After ten years of heaven, it felt to Raven like everyone had moved on but her. She kept in touch with the entire party, with the exceptions of Bethel and the locus, occasionally meeting with them for a movie or game night, and sometimes one-on-one for coffee, or dinner, or something like that. They had twice-yearly trips together, though Raven had now missed a few. They rarely talked about Old Aerb, and most of the inside jokes were from the heavens, rather than the time before. There were trials and tribulations in the heavens, almost entirely social in one way or another, and all that was well and good, because the heavens simply didn’t allow for that much in the way of badness.
It felt like everyone had coupled off and had children. Grak had been the last of them, but eventually found a husband five years in, and had seven children, which seemed like a lot, especially in such a short span of time. Raven had briefly worried that it was too many, that they wouldn’t be able to give them attention, but it wasn’t like Grak or his husband had jobs, and the Authority didn’t grant children to people who wouldn’t help give them mostly happy lives. When they had the families together, which happened only rarely, the children outnumbered the adults by a wide margin.
Raven played the role of aunt, which she enjoyed, especially with the children who she could most closely identify with. There was a particular brand of child that dove into books, whether fiction or nonfiction, and Raven, as a former librarian and avid reader, took them under her wing as best she could, sometimes spending a fair chunk of her free time looking for recommendations for them, or at least reading through what they were reading. Some of the books were bespoke, created by the Authority for the precise purpose of pleasing one specific child, and Raven found those particularly interesting to read, since they had some insight into those specific children.
One of the Fenns had dubbed the group ‘Raven’s Readers’, which had, unfortunately, stuck. Raven would sometimes take the group to one of the many libraries around the heavens, and she did babysitting sometimes, which was always a ‘for fun’ type of thing, since the actual work could have easily been done by assistants or temp clones.
Raven spent two years immersed in a simulation, playing the role of a precocious sorceress who had to defeat a wickedly evil witch bent on subjugation of the Dragon Kingdom. She had consented to a memory wipe and memory implant, so that she believed she really was Madeline Melcore, and that it was all real. It was her chance to play at being Uther, or something like him. Surfacing from those adventures and getting her old memories back was incredibly pleasant, like welcoming a part of herself home, and it helped her to put some puzzle pieces into place with regards to her emotions, and also brought some context to her time with Uther.
Still, she spent at least part of her time in the past. She finally finished her book on Uther and his Knights, which had been in progress since she’d lived in Five Spires. She hadn’t expected all that much to come from sending it out, but perhaps because it was quite candid, or perhaps because so much of the information in it had been kept secret by the Authority due to privacy concerns, it was relatively well-read. Even years afterward, positive reception still came trickling in, and if there was any negative reception, her assistant quietly threw it in the metaphorical trash.
The year-long relationship with a false Uther had proven instructive, and the slow goodbye had allowed her to no longer pine for him, though there were occasional flashes of longing from time to time which she didn’t see fit to edit out. Never being completely at peace with a loss seemed, to her, human, and in the heavens, human was what she’d decided to be.
At least some of Raven’s time was spent on resurrections.
The Authority had three general methods of life creation: births, whole creation, and resurrection. In all cases, the Authority moved slowly and with somewhat undue deliberation, most of which (it claimed) was the result of interviews with what it thought would be the affected parties. Even beyond that, the Authority wouldn’t “create life” simply because you wanted it to, or simply because the created life would be happy, it needed something a bit more. Saying simply “I want everyone resurrected who would be happy being resurrected” was not enough.
It was, in Raven’s view, the wrong way to go about things, and one of the only ways that she had a concrete disagreement with Juniper about the shape of the heavens. They’d had the argument in person only once. Juniper had said, ‘But by your logic, the Authority should be instantiating every possible person who has ever or could ever have existed’, and Raven had shouted, ‘Yes, exactly!’, which on reflection she wasn’t entirely sure she believed. There were some people who believed that, and she was friends (or at least acquaintances) with some of them, given that there was coordination and discussion among those who cared about resurrection. Then there were the people Raven could only think of as fanatics, who wanted endless fields of wireheaded brains, though most of them weren’t particularly involved in doing anything about it besides complaining to (or about) the Authority, or arguing in terms of the mathematics of happiness and infinities. Besides, there were mind-meltingly enormous fields of wireheaded brains, ones which had been purpose-built to experience optimal pleasure under different definitions of ‘pleasure’, stripped down so there were no memories, no personality, no identity. Raven had spent an afternoon going to see bits and pieces of them, to get some sense of what people wanted, and hadn’t really seen the attraction, which she thought might have been the point of the Authority showing people those fields. The Authority didn’t seem to particularly favor wireheading, and would argue against it, which Raven appreciated. Raven favored resurrection because it was real and tangible in a way that the other stuff was not.
