By D.A. Madigan

Seena floated with the wind over the vine-choked ruins that had been the FOX-68 corporate headquarters. She knew it had been the FOX-68 corporate headquarters (back in the Before Times) because she could still see the big plastic and metal sign that said so at the top of the fifty foot steel pylon, and the vines hadn't climbed quite that high yet, and no matter what the Olds said, her generation wasn't totally illit, thankyewVEReemuch.

If she'd cared even a little bit, of course, she could have got her angel to pull the data out of the ethernet for her, but she didn't. If the falling down vegatation filled metal skeleton surrounded by sparkly bits of broken glass had once upon a time been a place where something called FOX-68 did something, well, that was bright n' shiny as far as she was concerned, but she'd be the first to admit, her concern didn't go very far. Nothing in the Before Times made sense, and the Olds were practically an alien race.

It wasn't that Seena's generation was illiterate, it was just that all the written down stuff was made by Olds, and set in the Before Times. Okay, sure, Seena knew that it was only 20 or so years before that the angels had shown up, and the world had been very different before then, for all of human history, blah blah blah blah. But who cared? The angels were here and the world was what it was and that was it. That was all of it. That was the deal.

"It isn't really, though," Seena heard someone say, really close to her, which was just wrong, because her angel hadn't said a damn thing. She kinda swiveled around in the air... she couldn't have described how she did it any more than an Old could describe how they drummed their fingers on a table; Seena, like everyone born with an angel, had been able to fly since birth... and there was an Old, ten feet away, drifting along with the breeze right like she was, and...

Seena TO Angel SKEEZIX: Whatthehell SKEEZIX how you not tell me someone that close?

Angel SKEEZIX TO Seena: Your pardon human/child/protecteee SKEEZIX failed to perceive/detect humanadult's approach; reasons unknown.

Seena was shaken to the core; her angel had never failed her before, she'd never even HEARD of an angel failing anyone before. Had it been possible for one of her generation to do so... had she been an Old... she might have then been afraid that perhaps whoever this was, that her angel hadn't even seen until he spoke up, might be able to HURT her against her will...

But Seena's generation had been born with angels, so of course, such a thought never even occurred to her. Not consciously. Yet the experience of ten thousand human generations, all of whom had been born, lived and died with no real security at all, still echoed in her subconscious, and a vague tremor of worry slid through her regardless, and perhaps that explains why she spoke out loud, in a voice rusty with disuse:

"Who YOU?" Seena rasp/screeched, maybe a little more shrilly than she should have, and it was only then that she realized she'd actually used her larynx, instead of thought/flexing through her angel to his angel.

The Old smiled at her. Seena knew, without bothering to think about it, that he was an Old. You couldn't tell just by looking, of course, because everyone had an angel now so hardly anyone ever died, and that snixy bollix that used to happen to people's bodies and faces just cuz they didn't DIE for a while, THAT didn't happen no more. Seena had seen pictures of people from the Before Times, with the ucko lines and grooves in their skins, and the splotches, and the hair not there, and the "I've fallen and I can't get up!" and, like, EW. Nobody looked like that anymore; Seena, in unison with all her generation, felt vague disgust and disapproval with a world that had ever ALLOWED people to look like that... and then DIE! But this was not the point. She shook her head and focused:

Seena VIA angel SKEEZIX TO WEIRDOLDDUDE: Whothefukkareyou??? #!@#! Howthefukkyouslideup so I/angel notseeyou??

The Weird Old Dude chuckled, and said, "Actually, I was finding vocal communication kind of charming."

Seena vented a huge exasperated breath. "Gnah!" she screeched. Then: "Oak AY. WhotheFUKK are you?"

The Weird Old Dude glanced down. The breeze had freshened and both drifting humans had left the remnants of the former Fox building far behind; now they had gently wafted out over the sparkling, crystal clear waters of Lake Onondaga. "That used to be so polluted you couldn't swim in it," the Weird Old Dude said idly, glancing down. He glanced back up at the... twelve? Thirteen? Twenty? No real way to know, these days... year old drifting in the sky five yards or so away from him. "I'm curious, how do you know I'm Old? I mean, I am, but my angel keeps me rejuved just like everyone else, so..."

