ANGELS: Shock & Awe

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Chapter 22

I spent the next three days getting to know the various tribes and factions inside the pyramid. It was amazing what diversity there was in a typical Disney day’s attendance. I spent some time with a busload of evangelical Christians who were thoroughly divided on the true nature of the Angels they had seen, but united in their concern for my immortal soul. I met some Lithuanian tourists who were astonished to find that I could understand them, and even speak to them if they could get past my terrible pronunciation. This was the first test of my force-fed linguistics training, and I gave myself a C+ and a thundering headache. My Japanese was slightly better, and by the time I worked my way around to a family from Quebec, I discovered that as long as I didn’t really think about it but just let the programming work, I did okay. They even complimented me on my excellent French.

At one point I was cornered by a small group of Scientificists, who like the evangelicals were deeply divided about the message I had delivered. Half of them were ready to drop everything and declare themselves my disciples; the other half considered me a false prophet, and would gladly smite me on the spot but for one thing: Zagzagel. They all agreed that they very much wanted an audience with the Angel that had brought the Eudynamic message to J. Hal Merriman. Wincing as I said it, I told them I’d see what I could do. (I had wondered about Zagzagel myself, but the more I’d thought about it, the more I realized how ridiculous that was. Merriman had not really been visited by an Angel; he had said so himself many times. His Zagzagel was a metaphor, he said, a construct that allowed him to convey the cosmic truth of Scientificism, which was all just his shuck-and-jive for “I made it all up.”)

I checked in on Danielle several times, making sure she was okay, which was my own shuck-and-jive for an excuse to see Donna. In the process I found out that she wasn’t so married after all; she still wore the ring, but had been divorced for over a year, almost two now from her point of view. So that little barrier was busted. And she was plainly interested. I was well known for being dense about these things, but even I picked up her signals. Not that she was exactly throwing herself at me, but… well, almost. But so far, I was determined to go slow.

On the morning of the fourth day, Eloi was waiting for me when I came back to the apartment for a quiet lunch. He brought with him a new silver suit; one apparently intended to look more impressive, or at least more formal. It had sleeves and a collar, and the new slippers were more like boots. Now I really did look like Michael Rennie in The Day the Earth Stood Still. I would have preferred wearing something in a more human line, but that wasn’t possible; only living beings and this silver substance—or things wrapped in it—could travel by Transition. And showing up in a corny old sci-fi costume was much better than in my birthday suit.

He spent the rest of the day with me, as we discussed the philosophy of Carrot and Stick. I wanted to promise the President—and by extension, the citizens of America—that the power grid would eventually be restored. No, said Eloi, you shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep; we have no intention of restoring the power grid. What about transportation? Cars? Trucks? Airplanes? No, no, and no. But it turned out the railroads were negotiable. Good; one tiny little carrot.

It was incredibly frustrating, having to fish for every hint as to what might or might not be in play; but whenever I asked an open question, like “What else?” I either got the old blank stare or a question back that always amounted to “What else do you think?” It put all the pressure on me, trying to imagine what might be the most important concessions worldwide. I made a firm private resolution to put most of that responsibility on the erstwhile world leaders; prioritize your most crucial issues and then ask. Too proud to beg? Then step aside and let someone more pragmatic take over. In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want/ but if you try sometimes, you just might find/ you get what you need.”

In the meantime, I did manage to get special dispensation for hospitals, and a promise from Eloi that we would work out some kind of two-way communication system, so that I could continue to negotiate with designated leaders without having to constantly zap around the world. At the last minute, I remembered to ask about nuclear power plants, and I got an enigmatic answer: “Don’t worry about it.”

It was such an idiomatic, human phrase. I looked Eloi in the eye; he returned my gaze easily, raising that eyebrow ever so slightly. Don’t worry about it: a) none of your business; b) there’s no need to worry; c) there’s need for you to worry; d) we have it all under control. Looking at Eloi, I was inclined toward e)—all of the above.

Finally, it was time to go. Four days here, an hour in Washington. Once again, I had no prepared speech, just the parameters that Eloi and I had hammered out all afternoon. I could feel the faintest flutter of nervous butterflies. Great; this would be a hell of a time for my stage fright to hit. But the very idea was so absurd; I pictured Michael Rennie stepping out of his flying saucer, taking off his space helmet, then stuttering like Porky Pig. “K-k-klaatu b-b-berata nic-nic-nicto, folks!” Thus it happened that I was caught chuckling when I made the Transition to Washington.

