Grim sat with his feet on his desk, reading the obituaries–making tick-marks on a sheet at his side-table, a boring but necessary task. “Brad Jones?” he said to no-one. “Who the hell is that?” That name wasn’t on his checklist. Damn. That’s the third this week. Why the hell are people dying when they are not supposed to?
Grim buzzed his secretary, “Susie, we got another one.”
A voice squeaked back through the ancient intercom system, “At least you’ll get out of the office again.”
“Sure, but these things are always complicated and often messy. Want to come for a ride?”
“Not now, darling, I have a headache. And you need the exercise anyway.” Ouch.
“Okay, call Bob and ask him to meet me at the transporter.”
“Sure, boss,” and the intercom clicked off with an annoying crackle.
He tapped ‘Brad Jones’ into his computer, which was networked to the death server, but of course, ‘NOT FOUND’ flashed on his screen. Verified. This guy was supposed to be alive. He glanced back at the Obituary column. Funeral today. “Sugar!” he exclaimed, as he was trying to give up swearing.
Grim took his black leather coat from the rack. He didn’t bother to fasten it, as he couldn’t any longer. I must get more exercise. Centuries of sitting at his desk, ticking boxes, had not been kind to his weight, still slim, but not deathly skeletal any longer. Slipping off his loafers, he pulled on the long black leather boots. Damn, these things are tight on my legs. Almost painfully, he zipped them up, breaking one fastener when it reached the top. Mental note: need new boots. Today.
As he exited the office he smiled at Suzie and exclaimed: “To the Grim Cave!”
She rolled her eyes at him, “If you must. Catch you later.”
When Grim arrived, Bob was waiting by the transporter. Grim used to call it the Grimmobile, but Bob had convinced him that was just too cheesy. Shaped like a long, black, sleek car, it was, more technically, a Hyper-Spatial- Interdimensional-Space Vehicle. Neither had liked that name. Grim was already scowling.
“Hey there Boss”, greeted Bob, “another one?”
Grim scowled at him, his best ‘death warmed over’ scowl.
Bob laughed. “Man, you need something new, how long ya been using that scowl for?”
Grim put on his best ‘death voice’. “I am Hell Fire, and I come to bring you…”
“Fire, yeah, right. Okay?” Bob sighed, opened the wide door and they both climbed in, Grim in front, and Bob in the rear.
“Houston, we have a go situation, lift off in T-minus 10, 9…” started Grim.
Bob reached over and hit the ‘fire’ button.
“I didn’t get to say ‘lift off’!” exclaimed Grim.
The Transporter vanished.
…And reappeared behind a line of already parked cars, also all black. Fifty yards away they could see a group of mourners surrounding a coffin. Distant vague words could be heard coming from a minister at the head of the grave.
“We got a bad one this time Boss,” said Bob, “Want me to come with you?”
“Good idea, we may need some crowd control here. Let’s move.”
“Half a pack of cigarettes?”
“Full tank of gas?”
“Okay, stop it, Bob, we gotta move it, now.”
As quickly as could be deemed respectful, they hurried to the graveside and joined the mourners. Grim closed his eyes, concentrating, and then made an unobtrusive wave with his hand. A loud knocking came from the coffin. Somebody screamed. The minister tripped backwards. In the sudden confusion, Grim reached out to the coffin shouting “He’s alive! He’s alive!” He pried his long fingernails under the coffin lid, at the same time mentally removing the screws. He flipped the lid open, grabbed Brad’s hand, and pulled him out and to the graveside. “It’s a miracle!” he shouted to the wide-eyed and horrified onlookers. Then he and Brad vanished – not that anyone saw, for them, apart from Bob, of course, Time had been frozen.
Brad stood, wide-eyed, with a very confused look on his face, his hand still gripped by Grim. He looked around but could see only blackness, and Grim. “What the heck…” was all he could splutter.
Grim allowed Brad several long seconds for him to reach a semblance of ‘calm’, before he said in a firm voice, “Brad.” Brad paid no attention. Louder now, “BRAD! Look at me.”
