Laurel sat on a chair placed near the witness stand for all to see. Her gaze was distant.
“Is this Laurel?” the Grey Lady asked Tyler.
As Tyler nodded, Laurel turned to gaze upon him. Her gaze was empty. Did she even recognize him?
“They call me Faye,” answered Laurel. “Faye Rand.”
“See if we have a record on her,” she told an officer in blue who promptly hurried toward a side exit.
“Her name is Laurel,” insisted Tyler.
“Do you recognize this man?” asked the Grey Lady.
“He looks familiar,” replied Laurel, dreamily. “Both of them do.”
“Do you know their names?”
Laurel shook her head. Tyler didn’t know if she was pretending or whether she’d truly forgotten him.
“He said he came to take you home.”
Laurel shook her head, compounding Tyler’s disappointment.
“I never asked to go anywhere. This is my home.”
“Did he tell you of another world?” asked the Grey Lady.
“What other world?” asked Laurel. If she wasn’t lying, then she’d forgotten everything. Tyler feared he’d forget everything too, though perhaps it would be for the best, assuming he didn’t get thrown in prison.
“Have you always lived in this world?” the Grey Lady asked Laurel.
“What kind of question is that?” asked Laurel with a smirk, her sudden descent into cynicism resembling Faye.
Audience members chuckled.
“Tell them the truth,” whispered Tyler.
“Objection. Leading the witness,” whined the prosecutor.
“I thought we agreed to refrain from objections, counselor,” replied the Grey Lady. “Although I’ll need to ask you to hold your testimony until asked for, Mr. Tyler.”
“She’s forgotten everything,” replied Mr. Tyler, realizing that the niceties of courtroom etiquette weren’t going to get him home, not when everyone lied.
“I’ve been forgetting everything too, but she came here just like I did and all we want to do is go home.”
“Objection,” shouted the prosecutor. “Beyond the scope.”
“Counselor,” warned the Cardinal.
“Just tell them the truth,” insisted Tyler. “Tell them what you remember.”
“Mr. Tyler,” said the Grey Lady, not losing her temper.
“What do you want me to remember?” asked Laurel.
“Objection,” shouted the prosecutor. “Badgering. Inflammatory. Irrelevant.”
“Counselor,” repeated the Cardinal, louder than before.
It was the General who slammed his gavel down with a resounding thud, the entire room falling silent.
“I want an orderly proceeding,” he roared before turning to the Grey Lady. “Can we issue a decision yet?” he asked. “He looks guilty to me.”
The Grey Lady shook her head. “I think I need a private audience with the defendants.”
“If I might,” interjected the man with the mustache Tyler assumed was his court-appointed defender. “My client isn’t in his right mind right now and …”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” replied the Grey Lady as she stood, beckoning Tyler and Magus to follow her.
Tyler turned to Laurel but she was avoiding his gaze.
“You want to stay,” he whispered, “fine. But at least help me get home.”
“Help me,” she answered, her eyes glistening with what seemed like tears. How quickly anger turned to shame. What could he do to help her when he could barely salvage his own future?
“Is he still talking to the witness?” demanded the prosecutor.
The General slammed his gavel down, prompting Tyler to hurry on his way.
“Now for the fun part,” mused Magus.
“I’m not talking to you,” said Tyler through his teeth.
“You wouldn’t have to talk to me if we were one,” said Magus. “And you’d understand what’s about to happen. You really think you can’t see the future?”
Tyler was surprised, but wasn’t it likely that the present was just another layer of the past, and that the future had already occurred. It was only a matter of remembering the future to know the past. But he couldn’t remember anything.
Could Magus’ good humor portend something good, or was Magus merely delusional?
Tyler rounded the bench to find a darkened doorway. He hesitated, unable to see inside. But there was no alternative but to move forward, whatever the consequence.
Darkness gave way to illumination, soft light filtering into a capacious room, devoid of color, like something out of a black and white film. Shelves of dusty books concealed all four walls.
The Grey Lady irradiated light as she gestured Tyler toward a seat next to Magus.
“Now while the verdict isn’t promising, I don’t see why you can’t go home.”
It was all the reassurance Tyler needed. He couldn’t remember much of Los Angeles, but he knew that once he returned, all would be remembered again.
