Cason looked down at his hands. The blood that covered them before everything went black was no longer caked onto them. The multitude of bullet holes that were mercilessly sprayed into his chest were closed. He took a deep breath as he looked around the strange land. Rows of pedestals stood before him. A strange man in white with a faint aura made eye contact with him and smiled.
“Ah, last one for this group!” the glowing man said.
“Group? Where am I?” Cason asked.
“Mr. Phillips, this may come as a shock to your system, but you have passed on from your mortal life.” he replied.
“In a manner of speaking. Your life on Earth is at an end. Your life here is just beginning.”
“My wife! My daughter! Where are they?!” Cason exclaimed with his deep and gruff voice, remembering they were in the room with him when the raid occurred.
“It was not their time, Mr. Phillips. They are still on Earth.”
“No…” Cason sighed in disbelief. “I have to get back to them! They-They won’t survive without me!”
“That’s beyond our capabilities. A mortal soul cannot pass back through the celestial bridge. It would shred you from existence.” the man in white said. “Now…if I could direct you to the golden book in front of y-“
“NO! FUCK THAT!” Cason shouted. The man in white’s eyes widened at the outburst. “I NEED TO GET BACK TO THEM!”
The glowing man in white gave pause, allowing the distraught mortal a moment to compose himself. Some guards began cautiously approaching, readying themselves to detain the mortal if need be.
“Mr. Phillips, I know this is hard to accept. They will eventually join you in this land. You need to have patience.”
Cason looked out to the guards, all of which had their hands on their weapons. “Try it!” he shouted out to them.
“Mr. Phillips, these guards are trained to restrain you. Please do not make this more difficult than it needs to be.”
The newly arrived mortal knew he was outmatched. There was at least a half dozen of these guards. Though he had fought his way out of many implausible situations during his life on Earth, it was usually with his comrades by his side. His decade in MARSOC taught him how to recognize unwinnable situations.
“Ok…ok.” Cason finally relented, taking another deep breath.
The man in white took another pause, just to ensure the new arrival would not try something foolish. “Good.” he finally stated, waiving the guards to stand down. “Please, we mean you no harm. These guards are simply here for everyone’s protection. Unfortunately, your reaction is becoming more common with the current state of things on Earth.”
“Yeah.” Cason grunted, feeling defeated. His wife and daughter were left alone to fend for themselves. He knew they were in the hands of the NWO, which was rapidly taking control of his country. Ever since the global birth rate took a drastic dive, the agenda of religious zealots became more widely accepted. The initially splintered groups formed a new coalition and called themselves the New World Order. Within a matter of months, the NWO had enough members and political support to stage a coup. Anyone who stood against their agenda was deemed an enemy of God. That included active and former military who refused to provide a written statement of allegiance to the NWO. Cason was one of those who refused, painting a target on his back.
The man in white, recognizing the mortal’s emotional dilemma, attempted to offer comfort, “Life on Earth is a fraction of time compared to life here, Mr. Phillips. Rest assured, their souls will join you in time.”
The hardened warrior’s eyes began to well up. He did his best to conceal his emotion. Men simply did not cry in the world he was raised in. The neighborhood he came up in was brutal. Baltimore city during the nineteen eighties and nineties was not a pleasant place. A lot of kids quickly fell into the wrong crowd. Cason was involved in gang-life before the age of fifteen. The only reason he abandoned that life was because his dying grandmother made a plea on her deathbed. He signed up for the Marines at seventeen, the day before she passed away. Cason credited the Marines for saving his life. His brothers and sisters from the Corps quickly replaced his former gang buddies. Cason excelled early in his military career, and at the insistence of his CO, he was encouraged to join the Marine Corps Special Operations Command where he spent the final decade of his time in the military. He met his wife, Michelle, during that time. They had a beautiful daughter together. She was the reason Cason finally retired from the Corps.
He knew the fate that awaited his wife and child. He knew the torment they would endure. Cason could only hope they find the courage to end it before their torment began, before they could be scarred beyond repair. Men who stood against the NWO were generally executed on sight. Women on the other hand…Cason shuttered at the thought.
“If it is of interest to you, the book in front of you outlines every detail of your life. You are free to read at your leisure. The group can proceed when you are read-“
“I’m good.” Cason said, disregarding the book.
