Caption: Heaven, the highest branch of the Tree of Life. Tuesday 13 May 1980. 10:43pm GST.
<Zelasabel stands alone atop the highest point of the highest branch of the Tree of Life. She has been the Head Gardener of Heaven since the earliest days of Creation. When she was given the assignment, the tree was a mere half-mile high, the angels numbered less than five thousand, the single tribe of humans were still blissfully happy in Eden, and Hell, Limbo, and Earth existed merely as theoretical abstracts that HE had asked the Archangels and Powers and Thrones to discuss. Now it was as tall as Creation was deep, angels numbered in the millions, a number dwarfed by the number of humans. Voices brought her out of her memories and she turned to greet them.>
Modiel: Blessed be HIM. We made it.
Zelasabel: Welcome to the top of Creation.
Paquel: By all HIS names, it's magnificent!
Joseph: Holy sh--
Lyn: <Interrupting.> Joseph!
Joseph: Look at it!
<Despite the fact that the height, width, and thick foliage should have obscured the view, one could, by turning in a circle, see all of Heaven. Each of the seven kingdoms, with its jeweled mountain and seven glittering cities was easily and clearly visible. The paths that connected the cities and gardens, paths that from the ground seemed to meander at random, formed intricate patterns like a seven-sided Celtic knot, when viewed from so far above. By focusing on a city, one's view zoomed in on neighborhoods, then blocks, on buildings, then on an individual soul or angel.
Lyn: <Her voice barely above a whisper.> It's incredible.
Joseph: You could spend a lifetime and not begin to see all of it.
Zelasabel: The last soul to successfully climb the Tree of Life, Emily Kester, late of Earth Negative O631, called home in 1827, spent over three decades up here sketching and painting it.
Modiel: It is humbling to see all of Creation laid out before me within the sweep of a single glance.
Lyn: But as much as I would love to just stand here and admire the view, we did come here for a reason.
Joseph: Yes, we were told we could see our daughter from up here.
<A look of confusion passes over Zalasabel's face like a shadow.>
Zelasabel: Um, sure. Just ask.
<Looking towards the Network of Earths, Joseph and Lyn hold hands tightly.>
Lyn/Joseph: Show us Melanie.
<The ring of Earths seems to expand and draw closer. Suddenly, the whole ring rushes towards them, as if to engulf them. With a visceral blow that knocks the two souls to their knees and staggers the three angels, the sky over them explodes into a blaze of Net energy and a terrifyingly fast barrage of images from thousands, millions, billions of lives. Lyn and Joseph, holding hands in a bone-crushing grip, fall onto their backs, their eyes unblinkingly glued to the increasingly fast assault of images above them. Paquel falls, burying his face again the rough bark. Zelasabel drops to her knees and throws her arms in front of her face. Modiel tries to approach the two souls, falls, then continues, now crawling until he reaches them. The force of the images feels like a weight crushing him down. Grabbing the hem of his robe, he flings it over their faces. Instantly, the connection breaks with a sound so intense that they feel it throughout their bodies. All the air seems to be sucked away into some unknown void and for a moment there is no sound at all. The normal view of Creation returns and, along with it, the sound of ragged breathing. Joseph sits up, too fast, rolls onto his stomach and vomits off the side of the branch. Somehow, through the many thoughts racing about his mind, a strange one emerged: In Heaven, bile tastes as sweet as honey.>
Joseph: What the hell just happened?
Lyn: Where is our daughter? <She sobs.> Where's Melanie?
<The angles are just as slow to recover from the assault on their senses.>
Joseph: Where IS she?
Modiel: Your daughter... Melanie, she's about fourteen, isn't she?
Lyn: What does that have to do with anything?
Joseph: Thirteen. Why?
Modiel: Her birthday's coming up, before June fourth, yes?
Lyn: This Saturday, the seventeenth. What is going on?
Modiel: Did anyone tell you which Earth you were from? Never mind. We can find out, but I could narrow it way down right now.
Paquel: Saints and angels! She's-- she's ...
Lyn: <Crying.> What?
Joseph: <Tears brimming in his eyes also.> Tell us what's going on!
Modiel: The crash of the Soul Routing System... we never told you the details... Some souls, instead of being called home, got bounced back to Earth, which Earths, we don't yet know. We're calling them Lost Souls--
Lyn: Oh, god, no!
Joseph: Where is Melanie, damnit!
Modiel: We don't know. But by all that's holy, we will find her.
<Joseph and Lyn hold each other, crying miserably.>
Zelasabel: That's why they couldn't see her from below. Creation itself doesn't know where she is.
Modiel: Zelasabel, if you could be so kind as to unbind our wings. We need to get these two down to the Lost Souls Task Force headquarters immediately.
Caption: Davide'el, Klinael, near the eighth gate from the Midlands. Tuesday 13 May 1980. 10:59pm GST.