“Can I go too?” asked Magus.
“I know about Los Angeles,” continued the Grey Lady as she took a seat behind a desk, ignoring Magus, “but the people out there don’t know. They believe in it but they don’t know for sure.”
“I don’t understand,” replied Tyler. What was the purpose of her examination if she already knew the truth? What justice could there be for him if the truth had no bearing on his guilt or innocence.
“I’m suggesting a commuted sentence, one that will permit you to go home as you said you would.”
“When can I go?” asked Tyler.
“As soon as we’re done.”
“So you know about the other world?”
“Everyone knows, but most of us prefer to forget since most of us can never leave this place.”
“You can’t leave?”
“We can’t exist in your world but as ideas or visions, nothing more. But flatworlders like you come here and shape our world with your thoughts, which is fraught with potentially dire consequences, and which is why the sooner you return home, the better.”
“Someone wants her to forget she doesn’t belong here. But she has no business here either, from what I can tell.”
“Thank you,” he said, relieved that someone believed him, wanting what he wanted, even if it was for different reasons.
“You want to know how to thank me?” she asked, her arms crossed on the desk. “You’re going to tell those people outside you’re not Ozymandias and that you promise them nothing. Of course, they won’t be too pleased to hear it, but hear it they must, and we’ll escort you to this doorway you speak of, to make sure you leave.”
“I’m Ozymandias,” declared Magus, beaming.
“And leave him here,” she added. “He doesn’t belong in your world, does he?”
“I go where I please,” countered Magus decisively.
The Grey Lady turned to Tyler. “Which is where you come in. The people out there believe in the return of Ozymandias and in the promise of empowerment, but it’s a lie, and you don’t need me to tell you that.”
“There’s no such thing as Ozymandias?” asked Tyler.
“She’s lying,” countered Magus. “The Cardinal delivers sermons about Ozymandias because Ozymandias exists. And they don’t want Ozymandias coming back.”
“It’s lie we tell them year after year to keep them from demanding more because they can always hold out hope that Ozymandias will right the wrongs when, fact is, the wrongs are what make things right, reminding people to be content with what they have rather than expecting what others have which would turn every interaction into conflict, and people want peace of mind, even if it’s based on lies.”
“I don’t want lies,” answered Tyler, remembering that Los Angeles was a world of failed dreams and false promises. He would have preferred to stay in Two Cities, if only it were less prone to mendacity.
“You don’t have to lie to them,” she explained. “You just need to tell them the truth. Can you do that?”
“There’s no reason for anyone to get hurt. You can help them.”
“By telling them there’s no hope?” he asked, realizing the only thing worse than a lie was a truth designed to discourage and dismay.
“By telling them you’re not Ozymandias.”
“It’s a lie,” insisted Magus.
“And how is that?” asked the Grey Lady.
“Can’t you see the future either?” he asked her.
The Grey Lady glared at him.
“You know the truth,” insisted Magus, leaping to his feet, “which is why you’re afraid.”
“There’s no future that can’t be altered,” she replied.
But what if it already happened, considered Tyler.
“He’s the future,” shouted Magus. Tyler had never seen him so emphatic about anything. “And when you send him away, what happens? It’s not just the people out there with something to lose. It’s everyone. Maybe you too.”
“You need to calm down,” she said, fixing him in her gaze.
“You want to protect the future, then send Russell Murdoch home because he doesn’t belong here either. He never did. And ever since he’s been here, others have come. He invites all the flatworlders here, and he’ll keep inviting them here because they make it easier for him to take whatever he wants.”
The Grey Lady stood before Magus, fixing him in her gaze. “We’ve protected this city for years. Truth drives the future and clears the path for justice and fairness.”
“You think truth doesn’t need a champion?”
“I am its champion. I run the newspaper, if you didn’t recall. Nothing gets past me, and what happens, I print. And when I’m not there, I’m here, ensuring that justice prevails.”
“You call this justice?” asked Magus.
“I call it truth,” she replied.
“Then why do you let Russell Murdoch tell you what to write?” asked Magus.
“He does not,” she replied, glowering.
“But you believe everything he says,” said Magus.
“I believe he supports the best interests of this city and that he envisions a better future.”