“Well…ok then…if you are curious, I am an angel, as are many of the others around you.” the angel in white informed him.
Cason did not respond. Despite the extraordinary circumstances, and the revelation that there was an afterlife, he could not stop thinking of his family. The guilt was overwhelming him. They were so close to escaping…so close to freedom. All they had to do was wait until morning. The fact that the NWO knew where they were hiding told Cason that someone betrayed him… someone he thought of as a brother. Only two of Cason’s most trusted friends knew where he was hiding with his family. It was clear that one of Cason’s MARSOC brothers sold him out, and there was nothing he could do about it. The helplessness he felt was more painful than any bullet could ever be.
“Well, if there are no further questions, we’ll have you join the most recent group of mortal arrivals. The guards and I will escort you through the pathway to New Eden.”
Cason joined the crowd of mortals huddled further off. Some were elated, some fearful, some angry like him, but all were curious what was to come.
“Please do not stray off the path. It is well lit and guarded, but the forest is not. We simply do not have the resources to track you down if you go missing.” the angel ominously stated.
Cason observed the pathway as they made their way towards this New Eden. It was indeed well lit. Lights and wires ran through, illuminating the path.
“Electricity?” one of the mortals wondered aloud.
“Ah, yes. This land has many wonders; however, we recently realized that we were living in the past. You mortals have quite a few ingenious inventions. Our leader has decreed we adapt your technologies for use in our city. We had many skilled and knowledgeable mortals who were able to assist. I am personally fond of ‘air conditioning’.” the angel in white said with a smile.
“Why are your guards armed with swords and bows? Why not a rifle?” Cason piped up.
“While we have adapted some of your technologies, the council declared that the use of such powerful weapons would only create more violence in a land that is long overdue for peace.” the angel explained.
“Is this not heaven?!” a confused mortal in the crowd exclaimed. The mention of violence in what they believed to be their paradise was alarming.
“It is not what you think of Heaven. It is far from a perfect paradise. Unfortunately, war has affected our kind as much as it has affected your kind on Earth. We are in the midst of a long rebuild after the fall of the Kingdom.”
“Kingdom?” Cason asked.
The angel in white paused again. It was clear he gave out too much information on this simple escort. “Alas, you will have the opportunity to learn the history of this place once you get settled. Our new leader believes in complete transparency to foster cooperation between the mortals and angels.” he said to calm the questions.
“God?” one of the mortals asked.
“God does not exist. It is only us angels.” the escort bluntly answered. Several of those in the crowd gasped at the revelation.
“Then who is this leader?” another asked.
“You will have the opportunity to meet her. She insists on meeting with new groups of arrivals when she has the time…despite her busy schedule.”
“She?” one of the mortals asked, almost in a condescending manner.
“Yes...she.” the escorting angel answered.
They came to the top of a long winding hill on the path and could finally see the elaborate and breathtaking view of their new home.
“New Eden.” the angel stated aloud. “It is quite the sight, even after all these years.”
Cason was more focused on the forest surrounding the city. It appeared less developed than the rest of the forest. Some tall, dead, seemingly charred tree trunks protruded high into the sky.
“Why is that section of the forest different?” he asked.
The angel in white gave pause again, unsure if he should answer the question.
“If this leader is transparent, you should be able to answer.” Cason coldly stated.
“You speak the truth mortal.” the angel sighed, “You must forgive me. This open policy is fairly new for many of us. The forest around the walls was set ablaze in a great battle. The city in front of you was once called the Kingdom of Eden. Those who were in control of the Kingdom sought only to increase their own power at any cost, using both mortal and angel kind alike to do their bidding. It was our leader and an alliance of other societies that ended their reign, ushering in the era of New Eden.”
“So, this leader. Who is she?” Cason asked.
“As I stated, you will have the opportunity to meet her shortly. We will be stopping off at her clinic where she will greet you.”
“Clinic? She a doctor?” Cason inquired.
“A healer, yes.” the escorting angel answered.
Every answer the group received created more questions. It was clear the escort was growing frustrated. It was obvious he was rather inexperienced in this role.
“Please, everyone. There will be plenty of time for questions. You will all be oriented to this land over the next few weeks. Tonight is simply an introduction.”
