"A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires."
In the office of FBI Director Robert Mueller, Special Agent Terry Jones, a thirty-five year veteran of the Bureau, has just finished presenting his report on the 235 deaths that occurred on New Year's Eve, 2010. His boss was far from satisfied.
“Suicides? That’s it?! Two-Hundred and Thirty-Five deaths and after a forty-eight hour long investigation, you want me to accept that?”
“Sir, there was video. At every scene.That these were suicides is simply not a matter of debate.”
“But what about this guy… Carpenter, was it?What’s his deal?How is he connected to all of this? This wasn’t just a coincidence, dammit! And you KNOW it! Dammit, Terry, what’s the big picture here?!”
“I don’t know, Boss.But you’ve got the facts, as they are. The President’s guys are keeping an eye on Carpenter, so…”
“So what YOU need to do is a little follow-up with this guy! Some investigation into…”
“My replacement can do that.”
“I’m out.” Jones replied flatly, placing his badge and gun on the Directors desk. “Effective immediately.”
“Jesus, Terry. What’s this about?”
“I’m done. I don’t need this anymore.”
“I don’t accept it. I do not accept your resignation.”
Jones sighed. “Well, you can't make me come to work.I’m done here, Bob.”
“This wasn’t your plan, Terry.How much pension are you leaving on the table by doing this now, instead of…?”
“Some. But I don’t care. I’m out.And before you give this case to someone else, you need to know that the videos, the blood manifesto, and Edward Carpenter’s connection to all of them are all now classified.”
“So your leaving is really screwing us over then, Terry. You know that right?”
“I’m sorry Bob. I’m done.”
“You’ve investigated the mob, terrorists… Why’s this guy got you so spooked?”
“I’m not…,” Jones started, a little too loudly before lowering his tone, “I’m just done. That’s that. You can spare me the party and keep the gold watch. I'm going home.”
“Is there anything I can do for you?” the Director asked him, clearly as a friend rather than as his employer.
“Yeah.Reassign the kid.Make sure Agent Kim never comes within a thousand miles of this case for the rest of his career. You’ll do that for me, won't you?”
The Director stared at him for a moment, before nodding. “Yeah, I will.Consider it done. Take care of yourself, Terry.”
As Terry Jones nodded and walked out of his boss’s office for the last time, FBI Director Mueller began to read over his report one final time before making arrangements to turn it over to the White House to have it classified as well.
Although they ended up driving over separately, Gretchen and West arrived at Edward’s townhouse at the same time.Edward invited them in, and introduced them to Epiphany.
“So you’re the guy who shot Eddie, huh?”
“Epiphany!” Edward reacted, shocked.
“Um, yeah,” West gave a somewhat embarrassed grin, not sure how to reply.
“Yeah, well… I don’t blame you. When he got home and finally told me what happened, he’s lucky I didn’t kill him myself!”
Everyone shared a nervous laugh over this but, for the moment, was made to feel very comfortable by Epiphany’s outgoing and humorous, if somewhat irreverent, persona.That changed when she turned to face Gretchen.
Epiphany could hardly believe her eyes.Gretchen appeared to be long past introverted and well nigh onto terrified.She couldn’t imagine what Edward had seen in her, but she saw nothing in this quivering little mouse that impressed her.
“Yeah. Hey,” she said, before turning back to Edward. “So, what am I getting? Indian?”
“Yeah, sorry, well… Come in! Please, sit down. Let me get you both a drink.Epiphany is going to run out to get some carry out, I hope Indian is OK with everyone?”
“Sounds, great!” West replied with enthusiasm.
“Um… Sure.” Gretchen replied meekly.
“OK then!Let me know what you’re drinking, and let Epiphany know what you want her to pick up.Our treat, so get whatever you’d like.”
“A beer would be great,” West called to Edward, before turning to Epiphany. “Lamb Curry, please. Spicy!”
“Um… I’m OK, thanks,” Gretchen said to Edward. “Um… Matar Paneer?”
Epiphany rolled her eyes. “Are you asking me?”
“Um… No. Matar Paneer. But... not spicy. Mild. Very mild. I don’t like anything hot.”
“Yeah, fine,” Epiphany answered, leaving before Edward came back from the Kitchen.