Brad slowly turned his head and looked at Grim. “I’m dead… aren’t I? Dead. And who are you? Where am I? Where is God?”
Grim sighed, “God’s a little tied up right at this time.” Hoping God hadn’t heard him, he continued, enunciating his words. “Okay, first, Brad, you are not dead. Second, you are unconscious, and we are in No Man’s Land. Third, my name is Michael.”
It was important that he never told his clients his name otherwise they may guess his surname, and then panic–typically wildly. Brad was trying to pull his hand away from Grim. “Brad, I have to hold onto you, you nearly died, and I rescued you, if I let go of you, you will die.” Not quite the truth, but it stopped Brad pulling. No, not death, he thought, but–eternal nothingness–and that is so far from being so-called ‘dead’, not even a comparison could be made.
Brad stopped pulling. “Michael? Arch-Angel Michael? And where is No Man’s Land?”
They always ask the same questions. Maybe I should stop using Michael; the religious ones always ask that. He wondered how many thousands of times he had asked himself that question, not the Arch-Angel part, as much as using Michael.
“And what’s with the sunglasses? This is crazy”, added Brad. “This is just a dream, right? I’ll wake up any second, and I’ll be dead again.” This kind of nonsensical reasoning was normal for the not-supposed-to-die people. Though for some reason, Brad knew he had died. Uh-oh…
Man, I really must invent a name for the not-supposed-to-be-dead. Or ask Suzie. Though she’ll probably just roll her eyes at me again.
“No Brad, you are not dead, and, I’m not that Michael–just–Michael. Yes, this is a bit like a dream, it’s normal to be confused. You are just experiencing a near-death experience. You’ve heard of them, haven’t you?”
“So, I am dead now?”
“No, you are alive, you never died, just very close, and you are now at the end of your near-death experience.”
Grim was about to continue but Brad interrupted. “Where’s the light? There’s supposed to be a light, and a tunnel, and…”
“Quiet!” boomed Grim–losing control. “Please be quiet and let me explain what has happened, and what will happen next.”
Brad calmed down. “Okay, but why the sunglasses?”
“Why not?” replied Grim. “Just my style man. Now please be quiet.”
Maybe I’ll just let him ramble for a while, thought Grim as he lit a cigarette. He took a long drag and visualised a large wet cod–which he mentally slapped across Brad’s face. It made him feel slightly better, so he did it a few more times. Maybe the sword. I’ll just chop his head off and be done with it. Meanwhile, as Brad continued to ramble on, Grim considered merely letting go of his hand. It was so, so tempting; but also, on the absolutely nope–never–do not even think-about-it list.
Finally, Brad calmed. “Did you listen to a word I said?” asked Brad.
Grim, who had conjured two chairs from the blackness, looked up. “Err, no, to be honest, I was considering consigning you back to that grave I pulled you out of while you blabbered like a lunatic”. Grim saw the colour drain from Brad’s face. “Now, are you going to stay quiet, not interrupt me, stop rambling, and just listen, because otherwise, you will be back in that coffin, no-one will hear you knocking, and you will be buried alive? Capiche?”
Brad nodded his head.
“And I may ask a question or two,” continued Grim. “I will allow you to answer them, but keep it brief.” Brad nodded. Finally, I hope…
“So, technically, you died.” Grim had retrieved Brad’s details. Bob, ever efficient, had found the information for the right Brad, and uploaded it to Grim’s temporal brain implant. “Your heart stopped, and could not be restarted. Science is still rather barbaric as they think this means death, which it doesn’t.”
“What does it mean?” Interrupted Brad.
Grim rolled his eyes. “It just means your heart stopped, now please, shut up unless I ask a question, or back in the coffin you go.”
Brad gulped, nodding.
“You fell when an upstairs window ledge you sat on collapsed. You hit the concrete drive, connected with your head and smashed your skull, severely damaging your brain. You were supposedly dead when the paramedics turned up. Now, a question: when the window ledge collapsed, what were you thinking?”