<Angelica Blue and Dee'el Hightower are sitting at table that they've commandeered. It's covered with scheduling notes, lists of completed interviews, and interview notes. On one corner of the table sits a portrait of Sandra Elizabeth Hamburgh, a constant reminder of what they're working for. Angelica Blue sighs. Dee'el Hightower looks up from the page that she's reading.>
Dee'el Hightower: Medichael will be back soon.
Angelica Blue: Do you really think that guardian angel saw two lost souls in the net?
Dee'el Hightower: Medichael believed him. And two together would fit with Paquel's convergence theory. A better question is, what do we do if we do believe him?
Angelica Blue: Well, I have been thinking about that. We send, say, eight angels to select Earths and then have them circle the net, half clockwise, half counter-clockwise. If anyone spots a lost soul, we may be able to narrow down where they're going. Then we do a full search of the area around all the standard nexus gates to each of the potential target Earths.
Dee'el Hightower: We'd still have to be really lucky to find one.
Angelica Blue: That's what concerns me. I'm afraid I may have already used up all my luck. I'm just so worried about these kids.
<Mizsial, a member of Econiel's team, hurries up to the table.>
Mizsial: I think you two should come see this.
Angelica Blue: What is it?
Mizsial: They're about to expel an April-Seventeenther who's bound for Hell.
Angelica Blue: And...
Mizsial: And he's resisting. Forcefully. He's yelling, cursing, pleading, even threatening.
Dee'el Hightower: There's always been a tiny minority of damned souls who even in death wouldn't accept responsibility for their evil deeds.
Mizsial: It's more than that. He sounds, well, crazy. Insanity does not survive the death of the body.
Dee'el Hightower: What do you think?
Angelica Blue: I could do with a walk.
Mizsial: Good. I demanded that they hold the expulsion until we got there.
<The three angels head off, past the eighth gate and continuing along the path towards the ninth gate. As they get closer, they can hear the commotion.>
Rivero Hernandez: What is wrong with you people? Are all angels as stupid as you, or am I just having a bad afterlife? Complete, total, bloody incompetence! First you leave me walking around for a month surrounded by all these zombie-like dead people. Then you finally get to me and you don't even know who I am! I did not commit suicide! Let me repeat that again since you're having trouble with it. I. Did. Not. Commit. Suicide. Period.
Angel of Purgatory #1 (Bibisial): You stopped your car on a bridge, on the wrong side of the road, ran over to the railing, climbed over and let go. That's suicide.
Rivero: That's not what happened, damnit! Those punks--
Angel of Purgatory #2 (Toluxiel): <Interrupting.> You were alone on the bridge.
Rivero: No, I wasn't. Why the hell won't you listen to me?
Angelica Blue: <Stepping forward.> I'll listen to you.
Bibisial: He's out of his mind.
Angelica Blue: Insanity does not survive the body, and since he hasn't, yet, been through the fires of Hell, it's most unlikely that he's out of his mind.
Toluxiel: He needs to be expelled. We know our jobs. Let us do them.
Angelica Blue: Not until I've heard him out.
Toluxiel: Zate'el will hear about this!
Angelica Blue: Fine. Why don't you go tell him?
<Bibisial and Toluxiel depart. Angel of Purgatory #3 (Vereviel) remains where he is.>
Angelica Blue: And you?
Vereviel: In a month of processing April-Seventeenthers, I've seen a generation worth of unusual things. I think I'll stick around and see what if you think this is yet another oddity.
Angelica Blue: Fine. <Turns to Rivero.> What's your name?
Rivero: Rivero Sanjuan Hernandez.
Angelica Blue: So, Rivero, let's hear your side of the story.
Rivero: <Glaring at Vereviel.> As I've been telling these idiots--
Angelica Blue: <Interrupting gently.> Now, now. Just the facts.
Rivero: You want facts? Fact: I had worked late to get a presentation done for the London office. Fact: While driving home, I saw six punks attacking a teenage girl. Fact: As I stopped my car to help her, they pushed her over the railing and ran off. Fact: She was clinging to a cable and I climbed over to help her. Fact: The punks came back and one of them shot me in the hand and we fell. Fact: That's not suicide; it's murder.
Angelica Blue: <Turns to Vereviel.> And you say...
Vereviel: There was no one else on the bridge. The punks he's referring to were twenty miles away at the time. Having a fight, in a bar.
Angelica Blue: You found the punks?
Vereviel: Not personally, but yes. He gave us good descriptions: clothes, piercings, scars, hair, tattoos.
Angelica Blue: Had you ever met them before?
Vereviel: He must have.
Angelica Blue: Where did they live? Relative to Rivero's home, his work?
