Arlan Andrews, Sr.
I wash the dusty feet of Jesus; I wipe His Mother’s furrowed brow.
Under the bright lights of the museum’s mobile maintenance cart, my careful inspection of the statue reveals that Michaelango’s Pieta is none the worse for wear. I think, Miraculously, they’ve even repaired the hammer damage, almost out loud. But not too loudly. Who knows what they can hear? Only an hour ago, when I asked aloud for this masterpiece to be brought to me, it had appeared within seconds, literally out of thin air. They must be listening. “Teleportation,” I whisper. “With this kind of technology, we could have had a great new world.”
“But we do, Companion Deckard,” a melodic voice behind me erupts, assaulting me with sincerity, pummeling me with pure love, “We do have a great new world, and so much more. And we wish for you to share it.”
Moaning, I turn to see which Angel they’ve sent this time. Hovering before me, wavering in and out of vision, stands one of the Angels—”numan beings”, they call themselves, but with that golden glow, those beatific faces, the hammering waves of glory they radiate, they are Angels but—
“I hate Angels,” I hiss. “You are the Death of Mankind, the bringers of Disaster, the—”
“Companion Deckard,” the Angel cuts me off, abruptly, though still with respectful overtones, ever those resonances of deepest concern. “This dialogue cannot continue. Although your heartfelt protestations and little temper tantrums have been rather interesting and challenging these last few weeks, we simply cannot waste any more time.” The Angel smiles wearily. “You must come with me, with us; you must come voluntarily, I admit, but you simply must. Eternity is so long to be alone, though if you stay behind you won’t live more than a few years. Lonely, lonely years.”
“Nonsense,” I reply, “I’ve got the entire Museum of Natural History around me, and you Angels have brought me every masterpiece our race ever made.” I wave at the overflowing shelves, the stacks of sculptures, the piles of paintings, the towering plastic skyscrapers of music CDs and DVDs, and I smile back. “Centuries of human culture, years of study, a lifetime of appreciation. All the best of what the race has thought and said and done and created, a legacy in which I, at least, find pride and solace. I’ll be quite content to stay human.”
“No, you will not. For all the others, save you, have Accepted the Words.” Don’t ask me how, but I could Hear. The. Capital. Letters.
At this I am indeed shocked; I hate myself for showing it. “All the others? Ybarra, Aleman, Shaw? I don’t believe you.” For these last few confusing weeks, there have been, like me, a few rebelliously defiant people around the world, real human beings fighting the alien changes that have destroyed our world. If I am the only one left, the Millennium will never come. Earth will be lonely without her own children, those of us who give Her consciousness and meaning.
The Angel shrugs, his rate of unsteady wavering increasing. For a moment he flickers totally out, and I am momentarily stunned at being left alone without even the courtesy of a “goodbye,” taking for granted the overweening politeness, the caring, I’ve come to associate with these new supercreatures. Within fractions of a second, though, the glorious figure re-emerges from whatever holy super-dimension it has been occupying for alternate slits of time. “This is the last conversation we can—afford—Companion Deckard. All of us are ready to depart, and we must depart as One, the One we have become.”
“To Hell with you, Angel,” I spit out bitter words. “You aren’t human any more! Look at yourself, look at all of you—you’ve all been mindwashed into something alien. Get out!” I reach for my nearest weapon. It is the dust mop I’ve been using to clean Michaelangelo’s stone masterpiece. To any observers the scene would look ridiculous, a janitor threatening an Angel with a mop, but I’m not embarrassed; it’s the thought that counts.
“You are quite right, Companion. We are ‘numen’, though now even that term itself is meaningless. We want to be ‘all-men’, the entire human race, all six billion plus of us. You are the one, the only, the unique missing component that completes the picture, the multidimensional puzzle, and your participation is ardently desired by all those billions of others. You have no idea of your significance, your uniqueness. Without you, we will be less than we could be.”
“Nonsense, Angel. Only one man, making a difference? Why, the Words came three whole weeks ago. Thousands, millions, around the world must have died since, in the collapse of civilization when you all became—” I choked on the words “—whatever it is you are now. Why do you want just one more, just me?”
Angel shakes his head slowly. “You are wrong on several counts, Companion Deckard. No one has died since The Night of the Words.”
Again, I am stunned. “None?” I croak.
