ARNOLD HAD STOPPED walking. He stood in front of the shop, peering at his reflection in the glass.
His companion looked him up and down.
"Yeah. Early, maybe middle twenties, I'd guess. How old were you when you croaked?"
"Almost ninety." He pulled at the skin on his face. It snapped back nicely. "But you're not..."
"Wow. Ninety. How did you spend your life?"
"What do you mean?"
"Sorry. You peaked at twenty-something. It's just... Well, I felt bad about peaking at sixty. Thought I should have pushed a bit beyond that. But that's just me. Nothing wrong with peaking early."
"No. This is perfect. It's—it's right. Don't you see? I'll be the same age I was when she... How fast can we get there?"
"Come on. It's not far now."
They picked up their pace. The streets grew more familiar now—more landmarks appearing with every step.
Arnold recognized a park he had played in as a child, he saw a favorite teacher in the distance. Someone was playing the piano with their window open. It was one of his favorite tunes.
He had a thought.
"Hey! Back at the gate. You said, 'whatever your sect is'?"
"You did. So it turns out that God lets everyone in?"
"We don't really know."
His guide smiled, then continued.
"You're quick, you know. Most people don't get around to asking about that until the third or fourth day."
"But if everyone gets in, then I... we... I mean the Baptists weren't necessarily right."
"Most don't realize that for weeks."
"I mean, if you don't have to be right to get in..."
"How do you know you weren't wrong?"
"Do I get an, uh, interview ?"
"If you keep this up I may just wangle you a position at the Institute."
"It's where I work. We're trying to develop a theory that explains all of this."
"God won't tell you?"
His companion sighed.
"Here, as on earth, God—at least in the sense you mean—is irritatingly silent."
"But you said Jesus ..."
"Yes. He's here—a major player at the Institute, in fact. First rate mind, and brilliant instincts. Shares an office with Einstein. I'd say eighty percent of the useful stuff comes out of that cubicle."
"Then he's not..."
"Not God? Well, that all depends. He'd say he is. And, on the whole, I'm inclined to agree. There are details to be worked out still, but..."
"Then we—the Christians—we were right?"
"As far as that goes, yeah. He'd figured out that much on Earth. Of course, you all had to truncate the whole thing. Not your fault, really. He tried a rhetorical spin in order to sell it to his people, and in the end it backfired."
Arnold looked puzzled.
His guide tried again.
"The whole messiah thing. King of Israel and all of that. He realized that the entire God-concept in first century Judaism was just soaked in the whole nationalistic kingship idea. A horrible distortion, of course, but also very persistent. So he tried a little aikido."
"Sorry. Never mind. He tried to deconstruct the king metaphor—turn it on it's head, you see, use it to undermine itself."
"I'm still lost."
"Look. The king of Israel had a title: 'Son of God'. Judaism was expecting a messiah—another title for the king—to come and save Israel. They also had come to half expect this figure to be divine. So, Jesus tried to use that. He called God his father, and he taught his disciples to do the same."
Arnold shook his head.
"I still don't..."
"He taught his disciples that everyone was the messiah. Everyone was king. Everyone was divine, a son or daughter of God. According to Jesus, we're all God."
"That's the theory. Einstien's on board, as well. And I have to admit that it explains this place better than anything else we've come up with."
"According to the theory, we—humans—are just the conscious part of the God-field, which makes up the whole universe. Not necessarily the only conscious part, of course. There may be others. But, apparently..."
He gestured at the surrounding scene.
"Apparently, when we die, the consciousness persists. We don't know how, exactly, or where for that matter. Feynman and Aquinas are working on that. But the result is this. It's being created, jointly, as we speak, by all of us, working together, based on desire and our expectations of the afterlife—based on everything you learned in all those Sunday school classes."
Arnold puzzled over that.
"Ah. Here we are."