In many languages “angel” is translated as “messenger,” but this isn’t quite so. An angel is not a messenger; an angel is a message. At times, I think we are even less; not messages but memoranda -- reminders He writes to Himself. He forgets nothing because what He forgets has never been.
Imagine being omnipresent. You go nowhere you haven’t been. Everywhere you go, there you are already. Now, think of being omnichronant. You’re not just everywhere; you’re every when. No instant in time but has you there and this makes every instant one. Since I am giving you gifts, let me make you omnipotent too. There is nothing you cannot do. What is it You want? To escape, I think.
You make a universe, maybe more than one, and have it pretend it isn’t You, and that each second is unique and separate. You make places act as if they too are unique. Lights you make and, more important, shadows. You wonder who would live so constrained, leaping from one moment to the next, limited to one place at a time. Because it is You wondering, they are there already, thinking they’ve always been.
Compared to Your awful soldidity, though, the universe floats like the ghost of a bubble. Should You forget anything about it, should you change Your mind, the universe will change. But, providently, you’ve taken steps to prevent this. Your universe comes with notes on the things You mustn’t forget. Each note is an angel.
The Angel of Fire reminds You that things burn. The Angel of Death is a note saying “Things die.” Metraton, the terrible angel of knowledge, the angel of the Law, is a fearful whisper “Don’t erase what You have written!”
There are lesser angels, too, and angels whose meaning none but You know. There is an angel who insists there are ravens, and another who says there was a particular raven ten thousand years ago. There is an angel for every day of the week, except Friday, which has four angels who hate each other.
There are those in Your worlds who think angels don’t hate. They are wrong. The smallest part of infinity is infinite, and as You hate, as You love, as You are and are not, so too Your angels. The limited creatures who are only in one place and one moment at a time tell stories to beguile themselves. One is so common that those they deem learned have given the tale a name: the Deus Otiosus; the God Who Doesn’t Care. It is a story about a God who has moved on, leaving only His Shadow.
Angels make drafts on the infinite, but such infinities as belong to them are as nothing compared to Shadow, and Shadow is next to nothing compared to You who cast him. So, in the story, Shadow rules Your universe but even he does not know where You are, or if You’ll return. All things certain have become makeshift; the eternal has become provisional.
What You forget has never been. What Shadow forgets may remember itself. If You are Shadow, the four angels of Friday might each have had his own day, when the week’s role was counted on a man’s fingers and none left over. Friday would then belong to the realm of confusion, as each of its angels tried to deliver its message.
This, though, is just a story the men tell.
There was a city in Your world which had grown up where two streams which thought themselves rivers met. It had streets so wide that seven sheep could walk side by side on them – eight if the sheep had fed poorly that season or were particularly fond of each other. It had buildings a full three stories high, with flat roofs where people would come at night to talk or sleep or watch the Moon, which was much esteemed there. So great was the city that it had at least two or three of every profession, so that one could choose between the scribe who had a booth in the market and his brother who lived by the gate and never woke before noon. There was a toothpuller to pull the other toothpuller’s teeth when they troubled him. A very great city indeed, and one which had, as was fitting, an angel whose task was to remind You that You had caused it to be.
There is an answer to the old question of “how many angels can dance upon the head of a pin?”, and it is “all of them that are or ever were or ever will be.” In their natural state, angels have location but no mass, no volume, no substance. An angel normally hangs somewhere between a being and a concept. We could all be in one place, be our numbers without limit. (There is only one thing, though, without limit).
But what if we wished to play music for our dance? A location cannot blow a flute nor bang a drum. To do so a body must be made, which is easy enough. I or any angel can make a body out of whatever is handy; condensed air being the material most commonly chosen. I have made myself bodies of fire and bodies of ice. When I walked out of a dying city, those few who saw me following, I had made myself from memory and hope. It is hard to make a body from shadows; I was the first to do so. Afterwards, there grew up a sort of competition over who could make a body of the most recalcitrant materials. Angels went out made of smoke, of dreams, of Time. The angel who slew my city made himself from despair, and he was glorious and terrible to see.
In time, some few angels find they are uncomfortable without a body. We envy those to whom gravity applies; we want to make, to do, and not just to praise and carry messages.
I’ve wondered if a supremely sensitive instrument could be built; its user would patiently wait until the instant he’d say “Now you are faithful … and now you have rebelled.” For an angel who decides to make things has set himself up as God’s rival.
An angel who has not rebelled is full of joy. I watched my city burning for nine days, and recorded the name of every living thing who died there. Afterwards, my joy was unbearable to me.