“It is easy to go down to hell. Night and Day the Gates of Dark Death stand wide. But to climb back up again, to retrace ones steps to the open air, there lies the problem, the difficult task.”
Edward did not sleep well that night.
He lay awake, thinking about what he was going to do; both formulating a plan, and coming to grips with the moral implications of it. He knew that whatever he did was going to have to be big. Even if he could rationalize using this infernal tool once or twice, he had no desire at all to keep using it. He truly didn’t want either the power or the responsibility that came with constantly having to redirect the world. He truly wanted the world to govern itself – except justly. He wanted nothing more than to fix things, so it could never be this bad again, and then sit back and watch society progress on its own, doing only the absolute minimum necessary to maintain this as time went on. His worst nightmare would be having to do something big every few years, or being perpetually stuck in an endless loop of doing small things. Whatever he ended up doing, it would have to be something that would never, and could never, be forgotten.
But the completely hypocritical nature of his great tool was utterly appalling to him. He wanted to fix things so that people would be free to live their lives as they see fit, live together in peace, and have their rights and freedoms protected from those who would usurp them or take them away. And yet to accomplish this, all he had to work with was a device which would not only take away people’s choice but, if he were being honest with himself, likely result in quite a few people dying. At times it hardly seemed real but as soon as he allowed himself to accept it, he would go back to feeling repelled by it. Part of him certainly wanted to get started, but the rest of him hated that part for feeling that way.
After just a couple hours of sleep, he woke up to find that he was already late for work, not that he intended to go in anyway. He called in sick for the third day in a row, waiting until after eight to do so knowing that his boss would likely be in his staff meeting. He preferred to leave a message, rather than speak to him directly. He also realized that he’d have to resign soon, at least before he got fired. He had reached a point that he didn’t intend to go back to work, but how long could he keep this up? He fired off a quick email to Human Resources, requesting the next two weeks off. He had enough days banked to cover it, assuming his boss signed off. He’d deal with it either way but, at the moment, he still needed the paycheck; at least until he could figure out how things were going to play out.
He pondered the situation for most of the morning, and on the train ride into the city to meet Epiphany for lunch. The Panera he was meeting her at was only a few blocks from the station, and he arrived a few minutes early. While he waited he checked the two “traffic lights” he’d placed on on the Tablet’s desktop. Both were green. Mentally, he blew a somewhat sarcastic sigh of relief that both he and humanity were safe for the moment.
“Checking your email?” He hadn’t noticed Epiphany walking up next to him.
“Hah! Oh, hi. Yeah. No. Not really. This is the ‘magic’ lap-top, not from work. It’s good to see you!”
“Oh, so you met with that nutty chick last night after all? You’ll have to tell me how it all went.”
While they waited in line, Edward asked if something was bothering her. She seemed more distracted than she did yesterday, as though something was on her mind.
“Yeah. It’s been going on for some time now, but my Grandmother hasn’t been doing all that well lately. I’m a bit worried about her.”
She had told Edward a lot about her Grandmother the day before, and he understood how important she was to her. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Well, like I said, it’s been on-going for some time now. I just needed a mental-health day yesterday. Try to empty my mind a little. Of course… it’s full again today!”
Edward just nodded, smiling sympathetically.
They got their food and Epiphany picked up the tab, satisfying her feminist principles and making good on the deal he had somewhat suckered her into. Over lunch, they again talked about politics and religion, much as they had done yesterday. As they talked, it was not lost on either one of them that you have truly found someone special when you can jump right into the two heavy-hitters straight away and have such a great time discussing them. They found that they disagreed on very little, and where they did each could still see the other’s point. What struck Epiphany was how much Luci also seemed to agree with the two of them, despite seeming to her to be completely bat-shit insane. Edward tried to bring her around, slowly, to the idea that the Tablet DID have some real power, even if she didn’t buy that Luci – whose full name was Lucifer – was actually the Devil and not just a victim of some crazy parents’ twisted sense of humor.
“Did she have any other tricks to show you?” She asked in a sarcastic tone.
“No. Well, nothing that would impress you anyway.”
“Oh, hey – pull me up!”
“Open up may page! I want to see what it says!”
Edward laughed. “OK, what the hell?” He typed in:
“Fifty-seven more years. Not too bad.”
“Does it say how I’ll die? Maybe I can get more!” She was laughing, still thinking this was all a game. Edward decidde to give her a glimpse of what might come, albeit an ambiguous one.
