzy
residential sections. In such surroundings, Verin would stand out like an
imp at an all night drinking party, and the constabulary would be unlikely
to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Since he'd been walking an extra two leagues home,
he'd gotten into the habit of picking up a snack on the way, but today he
gave it a pass.
Once home, he flopped down next to the fireplace and took the paper from
his pocket. It was a memorandum, and he really couldn't make much sense of
the body of the text; it seemed like routine bureaucratic noise to him. But
it occurred to him that that really wasn't particularly important, because
a sneaky plot was forming in his mind.
What had started him thinking was the line that said
Director of Staffing, BUPERSUSB
Whether the memo was meaningless dross or the most important work that
Naberius would do for his whole career, what mattered was that
removing a confidential document from the office
would be very significant to
somebody, making blackmail a good possibility, and that Naberius was in
a position to get Verin into USB in a job he couldn't hope to land for a
long, long time in the normal course of things.
Verin was aware that the art of extortion, when done well, was practiced
with a suaveness and sophistication that he possessed in about the same
degree as Naberius would know how to score a hit of prime brimstone
on the lower east side. But that wasn't going to stop him; he'd just
have to stumble through it and leave it to his fate.
* * *
Naberius was lounging in his penthouse apartment high atop the newly
completed Abbaddon Towers. The music of the human Bach
softly penetrated the slightly cooled air circulating
throughout his home, and Naberius sighed with contentment as he let his
subconscious analyze the structure of the fugue
. Rather than taking it
for granted as most at his level did, he was always aware of how
fortunate he was not to be one of the great unwashed living in the far
distance that he could see from his balconies, if he squinted just
He enjoyed the perks that would earn an ordinary
peon some very
uncomfortable repercussions. It was good to be one of the privileged
elite, and while he'd been such for longer than most demons had been
alive, he remained consciously intent, on a daily basis, on never losing
that status. Some, of course, were born to
patricianhood, but most
earned it early on, when their life took that branch rather than the
much more likely route that led to the masses that he avoided, and most
of those permanently put out of their minds that they
had ever been anything else.
His reverie was interrupted by the fading in of a
name, address, and face
from the communicator in the corner. "Verin". He didn't recognize the
name or face, but accepted the call anyway, even though the address
wasn't in any neighborhood he was familiar with. "Yes?"
"Hello, Sir", said Verin. "You don't know me, but I just missed the
pleasure of making your acquaintance as you left your office this
"Pleasure for you, no doubt. I don't see why
it would have been for me."
"Well, yes, but who knows? We may end up being friends anyway. I have
something that you lost today, and you may be happy that I found it
before someone else did." The image split into two vertically, and next
to Verin was
an image of a memo
that Naberius had written today. All the
text was blurred except for the heading at the top of the page.
Naberius's face became stiff, and he said "Where did you get that?"
"I picked it up after you dropped it outside the USB. It looks like
something that shouldn't have left the building."
"I see", said Naberius, as he realized the import of the call. "What do
"A mere pittance. A wave of Sir's hand.
I'd like to get an intern position in Surveillance."
"Why?" asked a suspicious Naberius. Maybe Verin didn't realize it, but
he could have demanded a good deal more in exchange for returning the
memo to him. Indeed, Naberius would have arranged a permanent pension
for Verin out of his discretionary funds; he would never have to work
again. But then, he was clearly an amateur at this.
"It'll look good on my resumé. It's a good job, but it'll also
show initiative and ambition. I'm not trying to get out of my normal
assignments, I just want to add some part-time work to
it." While that was all true, Verin had worked out the rationale
before calling but had no intention of revealing the true reason for
his desire to get into USB.
Naberius tried hard to look like
Verin really had him in a tight spot.
"Very well. I'll get you in as an intern, but it's up to you after that;
no special treatment." He pulled up his appointment schedule. "Come to
my office first thing in the morning, day after tomorrow. Tell the guard
you have an appointment with me; you'll be expected. Bring the memo."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. You won't —".
Naberius cut him off with the just right amount of pomposity. "Fine.
We're done." He disconnected, and then sent a message to his secretary
to arrange for Verin's meeting.
