There was a twisting, a sensation
of being turned inside-out, and then he was rising. He was shooting skywards like a balloon cut
from its tether, utterly uncontrolled, disoriented and frantic. There were wisps of cloud, spinning green
ground receding below, crystal blue above as he plummeted upwards, a roaring in
All around him, dimming his view,
was a thick haze through which electricity arced and danced, discharges of
bright color―crimson red, emerald green, powder blue. As he rose, he was continually barraged and
battered by the strange energy. He
didn’t feel pain, but there was a continual, inescapable, overwhelming
discomfort…a spider crawling up his leg, an itch he couldn’t scratch, throughout
his entire being. The light display
might otherwise have been beautiful, but the sensation was maddening,
overwhelming him with an intense desire to escape upwards, to rise higher.
He desperately grappled for his
bearings, for understanding, for a single thought he could hold onto. What is
this? What’s happening to me? Who am I?
And, from somewhere inside himself,
as if in answer: Will. My name is Will. I am sixteen years old.
Will reached inside his mind for
more information, and came up empty. And
then he looked deeper. And then
scrambled around inside the dark vacancy…and found nothing else. Not a clue as to his identity. Not a single memory.
The haze around him was thinning as
he rocketed skywards, the colored bolts growing less intense and more
infrequent, the full-body itch mercifully beginning to loosen its grip. Above, the sky was darkening from blue to
black, though the sun still blazed directly overhead. I must
be near the edge of the stratosphere, he thought. Then how can I breathe? Wait…AM
I breathing? And how do I know what
‘stratosphere’ means? Who taught me the
word? Where? When?
As the haze diminished, Will’s
sight grew clearer. Above him and off to
his left was a luminous speck of light, rising like a spark from a campfire. Focusing his attention on the light, he felt
himself angling towards it and increasing his velocity, catching up to the
glowing spark. What? How did I… Startled,
his focus lost, he was sliding straight upwards again, out of control, like a
cork through clear water.
Fighting for a grip, Will refocused
on the light. Slowly, he felt his
control return, and once again he angled towards the glow. With no point of reference, there was no way
to judge distance or size; was he about to catch a firefly, or was he in futile
pursuit of a distant star? Will reached
out towards the spark―
―and for the first time, he caught
a glimpse of his own hand. It was
perfectly transparent and translucent, as was the arm attached. There was barely more substance to his hand,
to his arm, to him, than there was to
the ever-diminishing haze. Holding his
palm up before his eyes, he could easily look straight through it at the spark
Looking down at his body for the
first time, Will was nearly blinded by an intense, luminous glow in the center
of his torso. Squinting to reduce the
glare, he found that the rest of him―his chest, his stomach, his legs―were as
insubstantial as his hands. Aside from
the light beaming from his heart, he was barely there at all. He should have been awestruck by this fact, by
the panorama below him―the curve of the earth now plainly visible on the
horizon, most of a continent stretching out below in a pastiche of faded browns
and greens. But somehow, he wasn’t. Instead, he found himself distracted by odd
questions: why am I squinting? If my
eyelids are transparent, how can tightening them reduce the glare?
Will looked up again at the glowing
spark, and then off at the horizon. Was that
another tiny glowing light off in the distance below him? He shut his eyes―Why does that work?―then opened them again. Fighting against panic, he sought focus,
grasped for the feeling which had drawn him towards the spark above. His mind fumbled with distractions, then
grappled at the edges of…something, some inner sense he’d never used nor known
he possessed. And gradually, Will’s grip
on himself grew more confident. He willed
himself to slowly rotate as he rose, and found that his body obeyed.
There was no mistaking it this
time. The light he’d been chasing was
real. As he spun slowly in midair, his
ascent now slowing dramatically, the mist gradually dispersing, he could see other
glowing lights off in the distance. He
counted them as he rotated. One…two…three…four? Five…
Shooting stars in reverse, rising against the darkening sky.
Will looked down again at himself. His body was an afterthought, almost
invisible. And yet the heart of him
blazed on, luminous in the gathering dark.
He could not name the color of the light at the center of him; he had never
seen it before, yet it was somehow familiar.
And those other lights were, unmistakably, in color and by nature, a
match for the light in him.
People, he thought. Each of those lights is a person.
The last wisps of electric haze dwindled
in the distance below. The roaring in
Will’s ears had faded to total silence. He
was free of the full-body itch, free of the atmosphere. Below him was the whole Earth; above him
blazed the sun and stars, simultaneously, in the black void. He was merely another glowing light among
many. There was no air, yet he felt no
cold, no heat, no pain, no sense of suffocation.
The realization didn’t provoke any
particular terror or awe. Will felt no
anguish, no regret. Shouldn’t I be missing someone?
My family? My friends? He was certain he should, but searching his
mind, he couldn’t find them. The word “mother”
had a definition, but he couldn’t fit a particular image to it. He could remember people, as a concept; he could not recall a single specific human person.
In truth, Will could barely
remember himself. My name is Will. I am sixteen
years old. What did he look
like? An image came to mind, indistinct,
as through a foggy mirror. Dark hair,
yes…a big, thick, unruly mop of it…darkish complexion…a face a bit too broad to
be handsome, with narrow eyes beneath heavy brows…medium height and build.
I smart? Dumb? Strong?
Weak? Awkward? Popular?
Who are my friends? What are my
hobbies? Nothing. A total blank.
Of all the questions Will was struggling
with, that was the one that really had him on edge.
there supposed to be someone or something here to tell me what comes next? Dead relatives waiting? A set of huge pearly gates guarded by a
winged man with a checklist? Nasty
horned men brandishing pitchforks?
mean…I don’t remember being particularly religious, but surely no faith
believes that, after death, God drops you off in low earth orbit, gives you
amnesia, slaps you on the back, and then wanders off to do God stuff?
He was going to have to find his
own answers, and he wasn’t going to find out anything by just drifting
aimlessly in space. Once again, he
examined his surroundings. The―person? Soul?—that had been above him on his way up
was now just off to his left, floating motionless. Will brought up his arms and legs, swung them
back in a powerful butterfly stroke, and achieved utterly nothing; he remained
anchored, flailing in the void. No, that’s not right. It isn’t about your body. Not here.
It’s about the mind... Instead
of exercising nonexistent muscles, Will simply decided to move towards the glow, and in wishing it, he found it
was happening. Slowly, like a dandelion
seed on a summer breeze, he drifted forward.
Approaching, Will gave his neighbor
a cheerful wave, only to remember that the two of them were virtually invisible
to one another. As he grew closer, he
found that the lights at the center of each of them blended and echoed off of
one another; in the combined glow, he could just barely see the outline of a
human form. The ghostly shape has its
arm outstretched, as if to touch something, and it was looking in…
Will paused in his approach. In what direction was his neighbor looking, exactly?