“No, it doesn’t say. It doesn’t do that. But ask me again sometime about those ‘extra years.’ I might have something else to show you.”
“Oh, fine,” she answered, only the slightest bit disappointed. “What about yours? Show me yours!”
“No way. You’re not ready for that yet.”
“Oh, puh-lease! Mister mysterious over here! Just let me…” but she was interrupted by her cell phone ringing. She checked the number. “Sorry, I have to take this. Hello, this is Epiphany?”
Edward could not hear the person on the other line, but Epiphany's face very quickly took on a look of deep concern.
“What? Wait… What happened? ... Oh my God … Yeah … Yeah, I understand … Oh my God … OK … OK … Yeah, I’m on my way.” She hung up. “Oh my God. Oh my God. Um… Um…” She was close to panicking now.
“What’s up? What’s going on?”
“It's my Grandmother. Something's happened. They think she might have had a stroke or something, they don’t know yet.”
“Let’s go. We’ll get a cab. Come on!”
They left their trays and ran outside to hail a cab. Epiphany gave the address of the nursing home to the driver. They didn’t get far before getting caught in traffic, apparently brought on by so road repair. The driver made a sarcastic remark about “stimulus money.”
“Ephiany, what’s your Grandmother’s name?” Edward asked.
“Sorry… Is that her first name? Last name?” As he knew very few Thais, Edward could only guess.
“First name. Kanda Malai. Why?”
Edward entered her name. Then he leaned forward. “Hey, Driver? Is there any way you take a different route? Get around this traffic?”
“Eh… Yeah… But the only other way to where your goin’ is through the ghetto. We don’t usually go that way, if we can avoid it, but it’d be a lot faster though.”
Edward fished out the hundred-dollar bill he kept folded up and tucked away in his wallet for emergencies. He pushed it through the one of the holes in the plexi-glass seperating them. “Get us there in ten minutes, or there won’t be any point in us going at all!”
“What?!” Epiphany asked, clearly distressed.
“You got it buddy!” The driver snatched the bill, turned off onto the nearest side street and floored it.
Edward watched as time ticked off the old women’s counter. He didn’t want Epiphany to see it, knowing that she’d find out soon enough, but he knew they were going to be cutting it close the entire ride over.
When they stopped in front of the nursing home, Edward looked Epiphany dead in the eyes and, in a grave and serious tone, said only one word to her:
Epiphany flew off while Edward lingered only long enough to make sure everything was square with the cabby.
“You kiddin’? Easiest hundy I’ll make all year! You betcha! Now, you better get going!”
“Hey, don’t mention it!”
At the front desk, Edward signed in quickly; mostly ditto-marking the info Epiphany had just scribbled in a moment earlier. When he got to the room, he lingered in the doorway, not wanting to disturb either of its occupants.
Epiphany bent over the bed, trying to comfort the old woman. Tears ran down her face.
“It’s going to be OK, Khunya. It’s…” She was desperately trying not to cry. The old woman was awake, but either wouldn’t speak or couldn’t. She just smiled up at Epiphany, slowly shaking her head as she reached up to wipe away her Granddaughter’s tears. In his entire life, Edward had never seen a more peaceful expression than the one worn by the old woman at this very moment.
“It’s going to be OK. It’s going…” she sniffed back tears.
The old woman’s breathing began to speed up, and sound hoarse. She just kept smiling, touching her Granddaughter’s face.
“…to be OK.”
Her peaceful, contented smile never faded, even as her arms fell to her side.
“No… It’s going to be… OK… No…”
Edward glanced at the tablet. There wasn’t much time left now.
“It’s going… No… It’s going to be OK… No… No…”
Her breathing stopped. Only a few seconds remained.
“No. No. No. N-n-noooo…” Ephipany, finally overcome, wept openly now.
In the exact moment that the timer reached zero, Edward recognized the familiar tone an EKG signal flat-lining. Epiphany completely broke down, throwing herself over the old woman’s body and sobbing. The Doctor and Nursing staff pushed past Edward, who went in to take Epiphany out of the way, and attempt to comfort her. The medical staff made their best effort to revive the old woman, but Edward already knew they would not be successful. He just held on to Epiphany, as tightly as he could. She kept repeating, “No,” in between sobs, to which Edward could only answer, “I’m so sorry.”