Chapters:

Prologue

“We set out to map the bones of consciousness, the physical structure of the soul. We wanted to understand, wanted to ground the unseen world within the limitations of the physical. Shouting into the void, I guess you’d say. But we never expected anything to answer.”

The hazy image smiled. It was reflected behind glass, an apparition of light suspended within the machine’s energy field. The agitated particles could be manipulated, reformed into whatever appearance the speaker might desire, though most defaulted to their residual self-image – a ghost in the prime of youth, a memory of the moment that they were most themselves.

“Hurts just thinking about it, right?” The way it watched her was eerie. The eyes were opaque, hollow etchings of light, contained behind reinforced glass. They didn’t have the right to be so… perceptive.

“Everyone’s dealing with it differently. With you.”

The spirit grinned. “You’re not my first interview. They’ve all been here – the politicians, the religious leaders, the nameless faceless men in suits that you’re not supposed to ask about. Figured they’d get to the press eventually. Guess that means I’m vetted. Authentic.”

“A genuine miracle.”

It laughed. “Maybe.”

“With the new facility opening to the public, there’s a certain desire for transparency. Proof, for those who can’t afford to be there in person. There are also questions about the circumstances surrounding the discovery, what happened to the original research team…”

“And you want to know how it happened. How a madman and his little band of weirdos managed to open a direct line to the afterlife?”

“A madman with advanced degrees in Quantum Physics and Biochemistry, and with an apparently unlimited line of credit from one of the world’s leading communications conglomerates. Or should we talk about the members of his team who ended up in body bags?”

For a long moment, it watched her in silence. Had she overstepped? Did it hurt the dead to speak of their own end? Could they even be “hurt” in the way the living understood it? The psychology of it was still being explored. Hell, the whole world had had to reevaluate what it believed. Before she could open her mouth to apologize, the spirit chuckled.

“Don’t try to wait out the dead. We’ll always win.”

“You’ve got all the time in the world.”

At that, it shook its head. “Maybe. Wasn’t always that way, though.” The image flickered, the hazy lines of the face losing focus. “They tell me its stable now. We fixed it. Could have gone another way. Might be better for all of us if it had.”

“You’re saying there’s a cost? What did happen, back at the beginning?”

The image flickered again, sharpening as the spirit met her eyes. “You know what they say. Can’t contact the dead without breaking a few eggs.”