Somewhere in his consciousness, a
switch was flipped. Something behind
Will’s eyes opened, and he could suddenly see the direction in which his neighbor
was looking. It was an angle incomprehensible
to the mortal mind, oblique to the entire reality he had known. He was looking not up or down, not left or
right, but outwards.
And in the far distance outwards
was The Light. The Light!
Had Will thought that he and his
neighbor and were luminous beings?
Relative to The Light, they were tiny flickers. If they had been rising sparks, The Light was
the bonfire itself. How could he not
have seen it before, when its intensity would have dimmed a hundred suns? It’s no
accident that living human beings can’t see The Light, he thought. The
flesh isn’t equipped for it. It would
fry your brain like an egg inside your skull.
It seemed to Will that some part of
him had always known and longed for The Light, that it had always been a part
of him, and of every person ever born. The Light is unity and love. The Light is destiny, the purpose of all
human existence. Had he sought
instructions for his afterlife? The
Light was, in itself, all the instruction needed. This is
what we were made for. To join with The
With difficulty, Will pulled his
eyes away from The Light. He could see that
the other human souls who had arisen alongside of his neighbor and himself were
rushing outwards, with all the speed they could muster. They were rushing towards fusion with The Light,
heeding its call, seeking to disappear into it entirely.
And suddenly, Will had something
new to be confused about.
Because he could look into The Light,
and recognize what it signified. He
knew, at a purely instinctive level, that The Light had to be the destiny of every human being; that there could be no
purpose outside of it or apart from it; that every single fiber of him should
crave union with it.
And yet, somehow, he didn’t.
Will didn’t want to merge with The
He didn’t want it at all.
Beside a rough-hewn wood-frame
building, a hulking boy was splitting logs, and every time he brought down the
axe, he imagined a skull beneath it.
Off to the east, the sun was slowly
sinking behind the chalky hills, its dying rays painting the high grass with a
hazy, golden corona. The boy―the young
man, really―had wide, handsome features, skin the color of rich mahogany, and
close-cropped hair. Thick rivulets of
sweat ran down his face to stain his leather tunic and trousers. He raised the axe in work-hardened palms, and
with an explosive cry, he brought it down in a thunderous arc, through the rail
of oak and deep into the stump beneath it.
His every muscle―and he had an abundance of them―ached from the effort,
and from the long day’s hunt behind him.
He barely noticed. His heart hurt
Behind him, on the front stoop of
the building, a door opened. The woman
who emerged was perhaps in her early thirties, a little more than a decade
older than the teenager, slight of build and clad in rough cotton,
milky-skinned, with mouselike features. She
rested her hands on the porch railing and watched the boy, her intelligent
brown eyes full of concern.
The boy never turned, but felt her
eyes on him all the same. “Don’t mind
me, Rosemary. Just making myself
useful. Chopping some firewood.” With a massive surge, he wrenched the axe
free, and stooped to replace the log with another.
The woman spoke, her tone calm. “Jason,” she said. “It’s midsummer.”
The boy paused. Wiped his brow. Blinked.
Looked, as if for the first time, at the scene around him. Virtually the entire yard was littered with
split logs, some of which had been chopped again and again, to tiny fragments,
far past any conceivable use. He lowered
the axe; his shoulders slumped in resignation.
“I know,” he muttered. “It’s just…I get so angry sometimes.” His face was miasma of self-loathing and
repressed rage, a skyfull of dreary drizzle and incipient thunder.
The woman descended from the porch
and reached up―reached up quite some distance―to carefully wrap her arm around
the boy’s broad shoulders; at full stretch, she was almost able to touch his
far arm with the tips of her fingers. She
ushered him back to the stoop. “I know
you do, Jason,” she cooed. She sat him down
on the steps, then sat herself beside him.
“And you’ve a right to be. But
we’ve talked about this. You have to learn
to channel it. Splitting logs isn’t what we need it for
right now. It isn’t productive.”
A slow fire kindled in Jason’s
eyes. “Logs aren’t what I wanna take an
Her tone was sharper, commanding. The boy looked at her fiercely; she looked
back at him quietly; slowly, the fire in his eyes died.
They sat together in silence for
perhaps a minute. The last of the sun’s
rays were dwindling on the horizon, and the moons were coming out
overhead. Finally, the boy spoke. “Nothing will ever be enough, will it? He’ll never forgive me.”
The woman sighed and smiled
sadly. “Jason,” she said. “Ben didn’t mean to snap at you, I’m
sure. And it certainly has nothing to do
with what happened two months ago.” She
shook her head. “It’s been…well, it’s
been a long day for him. And you know
that he has a lot on his mind. He has an
entire town to look after. All of Haven
depends on Ben for guidance. I think the
strain’s too much for him at times.” She
drew her mouth into a tight line.
“That’s no excuse, of course. But
he does love you, Jason. He loves you
and I more than anything else on Elysium.”
She smiled warmly, and reached up again to wrap an arm around him; “Just
as much as I love you. You do know that,
right? You know that we love you?” She tightened her grip as best she could, and
perhaps the misery in the teen’s face abated a bit.
“Sure,” he responded. “Yeah.
I…I guess. And I love you too,
Rosemary. I love you both. I just wish…”
Jason’s jaw worked as he fumbled for words. “…I just wish, you know, that I deserved it more.”
“Jason.” Rosemary’s tone was sharper this time. “We’ve talked about this. You mustn’t think about yourself that way.”
“But it’s true!” He turned to her, his face full of
consternation. “I mean…Ben’s
amazing. He knows everything there is to
know about plants, and about people…he can build a house, or set a bone, or
even run an army. And everybody in Haven
trusts him and depends upon him. And
you…you build new bodies for people! You
literally bring the dead back to life!”
Rosemary sighed. “No, Jason,” she said, her expression
indicating that they were on well-worn conversational ground. “People rebuild their own bodies. They bring themselves back to life. I’m merely a guide.”
“Yeah, but still! I mean…both of you…people need you.” He stared back down at his hands. “What do people need me for?” he mumbled.
Rosemary smiled reassuringly. “People need you to be you, Jason. Maybe you can’t
operate an apothecary like Ben, or guide an incarnation like me. But neither Ben nor I can run down a deer in
the wild. Neither of us can fight off
three hillmen singlehanded with nothing but a flint sickle. We need you to keep Haven fed. We need you to keep Haven safe. And Ben needs you, Jason, to remind him of
what it is he’s fighting to create here.
You make him proud. He may not
say so, he may not be capable of
saying so, but there’s a reason that you’re the only newcomer he’d have in his
home…in our home. You always
make him proud.”
That drew a slow, sheepish
smile. “And you have to remember,
Jason,” Rosemary continued, “we’ve put
in a bit more time here than you have. It’s
only been, what, eighteen months?
Whereas I’ve had fourteen years.
And Ben has been here for well over two hundred.”
The boy frowned. “Eighteen months is enough, though.” He shook his head. “Enough to have known better. Enough to have not been taken in by a pretty
face. Enough to have not been made a
Rosemary stood, then stepped down
off the stoop. Crouching in front of
Jason, she grasped him by the hands, and stared straight into his eyes. “Jason, you have to let it go. You were far from the only one fooled by
them. And you certainly weren’t the only
one taken in by Delia’s charms.”
