The crowd undulated like waves on a shoreline, shifting in one direction and then another, or was it more like a leviathan, its form mutating at the passing of every collective thought and emotion.
Surrounding the crowd were men in blue jackets, slacks and caps, several layers deep, primed for the word to cut the leviathan to shreds. It must have been the same at Twin Towers.
People had climbed atop a lower ledge, ropes and pulleys permitting them to scale the walls but finding doors that could only be opened from the inside. Tyler recognized Wallace King, his glass eye reflecting light, reminding Tyler of Mad Dog and his quartz stone.
Although the tramps claimed the lower roof for their own, Blue Knights were leaning from windows, awaiting orders to open fire.
There was also a woman on the ledge, arms raised as if trying to claim his attention. It was Carmen, dressed in a tunic, pants and what appeared to be a head scarf concealing her raven hair.
As the crowd continued to chant the word “Ozymandias,” Tyler’s skin tingled with excitement. How he wished to join them, to fight for the innate worth of everyone in Two Cities. Humanity was more than just an idea, it was a dream that could not be contained.
Yet this wasn’t a dream. This was real, and yet he couldn’t muster the words. The people deserved hope, not disappointment.
“Tell them,” reminded the Cardinal, growing impatient.
“I …” he began, his voice reverberating against the distant buildings. “I,” he began again, “am not Ozymandias.” The crowd fell silent.
“They didn’t hear you,” said the Cardinal.
“I am not Ozymandias,” he said loudly, his voice echoing back. “But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist,” added Tyler. “It’s just not me.”
Tyler dropped the microphone and turned, as if ashamed by a confession; though what good would ever come of pretending to be someone he wasn’t? The door into the building was blocked by Blue Knights, a hand clutching Laurel’s shoulder. She still avoided his gaze.
“Tell them to go home,” hissed the Cardinal, once again offering Tyler the microphone.
“I only had to tell them the truth. It’s not for me to tell them what to do.”
“Then whatever they do will fall on your shoulders. Is this what you want?”
Tyler only wanted to go home, but the terms of his departure felt degrading. How could he call upon people to give up and go home? It would have been better if he’d never come to Two Cities.
“She said I could go home,” explained Tyler.
“You agreed to help, but you haven’t helped much at all,” replied the Cardinal, gesturing to the crowd which had once again grown raucous, chanting the word Ozymandias, in defiance of anyone calling it meaningless.
Tyler took the microphone in hand and held it to his mouth. But the necessary words failed to come. After a few moments hesitation, the Cardinal grabbed the microphone from Tyler and began to speak into it.
“You have been misled,” shouted the Cardinal. “The man who calls himself Ozymandias is an imposter.”
The crowd howled angrily, a wave of humanity thrust against the walls below as if to knock them down.
“He lied to all of us,” shouted the Cardinal, “but Ozymandias will come. The prophecies do not lie, even if men do. But it is for us to wait for him, for Ozymandias will come when he is ready. It is not for us to demand his return.”
The crowd splintered but didn’t disperse, isolated shouts punctuating the rhythmic chanting for Ozymandias. Tyler wanted to leave, but the doorway was still blocked.
“Good will come to all who wait,” added the Cardinal, his arms aloft. “And wait we must, honoring Ozymandias with reverence and silence.” But the crowd refused the call to silence, their demand for Ozymandias once again growing louder.
Tyler wasn’t expecting Murdoch to appear next to him, microphone in hand and another arm over Laurel’s shoulder, his palm outstretched as if pleading for silence.
“I am Ozymandias,” insisted Murdoch, with a grin as the crown erupted in a thunder of shouts and chants.
“What are you doing?” hissed the Cardinal. But Murdoch ignored the incensed prelate.
“And I have come to offer you the future,” he added, the crowd erupting with unabashed joy. “A future without limit, bounded only by your capacity for hard work, because in my future, everyone gets a chance to make good.”
The crowd roared its continued approval.
“It’s a lie,” shouted someone from the lower ledge. It was Wallace, his glass eye still sparkling like gemstone as he faced the crowd, bullhorn to his mouth. “He’s no Ozymandias.”
