ANGELS: Shock & Awe

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Chapter 26

I asked again that the Angels normalize time inside the pyramid. That request was again denied. So Donna and the kids just had to deal with my long absences; what choice did they have? When I was there, I usually got to stay for at least a week or so, often a couple of months. And Eloi took it upon himself to keep them at least marginally informed when I was away, letting them know whether I was in Hong Kong or Katmandu or Abu Dhabi. Or even Albuquerque or Kansas City or Cleveland.

So the next few days/months seemed to fly by, at least for me. Giant Angels reappeared above major cities, and a booming voice in the local language invited everyone to gather round in an hour. I appeared with two Angels, usually Abdiel and Zagzagel, and we put on our little Dog and Pony show. It was rarely quite as spectacular as the Washington event, and I learned to follow the Angels’ departure with a direct plea for their help in making their needs known.

Many times I was viewed as a kind of Anointed One, favored by the gods, and where that was the case it was pointless to fight it. The Angels had no objections to the locals taking them for gods or biblical angels, and those populations were almost pathetically eager to please, even though one in every seven of them had dropped dead too. Sometimes, depending on time zones and weather, I went right from one location to the next. During one triple-hop, I was away from Disneyland for over sixty days, and when I finally got back I begged Eloi for a break. He granted an entire solar day, exactly ninety-eight days inside the pyramid. (I had learned that the Angels favored the number seven and its multiples; so what I had been thinking of as a “hundredfold” time dilation was in fact 7² x 2:1, which for entirely ineffable reasons strikes them as a ratio of extraordinary elegance.)

Then it was back to the grind. It’s a big planet. I found myself speaking in languages I’d never heard of before. I also discovered that I had been right about the so-called “third world”: many primitive people were at a kind of topsy-turvy advantage now, as many of these places had barely had a modern infrastructure to begin with. They were therefore far better equipped to cope with the new world order.

The Middle East, which had been periodically simmering then boiling over with internecine violence for centuries (sometimes reckoned to the day Abraham threw Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert), was under careful Angel scrutiny. For weeks it was judged too dangerous for an appearance by the Chosen, but the day ultimately came when Gabriel himself declared it was time I went to Jerusalem.

Gabriel was well aware that he was a high-holy figure in all three of the religions that held Jerusalem to be sacred ground. He worked with Eloi and me to create the most elaborate “show” since DC. The usual preparations were made: the booming voice invited all comers to the Temple Mount in an hour; everyone not able to be there could watch on television, again “magically” operating; the giant Angel materialized directly above the Dome of the Rock. This time, the participation of the local leaders was not left to chance—Ishim commandos swept in and abducted the Israeli Prime Minister, the heads of Hamas and Hezbollah, the Iranian Ayatollah, and about a half-dozen others just as the call went out.

During that hour, those luminaries were transported by troopship to a remote patch of desert for a “private audience” with Gabriel. (They weren’t “zapped” there because Eloi and I had convinced Gabriel that if these men suddenly found themselves naked in each other’s presence, nothing else would get through to them.) I was there just long enough to introduce Gabriel, aka Jibrail, which I did in with a flourish in Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, and whatever else it took.

Then came the secret weapon of the Special Jerusalem Edition of the Dog and Pony Show: digging deeper into their bag of tricks, the Angels created a holographic slide show similar to the experience I’d had while floating in space. While it didn’t reach right down into their brains, it was a powerful dose of a more subtle sort of Shock and Awe. This is who we are, the unfolding images said mutely; this is what you’ve done to the world we gave you; this is the giant smoldering ember that will remain if you don’t lay down your arms.

It didn’t work on all ten of them, but it didn’t have to; those that Gabriel sensed remained defiant were dismissed with that wave of his hand to the Unknown Nowhere. The seven that appeared with us at Temple Mount were humble Tiggers indeed. After I had said my piece and the Angels departed, all those gathered in Old Jerusalem were given another twenty-four hours to leave, and encouraged to do so by nearly five thousand Ishim soldiers.