“Not any,” I murmur, absorbing the enormity, then realizing the import of the statement. “And not one of you out there is human any more!” I want to cry, not for myself but for the lost race that produced the treasures of the mind surrounding me in my self-designated Museum of the Once-Human Race. “Damn, Angel, why? Why did you all go and become something else?” Drained, alone, I slump against the cold stone, and the Angel turns on the patented pity-stare.
“Seventeen words on the Web. You know the story.” I nod, emotionally exhausted, the last human being on Earth. Of course I know the damned story. But I don’t know The Words, and I never will.
“Yeah, I understand the sequence of events; how could I not.” That rhetorical statement brings back the fear, the revulsion of these past weeks, as I witnessed the human race rushing to destruction, lemmings all. And us with a world of our own, and time, surrendering our birthright and our humanity for what? A chance to be Angels?
“Will you listen to The Words?” I shake my head. That way lies the maddeningness of the Hive, the Angelic Horde. The One. Extinction of the Self.
Angel shrugs, repeats his words, quickly. I sense urgency, near panic. They’re about to swarm, I think, and he’s responding to some kind of cosmic hive instinct. “The Seventeen Words appeared on all the world’s terminals, all the television sets, all visual and audio displays, just three weeks ago.”
I bite my lip. “O. K., so I wasn’t watching anything at the time. Never had Web access. Glad of it, too.” Hardly ever did ‘watch,’ never had ‘surfed.’ Back then—three weeks ago! — I was curator of an anthropology museum, with no interest in the evanescent, that which changes in milliseconds. I want the reassurance of the ages, the certain knowledge that human intellect and passion can span millennia and that those of us in their future can comprehend and appreciate their contribution; that we now are contributing to the culture of the future. The thought hits again, as it has done some many times since The Words came: There won’t be any future after this!
“The Seventeen Words reached straight to humanity’s soul,” Angel says. “In every language, seventeen words.”
“What about the deaf and blind,” I ask without really caring, “what about them? How did they see or hear? And the mentally defective?”
“They are all cured now, Companion Deckard. Everyone is; we all have perfect, eternal health and so much, much more.” Angel senses my questions. “Within minutes after The Words appeared, humanity’s collective consciousness jumped orders of magnitude; intelligence as we used to measure it was almost immediately raised to a scale so advanced as to be previously incomprehensible.”
He looks into my soul, shredding it. With his cosmic connivance, I am suddenly immersed inside the image of an insect, an ant, all the better with which to comprehend these great Truths, I am sure. “The Words awakened within us the hidden programming in our DNA. The intelligence boost and new senses allowed us to experience our Web terminals as many-dimensional, multi-sensory immersive virtual reality systems.” With the multiple-image vision from my multi-faceted ant-eyes, I get sucked into a maelstrom of shocking images that I can’t understand. “From there we were introduced to hyper-dimensional extrapolations that resonated with our brain-mind systems, accessing dormant capabilities that were—”
But I don’t want to experience any more, not and lose my receding humanity. “Damn your VR special effects, Angel,” I scream so loudly that Angel stops speaking, “just tell me what is going on!” Immediately I am back in my own body, seeing with my own eyes, but there on the floor between my feet, an ant, a real living creature, walks in blissful ignorance of the omnicide taking place above him.
“You wonder why we numen don’t appreciate all this art, all these monuments to human achievement that you cling to so ardently, so irrationally?”
Well, yes, I had wondered. But he doesn’t wait for me to say anything.
“Our — appreciation, you would call it — of the wonders of the MultiVerse, is so, so, overwhelming, that even the Pieta here is less than nothing.” At that insult, I rise up away from the statue’s coldness, dustmop shaking, but I am so distraught I can’t speak. Angel, floating on air in front of me, is not intimidated.
“That ant, there, at your feet, Companion. Do you think it could understand the significance of your stone dead statue? No, it blindly follows random chemical traces to find food. Its most significant communication occurs through gross chemical transfer between fellow ant-cells, in the pheromones of other foragers.
“My own consciousness, and that of the whole numan race, now extends into an infinitude of alternate dimensions, and far beyond even those into, into—places—that words literally cannot describe; I continuously experience myriads of senses you cannot dream of; I am part of One and one with many parts, and I can’t explain it to you, any more than you can explain Michaelangelo to the ant.
“Without accepting The Words, Companion Deckard, you are doomed to stay as limited as that ant. Worse, in fact; because it is only a blind insect-cell of a larger creature, its hive, it is totally without volition and can never know its place in the Multiverse. But you, you are a conscious creature, and we are giving you one last chance to become One with all of us.”
