Friday, September 30, 2011

The Van Scene, Physics Version

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]

I pulled into the space between two cars -the one on the left was tan, the color of the other was indeterminate- then carefully got out of the truck. Even though I was careful I slipped and almost fell. I ended up pointed towards the rear end of the truck and noticed something unexpected. Some kind of metal on my tires. When I got closer I saw that the tires had been chained. I chalked up the fact that I hadn't noticed them before to off camera inaudibility, and decided to check to make sure that the chains were all well installed before heading to the school. The first one I'd seen, driver's side rear, looked fine. I walked, ever so carefully, to the other rear tire, thankful to whoever had put them on. I assumed Charlie, because I wasn't supposed to know that anyone else might have done it at this point.

Just as I concluded that the passenger side rear tire was securely chained I heard a noise behind me, I spun to look at it an saw several things all at once. Edward Cullen was four cars down from me. He was surrounded by a sea of faces but since I didn't care enough about the other people for them to have fixed location they instead existed in a sort of probability sea like the electron cloud surrounding an atom's nucleus. Most of the cars in the lot were similarly in flux, the only cars other than Edward's that had fixed locations were the ones between my truck and his car. They only existed so that I could count the distance, one car, two car, red car, Cullen car.

The most immediate concern was a blue van coming straight at me and spinning clockwise across the parking lot. I muttered a curse (Wo de ma he ta de fengkuang de waisheng dou) under my breath because it was spinning clockwise. If it was going to miss me I expected it to hit the car in front of me rather than the car behind and clockwise rotation meant it would tend to keep spinning towards me.

Of course, even if it had been spinning the other way it probably wouldn't have meant salvation, the rotational momentum would have never overpowered the the linear motion, but it would have been something at least. As it was I knew there was no way I could get out of the way in time on the ice. If I tried to run I'd fall. If I tried to walk I wouldn't get clear. I considered shoving off the truck and hoping to slide clear, but I found it impossible to move. Instead I watched all that happened with fascination that seemed detached from the danger.

The wheels appeared to be locked and squealing against the breaks. At the same time.

I was reminded of discussions about the cat in the box. They say that it's both alive and dead until the system is measured, but what does that look like if you're inside the box? I've always wondered. Maybe it looks like one thing and sounds like the other. Maybe it sounds like wheels squealing against the breaks, but it looks like locked tires. Or maybe it feels like one thing and smells like the other. What if the dead cat becomes a zombie cat, does it smell the live cat and then go into a frenzy?

And what if the cat doesn't just sit around in the box waiting for someone to let it out? What if it builds a blow torch and cuts its way out. A dead cat can't do that (forget about the zombie cat), a live cat absolutely would. (Have you ever seen a cat with blowtorch? They cannot be stopped.) What does it mean when the cat both does and does not cut a hole in the side of the box?

And what if it weren't a cat? What if it were a bomb? What if on an alien planet a group of quantum-religious freedom fighters put a bomb in a box to be set off by the decay of a radio active isotope counting on the god of probability to detonate it at the opportune moment, but fail to realize that they have shielded the box too well preventing the particle from being observed and thus leaving the bomb in a state of both exploded and unexploded and so for thousands of years the box remains sealed while the evil people grow in power and wipe out the neighboring peoples one by one until an offworld envoy is convinced by the last vestiges of the resistance to open the box so that the bomb will have had exploded at the opportune moment?

A laughably wrong interpretation of quantum mechanics? Perhaps. But do it right, never encourage the audience to think too much about it, and possibly throw in a claim it's more about faith than science and I think it could work.

Unfortunately for quantum mechanics and the future of narrative science, the state of the van's wheels never collapsed. They remained both squealing and locked.

I did get to see some wave forms collapse though. As the van moved through the probability sea of faces the positions of the various people, and cars as well, resolved. In each case they collapsed into a position which did not intersect with the path of the van. Well, in all but one. One advanced placement physics student actually did end up right in front of the van, but as an AP student he knew that there must be holes in empty space and simply stepped back into the Dirac Sea, allowing the van to pass him by without difficulty, then he clawed himself back out and was absolutely drenched, dripping with positrons.

As the van spun inexorably closer to me it began to seem like I was actually going to die. Then Edward Cullen disappeared. He had sprung into action. I don't know why exactly, but I think it might be that he realized I was the narrator and without me he would cease to exist. Regardless I found myself thinking about a discussion of the relationship between vampires and wormholes I'd read scribbled in the margins of one of the appendices in the back of “If You Give a Mouse a Communion Wafer.” When I read it it had seemed absurd, but now it seemed very relevant. On the other hand the thunderclap implied that he had forced his way through the air at a high enough speed to leave a vacuum or near vacuum in his wake.

Analysis of the interference pattern created when he impacted my side suggested that he may have actually traveled both paths simultaneously.

He hit me hard and I hit the ground hard. With my head. It actually made a cracking sound. That couldn't possibly be good. His cold hard body was on top of mine pressing me down, which wasn't comfortable at all, but worse than that was the fact that I landed facing out into the middle of the parking lot and couldn't see what was happening.

His weight lifted off of me, and then he lifted me. He rotated me so that I was facing back towards my truck.


Better?

Much. Thank you.

The van's clockwise rotation was bringing it around my truck, the sound of warping grinding tearing metal was giving me a horrible headache, or maybe that had something to do with the fact my head hit the ground so hard. When Edward saw that the van would still hit us he swore (Aiya! Huaile. ) He raised his hands protectively, but I was convinced that given the lack of purchase on the ice we'd just end up being flung backwards into the car behind us. Splattered in a different way perhaps, but still dead.

Then something happened that I didn't expect. His smooth uncomfortably rock hard skin started to change. It small bristles came out of it, then the bristles split, and each of the split parts split again, split end upon split end in a near fractal that seemed to go on forever, until they interacted at the molecular level, holding him to me and us to the ice.

It seemed as reasonable a way to keep us stationary as any, but I wondered: was the Van der Waals force strong enough to make this work?


You're over-thinking things. This isn't the kind of story where that matters.

Fine.

The van made contact and I saw a shock wave ripple out across its side as metal crumpled inward forming a large dent around Edward's hands. The van tried to keep on coming forward, but Edward's geckoness held us firm. The result was that van shuddered and lifted off the ground on the side facing us. There was a bit of fiddling and juggling to get arranged so that the van could be set down without damaging me.

After a moment people started shouting but I mostly zoned out, trying to process everything that had happened. Why had the van been going fast enough to cause that much destruction anyway? Edward said something but I wasn't really listening.


I said, “Are you all right?”

“I'm fine.” I said, “What about the guy in the van?”


I'm sure Tyler will be fine.

Edward callously ignored the driver of the van who might even now-


Fine, I'll check on Tyler.

He decided to make a show of concern for Tyler, but it didn't seem to have been out of any kind of compassion-


Seriously?

It was as if he had read my mind and wanted to prove me wrong.


I can't actually read you mind. I just got an advanced copy of the book and I've been reading along.

This is my book. Stop interrupting the narration. Your book will come out in a couple years, then you get to narrate. Until then you're only allowed to talk in dialog.

Edward snapped, “Fine! Checking on Tyler,” then ripped the driver's side door off the van. He leaned in, looked Tyler over, checked his pulse, tested him to make sure he was aware and oriented times three, and then returned and angrily said, “Tyler's fine, are you happy-” The anger melted from his face, replaced by wonder and amusement, and he said, “Check out positron boy.” He pointed behind me, in the direction the van and he had come from. “I thought
I looked weird.”

I looked to see the advanced placement physics student standing in a puddle of positrons while more evaporated off of him, each glowing in a different color as it disappeared. The effect was like being in a cloud of sparkles in all the colors of the rainbow. I'm reasonably sure that positrons do not work that way. At all.


Of all the things-

“Sorry, sorry,” Edward said. “Of all the things that are wrong with this story, that's the one that you fixate on?”

In fact, on reflection, I don't think that the Dirac Sea should have had any positrons in it in the first place. My recollection is that positrons and the Dirac Sea come from mutually exclusive theories. To have positrons result in rainbow sparkles was completely absurd, positrons picked up during a dip in the Dirac Sea even more so.


This entire story is absurd. I have ice cold marble skin that sparkles like diamonds in the sunlight. Nothing in this book makes-

Edward was jealous.


I am not jealous!

He was definitely jealous.


-

[Next]

Snarky Twilight - Van Scene

[Note that this is before I went to the original text and read every word myself, it isn't entirely accurate as a result]

Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around the truck bed, Edward hit me, hard.


Crack!
Bella: (She's in real pain, but this is as much an expression of disapproval as pain, she draws the word out when she speaks it): Ow.
Edward: Quiet, I'm trying to save you.
Bella: I get that, but did you have bounce my head off the pavement like a basketball?
Edward: I'm saving you, shut up.
Bella: If you're saving me how come we're still in the path of the van?
Edward: Because this way I get to show off my inhuman powers.
Bella: You already did that just by getting to me so quickly.
Edward: I was right next to you.
Bella: Were not.
Edward: Was too.
Bella: (fed up, pointing) Van.

Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van's body.

Bella: We're on slippery ice, why didn't we go flying backwards?
Edward: My foot is on your truck.

I turned to see a giant dent in my truck, Edward's left foot planted directly in the middle of it.

Bella: (Sarcastic) Great.

Twilight Van Scene Variation 2

Suddenly someone was right next to me, I heard him order, "Down," but he didn't wait for me to respond, instead forcing me onto the ground and under the truck, but we stopped short, side by side on the ice, more than half under the truck but still exposed, and the van was still coming. The word, "Merda," was uttered and I saw his left hand shoot out in front of us for protection while his right pushed me further down on the ice and pulled me closer to him.

It seemed like a futile gesture, but when the van reached his hand instead of crunching bones the result was that enough of the momentum transferred to us that we slid to safety. It wasn't comfortable, I was sure I'd have a bruise where he'd been holding on to me with his right hand and my left side, the side pressed into his, wasn't exactly happy about the whole thing, but we were alive.

He let go of me. There was a moment of silence when I couldn't find my voice and then I asked, "Are you all right?" while sliding out from under the truck.

He seemed surprised, "Am I alright?"

I said, "The van hit your hand," as I stood, holding on to the truck for support.

He said, "No it didn't."

This didn't make any sense. He had to know hit had hit him, even if he had somehow avoided major injury the pain should have been unthinkable. I couldn't understand why he'd deny it and I said, "I saw it."

"Look, " he showed me his right hand, "My hand is fine."

"Your other hand."

He showed it to me, "That one's fine too."

I stared at it in disbelief, there was no indication that it had been hurt at all. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Can we please talk about something else?"

I'd never heard him like that before. His tone was pleading. I knew what I'd seen, and knew that there was something very strange going on, but I decided not to press the matter because he obviously didn't want to talk about it. I changed the subject, "What was that you said when the van was coming at us?"

"I said, 'Down.'"

"After that."

"It was nothing."

"It was something."

"It was Latin," he said as if it were some inappropriate admission.

"Latin?"

"I figure if you're going to be vulgar, why not use the language that has it right in the name?"

Edith and Ben - Van Scene

When I reached the school I was one of the first to arrive, the ice must have slowed everyone down. The parking lot was almost entirely empty, I pulled to the far side, reasoning that it would be easier to stay standing on the grass, transformed into an alien landscape by the ice coating every blade, than on the smooth surface of the ice covered parking lot. I wasn't the only one to have had this idea as the few other cars in the lot were all in a row where I had planed to park. I pulled into a space at the end of the row. When I was stopped and the engine was off I said a prayer of thanks to the gods of automobiles for allowing me to make it this far, then I stepped outside to figure out why the hell the ride over had sounded so strange.

It was a relief to see that it wasn't because there was something wrong with the truck, it was because something was right with it. Charlize had installed chains on my tires. I was grateful, especially since it seemed like she'd probably done it when the freezing rain was still falling. She should have asked me for help rather than doing it alone, but the fact that she'd done it, and apparently not wanted to inconvenience me by asking for help, was touching. I really appreciated it and it was one of the first times I felt truly good about something since arriving.

