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A Cosmic Conspiracy
By Andrea M. White
iUniverseCopyright © 2014 Andrea M. White
All rights reserved.
All but running down the stairs of his Washington D.C. apartment building, Matt Brown was clearly energized for the day ahead. He finally had the goods to nail Carl Keller. Although, even with his newfound evidence, Matt knew this wasn't going to be an easy win. During a contentious two-year investigation, Matt had learned not only the depths of Keller's depravity but also the magnitude of his political power. A senior U.S. senator who was thought to have the White House within his reach, Carl Keller was the darling of the media and moneymen alike. The senator was, however, also a criminal and now, with the evidence to prove it literally in hand, Matt couldn't wait to see the object of his near obsession behind bars.
Putting his Starbucks cup on the roof, Matt unlocked the door of his vintage black Lincoln. Once in the driver's seat, he took a few sips of coffee and decided to place a quick call to his FBI partner, Bob Volpe, before heading off.
"I'm running late, but I'll be there in about fifteen minutes," Matt said.
"Ya, but it was all about Keller, and wait till you see what I've got on him."
"No. I'll show you when I get there."
Matt put his key in the ignition, turned it and, with that, there was a massive explosion. In just an instant, the entire car was engulfed in flames. He felt a flash of excruciating pain, as the fire melted his flesh, then nothing. Seconds later and just as suddenly Matt awoke. "What the hell was that?" he wondered. Now, out of his body, and floating above it, he looked down to see flames and black smoke billowing from what was left of his much beloved vehicle. Somewhat dazed, Matt thought he was having a nightmare but was snapped back into reality by the blaring sirens that harkened the firefighter's arrival on the scene. He watched as they stood helplessly looking at the burning car, shaking their heads. They would, of course, put out the fire but clearly there was no chance of saving Matt.
From his current vantage point, the deceased had a bird's eye view of his entire neighborhood and, if he hadn't been in complete emotional overload, would surely have picked up on three obviously not disinterested onlookers—two of the human variety and one of the spiritual. All of whom were quite pleased by the current turn of events. As it became clear to them that Matt was in fact, dead, the two living witnesses, who'd been sitting in a nondescript sedan about a block away, drove slowly off. The single spirit who had also been observing the scene from a discrete distance, left as well, anxious to report on the successful outcome of their interstellar plot.
As for Matt, he simply expected that things would soon go black but instead, was gently pulled into a tunnel of light and soon found himself surrounded by what seemed to be a Jell-O like atmosphere. Much to his astonishment, selected moments of his life began to play out before him. The visions were not within his mind but as if he were an invisible observer at each scene.
Matt saw a young child lying dead on the floor of a stark apartment, and recognized himself as the four-year-old boy being led away in tears from a man that, he rightly assumed, was his father. He'd previously had no conscious memory of this event.
The moments of his life continued to race by him; there were the multiple foster homes where he'd been raised, as well as the numerous scrapes with the law that had defined his early childhood. Then the review slowed, and Matt was allowed to focus on the one pivotal event of his life, when, at the age of ten, fate had stepped in and led him to an epiphany. Now observer rather than participant, Matt watched himself, and one of his young partners in crime, roughhouse at poolside as they waited for their swimming instructor and the rest of their classmates to arrive. Suddenly his friend bolted, ran out on the diving board and began to use it as a trampoline, with one jump going seriously awry, and the boy hitting his head on the board's edge. Matt hadn't forgotten a moment of it, and once again witnessed the boy, falling into the water, sinking slowly and, lying motionless at the bottom of the pool. He saw himself jump into the water without hesitation and in spite of his almost nonexistent swimming skills, somehow make it to the bottom, scoop up his unconscious friend, and ferociously fight his way to the water's surface. After the boy had been revived, Matt was standing with his swimming teacher as she told everyone within earshot about his heroic act. There was a slight smile on his face, and it was likely that those around them thought Matt was smiling because of her praise. The truth was that he was barely listening. Saving the boy had brought the first moment of genuine happiness into his bleak life. Matt had found his true nature and from that day on, his life had changed.
The successes that followed now rolled past his eyes and while it was pleasant for Matt to revisit all that he had accomplished in his relatively short life, it was impossible for him to miss the one overriding constant. He'd always been completely alone. There had been no family as a child and no serious relationships as an adult. There were lots of random girlfriends but with the exception of the close friendship that had developed between Matt and Bob Volpe, there hadn't been a single person important enough to remember.
As the review faded, he had an overall feeling of loneliness mixed with a distinct sense of confusion. Enough time had elapsed, however, that Matt was beginning to, at least, entertain the idea that this might actually be more than a biological blip. He looked at the tunnel. It was like a night sky with streams of pink and orange lights swirling around and streams of bright yellow and white lights zipping back and forth on all sides of him. He took a moment to look at himself. He had a body and strangely, while it was spiritual, it seemed to be gaining substance as he moved out of the denser atmosphere and closer to the warm glowing light at the far end of the tunnel.
