Originally posted in The Fool’s Motley Issue 1, 2003

Deep in the nether planes, in a sub-sub-basement of existence, a very junior demon trudged through the frosty streets of Hell. He wore a standard-issue student imp’s uniform, a dull black jumpsuit complete with decorative tail. His long, dark hair was pulled back in a formal pony-tail. Except for the glowing red eyes, is thin, elongated, beardless face could almost have passed for human, although there was something distinctly bat-like about the nose.

The precinct commander had a flair for the theatrical, and prided himself on his attention to detail. This area, which housed mostly junior demons assigned to planet Earth, was designed to mimic a run-down
warehouse district in a large Earth city. It was dominated by huge gray, crumbling buildings, realistically coated with grime and peeling paint. The perpetually leaden sky overhead proclaimed that it was “always winter, and never Christmas.” Occasionally the commander indulged in his hobby of weather-making: his tastes ran largely to fog, freezing rain, and sooty snow.

A marrow-freezing wind gusted around a corner, stirring up dust and debris from the filthy street. Mosca shivered and wrapped his leathery wings tighter around his frail body. He didn’t mind so much being required to manifest in this humanoid form, nor even that he had to walk instead of flying or simply slipping through the ethereal planes. But the human form carried with it human senses, and Mosca lacked
sufficient substance to ward off the cold. He needed to eat, and soon.

Mosca had only the faintest memories of long-ago Paradise, before he was enticed by the Dark Prince’s
promises into joining the ill-fated rebellion. Free education, chances for advancement – “Be all you can
be.” It was heady stuff for a low-level angel whose biggest assignment up to then had been guarding a
particular patch of mold from an invading bacteria colony.

He snorted in disgust. Oh, yes, the education was free, all right. Except for supporting yourself while
you were studying. Except for the “gifts” expected by the instructors. Except for taxes or tribute that
could be demanded of any junior demon by any senior. After all, “might makes right.” For eons he had
alternated between whatever grunt work he could get, and giving up portions of his substance to grafting
instructors and bullies, until he was wasted away to little more than a shadow. And for what? What good
was all his hard work at gaining an education, when preference for jobs went to incompetents like Earwig?

Earwig. The very name was gall and ashes in his mouth. Earwig, that obsequious, parasitical toady
with the brain of a maggot and the persistence of a mayfly, whose only talents were flattery and
hypocrisy. Earwig, who wormed his way into the dean’s good graces, who managed to get other students to do most of his work, who never cracked a book but was always ready to party. Of course his clan connections helped. Earwig was automatically part of the “in” group, while Mosca, a nobody, was doomed forever as an outsider, no matter how hard he worked.

Bitterly, Mosca recalled the graduation ceremonies. The whole class had worn dress reds, complete with
horned helmets and ceremonial pitchforks. The dean, twice as tall as any of the graduates, and so bloated
with extorted substance that he looked like a giant tomato, had given the farewell address. After
exhorting the graduates to go forth and win territory for the glory of the Dark Prince, he began reading off the honors and awards. A lieutenant from the commander’s personal staff then followed with assigned

“Anthrax. Honor roll, three quarters. High marks in guile and deceit, specialist in European and North American politics.”

“Anthrax,” the lieutenant echoed. “Assigned as an adjutant to General Zagiel’s command.”

“Skunkweed. Explosives and chemical weapons specialist. The Baraquel special prize for original

“Skunkweed. Chemical warfare unit, the 39th legion under General Balam.”

“Earwig.” The dean hesitated. “Well, we’re all fond of Earwig, and we’re delighted that he’s finally graduating.”

“Earwig. Report to 23rd precinct, sub-sector J, human resources office for further training and
posting as an apprentice personal demon.”

There was a quickly suppressed collective gasp of surprise amongst the students. Even the dean looked
startled. Awarding one of the coveted personal demon positions to an inexperienced new graduate was almost unheard of, especially a graduate with Earwig’s qualifications, or lack of them. His clan superiors
must have done some elaborate string-pulling. The thought on every graduate’s mind was, “What does
Earwig have on whom, and how can I pull off the same thing?”

The dean pulled himself together and continued. “Mosca. High marks in all subjects, honor roll every quarter, the Medici Memorial Award for excellence in human biology and poisons, and Dean’s
Special Medal of Honor for his final thesis on Exploitation of Human Psychology. Quite a performance
for a clanless student who had to work his way through. An example the rest of you would do well to
follow.” He looked sternly at the assembled group, most of whom avoided his gaze.

Mosca glowed with the unaccustomed praise as he waited anxiously for his assignment.

