AND ALL HER ANGELS
Lightning strikes. That's what it's like. Once I saw a lightning strike up close, right outside my window. The room shone white, colorless, and the sound filled the whole world. That's what happens in my body. All I am and all I know is wiped out in a violent bright light. I twitch just from fear of the pain but it's over already before I begin to move.
'Welcome to your new life', says Helena, and I open my eyes. It seems trite to say the colors are sharper, but they are. Everything is sharper. Deeper. Helena leans down over me and smiles and her smile seems two meters wide. I see layers and layers of meanings in it. Satisfaction. Excitement. Secondary joy – she's happy just for my sake. Doubt, uncertainty and longing. I see she wants to kiss me, and I see nothing wrong with that so I touch her cheek, pulling just a little to show her she may get closer. She blinks in surprise and bends down against my face while a shadow of something too fleeting to even call hesitation touches the corner of her mouth. That's enough for me to remove my hand.
And now I see my hand, which seems to made of dark glass with tiny stars inside. I hold my hands in front of my face and turn them, enchanted by comets and galaxies moving in there. I make a laugh. I make a laugh, and it feels so strange I put my lovely new hands on my chest without thinking and grip my new soft little breasts, just like in my dreams, and that's too much. I keep laughing while the tears run, and Helena lifts me up into her lap and holds me and overwhelms me even more. I'm being touched for the first time in maybe a year, and I'm an angel without free will and I look like a photo of space and I'm starting to think I should have thought this through more before I said yes, and I've been kidnapped by an insane mass murderer with magic powers who no one would have guessed really existed, and my body feels right for the first time since I was ten years old. One of those things at a time I might have been able to cope with, maybe even two. But everything happens at the same time and it takes some minutes before I can speak.
Well, you saw how the impulse control works', I say, when we have sat ourselves properly back in the narrowly upholstered chairs here in this deserted unadorned oyster gray office room in a city I don't know, in a pocket of time on our own, and when Helena has shrunk my clothes to fit my new body better and she can start examining her handiwork. It seems like an unreasonable thought to sit here and talk about the change now, first, before I've taken stock of my senses and feelings or had a proper stretch or even seen a mirror, but I can feel in my heart this conversation is more urgent. 'Or rather doesn't work. It can't happen that I do something wrong. Or fail to do something right. I'm not sure how this lack of judgment works.'
'Let's try a thought experiment', says Helena. 'Can you remember some time you've been a victim of injustice?'
'Is that a rhetorical question?' I say and immediately think of fifty things they did to me in fifth grade alone. 'Let's see. Five boys shut me in a closet once, to make me miss lunch break.'
'That must have been bad. But now, if we say we lived in a perfect world where this injustice, every injustice must be compensated somehow, what would you want to happen here?'
'Hm. I think I understand. It was unpleasant, remembering this makes my hands sweat, but I don't feel any desire to get revenge or anything. I picture it happening now and I immediately want to fly there and twist the ears of those little jerks, but when I remember it's just a memory there's nothing there. No right or wrong.'
'Excellent, better than I could have hoped. And if you meet one of these knaves today, let's say one of your bullies and a man you've never seen before are beating each other badly, whose side do you take?'
'I, ha, I can't say who's in the right. I can just hold them away from each other. Ask them to leave each other alone, explain what they want to accomplish. It's bizarre. So specific. I can see Chris in front of me, I loathe him even now, but I can't. That feeling can't make me act any different. Can't even tell you the things he's done specifically because it would unfairly influence your image of him.'
'Was he one of those who locked you in?'
'No.' The lie comes immediately, and I see she knows I'm lying and I'm caught. Can't move. There is nothing I can do or not do to not discredit Chris for something he did twenty years ago to someone who's never met him.
'Bizarre was the word', says Helena, and stands up. 'Blink if you want me to try and adjust your sense of fairness to something a little less absolute.'
I can't even blink. I'm unsure if I still breathe. She puts her hands on my head and something goes slack. It feels unimportant, a thought fleeing like a dream in the morning. I breathe in deep and lean back. It seems safest not to speak.
