((All copyrights to elements borrowed for the purposes of this story retain the property of their original owners; David Weber and Baen Books; and Tite Kubo and whoever owns Bleach.))Oscar Saint-Just's office was two-thirds of the way across the city from the Octagon, and the office itself lay at the very heart of its own tower. Not even the eye-tearing brilliance of a nuclear detonation could penetrate that much alloy and ceramacrete, but the entire stupendous edifice trembled as if in terror as the shockwave rolled over it. The deeply buried landlines of the government's secure communications system were fully hardened against the EMP of the explosion, and Rachel Speer's image on his com display didn't even flicker.
Nor did her gaze, as she looked out of the display into his eyes.
"Detonation confirmed . . . Citizen Chairman," she said softly.
(From "Nightfall", by David Weber, published in the anthology Changer of Worlds
by Baen Books.)
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Esther McQueen, once Admiral of the People's Navy and Secretary of War for the Committee of Public Safety, sat casually on a pile of rubble. She would have picked up rocks and tossed them at one of the other piles of rubble, but she couldn't: her fingers passed right through them, unless she concentrated on what she was doing. Which made it a poor choice of cure for boredom. What she really wanted to do was to go and throttle Oscar Saint-Just, but for some reason, she couldn't seem to get beyond the edge of the crater that used to be the Octagon. She thought it might have something to do with the piece of chain hanging from her chest, but she couldn't prove anything yet.
"Wow, they really did a number on this place." She didn't turn around, just yet. The voice was young, male, probably a teenager to judge by the sound, but that didn't mean much in a society with access to prolong therapies. Rocks ground against each other underfoot as he walked up to the hill, and then asked her, "Excuse me, miss... er," he paused, for some reason, then continued "Er, Admiral?"
Esther looked up and over at him at last. He looked just as young as his voice sounded, with slightly shaggy brown hair and dark eyes. The black robe was a particularly nice touch, she thought, and fit with the sword belted to his waist. "Can I help you, young man?"
"Ah, well, er," he said, reaching a hand up to scratch the back of his neck, laughing nervously. "Actually, I'm supposed to be here to help you, ma'am. Sorry, let me introduce myself. Keigo Asano, shinigami, eighth seat, fifth division." He bowed, one of the formal, archaic Oriental bows like she'd seen martial artists use.
"Admiral Esther McQueen, People's Navy," she offered in return. "Although I get the feeling that the rank is kind of meaningless now."
"Well," the 'shinigami' (whatever that was) mused, "It's not like we have a lot of space fleets... and I think your old boss kind of fired you."
"That's one way to put it," she agreed. "So what happens now?"
"Mmn. You can't stay here forever... you'd turn into a Hollow, or get eaten by one. That's what we shinigami do, primarily... escort souls like you to the Soul Society."
A bitter laugh escaped her lips. "I'm not exactly expecting to go on to Heaven, kid..."
He shook his head quickly. "No, no, it isn't really like that... at least, not right away. Not even we know if there's really a Heaven like you mean... Soul Society is mostly a place for people to live while they wait to be reborn. Of course, it might take a century or two... or longer... hehhe..."That same nervous laugh again
, McQueen wondered, What is he hiding?
"Are you, ah, ready to go on, then, ma'am?" he asked, slipping his sword easily from its sheathe. She eyed it for a moment, warily, then shrugged.
"I'd like to give Saint-Just his due," she muttered, "But I don't think that's going to be very easy in this state." She stood up, dusted off her uniform trousers - another meaningless gesture - and climbed carefully down from her perch.
"Don't worry, ma'am. Everything's going to be alright." And with that, the boy took his sword, and - did not, as McQueen had feared, slice the blade down through her ghostly body. Instead he simply touched the hilt, ever so gently, to her forehead, and whispered a single word, "Konso."
And then the world went dark, and she saw no more.