From Something Coming Through
, published in paperback Thursday January 14.
The schoolkids ran through a pretty good version of ‘Scarborough Fair’, bowed to the scattering of applause and were led off the stage by their conductor. Chloe could feel an energy gathering in the little crowd. An MC took to the stage, an amazingly confident young woman dressed in a metallic silver leotard and black tutu who hunched into the microphone and to a backing track of car-crash rhythms began a rap about the great change coming and hard times ending. When she was done and the whoops and applause had died down she asked everybody to raise their hands for the man with the plan, the man who knew.
‘Give it up for Mr Archer. Mr Archer going to speak the truth to you right now.’
There was an awkward pause, some kind of hitch. The MC stood at the edge of the stage, talking to people, shaking her head. The sound system started to reprise the clanging smash of her backing music, then cut off abruptly. Several people were helping someone climb onto the stage.
Mr Archer was a slight old man wearing what was probably the suit he planned to be buried in. His white beard was neatly trimmed; his pink scalp showed through his cap of fine white hair. The MC ushered him to the microphone stand and he clung to it and looked around like a grandfather dazed with pleasure at his own birthday party. A hush fell over the small gathering.
Chloe’s spex were capturing everything. Eddie’s little drone hung in the sunlit air. The moment of silence stretched.
‘Uth,’ Mr Archer said. ‘Uth! Uth!’ And, ‘Penitent volume casualty force. Action relationship. Flow different. Uth! Uth!’
Most in the audience chanted Uth! Uth! too. Those who weren’t part of the cult, who hadn’t drunk the snake oil, looked at each other. A couple of kids in front of Chloe started to jeer.
Chloe felt a sinking sense of disappointment. She’d seen it all, in her time. Fiery-eyed preaching. A woman who spoke through a pink plush alligator. People standing face to face, staring into each other’s eyes, sharing significant gazes. Ritual bloodletting. A young girl walking among her followers with a silver wand, touching them at random, causing them to fall into faints and foaming fits. A hundred different attempts to express thoughts for which there were no human equivalents, no words in any known language. Speaking in tongues was commonplace. She’d seen it a dozen times.
Mr Archer spoke for some time, enthusiastically expounding his thesis in his private language, repeating his catchphrase at intervals, smiling as his followers chanted in response. The two kids who’d been jeering walked away; others followed. Chloe wondered how it would end, a procession or a mass hug or a conga line, but instead the old man simply stopped speaking, laboriously stepped down from the stage, and hobbled off at the centre of a cluster of acolytes. His audience gathered up their children and drifted towards the camp.
They looked pleased. They had spoken in public. They had marked their territory. They had let out the ideas jostling in their heads, like that ancient rock star who’d shaken out a box of butterflies at an open-air concert in Hyde Park. Most of the butterflies had died, but it was the gesture that counted.
This was something that couldn’t be quantified by Disruption Theory’s surveys: the happiness of the people possessed by alien impulses and strange memes. The ecstasy of expression. The simple childlike joy of creating a channel or connection. Although the breakout was nothing special, Chloe was glad to be reminded of that. She took a flyer from one of the kids who were handing them out to the few non-believers who remained, slipped it into her messenger bag and got out of there while Eddie Ackroyd was packing up his drone.