“Yeah. But…hillman spies! And I trusted them!” Jason blushed. “I trusted her.” He swallowed. “At least you knew better than we did. If you hadn’t, who knows how much more they
would have been able to accomplish…”
Rosemary smiled ruefully. “Yes, Jason, you did trust her. And you do trust. You are yourself so trustworthy that I think
sometimes that it never occurs to you that other people might not be.”
He ground his teeth. “I wish I weren’t. So trusting, I mean.” He shook his head. “And…and so angry.”
Rosemary smiled. “I don’t.
Jason, I don’t wish you were anything other than what you are. And neither does Ben.” Her delicate hand kneaded at the back of his
neck affectionately. “Jason, you really
must learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes. We’re all doing the best we can here. This world we’ve found…it’s all about second
chances. It’s all about the opportunity
to do better. I’m convinced of it. So that when we’re the best versions of
ourselves we can be, we can enter The Light with clear consciences.”
Jason stared at the ground for a
moment, then back up at Rosemary. “You
think so?” She nodded, but his expression
remained quizzical. “I wish…” He spread his hands, grasping aimlessly at
the air for a moment, then they dropped bonelessly to his knees. “…I just wish I remembered. You know. I just wish I knew what I was, before. But it’s all a blur.”
Rosemary returned to his side
and wrapped a comforting arm around him again.
“It’s like that for all of us, Jason.
You know that.”
“Just a blur. Just…a name, and those loose memories. The games, and the friends, and dad…and
that…” Slowly, his face crashed. “…and that other thing.”
Rosemary interjected quickly. “And soccer, Jason.”
Instantly, Jason’s entire demeanor
changed, his face exploding into an expression of pure joy. “Soccer!
Yeah! Game in two weeks! It’s gonna be epic! Are you coming this time?”
Rosemary smiled again, although this
smile might perhaps have held something in reserve. “Of course, Jason. I wouldn’t miss it.” But Jason was grinning maniacally, all
glumness forgotten, and she gave him another reassuring squeeze. “For now, let’s head back inside, all
right?” Instantly, Jason popped up onto
his feet and reached down to pull Rosemary up with him.
They turned to enter the building,
Jason opening the door and holding it for her.
“Remember, Jason,” she said, quietly, as they went inside. “Elysium’s not about who we were. It’s not even about who we are now. It’s about who we can become.”
The question echoed in the vacant
cavern of Will’s consciousness, leaving panic in its wake. He’d have screamed, if only he’d had the lips
and the lungs to do so. Inwardly, he grasped
for purchase, and found none; the infinite void which surrounded him was far
less terrifying than the void at the center of himself.
And yet…there was something there that he could cling to. One single anchoring fact, lodged within his
reeling brain. My name is Will. I am sixteen
Rotating slowly in space, the Earth far
below him, Will focused on that one single shred of information. Get a
grip, Will. Panic won’t help. Slow down your breathing and your heart
ra…okay, that’s not really possible.
That’s two less things to worry about, I guess.
calm down. Get a grip.
have a name. And you may not have a
body, or memories, but you have a thinking mind. Cogito, ergo sum―I think, therefore, I
am. You still exist. You have perception of your surroundings.
At every moment, new glowing specks
were emerging from the fog below. New
souls discovered The Light, then turned outwards towards it. The specks became streaks, fleeing down a
newly discovered axis towards glory, unanimous in their purpose.
The sole exceptions appeared to be
Will and the figure he’d seen rising alongside him. His neighbor’s form was still hovering in
place―perceiving the light, basking in its glow, but not yet moving towards it.
Okay. I don’t know what’s going on…but others
might. So…how do I ask them? How do I communicate?
He sensed that he had no voice, and he knew that even if he’d had one,
the vacuum of space would not have carried sound. This is
all going to take some getting used to.
can I do? If
nothing else, I can move. Whatever stuff
I’m made of now, it weighs less than a thought. I can use my mind to move…
Will drifted left, then
concentrated, pushing himself in the direction he’d only just discovered,
turning outwards, interposing himself
between his neighbor and The Light. Will
saw the ghostly head turn in his direction, and he eased back inwards, moving right…and accelerating.
better. And it’s getting easier. I’m getting the hang of this…
Will turned a pirouette, then drifted back past the still-inert form of
his neighbor. The figure was flailing
its limbs in an echo of Will’s earlier attempt at “swimming”. How to
explain? Will floated outwards
again, into his neighbor’s field of vision.
Hoping that he was visible, at least in silhouette, he pointed with his
index finger directly at his own temple.
It’s not out there, buddy, it’s in
here. Mind over matter. The figure paused. Will swooped to the left, to the right,
pointed at his head again. Very slowly,
he saw his neighbor began to drift―right, then left, mirroring his own
Focusing his thoughts, Will
exploded upwards, flying away from the planet below him―and then, outwards,
away from Earth and towards The Light.
Faster, ever faster, his neighbor shadowing him now, Will extended his
arms ahead of him―and then outwards from his sides, like wings. Flying.
Flight was a dream made real, swooping
and soaring, free from constraint. And
as Will experienced it for the first time, he knew that every child’s fancy―that
every toddler who ever looked at a bird in flight and knew, just knew, that what was natural for them was
natural for her as well―had been correct.
He knew that flight wasn’t just possible for, but fundamental to human beings.
Not possible for an incarnate human,
no, but there was more to a human being than his or her body, and nothing was
more natural to an unencumbered soul than flight. And there, beyond the bonds of Earth, Will
and his companion awoke for the first time to a new part of themselves, and to
how much more there might be to humanity than their flesh had permitted them to
Upwards away from Earth, then back
down as low as they dared, until the crawling horror of the lightning haze
shooed them away. Across the edge of the
sky, cometlike; then outwards towards The Light, Earth not shrinking but
somehow fading behind them, like a
mirage; then back inwards, Earth swelling back into tangibility; then outwards
further still. Will found himself to be the
more agile of the two―Wow! I’m GOOD at this!—but his companion was
gaining strength, first trailing in his wake, nipping at his heels; then, at
the first opportunity, taking off in new directions, daring him to follow.
He was without memory, without
prospects or a plan. But Will was no
longer a perfect enigma to himself; he didn’t, after all, need to have a body to be somebody.
am Will. I am sixteen years old. And even without a voice, even without a
physical form, I’m not without resources.
I have a mind, and I think it’s a good one. I have a friend, and I’m able to help him. I have a million questions, and I intend to
see them answered.
I can fly. My God, how I can fly!
Will pursued his new friend upwards
and outwards and across the stars. If this is death, he thought, I can live with it.