Seena wiggled her ears in aggravation, a gesture specific to a generation used to the total muscular control granted by lifelong symbiosis with a guardian angel. (The Olds could do it, but it wasn't natural to them.) "A kazillion things," she finally said, her voice starting to smooth out just a bit. "How you sit in the air, all stiff and posturey and not relaxed. Olds are always afraid of fallin', like your angel would LET you or somethin. Plus you got hair..." She made a disgusted finger flick towards the Weird Old Dude's body. "Only Olds got hair all over THERE. I mean, snixy! But mira, you keep movin' your eyes and your head and only Olds do that, like angels are gonna go blind any sec or somethin. Its payloads o'databits like that." She paused, then snorted. "Also, first thing any Old says is about the Before Times, like 'O Jeezallah, the water used to be all polluted'." She waggled her ears again, in much the same way a 13 year old of the Before Times might have rolled her eyes in disgust.

Belter to Seena: HeytotlingyouOak-Ay?? You uploadingSTRESSSSSS. Karma out!

Kappa to Seena: Nipplechicklet whatbeup you spazzin!!

NottaRetard to Seena: Dudelette frost up you scramblin the ethernet!

Seena sighed:

Seena to Angel SKEEZIX: Broadcast copagreets/pologeez to all, logoff ethernet fernow.

"Your friends are concerned for you," the Weird Old Dude said, looking down at himself, obviously bemused by Seena's observations on his posture. "You're right, it is kind of hard to just relax sitting on nothing at six hundred feet in the air... and I've been doing it for more than twenty years..." He shrugged. "I'm curious why your friends would worry; don't you kids just take for granted that you're safe?"

Seena glared at him. "'damnstraight," she said, finally, "but YOU snuckuponme! HOW?"

Weird Old Dude did a neck and shoulders thing that Seena recognized from dealing with other Olds, they called it 'shrugging'... kind of like shooting a 'whateva' over the ethernet. "I suppose it's because my angel is the first one, and I always set it to keep me from being noticed by other angels unless I override it consciously. People who actually use their own eyes and ears see and hear me fine, but you kids these days..." He sighed. "It's a better world, but honestly, I think you're just too dependent on the angels." He paused. "I've thought about taking them away for a while to teach you self reliance..." He sort of quivered all over; Seena watched with interest. "But no, that would be a nightmare."

Seena clocked that through slowly, then did a fast roll in the air, a gesture of astonishment. "You got the first angel? And whatyoumean take angels away? Can't take angels AWAY! Angels are..." She paused, unable to find the right word for what angels were. Angels were like the air, the weather, the ground... like gravity, like the fact that there would always be Olds and they'd always be stupid and make no sense, like always being the same after you made your full growth, like never having to die if you were careful and didn't have an accident, like always being warm and dry unless you wanted to go swimming, like... like...

The Weird Old Dude closed his eyes and let his breath out. "There was a time when people didn't have angels, you know," he said, finally.

Seena closed her eyes too and looked out through her angel; no, Weird Old Dude still wasn't there. Sukk! She opened her eyes again. "Before Times," she said, firmly. "Awlgawn. NotHAPPninn."

The Weird Old Dude glanced downward. Towards the center of the sparkling lake, a cluster of folks had gathered, having their angels harden the water in a gridwork to form a temporary island. Some were diving and sporting in the water nearby, using the island as a float and a place to rest, others were, of course, coupling or tripling up to have sex.

Such impromptu social gatherings, mostly to have sex, would be coming together and breaking up all over the world, of course, in every environment; the one below just happened to be the one he was looking at right now.

He shook his head. Sex was the only reason anyone came together these days, although, to be honest, he wasn't certain that hadn't always been true, it just hadn't been as openly acknowledged. Angels could and did provide anything else anyone would ever need... safety, comfort, basic nutritional requirements, constant good health, ready safe transportation, and instantaneous mental access to every other living human being who had an angel themselves... which meant, of course, everyone.

(Angels could even provide sexual pleasure, and the Weird Old Dude was aware that an insignificant percentage of the living human population made use of that capacity, eschewing ALL social contact... the modern equivalent of hermits. But most people found that sort of sex, which was a virtual illusion created by stimulating the brain's sensory centers, to be unsatisfying and inadequate, compared to actual interaction with another human being. And since angels could give anyone pretty much any physical appearance they liked, they had eliminated all disease, and they gave individuals absolute control over their own reproductive systems, there was no longer any difficulty in finding a willing partner. Those who chose to stay home and have their angels get them off were considered straight out eccentric.)

