And you are in big trouble.
A short list of the people mad at you includes:
• All of Heaven
• Half of Hell
• The Lords of the Fay
• The Living
• The Dead
But why? What did you do? What's going on?
Since the beginning — the very beginning — the Court of Order and the Court of Chaos have maintained a fruitful relationship, Order supplying form, Chaos supplying raw energy and breaking the occasional undesired symmetry. Then, in the 13,748,053,013th year of time, for no good reason — in fact, for a very bad reason — Order and Chaos broke off relations. Time stopped, the physical universe disappeared, and every created being below the level of the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones lost its physical body, if it had one.
And they all blame you. Of course, you personally are just a very minor functionary in your Court. You didn't have anything to do with the Breakdown. Some of your best friends are in the other Court. It was as big a surprise to you as to anyone. But you're one of the local representatives (on Earth, your favorite planet for the last few centuries), so guess who the complaints come to? Now the Powers That Be have cobbled together a jerry-rigged continuum to serve for the duration of the crisis, and They say you have to keep it going.
It started when you got a phone call from Loois. You weren't near a phone but that made no difference. You heard one ringing and found a cell phone nearby. It was Loois. "Come over right away," he said. You said you were going to be leaving soon for his party, anyway. "Come now!" he said. "I don't want anyone to be late. Something major is gonna happen! Press the Send button." Then he hung up.
How unlike Loois to be in a rush. He's a Lord of Chaos and simply not connected to timetables. He is connected to Time, though; he's often prescient. You found the Send button on the phone and pressed it.
You appeared in Loois's apartment in Bermuda. You were standing inside the door, on a welcome mat with a pentagram hastily chalked on it. Loois stood in front of you, tall and gangly, a swirling mass of platinum blonde hair and beard covering most of his head. Out of this peered his eyes, one blue, one black. He was dressed in tuxedo and checked pants, clearly ready for the party. He hustled you off the pentagram, to vacate it for the next arrival.
Loois holds a party for every Session. At regular intervals, Order and Chaos meet to adjust their trade relationships. (Order does the scheduling, of course. Chaos brings the snacks; it's always pot luck.) Loois has had the last several Sessions on his television. Loois loves toys and gadgets; his apartment is littered with video games, jujus, mandalas, model planes and cars, astronomical models, anatomical models, power crystals, and lost folios. His toy collection includes a huge projection TV, multiple VCRs, DVD players and burners, satellite feeds, the works. You enter the TV room and behold a test pattern. This is replaced by a yin-yang, then a Tree of Life, then a medicine wheel.
While the TV sorts itself out, you look around the room and tally the other guests. That potted rose bush in the armchair must be Rosamund. At least, you can't think of any other reason to put a potted rose bush in the armchair. The perfectly articulated skeleton of a hadrosaur, somehow eating chips and dip, is Ethelraed, who really must do something about regenerating soon. He'd take up half the room if other guests couldn't get in under his ribcage. The dolphin is Marcia, of course. The perfect amethyst crystal as big as your leg, lying in front of the TV, is Essais. It really must be important, to get him out of the metamorphic strata. He hasn't done anything for ages except the basic clearance and writing cranky articles for the newsletter. Most of the others are humanoid. Land animals, anyway.
There are quite a few. A planet like Earth rates thirteen Lords of Order and about the same number of Chaos Lords (fourteen at the moment). As the last few guests come in from the pentagram, it becomes clear that all of them are here.
Talk dies away and you turn back to the TV screen. An angelisco of Gabriel is talking into its headset. It realizes it is on-screen, smiles brightly into the viewpoint, and nods to someone. The viewpoint cuts to the Session Assembly. The background is a misty, lacey web of light — the clusters of galaxies, pale golden against the dark, profound bas-red of the cosmic background radiation. In the foreground, Lords of Order and Chaos swirl by in flocks, the Order lords like geometrical assemblies of glassy bubbles, the Chaos lords like irridescent amoebae. The viewpoint zooms in to the spherical zone at the center, where the actual negotiation will take place.
Until now, you quite looked forward to this, because of the negotiators for this Session. Lord Ivollon came up on the duty roster of Order and Lord Asiras drew the lot for Chaos. Two more ardent partisans could not be found among either the Eight High Lords of Order or the Inside Gang of Chaos. Of course, over fifteen billion years, these two have met at Session many times before. It's always been fun to watch, if you can keep just a little detachment.