Resurrection was easy if it was someone close to you, someone you had an attachment to, some love for, or who would measurably improve your life, especially if it seemed like they would have liked to have been resurrected. Unfortunately, part of the Authority’s argument against resurrection was that it had no informed consent to resurrect anyone unless they explicitly said so, only inferred consent, and no informed consent to read their mind to get consent. Again, Raven could understand why Juniper had set things up this way, but didn’t inherently agree with him. Her pleas to the Authority had not been met with the Authority agreeing that it was wrong, so it was a matter of values that they simply did not share.
All the easy resurrections had been done in the first year, if not the first month. People got back friends, family members, and loved ones. The entirety of Uther’s Knights had been resurrected, including Everett, who was de-aged and had taken up painting in the span of four hours. Raven met with them from time to time, and reminisced about the old days, though they were missing their most important member, a man who the Authority would not recreate except in ‘spian form, and then with serious limitations, not taking from his memories. Raven agreed, in this case, that there was nothing like consent, and that consent was important.
The resurrections had chained backwards. Someone would resurrect their parent, who would resurrect their parent, who would resurrect their parent, and it would continue on like that. But these chains left incomplete gaps, either people who no one really wanted resurrected, or whose family line had died out, or who had been clear about preferring to stay dead.
That left the hard resurrections.
“This person has no connection to you,” the Authority would say. “That you would prefer them to be alive instead of dead is not sufficient. They have not consented in any meaningful capacity to a resurrection. There is no way of knowing whether they would meet baseline happiness within the society that we can provide. We are not in the business of creating life on mere whims. We do not believe the dead have a right to life, just as we do not believe those who do not exist have a right to existence.”
The Total Resurrection Working Group had thought up a clever solution to this, which was to make a self-edit such that they truly, desperately wanted the individual resurrected. The Authority had smiled and said ‘nice try’, as it often did when someone found a seeming contradiction in its values or a seemingly clever workaround to its rules. This was particularly the case when someone attempted to become a ‘utility monster’ whose demands could not be ignored. The Authority was good at ignoring that kind of thing, it seemed. Raven imagined that it was a lesson Juniper had learned from tabletop games, but perhaps she was just seeing things.
Instead, resurrection had to be approached the more difficult way, which was to honestly care without motivation about the particular deceased, one at a time. Honestly, it was a solution that shouldn’t have worked, given that it didn’t seem all that much different from just directly editing in the caring, but the Authority, for ineffable reasons, had decided to allow it. Raven had asked Juniper about it, and he had been a bit baffled, but suggested that perhaps it was a form of make-work, or that it was about the energy put into it. The Authority wouldn’t trivially resurrect anyone, in the same way that it wouldn’t trivially create anyone, but if you were willing to put in the time and effort, the Authority would oblige.
Raven’s current target was a boy who had died in his early twenties during the Third Overfell War, approximately twenty thousand years ago. He’d been picked as a target by her assistant, who thought that she would find him easy: the assistants were an enormous help, and the project likely would have been nearly impossible without them. The boy in question was notable among those thousands who had died for having kept a fairly extensive journal, a rarity at the time. The Authority was unwilling to spy on the private lives of people in the long-distant past, and especially unwilling to spy on people on behalf of others, but made exceptions for books or letters, and for journals when there was some presumption that they might have wanted these things read, and sometimes for things which were ‘public’ even if no one had imagined that the ‘public’ in question would include far future researchers.
Thus Raven was allowed to read through a recreated journal penned by Shermarin Cartier. This needed to be done slowly, with deliberation, because the Authority paid attention to ‘cheats’ like immediate reading and integration of a historical text. Raven didn’t mind, and didn’t have all that much interest in ‘Authority games’, as they were called. She liked reading, and the kinds of things the Authority picked out for her were usually fairly compelling. It was that compellingness that allowed the resurrection to take place, reaching back through time and pulling someone into the present at the moment of their death.