'I've jury-rigged you', says Helena. 'If you're caught in an unsolvable ethics problem I don't know how that should work, but I've made it so if all your muscles go stiff for a minute your memory blends a little. Just a little bit, and mostly your short term memory. Like rebooting a computer. I'll have to try and work out some heuristic system that understands priorities degrees of information, it has to be possible to find a limit for what's meaningful to care about, it's not a perfect world out there, a perfect sense of justice doesn't work.'
'I should hope so', I say. 'But yeah there are such things as unsolvable ethics problems, have you not thought of that?'
'Not enough, apparently. But broadly. There aren't many dilemmas that can't be solved with unlimited power and an unbending need to choose if not the right at least the least wrong of your possible options.'
'Sounds a little flippant.'
'It does, but test it. Let's take a typical hypothesis. Six men are about to rape a child. Deep in the woods where no cops can help you. You need to incapacitate all six before they can fight back, and incapacitate them for at least three days to make the child safe. You have a gun with six bullets. One life is hardly worth more than six even if they're rapists, so what do you do?'
'I shoot', I say, before I see she's right. Although I want nothing more than to murder the hypothetical men it would be wrong. There are better ways. 'Okay, I take the child and fly away from there because the limitations don't apply to me. I can see your reasoning.'
'There may always be weaknesses but there aren't any rules that say I can't improve on the system as we go. We should have some way for you to contact me by the way.'
'Haha, I'm not that often in places where signals can reach. But it'll probably look like a phone.'
'So um I'm starting to feel like we're done here. Can hardly wait to go out into the world as an invisible helping hand.'
'Wait a little more. You might be able to help me, I'm so grateful you stepped up like you did, I thought it would take days before I got a volunteer. But I doubt everyone wants to blindly trust me, even if I sent home those who admitted as much. I'm thinking if I could tell my story, and what I want to accomplish here, but I'm scared I sound like a maniac, so can you hear me out first and say if this is something to share in public?'
'I don't know if I'm the right person to make that call, but sure.'
So Helena tells me of her life: She loved, was betrayed, took revenge, broke down, was saved, and then in turn saved Charlotte from Hell and came back with a plan to save the world, and they blew up all those dictators and stole Putin's money and started the think tank that did all those useful things, and Charlotte quit, and Helena tried to create a few compatriots out of nothing so she wouldn't have to go through everything alone but they didn't want to be with her, and now the angels has been her next idea.
'I want a world where everyone can live in dignity', she says. 'Where everyone can do what they want, be who they want and go where they want. Where everyone can live forever. Where we can spread across the stars in peace and harmony, forever. Across the thousand million stars of the Milky Way and into the galaxy core and out to the innumerable galaxies, and whatever higher and lower planes may be behind that, and turn around the heat death of the universe or at least slow it down so all the beauty in the world can last as long as possible. I want that and I still think it's possible. Though overcoming our internal conflicts on this planet is just the very first step, growing up and become worthy of meeting what waits out there, and that first step may get pretty chaotic. Radical. We're going to need all the protection we can get.'
'We"?' I say, curious. 'You still consider yourself part of humanity?'
'Of course. I have more to offer than most people but it's not like I know any better. My plan is just, you know, what I can remember of what Charlotte told me of what she found out that may possibly be entirely lies. I just choose to hope for the best.'
'Okay, yes, I believe you. I suggest you tell everyone this. To save time.'
'Yes. And a whole other thing, I wonder if you'd like to go with me back there. It probably helps if the other candidates can see you. Make it more concrete. Show what they can expect. And you know there's nothing stopping you from getting to know each other now instead of waiting a thousand years until the loneliness gets too much.'
In a thousand years, or ten thousand, or a hundred thousand. I feel the massive strength rush through my glass body and I think, with a distant chill when I picture the future, I'm never going to die and us immortals in the long term really have no choice other than getting along with each other. 'You've thought this through more than I have', I say. 'I like it. I trust you.'
'I like when you say that'', says Helena and opens a door in the air with golden light on the other side, laughing, floating in a cloud of gratitude. Maybe that's how pheromones look to me.
Coming back to the gathering of my brothers and sisters (well, mostly sisters) in the cloud of golden light is disorienting, not just because the light reminds me I should be hungry and tired by now, but because everyone is a little taller than when I left them. I'm shorter. A fair bit shorter. And thinner. And they haven't moved at all.