Ben watched through the window of
his residence above the apothecary as Jason emerged into the morning
light. The young man stretched, hoisted
a quiver of arrows and a longbow onto his shoulder, fixed his harpoon across
his back, and jogged off down the muddy path towards the outskirts of town and
his day’s labors.
is loyalty, Ben thought, watching him go.
There is the vigor of youth and
the shining light of honor. There is the
absence of guile and the presence of courage.
There is all that is best in men.
There is all that is best in Haven.
do not deserve to have him in my care. I
do not deserve to have him in my life.
He had been cruel, unthinkingly
cruel, to Jason the previous evening.
The boy had been going on and on about the intricacies of the day’s hunt. Babbling, as was his wont. Rosemary, sweet Rosemary, kind and honorable
as always, had been attentive, asking intelligent questions, expressing
admiration and sympathy at all the appropriate moments. He, meanwhile, had been the same pompous ass
as ever, barely listening, absorbed in the latest reports of activity by the
hillmen. There were rumors, terrible
rumors, of a swelling power to the north, of a gathering together of warring
tribes; more immediately, there were threats of renewed activity on the very
outskirts of Haven itself. No doubt it
was the Mencks again, probing at their defenses, seeking to exploit whatever
information Imre and Delia had uncovered prior to their discovery. That episode had been a black eye for him,
and no mistake. His own fault, of
course, and he could scarcely blame his one great political enemy, the most
dangerous man in Haven, for moving into the gap his neglect had created…and
then, suddenly, Jason and Rosemary had both been staring at him, awaiting his
response to some remark. “Well, what,
boy?” he had blurted. “Yes, yes, you
failed to kill a deer! A great
tragedy! My condolences!”
Jason had, of course, slunk away
like a beaten dog, and Ben had endured a withering glare from his beloved as
she had moved to comfort the boy. Later,
Jason had returned, an eager puppy, as if Ben’s words had never cut him. Ben had not apologized. Apologies were the business of the weak. A strong man did not attempt to excuse his
misbehavior, he sought to correct it.
But Ben was an old, old man―centuries old, one of the oldest still
living in Haven―and he had begun to suspect that his nature was too deeply
ingrained in him to be changed now.
worse for Haven if that is true. And the
worse for my immortal soul. By God, I
have to be a better man than I was. I
MUST get it right this time around.
Turning from the window to his
washbasin, Ben stared at his reflection in the mirrored glass. The glass was a rare item in their primitive
community; there were no glazeries within the city limits, or indeed any nearer
than Himmelgarten, and the hillmen were so eager to swoop down upon any caravan
between towns that trade goods were obscenely expensive. The figure looking back out of the glass at
him bore three days’ beard growth. It
had an impressive hawk’s beak of a nose, a strong jaw, short dark hair thinning
out on top, pale grey eyes. It was the face
of a man perhaps forty years old, and even fourteen years after the fact, he
still couldn’t get used to how new it looked.
How young it looked.
face is a lie. My life is a lie.
Ben rolled up his sleeves, revealing
muscular forearms, darkly tanned, the left laced with tiny scars. Reaching into the basin, he did his feeble
best to make lather out of a crude cake of soap and the water therein, and
spread the thin foam over his cheeks and chin with a horsehair brush. He reached for his razor, an item still rarer
than the mirror-glass…not mere iron, but steel, or a reasonable approximation
thereof. Few of the blades stored in the
Redoubt or elsewhere in town held as keen an edge. Forged with great effort
at the hottest of Haven’s smithies and bestowed upon him by a collection of
grateful citizens. If they had known me better, they
would have cut my throat with it.
Ben scraped away at the
dark bristles, and reflected on the events that had brought him to Elysium, and
to the town which he had helped build, which he had helped name. Departure and exile from Earth. My second
exile, he thought ruefully.
Rejection of The Light, a blessing of which he was so manifestly
unworthy. The discovery of soulflight,
the requisite period of wandering, in space and up and down the Axis of
Eternity. The eventual discovery of the
planet Elysium and the small cluster of rickety shacks by the river, which he’d
named the Quinnipiac. Returning to the
material world under Penelope’s guidance; that first group of friends, Anders
and Greta and Bald Will and Xibal, the seed stock of what would become, in
time, a thriving community. All of those
first friends were gone now, gone to The Light.
All but him.
The hardest part, of course, had
been piecing together the tiny fragments of their memories. The bare scraps of knowledge that had been
all they had brought with them into the postmortal world. So much had been lost; so much had to be
rediscovered. He knew that his own Earthly
era had been one of musketry and gunpowder, of workhouses and manufactories,
but who knew how to recreate them? And
no doubt life on Earth had come further still in the intervening
centuries. Newcomers to Haven now told wondrous
tales of powered flight and recorded music and electrified imagery, but the new
arrivals seemed to know less than ever about how the devices that ran their
lives actually worked. Haven’s level of technology was late medieval
at the very best.
So much of Earthly life had been
forgotten. Not by his enemy, of
course. Ammerman remembered everything, it seemed, including the one
bit of information that Ben most wanted forgotten. And, in truth, Ben remembered more of Earthly
life than most. Far more, in fact, than
he let on.
Ben remembered the whiff of
grapeshot and the pounding of cannon.
Ben remembered his cowardly superior, who’d skulked in his tent while he
himself taken command, leading their forces to victory, and leaving him with a
wound that left him limping for the rest of his life on Earth. He remembered the coward’s surrogates
croaking at one another in the halls of power, undermining him at every turn,
denying him every scrap of credit for the victory his courage had won
them. And Ben remembered what he’d done
in response, and what it had cost him.
So now Ben strove every moment of
every day to build a new community. To
protect it from all enemies without and within―from the hillmen, and from the
one man who could, by speaking two words, bring Ben’s whole world crashing down. And to facilitate his efforts, Ben had
adopted the identity of another, better man.
One of the greatest men of Ben’s day, in fact―a scientist and
philosopher, a wit and a statesman, and above all, a patriot. He’d done it in the hope that, if anyone ever
did come to Haven with the requisite memories, his true name would remain
unknown. And oh, how well it had
worked. He hadn’t fooled Ammerman, of
course―nothing seemed to fool
Ammerman―but in a cruel twist, he had fooled
Rosemary. He had made a fool of the most
wonderful woman on two worlds. She loved
him for the man he pretended to be―but if she ever knew his true name, she would
revile him as the worst of traitors.
Staring into the mirror-glass, Ben
saw a clean face, and a tarnished soul.
He lowered the razor to the back of his own left forearm. He gritted his teeth. Slowly, agonizingly, he drew it across
lengthwise, leaving a small, shallow cut.
The very least of what he deserved.
And then he stopped up the slowly
welling blood with a cloth until it coagulated, and he drew down his sleeve
over the mark. Because Haven―brawling,
riotous, madcap Haven―had to be led. Had
to be dragged forward into the future.
Had to be protected from itself, and from the designs of its enemies,
and from Ammerman most of all. It was
not an easy job at the best of times; he had only the most tenuous grasp of the
reins. But there was no one else. So he would maintain appearances. And he would fight a new war, on a new world,
against the enemies of his community.
