Good omens the nice and.., p.32
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.32Terry Pratchett
“Tra-la,” she said.
“Repair it,” she said.
“Make it work better,” she said.
“I don’t know,” said Newt. “I’m not sure I can.” He laid a hand on top of the nearest cabinet.
There was the noise of something he hadn’t realized he’d been hearing suddenly stopping, and the descending whine of a distant generator. The lights on the panels flickered, and most of them went out.
All over the world, people who had been wrestling with switches found that they switched. Circuit breakers opened. Computers stopped planning World War III and went back to idly scanning the stratosphere. In bunkers under Novya Zemla men found that the fuses they were frantically trying to pull out came away in their hands at last; in bunkers under Wyoming and Nebraska, men in fatigues stopped screaming and waving guns at one another, and would have had a beer if alcohol had been allowed in missile bases. It wasn’t, but they had one anyway.
The lights came on. Civilization stopped its slide into chaos, and started writing letters to the newspapers about how people got overexcited about the least little thing these days.
In Tadfield, the machines ceased radiating menace. Something that had been in them was gone, quite apart from the electricity.
“Gosh,” said Newt.
“There you are,” said Anathema. “You fixed it good. You can trust old Agnes, take it from me. Now let’s get out of here.”
“HE DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT!” said Aziraphale. “Haven’t I always told you, Crowley? If you take the trouble to look, deep down inside anyone, you’ll find that at bottom they’re really quite—”
“It’s not over,” said Crowley flatly.
Adam turned and appeared to notice them for the first time. Crowley was not used to people identifying him so readily, but Adam stared at him as though Crowley’s entire life history was pasted inside the back of his skull and he, Adam, was reading it. For an instant he knew real terror. He’d always thought the sort he’d felt before was the genuine article, but that was mere abject fear beside this new sensation. Those Below could make you cease to exist by, well, hurting you in unbearable amounts, but this boy could not only make you cease to exist merely by thinking about it, but probably could arrange matters so that you never had existed at all.
Adam’s gaze swept to Aziraphale.
“’Scuse me, why’re you two people?” said Adam.
“Well,” said Aziraphale, “it’s a long—”
“It’s not right, being two people,” said Adam. “I reckon you’d better go back to being two sep’rate people.”
There were no showy special effects. There was just Aziraphale, sitting next to Madame Tracy.
“Ooh, that felt tingly,” she said. She looked Aziraphale up and down. “Oh,” she said, in a slightly disappointed voice. “Somehow, I thought you’d be younger.”
Shadwell glowered jealously at the angel and thumbed the Thundergun’s hammer in a pointed sort of way.
Aziraphale looked down at his new body which was, unfortunately, very much like his old body, although the overcoat was cleaner.
“Well, that’s over,” he said.
“No,” said Crowley. “No. It isn’t, you see. Not at all.”
Now there were clouds overhead, curling like a pot of tagliatelli on full boil.
“You see,” said Crowley, his voice leaden with fatalistic gloom, “it doesn’t really work that simply. You think wars get started because some old duke gets shot, or someone cuts off someone’s ear, or someone’s sited their missiles in the wrong place. It’s not like that. That’s just, well, just reasons, which haven’t got anything to do with it. What really causes wars is two sides that can’t stand the sight of one another and the pressure builds up and up and then anything will cause it. Anything at all. What’s your name … er … boy?”
“That’s Adam Young,” said Anathema, as she strode up with Newt trailing after her.
“That’s right. Adam Young,” said Adam.
“Good effort. You’ve saved the world. Have a half-holiday,” said Crowley. “But it won’t really make any difference.”
“I think you’re right,” said Aziraphale. “I’m sure my people want Armageddon. It’s very sad.”
“Would anyone mind telling us what’s going on?” said Anathema sternly, folding her arms.
Aziraphale shrugged. “It’s a very long story,” he began.
Anathema stuck out her chin. “Go on, then,” she said.