'Okay', says Helena, in an easy, happy voice filling every ear in the sky. 'We have an angel. Ellinor and I have had a long and educational day while we were gone and we have barely begun here. Anyone feeling curious?'
I'm wearing a mask, and I can see they're not impressed. Few of them care or remember or even had a chance to see me before, so they only see a short, nervous, ordinary white girl with dirty blonde hair and pale skin and a t-shirt with holes and jeans made for sitting down. Very ordinary. Almost everyone's curiosity fades quickly. Helena can see it too, and nods encouragement to me.
So I raise the mask with a wave over my face and turn to dark glass with little twinkling stars in it. I spread out my arms and my "wings", two wide bundles of thin threads or tentacles growing out of my back, through the shirt. First time I stretch them out. Wonderful. Like feelers, three meters long, bending and straightening after my wishes. The light plays and mirrors and splinters in the deep dark within them and shadows and rainbows dance around each other. I think they're thousands of threads. I think about it for a moment and count them: seven thousand and seven on each side. They wave like hair in the wind and in fact make a little breeze around me that moves the shorter, looser threads on my head, and I lean against them and let them carry me up in the air.
The humans look smaller than before, from above. So small and vulnerable. I want to protect them, or at least show them what in their lives may be possible. In a near future specifically even. So I swoop around in the air over them, try to show them all the speed and grace and strength I can summon. But it just turns into a few circles and loops and a dart off to the horizon (or a couple of hundred meters away in the flat golden fog until I get worried I won't find the way back) and then I lower myself to the ground again before it looks all too awkward and unimaginative.
That precise moment, when I slowly sink down on my feet in front of the crowd, feels like you expect it would feel to fly in front of several hundred people, surprisingly. Strange things happen in my stomach. Everyone watches me. They step forward as if to meet me, without thought. Beatrice is the one stepping up front, the one putting hands on my shoulders, the one meeting my eye with a look of wonder and curiosity and concern.
'You', she says, stumbling. 'You. It. Is it. Who are you?'
'Right, we didn't get introduced before. I'm Ellinor. You're Beatrice.' I speak loud enough for everyone present to hear, although I can't seem to take my eyes from her. 'I'm the same person as before. More or less. Just a little prettier.' People laugh, some nervously but most of them easily. 'Don't be afraid.'
'I'm not afraid', says Beatrice. I can see she wants to come closer to me but doesn't dare because people are watching. I want to take her hand again, and this time I do. She looks surprised at the hand that doesn't look like it would feels oft and warm, and then at me, with joy and anticipation and curiosity and hesitation.
'So to repeat myself a bit', says Helena, after telling her life's story for the second time in fifteen minutes, while Beatrice leans on my shoulder. 'I have not chosen you because you are especially upright or smart. A certain grasp of ethics and ability to consider consequences helps a little. But I have chosen you mostly because you have very little to lose. It's not a gift I want to give you, it's a sacrifice I'm asking of you. I have faith that you know what's right and wrong and want to choose what I'm offering, because you're the most lonely, most hurt people in the world and that makes you the wisest, kindest, most considerate. And those of you still here are those who trust me even though you know what I've done, who trust my intentions and my ability to make this world better for everyone and you want to be part of that. And if you want to step up I'm going to make you strong and fast and immortal and all that to make you better equipped to protect this world, and I'm going to take your humanity. Your life. Your friends and family won't recognize you. Your judgment, your own will I'm going to take away from you.
'"What?! My will? What even is that?" It's something I have given a lot of thought to, so listen carefully please. How should I stop anyone from abusing the cosmic powers I want to give you? You must judge people's actions, right or wrong. And there's no power in the universe that can decide for you what you think is right or wrong. But I can make it so you judge only what you see, and not what you believe. Everything you think someone's going to do, everything you think you know based on experience, that's what I'll take from you. You will be without bias, without judgment. And with it goes the ability to separate belief and action. That's where the free will comes in. What you see as the right thing to do you're going to do. You can't elect not to do it. I think this will help, will avoid any situation where I have to stop you. But this is an experiment. So, anyone else want to volunteer so far?
'I', says Beatrice, in a small voice, but very quickly. 'But I want to ask for a private talk first. With Ellinor.'
