Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Light in the Darkness

Elior walked across the tarmac of New Babylon's airport, wherever he looked there was someone writhing in agony. The screams of the victims blended together into a sort of hellish white noise. He couldn't stop to help them, not yet. Like all angels, Elior was a messenger. He was here to deliver a message.

He made note of the position of every person. He might not have time to save them all, but a little reconnaissance beforehand could help him to save more of them. God hadn't actually told him to save them. He'd said nothing of the sort. But God hadn't told him not to save them either. That left the decision on what to do in Elior's hands and Elior already had his answer.

To better understand the situation Elior dropped his supernatural defenses and experienced what a mortal would. He cried out and raised his defenses. The pain had defied description. Bad enough that he hadn't even noticed falling to the tarmac. He picked himself up and continued on his way.

His goal came into view. A man walked away from her, that was odd. It was clear the man could see, but who else would be able to see in this place? Elior knew it didn't matter, if the man were important God would have mentioned him. Still, it made him curious.

Elior pushed it out of his mind, and approached the woman. He knelt beside her, "Emma, God sent me to tell you that he has heard your prayer." He placed his hands on her. She stopped writhing. "It is never too late to come to God. But neither is it free. If you swear to forsake evil and actively do good, God will take you into his embrace."

She swore it without pausing to think, but Elior knew she was sincere. For now that was enough. Time would tell whether she would live up to it. He granted her the ability to see in darkness and helped her to her feet. "Do you have any questions?"

Emma thought for a moment. "Why is this happening?"

Elior looked around, shook his head, and said, "I don't know. I'm just a messenger. I would stop it if I could, but God won't let me interfere in the Antichrist's plan."


"No, not Nicolae. He would make a piss poor Antichrist. Nicolae is like an angry child who has no real goal in life other than to throw tantrums whenever he notices he doesn't rule the world. The real Antichrist is going to try to pass himself off as Jesus. Can you imagine what would happen if Nicolae declared himself Jesus? There'd be so many questions he couldn't answer, chief among them being who the Antichrist was.

"The idea of an Antichrist is so prevalent in popular culture that anyone claiming to be Christ needs to be able to point to someone as an Antichrist. Who could Nicolae point to? Tsion Ben-Judah?" He paused to consider that. "Actually that's not far off.

"Anyway, Nicolae is not the Antichrist. He is a patsy, and an idiot to boot. If the real Antichrist were as stupid as Nicolae my work would be much easier. I wish the real Antichrist was as ineffectual as Nicolae. The real Antichrist is working with the real Lucifer who has, for centuries, been setting this up. They did this," Elior gestured to the ubiquitous darkness and suffering. "But God let them, and I don't pretend to understand why."

Emma asked, "What does God want me to do?"

God hadn't told Elior. His instructions had ended at answering questions, with no indication of what answers he wanted Elior to give. There was always the standard answer, "Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and come to those in prison." He paused a moment, "Speaking of which, I have something for you," he handed her bread and a water bottle.

Emma snatched them and immediately bit into the bread, then stopped, pulled the bread away from her mouth, and looked at the starving masses around her. Elior knew what she was thinking. "Go ahead. There's enough to go around." It was the fastest he had ever seen someone eat, and he worried she might drown on her water. She survived, coming out somewhat better fed and watered and completely unscathed. "I'm planning on helping them, if that sounds like something you'd like to do, I could use the help."

Emma nodded.

"Now I might not be allowed to make this all go away, but I can preform some miracles." He handed Emma a loaf of bread. "That will feed as many people as needed. You don't happen to have any fish ... no, you wouldn't. Nevermind. You'll find the bottle is full again, and will remain that way. Go around feed people, comfort them, give them a drink, see if any of them will come to God, but most of all get them moving. The overall goal is to get all of these people moving as far as they can as fast as they can that way." Elior pointed. "If any of them will accept God call out my name. I'll see about doing for them what I did for you."

Many of them were quite willing to accept God.



Elior watched as the woman's soul left her body. She was clearly shocked, death by gas grenade would do that to a person. She also exhibited the kind of serenity that only people who had been relieved from great pain ever experienced. "Hello, Krystall. My name is Elior."

When she faced him she filled with fear. "No, no. I'm not here to hurt you. You helped strangers. Even when you thought there was no benefit for yourself. It cost you your life, but it earned you something far more important. I'm here to take you to Heaven, to a place prepared for ones such as you before time itself began."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Something is Wrong Here

"Rayford," Jesus said.

"Yes, Lord," Rayford responded.

"When you see My throne, join those on My left, your right."

