Project Silence: Captive

By Michael Cleveland


"So, what's the plan this time? Surely you bright boys can come up with something, right?"

Zemuviel looked over at the Balseraph in the chair next to his. Biting back his initial urge to throttle the hellspawn, he swallowed before speaking. "Zachariah, let me assure you that first, if I had a plan in mind, the first thing that I would love to incorporate into it would be taking a large brick and beating you with it until you either died or became so silent that I could not tell the difference. Secondly, the devices that I'm bound with are just as good as yours, so it's not like I can just jog up to Heaven and tell somebody to come get us. Third, and I think I've said this the last four times we were actually awake and in the same room together, if any of you hellspawn have an idea as to how we get out of this, I'd really love to hear it."

Another voice spoke up. "Look, you damn Seraph - it's not going to do any of us any good to be bitching about how we managed to screw up and get ourselves into this. It'll be a lot more useful to figure out what we know about these folks, so that the first one out of here manages to..."

"You people don't get it! We're doomed! This is what we deserve for failing in our devotion to -

A chorus of voices screamed in unison - "SHUT UP, ABBESIAL!"

"Stupid Habbalite!"

"Worthless freak, stop whining!"

"Damn Punishers..."

There was a moment of silence before a deep baritone spoke "Go on, Ricardo. You were saying?"

The Impudite smiled. "Thanks. Look, all I'm saying is that if one of us dies, that person has a chance to tell somebody about what's going on down here. Not like we can kill one another at the moment, but if somebody gets the chance..."

A female voice spoke up. "You know, somebody has to have noticed that we're gone by now. It's only a matter of time before someone checks our Hearts and then..."

Another female voice cut her off. "Illogical to assume that."

A third woman spoke up "Really, Sallah? And how did your flawless Elohite reasoning bring you to this conclusion? Or did God just up and clue you in?"

Sallah looked over at the latest speaker. "Denise, perhaps your energy would be better used by breaking our restraints so we can simply leave. Have you considered this option?"

Denise looked back at the Power, rolled her eyes and then laid her head back. "After long and deliberate consideration of that brilliant idea of yours, I recall that the last time I tried that, the guards came into the room less than 10 seconds later. They then blew out my kneecaps, before doping me up again for the next several weeks. I note that your kneecaps did not have this happen to them, and even though this may be just a vessel, it still hurts, and it's a bit hard to concentrate when you're getting shot." After a few moments fuming, she spoke again. "Besides, these Will Shackles are a real pain in the ass to work through, you know? I'd love to get my hands on the jerk who sold 'em to these humans."

The first female voice chuckled. "I hear that, but I wouldn't be bitching too much. You boys and girls get stuck in one place, all you get is inconvenienced. I'm gonna be turning into a damned toad if I don't get out of here soon. That or Fallen."

Ricardo spoke up "Hey, I'd always be glad to welcome another Mercurian over to the dark side, but given the circumstances and all, I'll pass. How's the Discord coming anyway, Janelle?"

After a few seconds contemplation, "Well, I'm not sure. I've got the mood swings to be a Habbalite, green and blue polka-dotted skin for a Lilim, and the horns to be a Calabite. Oh, and I glow like a friggin' christmas tree too. I look freakish enough that I might not ever notice if I'd Fallen, but I'll tell you one thing..."

The deep baritone spoke. "What's that, Janelle?"

"At least if I get back to Heaven, Janus will actually notice me for once."

The baritone smiled. "True enough. I've been able to do a little work on the artifacts - it's not much, but I can tell you this much. A human made these things, which tells me he had help getting the material. I've managed to place an attunement on him through the artifact, but I don't know much about him. He's close by - I want to say about 300 yards above and to the left of me.

A high-pitched tenor stammered out - "If, if only we had a, a, a Kyrio. That'd sh-sh.."