Helena raises her eyebrows and shrugs her shoulders and then we're standing in the office again, all three.
'Oh', says Beatrice, stiffening, still with a hand on my shoulder.
'Take a slow breath', says Helena, slowly, turned to the window. 'You've got something on your heart, no rush. I have stopped time outside this room.'
'Actually I was hoping, I'm sure we have a lot to talk about you and me but I wanted to talk to Ellinor here. If you want.' She turns to me for the last part, and I nod.
'Oh, sure', says Helena. 'I figured you meant that but it seemed best to cover all eventualities. Hm. Give me a second.' Helena's forehead starts glowing with a light that clouds my vision and she radiates decisiveness, concentration, obsession, and then she raises her hands and holds two small cellphones. 'Take these so you can reach me. I want you to understand, you both, you should not feel you're shutting me out or interrupting me. You can tell me to take off, as I'm going to right now, and you can call or write me any time. I'll stay in this time pocket but I'm going to bed, but call whenever you want, if you wake me I'll just have to do some magic.'
'Good night?' says Beatrice, and Helena nods and chuckles and vanishes.
'So', I say.
'I'll say', says Beatrice.
'So, I'm glad you wanted to continue our conversation that had barely started. Glad for your unquestioning support in general. Unhesitating. But, did you have something in particular in mind?'
'So many things. I'm terribly curious. But, you shouldn't think it's just about your, um, transformation.'
'The medical term is transition.'
'Ah. But no I'm curious if. If I may touch your cheek.'
I take her hand and lead it to my face. She touches my neck, and my hair, and my wings. It feels so sweet, so right, I start wondering if my own pleasure can be strong enough to interfere with my new unclouded sense. I try to explain how I feel to Beatrice when she brings up all the problems with consent that happen when I can't say no, and we decide she can't trust me when I say yes. And we talk about how she wants to be turned into an angel like me and I find I can't say anything to influence her decision. No matter how much I want to encourage her so she can still be here in fifty years, and five hundred, and five thousand. One of the few things we seem able to talk about is her reasons to be angelified.
'I've had hard times. Of course. Helena did say, ha, it's a little satisfying to hear you're one of the most damaged, most vulnerable people in the world. Though it is hard to believe I'm so special. I'm just a porno actor, one of millions.
She stops there and looks at me with something hard and hopeless in her eye and I can see how lonely her life has been in the lines of her face, can see the hate and disdain she's subjected to, the carelessness, the sense of being used, like a toilet. After a few seconds I throw my arms and wings around her and make a low keening sound. She sighs, at first reluctantly tolerating me, but then she collapses and pushes closer to me and shivers like she was trying not to cry.
'Nobody cares. I had one friend. I got her hooked on heroin. She killed herself. She was twenty. And I tell this to everyone I dare to and nobody cares. So. Of course I want magic powers and be able to help other people having a bad time. Of course I can afford the cost. And being able to talk properly with you, yeah, it's not unimportant, but it's a small bonus.'
'Of course. Your reasons are probably better than mine. I, I don't know anything but it must be horrible.'
'Mm. Can you tell me, with your angel senses, is it a sin to have sex for money?'
'It's a poor thing, maybe, but no, there's nothing wrong in doing it, there's nothing wrong with you.'
'Nice to hear. You feel so dirty sometimes. It doesn't help to say, I'm not hurting anyone.'
'The real evil is our prejudices', I say. 'Or the society which teaches us them.'
For a while we sit still, half embraced in the stiff office chairs, until it feels like the sun ought to rise out there. I hope Helena also gives herself time to do nothing, wherever she now is. Time to process everything happening.
'This is nice', says Beatrice. 'But I should probably have some sensible questions. How is it, not having free will? Those are real words I just said in reality when trying especially to sound sensible.'
'It's frustrating sometimes. But mostly it's a relief. It, it doesn't really feel different. When I do something, it just feels like something I wanted to do. The only difference is I have the nerve to do it now. And the things I want to do but can't, those are things you understand ethically you shouldn't do. The difference now is I'm not tempted to do it. I'll never again sit at home and drink for a whole day to get away from myself. Never again see someone struggle with a wheelchair on the bus and sit silently because I'm scared they'll think I'm getting in the way if I ask to help. There, there's a clarity in lacking options. I think I'm going to be able to live with it.'
