I mentioned last week that I’ve been trying to write a recap for Probability Angels for ages now with no luck. They always came out sounding horribly clinical or they were just a droning list of events with no real personality. Neither result being something I’d want to read. Then it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the right person to be recapping in the first place and from there things started to fall into place.
So here for your perusal is the recap that I will be putting at the beginning of the new book.
THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PROBABILITY ANGELS!
This is not an excerpt or a blurb on the back cover sort of thing, this is as condensed a retelling of Probability Angels as I could muster. But it’s important to have something like this since it’s been years now for some of you since you read Probability Angels. Obviously I encourage you heartily to revisit it, but I understand if you just want a quick refresher before reading the sequel.
So here it is. Like I said, I was having no luck so I brought in a friend to take a crack at it. My friend’s name is Matthew and I think he did all right:
Hi. My name’s Matthew. I think we’d better sit down here for a minute. I need to fill you in on some stuff.
We’ll get the weirdest thing out of the way first: I’m dead. Have been for decades now. I was actually killed by a mugger in Queens back in the 80’s. The thing is, I didn’t quite die all the way. I stayed here in this world. And I’m not alone. It turns out that since the dawn of time people like me have been sticking around after death to pitch in with the whole “progress of humanity” thing. In fact, we may have helped bring about the dawn of time in the first place…but we’ll get to that.
Basically anyone who dies in a specific way, sacrificing themselves for not one but two loved ones, ends up with the choice of remaining in this world after death and doing some good. See, when that mugger in Queens fired that gun my wife was standing next to me and there was only one thought that went through my head: “Take me not her. Take me not her. Take me not her.” Then I woke up at my own funeral. Turns out, though, that it wasn’t just her I was protecting. Turns out she was carrying my unborn daughter at the time. I had no idea. I didn’t figure out that little secret until twenty years later. In fact figuring that out was what triggered my choice: either stick around and help push humanity forward, or pass over to…well to whatever the hell happens next.
Everything up until that moment when I had to choose, all the years between my death and when I learned about my daughter, had been child’s play. I look back at that time as sort of an incubation period. We call the ones who are still waiting to make their choice “newbies.” They’re basically just imps. They fuck around in your lives and they get cash for it. I thought it was awesome but on the day of my choice Epp explained just how much more was going on.
Epp is short for Epictetus. He’s kind of my mentor. If the name Epp sounds funny to you it should. It’s ancient Greek. Epp died about two-thousand years ago and has been pushing humanity ever since, so I sort of have some big footsteps to follow in.
Which brings me to the work. The act of pushing, or testing, is…well it sucks. Basically I take your worst moments and try to make them into your best. There’s as many different methods of doing this as there are testers, but the basic method is to take your raw emotions and tweak them so that you maybe grow a bit after a bad patch. You know? I sort of force you to make lemonade out of your lemons. Rather than letting you dwell on shit I try and make you rise above it. Shakespeare, Helen Keller, Beethoven, Newton (Newton was actually Epp’s biggest push to date),they all had one of us working in the background. Hell, if someone is famous enough for you to have heard about them then odds are there was one of us behind the scenes making sure they didn’t become complacent, or quit, or fail to live up to their potential. And those are just the big guns. It works on the small scale too. My first push was a little grade-school girl who had just been dumped by her little grade-school boyfriend that day. Together we took all her hurt and made her soul run a little deeper. We wound up writing a poem.
The methods of doing this range from tester to tester. We aren’t quite ghosts. I should point that out. I can take physical form and you’ll see me standing next to you just like anyone else. But…well…we can do other tricks too. I mean, if I concentrate I can cause enough friction in the air to light my cigar into a perfect red ember. Pretty cool, right? And I’ve only been dead a few decades. Some of the older testers have been studying the universe for so long they can really do some crazy stuff. Of course, the more you humans learn about the world the more tools we have to play with. So it’s mutually beneficial. Not that you have any idea we’re around. Humans have a way of explaining us away in whatever terms they need to. I guess some call us ghosts, some call us angels, some call us the house settling. But if I appeared and then disappeared in front of you, your brain would come up with some easier to understand explanation than an appariting human.
But back to the work. If it sounds sort of rough for the human involved, that’s nothing compared to what the tester goes through. I actually have to revisit the moment of my own death in order to push you. You think that’s fun? It’s not. And if it goes wrong I can be obliterated. But it’s where we draw our energy from. It also wears us out like you wouldn’t believe so after a push we get to head up to the mountaintops for a rest. The mountains are sort of sacred. Nobody is allowed up except testers who have recently pushed and anyone they invite up. Everest is sort of home base, that’s the mountain most of us use. You should see it through my eyes. The place is littered with testers sleeping off their most recent pushes. Sometimes you go up and you nap for a week or two, but after a big push? Well a tester can go up there and not wake up for a century.
Of course if the work sounds bad you should see what happens if you shrug it off. See, if you don’t put in your work testing humans you start to rot. If a tester gives up and stops working, after a few decades they cease to really be a tester. They…well they turn into a zombie really. Though nobody uses that word. We just call them rotted things. They change as they rot and they become hungry as hell and they can’t push anymore so they have to feed on humans, other rotted things, or us testers to avoid the hunger. Luckily they’re also slow and stupid and so they tend to just rot away in the graveyards. Or they used to. But we’ll get to that.
