Saturday, April 25, 2020

Firestorm: Orson Olsen (Part V)

Two years ago, I witnessed a miracle. Well, there were actually three miracles in one day. I watched a girl appear out of nowhere, standing on a stump in my yard. Her arms were stretched wide, and a halo shined from above her head. Hours later, I ran into that girl again, though she did not seem to know who I was. I watched her disappear again, and realized she was a time traveler, who needed my help to save her friends. I saw my angel a third time later that day, and before she disappeared one last time, she gave me a mandate. I am to worship time. That is the one true God, and I’m embarrassed I didn’t realize it before. I used to follow an imaginary flying spaghetti monster, because I was indoctrinated into it from birth. But now I see the truth. Time is real; it’s abstract, and impossible to hold in your hand, which makes it magnificent, but it undeniably exists. If that’s not God, then God cannot exist.
I realized I had to spread the word. Most of my brothers and sisters in the church would not be swayed. They did not witness the Trinity Miracle, like I did. There were others, however, that I knew I would be able to convince. My mother was always worried people would leave the church, and she taught me to spot these people, so I could help bring them back from the brink of damnation. No matter what I did, though, they retained their doubts; they just learned to hide it better. Fortunately, my memory is totally fine, so I had this excellent list of people who would be willing to hear the true word. I started out slowly—very slowly. I knew that my best friend would believe me without question. It was he who discovered a magician in the area who might be what we were looking for. He was right. This guy had real powers to move things from one hand to the other. They weren’t very impressive, but they were enough to convince my church’s doubters. I brought them to the shows one by one, never giving away that we knew each other. They saw for themselves that time travel was real, and our movement grew. This was not the magician’s only purpose. I knew he would know others like him, so we watched him for weeks, like secret agents. He ate at the same restaurant almost every single day, and every time he showed up, he was surprised, as if the restaurant was attracting him against his will.
My friend and I realized the restaurant was more special than the man, so we switched gears, and started to investigate them instead. Through a complex series of timing the employees, and watching certain customers being led through the kitchen, we determined there was a whole world in the back we couldn’t see from here. We started watching the whole building, and could tell that there were some strange goingson that people like us weren’t allowed to see. We have to see the miracles, though. My people deserve the truth, and I am the only one who can show it to them. I’ve been coming here ever since, waiting for someone in there to notice, and here he comes. My plan has worked. I’m about to be read in.
“Detective Bran,” the man says, showing me his badge. It’s not the first FBI agent I’ve met, but that’s a different story. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, have I been loitering?”
“What are you writing in there, your manifesto?” he asks me.
My notebook. “Oh, heavens no. This is the good book.”
“You’re rewriting the bible?”
“I’m writing the real bible.”
“Hmm,” is all he can say.
“What are your abilities?” I’m pretty good at playing it cool, but I can tell there’s something different about this guy. Security has been coming by nearly every day to get me to leave, but they’re just regular people. I can smell the power coming off of him. Perhaps I’m one of them. Perhaps my ability is to sense other abilities.
“Well, I’m a good marksman, and a halfway decent investigator. My true strength lies in getting people to leave.”
“Please. You don’t have to lie to me. I don’t know exactly what you are, but I know that you’re special. I’m not going to hurt you. me in. Show me the light. I”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Agent Bran says. “This is private property, and it is time for you to leave.”
“I’ll leave, if you let me in...just once. Let me see what’s really in there—no illusions—and I’ll never bother you again.”
“Sir, this is a secure facility. I cannot let you in.”
“You think I’m going to believe that this is nothing more than a CIA blacksite? I’m not stupid. I saw through the windows. Dozens of people ran into that unit, right there.” I point to some kind of club. I never got a good look at the sign, so that’s the only word I could make out. “A minute later, they all came out. They looked different. I have a really good memory, and an eye for faces. People were wearing different clothes, and none of them looked like they had just ran inside, and came back out. Something happened in there, and I demand to know what it was.”
“It’s all right, Agent.” She’s come. She’s come to show me the light again.
“Paige, get back inside,” Agent Bran orders. “Who is he to talk to an angel like that?”
“Angel Paige,” I utter. “You’ve returned.”
“I have,” she says to me. “You wanna see the light. Then let’s go take a look. Let’s go back to the beginning, or near it, anyway.” She takes out her phone. “You ever been to New York?”
“Paige, don’t do this,” Bran pleads.
“The cat’s out of the bag,” she explains to him. “We can’t put it back, but we can domesticate it.” She shows me a picture of a house on a hill. It’s black and white and yellow, but I think the yellow is probably just because it’s really old. The edges are damaged, as if melted, but again, that’s probably due to the ravages of time. This is a very old photograph. “How about New York 1848?”
“Paige, no!” cries another voice, but I never get a chance to see who it is.