“Oh, she’s gone? OK.” Edward asked, hoping to diffuse some of the obvious tension between Gretchen and Epiphany. “Are you sure you’re OK? You don’t want anything?” Edward had poured himself a glass of Jameson, on the rocks, and handed West his beer.
“Um… well… OK, do you have a Diet Coke?”
“Sure. No problem, I’ll be right back.And hey: You don’t have to be nervous. You’re welcome here. You are among friends, and it’s like I said before: we look forward to hearing what you have to say. All right?”
That helped Gretchen relax a little. “OK, sure. Sorry. Just a little nervous." She took a deep breath, before adding, "Thank you!”
While they waited for Epiphany to return, Edward and his guests got to know each other a little better.He wanted to save the more serious matters until Epiphany was back.
Epiphany called in the order from the car as she drove to the restaurant.
“…and one Matar Paneer. Spicy. Very Spicy. Hot as you’ve got.” She had no idea why she had said that, or why she felt so much contempt for Gretchen, yet still she felt no remorse in doing so. ‘Fuck her,’ she thought to herself.
“You sure?” the voice came back over the line.
“Yeah. We’re hosting an exchange student from India and they’re a bit homesick. Always complaining about how bland even the spicy dishes are over here.”
“Oh, OK. I understand! We’ll give him a taste of home then!”
“Great, he’ll love that!”She still could not figure why Gretchen had brought out such a cruel streak in her.
Returning home, Epiphany walked in to find everyone laughing.
“What did I miss?” she asked with a smile.
“Nothing!” Gretchen answered her, still laughing herself.
“Gretchen was just telling us how her boss of two years, still thinks her name is ‘Rachel,’” West finally replied.
“That’s not funny!” Gretchen protested, but was still laughing and even starting to feel a little bit more comfortable in the comradery that was building.
“No it’s not.” Epiphany replied, coldly.
“Thank you!” Gretchen replied, missing the frustrated contempt in Epiphany’s tone.
“Shall we eat?” Epiphany offered, holding up the two bags.
“Yeah, smells great!” West hopped up before lending Gretchen a hand.
Edward had already started setting the table and Gretchen helped him finish up, while Epiphany chatted with West in the den.
“Thanks for the help,” Edward started, “Are you feeling any better?”
“Yeah. I’m fine, thanks. I really appreciate what you said, about being wanted and welcome. That really helped.”
“Well, I meant every word of it, I promise,” he smiled at her, before calling the others over to eat.
After everyone was seated Edward began to layout some of the details of the job he was offering them, and what he saw their roles to be.He reiterated that what they had witnessed with him getting shot and not dying was a form of immortality; and what’s more one that he could give to them.He explained how the people that had killed themselves on New Year’s Eve had collectively written a manifesto in their own blood, and how it had his name on it.He went over the history of everything that had happened (omitting any the information about the Tablet, Luci and Gabriel) and his belief that something was meant to be DONE about it, to prevent similar things from happening in the future.
He and Gretchen had already gone over recent events fairly thoroughly while he convalesced in prison so as he brought West up to speed on that part, she took this opportunity to eat some of her food.Upon taking the first bite, her mouth felt as though someone had filled it with hot coals. Even the mere smell of it was enough to burn her sinuses. By the time she had swallowed it, her nose was running, her eyes were tearing up and her throat was sore.
‘So that’s how it going to be, huh?’ she thought to herself. She dreaded the thought of what this might do to her stomach, but was desperate not to give Epiphany the satisfaction of seeing how much she was suffering.Once she had at least partially recovered from the shock, she turned her attention back to Edward.
He went on to explain that what he was looking for was advice. He wanted to form a sort of think-tank, made up of diverse opinions and backgrounds, but which had no connection to the partisan divide currently in Washington, or to any of the corrupt or uncompromising interests that had led to it.He explained that this group would start out small, but would likely grow over time.They would each be well paid and no actions would be taken by him or the group until a consensus was achieved.They would not only make proposals, but review legislation.If there was something that was counter-productive, or clearly put the greed of the few over the needs of the masses, he guaranteed that they would be in a position to put a stop to it.
“And how would you do that?” West interrupted. “Why would anyone care what you and your hand-picked council had to say?”