But he was under no illusions. He
could fool the world as to his nature. But he could never fool himself.
Ben stared into the mirror-glass
and hated. Because no matter how long he
stared, no matter what face he wore, the man staring back at him would always
be a traitor. And no matter whom he
pretended to be, no matter what name he took, his true name would forever be
synonymous with treason.
The position of the sun remained
unchanged as Will and his companion―Buddy,
Will had named him in a fit of giddy, flight-induced madness―darted outwards
and inwards, first towards The Light, then away from it. The sun and the stars in the background shone
steadily, permanent, immovable. Those,
however, seemed to be the only fixed points of reference. The planet beneath them, Will quickly learned,
was not a constant at all; a few seconds’ journey towards The Light was enough
to dislodge it from reality, to leave the two of them floating in empty space.
Will was outbound, face towards The
Light, chasing his companion, when Buddy suddenly disappeared from view. Pulling up short, Will was surprised to
discover that the stars had disappeared as well. To his left and right, above
and below and in every standard compass direction, there was nothing but inky
blackness. Even outwards, The Light
seemed dimmed. Wow. I can’t see my hand in
front of my face. Of course, that’s
thought. Retrace our steps. Earth’s the
only landmark; Buddy will be headed back that way. Of course, to this point, Buddy’s been
anything but predictable. That Immelman he
pulled back there would have broken my back, if I had a back to break. Still, he’d have lost me long ago if he’d
really been trying to…
Will thoughts brought him to a
sudden halt. An “Immelman.” It’s named after
a German pilot. It’s a sort of midair
U-turn with a roll. I know this.
I have no memories. So HOW do I know it?
His reverie was interrupted by the
sight of a dull glow, shining feebly through the dark cloud straight ahead. He pushed forward, grinning inwardly.
Nice try, Bud. Tag, you’re it… But as he grew closer to the light, Will
began to realize that it wasn’t Buddy he was chasing. This wasn’t a human soul’s light at all, but
something altogether new. This glow was
sharper than the one in his torso; it was piercing, penetrating, and had the
same hypnotic character as The Light itself.
It, too, promised peace, serenity, union.
Will felt his senses dulling as he
focused on the new glow, his thoughts suffused with a low, droning buzz. The source was just ahead of him, a
grapefruit-sized globe, darting about, bobbing and jiggling erratically. What is
it? A piece of The Light itself? What happens if I grab it?
As he moved in, Will spotted Buddy
in his peripheral vision. He was just
inwards, his dim glow growing in the darkness as he drifted towards both Will
and the shining globe. Will shifted
position to make himself visible to his companion. As he did so, the globe passed directly
between Will and The Light. Behind the
sphere, silhouetted perfectly, he caught a glimpse of a massive, dark shape.
Will reacted without thinking,
darting aside and inwards, as the globe was suddenly yanked upwards and out of
view. There was the colossal THUD of something
snapping shut just behind him, dispersing the inky blackness in an explosion of
Will glanced back and outwards. Six feet’s worth of face stared back at him
through milk-white beady eyes. A jaw protruded,
gaped wide, dagger teeth lancing upwards preposterously beyond the confines of rubbery
lips. In front of the thing, extending
on a strand from the center of its forehead, dangled the glowing globe, casting
its already frightening features into a harsh moonscape of glare and
As quickly as he could, Will darted
between the creature and Buddy, hoping to draw his friend’s attention to the
threat. He needn’t have bothered; Buddy
was already away, cutting downwards and outwards at top speed. Unfortunately, the creature had noticed Buddy
as well. It thrashed a fluked tail,
somehow propelling itself forwards in the void, its massive, bulbous, fish-like
form gaining momentum as it chased him down.
With a flash of pride, Will noted
that Buddy had picked up some tricks from him in their time together; he was a
much better flier than he’d been when they’d met. Nonetheless, he was a newcomer matched up
against a creature in its native element, and this was no time to be a fish out
of water. The thing was gaining on him,
steadily and unmistakably. Will pursued
the two of them outwards, The Light full in his face as he flew. It seemed to him that he understood Buddy’s
plan―it hunts in darkness, move towards
The Light to scare it off―but emerging from the black cloud and into
standard space didn’t seem to deter it. The
two of them had joined the traffic of eternity; they were among thousands of
souls moving towards The Light, and among them Will could see more of the
fish-things, feeding. As he watched, one
of the monsters easily caught a soul from behind, the soul’s torso light exploding
in a violent burst as the creature snapped its jaw shut.
Buddy was quicker, more difficult
prey, but the predator was locked on and closing fast. And now it was on him. With a desperate burst of speed, Will closed
on the two of them, flashing across the beast’s field of vision just as it was
opening its maw. It flicked its head in
Will’s direction at the last possible moment; he darted up and aside, then
straight down and further out.
Will put on more speed. The thing was tailing him now. He was faster than Buddy―no doubt of that, as
Buddy was losing ground of the two of them―but Will was far from sure that he’d
prove fast enough. His concentration was stretched to its limit. He did a barrel roll down and right, plunging
―and an entire planet flickered
into existence, filling the space below him, and was gone almost as quickly.
Will spun back inwards, The Light at
his back. There was the planet again, a
massive continent of unfamiliar shape below, green and brown, surrounded by a
vast blue sea. The haze! he thought, remembering Earth and the electric, itching
mist that had forced him away. The haze will drive it off! He arced into a steep dive, straight down
towards the planet’s surface.
Will glanced back. The thing was right behind him, Buddy a
dwindling speck in the distance, still chasing.
This had to work, or he was
done for. He steeled his mind for the
hideous itching, crawling sensation that would surely arrive at any minute.
He plunged, amidst the roaring
noise from the planet’s atmosphere, a falling star this time.
He was at the edge of his willpower. His nerves were fraying. He sensed jaws opening behind him, and
discovered that he still had a bit of extra speed left after all. He couldn’t have been more than a mile above
the surface now, and he could see individual features of the terrain―the wide
curve of a river, trees like silver matchsticks.
Through the terror that filled
Will’s mind, a sickening realization. There’s no haze here. This wasn’t Earth, but another world
entirely; the air was clear, and there would be no mind-burn to drive off the
predator behind him. He had to think of
a new plan immediately. Below him, the ground was a blur. He caught the shapes of green, grassy hills, bare
expanses of flint and sandstone―creeping figures―
Will executed a hairpin turn in an
instant, quick as thought―no mass means
no momentum―and bought a few precious moments as the creature skidded off
at an angle, adjusting. Another dive,
desperately searching the landscape for what he thought he’d seen.
And there they were―tiny at this
distance, but with a definite shape―unmistakably two-legged and upright. People? No glowing―not souls, but flesh-and-blood people? But there was no time; the fish-thing was
back on his tail, descending behind him and gaining. Will angled lower, into a shallow river
valley cutting through the hills, and up ahead…Are those huts? Houses?
