Disclaimer: Good Omens belongs, of course, to the wonderful Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
A/N: I should probably warn that this fic probably won't contain Aziraphale/Crowley (yes, I know, commence the stoning of the blasphemer). Future chapters posted in my Livejournal will contain smut, but I'll be cutting these NC-17 bits from the version posted here.
As he walked into the ballroom of the Hotel Postmodernista Dr. Raven Sable surveyed the assembled guests and smiled. The marketing people really had pulled it off this time. Around the large and delightfully minimalist space milled various emissaries of the media, diet industry and fashion world, along with various British A-list D-Plan devotees: mostly, beautiful, mostly glamorous and – most importantly of all – mostly thin. There were a few faces that didn't fit, of course, a small assortment of sceptics and detractors from the field of nutritional research, whom his top PR woman had advised him to invite for the sake of appearing open, honest and reasonable. They didn't bother Sable; he knew that when it came to forming opinions most people valued celebrity, style and an honest, open face over such tedious things as reasoned argument and empirical evidence. Besides, if it came down to it, his legal people were more than capable of handling 'slanderous allegations'. The last expert nutrition specialist to blast the D-Plan as 'little more than pseudo-scientifically validated anorexia' was currently bankrupt and having severe difficulty getting so much as a high school teaching post.
Smiling, he gave a friendly wave to the health editor of Beauty Today, who was conversing with an emaciated brunette in shoes that cost more than the average UK resident made in six months, before turning his attention to the stage that had been erected at the centre of the room. To its side was a poster board depicting Dr. Sable's visage and emblazoned with the words 'D-Plan Version 2: Slim Yourself to the Next Level'.
"What do you think?" enquired a jovial and ever so slightly inebriated voice from behind him.
He turned to face a tall, youngish-looking man with dark blonde hair, fair skin who, though slim, projected an unfortunate air of well-nourished vitality. Sable recognised him immediately as Richard Broughton, the assistant deputy director of Voltage Advertising: a London firm renowned for its willingness to teeter on the borders of illegality, sojourn to the realms of extreme poor taste and brush aside any and all notion of morality, professional ethics and basic humanity, in the name of flogging overpriced and wholly unnecessary items to the gullible masses. As a general rule Sable tended to leave the nitty-gritty of publicity to other members of the Newtrition corporate family, enabling him to concentrate what one might call the 'core values' of the business; but after hearing about how sales of a particular brand of herbicide had shot through the roof ever since Voltage had launched a high profile campaign featuring several convicted war criminals and the slogan 'Flowerfield's Fungal Annihilatior: For When You Need a Weapon of Moss Destruction', he'd known that getting these guys on board with the UK promotion of the D-Plan Version 2 would mean no tiresome conscience soothing about some of the books more controversial weight loss methods.
"It's a great turnout," Sable said. It was true; he was certain that never before had so many rich, famous and influential people turned up in one place to support wholesale starvation. It was really quite delightful. "You people have done amazing job here, Rich."
The man beamed. "Well, truth be told, we only had to mention your name and practically every fashion model this side of Milan was begging for an invite. Don't think I've ever seen so many members of the press turn up to celebrate a book release."
"Millions of people want to learn how to eat less and I want to help them to do it."
"I'd say you're doing pretty damned well. Even the new Atkins hasn't caused half the buzz that you have. Of course, the deaths of those seven women at that weight loss club in Dorset have raised a few heads, so we might want to work on assuring everybody how safe the new D-Plan is. But I'm assuming that your legal people are working on getting everything tidied up with as few negative column inches as possible. Mind you, I've heard that the silly cows were taking some kind of illegal diet pill as well. Made them digest their own stomachs or something." The man shook his head gave a small laugh, though as he said the word 'digest' there was at once a certain fidgetyness about him, as though he'd suddenly recalled something – like the fact that he hadn't eaten for over nine hours. "Some people just can't do moderation, can they?"