'And flying? What's that like?'
'Powerful. It, I guess that is power, what power is, it always feels like freedom. Same principle as having a car. Or an inclined surface. If we don't let ourselves get used to it. It's a new way to look at the world, and it's enormously different, and it's lovely. I think I'll never get tired of it, but that seems unlikely.'
'Hm. What else. Your body, how does it work, I think I'd miss having a heartbeat.'
'Ha, I doubt I have a heart, yes, but it feels normal. Or, better than the best day I've ever had health-wise. Feel for yourself.' Beatrice puts her hand on my chest, and the thing that's probably not my heart beats faster. 'What you're not asking, and I realize it's not something you'd easily think to ask, is my sensory inputs. I see so, so much now. I experience your nervousness, your confusion. You're worried that you want to do this to be with me more than because it's right, and you're changing your mind back and forth. The right choice is putting off the choice until you're sure, you can always do it later if you find that best but you can't undo it.'
'Hmm. If I do it now, so I don't have to waffle anymore, because I want to be courageous and do it even though I'm not sure, then would you feel compelled to stop me?'
'I don't think so. Standing in the way of somebody's will is hardly the right thing, not when you have no obviously bad intentions to anyone.'
'Even if you think I might hurt myself?'
'No, then that would be a later problem.'
'Alright, we better get it over with.' Beatrice picks her phone up, flips it opens and laughs. On the screen is a list with two names: "Helena, your Lord and God" and "Ellinor, angel of the cosmos".
'News to me', I say.
'I think it's humor', says Beatrice and turns to the phone. 'My Lord? Yes. That's good to hear. No, just thinking it over. I want to do it. Yes.' She turns to me again with a nervous smile and then Helena is there rubbing her eyes.
'So. Bea. Do you want to do this privately, or would you consider letting everyone watch? Might be easier for people to make up their minds if they can see it happening.'
'When you mention it, sure', says Beatrice. She scratches her hair, worried that she should be more shy. 'Not like I'm not used to showing everything to the audience. Only. Hm. Does it hurt, and can Ellinor hold my hand?'
We go over the procedure and Helena takes us back to the golden light and we stand up on a floating podium and everyone watches as Helena rubs her hands and the blinding light pours out of her head again. I'm fascinated by what my new eyes can see when I really look. The light comes from a microscopic point a centimeter away from Helena's forehead, just over the hairline. It's painfully strong, without heat, without color, but tangibly white. It occurs to me that what radiates from her is a thin field of bright particles, or something like particles, too small for me to see at all. But the truly fascinating part is Helena's attitude. An absolute determination. An angry god bending the universe to her will by pure conviction. Ignored pain. She may be sacrificing as much as we do to make this happen.
And Beatrice's body turns to light. At first the same blinding white light as Helena's head, but it fades rapidly while she pinches my hand when her body twitches. Fades and scatters. Light in all the colors of the rainbow run and mix and shine in her face and bare arms and belly. She sits up and her wings flower like clouds, like drops of paint in water, shifting in shining bright colors, and she turns her head to see them and laughs, and I think this moment is when I fall in love.
'I want you all to see this', says Helena, and stands up. 'See these girls' happy faces. This is serious business, life altering business we're doing today, but it doesn't have to be any dour old testamental business. I think we're getting somewhere. Now if everyone who wants to consider talking in detail about becoming angels could raise their hand? Just talk about it, no commitments, these two eager ladies aside.'
I turns around and see many raised hands. Not everyone. Maybe half. But everyone is thinking about it.
'Okay, we may have to form a line. Or I get an idea. Everyone who would like to talk it over in small groups or pairs, or just sit and think it over by themselves?'
This time everyone present raises their hand. About three quarters of the group wants to be alone to think and are teleported away by Helena, and we spend a moment arranging group discussions for most of the rest, and we form three short lines to let people speak privately with Helena, with Beatrice and with me. And the lines grow bit by bit.
I have definitely reached my limit for getting to know new people today, or possibly this year. But I have no choice but to help those who need me. I sit and talk about the transformation with about a hundred people whose names I can't remember, one by one, and I barely care to listen when they tell their sad stories and tell me why they want to be heroes and ask how it feels.
