ANGELS: Shock & Awe

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Chapter 19

Donna had a wheelchair stashed away somewhere, and when she got back with Geoff, they took Danielle back to the Diamond Horseshoe. I took the opportunity to scout the parking lot. So close to the gates, it was almost full of vehicles, but there was quite a lot of standing room. There was a small motor home in a good handicapped spot that I decided would serve as an impromptu stage, and I communicated the idea to Eloi. I had already figured that appearing out of the blue at noon sharp would have a better impact than trying to elbow my way through the crowd. For now, I climbed up the little ladder attached to the camper and took a good look around. It wasn’t as dramatic as Charlton Heston on the papier-mâché cliffs of Mount Sinai, but it would have to do.

Jake called me via the Ishim helmet; I checked back in at the Horseshoe, and found that between dealing with questions from Jake and Geoff and the other kids, seeing to medical treatment for a handful of strangers, and a thousand other distractions, suddenly twelve o’clock was only minutes away. I slipped away from the kids and had Eloi zap me back to the apartment. I decided I had time for a shower. Afterwards, I stood looking in the bathroom mirror and realized that I looked like some medieval ascetic; my face was thinner than it had ever been, and my beard had gone ungroomed for—well, plainly a very long time, however it was measured. I explored the cabinets and discovered trimming scissors and a shaving kit. I set out to clean up around the edges and wound up shaving my face clean. As I rinsed away the last of the shaving cream, I was amazed to realize that I looked like Eloi’s smaller-but-older brother. Also homelier; Eloi is as beautiful as the other Angels, and I certainly am not, but nevertheless there was a resemblance, especially in the eyes and hair. Coincidence of course; one worthy of The Prince and the Pauper, or A Tale of Two Cities. Here’s hoping that if I have to act out either of those scenarios, it’s the former. I have no desire to go to “a far, far better rest” yet.

I put my silver suit back on—which never seemed to need laundering, and never picked up any body odor, no matter how much I stank when I took it off—and asked Eloi to join me at the apartment. He arrived as quickly as if he’d been hanging around waiting for the invitation. The notion that he could read my thoughts through the silver gizmo in my ear came back to me unbidden, but once again I realized it was a question I wasn’t ready to ask. He made no comment on my appearance, but he noticed all right; he kept tilting his head and staring—I think he was marking our resemblance too.

I checked the time on the grandfather clock in the corner. Six minutes to twelve. Now that it was obviously too late I was starting to wish I’d written out a speech, but it was just a case of jitters. This was just the sort of thing that I was better off extemporizing; my audience today would be tense and skeptical, and I needed to stay sensitive to their mood. Sticking to a script would get me nowhere.

Still, this was my best shot at establishing some real credibility, and I decided that there was no time like the present to introduce Abdiel and Zagzagel. In fact, I thought it might be best if the three of us appeared together. Eloi said that would be fine, agreeing to my decision without necessarily agreeing with it. I didn’t have time to press him. I asked about a couple of other accommodations, and again he nodded. Finally, I hit him with my idea for the big finish, wrapping up today’s remarks. He pondered this for a long moment, almost certainly consulting with Angel HQ, and then nodded once more. It was probably just wishful thinking, but this time I got the impression he genuinely approved.

It was time. Per our arrangement, Abdiel and Zagzagel appeared first, in as theatrical a manner as possible: with a flash of ethereal light and a rumble of thunder, they materialized about twenty feet up in the air, wings spread, arms extended, on either side of the camper van. I would have arranged for a soundtrack—a little Wagner, maybe, or the theme from The Ten Commandments—but I thought that might be pushing my luck. Even without the music, apparently they made quite an impression; from what I heard, there was a collective gasp that threatened to suck the air out of the pyramid. I waited a few seconds; long enough to be sure we had their attention, but not so long that they had time to panic, and appeared on top of the motor-home, nicely framed between the two Angels.

Every nook and cranny of the space before me was filled with people. I looked down at those closest to the van, fighting off a frisson of my old stage fright. The entire immediate area was filled with my kids and the other Strays. Danielle was even there, with Geoff manning her wheelchair. Kimberly and Jake were looking askance at me; then I noticed that Jake smiled and shook his head. Of course; they had never seen me clean-shaven before. I looked out to the extended crowd and said simply, “Hello.”

