The Assignment Desk
“The lineup at the assignment desk is much longer than usual, isn’t it?”
“Oh, haven’t you heard? There was a spectacular double super nova in the twin system of Algol and Beta Lyrae. Three heavily populated worlds were blown apart. There were no survivors.”
“Well, that explains it, I guess,” the First Speaker looked through the gathered throng for a soul that he could recognize. There wasn’t any. He realized that it would be a long time before he would be handed his next assignment. He tried to recall his past life. All that he knew was that it was on some temperate planet somewhere in the midst of the Magellan Cloud. It was funny that he could never recall previous lives.
That was quite ordinary. Most souls didn’t. But there were some that seemed to remember everything. The First Speaker wondered if he would even want to remember. He was hoping that the assignment this time around would not be a transient life form. He had heard that some souls were lucky enough to become stellar bodies.
“I take it that you weren’t on one of those three planets,” the Second Speaker who was standing just in front of him asked.
He pulled himself out of his reverie, “No, no. Were you?”
“No, I was born on an intergalactic space pod and lived my whole life there.”
The First Speaker laughed, “I guess you were trying to get to another assignment desk. Can’t say I blame you. The assignments lately leave something to be desired.”
The Second Speaker got caught in the contagion of the laughter. “Might as well, the assignments in this galaxy have been pretty bad lately.” On a more somber key, the Second Speaker added, “But I never want to have to live a life upon a long distance spacecraft again. You wouldn’t believe the tedium. I much prefer a planet this time around.”
“You must remember your past lives?” the First Speaker noted.
“Yes, don’t you?” the Second Speaker said with a degree of disdain. Like most of those who remember, he had a prejudice against those whom he called the Biotic Amnesiacs. What was the use of living an endless series of lives if you could not learn from the past?
The First Speaker read the disgust in the Second. In order to defend himself he said, “In some lives I do have vague recollections of certain events. Once, many lives ago, I can’t remember the name of the planet where I resided, I recall eating this very delicious fruit. The taste was exquisite, so juicy, so invigorating. Every time I return to the assignment desk I am hoping that they will send me back to that place again so that I can partake of that fruit. I don’t think that I have been back there yet.”
“It is often the small pleasures of life that we recall once the term is over. You can’t remember the name of the place? That is a shame! Don’t you carry a docket listing the assignments that you have been given?”
“I used to but I lost it long ago. I never started a new one because …”
The lineup for the assignment desk moved. The Second Speaker spotted a soul that he knew in another line. “Could you hold my place? There’s somebody over there that I want to talk to.”
The First Speaker averred. He watched the Second Speaker strut off toward some soul that was watching his approach. At first, they engaged in friendly banter. They laughed and seemed quite pleased to see each other. But soon the jocularity ebbed into what must have been a serious conversation about their differences.
The First Speaker lost interest in what they were saying. He stood patiently in line while now and then scanning the crowded chamber for somebody that he knew. There wasn’t any.
Being a soul was such a lonely existence especially if you were a Biotic Amnesiac. You never have memories of other souls that you may have encountered during your lives. After the life is over you find yourself back in this assembly room horded together with nothing but strangers. Usually you stand quiet and wait your turn at the assignment desk. Once there, you are coldly handed a sheet of paper containing all of the vitals of your next life – the name of the planet, the name of who you will be, and the upper and lower limits of your success in that life. To reach the upper limit you had to strive. The lower limit was usually easier to achieve. He wondered how he had lived his other lives. Was he a striver or was he a groveller? What did it matter anyway, you only end up at the assignment desk after it was over.
The First Speaker mused on whether any of his lives were as boring as standing in these miserable lines. The line moved up several more spots. He was now able to see the assignment desk and those that handed out the assignments. They were no different from any other souls. On the sheet of paper that was handed to them was simply the words “Assignment Desk”. And there they would have to sit until it was deemed that they provided sufficient service. The time varied there as the term was on a piecework basis. The sheet of paper specified how many assignments were required to be handed out before the term was up.
The First Speaker dreaded the prospects of receiving a term on the Assignment Desk. Even a life on an intergalactic flight like that of the Second Speaker would be wildly more exciting than the desk job. Those on the desk must be constantly hoping for a plethora of holocausts to expedite the termination of their term.
Behind the desk there usually was a sign indicating where the majority in line would be dispatched. As he watched he saw the sign that had read “Delta Cephei” be replaced by a sign that said, “Earth”.
That was a new name for him. But perhaps it wasn’t. He had lost interest in place names a long time ago. Now all the names were all pretty well the same. It didn’t matter to him where he went.
Suddenly the room became ablaze with heated words. The First Speaker turned around and saw the Second Speaker ranting and raving at his friend.
“I don’t care how it was done! But it was at your hands that I died!” The Second Speaker stormed away from his disgruntled friend and returned to his spot in line just in front of the First Speaker.
“What was that all about?” queried the First.
“Never mind!” blurted the Second Speaker. He turned away from the First Speaker and was facing the assignment desk.
The First Speaker did not feel slighted by the indignity. He would never see the Second Speaker again after he receives his assignment.
“Not again!” bellowed the Second Speaker.