“In my future,” said Murdoch, gazing at Laurel, “all of you are free.”
“It’s his future,” shouted Wallace. “And there’s no freedom in it.” Knowing Murdoch’s intentions, Tyler couldn’t agree more.
The crowd grumbled in confusion, the chanting barely audible as isolated shouts drowned out the increasingly tepid chorus of approval.
Stones were thrown at windows, smashing a few. The General, now emerging from within the front entrance of city hall, conferred with a few men in blue coats and epaulets.
“Don’t believe him,” shouted Carmen, now holding the bullhorn. “He’s an imposter.”
Tyler imagined Carmen talking about him. It wasn’t his fault people mistakenly believed him to be the mythical Ozymandias. He set the record straight and it was time to go.
“In my future,” continued Murdoch, “the dream belongs to anyone who wants it. You can all share the comforts of tomorrow, today. So why wait? Act now and I can promise you something wonderful will happen. Guaranteed.”
“Lies,” countered Carmen. “He thinks he can buy us off but he can’t.”
“They mean him,” answered Murdoch, pointing at Tyler, “not me. Beware the false Ozymandias and embrace the true Ozymandias who will give you the future you’ve always wanted.”
Something whistled its approach, coiled rope dropping with a thud. Gazing upward, Tyler noticed Don Diego, rappelling rapidly down the precipitous face of the main tower as if right out of an Eroll Flynn movie. Leaping next to Tyler, Don Diego chuckled, his masked eyes arching over a broad smile.
“It’s him,” murmured Murdoch to the Blue Knights near the door, but upon their approach, Don Diego slid a rapier from a sheath, holding the officers at bay before they could unholster their guns.
“Take the rope,” Don Diego told Tyler before dangling the rope over the ledge. “I’ll take her,” he added, pulling Laurel from Murdoch’s grip.
“Leave me alone,” shrieked Laurel, turning to Tyler.
“It’s alright,” he assured her, taking her hand in his. “They’re taking us home,” explained Tyler to Don Diego.
Diego shook his head. “They let no one go home. You can take the rope down.”
“This is your home,” insisted Murdoch, still holding Laurel close, her gaze to the ground.
Tyler turned. Gazing down several stories to the ledge below, he imagined himself falling. But why did he have to flee if the Grey Lady promised to let him go home?
“I can’t,” he told Don Diego.
“Go inside then,” said Don Diego, gesturing past the officers with his gloved hand. Tyler turned to face Laurel, but she was still averting her gaze.
“Laurel?” he asked.
“She made her decision,” explained Murdoch.
Laurel shook her head, pulling free of Murdoch before leaping through the open door. Tyler followed, side-stepping the officers Don Diego still held at blade point.
“You see that?” announced Murdoch into the microphone. “He runs away. The man who lied to us, calling himself Ozymandias when he’s no such thing.”
Tyler hesitated. The crowd roared not with joy but in anger.
Don Diego whisked the point of his rapier against Murdoch’s neck.
“Drop it,” he barked. Murdoch complied, the microphone cracking open on the cement floor. Don Diego finished it off by stepping on it with his booted heel.
“The future can be yours too,” said Murdoch to Tyler. “You know my terms. You’ll always be happy.”
Tyler figured the terms were paid when he assured the crowd he wasn’t Ozymandias. If getting an escort home meant trusting Murdoch, it was better to flee.
With Don Diego’s rapier still at an officer’s throat, Tyler reentered the spiral staircase, followed closely by Don Diego.
“There’s a door half way down,” shouted Dog Diego, turning as gunfire ricocheted off walls. “Go,” yelled Don Diego before leaping back up the stairs to an uncertain fate.
There was, indeed, a door halfway down. But he didn’t have to open it. Carmen was already holding it open, grabbing him and pulling him outside, slamming the door closed.
“What about …” he began, wondering about Laurel and Don Diego.
The crowd gasped and cheered as Don Diego appeared to rappel from the upper ledge down to the ground.
Carmen held him tight, her hands to his face as she kissed him hard on the mouth. He would have welcomed the embrace if he weren’t anticipating several officers bursting through the door, opening fire on everyone.
