“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than be false and to incur my own abhorrence.”
“...a huge victory for the Tea Party as Republicans are swept into...”
Edward killed the nasally radio news guy with an almost reflexive jab of the snooze button while still half asleep. He hated the alarm. It meant he had to go to work, and he hated his job. Most of all on this particular day, he hated the thought of how he was going to feel after the previous evening’s heavy drinking, which is what was on his mind as he drifted into full consciousness. He sat up slowly, expecting a headache, but was surprised to find he had none. In fact, as he sat up and got out of bed, he felt fine. Not enough sleep, but otherwise not so bad. The details of the previous evening were a bit hazy. He remembered the old man who died at the bar... Something about a woman...
And then he received a shock that literally sent him reeling. As he walked past the mirror over his dresser, someone else’s face was in it.
He yelled out in shock--“Hah!”--as he jumped back, tripped over the bed and fell to the floor. He sprang to his feet quickly and spun around, fists raised, breathing hard, looking for whoever else was in the room with him.
But he was alone.
Slowly, cautiously, he approached the mirror. What he was seeing was impossible. It wasn’t just that he looked decades younger; his face was like some idealized version of his face from when he was younger. A version unmarked by age or wear--no lines, no dark circles, no small scars. He ran his fingers through the hair on the top of head, something that hadn’t been possible in over a decade. It was thicker than he remembered it ever having been. He stepped back to see that he was no longer overweight. While not exactly chiseled, he looked, he felt, like a world class athlete. The slightest lines of a six pack were now visible across his midsection, where, just last night, he’d been carrying a keg. Confusion intermingled freely with horror and delight as he ran to the bathroom and hopped on the scale, as if it could provide some sort of independent confirmation of what he was seeing.
Impossible, yet there it was.
He looked up from the scale, and back toward the bed, where, on the nightstand, sat both the tablet and the vial. He was trying to remember the woman from last night. Did she say she was his soulmate? She said something about that. Most of what happened after the old man’s death was lost in an alcohol-induced haze. How did he not have a headache this morning?
He went over to the tablet and tapped the screen. There were several icons on the screen, but there was one that rang a very distinct bell for him.
Tentatively, he reached out and tapped it. Into the blank fields, he typed his name:
EDWARD JAMESON CARPENTER
His page came up. The profile picture now had the same face he’d just seen in the mirror. It was definitely him, but it seemed completely unfamiliar at the same time; a version of him that could have existed at some point, but never really had. Then he noticed something else...
The timer in the upper right hand corner of his page showed 9's. A lot of them. Twelve to be exact. And it wasn’t moving.
He closed out the window and went back to the main screen. Just like Windows, he thought to himself, when he remembered something that woman had said. “What did you expect? It is from Hell after all.” Something like that. He tapped the icon marked “MESSENGER.” It opened a chat window with only one other address listed:
He tapped the message field, and typed “Can we talk?” He hit send, and, to his surprise, an answer came back immediately:
“I’ll B @ THE WW2 MEM. C U THERE.”
His efforts to quickly dress proved more complicated than usual. Nothing fit. His belt would be the only thing holding up his pants, but, pulling it to the last notch, he was simultaneously amused and annoyed to find that there was still two inches of slack.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake...”
Weighing his options, he grabbed an old braided belt, one he hadn’t worn in years. That did the trick.
“Wow,” he said to himself, “1992 called and wants its belt back!” He looked in the mirror. At least my pants aren’t falling down now, he thought.
He drove too fast to the train station. Stupid, considering he no longer resembled the face on his driver’s license, but his need to talk to Luci and to understand what had happened to him overwhelmed his caution. So many questions. He became lost in them, paid no one else any mind. As he rode the train, he swam through them, tried to prioritize or organize them, imagine what it could all mean. And what in hell did happen last night? When he rode the train to work, he usually just fell asleep. He wouldn’t be falling asleep today. Once he reached Smithsonian Station he got off and headed up the Mall. Crossing the grassy expanse, he figured he’d better call into work. He wouldn’t be going in today, and quite possibly ever again. In the midst of his confusion and anxiety, that thought was a pleasant one.