Vereviel: <Consulting a stack of paperwork.> The closest one . . . lives about twenty, twenty-five, miles from his home. Further from his work.
Angelica Blue: So how did he know them?
Rivero: I didn't.
Vereviel: I had suggested that we look into that. Before you ask, I was overruled.
Angelica Blue: So he had detailed descriptions of six men, whom you can't prove he ever saw before, and whom he witnessed attacking and ultimately killing a teenage girl, on a night when we know teenagers were vanishing from the SRS, retroactively re-writing the history and memories of all living souls, and you didn't mention this to anyone because . . . why?
Vereviel: Two reasons. One, I'm new here. I was transferred in temporarily to assist with the April-Seventeenthers. My supervisor says something doesn't need to be reported, I'd have to have a pretty good reason to go over his head.
Angelica Blue: This didn't qualify? Never mind. The second reason?
Vereviel: The second reason I didn't report it is the fact that he's from Earth Negative G207, about as far outside the range you're watching for as you can get.
Angelica Blue: <Confused.> What?
Dee'el HIghtower: You're sure?
Vereviel: It's right here in his intake paperwork, written up by Bibisial, my supervisor, and fact-checked by Toluxiel, his manager.
Angelica Blue: Rivero, this girl you say you were helping?
Rivero: Her name was Nikki. She was maybe fourteen, fifteen. You want me to describe her? You want me to tell you about the look of terror in her eyes when she knew we were going to die? Why doesn't anyone believe me? What the hell is going on?
Angelica Blue: Mizsial, take Rivero over to our table. Get everything he knows. Everything. Every detail.
Angelica Blue: On my authority. You can lodge a complaint with Raphael if you like.
Vereviel: No, it's just... You know, wrong Earth...
Angelica Blue: I don't understand it either, but it certainly sounds like a lost soul scenario. And Mizsial, get word to Septus Bluefeather. Rivero doesn't leave our sight for a second until we clear this up.
<Mizsial starts to leave with Rivero. He stops and turns back.>
Rivero: Thank you.
Angelica Blue: We'll need an Archivist. Dee'el, do you know where River Arcadia is?
Dee'el Hightower: No, but I'll find her.
Vereviel: I, uh... I'm an Archivist. That's my normal job, anyway.
Angelica Blue: Fine. You'll do for now. Get over to the Central Archives. Get me detailed descriptions of people, places, events, that Rivero would be likely to be familiar with. We need to know if there are any signs of re-writing going on.
<Vereviel runs off.>
Dee'el Hightower: Do you believe him? Rivero?
Angelica Blue: I do. His behavior reminds me more of a Galial than a Mortien. But if this Nikki did exist on Earth Negative G207, our job just got a lot more difficult.
Caption: Heaven. A path near the headquarters of the Lost Souls Task Force. Wednesday 14 May 1980. 4:36am GST.
<Denesitia is running down the path. Ahead of her, she see Ordiel, 7th Archon 5, Mizsial, and a soul entering the headquarters.>
<Ordiel turns to meet her as the other continue through the door.>
Denesitia: We need Raphael here now. We need to call an emergency meeting.
Ordiel: He's inside already. He's probably about to call the emergency meeting to order.
Denesitia: <Confused.> How did he know I wanted to call an emergency meeting?
Ordiel: You can't swing a stick in that room right now without hitting an emergency situation. Come on.
<Ordiel opens the door and they step inside, closing the door behind them. The room is filled, both literally with nearly the entire Task Force including support staff present as well as three souls and several angels whom Denesitia was not familiar with, and figuratively filled, with a cacophony of voices. Raphael had drawn his flaming sword and was banging it on the table to get everyone's attention. Slowly the conversations and arguments fade away.>
Raphael: Thank you.
<He looks around the room. Satisfied that he has everyone's attention, he sheaths his sword.>
Raphael: Several important developments have occurred in the past few hours. We've all got a lot to do and I don't want to keep you from it any longer than necessary. I'll want a full debriefing on everything at Saturday's scheduled meeting. Right now, though, I just want to hit the high points to get everyone up to speed. Modiel.
Modiel: My and Paquel's decision to climb the Tree of Life seems to have been part of HIS plan. The souls we were climbing with, Joseph and Lyn here--
Joseph: Uh, hi.
<Lyn waves nervously.>
Modiel: --have a daughter who's a lost soul. And, by the way, the view of Creation from the top, while awe-inspiring and magnificent, can NOT be used to locate the lost souls.
Lyn: Don't try it. Just... don't.
Raphael: Angelica Blue.
