According to Terribleminds and the Die of Fate, this story must contain “a talking cat” and “a plane or train ride”.
“This is your captain speaking. We’ve reached our cruising altitude, and forecast for today calls for clear skies all afternoon. Feel free to unfasten your seat belts and move freely about the cabin, and we’ll let you know if we’re in for any chop or how the Bears are doing. Thank you, and enjoy your flight.”
I don’t move, not at first. I glance to my left, to see if either of my fellow passengers need to get up, but the couple is looking out the tiny window into the vast beyond, through the 30,000 feet of air to the planet below. It’s a good thing that they are actually enjoying the flight, because I sure as hell won’t. Big metal tubes hurtling through the void bother me. Not necessarily because of the flying itself, but because with so much technology compressed into one place, something is bound to go wrong at some point.
And that’s not even taking into account the things that normal people can’t see.
The carrier in my lap vibrates ever so slightly. I figure she’s fallen asleep. The cat doesn’t like to fly any more than I do, but considering everything she’s been through, both before and after she came into my life, some pressurized air and rapid movement aren’t enough to spook her.
I crack open the well-worn book I brought with me. It’s one of the Star Wars novels. I’m not a big fan of fiction – my own life is interesting and weird enough, thanks very much – but once in a while, I like to take my mind away from the worlds around me and invest some time in a place and time when things are simpler. Heroes and villains are easily defined, even if the so-called heroes engage in wholesale slaughter under some flimsy justification. I have to laugh sometimes. It’s a lot easier than you might think to shove something or someone that isn’t you into the category of ‘other’ and build up your opposition to it. Plenty of wars get their starts that way.
Believe me, there are times when I wish it was that simple.
“Something to drink?”
I look up from my book and smile at the stewardess. Flight attendant? I can’t keep the PC terms straight anymore. I ask for a tomato juice. The couple beside me both get pops. I watch the woman as she pours, and I think I catch something in her eyes. The carrier in my lap shifts. Either her sleep is restless, or she feels something. I wait until the stewardess is gone and then down my tomato juice as quickly as possible. I’d have asked for a bloody mary, but I didn’t want to shell out for the liquor and I hadn’t thought to grab a tiny bottle of vodka from the duty free store. Whatever. I set the plastic glass down a final time and open the zipper on the carrier.
“About time, human.”
The voice is small and scratchy, the whisper nearly lost in the roar of flight. Just as well; normal people aren’t necessarily prepared for aspects of my life like this.
“Did you feel something, Crowley?”
“I still can’t believe you gave me that name.”
“You wanted more distance from your True Name, I’m providing it.”
“There are lots of goddesses of wisdom or knowledge, you know. Neith, Athena, Vör…”
“Is there a goddess of changing the subject?”
Yellow eyes glared at me from within the shadows of the carrier. “Yes. I felt something.”
“They’re called ‘flight attendants’. Don’t be sexist.”
“Who’s being sexist? Guys can be stewardesses too!”
“It’s a sexist term, jackass.”
“Crowley’s a gender neutral name.”
“It’s the family name of a male -”
“It’s gender neutral, you’re changing the subject again, and we’re on a goddamn airplane. Are we going to do this or are you going to keep sacrificing tuna privileges?”
There was a pause. “Okay, I concede. You win this round. Let me out so I can sniff around.”
“Give me a second.” I pick up the little plastic cup, with tomato-covered ice still rattling around, and return my tray table to its upright and locked position. I set the cup (with apologies) on the guy’s tray next to me. He doesn’t care – he’s holding hands with his pretty ladyfriend and they’re watching a movie. I unzip the inner portion of the carrier and set it opening-first towards the aisle.
Crowley is sable-black, pouring out of the carrier and onto the floor carefully, like an oil spill with legs and a tail. Her fur is actually quite soft, and she’s got a weakness for that spot at the base of her skull between her ears, which always make her start purring whether she wants to or not. But I don’t have time to coddle the cat. I unbuckle my seat belt and rise to follow her, heading towards the front of the plane.
I get some dirty looks from the people in business class. I’m shattering the illusion that their affluence separates them from the plebs back in coach. I’d linger to make more of them uncomfortable, but I’m on a clock. Crowley’s definitely on to something, and I have to be there to back her up. As much crap as I give her, I really can’t live without her.
We find the stewardess in question tucked away working on the in-flight meals. She glances at me and smiles a little.
“You should return to your seat.”
I cross my arms and lean on the wall. “Crowley?”
The cat jumps up onto the counter, startling the woman. Yellow eyes peer at her and the cat’s nose twitches.
“Nebiru,” Crowley says finally.
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. Brimstone and stardust, moreso than just about anything.”
The stewardess shakes her head, backing away. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“You’re on a flight full of mortals. Why?”
“It’s my job.”
“Come on, you took part in the creation the Universe, it’s gotta be more than a job.”
The stewardess nods. Her nametag says ‘Angela’. “I’ve heard of you. You’re the one who sends us back to Hell.”
“Talking cat give it away?”
“It’s probably your boorish attitude.”
“Shut it, Crowley.”
“I’m tired,” Angela says. “Tired of conflict, of choosing sides. I just want to see the creation. Wonder in what was wrought.”
“You’re here as a sightseer?”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
“Crowley, what do you know about the Nebiru?”
“Oh, now I can speak?”
“Out with it, cat.”
She sighed. “Nebiru were celestial angels before The Fall. They set stars in motion and plotted the courses of galaxies. Not many sided with Lucifer, but those who did often find themselves summoned by accident when idiot mortals tap into Lovecraftian ideas of old gods born of the stars.”
I look evenly at Angela. “Is that what happened?”
The demon nods. “I took the body of one of the participants in the ritual. I told them their Old Gods did not exist. They didn’t believe me. I showed them the cosmos as I’d seen it, back on the First Day. They couldn’t take it.”
“You killed them?”
She shook her head. “They’re blind and babbling. They spout equations they’ll never understand. They see stars burning and dying and exploding to burn again over and over again in their minds.” She turned away, towards the window over her shoulder. “It was too much. I should have simply escaped.”
My hand is in my pocket, the Medallion heavy in my fingers. One press to Angela’s forehead and the demon would be sent screaming back to Hell. Option A, here, was that I was fast enough to get it on her before she knew what was happening. In my experience, that rarely worked. That left Option B: I go for it, she tears out of her human meat-suit, and we fight on a plane 30,000 feet in the air with the lives of hundreds of innocents hanging in the balance.
Thankfully, there’s a third option, one I rarely take.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t see you.”
Angela blinks at me. So does Crowley.
“Crowley has your scent, now, and I’m going to take a lock of your hair. If anything ever seems off with you, we’ll come for you. Do you understand?”
Without a word, Angela reached under her hair, produced a pair of scissors from one of the cabinets, and clipped a lock, which she handed to me.
“Just stay out of trouble, all right?”
I pick up Crowley and walk back to my seat.
“That was uncharacteristically magnanimous.”
“Now you’re just showing off.”
“Azariel’s going to be pissed.”
“Maybe, but she’s not stupid. She’ll know a Nebiru on a plane’s no threat.”
The rest of the flight was quiet. And, wouldn’t you know it, Angela brought some free vodka to my seat along with another can of tomato juice.
I don’t get many good days on this job. I’ll take what I can get.