When I spoke, my words rang out, not from the PA system, which didn’t extend to the parking lot, but by some tech-magic of the Angels, perfectly balanced and modulated. Somehow even echo and delay were minimized. “My name is Graham. Thank you for being here.” I gestured to the two Angels. “The creatures you see above you now are real. Their names are Abdiel and Zagzagel, and these two represent many thousands that are here on Earth today. You probably remember their arrival.” This got a reaction, which I ignored as I went on: “They are the Angels of Antiquity, and they are unimaginably powerful. These very Angels walked this Earth over six thousand years ago. They and their kind have returned for their own reasons, and make no mistake: they neither seek nor require our permission.”

While they reacted to this, I cued Eloi and the hovering Angels disappeared, with another flourish of wings and a flare of light, as is their way. This shut everybody up for a moment. “The Angels have chosen me to speak for them. Why me? It doesn’t matter. They didn’t ask me to accept this responsibility; they chose me. It is no honor, it is simply so. In the same way, they have chosen this place to put under this pyramid. ‘Why’ doesn’t matter...” Although at just that moment, the first inkling of a small revelation hit me: had they dropped the pyramid on Disneyland because I was there that day?

I shook that thought off and went on: “Part of my message to you today is simply this: as much as is humanly possible, stop asking ‘Why?’ Why me? Why here? Why now? None of it matters. It is simply so.” The problem with winging it is that sometimes your mind wanders. This was the second time I’d said “It is simply so,” and I suddenly realized that I was inadvertently quoting J. Hal Merriman—“It is simply so” was one of the catch-phrases of Scientificism. In fact, much of what I was telling them about the Angels could have come directly from his Eudynamics.

I took a deep breath. “I understand that many of you feel like prisoners here. That’s understandable. It is something of a gilded cage, but it’s true we haven’t been free to leave it.” I was consciously shifting from “you” to “we,” hoping the psychology would help them accept me as one of them. “The Angels have created the pyramid for their own reasons; they have accelerated time a hundredfold inside, likewise for reasons only they can know. And they have arranged for our relative comfort, providing food and water and power, and leaving us otherwise to our own devices. For months, this has been the status quo. Meanwhile, outside, only a few days have passed, but there no food is provided, no power grids still function, no provisions whatsoever are being made for survival. Already, it has become a very unpleasant world.

“Still, there are those among us who wanted out, or they wanted answers, at all costs. The costs were high. Last night, a handful of zealots made a terrible mistake. They discovered one of the Angels’ people, who they call Ishim, at work replenishing food supplies. From that moment, everything went very wrong. Those of you who weren’t involved have no doubt heard the rumors.” I looked down at Jake, held out my hand. He tossed the Ishim helmet up to me. “The Ishim worker was wearing this helmet, which among other things is a communication device. When she was killed—” I let them consider that for a moment. “When she was killed, the military arm of the Ishim responded in force. They found a mob parading her body down the streets of Disneyland, stirring up a full-blown riot.” I had to be careful here; I wanted them to feel bad about the death of the Ishim—I was purposely emphasizing her gender. At the same time, I knew that many here might consider those cut down by the Ishim Guard last night as heroes, or certainly martyrs. I wanted to plant the bitter seed that they were neither; make them understand that their deaths were in fact both senseless and unnecessary. I went on, holding back nothing of the scene I’d observed. Finally I said, “I understand that many of you are scared. Some of you lost loved ones last night, and are bitter and angry and harboring thoughts of justice, or even vengeance. I am here to tell you that down that path there is no good end. The Angels care nothing for our sense of justice. For them, the equation is simple: their Ishim was attacked, and all subsequent events were the consequences of that attack.

“And ladies and gentlemen, hear this: they are right. We are all very lucky that those consequences didn’t ultimately end with the annihilation of everyone inside the pyramid. And believe me, that was not only within their power, it would have required no more than a thought to make it so.” I went on in this vein for a while, drilling home that we all now lived only at the sufferance of the Angels. I avoided using words like Master, or phrases like “resistance is futile,” but I tried to be as clear as possible otherwise.

