CHAPTER 3, MEMORIAL DAY

The courtroom outside the gate to hell…

Joan stares at her former tutor and current lawyer wondering…did she hear him right? That she is guilty and has no defense?

Judge Joan comments, "Well, since the defense has no case, I guess I have to come up with a verdict…"

Joan jumps to her feet. "Whoa-whoa-whoa, don't I have a right to a defense? Because I'm not willing to just bend over and take this."

The angel says, "Joan, what is the point in dragging this out any longer? Throw yourself on the mercy of the court and hope for the best."

"From a judge who was hand-picked to be harsh on me? No thank you. Are you saying you're not willing to try to defend me?"

"I would gladly defend you if that were possible, but Joan, you're guilty. I cannot ethically attempt to prevent a judgment you deserve."

Joan sighs. "Of course – you're an angel and you have to strictly follow the rules… You're fired! I'll defend myself."

The angel shrugs and walks away, stepping over the railing into the gallery section. The spectators hastily give him lots and lots of room. The devil calls out…

"I object! This case is already over."

"Technically, the defense didn't rest." Judge Joan rules.

The devil adds, "The defendant is unqualified to act in her own behalf."

Judge Joan looks through her notes… "Actually, the defendant has the right to ask anyone to represent her. I'm thinking 'anyone' would include herself. Joan, are you ready to begin?"

"May I have a few moments to consider my case, your honor?"

"Sure. Take five everybody. Maybe I could get a cold drink – like a Sprite?" (In the next moment an ice cold glass of Sprite appears. Judge Joan smiles.) "Wow…cool."

As Judge Joan sips her drink and while Naval Officer devil glares, Joan tries to think of some strategy to get her out of this mess. The whole 'Playing God' business is ill-defined, but apparently by the standards of this court she is guilty as charged. She was careless with Simon's life and by ripple association, the lives of Sgt. Donaldson and Cpl. Montoya. She did waver in faith both on her birthday and at New Year when she chose not to follow God's advice. Joan was too scared of the devil's threat to accept anything less than a guarantee from God about Simon, and she didn't feel up to handling the power God was offering - the power he said she would adapt to if she gave it more time. But if she had continued praying for Simon's safety as promised, perhaps then she would have been better prepared to deal with that ripples-reading ability and these three men would not have died.

But that is beyond change, and the question is: what now? How do you win in a court where you are known to be guilty and no one can lie? Wait…a court where no MORTAL can lie. When she told Ryan about what God said, how even when the devil is telling the truth he has a lie hidden inside, Ryan advised her to pay attention to God's words. Somewhere in all of this mess, the devil has been lying…

"I'm ready, your honor. I call Sgt. Donaldson to testify."

Judge Joan chuckles. "As a defense witness? Good luck."

Elmo Donaldson reluctantly goes to the center of the courtroom and gives Joan a hostile stare.

"Sergeant…or can I call you Elmo?" (He shrugs.) "Okay Elmo, I first want to express my regret that you have suffered an early death."

"Because of you."

"So it seems, but please understand, I had to take the devil's threat seriously. It wasn't the first time he has arranged to have killed someone I love. I truly had no knowledge of what would happen because of my attempt to save Simon's life."

"But you could have – that's the point, ain't it? You had a chance to square things and wouldn't take it. You let your personal issues prevent you from doing what is right."

"And what is right?"

Donaldson snorts derisively. "Following God, obviously. I may not be some fancy instrument of God, but even I have that figured out. When God offers you something he says you need and that you can handle, you take it no matter what doubts you may have. Call it faith, call it courage but that's what you do."

"I suppose as a soldier it is helpful to have courage and faith."

"You could say that."

"But as a man of faith, believing in God, doesn't it bother you to see whose side you're on?"

The devil retorts, "Objection! Irrelevant."

Joan quickly adds, "Shouldn't I be allowed to conduct my defense any way I see fit?"

Judge Joan races through her notes on multiple notepads, but can't find what she is seeking. "Ahh…I wish I had more time to study for this. Okay, my gut feeling is that Joan can go any which way she wants because it is her life that's at stake, but…there are limits – so watch it Joan."

"Thank you, your honor. So Elmo, we were discussing how you ended up on the side of the devil…"

"I'm not on his side! You think I'm not freaked out by all of this? You think I like associating with this…person?"

"Then how did you and Cpl. Montoya end up with the devil representing you?"

"Well, I can only speak for me. When I died my…'soul' rose up from my body and I could see myself on the floor dead, with Julio dead beside me. At first I was shocked and sort of in denial. Then I started thinking about my family and what was going to happen to them and how I was going to miss them so much. But just after that, I felt a tug that was urging me to go up. I rose into the air and saw a bright light that seemed to glow with…love. It's hard to explain, but I knew that was where I was supposed to go. I started approaching the light, and I heard my grandparents calling me from the other side not to be worried because I was coming home. As I got nearer all that remained of the world was that shaft of light and darkness beyond it. That's when I heard someone calling my name from the darkness."

