A woman stepped forward nervously. “Here, sir.”
St. Peter glanced at her, then looked down to the computer screen in front of him. “Over two hundred points, well done. Please proceed.” The woman skipped lightly through the Pearly Gates, a blissful smile on her face. As the Gates closed, I saw thousands of other beings inside, welcoming her with open arms.
An old man hobbled forward. He seemed to do so out of habit, though; his balance was perfect and he did not favour either leg.
“Thirty-nine point seven, could be worse. It’s Purgatory for you, until you get those last ten points.” St. Peter waved towards a smaller, more modest door beside the Pearly Gates. The old man hobbled through it, with a final longing look at the Gates.
This man was dressed in a sharp suit, and walked ahead smartly. He bowed to the angel. “Present, Your Honour.”
St. Peter glanced at the screen. “Wow. Okay.” He pulled a lever and the clouds below the man parted. Mr. Suit-And-Tie fell out of sight, screaming all the way down. There was a sizzle and a flash of orange, flickering light. The clouds closed again.
I gulped, stepping forward. I wasn’t proud of my life. I’d done many things, some good, some bad. I’d lifted stuff from the local supermarket once or thrice, but I’d been loyal to my friends and family, helping them out in times of need. Surely family matters would give enough points to outweigh some petty larceny, didn’t it? Well, loyal for the most part. Sometimes I just couldn’t find the energy to deal with their problems. Like the time Janet said “we had to talk”, but I was a little busy at the time playing Halo. But I helped take care of her cat when she was away. Except for that one time when it jumped in my cereal and I screamed and accidentally threw it out of –
“Matthew!” St. Peter called, interrupting my thoughts. “Come take a look at this.”
A bespectacled angel flapped his way over, tilting St. Peter’s screen to get a better view.
“Curious,” he said. He prodded a few keys.
I was growing even more nervous than I had been before. I snuck a look at the leaderboards hanging beside St. Peter. Gandhi and his three thousand points smiled back at me, as did Hitler and his negative nine thousand. I wondered if I had just made it to one of the lists.
Several minutes passed, and the two angels continued to pore at the computer, whispering to each other. I glanced behind me. People in the queue were beginning to get restless.
“Excuse me, sir,” I ventured, “Might I ask what the delay is?”
St. Peter looked up and sighed. “It’s a small technical problem, no worries. We’ll get it sorted out soon.”
Beside him, the angel who was presumably St. Matthew gave a soft snort. “Cloud computing. What a joke.”
Hours passed, but the issue didn’t seem to have been solved. An increasing number of angels began to crowd around St. Peter’s computer terminal. Finally, they seemed to reach a conclusion, and St. Peter strode forward.
“Sorry for the delay,” he said. “There’s been a small issue. You see, we track scores with real numbers — that is, numbers with infinite decimal places. Each good or bad thing you do earns you a decimal score between fifty and negative fifty, and we sum them up to get your final score. If your score is positive, we let you into Purgatory or Heaven; if it’s negative you go straight to Hell.
“Your score seems so far to be zero, so we don’t know where to send you. Yet. Summing numbers with infinite decimal places results in exactly zero with exactly zero probability, so all we need to do is keep scrolling down until we find the first significant digit. Not to worry, we’ve looked through several billion digits already, it won’t be much longer.”
Several hours passed.
Several days passed.
The queue for entrance was now rather long. It stretched out as far as the eye could see. People squatted all over the place, having long given up hope of the line moving forward in the foreseeable future. The woman behind me had grown increasingly frustrated, at one point slipping off to have a whispered conversation with an angel, of which I only caught the words “additional terminals”, “bureaucratic inefficiency”, and “fucking idiot”.
All to naught, though, as nobody had yet found any significant digits. Forty angels had been recruited into the effort, and were now searching various parts of my score in parallel, St. Peter himself continuing the first sequence while others skipped gazillions of digits to search in the middle of my score. All zeroes.
At first, I had been confident that a digit would eventually be found, but confidence tends to wane after several octillion digits of evidence to the contrary. At this rate, I was worried that I had locked everyone out of heaven forever.
After a week had passed, I was positively jittery. The good lady behind me was staring daggers at me whenever I happened to look in her general direction, and the rest of the queue was warming to her attitude. Although I was fairly sure I was now an immortal soul, I had a feeling it couldn’t be much longer before the collective efforts of the Queue managed to find a way to make me disappear, permanently.
I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“St. Peter,” I said. “Can you please just send me to Hell?”
St. Peter lifted his weary face, and removed his spectacles. “Excuse me?”
“Well, I understand that you need certain criteria for letting people enter Heaven, but my being here is preventing everyone else from entering either. Would you please send me to Hell so that everyone else can proceed on to the afterlife?”
St. Peter looked at me thoughtfully. “You are aware that Hell is an eternity of suffering, yes?”
“And you are willing to bear it, on the behalf of everyone else in the queue?”
I paused. It couldn’t be much worse than an eternity of waiting in a queue, especially one with Ms. Pissed-Off plotting behind my back. “Yes.”
St. Peter nodded slowly. “As you wish.” He reached for the lever he’d pulled earlier to drop Mr. Suit-And-Tie down the gutter. I closed my eyes.
There was an electronic ding, and St. Matthew’s voice cried out, “Wait!”
I opened my eyes. I was still standing on the cloudy ground before the Pearly Gates.
St. Matthew pointed excitedly to the monitor. “Look!”
“Well, I never,” St. Peter exclaimed. “It looks like your act of ultimate personal sacrifice has earned you fifty points! I can let you in now.”
“Uh…” St. Matthew said.
St. Peter waved me toward the small door to Purgatory.
“Uhhh…” St. Matthew said.
“What is it?” St. Peter asked, turning to him.
“He got fifty points, Pete. Fifty point zero. Fifty point zero zero zero zero.”
“So… should we send him to Purgatory or Heaven?”