The First Speaker tried to ignore the Second Speaker but the Second was directly facing him. This soul was certainly irritating. “Not again what?” murmured the First Speaker.
“You’ve been there before?” asked the First.
“Yes! Several times! It’s from Earth that I got to know that double-crosser over there!” He was pointing at the soul that he had argued with.
Before the First Speaker could comment, the Second Speaker went on, “In one of my lives on that foul chunk of rock I was known as Thomas Beckett. He, over there, was Henry Plantagenet. In our early days we were good friends and real carousers. There was virtually nothing that we wouldn’t do. As I look back at it now, it was probably one of the best excerpts out of the thousands of lives that I have led. But things went sour. He became king over a petty little island that we both lived upon. As a reward for my friendship he granted me a position of power. It was the only time in all of my lives that I had ever attained a position of status. Usually I’m a nobody living a nobody life. But with the power that he gave me I decided to take on the responsibility of power as well. Earth is a problem-infested place. I don’t know why but every soul that goes there has to deal with problem after problem throughout life. Being in a position of power I decided to do something about it. But he, over there, continually thwarted my efforts. Whatever friendship that we had disappeared. We were practically bitter enemies in the end. Although he denies it now I am sure that it was him that was behind my untimely death as Thomas Beckett. I think that I could have really done something to make life better on that miserable planet.” The Second Speaker had built himself up into a rage.
The First Speaker somehow thought that if the Second Speaker as Thomas Beckett had lived longer then conditions on that planet probably would have grown worse judging by the way that he allowed his temper and prejudices to get the better of him. Still the First Speaker felt obliged to patronize the soul in light conversation, “Have you ever met this Henry Plantagenet since?”
“No!” roared the Second. “And I never wanted to! Every time that I come up to the assignment desk I beg them for a transfer to another galaxy. Andromeda would be perfect for what I want. I hear that there that they don’t put any upper limits on your success in life.”
“You want a transfer just because of him?”
“Yes, but they never have given it to me. They say that it’s against the rules to transfer souls across the galaxies. So the last time that I was here I told them that I knew of this space pod that was burrowing its way to Andromeda. I begged them to place me on that pod. To my surprise they did. But what I discovered once I was on that pod was that it would take millennia before it would arrive at the other galaxy. I died before the pod was even one tenth of the way there. And now I find myself back in this stinking assembly room and who do I run across none other than that stinking Plantagenet, that muck-faced Henry the Second!” He raised his voice to the Plantagenet soul. “You are a bastard you know!”
The Plantagenet smirked and tried to ignore the Second Speaker. This only served to increase the anger in the one that used to be called Thomas Beckett. He charged at Plantagenet.
It took several souls to pry the Second Speaker off the Plantagenet.
The clerks at the assignment desk saw all of this take place. They seemed disturbed at the indolence of the Second Speaker who was shoved back into his place in line.
There was only one soul in line ahead of the Second Speaker. The First Speaker watched this soul being given his assignment. As the soul passed on his way out of the room the First Speaker asked what assignment he received.
The soul, almost disinterestedly, replied, “Earth. A country called Honduras. My name is going to be Pedro Carlos Juan de Cortez.”
“What’s your upper limit?” But before the First Speaker could complete his question, the future Pedro was gone.
It was now the Second Speaker’s turn at the assignment desk. The clerks glared at him for his behavior in the assembly room. Before they could hand him his new assignment the Second Speaker demanded, “Give me a transfer to Andromeda! I’ve got to get out of this place!”
“You know that transfers are against the rules!” responded one of the clerks.
“There are special cases. I know of one soul after being given ten lives was given a transfer because each and every time that he was to be born he would die of some mishap. Abortions and miscarriages. You clerks decided that perhaps he wasn’t meant to live in this galaxy. So you gave him a transfer to Andromeda. I’m not meant for this galaxy either. Please give me a transfer, I beseech you!”
The clerks huddled together for several moments. The sheet of paper with the assignment was placed back down on the desk atop a great wad of assignments. The one clerk picked a sheet up from the thin pile to his left. He presented it to his cohorts. They all laughed and agreed that this would be the soul’s disposition.
He handed the sheet to the Second Speaker who quickly snatched it. “Kohoutek? A comet? I am to become a comet? There is no way that I will become a comet! Those things live almost forever! The loneliness and the endless monotony of traveling through empty space would be unbearable! You can’t give me an assignment like that!” he cried.
“I’m sorry but once an assignment is handed out it has to be completed,” spoke one of the clerks barely containing his laughter.
“No, I won’t take it! Give me the one that you were originally going to give me!”
“Rules are rules!” the clerk said while nodding his head. A group of souls suddenly appeared and escorted the screaming Second Speaker out of the room.
The First Speaker’s turn was now at hand. He leaned up against the desk and did not say a word. The anticipation of the assignment kept him speechless.
He watched the clerk reach down on the tall stack of assignments and select the sheet that was originally to be the Second Speaker’s.
The First Speaker nervously took the assignment sheet from the clerk. He walked away from the desk before he read it so as to allow the lineup to proceed more rapidly.
He unfolded the sheet and read very carefully what it said. His destination was Earth where he would reside in a country called England. His name was to be Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and Anne. There was no indication on the assignment what his upper limit would be.