A new kind of zeal; one that was almost fervid, shone in Arnesto’s eyes. But the way they seemed to glitter behind the lenses of his glasses had less to do with fervour than the reflection of the screen in front of him. Another Zoom call, but this one was to be different.
‘Yeah, so I had a deep realisation last night and then, at the hour of nectar, I was shown, clearly and vividly, how it is and how it’s going to be. And it’s nothing like any of you thought. Not even the seniors realised what’s been happening all these years.’ Arnesto paused to let the impact of what he was saying sink in.
Dan was the first to react and, customarily, it came in the attempted style of a witty riposte: ‘So you’re saying, basically, that you had a vision.’ Except that this time there was no wit in his tone. His words were not even a question; they were a challenge. Dry, without inflection. A disbeliever.
‘Vision?’ Arnesto paused again but this time, his finger rose in the air before his face, there for all on the call to see. He was thinking. He was asking for silence while he did so. He cocked his head to one side and cracked his face into a smile that was impish and yet confident. ‘Yeah, I guess it was. Yeah. A vision.’
Veronica spoke up. ‘So, young Arnesto, it seems that the end times are upon us. God says that when we start having visions then he’s about to swoop down and gather us into his loving arms and take us back home.’
‘Like a swarm of mosquitos,’ Nathan said, as if he was completing Veronica’s thought. ‘Hmm,’ he said, as if in comment.
‘Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,’ Arnesto said, but the rather self-satisfied look on his face as he sat back in his chair betrayed his thoughts. It was a vision. And a powerful one too. One that would change everything.
”So, what was this, ah … vision about then?’ Dan sat forward in his chair and adopted a rather vulpine pose that was slightly spoiled by the way he then reached up and ruffled his hair before gently pushing his wire-rimmed spectacles tightly onto his face with his outstretched middle finger.
Arnesto smiled and wondered if the slight was intended, then decided that Dan’s more than half a century at the forefront, albeit in a local context, of a spiritual organisation was proof against him giving someone the bird during a conference call. ‘It’s about the Advance Party, he said. ‘I know where they are. At least, I know where they are now. But they’re going to move soon. They’re going to be brought together into one place. Or several places maybe. But I don’t know much about that other than that it’s going to happen. Soon. All I know for sure is where they are now,’ he repeated.
The virtual room was silent but each was thinking the same thought: the Advance Party were the group of souls that were to prepare the world for the golden age, so that when destruction came there would be a place where the residents of that paradise could come together and form the basis for the renewal of the world. No-one knew where these elevated souls, the ones who had studied God’s knowledge for decades, were, but two things were sure: they had to be isolated from the rest of the corrupt, old world, and they had to have some serious tech.
‘And?’ Dan tried for friendly and light-hearted but the single word he uttered rasped through his voice-box and fell from his mouth like sand.
‘They are among us. Living in plain sight. We didn’t see them because they …’
‘Yes?’ Dan prompted, interested despite his cynicism.
‘Well, we see them as being … flawed. They’re here, but they’re not included in society properly.’ Arnesto struggled for the right way to phrase this thoughts. A way that acknowledged the greatness of these souls without slipping into the derogatory language that the rest of the world used when referring to them. ‘They’re …’ Arnesto shook his head, helpless to contain the compassion he felt in his heart for this misunderstood part of society. Words gathered in his throat and fell out of his mouth in a rush now; an avalanche of revelation. ‘They’re the retards and mad people. They’re the folks on whatever spectrum we’ve forced them onto. It’s the schizophrenics and manic depressives. It’s the people who are in comas and care homes in the grip of what we call senile dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s the ones diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and psychosis. Its the ones we call psychotic. The ones we try to drug out of existence and then turn out onto the streets to fend for themselves in whatever way they can. It’s the addicts and the hopeless; the people who’ve fallen through the cracks of society and left to rot at the bottom of the heap. The disregarded and lost. The pitiful souls we ignore and walk by as if they don’t exist; as if they have no importance. It’s them. They’re the ones. They are the Advance Party: our shining hope for the future. And they’re about to be gathered up.’
‘Well,’ Veronica said. I certainly didn’t see that coming.