The Balseraph looked over. "Easy on that coffee there, ace. One might think you had a stuttering problem - is it the pretty girls in here that get a good catholic boy like you nervous, or is it the fact that you can feel the walls closing in on you? You've been holding still for, what - two months now? Just a bit tense there, eh? Come on, it's ok kid. Not scared, are y-"

"Everyone in this room is scared, Zachariah. Including you. Even I must admit to a certain amount of unease, although I would not characterize it as fear. Not precisely, anyway."

Denise looked over at the Elohite. "And what, pray tell, would you characterize it as?"

Sallah sighed before slumping back into her seat. "I would characterize it as the sinking realization that those of us in this room are so skilled at our respective jobs that our co-workers and our Superiors will probably not even think twice about the fact that they haven't heard from us lately. We have all received enough independence that a few years, or even a few decades might pass before anyone thinks to come looking for us. It's also my opinion based on observations I've made that none of us are important enough that things will fall apart if we're gone. Objectively, this is a good situation for our respective realms. Subjectively -"

"Subjectively, we're screwed. Is that what you were thinking? Screwed?"

Sallah turned to face the discordant Mercurian. "Do you know, that's the first time I believe I can ever honestly say I've agreed with a Habbalite on something? It's rather disconcerting, actually..."

Janelle blinked a few times. "Isn't being disconcerted by something also subjective?"

"Yes. Hence my concern."

Colonel Robert Parks watched the aliens conversing from his seat in the control booth. He always found it fascinating to watch the things interact with each other - although there were obvious hostilities between the members of the two camps, they were willing to discuss escape plans with each other. This showed a level of intelligence and pragmatism that he would have expected in them, but he couldn't help but wonder what things were truly like when they weren't forced to cooperate. Reports of inter-species fighting were sketchy at best, but the martial prowess of these particular specimens had been extremely well documented.

'Too well documented for my tastes,' he mused to himself as he rubbed his still-blackened eye. The hispanic - looking one... Ricardo... had made an attempt to escape, and it had taken several guards to restrain him after his last physical examination. At least everyone had survived this time - and although one of the black berets was going to be in the hospital for the next couple of months, nothing was permanently damaged. That was a small miracle in and of itself, considering the last time an escape had been attempted. The 'Malakite' had somehow managed to kill seven marines with a coffeepot, a toothbrush and a rolled up newspaper. The camera had caught everything from multiple angles and they still weren't sure how things had degenerated so quickly.

Orders had come down from Central Command that these aliens weren't to be killed - not even the 'Malakite' - after the last two months of trying to extract information from him had proven only marginally successful, they'd decided to put him back with the others. It made a sort of sense, but Parks couldn't shake the feeling that he was in charge of watching the largest and most dangerous group of alien prisoners for the seven hours. He took a sip from the small flask of whiskey that he kept with him at all times since he'd signed on with Project Silence, and steeled himself for the task at hand. Pushing a series of buttons on the console in front of him, he engaged the microphone for Containment Unit Alpha 3, and said a prayer that the guards standing behind him wouldn't have to pull the trigger for him as they'd had to do for several of his predecessors.

"Good afternoon, everyone. How is everyone today?"

He watched as the conversations stopped on the monitors in front of him. In order to add an extra level of security, all the conversations between the aliens in the containment units and humans were screened through computers. This insured that they only heard a computer simulation of his voice, but more importantly it gave him an extra level of defense against their mental domination attempts. By keeping him from hearing their voices, it allowed him to be somewhat more objective. Their responses came up on their screens in front of him, giving their typical questions and demands for release. He'd come to expect hostility from Zachariah, Abbesial and Denise, silence from Sallah, Marcus and Zemuviel, and polite, if strained, responses from Janelle, Ricardo, 'Ace' and even Cameron.

He looked over everything before responding to them. "Janelle, I understand that you may be having some problems with your human form degrading. My superiors have expressed some concern about this. If you can tell us what sort of materials you require, I'm sure we can arrange something." He watched the screen as the words came back. "<chuckle> I'm afraid it doesn't work that way, Controller Bob. This is what happens to me if I can't leave an area in a certain amount of time. If you can't let me out of here, then we both have to sit here and watch this happen."