“I’d like to resurrect Shermarin Cartier,” Raven said idly once she’d finished another entry, this one concerning some personal drama with the other soldiers over something improper they’d said. Shermarin had explicitly refused to repeat the improper phrase, but it had concerned a medic, whose honor he felt it necessary to defend. There was something chivalrous about him, Raven had decided. It was important to see the good in people.
“The request is denied,” said her assistant, who had picked the name Lil.
Aside from the reproduction of the journal, Raven had a number of other things from the era, and she had transported herself to a facsimile of the area where Shermarin had been camped. As she flipped a page, the scene changed, and she found herself in a familiar house, one which Shermarin had written about before. It was, so far as she could tell, some kind of plantation at a crucially important position with regards to the war which had been commandeered early on.
She read on, giving the words her full focus, trying to put herself in Shermarin’s shoes. Early on in this endeavor, she had tried altering her body so that she might better get a feel for who the person was, but it was more of a distraction than anything. Instead, she put herself into period-appropriate clothing. The entry from the house was fairly brief, largely just reporting on the mundanities of the life of an officer, but Shermarin wrote with an attention to detail that Raven found laudable. He had wanted to have a record of his time, something that could be kept for later, and during that era, notebooks had been fairly expensive.
“I’d like to resurrect Shermarin Cartier,” said Raven, once she was finished with the entry. It wasn’t necessary to ask every time, you could simply put in a standing request, but Raven liked to ask every now and then, because it helped her keep focus on why she was doing this.
“The request is accepted,” said Lil.
“Really?” asked Raven, closing the journal. “Good.”
They were whisked to the resurrection chamber, a specific room of Raven’s house. Lil had already changed it to be the kind of place that Shermarin would be most comfortable with, done in approximately the correct style. The resurrection was different for everyone, and depended on what would work best for them. Raven was allowed to watch, in part because this resurrection was ‘for’ her, but she typically kept her involvement minimal.
The body formed in an instant, and a moment later, Shermarin woke up. He was dressed in period-appropriate clothing, a styled cloak that covered most of him, and layers beneath that. He sat up and looked around.
Lil had changed, putting herself into period clothing as well, but beyond that, she’d grown a bit taller, more busty, and with features that mimicked what Raven knew to be true of the era and region that Shermarin was from.
“Shermarin Cartier,” said Lil, in Vorslock, the language of Shermarin’s time and place. “You died on the battlefield in the course of the Third Overfell War. A very long time has passed since then, and you have been resurrected. Do you consent to this?”
This wasn’t merely a formality. From time to time, someone would say that they did not, and the Authority would inquire further. The Authority did not unmake lightly, and would try other solutions or explanations first, but some people simply did not want to live in the world they found themselves waking up in. Raven didn’t think that would be true of Shermarin, but it was hard to tell from just someone’s writing.
“I do,” said Shermarin. “You … brought me back?”
“Yes,” nodded Lil. “The world has changed since your time. There is no longer any scarcity. People are free to remake their reality as they wish. We anticipate that you might wish to resurrect a number of people from your time who also died. It would be better for us to get started on that now, if you would like.”
“I’ve seen enough of this,” said Raven. Her speech had not been audible to Shermarin.
Instantly, she was whisked away to a different part of the house, and from experience, Shermarin had been split off into his own reality. He would likely allow Lil consent to read his mind, and more resurrections would chain off of his. Raven had helped to cause the resurrection of hundreds, perhaps thousands.
And still, there would always be more.
“This endeavor has stopped making you feel good,” said Lil. She leaned against a counter. She’d gotten more personality as the time went on, and a kind of endearing laziness. They were in the study, which had an enormous library opening up above it, an inverted cone of books so large there were birds flying around in clouds. It gave the whole thing a flair she really liked. The birds had little cubbies, so they wouldn’t affect the books, and they were trained to poop in places that Lil would clean out.
“I could give the old hedonic treadmill a kick,” sighed Raven. “I’m surprised I was able to care enough to pass the imaginary threshold for a resurrection.”
“Mmm,” said Lil. “I’m not sure you’ll be able to do it again, and you know I hate to see people grinding away at something just because they think they should.”
