If I dreamed while I was out, thankfully I have no memory of it. The image I remember seeing whenever my eyes fluttered open for even a second was apparently real: Eloi, always hovering close. Sometimes he spoke, but neither my inner nor outer ears could hear him. I would breathe in the cool, slightly earthy smell of the Gray, then fade away again.
Finally, I simply woke up. Eloi was there. He studied my eyes for a moment, touched my forehead, then spoke, in only his physical voice: “Welcome back.”
I sat up; the gray “bed” reshaped itself to my efforts. “Have I been away?”
Eloi smiled his enigmatic little smile. “In a manner of speaking. When we found you, you were quite dead.”
Most people would probably be shocked or at least skeptical upon hearing such a thing, but it made sense to me. I still felt mostly dead. I searched my memory for any visions of a wonderful white light. Nothing. “What happened?”
“That is far too large a question to answer all at once. Obviously we were able to resuscitate you, but had we been even a minute later reaching you… And many people truly died that day. Far too many. A number of Ishim as well.” I opened my mouth to speak, but he anticipated my question. “Your brother was not among them. Somehow he and a handful of others managed to escape.”
“Figures.” I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, Eloi was on my other side, and the bed had gone horizontal again.
Obviously some time had passed, whatever that meant here. I realized I was hungry. Soon I was sitting at a gray table, eating some anonymous soft food, which was somehow delicious all the same. Then my strength ebbed again, and I was soon asleep once more.
This sputtering convalescence went on for some time. I began to find myself occasionally awake when Ishim medicos tended to me. I asked for their names, and managed to pronounce them after a fashion. None of them were exactly chatty, but I did my best to draw them in, encourage them to talk to me. One particularly large fellow looked so much like TJ that I grew misty-eyed every time I saw him. But I will never dismiss them as interchangeable non-entities again. The Angels may think of them as cannon-fodder, and humans may dismiss them as some kind of robo-warriors, but I will never forget that one of these poor brave souls gave his life for me. Never. “Forgive me,” he’d said. TJ, forgive me.
And from one visit to the next, bit-by-bit Eloi told me what had happened after what I imagine Gareth was calling the Candlestick Park Massacre. Finally, he gave me the news he’d been holding back: within the hour of that so-called battle, the hawks prevailed and as giant Angels again loomed in the sky all around the world, now brandishing fiery swords, the Trumps of Doom sounded again.
This time, two in every seven humans worldwide dropped dead. My prediction of ninety million dead that I’d thrown at Gareth? Nearly twenty times that number had died, all in a single moment, all because of my own brother’s insane insurgency.
As the word came to me, I knew it was no hyperbole; Gareth’s mission was insane. I’d seen it myself, even before his wild romp through the field of battle—the zealous fever in his eyes as he’d grinned and prattled, “It’s show time!” And his show had featured the death of nearly two billion people.
This news left me completely numb, and I saw that Eloi was appalled himself. I was literally speechless; I went through three or four meal-and-sleep cycles before I could talk to him again.
I asked for a supply of legal pads and some mechanical pencils. Eloi, perhaps humoring me as more eccentric than usual because of my recent death, had them brought in. I began writing these notes. My recovery accelerated.
I discovered that I had a new lower right leg and left arm, regenerated through routine Ishim medical technology. Likewise a new liver and one kidney. This explained a lot, like why the first time I tried to scratch my eyebrow I’d poked myself in the eye. Why my hand (and my foot, once I paid attention) was now a rosy shade of pink. Why my big toe, crooked since I broke it stepping in a gopher hole when I was nine, was now straight and perfect. Why for some time I needed help walking.
I had begun taking unassisted strolls through the malleable gray world when Eloi showed up with a small package. We sat on some spur-of-the-moment gray stools as he handed it to me. “This was found in your brother’s house, the hideout where you were held? I believe you should have it.”
I unwrapped it from the silver cloth. I recognized it at once: Gareth had been using these small leather-bound notebooks as journals for years. Here were three bundled together with heavy rubber bands. I looked at Eloi. “Have you read these?”
He nodded. “And I found them... illuminating.” He was again speaking only physically. I understood that the other Angels were unaware of the existence of these books. Then again, it was unlikely that any apart from Eloi would have any interest in them.