Brad looked taken aback. “Yes. I built that house, and I know my skills. I thought ‘How on earth did that window ledge collapse’. Then–nothing”.
Grim’s face screwed up in a weird thoughtful look, glad he was wearing sunglasses. “Hmm, I see. Interesting.” I hope the complex automated soul reaping system is still working correctly—must check.
“Shut up. Let me finish, we gotta get out of this place. Soon I hope.”
“Good, I don’t like it here or your sweaty hand holding mine.”
Sweaty hands? I have sweaty hands? Must ask Bob. “To cut what would be a very long story short, you technically died, but didn’t, and I was sent to rescue you. You never saw any light, or tunnel, because you were never dead. Okay?”
“When we get back, you tell people that your last memory was falling out of the window, and then being trapped in a coffin. The only reason you can think of is that a miracle must have occurred. This conversation never happened.”
“Yes, it did!” exclaimed Brad.
Grim sighed as he was getting a headache. He rumbled through his pockets with his free hand. Damn, no aspirin.
“You don’t understand. This is like a super-top-class-secret-undercover-mission. This conversation never happened.”
“But it did.”
God, why do I get idiots such as this, instantly regretting the thought.
“Because I don’t like you,” boomed a voice into his mind. “And I’m starting to like you even less. I may replace you.”
Grim shuddered. Now God was on the case. Could it get worse?
“Infinitely,” boomed the voice. “There is obviously a bug in your automated soul reaping system. Don’t forget, I am omnipotent”. A bug?
“Brad,” whispered Grim, “you need to pray now, pray deeply to God and keep praying until you are back at the graveside–no time will have passed there.” Grim waved his other hand over Brad’s head, erasing almost the entire conversation.
Brad held his head low, in deep vocal prayer.
Good, that will keep God distracted, especially as he’s had dementia or something for the last couple of hundred years and was far from omnipotent any more.
Grim thought quietly about God, not the kind of creature you would want to meet. Remembering his second meeting with ‘It’ many millennia ago, he shuddered. And now it reckons there is a bug in my system? It’s worked perfectly for several hundred years… We need a new God, one that was not a giant alien bug from an alternate universe. But how… “Okay, we’re outta here, now!”
Grim appeared, leaning against the transporter, as was Bob.
Down at the grave, Brad was being surrounded by the once-mourners-now-praisers. He could hear shouts of “It’s a miracle,” and “Praise God” coming from the crowd.
“You were gone a long time Boss. Hard case?”
“Understatement of the year Bob. And ‘you-know-who’ got in on the act. Reckons my system has a problem”
“No, not – It?”
“Yup.” Grim pulled out his pack of cigarettes. Empty. “Got a cig, Bob?”
Bob flipped his pack open and offered one to Grim.
“Trying to give them up, Boss,” taking one for himself. They both lit up and took long hard drags. “Back to the Grim Cave?”
“I suppose so. I guess I’d better have a look at the system.” Then remembering, “Shit, not yet, I need a new pair of boots. We need a boot shop.”
Bob laughed, “You gotta be kidding, Boss, those boots are centuries old, they just don’t make them like that these days. Ask Suzie, she’ll make you some.”
“She knows more than you think, Boss.”
“Okay, let’s hit the highway then. No countdown today, I’m tired, I have a headache and we gotta get out of this place. You drive.”
“Just drive Bob.”
They got in the transporter, which promptly vanished.
“Suzie?” Grim said questioningly.
“Um, is there any way you can get some boots like these,” and he motioned to his boots.
“Sure, Boss, I’ll have them ready by morning. I’m clocking off now, it’s late”
“Got any aspirin?”
Suzie opened a drawer in her desk. It was full of medicine. “How about some morphine, you can have a good snooze as well”
“Way cool! Morphine, man”. Grim was almost drooling.
Suzie expertly filled a syringe from a glass bottle and promptly injected it into Grim’s outstretched arm. “Now get to your couch before you collapse in my office.”
“Yeah, man, “drawled Grim, already getting high. “Is there anything you can’t do?”
“Not really,” replied Suzie, as she headed out of the door.