Is that building alongside the
river a mill?
Will tried another hairpin turn,
but by this time his pursuer was onto his tricks, and it bought him virtually
no space at all. He had no more new
tactics to throw at it. He was out of
time. He was almost low enough now to
read the expressions on the faces of the people―and yes, they were recognizably
people―he’d seen below. A whole community of them―a collection of
ramshackle structures overlooked by a high cliff, atop which a figure pointed
in his direction. Will heard the
distant, tiny echo of a shout. First
several figures, then perhaps a dozen, began scurrying about, antlike.
On top of an otherwise nondescript
hill not far down the valley, a sudden fire blossomed. Will fled towards it. At the base of the hill he spotted a wildly
gesticulating figure, beckoning him downwards―and towards a narrow fissure in
the rock. He plunged.
As Will approached the fissure, two
thoughts struck him. The first was that,
even if he could get into the crack, the thing behind him would merely turn around
and gobble up Buddy. The second realization,
as he passed the point of no return, was that the crack―no, not a crack, a cave mouth―wasn’t narrow enough to keep thing
from following him inside. He was headed
full speed towards a dead end. But he
was committed; it was too late to turn aside…
As he flashed through the cave
mouth and into darkness, he heard a crashing thump behind him, then a bellowing
roar. Making a mockery of inertia, he
stopped dead on the spot, and turned.
The fish-thing was grounded, caught
in the thick ropes of some kind of net, weighted at the corners with heavy
stones. Three figures, two men and a
woman, all of them dressed in rough garments of leather and wool, were
wrestling with the net’s edges, shouting wildly. The beast was taking no interest in them
whatsoever; its beady eyes were fixed upon him.
Will was thunderstruck. It’s not made of soul-stuff. The fish-thing is tangible. And they’ve caught it.
As he watched, a powerfully built,
dark-skinned young man leaped down into the cave mouth. In both fists he wielded a harpoon, jagged
dark metal with a bone shaft. With a
roar, he plunged it deep into the thing’s right eye. A geyser of green, inky fluid gushed
forth. The monster emitted a croaking,
shuddering squeal―such a tiny noise from
something that big―thrashed, flailed, subsided, deflated, died.
Outside, in the bright sunlight,
Will could barely see the dim glow of Buddy as he streaked downwards towards
the cave mouth. Pulling up short, his
companion hovered, seemingly uncertain.
Will’s rescuers took no notice.
After making sure―very, very violently sure―that they had finished off
the fish-thing, they hurried into the cave, their eyes searching.
The first inside was the huge
figure who’d wielded the harpoon. He
blinked, his eyes adjusting to the gloom of the cave after the bright sunlight
outside. His eyes scanned the darkness,
then alighted on Will. He can see me. Behind the man, Will saw Buddy enter the
cave, then move to interpose himself between the dark-skinned giant and Will,
as if to protect him.
The muscle-man’s face was hard, his
tunic speckled with the fish’s greenish ichor, his hands covered in it. His eyes flicked to Buddy, to Will, back to
Buddy, alert, weighing, appraising. He
turned and shouted over his shoulder―in perfect English, his accent flat and
unmistakably Midwestern American.
“Two! Holy crap, two!
Frank! Orson! Antonia!
There’s two of them! Go get Ben!”
As one of Will’s rescuers sprinted
away, the other two moved forward to flank the harpoonist. The one on the left wore a dirty beard, a
thin stubble of brown hair cropped close to his head. As he advanced, he wiped a wicked-looking
iron knife on the leg of his buckskin trousers, leaving a greenish smear, then
tucked it into his belt. The one on the
right was a woman―tall, lean, tanned, her limbs all corded tendon, her long
dark hair dangling behind her in a tight braid.
She displayed a stone-headed maul in front of her, braced diagonally
across her body. Each of the three figures
had the eyes of a killer; if he’d had to pick, Will supposed the woman was the scariest
The three of them looked Buddy and
Will over for a long, quiet moment. They
shared sidelong glances with one another―and then, in an instant, all the
tension left their bodies. Wide grins split
their features, the bearded man’s smile demonstrating beyond a shadow of a
doubt that dental care was not a local priority.
The huge black man’s smile was the
widest of them all. Now that Will had a
good long look at him, he realized that he wasn’t actually a man at all. He was weathered, to be sure, but for all of
his bulk, he was far younger than Will had initially thought. He’s
actually not all that much older than me.
The man―or boy―spread his arms wide
and opened his bloody hands. “Welcome!”
he shouted. “Welcome to Elysium!”
Half a mile down the valley, a
tall, bony man sat at a workbench, making minute adjustments to a
crossbow. His eyes were locked on the
device, his brow furrowed in concentration.
A heavyset Asian man was addressing him.
A casual observer might have thought that the tall man was too focused
on his task to be listening. The
observer would have been mistaken. The
tall man was used to dividing his mind between many tasks and to giving each
his full attention simultaneously. He
was even more used to being underestimated by casual observers.
“As far as I can tell, Mr. Ammerman
sir, that’s the whole story,” the second man explained. His posture was deferential, his voice quiet
and low. “The two of them rocketed into
the Redoubt, and did not emerge again. Nor
did the psychovore. And in the interim,
both Ben and all of his key stooges have gathered there. It may be worth investigating.”
Ammerman never looked up from his
project. “Nope,” he said. “Believe I’ll bide my time on this’un,
Takashi. Thanks for lettin’ me know,
though. Yer a good man.”
Takashi bowed low and turned to
leave, then turned back for a moment.
“If I may be so bold, sir…”
“No need to ‘sir’ me,” the tall man
replied. “Prefer if y’ didn’t, truth
be. Yer a free man. Don’t owe nothin’ t’ nobody. Remember that. An act th’ part, y’ wanna run with me an’
mine.” He looked up, regarding Takashi
with eyes of iron. “F’r a free man, boldness
ain’t a may be. It’s a must
Takashi stared for a moment, then
stood a bit straighter. “Then it shall be,” he stated. “Mister Ammerman, then. I meant to say…I saw them, on the way
in. And the first of the two souls was,
by some margin, the fastest that I have ever seen.”
His eyes having returned the weapon
in front of him, his hands busy again, Ammerman nodded. “That’s what I been told by others as well,
Takashi. Best believe I’ve made note of
it. An’ we’ll get around to it. Matter o’ fact, when the time comes, I reckon
he’ll come to us.” He paused.
“When th’ time’s right. Not b’fore.”
Takashi nodded, and silently took
his leave. Ammerman continued his work,
his hands moving quickly and surely over the weapon’s every mechanism.
A casual observer would not, of
course, have been able to see into the mind of John Ammerman. But if she had, and if she had been able to
work her way through the elaborate, trap-filled labyrinth therein, through all
the blind alleys and backchannels, to arrive at the very center of his
thoughts, she would have seen a single message written there, in letters of
Jason knew he was grinning like a
fool, but he just couldn’t help himself.