The lieutenant shuffled through his papers. He looked a bit embarrassed. The silence grew. There were
scattered, muffled snickers from the graduates. Finally he said, “There, uh, seems to have been a
clerical error. I don’t have any listing for that name.” He smiled briefly. “I’m sure it can be
straightened out. In the meantime, you’ll report to the general labor pool. They’ll find you something,
I’m sure.”

Mosca still smoldered with barely suppressed envy and resentment as he recalled watching Earwig fly off to his first full-time assignment as a personal demon. A human child to toy with! How easily she could be
encouraged to provoke her parents, who would irritate the child in turn, and in time… Mosca nearly
drooled as he thought of all the delicious anger to be consumed. But it was that fool, Earwig, who would
grow strong and fat, while Mosca, honors graduate or not, seemed doomed to rely as before on the
capriciousness of the labor pool. He expected at best a position as a low-level assistant in some third-rate
war effort, where he could hope for an occasional crumb from the officers’ leavings.

He would have settled for any sort of crumbs, he was so hungry. Dimly he recalled a time when hunger had been unknown. Far better, he thought, to have been the lowliest of servants in the Father’s house
than … He checked his thoughts and glanced around furtively. Was there a Proctor listening? Such
thoughts were dangerous, and there were worse things than being hungry. He tried to still his rebellious
mind, concentrating instead on his dreary surroundings. He forced himself to focus on the drab gray buildings, the dirty gray streets, the gloomy gray sky. The few demons in the area were scrawny
juniors like himself, tightly wrapped against the wind, and intent on their own business.

There was no particular reason for this little corner of Hell to resemble a slum district in a large city on
the human planet called Earth, no need for demons to take on humanoid characteristics. But it amused the Dark Prince to have it so, and that was always reason enough. Even now, weak as he was, Mosca could have unwrapped his wings and flown, through all the multiple layers of Hell and beyond. He could have
thrust himself into the realm of space-time without specific assignment, a free-lancer, preying upon humans or humanoids on a planet of his choosing, fattening himself on their fear. There were tales of
those who had done it, and succeeded, for a time at least – although rumor had it that some had actually
been enslaved by clever humans. But the Dark Prince disapproved of that sort of initiative. Yes, it was
risky business, and the possibility of failure and punishment outweighed the potential gains. Mosca had
never seen the regions of fire, but he had heard enough to know he didn’t want to spend eternity there.

The economy, he reflected, had been better before the Betelgeuse crisis. Of course, it had been a great
victory for the forces of the Dark Prince, but when a planet full of humanoids blew themselves up, it put a
lot of demons out of work. The returning veterans, enormously strong and fat after consuming all of the
negative energies of a self-destructing civilization, had been mostly re-assigned to the Earth group, and
had promptly snatched up all of the choice positions available. Mosca longed for the bad old days of his
youth, when Earth’s human population was expanding faster than Hell, and many demons grew fat goading two or three humans at a time. Now he, and others like him, would be doomed to starve until they became powerless wraiths, were it not for occasionally snatching a few morsels at those banquets that humans called “wars.”

On the corner ahead, a crowd of junior demons were gathered around an impressively stout senior. He was even bigger than most of the instructors at the college. Judging from his bulk, he probably weighed
as much as any ten demons in the crowd. What could a senior of such stature have to say to these puny
underlings? Curious, Mosca elbowed his way toward the front.

“So I say, let’s make use of the Betelgeuse disaster. The enemy has experienced an influx of new talent
also. Reliable sources tell us that those previously assigned to Betelgeuse have been largely absorbed by
the Earth group, much the same as with our returning veterans. Consider the effects on security, with so
many new faces around. Let’s seize the opportunity to infiltrate! Are we the master deceivers or not?
Who’ll give it a try?”

Mosca recognized Woodlouse, a casual acquaintance, and nudged him. “What’s going on? Who is this guy?”

“He’s recruiting for some sort of commando outfit, wants us to disguise ourselves as guardian angels.
Can you imagine having to act like an angel, even for an hour? And he’s talking months, maybe years.
Disgusting.” Woodlouse shuddered in revulsion.

“You there,” said the recruiter, pointing at Mosca. “You look like a bright young fellow who could
use a few good meals. How would you like to have all you can eat, every day, and free training to boot?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Mosca. “Who do I have to kill?”

The crowd chuckled, but began to edge away. Only a handful were hungry or desperate enough to try
something so radical.


There were a few scholars among Mosca’s fellow recruits, although he suspected most of his classmates
were just there for the free meals. As double agents, they had to learn to think like the enemy, or at least
appear to do so. For Mosca, it was a new challenge, applying his studies in human psychology to different

“All right, class,” said the weary but patient instructor. “Let’s try this one more time. You, Dogbane, suppose you’re posing as a guardian angel, in the process of establishing trust. The young man
you’re shadowing is walking down the street, and accidentally bumps into another man. What is your

“Sir, I would encourage anger. I would whisper to the subject that the other man did it on purpose, that he had better show this guy that he wasn’t going to take that from anybody. It should be simple to start a
fight, maybe even draw in a few spectators. With a little luck, it could even become a riot.” Dogbane
smirked, certain he had the right answer to this simple question. Several others commented: “Right
on. Way to go, Dogbane.”

