Each Transition seems to have some sense of directionality to it. During my World Tour, I sometimes had a powerful inertia pushing me one way or another, usually hard enough—along with the vertigo—to knock me to the ground. I assumed this had to do with the random direction I was facing at any given moment, multiplied by the differential between latitudes, so that when I was zapped from Anaheim to a more northern spot, say Norway, I suddenly lost maybe forty percent of my eastward momentum. If I happened to be facing west, I’d fall on my ass. It was impossible to brace for it, since (so far) I never knew when it was coming.
So I felt a little proud of myself when I managed to keep my feet as I emerged into the gray realm again. Once again stark naked, of course. And this time, with a considerable audience.
Before me were hundreds, perhaps thousands of Angels. Come to think of it, “audience” may be a poor choice of words, since it implies they were paying some attention to me. This was not the case; they all seemed busy with comings and goings that had nothing to do with me. As I looked around, it seemed to me that rules of perspective didn’t apply here—I could see the Angels at a distance almost as clearly as those closest to me. There was no horizon; in fact, the distance seemed to slope up. The longer I looked, the stranger it got. I thought of the Bible story of Jacob’s ladder, just a couple of verses really, when Jacob lies down to sleep in the desert, with rocks for a pillow, and dreams of seeing angels ascending and descending a scale of steps… If Escher and Dali had collaborated on an interpretation of Jacob’s dream, it might have looked a lot like what I was seeing now.
No composer could have captured what I was hearing. I knew now that their “language” was partly telepathic, but it still had an important audible element, which sounded to my human ears like an improvisational a capella masterpiece, every note, every spontaneous chord, perfect. For all I knew, they were discussing the weather; it seemed I only understood them when they were purposely selectively addressing me, which was just as well for my sanity’s sake.
These creatures were so dazzling, with their shimmering clothes and prismatic wings, that it was hard to look past their auras and concentrate on their features. At first it seemed that, apart from variations in skin tone and hair color, they were almost identical to one another. None were fat or thin, their proportions were all perfect, and none showed any signs of age. But as I watched, I began to see them as individuals after all, an understanding bubbling up from my new knowledge deep in my brain.
Unlike Jacob, I saw no Lord standing above them. No one seemed to be in charge, although I could just barely perceive a subtle hierarchy amongst them. It would be some time before I’d even begin to understand the complicated dynamics of power between the Angels.
Alas, some of those lessons would prove painful.
Finally, two of those closest to me stepped forward. One I recognized as Gabriel; the other was a smaller Angel who I was startled to realize had no wings. They stopped a few paces away, and Gabriel stared at me in his hard way. He seemed to be waiting for some response from me, but I didn’t understand what. At our first meeting, those that collapsed in genuflection were zapped away to some cornfield or other, not a fate I was anxious to share. On the other hand, my behavior at the time had plainly been deemed offensive, so I was determined to keep my responses respectful. Now it seemed the stare was hardening into a glare.
I looked over to Gabriel’s companion. As our eyes met, he lowered his lids in a slow blink with the slightest nod. I understood. I turned back to Gabriel, made solid eye contact, then closed my eyes and nodded.
In his softer James Earl Jones tone, he sent the word “Chosen,” perhaps by way of acknowledgement, directly into my head; as before, he “spoke” not at all. I sensed no reply was expected or even desired, so I nodded again. He gestured to his companion. “You will accompany Eloi.” Then, probably just because he could, he flared his wings and disappeared in a brilliant flash of light.
I couldn’t help myself: as I blinked away the after-image of his departure I muttered, “Show off.” My new pal Eloi looked at me with just a rumor of a hint of a suggestion of a smile, or maybe it was my imagination. If I’ve learned anything in my time with Angels, it’s that they are profoundly lacking in any sense of humor.
Eloi stepped closer and put a hand on my shoulder; he was significantly smaller than Gabriel, only an inch or two taller than me. Lacking wings, he seemed much more human—an impossibly perfect human, to be sure. He had gray-green eyes, flecked with gold. He spoke, both in my head and with a physical voice: “Follow me.”
This was going to take some getting used to—the “voice” in my head sounded like James Earl Jones’s younger cousin, clearly articulating the words. The audible voice was very different: an androgynous tenor tone, the pronunciation mangled into something like “Vallah may.”
He walked past me. I turned to follow, and saw that there was now an archway nearby. As we passed through, the gray space abruptly changed: the walls seemed closer, and the shifting harmonies of the Angelic conversations went suddenly silent. I turned to look back over my shoulder—we were now alone, in what appeared to be a much smaller space. After my earlier experience, I was used to thinking of the gray as a malleable environment, but still more or less “real.” Now it seemed more like a dreamscape.