As grateful as he was for the protective embrace of Haven, it was only
so large, and there were only so many people to meet. For anyone who was as fascinated by people as
Jason, that was a hard burden to bear.
So on those rare occasions on which outsiders arrived, he had a tendency
to jump in headfirst.
souls! New friends! They WILL be my friends, right? I mean, they have to be! I mean, they don’t HAVE TO have to, but…I
saved them from the psychovore! I mean,
yeah, I lost my temper again, but…I saved them!
That’s gotta count for something!
And that one was FAST! Wow, was
he fast! I wonder who they are? I mean, yeah, probably they’re old people,
almost everybody is, at first, but still…wow!
I wonder if they’ll be my friends? I wonder what they’re like?
another world, in another life, Jason had been the sort of person who snuck
downstairs on Christmas morning and unwrapped his presents early.
As Ben regarded the two lights in
the center of the cave, his mind ground through the possibilities. Two new
arrivals, less than a month after the attempt by the hillmen to infiltrate us
in exactly this same fashion. They
couldn’t possibly be so stupid as to try the same trick twice, could they? Could these actually be Imre and Delia? Unlikely.
When those two left us, they were still very much alive. And very much in possession of information
about Haven’s layout, and its defenses.
odds are against this being an infiltration.
Still…two of them at once. That
doesn’t happen often. And where there is
companionship, there is always the possibility of conspiracy. This will have to be handled carefully, lest
it become another wedge for John Ammerman to exploit. Still…he has provided me with the exact
mechanism I need to control the situation…
In another world, in another life,
Ben had been the sort of person who carefully inspected his Christmas presents
for improvised explosives.
The older of the two men in front
of Will was thickly built, tending a bit towards plumpness, but moved with the
easy grace of an athlete. He had strong
features and thinning hair. Torchlight
from the cave walls reflected off of his pale gray eyes as he regarded Will and
Buddy. Of the dozen or so people who’d
been in and out of the cave in the last half hour, he was easily the oldest. He wasn’t yet forty.
more to the point, he’s a human being with a physical body, Will thought. They
all are. And the majority of them speak
recognizable American English. How is
The older man turned to the huge black
boy who’d rescued them. “So, Jason…the
psychovore chased them down here?”
“Sorta.” The young man could have snapped the older
one in two over his knee without a second thought, yet in his presence their
rescuer was deferential, perhaps even a little bit intimidated. “Buck was on top of Greta’s Bluff, and he
spotted the heartlight over the river not far from Phillip’s farm. He sent word to light the signal fire, and I
guess it guided them in.” His eyes lit
up. “My God, Ben, you should have seen
The older man gave Will and Buddy
an appraising look. “This isn’t the
first time something like this has happened,” he ruminated. “We’ve had new souls arrive before. We’ve been generous towards them. And on occasion, our hospitality has been
taken advantage of. We must remain vigilant. Still…to bait a psychovore? To risk not merely a single bodily
incarnation, but one’s very soul? The
hillmen may take life more lightly than we do, but not that lightly, I think.”
Will was completely
bewildered. Are they still speaking English?
I mean, okay…the fish thing that chased me is a “psychovore”,
apparently. I get that. But…hillmen? An “incarnation”? If
Will had had a head, it would have been spinning.
As Will fumbled with his thoughts,
the conversation raced on ahead of him. “Trust me, Ben, I’ve got a good feeling
about these two,” Jason exclaimed. He licked
his lips, then continued. “Besides…I
mean…we can’t just put everybody through the wringer, right? I mean, everybody’s been new in Haven at some
point. Everybody needs help at first. Like you and Rosemary helped me. You remember what it was like. They’re probably scared, and confused. We gotta help out. I mean, it’s only fair.”
The black boy was wide-eyed, his
expression open and sincere. The older
man’s expression was more calculating. “Fairness
is an elusive concept in time of war, Jason.
Your kindness and your trust do you credit. But is blind trust the right approach under
these circumstances? What do you think
Mr. Ammerman would say?”
Jason’s lip curled in
contempt. “I could care less what that
ba-” He caught himself just in
time. “…what that man thinks.”
“And yet there are those who do care about his opinion, Jason. Whether we like it or not―whether we like him or not―he was right about Delia and
the other spies, and we were wrong. And
as a result, the community has chosen to insist upon his protocols for new
arrivals.” Once again, Ben turned his
full gaze upon Jason. Jason was the
taller of the two men by, at a conservative estimate, eight inches; with Ben
looking him in the eye, it seemed to Will, he physically shrank in
stature. “John Ammerman and I have had
our share of fallings-out, to put it mildly.
You and I may not care much for the man.
But that’s just one more reason to make sure that we’re not made fools
of again.” Ben turned again, regarding
Buddy and Will with a jaundiced eye. “How
confident are you in your impression of these two, Jason? Confident enough to run the risks involved? To do what is necessary, if it comes to it?”
Jason stood, twisting his hands,
eyes downcast. At length he spoke,
albeit in a small, tremulous voice. “I…I
guess so, Ben. I’ll…I’ll sponsor them. If that’s what it takes. I’m just saying…” Jason swallowed, then seemed to grow in
stature, to gain six or seven years of age in the space of a sentence. “…everyone deserves a chance, you know? A chance to be loyal.”
Ben stood silent for several
seconds, looking up at the boy. Then he
nodded slowly. “I agree.” He clapped the boy on the back. “Go tell Mr. Ammerman. He will be skeptical, I am sure. When is he not? But the system is of his design, and I am
sure he will abide by its terms. The
risk is yours. Be sure that you do not
take it lightly.”
Jason’s smile burst out again,
irrepressible. As he turned to go,
however, Ben raised a finger.
“Jason…we’ve been ignoring something rather obvious. These two didn’t arrive on Elysium of their
own volition, but were chased here. There
is every reason to think that they were seeking The Light and found themselves diverted. They may be here against their will.”
Jason’s expression crashed
momentarily, but then went strangely solemn.
“You’re right. Hadn’t thoughta that.” He stared at the two heartlights; Ben turned
in their direction as well, addressing them directly.
“I hope you will forgive my cohort
and me for our insufficient hospitality.
These are somewhat trying times in Haven.” He cleared his throat. “There is much to explain. I fear that the conversation must by
necessity be rather one-sided, and I recognize that you may well have grander
priorities at present than listening to a foolish old man. Still, let us start by attempting to
establish a common tongue. Do you speak
English? Please bear in mind that Jason
and I, in our current form, can see nothing of you but your heartlights. Please bob up and down once for yes; I will
take the absence of motion as a no.”
Will lifted himself off of the cave
floor, then settled back. Off to his right,
Buddy did the same.
“Excellent. That will simplify things considerably. There are speakers of many languages here in
our community, but we find that the preponderance of those who discover Haven are
for some reason native English speakers.
It has become our lingua franca―which
is, I suppose, a paradox,” he said, flashing a sideways grin.
