The Eighth Heaven is stunning. It looks as if a tie-dye artist sprayed the entire place with happy colors. Everything is balanced—the same number of houses on the streets, the same number of windows on the houses, and the same number of flowers on either side of the street.
A gentle breeze is blowing. It is circulating air that smells like a combination of baked apples and pumpkin pie. The air has an excitement to it. It feels like an autumn day. As a connoisseur of air, I am sure this is the sweetest I’ve ever smelled. People fly kites in the open field to the right. To the left is a carnival in full swing. Jazzy music is playing through the street speakers and everyone seems to be enjoying their day.
“Are they celebrating a holiday?”
“No, this is how things are in the Eighth Heaven. The people who live here are all about enjoying life. They are Idealists by definition. When they get serious about solving a problem, they are highly creative. They attribute their creativity to keeping life simple and balanced, as you see here. They can come up with multiple solutions to a problem when others can’t find a single one. There is a tremendous energy flow here. I get invigorated every time I visit.”
“It sounds great. Why don’t you live here?”
“For the same reason you will not choose to live here: It’s a bit too much happy for me. I know that sounds odd when talking about Heaven, but we bring our Earthly desires with us. Some things do not change. You need challenges and obstacles in your life, and I need to be dissecting problems and organizing chaos. But this is still a great place to visit if you need an infusion of positive energy.”
“Tell me about the people here. I can see they are intent on enjoying themselves. What does it take to engage them into work—like solving complex problems you mentioned?”
“You have to make it interesting. Once engaged into a project, Idealists are like pit bulls—they’ll keep going until they get exactly what they want. You can’t really lead them to do anything they do not want to do. They’re free spirits for sure. Like helium-filled balloons—the more you try to contain them, the more they try to escape your grip. The key is slipping on a string while they are flying high on ideas. They’ll bounce along behind you and be happy to let you lead. After all, leadership is mostly about doing boring stuff, right?”
I begin to argue the point, but Seneca winks and I see the question is both rhetorical and mixed with sarcasm. He knows I find leadership to be the most intense part of life. Seneca seems delighted with himself for being one Strategist who has figured out how to work with Idealists.
“Idealists share a competitive spirit and an independent streak with the Warriors. But, unlike Warriors, they are sensitive. If you take them on, prepare yourself for a verbal confrontation. They are the great communicators, and are never short of words. They have the extraordinary gift of limitless imagination—this gives them an advantage over the other two. Enjoy the colorful view. It’s a short walk to the place we meet your next team members.”
I increase my pace so I can be side-by-side with Seneca. I want to talk to him out of the hearing range of Seiko and Sterling. “Seneca, can I ask you how you chose this team? From what I have seen so far, the personalities and skill sets are all over the grid. I’m not sure we’ll be able to complete a task in a cohesive manner. The military teams I have led all had the same skill set. This is making me a little uneasy.”
“How can you be uneasy without knowing anything about the assignment? Don’t worry. Michael chose this team. There’s no better fighter than Michael. He’s familiar with the Great Mission and he’s familiar with you. Just hold tight. You’ll meet him when we set the strategy. He will explain how the combined talents you are questioning make the best team. Diversity always strengthens a team.”
“Michael? Are you referring to the biblical Archangel Michael?’”
“Whoa, it’s too bad you don’t allow cell phones here. I could load my Snapchat with some pretty great pictures with the Archangel of War.”
“And send them where? And show them to whom?”
“You got me there.”
“Who told you we don’t allow cell phones? You can have any material thing you desire. You can pick one up at the depot outside the gates of the Seventh Heaven. And, you will be happy to know that the signal up here is fantastic.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Just a little. Once you master telepathy, you won’t be interested in carrying a limited communication tool everywhere you go.”
“Point taken. I’m sure telepathy is more efficient.”
“Grayson, I sense your frustration. I promise you’re getting the information you need. The whole picture comes together soon.”
“Alright, we’re here. We are about to meet the next two members of the team. Let’s make them feel welcome.” Seneca opens the double doors of a small faux castle. As soon as I step inside, I am startled by a reflection of myself right in front of me. All the walls are covered with mirrors.
“What is all this?”
“I’ll answer that, Seneca.” The voice comes from a man in his twenties who jumps down from a ledge above a mirrored wall. He is dressed in a white button-down shirt and black skinny jeans. His high-top sneakers are covered with colored squares that resemble a Rubik’s Cube. His hair is bleach-blond and layered with bits of blue, green, and purple. “We like the mirrors for checking our appearance—and for having some fun. This is a perfect place for us to get a little crazy. It’s like a carnival funhouse; it’s challenging to get out of here, and it can take hours. It’s fun because you keep running into people you know while you’re looking for the exit. Hi, I’m Liam.”
