I could have been Mayor. That’s what Eddy was pushing.
We filed into the new Regional Hall. Funny, I’d always known back in the old days about that “new car smell,” even though I could never afford a “new” new car. I never thought buildings could have a new building smell. (We could never afford a new house, either, remember, Helen?) But the Regional Hall smelled new. It hit me the minute I walked in, and though no one else mentioned it, I did see people looking around as they filed in, sort of kicking the tires on the new building to see if they liked it.
I didn’t. The old building was hundreds of years old. It had patina. The floors creaked when you walked on them. And the stair treads, too, of course. There was a comforting dustiness about it made of a mix of street dirt carried in by countless people, mixed with the sweat and body oils rubbed into the wood wherever people placed their hands. All it needed was a touch of cigar smoke hidden in the background and I could have been back in the old world entirely.
The new hall, which looked very much like the old one, smelled of varnish and paint. The floors were smooth as a sheet of float glass, and nearly as shiny. We could have been the first people to walk on them. I think Zoës walk rather than float, but they seem to tread lighter than Tolkien’s elves.
The courtroom was upstairs — the whole second floor of the building in fact. Up front, like a courtroom, was the “Bench,” like any courtroom Bench — an enclosed desk on a dais. Lots of town councils in the old days were set up like this. It helped councilmen see their constituents, but more than that, it set them above and apart from them. Up high, like a judge. That was how democracy usually ran back in the day.
Behind this Bench sat a council of two Bios and five Zoës — none of them were you, Amber. When it appeared we were all present (and it made me realize how lightly populated our region really was), the Zoë in the middle stood and called the meeting to order.
“Thank you all for coming. Few of you have met me before. I am Michael. I am in charge of the resurrectorium for this district.” He paused. The room didn’t settle. “There has been much of late that has changed this region of the world, as this new Regional Hall evidences. We who have been here for very long have all of us, Zoës and Bios alike, grown accustomed to perfect peace — peace with our world, our planet, and peace with ourselves. Now that the peace has been broken, we need to talk again about restoring the balance.
“Several months before the whirlwind struck, we met in the old Regional Hall building because a violent thunderstorm struck, toppling many trees. This was a shock more to those who had lived here for a long time, as no such event had occurred in the long lifetimes they’ve had here. And then the whirlwind stuck, and many are now asking: Are we under the protection of the King or his judgment?”
At this there was enough murmuring that Michael stopped. He held no gavel, but after a while, he stretched forth his hand and I swear I heard trumpets. Faintly, mind you, but everyone stopped chattering.
One of the Bios with us on the floor, Henry I think, stood. “So which is it?” He sat down. He was still wearing his orange work coveralls, as were a number of people in the general populace.
“You are under his Love. Your King’s love for you is undiminished. And in perfect love is found his peace.”
“Then what?” said another Bios from the floor, this one also in orange coveralls. “What’s with the tornado?”
“A fair question,” Michael said. “Let me remind everyone how the Resurrection works. Resurrection follows with each in his own order: Christ, who so long ago was the first fruit, and after that, those who were Christ’s at his coming, we of all people, women and men of good faith and good works, were raised with Zoë life. This was his judgment, not our own. Believe me when I tell you, the surprises existed on both sides. There were not only questions of “Why am I Bios?” but “Why am I Zoë?” And always, Christ, the King, decides who is on his left and who on his right. If, before death, we assumed to be on his right, often we were wrong. Many who thought only little of Christ, however they knew him, but poured out their lives for others, awoke with Zoë life and only then met him face to face. I tell you, personally, it was a surprise.”
Amid a lot of soft murmuring at that ‘personally’ comment, I saw a few heads lean together.
“This is a world of surprises, is it not?” he went on. “Are we not all beneficiaries of the King’s mercy, resurrected from the dead into a world we did not earn? Do you not have Bios brothers and sisters who have lived here for so long that you would, in the old world, have called it a miracle? Have you not all been given perfect health and a vitality none of you knew was possible in the old world? Where is there hunger or poverty? What do you call a world where every one of you can ‘invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree’?”
“As I said before, what’s with the tornado?” said the second man in the coveralls.
“Yes. I will get to that. But I ask you to acknowledge that the world you are living in is not the world from before. In that world, the tornados, earthquakes and tsunamis, the natural disasters were terrible, but not the most terrible. Then, as happened here, aid poured in, people poured in with love and care. Homes were rebuilt, and lives not lost were rebuilt. But then, unlike now, lives that were lost were truly lost. Families shattered remained shattered long after the disasters had passed. Those who thought they had no hope to meet again suffered the most.