Rayford didn't notice he had stopped in his tracks. He didn't notice that others were moving passed him. All he noticed was that something was wrong. He had been waiting for this moment for seven years. He had studied it for just as long. He was supposed to be on Jesus' right. He was sure of it. But he was just as sure of what Jesus had said.

Something was wrong.

Perhaps it was a test of faith. If it was Rayford would pass. He would do whatever Jesus commanded of him. "Yes, Lord," Rayford said. He made his way rightwards.


Big Sky-Man told him to move left, so Jacob moved to his left. He considered disobeying for the sake of disobeying, but didn't see the point. Big Sky-Man could simply teleport Jacob there if he didn't move, and over there didn't look any worse than where he was standing. He felt like stretching his legs anyway and didn't see any gain in pissing of Big Sky-Man. Jacob moved to his left, Big Sky-Man's right.

Jacob had never studied theology and never set foot in a church, he had no idea the significance of being on the right or the left. In fact the only thing this right-left thing brought to mind was an episode of the original series of Star Trek. It was a heavy handed commentary on race with a memorable scene in which one black on one side white on the other side alien shouted that he was superior to another similarly colored alien because the other one was, "white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side!"

Jacob smiled at his faded memory of the scene as he made his leftwards through the crowd.


Below them the vast heavenly hosts were assembled. A great raised platform stood under the assorted saints and angels. On the platform Jesus sat on a throne and five angels stood. The three angels of mercy were behind Jesus, Michael and Gabriel stood to either side.


One of the angels stepped forward and made a speech. Jacob thought its wings were pretty.

"Jacob, " Big Sky-Man said, "come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. "

"I've never seen you before," Jacob said.

"Assuredly, I say to you, Jacob," Big Sky-Man said, "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren," Jacob's mind was flooded with memories. Volunteering at a soup kitchen, all the times he gave up his water ration because others needed it more, strangers who would one day be friends camped out in sleeping bags in his living room after an earthquake had toppled so many other houses.

He remembered on the night of the vanishings meeting a teenaged girl who had lost everything -literally everything- standing in the street staring at her burning house wearing nothing but a blanket, the only thing he'd had to give was the clothing he'd been wearing. It wasn't complete charity though, she'd given him the blanket in trade. There were also instances of donating clothing to charities, but they were much less notable.

Most of all he remembered the hospital. The damned hospital. He hated it. The smell, the knowledge that so many of those he was visiting would die, the horror of seeing a child, always under seven years old, being wheeled through the halls with bits of them missing. Everything about it, he had hated. But his friend had been right, there was a need. By the time there were children in need of a children's hospital all of the children's hospitals had been abandoned or repurposed. He couldn't build, he had no medical training, he had no money. He watched as others worked to make it operational, but couldn't help with that. Once it was he watched as others did the work of healing, but couldn't help with that. All he could do was go from room to room and talk to the children. So he that was what he did.

Jacob didn't actually have any memories of coming to anyone in prison.

"you did it to Me." Big Sky-Man finished.

Jacob said, "Oh."


With anger and yet sadness, Jesus said, "Rayford, depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me."

The words didn't really parse properly in Rayford's brain. When he said, "What! When?" it was more of a reflex than an actual question.

Jesus said, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these,” Ray's mind filled with images, a woman on the ground next to an empty stroller that he drove passed on his way home, homeless people he had ignored on his way to various places, every person who's suffering he had left unattended because he was too busy spying on Nicolae. The images were too many to number. "you did not do it to Me. You will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life," Jesus finished.

This wasn't right. Rayford wasn't a goat. He was a sheep. He knew it. Bruce and Tsion had both told him so. Something was wrong here. "No. No! NO!"

Somewhere, to his right, Rayford heard someone yell, "But I said the prayer!"


A woman near Jacob asked, "Is this a trick?"

Jacob didn't understand how she could even think that if her experience had been anything like his own. He knew, somehow, exactly what this was. He silently asked Big Sky-Man if he could tell her. Big Sky-Man said he could. He approached her, looked her in the eyes and said, "No. It's not a trick. This what we've earned. At long last our suffering is at an end."

"But I took the mark. I have the mark of the beast."

Jacob looked at her empty forehead. He had to lean slightly to see her hand. "Not anymore. I don't think marks matter anyway. It's what you do that matters."

Jacob looked passed her, the earth cracked under the people on Big Sky-Man's left. The crack expanded, lengthening and widening until it it swallowed all of them, then it shut itself. "And kerplunk. He doesn't screw around." Jacob thought for a moment, "I hope He doesn't just leave them there. I can't believe that they're all irredeemable."