Then there was a high pitched sound that couldn't possibly be good. I turned to face it, keeping one hand on the truck to make sure I didn't loose my balance. A feeling of dread set in when I saw the few students already in the parking lot, Edith Cullen stood out among the faces, all looking at me. The disturbing thing wasn't that they were all looking at me, it was how they were all looking at me. A mixture of shock and horror. When I'd turned far enough to see the source of the sound I saw why.

The blue van had probably started it's screeching journey at the other side of the empty parking lot, but it had already closed much of the gap and it was headed straight for me.

There were any number of things I probably should have thought or done, but I didn't think anything, I panicked. I let go of the truck and tried to run. It was a bad idea, my feet slid right out from under me. I was falling, the van was coming, and I was convinced I was about to die.

My life didn't flash before my eyes. I didn't think about all the things I wished I'd done or said. I didn't reach any epiphanies. I just came to the conclusion, with an unexpected feeling of calm, that the van I was staring at would kill me.

Then something hit me from the left, I felt it latch on to my waist and the entire world spun. I was no longer looking at the van but instead staring up that the clouds. I wasn't falling straight down, but being carried by the impact and the grip on my waist in the direction that had been rightward, though as I twisted it became backward.

There was an ear rending sound that I knew must have been the van slamming into my truck.

I landed on my back. What I hit was hard and cold, but it wasn't smooth enough to be the ice and I wasn't sliding against it even though I was pretty sure I was still moving. People started calling my name.

When I stopped moving the grip on my waist released and I rolled off of what turned out to be Edith. I tried to stand up, at first I slipped on the ice, but I managed to avoid falling and I stood on the second try. I waved in the direction of the other students to let them know I was alive, offered Edith my hand to help her up, and tried to thank her for saving my life. "Thanks for-" was as far as I got. She when she took my hand there was something I couldn't help but notice. "You're freezing," I said just as she got to her feet.

She quickly pulled her hand away, "What?"

"Your hand is freezing."

"I'll be fine once I have a chance to warm up," she sounded almost defensive.

"Are you sure because-"

"Ben, have some perspective." She pointed in the general direction of the blue van, my truck, and the car I'd parked next to, which were now part of one big accident scene. "You were almost killed by a rampaging van; my hands are cold."

Obviously she was right that in context it seemed like an insignificant thing to focus on, but her hand really hand been as cold as ice. I didn't want the person who saved me to die of hypothermia. On the other hand, I didn't want to annoy the person who saved me. So I dropped it. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Thanks for saving me." She said I was welcome. Then I started to wonder something, "How'd you get to me so fast?"

"I ran really fast."

"But you were-"

"Really, really fast." There was a moment of silence and then she again gestured to the accident asked, "Shall we?" We started over to survey the damage. I slipped, but she caught my arm and steadied me before I could fall.

-

Twilight Index

This is an index of works relating to the book Twilight by Stephanie Meyer or The Twilight Saga, of which the book is a part.

Team Slogans - You know, Team Edward, Team Jacob, Team Leah, Team Bella, so on.
Various Teams - Fewer Twilight characters, more gods, more Left Behind characters.  Different slogans for the Twilight characters that are included.

Twilight: My Touchstone - A guest post I did for Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.  A way to keep centered and remember what the story is like when you risk getting lost in the weeds of analysis.

The Van Scene:
Paraphrase - A straightforward description of what the van scene is like in Twilight.
Edith and Ben - Genderfliped Twilight, the first appearance of Edith and Ben
Another version - Pretty straightforward, hiding under the truck instead of the official version
Snarky Twilight - The first ever thing of Snarky Twilight
Physics based rewrite -In which, through a series of non sequiturs, I disrespect and misrepresent as many laws of physics and narrative construction as I can manage. There is also a follow up.

Ongoing Stories:
Edith and Ben - The story of Edith Cullen and Ben Swan.
Snarky Twilight - The story of Twilight told almost entirely in dialog delivered with a certain degree of snark.

Extremely short one off things:
Badly chosen names - In which the Cullens fail the masquerade forever.
Bella finds love - One possible reason why Edward never mentions lesbians' feelings for Bella.
Bella's mother is not like a lobster - Bella's mother?  She's not like a lobster.
Bella's True Name - In Twilight Bella is shocked -SHOCKED- that Edward knows she's called 'Bella,' this is a modest rewrite of that scene.
Does this power work on me? - One theory on process by which it is decided whether Bella's mental shield blocks a given power.
Eyecolor - The Twilight vampires have not made use of colored contact lenses, commercially available for decades now, to hide their unnatural eyes.
Explanation for using a truck as an umbrella - Sometimes you're called to account for your silly actions, and thus need to explain them.  As is the case with Alice here.
The height of weapons technology - Um... yeah.
I'm Not Ashamed To Admit I'm A Vampire - A campaign message from Edward Cullen.
"I may not be a human, but I am a man" - The line is straight from Twilight, the meaning is hard to pin down.  Here are some possible elaborations.
A Jasper did it - Jasper has the ability to manipulate emotions, many of the emotions in Twilight don't make sense. We blame everything on Jasper as a result. In this instance, Edward is being blamed on Jasper.
John Galt Sparkles - On the general ability of sparkle vampires to comfortably endure the collapse of civilization.
Mental and Physical Powers - What exactly qualifies as a mental power? There's so little context that one could argue it ought to be labeled as being an original work.
The Van Scene, if Alice used her power - What it sounds like.
Why don't you eat people? - In which Edward thinks the answer is self evident and Bella doesn't get it.

Longer one off things:
The Adjustment Vampire - It's kind of hard to explain.
Alice and the moment between the darkness and the light - Imagine Twilight if a Cullen took an active interest in keeping Bella alive during the time Edward was the primary threat.
An Angry Person with a mental shield giving a speech to the opposing army - This is why you should, under no circumstances, mess with a person with a mental shield.
Bella getting married to who she wants while Charlie negotiates the dowry - The quote that inspired this was "We've reached full-on patriarchy: Edward was clearly worried that Bella would marry Mike simply because her dad told her to. And supplied some sheep as a dowry."  I figure while Charlie's negotiating how many "some" entails Bella's off getting the hell out of town.
Bella's response to human collateral - Someone thought that people getting hurt because of Bella's relations with vampires might make her less self absorbed, I thought she'd react like this.  This one led into...
Avenging Jessica - Jessica is the one doing the avenging, as for why avenging needed to be done, see the above link.
Breakdown Update - Most of this post is about how things were going for me after having a breakdown, the massive first footnote was about comparing Edward Cullen to jerks from Greek and Roman mythology.
Counterfactual in which Bella has a male friend - Exactly what it sounds like.
Left Behind with Edward and Bella - Edward and Bella discuss Bruce Barnes and the future of Chicago
Mind Seeing and Purple Thoughts - What it's like to see your thoughts,
My eyes have always been yellow - And we've always been at war with Eastasia. Gaslighting and vampire eyes.
Nobody is this incompetent; They're doing it on purpose - A possible explanation for why the Cullens are so very, very bad at blending.
Prattle - What Jessica is saying when Bella isn't listening.  Sure, you probably think that this isn't what she's saying, but do you know?  Of course not.  Bella doesn't pay enough attention for you to know.
Random Bits of Twilight - Vampiric dazzle power, the possibility Edward is an angel, the possibility Edward is a butterfly.
Random Pile of Twilight - If you'd have to kill me then don't tell me, It's ok to just spend time with friends, The Second Coming, and more.  As I said, random.
She Said She Wasn't Hungry - Jessica stands up for Bella when Edward pushes her around in Port Angeles.
Some Responses to Edward in Chapter 9 - Things Bella might reasonably say in response to what canon-Edward did say.
Superpowers, Diagnosis, and Treatment - The ability to manipulate emotions as used for medical purposes.
Twilight with an expanded non-human population, some thoughts - Collecting some things I've said on the idea that everyone in Twilight, apart from the Swan family, is only pretending to be human.
"What about the girls?" - None of the boys have caught Bella's eye so maybe...
What's in the Woods (Manuscript e) - Well, it had to be something, didn't it?
Why school wasn't canceled - An attempted explanation for why school wasn't canceled on the van scene day. This requires an explanation because, while it is possible to accept that there might be sparkling vampires, the idea that school wouldn't be canceled under those conditions defies plausibility. I hesitate to say it's the single most unrealistic thing in all of Twilight only because we're not that far into Twilight. This would fit nicely into the Edithverse.

Other:
Moneyball and Breaking Dawn - Amazon put the two side by side, so I thought of them in terms of each other.
Ten Reasons for Vampires to Attend High School - What it sounds like.
It's not an SUV it's a Time Machine! - Me being silly.  An extremely short post of me being silly.

-

Last updated 1-07-2014

Not Even The Angels In Heaven - The Rapture

In theory the solution should have been simple: move or remove the cars without drivers. At first this was what the angel did, some of the empty ones were easy to get rid of, those surrounded by occupied vehicles proved somewhat more difficult, in frustration she simply incinerated one and sent another in the general direction of the stratosphere, making sure, of course, that it would land in an unoccupied area. Still, for the most part it was simple. The driverless vehicles with occupants required more finesse and attention, but that wouldn't have been overly taxing either.

It quickly came to her attention that there were more out of control cars than there should have been, she briefly wondered if the Rapture had been more inclusive than anyone expected, then realized that the vehicles had drivers, it was simply that the drivers weren't paying attention. They were distracted by the empty spaces where their passengers had been. Apparently there had been a lot of children on the road when it happened and the drivers of those suddenly childless cars weren't paying attention to the road.

The greatest problem was that most drivers seemed to disapprove of her intervention. Throw an empty a car off the road here, levitate an occupied one to safety there, and all of a sudden everyone started swerving. Soon it seemed like the Rapture itself was the least of the road's problems, instead it was people's refusal to react calmly that was putting motorists in the greatest danger.

The exertion pushed her limits, at times her vision clouded, she staggered, she struggled. But in the end every vehicle in her domain was stopped. It wasn't perfect. Midway through she had felt the screeching dissonance of four souls being forced from their bodies in a collision she had been unable to prevent, and she was sure she would never forgive herself for allowing it to happen. Especially knowing that they had been sent to Hell. But even with that failure, traffic had been safely stopped.

The frightened and confused motorists all heard a voice, which spoke with such force it reverberated throughout the metal and glass of their cars, “Speed limits exist for a reason. Always leave enough space between yourself and the car in front of you to react if it does something unexpected. In the event that something goes wrong on the roadway calmly slow down and pull off the side of the road. It's Not Rocket Science People!”

The angel then wearily made her way to the nearest hospital, to see if there was anything more she could do. She had never felt so drained, but she might be needed.

-

A wheel in good standing passed an airport on his way to deliver a message. He spared some of his eyes look watch the planes. He'd always been fascinated with human attempts to fly, more so since those attempts had started to succeed. Then he noticed something had changed, in a the cockpit of one of the planes was empty and, based on its sudden change in direction, the autopilot was not engaged.

In a moment he was inside the cockpit, a human form coalesced around him, and he calmly told that tower that the flight crew was missing and he needed them to repeat any important information. Once the plane was safely landed he offered to check up on any flights contact had been lost with.

The controller had been confused, but he managed to convince the controller to tell him about one such flight. When he took control of that flight the controllers became much more willing to tell him where he was needed.

Throughout the day he found himself giving prayers of thanks to engineers for the invention of autopilot, without which there would have been significantly more carnage. By the time he'd landed his last flight he realized that he could never go back. God had left these people to die, he had abandoned his duties to save them. Clearly he and God weren't on the same side any more.

-

The guardian and his charge made their way out of the diner.

“What do we do?” she asked.

“Whatever you can,” the guardian told her. He looked around to see where they might be needed. The car accident had left no injuries. There didn't seem to be a need for medical attention, there did appear to be a need for comfort. A woman was sobbing on the ground next to an empty stroller, given that she wasn't looking for her lost child, it wasn't hard to imagine what she had just seen.

