Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years! And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. And they say there’s no fate, but there is: It’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead, or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right, but it never comes. Or it seems to, but it doesn’t really. So you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along, something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel cherished, something to make you feel loved. - Charlie Kaufman, Synedoche, NY Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence. - Alan Watts
Two Weeks Later:
Before the Expectant
The Orchard of Shen
“What are our numbers today?” Michael asked Evie as she fitted the microphone to his collar.
“Up another one-fifty-three. I met some this morning. They seemed nice,” Evie said. “How’s that feel?”
“Oh, fine,” Michael answered. “So, all told, the Expectant now total…?”
“Almost ten thousand,” Evie said, stepping back. “But Si will have the official census later,” Evie looked away a little too quickly.
“Not nearly enough,” Michael said to himself, then looked at Evie’s pained expression. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” Evie said and smiled her best on-camera smile.
Michael raised his eyebrows questioningly at her.
Evie shrugged, admitting defeat. “Simon and Ellen are exhausted. Neither of them will delegate anything. They are personally registering every single new Expectant! That’s ten thousand human beings in just under two weeks! And Simon in particular is being unbelievably arrogant and unreasonable, saying he and he alone is responsible and that he must clear each and every new person before admittance to the “Orchard of Shen,” whatever the fuck that is, and Ellen is right alongside him, nodding and agreeing.”
Michael nodded. “They’re doing what they’re supposed to, Eve.”
Evie sat down in the interviewer’s chair across from Michael. As before, a c-machine sat, lumpy and still, on a small table between them. “Well,” she said, clipping on her own microphone. “They pretty much sing out of the same hymnal now, so I don’t think we can talk them out of it anyway.”
“No,” Michael said softly. “We can’t.”
“Are you ready? We’ll be starting soon,” Evie said, her voice trembling a little. “It’s almost time.”
Simon and Ellen worked. Ellen was primarily on the camera and doing ID checks; he was doing the necessary data entry. As they worked, they spoke continually to one another, but in a new song with voices crystalline and new and silent and unconstrained. They were polite but firm to those who were “checking in,” these few who had, for one reason or another, taken the Elixir and then felt the call to join the growing multitude that they now knew to call the Expectant.
Working under Simon and Ellen’s guidance, registration was quick and efficient. All existing ID was to be surrendered: Passports, driver’s licenses, even birth certificates. All bags were checked; absolutely no weapons were permitted on the property. When they started out, some two ancient weeks ago, Simon had proposed stripping everyone naked to make absolutely certain that there were no weapons, but Michael had grown inexplicably angry when he heard Simon’s proposal and so the idea was dropped at once. So, they checked bags and packs, and found very few weapons. The ID was checked through several less-than-reputable Internet search engines and people-finding sites, but Simon knew it was all a stretch. Still, he kept stolidly and stoically at it, inwardly terrified of making a mistake, of missing something important. If not for Ellen and her song, he knew he could not have kept it up for this long. But all day Ellen was there with him and at the end of the day she soothed him like no sleep ever could.
And every night, they flew together in their dreams.
“We’re glad that you’ve arrived,” Ellen announced with practiced gravity, and in the same breath, Simon added: “Welcome home.”
For these new Expectant, “home” would be one of the growing forest of c-machine-printed tents that spread out radially throughout the lumpy uneven pasture of the old apple orchard. The decrepit orchard, along with its dilapidated buildings that had once housed a private school, was long abandoned, having gone into foreclosure some months beforehand. The small Vermont bank hadn’t complained about the Expectant, because the bank had no more employees. They had simply stopped coming to work. All of them.
The land itself covered some twenty-five acres of rolling hillside, including the orchard itself. At the top of the hill, near the school, Ellen had enlisted men and women from the Expectant to work on the structure – a raised dais with stacks of speakers aimed at the hills below – from which the broadcasts would be filmed. A surprising number of the Expectant were skilled carpenters, technicians, and designers. They tackled the project with the fervor of new converts.
Michael had given commands for the land and the construction of the dais, but had provided no details, leaving all decisions and minutia to Simon and Ellen. Michael actually spent most of his time walking among the tents, greeting those he met, smiling and welcoming those who had answered the Eschaton’s call. Simon and Ellen worried about his safety, had finally confronted Michael about how dangerous this wandering about was, but Michael just shook his head and told them to stop it.
It was almost six in the evening of the fifteenth day when young Bethany, bedraggled, incredibly dirty and sweat-stained and smiling a split of white teeth in the middle of all that grime, stepped into the Registration Center, a backpack that looked as if it had survived several explosions tossed carelessly over one shoulder.
Bethany looked around the room. There were other grown-ups surrounding her, looking at her oddly, and then two people on the other side of the table, who both looked up at the same time and smiled openly at her. Bethany puffed a filthy lock of hair out of her eyes and said to Ellen: “Hi. Can I talk to the guy in charge?”
This was not an unusual request; many, if not most, of those who heard the call wanted to meet Michael. But there was something in the girl’s tone that made Ellen take notice.
Then Simon laughed and smiled even more broadly from his desk; Ellen, nodding, said: “Of course you can, Bethany. My name is Ellen; this is Simon. Come right this way.” The others in the room stepped back from this dirty little girl, suddenly acutely conscious of her as different in some way from them, as Ellen came around the folding table that served as Simon’s workstation, her face serious but friendly.