When it's over Helena has three hundred and thirty three angels – surely just a coincidence – angels with wings of stone and fire and leaves and steel, angels in more shapes and colors than I ever thought existed, and I want to sleep for a week. I just close my eyes for five seconds and then I'm not tired anymore, but I still want to sleep. But the work has only begun. Now Helena opens doors to some regular, white clouds and Beatrice (angel of light, according to my machine that looks like a phone) and I step through one of them together to try being angels out there in the real world.
We float in the air, a thick wet mist, tumbling in a strong wind. It feels like I should be scared, but it's just an opportunity to try our wings. They touch, I can feel Beatrice's rainbows push against my threads. A little like shaking hands. We twirl around each other in a stormy dance and plow through the air with small light motions much faster than should be possible, out of the clouds and toward space and down to the Earth, to the sea and sweeping across the land. Making ourselves invisible to mortal eyes is almost a reflex. I just think about hiding and feel my contour blur, and Beatrice does the same. I can't quite see through her, but it looks like she's not really there. Vague as a sight you see when you've just woken up, something you want to blink away.
We glide through the shadows of a large city – I don't know where we are at all but Beatrice is pretty sure it's somewhere in west Alter – and right wrongs. I hold back a car driving against a red light, Beatrice steadies a pregnant woman stumbling off a bus, almost lifts her, all the way home. A cat being chased through an alleyway by some teenage boys I lift gently in my hands and hold against the face of the biggest boy. It gives me an unholy joy to see him get scratched to pieces and I wonder if I'm a bad angel. His friends abandon him and he sinks to the ground, without fighting back – the suddenly flying, very angry cat must be shocking. I let it go and I caress the worst of the wounds from the boy's face while it keeps running. Not that he doesn't deserve some scars.
And we go on meting out an endless stream of justice. Nothing glamorous, except for one time when we stop an armed robbery in a grocery store, but hundreds of little things. Maybe thousands. I can't keep count. Everywhere we see someone does something wrong. An ignoprant old lady feeds bread crumbs to birds. An unattended child eats lead paint. People throw trash on the ground. A team of workers saw down a healthy young tree. (All we can do about that is destroying their equipment. Everything is there in their body language: They know there is no reason to kill the tree, but they can't speak against their boss.) Cyclists won't stop to let a pedestrian cross the street and they keep going in an unceasing mass and we can only lift her across.
We glide through the homes of the city and there we find everyone doing their worst. One woman is about to set fire to a man, passed out in a bath tub full of gasoline. It's easy to see what he has done to her, but still we put her matches out and push her down on the floor. What we don't see with our own eyes we cannot judge. Beatrice embraces her and weeps with her and it's certainly very strange for the woman. To be comforted by someone who isn't there. But all that happens is her strength grows. Her resolution. She feels she isn't alone, and it lets her stand up and walk away. The man only gets a cold shower to wake him up before the gas hurts his skin.
And we see worse after that, but easier to judge. We feel no fatigue, no hunger. The night is cold but the cold doesn't bother us, and the darkness doesn't hide anything from our sight, and we act without pause, without thought, without any weight on our hearts. But after a time, when we see the sun rise and I realize it's not the first time, we find another kind of tiredness. Call it exhaustion of the soul.
'I need a vacation', says Beatrice, with a flatness in her voice I haven't heard before. 'I see nothing to do right now but how long can, how many seconds.' We stand among the trees in a park, with no humans in sight, but it doesn't give us any peace. We can't relax. Any moment anything could happen to force our bodies into motion.
'Close your eyes', I say, and close mine. So nice. And blindly I put my arms around Beatrice and pull her close and rise into the air. High, until we can open our eyes and see nothing more of the city than a brown spot. And we go down to a green spot and sit in the moss in the woods far away from all humans.
'So much', says Beatrice, and sinks down onto her back, with her hands over her eyes.
'Mm. It never ends. But we'll have to think we're in a prototype state, she's got to be able to fine tune our, uh, anglicity?, so we can live.'
'Or we just have to get used to it.'
'I need. Hm. Stillness. I mean generally. I'd like to sleep for a month to recover from today. But I'm not even tired.'
