Blackout. He lurched a little, then tumbled down the stairs. God, that’s a lot of blood — but it’d been a few weeks since the line went dead, and a half-hearted backup can hardly suffice. No, a half-hearted angel is no good at all. They needed the whole thing, the whole model: every single ounce of grace. So she went forward, into the breach, over the limp bleeding body. There was something on the stove, still frying, smelling like peanut oil. No luck in the overhead, but in a kitchen cabinet, a stack of drives duct-taped to a EUROCOM module. She’d be out of here soon; hell, maybe the kid would make it. This is probably worth killing over, but she doesn’t want to kill — and that’s all supposing this really counts as killing. It’s hard to walk on the borderline: hard to know when we dwell in the flesh. This hardly feels like metal, so are we in the flesh?

She phased out; you can’t tell, sometimes. Her window is wide and the city is bright, and her eyes hurt real bad from the screen. Eli grabbed her stockings and her pretty black dress. Then she started to get changed. It was a warm night, and the breeze was very fine. The curtains were blowing gently, and there was still a little lilting late spring rain. In the dark, the expanse is tremendous: ten thousand apartments, soaked in mist and electricity. The parks, the plaza, the great neon signs all shrieking in the static — and the trains, and the trucks, and wires still criss-crossing. The city heaves and pulses and writhes; Eli was moving slowly. In the bathroom mirror she could see herself standing, looking as pale as a ghost. Had she always seemed so fragile? The question hardly matters: even if she had a gun she probably wouldn’t take it. It’s so much more fun to play with live wires.

It was late, and the subway was empty — excepting the transit police, who were paired-up and huddled in corners. It's strange how they always behave now. Eli’d been in a riot or two, but she didn’t get much out of it. A brick through a windshield, maybe a smashed up deck from a third-story office, but the cops — they just stand there; these last few years, you can’t even get a rise. It’s like they’re daring you to act, saying: come on then, climb our glass towers — let us shoot you dead, and throw you to cement. Well, how do you react? Of course they know if you stay down below you can take whatever you’d like, but no one ever bothers to pretend they really care. Always there’s dragoon ships overhead, and yuppies always seething. Now she was also seething. Her concentration breaks; she steps onto a train arriving not so very late. Then the scream of wheels on metal tracks, which will not bend or deviate. God’s still in his heaven, and all of us are screwed.

This place is alright, though. Ersatz neon, golden lights, and shitty percolators. There was a pretty girl in the corner. You could tell she was a dragoon, on account of her boots, but she looked real fucking skittish. Dragoons are weird: you’d think they’d be all tough and corporate, but the MPCs get them in young, and they’re all paid like shit. Her hair was slicked back, her clothes a couple years out of fashion. I hate how they make you feel bad for these guys, like, they’ll get them all decked out for the end-game, make them champions in the hell-war-to-come — but god forbid they start feeling classy. Still though, awfully pretty; so Eli stared a little more, ‘til at last the guy came in. He was alright, charming enough, and shy. Dressed pretty neat, and his jacket — which was too big for him, clearly — gave him a kind of boyish look: half grown up, half collapsing. The dragoon looked like she’d bolt at the first sign of movement, so, sure — why not?

They left, they went over to his place. Eli let him hurt her for a while. Then she tied him up and hit him ‘til he cried. There was a monitor on with the speakers going kinda quiet. An old show, some new machines, shirts on the floor, and so on. It was a mess, but the deep light coming out from the screen nonetheless turned it all pretty. The broken clock, the tilted chair: hell, even a man can be pretty, if you soak him in deep blue light. It was strange, yes: they passed into a strange time, then. Every action, utterly precise. Every movement soldered, molten metal bound up in the world. There was a train passing by in the night just then — a different train — and the rumble, and the light, and the leering, and the marks, were all like nothing else on planet earth. Eli was quiet while she moved in the light, almost a little graceful. When she untied him, at least, she was gentle. They ate, and had some coffee. The two of them talked for a while.

Then the sun began to rise. Eli returned to the city, and for a while she was untethered. There were people all around, a great teaming mass. She pulled closer, and then she was no one at all. Eli felt small, but the crowd felt large and warm. The crowd can do everything; the crowd can be everyone. The crowd isn’t out here waiting for Esper — no, the crowd doesn’t need blood money. The crowd is everywhere, all at once: an angel unto itself, a perfect discoordination. In its specificity man is stupid and dull. As a mass, it's a wonder. It is all things, and perceiving all things — and likewise, all these things Eli thought, while she was one of many. The angel ought not rule us, for the angel is our long awaited home; that’s what she thought, when she had many faces. Eli sighed, she shuddered: she made a perfect backup. Then she pulled herself out from the crowd, and she headed for the water.

For a while she sat by the pier, soaked in the noon-light. It was getting very hot. Then Esper came by. You could see her in the water, like a mirror. She looked straight at Eli — not through the water, but dead on. Eli looked like shit; she looked tired and broken, like her body just couldn’t keep up. As above, so below. These days we exceed ourselves, in every realm, and the normal rules are gone, so you just have to learn how to bend without breaking. That’s what Esper thought, and she said as much. Eli thought that was bullshit. She handed over an angel. She didn’t want to look at Esper anymore. She didn’t want to think about the cult, no, she just took her money. Then she got up and stumbled. At the corner she turned, then she stopped and she stared. The pretty dragoon was there up ahead, looking shell-shocked, then tripping her way down the street. Eli slipped past; one of them was crying.

By the time Eli got home she had collapsed. How many days since she’d slept — and now, what to do with this angel? In the first book of the sacred edict the graceful lay things out: unstructured contact with an angel is psychic death. You can’t cope, you just go nuts. It’s like letting a chat bot control your phenomenal experience, if the chat bot had the wisdom of the godhead: you need rituals, rites, priests, initiations. You need some kind of organizing principle that lets you walk into ego death and come out swinging. Barriers, blockages, boundaries — anything to keep you separate from the swirling mass of sentient information. That’s what Esper would say. Eli, though: Eli liked the crowd. She liked the seething mass, the composite, the shattered ego: all marks, and masks, and love, and dreaming. All these things she liked, and more, and she could be more, if she was made many. So she started to phase, thinking: why bend when you can break?

In rode the angel most holy. In rode the starlight and death — and out rode Eli, though she was Eli no more. Now she was online, now she was burning. All around her: orchards, and citadels. Great glass towers, and dungeons made of fine red rock, and galley-men, and sailors stranded on the seething coast. She came down the highway at speed, looking out on the legion of the damned, all tied up and bleeding from the neck. A thrall in the bedchamber; parley and surrender — and great armies crashing, and the crack of a whip, or a sword. On a white horse she approached, singing in a high voice, and all around the world gave way. In time she came to the screaming gate, where terror is a joy beyond joys. She paused for a second, thinking, here I am, in a million masks: broken, and all the better for it. She laughed at the composite dream. Then forward she rode, onward unto heaven’s perfect death.