"The devil?"

"Yeah, but I didn't realize that at first. He was dressed like an officer, and naturally I paused to hear what he had to say. He was upfront and told me who he really was, and he said one of his responsibilities is to be 'the accuser of the brethren'. The devil said my early death was due to you, Miss Girardi. He said my blood had the right to call out for justice, because your actions deprived me of the long, happy life I had ahead of me."

Joan pauses to look up at the giant TV screen, but it is blank. "Hey, do we need to call a repairman for this thing?"

The devil answers, "The screen only shows matters of mortal affairs. It does not display spiritual dealings."

"How convenient for you. Can I have Cpl. Montoya up here too, testifying side-by-side with his comrade?"

Judge Joan says, "That one I know. People can be questioned team fashion if their stories are intertwined."

Montoya steps forward and nods to Joan. "Before you ask, you can call me Julio."

"Thank you Julio, and again, I am sorry."

Julio nods again. "Yeah, I can see that, even if you weren't truth-compelled the way this location forces you to be. I can see you're a nice person, Miss. But even nice, rueful people have to face the punishment they deserve."

"Okay…let's get back to how this legal proceeding began. Is your story similar to Elmo's?"

"Practically word for word, right down to the promise that I had been denied a long, happy life because of you, Miss. I was reluctant to have anything to do with the devil, but I was assured by an angel – not like that one, that this lawsuit would have no effect on my chances of getting into heaven."

Joan looks to the spectators and gets a nod from her old tutor. "Was it explained to you what I do?"

"Yeah, you're an instrument of God – whatever that means."

"It means I'm a soldier in God's army. I do battle with evil in its' various forms on a regular basis. I spend a lot of my time sending the devil's demons into hell where they are locked away for all time. Last Halloween, I sent the most powerful form of demon to hell – a death demon. It is a malevolent creature that fosters violence between large groups of people. Its' kind is the primary reason for war. If you listen closely, you can pick out its' distinctive screams of agony from all of the rest."

Montoya and Donaldson pause to listen and they both gulp with nervousness.

Joan continues, "As you can imagine, my work is very dangerous. I'm a soldier on the front line, and every day I don't know if I will live or die. But like all good soldiers, I carry on with my duty, trusting God even when my faith begins to weaken. Yes, I was offered a power that would let me see the ripples of all of my actions, but the ability had a major drawback. One of the first things I examined was my fight with the death demon, and I saw that the chance of my success was only one in twenty. Can you imagine going into a battle knowing that you only had a five percent chance of survival? How good of a soldier would you be knowing that?"

The two soldiers hesitate as they think about Joan's question. Donaldson says, "Yeah, I see your point."

Montoya adds, "I don't think any soldier could function knowing something like that ahead of time."

The devil protests, "Guys, don't let her fool you with this cheap sentiment. Sure, a soldier's life is tough, but you have to trust your general in order to get the job done right. Joan didn't do that and it cost you years and years of happiness with your families."

Joan smiles, finally seeing the devil's lie. "Yeah...show us the lives of these two soldiers if I had never interfered with Simon's deployment."

The giant screen shows the same small room where Simon has just died and his two comrades have been saved by his heroism. The men are appalled and scream for medics to come help, but they know it is too late. A rapid montage shows the sad details that follow: the removal of Simon's body back to their base camp, the interviews with officers as they investigate Simon's death and the sadness of every man in Simon's unit over the death of such a popular soldier. The next day is Sunday, and there is a well attended memorial for Sgt. Simon Newman, and later the chaplain along with an army shrink give Julio and Elmo grief counseling. On Monday (today) the demands of war have the two men returned to duty with a new gunner –the same Cpl. Lamar Jackson who would have been with them on that fatal day if Joan had not interfered. The three men walk toward the staging area where many different vehicles are stored, including their Bradley tank. On the way a fuel truck passes by and suddenly a tire blows. The truck flips over, crushes the fuel compartment and soaks all three men in gasoline. One spark…

"Oh my God!" Julio cries out while making the sign of the cross. The spectators recoil from the words and gesture.

The images continue. Jackson burns to death almost immediately, but Julio and Elmo manage to barely survive badly burned. They are rushed to the hospital where doctors work tirelessly to save their lives, but it is no use. Julio lingers nine days before he perishes. Elmo manages twelve. Both men die in agony with their families aware of how much they have suffered…

Elmo points at the devil and snarls, "You lied to us! You rotten sonuva…"

Judge Joan raps her gavel. "Am I wrong, or are you two men about to drop your charges against the defendant?"

Both soldiers respond in unison, "Yes!"

"Then case dismissed." a smiling Judge Joan says as she raps her gavel.

All goes black.