Grim’s eyes fluttered open as the dawning sun reached through the window blinds. “Oh yeah man,” he whispered. “Mm… I feel like, wow man, chu-uh-illed out baby.” He remembered the apparently-needing-fixing system and stood up. It was in Suzie’s office, but she wouldn’t be in for another couple of hours. His vision blurred, and he staggered a bit. Maybe not just yet.
A new Big idea popped into his head, though he mentally kept it quiet. It involved you-know-who. He picked up his phone and dialled ‘1’. Bob answered. Grim, still slurring, “Another mission Bob, a strange one. We need the heavy guns”
“Way cool Boss! Um, you’ll find some uppers in Suzie’s drawer. I’m on it; see you in the Grim Cave?”
“On my way,” and he put down the phone. His head was starting to clear now, and he popped a couple of uppers he found in Suzie’s drawer. He took the door to the Grim Cave.
“Okay Boss, here’s what I got. Made ’em myself. I call these “Deathcom I”
Grim looked at the rifles. “Just Mk I? No Mk II?”
“The Mk I was even more spectacular in tests than even the simulator expected. This Mk I model–one shot on target from one of these things should destroy a Russian T-14 Armarta from 2 miles.”
Grim’s eyebrows raised and a wicked smile crossed his lips. “Good. How many rounds?”
“Just one in each, pre-loaded. What’s the target?”
Grim bent to whisper in Bob’s ear. “You-know-who”. He expected surprise or shock from Bob. He got neither.
“About time. I’ve been expecting this for many years. These–were developed for this situation.”
Now it was Grim who was surprised. “You’ve been developing arms to kill G… ‘you-know-who’? Why?”
“Inevitability. The thing controlled most of humanity, like slaves, for thousands of years. Now it’s lost even that control, and we’re killing each other.”
“Let’s do it then,” replied Grim
“The plan first.”
“Simple. Fly to ‘you-know-who’, kill it, and bugger off,”
“Not so simple Boss. I’ve already planned this–if you will oblige me.”
“Um… how long you been planning this, Bob?”
“A few centuries. Had to wait for technology to develop though.”
“Right. Bug-eye will be on his dais, surrounded by numerous concourses of worshippers worshipping it and singing praises to its name. That’s why it has so much power, it feeds off them, and they ‘gladly’ give it to him…it”
“They gladly worship an 8-legged bug-eyed alien?”
“Mind projection. They see a man in white robes with white hair and a beard.”
“Oh, of course”, replied Grim, as if he knew this all along. When ‘God’ had recruited Grim, he had seen the man-form. It had only been an accidental second meeting several centuries ago he had seen his… or It’s real form. “I have a question though”
“Um… when we kill… It… Will everything just vanish? Us included?”
“No, because It’s not the real G-o-d. When It arrived, there was a great battle, and the real G-o-d was a bit tired, after spending infinity already directing every atom in the Universe, so he…or she… decided to let the bug have a go, and went into hiding.”
“Err… hold on; do you know the real G-o-d?”
“Yes, but I can’t blow their cover, not even for you.”
Grim felt a bit miffed. Why did Bob know so much more than he did? After all, it was Grim who recruited Bob, as his side-kick. “Okay… whatever. What’s the plan then?”
“Right, as I said, bug-eye will be on its dais, feeding off the mindless masses. Close up, it will be omnipotent, it will know the instant we arrive and know our plan. Distance and speed are crucial so I’ve calculated we have about half a second to kill it.”
Grim grimaced. “Half a second? We’re doomed!”
“I’ve run multiple simulations on this, Boss, it works every time. We need to arrive precisely a hundred yards behind bug-eye– it will need time to turn around. Oh, I presume you are a dead shot at a hundred yards? We have one shot each.”
“Walk in the park.” In his duties, Grim was also a skilled assassin, taking out those that hadn’t-died-when-they-were-supposed-to. One shot though? And just half a second?