I sense pain in that compassionate face, yet a growing impatience. What, even you new Godlings have your limitations? You can’t resist the call of the Swarm? “Companion Deckard, I am communicating with you in the most primitive of methods, at great sacrifice to the other components of my being.” He pauses and I see Eternity behind those infinitely-blue, gold-speckled eyes. “And now I must leave. We are all leaving, and we will never return.”
He points toward a shuttered window. “I don’t have to say The Words out loud to you, you know. We—your brothers and sisters—have engraved their significance into a sculpture that stands outside the front door to this place, and all you have to do is look at it. As we all did on the Web that first night, you will comprehend, be transformed and become part of the One.”
“What if I wait until you’re all gone to the great bye-and-bye, then change my mind and look at your play-totem, what then?Great sadness sags those white wings, visibly dimming that radiance. ”We simply don’t know; where we’re going, it must be together, as One. All have always gone as One. It’s simply never happened this way before. But we offer this one chance to you, nonetheless.”
“What, the glorious saviors of the Galaxy, those eternal heavenly busybodies who force Angel-hood down the throats of entire sentient races, they never had a conscientious objector before? Out of all those googoollions of aliens, everybody has gone along for this super-human ride you’re getting ready to take?”
Angel, for once, is speechless. Hesitatingly, he nods.
“Then, by God,” I shout, “let the rest of them out there know what it means to be a human!” Feeling suddenly sorry for the god who towers over me, I reach up on tiptoes and place my hand on that high, broad shoulder, like some kindergarten child reaching up to his adult teacher. “Goodbye, Angel.”
“Farewell, Companion Deckard,” he says sadly, and wavers away forever.
My true companions await, surrounding me, comforting me: Picasso and Chagall and Dali; Rodin and Matisse and Pollack and Freas; Shakespeare and Dante and Moses and Milton and Bradbury; Wagner and Brahms and Lennon and Ol’ Hank Williams; millions of authors and musicians, every language, available at my command. Artists and sculptors and architects, scientists and engineers and mathematicians, the very heights of human accomplishments. Finding a pathway amidst the clutter of personal computers, Folsom spear points—a Maserati coupe, gorgeous thing!—I stride over to the looming, buglike hulk of the Apollo XI Lunar Excursion Module—the Angels retrieved the base of it for me from the Moon, and the capsule from the Smithsonian—and begin to wipe it clear of billion-year-old dirt, dust kicked up just fifty years ago when Mankind was still human, and the future still looked bright.
Back when there was a future.
It is hours since Angel—and I suppose All of Them—left, and the city is completely quiet; no noise, not even that strange new drifting, sub-sense of choral music of past weeks, comes into the building. “They must really hold on to that voluntary business,” I say to the shades of my human compatriots, the real humans, those whose souls are bound in leather and cloth, whose blood is black ink and whose hands still repose in carved stone and cast metal and spun glass. “If they’d believed in coercion, they could’ve played The Words on loudspeakers, or even bound my old bod down and forced me to read their cosmic catechism.” My words do not echo in the empty hallways; my complaints, if that’s what they are, are absorbed softly by waiting scholars and philosophers and poets from past—human!—ages; my heart reaches out to my creative companions inside the millions of tomes, but there is no response.
A minuscule pinprick pain in my ankle draws my attention away from eschatological matters. “That damned ant,” I chuckle, flicking it away from my bare leg. Stunned, the creature zig zags around the base of the bust of Ben Franklin (that one, retrieved by Angels from the White House, as I had requested). The little creature scurries off towards the darkness between the stacks of my Gutenberg Bibles and the scattered remnant shards of my Dead Sea Scrolls. Using an original rolled copy of my Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, I scoot the little insect further along its path.
The window, through the parallel slats of the blinds, reveals that darkness is approaching.
Twilight. I am Outside, now, the first time in three weeks, but out the back door, on the opposite side of the Museum, carefully away from the sculpture that the ever-mindful Used-To-Be-Human Race—the entire lot, if I could believe Angel—has left on my front doorstep. It feels good to be in the fresher air. I know that in a few years there will be a lot of vegetation encroaching and I will have to cut some of it back to protect the Museum and its precious contents.