Damn! Bach had reached the coda while he was on the call. He was no
longer in the mood to concentrate, and switched to a passive enjoyment of
Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings.
* * *
Gavreel returned to Heaven after the end of his latest assignment.
While he hadn't failed in looking out for his charge, who had finally
expired after a long illness, he was still depressed. He knew it was
worse when a Guardian allowed a preventable accident to end the life
he was responsible for, and he was thankful that that hadn't happened
to him yet. He moped around Heaven during the break that was
mandatory before being assigned a new Human. Recovering Guardians
were usually easy enough to spot, but Gavreel took it harder than
most. It didn't help that once again, as on his previous breaks, he
visited Purgatory many times with never a sign of Verin. He wondered
if he'd ever see him again. It might not even be possible to meet him
there anymore. No longer a vast void, Purgatory was now more or less
filled with a transient soul population, attended to by
of— not Angels, not Demons; he wasn't sure what they were. He,
and more than a few of the permanent residents of Heaven, was glad
when he returned to Earth to be on constant duty for many more years.
He arrived with not much time to spare; the little tyke was already on
his way into the world. He nodded to the mother's Guardian and
relieved him of half of the double charge he'd been watching over for
nine months. He reached out and slowed a bit the slap that the doctor
was administering with a little too much gusto, and thoughts of Verin
receded back into second place in Gavreel's mind.
* * *
Verin showed up at the USB bright and early. The guard in the lobby
looked askance at him, but grudgingly admitted that he had an
appointment after the receptionist arrived and found him on the
schedule. He still made Verin wait until shortly before the appointed
hour before he allowed him onto the elevator that would whisk him down
to the executive levels. Naberius's secretary didn't play any games,
showing him into the inner office precisely on time. Naberius wasted no
time, and was as good as his word. "This is the young demon that's now
your problem" he said, addressing the third person in the room, who
turned out to be Shalbriri, the superivsor of the first shift in the
Level 1 Surveillance department. "Come with me" he said to Verin, and
they left the office together. Naberius gave a stern look at the memo
that Verin had returned to him, and it burst into a cherry red flame for
an instant and was gone. Naberius heaved a sigh of relief, and moved on
to his real work for the day.
The plush carpet and gentle indirect lighting were nowhere to be seen
when the elevator doors opened and Verin and Shalbriri emerged into
the workaday surroundings of level 51. Underfoot now was unfinished
slate and overhead flickered torches from sconces every fifteen feet
along the hallway. Verin followed as Shalbriri marched quickly,
turning apparently randomly at unmarked intersections. Finally they
came to a door marked "Level 1 Surveillance 51x12/6A-11H" and Shalbriri
pushed his way through. "You'll be working here." Verin saw a long,
narrow room receding into dimness, with demons seated on stools along
both walls peering at glowing displays. Occasionally a red bulb would
illuminate at one of the stations, and a demon on roller skates would
swoop down the central aisle, taking a slip of paper from the
controller and continuing out through a side door.
Shalbriri kicked an empty stool over next to one of the controllers.
"This is Verin", he said;
"show him the ropes." Shalbriri spun on his
heel and was gone. "So, what is Level 1 Surveillance?" Verin asked.
"We're looking for anomalies in the temptation gradient. We triangulate
down to a single grid square, and if it's intense enough, we pass the
coordinates to Level 2." As he spoke, he had been fiddling with
horizontal and vertical sliders and twisting a knob which seemed to
control focus. "Like here." He pointed to an area glowing strongly red,
and pushed a button; the red bulb above his head turned on and the
printer spat out a ticket covered with numbers. He gave it to Verin who
held it out for the passing runner. "Level 2 will zoom in and narrow it
down to a likely suspect; then a field agent"—Verin realized he was
talking about him now—"will be dispatched to
assess the susceptibility of the soul and if it's promising, he will begin a temptation
regimen to acquire the soul."
At the end of the day, Verin had to make a quick run to Earth for his
real job. On the train, he reflected on his first day in surveillance.
He knew it was too much to ask that he get placed right away where he
really needed to be; while it had been interesting in Level 1, he knew
that it was the Missing Souls department that he needed to get to. He
was hatching a plan to get there without having to go through all the
others on the way.
