An Offer You Must Refuse
Matthew L. Martin
"Senator, there's a gentleman here to see you."
Edward Monigel smiled. It must be the Angel. This was going to be absolutely wonderful "Send him in, Joyce."
Edward leaned back in his chair and poured himself another glass of brandy. Life as a Senator was good indeed. In addition to a chance to reform the country, he had power, popularity, and privilege, and he didn't have to worry about reelection for another five years. And after tonight, things could be getting even better.
As the door opened, Edward stood up to greet his guest, but then stopped and stared in astonishment. This was not the man he had been expecting.
In fact, it wasn't even a man at all.
Edward found himself face to face with a figure of purest light, shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow, but somehow remaining white at the same time. Although the creature was human in shape, it appeared as far above humans as they were above apes.
Stunned, terrified and awed, all at the same time, Edward dropped to his knees in hopes of appeasing the thing.
"Rise, Edward Monigel, and do not be afraid."
Although the voice was more calm and mellow than Edward would have expected, the Senator obeyed it. Instead of the shining being he had seen enter the room, though, Edward found himself face to face with a middle-aged man in a white suit.
The man smiled. "I apologize for startling you like that, but I thought I might need to get your attention. This form ought to be easier for you to deal with."
"Yes," Edward said, shaking as he sat down. He wasn't sure whether he was dealing with some cheap lighting tricks or something really strange, but he wasn't about to take risks. "So, who are you, and what are you doing here?"
The man smiled. "Call me an Advisor. It is our understanding that you are expecting a visit from a man calling himself 'the Angel' at approximately nine-thirty P.M. tonight, and that during this visit, this colleague will ask you for a decision."
"How did you know about that?"
"There's very little we don't know. To continue, your decision must be no. No matter the promises, requests, or threats your 'associate' makes, you must not sign that contract."
Edward snorted. "Give me one good reason why not! If even half of what he says is true, that contract will leave me set for life."
The Advisor nodded solemnly. "We know. That's what we're afraid of." He extended a hand. "I want to show you something."
Edward shook his guest's hand, and nearly fainted as the room dissolved in a glow of blue light. As the light faded, Edward found himself in the middle of a crowd, at what looked like a political rally.
He turned to face the 'Advisor'. "What did you do? Where are we?"
"We're at the campaign headquarters of Edward Monigel," the man answered, "on Election Night seven years from now."
Edward gaped. "Time travel? Impossible!" He then relaxed and smiled. "But if it's true, I'll be a Senator for at least--wait a minute." Edward frowned and did some quick mental math. "That can't be right. I wouldn't be running for reelection in seven years."
The Advisor nodded. "That's because you're not running for Senator. The polls just closed; you've swept all fifty states."
Edward nearly fainted. "The Presidency?" He grinned. "This is all a result of that deal you don't want me to sign? If that's the case, then take me back to the office before it's too late."
Edward's companion sighed. "If you want to sign that deal, very well. But before you do that, there's something else I want to show you."
The blue light swept them away again, and the two found themselves in the Oval Office.
Edward gaped. Sitting at the President's desk, he saw himself. There was gray in his dark hair and mustache, and he had grown even more rotund, but Edward Monigel could see himself clearly at the President's desk.
He turned to the Advisor. "How . . . how did you do this?"
The Advisor smiled, but it was a smile tinged with melancholy. "All we are doing is watching; it's like we're not even here. Speaking of watching, this may interest you."
Two other people had entered the room. The first was a young man in an expensive blue suit who carried a sheaf of papers and nervously fiddled with his glasses. The second was a tall, white-haired and bearded man in an Army uniform. As Edward watched, the younger man stepped forward.
"Mr. President," the younger visitor said, "your latest poll numbers just came in. Your approval rating is up to 83%, and support for your New Heritage program is remarkably high."
"What's the New Heritage program?" Edward whispered to the Advisor.