It was still early, so his boss’s machine picked up.
“Hey, Steve. It’s Ed. I’m not coming into today.” He faked a cough. “Sick. I’ll check in with you later on. Give me a call if anything catches fire, I’ll... log in from home.” A lie, but it should hold him for a while. The Memorial was coming into view through the lingering morning mist. A single figure was waiting at the center of it. Luci was surrounded by cement plinths and American Flags, and the fountain rose up behind her. She was wearing a red dress.
“Looking good, darling.” Luci called out as Edward approached.
“What the hell did you do to me?!” The words came out just a little too fast and a little too loud; he wasn’t angry, but the shock of the morning’s events probably made him sound so.
Luci’s smile never changed. “Is that any way to ask?” Her tone playfully aloof.
Edward stopped himself and took a deep breath. “Sorry. This morning has been... just a bit much to take in.”
“How much do you remember of last night?”
“I remember you and your friend... Gabriel, was it? A loud drunk... The old man dying... It gets a little hazy after that.”
“I called you a cab.”
“Yes! And I was looking at the computer when I made the decision to take it! The timer changed from one hour to thirty years.” He realized that he still talking too fast, so he took another couple of breaths and collected himself. “But then, this morning... It was maxed out. And not moving. And then... there’s... well... me.” He motioned to himself with his hands.
“Do you remember that I gave you something just before you got in the cab?”
The recollection was hazy. “From the vial?” It was sort of a statement and a question at the same time.
“And do you remember what I said it was?”
“You said it was... ‘Eternal Life.’”
“Yes. Not entirely accurate, but essentially so.”
“So... what’s the long version? What was that stuff?”
“The fluid in the vial is a suspension, a medium within which lives a symbiotic, microscopic life form. A kind of benevolent virus, if you will, that reads and incorporates your own DNA unto itself and replicates as needed to repair any damage that's been done to your body through injury, disease, abuse and even age.” She paused. “Its true name cannot be pronounced in any mortal language. A rough translation would be ‘Tears of Heaven.’”
“Some kind of fountain of youth,” Edward mumbled. In the moment before the full implications of Luci’s words hit him, she spelled them out explicitly.
“I can’t... die?” The enormity of this, falling on him with her words, overwhelmed him. Could this even possibly be true?
“I didn’t say you couldn’t, only that you wouldn’t. You don’t age, so your body will not break down according to the otherwise natural process of aging. Your body can still be destroyed. I’m not sure you’d survive a beheading. But you can now survive hours without air, weeks without water, months, maybe over a year, without food. You’ll still feel the effects of these things, of course, but the Tears will continue to repair the actual damage being done. Should whatever is causing the damage continue long enough, there would come a point at which they won’t be able to keep up with it, but they will continue to maintain your body at its utmost potential until then. Indefinitely, under ordinary conditions. You will always, at any given moment, be the best possible ‘you’ you can possibly be. Which is why your pants are so loose right now, I might add.”
“That’s crazy...” Edward’s voice was small; if he really thought it was crazy, he didn’t sound as if he believed it.
“And yet you’ve already seen it. Lived it even”
“It’s impossible!” Firmer, now. It was impossible, wasn’t it?
“Is it? What else is impossible? Moses living to be 900 years old--how do think that happened?”
“I didn't think it...,” and he never finished, because the other burning question came immediately to mind. “Who are you, exactly?”
“Why don’t you look me up?” She suggested, nodding as the tablet that he had tucked under his arm. “You can search on ‘Luci Star,’ and as long as you have me in mind, it will know. Think of it like a telepathic Google. You can search on a name, but picturing the person’s face or knowing something else about them--occupation for example--will insure that you always get the right result.”
Edward opened the “Fate” icon and typed in Luci’s name. When her page appeared, he almost dropped the machine:
LUCIFER MORNING STAR
“Oh, fuck me.”
He quickly did another search, using only the first name, “Gabriel” and picturing the angelic face from the night before. No additional names filled when the page popped up, but he got just as much of a shock from what came into the previously unnoticed “Title” field:
Edward felt nauseous. “Why?”
