Part of Apex of Creation
Lucifer was displeased. Fortunately, I was not the target of his wrath. Asmodeus, the psychological engineer, was not so lucky. He was bound to a pole in Lucifer’s throne room.
Funnily enough, Lucifer had enjoyed my recent suggestion of using razor wire instead of the more traditional chains. Not that it mattered too much - Asmodeus was about to experience some excruciating pain either way.
“Nigel Butler lives, the Hybrid’s conscience is clear, and we got side tracked yet again on getting the book.” Lucifer stated, his voice smooth and deadly. He was elegantly sipping blood from yet another skull.
“Well-” Asmodeus stuttered out. “Nigel will, ah, probably commit suicide in prison. So we’ll end up reaping him either way.”
“A small win that will ultimately prove meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Without the book, we cannot stall Armageddon long enough to ensure victory. Nigel is a strong supporter, yes, but he will not make or break the war.”
Aamon, who’d been skulking in the shadows, spoke up. “I have a vast network of criminals and thugs. We can pressure the Hybrid - or the girl even - into retrieving the book.”
Lucifer turned to face Aamon, his eyes as cold as ice. “Oh, Aamon, you poor, brutish idiot. Your bank stunt was viable only because the Hybrid was weak and ignorant of the extent of his power. It did almost work, and for that I congratulate you. But you saw the Hybrid take down Nigel. Your army of gunmen and crooks would stand no chance..”
“Whispers, then?” I offered.
Lucifer redirected his attention to me. “You, of all the demons in Hell, should know that doesn’t work on Hybrids.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that.” I shot back. “Emily is not a Hybrid - and five minutes ago James introduced her to Heaven.”
“That is… viable. Good thinking, Alocer.” Lucifer turned away from me, back towards Asmodeus in the center of the room. “Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I have to attend to this pathetic excuse of a psychological engineer.”
Aamon and I departed the throne room. As we left, we could just barely make out Asmodeus’s screams from the roar of Lucifer’s hellfire.
Emily was clearly awestruck. Her head was on a swivel, and she was taking in the sights. “I can’t believe it.”
“Which part?” I asked
“Just… All of it.”
“This is just the lobby.”
“You’re fudging with me.”
“Nope. Come on, I’ll show you around. But first - have you checked out the floor?”
Emily looked down, and frowned at the geometric impossibility of the distortion-free world map. “That’s weird” she eventually proclaimed.
Slowly but surely, we made our way across the lobby. I couldn’t really blame Emily for being entranced with everything. I’d been similarly fascinated when I first came through. Besides, Emily had been so dejected this morning that I had to let her have her fun.
We reached Reception, and I grabbed a few maps. “Alright, Emily. Welcome to Heaven. I was here once before, but didn’t get to do anything fun. So now, we have Sunday plans. What would you like to do?” I asked, as I opened up a map and presented it to her.
“Oh, no, don’t make me choose!” Emily said, as she read through the listings of non-Paradise facilities. “It all looks like fun!”
“Alright, well, I know you like coffee shops, so, let’s see here…”
I found the food wing on the map, and guided Emily into the elevator. A few moments later, Emily’s indecision was unfortunately compounded by a menu board listing every single coffee-based beverage that had ever been produced by mankind.
Ultimately, we both ended up getting self-refilling extra-large caramel-coconut mochas with whipped cream. They were delicious.
“So how much time do you spend here?” Emily asked, as we sipped at our drinks.
“Hardly any at all, really. This is actually only the second time I’ve been here.”
“Because as amazing as Heaven is, I’m still-, I mean, we’re still human. Ultimately, we don’t belong here. After a while, you start to miss Earth.”
“Then why have it all?”
“My best guess would be that this stuff exists for the angels, when they’re not out on assignment.”
We finished our coffees and got refills in to-go cups. “How about the library?” Emily suggested, looking at the map.
“Sure, why not.”
We backtracked to the elevators. Aside from the Throne Room and Paradise, the Library was the only facility marked as having an entire floor to itself.
Ding. The doors slid open, and Emily and I stepped out of the elevator.
“Woah.” It was my turn to be awestruck. We were on a platform, seemingly suspended in space. In every direction were enormous, unending columns of bookshelves, filled with books. Each column was wrapped in circular catwalk balconies. Bridges connected each column to its neighbors, with reading chairs and desks spaced along the walkways.. A bright, cool light shone overhead, coming from nowhere in particular.
We walked up a bridge, idly glancing at book titles, and settled in to some comfy chairs with the remnants of our coffee.
“I think we just found our new study spot.” I said.
“Yeah…” Emily was just as mesmerized as I was. “Do they have internet?”
I pulled out my phone: five bars of reception and a strong wifi signal. “Looks like they do.”
“Well, that's good. I suppose it wouldn’t be Heaven if they didn’t.” Emily replied.
“No kidding. And I bet Hell has Comcast.”
Emily tore her eyes away from the sights and turned to face me. “Hell?”
“Yep, that exists too.”
“Yeah, I’ve been there, and I’d rather not go back.”
“And now I’m going to put my phone away before I drop it.”
Emily smiled again. “Good idea.”