The Weird Old Dude looked up at Seena again and smiled. It was a sad smile. "You're right," he said, finally. "The time before angels... it's all gone, and it won't be back." He gestured around. "This... it's strange and, to those of us who remember the Before Times, all but incomprehensible... life without conflict, without money, without competition... without having to get up every morning and go to work, without cars, or television, or movies, or constantly trying to get laid, or feeling shitty if you couldn't..." He looked back at Seena. "And you kids who grew up with angels... you're like little green men from Mars, or something..." That weird spasm seemed to pass over his whole skin again. "Brrrrrr. I'm not sure you kids are even what I'd call human any more."

Seena stared at him. "You whacked," she declared, finally, solemnly. "You just whackdude." She snorted.

The Weird Old Dude grinned. "You know, I hear that a lot," he said. He waved a hand dismissively. "Fine. Run along and play, little girl."

Seena regarded him doubtfully. Then she said, very carefully, "What you mean, take angels away? You... you not really... how you get first angel?" A previous generation would have dismissed the Old's ravings as simply that, but Seena's contemporaries no longer really grasped the concept of 'lying', since you really couldn't, speaking angel to angel... well, you could, but the person you were talking to would have an angel who would warn them you were lying, because angels could see that. And no one was crazy any more, because angels healed all that. Sometimes people got whacked for a while on chems or something though... which your angel would tell you if someone was, but her angel couldn't see this Weird Old Dude, which was very frustrating!

The Weird Old Dude said, very quietly, "How did I get..." He shook his head. "It was a long time ago, hon. Let's just say, I did someone a favor, and they asked me what I wanted, and they were very powerful, and...." He waved around, vaguely. "At first, I just wanted to be safe, you know? I asked for, basically, a personal force field, so no one could hurt me. That was easy for the... people... who were offering me a reward, and they said I could have more, so we built more into it... me being able to fly, to turn invisible, to be protected in any environment, to have my nutritional needs taken care of by absorbing energy out of the environment, to be rejuvenated to a state of perfect health, to alter my appearance if I liked, to know when other people were lying to me..." He smiled that sad smile again. "Basically, I wanted to be able to be completely independent... not in control of anyone else, mind you, but in total control of my own life, not dependent on anyone. So what we wound up with was a sort of very very sophisticated AI controlled microtechnology machine that hovered around me at all times, in conscious communication with me, protecting me from outside threats and monitoring my health..." The Weird Old Dude shrugged. "So they considered that we were even, and they left, and that was cool for a while. No one could hurt me in any way. I couldn't be mugged, or coerced... it's not like anyone would ever have WANTED to rape me, but... I didn't really need shelter any more, except as a place to store my belongings. I didn't need to eat or drink or sleep. I didn't need health care..."

Seena flexed her arms and legs in a way that meant 'hold up', and said, "Karma outtasec. Whatyoumean with words like..." She paused, and let her angel replay the unfamiliar terms, sounding them out mentally before she repeated them... "Mugged, ko ERSSed, and raypte?"

The Weird Old Dude shook his head. "Mugged... someone takes your possessions by force. Coerced... someone makes you do something you don't want to do, by putting you in a situation where all your other choices are worse. Raped..." He paused, and his eyes went very bleak. "Well, you know, I have to say, strange as it is, a world without rape can't possibly be a bad thing." He looked at Seena again, and said, tersely, "Rape is where someone makes someone have sex when they don't want to."

Seena contemplated what she'd just been told, and then remembered another question she'd wanted to ask. Clearly this Weird Old Dude was on serious chems, but still, he was kinda zerpy. "So you had first angel," she said, "how everyone get angels?"

"Oh," the Weird Old Dude said, sounding startled. "Well, I had mine for a while, and it was very nice, and then one day it just occurred to me that everyone should have one, so I asked my angel - Galadriel, her name is - if she could reproduce herself, and she said sure, and..." He waved around, vaguely. "The rest is history, as they say."

Seena thought about that for a minute. Then she frowned. "Oak Ay," she said, finally. "You whacked. But... maybe you tell me something Olds talk about, I not get ever at all:"

She paused, then went on:

"Whafukk is 'money'?"

Seena didn't understand why the Weird Old Dude started laughing and laughing, except, you know, that he was whacked. Seriously whacked.