"I'd like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike, as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I want to look up into your lifeless eyes and wave, like this. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?"
--Babylon 5, "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum"
The last thing I remembered before waking up on a bench in a perfectly-kept park was the would-be mugger turning away from his victim and leveling a firearm at me.
I thought I should yawn--but I wasn't tired. I put my hands to my face to rub the sleep from my eyes, but those were fine, too. My limbs felt better than ever, and I couldn't feel a bullet hole anywhere.
I got up and walked around for a bit, feeling the soft grass underneath my feet, and only then realized I was naked. But for some reason I felt no shame about it, no embarrassment.
Sitting back down, I surveyed my surroundings.
It was an idyllic day, wherever I was. There were other people around, sitting quietly, reading books. There was a basketball court nearby with a pickup game going on.
"Mind if I join you?" a pleasant voice said to my left.
I turned to face the source: someone else as naked as I was. In fact, looking around again, everyone was thoroughly in the nude, as if the concept of clothing didn't even exist here. "Sure."
The other sat down. "Nice to meet you. I'm Val. Short for Valdís."
"Michelle," I replied. "But everyone calls me Mike."
Val chuckled. "So what brings you here?"
"Honestly? I don't know. I just... woke up, and I was here."
"Sure, but what happened before that?"
"A scream from an alley. I might've been off-duty but I was still a cop." I shook my head. "I wish I knew if she was all right."
Val smiled enigmatically. "Do you remember anything else?"
"A gun," I said. "On me before I could draw mine. A muzzle flash, and then this." I spread my hands. "Wherever this is."
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the people lying on the grass had vanished. Then I heard Val mutter, "I hate it when that happens."
"When what happens?"
"When I've got to send someone to Hell when I had thought I'd be sending them upstairs, instead," she explained.
"Hell, upstairs, what?" Now I was lost.
Val sighed. "I usually like to get a better sense of people before this, but you're too confused. I'm God, Mike. This is Heaven's waiting room."
"Heaven has a waiting room?"
"So does Hell. I do a quick look at what people mostly did, sort them between the two based on my preliminary estimate, and then have a chat with them. Then I make my final decision. And I hate it when I get it wrong at first, especially here."
Another one vanished, and Val smiled.
"Wait, Heaven, Hell, that's all real?"
"Well, yeah. I mean, not in any of the forms humans envisioned it in, but yes. Those stories were based on something, after all."
"And God is an..." I trailed off, not sure if I should finish the sentence for fear of offending the person who might hold my eternal fate in her hands.
"A hot chick?" Val finished. "I can be whatever I like. I thought this would set you most at ease."
I shrugged uncomfortably, and Val nodded in sudden understanding.
"It's not me. It's just being here. Not something you ever expected, never mind believed in. Well, I've got good news."
"Oh?" I asked.
"I've taken a deeper look. And sure there was that small embezzlement you got caught up in when you knew it was wrong, but other than that you died as you lived, putting yourself in harm's way to ensure the safety of others." Val's face fell and her voice grew somber. "It didn't work this time," she said sadly. "But she's very eager to meet the woman who sacrificed her life trying to save hers. You can meet her once you go to Heaven."
"No?" Val gave the distinct impression of never having heard anyone give that as an answer.
"No. I don't want to go to Heaven."
"Well I can always send you to Hell, but I wouldn't recommend it. Nasty place. That's why I gave it to Rebbie to run."
"No," I said again.
"Well even if I let you choose, you'd only have the two. I don't let people just stay here forever, you know."
"I don't want that, either," I agreed.
"Then what do you want?" Val asked me.
"I want never to have known this place existed, never have known you existed. Never have known that there was some sort of omnipotent watchdog looking down and judging everything we did. I want to be free to do what I want to do and not be judged for it, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else."
"You can have that in Heaven, you know. No restraint, no judgment. Pure freedom."
"That you grant," I retorted.
"I grant all things," Val said, just a little loftily.
"And I want to be free of that."
"I don't see how. This is the way it works: you're born, you live your life, you die, you come here, I judge you and decide where you'll spend the rest of eternity."
"You could let me just fade away. Send me nowhere. Just let me not exist."
"Why would you ever want not to exist?"
"Because existence entails action, and caring, and thought, and I've had enough of that for one lifetime. Got me sent here, after all. Now I just want to be free of it all."
"That's... not something I've ever heard before," Val admitted. "And..." She hesitated to continue.
I just smiled.
"And... that makes me wish all the more that you'd stay around," she finished.
I shrugged. "It's up to you. I don't think I could do anything to stop you from simply sending me to Heaven and making me like it. The only question is, will you do that, knowing what I want."
The emotions tore across Val's face. It was clear she desperately wanted me around, desperately wanted to talk with someone who had a perspective so different from hers, from anyone else's she'd let into Heaven.
"You'd be happy. Everyone else is," she pleaded.
"If I'm me, I wouldn't be happy. And so if I am happy, then I'm not me," I pointed out. "So either you can have me, being unhappy in a place where everyone else is happy, or you can have someone who isn't me but is happy."
Val looked even more conflicted. "I want you to be happy," she admitted. "But... I also want you with me. You, not just someone who looks like you."
"I know," I said softly, moving to embrace the troubled God. She didn't resist. "But you have to choose. Life is full of choices for those of us who can't reorder the universe to our will," I reminded her.
"I've never had to face a choice like this before," Val said softly.
The omnipotent ruler of all creation, the alpha, omega, the creator and destroyer of all things, the decider of eternal fates, walked through her realm of pure bliss, created to reward the most deserving of all those who lived and died.
Only one soft, pleading word passed her lips as she moved from where she entered to when she reached the simple home she'd made for herself.