Sable returned the laugh. Moderation indeed. If he had to name to the greatest threat to his mission, his purpose for being it would be that. In times of drought there was, to his mind, nothing more disappointing than a carefully thought out stock-pile of non-perishables that the community had set aside in better times. It was just as disheartening to see men, women and children opting to shed the pounds by adopting a sensible nutrition-rich diet and getting regular exercise. Fortunately for Sable, humans didn't tend to be very good at moderation. They almost seemed to be programmed for excess. Even Richard Broughton, with his obvious careful eating and workout plans had a predilection for heavy drinking and cocaine binges. The toxification of the human body might not have been his specific domain of expertise, so to speak, but he possessed a great appreciation for the little chemical reactions that could lay waste to it. The diet pills, he felt, were testament to this. Not only did the pills contain seventeen types of appetite suppressant, they were also laced beautiful little concoction that if taken at the right quantity caused irreparable damage to the digestive tract and reduced the ability to absorb any nutrients from the food one might consume to a level that was around fifteen percent of that needed to sustain life.
"You got the outline of the proposed ad campaign, I hope," said Richard, stomach giving a loud rumble, as he patted his jacket pockets in what Sable knew to be a search for that SNACKS Bar(TM) he was certain he should have on him.
"I like what you've done with the before and after shots."
"Well, rather than get some actual before and after pictures of fat women who've slimmed down to an average weight, we thought that it would look better if we got a few snaps of some really average women and paired them with a bunch of models with similar hair. That way we wouldn't just be limiting the message to, you know, the chronically obese. They may be a growing market, so to speak, but they do make up less that fifty percent of the population."
Sable cracked a smile. It was so pleasant to encounter people who almost grasped what he was trying to do: even if they were thinking in terms of pounds sterling rather than pounds of flesh. "I like the way you think."
Richard, whose hunger fuelled state of distractibility was fast going from moderate to raging, returned the smile in a distinctly jittery fashion. "Do you want to address the crowd now?" he asked, quite obviously hoping for an opportunity to sneak off for a few moments and locate the nearest vole-au-vent (which, being supplied by the Newtrition Company, contained fewer digestible nutrients than your average table lamp).
Taking a brief visual sweep of the all the groups of thin, pretty young things scattered about the room, he nodded and headed towards the stage from which he intended to lead the diet industry into new era of extreme weight loss.
As he ascended the platform, a multitude of large eyes, set in too-gaunt faces, fixed reverently upon him. He could feel the gnawing pangs of radiating from them. Giving them an amicable, Doctor Knows Best smile he stood before the microphone and gave it a small tap. The resultant crackling that resonated through the room put him in mind of that ever so pleasing sound of bone grinding against bone.
The chattering that had filled the room a second ago instantly ceased.
After five seconds of quiet, in which the only sounds that filled the room were that of dozens of bellies protesting their emptiness, he began to speak.
"Hello everybody. As you probably know I'm Doctor Raven Sable, creator – or as I like to think of myself, 'the facilitator' – of D Plan dieting. The D Plan, as I'm sure many of you realise, is not just a simple weight loss plan: it's a life style. It's a decision to say 'I don't' to wreckless over-indulgence and 'I do' to restraint and self-betterment."
There was a yell of something that sounded like. "That's complete bollocks," from a middle-aged woman whose form was that of somebody who spent an unpalatable amount of time consuming fresh, nutritionally balanced foods.
Utterly unfazed, he gave a congenial laugh. "Well, I see there are a few critics here tonight."
A polite titter ran through the audience.
"Don't worry, I intend to fully outline the scientific basis for some of the more controversial aspects of the latest revisions to the D-Plan. In fact I think there are a couple of-"
He suddenly ceased speaking when a man from one of the major tabloids, who was presently standing near the foot of the stage, loudly and with what most people would probably feel to be disproportionate anger, accused a well-known actor of stealing his packet of extra strong mints.