"I'm afraid that's out of the question. They can't be any prisoner exchanges at this time. If this should ever change, the military's standard policy is to release the sick first, so that will put you at the top of the list. I know that may be small consolation, but we are truly concerned for your welfare during your internment here." He watched as the screens lit up with comments about the 'internment', and waited a few moments for them to calm down. "As you know, Mr. Cameron did manage to escape for a short time several months ago, but we caught him before he could get too far. I've been told that the majority of his injuries have been taken care of, and that he'll be rejoining you all today before your next period of cryo stasis."

He paused for a second more before continuing. "I've also been told that, thanks to Mr. Cameron's assistance, we will be having another person joining you all. Before you become agitated with him, I think it should be clear that he had absolutely no choice in this matter. We would appreciate it if you would make sure to extend the same courtesy to these two that you show to each other. With your cooperation, we're certain that a peaceful resolution can be reached." He frowned as he watched Zemuviel's monitor light up with "I wish you would stop lying to us, human." Shaking his head, he spoke again. "The truth is, I do hope that a lasting peace can be established between your governments and my own. I feel that an alliance between our two worlds would be beneficial to all concerned, but since your covert operations have shown that you are seeking to undermine our intelligence and military complexes, I don't know that this will happen soon. If your leaders would simply approach us openly, we would be more than willing to discuss the matter."

He watched as the screens lity up with their typical denials of wrongdoing, then he saw a red light flashing on his console. "Everyone, please stand by - Mr. Cameron and your new associate are entering the chamber now." The airlocks hissed open as a platoon of armed soldiers in biohazard suits wheeled a smiling teenager and a gagged man in a business suit into the room on the strange wheelchair-like devices that the aliens had become accustomed to. The soldiers slipped the gag off of the older man, and then backed out of the room without turning their backs on the aliens for a moment. He watched as the chatter increased - the man was apparently screaming for his release, as was typical. That his superiors would hear about this and make us pay the price for our crimes. Everyone was telling him to shut up, that it wouldn't do any good.

After a few hours of acclimatization, he left the booth to put on his racal suit for the transfer. 'This is always the fun part,' he thought to himself. If any of them were going to try to escape, it would be in the short distance between the common room where they were kept between examinations when out of stasis, and the main cryo chambers where they would have their drug levels brought back up to the required doses to prevent them from using their abilities freely. After being sure that all the connections were secured, he met with the other 'Controllers' in the outer airlock. "All right - we've got a new one in there who hasn't been fully classified, so let's stay sharp. I want four people with the new one, and three with Cameron and Denise. If any of you start feeling like they're trying to dominate you, just hit your panic buttons and we'll take care of it."

As they wheeled their charges down the hallway towards their cryo trays, Janelle looked back at him. "Controller Bob, may I ask you a question?"

"Certainly Janelle, although I can't promise an answer."

"How long are we going to be under this time?"

He thought about it for a moment. "Probably about 2 weeks. The new person with you all doesn't have any of the drugs in his system, and they'll have to wait until everything gets up to the proper levels." He noticed her pale slightly, and spoke again. "Hey, I know you're somewhat claustrophobic and I'm sorry it'll take that long. But cheer up - they'll have to do a bunch of debriefings on the new guy here, and that should mean you'll have plenty of time out of the -"

"Bob, do me a favor. You know how the... cancer... has been getting worse? There is a stage that it'll hit very soon where it'll affect my mind. A lot. I don't have too long before that happens, so I want you to do something for me. When I come out of stasis, I'll be just as nice and polite as I ever was. But you won't be able to trust me - I'll be willing to hurt people, I'll start plotting more ways out of here, I'll..." She paused for a moment, and he say her lip shaking slightly before she spoke again. "When I get out again, I won't be the same. And I... I know you're just doing your job and all, and I want you to know I forgive you for all of this now, before I... forget everything."