“Thanks,” I said. “Maybe one day I’ll read them, too.”
A few cycles later Eloi brought me a new set of silver clothes. “Home to the pyramid?” I asked. He smiled and nodded. A few minutes later we were standing once again in Walt’s apartment. I took a moment to look around. Everything looked the same; my old clothes were even still in the closet. I unwrapped my little bundle of belongings from the silver cloth that made their transition possible. I set my pile of legal pads on the dining table and carried Gareth’s journals over to a lamp table. I turned back to Eloi. “Ever so humble,” I said weakly.
Eloi put a warm hand on my shoulder. “You understand that some time has passed here.”
“Of course.” In hindsight, I should have asked for some clarification. “Some time” was uncharacteristically vague for Eloi. So, longer than usual, I guessed. A few months; maybe a year or two.
“Good. Get reacquainted, re-acclimated, fully recovered. Soon you must resume your mission.”
“What?” I was caught completely off guard; as far as I was concerned, my “mission” was over. I had naturally assumed I was retired, full-disability. Hell, I’d already been killed in the line of duty. “Are you kidding me? What use is the Chosen now?”
“More than ever. Your brother lives. His legend grows. Far from quashing his APAFA movement, the Second Trump seems to have inspired more open rebellion.”
“Are you out of your big alien mind? Haven’t you been paying attention? I’ve already failed! Eloi, I can’t do this anymore.”
“You are still the Chosen. You still believe in your own people. You—”
“Dammit, Eloi, choose somebody else!”
I didn’t really mark it at the time, but at that moment something unprecedented happened: Eloi raised his voice: “There is no one else!”
And then I lost it. My head pretty much exploded; Mom would have called it a conniption fit, whatever that means. All I know is I was suddenly screaming at the top of my lungs. “Well that’s just too damn bad! Do it yourself, then! I tell you I’m done!”
“Chosen... Graham. Listen to me—”
“No! NO! I mean it; I can’t do this any more! I was dead when you found me—why couldn’t you leave well enough alone!” I was screaming right in his face, but of course he didn’t flinch. I turned to storm away and banged my new shin on the coffee table. It didn’t even really hurt, but it was the final straw: howling with rage, I bent down, picked up the ugly thing and hurled it across the room.
“Damn you, Eloi! God damn every one of you! GOD DAMN YOU! Except there is no God, is there, Eloi? He was your father or your clone donor or whatever, and now he’s gone—given up on you and your arrogant brothers, and sure as hell given up on us poor puny humans. Do you have any idea what that means to me, Eloi? Do you know how many times in my life I’ve prayed to ‘Our Father who art in heaven’? Thousands and thousands of times, every day for year after year after year! I might as well have been praying to the Tooth Fairy!” Still, he was as stoic as a statue. His beautiful, calm face couldn’t have been more infuriating. I think I must have screamed incoherently as I rushed him.
He took the full impact of my assault with only a half-step back. I flailed at him like a first-grader in a schoolyard brawl. And like that first-grader, I was bawling like a baby. I pulled back and slapped him hard across his face. “Do it, Eloi! Wave your mighty hand and send me off to oblivion! DO IT, DAMN YOU! You sent my father off to whatever hell he’s in; send me too!” I was pounding on his chest. He took it for a while, then wrapped his arms around me and pinned me gently to his body. Before long, I lost the will to shout any more and just sobbed.
I don’t know how long we stood there, a tableau of Jacob and the Angel, the roles reversed. My sobbing subsided, but still I wept. At some point, he scooped me up into his powerful arms and carried me to the sofa.
“Chosen,” he said as he gently set me down. “Graham. You are not alone in this. I am with you.”
Reluctantly, I nodded. “Good,” he said. “Rest. Find your strength. I will see you soon.” I was spent. Even as he spoke, I was beginning to drift off to sleep. I looked up at him. I can’t be sure—my own eyes were bleary and then some—but I could have sworn I saw tears in his eyes.
He disappeared. I pulled the Cinderella afghan from the back of the red velvet cushions and curled up under it. The angle of the light through the heavy drapes told me it was early morning in the outside world. I glanced at the grandfather clock; just after midnight, Mickey Time.
I closed my eyes and slept.