The actor, who had until that point been quietly sipping the no-calorie champagne that the guests were being served, paused for a few moments, looking understandably confused. He then, without warning, proceeded to calmly pour the contents of the champagne glass over his accuser.
The response of the irate journalist to this further outrage was to deliver a swift punch to the actor's famous jaw.
As said actor was sent sprawling to the floor, his wife, a petit woman, famed for her elegant sense of style and demure nature, yelled a string of expletives and launched herself at her husband's attacker.
After a few moments of startled inaction a few members of the audience bravely stepped forward and attempted to prevent the woman from clawing the tabloid purveyor of celebrity gossip's eyes out. Alas, when one would-be peace keeper accidentally trod on the foot of another a second – and no less vigorous – altercation erupted.
When several more well-meaning individuals stepped into the fray they too were somehow swept up into the tide of violence.
Within the space of half a minute the ballroom of the Hotel Posterdernista became the site of an anarchic full-scale ground war.
For his part, Sable merely remained where he was on the stage and watched the scene unfold with an expression of mild amusement, eyes searching for something amongst the melee. He eventually spotted what he was looking for: a red-haired female-figure in a scarlet evening dress moving easily through the battling bodies.
A thin smile met full-lipped blood-red one.
"I wasn't expecting to see you here," he said, as she neared. "Wouldn't have thought it was your scene."
She gave a laugh that was at once both deeply dangerous and alarmingly enticing. Around her the fighting seemed to become just that little bit more frenzied
"Oh you know me, just about anywhere can be my scene," she said, as she stepped up onto the stage, and stood beside Sable.
After taking a moment to survey the pitched battle that was going on between two groups of medical professionals near to the emergency exit, she turned to look at him.
"And you always know how to set the right kind of scene. They're all mad with hunger."
He snorted, Carmine did seem to like to taking up residence in his playgrounds and he in hers. Nothing like War to cause a really spectacular food shortage, and nothing like Famine to lead to a truly beautiful bloodbath.
"You've always been quite the show woman."
"You're too discrete. A small Middle East skirmish can make the evening news on the other side of the world, but you have to have millions dropping of starvation before any of your work gets mentioned before the football results."
"We don't do it for the publicity. Though it is always nice to have one's work recognised. Besides, that's only true of the more traditional methods. Over here you get a few teenage girls who manage to follow their weight loss plan to its natural conclusion and the whole country's momentarily up in arms."
"Well, I suppose that there is something to be said for attracting as little attention as possible. Too much talk and they tend to start wondering if there's anything they could do resolve the situation."
The both laughed. It was the kind of good-humoured chuckle you got when two long-time colleagues engaged in a bit of workplace banter.
"What brings you here, anyway?" asked Sable, as Carmine took a SNACK (TM) bar from her pocket and hurtled it into the middle of the melee. You could hear bones cracking as a tide of starving couture-clad combatants dived for the nutrient-devoid treat. "Entertaining as this little fracas is, I know you've got bigger things up your sleeve."
For half a second the buoyant and thoroughly dangerous grin on her face was disrupted by a flicker of uncertainty.
"It's the new boy," she said.
Sable gave her a quizzical look. "What about him?"
"He's stopped working."
Sable raised an eyebrow. Somewhere in the background a battle-crazed supermodel gave a berserker yell and proceeded to savagely assault two fashion editors with a pointy-healed Gucci sandal. "What do you mean, 'stopped working'. There's nothing to stop him. It's not like old Pestilence and those antibiotics. The potential for pollution is stronger than ever."
"The potential's there, yes. But he's not doing anything with it. Over the last two months recycling laws have been passed in eighty countries, research into cleaner energy has shown signs of rapid progression and CO2 emissions went down."
That was…. strange. The three lesser Horseperson's of the apocalypse were their function: Famine brought famine, War brought war and Pollution brought pollution. If they stopped doing what they were they wouldn't be them anymore.
"Perhaps he's planning something big," Sable suggested.