Cason stopped asking questions. There would be plenty of time to learn what this land was all about. Sleeping was not on the table tonight. There was no way he was going to place his trust in the hands of these supposed angels. He knew he needed to watch his back and be prepared for anything.
They finally arrived at the massive golden gates.
“OPEN THE GATES!” one of the guards stationed there shouted.
The massive gates unlatched and began swinging open.
Most of the mortals in the crowd were in awe at the sight of the gates and the city. Cason surveyed further. Some of the streets were golden, but it appeared as though there was an effort underway to remove and replace the gold with traditional stone. Faint, glowing angels and what Cason assumed were mortals, shuffled about their business, hardly paying any mind to the new arrivals. Some of the guards wore a bronze armor that was vastly different from the golden armor worn by the guards outside the gates. Only women appeared to be wearing the bronze armor, and they appeared far more disciplined and battle ready than the guards Cason had interacted with. He stared with curiosity.
“Best not to stare too much Mr. Phillips.” the escorting angel whispered. “They do not like that.”
“Hm.” Cason grunted.
The group made their way through the city. It was clear that a large construction project was underway. More angels and mortals shuffled past them, ignoring them for the most part. They finally made their way to a massive central building.
“The clinic of New Eden.” The escorting angel announced.
“Looks more like a palace.” Cason stated.
“Very observant, Mr. Phillips. This was once where leadership of the former Kingdom resided. Our current leader decided that the building needed to be repurposed into something that represented healing…a symbol of the new era, per se”
The door to the clinic opened attracting the attention of the crowd. An angel emerged, one that appeared to be a young woman to Cason. Her hair was a dirty blond, and she did not appear to be a day over twenty. She was adorned with the same bronze armor as the other elite warriors within the walls of this city. Latched to her belt was an oversized hammer with a wooden grip and a white stone head. She carried herself as a strong leader should, but her eyes told Cason everything he needed to know. He firmly believed that the eyes were the window to the soul. Her eyes told the tale of a leader who felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and pushed to the edge by her position. Many of those placed in command above Cason had the same look about them. It usually meant one of two things. Either she was in over her head, or she cared more than she should. One was worse than the other. Time would tell where this woman fell.
Two other angels emerged behind her. To her right was an older looking male, with black hair, golden armor, and a hardened appearance. His skin was rough and scarred, and his eyes told the story of a warrior who had seen his fair share of battles. The other angel to her left was young in appearance, like the woman. He appeared to be much softer than the older warrior to his right, sharing similarities with the paper pushing intel guys Cason came to trust during his days with MARSOC.
After several moments of her looking over the crowd, the woman finally spoke.
“Welcome to New Eden.” she said with an earnest smile. “You may call me Bethrael.” She made it a point to lock eyes with each mortal in the crowd. Cason respected the attempt to make a personal connection. “I look forward to getting to know each of you in time. Behind me, to my right, is Kushiel. He is charged with protecting New Eden from all threats. To my left is Raphael. He will be assigned to your group, and he will assist you with assimilating into our society. Raphael and his team of healers will evaluate you in the clinic. Simply routine examinations, only to ensure you are fit to make the journey to the Garden in the morning.” She took one more extended pause before speaking again. “In the Garden, you will learn of our ways and the ways of our allies. We will evaluate your abilities and determine which city is the best fit for you based on need.”
She turned to the younger angel and signaled him to take over. He moved to the front of the crowd and began speaking.
“If everyone could form an orderly line, we will get you processed quickly…”
Cason zoned out as he watched the young leader, Bethrael as she called herself, have a quiet conversation with the older angel, the one called Kushiel. She appeared concerned and stressed. It was likely Kushiel told her something she did not wish to hear. They quickly made their way back into the large building, leaving the crowd of mortals alone with this Raphael.
His thoughts drifted back to his wife and daughter, as the guilt flooded through him again. He wondered what happened after he died. Did they fight back? Did they see his corpse? How could he live with himself in this new world knowing what fate he left for them?
Was there no way he could help them, and what was this celestial bridge the angel mentioned? Cason recalled the angel mentioning the bridge, and a light bulb seemed to go off in his head. Perhaps there was a way back to Earth, and this celestial bridge seemed to be the key.
If there was indeed a way back to his family, there was no force on Heaven or Earth that would stop him from saving them.
He would find a way, even if it meant shredding his very soul from existence.