“In any case, I must congratulate
you on your escape. The predator pursuing
you was, as you may have gathered, a psychovore. Though itself a tangible being and,”―here he
gestured to the cave mouth―”fortunately, a mortal one,”―Jason smiled at the
comment―”it feeds off of soul energy, which is to say, the energy of the
will. It is one of the few things we
know of which can actually kill a soul―which is to say, extinguish the
otherwise immortal aspect of a human being.”
“You will have discovered, shortly
following your earthly demises, the Axis of Eternity, the direction between
worlds, at one end of which lies The Light.
Having seen The Light, you know its appeal. Its inexorable pull.” Ben hesitated. “We of Haven…and more broadly, all of us, all
over this world of Elysium…we are souls, like yourselves. We lived mortal lives, as you did, and died.” Another pause. “But we are exceptional in one respect. Almost all souls choose to enter The Light
immediately after they die. Jason and I,
and all of those who have chosen to inhabit this world, are different. There is something in us that resists unity
with The Light. Not eternally, but
temporarily. We feel…unready.”
Ben’s lips shut in a tight
grimace. “Why? Who can say?
Some think it may be a moral failing in us, that our souls are somehow
damaged or broken. I have heard it said
that Elysium is Purgatory, though I myself do not believe our afterlife here is
so harsh as to merit that
description. Others think that we are
simply made differently. In any case,
when a soul such as mine or Jason’s resists The Light’s unifying call, it wanders
in the four dimensions of space―the three normal dimensions, and the Axis of Eternity
as well. Over time, many such souls find
Elysium. We sojourn here. And then, when we feel ready, we move on, to
become one with The Light, as is our destiny.”
“Jason and I, obviously, are no
longer disembodied spirits. We have
chosen to undergo the difficult process called Incarnation. We live again as mortal men, and as such, we
are blind to The Light and to the axis which contains it. You might say that our community, Haven, is a
community of ‘lost souls.’ Not evil, mind you, but lost. Or, to use my beloved
Rosemary’s phrase, ‘rogue souls.’” Jason
gave a nod of affirmation. “The two of
you, however, may not be like us. You
did not seek Elysium, but escaped to it. Such an event is rare. Few who attract a psychovore’s attention
possess the means to evade it. In fact,
I cannot say that I know of any present member of our community who arrived in
A long, pregnant pause. “If you were en route to The Light at the
time you were attacked, you need not await my permission to resume your journey. Jason will agree, I am sure, that you owe him
no debt.” The boy’s face was sad, but he
nodded agreement. “By all means, go
forth, with our blessing. Perhaps you
will find God behind The Light; who can say?
No one who has gone into The Light has ever returned.” Another pause. “Or, if you choose…you may remain here, on
this world. You may seek any of the other
communities of Elysium, travelling in spirit form. Or, if you choose to respect the rules and
practices of Haven, to contribute to the common good, to share with us what
scraps of the mortal world you remember, you may stay here. We will assist you in the incarnation
process. You will be a full member of
“And as a full member of our
community, you will be under Jason’s sponsorship. By which I mean this: if you harm our community, both you and he
will be accountable.” A longer pause. “And if you betray our community to its
enemies, Jason will bear the responsibility of killing you, as often as
often as necessary? Will looked Jason over. Had he thought Jason had the eyes of a
killer? Certainly, Jason had murdered
the psychovore willingly enough. Yet, as
formidable as he was, there was a gentleness there as well. Perhaps even a touch of naiveté. He
could kill a man easily enough. But
“The choice is yours,” Ben
concluded. “Again, please recall that we
cannot see anything of you except your heartlights. If you wish to leave, then we wish you a safe
journey. If, however, you wish to stay,
please signal that desire by bobbing once.”
Will hovered in place,
reflecting. I’ve been cast adrift in an uncaring universe, without even memories to
guide me. I know thousands of words and
facts, but I have no idea how I know them.
About myself as a person, I know virtually nothing…except that I’m the
sort of person who can’t stop asking questions.
But without a body, I have no way of asking them aloud. Without a body, I have no real shot at
answers. And whoever these people are,
whatever they’re after, it’s clear that they’ve got a better sense of the state
of affairs in the afterlife than I do.
which, what’s the alternative? The Light
may mean something to everyone else, but it still means nothing to me. Maybe there’s something wrong with me―maybe
I’m what Ben would call “broken”. If so,
this whole community is broken. Maybe,
together, we can figure out why…
Ben had barely finished speaking
when Will bobbed up and down. At that,
Will, Jason, and Ben turned their attention to Buddy. Buddy hovered motionless for some time. Finally, slowly, he bobbed up and down as
Jason’s face exploded again into an
exuberant smile; clearly, he wasn’t very good at hiding his feelings. Ben turned to him and nodded. “Very well.
Jason, go inform Mr. Ammerman of their decision, and of your commitment
to sponsoring them. Bring Buck back with
you as well, if you would; it is time that we showed these two their new home. Oh, by the way…the other three members of your
hunting party are unanimous; they recognize your primary claim on the psychovore’s
Jason shouted “YES!”―whether at
their decision to stay or at his new trophy, Will had no idea. As Jason pumped his fist, he exposed a right
bicep the size of a cantaloupe. Will
made a mental note: It would be best not to give this guy a reason to kill you. But Jason was already on his way out of the
cave. “You won’t regret this!” he
shouted, departing. “You’ll love it
here! You’ll see!”
That left the two spirits alone with
Ben. The older man chuckled, and turned
to them again, smiling. “A very fine
young man, that one. You’ll never meet a
more loyal fellow, and his streak of honor runs right to his core.”
Slowly, Ben’s smile faded. “I say that of his honor. I make no such
claim about my own. I know myself too well to make such assertions.”
Ben strode over close to Buddy and
Will. He stood perhaps three feet
away. Will could not help but notice
that the man was staring, for the first time, not at the glow in his chest, but
higher―at the level where, Will realized, Ben knew his eyes must be. And Will felt, for the first time, exactly
why a man of Jason’s stature might shrink in Ben’s presence.
“I hope that Jason is right. That you will love it here, and that you will
make our home your own. But understand
this. That boy has honored me with his
trust. He has chosen to honor the two of
you in the same way. I am not yet ready
to see him lose faith in his fellow man.
And I will not countenance the betrayal of this community.”
Ben’s eyes were the gray of thin
ice on a newly-frozen pond, and his voice was the cracking of that ice beneath
Will’s feet. “I meant what I said about
him killing you. It would break his
heart, but he would do it.” He paused. “But you know now, don’t you, that death is
not the last, or the worst, of consequences?”
“I promise you this. If you betray Haven, that boy―for all his skill
at arms―will be the very least of your problems.”
arrivals, thought Buddy. A dozen of them in the last hour. Parading through this cave, beating their
chests and acting important. And with
the sole exception of that one woman in that first hunting party, every one of
them a man. And weren’t all those men so
very, very impressed with themselves?
In another world, in another life,
Buddy had been the sort of person whose Christmas presents consisted largely of