Faded. Wrinkled. Curled.
Petals, soft, now dry. Brittle.
Still, sweet scent lingers.
“Just press play.”
“I don’t want to,” the man snapped and crossed his arms.
Meliphi sighed. Humans were always infuriating, but somehow, dead ones were even worse. It was like they realized they had nothing left to lose and took it out on the poor incorporeal beings just trying to do their jobs.
“I don’t like it any more than you do,” Meliphi said, nudging the replay device toward the man whose name the being could no longer remember. “But I’d like to get home sometime before the next millennium.”
The man’s lips pursed, and he hunched down in his chair. Meliphi was tempted to tell him he could die there if he was going to be this stubborn, but unfortunately…
“It won’t be so bad,” Meliphi coaxed. “And then you can get out of this waiting room, this…” The being waved a hand at the blank whiteness. “Nothingness and on to” — The man’s eyes flickered to Meliphi. Curiosity. It always worked on humans. — “something else.”
The man humphed.
“Please?” Meliphi was desperate.
The man sighed, and his arms dropped to his sides. “Why do I have to do this? Is this hell?”
Meliphi burst out laughing, quickly stifling it behind a shimmering wing. “Sorry,” the being mumbled. “That heaven hell thing was all you guys. As if the entire divine doesn’t have better things to do than devote itself to your reward or punishment. No, this is purely for cataloguing purposes.”
Meliphi nudged the replay device forward with another wing, offering what the being hoped was a friendly smile. The man sighed. “It’s just… a lot of it sucked. I don’t want to see it again, alright? Can’t you let me be dead in peace?”
“Unfortunately, no. Look, I’d really love to do this with you all millennia, but I have other appointments, other people dying to see me.”
“Hilarious,” the man muttered to Meliphi’s confusion. It was simply a fact. “Will you stay and watch with me at least?” he asked.
Companionship, that strange human desire. It wasn’t standard, but why not if it got this over with sooner?
Meliphi arranged next to the man, tucking wings and various other appendages into a semi-human sitting posture. “Let’s do this,” the being said with a grin.
The man rolled his eyes before jamming the play button.
The screen flickered and went black. Meliphi’s seven eyes stared unblinkingly at it. The being had been ready to bail after year thirteen. Seventy-two more had followed. The man sighed.
“I… I’m sorry,” Meliphi said. “I know you said it sucked, but I… I had no idea.”
“Eh, it wasn’t so bad. Seeing it all together like that… Damn, I did a lot.”
Meliphi glanced over with three eyes to see him smiling. The being couldn’t even begin to understand this.
“Would you do it again?” Meliphi asked quietly. “If you could.”
The being always asked this question, but that was after the dead needing to be cataloged watched their lives replay while Meliphi’s seven eyes closed and the being’s consciousness popped over to the sixteenth dimension for some fresh air. Meliphi had never fully realized what the question meant.
“I think I would,” the man said thoughtfully. “Except, maybe not that one day at the hardware store.”
Meliphi grimaced. That was understandable.
“Thank you,” the man said with a smile. “I think I’m ready to go now.”
Meliphi nodded as the man next to him faded away into the something else. The being had always considered the Valori people of the Felta Galaxy, with their precognition and prehensile eye-stalks, to be as close to divinity as the universe came, but humans? Humans were the cockroaches of the universe, digging themselves in with remarkable stubbornness and continuing to exist even when all odds were against them. The being had never taken the time to consider what this meant, what such a life must be like. Earth was Time’s domain after all, and she was a merciful goddess of remarkable cruelty. Or a cruel goddess of incredible mercy. Meliphi was never sure which.
The replay device pinged with a new arrival. Human. A young woman was sitting on the chair, wiping tears off her cheeks. Meliphi arranged into a sitting position next to her and held out one of many hands. “I’ll be right here,” the being said. “And when you’re ready, we’ll watch together.”