Chapter 6 Part 6

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"What the fuck?" Tony mumbled in a near-whisper.


"Three in one day," Andrea quipped, although she kept her voice low. "Is that some kind of record for you?"

"I didn't do that," Guyton replied, in the same hushed tone.

"What's going on?"

"I don't know." He felt Andrea's hand touch him, and he gripped her fingers. "But we can face it together."

A faraway glimmer of light pierced the gloom. It could have been a child's toy flashlight from a mile away, but in this darkness it was an unmistakeable beacon. Hand in hand, Andrea and Guyton walked toward the light.

At first, they caught dim outlines of Great Redeemer's administrative floor, frozen in time. Cassie stood in the elevator, phone to her ear, peering down the hall. Other staff members huddled near office doors, trying to get a glimpse of what was happening while staying out of harm's way. Nobody watched them or moved as they passed. Everything looked insubstantial.

Not long after, they passed outside Della Verne's soul bakery and continued walking. We should be three stories off the ground, Andrea thought, but their footing remained as solid as ever. There was the feeling of a close corridor, although neither could see nor feel the walls.

"Is it getting any closer?"

"I can't tell."

Then, Guyton's leg caught something. It slid forward with a familiar groan. "An office chair?" He grunted, putting a hand on it. "Why would this be—"

Fluorescent lights flared above them. Blinking away the afterimages, they saw a familiar scene—familiar to Guyton, at least.

"Come to congratulate us on a job well done?" Guyton drawled. "Birch, Astin, this is Andrea. I couldn't have gotten Della Verne without her."

"Charmed." Birch sounded not at all charmed. Astin said nothing, only gave Andrea a murderous glare. "You really didn't think you could walk to the Light with a soulburn, did you?"

"Is that what it was? Seriously, I didn't know. Everything went black, then we saw that one spark. We figured it was better than where we were. Oh, thanks for taking out Tony. I had him, but we're willing to share the credit, right?"

"Tony who?" Astin demanded, still glaring at Andrea.

"You didn't get him? I'm pretty sure I only shot twice in there. I wonder—"

"Doesn't matter." Birch reached into his desk and produced a weapon the twin of Guyton's. Andrea gasped and shrank into Guyton's side. "You might have earned your passage, but you know the saying: you can't take it with you."

"No! Let her go. She did a lot less in life than any of us, and we're still walking around. She doesn't deserve this."

"Not my paygrade to make those judgements. Or yours, for that matter. Step aside, Guyton."

"No." Guyton moved in front of Andrea. "I can't let you do this."

"Get with the program, Guyton," Astin snarled. "Disobeying orders in life is what got you here."

"No, being an asshole to citizens who didn't deserve the treatment I gave them is why I'm here. Being a bully. Abusing my authority. You told me that, my first day on the job. It's why you're here, too. Haven't you figured that out, yet?"

"Don't change the subject," said Birch, but without heat. "Step aside, Guyton. Let's tie up this one loose end, and then you can move on. Say hi to the higher-ups for us, and tell 'em we're ready to move on as well."

"Loose end?" Guyton repeated. "Is that all she is to you? Andrea's my partner. I love her, dammit."

"Love ain't available for such as us." Astin's tone was as gentle as Guyton ever heard. "We're just here to do a job. I guess you get to retire, but we still got our jobs to do. Let us get it done."

"Fine," said Andrea. "I'm sick of this crap, Ron. They won't let you take me where you get to go, and I'm not gonna stop you from getting there myself. I don't know if keeping souls outta Heaven is as bad as sending them to Hell, but that's on your friends." She stepped to his side. "Get this over with."

"Huh," Birch mused. "I've never seen a soulburn who was willing to take his medicine before. Any last words?"

Andrea gave Guyton a gentle kiss. "I love you too, Ron. I guess my torment's gonna be all the things we could have had. But I'll know you're in a better place, anyway."

"Like it's gonna be all that great without you. Don't let them do this. We'll go back and figure out a way to get by."

"Your friends won't let us be. Every door we open, every morning we get up, they're gonna be in our faces. What kind of life is that?" She turned to Birch. "Take your best shot, big man."

Guyton drew a trembling breath as Birch pulled the trigger. Bang. The weapon recoiled, throwing Birch's arm up. Andrea gasped, still standing with them. "What the..." Birch began.

Then the Light, as complete as the darkness that had flooded the church, poured around them. Andrea fell to the floor, curling around herself, moaning with fear. Guyton, stunned, sat straight down. Astin did the same, as Birch shrank into his chair.

"The higher-ups?" Guyton whispered.

"No," Birch moaned. "The Top. We're all in for it."

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