* * *
Gavreel watched his young charge as the years passed, keeping him from
true harm while allowing
the occasional bump and bruise, in accordance
with Section 1, Chapter 26 of the Guardian manual that attempted to
prevent humans from becoming complacent if they noticed their
unexplained luck. By the time Aravind was 30, Gavreel was resigned to
the fact that he would never leave his hometown. In his entire life so
far, he'd never been as far as the next town, let alone to the big city
of Udaipur fifty miles away. Gavreel thought that with the railroad
coming through, the moderately well-to-do Aravind might holiday
somewhere exotic, but apparently the sedate man was content to spend his
three score and ten within a stone's throw of Hariyali. As a Guardian,
Gavreel of course loved his current human no matter what and found it
distasteful to compare him to past or future ones; nevertheless he did
find himself hoping that the next life placed in his care would be a
little more exciting.
* * *
Verin finally, by dint of good work and just a bit of haranguing of
Shalbriri, got transferred to Missing Souls. By this time, nobody
remembered he'd originally gotten into USB as an intern. After a short
training session, he was given a station of his own. Occasionally a
field agent would be working a soul and would lose track of it between
visits. Then he would submit a tracking request and the MSD would find
it using the UUEID. This was always possible, but it wasn't free and
was charged to the agent's expense account. As Verin knew from his own
experience, an agent turned to MSD only as a last resort. So while there
was a constant trickle of requests coming in, it wasn't uncommon for him
to have spare time during his shift. He used the time to learn all the
hidden features of the Soul Locator. He knew he still had a big problem,
but since he had no idea what to do about it, he tinkered with the
machine every chance he had. He even bugged the manager to dig out the
operator's manual, blow the dust off of it, and let him take it home to
* * *
The Watcher From Below was still watching Verin. The assignment had
faded away after the young angel Gavreel had begun his work, but it
was never officially terminated and the Watcher continued to keep a
diary of the project, though he hadn't seen the Watcher From Above
since then either. He realized that Verin was trying to locate Gavreel
but was stymied since Gavreel had no soul. When they thought about it
at all, everyone assumed that only beings with souls were tracked by
And while that was true in practice, the USB's abilities extended
beyond souls to any being that had been assigned a Universal Unique
Entity ID by the Universal Registration Bureau. He saw that it was
likely that Verin was in a dead end and he didn't want the story to
end that way. He decided he would try to help. He sent a message to
Satan's secretary requesting an audience.
* * *
Sometimes, Gavreel thought, you should
be careful what you hope for.
Paul "Bunyan" Franklin, his new charge, led a life that was a little
more exciting than Gavreel needed. He was only twenty four years old
but had been working the forest for half of them and hundreds of
little scars bore testament to the reckless abandon with which he
pursued his trade.
Gavreel had had to allow most of them, but they didn't deter Paul. And
some of them had been achieved despite Gavreeel's best efforts. He
couldn't prevent them all, but it was seeming more and more likely
that he'd miss a major accident one of these days. Paul would already
be living life as an armless ex-lumberjack were it not for the
sixteen occasions that Gavreel had acted in time. And that was just at
work, with the axes and saws and falling limbs.
Most nights he would spend drinking whiskey and beer, and it wasn't
unusual that his temper would flare at some real or— more
often—imagined slight and he would start a brawl. It seemed to
Gavreel that those were the parts of his life that Paul liked the most.
But Gavreel was finding it difficult getting through this assignment.
As a Guardian, he derived great fulfillment keeping a human safe; it
was what he was made for. But humans like this one were making him
wonder more and more: why? There were so many of them that so clearly
didn't deserve their favored position in God's plan. Such thoughts
questioning God gave Gavreel great grief but he couldn't keep them
Unfortunately, it was during one of these bouts of reflection that
Tony "Tiny" Paine gave a mighty swing of his axe that slipped from his
grasp and flew unerringly to
make contact with the back of Paul's head.
Paul died instantly and Gavreel's spirit sank as he felt himself
being lifted up to Heaven. It didn't help that he saw Paul's soul
heading in the other direction. That was hardly unexpected, and while
a Guardian had no influence over the final destination of his client,
it wasn't the preferred way to see the relationship end.