“Well. In the Beginning—”
The lightning flashed, struck the ground a few meters from Adam, and stayed there, a sizzling column that broadened at the base, as though the wild electricity was filling an invisible mold. The humans pressed back against the jeep.
The lightning vanished, and a young man made out of golden fire stood there.
“Oh dear,” said Aziraphale. “It’s him.”
“Him who?” said Crowley.
“The Voice of God,” said the angel. “The Metatron.”
The Them stared.
Then Pepper said, “No, it isn’t. The Metatron’s made of plastic and it’s got laser cannon and it can turn into a helicopter.”
“That’s the Cosmic Megatron,” said Wensleydale weakly. “I had one, but the head fell off. I think this one is different.”
The beautiful blank gaze fell on Adam Young, and then turned sharply to look at the concrete beside it, which was boiling.
A figure rose from the churning ground in the manner of the demon king in a pantomime, but if this one was ever in a pantomime, it was one where no one walked out alive and they had to get a priest to burn the place down afterwards. It was not greatly different to the other figure, except that its flames were blood-red.
“Er,” said Crowley, trying to shrink into his seat. “Hi … er.”
The red thing gave him the briefest of glances, as though marking him for future consumption, and then stared at Adam. When it spoke, its voice was like a million flies taking off in a hurry.
It buzzed a word that felt, to those humans who heard it, like a file dragged down the spine.
It was talking to Adam, who said, “Huh? No. I said already. My name’s Adam Young.” He looked the figure up and down. “What’s yours?”
“Beelzebub,” Crowley supplied. “He’s the Lord of—”
“Thank you, Crowzley,” said Beelzebub. “Later we muzzed have a seriouzz talk. I am sure thou hazzt muzzch to tell me.”
“Er,” said Crowley, “well, you see, what happened was—”
“Right. Right,” said Crowley hurriedly.
“Now then, Adam Young,” said the Metatron, “while we can of course appreciate your assistance at this point, we must add that Armageddon should take place now. There may be some temporary inconvenience, but that should hardly stand in the way of the ultimate good.”
“Ah,” whispered Crowley to Aziraphale, “what he means is, we have to destroy the world in order to save it.”
“Azz to what it standz in the way of, that hazz yet to be decided,” buzzed Beelzebub. “But it muzzt be decided now, boy. That izz thy deztiny. It is written.”
Adam took a deep breath. The human watchers held theirs. Crowley and Aziraphale had forgotten to breathe some time ago.
“I just don’t see why everyone and everything has to be burned up and everything,” Adam said. “Millions of fish an’ whales an’ trees an’, an’ sheep and stuff. An’ not even for anything important. Jus’ to see who’s got the best gang. It’s like us an’ the Johnsonites. But even if you win, you can’t really beat the other side, because you don’t really want to. I mean, not for good. You’ll just start all over again. You’ll just keep on sending people like these two,” he pointed to Crowley and Aziraphale, “to mess people around. It’s hard enough bein’ people as it is, without other people coming and messin’ you around.”
Crowley turned to Aziraphale.
The angel shrugged. “Early breakaway sect, I think,” he said. “Sort of Gnostics. Like the Ophites.” His forehead wrinkled. “Or were they the Sethites? No, I’m thinking of the Collyridians. Oh dear. I’m sorry, there were hundreds of them, it’s so hard to keep track.”
“People bein’ messed around,” murmured Crowley.
“It doesn’t matter!” snapped the Metatron. “The whole point of the creation of the Earth and Good and Evil—”
“I don’t see what’s so triffic about creating people as people and then gettin’ upset ’cos they act like people,” said Adam severely. “Anyway, if you stopped tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive. If I was in charge, I’d try makin’ people live a lot longer, like ole Methuselah. It’d be a lot more interestin’ and they might start thinkin’ about the sort of things they’re doing to all the enviroment and ecology, because they’ll still be around in a hundred years’ time.”