Robert stopped her chair in front of her cryo-tube, and started buckling her into it. When he was finished, he reached for the button to begin the injection sequence, but then looked around to make sure that no one was looking, and reached down to squeeze her hand lightly. He bent down and whispered in her ear, "Don't worry - you're going to make it. I'll make sure to say an extra prayer for you, ok?" He smiled reassuringly down at her as he pressed the button, and watched her eyes close as she smiled slightly. He shook his head - of all the aliens, she came off as the most human of any of them, and it was a shame that she had to the one that was ill. He'd actually come to like talking to her...

A few nights later, Colonel Parks walked through the rows of cryo tubes, performing the head count every hor as regulations called for. He'd gone over the communications from the past several days, and had realized something. Janelle wasn't just sick as she kept insisting - she was close to death, and everyone knew it. It had never been stated outright, but it was clear through looking at the moods and the subtexts of their discussions. The cancer was systemic, and what was worse, it was becoming more and more clear just what it was doing to her.

He walked back towards his control booth for the cryo stations, with a heavy heart and the knowledge that in the morning, he was going to lose his commission for what was going to happen. Somehow, in the middle of the night, cryo tank number 6 with subject Janelle inside was going to fail. The investigation would show that there had been a power failure which had been caused by the failure of an internal fuse. The correct fuse, the one that was in his hand, would most likely be found by internal security at some point. And then they'd come looking for him. He couldn't believe that he was willing to risk his job, his career and possibly his life for one of these aliens, but he knew that it had to be done. 'You can't ignore someone's pain without becoming a party to it,' he thought to himself.

Maybe it was just because he was thinking about this new guy from 'Judgment', but he thought he'd made the right choice. The aliens obviously had the ability to worship a God of some sort, and 'Ace' and Marcus had already said they were Catholic. Hopefully that prayer that he'd said as he pulled the fuse would help her get to Heaven, or where good aliens when when they died. 'One can always hope for the best -' His thought was interrupted by the explosive concussion he heard in his head. He whipped around, one hand holding his head as the other pulled his sidearm. He started to scream an alarm, then stopped and stared as he watched the twelve foot tall cloaked figure staring down into the cryo tube where the new captive was being kept. He started to back away as quietly as he could, watching as more and more shimmering forms began to materialize beside the large one that was turning to face him with what seemed like a thousand sets of glowing eyes that were burning into his soul. He pulled out his radio as he started running -


Robert Parks was running for his life from the aliens that had transported themselves into the base. How things could have degenerated so quickly was a mystery to him, but he was sure that the odds of him making it out of this situation alive were incredibly slim. As he looked back over his shoulder, he could see the large cloaked figure raising an arm in his direction, and several of the smaller aliens were beginning to take human form and give pursuit. The detonation core at the center of the base had not gone off yet, and the odds of manually destroying the computer files linking the Silencer cadres before they were overtaken meant that he only had one choice left.

Turning to face the men who were racing after him, he unloaded several rounds into the head and knees of the closest alien and pointed at the ones behind him. "Ok, who wants to join your buddy on the floor?" He watched as the two others who were following him skittered to a halt on the concrete floor, looking alternatingly at the gun, their fallen compatriot, and each other. After a moment they both started walking forward, at a much slower pace. One of them, a black man who looked altogether unhealthy being over six feet tall and thin as a rail, spoke. "You know that there is no way out of this, Hellsworn. Give up now and this will be quick."

Robert swallowed, knowing that some of the aliens were not known for their sense of mercy. "I'll be taking my chances. You take another step towards me and I'll kill you, I swear!" The asian man behind the first placed his hand on the shoulder of the taller man. "Softly, sir. Jorgan, are you all right?" Robert took a few more steps back as the teenager that he'd shot in the head several moments earlier spoke. "I've felt better, Power. Now, will you stop worrying about me and just get him so we can -" The teenager stopped for a second, then yelled. "Oh, BLESS! Everybody out! OUT! Get back to Dominic! GO!" The two looked at each other, then turned to run towards the cloaked figure, who was opening his cloak and wrapping people into it, screaming something in an alien tongue that made Robert's stomach lurch into his throat. Robert started backing away, holding his gun on the cloaked figure and screaming into his radio for status reports when he felt a wave of heat wash over him...