He knelt down, put his arms around the woman, and told her everything would be alright. In doing so he realized he had more advice to give to his charge, he looked at her and, making sure the woman couldn't see, mouthed the word, “Lie.” At this point, he figured, that was what they could do.

-

Death let physical location drop away and focused all of her attention at the crossroad between life and the afterlife. It was clear that God had changed things in response to her disobedience, souls were shuffled to Hell faster and more powerfully than ever before.

She worked as hard as she could as fast as she could, yet at the end of the day she had only managed to prevent three souls from moving into the next life. Which meant that all but three had moved on to eternal torment. She knew that, if she succeeded, the 'eternal' would be false, but the torment remained regardless.

The shade had remained safe, that was the only good news of the day. The additional souls weighed her down, and she knew she'd need to pass them off to other angels or risk them all slipping into Hell.

She wasn't sure if that knowledge was a justification for not holding on to souls before. She couldn't keep more than one from its destination for any length of time, which was how she had always justified sending souls to their afterlife without question before. She couldn't stop the process, she could only make it more rocky.

But she questioned whether that was entirely true, if she had been saving souls from Hell, might she have found angels willing to anchor them? She didn't know.

At least now she was standing in opposition to the one who sent them to Hell in the first place.

-

Not Even The Angels In Heaven - Exposition Dump

[Originally posted at Slacktivist, The Slacktiverse, and Facebook.]

The streets had been cleared, schools and businesses had opened, and Death and the shade were still looking for their first recruit. The shade had found that one of the advantages of being dead was that he didn't need time to thaw. As soon as he stepped into a warm place he was warm again, with no discomfort as feeling returned. It was a welcome change from life, but it didn't change the fact that it was cold outside.

The temperature refused to breach zero, with freezing but a distant memory, and the wind persisted in its refusal to cease to be. Death offered to take him elsewhere, but he'd spent his whole life in the area, and didn't feel like leaving now that he was dead. Instead she created warmer clothing for the shade to wear, and the went looking for recruits to their cause.

This day took them to a school. Once inside the shade tied his coat around his waist. He wasn't quite sure how that worked. It wasn't really a coat, he didn't really have a waist. He asked something that had been on his mind outside. The frigid weather had brought a poem to his mind, about how some thought the world would end in ice. So he asked, “How do you know that it hasn't started yet?”

Death pointed to a child, “You see that eight year old?”

The young girl was wearing a heavy coat and snow pants, and it looked like there were many layers under those to the point it restricted her range of motion. She had what looked like a hand knit hat on her head, large brown eyes, and she was adorable. The shade smiled and said, “Yes.”

“It hasn't happened yet.” For a moment the shade thought that that would be the only explanation he got, but then Death added, “The very first thing will be the Rapture, when God will take all of his chosen people into Heaven so that they don't need to suffer through the Tribulation. He'll take all the children with them.”

“Because he doesn't want the children to suffer?”

“Nothing so logical.”

-

In Georgia an angel comfortably ensconced in human form lay on his back on a park bench, repeatedly throwing and catching a 14 ball while he rehearsed a speech he never seriously expected to give to anyone. “It's not quite the Second Coming. It's not the final release at any rate. It's more of a closed beta of the Second Coming. Invitation only. But if you think that this is a voluntary thing you've got another thing coming. Relatively few children will volunteer, all will be taken.

“It's not because of any fondness for children. It's just a part of the sorting algorithm. The Saved get taken, the Unsaved old enough to be held accountable for their actions don't, the children aren't a part of either group. So the get treated as Saved as a sort of benefit of the doubt.

“It's definitely not because of any desire to spare children the suffering of the Tribulation because when new children are born they will not be whisked straight up into Heaven. Not Even Close.”

-

The shade found the angel disconcerting. It was largely human, if you discounted the wings, and the three extra heads, and the inhuman feet. It was the ox head that disturbed him the most for some reason. The eagle, lion and human heads would have been fine if not for the fact that they were all connected to the same body. (And of course there was the fact that the body completely failed to match two of them.) But something about the ox head, and the way it looked at him, was disconcerting.

Death tried to convince the angel, whom she called a cherub, to join their side, but the angel was happy where she was.

“When the Rapture happens-” Death started again.

“God's going to take all of the children into Heaven,” the Cherub said.

“You say that like it's a good thing.”

“It is a good thing,” the Cherub said with enthusiasm.

“I could, right here right now, send every child in this building straight to Heaven,” Death said. “How would that make you feel?”

The cherub recoiled in horror, “That... that's-”

“What? Evil? Unthinkable? Mass murder? Something you would be morally obligated to oppose tooth and nail?” The Cherub didn't respond. “It's something to think about.” Death motioned to the shade that they were finished and both started to walk towards the door. Before she left, Death looked back at the Cherub, who hadn't moved or uttered a sound, “The difference between me and Him is that I know it's wrong and He thinks its right. If you change your mind, say so and I'll know.”

-

Two angels invisibly watched over a stretch of highway.

“I'm telling you because I want you to be ready to mitigate the damages if it happens,” the older angel said.

“I thought you said I wasn't allowed to use miracles to stop accidents.”

“I did. If the Rapture happens the existence of miracles will be undeniable. So in that case, and only in that case, I am saying that I will be willing to look the other way. Just so you- You would do the same thing anyway, wouldn't you?”

The younger angel smiled, “If the world were ending, who would notice a few miracles more or less?”

The older angel nodded and ascended to Heaven, but both new that a few angels breaking the rules would do little to stem the destruction if the Rapture took place, and both hoped that it wouldn't happen any time soon.

-

The wheel had located an old friend, who had in turn promptly slammed the door in front of the wheel. When the wheel offered to share sensitive information about the end of the world, the door reopened, but only with reservations. The first thing the wheel's outcast friend did was ask him to bring one of his friends up to speed, which which proved more difficult than the wheel had expected.

“Then God begins the Tribulation where He visits judgments upon the world,” the wheel said with enthusiasm, pausing for effect as he prepared to describe the judgments in detail.

“Why?” the stranger asked.

The wheel was confused, “What do you mean, 'Why?'?”

“Why does God do that? He's already taken his own into Heaven at that point, why not leave the world alone?”

“Because... how do you not know this?”

“Because he's Hellborn,” the outcast said.

“He's a demon?” The wheel shouted.

“Three things,” the outcast said. “First, don't shout questions at me. I'm standing right here. A normal volume will do just fine. Second, yes, he was born a demon. Third: You Came To Me. You came crawling to me, begging me to take you in. You're in no position to judge the company I keep.” He turned to the demon, “You'll have to excuse my old friend, he still believes the party line that no angel born in Hell can break Satan's spell.”

“Why-” the wheel stopped himself and then started again more quietly, “Why are your rhyming?”

The outcast added, “He's also apparently spent the past few decades locked in a soundproof box.” He turned back to the wheel and said, “Now then, my friend asked you a question.”

The wheel resumed, “God doesn't want anyone to go to Hell-”

“Then why doesn't he stop sending them there?” the demon asked.

“Because it doesn't work that way. The Tribulation is to wake people up. To jolt them out of their complacency. It's so that everyone will have a chance at Heaven.”

“What about the people who died in the chaos caused by the Rapture?” the demon asked.

“I- tha- i-” the wheel sputtered.

The outcast smiled and then said, “Let's get back to the Tribulation, tell my friend how it starts.”

-

The angel on the bench held the pool ball above his head and looked at it intently. “Around this time the Antichrist rises to power. It doesn't make sense to assume that his rise only starts after the Rapture, so presumably he's been preparing for this for this in advance, rising up through the ranks and laying the groundwork for his one world government.

“This, to me, suggests a certain amount of collusion between the forces of Heaven and Hell. How else could Hell know when to get their Antichrist ready, if Heaven had not told them?

“This possibility is disturbing and unexpected, but it may also be necessary for the prophecies to be fulfilled. Why else would the Antichrist go along with the divine plan? It also raises the possibility that the fate of the universe will be determined by who stabs who in the back first. The worst outcome of all might be if no backs are stabbed and this alliance is maintained throughout.

-

A watcher in St. Mark's square told her companion, “At this point God starts hitting the world with a big stick,” miming the action and frightening pigeons.

-

“The rider on the red horse represents War!” the preacher shouted. “A World War! Revelations is telling us that World War Three will come. As so often happens, Death follows War and that is the Pale rider on the pale horse.”

A man in the pews turned to his neighbor and said, “He left out Famine.”

“Everybody does,” Famine responded.

-

“Wouldn't Death be going throughout the world at the same time as War and Famine?” the shade asked.

Death replied, “Oh I'm always there, but I only get on my horse for special occasions.”

-

In a small empty church an angel told his half human niece, “Then there's a big old earthquake that covers the whole globe”

“Does plate tectonics even allow for that?” she asked.

“Just go with it.”

-

The angel started throwing and catching the ball again. “Then we're into the Trumpets. First up is fire and hail and blood. Or bloody hail fire, or something. The next two are all about space debris which will vaporize oceans and poison waters. Then all of the light from space - the sun, the moon, the stars - is darkened so it's only one third as bright as it once was. So I figure it's like a mild smog.

“After that it gets interesting. First demon locusts, then demon horsemen. After that there will be lightening earthquakes and hailstorms on earth, but at this point who cares? Don't get me wrong, they'll be painful and bad and tragic, but after demon locust horses they've lost some of their narrative punch.”

-

Ignored by all around him an outcast Seraph preached future history from a street corner while gesturing wildly, “Then God realizes that there's still this Antichrist guy down on earth, so he has him killed, but then he gets bored and wanders off and three days later, well after God's lost interest, Satan resurrects the Antichrist cohabiting in his body in the process.”

-

The watcher punctuated her description of each judgment by pretending to hit something in front of her with a stick, “Horrible sores. Salt water turns to blood. Fresh water turns to blood. The sun scorches people to death. Darkness on the capital of the world. The Euphrates dries up.”

-

“And it's Jesus' Coming 2.0! He's back! He's pissed off! He kills an army with a word for he is the kwisatz haderach. The valley fills with blood to the height of a horse's bridle because kids these days won't go to see a movie unless it's got lots of gore.” He put the 14 ball in his pocket, sat up, hung his head, and closed his eyes. “The second to last judgment is at hand.”

-

“The biggest earthquake the world has ever seen!” the watcher shouted while miming a particularly large whack with a stick.

-

“And all of this is in the bible?” the shade asked.

“Yes. Well... sort of. It's complicated.” Death said. “So, in summary...”

-

In a small diner a guardian angel was eating with his charge. “Then Jesus comes back, the unsaved are dumped in Hell and for a thousand years everyone lives as immortals on earth. But aging is slowed down to something like one fifth of its normal rate to prevent everyone from getting really old,” the guardian told her.

“But that would still mean that someone born at the dawn of the millennium would be 200 of our years by the time the thing was over,” The human said.

The angel held up his hand in a gesture the human knew meant that clarification was coming, but somehow always made her imagine he was trying to push an elevator button without using his fingers. She waited for one of the detailed explanations he usually gave at such times, but all he said was, “Don't examine this too closely.”

After a pause he returned to his story, “After a thousand years Satan will challenge God, it will be the most one sided boxing match in all of history. God will smack Satan right back into Hell, and all of his followers will be swallowed up with him. At that point the whole hullabaloo is over and everyone not damned goes to Heaven. And that. Is how. The world. Will end.” For a moment there was silence and the he added, “Spoiler alert.”

“Are you supposed to be telling me this?”

“You're not even supposed to know I exist. I'm supposed to watch you unheard and unseen. A perfect little stalker, occasionally beating up temptations before they have a chance to get to you. I'm not supposed to be telling you anything.”

“But that's been true for years, and you've been talking to me the whole time. You never said any of this stuff before, why tell me now?”

“Because it all starts with the Rapture and everything I'm hearing says that that will happen soon.”

“Define soon.”

“It could be any moment. It could be now.”

Nothing happened.

“If it could be any moment," she said, "then it could be a thousand years from now. What does 'soon' mean?”

“I don't know exactly, no one does. I can't get more specific than soon.”

“'Soon' doesn't mean anything unless there's some kind of parameters. This period is more likely that period is less likely. If you don't know that then you can't know 'soon'.”