There came a point when I sensed that their eyes were glazing over. This was good; I had successfully avoided riling up a screaming mob. When I started out, I would have said that it was even odds that it could have gone either way. “From now on, the Ishim workers will no longer hide, and you may encounter them from time to time in broad daylight. They will be dressed as I am now, and the shortest among them is nearly seven feet tall. They don’t speak English, and have no interest in your business. Pray—” I used the word without thinking about the profound irony involved, but it was still the best word for the occasion. “Pray that you never see the Ishim Guard again.”

This was a bit heavy-handed, but I didn’t want it too far out of their thoughts. “The Angels will not tolerate open rebellion again. They have made me personally responsible for all of us. All I ask is that—”

A ruddy-faced, middle-aged fellow had edged his way to the front. He wore the remnants of a suit; no doubt he had been in Disney management. He was probably one of the “geezer windbags” Jake had talked about who had tried to run “town hall meetings” in the past. “Wait a minute!” he shouted out. “Are you trying to tell us that you’re in charge?”

Yes I was, but I wasn’t about to put it so bluntly. “No. The Angels are in charge. I thought that was clear. What I’m trying to tell you is that the Angels will hold me responsible for peace under the pyramid. Through them, I have the same kind of power at my command that reacted so harshly last night.”

“But this is still a free country! Who the hell elected you?!”

I caught Jake’s eye and held him off; he was ready to throttle the guy. Meanwhile, I curbed my own temper and answered in a level tone: “A free country? What country is that, sir? The country of Disneyland-in-the-Pyramid?” I looked out to the crowd. “The world as we knew it no longer exists—except for the bushmen in Africa, the Eskimos in the Arctic, the Aborigines in Australia, and the pygmies in the rain forests, who were never really a part of our world. Once the Trumps sounded, the modern world ended. Period. There is no United States of America that means anything any more. No Iraq or Iran or Russia either. Until the bullets run out, there are still some patriots out there fighting whatever war they think they’re still in, but soon that will be over too. A free country? There’s no such thing. We exist at the mercy of the Angels. Period. Out in the ‘real’ world, people are rediscovering the old priorities: self, family, tribe. They don’t have the resources to expand beyond that to country. Maybe they’ll eventually revert to self, family, species, before it’s too late. In the meantime, I’m looking out now over my tribe, and I promise you that I will do everything I can to keep you safe and whole.”

Jake and Kimberly and Danielle started the applause, but it caught on spontaneously enough. Mr. Disney Management wasn’t convinced, but he had the sense to give up for now.

“This morning, someone said to me, ‘I want to go home.’ I immediately thought, ‘So do I.’ And then I realized: I am home. This is home.

“But I also realize that some of us don’t feel that way, maybe can’t feel that way. For you, I can’t send you home. But I can let you go, try to find it yourself.” While they were pondering what that meant, I cued Eloi again, and felt a tiny shift in equilibrium. “That little lurch we just felt was the deceleration of local time. I know this is hard to wrap our brains around, but in the entire time you’ve been in the pyramid, only three days have passed in the so-called real world. Even right here in the neighborhood, it can be a dangerous and hostile place, believe me. And of course, the entire world is no less in the thrall of the Angels than we are here, but out there everyone is free to come and go as they please. At least as far as they can walk, or ride a bike, or maybe even sail a boat.

“If you want to take your chances out there, you are free to do so. In just a moment, the pyramid will disappear, for exactly two hours. Then it will resume, exactly as it was. If you are not back inside by then, good-bye and good luck. You won’t be able to change your mind later. If you stay with us, I make no promises that the pyramid will ever be open again. Are there any questions?” This was another toss of the dice—I might have had a bedlam of questions on my hands, but my luck held. Everybody had a hundred questions, but no one knew where to start. “Good. I’ll be right here if you need me. Remember the wise old saying...” I held up my hand like a benediction. “‘Be careful what you wish for.’”

I dropped my hand, and the golden glow of the pyramid flared and vanished. A breeze blew though Disneyland for the first time in nearly nine months. It carried with it the smell of rotting garbage, stagnant sewers, and the smoke of a hundred different acrid fires.

Ah, Freedom.

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