Normally, you would settle back and enjoy the repartee as they discuss the morphic fields and energy required by the Powers, then turn to the less important but more engaging domestic issues: objet d'art traded both ways, templates from Order for Chaos, and, going the other way, raw energy and luck (under the euphemism "luxury goods"; the high Lords of Order don't feel good planning should rely on luck).
But the Session has not caught Ivollon in a good mood. He talks about "irregularities" in past Sessions. Asiras denies this and soon is calling Ivollon a "redundant pedant." Soon, it degenerates into a slanging match. Phrases like "specious symmetry" and "meaningless deviation" are the least of them. Ivollon starts to storm out. Asiras extends a pseudopod to restrain him. The Order Lord shoves back with a flare of kinetic aura. Before you can quite make out what has happened, the elite guards of both sides — usually the merest ornamentation on these occasions — have lept in to defend their lords.
A star of pure light blazes out on one side of the screen. On the other, a swirling mass of color appears. It is Queen Themis and Queen Tyche themselves, both crying out for calm. They go unheeded. Energy bolts are now flying. There is a crashing sound. Themis screams. Scores of bolts converge at one point in the struggling mass, and bits of shimmering goo fly off in every direction.
Then the two sides draw back from each other. You can see glassy shards floating about, and an irridescent mess nearby. A grid formation of Order guards shapes up on one side; a mob of Chaotics appears on the other.
An announcer's voiceover comes on. Halting, stuttering, it announces that there appear to have been casualties, and that the Eight Lords and the Inside Gang are meeting right now, behind their respective ... well, battlelines. Another voice confirms that there have been two casualties, Lord Asiras, the Chaos representative, and Lord Voldar, a captain of the elite guard of Order and the Queen's favorite. Lord Asiras appears to be gravely injured but perhaps still ... existent. Lord Voldar appears to be... The announcer hestitates, groping for an appropriate word. Dead? No? Well... discontinued.
A roar of rage goes up from the Inside Gang. The Eight High Lords thunder in chilly chorus, "We hereby sever all relations with the Realm of Chaos." The two queens cry their objections above the clamour but are ignored.
You are roused from shock by a rumbling noise. Before you can get a good look out the window, though, the whole room drops into freefall, then evaporates. Soon, all of you are tumbling in a vacuum. There is no sign of anything but your fellow courtiers, the Sun, and the stars. Eight minutes later, the Sun goes out, leaving the stars. For the time being.
You hear one of the announcers sputtering about "unprecedented" and "apocalyptic." Looking around, you see that one of the few things left, and the main source of light, is the TV program. No TV, just the program, a picture floating in the void.
Someone with a bit of glamouring skill produces an apparent patch of floor and some ersatz gravity. People scramble onto it and look at each other. "What's that?" someone cries, pointing into the surrounding void.
There is nothing to be seen but much to be perceived. You soon realize there are many presences there. More and more come flocking around you, the only features present. Someone suggests that it is the souls — abruptly disembodied — of all the people and animals on Earth. "Are you sure that's all?" someone asks, and you realize there are mightier presences out there, too, approaching.
"Look!" Loois cries, pointing at the stand-alone TV picture. A pair of angels have appeared on the screen. You recognize them: Abdiel and Ithuriel, two very high-ranking seraphim. Behind them, rank after rank of angels appear. A human would expect shining, winged forms, perhaps with flaming swords. But that's just how militant angels occasionally appear. These are not bothering with appearances; these are raw essences of militant righteousness and much scarier.
Swiftly, two angels bracket each of the Eight and each Gangster. Each seizes the lord by the nearest handy chakra (which has got to hurt), then all three vanish. Soon, there is no sign of either group. The announcers, silent for the last few seconds, start up again. "It would appear that— That is, they've—" The viewpoint wobbles wildly and ends up pointing to the angelisco technician again. "Please, please, what's happened?" one of the announcers begs. The angelisco just stares levelly into the viewpoint and points. The viewpoint turns to show Abdiel approaching.
"The Eight High Lords of Order and the Inside Gang of Chaos have both been arrested," the seraph announces. "All of you will be contacted shortly. Wait." Then it vanishes. The picture winks out.
Everyone waits. It's hard to say for how long; some of you were wearing watches but they've all run down. You watch the bodiless throngs gathering in the dark. You ask one another if anyone remembers anything like this ever happening before.
Then the Sun comes back on. Moments later, the Earth reappears. You are about fifty miles above the Pacific Ocean.
You have a terrible time getting home.