"Every reform you've ever dreamed of . . . at least, that's what you currently think it is," the Advisor replied in a normal voice. "You don't need to whisper; we're not really here, after all."
President Monigel nodded. "Very good. I'm glad to hear that people appreciate my reforms." He took a sip of brandy and looked at the youth. "How much surplus do we have in the Treasury?"
"About fifteen or sixteen billion dollars, Mr. President."
The President smiled and scribbled a note on some White House notepaper. "Give this to Secretary Jamesward. It's an order to take twelve billion of that and distribute it as tax refunds."
"Yes, Mr. President," the young aide said, hurrying out of the room.
Swallowing the rest of his drink, President Monigel turned to the military man. "My apologies for the delay. Your report, General?"
"We've got riots breaking out in five states and several territories. Apparently not everybody appreciates your reforms as much as you think, Mr. President. I've heard protests about the replacement of Congress with a direct democracy, the high tax rates, the expansions, the use of tax dollars for--"
President Monigel cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Do whatever you have to do to put them down. Send in tanks, hold more public executions, but do whatever it takes. I don't want a few fanatics to stop what's best for the American people."
Edward turned to the Advisor. "Come now, do you really expect me to believe this? Tanks? Public executions? Granted, some harshness in reform may be necessary, but that's absolutely ridiculous! There's no way I'd ever do anything like that!"
"Don't be so sure," the Advisor responded. "It's not entirely your doing, after all."
There was a brief blurring, and the hands on the Oval Office clock moved at a rapid rate. When it returned to normal, it was seven o'clock, and President Monigel was in the office alone. The President pulled out some brandy and started pouring it and drinking. Edward watched as his future counterpart drained the entire bottle in fifteen minutes. After throwing the bottle on the floor, President Monigel laid his head on the desk. Edward thought that he could hear a faint sobbing, but he couldn't be sure.
The door to the office opened, and a man slipped in. Edward started as he recognized the new visitor. It was the Angel, but how had he been able to avoid aging in the ten years that had passed?
"Mr. President," the Angel whispered in that charming voice, "it's not working."
President Monigel raised his head from the desk. "Go away. I don't want to talk to you." The words came out slurred and indistinct.
The Angel shook his head. "You know I can't do that. The riots will continue, you know. The New Heritage will be trampled by these reactionaries. Something harsher needs to be done to convince the people to accept what's best for them." He pulled out a sheet of paper. "I've got it all right here. All it needs is your signature."
"A form authorizing air strikes against rioting areas," the Angel replied.
Both President and Senator Monigel shrank back in horror. "No," the President whispered. "We can't do that!"
The Angel smiled. "Why not? The people need to be convinced. They need to be shown that their government will give them what they need. Think about it."
"No," President Monigel repeated, but his face had grown pale.
"Mr. President," the Angel answered, "I'm not finished yet."
For the next half hour, Edward and the Advisor watched as the Angel began to argue. They could barely hear his whispering voice, but Edward could catch bits and pieces of the arguments, and he was almost convinced of the necessity of the Angel's suggestion. As the Angel's speech continued, President Monigel's face showed exhaustion and confusion.
At the end of the half hour, the President sighed and grabbed a pen. "All right. If it's really necessary . . . " He began to sign, and Edward, driven by fear and desperation, rushed at his older self, determined to stop the signing . . .
And with another flash of light, Edward and the visitor had returned to the senator's office.
Shaking, Edward turned on the Advisor. "How do I know that what you just did wasn't some cheap hypnotist's trick?"
The Advisor shrugged. "You don't. But you'll need to make that decision soon."
"Mr. Monigel?" his secretary called. "That gentleman you were expecting is here to see you."
Edward sighed. "Send him away, Joyce; I'm not interested anymore."
