On Earth as it is in Hell
by Caleb Nova
Chapter 30: Epilogue
'If this isn't Hell,' Kharan thought to himself. 'Then I don't know what is.'
He was at a concert, which was in itself not a problem. He had always been partial to the occasional live event. No, his beef was with the 'band' playing, although calling them a band was heresy in his opinion. The five young men jumped around on stage in time to bad pop music, amusing an endless sea of teenyboppers, many with concerned parents trying to shelter them from the other overzealous masses.
But he wasn't here for the atmosphere. His current target resided backstage.
Kharan easily slipped past the security, eluding them with a simple screen. 'Old Jedi mind trick,' He smirked, giving one clueless guard the finger. The man smiled uncertainly, as if unsure whether Kharan was even there. Within seconds the man became distracted by another screaming female attempting to force her way backstage, and Kharan faded from his mind like fog on a windy day.
Threading his way through empty amp cases and bustling roadies, Kharan made his way to a staircase in the back and descended into the theater's basement, the roar of the concert muffled to the dull thuds of the bass. Pipes and cables intermixed on the concrete walls and ceilings. It was vaguely damp, and chilly. Kharan rubbed his arms, wishing he had brought a jacket despite his superhuman tolerances for heat and cold.
Around the next corner clanks and rattles emerged, the sound of a metal lid slamming and the tinny sound of headphones attempting to drown out the noise overhead. Kharan smiled to himself, glad he wasn't alone in his hatred. He turned the corner and observed the man before him.
Scott Keyor was different now, to be sure. The trials and tribulations past had changed him. In the end, he had been returned, but the world he came back to was not the one he remembered.
The science of dimensions was inexact and difficult to comprehend, but Kharan knew that while the two universes had been connected, the violence in one had affected the other. Scott had returned to find that his family believed him dead and moved on, the mourning process long over. Most of his immediate family had been killed in a car crash, and now it was his turn to grieve. GPSS was long disbanded and should the government know of his return they would most certainly complicate his life in ways he didn't want it to be. He was friendless, jobless, and had few relatives, all of whom weren't open to the idea of having this strange new Scott Keyor staying with them.
Legally dead and known to only a few, Scott changed his name and wandered across the country, finally taking work as a handy man's assistant in Bremerton, Washington. Not a day went by that the irony of his situation didn't hit home. He had spent all that time wishing to be exactly where he was now, and when he finally made it there it was worse than he had ever imagined it could be. Somehow, it had just seemed like things would go back to normal if he returned home. He should have known better. Things just weren't that easy.
Kharan sighed. Really, he should have done more, and he knew it. But he was making amends now. Whether it was voluntary or not wasn't the point. He walked over and tapped Scott on the shoulder.
Scott pulled the headphones out of his ears and hit the stop button on his player, turning tired eyes in Kharan's direction. "Yes?"
"Hey. What's up?"
Scott motioned towards the pipes he had been working on. "Just a small leak. Why, you work for the manager?"
"Nope. Right now I'm in the same business as you are. Fixing things."
"Well, I don't actually need any help, thanks."
"Yes you do."
Scott frowned. "No, I don't. But if I do, I guess I know who to go to. Later."
With that, Scott turned his attention back towards the battered piping. Kharan rolled his eyes, and tapped him on the shoulder again. This time Scott didn't turn around. "Look, are you just here to bug the crap out of me, or do you actually want something?"
"Michelle misses you."
That got his attention. "What?"
"Michelle. About five five, great smile, lives at the Garden."
To Kharan's surprise, Scott just let out a bitter laugh, placing his head against the wall. "Great. Wonderful. What now, your world is invading ours? Yours is better you know."
Kharan shook his head. "Okay, just shut up, all right? I'm trying to help you here. The name's Kharan. Spell it K-H-A-R-A-N. But it's pronounced 'Karen'. Just wanted to get that straight, I get tired of people called me all sorts of stupid names just because of the spelling. Now hold on."