“Remember that with this tornado that even as aid poured in from neighboring regions, our neighbors in our midst were not lost. A few personal possessions, none of which were brought into the Resurrection, those were lost. But lives were restored.”
“Charley is alive.”
There were several cheers for that.
“We restored family pets like Abigail’s dogs,” and he gave a small wave toward Abigail, “and Martin’s cockatiel” and he waved in Martin’s direction.
“Even my horses!” yelled Sam.
“Yes, Sam,” Michael said with a smile, “even your horses.”
“When are you going to talk about the tornado?” the first coverall suited man shouted.
I swear if the man speaking at the Bench has been a Bios, he would have shouted back “shut up and sit down!” In the days before I died, the shouter would have been carted out of the room by beefy security guards. In the days just before I died, there wouldn’t have been a meeting at all. The breakdown, as slow but inevitable as a glacier, had led to demands for stricter and stricter order, the kind that smothers democratic life. Questions even in small town councils, had to be preapproved. Dissent was at first simply branded ‘stupid’ and dissenters, if they were quiet enough, merely had disgusting epithets thrown at them. But the breakdown ground on, as irresistible and as blindingly obvious as an aircraft carrier in a pond. Towns, cities, states, federations of states, international relations, all surrendered to the demand for a restoration of order. Dissent went from unspeakable to unlawful in a thousand ways small and large. Courts began to assume rights emanated from the people, and were thus as malleable as people were. They lost sight of the fact that a government can only be of the people, by the people, and for the people if the rights of the people are greater than the government, greater than the people, inalienable because they are grounded in something greater than themselves. Even someone as irreligious as I used to be could see that.
“Very well,” the Zoë said. “Let us talk about the tornado. Remember its precursor, the thunderstorm that brought such severe damage. Both represent a break from the rule of the King. And that break is almost inevitable as more and more Resurrectees arrive whose allegiance before their deaths were strictly to themselves, whose repentance before Resurrection was not deep enough. In his mercy and grace, it is the King’s will that all should be saved, and therefore many who never knew the King are being given a second chance. The first Bios, being closer to the life the Kingdom requires, allowed us to live closer to the center of the King’s will, just as they were closer to it in the old world. Later Bios grew into that will, and harmony remained. But as Bios who lived and died further from the King’s will are resurrected, keeping that harmony has become harder and harder, not only for Zoës but for all of us. The growing disharmony is what brought in first the damaging thunderstorm, then the tornado.”
“So it’s our fault,” said Eddy, also in orange coveralls, rising from his seat. “You’re going to spin that unscientific hokum just to lay the fault for a natural phenomenon at our feet. You’ve been living with a run of good luck, that’s all. Thunderstorms are natural, even the tornado is natural, and the fact that there was a tornado is proof that you Zoës have been lying about an all powerful King being on the throne in Jerusalem. This isn’t about the umbrella of the King’s will, it’s just you trying to make some of us scapegoat for a tragedy so you can keep your hold on power.
“People,” Eddy said, turning to the assembly, “I’m not saying we’ve not been resurrected from the dead. I mean, they did bring the victims back to life? I’ll give the Zoës that much.” He waved the back of his hand slowly across the Bench. “There may even be Bios here who have lived a very long time. None of that is a miracle; it’s just advanced science. None of this needs a supernatural explanation. While we were dead, people with advanced technology decided to bring us back to life. Poof! Recombinant DNA and all that. I suppose 1819’s steam shovels would be gods or demons to some poor Paleolithic bastard.
“People, the real question is this: Who’s in charge here? They are right now. And we’ve been fine with that because they said the King had our backs, you know, just don’t pay attention to how they run things and everything will be fine. But their luck, our luck, ran out, and it showed them to be hollow.
“Like I said, the real question is this: Who’s in charge here? A King we’ve never seen that might not even be real? A King the Zoës use to rule over us? Or are we going to be in charge? Show of hands, how many of you lived in or remember democracy?”
A number of hands went up.
“Don’t be shy,” Eddy said. “The Zoë’s won’t harm you for telling the truth, will they?” With that he looked away from the crowd to the Bench. The Zoës were impassive. More hands went up, and when Eddy goaded them again to be honest most of the hands in the room were up.
“Okay,” said Eddy. “Just remember that when we discuss the next question, which we need to talk about right now. Mortimer Drake. The Zoës put him to death because they say he’s a murder. His alleged victim is here among us,” Eddy said, pointing at a man in the back of the room who seemed to shrink back as if Eddy’s finger would go off. “The man Mortimer Drake allegedly beat to death is here and could testify to what happened to him. We have a great many reliable witnesses. Mort has to be guilty, right?”