Despite Edward's rebuffs, the Angel came barging into the office a moment later. He stopped and glanced around for a moment, then his gaze settled on the visitor. "Indeed. They sent one of you," he sneered, and then he turned back to Edward, handing him a sheet. "Well, Mr. Monigel, the contract is finished. To explain it one more time, we are prepared to aid and assist you in any areas you desire. All that we ask is that you accept me as a permanent partner in your operations, pledge never to dismiss me or leave my company, consider all my ideas seriously, and accept my input at any time during the duration of this agreement."
Edward paused. "What is the duration of this agreement, anyway?"
The Angel smiled. "We will support you for the duration of your natural life."
Edward paused for a moment, looking over the contract. "I'm not so sure about this. What does 'consider all of your ideas seriously and in their completeness' mean?"
"In essence," the Angel replied, "you cannot reject my input until I have completed all of my arguments."
Edward began to sweat slightly as he remembered that horrible scene in the future Oval Office. "What are you getting out of this?" he asked the Angel, trying to keep his voice calm.
The Angel's grin widened. "We believe that a reformer like you could do great things for the country, and that our operations would profit immensely from your work. In addition, we have many younger associates who wish to learn from you."
Edward continued to look over the contract, and then set it down with a sigh. "I'll . . . I'll have to think on that. My 'Advisor', here," he continued, glancing over his shoulder, "has raised some disturbing questions about the nature of the contract."
The Angel glared at the Advisor. "Really, Mr. Monigel, there's nothing to fear from us . . . so long as you sign the contract."
"And if I don't?" Edward shot back.
The Angel waved his hand. It seemed to be a small and simple gesture, but as the Angel's hand passed a part of the room, that part burst into flame.
Smoke flowed from the walls of the room, and as Edward began to cough and choke, the Angel's grin now resembled that of a cat with a mouse in its claws. "This is simply a small demonstration of our capabilities, Mr. Monigel. Do you really want to have us as enemies?"
Trembling and nearly choking, Edward reached for a pen and drew the contract closer to him. He raised the pen and began to sign the contract. Then, he threw down the pen and tossed the contract into the fires.
"Do you know what you've done?" The Angel almost screamed.
"I have a good idea," Edward said between coughs, casting a glance at the Advisor. "Now, get out of here."
The Angel shook his head. "Not yet." He raised his hand, and fire began to flow into his grasp, forming a sphere of flame. The Angel began to toss the fireball casually, almost negligently. He suddenly raised it and pulled his arm back, aiming at the desk.
Quicker than Edward could follow, the Advisor had interposed himself between the two. Just as the Angel had done, the Advisor raised his hand, and the fire vanished, leaving no trace or damage.
"You meddler!" the Angel shouted. "You think to challenge me in my city?"
The Advisor nodded. "Now, quit this place before worse befalls you."
Flinching, the Angel snuck out of the room. "There are others in this city more malleable and less noble, 'Advisor'. You have done nothing more than protect one pitiable mortal." He looked over his shoulder and glared at Edward. "And I will remember this, Edward Monigel. I will remember it for a long time."
Slamming the door, the Angel could be heard stalking out of the building.
Edward turned to the Advisor with a look of profound gratitude. He couldn't think of anything to say, but the Advisor simply smiled and nodded. "You're welcome."
Edward let out a sigh of relief. "He is certainly no angel, is he?"
Grief and regret showed on the Advisor's face. "That's a long and dark tale, and it is not my place to speak of it. Farewell, Edward Monigel. I will forever be with you."
The Advisor walked out of the door. Sighing with relief, Edward leaned back in his chair and pulled his bottle of brandy back out of his desk. He reached for his glass and uncorked the bottle. He then stopped, set the battle back down, and leaned back in his chair, thinking about what had happened to him that night.
Acknowledgments: All of my classmates gave me advice for improving this story. I'd like to thank Chris Butler for suggesting many of the specific improvements, Kevin Butzen and Shawn Whittington for their meticulous attention to the rough draft's problems, and many of my classmates, including Laura Holub, Mike Hungate, and Anne Dybsetter, for suggesting that the Advisor have a name.
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