“Hello. I’m Grayson.”
“What’s up, Grayson? We have been looking forward to your arrival.”
“Am I picking up a Russian accent?”
“Very brill of you. Yes, I am from Russia. I arrived here when I was twenty-five. I was a translator of the Russian language for banks in London—I loved my job. A careless driver was texting. He crossed the centerline, and I was gone.”
“Wow, that’s tough. Do you ever wonder what you could have done with your life had it not been cut short?”
“I never think like that. The view behind you should never be analyzed and questioned. This is what Seneca teaches us. He also likes to tell us this explains why we were designed with heads that won’t go all the way around.”
I laugh with Liam. No one else seems to be rolling with us. I lean close to Liam so the others can’t hear me. “The Strategists don’t seem to have a sense of humor, do they?”
“No, they don’t. But, it’s part of their charm—as well as their talent. In time, you will come to appreciate their dry wit. Though they rarely laugh themselves, they know how to build a good story that will have you laughing so hard your stomach hurts.”
Liam barely finishes his sentence when a girl with long ringlets steps out from behind a mirror and shouts, “Ta-da!” She spreads her arms wide and bows. She’s wearing very loud makeup and a lime jumpsuit. Hello, I’m Kimmy. Sorry I’m late. I got lost on the second floor again—and Liam here left me behind. Bad form, Liam! I’m so excited to meet you guys. I can’t believe that I get to be a part of this most excellent team. It’s like, ‘can you pinch me, please?’ You must be Grayson. You’re too adorable to be a soldier. I’m feeling that tee you’re wearing. What happened to your shoes?”
“Yeah, okay. I’m not sure what to do with all that, but good catch on the shoes. I arrived here without them.”
Seneca clarifies Grayson’s answer. “He woke up on the beach.”
“Oh, that’s so cool! We have us a Beach Boy who likes the Beatles. Excellent! But, dude, you gotta have some leather on the pedis. Liam, give him a pair of your shoes.”
Liam claps hard and starts jogging towards the door. “You got it! What size, G-man?”
“Per-fec-to. I got you covered. Be back in five.”
As Liam heads out for the shoes, I dare to ask Kimmy to tell me her story. “Sure, I’ll give up the geno. My heritage is African. I grew up in Seychelles. My father worked for the government, so I had a great childhood. I was accepted to University in Europe and studied programming. I transitioned here when I was twenty-six. Before my coda, I was writing code for a robotics company—not the boring stuff. Yeah, no, I was writing code for robotic toys—totally funfest. I caused my own death—but it was an accident. A few of us would get high before we did our initial designs. We liked to tap into our crazy imaginations, you know. We would go full-on ‘Steve Jobs.’ Some of my friends did harder hallucination drugs, but I stayed with weed because it was legal—and I didn’t want to mess up my record.
“One night, I was up against a big project deadline and I was having trouble chilling out after a breakup with my boyfriend, so I asked the guy who got me my weed if he had anything stronger. He suggested I give heroin a shot. At first, I protested, but he told me I could be out of pain in thirty seconds. He said everyone was doing it, and that it was the most popular drug he sold. He said the experience is like the “happy drugs” hospitals give you before surgery. I did remember those minutes as a perfect state of being, so I caved. He did the injection and I was floating for about thirty minutes. As he promised, there was no pain. Then, I started having trouble breathing. He told me to lie down and I would be fine. But I wasn’t fine. I went to sleep and woke up here.”
I don’t know how to react to Kimmy’s story. For a very personal reason, I have always been bothered by suicides—even if they are accidental. I’m not sure what brings someone to the point of needing to escape so badly they endanger themselves. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to keep people alive—people who were passionate about living—people who were begging for the chance to live. Since I can’t think of a good reply, I stay quiet. Just as the silence is getting uncomfortable, Liam darts back through the door with bright orange flip-flops for me to wear.
“These will do great things for your fashion, ‘Son of Gray.’”
I stare down in disbelief. “Wow, thanks. I don’t know what to say. The guys on the SEAL team would be fighting to wear shoes like these on their operations.”
My sarcasm is lost on Liam. “I know, right? These babies let your toes breath and they even glow in the dark. Your guys could send messages to each other at night just by moving your feet.”
“Hmmm. I think you are onto something there, Liam.” I step into the shoes, regretting I didn’t pick some up on a different—more normal—level of Heaven. “Thank you both for looking out for me.”
“It’s our pleasure, Captain.”
Seneca winks at Grayson. “Ok, Millennial Team, let’s get to the Ninth Heaven. We still have much to do.”