Chapter 16
Paragon and Pollux - Rosa's Baby

The Visit


I woke up in a bed at the hospital. A nurse was looking down at me. Later, Mom and Dad were there and maybe a few other people. It was a little unclear because—they told me later—I'd had a concussion but fortunately no skull fracture. I had bruises all over but no broken bones.
I'd been very lucky, no doubt. Some branches had slowed my fall even though I'd been very far up in the tree. It could have been terribly dangerous. You could lose your life by falling from that height if you landed wrong, but the ground had been wet and soft and the grass thick.
I dozed, and at one point I thought I saw the ghost from the garden. An old, stooped-over lady, it looked like. I couldn't see her legs. At first she was in one corner of the room, but then she came over and stood at the end of the bed. But just for a moment, then she faded away.
I must have slept a long time because when I woke up again it was dark outside. I felt much better, which was pleasant. I'd never, ever, ever climb up into an unfamiliar tree, and never when I was alone. What if it had happened someplace where nobody found me?
I thought of the swampy area behind the place my mother had her allotment garden. There was an old peat bog and you could see by the rectangular shapes of the ponds that they used to cut out the peat. I'd often gone for walks there and all the trees and plants grew wild. It was very exciting, even though you risked a wet sock, but if I'd climbed up a tree and fallen down and lost consciousness, nobody would have found me for a long time and it might have been too late...
What was that? Was it another ghost? It certainly wasn't a nurse. Then I saw who it was.

"Paragon? You're here?"
"Yes, I thought I'd visit you again, Amelia, since I was in the neighborhood."
"I'm telling you straight out, Paragon—I'm not going with you! No way! I'm not dead this time, either, just so you know." Paragon raised his hands placatingly.
"I know, I know, I wasn't planning on that. But part of your situation is repeating itself."
"I understand, and this time it's my own fault. I have to be more careful in the future."
"What I meant was, it almost seems like you're trying to save your father no matter what."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, your father was just about to have a new accident that, in all likelihood, would have killed him. Then everyone's attention was drawn away to your little drama."
"I have no clue what you're talking about."
"You don't need to. It's much better if you don't try to understand things like that."
"Now that you've raised the subject, I don't think you can just leave me hanging. What do you mean, Dad was about to lose his life in an accident?"
"His go-cart would have spun out of control in the turn and the crash would have killed him."
"Come on! It's only a go-cart! It's more likely the fall would have killed me!"
"Absolutely. But that's how it is. It's still not your moment to be reborn, but your father's number is almost up. I don't think he's going to survive the next few days."
"How can you know that?"
"Because I've come to guide his soul to the other side, and this time there's no second chance."
"You mean he should have died in the traffic accident with the car?"
"Yes, that's how it was intended to be. It was only because of a bad proton battery that I wasn't able to bring him over."
"But that's been settled, and surely that's the end of it?"
"I really hoped so, too. But it turns out the Great Plan has been thrown into utter confusion. His survival is leading to a general collapse."
"I won't accept that, Paragon! You've messed up things as usual. How could the fact that my dad has been allowed to live a little longer cause some sort of disaster somewhere else?"
"Not just a disaster. We're talking about the Big Collapse. The end of the world, basically. Well, maybe not of the entire planet as such, but of all human life on Earth, and that's bad enough."
"Right, obviously. I can see that."
"Yes, I thought you would. And if the world can be saved by sacrificing a single person, then you can see that the sacrifice has to be made, even if that single person is your father."
"But honestly, Paragon, Dad has never done anything bad. It has to be some sort of mistake or miscalculation." Paragon shook his head.
"If we were talking about the old equipment, you might have given me doubts, because it had obvious limitations. But there's just been an upgrade to a new digital technology that's much more accurate. It can track the tiny details that lead to major disasters. Not just plain accidents, but things that absolutely must be avoided."
"Then I'd like a demonstration, Paragon. You're obviously taken with the new technology and all its possibilities, but I know it can't be flawless. We've had digital technology on Earth for years, and it's not infallible."

Paragon had to chew on that for a moment. Then he took a small box out of the breast pocket of his overalls.

"Here's an incident plotter. It's a new gadget that Soul Administration has just issued to all guardian spirits."
I stared at the box. It looked like a cell phone.
"Can I take a look?"
"It really isn't something we ought to show ordinary mortals."
"Come on, I won't break it."

Paragon hesitantly handed it over. I turned it slightly so the display panel switched to landscape mode.

"Nice, very up-to-date. I wonder if it runs Android?"
"Please don't break anything. It's fragile and I'll catch hell if I don't take good care of it. These things cost an arm and a leg."
"Relax, I know what I'm doing. On Earth we use them every day. Can it also text?"
"I really don't know. Now give it back."
"That's a shame, otherwise we could just contact headquarters and ask them. What's this?"

