An Excerpt from The Inconvenient God

“I’m so glad you’re here, madam, so glad we’re finally taking care of this…problem,” said Mr. Haksola, the slight, middle-aged Nando University administrator who greeted me at the train station. “I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to decommission Ohin. That god is nothing but a headache. We’ll be well rid of him.”

“On behalf of the Ministry of Divinity, I am honored to assist,” I said. It was a formal answer, designed to hide my irritation. The university might want this no-account god removed, but it was clear from their timetable that despite the service I’d be rendering them, they wanted me gone as soon as possible too. They’d scheduled the decommissioning directly upon my arrival and had issued me a ticket back to the capital for later that day. Consequently, I’d had to travel in my regalia, and now I found myself sweating, despite the autumn chill, and breathless in my weighty garments from trying to match Mr. Haksola’s rapid pace.

Eventually, Mr. Haksola became aware that I was flagging and slowed down. “I’m sorry everything is so rushed,” he said. “Would you believe the only time that our grounds maintenance people have free to dismantle Ohin’s shrine before… Well, the only time they have free is shortly after you finish? Ridiculous. Too bad we realized so late that the decommissioning step had to come first!” An odd laugh escaped from him. “Thank you for accommodating us.”

Once we slowed down, I noticed our progress across the campus was attracting attention. The silver bells along the hem of the black velvet cape of my office were jingling with each step I took. Inevitably people’s gazes traveled up to the seal of the Ministry of Divinities, embroidered in silver on the cape’s left breast. Some seemed merely curious, but on a number of faces I saw disapproval, maybe even anger.

“How have Ohin’s followers taken the news of his decommissioning? Does he have many active worshipers?” I had assumed he wouldn’t. The brief I’d read on him, a mere two sentences, had characterized him as a very minor, very local god of irresponsibility and excess.

Mr. Haksola snorted. “Not many, though they cause the university a surprising amount of trouble. In general, they pass their days either intoxicated or hung over. Their opinions are of no consequence.”

“But…” I glanced over my shoulder at a middle-aged woman, well dressed in a fur-trimmed coat, who’d grimaced ostentatiously as we passed. She was no delinquent mischief maker, and neither were the other well-heeled passersby whose reactions I’d noted. I put this to Mr. Haksola.

His brow furrowed momentarily then relaxed as comprehension dawned. He chuckled. “It won’t be Ohin that they’re upset about. Most people consider Ohin a joke—university administrators excepted. No, people must see your robes and assume you’re here to decommission Amaya.”

I was flabbergasted. “The apple goddess? Why on earth would anyone think that? The Ministry doesn’t go around randomly decommissioning deities.”

Mr. Haksola shrugged. “The public sees a representative of the central government and assumes you’re here for something important.” He paused. “Decommissioning Amaya would make people very unhappy. She’s well loved here in the Northwest.”

“The Ministry knows that! She would never be decommissioned.” It was dismaying to think my presence could inspire that fear in people. “Amaya’s plaque is scheduled to be added to the roster of divine expressions of Abundance at the central shrine to Abundance in the capital,” I pointed out.

At my mention of Abundance, Mr. Haksola shook his head ever so slightly.

“This whole move from named deities to Abstractions that the Ministry’s embraced is very… People want to worship Amaya, not Abundance.”

“The Ministry understands that,” I said. “That’s why named deities are grandfathered in areas like the Northwest.” For now, anyway. There had been a lot of wrangling over that decision. I made a mental note to tell my superiors that it appeared to be a wise move.

“I trust the Ministry always to take the local situation into account, and I know it has the best interests of the entire Polity in mind,” Mr. Haksola said, in strenuously neutral tones.

A thought occurred to me. Decommissioning Ohin shouldn’t take more than an hour, but my train back to the capital wouldn’t be arriving until the late afternoon. That left me with time on my hands that I could put to good use.

“Amaya’s seminary is at Nando, so there must be a shrine to her on campus, yes?” I asked.

“Oh yes—two, in fact. The one by the library is ancient—it dates back to the earliest days of the university. It’s on the historical register!” Mr. Haksola’s voice was warm with pride. Nando University is one of the oldest universities in the world. It not only predates the Northwest’s joining the Polity, it predates the Polity itself—by more than a thousand years.

“Well then, how about I stop by and pay my respects, once I’ve finished decommissioning Ohin? Not with all this on, of course. Just in street clothes. Would that set people’s minds at ease regarding the Ministry’s intentions?”

“That would be a lovely idea,” Mr. Haksola said, sounding genuinely enthusiastic. “We could meet at the university guest house and go together.”

“I’ll see you at the guest house, then,” I said.

Mr. Haksola beamed. “I’ll send you its coordinates,” he said, tapping his unicom. Mine chimed in receipt. “Here, see?” A map flashed onto his clipboard papers. “It’s a quick walk from Ohin’s shrine, which is…oh. Here, actually. We’ve arrived.”

An iron railing cordoned off the supposed sacred space of Ohin’s shrine—no more than a patch of bare earth with one stunted pine tree hunched miserably at the back—which was jammed between the long, low grounds maintenance sheds and the overflowing refuse bins of one of the student refectories. All manner of undergarments dangled from the lower branches of the pine tree, and the ground was littered with crushed cans and broken bottles, except by the pine, where a girl in the drab coveralls that students across the Polity like to wear in solidarity with the working class was picking up some of the rubbish. She looked up at our approach, eyes widening as she caught sight of me. She scowled and hurried off.

“That’s surprising. Usually Ohin’s devotees are breaking bottles here, not tidying them up.” Mr. Haksola’s lips compressed in disapproval. “This shrine is a blot on the university’s good name. In truth, I’m embarrassed to have you see it. If decommissioning were possible from a distance—”

“It’s all right; it’s fine,” I assured him.

My feet tingled as we made a quick circuit of the shrine precinct.

“Interesting,” I said. “Despite the desecration, Ohin is still very present.”

Mr. Haksola wrinkled his nose. “The less promising students keep him alive. What you take for desecration are their signs of devotion. These”—he nudged a spent prophylactic with the tip of his right shoe—“are his devotees’ thank you notes.”

I stifled a laugh. It was clearly very distressing for Mr. Haksola.

“Well,” I said, bringing my hands together, “I should get started.”

Mr. Haksola surveyed the shrine again. “You’re all right by yourself?”

I smiled. “I prefer it that way, actually. There’s not much to see,” I added hastily, thinking I saw disappointment on Mr. Haksola’s face.

He replied, “No, that’s fine, quite fine. Just so long as it gets done. You’re sure you can do it in just one session?”

“One session is all it takes for waning or forgotten gods.” I assessed the tingling in my feet. “Ohin seems more vigorous than the Ministry’s brief indicated, but as a minor deity with just one point of worship, he still shouldn’t be a problem.”

Mr. Haksola ran a hand through his stiff, graying hair and shifted his weight.

“I’ll get the job done,” I promised.

“All right; good. Thank you.” He hesitated a moment more, then gave a nod and headed off, shoulders hunched like an anxious heron.

This is an excerpt from The Inconvenient God, by Francesca Forrest. Buy it now to keep reading.

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