“What? You want a probability breakdown?”

“Yes!”

He looked at the table for a moment as if the answer was to be found there. He rested his head in his hands, then closed his eyes. For a short time he thought. Then he looked up and said, “Ok, figure a ninety-nine percent chance it happens in the next hundred years, an eighty percent chance it happens in the next ten. But it really could be any-” He turned his head before the tray crashed to the ground. The waitress's clothes took longer as they fluttered through the air. The sounds of a low speed car crash came from the street outside, but he didn't take his eyes off the empty space where the waitress had been. The the silence built for a few more moments, then he said, “It happened five seconds ago.”

And then the screaming started.

-

[Previous][Not Even The Angels In Heaven Index][Next]

Not Even The Angels In Heaven

[Originally posted at Slacktivist, The Slackitiverse, and Facebook.]

1999

To say that Death liked chess was an understatement. In the thirteen centuries since it's creation she had adored it, embracing every advance with purest love. She still treasured the memory of the first time she captured en-passant. Chess was the only thing that made her life worth living. Ferrying souls to the afterlife was something she could do in her sleep, but she always made sure to devote enough of her attention to the task to see if anyone wanted to play a game of chess.

In the past few centuries many had. But almost all of them retracted the offer when they learned that, win or lose, they would stay dead. Even many who would never turn down a game in life refused to play because they felt cheated. As if it were her fault they would remain dead.

When one of her charges said, “I've heard you play chess,” she sullenly explained to the fresh fallen shade that he'd still be dead if he won. When he wanted to play anyway her mood brightened for the first time in decades. When he said that he wanted to play a new type of chess, one with a much larger board where each player started with 92 pieces of 81 one types each of which promoted to a different piece … it didn't matter that he wasn't the best opponent, it was the happiest she remembered being in centuries.

For Death, playing this new game was like discovering chess a second time.

When Death won the game the shade nervously prepared to be taken to the afterlife, but Death asked him for a rematch. When that game was through they decided to invent a new game. The first game had been named after a planet, so they simply expanded their scope.

-

Present Day

The room wasn't literally inside of the building, and neither it nor it's contents were bound by the laws of physics. It was much larger on the inside, tables had been set up with various gaming boards on them. The wheel , versed in the names of all things, knew that this was a newly invented game called transdimensional interplanetary chess.



Death and a shade stood in the room, examining the pieces on the game boards. They had not noticed the entrance of the wheel.

As a messenger of God, the wheel expected better treatment, but did not allow that to show as it spoke, “Death your presence is required in the holy court.”

Death looked up and asked, “Why?”

“God requires that you ride out across the world with War and Famine so that the apocalypse might begin.”

The shade asked, “Why would she want to do that?”

The wheel said, “This is not your concern.”

Death rose and walked to a board that represented a Martian occupied Jupiter and said, “While that may be true, he raises a valid question.” She moved her hummingbird to threaten the shade's dwar. “Why,” Death turned to face the wheel, “would I want to do a thing like that?”

The wheel was not used to having it's gaze met. When one is a wheel of fire with a thousand eyes most don't know where to look to meet one's gaze. Death knew where to look. The wheel sputtered. For the first time since it's creation it knew fear. “I understand … I'll just … could you possibly deliver you message to to God your- no, of course not … I'll be going. Now.”

The wheel fled from the building and sped towards anywhere but Heaven. It had never known a hint of disloyalty, but it wasn't stupid. Being the bearer of bad news was never good. Telling God that Death had gone AWOL was not something an angel would do if it expected to live.

It sifted through it's memories looking for any friends it might have among those out of favor. It hadn't maintained associations with any, that wasn't something loyal angels did, but for immortals dropping out of contact for a few centuries wasn't always the end of a relationship.

Inside Death said, “We may have to save the world,” while looking at the boards.”

The shade nodded. He moved a piece, “Pawn to queen's bishop four.” He looked at Death, “How to we do that?”

-

It was the first time in more than a decade they'd left the room.

The room was a metaphysical construct built near where they had first met. The place he died. His home. Stepping out he saw how the new owners had changed things. There was a microwave where his fish tank had been. They'd painted the cabinets, they'd replaced the counter tops. Their choice in kitchenware was something he didn't approve of. It was the first real reminder since he died that he was actually dead. Not needing sleep or food, not needing a restroom, those were things easy to ignore. The fact that his home was not his home anymore wasn't.

When he opened the door he was faced with daylight for the first time in his afterlife. He was surprised to find that it did not sear his eyes. Then he had to remind himself that he didn't have eyes anymore.

His non-eyes quickly adjusted and what he saw was snow. It seemed like there was nothing but white on white, with more snow blowing in curving patterns in the wind. It was probably only a few feet all told, but the wind had pushed it into drifts taller than he was. The sound of wind on snow was doing it's best impression of ocean surf, and he soon learned that the dead could still feel cold.

The chill reached into his bones, or whatever passed for them now that his body was long since gone, and he asked, Death, “What month is it?”

Death shrugged. “I don't know what year it is.”

-

[Not Even The Angels In Heaven Index][Next]

A Hero in Heaven

[Originally posted at Slacktivist and The Slacktiverse.]

So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
-Revelation, Chapter 8, Verse 6


The first angel looked at it's trumpet and said, "No."

God asked, "What?" Mortals cannot understand the meaning that God could place into one word. It communicated surprise, disappointment and confusion, with undercurrents of curiosity and disapproval. Not to mention more menace than any corporeal being could convey if given an eternity to do it.

The angel shrank back. Took a deep breath. Looked directly at God on his throne, and repeated, "No."

-

The impact flattened an area of 2.150 square kilometers, knocking down 80 million trees. The shock wave measured 5.0 on the Richter scale, shattering windows hundreds of kilometers away before circling the earth twice. Light from the blast lit up the night sky on multiple continents.

At it's center, in an 8 kilometer wide circle of trees that remained standing though they had been stripped of their bark, the angel lay on the ground and groaned in pain.

It tested its limbs. Wiggling its fingers and toes, its alulae and wingtips. After determining that it's extremities still functioned it -slowly, painfully- stood. Surveying it's surroundings, it spoke, "[expletive deleted]."

-

[Rapture Index]

Not Even The Angels In Heaven - Index

A Rapture story which follows the stories of the angels who disapprove. Unlike A Hero In Heaven it assumes there would be more than one.

The Original Story - Death's chess game is interrupted
Exposition Dump - The Rapture and Tribulation are described in detail
The Rapture - The Rapture happens

-

A World Without God - Starfish Story

[Apparently the starfish story has its roots in Loren Eiseley, for whatever that is worth.][Originally posted at Slacktivist and The Slacktiverse on April 11th 2011]

-

There is a story, often told. The details are seldom the same, because the story isn't the kind that needs consistent details. It always takes place on a beach, always after a storm, and always in the morning. The storm, it seems, had pushed the water onto the land much farther than it would normally go, and when the water receded it left behind much more than it normally would. Doubtless there was seaweed and and crabs and periwinkles, but we don't really know because the story isn't about them. No, for this story what matters is the starfish.

The beach was littered with them. Hundreds if not thousands dotting the beach as far as the eye could see until the beach bent back away from the ocean and disappeared behind the houses that had been built on its border. Unlike the crabs that may have been washed ashore the starfish could not scurry quickly back to the ocean. They moved too slowly to save themselves and were drying out in the freshly risen sun.

It is at this point that a child is introduced. Let us say a little girl, though that is by no means certain. What matters is not her gender, or her race, or her creed. What matters is not her nationality, or her class. What matters is not her family history, or her friends, or her political views, if she is even old enough to have formed them. So all of these things are passed over in favor of what does matter, and what does matter is what she did. She walked along the beach picking up starfish and throwing them as hard as she could as far as she could into the sea. As soon as one was safely in the water she would move on to the next, and then the next. And so on.

Then another character walks onto the scene. An adult. I like to think he's an old man whose wrinkled face makes you believe that he is a font of wisdom earned from a long life in which he has seen it all. Sometimes I think he has a cane, others I think that a cane probably isn't a good thing to have on the loose sand of the beach. Sometimes I feel like he has a long gray beard, link Gandalf or Dumbledore, others I feel that he he is clean shaven. None of that matters. What matters is what he says. He sees the girl, throwing a starfish into the sea, running to the next one, throwing it into the sea, and continuing onward. He discovers that she is trying to save them, perhaps by asking her, perhaps he simply knows. Either way, he says, “There are too many of them, you'll never make a difference.”

For a moment the girl stops. She glares at him. It is a hard cold glare. A mixture of determination and utter contempt. Then she bends down, picks up a starfish, and throws it into the sea. She looks back at the old man. “I made a difference.” She pauses for a moment. “To. That. One.”

And the story ends. We don't learn how the old man responds, if he does at all. We don't know if either of them is changed by their encounter. We don't know how many starfish were saved and how many died. We don't know what becomes of the old man and the girl. We don't know anything like that because that's not what the story is about. The story is about that one, the starfish she made a difference to. The entire point of the story is summed up in the last seven words of dialog, because what the story is about is that to make a difference doesn't require massive numbers. The story is about the fact that making a difference isn't about nudging the needle to good from evil.

All that is required to make a difference is that you change one life for the better.

I use this story for shorthand. When someone asks me why we should try to distribute food when there are too many hungry people to have any hope of helping, I say, “Starfish.” When someone asks why we should try to tell people the truth about god and the Antichrist when there are so many people, and we'll never tell, much less convince, them all I say, “Starfish.”

When someone asks me why we're about to go on a rescue mission when we can never free all those who don't deserve to be imprisoned, I say, “Starfish.”

We can't everything, we can't save everyone, but we can do everything we can for those who are in front of us. At the moment that is Jenny and her team. They were captured because they helped us find the hub, if not for us they'd still be safely undercover. That makes us about as close to them as can be. They're a cluster of five starfish that we're practically standing on we're so close. It would be evil not to help them return to the safety of the ocean. On the way we'll free as many others as we can. Or die trying. Dying trying is always a possibility.

-

A World Without God - Scattered Bits and Pieces

People asked for more A World Without God and I have been writing more of the story, after a fashion.

I've got a bunch of disjointed sections of A World Without God. In the end, if I ever get to that, it will probably be the case that some of this is canon, some of it is a apocrypha, and some of it is heresy. I'm not entirely sure which bits fall into which category. I'm trying to sort it into some kind of order, but in a lot of cases I'm not sure about the order.

Some of this is story, some of this is randomly quoting poetry, some of it is massive exposition dump, and some of it is simply random. And I didn't keep track of names so now I have two entirely unrelated Andrews.

Things in brackets are out of story comments.

-
--
-

I've been thinking about the crazy people who thought I was a witch. Clearly they're crazy since I'm not a witch, but that doesn't mean they're wrong about everything. If they're right that this was predicted in the Bible then maybe a Bible has something helpful to say.

I'm not sure what to do here, I don't want to leave Jessica any longer, but I'm not getting the sense she's in immediate danger and if looking for a Bible first increases the odds of successfully setting her free, it might be worth taking the time.

-

The light was dying, the fire was kindled, and I had time to kill. When the first star showed through I said the the only prayer I knew. "Star light, star bright," something moved in the bushes. I stood slowly, it moved again, and kept moving, circling counterclockwise at the edge of the firelight. "By the first star I see tonight," I got a glimpse of hairless flesh. I knew what it was, another of the countless nameless beasts that had emerged since the disappearances, these ones were about the size of German Shepherds and hunted in packs.

The one I heard was trying to distract and disorient me. It wanted to have me stay in place, hoping the fire would protect me, spinning in place to stay facing it. Then, when I was dizzy and looking where it wanted me to look, its friends would attack from behind. I had a different plan. The ambushers always stayed on the opposite side of the fire from the distraction, if I chased it I'd always have the fire between me and the others, and they'd be to my side, not my back.

I drew my gun and made my way to the edge of the light, in the direction of the sounds in the woods. I tried to walk silently.

Which was probably pointless given I was still talking, "I wish I may." I suppose I just wanted to stay in practice. The thing in front of me realized I wasn't playing along and broke into a sprint.