“So resurrect everyone,” said Raven. “No, you know what, I don’t want to have that conversation again.”
“Neither do I,” said Lil. “You know, the TRWG isn’t going to miss you if you take a break.”
“I know,” said Raven. “It’s always been your opinion that I’m doing this because I can’t resurrect Uther. I’m starting to think you might be right.”
“Of course I’m right,” said Lil. “But Uther isn’t even dead, he’s just off beyond the reach of the Authority.”
Raven sighed again and looked up at the cone of books. It was pretty, but a bit pointless. She was going to have to replace it with something else at some point, perhaps something that didn’t remind her so much of the Infinite Library.
“When’s my next meeting?” asked Raven.
“Are we including the TRWG?” asked Lil. “Because I can have a regretful notice sent to them right now.”
“Fine,” said Raven. “A break of, let’s say, a month.”
“Then your next scheduled meeting is with Amaryllis and Juniper in six hours. You were invited to dinner and I accepted on your behalf.” Lil smiled. She had partial access to Raven’s mind, and authority to accept or reject a whole host of things on Raven’s behalf. It was very helpful given the moderate level of fame that Raven had, and the way that social obligations seemed to multiply if left unchecked.
“See if Arthur is available,” said Raven.
“He’s still on extended leave,” replied Lil.
Raven tapped her foot. “Fine, tell me how to best fill the time, temporary full mind access, five minute interval.” She was stingy with her mind, in a way that was common among people who had lived through the Second Empire. She couldn’t say that it was a better way to live, but she hadn’t worked up the courage to make a modification so that she wouldn’t care. Eventually, she might do that. There was a trend throughout the heavens toward giving more permissions and rising to higher levels, and Raven didn’t think that she would buck that trend for long.
“I think it’s high time you accepted matchmaking,” said Lil.
Raven sighed. “And I suppose you’re telling me that because you know that this time I’m inclined to finally give in?”
“Of course,” nodded Lil. “The best candidate is available now, and would be ready for a date in ten minutes, duration of, say, an hour unless things go horribly or very well.”
“But you know in advance,” said Raven.
“We can guess,” replied Lil. “We don’t have permanent full mind access on either of you, and both of you have explicitly barred advanced prognostics. Obviously if we expected it to go poorly, we wouldn’t set it up, but with the information we have, —”
“Fine,” said Raven. “Get me something to wear, make sure I’m clean, pick the venue.”
“Would you rather I pick something he would like, or something that best represents you?” asked Lil.
“Make me the best version of myself,” said Raven. “Irrespective of what he likes.”
Ten minutes later, Raven was transformed (black dress, earrings, makeup, ample but tasteful cleavage) and sitting on a patio that jutted out over a lake that was filled with lily pads and glowing flowers. It was around dusk, and there were lights up on poles to give soft illumination, along with a pair of candles in the center of the table. There were other couples with their own tables, talking in murmured conversations. There was no telling whether they were ‘spians or not, aside from asking, which Raven wasn’t inclined to do. She didn’t normally eat, but a waiter stopped by with a menu and filled her glass with a dark red wine, so Raven had decided to get in the swing of things and get a bit tipsy. She hadn’t accepted matchmaking before, and the kinds of things that people said about it — well, there were trillions of people in the heavens, and the Authority might have limited itself for the sake of privacy, but with the kinds of consent people had given it, it could pick out dozens of people who might almost instantly become the love of your life.
She first saw him as a waiter led him to their table. It wasn’t love at first sight. He didn’t have the muscular build that Raven normally went for, nor the same commanding presence. He was tall and lanky, and showed a deference to the waiter that she found a bit surprising. He wore glasses, certainly an affectation, and had an aloof smile as he sat down.
“Hello,” he said as he sat down. “I suppose this is a date.”
“I suppose so,” said Raven, raising an eyebrow. So far, she had no idea why the Authority had picked him. “Sorry, I didn’t request a dossier on you.”
“Oh, I didn’t ask for one of you either,” he said. “Better to get to know each other in the flesh, so to speak.” He reached his hand across the table, avoiding the candles. “Clarke Rinsome.”
“Raven Masters,” Raven replied as she shook his hand. He had a strong, firm grip, and that was the first moment she felt anything like attraction.
