art by Shane M. Gavin
by Tina Connolly
Five Angels sat around the outdoor table with its tall glasses of agave nectar, each with its aloe spear. It was a four-sided table, and Angel Jerome was the loser of the unconscious display of precedence, being stuck in a bulky armed chair that would not scoot into his allotted bit of corner table. He tried to look as though he didn't mind, though he was shorter (and slighter) than the rest, and had to lean past Angel displays of bronze-muscled arms and diamond-gold wings to get his drink.
He thought holding onto his drink might give him confidence, but the iced drink was wet in the heat, and it left an uncomfortable stain on his upper thigh.
The discussion was of the treatment of organslaves, as usual. They were at Angel Merusha's plantation, and he owned gobsmacking acres of that cash crop, tobacco. "I have found that they respond very well to humiliation," he said. "I've made them worship me, so that my slightest disappointment whips them to greater effort."
"But do you ever try rewards?" said Angel Hestain. "That's really the thing, you know. A promised visit to Angel Ruth's brothel will keep them harvesting wheat at twice their usual speed."
"Reward all you like," said Angel Samuel, "But there's nothing better than old-fashioned fear."
"No, no, worship," said Angel Merusha. "See, look at them now."
They turned and looked at the plantation where a hundred copies of Angel Merusha, each as tall, strong, and buff as he (but minus the wings, naturally) worked diligently over the rows of waving tobacco leaves. Three organslaves stood at a respectful distance, fanning the Angels, and another one stood partway down the lawn, chopping at a large block of wood.
"What is he doing? said Angel Samuel. "You shouldn't allow them to have weapons."
"No, no," said Angel Merusha. "They are making a statue of me. It was their own idea. A little broader in the shoulders," he called out.
"You may be onto something," said Angel Oliver. "How exactly do you inspire worship again?"
"Random punishment," said Angel Merusha, leaning forward. "Your bed is flooded, or mosquitoes fill the sleeping house, or simply you are made an example of on some hot sticky afternoon. When you don't know where plagues are coming from, your respect shoots up, because you can do nothing to pacify it."
"So, fear then," said Angel Jerome before he thought.
The four Angels turned to examine him as though he were a louse on an organslave.
"So you're the new kid that Angel Hestain invited," said Angel Merusha. "To hobnob with the top of Angel society." He sucked the aloe from his spear, tossed it over his shoulder to a waiting organslave. "Angel Samuel has 85 organslaves to work his ranch. Angel Oliver has 110 for his cotton plantation. I myself have just commissioned five more to bring me up to 92. And you have exactly how many organslaves?"
Angel Jerome swallowed. He could feel his Adam's apple bobbing in a ridiculously fearful motion. "Eight," he said.