It is eight o’ clock in the morning. The sun is shining brightly. There are birds singing. The world is at peace and beautiful, but Dhiyampati has not had his breakfast or his morning tea.
In fact he looks quite harried.
“Please,” he says, to the Sid behind the desk at the Pluto Project. “I must have caffeine.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” says Sid.
And into the meeting room Dhiyampati stumbles.
Two of the engineers are arguing. Mr. Cullens is expounding on the impossibility of the current situation—it’s not quite clear to Dhiyampati what it is—while Mr. Brown is monotonously repeating in staccato, “Let me finish! Let me finish!” Ellen is slouched in the corner, her head propped on her hand; her expression is one of amused horror and resignation.
And Dhiyampati says, “Pardon—”
Mr. Cullens waves a hand irritably at him.
So Dhiyampati sits in a plush chair and waits a moment more. Then he says, “With apologies,” and invokes an elohite.
It begins as three white curved lines in the air. They shift and turn about a central axis. Then there is a pressure that makes Dhiyampati’s ears ring and a distant susurrus. From the bottom of the symbol rushes an energy, bursting into life in the form of a silk-clad spirit. She hovers in the air, her skin lightly red, her clothes translucent white, her hair floating in an unfelt breeze. Her eyes are full of wavy lines, like a malfunctioning television screen’s. Her expression is still.
This silences Mr. Cullens. After a moment of stammering—“it’s not mathematically possible that their choices could be that different”—Mr. Brown goes silent as well.
Ellen is laughing, silently.
“If there is a dispute,” says Dhiyampati mildly.
Mr. Cullens looks at Mr. Brown. Then Mr. Brown gestures, deferring the matter to the other engineer.
“You’re the troubleshooter?” Mr. Cullens asks, hesitantly.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Mr. Cullens. “Someone’s screwing around with our afterlife engine. We’ve been sending people to Pluto, and they’re not getting there.”
Dhiyampati looks up at the elohite. There’s a question in his eyes. She looks back down, and shakes her head.
So he dismisses her, and she is gone in a collapsing rush of air.
This is a legend from early in Dhiyampati’s career.
He works for the Four Regions Company, which operates both as a corporation and as a division of the United States government. Four Regions holds the patent on the afterlife engine, a machine for calling forth the elohite governing a person’s soul and instructing it as to their dispensation.
There are many legends of Dhiyampati. In the annals of the mid-21st century, he is notorious—one of the most reliable troubleshooters for the problems that faced Four Regions. His ability to summon elohim without mechanical intervention is not herein explained.
“I would think,” says Dhiyampati, “that you can’t very well send people somewhere they don’t wind up going.”
“That’s hardly reasonable,” says Mr. Brown.
Dhiyampati looks at him. “It’s basic theonomy,” he says. “If you don’t give a soul a valid destination, the elohite won’t carry them there at all. If you do, it can’t very well carry them anywhere else.”
“They’re not showing up!” snaps Mr. Brown.
“Ridiculous,” says Dhiyampati; but just then, before things turn ugly, Sid opens the door and brings Dhiyampati his tea. That returns a gentle smile to Dhiyampati’s face, and he leans back into his chair.
“Why don’t you go over what you’re doing, then,” he says. “And I’ll just listen, for now.”
Cullens is sullen, now, and Brown doesn’t speak, so Ellen takes the floor.
“It’s simple enough in concept,” she says. “The U.N. wants to start exploring the outer planets. Set up a research station, look for exploitable resources, and just generally see what’s out there. So when one of our exploration staff dies, we give them an afterlife as an immanent entity on Pluto. It worked swimmingly for the first couple, but then they stopped showing up.”
“Just . . . stopped?” Dhiyampati asks.
“I don’t know where they went,” says Ellen. “But it’s not our Pluto station.”
Dhiyampati taps the side of his nose. “Hm.”
“The machine’s broken,” says Mr. Brown.
“Pfft,” says Mr. Cullens. “The machine can’t be broken. I’ve gone over it myself.”
“There is one basic rule of assigning souls to an afterlife,” says Dhiyampati. “That you can only give them the reward or punishment that they have actually chosen. So if they don’t show up on Pluto, then they must have chosen otherwise.”
“They signed the same contract as the first set!” says Mr. Brown.
“Standard exploration contract,” says Mr. Brown. “We give them the chance to go somewhere people have never been, to break ground in a new frontier beyond any ordinary person’s dreams, and they do the work for us while they’re there. Nothing’s changing but the date and the signatures on the dotted line.”
“Nothing,” says Mr. Brown, conclusively.
“I’ll look at the machine,” Dhiyampati says.
The machine is in the basement of the complex, in a vault of steel. It is great and vast, humming and pulsing with life. Its ornamentation is baroque and its circuitry complex. Dhiyampati runs his hand along exposed circuit boards and shining crystal spheres as he walks through it.
Ellen is with him.
“He’ll be humiliated,” says Dhiyampati. “If it’s broken?”
“Mr. Cullens?” she asks.
Ellen snorts. “He’d be relieved. This sucks, and the worst part is not understanding it.”
“Oh, that is good,” he says.
“Do you think it’s the machine?”
“It’s difficult to imagine,” says Dhiyampati. “The machine’s principal function is to conjure the elohite of the volunteer’s soul and interpret the relevant choices for it. I cannot imagine this going wrong in an inobvious fashion.”
Ellen tilts her head to one side. “Deviant elohim?”
“Then,” Ellen says, “wouldn’t the problem have to be the choice?”
Dhiyampati and the Pluto Project concludes . . . tomorrow!