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The Netherworld extended throughout this dimension almost to infinity, joining millions of others.

Hundreds of thousands of narrow boats wended their way through the channels collecting the souls that fell from the lands of the living. Each boat was captained by a Ferryman and each of one of these had been picked by me or had decided not to carry on at the end of their journey into Gaia’s realm. These few redeemed sinners took on the duties of a Ferryman and plied the waterways in my name and collected souls. My people had constructed the Netherworld eons ago when the universe was new. We were the first to dawn into sentience and we were totally alone for a several billion years or more. During that time we became immortal and were faced with the responsibility of running the universe and we encouraged sentience wherever we found that a ‘nudge’ would provoke results. Sometimes as gardeners we would have to weed out the foul shoots and start again. I had been in charge of humanity right from the beginning when Homoerectus had first started to use simple tools. Many different types of man had come and gone until the present day when Homo-sapiens displaced Homo-Neanderthal in the race for dominance. I was saddened to see the Neanderthals disappear from this world, but took some comfort in the fact that genetically they became absorbed into man’s genome. In the early days I had intervened from time to time when the aura of wickedness became too much for me to bear and had tried to encourage mankind to turn his collective back on evil and wickedness. From time to time a few good men had overturned the balance and destroyed the wicked. It was hard to learn to understand this very alien emotion, as my kind had no experience amongst ourselves. Few sentient life forms ever killed their own kind. From time to time the actions of my charges sickened me and forced my hand, causing me to use my powers through the conduits of my Ferrymen. I caused some terrible regimes to founder by taking direct action. Some of the early cities and their despicable cultures forced me into action, but all in the end to no avail. So I allowed mankind to seek its own destiny and now they sat on the brink of disaster as the weapons that they had developed had become too powerful to dare to use. There were always fanatics who were prepared to die without thinking of those they were taking with them. I feared that nuclear devices were being smuggled into cities. Time and again intelligence services found them just in time. Opposing religions had spread throughout the various societies, all of them declaring the others wrong. Intolerance spread hatred and ignorance held sway, deeply rooted amongst a great deal of them. Here and there however, sanity prevailed and time after time this planet was pulled out of peril by the efforts of a few. Only a small number of them adjusted easily to the Netherworld and accepted the way that reality was here. These were predominately those who died with no pre-set beliefs and all were grateful that they had survived the transition from flesh to spirit and that death was not oblivion.

Many of them filled the holds of the narrow boats and laboured in terrible conditions until they redeemed themselves. Some of them stored up so much evil that even when the boats pulled into the last lock they were condemned to remain inside the hold and do another journey. The Imps that spread themselves over the hull of the narrow-boat were the ones who judged the souls that laboured inside the hold. They were tuned to sense sin and wickedness and until they sensed a moment of redemption from those who arduously fed the engine by their efforts, they kept them imprisoned. In this world souls could feel the need for water and rest even though they would never need either. They were racked with thirst and aching muscles because their minds told them that was what they should suffer. Inside the hold, rats would continue to eat them alive while the bites healed overnight, only to present new flesh to be gnawed upon in the morning. Once a realisation of the wicked things that they had done in life began to gnaw upon their souls and true sorrow for what they had been responsible for, made them weep, would they be sensed by the Imps. When this occurred they would find themselves propelled onto the deck to confront the Ferryman who would welcome them with open arms. Redemption was possible here and at the end the cleansed souls would be at last fit to journey onwards. I loved them all as if they were my own children and felt their pain. I was proud of the men and women who elected to remain and work as Ferrymen in my domain. Some of them had been with me since the icecaps had given way and released the lands from under the glaciers. Although their souls were scoured clean, they chose to stay and help keep watch over the many races of mankind that had evolved. Now I had the problem of the People of the Star-lanes who had come to this world to keep a brake upon mankind until he was ready morally to go to the stars and meet other cultures. I had already sent three of them back to their home-world’s afterlife and accidents had happened with collisions between alien vessels and fighter planes that had chased them. When that had happened, the alien crafts had vaporised rather than leave anything behind that might be picked up and examined. Now the grey ones kept mainly on the dark side of the moon and ran a base from there. The scientific knowledge of this species continued to grow far faster than the people of the Star-lanes could cope with and they retreated from the moon to Ganymede where they could still outwit the sensors of the human beings. The time was fast approaching when others of my kind would come here to sit in judgement on these incredible people. I had saved them from extinction several times by intervening in their affairs. The closest call was when I was forced to make sure that the manned Mars expedition did not come back to Earth, bringing the microbial life

that would have wiped out every living thing on this planet. In the past I had to stand by and prepare my Ferrymen to be ready to accept a quarter of a million souls when a tsunami hit the holiday coastline. Volcanoes erupted and more bewildered souls were collected from the aftermath. Now the one thing I had dreaded was starting to show activity. The super volcano underneath Yellow-stone Park was beginning to surge upwards and fill the void. The last time this had exploded the northern parts of America had disappeared under a mantle of ash in some places a mile deep. The sun had not been seen for years and a mass extinction had taken place. The different types of mankind had been reduced to a few species as they could not adapt. It was indeed the survival of the fittest for the few thousand who had managed to scavenge what they could. This time man was not so adaptable and did not have the hunter-gatherer skills. If I were to be able to do anything I would need my people to help. I would need to convince them that humanity were worth saving and would contribute to the myriad species of sentient creatures that inhabited the rest of the universe. It still amazes me that a matter of a few hundred years ago they used horses to get around. Now they use jet planes and have sent out planetary probes! What they could achieve in the future is a matter of conjecture. All I have to do is to keep them alive. It gets harder every year! I put out a telepathic call to my brethren and waited for a response to my plea. I could only hope that they would see some saving grace amongst the billions of sentient beings on this world. I feared the question that they would ask and that would be, “Do they still kill their own young?” An answer of, “Most of them do not,” would not sway the judgment. So I sit and wait and struggle with argument after argument in their favour to sway the ruling in their favour. They will be here soon and already the super volcano is starting to rise.