As soon as he arrived at the Angels' Gate, he requested a stint in
Reflex Rehabilitation. The functionary on watch, seeing Gavreel's
pain, immediately removed him from the normal Guardian rotation and
gave him a pass for the transport to the Convalescence Cloud.
* * *
Verin had cut back on his extra temptation assignments, even though
he'd received a
commendation on the number of contracts he'd
(many of the counterparties to which were already in everlasting torment in
the Pit), so that he could spend more time studying the
manual—and he needed it! Despite the immense multi-level index,
the use of which may have just made his task harder, it had taken him
three long nights just to find the section on targeting.
But along the way he had accidentally learned that there were
different kinds of UUEID; in retrospect he could see that all the ones
he had tracked at USB were of type 18-A, which he now assumed was the
type assigned to any human. Using the table in section four of
chapter eleven, he found that his own was of type fifteen. Of course,
he didn't know Gavreel's ID, without which all this work would be for
naught, but if he was ever able to get it, he knew it would be type
fourteen (heavenly creatures always had
a zero in the lowest order bit,
and those in the underworld had a one).
* * *
Satan was surprised when a notice appeared in the air above his desk,
reminding him of an appointment later.
Most business was done via email,
and with underlings at that.
"Hey, Arianna!", he bellowed. "Who in Hell is Morail, and why do I
need to see him?"
The schoolmarmish answer came back immediately. "He is one of the
Watchers assigned to that demon/angel tryst experiment a while back.
He said he really needed an audience; he's got a request that's too
sensitive to go through channels."
"Oh, is that still going on? Haven't heard about it in a while. All
right. Do I have time for a round of obstacle golf first?"
"No. And you've got 841 items in your inbox. 842."
He had managed to get through 719 of them before she announced that the
Watcher had arrived. "Send him in."
Morail entered and fell to his knees, entreating Satan in a barely
audible whimper. "Thank you for seeing me, Terrible One."
"Well, you're here. Get up and talk, man. Is this about that young demon
and angel that wanted to spend eternity together, or some such thing? I
thought that was over with."
"No, Terrible One. I mean, yes, that is why I'm here, and no, it's not
over. I've continued to Watch young Verin since he and the angel Gavreel
got assigned duties and haven't seen each other since."
"I see. I did like that project; somehow it seemed to grease the skids
with the Other Realm. What's up now?"
"Well, as I say, I've continued watching them. Gavreel is heartsick, and
Verin has put forth ceaseless and creative effort in trying to find him.
He wangled a position in the USB but has run into a roadblock: he
doesn't know Gavreel's UUEID, and of course has no way to obtain one
belonging to an angel. I've come to you hoping you might look it up and
let me get it to Verin somehow. I wasn't excited about this assignment
originally, but now I'm fond of them and I want to see how it turns
Satan sat tugging at his goatee for a moment. He conjured a video screen
and watched something that Morail couldn't see.
"I was just reviewing the project records. You did a good job, by the
way. I agree with you. I'd like to help, but it would seem odd to Verin
that the confidential information he needs is just dropped in his lap.
Do you have a way around that?"
"I was thinking it could show up in a routine temptation assignment, and
after he looked it up, he could get a message saying there was a snafu,
like some digits got transposed or something, and give him the real
target's ID. Still kind of amazing, but a young being like him might
just convince himself that he got lucky."
"Good enough. Flimsy, but deniable." He glanced toward the ceiling and
seemed to address the air. "Get me the chief of the Universal
Registration Bureau." It took a while, since the Bureau was not in Hell,
being a department shared with Heaven. Finally the image of a being in a
natty suit materialized.
"Yes, Mr. Lucifer? How can I be of service?"
"There's a young angel, name of Gavreel. I want its EEUID."
"Yessir, right away. I will, of course, have to report the request to
"Here it is." He read off a sixty eight digit number. Satan echoed it
back and got confirmation. "A pleasure to serve." The image faded away.