"I wish I might," so did I. Soon my heart was pounding in my ears and my lungs burned. I reminded myself, yet again, that I had to find a way to get into better shape.

I knew running around through the trees in circles in the place where light meets shadow wasn't a sustainable plan, I had to make it change course. I switched the gun to my left hand and pulled out a rock I keep in my pocket, should ever the need arise, with my right. Then I threw it as hard as I could to my left. It probably would have been better to do that with my left hand, but the rock was in my right pocket. When it heard the rock hit whatever the rock hit, the thing made a bee line to elsewhere, and soon found itself right up a tree. I slowed down and caught my breath as I approached.

"Get the wish," I hadn't caught my breath enough to start speaking. I ended up gasping.

A few more steps and I could see it. No two of these things were exactly alike, but certain features were fairly common. They looked like mammals, sort of, but with the exception of a few seemingly random tufts they had no hair. Most of their skin was unbelievably smooth, almost rubbery, but there were always patches and streaks of course cracked almost scaly bits scattered about marring their naked bodies. This one's skin was almost Caucasian, but they seemed to come in all colors. Their long sharp teeth never fit in their mouths, and never followed any recognizable pattern. Their heads were shaped like a disturbed child's attempt at creating an alligator, their bodies were fairly doglike, their legs never seemed to have the same number of joints.

The fifth leg of the one on the tree was certainly distinctive, but it didn't seem to serve any purpose. Other than making the creature's left side longer than its right the extra leg didn't seem to do anything other than give it a redundant point of balance. I switched the gun to my right hand and took a step closer. It's outermost teeth were about level with my eyes, drool dripped to the ground.

It's the drool I hate most. Be a disgusting creature dredged from the nether regions of a disturbed mind if you must, but don't drool.

I pointed my gun between it's eyes "I wish," it snarled and three of its legs tensed. I fired. I spun around. There were two more, one had already pounced, I didn't have time to shoot. I hit it with the gun as hard as I could, shot the other one, and then shot the one I hit. I took a moment to make sure they were really dead. "Tonight."

I closed my eyes and said, "I wish I find Jessica." I hopped the star was listening.

I dragged the three things back to the fire. I ate demon dog tonight. In the morning's light I plan to find my rock.

-

I found a church on my fourth try. The first three had been burned to the ground. The one that survived was a simple wood building with an intact steeple. As I walked into it, torch in hand, I heard things flee the light. One of the things had too many legs to be as large as it sounded, and when I heard it skitter up the wall I was sure that I didn't want to meet it. Most of the sounds seemed to come from rodents.

A quick look around revealed that I was sharing the building with several things that didn't want to be seen. A flash of color and they'd recede into the darkness. The larger problem was the darkness itself. Not all of it retreated from the torch. Some of the shadows couldn't be explained by simple optics, and that, as much as anything could ever be, was a sign I shouldn't stay longer than I absolutely had to.

At first I thought it would be simple, I'd grab a Bible at the first pew and that would be it.

The problem was the Bible itself. It had been devoured by by bugs. Horrid twisty crawling things with more legs than I cared to think about. I screamed when I saw what I'd picked up. I also dropped the torch, thankfully the building didn't light on fire. The next Bible was the same, and then next one, and the next pew. And every single place a Bible might be stored. The church was useless to me.

So was the church after that, and the one after that. Bookstores were no better. Finally I had a minor revelation. From when I realized what I should be doing it took me two days to get to a motel. I broke down one door, opened one drawer, and there it was. Thank you, Gideons.

Unfortunately it did not contain a chapter on what to do should the world be overrun by hell stuff. In fact the entire Book of Revelations seemed dense and unhelpful. Such is life, I suppose.



[I have no idea when or where this takes place. I do know that it isn't in the character's home because that doesn't really have much in the way of tables. Or cabinets. This is clearly in an abandoned town, I'm just not sure when or why or where.]

Jacob looked at Andrew and how we had tied him to the table. He inspected Andrew's bonds in disgust, and delivered his verdict as if it were the only sane conclusion.

“There's not a demon in him,” about half a second after Jacob said that a spike shot out of Andrew's right side. It impaled some helpless cabinet. We all scrambled to be on the other side of Andrew as something happened where the spike had come from. At first it was impossible to tell what was going on, the activity was obscured by his shirt, but soon his shirt was ripped apart.

It looked like his skin was bubbling, and whenever it seemed that a bubble was about to burst it would stop growing, darken, seem to solidify and become heavier, and then, when it was a fleshy mass, more bubbles would form on it and the process would repeat.

When the growth was the size of a small dog, Jacob said, “Ok, so maybe there's a demon in him.”

Matt asked, “What do we do?” which was a good question, but I had no answer.

“I've got a hatchet,” Jacob said, “We could... you know ...” Something that looked for all the world like an octopus tentacle emerged from the growth and swatted at us, forcing us to retreat further from the table. “Ok, that's cheating.” I couldn't agree more. No human being should have an octopus part attached to them, demons or no.

-

[at some point he meets up with the three people he saved in the quarry, they left their community shortly after the community as a whole tried to kill him. “Whatshername” who saved him is named Justine, Mary is the other woman, Ethan, is the man.]

I couldn't sleep so I listened to them talk. That's not quite accurate. I couldn't sleep because I listened to them talk. I tried to tune them out, but I was unable to do that. Apparently Ethan had no such problems, I can say this because he snores. I think that they must have thought I was asleep too.

They were talking about my friend.

Justine said, “I think we should be involved.”

Mary said, “She's not one of us.”

“So what? She needs saving, we should save her.”

“It's insanely risky. I mean that. Insane. That or suicidal. Why would you even consider it?”

“'Whatever you do for the least of these...' I can't think of anyone leaster than a kidnapping victim.”

“Look, maybe before I would have agreed, but it's just the three of us now. We've got to … it's not like we've got the community to protect us anymore.”

“If we do this then it'll be the five of us. She wouldn't be the only one in our debt, he'd owe us too.” She was right, if they helped me save Jessica I'd be in their debt pretty much forever. “We'd practically double our numbers.”

“Or, if we all died, we'd literally wipe out our numbers. It'd be the zero of us.”

There was a long silence and I thought that Mary must have won, then Justine asked, “What's the most important thing for us to do now?”

Without a hint of hesitation Mary answered, “Teach the word of God.”

“Right, and we know about someone who is in need of being taught. The problem is that we're here and she's there. It'll be a lot easier to teach her when we're in the same place so we should get her out of there and bring her here. Otherwise, how will her soul be saved?”

Mary didn't seem to have an answer.

That was the end of their conversation, and in the silence that followed I was finally able to sleep.



Once again I have to put rescue on hold. Again.

I am still convinced that if I had been taken and Jessica left behind she would have found a way to rescue me by now. I just haven't figured out what that way would be. Maybe that's why they took her. If the competent people are kidnapped, there will be no one left capable of saving them.

I've also come to a disturbing realization. Jessica was taken by demons, and while I'm sure she doesn't like being a captive, I'm also pretty sure that she can afford to wait. I can tell that she's still alive in spite of the time that's passed, and I'm pretty sure she's unharmed. That's with her being a captive of demons.

If she had been taken by a human being that simply could not be the case. Each time something has forced me to put Jessica on hold it has been human action. This time the parallel couldn't be more close, someone has abducted people. Unlike the demons who took Jessica, he kills those he's taken. He does it fast. He started after I left and has gone through eleven so far. He alternates between male and female.

Ethan was injured and we were bringing home so he could recover. On our way the kidnapper, I don't even know his name, took Mary. Unlike Jessica, she can't afford to be put on hold. Her captor is human, and it appears that that's much much worse than a demon. Or at least worse than certain demons.

-

We got to Mary before he had the time to do much of anything to her. He took her ear. He got away.

What I feel now is not compassion for my friend, though I know it should be. No, I'm enraged because of how I feel. He hurt someone I'm responsible for, so I feel like it's a crime against me, not her. I know it's insane, but I cannot change how I feel.

All I can think of is what my revenge against him will be.

On the one hand, I want it to last. On the other, I want something that has flash and style. But if I set him on fire, then it won't last. How long can someone survive like that? Minutes maybe? Not long enough.

Still, I'll settle for it.

The thought of him screaming while engulfed in flame almost makes me smile.

-

We came across a settlement, a little under 300 people. We killed everyone. Some because they begged us to. The rest because they were the reason the others begged us to.

-

I had a chance to look around and see some of the things that have changed. We have a cow. Sort of. It has an overall cowish shape, it apparently came out of a cow, it has udders. It also has what looks like an elk antler coming out of its right cheekbone.

And she's full sized in spite of being very, very young, a week or two if I understand correctly. I don't know anything about cow biology, but that seems like it's probably as wrong as the antler.

I'm told that she produces a milk like substance. When I was shown it it didn't seem very milk like. It seemed like milk colored sap, but I'm told that if mixed with water and boiled it really is like milk. They tested it on the cat, which has not yet mutated into something deadly or deformed, thus they assume it is safe.

The cat is lactose intolerant.

[In case anyone is wondering about the cowish thing's calf, it was created without the assistance of a bull and, after trying to eat a teenager's rabbit, escaped and has not been heard from since. The fact that no one has stolen, killed, and eaten the rabbit yet is one of the few things that gives people in the settlement hope that humanity might be redeemable.]

-

I shot the bastard today.

It was entirely unsatisfying, but at least he's dead. He had even more time his current victim than with Mary. I cannot repeat what David said to me, I don't want to remember the exact words. I don't want to remember how I felt.

I don't want to think about it at all.

His captor cut off his arm. One bone at a time. Starting from the tips of his fingers. Now his right arm ends at the elbow.

He's recovering now. That's not the right word. It makes it sound like his arm will grow back. I don't know what the right word is.

Mary went to talk to him, I suppose she understands better than anyone else being the only other person to have survived being the bastard's captive. I overheard how their conversation started.

She said, “I heard you lost your arm.”

He said, “I heard you lost your ear.”

I cannot see any way that such a conversation could possibly be comforting. Still, if she bounced back, and she did, perhaps she can help him.

-

The trees in the surrounding area had lost their leaves and changed into twisted spiked forms. The ground cover was a kind of black goop, and when we made it through we saw why the had been abducting people. The people, the slaves, were being forced to build. Other than being slaves there was no evidence that they were mistreated, in fact they seemed to be fairly well fed.

What they were building was a giant temple, the finished portions looked like they were cut from solid obsidian, but it was really made of hardened goop on a wood frame. It was the biggest thing I've ever seen, a kind of stepped pyramid. It felt like it went on forever.

[and in here there's the drawn out process of freeing groups of people and pointing each of them in different directions in hopes the faceless flying things won't be able to track all of them. At first it seemed like things went really well, as the the demons dropped everything to chase after the first group, making it easier to free the next group, and pretty soon there were more people free than demons to chase them, and it seemed like everyone got away. The narrator realized that that was pretty much impossible, and discovered that the demony things were herding the escapees into larger and larger groups that would be easier to track. And then, stuff happens. Um, yeah.]

-

In many ways Ethan is a great guy. For the most part he is a caring compassionate person. For the most part.

He was safe surrounded by like minded people but when it turned out that they were only like minded for the most part, and not one the relatively small matter of whether I should be killed, he took a stand and walked away. He did this after I had gotten away and the point was moot. He did it on principle alone.

That's great, we need more like him in that respect. Even though I think that he brings less to the table than Justine or Mary, who did the same thing, I'm happy to have him with us. For the most part. But just as Ethan reached a point where he had to draw a line and say one thing was going to far, I've been getting to that point with him.

He hasn't been playing well with others. Or rather other. One specific other. It doesn't even make any sense, he and she have no need to interact at all anyway, I don't see why he doesn't just ignore her and hold his tongue when she's around. It would literally be the least he could do. He'd still be being an asshole, but at least not be as active about it.

Her name is Jenny and she's a really good cook. I don't know much about her beyond that. Dark hair, light skin. Tall I guess. She speaks softly, often to the point she's hard to hear. The only thing I care about is that she can make the dead abominations we bring her into edible food. Good food even.