Thinking of my companion, Ant, I wonder, how many kinds of insects and animals remain on Earth? Have they left any other living creatures behind for me in my new Lost Eden? Or did the Cosmic Boy Scouts change some of them into angelic bugs and beasts and take them along for the ride? I laugh. Peripherally, something catches my attention, begins to draw me out of myself. Something overhead; involuntarily, I glance upward and stand in shock.
The sky!—the very skies of Earth! — they are full of wonders! Images that grab my soul, messages I don’t want to understand! Visions I cannot accommodate. Screaming, I run back into the Museum of the Lost Human Race, and am suddenly the most lost.
I sit and shake, wondering what I have done.
I sit, paralyzed, for hours, stunned to my soul, yet strangely not disturbed. In their passing from Earth, the numen left for all to see—Companion Deckard, now become that all! — the mistiest hint of what they had become. Those mere sky-shadows from Plato’s cave, they bear down on me with all the force of the Universe. The barest glimpse of the significance of The Seventeen Words has shaken my deepest convictions, made me doubt my own humanity.
It isn’t fair.
I am drawn to the sky in a manner I can’t describe. That seduction sculpture they placed in front tempts me not, but…
I search my memory; no man has ever been in my place before. To hear Angel tell it, no sentient creature anywhere in all the myriads of galaxies, anytime, has been in this predicament, has ever experienced this; all the others have gone voluntarily, without such coercion. But they weren’t human, and I am. “Not ‘A Human,’ I remind myself, recalling an old joke, ”but ‘The Human.” Can I resist? Should I resist? Should I loose my soul and follow the swarm of Angels out to God knows what? Or is it lose my soul? Will I be able to resist that seduction in the sky?
From one of the tall shelves, one of my ancient leather-bound friends whispers to my soul, “There is a way. Remember, there is always a way.”
There is always a way! Once the gods themselves feared those words, the Universe-defying rallying cry of the two-legged ape that dared conquer his own planet, that stood on the threshold of greatness, a destiny snatched away by alien do-gooders. And now these five words are the epitaph of the lost human race.
That was yesterday.
Tonight, now, I burn the Mona Lisa.
Sitting cross-legged, bare-legged and sightless in front of the encroaching fire, while Wagner’s Valkyries ride, shrieking out to the children of the night, I feel the closeness of the Gutenberg-fed flames, those I set with original Shakespeare manuscripts, and fanned with the last Mayan Codices and the remaining Magna Cartas. Around me, among the minor mountains of books, scatter the debris of the masters of physical arts, sharp-edged and shattered, torch-cut and jagged: the smashed sculptures, ripped canvases, shredded sheet music, melted CD’s and DVDs, all the finest human productions. It has taken a long part of a long day, with the longest time yet to come; to finish it will only take minutes.
The result is Eternity.
Tonight, while the roaring inferno churns its way through acres of printed souls, I imagine firefly-flecked ash particles, billions of them, like glowing mini-Angels reaching skyward, lemming-like, obsessed with attaining that great kaleidoscope in The Sky, that final sign that the Lost Human Race left for me, saying “This Way Out.”
“If thine eye offend thee,” it was written in those tomes. Where my eyes were, are pain. Son of Oedipus, I commune intimately with my violated Mother, my siblings the Lost Human Race, and think of crying for what we might have been and never will be, but tears won’t come.
Perfection without struggle negates the meaning of the human soul!
Where the Angels are going, they say, they will experience everything. But not pain, I think, and that thought—their loss—keeps me human.
Understanding pain makes man know God, I think, and the acknowledgment of pain and its surcease, joy, is the whole basis of these arts and letters I honor tonight with dignified immolation.
Let those others journey into unknowable dimensions; let me stay the human being I was born and always will be. Amidst the treasures of the soul, I sit and await the approaching flames, now surrounding me upon this pyre of human creativity, until at last I will be One with all these.
And to the last moment, still Human.
Food for Thought
Not all alien invasions will be either malevolent or benign. Some may be just, well – alien!
About the Author
Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr., has been selling non-fiction since 1972, and SF stories since 1979, amounting to over 500 pieces in 100 venues worldwide. In his varied engineering career, he worked with missile-tracking telescopes, anti-ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, 3D printing, biotechnology, virtual reality, environmental issues, and White House science policy. A consulting futurist, he is the founder of SIGMA, the science fiction think tank (www.SigmaForum.org) and was a Hugo novella nominee in 2015. Arlan’s story collections and novels are available on Amazon.com and other outlets.
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