Satan turned back to Morail. "It's going to take a lot of setup to get
the ID to Verin. I'll have it taken care of. Keep Watching; when you see
things start to happen, send me a message at this address. I'll want to
look in on it, too."
* * *
A new assigment popped up on Verin's phone. Now that he had pretty much
resigned himself to having hit a dead end, he wasn't so annoyed at them
anymore. He looked at the profile: Bud Fox, a young man working as a junior
stockbroker in New York. He smiled. This would be a cinch;
he'd get a
signed contract in short order. Since he was doing temptation jobs as
well as his stint at USB, he'd gotten lazy and tended to look up new
potential clients by their IDs before setting out, since he could charge
it off to overhead, or a test query. He'd
wait until the morning to get started.
* * *
Morail sent a message to the one-time address Satan had given him.
"Verin has Gavreel's ID."
Satan picked up the hotline, and waited for God to answer, and greet him
in his slow Heavenly drawl. "Okay, the demon's got Gavreel's ID. Time to
get him to Earth."
"Roger that," said God. "Let's keep this line open while we see how it
plays out." He turned to Metatron: "Get Gavreel going on that errand we
* * *
"But I don't think I'm ready yet!" Gavreel objected.
The supervisor, in a calming tone, said "Don't worry. This isn't a
normal Guardian mission. I just need you to carry a message to an angel
currently based on Earth.
Piece o' cake."
He handed Gavreel a
sealed with the sigil of a Cherub. "You're to wait for an answer, no
matter how long it takes. Enjoy your time on Earth; think of it as a
working vacation. Now run along."
* * *
Verin got to the office and took his stool. He punched in the ID of his
new client and looked at the screen. He was halfway through syncing the
information to the homing device app in his phone before he noticed. It
didn't say stockbroker, in fact it didn't even say New York.
Entity type: Angel (Ishim)
Occupation : Guardian (3rd class)
That was weird. He'd never heard of the machine screwing up before.
Name : Gavreel
He looked around to see if
someone was playing a joke
sullen-faced demon was intent on his own station. The several minutes it
took him to get to the exit of the USB building
seemed as long
as it must have seemed to Lucifer when he Fell.
He ran all the way to the transport station.
* * *
"This is a weird assignment, all right" thought Gavreel. He'd been following Anael
around for three Earth days now. Anael had read the message sealed in
the capsule, looked at Gavreel, and just said "Well, okay. You'll be
with me for a while." Then he'd gone about some incomprehensible angel
errands, Gavreel at his heels, making no mention of the message.
This morning, he'd instructed Gavreel to stay in the town square while
he was gone for a bit. While wandering around and making the
acquaintance of the Guardians in the area, Gavreel heard his name. Somebody
was calling to him from behind a nearby tree. It obviously wasn't Anael.
He saw a small head peek out, preceded by two small red horns;
It was Verin! It wasn't that unusual to see a demon on Earth, but
obviously they were far fewer than angels, since there was a Guardian
for every human. But this could be no coincidence. Verin must have
sought him out. Gavreel couldn't remember when he'd last been so happy.
All the angels in the vicinity were going to have some tall tales to
tell their friends, when they returned to Heaven, about the time they
saw an angel fly into the arms of a demon for a totally non-selfconcious
hug. (The Guardian whose gaping allowed his charge to break his arm
wouldn't include that part in his retelling of the day.)
Anael appeared next to the engaged couple. "This must be Verin." He
chopped his hand in the air and a black gap appeared. "The two of you go
on in there. You're done here, Gavreel." They stepped through and the
rent sealed behind them. They were surrounded by a pearly glow that came
from all around. Metatron greeted them.
"Hello, kids. God wants you to know that He's glad you found each other,
and He has set aside a nice, new isolated corner of the Universe where
you're going to spend Eternity together. That'll be phase two of this
little adventure. Right, Luke?"
Satan, seated nearby, said "That's right." He winked at the two: "Good
luck with that, Verin. Well, it's been fun, but" —he looked
pointedly at Metatron —"let's not do it again". He vanished in a
puff of smoke.
Metatron directed Gavreel and Verin to a sign hanging in the air that
read Lovers' Lane and they walked away toward it, hand in hand.
# # #