Something clearly didn’t add up. The hotel management had been exceedingly helpful in providing the security footage, but something was wrong. Either the security camera time synchronization was off, or footage was missing, or something.
I’d spent all day poring over the tapes and reports. There was something I was missing, some stupid little detail that kept the whole story from coming together.
The 911 call had been received by Dispatch at 8:47 pm. The hotel security cameras, however, showed the Butlers arriving to the hotel at 8:41, entering the elevator at 8:43, arriving at their floor at 8:44, and entering their own hotel room at 8:46 - less than sixty seconds before the 911 call had come in. A brief flicker of light static, and then no camera activity until I walked up the hall to the room at 9:03.
As if that wasn’t complicated enough, the 911 call had originated from a room that management assured us was empty at the time. Furthermore, nobody had entered either room since the Butlers had left that morning, except for housekeeping, and they were all accounted for.
I turned my attention to the witness statements. While Nigel Butler recalled nothing between entering the room and finding himself handcuffed to the bed, Allison said she had seen a “James” just before presumably blacking out.
Allison didn’t know the last name, but she did say it was one of her daughter’s friends from school. I pulled up the family contact information from the Butlers’ intake forms. Then I picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hi, this is Emily Butler. I’m not available to take your call right now, but please leave a message after the tone thing, and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks!”
Emily and I spent most of the rest of the day lounging around the enormous library of Heaven, drinking coffee, and relaxing. She seemed happy to have a confidant after so many years of mistreatment, and I was glad to have someone I could confide in as well. I was also happy to have a friend who might, someday, hopefully, if I was lucky, be more than a friend.
“So what’s it like?”
“What’s it like, you know, being a superhero.”
“Emily, this morning you called me a superhero and looked about ready to slap me.”
She took a deep breath. “Well, my parents were arrested. I’ve hoped it would happen for a long time, but when everything came crashing down, it was all too much. I’m sorry.”
“No harm no foul. I’m just glad you’re alright.”
Emily smiled. “Not the first time you’ve said that.”
“Hey, it’s true.”
“Well thanks. It’s very sweet of you. But you still haven’t answered my question.”
“Um, about what it’s like? To be honest, not that different. I mostly just want to finish my degree and live a normal life, you know, everything I was doing right up until Christmas break.”
“So what can you do?”
“Well, I seem to be a little bit omniscient. I get flashes of knowledge sometimes, like during study or homework.”
Emily recoiled in mock disgust. “Cheater!”
“It’s not intentional, I promise. But it does make school a little bit easier.” I admitted.
“Can you read minds?”
I shook my head. “No. Not sure that I’d want to, anyways. It was weird enough knowing one person’s secret; I don’t need to know more.”
“And you mentioned a time stop thing?”
I thought for a moment to come up with a metaphor. “It feels like I can kind of hold onto time as it flows by, like if you’re falling and grab onto a rope.”
Emily frowned. “So shouldn’t everything be frozen?”
“Yes, and everything is frozen, until I touch it. Don’t ask me how that works. I have no idea.” I shook my head. “F=ma seems to be totally broken when time is stopped.”
“Or it’s not quite a full time stop, and the forces are magnified.” Emily suggested.
“Or it just works because it’s divine.” I replied. “Judging by the lobby floor, I’d guess that conventional math and physics don’t need to apply when God gets involved.”
Emily leaned back in her chair. “I’m sure we’ll figure it out. We are engineers, after all.”
I chuckled. “Studying what, supernatural metaphysics?”
“Sure, why not.”
“Earlier, you said you were worried about your safety. Your dad’s underground contacts.”
The smile faded from Emily’s face. “Yeah.”
“Tell you what. If you’re ever in danger, you send me a text message with your location. I can be there the moment I read the text.”
“Will that help?”
“As long as it’s only humans involved, yes.”
“What do you mean?”
“Angels and demons aren’t affected by the time stop thing.”
“Oh. I suppose that makes sense.”
The day drew on, and sure enough we both decided it was time to get back to Earth. We made our way back to the Gate and came out of the dorm room closet.
We had just re-entered my dorm room when the door opened. Kevin walked in, blasting more crappy music from the earphones draped around his neck. “Dude, Jimmy, put a sock on the door.”
“I’m not- we’re not, um-” I stammered.
Kevin gave a big stupid grin and laughed. “Nah dude just fuckin with ya.”
“Oh. Okay then.” I glanced over at Emily. She was blushing. Was that a good thing? I had no idea how to read girls, at least not without hints from on high.
“No, seriously though, I see you two together all the time. It woulda been about time.”
“Very funny Kevin.”
“Oh come on. You need to lighten up, man. Enough with the homework and studying, you need to learn how to joke around.”
“We’ll, we’re busy. And unlike you, we’ll actually pass our classes.”
We left before Kevin could think of something else stupid to say.
Αs we made our way down to the cafeteria in search of some dinner, Emily checked her phone. “One missed call and voicemail.”
“Hi Emily Butler, this is Officer Jackson, investigating an incident last night with your parents Nigel and Allison. I have a few questions I’d like to ask to help clear up a few things. If you could give the station a call, we’d really appreciate that. Thanks.”