That isn't enough for him. I tried to explain that she's not an abomination, she simply cooks them, but no. He wouldn't listen. He said that somewhere in the Bible it says something about men acting like women, or wearing women's clothes, or something. I don't know exactly what. I don't want to know. I don't care. It doesn't apply to her anyway, she's not a man.

He didn't listen. He talked about how horrible it was for her to have made the change that she did. He seemed shocked when I said that I didn't have any problem with it, he couldn't believe it. I suppose he's right, I do have one problem with it. She picked a name starting with J. I've always had trouble with names, and when they have the same first letter it's infinitely worse. Justine and Jessica and Jordan and Jane and the others to which Jenny has been added all run together. Even though I've known Jessica for years. I just suck at names, I get it from my mother.

So I really would have preferred that she pick something in an Ellen or an Abigail or any of the other unrepresented first letters. I admitted that to him, and I pointed out that it was my problem, not hers.

I'm not sure if I really expected talking about me and my specific problems to get him to think about whether his discomfort might be more about him than Jenny, but it definitely did not have that effect. He brought the conversation right back to how Jenny was evil and wrong and should not be.

This simply cannot stand. We kill abominations. We exterminate evil. To say that Jenny is one of these things is to say that she should be put down. It is nothing less, it can be nothing less. Middle ground doesn't exist any more. Well, it does, but not within the field of evil abominations. If we are to survive we need to oppose evil at every turn. We need to fight it tooth and nail. We are at war against the abominations.

To say that Jenny is evil is to say that she is the enemy. That is not something that you say to a group of people who are on edge, armed, and watching their humanity slowly slip away. It is not safe.

So I explained that if he does not stop acting this way I will shoot him. I will not kill him, I like him most of the time and I definitely wouldn't want to deal with the fallout from his friends, but I will shoot him. I also added that if he keeps on using the Bible to justify his bigotry I will go down to the coast, set a trap, and hit him with a lobster as soon as humanly possible.

He can think what ever he wants, but his actions are putting Jenny in danger, and that I will not have.

I don't know Jenny that well, she's not my friend, but she is a part of the community and that's enough. She's a human being and that's enough. Plus, I'm the reason Ethan is here, that makes me responsible for any damage he does.

-

It called me a demon. It said it was going to kill me. I didn't say anything nearly that coherent. I said, “What?! I'm not … I … I was born on the twenty seventh of may at Mercy Hospital. It snowed that day. Growing up I always imagined that it looked like a Christmas card, and when I got older I realized that snow in May doesn't work that way. My father died when I was three, I have no memories of him. But I know that demons don't have fathers who die of cancer.

“My mother was a mathematician. She had green eyes and long red hair. Her skin was pale and her freckles were many. She used to read 19th century poetry to me when she tucked me in at night. Do demons even have mothers?

“I flunked sixth grade science because I spent my time thinking about a girl I thought I was in love with. I didn't even know her name. I'm not a demon.

Walking backwards is an art. Anyone who ever looked down on tour guides needs to seriously rethink their position. Even knowing where every obstruction is it's hard to plant you feet well, keep moving, and keep the person in front of you engaged enough in what you're saying to prevent them from killing you all at the same time.

I'm really not that good at it.

That point was driven home when he, apparently sick of me trying to argue I was human, threw a seven foot long evil looking sharp object that I think was a javelin my way.

There was a moment's pause after the sharp thing missed me, in which I ran and added, somewhat stupidly, “You said that you used to be an angel, that makes you the demon.”

When trees spontantiously explode they create splinters. Splinters hurt like hell.

-

I've never been one to delve too deeply into symbols and meanings beyond what's on the surface. I think that Frost's Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening was about stopping by the woods on a snowy evening. In fact, I have a suspicion that he may be recounting an actual event.

It would not surprise me if he really did stop by the woods, his horse really did shake the bells, and later on he wrote a poem about it.

I don't think that we need to resort to symbolic analysis. You read the poem, or better still speak it, and you feel something. I think that what you feel is the point.

But then everyone has to bring their view to the table. “Of course it's about death.” “Of course the dark woods symbolize dying.” “Of course it's about suicide and obligations preventing it.” “Of course” they say. “Of course” means that it in no way follows. Their analysis is a way to tear something beautiful apart. To rip it limb from limb from limb in hopes that somehow the deconstruction will allow them to understand better.

Maybe we were never meant to understand. Maybe we were meant to feel. To feel it without a ridged framework, without dissecting it. To take it as it is and have that change us.

Yet today I feel like I have a better understanding of what they mean. I was trying to get something out of my head. Something I refuse to write down. Something that I don't want to do, but it wouldn't go away. As it felt more and more inevitable I suddenly found myself at a cliff face. There hadn't been one there Before, it looked to me like the land had been eaten away.

It was so tempting to simply step out into space. My friends would all be safe from me. I wouldn't have to worry about losing control and finding that I'd let one of those thoughts get the better of me. Ever since I'd tapped into my other senses I've been the best killer around, I'm not convinced that I could be stopped. There are plenty of people who could beat me in a fair fight, but it wouldn't be a fair fight.

And there was a cliff. Like a gift. I was tempted. I was very, very tempted.

But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. Miles to go before I sleep.

-

I've been thinking more about suicide.

I speak of Andrew. Not Andy, he died under entirely unrelated circumstances.

Andrew came to me one day, said he'd traded for guard duty with someone else but hadn't gotten a weapon, asked to borrow my pistol. I gave it to him, he walked away, and as soon as I was out of sight I heard the shot. It was a clean kill and he was dead when I got there.

Looking back I remember that he was acting strangely, looking at his knife and his hands in an odd way, his posture was different, maybe even his voice. But at the time I didn't really take notice.

By the end of the day I'd figured out why. He'd been out making snares by the river in hopes of catching some food, and come across a woman bathing. She didn't say why she was where she was, but I'd guess she was so far from camp for safety. I think there's safety in numbers, but there are other theories. She probably figured that if she went far enough away no one would be likely to run across her and thus she'd be safe for that reason.

Anyway, he did run across her. She said that he just apologized and went away. That there was nothing that stood out as strange. The word she used to describe the encounter was awkward, not threatening or disturbing or anything that set off red flags.

But I understood. When he came across her that meant they were alone, where no one would know what had happened, and he was armed. Plus she was probably naked. I can only imagine what might have gone through his head, and if he felt that he couldn't maintain control then I think he probably did the right thing. I hope that if I should find myself on the edge of losing control I can do the same thing. I have the same gun.

-

I found God today. I was considering doing what Andrew did, I was considering going away and never returning. I ran from our settlement. I ran as fast as I could and as far as I could until I collapsed to the ground gasping.

And then I talked to God. I don't remember what I said exactly, but it was something like:

God, if you're listening, I'm trying to do the right thing, we all are, but I could really use some help.

I didn't realize at the time, but looking back the effect was almost immediate. I haven't wanted to do unspeakable things since I said it. God helped me. When I returned and saw Jessica I felt simple joy for the first time since the disappearances. Not even when I finally got to her after she'd been abducted have I really felt that way. It's like whatever part of me feels for others has been turned back on.

I told her that I'm better, I'm not sure if she fully understands what that means.

-

[Theology]

Jessica asked me what I believed today, I tried to get her to ask Justine or Mary instead, even Ethan. We have three Rapturist Christians on hand any one of who knew more about the theology I was coming to believe than I did. She wanted to hear it from me. I realize that I haven't written down what I believe yet, so here goes.

God created the universe, but didn't exactly do a perfect job of it. When I speculated that it was a result of the raw materials God had available Jessica said that she understood, she's read the Timaeus. I haven't, but I assume it involves creating something from less than perfect raw materials and being limited as a result of it.

Anyway, God created the world, and created it flawed, but used a series of modifications to make it work. The problem was that even with the various patches the world still wasn't right and got worse with time. The world as we knew it was pretty well doomed and needed to be rebuilt from the ground up, which meant removing the various patches first, a process that would take about seven years.

Jessica had two questions. The first was whether I meant patches as in software or patches as in the hull of a boat. First off, the term patch does not appear in the theology, that's my own description. Second, I think that both fit. It is like reality was a flawed program with an extensive bug list that needed a lot of alterations. But also I think that a patch on a boat is a good analogy. When the first patch was removed evil flooded into the world like water rushing through a hole in a hull.

The second question was why this wasn't done before. If I'm right God knew this was coming at least two thousand years ago, yet it only happened now. My answer to her was in the form of a simple question. I told her to look around, to think about everything that had happened since the disappearances. I asked her if she could have delayed it, even for a single day, would she have.

I think that any God worth caring about wouldn't want to do this, no matter how necessary it was. I think that any God worth following would put this off to the last possible day. The last possible hour. The last possible minute. The last possible second.

If I were God, and I knew that one day this absolutely had to happen I would put it off for a thousand years, and then when a thousand years had passed I'd put it off again. And again. And again. As many times as I could. Because the fact that something has to happen doesn't mean it has to happen today.

Anyway, once we got passed those questions I laid out a timeline, which is very hazy. Step one was that God had to leave to get to work, and took with

Ok, I know this isn't attested to anywhere in the Bible, but I'm going to say, “Her.”

God left and took with her everyone that she could. Of course Jessica wanted to know what made it so she could take those people with her. One of the Rapturists could probably have quoted some verses or something, I can't. I've only got supposition. Or perhaps more accurately: wild guessing with no foundation in anything. My guesses are as follows:

First children haven't been in the world as long as the rest of us so they haven't been tainted by it. We have. Everyone who remains has been wallowing in it. Even with God placing a piece of herself in each and every one of us to hold back the darkness, we still lose our innocence with time.

I actually want to pause here for a moment to point something out. If I'm right, if the Rapturists are right, then that means that God was ripping off a piece of herself to protect every single human being. A new person is born, God rips off another part of her soul, the holy spirit, to protect our souls. By the time of the disappearances that means that God had ripped well over six billion pieces of her own soul off. And she did it for us. That is devotion.

Also, that assumes that she was recycling ripped off pieces and that she didn't do the same thing for animals, which she probably did.

Ok, so anyway, God had a piece of herself in each of us to hold back the greatest part of our darker natures. Obviously that worked better in some cases than others. That piece was not, for the most part, enough to evacuate us when the time came to leave. For that she needed to have us invite her in and consent to be taken when the time came. That required someone to consciously invite God in, be aware that the disappearances were coming, and be willing to go when the time came. Or something like that.

The theory is that if were were able to check we would find that every adult who disappeared was a Rapturist who had, in their heart, agreed to be taken. The group of Rapturists I came across converted afterward upon seeing the Rapturists they had known all disappear.

This tells us something important about God, that being that God can only do so much without getting permission. The most important thing in the present situation is that what God can do without permission now is far less than it once was since God is now mostly withdrawn. To even get the previously unnoticed benefit of having God keep our inner darkness at bay, I believe that it is now required to invite God in, as I have done. As I want Jessica to do. As I want everyone to do.

But the timeline.

I've forgotten most of the details, but the timeline is one of deconstruction. Seals are broken. Jessica asked what seals were and I said that seals are first century shorthand for, “John, I don't want to explain what it means to have cobbled together after market modifications to reality itself, so I'm going to use a metaphor, just understand that I need to break them.” Or something like that. Seals are what holds a scroll closed. When we get to bowls we again see a theme of containment. Bowls hold things in so that they cannot spill out onto the world below. The problem is that you have to move the bowls to fix the table and sometimes the bowl is too heavy to move unless you dump it out first, which does rain chaos and destruction down onto the table, but it's a necessary first step in clearing off the table so that it might be fixed.

As for the trumpets, I have no fucking clue.

With each barrier broken down, and each step we take closer to a clean foundation on which a less broken world can be built, whatever the barrier was meant to restrain is released. As more and more things are freed from their restraints things will get a whole lot worse, but we only have seven years to wait, we still have each other, and God will presumably do whatever she can to help, even if it isn't that much at this point.