The instructor slapped his hand to his forehead, grimacing in frustration. “No, no, no! You’re undercover, establishing trust, remember? You’re impersonating a guardian angel. Yes, Typhus? How would you handle it?”

“Sir, we’re after long-term effects here, right? So I would encourage him to apologize, even if he thought it was the other guy’s fault …”

The instructor smiled encouragingly. “Good, good.?

“And then I’d keep bringing it up to him all day long, about how he let that guy push him around, and how everyone is always picking on him, until I had him really smoldering and ready to take on the world,
build up the chip on his shoulder until he became obsessed with revenge, and then …”

“Yeah,” shouted someone in the back row. “And then you steer him to an explosives sight on the web,

“Wrong!” said the instructor. He furrowed his brow as if in pain. “Haven’t any of you been listening at all? Mosca?”

Mosca snapped to attention. “Sir, in this phase of the operation my goal is to act as much like a guardian angel as possible. I would encourage the man to apologize sincerely. If he persisted in believing the other man was actually at fault, I would suggest he forgive and forget. I would tell him to smile and look for the best in others.”

The instructor’s face lit up. “Yes. Exactly right. Did everyone get that?” Except for sullen muttering here and there, the class was silent. “Okay, I know this is a difficult concept to grasp, but it’s essential. Read over the Guardian’s Handbook once more, and we’ll try again next session. Mosca, I’m promoting you to the advanced class. Report to Colonel Hodiel in building 236, room ten.”


Mosca, larger and stronger than before, made a convincing angel. The training had been long and arduous, but he felt ready to handle anything. Well, almost anything. The big recruiter seemed to have
taken a personal interest in him, and had accompanied him on his flight to Earth. They had zeroed in on a
small suburban community in the continent of North America.

Mosca had forgotten how beautiful the planet was, especially the colors. It was late spring here. The trees still looked newly created in their fresh-minted leaves and everything was in bloom. The sky was a soft blue, with a scattering of fluffy white cloudlets. Everything was neat and clean; it was nothing like his home in Hell. Deep in the secret recesses of his mind, he hoped that this assignment would last a long time. At the same time, he was a little nervous at the prospect of putting his training to the test.

They hovered over a pretty little cottage. “You look okay,” said the recruiter, who was also disguised as an angel. “But there’s still an odor of sulfur about you. Stay back, and let me do the talking.” He approached a guardian angel, who snapped to attention. The recruiter barked out instructions. “Emergency orders, report at once to sector 923-G and ask for Caleb. Morris, here, will take care of Elaine while you’re gone. Any problems?”

“No, sir,” replied the angel. “She’s an easy one. Keeps me hopping, always asking The Boss for help for
other people, but otherwise never a moment’s trouble. That demon of hers is no competition.”

Mosca glanced furtively toward the scrawny, sickly demon lurking nearby, and was surprised to recognize
Earwig. He held his breath, hoping Earwig wouldn’t give him away.

As soon as the angel was out of earshot, the recruiter flashed his hidden badge at Earwig. “Operation Deception. Agent Mosca here will be posing as angel Morris. Your job is to lay low, giving him only token resistance while he worms his way into Elaine’s confidence. When Morris gives the word, and not a moment before, the two of you work together to start leading her astray in easy stages. It doesn’t look like you’ve been too successful with conventional methods.”

“You said a mouthful,” said Earwig. “She’s been impossible from the beginning. Loving, patient parents, lots of supportive friends, a perpetually cheerful disposition: sixteen years of sweetness and light. It makes me nauseous to think about it. Look at me, I’m starving. I haven’t had a mouthful of anger in ages. If you can do anything with this one, I’ll be surprised.” Turning to Mosca, he said, “You certainly look well fed.”

“Special filters in the angel mask.” Mosca explained. “You know real angels feed on love. The filters distort it into hate. I’ll admit I was squeamish at first, but you get used to it after a while.”

“Not me,” said Earwig, shaking his head and grimacing. “I’ll admit I’m hungry, but you have to draw the line somewhere.”

As the recruiter flew away, Earwig peered at Mosca intently. “Do those filters really work” You don’t find yourself having impulses to do good or anything like that?”

“Not at all,” Mosca assured him. “And with the Enemy cranking it out for free, I never go hungry. You should try it.”

“Maybe,” said Earwig doubtfully. “I’m not that desperate yet.”