Robert kept his eyes closed, hoping that the aliens would think he was still unconscious from their transport. He'd opened his eyes several times and seen more than enough to make him hope that he was dreaming everything up. From what he'd seen, he was laying on the floor of what looked like a Cathedral, with aliens all around him. He'd rolled over once to feel scales brush against him - and see a serpent with six eyes and wings shuddering, coiled around what looked like a crystal ball. Several other serpents were visible, as well as more humanoid forms, all curled next to a luminescent sphere of one color or another. Further down the hall, he could here talking - that was what he was truly afraid of, because of the names he was hearing.

"Master Dominic, are you certain that you are all right?"

He forced himself to open his eyes for a moment, only to shut them after seeing precisely what he was afraid of. The cloaked figure was sitting at the far end of the hall, resting in some form of chair the likes of which Robert has never seen before. Several serpents were coiled close to him, as were several bald humanoids and a winged cat of some sort. He quickly replayed the images in his mind, looking for exits from the cathedral when his concentration was broken by a voice that filled his head with images of every act of disobedience that he'd ever conceived of since he was a child.

"I am fine, Mordekai. The loss of my vessel was unexpected, but acceptable. By losing my vessel, I spared the six of you the burdens of Trauma, and I am glad for that. Be mindful of what happened today - the humans are always resourceful, and though they may lack our abilities, they should never be underestimated."

Another voice spoke, one which did not bring such images to his mind. "Indeed, Most Just. I feel that I must still apologize for my failure earlier, though. As I was the only one that was taken down by the human during the raid, I request to be reassigned to another Triad, so as to spare them the shame of -". The larger one spoke again, sending chills through him yet again. "Denied, and unnecessary. These humans have had experience destroying and capturing Celestials. Your human opponent had experience and knowledge that you lacked, and therefore was a superior opponent in that situation. There is no shame, Ogarial."

Robert decided that there was only so long that he could wait before his captors would examine him again, and he rolled over onto his stomach, looking through barely opened eyelids straight towards a doorway. Pulling every last bit of his strength together, he sprinted towards the doorway and down the hallway that stretched out for what seemed like forever in front of him. He ducked down a hallway, hearing footsteps pounding the stones behind him. Ducking into a small storage room, he kept absolutely still as the footsteps went by. Closing his eyes and saying a silent prayer in thanks, he opened his eyes and peered out the door. Turning to look the other way, Colonel Parks found himself less than two feet away from the tall cloaked figure that he'd just tried to run away from. A thousand possible explanations, threats and demands leapt through his mind, but the only words that escaped his lips were the ones that seemed the least effective, but most truthful.

"This is the part where I either start doing things your way, or the hard way, isn't it?" The cloaked figure peered down at him, hundreds of glowing eyes filling its hood. After a few seconds of utter silence, 'Dominic' made a motion with his hand, and a pair of black-winged humanoids walked up to the human facing him. The first of them, a young female, took his arm lightly. "If you will come this way, Mr. Parks. We just need to take care of certain formalities, and then you're be free to move about as you wish."

The two black-winged aliens led him through the streets of an impossibly large city - the very scope of it boggled the mind of the military officer. The aliens were being polite, but he still refused to speak to them or answer any of their questions. After trying to formulate questions in his mind to ask, it was also becoming clear that the mental domination abilities were beginning to act upon him in a way. He had tried to lie to the cloaked figure, to threaten him in some way, but had been unable to speak anything that wasn't true. 'Not that threatening an alien in its home dimension is a good idea, mind...' he thought to himself.

