"Like it? A pure and radiant joy fills me. We are surrounded by the light of the first day; the light that glowed softly and serenely before sun, moon and stars were made. (You know your Genesis, of course.) There is the comfortable warmth that must have been one of the highest blisses of Eden; not enervating heat or assaulting cold. Men and women walk the streets unclothed and are not ashamed. All is well, my friend, all is well."
R.E. said, "Well, it's a fact that I haven't seemed to mind the feminine display all about."
"Naturally not," said the other. "Lust and sin as we remember it in our earthly existence no longer exists. Let me introduce myself, friend, as I was in earthly times. My name on Earth was Winthrop Hester. I was bom in 1812 and died in 1884 as we counted time then. Through the last forty years of my life I labored to bring my little flock to the Kingdom and I go now to count the ones I have won."
R.E. regarded the ex-minister solemnly, "Surely there has been no Judgment yet."
"Why not? The Lord sees within a man and in the same instant that all things of the world ceased, all men were judged and we are the saved."
"There must be a great many saved."
"On the contrary, my son, those saved are but as a remnant."
"A pretty large remnant. As near as 1 can make out, everyone's coming back to life. I've seen some pretty unsavory characters back in town as alive as you are."
"I never repented."
"Of what, my son?"
"Of the fact that I never attended church."
Winthrop Hester stepped back hastily. "Were you ever baptized?"
"Not to my knowledge."
Winthrop Hester trembled. "Surely you believe in God?"
"Well," said R.E., "I believed a lot of things about Him that would probably startle you."
Winthrop Hester turned and hurried off in great agitation.
In what remained of his walk to the cemetery (R.E. had no way of estimating time, nor did it occur to him to try) no one else stopped him. He found the cemetery itself all but empty, its trees and grass gone (it occurred to him that there was nothing green in the world; the ground everywhere was a hard, featureless, grainless gray; the sky a luminous white), but its headstones still standing.
On one of these sat a lean and furrowed man with long, black hair on his head and a mat of it, shorter, though more impressive, on his chest and upper arms.
He called out in a deep voice, "Hey, there, you!"
R.E. sat down on a neighboring headstone. "Hello."
Black-hair said, "Your clothes don't look right. What year was it when it happened?"
"I died in 1807. Funny! I expected to be one pretty hot boy right about now, with the eternal flames shooting up my innards."
"Aren't you coming along to town?" asked R.E.
"My name's Zeb," said the ancient. "That's short for Zebulon, but Zeb's good enough. What's the town like? Changed some, I reckon?"
"It's got nearly a hundred thousand people in it."
Zeb's mouth yawned somewhat. "Go on. Might nigh bigger'n Philadelphia... You're making fun."
"Philadelphia's got-" R.E. paused. Stating the figure would do him no good. Instead, he said, "The town's grown in a hundred fifty years, you know."
"Forty-eight states," said R.E. "All the way to the Pacific."
"No!" Zeb slapped his thigh in delight and then winced at the unexpected absence of rough homespun to take up the worst of the blow. "I'd head out west if I wasn't needed here. Yes, sir." His face grew lowering and his thin lips took on a definite grimness. "I'll stay right here, where I'm needed."
"Why are you needed?"
The explanation came out briefly, bitten off hard. "Injuns!"
"Millions of 'em. First the tribes we fought and licked and then tribes who ain't never seen a white man. They'll all come back to life. I'll need my old buddies. You city fellers ain't no good at it... Ever seen an Injun?"
R.E. said, "Not around here lately, no."
Zeb looked his contempt, and tried to spit to one side but found no saliva for the purpose. He said, "You better git back to the city, then. After a while, it ain't going to be safe nohow round here. Wish I had my musket."
R.E. rose, thought a moment, shrugged and faced back to the city. The headstone he had been sitting upon collapsed as he rose, falling into a powder of gray stone that melted into the featureless ground. He looked about. Most of the headstones were gone. The rest would not last long. Only the one under Zeb still looked firm and strong.
R.E. began the walk back. Zeb did not turn to look at him. He remained waiting quietly and calmly-for Indians.
Etheriel plunged through the heavens in reckless haste. The eyes of the Ascendants were on him, he knew. From late-born seraph, through cherubs and angels, to the highest archangel, they must be watching.