Edward nodded. “In the short-term, many probably won't.But being reminded of recent events may entice some of them to keep a more open mind.Others will merely need to be reminded who their constituents really are, and make sure they know that there’s some serious money and influence being brought to bear for the causes that they currently lack the political courage to fight for.Plus… take away the influence of your Fox News’s and your AM Talk Radio’s?And the general public won’t be so easily led into voting against their economic interests anymore.”
“You don’t think Fox will come back?”
Edward chuckled a bit at that. “Um… You didn’t here this from me, but I have it on pretty good authority that the company will be shutting down its operations permanently.If you own any stock? You should probably sell it right away.And as for any politically influential holdouts?Let’s just say that, beyond the monetary resources we’ll be able to bring to bear, we’ll have some... othertools at our disposal as well.Just leave that to me."
He continued. "The meaning of what happened to the American Right Wing on New Year’s Eve, 2010 is clear to me.It was a warning.What’s more, by the same mechanism by which I‘ve come to know so much about what happened, I also know this: If things are not turned around quickly, if we do not return to a path that leads to a peaceful, just and sustainable world? There will be death on a far greater scale.The universe is not happy with where we are heading, and if we do not turn things around and change our ways? We will be facing our destruction. The people that died said as much, in their own blood, even as it contradicted every political position they’d ever held and every social (or anti-social) cause they’d ever fought for. I want to make sure that, for as long as I have the attention and ear of the Government, I guide them in the correct direction, as best as I can.I am looking to you three, and to some others that I intend to recruit, to help me in this task. To counsel and advise me, and to assist with some of the political legwork that will be needed.I had four other people in mind originally, but Gretchen? After speaking with you while I was in custody I realized, beyond any doubt, that yours is a voice that we all need to hear.”
Epiphany scoffed at that, and Edward shot her an unhappy glace.
“West, your primary function will be that of security, which we can discuss in further detail later on, but you will have a voice and a vote on this council as well.All members will get an equal voice and an equal vote – and mine doesn’t count more than anyone else’s.As for compensation?We can discuss the money later. I don’t think that will be an issue.What I want you to seriously consider – because it's not something that can easily be undone – is the other thing I’m offering you. The same thing that you both witnessed protecting me and healing me: Immortality.You may see this as nothing more than a perk, but it comes with a heavy responsibility and should not be entered into lightly. Make no mistake though: If you want to be a part of what I have no doubt will eventually be a profoundly influential and powerful group, a group that will be eventually be guiding ALL of humanity towards a peaceful and sustainable coexistence, you MUST agree to take this on."
West raised his hand. “Eddie, question: Why would anyone find that to be an issue, and also… why do you consider it so crucial that they accept it?”
“Well, first things last. It’s important because the biggest problem with our political and economic system is that it's far too focused on the short term implications of its decisions.People in power, whether in Government or Business, are overly concerned with THIS election or THIS quarter, and so they make no consideration of what is sustainable; what is in our - or their - long term interests.By accepting that you will be around to SEE, say, what the results of the continued consumption of fossil fuels, in the form of increased global warming, will be, a hundred years from now, and be forced to live with them, you might be more thoughtful about your choices and the policies you champion than you would if you knew, as a matter of indisputable fact, that you won’t live long enough to see them. The longevity I’m offering, while a pretty cool perk, is a responsibility. It forces us to consider all eventualities and long term-consequences.Now… if that though alone isn’t enough to put you off, consider this: Because it will be some time before the world will come to accept us, at some point, you’ll need to ‘die.’At some point, you’ll need to disappear from the official records, and live off the grid, so to speak.All of the relationships you have with other mortals will all eventually end. And while there will be more of us eventually, at some point in the near future the only long-term relationships you will have will be within a fairly small circle of other immortals.And if you have family? This death will need to come before they start to notice that you don’t age anymore. I don't want any of us to end up in some Government research lab, or constantly on the run from such a fate.”Edward looked at each of them while this information sunk in.
“Well,” West started, “I don’t really have any family.And nothing you’re saying is going to put me off.I don’t know how much influence you’re going to have, but what you’re offering?I’m taking.Count me in!”
