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Literature / Before Heaven

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Before Heaven is the prequel to From Heaven's Door, and the second installment in The Heaven Cycle. It can be read on FictionPress.

The story follows the viewpoint of Jackson Winters instead of Tango during the pre-simulation phase. Jackson is forcefully signed up to the program by his neglectful magnate parents, the Ice Couple, and finds he's at first completely unwilling to partake in the program. However, Jackson befriends two fellow teenage applicants, Jenny and Alice – the pre-amnesiac identities of Tango and Mint, respectively – and finds out that Jenny is planning to escape Paradise herself. Jackson quickly finds himself torn between escaping and staying on the island, all as the beginning of the simulation approaches.

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Contains unmarked spoilers for From Heaven's Door.


The work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Several:
    • Jackson's parents, the Ice Couple – Betty and Hilson Winters – are abusive to Jackson in a neglectful way (Hilson might even be physically abusive if Jackson's nightmare is taken into account). It's repeatedly established how they have exact zero care for their son whatsoever, micromanage his own life and ignore his own opinions, and send him off to a potentially dangerous experiment against his own will. Part of Jackson's development is developing a resolve to stop passively taking their neglect and speak up for himself.
    • Alice's father is heavily implied to have been this as well. We get little explicit information directly, but Alice remarks their father “wasn't the best” to them, finds people screaming in pain to be a familiar sound to when they were still living with their father, and even manages to genuinely riled up thinking about him.
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    • Finally, Ash himself is revealed to be this to his single son, Andrew. With the mother long gone and Ash raising Andrew as a single father, Andrew ends up being the target of horrible abuse Ash gloats about to Chayne, involving physical beatings, clothes iron burning, and possibly even sexual abuse. Andrew becomes sort of a twisted replica of his own father in the process.
  • Ascended Extra: A rather extraordinary example; Jackson Winters, who was mentioned a few times in passing in From Heaven's Door, takes up the role of the main character here. Arno and Ken also debut and get speaking lines, and Harlow makes a few more appearances to expand on his one scene from the first story.
  • Big Bad: Strangely enough, neither Chayne or Ash take this role despite being present throughout the story, the former becoming something of a Reasonable Authority Figure for Jackson and the latter relegated to a minor character. The closest thing the story has to a Big Bad is, of all people, Alice, who manipulates both Jackson and Jenny for their own amusement and nudges Jenny into her botched escape attempt to begin with.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: As the Foregone Conclusion is in play, the majority of the applicants are butchered and Jenny's valiant attempt to escape ends with her raped and tortured at Ash's hand. However, Jackson – thought dead by the word of a comment made by Chayne in From Heaven's Door – turns out to very much alive alongside Arno and Ken. Although he has no memory of who he is, the story ends with Arno, Ken, and Jackson sailing away from the island in a meaningful echo of the original story, hinting their story is far from over.
  • Body Double: The identity of Chayne's body double is revealed as a woman named Angelica, whom Chayne bought off through some shady market. She's given a more practical place in the story to stand in Chayne's place so she avoids infecting anyone with the Phantom, which Chayne has the misfortune to catch shortly before pre-simulation.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Ash once again threatens this, this time threatening to torture and rape Jenny for the rest of her life in his uncle's cabin if Charles doesn't go along with the plan.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: In stark contrast to Chayne and Ash from the first story, Alice has no grandiose ambitions, focuses on one or two people, forsakes an ultimate goal in favor of simple self-contentment, and is generally a villain suited to a much smaller story.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jenny, a trait she shares with Tango.
  • Demoted to Extra: Maxine, Billy, and Gladys, the pre-amnesiac identities of Jilton, Darby, and Lavender, are all reduced to background characters at most.
  • Dramatic Irony: Made full use of; since the story is a prequel and almost everything that happens after is a Foregone Conclusion, everything – including Jenny's fate – is completely unknown from Jackson's POV.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Chayne has absolutely zero qualms about manipulation, immoral experiments, robbing a woman of her own identity, and murder, all for the purpose of her goal of reshaping all humanity, but even she is repulsed by Ash's rape of Jenny.
  • Evil Albino: In a stark contrast to Mint, Alice is a manipulative, hedonistic sociopath who has absolutely no hesitations with using and disposing of Jenny and Jackson for their own amusement.
  • Freudian Excuse: The story dives into more detail into Chayne's during her POV chapter. It's also hinted Alice might have one in the form of Abusive Parents, although this never goes beyond implication.
  • Foregone Conclusion: As this is a prequel, naturally it stands that most of the other applicants end up dead and Jenny's attempt to escape ends with her raped and tortured by Ash, forming the basis that would ultimately form their identity of Tango.
  • Foreshadowing: At the end of Jackson's nightmare, Jackson sees an image of a demonic Alice standing over a broken Jenny. This is the largest hint as to Alice's true motives in the story – and an unfortunate reminder to Jenny's ultimate fate, with the added irony that their future best friend is technically responsible for it happening in the first place.