He spun around, but several tramps dressed up like film extras from a low-budget pirate film, their vestments torn and leggings ripped, guns at the ready instead of epees.
“It’s alright,” assured Carmen, her hand curling over his.
He turned, remembering Laurel when he saw her on her knees, her face in her hands.
“Is that her?” asked Carmen. “The one you came to find?”
Tyler nodded, approaching Laurel. “Are you alright?” he asked her.
“He shares her mind,” explained Wallace, his glass eye gleaming as he flashed a smile, a row of teeth revealing a glint of gold. “They shared too many dreams together.”
“I’m taking her home.”
“You think it’s so easy?” asked Wallace. “He’s talking to her, always.”
Laurel held her hands to her ears, but it wasn’t giving her the silence she needed.
“Is he talking to you?”
“It won’t stop if I leave,” she answered, her eyes closed. “It won’t ever stop until I go back to him.”
Tyler felt Carmen’s hand curling around his arm. “It’s what happens to all of them,” she explained.
“You don’t hear him?” asked Wallace.
Tyler shook his head.
“Guess he don’t realize what you are,” explained Wallace.
“I’m not Ozymandias,” insisted Tyler.
“But you don’t hear him, and every flatworlder hears him,” said Carmen.
“My father?” he asked.
Carmen disengaged her arm. Did she know the difference between him and his father?
Wallace tapped Tyler’s watch. “He can’t coerce you while you wear that.”
“So my father can hear him now?”
“He said he was staying, so I could leave.”
“Then don’t lose that watch,” explained Wallace. “Or his voice will drive you mad. He always gets what he wants.”
“Is that what’ll happen to her, and to my Dad?”
Wallace averted his gaze. “Time to clear out,” yelled Wallace to his fellow tramps, some firing at the officers taking aim from open windows. Wallace grabbed Laurel, shielding her as he and the others scurried down a fire escape.
Carmen grabbed Tyler, pulling him toward a wall, out of range of gunfire.
“You’ll be fine,” said Carmen, her face to his chest. “They’re going to tear down Twin Towers. You’ll come with us, won’t you? It’s all happening. Just like the prophecy said. That’s why everyone’s here. And it wouldn’t have happened without you, so I hope you won’t leave. They need you. I need you. And Murdoch can’t force his will on you because you’re different from all the others who came.”
“They want me gone,” explained Tyler. “You know who I am, don’t you?”
“I’m not my father,” he said, referring to his father.
“I know,” she answered. But did she understand him this time?
Tyler observed Wallace guiding Laurel down a ladder. She gazed at Tyler as if for the last time. Even if he brought her back home, she could never shake the madness Murdoch was visiting upon her. Who knew what Murdoch was telling her?
“You can’t help her,” said Carmen. “But you tried, which is more than I can say about most people who come here. Your father would never have done that.”
But Tyler couldn’t help suspect his father might have done the same, if not more. He wanted to find his father and bring him home, but what devilry was Murdoch visiting on West’s thoughts? There was no assuring the same wouldn’t happen to him if he didn’t leave Two Cities as soon as possible.
In the distance, the crowd roared with approval as Murdoch spoke into a new microphone.
“They try to silence me but I won’t let them,” echoed Murdoch’s voice.
The crowd cheered.
“They’re afraid, as well they should be, because nothing will be the same again. It will keep getting better. Because the future is more beautiful than any Emerald City and is made of silver and gold; and inside it is more beautiful still.”
The crowd was screaming itself hoarse, as if every word Murdoch uttered were promise of every desire fulfilled.
Carmen grabbed Tyler by the arm, bullets again whizzing past him as they leaped over dead bodies toward the fire escape. So it was possible to die, thought Tyler; yet, how close they were to dying. It took only one bullet to wreck even the best laid plans.
They stumbled down the ladder, Tyler almost losing his grip as he hurried out of the range of bullets toward an unruly and unpredictable crowd. What if they recognized him as the false Ozymandias? He shielded his face, wondering if Murdoch was right that he would never leave Two Cities.
If the prophecy of Ozymandias was the promise of a better future, he couldn’t have felt more powerless to exert any influence. He would have to take his chances, like everyone else.