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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey

Herzog's Benediction

Herzog's media empire had made him rich and his wealth had made him the biggest landowner in Nevada. His building project lasted for years, and the vast, networked device he was creating spread across millions of desert acres like a Biblical plague. When Herzog threw the switch to power up his new machine, a hundred million prayer wheels began spinning in unison, sending his good wishes to Heaven, smoothing the way for the death that even his fortune, he knew, couldn't postpone forever.

To Herzog's surprise, his prayers were answered. He'd only hoped that his gesture would buy him some goodwill when he finally reached the pearly gates. Imagine Herzog's surprise when he looked into the sky one morning and saw dozens of angels holding up trumpets, flowers and fiery swords, circling his desert home. The sheer weight of his mechanical prayers had hit Heaven like a tsunami and the angels had come to take him away immediately, an unexpected saint of the machine age.

Though he protested that he was no saint, the angels simply smiled at his modesty, crowning him with flowers and lifting him on their wings to take him to the special region of Heaven reserved for mortals so saintly that they'd been called up before death. Of course, Herzog was no saint. He was already a sick man, and Heaven's thin air and high altitude, combined with a steady diet of wine and sweet ambrosia, killed him in just over two weeks. The alarmed angels did their best to save him, even sealing his soul inside his decaying body so that it wouldn't get loose and wander off while they worked out what had gone wrong. All Herzog could do was lie there and watch through dead eyes as the angels discussed his fate. Gradually he could see their attitude toward him change, as it began to dawn on them that they'd been tricked by a mortal.

One evening, the angels flew out of the palace all at once. Through the windows, Herzog could see souls flooding into Heaven. He knew immediately what was happening: Armageddon. The furious angels were killing off the human race because of Herzog's treachery. He watched the end of the world through foggy, cataracted eyes.

When they were done, the angels took Herzog's desiccated corpse, propped him up in a storage room, and forgot about him. Years went by. Herzog waited for the final judgement and his inevitable damnation to Hell. But nothing happened. Angels came and went, retrieving jars of wine, replacing shields, stacking the room with old furniture. Herzog wondered if he'd already entered Hell or if he'd been forgotten by both God and Satan, and which possibility he dreaded more.


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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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