Eddy paused while many nodded their heads in agreement and a few said it out loud: ‘right.’
“Wrong!” Eddy said. “Mortimer Drake is not guilty, not because his alleged victim is still here, but because Mortimer Drake has not been tried by a jury of his peers. People, that’s older than the constitution most of us in this part of the region lived under back in the old world. It was common law that a man was held to be not guilty unless found guilty by a jury of his peers, twelve men and women, good and true. It’s why the law has to be greater than any one of us, than any group of us. We the people are the law, but they found Mortimer Drake guilty,” he said, pointing at the Bench behind him. “Mortimer Drake did not get a trial, was not found guilty by a jury of his peers, he was found guilty by Zoës, who are clearly not his peers, Zoës who may. not. even. be. human!” With each word he shouted, he slammed his right fist into his left palm.
Chaos now ran the meeting.
Once again, Michael stretched forth his hand, and once again I heard faint trumpets, but the meeting did not come to order. After a moment, he stretched forth his hand again, and this time there was no mistaking the trumpets. I half expected plaster to fall.
Order was restored. But Eddy, who had never sat down, was the first to speak. Clearly Michael’s trumpet trick didn’t faze him. “I believe I still have the floor, so let me conclude with this. The Zoës who executed Mort can’t die.” He waved toward the Bench but kept his eyes on the crowd. “But we can die, can’t we? The way Mort did. No trial, because there aren’t even any laws, just summary executions. In the name of fairness, in the name of democracy, we the people demand Mortimer Drake be brought back from the dead to stand trial. He needs to be brought back so he can be tried, in a court of law, before a jury and a judge OF HIS PEERS!” And with that shout, the room erupted again, more cheers than chaos.
Eddy must have been a lawyer.
“I say we vote on it. All in favor, say ‘aye.’”
There was a chorus of ‘ayes’ throughout the room.
“Those opposed say ‘nay.’”
A few people scattered throughout the room, including Mort’s victim, said ‘nay.’ I said nothing. Nothings are hard to count.
“The ‘ayes’ have it. Ladies and gentlemen, Bios and Zoës, we not only have a vote, we have a democracy. So, before I relinquish the floor, let’s see if that’s right. All in favor of our region living under the rule of law, in favor of having democratically elected council, say ‘aye.’”
There were fewer ‘ayes’ than before, but clearly a great many people in the room spoke up.
“And if you want an unelected Council of Zoës, say ‘nay.’”
Fewer nays than before. Even people who didn’t want to vote out the Zoë dominated council didn’t want to vote against elections.
“Members of the council, citizens of this region, once again the ‘ayes’ have it. The people have demanded an elected council. What will you, current leaders of the council, do with that? You have the power right now. We have peaceably indicated to you our preference. This is not a revolution. This is evolution. What will it be?”
Eddy sat down.
Eddy must have been a politician.
Michael stood up and called for a recess. The Zoës all filed out. The Bios with them left the dais. One of them left the hall. I don’t know where the other went. Mingling perhaps. Lobbying more likely.
“Hey, buddy,” Eddy said, grabbing my arm from behind. He seemed manic, eyes bright and wide, smiling broadly — a very different Eddy from the man working the crater or the man sharing a bottle of high-octane hooch with me. “If the Zoës do what I think they’re going to do, ‘We the People’ will be running the place.”
I hadn’t seen anyone do air quotes in a while.
“I suppose that’ll be a good thing,” I said.
“Hell yeah it’ll be a good thing. It means we have a say. This theocracy shit is for the birds. I know the power of the little guy. This is a good thing, buddy. It also means we’re going to need to hold elections real soon. Meanwhile, I’m going to propose tonight a temporary council be elected by the quorum present, and I want you to stand for Governor.”
“Me? Why me?”
“Everyone knows you. You’re Meteor Man, the guy that stood up to the Zoës.”
“What I did I did for myself. I don’t think my private rebellion qualifies me for office.”
“Hell if it don’t. Look, Meteor Man is our Patrick Henry. Give me liberty or give me death, and they gave you death.”
“They also gave me life. Twice. They’re pretty good at that. They gave Sam’s horses life.”
“They didn’t give Helen life.”
That hit home. He could see it on my face, too.
“Sorry, buddy. But you have to admit, they dole out life as they see fit, and they saw fit to bring back a bunch of horses but not your wife. Where’s the justice in that?”
The Zoës filed in and the head Zoë did his hand gavel trick again. People quieted down quickly and found seats.