“Well,” Gretchen said next, “I only have my Dad, and we haven’t spoken in years; since shortly after my Mom died… a long time ago.” Upon hearing that, Epiphany felt a little bit bad about spiking her food. She had her Grandmother for so many years after all and didn't realize that Gretchen had to make it essentially on her own.“And I already know from talking to you in jail that I want to be a part of whatever it is you plan to do.”
They spent another couple of hours, eating, drinking andtalking about everything under the sun - politics, how bad the Nationals were, Religion and Reality Television.Gretchen ate the slowest of anyone, despite also having the least of anyone to say, but she finished every bite of her torturous meal and even managed to raise her fork and give Epiphany a tight smile when she finished the last bite.But she was already starting to feel the ill effects of it on her stomach and was the first to say that it was getting late, and that she had to get going.
"OK.Before you go, come with me," Edward motioned, heading up the stairs."I have something for you."
Once they were alone in the bedroom, Edward asked her one final time if she was sure she wanted this. He reminded her again that there was no going back.
"I'm sure," she nodded.
"And everything's OK... With you, I mean?"
Gretchen mustered a weak smile.Her stomach was really starting to bother her. "I was just nervous tonight, that's all. New people and everything.And my stomach's acting up a little... I guess even the mild was too much for me."
"We'll get Pizza next time... or you can pick. OK?"
"OK," she replied, still wearing that nervous smile.
Edward picked up the vial of Heaven's Tears from the dresser. "Are you ready to help change the world?"
A serene calm washed over her.The smile fell away, leaving only a look of solemn decisiveness.She nodded.
He withdrew the dropper from the vial and asked her to open her mouth.He touched the slender rod to her tongue."That's it."
"That's it?" she replied.
"Yep. By the time you wake up tomorrow, I'm sure you'll be aware of some changes.You should definitely know if it took or not."
"Should I walk you to the door then? Are you still heading out?"
"Yes.Thank you," she answered.
As she said her goodbyes, West, who had the most to drink by far, gave her an enthusiastic hug. Edward shook her hand, putting his other hand on her shoulder and thanking her for everything. Epiphany just nodded.
Once she'd left, Epiphany said that she too needed to get ready for bed, and headed upstairs.
"OK, sweetie," Edward nodded to her as she left. "West? I wonder if we could have a few more words before you head out."
"Look... What we're going to do... It's going to make a lot of people unhappy.People in Government, but also people pulling the strings behind the Government.A lot of them are gone now, but that only creates a power vacuum. And I'm under no illusion that that there is any shortage of people who will be desperate to fill it.I know you can give us sound advice, and being essentially bulletproof - all of us, I mean - will simplifythings a bit in terms of secuirty.But there will still be attempts made to stop or silence us.Do you have any friends, any contacts elsewhere in the Government, that might be willing to help us... maybe send some information our way from time to time?People who might be... interested in the same rewards as I'm giving you?Say... to be our eyes and ears on the inside for a few years, and then join us in their retirement?"
West tried to sober up for a moment, seeming deep in thought. "Yeah... I can think of a few people."
"People you can trust? I mean REALLY trust?"
"With my life. I already have, in fact."
"What can you tell me about them?"
"We were in the army together.There was me and Lieutenant's Eastman and Southworth.We were a bit of a, uh... *ahem* special team under one Major Jason Northville."
Edward chuckled. "Those names for real?"
"Better believe it."
Edward smirked. "So... What kind of stuff did this team of yours do?"
"Secret stuff, I'm afraid."
"Like... special forces?"
Now it was West's turn to laugh. "No, kind of the opposite, actually.See... None of us three Lieutenants were very good at taking orders, falling in line, that kind of thing. We were all sort of fuck-ups, truth be told. And the Major? Well... let's just say he was no fan of playing politics either. Pissed off enough people and not only got stuck with us, but also with all of the really shitty jobs that needed to be done.Operation Suicide... Operation Certain Death... those kinds of things."Edward laughed, as West continued. "See... we'd be sent into places that were considered 'low risk' missions... Meaning that it really didn't matter if we succeeded or not.If we did, it would be nice, but nothing mission essential, see?And while there were normally plenty of volunteers for 'low-risk' missions, these particular targets were also considered 'high-difficulty,' which meant they were going to situations where we heavily outgunned and outnumbered, and the security of our target was going to be super tight. If we succeeded, then we'd potentially open up new opportunities for our side.And if we lost? It wouldn't matter.The overall mission would never depend on our success, and they just be rid of four guys who no one - and I do mean NO ONE - would miss. So we got all the shittiest jobs, that nobody else wanted."