The important thing is to look after one another. We were given a list of commands, feed the hungry and such. If we want to do our part to make sure things work out, and based on the way things look right now God probably needs all the help she can get, we need to help everyone we can. We need to look after those she can't. We need to fight to make the world a better place because everything around us will be fighting to do the opposite.

While Jessica isn't sold on God, she agrees on the general idea of what needs to be done.

-

We've been doing a pretty good job of finding new food, but we've been doing an even better job of finding new mouths to feed.

This cannot be sustained.

-

Hi God. How are you? I hope you're doing well because that would mean that one of us is. Tell my friends and family that I love them. Keep everyone safe.

I forgive you for your part in what is happening.

-

We ran out of 9mm ammunition today. Fuck.

-

Justine thinks we saw the Antichrist today. If we did, he saved us.

The others finally attacked, land ones, things that somewhat resembled wolves and bears, were herded to towards us and then, once a stampede of those were attacking the others came from the air. We tried to fight them off with recently improvised bows and arrows and anything that could be used as a weapon. We were losing badly and then he came in. He was riding a strong white horse. He had a sort of metal headband, Justine says it's a crown, but it looks like a metal headband to me.

At first I thought he was fighting with a bow and arrow too, but when I looked closer I realized that there were no arrows, there wasn't even a bowstring. He pulled back on empty air, the bow bent, he released, the bow snapped back, and what he was pointing at died. Demons dropped at an astounding rate.

Not that he did it alone, he had troops who were armed with guns, but he led from the front and he got the credit. I've not doubt that we would have died without him.

The bow was just a piece of wood. I'm sure of it. Lovingly crafted into a bow perhaps, but just a piece of wood with no power of its own. I have no idea how he was killing the things that he killed. I'm just thankful that he did.

-

There was a sort of meeting ceremony thing. The man with the bow, the one Justine thinks is the antichrist, explained how things would be from now on. On the one hand, he wanted to be in charge. Just him, completely autocracy. Below him he said we could have whatever form of government we wanted, but he had final say.

The impression I had was that he wouldn't take a very hands off approach. He might not care who was on the city council, but the police force would be structured exactly how he wanted it.

That didn't sound good, on the other hand, he was talking about moving back into cities and towns. Not home, home had been eaten, but buildings, and streets and electricity.

Also, law and order of some form or other. Not having to worry about being kidnapped and have parts of you cut off, or worse. He said that they had driven the darkness back elsewhere and would do the same here.

Tomorrow he'd move on, but he'd leave representatives here. I got the impression that the only real reason he was here was that we were between him and somewhere else. He felt to important to be one of the planned stops on his itinerary.

The question remained of course, what if he is the Antichrist? Jessica asked if we should kill him. I thought that was premature, what if he was just a guy? But there was also another reason not to. I could tell that that would be a profoundly bad idea. Everything in me screamed out that it was something we should under no circumstances attempt.

I said that it was a bad idea, but I couldn't elaborate on why. I tried to push out and figure out where this feeling was coming from, but it was impossible, as if whenever I thought I'd grabbed hold of it it slipped away. Then I felt something I'd never felt before.

I told the others he noticed us, because he had. Somehow I knew that he was looking at us the same way I was looking at him. Without his eyes.

After his thing was over he came over to me and asked me to join him. No one else, just me. I declined. I explained that my place was here with my friends. He said he understood, and left me alone. It seemed perfectly fine. There was nothing threatening at all, but I got the distinct impression he could have killed me if he'd wanted to, and done it before I knew I was in danger.

-

We met with one of his aides, someone trying to form a Resistance. He, like Justine, believes that Xaiver, the guy with the bow, is the antichrist. Again Jessica asked the obvious question. If he's evil, why don't we simply end him? His response was, “Yeah... don't do that.”

Jessica asked, “Why not?”

“Have you ever seen someone die because their bones turned into sulfur and burned their way out of the person's body?”

“No.”

“Well I have. It doesn't smell good and it's not how I want to die. I don't think he notices when people act against him indirectly, otherwise I'd be dead. But the moment you try to physically harm him he knows, and he'll respond.”

I asked, “So what exactly are you doing?”

“Wherever he goes, I go, and whenever he tells people about his grand plan for the future I tell people that there is another option. I tell people not to give up, I tell them to start forming a resistance. I tell them that some things are worth fighting for and that they should know that whatever they do to oppose him, they won't be alone.

“And then I tell them to create resistance cells I know nothing about and whose member's faces I don't know. So that if I'm tortured I can't give them up.

“Now at this point you have a choice, you can work with me knowing that at any time anyone I've met can give me up, at which point I may be forced to name your names to people who want you dead. If you do then I can see about getting you inside information and occasionally divert supplies your way.

“Or, you can never speak to me again and do whatever you can to stop me from being able to identify you, and do your own thing without having to worry too much about me. Which is part of why I haven't asked your names.”

[logistics are discussed, as the aide is leaving:]

I asked him about the way I'd been singled out and offered a job and was relieved to hear that I wasn't the only one. Just about everywhere he goes he does that to people apparently, sometimes multiple people, some accept, some decline. I was assured that if he ever does decide to act against those who turned him down I will be significantly down the list.

-

I have an apartment now. Free of charge. To get inside I have to use voice identification, as does any guest I bring with me. If more people enter than identify themselves the police will come. If there is any evidence of duress in a person's voice, the police will come. If a non-roommate is in the apartment for more than a certain unspecified time, the apartment will automatically demand the person read a randomly generated phrase, if this is not done, there is evidence that the words of the phrase was prerecorded, or evidence of unusual stress in the person's voice, the police will come. If my apartment is randomly selected by a computer, the police will come.

Also, reaching out with senses other than the usual ones I have noticed that there is some kind of device hidden from view in each room. I'm guessing that it is some kind of surveillance thing, though I really have no idea because anything electronic is just wires and circuit board to me. I assume that if I do anything naughty, the police will come.

Still, I have running water, I have a bed.

-

We've set up a place in the woods. The running water was nice while it lasted.

-

[What if she's an angel?]

Jessica and I were first to the site of the impact, Ryan and Chelsea not far behind. There were broken branches, on the ground, knocked out by what had fallen through the trees, that was expected. What wasn't was the what had fallen. It was a woman. Actually that assessment is the matter of some debate.

Our first guess was that something had picked her up and dropped her, like shellfish on the rocks, just without the rocks. And the shellfish. The assumption was that she was a human woman. Then Ryan had to introduce a competing hypothesis just because we noticed that she happened to be alive in spite of the fact that, based on the apparent sturdiness of some of the broken branches, she hit with way too much force to survive.

Some she was half covered tree bits, clearly very scraped and banged up, unconscious, and breathing with difficulty. I went to help her and Ryan said wait. Generally speaking if someone tells you to stop moving, you stop moving. Doing otherwise could be fatal. But when the explanation is, “What if she's an angel?” It's somewhat- I cannot put into words what an odd thing it is to hear.

Ryan has a somewhat unique theology. We agree on just about everything, except for the parts that matter. Specifically he believes that we are here because we are damned, that God is doing the things she is doing not because she needs to, but because she wants to. Because she thinks that we deserve it. Though, actually, Ryan would say that God is a he.

As such, as far as Ryan is concerned, an angel could only be sent to earth for one purpose: to torment us. As such in his mind the correct course of action would be to run like hell, and, as he put it, “We should be thankful to whatever demon did this to her.”

There are so many things wrong with that way of thinking that I didn't even know where to start, I just made my way towards her. Then Chelsea said that maybe Ryan was right, not about the angel thing but she said, “Nothing human could have survived that. When was the last time something inhuman wasn't evil?”

I looked at the woman again, she was half covered by pine branches, sap and blood mingled on her face, her hair was the same fiery orange, inexplicably known as red, as my mother's. She was having trouble breathing. She needed helping.

Ryan said that shed kill us all. I reached out and saw that he might be right, even weakened she probably had the ability to kill us all. I also saw that she really was injured. I told Ryan I was willing to take that chance. Jessica was ahead of me, she started clearing the debris off of the woman. When her wings came into view Ryan went apoplectic. Thankfully he was just shouting, he didn't actually do anything. I probably should have pointed out that if his shouting didn't wake her up, it was unlikely anything we did would cause her to suddenly spring up and go into terminator mode.

What I actually said was that he could leave us, that worked out pretty well. All of a sudden Ryan changed gears the yelling stopped and he said, “I'm not going to leave you here.”

I said we wouldn't think less of him if he did, Chelsea said, “I would.”

We picked the woman up and carried her home. Perhaps when she wakes up she'll kill us all.

-

The angel woke up. I probably should have asked about theology, truth, the creation of the universe, and that sort of thing. I gave her water and asked her about herself. Her name is Sofiel, she's on her own. From now till judgment day she's not getting any more help from Heaven than any of the rest of us. And she doesn't know any more about how things are going than the rest of us.

I asked her who would be fighting the final battle. She said, “We have reserves.”

She doesn't really have any kind of a plan. She's just here to do what she can. The same as the rest of us.

She's definitely not going to kill us all.

Also, she has my accent. And Jessica's accent. And the accent of whomever she happens to be speaking to at the time. If I could have any accent, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't pick mine.

-

We tied Alex to a tree good sturdy rope. I'm not sure where we got it. We had him wait for six hours first, to try to put the thing in him off balance. Then we brought out Sofiel. Being here is taking a toll on her and it really shows. Her wings are molting, her skin is pale and flaking, I think the hair loss has stopped, but it is impossible to not notice how thin it's become. She looks frail, but she still walks with grace and strength. No idea if she can still fly.

Alex, or rather the nameless thing inside of Alex, spoke. He laughed and asked what she'd done to be thrown out of Heaven. She walked over to him, he was seated on the ground, his arms tied back around the tree. She had to squat to look him in the eye:

“I volunteered.” She let that hang a moment, then continued, “You think this is a punishment? You think I wanted to be standing idly by while the world burns? You think I wanted to be safe in Heaven dividing my time between training for the final battle and playing with children while people suffered?

“I asked to be here, and I was lucky to be allowed to come. Many more wanted to but couldn't be spared. This is my reward.

“Now, let's see about getting you out of that body.”

We haven't actually gotten it out of Alex yet, but I think we've made some progress.

-

[In the book The Mark, Buck and a sidekick go to a mark application facility (taking the mark damns your soul in Left Behind), one girl asks for some time to think it over. She's told, basically, to go head over to get her head chopped off, if she hasn't made up her mind by the time she gets to the guillotine they'll chop off her head. Buck does nothing. Nothing at all. Given that she doesn't really have time to think it over she defaults to “I'd rather not get my head chopped off.” This will damn her for all eternity. Buck does nothing.]

“You're going to kill me just for wanting time to think it over?”

There has to come a point where you say, “Fuck the mission,” and do the stupid thing. It simply cannot be otherwise. If you're not willing to draw a line somewhere, then nothing separates you from the other side. People can say what they wish about the ends justifying the means, but it seems to me that life is an endless series of means. Which is the only justification I can offer for what I did.

The fact that it did not result in my death and total ruin for the entire world I ascribe entirely to luck and other people rising to the occasion, I certainly can't take any credit for it.

I understand that we can't save everyone, I understand that we haven't even figured out a way to make sure everyone knows what they're getting into, that doesn't mean that I can accept that people will be forced to make the choice without even a moment to think about it. I couldn't stand idly by while that was happening.

First I tried to do it without breaking cover. I tried to argue that the regime didn't want people who would reject the mark given the chance. That didn't work, I got louder, they didn't respond. So I grabbed the nearest one's gun, and shot him along with one of his coworkers. While I did that I reached out to the surrounding building, there was a pipe filled with steam, I neither knew nor cared why it should be there or what purpose it might serve. I convinced it to warm, then get hotter still, until it exploded. That distracted the guards near it for a moment, as blasts of hot steam are wont to do.

I grabbed the keys to the door from the guard I shot as he fell. I opened the door, told those inside to run, and turned to face the surviving guards. I shot one. The other one shot me. It's been years since everything collapsed. Years since demons walked the earth. Years since the Antichrist came. It's the first time I've been shot. I was on the ground before I knew what had happened.