Angelica Blue: Rivero here <She indicates the third soul in the room.> was called home while trying to save the life of a girl who's now a lost soul. That's three we've identified, but that's where the good news ends. Rivero was nearly condemned to Hell because the re-writing of his world's history listed him as a suicide. <There are a few gasps around the room.> Worse, his intake paperwork listed his home-Earth as Earth Negative G207. This was NOT a mistake. It was an intentional act to disguise his true home-Earth, E+G207, and deliver him and his knowledge of Nikki into Lucien's hands. <More gasps.>
Septus Bluefeather: Michael's put Davide'el and Heaven on lockdown while the search for Toluxiel and Bibisial is conducted.
Denesitia: THere's more. <Everyone turns to her.>
Denesitia: I've identified the SRS sub-routine that caused the crash. It was changed just a few hours before.
Raphael: By who?
Denesitia: That's just it. No one was scheduled to be working on that sub-routine. I reviewed the check-out log, which prevents two programmers from working on the same piece of code at the same time. The name and ID were falsified. Even the terminal ID was bogus.
River Arcadia: The terminal ID may not have been bogus. The terminal just wasn't IN the Grand Computer Room.
<Everyone turns to see River Arcadia and Aquae'el standing in the now-open doorway.>
Raphael: That's not possible.
River Arcadia: An hour ago I would have agreed with you. Aquae'el and I have torn our duplicate SRS apart. We had built it to the exact specifications as the original. There was a back door, literally and figuratively, built into the SRS right from the start. We checked the real SRS. Someone recently made use of that door and ran a cable through it and to a storage closet five floors up. We didn't find a terminal, but you can bet that there was one there on the seventeenth.
Raphael: And this back door?
River Arcadia: After Mikvael finished a string of profanities that would have made Lucien blush, he took care of it. The entire programming team is going through the code line by line to make sure the back door is eliminated. And Mikvael has already had the physical back door sealed and all the air vents reinforced. And he's requested a squad of Maleks to be on permanent patrol in the building.
Raphael: Could it have been Toluxiel and/or Bibisial?
River Arcadia: I'll have Mikvael look into it.
Raphael: Saints and angels! <He sighs.> What's next.
Caption: E+F041. Winthrusky, USSR. Friday 16 May 1980. 9:31pm GST. [6:31pm local.]
<Alek, Varenka, Mekul, and Tatiana are walking through the woods.>
Varenka: I still think that this is a really bad idea.
Alek: And you have a better one?
Varenka: I can think of a few... things... we could do...
Alek: Later. <He winks.> Please.
Varenka: I don't know. I may not be in the mood later.
Alek: Come on Varenka, do you really want to be a year behind in school? Assuming that they even let us back in, in the fall.
Tatiana: He's right, Varenka. If we can get some dirt on Pavel--
Mekul: Especially something that he wouldn't want his father to know.
Tatiana: --then we can blackmail him, get his father to let us back into school. Not that I ever imagined that I'd be fighting to get to stay in school.
<They walk in silence for a moment. Suddenly Varenka turns and runs over to a huge fallen tree.>
<The other three walk over and join her. They peek over the shoulder-high slab of tree trunk. Beyond it, a break in the trees signals the beginning of a small clearing. Pavel was in the clearing, shirtless, barefoot, and handcuffed to a chain that's wrapped around another formidable tree trunk. Molokai Trenko, seven foot tall, three hundred and forty pounds, is standing before the shivering teen wearing an ankle-length fur coat.>
Molokai: What's wrong with you, you little shit? You're not cold, are you?
Pavel: No, sir.
Molokai: Then you must be shaking with fear.
Pavel: No, si-- <Molokai cuts off his son's response with a vicious backhanded blow. Pavel slams into the tree and stumbles to his knees.>
Molokai: Get up! You should be afraid. No son of mine would admit that three little punks had beat him up. My son would have taken care of them on his own.
Pavel: There were five of th-- <Another blow sends Pavel sprawling in the muddy snow.>
Molokai: Those two little whores don't count. You weren't going to say that you got beat up by whores, were you? Answer me! And stand up damnit!
<Behind the fallen trunk, the four friends crouch out of sight.>
Alek: This was not what I was expecting.
Mekul: What do we do now?
Tatiana: We get the hell out of here. Right now.
<Alek says nothing, lost in thought. The others look at him.>
Caption: One hour later.
<Alek, Varenka, Mekul, and Tatiana are sitting in a circle on the floor in Alek's room. Glasses of once-hot chocolate sit, mostly untouched, in front of them.>
Varenka: So then we're agreed, we have to help Pavel?
Alek: Yes. No matter how much of an ass he is, no one should be treated like that.
Mekul: So when do we go?
Varenka: Six tomorrow evening. I know exactly where Molokai Trenko will be.
Tatiana: How-- oh.
Varenka: Yeah, "oh."
<Mekul and Alek exchange a confused look.>
Alek: Alright. Six it is.
© Copyright 2001-2009 Michael J. Ahlers. All Rights Reserved.
and © Copyright 1980-2009 Michael J. Ahlers. All Rights Reserved.