X X X X X

Joan blinks her eyes, getting use to the sudden sunlight. She is back in the cemetery and is standing in the exact spot she was in when she was 'dragged down' earlier...but when? It seems like hours have passed by, but Joan realizes she has been returned to the very second when she left. Joan retraces her steps and sees that her cousin's funeral is still going on, and apparently her abscence hasn't been noticed. Joan also sees that Simon's ghost has returned and is watching his own funeral from a short distance away. Standing next to him is the familiar form of God - Naval Officer God. Trying not to draw attention to herself, Joan walks over to them.

"Hello Joan, I'm glad you won." Simon says.

"Are you Simon? Because it seems I screwed over your life pretty good. If I had accepted the power I was offered..."

"Then I wouldn't have died in Iraq yesterday. Instead, I would have been one of those caught in the gasoline fire that was going to happen today."

"Okay, but if I hadn't butted in, you would have at least died a hero's death. Wouldn't that have been some comfort to your family?"

Simon points to the crowd of mourners. "You see how grief stricken Steven is? Right now he hates the army because I died a 'sad, silly death'. If I had died a 'hero', he would have been very proud of me and would have felt compelled to follow in my footsteps. Three years from now he would have died in Afghanistan trying to finish the job his 'brave' big brother started."

"We're still going to be in Afghanistan in three years?"

Simon looks apologetically to Naval Officer God. "I may have said too much. If you will excuse me, I want to go say goodbye to everyone before I...move on. I know they won't be able to hear or see me, but I'll feel better after saying farewell."

"Okay, but be careful. My Mom can see you like I do."

"Really. You Girardis are a surprising bunch." Simon says with a smile before walking away.

Joan watches as Simon walks toward the mourners. "Okay God, what the 'hell' was that all about?"

"Your trial? I would think it was self explanatory."

"What happened to my spiritual shield? I thought I was off limits to the devil's actions."

"You are, as long as you are in right standing with me - which has never ceased. But, you were open to the charges of Sgt. Donaldson and Cpl. Montoya. The devil spoke the truth when he called himself the accuser of the brethren and that the blood of those two men had the right to call out for justice. Of course as usual, the enemy lied for he was presenting a case of revenge."

"I guess I was lucky that he was also lying about those men living a long, happy life if I hadn't messed things up."

"With some people there is an appointed time, and defeating that time requires far more than luck."

"So there never was a chance to save Simon and the other two?"

"Joan, you remember from the brief time you had the advanced power, there are numerous scenarios with differing degrees of likelihood. The odds were long, but they could have been beaten just as when you defeated the death demon."

"So I am responsible for these men dying..." Joan says as tears come to her eyes.

"No Joan, the war is responsible. The hatred of man for his fellow man is responsible, and the other side has a lot of blame to share. That death demon you defeated was not the only one in existence. Your part was so small, you may as well blame a single drop of water for a flood. Simon holds no grudge against you, nor do Donaldson and Montoya, who have learned a valuable lesson."

"Speaking of lessons, I have the feeling the whole reason you allowed that trial to take place was to teach me one."

Naval Officer God smiles. "There were lessons to be learned, but most of all, there was experience to be gained. Joan, you have chosen the lifepath of a lawyer, and you will be a good one both here...and in that other courtroom."

"Oh wait, you mean...?"

"You will be receiving instruction on the legal proceedings of a spiritual court so that you may help defend the accused."

"Why not just have one of your angels do it?"

"As you have seen, they lack the outside-the-box thinking that makes you one of my better soldiers. Of course this isn't an order...you have free will."

Joan snickers. "Yeah, like I didn't learn that lesson today. So I'm getting a new tutor - one that specializes in spirtitual law?"

"Actually, he is someone you know well."

"The big guy?"

"He requested the assignment. To his own surprise, he misses you."

"Aww, I'm touched - sort of, and it's bound to better than when I had to listen to his demonology lectures while he ran me ragged."

"Um, he mentioned he thought you were slacking off in the physical training depatment. Don't be surprised if he raps on your window at dawn."

Before Joan can respond with a groan, Simon rejoins them.

"Thank you God for that opportunity."

"You are welcome, Simon. Are you ready to go?"

"Yes sir. Joan, thank you for caring, and thanks for the honor. I hear I will have a namesake through you?"

Joan blushes and nods. "That is a possible scenario, but I can't offer a guarantee, especially since I don't even have a boyfriend."

Simon smiles back. "Give it time, and rest assured, I'll be watching that namesake with great interest. Your side of the family has a tendency toward...special gifts. You were right, your mom did see me and so did your sister."

"E.T. saw you? You're sure?"

"I smiled, she smiled. I waved, she waved back. Yeah, I'm sure."

"Simon..." God hints.

"Gotta go. We will see each other again someday, cousin. Goodbye, Joan."

"Goodbye, Simon." Joan says as she watches Simon walk away with Naval Officer God. There is a flash of light, and they are gone. Joan goes to rejoin her family...

THE END

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