Moving along in silence, Matt was startled when a male spirit came speeding in his direction, stopped in front of him, and said, "Hey Matt, good to see you."
Matt gave him a questioning look.
"Oh, sorry, forgot you wouldn't remember me. I'm your brother, Steve."
"I don't have a brother," Matt said with conviction, but oddly feeling a definite connection to the stranger who stood before him.
"Yes you do. Dad murdered me when I was eight. That's why they took you away from him."
Remembering the child's body that he'd just seen, Matt said, "Oh ya, I just saw that."
"In the Locum Videre?"
"That's what we call the dense part of the portal where the life review takes place."
When they reached the tunnel's end, Matt was surprised to see that, what from a distance had seemed like a solid bright light was actually emanating from the thousands of spirit escorts who were waiting there.
"What's beyond that?" Matt asked as they stood looking at the vast opening before them.
One of the spirits stepped forward and gestured for them to follow her through the much more diffused light of the portal entrance itself. The three stepped easily through the milky wall, into what looked like a cross between a hospital and a five star hotel. A young woman with a nametag that read Jeanne Gormley came up to them and exchanged a few whispered words with the guide who smiled and then went back to her post within the tunnel.
One look at the telltale redness of Matt's skin let Jeanne know that he was the new arrival. She handed them both oversized white terrycloth robes. Shaking Jeanne's hand, Steve introduced his brother and himself.
Addressing Matt, she said, "You must be freaked."
Realizing that he was standing there naked, Matt quickly put on his robe. Jeanne was right. Matt was freaked. He thought this had to be a dream. Surely they didn't hand out bathrobes in heaven; not to mention the fact that he could see he was in some type of institutional building. On top of which, he'd always been fairly certain that there wasn't any afterlife at all. "Maybe I've been drugged," he thought as he began to wonder if someone had slipped something into his morning coffee.
"Matt," Jeanne prompted when he didn't respond. "Are you OK?"
"Ya. Sorry. Just trying to take it all in."
"I know it can be overwhelming. I'm going to take you to a room where you can relax, and I'll start to orient you a bit. Steve, you can stay and hang out with us if you like."
"I would like to stay, but I've got to get back to work. I'll pick up Matt in a couple of hours," Steve said, and as he was leaving them, added, "Now I just have to find the AD room I used."
"Work? And what's an AD room?"
"Come on," Jeanne said, taking him by the arm, "I'll explain and I promise, in no time, it'll all make sense."
She got him comfortable and went to get him some coffee, or at least the Caelian version of coffee. When she returned, she sat down next to him with a device in her hand that looked a lot like an iPad.
"I need a little information from you before we begin."
She asked him about his life on earth, occupation, any family or friends who had passed, and entered the information into a database. As Matt watched her go about her task, he couldn't help but think it was more than a little bizarre that there was a bureaucracy in the afterlife.
"Now that's done, let me explain what's going on. You died, but this isn't heaven."
"No. You're in a parallel universe. It's actually quite similar to the one you've left behind. There are several planets, and the one you're on is called Caelum. In terms of climate, it's a good deal nicer than Earth," she said with a very appealing grin. "It's a physical world. We eat, drink, sleep, work and all the rest."
"Is it forever?"
"No, but we believe it's the next stop along the way. People stay here for about a thousand years and after that, comes what we believe to be an afterlife that might be closer to what you envisioned."
"I didn't envision anything."
"I figured as much. You looked so shocked to be anywhere, let alone this place. For now, let's stick to the practical, and get you something to wear."
"Why were we both naked?"
"Only our bodies can travel in the portals. We can't carry anything with us, and that includes clothing. So almost every building on this planet has what are called arrival and departure rooms stocked with some type of cover-ups."
"How come I'm all red?"
"It's just a part of the rebirth process. You'll be back to normal in an hour or so. Now give me your sizes, and I'll go get you some clothes."
Matt obliged, and Jeanne left. Beginning to come to terms with his new reality but still feeling as if he'd fallen through the rabbit hole, he sat patiently waiting for Jeanne's return. In a little while, she reappeared with a small pile of neatly folded clothing topped with a pair of sneakers.
"I'll close the door so you can change. There's a full-length mirror on the back. You should take a look at yourself. You'll find that you look exactly the same as you did on earth but," she said pausing, "you can alter your looks here. You can be taller, thinner, or change your facial features just by envisioning it. This is a real universe, but you have evolved to a higher plane. Our form has both spiritual and physical components, so don't be surprised if you think you'd look better with bigger muscles and suddenly you have them."