I originally misread "Rayford knew instinctively that every living person on earth was gathered in that valley." as "Rayford knew instinctively that every living thing on earth was gathered in that valley."

As such it made sense to include:

The onlookers instinctively knew that every living thing on earth was present. Rayford tried to determine how many human beings had survived this long. Jacob wondered where his dog and cat were. And his spider plant.


It took most of the morning for everyone to get where they were supposed to be. Jacob had located his pets and his plant, but the cat had gotten bored and moved on.

Unfortunately that doesn't make much sense when looking at what the text really says.

Also, Krystall, Nicolae's secretary, was originally supposed to be the one Jacob talks to, but apparently she died before the series reached it's conclusion. As a result I had to drop the original last line:

"I don't know," Krystall said, and she told him of a man who'd once tormented her when she was immersed in total darkness.

Variations on a Bitter Theme

The actual text of Earl and Rayford's conversation in Tribulation Force:

"You hit me with all that church and Rapture stuff, and I was polite, wasn't I?"
"A little too polite."
"But I took it as a friend, just like you listen to me when I brag about my kids, right?"
"I wasn't bragging about anything."
"No, but you were excited about it. You found something that gave you comfort and helped explain your losses, and I say, great, whatever makes your boat float. You started pressing me about coming to church and reading my Bible and all that, and I told you, kindly I hope, that I considered that personal and that I would appreciate it if you'd lay off."
"And I did. Though I still pray for you."
"Well, hey, thanks."

Variant 1:

"You hit me with all that church and Rapture stuff, and I was polite, wasn't I?"

"A little too polite."

"But I took it as a friend, just like you listen to me when I brag about my kids- Sorry. Oh my god, I am so sorry. I just- I just didn't think … I - I'm … Jesus. I'm so, so sorry."

Rayford didn't say anything. It wasn't Earl's fault. People slipped up. There were so many things you couldn't say anymore. So many things that would strike the wrong nerve. You had to constantly think before you spoke to make sure you didn't mention children. Everyone slipped up sometimes.

Rayford himself had said some very stupid things. He still felt bad about what he'd asked that kindergarten teacher.

It was easy to forgive Earl. What wasn't easy was dealing with thoughts about his son. He didn't think about Raymie that much. He couldn't. If he let himself do it he'd be unable to function. Even now, at nothing more than the word "kids" he could feel pressure building behind his eyes as tears prepared to push out. He could feel the deepest sadness he had ever known rising up inside.

For the thousandth time he reminded himself that his son wasn't dead. But as with every time before, the distinction seemed academic. Not a comfort so much as a technicality. His son was in Heaven just as any dead child would be. He tried to tell himself that was a good thing, that he should be happy that his son was in paradise, but it had never made the loss any easier before and this time was no different.

Raymie was in Heaven, Rayford was sure of it, but that still meant he was not here. Not on earth with Rayford. That hurt. It was a pain that he couldn't rationalize away. A piece of his soul had been torn out, and the fact that that piece was in Heaven didn't make the gaping hole it left behind any more bearable.

Rayford forced himself to speak, and said what he wanted to believe, "You don't have to apologize. I know where my son is. He's in Heaven. That's cause for celebration not-" He couldn't make himself believe it. In the abstract he knew it to be true. But in the practice the first tear slid down his face, soon to be followed by many more.


Variant 2:

"You hit me with all that church and Rapture stuff, and I was polite, wasn't I?"

"A little too polite."

"But I took it as a friend, just like you listen to me when I brag about..." Earl blinked several times. Then hung his head. He sniffed. "I'm – I'm all right. Just give me-" his breathing became ragged. "I can...” The first sob came. "Oh, god ... my kids." Tears ran freely down Earl's face.

Rayford wasn't sure what to do. He wanted to tell Earl there was nothing to be sad about, that his children were in Heaven with God, but he'd tried that before. Earl didn't want to hear it. He'd made that clear.


These were inspired by Raka's version:

"But I took it as a friend, just like you listen to me when I brag about my kids, right?"
"I mean, bragged. Past tense. Back when I had kids. A few weeks ago. Man, the things that slip your mind, y'know? Ha, I'd probably forget my head if it weren't for the fact that everything that made my life worth living was snatched away in one cruel instant and here I am engaging in this ludicrous pantomime of pseudo-human interaction with you and what were we talking about? You gonna finish those fries?"


(I know, I know; his kids might very well be past the magical cut-off date. Still. Casual references to children should be about as socially acceptable as taking your pants off in a crowded elevator at this point.)