Scott watched in confusion and Kharan dug around in his pocket, before extracting a crumpled piece of paper. Spreading it, Kharan read it off with a look of resignation, his voice wooden. "I, Scott Kharan, hereby apologize to Scott Keyor for any and all psychological damage he may have incurred as a result of my negligence. As part of my reparations (as ordered by the Court of Elders) I will do whatever is necessary to improve his life, blah blah blah, must comply or be subject to harsh repercussions, blah, banishment, blah blah, to be completed with all due haste."
"What in the hell are you talking about?"
"The whole thing with Hyne and the portal, it all ended up okay but apparently the Elders, fuckemall, decided that wasn't enough and as 'appropriate' sentencing for my 'negligence', I have to haul your ass back to the other universe and the arms of Michelle so that you will live, and I shit you not, they actually said this, 'happily ever after'. Wow, I need a tissue."
Scott saw no point in trying to pretend he was dreaming. Reality had become far stranger than fantasy at some time long past. Kharan reached down and hauled him to his feet.
"So enough with the socializing," Kharan said. "Lets get going. Oh, but we have to make a quick sidetrip. Won't take long."
Before Scott could get out a word the basement dissolved into blackness.
He found himself in a hallway, much like any other. It was a dull white color, the uniform wood doors lining the walls were evenly spaced. There were no markings on any of them, and no visible source of light that Scott could see. Kharan watched his reactions with amusement.
"Nice huh? No really, it's nothing to look at. This hallways only represents what we are really seeing, that being something mere beings like you and me couldn't comprehend. When it comes to seeing the true nature of the spaces between and how all this crap fits together, that's all best left to the Maker. He's called many things. You might call him God. Of course, since you people can't actually agree on what sort of God he is, I don't think you should be allowed to call him anything."
Kharan pointed to one of the doors.
"See that one? Lord of the Rings. Timeline should be about the middle of the second book by now. Never did like that universe. Nobody has a sense of humor. That and it's currently caught in a loop, the whole war for Middle Earth thing repeats itself. It should break free sometime in the next three hundred thousand years. Not my job to keep an eye on it though, so whatever."
Kharan walked over to another door that looked exactly the same, knocking on it. "This one goes to Star Wars. I've been there a few times. A lot to look at, not much to do. That whole thing with Luke is long over, they're all dead now. Things have gotten pretty slow around there."
"Now this one," Kharan indicated. "Is a bit of a mystery. It's empty right now. When the Maker crafts a universe it's sort of like a cup waiting to be filled. We all look forward to see what he'll come up with next."
Scott broke the monologue tentatively. "Are you.. Angels?"
"What? Noooo. Kharadjai. Separate order. Different species, really. Angels handle the spiritual side of things. Us, we're just people, like you. Imperfect, flawed. We just happen to be immortal. But not in the way you might imagine."
"Look, I could get into the whole thing. I could tell you how the power we come with is prepackaged but takes a lot of practice to control, how even lifting a cup up off a table isn't like using the fucking 'Force' or something, it's a carefully calculated equation in which you have to determine how much raw power to exert on the cup to lift it and on which angles to continue it to get it to float there. I could tell you how if I anticipate a bullet I can block it by having it disintegrate on impact with my skin but if it catches me by surprise I'll get hurt. I can heal myself instantly, but that takes a lot of energy, and if I keep getting hurt and having to heal myself eventually I'll get too tired to do anything else. We can't die, of course. You could drop a house on me. I'd get smashed into a fine pulp and it would take hours for me to pull together the energy to regenerate my body, but I'd live eventually. I could also tell you that due to that nature of the power it is a little iffy to use it in combat since if you fuck up, say, try to exert force on a guy to throw him back into a wall but mess up and use too much and instead explode his body with such force the bone shards hit innocent bystanders with killing speed, so we instead use regular weaponry. But I'm sure you wouldn't be interested in all that now, would you."
"I didn't think so." Kharan turned back to the doorways. "This one here is one of my favorites. Universe1234567a. It has a number because it hasn't been written about yet, or made into a movie or anything. But let's just say it's filled with a lot of hot Elf women who are quite willing, if you get my drift."