Bob continued. “I’ve modified the transport door so we can just kick it, opening instantly. We arrive, one hundred yards–so we don’t also blow ourselves up–behind it, kick the door open and shoot. Big bang, bug-eye is splattered mush. I’ll drive, I have the exact hyper-spatial coordinates on this stick,” and he held up a USB memory stick. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Grim replied, slinging the rather light gun over his shoulder. Why am I getting this horrible feeling that I have lost all semblance of control, this was my idea; and I’m now going to die? He smiled at Bob.
“Okay, let’s kick some ass then!”
They both got in the transporter–Grim noticed that Bob had stencilled ‘Viva la Revolution’ across its sleek, black exterior. Here goes nothing.
Bob was in the driver’s seat. He pushed the USB stick into a panel Grim had never seen before, and the dash lit up and started humming. A voice responded, “New programming accepted, ready for take-off.”
Grim raised his eyebrows. He was good at that. “Who…?”
“Just modified a few features, Boss. Ready?”
“No, you’re not, Boss, take the gun off your shoulder, and point it at the door. Half a second, that’s all we have. I hit ‘Fire’, we arrive, kick the door, aim and shoot, so get ready to shoot now.”
Grim sulked. He felt patronised now, though as always, Bob was correct. He pointed his gun at the currently closed door.
“Right, on three,” announced Bob. “One, two,” and on ‘Three’, he hit the fire button.
They kicked the door open, already aiming… at nothing.
“Ha!” Boomed a voice from above, “Got you!”
They looked up and saw the would-be-God bug-eyed monster above, hanging by a spider thread. Bob was quicker and fired.
Mr Bug eye just exploded, twenty yards above. Thick slime splattered Grim and Bob in huge blobs of ooze.
“Eeww,” said Grim
“Yeeeuk,” said Bob.
They returned and hurriedly sought much-needed showers. Grim turned his attention to his automated soul reaping system. Suzie, fortunately, was running late, so her office was empty, of her at least.
He removed the back, of the large computer-like box, covering his fresh clothes with a large discharge of dust. Man, this thing is filthy—I’m gonna need the vacuum cleaner. He was giving the thing a good dust clean, when he saw, and then heard–something was sucked up, clonking into the collection bowl. Switching off the cleaner, he opened the dirt collection bowl, instantly releasing an even bigger cloud of dust all over him, which pervaded the office. Shit, Suzie is gonna kill me when she arrives. He saw the object and fished it out of the remaining dust.
His face contorted into that ‘very puzzled’ look. He took the object into his office–blowing off dust–and searched through an untidy mess, eventually finding his strong magnifying glass. Inspecting the object through the looking glass, he exclaimed, “It’s a damn bug! A real Computer bug!” He noticed what looked like very small writing on the bug’s carapace. The writing was hard to make out as he moved the magnifier back and forth. Finding the right spot, he slowly deciphered it.
Goosebumps broke out on Grim, and a strong shiver spike ran up his back.
It read: “Viva la Revolution”. Bob?
Suzie entered her office, fifteen minutes late, and exclaimed, “What the blinking blue blazes? Grim!” she called through his open office door.
Grim walked in, “Err, yeah, sorry. I was hoping to clean it up before you arrived.” He noticed Suzie was dressed, head to foot, in black leather. Odd. “But I found the bug in the system! It’s a real god-damn bug!”
Suzie rolled her eyes. She is the epitome of the art of ‘rolling eyes’. “Bugs usually are,” she replied, placing his new boots on her desk. “Your boots. The legs are slightly wider to accommodate your… err, maturing legs”
“They look great!” exclaimed Grim. “Thank you. You really are amazing.” He then exclaimed “And we killed God! Blew it to f… err–little bits.”
“I think not, but good job anyway,” as she donned a black leather hat. Bob walked into the office, also dressed in black leather, complete with a hat. He never comes up here. Not normally…
“We didn’t kill God?” quizzed Grim.
Suzie smiled. “No.” She put on dark sunglasses, as did Bob, who she now turned to. “Ready?”
Also nodding her readiness, Suzie and Bob vanished.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Grim.
He distantly heard Suzie’s voice… “And stop taking my name in vain!”