At the end of the twenty-four hours, a pyramid went up over Temple Mount and the old city. I haven’t been back to the so-called Holy Land since, but Eloi tells me that for all our effort, nothing has really changed. Their hatred for each other is even greater than their fear of Gabriel/Jibrail; they were fighting each other again before the pyramid was even on the city.

In Washington, Colonel Hatfield turned out to be invaluable. In his earliest communiqués to me he included pithy summaries of current events in DC: after the demise of the President, there had been an immediate power struggle; the VP had been abroad on Day One, and her current circumstances were unknown; the Speaker of the House had stepped up to assume the Presidency, but this had sparked immediate resistance, as the Constitution made no grounds for leaps in the chain of succession due to inconvenient distance. Of course, the fact that he was the leader of the opposition party didn’t help his case either. The Supreme Court was not in session and legal opinions were all over the map. The highest ranking military officer currently in Washington was the Secretary of the Navy, who had under questionable authority declared Martial Law. Et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum.

The Colonel had been given permission to continue in his role as liaison, and he took it upon himself to head up efforts at using the railroad to distribute food. Military escorts saw to fair distribution, and kept order under the chilly supervision of the Ishim Guard on duty at rail stations and depots.

Meanwhile, we set up a team of volunteers to begin handling the requests coming in from Colonel Hatfield and his counterparts around the world; most had the sense to look for only “humanitarian” aid, and even most of those requests were either denied or tabled by the Angels. Local governments were free to distribute food and medical supplies as they saw fit. Waterworks functioned under Ishim supervision; electrical power was “magically” available to keep taps flowing and sewage treatment operating. There seemed to be an endless supply of Ishim personnel, and people around the world started becoming accustomed to this “Angels’ Army.”

Perhaps inevitably, we began hearing of an active “Resistance,” especially here in the States. The lack of communication hampered their efforts at organization, and no doubt some cells were no more than thugs taking advantage of the collapse of order. But one movement was catching on: they called themselves “APAFA,” the Army of the Prophet Against the False Angels, and through word of mouth and crude pamphlets that seemed to spring spontaneously from the gutters, they encouraged armed rebellion against anything Angel. Just who or what this Prophet might be was anybody’s guess, and subject to much wild speculation, but it was widely believed to be none other than Papa Nick’s old pal, J. Hal Merriman.

This was hugely ironic, because at the same time more and more people were declaring themselves Free Alphans and eagerly embracing the Church of Scientificism. Overnight, it had become the most rapidly expanding religion in history, as eager Ladderkeepers led fevered rallies declaring that the End Times they had always predicted were here at last, here at last.

As much as she prided herself on her independence, Donna’s “tough nut” shell began to crack under the pressure. If I was gone a particularly long time, say five or six solar hours—three or four pyramid weeks—likely as not I’d have to spend my first week back winning her over again, often dodging brickbats in the process. She could be by turns furious, frustrated, or deeply offended, sometimes all three at once. She wanted me to stay, she wanted me to leave her alone, she wanted to go with me. I was arrogant, I was selfish, I was insensitive. Finally, she’d get it out of her system and we’d settle back in to whatever it was we had going. I’ve heard there are lovers who pick fights “because the make-up sex is fantastic.” More than once as we lay tangled in sweaty sheets I suspected Donna was one of those people.

Finally, we reached a breaking point. Ironically, I wasn’t very far away—about forty miles up the road at UCLA. The APAFA movement had taken hold there, and I spent a grueling twelve hours trying to convince these fledgling insurgents that they had precious little to gain and everything precious to lose if they didn’t calm down. They had all seen what had happened in Washington. I wound up refereeing hours of debate as they quarreled amongst themselves, and when that came to nothing, I singled out three of the most radical “leaders” and through Eloi sent them off on their own World Tours. They only went through a fraction of what I had experienced that first day; Eloi assured me that they wouldn’t have survived more. When they staggered back onto campus after less than a minute away, all three collapsed to their knees and threw up there on the library lawn. There was one woman among them—just a girl, really, maybe nineteen or twenty years old—who gathered up her clothes and turned to me, still on her knees. Her eyes were wild with awe; unbidden, I thought of Leslie in her last moment kneeling before Gabriel. “Please,” she whimpered. “No more.”

I returned to the pyramid exhausted and full-to-the-eyeballs with self-loathing. I had probably turned the tide at UCLA that day, but at what cost? I knew that those students had been very close to annihilation if I hadn’t intervened, but I still felt like a bully. On days like this, the President’s words rang bitterly in my head: Traitor. Traitor. Traitor.

I’d snap out of it; I was doing the best I could, wasn’t I? Didn’t I understand that my work as Chosen was for the greater good? Or as Eloi put it, “in the best interests of humanity”?

I materialized inside Walt’s apartment. Twelve hours out in the world meant I’d been away for forty-nine days. The grandfather clock in the corner told me it was just after 2 a.m. Donna wasn’t there. I looked around for a note; nothing. And I mean nothing—her spare toothbrush, her sleep shirt, the jug of homemade wine she’d stashed there, all gone. Well, I wasn’t really surprised. I wasn’t even altogether disappointed. I had dreaded the confrontation that I had assumed was coming. I crawled into bed alone and slept like a baby.

I hadn’t totally given up on Donna yet; the next day I walked the park, trying to be subtle as I asked around, but wherever she was, she wasn’t ready to talk to me. She had checked in a few times at the Horseshoe, and certainly knew I was back, but rumors were all over the map about where she was living these days, and with whom. After a day or so, I had decided to leave well enough alone, give her the time and space she needed, and let her find me when she was ready. Then a day or two later our resident newshound Joel Blum knocked on the apartment door.

“No comment,” I said as I opened the door. It was about eight a.m. I was in the middle of breakfast.

“Funny,” he said. “May I come in?”

True to his profession, he was already in. “Sure,” I said. “What can I do for you? Seriously, I’m not doing any interviews today.”

He patted at his pockets. “No worries. I didn’t even bring my notepad. This is strictly off the record, okay?”

Like there was any such thing for a guy who put out a self-published tabloid. “Fine. Come on in. Coffee?”

“Sure, that’d be, wait, hey, um, no thanks.”

Wow. “Careful. You’re gonna give yourself whiplash.”

He laughed, or at least exclaimed “Hah!” He shifted his feet a little, then said, “You are seriously tall. Can we sit down maybe?”

In spite of myself, I actually liked the guy. We sat. He talked. A lot. It all boiled down to Donna was with him now, and he thought it was time, as he put it, “for a little man to man.”

“Listen,” he said, finally wrapping up. “Donna doesn’t know I’m here. When I said ‘off the record,’ I meant seriously Off the Record, okay?” He finished every other sentence with “Okay.”

“Fine.”

He stood, offered a hand. “Thanks, man,” he said as we shook. “She still loves you, you know. She’s just not the home-fires-burning type.”

“I understand. Listen, it’s none of my business, really, but how’d you two hook up?”

He shook his head, scratching at his formidable black beard. “I started writing a series on her called ‘The Chosen’s Woman.’”

I smiled. “Really? And how’d that work out for you?”

“It was a one chapter series. And I had to personally track down and destroy all of those.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “I’m surprised she didn’t deck you.”

“Hey, listen, a fat lip was a small price to pay, okay?”

Soon enough, I was off again to more major cities. I between, I could take just five minutes away from the outside world and grab eight hours of sleep in Walt’s apartment. Even so, it was exhausting. A lot of that was emotional wear-and-tear, but I think a great deal had to do with the effects of Transition. Even with “practice,” and the relative protection of the silver suit, I was repeatedly going through a process never intended for us mere humans.

Without Donna to distract me, Mickey Time started to wear on me in a different way: the unexamined life may not be worth living, but Socrates never weighed in on the over-examined life. I found myself second-guessing every decision I’d made since the Trumps sounded. Then I’d question whether I’d really made any decisions at all. I hadn’t decided to laugh at Gabriel. I’d just reacted. I sure as hell didn’t decide to be “Chosen.” I didn’t want the job; I’d been manipulated and/or coerced every step of the way.

Many of our Dog-and-Ponies ended with an informal Q & A; it was my way of trying to stay… connected. Sometimes I think it was about making sure I was still even human. More than once, particularly here in the US, someone would ask me, “How can you live with yourself?”

I never have an answer.

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