When Jeanne left, Matt walked over to the mirror, and as she had suggested, took off his robe, and gave himself the once-over. He did look exactly the same and pretty much liked what he saw. While not devastatingly handsome, he had regular facial features, was just shy of six feet tall, athletic, had thick brown hair and, at thirty, had thought he was in the prime of his life. Glancing down at his naked body, Matt was tempted to try one slight adjustment but with a quiet chuckle, decided against it. This day was strange enough, he thought, without having to deal with a decidedly embarrassing deformity. He, instead, put on his clothing, opened the door and took a look down the hallway. There was non-stop bustling activity with happy reunions, and a constant flow of new arrivals being greeted and processed. Considering what Jeanne had said about the ability to alter their looks, he was surprised to see that a lot of the Caelians were old and some, he thought, were not in the least good looking. Since Jeanne was nowhere in sight, he went back to his room. Sitting back in a comfortable lounge chair with his feet propped up on an oversized ottoman; he looked across the room and noticed a clock-like object on the opposite wall. It had several sets of numbers, days and dates, but he couldn't quite figure it out. Just then, Jeanne returned.
"What's with that clock thing?"
"It's a comparable time measure, it shows the date and time on Earth as well as on the three habitable planets on this plane. Caelum is like Earth in that there are twenty-four hours in a day, but Earth's time goes by, over three times as fast."
She had some more things to give him; a watch or, as it was known there, a wrist CTM that mirrored the clock on the wall, and a very sleek card that he was delighted to learn was his phone.
"It's both touch and voice activated," Jeanne said as she handed the phone to him. Then, giving him his final gift, which was a tablet, similar to the one that she'd been using.
Overall, he was quite pleased; everything was similar to Earth, but he thought, a bit cooler.
"The next time you come in, we'll take your photo for your C-card. It's an ID and bankcard, and we start you off with the equivalent of about fifty thousand dollars to use for getting settled, so hang on to it.
That's if for today but you'll be coming back here for the next few weeks to get acclimated."
Jeanne pulled up her appointment calendar and with a few touches to the screen, sent him his schedule for the next week. A soft tone emanating from Matt's new tablet told him that he'd received his first email as a Caelian. Pleased to see the familiar technology, he opened it.
As he was reading, Jeanne said, "We'll start on Monday morning. Just don't stray too far from your brother until you know your way around."
"Why, what could happen?"
"All will be revealed," she said in a ghostly voice, and then with a gleam in her eye added, "I love my job."
As she was leaving, Jeanne told Matt to stay where he was and wait for his brother. Dozing off for a while, Matt was awoken by Steve's voice saying, "You look good."
Matt walked back to the mirror to give himself another look. He agreed, quite liking the blue sweater and jeans that he'd been given. Steve was standing beside him, and the resemblance was remarkable, although Matt's hair was a little darker and Steve was about two inches taller.
"Think we look alike?" Matt asked.
"Yes but I'm definitely better looking."
"And taller. I bet that didn't come with the kit."
"Oh. You think I adjusted up?"
Matt nodded his head.
"No. I just took after dad. Actually, he was taller about six feet four. Our mother had blond hair and was kind of short. Do you remember them at all?"
"Not really. I think I remember being cold and hungry, but I could just be imagining it."
"Come on. Let's get out of here. There's lots for you to see."
As they left the building, Matt turned around to look at it. A sign across the front of the mammoth white stone skyscraper read Caelum Arrival and Departure Center.
"Does everyone coming to Caelum come through there?"
"Yes, on average, we get about thirty percent of the people who die. We keep increasing the building size to keep up with the population but, of course, we don't really need a building at all. I mean, the portal will bring them here anyway but we don't want the dazed and confused wandering the streets. This way, we log everyone in, so people can check to see if anyone they know has arrived. Kind of a reverse obituary."
"So the rest go to the other two planets."
"How'd you know I was coming?"
"We're connected and I sensed you the moment you entered the portal."
They walked over to Steve's car.
"When we're on the Earth's plane, we're spirits and we can transport ourselves anywhere we want to go, but that's frowned upon here.
Here, with the exception of our ability to change our bodies it's pretty simple, we're corporeal beings. That doesn't change; it's the dimension that changes. There are four types of portals, and when we're using them, we appear as spirits. There are inter-dimensional portals. You just came through the IDP from Earth. There are interplanetary portals that connect us to the other planets on this plane. Then there's the central portal that surrounds Caelum. It's essentially part of the atmosphere. You can step into that at any time from any place, and it will let you transport to anywhere on this planet but, again, we only use it in emergencies."
Excerpted from A Cosmic Conspiracy by Andrea M. White. Copyright © 2014 Andrea M. White. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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