She takes me by the arm, and whisks me away. In seconds, we’re standing at the bottom of the hill in the photograph. For a second, a part of me wonders why it’s not still in black and white, but of course, that would be stupid. We’ve just traveled into the past. The angel has given me such an amazing gift. “Let’s take a walk.”
We walk along the fence for a few minutes as I patiently wait for her to say something else. I am in the presence of divinity, but I know she will be turned off if I act too enthusiastic about it. I just keep thinking about how incredible it is to be here, and how much she must trust me to show me this.
“Orson—can I call you Orson?”
“You can call me whatever you want, Angel Paige.”
“I’ll call you Orson, and you can just call me Paige, because I’m not an angel, and I think you know that.”
“Anything you want...Paige.”
“When we met, I was young, and still getting a handle on my abilities. I was desperate to help my friends, and that made me reckless. I showed you something that you were never meant to see. There are people in this world, and other worlds, with time powers. It’s not illegal for us to tell one or two people what we can do. We have to be able to trust our families, and our closest friends. It is a problem, however, if word spreads. So my question to you is, who the fuck do you think you are?”
“I’m sorry?”
“Do you need me to repeat myself? You’re just some random mormon who got a peek at something that wasn’t for him. What gives you the right to run around, showing a bunch of people magic tricks, and telling them what to worship? Do you think we want that? Do you think we want you exposing us? Do you think, maybe, there are consequences to this sort of thing? Do you think it’s possible that somebody built a prison, stuffed my best friend in it, and left her there to rot for a year? You can’t just go upending everything we’ve done to protect ourselves from the general public. Because you don’t matter, and it isn’t fair for you to assume all this responsibility.”
“I’m sorry, I meant no disrespect. You told me to worship time.”
“That was an off-handed comment. It wasn’t a real command. Jesus Christ.”
I don’t know what to say.
She takes a deep breath before continuing. “This prison isn’t designed for criminals. It’s only there to house those who risk outting us to the world. If you don’t stop what you’re doing, we’ll all go there, including you. You’re human, which affords you some special consideration, but that will only take you so far. If your cult gets any bigger, they’re gonna step in. I’m surprised they let it get this big.”
“I don’t know how to do that,” I say to her honestly. “It’s grown beyond my control. People saw the truth. They saw that magician.”
“People see magicians all the time, they don’t start worshiping them.”
“We don’t worship Delmar Dupont. He’s a lesser god, at best.”
“You need to explain to your flock that you were wrong. You need to get them to believe that...they shouldn’t believe.”
“That sounds impossible. I mean, I already pulled them from a church. Now you want me to tell them to go back? They would see right through that.”
“You’re the only one who saw what I could do, right?”
“You’re the only one who saw people run into Salmonday Club too.”
“Is that what it’s called? Yes, I was the only one there at the time. Like I was saying, though, the magician was enough. They watched carefully, and they listen to me.”
“They listen to you?”
“That’s not really what I mean,” I start to clarify. “They listened in the beginning, because they saw proof, and they needed an excuse to leave the church. That’s not gonna work a second time. I can reinforce what I’ve already told them, and they’ll still listen, but I can’t contradict myself.”
We keep walking as she thinks this over. “Why do they listen to you? Why did they agree to go to the magic show?”
“Magic doesn’t go against the church, because most of it is just sleight of hand and misdirection. They only started believing after what they saw, and because I told them it was real. We can’t undo that.”
“That’s the key, though. You told them it was real. They could have just as easily happened upon the venue, watched it on their own, and assumed it was an illusion, just like most people do.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I’m not sure where she’s going with this.
“If they stop believing in you, then they’ll stop believing in him, and if they don’t believe in him, then they don’t believe in time magic at all.”
“How would they stop believing in me?” I question.
“We have to discredit you.”
“What are you gonna do, like, doctor photos of me in bed with a man, or something? It’s 2027, they won’t like that, but it’s not enough anymore. I mean, it would be one thing if I preached sexual purity, but I don’t even mention that in my sermons. Their hang-ups would all be carryovers from their old lives.”
“No, I wouldn’t wanna do that anyway.”
Now I’m scared. I wouldn’t love that idea, but I would do it for her, even though I’m not gay. I’m afraid she’s about to suggest something really bad. “So...”
“It’s really bad, you’re not gonna like it.”
I suck it up in my own head, and say, “I’ll do anything for you.”
“That’s the problem, it can’t be you. At least, I don’t think it can. How long were you a member of that church in Independence?”
“I was part of Independence Temple my whole life, until you. Why?”
“That’s what I was worried about. I need the name of the newest member of your church who is also now a member of your...cult?”
“We don’t like that word, but...”
“But who?”
“But there’s no one. There’s no one like that.”
“Damn. If we had someone like that, we could discredit them instead. Bran could barge into your worshiphouse, and arrest him for fraud in three states, or something like that. Then we could convince them that he was the one in control of everything.”
“That’s terrible, Paige.” I guess she really isn’t an angel.
“I know. It was just my first idea.”
I sigh. “Well, you’re a time traveler, right?”
“Then let’s undo it. Take me back to 2025. Change the past. That’s possible, isn’t it?”
“I’ve seen it done, yes.”
“Okay. I’m ready.”

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