  • The Ghost: Although many characters mentioned in From Heaven's Door debut here, Tara still makes no direct appearance.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: “God,” the Eldritch Abomination that goes on to nearly destroy the world in From Heaven's Door, is still present, but is only vaguely alluded to as a growing presence throughout the facility Jackson notices. God eventually makes its presence clear to Jackson in the form of a horrifying Brown Note following his nightmare, then vanishes from the story altogether.
  • The Hedonist: Alice, in a similar vein to Ash, seeks to be free of any limits to do whatever they want and seek pleasure and gratification even at the risk of others. Unlike Ash, though, Alice is much smarter in how they accomplish this and displays a level of cunning that ultimately gets them off scot-free even after they resort to violence to achieve their own ends.
  • Heroic Albino: As per their amnesiac self, Alice is amnesiac but is still an honest friend of Jackson's who offers him and Jenny support. It's all a lie.
  • Jerkass: Many of the applicants are eccentric, standoffish, or quirky in some way, but the only two to be outright douchebags are Billy and Leliah, who essentially become the two bullies of the Nest during their time there.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jenny proves to be this. Although she's hostile towards everyone else initially and impulsive, irritable and snarky when she first talks with Jackson, the more Jackson gets to know her, the clearer it becomes Jenny has a good reason to act the way she does. Ultimately, Jenny's real reason for wanting to escape turns out to be nothing but selfless and Jackson's nothing but touched by it.
  • Karma Houdini: Alice gets off completely scot-free for manipulating, poisoning and attempting to murder Jackson. Of course, this ends up being a moot point as Alice is displaced by their amnesiac personality Mint later through Heel–Face Brainwashing, leading them to truly become a better person.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Alice is a chillingly effective example of this, posing as a False Friend to Jenny and Jackson and exploiting their desperation to use them for their own entertainment. Alice eventually convinces Jenny into following through with her disastrous escape plan. Jackson eventually wises up to their manipulation, but Alice responds by poisoning and attempting to murder him.
  • Nice Guy: Penny and Maxine stand as this among the the applicants. Alice and Jenny turn out to be odd examples of this: while Alice initially seems to be the clear-cut Nice Guy and Jenny a distant grouch, the latter proves to be truly selfless while Alice turns out to be anything but.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: This is played with throughout the entire story. Initially, the set-ups are clear; Alice is the pleasant, supportive Nice Guy, Jenny an irritable jerk, and Jackson as a sort of balance between the two, polite when he needs to be but slightly abrasive and snarky in the right circumstance. As the story goes on and we learn more about the three of them, however, this ends up turned on its head: Jackson remains as an in-between mix between the two, but Jenny and Alice rotate positions. Jenny's revealed to have a damn good reason for her snarkiness and ends up revealing her selfless motives and emotional troubles to Jackson, whilst Alice's nice guy persona slowly sheds to reveal a Faux Affably Evil sociopath thoroughly unconcerned for the well-being of their "friends."
  • Only Sane Man: Jackson essentially serves as this among the applicants in general; although he comes from a much more extravagant background, Jackson is largely The Everyman placed in a facility full of eccentric, greedy, and even malicious people.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Alice is normally perpetually unshakable, always holding a smile and a content demeanor whatever the situation and even retaining their kindly demeanor while attempting to murder Jackson.. The only time this is ever shed is when they bring up the subject of their father, which is about the only time Alice is ever shown as visibly uncomfortable in any way.
  • Precision F-Strike: Jackson lets out a precise utterance of the F-word – his only usage of it in the story – when he chews out Alice for manipulating Jenny.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Jenny is more foul-mouthed than any other character in the story, bar Ash.
  • The Sociopath: Ash and Billy, as in From Heaven's Door, but we get another astonishing revelation: Alice is a textbook example of this. They present a near-perfect facade of decency in order to manipulate Jenny and Jackson purely for the purpose of curiosity and gratification, with exactly zero regard as to whether or not either of them are harmed in the process. They're manipulative, have a tendency to mince their words, and have an almost robotic lack of range in emotion beyond smug, guiltless contentness. At the same time, though, Alice still demonstrates impulsiveness through their lack of consideration to their future, their clear struggle to truly comprehend Jackson and Jenny's emotions – as well as their capacity to change (something essentially impossible for a sociopath to do) – and ends up turning to violence when Jackson stops allowing himself to be manipulated. Needless to say, Alice is a frightening contrast to their future identity as Mint.
  • Tragic Villain: Both Charles and Chayne are shown to be this in greater detail, with Charles revealed to have essentially no actual say in what he was made to do and turned into a broken man because of it, and Chayne is revealed to have once been a good woman with an admirable life who was pushed to her atrocities by what she feels is the cruelty of mankind. Chayne still has a sliver of her conscience left and is truly regretful of what she's done and what she's about to do – until Ash obliviously kills that one bit of humanity left in her with a horribly insensitive comment about her daughter.
  • Villain Episode: The second-to-last chapter in the book switches away from Jackson's POV to Chayne's, illustrating her perspective just before commencing the experiment and diving more into her psyche. Tragically, we're shown that Chayne is this close to a Heel–Face Turn out of genuine remorse for everything she's doing, but ends up turning into irreversible villainy due to an ill-placed comment by Ash.

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