The Soul Chamber
© D. G. D. Davidson
Cyril swept back the hood of his transpositional cloak and gazed up at the angry red stone that hung miles overhead in blank imitation of a sky. Huge stalactites clung to it like deformed clouds. A steady rain of ash fluttered to the ground as if strewn by a volcano preparing for a full burst. Harsh winds, terribly hot, whipped about the hellscape. Soot-belching fires, the only lights in the underworld, blazed in the distance, intermittently illuminating the cracks and rifts in the sharp rocks covering the ground.
He turned his gaze to the massive complex occupying the center of the gigantic cavern--a fully modernized, concrete-and-steel Tower of Babel. Layers upon layers of defensive walls, bunkers, living facilities, armories, and laboratories culminated in a black cylinder five hundred feet high and three hundred wide: the Soul Chamber. Pouring into its top through an orifice in the cavern roof was a continuous stream of cold blue light.
Cyril’s associates had done their job properly. They had spent days hacking and overhauling the locator and signaling systems on the transpositional cloak, and their efforts were effective. It would have been best if he had transposed directly to the Soul Chamber’s interior, but the security and phantasmal disruption were too high there. But he had transposed outside the receiving station and his arrival was likely undetected. Nothing more could have been hoped.
He felt around his midriff, touching the large packets of plastic explosives the cloak concealed. They felt as they had before he transposed. All to the good. Still searching, he brought his hand to the small Bible in his shirt pocket. Fumbling his hand down the cloak’s collar, he brought the Bible out. It would be good to read before continuing the mission:
Number not thyself among the multitude of sinners, but remember that wrath will not tarry long. Humble thyself greatly, for the vengeance of the ungodly is fire and worms.
Flames raged about him as he walked. The way was treacherous, but there were twisting paths that skirted the fire pits. He had memorized the map before transposing, but one misstep could mean disaster truly worse than death.
It seemed that no one dying here could escape, though perhaps, Cyril thought, there was an exception for the holy. Perhaps his mission was holy and his death would send him to the other place. That place also existed, apparently, since many of the dead on Earth were missing and unaccounted for in the Soul Chamber.
“Someday we will storm that place too,” the Chamber Ministers and generals of the Afterlife Brigade had solemnly announced to the public. Such messages consoled those who had family members who could not be resurrected, but souls missing and unaccounted for were growing fewer in number.
Cyril stumbled along the rock-strewn plain. His brother Tad had been twice to the Soul Chamber; twice his body had been repaired and his soul reunited with it. Once was for alcohol poisoning, the other was for a car wreck--driving under the influence. After the second time, he wore a T-shirt, “Been to Hell and Back.” On the reverse side, it said, “Twice!”
It was after the second time that Cyril joined the True Believers sect, a group adamantly opposed to the Soul Chamber. Cyril wasn’t certain he was really a True Believer when he joined, but he was disgusted enough with the world to hate the Soul Chamber. And the advertisements for the new regime irked him further:
The ultimate indulgence.
It’s Earth on Hell.
Pandemonium was poorly fortified.
Dis has been dis-missed.
A dead man just needs some A.I.R. (Artificially Induced Resurrection, available at the Soul Chamber).
It took an angel to get Dante to the center of hell. All we needed were tanks.
After his conversion, Cyril told his brother and father, at every available occasion, that they were going to hell.
“I know,” Tad laughed. “I been twice. It’s almost fun. Major trip.”
“If you don’t repent, someday you’ll stay,” Cyril answered.
“Yeah, you just try and keep me there. What you got against the Soul Chamber, Cyril? Next thing, you’ll be attacking the sterilization program or the genetic and nanotech programs.”
“I’m already against them,” Cyril answered. “Some are working on deactivating their nanoprobes and reversing sterilization the way the government does when they want to replace the criminals they put in eternal confinement.”
“Then stop bothering me and go hang with them,” Tad argued. “Medicine’s cured all those things--disease, age, pregnancy. And now the Soul Chamber has even cured death. Why would you want to go back to the old ways--consequences, eternal punishment? Who wants all that? Who needs all that?”
Cyril’s father was milder than Tad. He had retreated from the world when his wife had died; she had not appeared in the Soul Chamber.
“Don’t you want to follow Mom?” Cyril asked.
His father hardly looked up from the holo-V. “Oh, Cyril, I can’t do that. It’s more trouble than I know how to take. This world’s good enough for a man like me. I’m a man of it, so I might as well stay in it.”
“Until your Judgment Day, at least.”
Ah yes, Judgment Day. The True Believers loved to talk about Judgment Day. The New Earth Government, they said, was the kingdom of Antichrist. The construction of the Soul Chamber was the abomination of desolation. On Judgment Day, the Soul Chamber would come crashing down and the souls in it or in the confinement chambers or in men’s artificially resurrected bodies would fall in the eternal fire where they belonged.
Some were impatient for Judgment Day, and they didn’t intend to sit still in the meantime.
Read Part 2