“It’s a long story. In brief, humanity, in just over two years, is facing a judgment. The way things are going--and this has been the trend for rather a long time now--the judgment will be that this species has failed.”
“I don’t get it... I mean... I know we have our problems... no doubt about it, but... we’re constantly making progress, and...”
“I sympathize, darling, but it’s not my call. And you have to understand that it’s not about how far you’ve come. That’s all fine and good, but it’s about where you’re going.”
“Where we’re going?”
“Yes. There are basically three outcomes that a species can experience. A successful species learns to live together in peace, collaborate rather than compete, thrive and reach a point where they can sustain themselves indefinitely. That’s a successful outcome. It can also fail in two distinct ways. The first failure is the most common: A species evolves to a point where they can grow no further--into a biological and evolutionary cud-du-sac, if you will, where they will never achieve what is necessary to advance towards ‘success.’ And so they must be cleared away, to make room for another species. One with greater potential. Sound familiar?”
“The dinosaurs evolved as far as they could, but through no fault of their own, they simply weren’t going any further. Sixty-Five Million years and all we got was that the bigger ones ate the smaller ones. Their potential was tapped out. And so: the Comet was sent.”
“It wasn’t really an according-to-Hoyle comet. It was actually another angel: Azrael. An angel of death and destruction whose form you would have merely perceived and described as a comet at that time. But Gabriel called him, and the slate was wiped almost clean.”
“Not specifically, but, as things worked out, yes. Which brings me to the second type of failure... This happens when a species achieves everything they need to succeed but, through their own choices, stagnates and eventually brings about their own destruction. That’s where your species has been heading. And this kind of failure is not looked upon kindly by the Universe. Once it is judged as inevitable, the typical response is to skip to the end: Azrael will be called to re-boot the system. And I see no reason why his form would be any different this time around.”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
“That’s why you’ve been chosen.”
Edward’s laugh was short and nervous. “How?”
“I can’t answer that. All I can say is that I know what you believe and have some idea of what you would do, and I believe you have the necessary wisdom to succeed.”
Edward’s laugh was more bold. “Wisdom?! Until five minutes ago, I was practically an affirmed atheist! So forgive me, but I’m feeling rather a right nitwit just about now!”
“Why?! Seriously?! I was convinced I had it right--that you didn’t exist, God didn’t, angels didn’t... and now I’m left stumped as to how to explain what I’m witnessing any other way!”
“Did you really believe that? Did you really possess a positive belief in the non-existence of these things?”
Edward fell silent for a moment. “No. No, you’re right.” She had a point, and speaking in haste he hadn’t been entirely accurate in expressing his true feelings. “Actually, I was perfectly comfortable admitting that I had no idea whatsoever about the existence of God or anything else. What I really doubted--what I was positive couldn’t possibly be right--was the certainty with which so many others spoke on the matter. I didn’t so much doubt God as… religion.”
“And if I told you that almost every religion had most of the ‘big picture’ things right, but most of the details wrong? Would you still feel like a nitwit?”
He thought about this for a moment. “No.” Another pause, shorter. “What I’ve always stood against are those who possess that certainty--that arrogant certainty--that causes them to doubt science, or justify doing harm to others in God’s name.”
“And that’s why you’ve been chosen.”
“Kind of a heavy task, no?”
“Do you think any of those who came before you felt any differently?”
“Yeah, about that...”
Luci held up her hand. “I know… many, many questions. I’ll do my best to answer them, but that will have to wait for later. For now, it will have to suffice to say that you have the advantage, over your predecessors, of being given appropriate tools for the job. Success is by no means guaranteed--in fact, the odds are very much against you. But you’re at least being given an honest chance. Time is short, though.”
“December 21st, 2012 was going to be the day humanity was judged and, in this case, destroyed.”
“Wait a second... The Mayan prophecy? Seriously?”
“Because this is starting to sound like a bad movie. That's nothing more than the date the current era was going to end, based on the arbitrary way they defined it. It was just how their calendar was set up, nothing more.”
“And who do you think inspired them to create that calendar?”
