Atomic City: Something for Nothing

The funeral had been a disaster, what with their children screaming at his retreating form.  According to them, he was responsible for their mother getting cancer.  Everyone tried to hush the teenagers, but the accusations rang in his ears.  Every time it seemed the tears had run out, it would not be long before he could feel them rolling down his cheeks again.  He didn’t even have work to get lost in at this point.  The condolence note had included a termination notice and details of a severance package that would be deposited.  The creditors would learn of it soon enough, though, and it would disappear.

Trembling hands reached for the bottles on the sideboard, but he hesitated. 

“I’ll get that for you, Isaac.”  The voice was soft and melodic, holding nothing but compassion.  It seemed familiar to Isaac, although he knew he did not recognize the source.  A slim, long-fingered hand reached past him, and poured a generous amount of scotch into two tumblers.  The hand picked up both and Isaac allowed the unseen man to guide him to a chair.  After handing him a glass, the stranger sat down opposite, raised his in a salute.

They sat in silence for some time, during which Isaac had realized the identity of his guest.

“So, is this how the deal goes bad?  There’s always a price to pay, right?”  His voice was flat, all emotion gone with half of the alcohol.

The man returned his gaze, the sadness unmistakably evident.

“No, old friend, there was no fatal flaw in our arrangement,” he said.  “That is possible, you know?  I do not have to take my due.”  The man gave him a wan smile and they drank in silence for several minutes.  When both glasses were nearly empty, he stood, retrieved the bottle, and topped up both glasses before continuing.

“You see, there is a plan, yes, but no predetermined outcome.  My counterparts have done some horrific things and I am allowed to show mercy if I wish.”  He regarded Isaac’s puzzled expression with slight amusement.

“Have you ever heard of the legends surrounding the sacrifice of Oran?”  Receiving a further puzzled look, the man nodded and explained.

“When St. Columba was building his chapel on the isle of Iona, it was said that the building could not be completed without a sacrifice.  A follower, Oran, volunteered to be buried alive and, once this was done, the chapel could be constructed.  Later, his head spoke that heaven was not as people thought, nor was damnation eternal.  Not surprisingly, this frightened those who heard it and he was re-consecrated.”  He took a long pull from his glass and added, “Well, that’s the general thrust. There are variations.”

Isaac’s eye widened in comprehension.

“Wait, you mean…”

“Humans need absolutes to survive and a concept of pure good opposing pure evil is a necessity to make the world and its pain tolerable.”

Relapsing into silence, Isaac sat staring at his drink, processing what he had been told.

Finally, he spoke in a far away voice:  “So, regardless of our bargain, all of this would have happened, good and bad, regardless?  I gained what I desired and didn’t think it greedy, but have lost it all due to cosmic chance?”

The man sighed, sounding almost despondent, when he replied.

“No, it should have all worked out for you and none of this,” he gestured vaguely, “was supposed to be lost to you.  Point of fact, that is why I am here.  I now must make a bargain with you.”

Eyes wide, Isaac’s mouth gaped in shock.  The man held out his hand and, on turning it over, held an intricately folded sheet of paper sealed with wax.

“Do you know what this is, Isaac?”

Nodding, Isaac could not take his eyes from the paper.

“Someone close by is acting against me, upsetting rules that have long been upheld.  In doing so, he is causing far more damage than he can imagine.  If anything happens to this,” the man said, twirling the paper through his fingers, “then everything will go back to the way they were before our agreement.

He stared into Isaac’s eyes and the paper slowly crumbled into ash.

“When you walk out the front door, you will return to the moment before signing over your soul.  I do this because I want what follows to be of your free will and without a sense of force.  For the sake of the innocent lives that are impacted by this man’s actions, will you stop him then to prevent what is occurring now?”  He rose at this point, and bowed.

“I humbly beg of you to grant this favor, not for my sake, but to preserve the natural order.”

Reeling in shock at unfolding events, Isaac stood, his legs swaying just slightly, before responding:

“I will do this.”

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