Carmine didn't seem convinced. "But your work in sub-Saharan Africa didn't stop when you decided to branch out into other areas and I've got interests all over the globe. The kid's just ceased to function."
Sable frowned. He wasn't sure what this meant, but he was certain that it didn't bode well. If one of them had just stopped without reason then they were in unknown territory and that was… unsettling.
"What do you think we should do?" he said.
"I think that you should find him and find out what's going on."
"You've worked with him more than I have."
This was true. War and Pollution were often connected, but rarely made appearances that directly coincided.
"What about Azrael?"
A grey clad figure, whom had been present, but not noticeable, all along, suddenly shifted into the foreground.
THIS ISN'T COVERED BY MY JURISTICTION. WHAT WILL BE WILL BE.
The antithesis to creation then went back to what he'd been doing, fading to the edges of even his fellow Horseperson's perception.
Well, that certainly sorted that one out.
"I suppose I could fit it in sometime early next week between my book signing in Manchester and the trip to South America. However, I'm not sure what exactly I could do if he's been… compromised somehow."
Carmine looked almost nervous at this. Sable was certain that his expression betrayed a similar level of near-anxiety. "We have to more information about what the problem is before we attack it."
He gave a nod of agreement. "True."
Having obtained the response that she was quite clearly aiming for, Carmine went back to surveying the pitched battle that was currently raging between the newly formed PR Agent-Supermodel Coalition and Actor-Broadsheet Columnist Alliance. The initial source of their dispute was a bottle of orange juice, which had now been seized and consumed by a wily member of the Tabloid Reporter Axis. However the permanent displacement of their object of contention seemed to do nothing to quell the all consuming rage that seemed to have enveloped them all.
Sable couldn't help but be rather entertained by it all. It seemed that once you'd seen red you truly couldn't stop.
"So what are your plans for the evening?" he asked his compatriot.
"Well, I thought I might find a cosy little bar and watch the evening unfold."
He chuckled. "I think I know the perfect restaurant."
As Famine and War left the ballroom, concern about their co-Horseperson temporarily put aside (though not entirely forgotten), few of the combatants noticed them leave. Neither of them minded this. It just demonstrated how consumed the humans were with hunger and wrath.
The Demon Formerly Known as Crawly was, unlike Sable and Carmine, most emphatically, not having an entertaining evening at all.
He was currently driving out of London at speeds in excess of two-hundred miles an hour and engaging in dark fantasies about Hell's civil servants and a high-pressure holy water canon.
Things had started off badly at five thirty-five pm when the director of a major telecoms company, with whom he'd been working with to help create a new mobile phone tariff system that would induce low grade wrath on a massive scale, had called to let him know that he wouldn't be able to continue with their joint project owing to the fact that he'd decided to give away all his worldly possessions and devote his life to working with orphaned chimpanzees in Borneo.
He knew he couldn't blame Aziraphale for that one. His angelic associate and sort-of-if-he-was-being-really-honest-with-himself best friend was currently in Moscow. Officially, the ex-Angel of the Eastern Gate was a mission to sway a few minor politicians away from the path of bribery and corruption and towards the road of public spirited moral uprightness. However, Crowley couldn't help but suspect that the fact that the visit would correspond with the auctioning off of the contents of a rather extensive private library was more than a pleasant coincidence.
Alas, humans had that infuriating yet wonderful tendency to leap from extremes of utter self-absorbtion to complete self-sacrifice and back and forth again, without a hint of divine or diabolic intervention.
Still, his night might just have been salvageable if, during the middle of a broadcast about declining standards in inner city schools, famed newsreader Sir Trevor MacDonald had not turn to face the camera and, with the voice of one of the Seventh Circle's more minor bureaucrats, instructed him on pain of pain to head for the Devonshire town of Willowholme for what promised to be a gruelling and highly unproductive one-on-one temptation.
He blessed as a lorry carrying several tonnes of petrol cut pulled out in front of him, forcing him to sharply break in order to avoid fiery and extremely inconvenient discorporation. Being in an already infuriated mood, he blinked and vindictively transmuted the vehicles cargo into slurry.
