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Dec 14, 2018 9:45 PM
jean and imrainai in the good place
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As waiting rooms go, it's a very nice waiting room.

The chairs are cushily comfortable, like sitting in a hug. There's music, but it's very faint and instrumental and probably classical. The color scheme is mostly white, with touches of cheery primary colors.

Foot-high green letters across one long wall proclaim:

EVERYTHING IS FINE

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Well that isn't ominous at all. She doesn't feel like anything in particular is wrong, but if someone is trying to convince her of that then maybe she should double-check.

She doesn't have her purse with her, that's a problem. Or her phone, that's also a problem. Or her keys. How did she even get here. 

It occurs to her that she has no idea where "here" is.

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One of a pair of white doors opens.

A white-haired gentleman in a colorful suit peers out -- sees her -- smiles.

"Karen! Come on in."

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"Hi!" she says, automatically, still trying to remember where she is. Probably she made some kind of appointment and then completely forgot about it. Usually that results in her not going to the appointment at all, but oh well. Maybe he'll give her some kind of hint what this is before she actually has to say anything.

She follows him through the doors.

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He gestures her into a chair, and sits across a desk from her.

"Hi, Karen. I'm Michael." His voice is very warm and only a little scripted, like a salesman at an expensive store when you've already decided to buy something and are just working out the details. "How are you today?"

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"Good! I'm good."

Well, some internal voice berates her. I am well.

She bites her lip. "I'm sorry, I've had a long day, can you remind me what we were going to talk about today?"

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"Right! So."

He takes on a somewhat graver look.

"You, Karen Teller, are dead. Your life on Earth has ended, and you are now in the next phase of your existence in the universe."

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"Oh," she says, quietly. 

Huh. OK. Well. This seems fairly unbelievable, but it does explain the hole in her memory, so there's that.

"So are you, like, Michael the Archangel? Because you look pretty different in the paintings, but I guess you would."

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"Well, you know, that's sort of a complicated question," he says, sounding like he's explained this quite a few times before but doesn't at all mind explaining it again. "The thing you have to understand is ... Christians got maybe five percent of it right. Actually, just about everyone got about five percent of it right. Muslims, about five percent right. Hindus, about five percent right. Buddhists, about five percent right. Of course, Doug Fourcett got like ninety-two percent of it right. That's a picture of him right there."

There's a framed picture on the wall of a teenager with wild hair. The placard beneath does indeed say Doug Fourcett.

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"Oh," she says again, looking at the picture.

Doug Fourcett looks pretty modern and American to have been the one person in all of human history to have gotten the afterlife mostly right, but the world does contain exponentially more people now than it has for the vast majority of human history, so maybe that's not as statistically unlikely as it seems.

Anyway. That's not important. Dead. Or dreaming, dreaming is really more likely. But on the off chance that she isn't, she should probably try to figure out what's actually happening.

"So, uh, what did he get right, then? What happens now?"

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"Well. It's not the Heaven or Hell idea that you were raised on, but generally speaking ... in the afterlife, there's a good place, and there's a bad place."

He pauses for perhaps a moment longer than strictly necessary.

"You're in the good place. You're okay, Karen. You're in the good place."

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"Oh," she says, like she's not sure whether to be surprised by that or not.

She would be lying if she claimed that wasn't a relief, although the idea that she might be completely wrong about the metaphysics of the universe is - well, not unbelievable, actually, it's not like she's particularly dedicated her life to figuring out the metaphysics of the universe, and this place doesn't seem particularly lake-of-fire-y, so that's good, but -

"Why?"

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"Well, Karen, you spent your life helping people, and just putting goodness out into the world and improving the lives of everyone around you. You worked as a nurse and brought comfort to the last days of suffering people. You looked after children and brought happiness into their days. You wrote stories that shone a light into lonely and troubled souls. Did you know that once, after reading your blog, a stockbroker reconsidered his life, gave his entire fortune to charity, and became a contemplative friar?"

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"Gosh," she says, because she's not really used to the idea of anything she's said or done mattering in any kind of tangible, observable way. "Good for him. Although I guess if Christianity is completely false, then being a contemplative friar is probably not the best possible career path."

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"Oh, no, it turns out that the best possible career path is working for a particular start-up in San Francisco. But that's not important. What's important is that you, Karen Teller, are in the Good Place! Wouldn't you like to have a look around?"

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"Oh. Yeah, that sounds good," she says. Actually the best possible life path thing is important, but if she's actually dead then she's probably going to have time to look into this later.

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He beams, and ushers her out a different door into the cool fresh air of a sunny spring day.

The neighborhood looks like a cross between a charming old European city and Disneyland: the buildings are just a little small, the roads curvy and foot-trafficked, the stonework spotlessly clean except where it's instead overgrown with ivy or sprouting tiny flowers in its cracks. There's a soft babble of running water and of the separate conversations of smiling people strolling from one place to another; several of them wave cheerfully at her and Michael. Even the breeze has an inexpressibly pleasant scent to it -- cookies almost ready to come out of the oven, maybe, or wildflowers heavy with morning dew.

"So this is how it works," Michael says, as they walk. "The Good Place is divided into distinct neighborhoods. Each one contains exactly three hundred and twenty-two people who have been perfectly selected to blend together into a peaceful, harmonic balance."

(Welcome! says a banner on a second-story wall, in the same large green text as the wall of the waiting room. Various storefronts identify themselves as Infinite Light or Your Anticipated Needs or the Small Adorable Animal Depot. Each is uniquely cute and cheery and welcoming in its design.)