I showed him a red spot and a green line.

"The red dot is an alarm that indicates an active threat. It's linked to your father right now. It'll probably vanish when he's gone."
"Yes, because then he won't be a threat to anyone or anything. Now what are you doing?"

I clicked on a list of options.

"I'm digging down deeper."
"What good will that do?"
"We need a little more detail on all this, you techno-klutz."
"What do you mean?"
"We have to know whether the threat Dad represents involves something he's already done, or something he's going to do in the future. I mean, before everything goes all wrong."
"Removing him would probably be safest."
"Absolutely not. It might be unnecessary. Yes! Take a look!" Paragon was getting twitchy.
"What are you doing now?"

I'd worked my way down to a submenu.

"Look here. The slide into the abyss has already begun. It doesn't matter anymore whether Dad lives or dies."
"What are you talking about?"
"I can see the curve of fate without my dad's presence. It doesn't make any difference at all."
"And that means...?"
"Whatever my dad might have done, it's already happened and the path is set no matter what he does or doesn't do from now on."

I handed the box back.

"You need to read the manual, my dear Paragon."
"Hrm. It was actually Major Klamuffel who rang the alarm. And I assumed he knew what he was talking about. I mean, he's one of those supervisors who are supposed to have the big picture and that you have to obey."
"The usual. Just because he has a few more stars or stripes on his uniform, he's allowed to turn people's lives upside down. He should have known better."
"Well, yes, but in his defense it's all completely new to him, too. This digital technology and everything..."
"That's no excuse. It's actually worse because the information is available but management can't figure out how to use it. A scandal, if you ask me."

I could see Paragon wasn't comfortable with my analysis of the situation.

"But I can't go back without doing anything about this. I don't want to do that."
Poor Paragon really looked upset. And once again I felt sorry for the little blue dragon, in over his head.
"Let me borrow your smartphone again."
"It's an incident plotter. Here you are."
"Let's see... Maybe we can get a few more details out of it. Hmm..."

I burrowed deeper into the menus. There had to be a place where more information was available. An imminent apocalypse had to leave a few tracks in some database.

"More information can be found on Level 6-B, in Limbo."
"I think I know where that is."
"Isn't Limbo a space station where there was an interstellar conference? A Universal Synod of all the gods?"
"Yes, that too. But Limbo is also the name of a layer between Heaven and Earth where souls sometimes get lost."
"Right, we've been there. Wasn't that where you ran across your old classmate?"
"Yes, it was. But that's just a tiny part of the complex. Level 6-B is located in an old part of Limbo that hasn't been upgraded. So I can easily understand if the plotter can't register exactly what's going on down there."
"Hmm. I guess we have to go look."
"Nothing else will do."
"So we're off on another mission." Paragon sighed.
"I'm grateful for you helping me handle this, Amelia, but please don't mock me for all the things I can't help."
"Okay, I won't. After all, it's not your fault if they send you off unprepared."

I got out of bed and started looking for my clothes.

"Major Klamuffel was willing to assign the job to a different guardian spirit, but he gave me the choice. He strongly suggested that honor required me to volunteer, since the mistake happened while I was serving as a substitute guardian spirit."
"Yes, that's how it is with formal hierarchies. All sorts of mistakes are made because of honor and pride. They need a flatter, more egalitarian system."
"But can you handle a trip to Limbo, Amelia? Souls have no problem, but your soul isn't free, it's still attached to your earthly shell."
"It was fine last time and I wasn't dead then, remember."
"You're right. Then it'll probably work this time, too."

We tiptoed out into the hallway and past the room where the night nurses had congregated. They were watching an old black-and-white late-night movie called Cabin in the Sky. I'd heard it was going to air, and had been planning to watch it myself because it was about Heaven and Hell and all the angels. But Dad had probably set the timer to catch it. He had a weakness for classics of early film, and he always recorded them for later viewing.

"We'll take the stairs down to the basement, Amelia. I want to avoid terrestrial technology."
"They can't see you."
"No, but if they see you there'll be a lot of trouble. You're restricted to bed."
"I left a note saying I'd be back soon."
"That won't be enough. They'll move Heaven and Earth to find you."
"When in fact we're the ones who are going to move Heaven and Earth."
"You know what I mean."

We reached the cellar and found a labyrinth of old rooms and corridors.

"Does the plotter also have a list of dimensional portals?"

Paragon had let me keep the box, accepting that I was more familiar with that type of interface.

"You mean some sort of map that shows the entrances to the different levels of Limbo?"
"Yes, something like that."
"I'm not sure."
"I'll do a search."