When you arrive, you find Unturvo waiting for you. He's manifesting as human, more or less. He is tall, thin, and elegant. His skin is chalk white, his robe and hair are night black, and his eyes are red. You haven't seen him in a very long time. He's one of the Seven Elders, metaphysicals akin to the Lords of Order and Chaos. But the rumor is that the Seven are as powerful as either Court with all their myriad lords together. "Come with me," he says, so you come.
The world — or what looked like the world — fades away around you. You follow Unturvo through dark and swirling silence to a door. On the other side is a vast and elegant ballroom, but no one in it is dancing.
There are all your fellows. In fact, from the way they are looking about, just as you are, all of you seem to have arrived this very moment. Well, Unturvo can certainly pull tricks like that — he's a subtle personification, and part of what he represents is Time. You spot Essais, now looking like an amethyst statue. Ethelraed has shrunk considerably and put some flesh on his bones. Rosamund is now a woman-shaped topiary of twisted branches, roses and leaves spilling down her back as hair. All three of them are clearly regenerating in desperate haste. Marcia has left off being a dolphin entirely and is now a young woman in a swim suit.
The rest of the Elders are here, too. Nadra stands listening to a High Elven lord, who is expostulating to her in icy tones. She looks like a stately young woman, with the white skin and black hair of her brother. Her eyes are black, too. She wears a red robe embroidered with green braiding, and a necklace of many colors. Her domain is life forces. With a shock, you recognize the elf as Lord Alvirin, High King of Faerie. Looking around the room, you see most of the other guests are fays.
The Four Stavvas sit in four chairs at the edge of the dance floor, in identical poses, sipping from coffee mugs in perfect synchrony. They are wrapped in silvery, cowled robes, showing no hint of hand or face. They appear to be listening to a very angry dwarf lord, who stands before a crowd of similar dwarves, speaking for them. The Stavvas, famously indistinguishable, are the Elders who rule natural forces. They are closely allied with Order.
Nearby sits Goss, the seventh and youngest-looking Elder. She looks like a little girl of about ten, in sparkling white tunic and hose. She has the white skin and black hair of her "family" and eyes of silver. Right now, she is kicking her heels, looking very sulky, while a cloud of pixies buzzes about her. Three perch on her knees, yammering at her. She looks about two ticks away from brushing them to the floor and maybe stamping on them. She is said to be the inventor of luck and a close friend of Tyche, Queen of Chaos.
Untervo raises his hands and you all turn to him. "I have brought you here to give you some information." Dead silence. Then a voice ventures, "Don't you usually ... charge for information?"
"Don't worry," he answers. "You'll be paying."
"Both your governments," he continues, "have been arrested, tried by the Celestial Court, and released. In a piece of insolence I can hardly believe, neither side is willing to resume relations despite direct orders from the Four Lives and the Seven Archangels."
"Then why did the Earth come back?" someone asks.
"I'll get to that. Your governments unbent far enough to offer conditions. Chaos wants Lord Asiras restored to consciousness; apparently, a great deal of him got splattered about in the fight, and he's in a persistent coma. Order wants Lord Voldar continued."
"Continued?" asks the same voice — apparently someone who hasn't heard about the costs of asking Unturvo questions.
"Resumed. Revived. Resurrected. Whatever. His consciousness has not only been separated from his manifestation, but also from his theme." A low murmur runs through the group. Such a thing has not happened to a lord of either court, so far as you can remember. It is as like death as you can imagine getting, short of annihilation.
"The Celestial Court told them they could fulfill the conditions between themselves. They released your lords specifically to let them work at that. The Court recommended they cooperate in the endeavor. And told them they had used up just about all the mercy they had coming.
"Meanwhile — in so far as there is any meanwhile with space and time disarrayed like this — the Powers, Virtues, and Dominations have stepped in. That's why you saw the Earth come back. The angels of nature are trying to do the work of your Courts. Trying. It's not their job. There will be problems. You are supposed to help out."
"What kind of problems? Help out how?"
Unturvo shakes his head. "If I knew what kind of problems, I would charge you very high for the information. And you help any way you can. Go back to your posts, and keep an eye out. Go."
He waves you back out the door. You step back into the nullity. You glimpse a cluster of baggy, tentacled shapes — lords of Chaos and Order posted to some other planet — on their way in for their turn at the briefing. Casting a glance back, you see the ballroom and the fays fade away as the Elders shift to another manifestation. Then the dark closes in and you blunder your way home.