“Like Ozymandias?” suggested Magus.
“Sure. Like Ozymandias,” replied the Grey Lady.
“He calls himself Ozymandias,” said Tyler. “Is that a lie?”
“He’s showing us a future of growth, not decay.”
“And what makes you sure that isn’t a lie as well?” asked Magus.
The Grey Lady turned and walked to the open door.
“The offer stands as is,” she announced. “Either you accept it and go home, or you reject it and accept the consequences.”
“And what happens when no one demands the truth?” asked Magus. “Does that mean you can lie and still call it truth, with no one being the wiser?”
“Enough,” she shouted, her composure fractured. Tyler was surprised at Magus’ ferocity and unmitigated disgust with the hypocrisy that passed for good intentions. With leaders like the Grey Lady, truth was only a commodity to be shaped by supply and demand.
“Just tell them the truth, Tyler,” explained the Grey Lady. “Tell them that you’re not Ozymandias. And you can take your twin with you. But first we bring these proceedings to a close. Follow me.”
As the Grey Lady vanished in the darkness of the open door, Tyler followed. But Magus stood his ground, his eyes leveled at Tyler’s.
“You know we’re the same,” he said, Magus’ gravitas now matching his own. “And when you return home, we will always be divided, always suspecting something’s missing and always searching for something better but never finding it. Divided, you and I are lost. Together, we are the sum of all our aspirations, all dreams made real.”
It all sounded good, but he regarded Magus’ promises with the same skepticism he regarded any one’s advice. No one could be completely trusted, not even a man who looked like him and claimed to want the same future.
“You’ll come with me, right?”
Magus shook his head. “Not if it means taking away their hope.”
“Their hope remains, but it won’t be misplaced. And at least they won’t look to me when I can’t do anything for them.”
“Who needs hope when the future is what it should be?”
It was a doubtful proposition, but encouraging nonetheless. Tyler confirmed his understanding with a nod of the head before turning and walking out the door. He didn’t have to decide anything. He figured he had only to let the drama play out.
Back in the hearing room, everyone was waiting, the General glowering from behind his high bench, seemingly anxious to pronounce sentence. Laurel was still seated where he left her, her head weighted down by ominous thoughts. At least he could free her from the confusion of a world where one person was in fact two and where dead people refused to die. It would be the fulfillment of his purpose.
Tyler flinched at the sudden pounding of the General’s gavel.
“Are we in agreement?” asked the General, receiving a nod from the Cardinal and then the Grey Lady. Tyler hadn’t even returned to the witness stand.
“Then I find the defendant guilty as charged,” boomed the General’s voice, his fist slamming the bench several times, like a resounding volley of cannon fire.
“Mr. Tyler,” continued the General, “shall be sent to prison where he shall remain for the remainder of his natural life. However, we have agreed to commute that sentence to perpetual banishment, the original sentence of life imprisonment still enforceable should he ever prove foolish enough to return.”
The audience applauded the eminent wisdom of the sentence, although the thunderous applause appeared to be a formality, the General accepting the show of approval with a nod of the head before standing, taking a few bows and storming off. The Grey Lady followed the General without even a glance in Tyler’s direction.
It was the Cardinal who approached Tyler, the Cardinal’s narrow frame at least six foot five, not including the hat which gave him an additional foot of height.
“Follow me,” said the Cardinal as he brushed past him, gesturing for Laurel to stand and follow as well.
As the audience quickly dispersed, the Cardinal guided Tyler and Laurel to a doorway on the other side of the dais. It was a curved stairwell, their footsteps echoing loudly as they ascended until legs stiffened and hearts raced.
A gust of wind heralded an opening, Tyler the last to arrive as he gazed out to the lawn a hundred feet below, a crowd roaring with universal delight upon seeing him appear.
“Ozymandias,” began the chant, sporadic at first but settling on a steady rhythm that grew louder as protestors chimed in. “Ozymandias,” they shouted. “Ozymandias.”
The Cardinal unhooked a vintage microphone from a metal stand and handed it to Tyler.
“They are awaiting your full confession,” announced the Cardinal with a smile, his hands disappearing inside the folds of his black gown.
There was so much to say, which made it all the more surprising when no words came to mind.