I found that I was losing my capacity for disorientation, and I took this change almost in stride. To be honest, I was still trying to process my new companion’s name… Eloi. “May I ask a question?” He nodded. “Your names. When we first met, your… colleague called himself Gabriel. Actually, he said, ‘You will know me as Gabriel.’ I took that to mean he was assuming the name of our most famous Biblical angel because it would be easier for us to understand, to relate to…”
“Gabriel’s name among us is… not accessible to humans. In your language, it is Gabriel,” he said in his strange double voice.
“Okay, fine, I get that. Your language is beyond us mere humans. Understood. So I imagine there are others among you named Michael and Raphael and Uriel and the like, right?”
“In your language, yes.”
His double-voice was making it hard for me to focus. Where was I going with this? Right; his name. But before I could ask about it, he said, “You would prefer to be clothed.” If it was intended as a question, we were going to have to work on intonation as well as pronunciation. I said yes. He gestured to my left; I followed his glance, and on a low table or hassock of the ubiquitous gray material was a pile of gray clothing.
I said “Thank you” quite deliberately and took a moment to put them on; one-piece sleeveless coveralls, a pair of slippers, and a sort of belt or cummerbund, an odd, wide thing that appeared to made of some extremely flexible metal. The fabric of the suit was amazing—it looked flat gray until I put it on, when it took on a silvery sheen like something out of Lost in Space. It was surprisingly comfortable, and of course a perfect fit. Apart from the belt, it was nothing like what Eloi (and all of the Angels) wore, which was more of a tunic, a simple sleeveless robe that was nevertheless beautiful.
“Thanks again.” I sat on the hassock to put on the slippers.
“To thank me is to express gratitude,” he said, still missing the question inflection in either voice. Or perhaps he was just thinking out loud.
“Yes. Or sometimes simple acknowledgement. Sometimes we are only being polite. In this case, mostly gratitude.” He nodded. I added, “We ordinarily respond to thanks with a brief response. In English we usually say, ‘You’re welcome,’ or ‘Don’t mention it.’ In Spanish they say ’De nada,’ which means ‘It was nothing.’ Various expressions all to indicate that the… gift, or whatever, was given freely.”
“I understand your words, but I sense you are trying to convey a more complex aspect of your culture than the words would indicate.”
I laughed. “Welcome to English, my friend.”
He frowned. He may have been confused about my use of the word ‘friend.’ Then he said, “You understand why we are here together now.”
Again I assumed he meant this as a question. “Only partly. We’re supposed to learn from each other, right? Language and culture; maybe I’ll learn what it means to be ‘Chosen.’ But the bigger questions—Why me? Why you? To what end? I don’t understand any of that.”
He closed his eyes for a moment. I would come to recognize that this meant that he was communicating in some combination of telepathy and technology with a sort of communal hub. Sometimes, other specific Angels were being consulted, sometimes the entire group. Other times he seemed to be tapping into a massive—for lack of a better word—database. It was as if he had some sort of ultimate smart-phone wired directly into his brain; he could access data, post a blog, even phone a friend, all from inside his head. Left on our own devices, we were probably only a generation or two from some crude version of this ourselves. I guess now we’ll never know.
He opened his eyes. “You have been chosen to speak for and to your fellow humans. You will serve as interlocutor/interpreter/messenger. I have been likewise chosen to communicate directly to you on behalf of my fellow…” He closed his eyes very briefly. “…Angels.” It was taking every bit of my powers of concentration to focus on the words in my head and ignore the spoken version, which sounded like baby talk in Esperanto. He went on: “Why you. You have… an ability/aptitude/capacity for understanding our thoughts, when directed at you. This makes you… rare among your kind.”
This piqued my interest. “How rare?”
“We estimate perhaps one in three million. Many of those are children, or infirm. Most are considered mentally… impaired/deficient/challenged. Autistic. Some are categorized as insane.”
“So, what? I’m the only one you’ve found isn’t too old, too young, or have some kind of a screw loose?”
“If I understand your colloquial metaphor correctly, yes. Essentially.”
There were strange implications in the way that word “essentially” processed in my head, and I decided not to press the issue. But I couldn’t help asking, “So what happens if I don’t work out/pass muster/succeed?” This triple-phrasing thing was contagious. “What’s the back-up plan?”
Again he closed his eyes for a moment. “Then we would proceed without direct communication with your people.” He looked at me intently for a few seconds, then added in strictly his physical voice: “Des wad nut bay en duh vast andrusts av yumonotay.”