“Ah,” said Beelzebub, and he actually began to smile. “You wizzsh to rule the world. That’z more like thy Fath—”
“I thought about all that an’ I don’t want to,” said Adam, half turning and nodding encouragingly at the Them. “I mean, there’s some stuff could do with alt’rin’, but then I expect people’d keep comin’ up to me and gettin’ me to sort out everythin’ the whole time and get rid of all the rubbish and make more trees for ’em, and where’s the good in all that? It’s like havin’ to tidy up people’s bedrooms for them.”
“You never tidy up even your bedroom,” said Pepper, behind him.
“I never said anythin’ about my bedroom,” said Adam, referring to a room whose carpet had been lost to view for several years. “It’s general bedrooms I mean. I dint mean my personal bedroom. It’s an analoggy. That’s jus’ what I’m sayin’.”
Beelzebub and the Metatron looked at one another.
“Anyway,” said Adam, “it’s bad enough having to think of things for Pepper and Wensley and Brian to do all the time so they don’t get bored, so I don’t want any more world than I’ve got. Thank you all the same.”
The Metatron’s face began to take on the look familiar to all those subjected to Adam’s idiosyncratic line of reasoning.
“You can’t refuse to be who you are,” it said eventually. “Listen. Your birth and destiny are part of the Great Plan. Things have to happen like this. All the choices have been made.”
“Rebellion izz a fine thing,” said Beelzebub, “but some thingz are beyond rebellion. You muzzt understand!”
“I’m not rebelling against anything,” said Adam in a reasonable tone of voice. “I’m pointin’ out things. Seems to me you can’t blame people for pointin’ out things. Seems to me it’d be a lot better not to start fightin’ and jus’ see what people do. If you stop messin’ them about they might start thinkin’ properly an’ they might stop messin’ the world around. I’m not sayin’ they would,” he added conscientiously, “but they might.”
“This makes no sense,” said the Metatron. “You can’t run counter to the Great Plan. You must think. It’s in your genes. Think.”
The dark undercurrent was always ready to flow back, its reedy whisper saying yes, that was it, that was what it was all about, you have to follow the Plan because you were part of it—
It had been a long day. He was tired. Saving the world took it out of an eleven-year-old body.
Crowley stuck his head in his hands. “For a moment there, just for a moment, I thought we had a chance,” he said. “He had them worried. Oh, well, it was nice while—”
He was aware that Aziraphale had stood up.
“Excuse me,” said the angel.
The trio looked at him.
“This Great Plan,” he said, “this would be the ineffable Plan, would it?”
There was a moment’s silence.
“It’s the Great Plan,” said the Metatron flatly. “You are well aware. There shall be a world lasting six thousand years and it will conclude with—”
“Yes, yes, that’s the Great Plan all right,” said Aziraphale. He spoke politely and respectfully, but with the air of one who has just asked an unwelcome question at a political meeting and won’t go away until he gets an answer. “I was just asking if it’s ineffable as well. I just want to be clear on this point.”
“It doesn’t matter!” snapped the Metatron. “It’s the same thing, surely!”
Surely? thought Crowley. They don’t actually know. He started to grin like an idiot.
“So you’re not one hundred percent clear on this?” said Aziraphale.
“It’s not given to us to understand the ineffable Plan,” said the Metatron, “but of course the Great Plan—”
“But the Great Plan can only be a tiny part of the overall ineffability,” said Crowley. “You can’t be certain that what’s happening right now isn’t exactly right, from an ineffable point of view.”
“It izz written!” bellowed Beelzebub.
“But it might be written differently somewhere else,” said Crowley. “Where you can’t read it.”
“In bigger letters,” said Aziraphale.
“Underlined,” Crowley added.
“Twice,” suggested Aziraphale.
“Perhaps this isn’t just a test of the world,” said Crowley. “It might be a test of you people, too. Hmm?”
“God does not play games with His loyal servants,” said the Metatron, but in a worried tone of voice.