I killed the remaining guard as I lay there. The cell emptied, though not entirely. Some didn't run. It took a bit for the pain to set in, at first I didn't even realize where I'd been shot. I didn't care either. I reached out and saw the whole facility. Many more guards, police, peacekeepers, soldiers, and assorted people with guns. There were dogs and cameras, and everything anyone would want if they intended to hunt down fugitives. An escape attempt was extremely ill advised, but I had to come up with some way to make it work, because I was the one who advised it.

There were alarms all over, you just push a button, an alarm sounds, and the troops come pouring in. Really all that separated an off alarm from and on one was a charge in the tiniest of circuits. I figured that if I could burst a pipe I could probably work with that. I set off an alarm as far from where they were running as I could.

Then the pain set in. I cannot describe what it feels like. All I can say is that for a moment my entire world was my right shoulder. Everything else shut down and all I could experience was pain. I wondered, and still wonder, if that's what it feels like to have a hole punched in your shoulder, what must it be like to have someone who enjoys pain cut something off of you. Say an ear or a finger.

That was the first thing I could think of other than the pain itself, but I pushed through it and tried to get the lay of the land. The people running had separated into two groups. The girl who had wanted more time was in the smaller one. Five other people, one of them female, the rest male. As near as I could tell at one intersection they went left, while the others went right. I wasn't sure what I could do to help beyond what I'd already done.

The alarm seemed to have worked, so I set off some more, again, far away from them. Guards went to them, but when they found nothing I expected them to return. I needed a more substantial distraction than alarms no one had sounded. I looked for something else. I found it when my attention turned to the guillotines and the injectors. Much as I may have wished otherwise they were not surrounded by large quantities of stuff that goes boom. They were, however, in the direction the escapees were not running, and they were crying out to be destroyed. I hated them, merely thinking about them roused in me a burning anger that no other inanimate object had ever created. I took my rage and gave it form. I connected my self to that facility and poured what I felt into every speck of dust or breath of air.

The temperature rose. I don't know whether it was the exertion or the blood loss, but I started to black out. I fought to stay connected, to keep on working. Plastic melted.

The larger group made a wrong turn, they found themselves surrounded and surrendered. But the small group was still free and still moving in the right direction. I figured that I just had to keep people occupied and they'd get away.

I kept on working on the mark application and beheading room. The windows and doors felt the pressure as the air inside became much, much hotter than that outside. That gave me an idea and I devoted some of my attention to helping the windows and doors hold.

The room was far from air tight, but I was changing the temperature fast enough that it couldn't hope to keep the pressure equal. I lost all sense of time. I quoted an evil computer's discussion of hate, and I made the temperature rise. Finally, I just let go. The windows exploded, the air rushed out, and then the room collapsed. Everyone heard it, everyone responded. Guards who had concluded the alarm was a glitch and had been heading back to their posts ran to investigate the explosion.

Everyone was safely moved out away from the escapees, who disappeared into the woods while darkness overtook my senses.

I was woken up soon afterward as I was dragged into the cell by those who hadn't gotten away. My extra senses were gone. Burnt out, I assumed. I was laid on the ground and I heard the cell door close and lock. Someone, presumably whoever was in charge started talking to me from the other side of that door. I couldn't see him, I was lying flat on by back, my feet towards the door.

He seemed haughty, and angry. I really only remember the last things he said. “You think you can come into my base, pretend to be an officer, blow up my equipment, and break people out of my prison cells?” I don't even know where to begin. First off, I didn't think I could do that, I did do that. Second, what other type of cell would I be breaking people out of? His eukaryotic cells?

Third, the fact he was saying that and not telling me that additional prisoners, or their corpses, would soon be joining me, led me to a simple conclusion, “So I guess the others got away.” Ok, maybe my logic wasn't flawless, but it made sense that the recaptured people would be returned immediately, and I would be dragged in when they were. So the other people couldn't be back yet, and he made no mention of their imminent return.

He didn't answer. He didn't have to. Instead he asked me, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

I suppose there are any number of wonderful ways to answer that, but for me, in that moment, there was only one. In retrospect I probably should have put more thought into it. I was bleeding on the floor and unlikely to get medical attention, I should have realized that those might have been my last words. I should have considered them carefully. Then again, I might have come to the same thing in the end. I didn't ask myself what would Jesus say, or what would Nathan Ford say. I didn't ask anything, I just said what my mother would have said:

“We are the music makers,
“And we are the dreamers of dreams,
“Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
“And sitting by desolate streams;
“World-losers and world-forsakers,
“On whom the pale moon gleams:
“Yet we are the movers and shakers
“Of the world for ever, it seems.”

When I paused between stanzas one of the other prisoners started doing something with my shoulder. I'm guessing that they were trying to stop the bleeding, put on an improvised bandage of some kind, something like that. All I really know is that it hurt like hell. I focused on the words and kept going through the pain.

“With wonderful deathless ditties
“We build up the world's great cities,
“And out of a fabulous story
“We fashion an empire's glory:
“One man with a dream, at pleasure,
“Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
“And three with a new song's measure
“Can trample a kingdom down.”

This entire time I was staring at the ceiling, it was an ugly water damaged thing and had an unpleasant habit of going in and out of focus. It dropped into incredibly sharp focus and stopped being ugly for a moment, the concentric irregular stains had a strange sort of beauty to them, and for the next stanza I admired it them as I spoke.

“We, in the ages lying
“In the buried past of the earth,
“Built Nineveh with our sighing,
“And Babel itself in our mirth;
“And o'erthrew them with prophesying
“To the old of the new world's worth;
“For each age is a dream that is dying,” tears started to roll down my face, the way they always do when I get to this point,
“Or one that is coming to birth.”

Some people would stop there, but if my mother taught me nothing else she taught me that you can't stop at just three stanzas. You've got to do the whole thing. As a tear reached my right ear, I became lost in a memory: the time I couldn't make it through.

My mother's funeral. I'd wanted to recite her favorite poem for her, one last time. But after I struggled through the third stanza, stumbling over the last two lines, I couldn't form any more words. All I could do was sob. My entire extended family was watching me, on any other day the embarrassment might have killed me, but on that day I was too broken to even notice.

There had been nothing right about the day. It was bright and the sun was shining, there was a pleasant breeze and the grass was green. It was like the world didn't know what it had lost. Like it didn't care. Like my mother hadn't mattered. It was supposed to be dark, dreary, windy, and if not raining at least with an annoying drizzle.

Two days later, standing in front of her grave, a rectangle of rich disturbed soil mixed with grass seed marking where she was, I finished the poem. It was a private recital that time, just me and her.

As I spoke I remembered saying the same words that day, the smell of fresh cut grass, the feel of the sunburn I had had:

“A breath of our inspiration
“Is the life of each generation;
“A wondrous thing of our dreaming
“Unearthly, impossible seeming—
“The soldier, the king, and the peasant
“Are working together in one,
“Till our dream shall become their present,
“And their work in the world be done.”

The memory ended with the stanza, but I couldn't bring the room back into focus. For some reason my right hand suddenly seemed very important. It was sticky, obviously blood, but I had no idea how it would have gotten there. I'd grabbed my shoulder with my left. It would have been incredibly awkward to get my right hand anywhere near the blood. I definitely would have noticed.

Maybe I touched my right hand with my left.

It was a mystery I'd have to leave for another time, because I'd caught my breath and was ready to continue. I rubbed my bloody fingers together and said:

“They had no vision amazing
“Of the goodly house they are raising;
“They had no divine foreshowing
“Of the land to which they are going:
“But on one man's soul it hath broken,
“A light that doth not depart;
“And his look, or a word he hath spoken,
“Wrought flame in another man's heart.”

It didn't really make any sense, it didn't have anything to do with this part of the poem, but more memories of my mother were coming up I remembered us in a storm, standing at the sea, yards from where the water met the rocks, daring the waves to break higher, and for some reason that makes no sense now that I am no longer in shock, the words I was saying seemed like perfect narration for the scene:

“And therefore to-day is thrilling
“With a past day's late fulfilling;
“And the multitudes are enlisted
“In the faith that their fathers resisted,
“And, scorning the dream of to-morrow,
“Are bringing to pass, as they may,
“In the world, for its joy or its sorrow,
“The dream that was scorned yesterday.”

At this point I nearly threw up. I don't know why.

Then for whatever reason my thoughts turned to setting up camp in the woods, after we had to flee the cities the second time. I remembered how different it was from the first time. That time we weren't worried about our baser instincts, that time we weren't worried we'd end up killing each other. Even though, theoretically, a global regime was out to kill us, there had been a lot of joy, and a lot of fun.

And there was even some singing, so maybe feeling like those though went with these words wasn't so odd:

“But we, with our dreaming and singing,
“Ceaseless and sorrowless we!
“The glory about us clinging
“Of the glorious futures we see,
“Our souls with high music ringing:
“O men! it must ever be
“That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
“A little apart from ye.”

Of course once the set up was finished there was work to do, the hard work of actually resisting a global force of evil wasn't nearly as much fun. Nor was having to pick up and leave once they found our home in the woods. Those thoughts waited until the break between stanzas, and I wondered what would happen if I were tortured.

I'd break, of course I'd break. But then what? Would the others have been smart enough to run away before then, or would they all die because of me? I pushed the thoughts from my head. I had a poem to finish.

This part seemed like it fit. The prison cell, the hole in my shoulder, my blood on my hands, everything the other side represented, and everything we hoped for. It all seemed to fit.

“For we are afar with the dawning
“And the suns that are not yet high,
“And out of the infinite morning
“Intrepid you hear us cry—”
I tried to raise my voice as much as I could without breaking the poem here,“How, spite of your human scorning,“Once more God's future draws nigh,”
and dropped off again around hereish,“And already goes forth the warning
“That ye of the past must die.

If I'd had more than one left to go, I think I might have given up. I simply didn't have much more left in me. As it was I again found myself having difficulty staying in the moment. I was back in another memory. I was with my mother. I was a child in bed, she was over me. When I looked into her deep green eyes I felt completely safe, and when she smiled I felt like everything was right with the world. As an adult that sounds like a silly cliche, but as a child it was Truth. Her hair hung down around her face, as she told the poem to me. The memory could have been from any one of a thousand nights. I spoke the words with her:

“Great hail! we cry to the comers
“From the dazzling unknown shore;
“Bring us hither your sun and your summers;
“And renew our world as of yore;
“You shall teach us your song's new numbers,
“And things that we dreamed not before:
“Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,
“And a singer who sings no more.”

And then my mother would get up, say good night, lean over me, and give me a kiss on the forehead. Sometimes she'd stop on the way down or the way up, so that her hair just reached down to my face. It would tickle.

I hadn't forgotten why I started the poem. “So that's who I think we are.”

Someone to my right, a woman, said, “He left eight stanzas ago.” I rolled my head to the side to get a look at the speaker, but I was still having trouble focusing on anything.

“Oh.” I didn't have a lot else to say. Though I did think of one thing: “The bastard.”

Then I passed out.

-

When I woke up I learned that the damage I had done would prevent anyone from taking the mark or being beheaded in the near future. They would have to ship in additional supplies. Our keepers decided that it would be fun to refuse to feed us in the meantime. Then decided that it would be even more fun to give the thirty or so of us in the one room exactly one meal. So that we could fight over it. Enough of my senses had returned that I could see what it was without looking. It was chowder and bread. I figured the chowder wouldn't survive the fight and whoever got the bread wouldn't be me.

I was wrong. There was no fight. I was given the chowder, I was given the bread. They helped me up, lifted the bowl to my lips, and gave it to me. I refused to finish. Told them to share what I didn't drink. Then they gave me some of the bread, I told them to share that too. I lay back down, I was still exhausted.

And then there was a miracle. I didn't notice it happen, I didn't sense anything odd. But they told me that there was enough soup and bread to go around, with some left over. With more left over than we started with. I tried to get up to look, but I moved to fast, my vision went black, and I collapsed back onto the floor. Even so, I could tell they were right. There was more bread. I didn't see the soup, but I had no reason to doubt it.

Someone had violated the laws of thermal dynamics, and it gave me hope.

-

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