“Gabriel. And as you may or may not be aware, it was Gabriel who gave this task to your predecessors: Jesus, Muhammad, Siddhartha...”
“Just... stop.” No matter how overwhelmed he felt, it just kept getting better. He paced a short distance, turned and paced back. “Fine. Okay, fine. You said that, unlike them, I was being properly equipped. What did you mean by that?”
“You have that.” She answered, pointing to the tablet.
“This? So far, all I‘ve seen is that I can pull up a picture of someone, and find out when they’re going to die. That’s nice and all, and if I was writing obituaries for a living, it would give me a leg up, but how, exactly, does that help me?”
Luci laughed. “Oh, darling you have no idea what that artifact is truly capable of.”
“It’s an iPad that runs Windows.”
“That’s merely how you perceive it. It’s actually an artifact of nearly infinite power, at least from your point of view. Most of its power has been sealed away, but what you’ve been allowed is the ability to alter the fate of living beings.”
“Alter their fate?”
“Go back to my page... or, even better, use Gabriel’s instead. You can’t do any harm either way. Do you see the field at the bottom?”
“The blank one that says, ‘Fate?’”
“Yes. It is there you can alter the fate of any one human being at a time. You can dictate the course of their existence from the moment you execute the command until the end of their life.”
“Of course. What else?” Edward’s tone was cynical, rhetorical, but if he was honest, he wasn’t really feeling it anymore, no matter how incredible all of this became.
“Don’t be cheeky, darling. And pay attention. You must be careful when using this function. If you’re don’t specifically allow for your subject to return to the natural flow of their life, then their life will end the instant your instructions are completed. So unless you literally write out the rest of their lives...”
“They’ll die fairly quickly. What if I left it blank, and just hit the ‘EXECUTE’ button below the ‘Fate’ field?”
“Their life will expire immediately.”
“Wow.” Edward shuddered a bit. “What about going the other way? Could I give someone more time as well?”
“No. You are not being given the power to extend life, heal the sick or do any other such thing. Not with this, anyway; at least not directly. You could extend someone's life by altering a decision they might make that would otherwise lead to their demise, just as I did with you, last night. But in its current, sealed form nothing could have been done to save the old man, for example. However... that’s where the Tears of Heaven come in.”
Edward said nothing but nodded, wanting for Luci to continue.
“Their supply is not limitless, but you have the ability to bestow their benefit onto anyone you deem worthy.”
“Well, how else would you be able to have a companion--your soul mate--for any appreciable length of time?”
“Oh, my God!” Somehow what she’d said came flooding back to him: That this companion would be the first woman he encountered. “Wait... Are you...?”
Luci laughed hysterically. “No, no! Don’t flatter yourself!” She laughed almost uncontrollably for another moment before regaining her composure. “I’m sorry, but no. I said the first woman you encountered. I’m afraid I don’t qualify.”
“Could have fooled me.” He cocked an eyebrow and made a mock-rapacious, “looking her over” motion with his eyes as he said it.
“Could have and did, I’m afraid. Though it’s not my fault you perceived me as female. Or Gabriel as male, for that matter. I simply happen to possess traits you consider feminine, and so that’s how you perceive me. No two people ever see me precisely the same way, I might add. Gabriel either. You perceived his great power as being masculine, so to you, he appeared male. There have been those who’ve perceived me as male, though it’s fairly rare. But no, I’m not actually a female. But…” she tapped her wrist as if she was wearing a watch, “there is a certain female you do need to meet. So you’d better get going!”
“Yeah, but... there’s so much...”
“I know, darling, I know. But we really are pressed for time. I'll tell you what: Why don’t you treat me to dinner? I’ll answer all of your questions--and I do mean all of them--to the best of my ability, and you can pay me back for calling you that cab.”
Yeah, the cab, Edward thought. Like that was the big thing he owed her for. “Sure. Where? What time?”
“Six o’clock and I’ll text you the location. Now, get going!”
“Okay, I’m on it. Thanks! I’ll be in touch,” he called out, as he started walking away. He walked briskly, but he had no idea where he was actually going.