It was, the former Serpent of Eden was decided, going to be a G- bloody awful week.
The Cat & Mouse Inn was always quiet on a Thursday evening. It was - with the exception of quiz nights, which could sometimes get a bit out of hand - never the most raucous of establishments; but Thursday nights tended to be especially uneventful. Tonight there was just the barmaid behind the bar, the barmaid's best friend perched on a bar-stool, a group of five middle aged men at the table next to the pool table and a pale young man in white clothing sitting quietly in the corner next to the coal fire.
The men by the pool table talked about the abysmal performance of the local rugby team.
The barmaid talked animatedly about a recent local scandal involving the town mayor, three suitcases of stolen fetish gear and a goat, whilst her friend punctuated the monologue with the occasional throaty laugh and wry aside
All of them however seemed unable to keep from taking occasional sideways glances at the figure next the fire. There was a distinct, if somewhat idle, curiosity as to who the strange and oddly pretty creature was.
The attention, though by no means intensive, surprised him.
White was used to people paying little attention to him. He was the perpetual lab assistant working away in the background, the easily overlooked technician that quietly did his job and rarely received so much as a second glance. Even when the litter danced at his feet and he poured the bleach into the river, the denouncements were usually brief and quickly forgotten. He was so rarely the centre of focus for anything but a fleeting moment. Invisibility was, when it came down to it, a rather useful trait for an entity of his function to have. Pollution was, after all, always most effective when you didn't notice it until too late, so it was perfectly logical that its embodiment should reflect this.
Of course, things had changed lately.
Eight weeks ago the personification of Pollution had watched as eight mega-tonnes of toxic waste was ditched into the middle of the Indian Ocean and had felt an enormous sense of… absolutely nothing. There had been no excitement as the fail-safe containment systems had failed, no build up of pleasure as the nineteen-syllabled chemicals had started to seep out, no orgasmic rush as three-quarters of the marine life in a thirty-mile radius was wiped out and no sense of post-coital satisfaction as he abandoned ship and looked back on the aquatic wasteland that he'd left in his wake.
Pollution had, quite simply, taken a look at his function experienced an overwhelming sense of 'So what'. Why on earth did he care about whether the rainforest was destroyed or whether carbon emissions increased or whether there was a breach in containment and some nuclear power station? The only reason for him to care was because it was his function to care, his function to embody environmental destruction. If he started to question it then there was, well, nothing there. No extrinsic reason why it should matter to him should the sight of a burned forest or poisoned reservoir to cease to have any aesthetic appeal.
He'd thought, during the milliseconds following this realisation that he, on entering this state of sudden and total apathy, would simply cease to exist.
Alas, the fact was that he hadn't.
He had sprung from the minds of men and could never be destroyed as long as he existed there. Pestilence, had, after all, merely retired when he'd felt the teeth of obsoletion at his heels. He had not faded from existence. The striking difference between Pestilence and Pollution however, was that Pestilence still revelled in his role, even if he had stepped back from full-time personification and developed other interests, owing to a decrease in pestilence potential. Pollution on the other hand still had, quite literally, all the potential in the world.
A throat cleared next to him. "Have you finished with that?"
White looked up to see the barmaid pointing at the half-empty pint of cider he'd had in front of him for nearly four hours now. Had either Sable of Carmine seen him at this moment, they would have been startled and disturbed by the continued cleanliness of the glass and absence of litter around the table.
He gave a shrug.
She regarded him with a questioning expression for a few moments before heading over to the table where the group of men sat. He heard one of the men make a comment that involved the phrase 'what the hell is he doing' to which the barmaid replied 'he seems a bit strange, but he's not caused any trouble yet'.
Without any further action he returned, with what could only be described as an empty feeling, to his reverie.
Existential crises are never easy to deal with; but when you possess objective certainty that your existence is utterly devoid of meaning, they're that much more difficult.