The female alien tapped him lightly on the arm. "Excuse me, but I couldn't help but noticing how tense you are. It... it seems like you're almost afraid to be here, and I've never run across anyone that felt that way. Is there anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable?" He thought for a moment, then quietly shook his head. She looked at him with an almost distraught look on her face. "Is it the fact that we're escorting you to Raduerial? That's just a formality that every human goes through - it's not like you're being punished or being held captive..." She stopped and looked at him for a second more. "That's it, isn't it? You think we're dragging you off to an interrogation or something, don't you? Well, tell you what - I'll let go of you, if it'll make you feel better. I just don't want you to get lost, that's all."

He looked at her, with a slight smile. "I won't get lost. I promise. What's your name, anyway?"

The young lady brushed her hair out of her eyes with a smile. "Esmarelda, when I was last on Earth. It's been a while since I've been back, though. I hope it's as pretty as I remember it the next time I get to go."

Robert patted her hand lightly. "It's a beautiful place, which I'm sure would be complimented by a beautiful lady such as yourself - , and I'm sure you'll enjoy it there if you go back anytime soon. So, what precisely does this Raduerial need to do with me, before I can be released?" Esmarelda smiled a little bit, not noticing the flush in her cheeks. "Well, Raduerial checks to make sure that you're supposed to be here, and not... someplace else. He just goes through the records of your life, seeing whether you've been good or evil. It's really just a procedural thing, so that the recordkeepers have everyone's name on file."

Robert nodded. "I see. Well, that shouldn't be too bad. I think I can..." He stopped in mid sentence to look at a pulsing cloud of glowing eyes and ears that had just turned a corner. He swallowed for a moment, then turned back towards Esmarelda, smiling. "Hey, can you give me a few minutes? There's a possibility that I've seen that guy that just turned the corner a moment ago before. You don't mind, do you? Esmarelda nodded. "Sure, go right ahead, but try to make it quick for right now. There'll be more time to catch up later."

The older Malakite looked at the timepiece on his arm. The human had not come back around the corner as yet. Something about this entire situation was bothering him, and he had a feeling that Dominic would be taking it up with him personally if the human didn't make his way to the Recording Angel. "Esmarelda, it's been fifteen minutes. He should have been back by now. Perhaps we should go check on him."

The younger Malakite looked back at her superior, anxiously. "But I'm sure that he'll be back in just a moment - he didn't lie to me, Omar. He can't - we're in Heaven after all..."

The two of them walked around the corner, looking for the human that they'd been escorting. Instead of finding a human there, the only people to be seen were four Kyriotates huddled in a corner, talking amongst themselves. Esmarelda walked up to the group, clearing her throat. "Excuse me, but have any of you seen a human in the past few moments? He'd be about six teet tall, medium build..." She stopped as one of the Kyriotates pointed towards the Glade. "He came up to me, asked if I knew anyone in the United States Military. Once I told him that I didn't, he nodded, apologized for bothering me, and then started walking that way."

Omar looked at the ground, just shaking his head. "Esmarelda, do you realize what Dominic is going to do to us when he hears about this?" The younger Malakite, looking crestfallen, looked at her elder. "But he said that he might have known him. I thought he..." Omar just chuckled as he rubbed his temples. "Did he say he was coming right back?"

Esmarelda stopped in her tracks, color draining out of her face. "Oh, my Lord..."

Colonel Parks crept through the trees that towered all around him - he'd been hiding here for the past four days, and he wasn't about to get caught by another one of those things that had tried to debrief him yesterday. He'd seen a couple of them in action back on Earth, and knew that those creatures - it'd called itself a 'Kyriotate' - were some of the absolute masters of mental domination. He wasn't about to get himself in a position to be mind-controlled so that he would give up the secrets of his fellow Silencers. 'Of course, unless I can figure out a way out of this dimension, that's going to be almost inevitable unless I kill myself now.' he thought to himself.

He took a little bit of comfort from the sword that he had in his hands now. While creeping through the forest, he'd encountered two aliens that looked disturbingly like classic demons to him laying down with pillows and a blanket. While he had to admit that it was slightly comforting to know that it looked like the aliens could actually be distracted by pleasures of the flesh, he shuddered at the thought of the black winged and haloed figures noticing him. If the aliens reacted even remotely similar to being 'walked in on', that was one thing he couldn't afford. But they did have weapons, and they weren't using them at the moment, so he's taken the opportunity when he'd seen it.