First let me run you through a few of the other testers I’ve gotten to know. Outside of Epp there’s Mary. She’s a former nun and is quite beautiful. I mean like she’s smoking hot, though a little short maybe. She was a little unsure of herself when we first met but she came into her own as a natural leader after the fall. There’s Bartleby. He’s a bit of a blow-hard and a show off but he’s an all right guy once you get to know him. Also he got tossed to the far side of Mercury by Epp (long story) and when he made his way back he was a little messed up. The guy bursts into flames uncontrollably. Or he used to, he still gets smoky when he gets emotional but he’s learned to control it pretty well. Good thing too because he was a big part of our defenses during the bad times. Let’s see…there’s Gregor and Hector. Gregor worked for the Council, which is the closest thing we have to a governing body. Gregor and Epp had a clash a few centuries ago, something about how Gregor went about creating the myth of vampires. I didn’t really get all of it but the dude looks exactly like Count Dracula. Or what I always thought Dracula looked like from the book. It’s freaky. But he and Epp had a falling out over something that happened back then and Gregor was punished by the Council. They starved him out, preventing him from pushing to draw energy for decades. There’s a lot of different opinions on this little bit of our history, whether Gregor deserved it, whether the Council had the right to punish him, stuff like that. Everyone told me that this was ancient history and that Gregor was over it. Anyway, that’s Gregor and then his second in command is Hector who is a dickhead. If you’ve ever met some hotshot bouncer at some douche bag club somewhere who gets off on being an asshole to you because he can then you’ve got a good idea of what Hector is like. He’s this big dude who always wears these mirrored sunglasses. And, finally, there’s Kyo.
We’ll hop to a new paragraph for Kyo. His full name is Kyokutei and the guy used to be a samurai. And as if that wasn’t cool enough, something went seriously wrong during Kyo’s death so that he never quite made his second choice fully and was an aberration. I don’t know the exact details of how he died but the result was pretty cool because he was indestructible, none of our rules applied to him. He also didn’t need to push so he was never up on Everest taking naps. He’s a bit gruff and a loner and he and Epp have this crazy relationship. They’re like brothers the way they fight sometimes but they also have a ton of respect for each other. If that makes sense.
Anyway, that was my life for maybe three months. I had just made my second choice and was just learning how to push and was trying to learn how to harness the new powers I had since I was no longer a newbie when everything fell apart. See it turns out that Gregor wasn’t as forgiving as most people thought. He had plans. Remember those rotted things I mentioned earlier, the zombie-ish things in the graveyards? The testers who had given up and rotted away? Well Gregor figured out that if you fed them healthy testers that they would grow back. And when they grew back they grew back fast and strong. Thing is there was always one part of their body that stayed rotted away forever no matter how much they fed. Big reveal here…remember Hector and how he was always wearing mirrored sunglasses? Yeah. Nothing under there but rotted out eye sockets. So Gregor had slowly been building this army of resurrected dead by feeding them testers and his second in command was one of them. Which is fucked up. I think he just wanted them as a bargaining chip but it wasn’t long before Hector turned on him, bashed his head in, and assumed control of his army. God, Hector is such a dickhead.
It was bad in the beginning when Hector first came after us. Nobody had any idea what was going on and we had to retreat to the mountaintops. There were plenty of casualties and we took some big hits. Kyo and Mary were surrounded at one point and she was knocked out and he couldn’t figure out how to get them to safety so he pushed for the first time in his existence to get Mary up to Everest. They got out okay but Kyo was no longer an aberration nor indestructible. He’s just a normal tester now.
We lost Epp too in a manner of speaking. Hector had a bunch of us trapped in this cathedral, see we can’t really travel around if we don’t know where we are or where we’re going. And the rooms at the top of this cathedral were basically a maze and nobody could get their bearings to jump in or out and there were like a hundred rotted things coming for us. So Epp sacrificed himself to get us out. He opened up a vein and they pounced on him going for the easy meal, not to mention that Epp was so powerful he must have seemed like an all you can eat buffet to them. We got out but the cathedral collapsed and as Epp was falling and being devoured alive he…well I don’t know what he did but he managed to leave his body right before he hit the ground. And he travelled around the world as pure energy before reentering his body. Yeah. I can light a cigar at will and he can do shit like that. Problem was, though, he lost so much of his energy while traveling that when he got back into his body he wasn’t one of us anymore. He had crossed over the line and wasn’t a tester, he was a rotted thing himself. Not in personality mind you. I mean he’s still on our side, but he isn’t one of us. Not anymore.
Things were bleak for awhile but up on the mountaintops we learned to fight back. All the tools we used to use to interact with you humans were revisited to see what could be used as weapons. The ability to control atoms is powerful stuff and we have testers who can call down lightning, testers who can create solid walls of air, testers who can whistle and break your neck with sound waves. And we’re always coming up with new ways to protect ourselves.
Then things all came to a head at this teenager’s birthday party in some middle-American suburb. Katie Packer was her name. There was a fight, a big fight, and we managed to drive back Hector’s army. A large part of that was that some of the rotted things decided that they weren’t on Hector’s side. One zombie in particular, Jonathan, who looks like a freaking jungle explorer, managed to gather a bunch of disgruntled ex-members of Hector’s army together and with their help we won the day at Katie Packer’s eighteenth birthday party. The zombies broke and most fled. Kyo and Bartleby almost pinned down Hector too, but he got away. Not before they managed to blind him, though.
That was about six months ago. A lot has changed since then. A lot. I mean Bartleby is off…well you’ll see. Frankly I’m just happy to still be here. Most days I feel like a little kid who’s been dropped into the middle of a war between immortals. It helps to try and keep a few things in mind. I chose to be here, that’s a big one. I chose to stick around and do some good. I loved my wife and my daughter enough to give me this chance and I took it, and that was my choice, so I try not to complain. Remembering that helps during the bad times.
Mainly though? Mainly I just try and keep my head down, learn what I can and not fuck things up too much for you humans.
It’s your world, after all. I just died in it.