The Ishim Guard—about fifty of them by my guesstimate—had appeared just a few seconds ahead of me and formed a semi-circular phalanx at the bottom of the steps. Facing off with them a few yards further out was a much larger force of armed humans, mostly soldiers, with a plainclothes group at the center that must have been Secret Service. Their discipline was remarkable; weapons were raised, tension was high, but everybody managed to hold their fire. I learned later that the Ishim had materialized in the shadows within the Memorial and had marched out to their current positions. The magical appearances had been saved for me, and when I gave the cue, the Archangels. I also found out that a little bit of extra stagecraft had been arranged to make my entrance more impressive: a beam of light came straight down from the clouds above, marking the spot just before I appeared in it. The first thing I heard was a huge collective gasp as I stepped out of nowhere, chuckling like an idiot.

I took everything in: thousands of people were gathered on the Mall; later I heard estimates of about twenty or so. The Angel-in-the-Sky did indeed tower over the Washington Monument, glowing in the twilight. Visible here and there in the throng were several hundred old-fashioned torches. It was an eerie panorama, altogether appropriate for the occasion.

I raised my hands and spoke to the troops. “Please, lower your weapons.” My voice reverberated through some magical PA, and that caused another wave of oohs and ahs. I waited. I was prepared to stand there silent for as long as it might take. I heard a murmur of discussion among the Secret Service guys; the President was probably tucked in there somewhere. Then one of the military types called out in a clear voice, “Order, ARMS!” and the soldiers brought their rifles down to their sides. So far so good.

I went into my spiel. “My name is Graham. I am one of you, a schoolteacher from California. I have been chosen to speak for the beings that came back to our world four days ago. They are entirely responsible for everything that has happened since.” I pointed to the towering Angel figure behind them. “You have seen their image! They are the Angels of Antiquity, and they have returned to Earth to reclaim their garden.” Geez, now I was quoting Merriman verbatim. Oh well, so be it. The old bastard knew how to put words together, no doubt about it. “This is not some trick, invented by foreign enemies. No evil genius is chuckling in some secret lair. The Angels are real, and the situation is the same all over the world.” Now the crowd began to get vocal, working past their first wave of awe. “Ladies and gentlemen, please. I’m not asking you to take my word for it. The Angels are real. The Archangels Gabriel and Michael are here right now.” I gestured and murmured my cue.

Gabriel and Michael appeared in their most flamboyant, theatrical entrance yet. There was a sudden mystical wind, and the beautiful sound of a thousand Angel voices. Two clouds of light appeared on either side of me; they billowed and blossomed, and then the two Archangels appeared. I had never seen Michael before; as beautiful as their entire race appears, he made them all seem plain by comparison. Tears sprang even to my jaded eyes in an instant. Their wings spread magnificently as they materialized perhaps six feet above the steps.

I hadn’t planned to do it, and maybe I couldn’t help myself, but I knelt before them. Many others followed suit. I expected the Archangels to rise into the air and disappear the way Abdiel and Zagzagel had, but they surprised me. They descended gracefully to the ground and walked forward. The Ishim parted to let them through without ever turning to look. Then the Angels walked right up to the soldiers nearest them. Each slowly reached out a hand, the perfect image of holy blessing. Most of the soldiers nearest to them spontaneously knelt. I knew how they felt. Then each Angel turned to the closest soldier still on his feet and again extended a hand, palm out. The one in front of Gabriel finally collapsed to his knees too. The one in front of Michael wept, unable to tear his eyes away, but remained standing. Slowly he raised his hand and reached out and up to Michael’s and touched his fingertips to the Angel’s. Then this big, burly, seasoned soldier fainted.

Michael and Gabriel stepped back and looked out over the crowd, more and more of whom were either openly weeping or fainting dead away. The Archangels rose up into the air with graceful sweeps of their wings. They hovered for a moment, then flew slowly forward, eight or ten feet above the crowd. Finally, they angled up into the sky, picking up speed, and with another sweep of warm wind, they disappeared in an argent flash. As the thunder rumbled with their exit, the Angel-in-the-Sky broke apart and drifted away, as if suddenly transformed into a flock of phantom doves. If Cecil B. DeMille and Steven Spielberg had collaborated with an infinite budget they couldn’t have topped this.

Neither could I. There was no way to top that act. Besides, it was getting dark. I decided to quit while I was ahead. “I will return to this spot at sunrise tomorrow, and do my best to answer your questions. In the meantime, know that as of now, electrical power has been restored to hospitals across the world.” I let Eloi know I was ready. “Good night,” I said, and vanished, directly back to Walt’s place. I had intended to add “and good luck,” but the Transition came a beat too early. I wound up saying it out loud to myself.

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