Without stopping to see if Scott did indeed get his drift, Kharan strode down several more doors and stopped at another one, putting his hand on the knob. "And this is the door we will be going through. I'm sure you'll recognize the time period. When Hyne pulled our dear Private Randall through the Knot it messed a few things up, so I'm supposed to go in and check on the Kharadjai who was sent to fix it, see if he's done yet."
With that Kharan opened the door, and everything went black again.
Yet again, it was raining. The rubble was slick under Scott's feet as he tried to keep up with Kharan. They moved through the upper levels of a shelled out building, the rumble of distant fighting filtering through the foggy air. It was like being inside a cistern, ringing with wet drops splashing on rock and cold rivulets running down the back of his neck.
"Hey!" Kharan whispered. Scott looked up to see him trying to get the attention of a man lying in a crack in the floor, sniper rifle cradled against his body as he peered through the scope out over the city. "Malin! Dude, over here!"
"I know Kharan," Malin muttered. "Always great to see you."
Kharan and Scott moved over next to Malin's prone form. Kharan leaned back against a pile of shattered bricks, look for all the world as if he was basking while attending a picnic in the sun. "So Malin, what's the word?"
"Word is you're doing community service."
"But enough about me. What's the word on you, Malin?"
"Look through the scope and see for yourself."
Kharan scuffled over and Malin moved aside. Kharan put his face up to the scope. "Damn. Nice shootin' Tex. If you got him, why are you still here?"
"Waiting for you," Malin grumbled. "Took you long enough."
"Okay, well, nice work. I'll let them know you're finished."
Scott was lost throughout the proceedings. Kharan noticed, and took it on himself to explain. "That Randall guy was supposed to kill an officer of the S.S., but since he was in Final Fantasy eight dimension he never got around to it. This Waffen creep goes on to create a nasty little piece of technology that really fucks things up for the world. So Malin goes to a different here and now, Stalingrad, and snipes the bastard. The joys of silenced weaponry. They never knew he was anywhere near."
"Malin goes to the here and now thanks to your friend here," Malin added. "Nice work on that Kharan."
"Hey, you have no right to judge. You weren't there for any of it."
"I didn't have to be. I know you."
"Yeah, whatever man. Just don't expect much from me next Christmas. Let's go Keyor."
They were back in the hallway again, Scott hurrying to keep up with Kharan's stride. Slowing, Kharan stopped again. "Okay. This is it. Now, I'm pretty sure this is the right thing to do, but on the off chance you have seconds thoughts and want to stay in your own world that's okay too, because even if you end up being unhappy because of that choice I'm off the hook. It would be your own dumbass fault. In my opinion, you should go back to the Garden. You have friends there now, you're fairly familiar with the world, and on a similar note I checked the books and you and Michelle are soulmates. Thought that might interest you."
For the first time in a long time, everything seemed too good to be true. The last few months had shown him one thing at least. There was nothing left for him back 'home'. He needed a new one.
Maybe the Garden already was.
"Send me in."
Kharan smiled. "I figured you'd do the right thing. This is what the Elders wanted for you, so you're actually following destiny at the moment. Doesn't weird you out that fate is nothing more than the machinations of a bunch of creepy old guys? It does me. But at least this way you know you'll be happy. Fate, read- 'The Elders', always rewards those who follow it, or in your case, did a great thing for the universe. I couldn't be happier with the way you came through. Mostly because if you had failed my ass would be rotting on some god forsaken ice rock of a planet in what we Kharadjai call a 'Marooniverse'. Later."
With a push, Scott was through the door.
Chapter 31: Life starts Here
They had never even kissed.
Michelle paused in her work, her fingers idly brushing across the back of a filing folder, the texture of the manila paper not really registering with her. Her eyes were vacant, and although to a casual observer she might appear to be focused on the calendar that hung on the wall, she saw nothing.
This sort of melancholy was unlike her, she chided herself, though in all truth she was not alone. Ever since the earth shaking events of the past week, the entire Garden had been steeped in a quiet sadness. Mercenaries were no strangers to death, but their very home had been violated. A miasma of grief hung over the Garden.
As for herself, Michelle had been wrestling with a sense of great loss. Scott had been torn from her, but he was a man that she had known only for days. Terrible she should suffer the loss of a friend, yes, but it felt so much worse.