Bethany’s smile didn’t falter. She cocked her head to one side in curiosity as Ellen came around the table and took Bethany’s cool, little hand. Ellen led her to where she had last seen Michael, down the incline somewhere in the tent-sea. “So, Ellen,” Bethany said after a minute, daring to call a grown-up by her first name (which Bethany noted didn’t seem to bother Ellen at all), her Texas drawl amusing Ellen in an oddly maternal fashion. “How did you know my name?”
Ellen blinked. “Someone told me. Bethany’s not your name?”
“No, it is,” Bethany answered. “But how did they know?”
“Well,” Ellen said, a little evasively. “The one who told me: He’s really smart.”
“Oh,” Bethany thought about that, then asked: “What’s his name anyway?”
“Who? The guy who—”
Bethany shook her head, her frustration boiling over. “You know who I mean! The guy in my dreams every night that takes me flying, who told me to come here quick as I could. What’s his name?” Bethany craned her head up to look at Ellen’s profile.
“Oh, ” Ellen said, honestly surprised as she had never seen Michael in her dreams of the Flock, then: “Well, for starters, he would say that he doesn’t have a name.”
“Great,” Bethany grumbled, failing to hide her disappointment.
Ellen couldn’t help a small smile; she genuinely liked this kid, so she just shrugged and added: “But you can call him Michael. That’s what we all call him anyway.” And they turned suddenly left and the man not-named Michael was there, crouched in front of a campfire and warming his hands over it. Bethany gasped in recognition, dropped her battered pack, and ran to him.
Michael saw her just before she dove into his embrace, and he smiled.
(The next day, he buried what was left of her in the weedy soil out back by the playground.
He left no marker.)
Interim Command Post
Office of the President
“They have amassed to at least ten thousand individuals, Mr. President,” General Hawkins said, his tone gruff. “And more arrive every hour. We have no idea how these people know where to go or who to report to, but it’s clear that he’s gathering an army, sir.”
“What is Vermont doing about it?” The (acting) President said.
“Nothing, sir. Vermont does not appear to have a full-functioning government at this time,” the Director of the CIA said.
“So everything’s pretty much normal there, at least,” the President said weakly.
No one laughed, and he shook his head. “Sorry. Well, Gentlemen, it seems clear we need to do something. Options?”
The Director and the General exchanged glances. “Our thought is a surgical strike, sir. That way we minimize casualties.”
“Surgical? You mean….assassination?” the President asked.
Hawkins didn’t hesitate. “Yes, sir. That’s precisely what we mean.”
The First Stream:
Except from a
EVE: Michael, we are live. Please begin.
MICHAEL: Hello Everyone. And hello to those watching all over the world. We are streaming live from the Orchard of Shen. I am called Michael. I’ve come to speak with you tonight about matters of great importance to all us.
EVE: Please! Please folks! Let’s try to contain our excitement so that we may all hear what Michael has to say. This is very important stuff as he just said, so silence, please.
MICHAEL: This is indeed a very exciting and momentous time! For me as well! I have been waiting for this moment – this wondrous Bright Time – for great gobs of time. For eons, really. I’ve slept through the rise and fall of entire civilizations, just so that I could be here tonight, speaking to all of you. And what I have to say has a terrible urgency, so listen carefully: Our time is very short! So we must begin, and I will speak to you now of the Eschaton, and of His Awakening, and His divine plan for all the Expectant, for all those that have taken the Elixir as He commanded.
MICHAEL: Well, you got the text yourself, Eve. Remember? That text everyone got? Clearly He was not just asking us. But, fear not for there is still time! If you act now and take the Elixir as instructed by the Eschaton, you too can be saved and set free!
MICHAEL: Free from fear! From free illness, pain and degradation, want and suffering, even from Death itself!
EVE: Who is the Eschaton?
MICHAEL: First and last, He is our Descendant, all of us. Humanity, I mean. He comes from us, the way we came from earlier primates. He is the Future of Humanity. Or some portion of it anyway, and – make no mistake – He is coming. Soon.
EVE: What will happen? How will we know?
MICHAEL: You all felt an irresistible urge to be here. Some of you may have traveled great distances, left loved ones, even risked your own safety, without having any clear reason why. You just knew. Here is the why: What felt was the Eschaton’s Call, and while it is very faint now, barely above whisper, it is real and undeniable to you. The Call will only grow stronger and louder as the event horizon nears. Trust me: You will all feel it and you will all know.
MICHAEL: It’s so simple it’s impossible to describe. Here: Let me try this. Have you dreamed of the Flock?
EVE: Yes, many times.
MICHAEL: Yes, I know. Most of you have. And that’s very good! You will know of the Eschaton’s Divine Autogenesis very much like you know of the Flock from your dreams. Because, you see, this dream of the Flock that you all have is not in fact a dream, not truly. It is a transmission: A future memory issued through the Elixir by the Eschaton. A song of voyages to come to sustain you all until the Awakening.
EVE: The Awakening?
MICHAEL: Autogenesis. The inception point. A kernel, born of sufficient energy density and, yes, song, will be initialized and will run as Process 0.
EVE: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What happens?
MICHAEL: Something wonderful.