'Maybe we can work on that', says Beatrice, and pushes me to the ground, with gentle hands. She lies next to me and wraps her wings around us like a blanket. The light she emits dampens, the colors stop moving and fade and the wings are barely visible and her skin color from before comes back. I've never particularly liked my warning beacon-bright white skin, instead I make myself darker, until my wings look like the night sky. I try to breathe evenly with my stomach, and Beatrice starts mimicking me. And in time our hearts slow down and I'm fascinated by how I can be so close to another human being I can feel her heartbeat without being the littlest bit nervous.
And I'm scared to open my eyes. Or say anything.
But I can sleep. It happens just by wanting it, like everything else our strange new bodies do. I imagine my eyelids are too heavy to open even if I wanted, my arms to sluggish to lift, my thoughts too slow to move. I'm aware of the moment it happens, and then I'm sleeping. I dream of children being hurt, a mishmash of violence and screams and uneven fights.
'It seems like we've skipped multiple steps in between meeting and sleeping together', I say.
When we wake up in the middle of the night again and sit by ourselves in the dark woods, still as water, surrounded by butterflies that must have been attracted by our lights.
'Are you talking about sex? I wouldn't say no.'
'Oh, no, I'm thinking, I mean, maybe later.' What am I saying? 'I was thinking. How do people usually get to know each other. What are we supposed to talk about.'
'Small talk right, yeah I bet a lot of us wish we knew how that works. How about this weather we're having huh?'
'Yes, it seems to be raining butterflies.' We laugh, but the butterflies are mesmerizing when we look at them closer. I don't know if they're nocturnal butterflies unique to these woods or if it's our special eyes but they seem to have more colors than, well, than Beatrice, and it's so beautiful I can't breathe, and the forest lays claim on the conversation.
'But', says Beatrice, some time later. 'I do wonder who you were. If you want to talk about it.'
So I talk about my life, though I warn her it hasn't been as exciting as some others. How I grew up with just my mother, turned out unemployable, went on disability when I was twenty-two and then after my mother did have just been. Alone. Alone and poor and failed as a writer. Found out I was transgender and was too scared of bothering anyone to do much about it. I tell her about how I didn't take her hand, the first time.
'It was of course pretty symbolic. For a thousand thousand times I have failed to dare doing things. But we can look at it like you inspired me to say yes, to become an angel.'
'The most romantic thing anyone has said to me.'
'Ha, well, I can't say I'm anything other than hopelessly romantic. Which reminds me, I wanted to clear something up about. Eh. Sex.'
'You're terribly flattered and don't know how you're going to say no, especially to not make me think it has to do with my unflattering history, but you're saving yourself for the chosen one?'
'Almost entirely correct.' I pause for effect, like a hopeless romantic. 'Except I don't think about "the chosen one". Not anymore.' A slightly longer pause. 'More the chosen moment.'
'You know', says Beatrice, resting her head on my shoulder, without warning. 'I'll try to say this without sarcasm. Give me a minute, I don't remember how that works.'
I watch the butterflies and wait, and lean my head against hers.
'This is, honestly, the most romantic moment of my life. And I'm not saying that just to get to sleep with you. I don't think I even want to do that, it wouldn't be as good as this.'
'That works for me', I say. 'I, I'm glad that you're here. That we're here. Together. It might be the first time I do something together with someone, rather than next to. How did this happen? Maybe a meaningless question. People like you and me, we only need the tiniest chance to become friends for life. But how did we end up here?'
'Let me see, I was in a strange place surrounded by strange people, you were a big strong white man, or that was what I saw anyway, so I thought you would either know what was going on or have the best chance to find out.'
'Haha, and they lived happily ever after.'
We find a small, modest waterfall when the sky pales, with a comfortable puddle to bathe in. And we do, shameless, as curious of each other's strange new bodies as our own. We play for hours just letting the water run over clear glass skin, letting the light shine through the water, letting our lights and clear skins and the clean water mix.
Some time soon we will take contact, continue with Helena's mad plan. Continue helping the weak and the powerless We will teach them to be angels. I will tell them it's hard, but it's worth it. Just as long as you're not alone.
I will tell them none of us has to be alone anymore.