Mosca began with the simple tricks he had learned in training camp, gradually getting Elaine used to the sound of his voice. He reminded her of appointments, found whatever she mislaid, guided her through traffic. He prompted her to call an elderly friend, help her brother with homework, baby-sit for the young mother down the street. She became more joyful and loving than ever before.

At the onset, Mosca felt a sense of pride and self-satisfaction, that he played his role so well. If he occasionally felt a little nauseous over promoting peace and patience, he reminded himself that it was only temporary, and served a greater purpose. In time, however, his squeamishness subsided, and he began to take a perverse pleasure in encouraging love, joy and kindness. Tortured by self-doubt, he hid his concerns from Earwig, boasting how easily he had “trained” the girl.

Earwig remained skeptical about the entire operation. On one of those rare occasions when there was no danger of his being overheard, he whispered his doubts to Mosca. “She listens to every word you say, now. When are you going to start feeding her a few lies? You aren’t beginning to like this goody – goody stuff,
are you?”

“Of course not,” said Mosca indignantly. “But I need more time. I’ve worked too hard to take a chance on
blowing my cover.”

Mosca went back to work. “No, Elaine, you don’t really want a cookie. Let’s have a nice, juicy apple and then go for a walk with Brownie. Umm, that apple looks so good. Come on now, take a bite.” Responding to the subliminal prompting, Elaine obediently closed the cookie jar. She ate the apple, relishing every bite, and went to look for her dog.

“I suppose I should tell you,” Earwig whispered out of the side of his mouth, “that I let the dog out of the yard and sent him after a cat. He also chased a squirrel, a kid on a bicycle, and a rabbit. Right now he’s lost in the foothills east of town.”

“What!” exclaimed Mosca, drawing himself up to his full, impressive height. “Why, I ought to …” Earwig ducked, raising one arm defensively as if expecting a blow. He spoke in a sullen whine. “Well, I needed something to do. It was fun. Your high and mighty friend didn’t say I couldn’t talk to the dog. Besides,” he added slyly, “It gives you another opportunity to make points with the girl. When she discovers the open gate, you can encourage her to get in the car and go looking. You could guide her right to the dog. She’ll be ever so grateful.” He smiled.

Mosca looked suspiciously at Earwig, but he seemed to be sincere. Elaine had already discovered the open gate and was looking up and down the street, calling for Brownie.

“Elaine,” whispered Mosca. “You need to get the car keys. Let’s get in the car and go looking. Come on. Let’s head east, it’s as good a direction as any.”

Appearing to be making a random search pattern, Elaine slowly drifted toward the hills. Every time she started to turn back, Mosca gently urged her forward. “Keep going. Just a little longer. Let’s take this road.”

As the road dipped down to cross the railroad tracks, the car suddenly sputtered and died, straddling the tracks. The lights flickered out, leaving Elaine stranded in the gathering dark. She tried to open the door, but the handle came loose. The windows wouldn’t operate without power. She was trapped.

A whistle sounded from around the curve. “Here it comes, right on schedule,” Earwig gloated. He tried to hold Mosca back. “I’m doing this for you,” he said. “You’ve become obsessed with this goodness thing. You have to be stopped.”

“Keep calm, Elaine,” Mosca shouted. “I’m coming. Let me go, Earwig.”

He wrenched himself free and began pushing the car, but Earwig was pushing from the other end with surprising strength, and the car remained stuck.

“Help me,” Mosca cried. “Anyone, please help. Any angels out there? This is an emergency.”

Suddenly the car shot forward. The train rushed by. Mosca glanced up to see the recruiter, looking more like an angel than ever, and several brawny guardian angels who had moved the heavy car as easily as if it were thistledown. The angels went to comfort Elaine, one opening the car door and another bringing her lost dog to distract her.

“You did well,” said the recruiter. “She’ll be fine. Her regular angel will take over now; he was never far away. You come with me.” He patted Mosca’s shoulder. “Good job, lad.”

“I don’t understand,” said Mosca. “I failed miserably. Earwig was right, I was starting to enjoy doing good. I guess that means I’m out of the program.”

“Oh, no,” said the recruiter. “You just passed your first test. You’re ready for the next level of training. Don’t worry about Earwig; he’s not about to admit to anyone that he’s been collaborating with the enemy, even unintentionally. I’ve told General Gabriel himself about you, and he’s willing to waive desertion charges as long as you’re reporting voluntarily for rehabilitation. This is a pet project of his. We’ve been very successful in retrieving a number of fallen ones with this campaign.”

“Do you mean you’re really …”

The recruiter smiled. “Come on, Mosca, or should I call you Morris now? You’re a bright boy. It should be obvious by now that I’m not wearing a disguise, and of course there aren’t any filters in your mask.”

The End