He faltered. “Oh,” he said. “I … I was going to say that I’m a big fan, but actually I’ve only read your book about Uther and his Knights. I’m sure there are people who are big fans, the kinds of people who devote a lot of time and attention to you, specifically. There’s probably a fan club somewhere, I would reckon, or people who go to visit places you mentioned, or, ah. Well, you know what I’m saying, surely. I’m not a big fan, but I read your book, and looked to see if you had written another. That’s the level of fan I am.”
“Then I suppose you have me at a disadvantage,” said Raven. There was something that she liked about his rambling. Too many people had sanded themselves down or rounded out their sharp corners. That he was capable of an awkward monologue like that spoke to a deep conviction in the integrity of the self. There was something bold about that. The more she thought about it, the more charmed she found herself being.
“Well,” said Clarke. “I suppose the short version of my entire life,” he paused, looking up for a moment. “Prior to the end of the world, I was an architect. Outside of that, I was, well … I made little scenes. There’s a particular tradition among the Akishi, pendai, where you have a small plot of soil in a tray perhaps a foot or two across, and fill it with mosses, grasses, small plants, things like that all made to look like life but reduced in size, sometimes with a miniature sculpted tree or two. Then there’s usually a single human element. Most people did little figures walking down a path, that was traditional, but I added tiny architecturally correct houses, which I had learned to make for my job, and left the people implied.”
“Oh,” said Raven. Her heart had started to beat a bit faster as she realized what he was talking about. “I do that too. Or, something similar. Mine is called bonsai, it’s mostly about the small trees. Or, entirely, I suppose, in the traditional form.”
There was some joy in discovering this area of commonality together, and they spoke about their respective hobbies for quite some time, both the areas of overlap and the substantial differences, where they could find them. In bonsai there was typically one preferred angle to view a tree from, and the same was true in pendai, a special spot from which the view was ‘best’. Yet there was also a way in which the aesthetics diverged: bonsai was largely refined and stylized, while pendai was rustic and wild, a cultivated sense of the overgrown and untamed.
“But you said you put buildings in,” said Raven.
“Oh, that’s the um, well, the tension that I like,” he replied. He took a sip of his wine. “When I had one properly set up, I would get this frisson from looking at it. And because they were, after all, living things that needed to be tended to, it wasn’t simply a matter of a scene that I was looking at, like a painting. I knew that the feeling of a building on the verge of being overgrown was, in some sense, real.”
“But the way you speak of it, you don’t do that anymore?” asked Raven.
“Heaven is where hobbies go to die,” Clarke replied with a sheepish smile. “I suppose at this point I have to confess that I’ve spent quite a bit of my time in deep dives, with a shallow clone to answer obligations. There’s a part of me that feels a bit guilty about that.” There was, again, that feeling of being with someone who was confident enough in himself to allow that guilt to remain a part of him. Raven liked it.
“I was in two years,” said Raven, momentarily placing a hand on her chest. She’d drained a glass of wine already, and it was doing its work. “What did you go for?” Once the question was out, she realized that she was going to have to answer in return.
“I’ve been in three so far,” he replied. He was measuring his words, just a bit. “In the first — it’s hard to describe without going into detail, but there were nested worlds, not quite infinitely many of them, but it was about gods, I suppose, or gods in relation to each other. I have to think that the pendai were an inspiration. I lived in a picturesque little house with woodlands around me, and a small garden to feed myself with. It was a plot of land owned by a man for whom I was a plaything, one of several he owned. But I, too, had several plots of land with their own people living on them.”
“How long were you there for?” asked Raven.
“Oh, a year, maybe a bit more,” replied Clarke with a sigh. “I had a magical gift to shrink and to grow, which allowed me to explore up and down the layers. There was always someone higher, and always someone lower, and the higher levels caused a terror in me, because a hundred levels up the relative size would be … well, immense, capable of instantly crushing all smaller worlds.” He paused. “I think that the point of it was for me to become at peace with the idea of god.”
“And did that work?” asked Raven.
“It’s hard to say,” replied Clarke. “I think that my emotions have stilled, but my thoughts are still complicated.”
“And the second?” asked Raven.
