Couldn't quite finish, and I have to leave for a train in a bit. So here's what I've got so far. More later. Happy gluttony day, everybody!Epilogue: Life Goes On
Life for you has been less than kind
So take a number, stand in line
We've all been sorry, we've all been hurt
But how we survive is what makes us who we are.
- Rise Against, Survive
Alvina Orange hears a knock at the door for the first time in decades. Few bother to track down the original Quantum Mechanic any more, now that everyone has has the option of being uplifted thanks to the efforts of the Million Minds. It's not just a matter of finding Earth, but of finding the right one, and why go to all that trouble when anything you could want is yours for the making, the taking, or the asking?
Except when you need to find something that's been lost.
Douglas comes downstairs and meets Alvina in the foyer. She opens the door to a shining figure, with wings of opalescent gossamer.
"Can we - uh, help you?" Alvina isn't sure what to say.
"I surely hope so. My name is Cameron Pleasance. May I come in?"
"I remember you," Douglas says, "You're that internet guy who - "
"Yes, I know. That was a long time ago. I have learned much since then."
"All right. Well, yeah, I guess you can come in. Can we get you something to drink?"
"No, thank you."
"Well," Alvina says, "What's on your mind?"
"I need you to bring back the Entropic Engineer."
"Absolutely not," Douglas says, his hand slicing through the air. "It's out of the question. We're not going over this again."
"Why," Alvina asks, ignoring her husband for the moment.
"He has something that doesn't belong to him. I need to get it from him."
"What, a sparrowlark skeleton? You know, we've actually found something like that." Doug's tone lacks contempt, but neither does it carry respect for his guest. Cameron lets a beat pass before speaking again.
"I don't think you know what I've been up to, lately. I'm not exactly the same person as I was back on Earth. That is, back in the Milky Way. I've learned a thing or two."
"Fine, fine, so you're just visiting from Heaven to get your - "
"I haven't been in Heaven, Douglas. There is no such place. I know that now. But there is something very like Hell, and a great many people are stuck there, and I need the Entropic Engineer to tell me where they are so that I can rescue them." Douglas strokes his chin a few times.
"Here's the problem: I don't remember Ben Gleck. I can't reconstruct him as he was. I'm sorry, I really am - now that I know that's what he was up to, I wish I could do something about it. But I just don't remember him."
"I do," Alvina says. Douglas looks at her, incredulous. "What? I stabbed a man in the back of the head, Doug. The least I could do was remember what he was like before he died. I just kept the memory locked up. It was my dirty little secret. Turns out, it's come in handy now."
"I - no, you're right." Douglas runs a hand through his hair. "OK, so what's the plan, then? We just bring this guy back and hope we can keep him in line?"
"Um, I didn't really have a 'plan,' I was just going to ask nicely."
"Bea, the last thing this guy remembers is thinking that he killed me."
"That's - a good point, actually."
"If I may," Cameron interjects, "Why don't we try dealing with him honestly? It may take time, but it's the only hope we have." Douglas and Alvina have no objections to this. She resurrects the memory of her husband's greatest enemy.
Benjamin Gleck falls back, stunned by the abrupt change in scenery. One moment, he was enjoying his victory, and now he's on a kitchen floor somewhere with - him! How did he live? What has happened? Gleck tries to reach out with his mind, but feels a cloudiness descend upon his awareness like a smothering blanket. He relaxes, tries to focus - the blanket lifts. He tries to extend his mind once more, but the creeping stupidity is back - dammit! That self-righteous prick is smothering his powers again!
"OK, now what?" Gleck folds his arms, doesn't even bother standing. Cameron steps forward and offers a hand.
"Welcome back to the land of the living." Gleck ignores him. He pulls his hand back. "You may not recognize me. I am Cameron Pleasance." Gleck goes wide-eyed.
"You! You were damned to Hell! How did you get out?"
"Long is the road, and hard is the way, as they say. You showed me all of Creation before you sent me away, if you remember. Your torture chamber was truly terrible - an infinity of falling from grace, the bad trip from Hell, so to speak. But eventually, I saw through it, and I was able to work my way out by figuring out the meaning of all those things you had shown me."
"So, what, you've brought me back to take your revenge?"
"Nothing of the kind, my friend. I've brought you here for the keys to Hell. I'm going to free everybody you've been hurting these past millennia."
"You - you don't know where they are."
"I don't. I've had a lot of time to think, and I need your help. There's just no two ways about that - all I want now is to rescue Kirk from the prison you put him in, and everybody else, too."
"And what if I don't tell you?"
"We have ways of making you talk," Alvina suggests with a grin. "Oh, man, I've always wanted to say that! But I'm serious, you know. We can torture you."
"No," Cameron says. "That won't help. It will only hurt him more. We need his honest cooperation."
"What for," Douglas asks. "I honestly don't see why we can't just force him to tell you whatever it is you want to know." Cameron rubs his forehead.
"The problem is that he's the only one who knows all the people he took." Cameron's shoulders slump as he speaks. Gleck grins. "And I will not rest until everyone is rescued. We can't know when that's done without his help." Douglas thinks back - he can remember a few of the people who disappeared, but there were many thousands who were Raptured away by the Entropic Engineer, and he did not make any organized effort to track them. All of those people, condemned to eternal suffering, and nothing he could have done about it.
"My, how the tables have turned," Gleck says as he gets to his feet. "Look at you, so high and mighty, passing your pronouncements on me, resurrecting me from the dead to play your silly games. But I'm the one with all the cards, it seems! And I suppose you want me to bring your boyfriend back so you two can finally go on moustache rides together, huh?"
"I just want Kirk's suffering to end," Cameron says evenly. "Whether he still loves me or not, I don't know. And I don't care. I still love him, and I can't bear the thought of him being tormented."