The Dead: Book 9 (frag. 2)

Submitted by Ken Watts on Tue, 06/10/2008 - 19:49

LINDA LAUGHED.

"How old am I, here?"

"Any age you want to be. Time was an idea your... your artist invented."

"And do I get to meet this maestro?"

He stood, reached out a hand, and pulled her to her feet.

"Absolutely. There'll be a... What does he call it? A cocktail party! There'll be one right after the judging."

He paused, and a cloud passed over his face.

"That is, of course, if you..."

"If I pass the test?"

"You see, the thing is, you were an atheist..."

"And I was right, apparently. Depending on how you look at it."

"What I mean is, you were, well, a very special kind of atheist."

She grinned.

"I didn't know there were kinds."

"Exactly. You didn't. I mean, you didn't become an atheist because of a lot of theorizing, or because you started out... religious, right? ...and then rejected the idea or anything like that..."

"I was raised an atheist, though I didn't know what the word meant until I was in college. I remember wondering, then, why there had to be a word for it."

"That's what I was trying to say. You see, the... the officials, I guess... they picked you, because you didn't know much about any of the various gods, and you never took one seriously, your whole life."

"That's true enough, but I still don't understand..."

They had come to a fork in the path. He steered her toward the left.

"That's the great hall, up ahead. We take art very seriously here."

"I'm afraid I'm very confused..." she said.

He stopped, and faced her.

"I'm not doing a very good job of this. Right now the hall contains the entire record of your artist's latest work—of your world. You'll see in a moment. It's amazingly easy to access."

"But why..."

"Because this is your... judgement day. I think that's the phrase. It won't be just one day, of course..."

She frowned.

"And how..."

"You'll go over as much of the records as you like; it's all there. You can take as long as you like, preparing your case."

"I see. And who is the prosecutor?"

"Oh, there isn't one. The whole thing is decided by just one judge."

"So there's no defence counsel, either?"

"No."

"And if the verdict is negative."

He couldn't meet her eyes.

"Death. Real death, I mean. Annihilation."

She shook her head.

"Why bother with all this in the first place, then?"

"Because it could go either way. You have to understand. In your world art is just paintings or music or, or... Here, it involves life. Souls. Bad art doesn't just offend the sensibilities here. There are lives on the line, pain and suffering, there are people who may be twisted, damaged..."

She laughed, bitterly.

"And you're holding me responsible?"

He looked at her, confused.

"Someone has to be... And what could be fairer, really. I know you didn't ask to be the judge, but you're so perfectly suited..."

"The judge? I thought... Who am I judging?"

"The artist, of course. The maker of your world."