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It's hard not to be genuinely impressed by how nice everything is, though it does seem a little - cartoony, maybe, like a parody of goodness produced by someone who can mostly imagine it but who hasn't ever actually experienced it.

"It's nice," she says, because it is. "Can you travel between the neighborhoods?"

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"Yes, well, there is a train that goes between neighborhoods. But you can only travel on it with special permission, because any kind of disruption to the balance of a neighborhood could ruin its perfection. Which would be awful!"

Michal comes to a stop at an intersection with a frozen yogurt store on each of the four corners, puts a hand on her shoulder. "You're going to have a million more questions, I know. But right now, better grab a seat." He gestures towards a nearby grassy lawn, where people are gathering to sit on folding chairs, arrayed in arcs in front of a small stage.

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Karen is honestly pretty sure that if you put any group of three hundred and twenty-two yet-imperfect humans in a neighborhood, then you're going to get some kind of imbalance anyway, but she cooperatively heads over the the grassy lawn and takes a seat.

She looks around the crowd a little. She has no idea whether the good place is like high school, but that was the last time she went to an orientation thing like this, and in high school it seemed pretty important to get to know the other people quickly, because you were all sort of going to be stuck together for the next - gosh, this time it's supposed to actually be forever, isn't it. She had better figure out how to make this go decently well.

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The people finding their seats are of varied ethnicities, and dressed in different styles, some of them conspicuously regional -- there's a man in some kind of plain robes, and a woman in a sari -- though with a general tendency towards neat grooming and pastels. There's variety in age, too, within a range of maybe twenty to fifty: no children, and no really old people, but there's gray hair and wrinkles visible. All the conversation she can hear is in English; a few people look like they already know each other, but mostly it's the polite chatter of introductions.

And then there's something like very low-key fireworks, tracing out a rectangle in the air in front of them, and the crowd goes quiet as a white screen flickers into existence, and the orientation video begins.

The video features a cheerful Michael, welcoming them all to their first day in the afterlife. He explains, with visuals in the best Powerpoint style, that every one of their actions has been judged and totaled up according to a perfectly accurate measuring system, with some being marked positive and some negative according to "how much good they put out into the universe."

(A few examples flicker briefly by on the screen -- "eat a sandwich" and "sing to a child" and "give out full size candy bars at halloween" are the green color of positive actions, "buy a trashy magazine" and "use 'facebook' as a verb" and "commit genocide" are the red of negatives.)

After death, the video-Michael explains, everyone's score is calculated, and the people with the very highest scores get to come to the Good Place. ("What happens to everyone else, you ask? Don't worry about it.") And what's more, each person's actual soulmate ("yes, that's right, soulmates are real") is in the neighborhood too; they will spend eternity together.

"So welcome to eternal happiness," he concludes. "Welcome to the Good Place. Sponsored by ... otters holding hands while they sleep! You know the way you feel when you see a picture of two otters holding hands? That's how you're going to feel every day."

Everyone applauds as the video ends.

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She claps enough to not look conspicuous.

OK. Yeah. That's a thing. She was confused for a bit, and she's actually still pretty confused about the specifics of what's happening, but the important thing is that this isn't - obviously it's not heaven, but it's also not any kind of good afterlife, because whoever or whatever created humans could not possibly have produced an afterlife that both utterly failed to meet humans' psychological needs and that sorted people based on how many sandwiches they ate.

Also soulmates aren't real. Probably. What would it even mean for a soulmate to be real. What if they're real for everyone else but she's somehow particularly bad at - uh-uh, nope, not thinking about this, there are important things to attend to, such as the fact that whatever this place is it is not what it claims to be.

If the afterlife is bullshitting her - and it clearly is - then her next best guess is her existing model of the universe. But this clearly isn't heaven, and it doesn't seem to be hell, and -

Oh. 

She'd expected purgatory to feature more obvious suffering and less bald-faced lying, but this is a model she can work with. She just has to learn to be the sort of person who can successfully exist in heaven, and maybe then she'll get to actually go there.

(Also maybe she's dreaming or she's been abducted by aliens, but those don't really imply anything about what she should be doing, so she's just gonna go ahead and assume that this is purgatory. 'Try to be better' seems unlikely to backfire, as general plans of action go.)

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Michael finds her in the dispersing crowd.

"Karen! I'm so excited to show you your new home. You're going to love it."

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"Oh." She had not actually expected to receive any more individual attention, especially if all of them got here at the same time (did they?) and there's only one Michael (is there?) and there's no particular reason why she should be more important than anyone else (is - no, actually, she definitely isn't). "Um, do you need to show anyone else their houses first? I'm sure everyone else is really excited to see them, too."

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"Well aren't you sweet! That's just like you, Karen. You're a very special person." Michael steers her along a quaint little cobblestone path, gesturing as he speaks. "You helped so many people. And now you're in the Good Place. Welcome to your new home."

He's come to a stop in front of a big, open house, single-story but wide and sprawling, full of floor-to-ceiling windows and open walls and porticoes so that it's hard to tell where the wide lawn ends and the airy interior begins. There's flowerbeds neatly laid out around the building; the roof is grass-covered; and she can already see, through the windows, the potted greenery inside.

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" - oh, wow."

It's a weird house. It's not the sort of thing she would have expected based on the aesthetic of the town, and it doesn't have much in common with the places she's imagined that people in heaven might live, but it's interesting, and that's something. Besides, if this place is purgatory, then it's probably all been set up for her benefit in one sense or another, and she owes it to whoever runs this place (God? Michael?) to investigate it.

She steps inside.

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