Already he was higher than any Ascendant, uninvited, had ever been before and he waited for the quiver of the Word that would reduce his vortices to non-existence.
But he did not falter. Through non-space and non-time, he plunged toward union with the Primum Mobile; the seat that encompassed all that Is, Was, Would Be, Had Been, Could Be and Might Be.
And as he thought that, he burst through and was part of it, his being expanding so that momentarily he, too, was part of the All. But then it was mercifully veiled from his senses, and the Chief was a still, small voice within him, yet all the more impressive in its infinity for all that.
"My son," the voice said, "I know why you have come."
"Then help me, if that be your will."
"By my own will," said the Chief, "an act of mine is irrevocable. All your mankind, my son, yearned for life. All feared death. All evolved thoughts and dreams of life unending. No two groups of men; no two single men; evolved the same afterlife, but all wished life. I was petitioned that I might grant the common denominator of all these wishes-life unending. I did so."
"No servant of yours made that request."
"The Adversary did, my son."
Etheriel trailed his feeble glory in dejection and said in a low voice, "I am dust in your sight and unworthy to be in your presence, yet I must ask a question. Is then the Adversary your servant also?"
"Without him I can have no other," said the Chief, "for what then is Good but the eternal fight against Evil?"
And in that fight, thought Etheriel, I have lost.
R.E. paused in sight of town. The buildings were crumbling. Those that were made of wood were already heaps of rubble. R.E. walked to the nearest such heap and found the wooden splinters powdery and dry.
He penetrated deeper into town and found the brick buildings still standing, but there was an ominous roundness to the edges of the bricks, a threatening flakiness.
"They won't last long," said a deep voice, "but there is this consolation, if consolation it be; their collapse can kill no one."
R.E. looked up in surprise and found himself face to face with a cadaverous Don Quixote of a man, lantern-jawed, sunken-cheeked. His eyes were sad and his brown hair was lank and straight. His clothes hung loosely and skin showed clearly through various rents.
"My name," said the man, "is Richard Levine. I was a professor of history once-before this happened."
"You're wearing clothes," said R.E. "You're not one of those resurrected."
"No, but that mark of distinction is vanishing. Clothes are going."
R.E. looked at the throngs that drifted past them, moving slowly and aimlessly like motes in a sunbeam. Vanishingly few wore clothes. He looked down at himself and noticed for the first time that the seam down the length of each trouser leg had parted. He pinched the fabric of his jacket between thumb and forefinger and the wool parted and came away easily.
"I guess you're right," said R.E.
"If you'll notice," went on Levine, "Mellon's Hill is flattening out."
R.E. turned to the north where ordinarily the mansions of the aristocracy (such aristocracy as there was in town) studded the slopes of Mellon's Hill, and found the horizon nearly flat.
Levine said, "Eventually, there'll be nothing but flatness, featurelessness, nothingness-and us."
"And Indians," said R.E. "There's a man outside of town waiting for Indians and wishing he had a musket."
"I imagine," said Levine, "the Indians will give no trouble. There is no pleasure in fighting an enemy that cannot be killed or hurt. And even if that were not so, the lust for battle would be gone, as are all lusts."
"Are you sure?"
"I am positive. Before all this happened, although you may not think it to look at me, I derived much harmless pleasure in a consideration of the female figure. Now, with the unexampled opportunities at my disposal, I find myself irritatingly uninterested. No, that is wrong. I am not even irritated at my disinterest."
R.E. looked up briefly at the passers-by. "I see what you mean."
"The coming of Indians here," said Levine, "is nothing compared with the situation in the Old World. Early during the Resurrection, Hitler and his Wehrmacht must have come back to life and must now be facing and intermingled with Stalin and the Red Army all the way from Berlin to Stalingrad. To complicate the situation, the Kaisers and Czars will arrive. The men at Verdun and the Somme are back in the old battlegrounds. Napoleon and his marshals are scattered over western Europe. And Mohammed must be back to see what following ages have made of Islam, while the Saints and Apostles consider the paths of Christianity. And even the Mongols, poor things, the Khans from Temujin to Aurangzeb, must be wandering the steppes helplessly, longing for their horses."
"As a professor of history," said R.E., "you must long to be there and observe."