"And you guys generally succeeded, I take it?"
"Every single time.And I lost track long ago how many times that was."
"And where did these guys all end up?"
"Well... Southworth ended up at NSA.He's not particularly high-up, but he's in their computer division, so a lot of info passes through his hands.Eastman's at the Bureau - the FBI, I mean.Mid-level manager. Career-climber.And the Major? He managed to have a few friends left and landed a fairly plum spot over in Central Intelligence.Think those connections might benefit you?"
"Holy crap, West!I'm so glad you shot me!" Edward laughed again.
"Yeah... speaking of that... Look I'll protect you. I'm Ok with that. And I'll extend your offer to the other guys.I'm sure they'll be interested, especially if I show up in their office looking like I did when my I.D. Picture was taken - in the later part of the Clinton administration."
"I'm sure you'll look like you did in boot camp, minus the haircut." Edward smiled.
"Well... assuming you're right, I'll be able to convince them.The Major especially."
That last part struck Edward as curious. "Why's that?"
"He's dying. Lung Cancer. I hadn't heard from him in a few years, and he let all of us know not too long ago. He hasn't informed his *ahem* employer yet, but it's really only a matter of weeks, not months, as he said, before he's not going to be able to work anymore.If you're telling me the truth? If this stuff will really do what you say it will? I'll offer it to him.If you're lying about it?"
"IF you ARE... He'll kill you.And if he doesn't, I will. Understand? No bullshit now."
Edward just smirked. "No bullshit, West.You saw it work. You shot me."
"Yeah, but you have to deliver.I owe this man - all of these men - my life." West leaned forward and pointed at Edward. "Don't make a liar out of me!"
"West, I have no intention of cheating ANYONE. If they come through?They can name their terms."
"Yeah, well... I have one more of my own terms."
"Oh? And what's that?"
"Tell me how you did it."
"Eddie... A little girl like Gretchen might buy into your bullshit, but you ain't fooling me.I know you killed those people.All I want to know is how.And don't worry...I'm the last person, that would judge you.I've killed more people that I can count.And I know you've done the same. I can see it in your eyes.At least you KNOW how many it was.I no longer even remember all of mine.So I'm not asking you this because I'm going to turn you in. In the first place, I just want to know; to satisfy my curiosity. Secondly? It's a show of trust.If you're going to trust me with your life, I can't do that job very well if you keep secrets from me.And finally? I need to know what you're really capable of.I need to know what tools you have; What we're working with here.So spill it."
"How open minded are you, West?"
"Open minded enough that I already believe I'll have eternal youth after tonight."
"OK..." Edward took a deep breath. "I have a... Tablet."
"It's called a Tablet.It resembles an iPad. It's not one... It runs Windows, and has USB ports... But at first glance? It looks like an iPad.And it's primary function is that it can alter the fate of mortals.It can shorten their lives, or end them under just about any circumstance I can dream up.And I can take control of them... make them... decide things or... do things." Edward gave this a minute to sink in.
Finally a series of light bulbs went on in West's head. "So that's why I escorted you to the Oval Office!"
"And... That's why I shot you!"
West thought for a moment."And that's why you said you can only give me 200 years.Not 'eternity' like everyone else."
Edward was truly amazed at this man's mind. He honestly thought he was going to have to explain that himself. "Yes.And I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am for that.After dictating that you would bring me to the oval office, and, uh... shoot me... I finished by saying that you would live another 200 years under your own power."
"Wait... So... Do I already have that time?"
"No. The tablet cannot extend life. Not directly, like that anyway.I suppose if I stopped one person from killing another, I could extend a life that way, but I can't just simply go and add years. I can only take them away.And once your destiny is fulfilled, to the best of what is humanly possible, you die.By putting something like '200 years,' I could have be certain that I was not otherwise shortening your life.Also... once someone's fate is cast in this manner it absolutely cannot be undone.So I'm afraid I can no longer change yours.And at the time I had not considered the possibility that I would be giving you the Tears.Again... I am so sorry, West."