“I, Michael, speak now in the name of your Lord and King, Jesus Christ. Hear the word of the Lord.” He paused to be sure we knew what we were about to hear were not his own words. “’I say unto you a choice lies before you, yet you have already begun walking toward it. I remind you today how you got where you are, raised by my power from the dead, ransomed by my death, reborn into my Kingdom. I urge you by my stripes to love your God, to walk in his ways and to keep his love for you as his statute, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord may bless you in the land where you reside, where neighbor has lived with neighbor in peace longer than any of you can remember, even those who have lived many times the lifespan they knew before I returned to rule.
“’If your heart turns away and you trust your own strength, this is what the politicians who will reign over you will claim as their rights: They will claim to be your servants, but you will be theirs. They will take the fruit of your labor for the common good, but the common good will be what they say it will be. They will gather to themselves your wealth. They will claim eminent domain over your fields and vineyards and olive groves for themselves and their cronies and sycophants, officials and officers. They will ensnare you in a web of laws that they claim will give you peace and security, but these laws will take away even that peace and security you already know until you cry out for relief from the path you have chosen. I have set before you the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live. Thus saith the Lord.’” Michael stopped and surveyed the hall.
“I, Michael, can only pray that the Lord will answer you in the day when you cry out. For you have lived under his grace and rejected it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that what you are about to choose, you have freely chosen. What say you all?”
Michael sat down.
Eddy immediately stood. “Isn’t that funny, coming from the people with absolute power? The people who can appear in your living room with your door closed? Who have complete say over your lives? I don’t know if they’ll go easily. We may be in for a fight if we tell them to butt out of our lives. But if we don’t stand up for ourselves now, we never will. Do we let a king on the other side of the world, if he’s even real, run our lives? Tell us who lives and who dies? If you want a democracy, stand up for it. Stand up right now! Get your asses out of your seats and STAND UP!”
And they stood — most of them. Even me. It’s hard to sit when everyone is standing.
The Zoës filed out again. All of the people who hadn’t stood up left their seats and left the hall — I saw Sam go — but most of the assembly stayed. A spontaneous victory party was brewing.
There was a wood-on-wood banging from the dais. It was Annie Gordon, one of the Bios who was on the original council. When the Zoës started filing out, I assumed the whole Bench had emptied. She had not.
“Before I go with my Zoë brethren, I would like, as the oldest human being in the region, to say a few words to you all if I may.”
The assembly quieted down. Annie looked to be all of twenty three, but I had heard she was several centuries old.
“Thank you,” she said, putting the gavel down. “When was the last time any of you saw someone abuse an animal?”
People began looking at each other. Like me, they were probably wondering what she was going on about, and at the same time checking to see if anyone knew about an abused animal.
“I thought not,” she said. “No dogs kicked. Kittens drowned. We have lots of horses, but when did you see one being whipped? You haven’t. When was the last time you saw a fight, or even heard of one? Can any of you testify to official corruption? Or unofficial? When did you go into a store and come out without what you needed because you could not afford it? I know of some petty thefts…”
And here I swear she looked at Eddy.
“…but none so bold that the shopkeeper who suffered loss asked for redress. Are there any among you who know anyone that is homeless? Hungry? Thirsty? So, we are secure: at peace with the world and each other. All of us are engaged in constructive work that satisfies us, and we are in perfect health…”
“Until a tornado comes,” said Eddy, but I doubt anyone more than a few feet away heard him.
“…and this is the society you have judged wanting. Well, you have judged and you have voted. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: People, you have a Democracy, if you can keep it.”
Annie stepped down from the dais and headed across the floor toward the exits. The room parted as she passed. One or two fell in behind her.
Eddy ran up to the dais, behind the Bench, grabbed the gavel and banged it twice. “Thank you Annie,” he said, loud enough to be heard to the back of the hall where Annie paused and turned to face Eddy. “But we know the picture is not that simple. That’s why this meeting was called in the first place. But please, everyone, give Annie a round of applause for her kind words about how we’ve conducted our lives up to now. And I am sure we will all do our part to continue living at peace with each other.” He raised his hands and began applauding.
Annie and two other Bios turned around and left.
“Now, my friends,” Eddy said, “we must conduct some business. We’ll need to set up elections. Can I get five people to volunteer to serve on an election committee?” He had his pick of dozens of people. “Thank you. We’ll talk after the assembly breaks up. Okay. As you can imagine, elections will take a few weeks, and even if the Zoës leave us alone, we’ll need a temporary administration. I’d like….”
“Eddy for Governor!” I shouted. Eddy looked at me but people between us began jumping up and waving and yelling “Eddy for President” and “Eddy! Eddy! Eddy!” and the like. One guy even yelled “Eddy for King!” which, sad to say, did not surprise me. Low information voters are the appendix of politics — except there’s no way to remove them.