And they had never even kissed.
Her mind returned to that thought frequently, she found. And every time she thought it again, barely restrained tears pushed at the brink. Her throat was tight all the time now, lack of sleep adding dark rings to her eyes. She teetered on the edge of an emotional breakdown she couldn’t explain. She thought maybe she was going crazy. Or maybe she was already gone.
They had never even kissed. Not once.
A quiet sob slipped through her defenses, surprising her and she quickly covered her mouth with a hand. She wouldn’t cry, not here. Strength was needed in the Garden now, even if she didn’t have it.
A small and bitter smile twisted her once pretty lips, now pale and trembling. It had been explained to her, and everyone what had happened. Of course, the one man who had truly captured her attention could never have been hers. Of course she had fallen in love with an alien.
Oh Hyne. She had loved him? She had loved him. No, no no. Not in just a few days. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t happen. How could she have let it happen? Things like that didn’t happen. Not to her, not to anyone. How could she have loved him?
The admittance was more pain than she could bear, and the tears began to slip through her clenched eyelids to flow in warm rivulets down her tired face.
She couldn’t do this.
Michelle dropped her files, abandoning all pretense of composure and walking as quickly as she could down the halls to her dorm room, ignoring all the stares and sympathy she drew. Oh yes, she was the girl who had it bad for that guy who exploded. Scott what’s his name. Poor thing. Must have been a terrible shock. Abrupt anger clenched her fists, leaving nails marks in her palms. What the fuck did they know. They didn’t know she had loved him.
She hadn’t known either, though.
She reached her dorm room and keyed it open, locking it behind her. As quickly as it had arrived, her anger changed targets. Damn him. Damn him for not telling her who he was, where he had come from. He had lied to her, one of omission. Her state of mind wouldn’t allow her to wonder why she felt he had owed her that sort of honesty.
The he had left her, just vanished and gone back to wherever he had came from like she didn’t even matter, leaving her to be stared at, to be talked about like she was some kind of fucking widow, like she had been left standing at the altar. How could this hurt so much? How could anything so new scar so deep?
And he had left her. Left her like he didn’t even care, like she didn’t matter, like he had anything to do but break promises he had never spoken but she had heard anyway and oh my God, she had loved him she had loved him and he was gone.
Michelle collapsed on her bed and could no longer restrain the weeping.
It was at a certain point, not long after everything had dissolved into darkness, that Scott became somewhat concerned. He was experiencing a falling sensation, which he reasoned could not be a good thing, as he had been standing on solid ground before the fadeout. He wasn’t afraid of falling per se, but depending on the distances involved it could end very badly.
A light appeared not too far ahead of him. He squinted, trying to discern its nature. It was growing, become brighter and larger, and soon enough he had passed through it. The light faded, and was replaced with a more ambient room light.
With a start, he realized he was falling from someone’s ceiling.
Started from her reverie by a sudden shout, Michelle rolled over on her bed just in time to make out the object of her sadness hurtling towards her.
Scott landed heavily with nothing to slow his fall, smacking into Michelle in a sudden tangle of limbs and bed sheets.
Somewhere, Kharan snickered.
Dazed, Scott lifted himself to his knees, having difficulty keep his balance on the soft sinking surface of the mattress. He wallowed around, trying to free himself from the sheets that had somehow wrapped around him. He was aware that someone else was doing the same, their identity obscured by the bedspread that had wrapped around them when they had rolled off the bed. He hoped they weren’t hurt, whoever they were. Kharan obviously had a questionable sense of humor.
His thoughts were swept away by an overwhelming feeling of relief and affection when Michelle threw the last of the covers off her head, revealing her stunned visage framed by now wild hair.
“Michelle!” Scott gasped, a true smile creasing his features. It was perhaps because of his sudden bout of joy that he didn’t see her hand incoming until it smacked with great velocity into the side of his face. “Ow, God!”
Of all the things he might have expected Michelle to express upon his return, incredulous rage was not one of them. He fearfully shrunk back against the wall as she slowly cornered him with blazing eyes.