“Oh, that one was easier,” he replied. “It was a simple little life, one of exploration, trekking into uncharted lands, meeting new people, avoiding bad fates. If I had to take a lesson from it, I think that it would be that there’s always something new to explore, always some new experience. That one was three years, all told, all of them packed with new sights and sounds.”
“Do you always have them give lessons?” asked Raven.
“Oh, never,” said Clarke. “No, each time, I’ve asked for something that I would like. If the Authority thinks that involves lessons, who am I to argue? And I can sense that you’ll ask about the third, but I don’t want to talk about myself at length, so you’ll have to tell me about yours first.”
“Ah,” said Raven. “It was nothing special. I mean, it was … well, two years, shallow clone to take requests and a deep clone for important things. The dive was about being a hero, fighting against — if you read the book, then I suppose this will make sense — the Dark King, or close enough that I don’t think there’s all that meaningful of a difference. She was a witch, and I was the plucky young hero with outrageously powerful magical abilities.” She shrugged. “It feels embarrassing. Juvenile.”
Clarke chuckled. “Not at all. I think we all seek something like that, a fantasy of being the best, being a hero.”
“Have you heard of the Total Resurrection Working Group?” asked Raven. Clarke shook his head no. “They’re this group that wants to bring every single person who has ever died back to life. I worked with them for quite a while, trying to petition the Authority in order to get people back. I guess when I think about it, I’ve already made the decision to stop doing that. The project is enormous, and the further we get into it, the more questionable it gets. There are people who literally no one wants alive, and the group is committed to getting them resurrections as a matter of dogma.” She shook her head. “I think I was doing it because … well, because I wanted to be a hero. I wanted to do good.”
“And did you?” asked Clarke. “You managed to bring people back who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance?”
“I did,” said Raven. “One every two or three days for seven years or so, taking many breaks, of course. I brought back just a little more than a thousand, I think, though I never tracked metrics that much. I enjoyed it, especially as a student of history. But … I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I think perhaps I need another run at a deep dive, one that’s meant to teach me something. It’s a more palatable form of therapy, maybe, than just having an edit done.”
“Oh,” said Clarke. “Then you would be gone for quite some time.”
“I would,” said Raven, suddenly aware of herself again. The makeup and the dress felt like a promise that she wasn’t going to keep. “Sorry.”
Clarke gave her a wan smile. “Well, not a mark of a good date if partway through, your date makes the decision to leave for a few years.”
“It’s not meant as a mark against you,” said Raven. “I’m just … in a transition, I think. It’s the reason that I agreed to this date in the first place.”
“Ah, well,” said Clarke. “Not meant to be then, I suppose.” He still smiled. “Are you really decided then? Just like that?”
“I don’t know,” said Raven. “I’ll think about it, make some arrangements, and set my affairs in order.” She hesitated. “Sorry.” She hesitated again. “You know, it’s probably too forward of me, but … if you wanted to, we could take the dive together.”
A smile spread across Clarke’s face. “But I suppose we would have to negotiate?”
“What’s there to negotiate?” asked Raven. “We could just have the Authority handle it. I’m fine with prognostics if I’m not burdened with the knowledge ahead of time.”
“I suppose I am too,” said Clarke. “You know, it is the mark of a good date if partway through, your date suggests that perhaps you spend a few years together.” He was beaming at her, happy but also amused. Raven found that enthusiasm charming as well. “But as for negotiation … well, what relation would we be to each other, in this dive?”
Raven shrugged. “I suppose I would allow the Authority to handle that, if you would be fine with it.” She blushed.
Clarke slowly nodded. Perhaps he was thinking what she was thinking, which was that the Authority had set them up on a date, putting them together from trillions of possible matches. In a deep dive together, it was almost certain that the scenario would have at least some element of romance, especially given that it was something Raven could feel a keen longing for.
“Perhaps we should stop here then,” he said. “Not that I didn't have a nice time, but … well, the next time we meet, when our real selves meet, we’ll have a lot to talk about, and we’ll understand each other better.”
“I think I’d like that,” said Raven. “I’m comfortable enough to take the dive.”
“Then I’ll see you in … what, two years?” he asked. “If that’s not too hopeful?”
“Two or three,” Raven shrugged.
There was, again, a warm smile on his face. He extended his glass to her for an impromptu toast. “To new worlds.”
“And to new adventures within them,” she agreed.