He ducked quickly behind some bushes as he saw one of the large serpents flying by overhead. He waited for a moment until it was out of sight before moving, but his hands were still shaking for a few moments afterwards. Coming into a clearing with a stream running through it, he bent down to get a few gulps of water before running back into the protective cover of the trees. 'This is insane - but I have to keep running. If there's a way in, there's got to be a way out.'

He stopped to rest by a tree, more to clear his head than anything else. He shook his head in frustration, then he stood up, and plunged his sword into the ground in front of him. Bowing his head, he crossed himself before kneeling. "God, I don't know if you can even hear me in this place, but if you can, I'm sorry for everything I ever did wrong. I haven't gone to confession ever since I joined the project, but I figure you've watched anyway." He paused for a moment to wipe the tears that were starting to come out on his sleeve. "Look, I've never begged anyone for anything, but I just want to go home. If you can help me get through this..." He stopped as he felt a warmth wash over him, and then shuddered as he felt a light wind rush over him. He crossed himself, then started to rise when he heard a voice behind him. "Robert Parks, I presume?" He whipped around to face the person behind him, praying that this wasn't the part where his entire life flashed before his eyes...

A black-winged figure was standing about ten feet away, with his black hair flowing slightly in the breeze and his tunic rustling slightly as well. The colonel's eyes immediately darted to the sword that was at the interloper's hip, and he started backing away. "Who are you? How do you know who I am? Why have you people taken me here?" He kept backing away, trying to get closer to the sword without the thing noticing. It cocked its head slightly, then shook his head, chuckling. "Give me a few moments of your time, and I'll be happy to explain things to you as best I can."

The man started walking towards him, but at an angle that gave the impression that he wasn't trying to make this an offensive action. "First of all, my name is Laurence, and I'm one of the many people that live here in this place. I'm also a Catholic, much like yourself, Mr. Parks." He nodded towards the sword/cross by the soldier. "I've done that same thing on the eve of more than one battle where I wasn't sure of the outcome, so I recognized it instantly. As for how I knew who you were, my position here requires me to be well informed about 'strange elements', which you qualify as. Most people don't run away and hide when they make it to Heaven, after all..."

The colonel grabbed the sword out of the ground and held it in front of him. "This isn't Heaven - I don't see any people with harps or babies with halos sitting on clouds or choirs of angels singing. Some of you people may look like angels, but you aren't going to -"

Laurence chuckled slightly. "First off, you've been going the wrong way. The choirs of angels are typically found back the way you came, in the Eternal City. As for the kids, why would they be sitting on clouds? Have you ever met a baby who would sit still for more than a few minutes when there are other kids and toys and animals to play with?"

"Well, no... but -"

Laurence cocked his head to the side, seemingly amused. "Do you really want a harp? I can get you one, and I can even arrange for lessons for you if you're really interested."

Robert shot back at him, "Do you know how to play the harp?"

Laurence leaned against a tree, stretching his arms before folding them in front of him. "Not really, come to mention it. I'm sure I could, but I've never had the time to learn. I play the guitar and mandolin, and I've even tried my hand behind a drum set when one of my friends asked me to, but nope - no harp."

Robert smiled a bit. "You know, I never liked harps, myself. Guess that means I don't have to learn how to play one in order to blend in until I get out of here."

The black-winged figure spread his hands a bit. "Well, that could prove a bit more challenging. You see, it's not like we can let everyone go back to Earth. It's not just you, you know - everybody asks for a chance to go back. If it was up to us, we'd probably let them, but can you imagine what that would do to the people still on Earth? If people form Heaven could come back and visit them, what would be the implication if someone never did?"

"That they'd gone to Hell?"