But West just waived that off.200 years of peak physical health was more than enough for him. And he had other matters he needed settled. "Where did you get it?"
"From a woman. Named... Lucifer."
"This from a member of the compass brigade?"West had to laugh at that. "No, I'm serious. A woman named Lucifer Morning Star, for real, gave me the Tablet.Said she had chosen me. Said I had to fix things. And the Tears..."
"Let me guess... Beelzebub?"
"Not funny. And no.They came from her friend, and apparent mentor: Gabriel."
West sat bolt upright. "Wait a second... You expect me to believe that Gabriel, THE Gabriel..."
"Why not, if you believe that she was THE Lucifer?"
"But that doesn't make any sense. Why would...?"
"It's a longer story than I have the energy to tell you right now, but I will fill you in on the details eventually, I promise. Short version? Gabriel was judging mankind to be self destructive and was going to send Azrael to hasten what he saw as the inevitable.Luci wanted to..."
"Luci?" West asked, smiling.
"Yeah, that's what she goes by apparently. Anyway, she got Gabriel to agree to give us - humanity - one more chance to turn things around.That's now my job, and those are the tools I have to do it with."
"OK... And... Where are these tools now?"
Edward was the slightest but suspicious when he asked this, but figured he'd take a chance and just trust him."In a safety deposit box. The Tablet is anyway. The tears are here, upstairs.They'll go in the box first thing tomorrow."
"OK... For the tears, that's fine, But get the tablet back."
"Because it's the only weapon you have. I want you to keep it with you at all times.It's your lifeline.I'd even have replicas made of it and give them out to the others, so you having one doesn't stand out.Does anyone else know about it?"
"Epiphany - who's loyalty in this matter I trust even beyond yours, I might add."
"And has she used it?"
"No.I entrusted her with it, briefly, in case things didn't go as I'd planed back at 1600.But as it turned out, her help wasn't neededand she never used it.And I don't intend to let anyone else know about it, understand? EVENTUALLY, maybe.A hundred years from now, perhaps," Edward chuckled again, "But for now? They can just go on thinking I'm blessed. Or lucky. Or well-connected. Or whatever they want. We'll just keep it mysterious for the foreseeable future."
"I think that's a wise decision. For the time being anyway. It's certainly hard to believe, but... Well, now I know."
"And it doesn't change anything?" Edward was hoping there wasn't another shoe waiting to drop.
"Are you kidding? Like I said, Ed: I've killed more men than I can even count. As has the Major and the rest of my friends.No, sir, I'm afraid you're in far too good a company there.Now... can we get this over with? I've got a busy day ahead of me tomorrow - tracking down and getting reacquainted with some old friends."
Edward administered the tears, as he had with Gretchen and West left to go home.
Upstairs in the bedroom, Epiphany had not yet fallen asleep. She still sounded tired. "So... He's in?"
"Yeah.Both of them."
"I still don't know what you see in that Gretchen girl. She hardly said a word all night, and bugged out early to boot."
"Do you think any of that had something to do with you spiking her food?" Edward asked, neither amused, nor accusingly. It took Epiphany off guard all the same.
"Yeah, not really subtle there, Piff.And I'd greatly appreciate it if you'd never do anything like that again."Edwards tone was very mater-of-fact, without a hint of threat or judgment in it; but it shamed Epiphany to have disappointed him and his taking the high ground, rather than just chewing her out as she figured he would, made her feel incredibly small and petty.
"Why didn't you call me out on it?" she asked quietly.
"Because, unlike you, I had no desire to humiliate her," he answered in an eerily level tone.
Epiphany just stared at him for a moment before giving in. "You're right. I don't know why I even did it. I'm sorry."
"You owe no apology to me," he shot back, again lacking any inflection in his tone.
But the thought of prostrating herself before Gretchen was more than she was ready to accept. "Are you suggesting that I apologize to her?!"
Edward was now quite disappointed in his mate, but his demenour still did not show it. "I'm sure you will do as you believe you must, and as you believe is right. I'm merely pointing out that I myself was not wronged here tonight. And thus I am not personally owed an apology, by anyone."
Epiphany nodded in acceptance of that, and although his tone did not betray even a hint of anger, she could sense the tension that had formed between them over what had happened and for the first night since she moved in, they slept with their backs towards one another.