“You left me!” She yelled at his confused and cowering form. “You left me just standing there, without knowing what happened to you, and you lied to me! You never told me who you were or where you were from, and I didn’t even realize I loved you until you were gone and then I couldn’t tell you because you left me!”
Scott held his hands out in a placating manner, as if trying to calm a rabid wolverine. “Michelle-“
“No! Shut up!” She pointed a furious finger at the edge of the bed. “Sit here. Now.”
“Now you are going to give me that first kiss I never got at the Festival, and it better be good and worth all this crap you put me through.” Michelle crossed her arms, glaring at him.
Scott eyed her mouth nervously, wondering if she was in fact going to bite him. Michelle took the pause to mean refusal and began to lift her hand for what would no doubt be another painful blow.
“Whoa!” Scott leaned away from her. “I- I didn’t know you wanted a kiss..”
Michelle threw up her hands as if he had said the stupidest thing in the world. “You owe me a first kiss, Scott Keyor. Now pay up.”
Scott fidgeted, uncertain of how to approach the situation but knowing he had better do it before she belted him again. Should he purse his lips for a smooch? Go for something a little more intimate and tender? Play it safe with the classic and inoffensive peck? Slip her the tongue? He looked her in the eyes again, gauging her mood. No, no tongue.
Her brows began to lower at his hesitation and knowing he was out of time, he panicked. Leaning over, he quickly pressed his lips to hers, tilting his head to the side slightly for the right fit. Slow, he thought. Slow. He moved his lips slightly, exerting a gentle pressure on her lower lip before opening wider and capturing her mouth again, pulled away with a soft smack. Resuming his position on the edge of the bed, he felt it had gone fairly well.
Michelle licked her lips, face lost in thought as if she was judging whether or not it was an acceptable first kiss. Scott anxiously awaited her decision, feeling not only that failure would bring more pain, but also a certain amount of pride lost.
Returning her eyes to him, Michelle gave him a curt nod. “Okay, now we can move on to the rest.”
Scott was forced to fling his arms backward to catch himself and prevent his head from hitting the wall when she jumped on him, sealing her lips with his again and jamming, there was no other word for it, her tongue down his throat. Feeling vaguely violated but even more turned on, Scott tentatively wrapped his arms around her and returned the kiss.
He was just beginning to get the rhythm down and was relaxing into the experience when something she had said several minutes before registered. Gripping the sides of her head, he pulled her away to stare somewhat wildly into her eyes. “Did you say you loved me?”
Her eyes were so deep he thought he might drown. “Yes.”
He was thunderstruck. “But… How?”
With her lips still swollen from their kisses and her hair tumbling freely down the smooth expanse of her neck, he thought she had never looked more beautiful. She shrugged in answer, smiling a little self-consciously. “I just do.”
Actually, if he took into consideration Kharan’s parting words, it did make a certain amount of sense. Still, he found it disturbing that his fate was in fact not his own. But with Michelle laying warm and soft on top of him, her glorious eyes filled with quiet apprehension for his answer, he found little to protest about his set future.
“Well, that’s good,” He said finally. “I was too chickenshit to say it first.”
She laughed then, and kissed him with a wonderful passion, and he couldn’t understand how he had ever lived without it.
Chapter 32: A Long Awaited Drinking Party
Well, I guess you owe me an apology.
What the hell are you doing here?
Is that any way to greet an old friend?
If by friend you mean parole violator, then yes, it is.
Just thought you’d be happy to see me, since I beat the rap and all.
Oh yes, you ‘beat the rap’.
What do you mean by that?
Didn’t you hear the Councilman when he said you would be attending again in a few weeks?
Probably just to give me a little slap on the hand since they couldn’t make the big charges stick.
Yes, that must be it.
...You know something I don’t?
I thought you knew everything.
Haha. I see you’re still unfairly bitter about the whole thing. Way to hold it against me.
You still with me?
Here’s to undeserved victories and, ahaha, getting off ‘Scott’ free. Cheers.
Wait. Why did you laugh when you said that last bit?
Hey! Where are you going?
Oh well. He’ll be back.
Continue to Author's Notes