"How could I be there? Every man's position on Earth is restricted to the distance he can walk. There are no machines of any kind, and, as I have just mentioned, no horses. And what would I find in Europe anyway? Apathy, I think! As here."
A soft plopping sound caused R.E. to turn around. The wing of a neighboring brick building had collapsed in dust. Portions of bricks lay on either side of him. Some must have hurtled through him without his being aware of it. He looked about. The heaps of rubble were less numerous. Those that remained were smaller in size.
He said, "I met a man who thought we had all been judged and are in Heaven."
"Judged?" said Levine. "Why, yes, I imagine we are. We face eternity now. We have no universe left, no outside phenomena, no emotions, no passions. Nothing but ourselves and thought. We face an eternity of introspection, when all through history we have never known what to do with ourselves on a rainy Sunday."
"You sound as though the situation bothers you."
"It does more than that. The Dantean conceptions of Inferno were childish and unworthy of the Divine imagination: fire and torture. Boredom is much more subtle. The inner torture of a mind unable to escape itself in any way, condemned to fester in its own exuding mental pus for all time, is much more fitting. Oh, yes, my friend, we have been judged, and condemned, too, and this is not Heaven, but hell."
And Levine rose with shoulders drooping dejectedly, and walked away.
R.E. gazed thoughtfully about and nodded his head. He was satisfied.
The self-admission of failure lasted but an instant in Etheriel, and then, quite suddenly, he lifted his being as brightly and highly as he dared in the presence of the Chief and his glory was a tiny dot of light in the infinite Primum Mobile.
"If it be your will, then," he said. "I do not ask you to defeat your will but to fulfill it."
"In what way, my son?"
"The document, approved by the Council of Ascendants and signed by yourself, authorizes the Day of Resurrection at a specific time of a specific day of the year 1957 as Earthmen count time."
"So it did."
"But the year 1957 is unqualified. What then is 1957? To the dominant culture on Earth the year was a.d. 1957. That is true. Yet from the time you breathed existence into Earth and its universe there have passed 5,960 years. Based on the internal evidence you created within that universe, nearly four billion years have passed. Is the year, unqualified, then 1957, 5960, or 4000000000?
"Nor is that all," Etheriel went on. "The year \.d. 1957 is the year 7464 of the Byzantine era, 5716 by the Jewish calendar. It is 2708 a.u.c., that is, the 2,708th year since the founding of Rome, if we adopt the Roman calendar. It is the year 1375 in the Mohammedan calendar, and the hundred eightieth year of the independence of the United States.
"Humbly I ask then if it does not seem to you that a year referred to as 1957 alone and without qualification has no meaning."
The Chief's still small voice said, "I have always known this, my son; it was you who had to learn."
"Then," said Etheriel, quivering luminously with joy, "let the very letter of your will be fulfilled and let the Day of Resurrection fall in 1957, but only when all the inhabitants of Earth unanimously agree that a certain year shall be numbered 1957 and none other."
"So let it be," said the Chief, and this Word re-created Earth and all it contained, together with the sun and moon and all the hosts of Heaven.
It was 7 a.m. on January 1, 1957, when R. E. Mann awoke with a start. The very beginnings of a melodious note that ought to have filled all the universe had sounded and yet had not sounded.
For a moment, he cocked his head as though to allow understanding to flow in, and then a trifle of rage crossed his face to vanish again. It was but another battle.
He sat down at his desk to compose the next plan of action. People already spoke of calendar reform and it would have to be stimulated. A new era must begin with December 2, 1944, and someday a new year 1957 would come; 1957 of the Atomic Era, acknowledged as such by all the world.
A strange light shone on his head as thoughts passed through his more-than-human mind and the shadow of Ahriman on the wall seemed to have small horns at either temple.
The Fun They Had
Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2157, she wrote, "Today Tommy found a real book!"
It was a very old book. Margie's grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.
They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to-on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had had when they read it the first time.
"Gee," said Tommy, "what a waste. When you're through with the book, you just throw it away, I guess. Our television screen must have had a million books on it and it's good for plenty more. 1 wouldn't throw it away."
"Same with mine," said Margie. She was eleven and hadn't seen as many telebooks as Tommy had. He was thirteen.
She said, "Where did you find it?"
"In my house." He pointed without looking, because he was busy reading. "In the attic."
"What's it about?"
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