The figure nodded. Robert started to form a snappy comeback, but his knees were starting to become weak under him. He sat down heavily beside a tree, then looked over at Laurence. "But there's a flaw in your story - if this is Heaven, how did I get here? I've broken almost every commandment - I've killed people, slept with married women, I've worked on Sundays, lied - if this is Heaven, you explain to me how I got away with all that."

Laurence looked into his eyes for a second before answering. "Because it doesn't work that way, Robert. You have done a lot of terrible things, but you didn't ever take pleasure in it. You did what you had to do because you knew it was the right thing to do, or so you thought, anyway. You see yourself as someone who's committed a lot of sins in your day, but let me tell you what I see."

Laurence's eyes locked into Robert's, and Robert felt a shudder come over him as he realized that, no matter who or what this person was in front of him, this 'Laurence' knew him - he could feel every action that he'd ever done, good or ill, racing through his mind. Images of every person he'd fired in anger at, every life that he'd ended, every 'alien' he'd put down raced through his head impossibly fast, yet taking what seemed like an eternity. "I see all of these things - every sin you ever committed in the name of your country, in the name of 'national security'. I can tell you the name of every person that you've ever hurt, of every person who had to go to a funeral that you caused."

"And then I can tell you about an 'alien' who was suffering from cancer, from being on Earth for too long. I can tell you about how you never tried to be cruel to the 'aliens' in your care, and wouldn't let anyone be cruel on your shift. I could tell you about all the times you questioned whether or not you were doing the right thing by holding them prisoner. When that final night came for you, you let Janelle die in her sleep, ending her suffering, rather than keep her in pain."

Robert started shaking slightly, fear creeping into his voice. "Then Janelle, she wasn't an alien, was she? She was an -"

"Yes, she was. Most of them were - a few of them were Demons, but the ones you had in your care were mostly angels. Two of them were my direct co-workers, but that's all right for now." The alien - no, the angel leaned back and looked at him. "You know, she had four hours left. The people who work for Janus start dying inside if they stay in one place for more than three days at a time. She was as bad off as she could get before she Fell. Four more hours and she would have spent an eternity undoing everything that she'd spent her entire life working for. But let me finish what I was saying earlier."

Colonel Parks nodded slowly as he continued. "Like I was saying, you didn't risk your career to save an angel, or even a human being. You risked it to save an alien, someone who was intent on undermining everything that generations of people had spend their lives working towards. You couldn't stand by and watch somebody suffer, even though they were an avowed enemy of yours. And in that one instant where you decided that you couldn't just stand by and do nothing, you went from being just another soldier to being something a little more." Laurence smiled a bit more openly this time. "She's going to be fine, by the way. I've just spoken with her superior, and he's taken care of everything." His brow furrowed slightly, "Although I wonder what that 'christmas tree' comment was about, but that's neither here nor there at the moment."

Robert stood up, looking guilty. "Well, I guess I should apologize about..." He stopped as Laurence put up a hand. "Don't worry about it. You see, while I don't exactly approve of everything you did, I don't condemn it either. Your heart was in the right place. Besides..." He got up and dusted himself off before finishing. "My father told me something when I was younger. He said that God had always intended for humanity to write its own destiny, and that we were simply supposed to help you find your way back to the path you chose for yourself. Lucifer's rebellion changed all of that, but the idea is still sound. You have to find your own way to the truth, and if we're willing drag humanity kicking and screaming to what we say is the truth, then in his own way Lucifer has already won."

After a few moments of thought, Robert nodded. "Makes sense. Well, I'm convinced, I guess. Still... thank you for everything. I'm glad to be here."

Laurence reached out and shook his hand. "It's more the other way around, actually. We're glad to have you here. I'm sure you're be able to find your friends and family that are here..." He noticed that Laurence was looking behind him and nodding. "But I wouldn't worry about that right now - I think one of your friends has already found you." Robert started to speak, but he felt a feminine hand cup over his mouth and heard a whispered 'Guess who, Controller Bob?' in his ear as he felt his feet leave the ground and watched the clouds grow ever closer from inside an embrace of white-feathered wings.


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