It shimmered; it pulsed; it burned; it illuminated; it flowed; it made all things possible. It was life; it was death. To see its magnificence in person was – well, it was as close to God as you could get. You had to wear protective gear, or else you had to stay behind the shielded windows. Only the dead were allowed to see it with the naked eye.
He was ninety-four. His wrinkled, vein-riddled hands trembled, but not with fear. He was not afraid. He looked at the pad in front of him and he smiled. The three men, the judges, the executioners, his saviors, they saw it. They smiled too. This also was their favorite part.
He was wearing his best clothes, the last material wealth he had; the rest had been spent getting here. He was never a rich man; he’d spent much of his life in turmoil and struggle. Two divorces, a son who died too young, three failed businesses, but all of that was behind him now. His expensive tie, his flawless business suit, his shined-till-they-glowed shoes were all he had left, but he would not need them soon.
“Marshall Wilson,” said one of the men. The old man stopped and looked to the window. He made eye contact with the speaker; his eyes glinted with happiness. “Can you confirm that’s you, please? For the records.”
“I’m Marshall Wilson,” he replied as his voice choked. It made the men behind the window smile again.
“Marshall, please give us you basic background information. Your life, if you will. Again, for the records.”
He cleared his throat. He knew what the answer needed to be; they were well prepared for such a momentous day. “My name is Marshall Wilson and I was born in 2076 in Houston, Texas. My father was Dutch Wilson and my mother was Brittany Hammerstein. I went to university in Paris where I learned quantum software. I married Carlotta Mendez in 2106 and had three children with her: Tam, Zayed, and Morus. Morus died in a work accident in 2127. I’m now ninety four. I’ve completed all legal contracts necessary and paid all fees required for the right to enter the Beam.”
The men behind the glass nodded to each other. A perfect answer. “Thank you, Marshall. Please, take a moment if you like. We will open the shielding when you’re ready.”
Marshall turned from them and stepped onto the pad. In front of him, behind the shielded windows, shone the Beam. Beyond that, darkness, space, nothing, everything. He gripped the railings around the pad; a lot of people needed those. A few fainted; they had to be woken up so they could enjoy the moment they entered the Beam as they were contractually prescribed.
“Ready when you are.”
He took just a second. “Ok. Let me see it.”
For the men behind the window, there was no change. Their shielding stayed up and the Beam remained a dull, white-yellow. But for him – well, they could only wonder what he saw. His hands clasped around the railings, harder and harder.
“Oh!” But he did not faint.
“Inform us when you’re ready to have the door opened, Marshall.”
“Just a second. Just a – oh!”
By now he was blind. They could see his eyes were glossed over with a thick film. His skin grew redder and redder, the cells dying in the intensity of the Beam, his flesh gone sour, the flakes dancing away from him, but soon he would need none of it.
“Are you ready, Marshall?” They couldn’t wait much longer.
“Yes! Yes! Open it!”
And so they did. He fell; they watched. Each of them turned over in their mind what it must have felt like; how fast it must have seemed, but how slow at the same time. They wondered if his life literally did flash before his eyes, or if it was too quick. A two second drop was not much, but nobody knew if time slowed down before the Beam. There was much left unknown about the whole experience. One of the three men blinked and missed the moment of contact; Marshall slid into the white-yellow Beam and vanished, vaporized, joined. Thankfully there was a recording he could refer to.
It would take less than 16 minutes that day for Marshall’s soul to return to Earth from the station orbiting Mars.
“So goes his soul,” intoned the man in the middle.
“His soul returns home,” said another.
“And this soul will return to us,” said the third.
“So be it.”
“So be it.”
“So be it.”
The first man turned off the records with a gesture. “When’s our next one?”