“Whooo-eee,” said Crowley. “Where have you been?”
Everyone found their eyes turning toward Adam. He seemed to be thinking very carefully.
Then he said: “I don’t see why it matters what is written. Not when it’s about people. It can always be crossed out.”
A breeze swept across the airfield. Overhead, the assembled hosts rippled, like a mirage.
There was the kind of silence there might have been on the day before Creation.
Adam stood smiling at the two of them, a small figure perfectly poised exactly between Heaven and Hell.
Crowley grabbed Aziraphale’s arm. “You know what happened?” he hissed excitedly. “He was left alone! He grew up human! He’s not Evil Incarnate or Good Incarnate, he’s just … a human incarnate—”
“I think,” said the Metatron, “that I shall need to seek further instructions.”
“I alzzo,” said Beelzebub. His raging face turned to Crowley. “And I shall report of your part in thizz, thou hast better believe it.” He glared at Adam. “And I do not know what thy Father will say … ”
There was a thundering explosion. Shadwell, who had been fidgeting with horrified excitement for some minutes, had finally got enough control of his trembling fingers to pull the trigger.
The pellets passed through the space where Beelzebub had been. Shadwell never knew how lucky he had been that he’d missed.
The sky wavered, and then became just sky. Around the horizon, the clouds began to unravel.
MADAME TRACY BROKE THE SILENCE.
“Weren’t they odd,” she said.
She didn’t mean “weren’t they odd”; what she did mean she probably could never hope to express, except by screaming, but the human brain has amazing recuperative powers and saying “weren’t they odd” was part of the rapid healing process. Within half an hour, she’d be thinking she’d just had too much to drink.
“Is it over, do you think?” said Aziraphale.
Crowley shrugged. “Not for us, I’m afraid.”
“I don’t think you need to go worryin’,” said Adam gnomically. “I know all about you two. Don’t you worry.”
He looked at the rest of the Them, who tried not to back away. He seemed to think for a while, and then he said, “There’s been too much messin’ around anyway. But it seems to me everyone’s goin’ to be a lot happier if they forget about this. Not actually forget,
“But you can’t just leave it at that!” said Anathema, pushing forward. “Think of all the things you could do! Good things.”
“Like what?” said Adam suspiciously.
“Well … you could bring all the whales back, to start with.”
He put his head on one side. “An’ that’d stop people killing them, would it?”
She hesitated. It would have been nice to say yes.
“An’ if people do start killing ’em, what would you ask me to do about ’em?” said Adam. “No. I reckon I’m getting the hang of this now. Once I start messing around like that, there’d be no stoppin’ it. Seems to me, the only sensible thing is for people to know if they kill a whale, they’ve got a dead whale.”
“That shows a very responsible attitude,” said Newt.
Adam raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just sense,” he said.
Aziraphale patted Crowley on the back. “We seem to have survived,” he said. “Just imagine how terrible it might have been if we’d been at all competent.”
“Um,” said Crowley.
“Is your car operational?”
“I think it might need a bit of work,” Crowley admitted.
“I was thinking that we might take these good people into town,” said Aziraphale. “I owe Madame Tracy a meal, I’m sure. And her young man, of course.”
Shadwell looked over his shoulder, and then up at Madame Tracy.
“Who’s he talking aboot?” he asked her triumphant expression.
Adam rejoined the Them.
“I reckon we’ll just be gettin’ home,” he said.
“But what actually happened?” said Pepper. “I mean, there was all this—”
“It doesn’t matter any more,” said Adam.
“But you could help so much—” Anathema began, as they wandered back to their bikes. Newt took her gently by the arm.
“That’s not a good idea,” he said. “Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives.”
“Do you know,” she said, “of all the trite sayings I’ve ever really hated, that comes top?”
“Amazing, isn’t it,” said Newt happily.
“Why’ve you got ‘Dick Turpin’ painted on the door of your car?”
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett / Fantasy / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes