Seconds later, Eloi appeared.
I was still sitting on the sofa; Barney jumped up onto my lap, but I think he was trying to comfort me, not seeking comfort himself. I looked at Eloi for a long moment. Finally, I said simply, “Hi.”
“Hello.” He studied me for another long moment, then said, “I am sorry for what happened with your—”
I raised a hand to cut him off. “No. Not that. I mean it. Please. I’m ready to get back to work, but I can’t hear this from you right now. All right?” He didn’t respond, and I couldn’t read his expression. “Please,” I said again.
“Good. I want to go to San Francisco.”
Over the past three weeks I had come a hundred and eighty degrees around from never intending to appear as The Chosen again, back to the plan to meet Gareth at Candlestick Park. I decided there was no need to be coy with Eloi about my reasons for going, either; my twin brother was there and I wanted to see him. I’d even spill the beans about this APAFA business—here was our chance to nip this foolish insurgency in the bud, before they managed any real violence. I think I might even have almost meant it at the time.
Of course, there was a part of me that wanted to join Gareth; shuck off my silver suit, lurk in the hills with APAFA and fight everything Angel. But it was only a dark fantasy. I understood the immensity of their power too well; I could never really delude myself into believing that any human insurgency would ever accomplish anything other than our own deaths, and possibly the ultimate extinction of humanity.
So I laid out my plans for Eloi. I asked for a longer gathering period than the usual one hour, since we had such a large venue in Candlestick Park. As we spoke it was still before eight a.m. Good; we could put out a four-hour call and appear at noon.
But if I thought I was going to be able to loaf around for another couple of weeks while those hours ticked by, I was sadly mistaken. Eloi had apparently been fending off demands from some of the more militant Angels to proceed without The Chosen, and remind the world again who was in charge. Americans especially were proving more trouble than they were worth; why waste even Ishim lives when with a single sweep they could clear the board, lay waste to the continent and start again from scratch? There were even a few super-militants who went beyond this call for a scorched-earth policy and suggested that a scorched-Earth would be better still. If I was no longer in the game, it was likely these hawks would prevail.
So, we put out the TV/radio call to Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Eloi had prepared a busy schedule, setting up mostly follow-up appearances around the world, and a few key spots here in the US. I would check in with Colonel Hatfield, drop in on Seattle, which was the city nearest one of the “hottest” regions in the country, where anti-government militias had already been active even before Day One.
These groups were well-armed, but poorly equipped for inter-group communication or cooperation; each believing their own brand of Resistance to be the one true mission. None had ever reckoned on a scenario that would render all their hoarded generators and fuel useless, and they were severely handicapped without the Internet, or for the old-schoolers, CB radio. Only the purest die-hards had ever prepared for operating by birdcalls, smoke-signals, and memorized coded messages. But that communication blackout was strictly one-way. I could and would pop up on their computer monitors and TV screens, and squawk from their radios. Whether I could hope to have any effect other than riling them up was an open question.
But even the most dovish Angels would only tolerate open rebellion so far. After “fair warning” to lay down arms, they would stand back and let the hawks retaliate. Apparently there were already some large craters where militia camps used to be.
I’d had a chance in the last few weeks to read a couple of the APAFA pamphlets; whoever was ultimately behind them, they certainly understood the importance of a low, diffuse profile, urging a strike-and-scatter approach that was already proving somewhat effective, at least on very small scale. Just as mosquitoes probably consider themselves effective when they tap into a human’s hide for a hard-earned drop of blood every time the resulting swat comes a little too late. If a few mosquitoes have to die in the struggle, so be it. Of course, none of that stinging is advancing the cause of insectkind, especially if the humans decide to gas the planet with insecticide just to get rid of the pesky mosquitoes. Okay, maybe I’m stretching the metaphor too far; still, what do the Apafans really hope to accomplish? Right now, they’re barely a blip on the Angels’ radar. But annoy them enough, and they just might open up that ultimate can of Raid and wipe humanity off the planet, just to get rid of the pesky Apafans.
Maybe that metaphor wasn’t so far off after all.
We agreed I could go ahead and get a good night’s sleep before I strapped on the silver suit again. Ten hours here in the pyramid would only cost us a little over six minutes in the outside world (the 98:1 ratio was now such a part of my thinking that the numbers just popped into my head); I could make sure Kimberly was okay with taking care of Barney for a few weeks, check in with Jake and the other “kids” who were still handling communication with the outside world, even put out one last olive branch in Donna’s direction.
Kimberly was insulted that I even had to ask; Barney barely looked back when I left him with her. Jake was surprised that I felt the need to check in on him and his staff for the first time in months; there was rarely anything new to report, as the communiqués mostly made the same requests over and over again, and Jake had long since been authorized to keep responding no on my behalf. And Donna was nowhere to be found; none of the kids had seen her in months, and the Drill Team, which took great pride in considering themselves The Underground, were off honing their secret handshakes or something. The only way I’d be able to talk to Donna was by physically tracking her down, and I didn’t have the time or the will for that; maybe when I got back from San Francisco.
Eloi had provided a new eardrop, as far as I knew identical to the first. So, the next morning, my rounds completed, I began my new World Tour. In between London and Moscow and Sydney, I sometimes spent a few minutes pulling myself together in the cheerless Gray, but was soon on the road again. I purposely avoided the pyramid, I’m not sure why. I guess I felt like I needed to stay focused on being The Chosen, and if I went back now between these appearances I’d lose whatever edge I’d developed. After San Francisco, I kept telling myself. It would be less than three weeks, all in. Then I could reassess.
No Angels accompanied me on these re-visits; just my little Ishim septet. They were all male, and all over seven feet tall. With their helmets on, they were completely anonymous and interchangeable. Here lately I’d found myself making an effort to see them as individuals, as people. Did they sit around off-duty and swap stories and cigarettes? Did they have families that missed them back home somewhere on some alien Ishim Prime? Did they resent their role as cannon-fodder in the Angels’ incomprehensible machinations? Did they even have individual names? All unknown. I put that on my list of things to follow up on when I got back from Candlestick Park.
Most of these mini-missions went very smoothly; the Ishim and I popped into City Halls and public parks and railroad stations. We walked around a bit and I asked and answered a few questions. I told them to be patient, persevere, survive. As much as possible, look after each other; the Angels were unlikely to grant any grand benevolent boons beyond the restoration of hospitals and rail service, and even those were tentative. The best way to thrive under Angelic rule was through self-sufficiency. Take pride in your ability to make do. I even adapted a version of my mosquito metaphor for those areas where violent insurrection had been fomenting. Take some responsibility for the long-term survival of humanity. Maybe it even helped a little.
Finally, we were gathered in the Gray for the appearance in San Francisco. Two Angels I didn’t know, Zadkiel and Kemuel, would appear above the stadium. Eloi was there; some mysterious Angel surveillance indicated that there were several thousand people in attendance, and per the instructions in the TV/radio “invitation,” they were staying in the seats, leaving the field clear. I asked that only the usual seven Ishim go along; their sole mission was my safety, and sending along seven sevens as we had in DC would only serve to intimidate the crowd, but to what purpose? So, the seven it was. They would array themselves around me while I stood right on the Forty-Niners emblem on the fifty-yard line.
Eloi asked if I wanted him to go along; he made this offer periodically, and I always turned him down. My feelings about Eloi were still very conflicted; I no longer blamed him for my father’s fate, not really, and certainly no more than myself, but there was still a distance between us that only time would lessen, if anything. So, again I said no thanks. Things might have turned out very differently if I’d said yes this time.