Another day of fruitless meditation was drawing to a close. Outside of the entrance to the Redoubt, a crimson sun was sinking towards the horizon. The larger of the two moons was in its new phase; it would be a darker night than usual.
Rosemary was droning something Will had heard three times before about “becoming the insect inside the cocoon that is yourself.” By this point, it seemed to him, she was pretty obviously just going through the motions. But who could blame her? Emily was waiting patiently for a chance to speak to him. He was barely paying attention to either of them, floating in a haze of boredom and ennui, when somewhere in the distance, a bell began to ring.
Rosemary stopped in mid-sentence. Emily’s head went up. The pealing was distant, at the edge of hearing, but urgent, insistent. Looking outside, Will saw the mouth of the cave outlined in orange light. For the first time since the day of his arrival, the signal fire had been lit.
“Emily, come with me, quickly,” Rosemary said. She turned to Will. “I’m sorry. We have to leave you for the time being. Consider practicing what we’ve been working on.” Emily cast a sad glance back in Will’s direction; seeing her lagging behind, Rosemary actually snapped her fingers, a rare display of impatience. “Hurry!” Emily’s eyes widened in surprise; she raised both eyebrows at her companion, shrugged theatrically to Will, then followed.
Will was alone again. He squatted wearily, put what passed for his hands to what passed for his head, closed his eyes. As he did so, he was reminded of one of the first questions he’d asked as he’d risen through the misty barrier around Earth.
Damnit. It still makes no sense. The only reason things go dark when you close your eyes is that the eyelid is opaque. This prevents light from entering the iris, which means no image is projected on the back of the retina. Hence: darkness. If I have transparent eyelids, how can closing them make a difference?
Of course, if my retina is also transparent, there should technically be no way that the light taken in by my eyes would even form a picture on my retina in the first place―it would just go right through. Anyone totally invisible should also be totally blind. How come I’m not?
And, for that matter, why would a soul retain the physical features of a human body? Like, for instance: since I’m intangible, dust and other particles can’t impact on my eyeballs or damage them in any way. So how come I still blink? And, for that matter: how am I able to even ask these questions in the first place? If I have no memories, how is it that I’m even AWARE of these facts and able to ask questions about them?
When Will opened his eyes again, the cave was full of indigo light.
The same light that filled the cave when Emily incarnated…the SAME LIGHT…
Will was so surprised that he almost forgot to close his eyes again. Desperate to seize the moment, he plunged down the mental rabbit hole, meditating for all he was worth. Now, you miserable bastard. Meditate like you’ve never meditated before. Meditate your ass off! GET SERENE! MynameisWillIamsixteenyearsoldMynameisWillIamsixteenyearsoldMynameisWill…
He cheated a bit, opening his eyes. The light was already fading. He could see a thin film of particulate residue slowly settling to the cave floor, steam drifting back down into the cistern.
He closed his eyes again, this time in exasperation. Oh, what’s the use? What possible point can there be in trying to build a body to hold a brain that holds no memories in the first place? His mind began to drift again. Speaking of which: if electrical activity in the brain is what forms a human consciousness in the first place, how is it functionally possible for me to be thinking without a brain? Okay, let’s assume a “soul brain”, like the soul eyelids and whatnot...maybe I got a package deal on completely non-functional body parts at some point. If the brain is running, by definition there should be electrical discharges going on, and even if the brain itself isn’t visible, those electrical discharges SHOULD be. Disembodied souls should look like little walking thunderstorms. Why don’t they?
And what’s that I feel on my leg?
A brief peek. The indigo light was back, far more intense this time, and tiny arcs of electricity were lancing around the cave. This time, Will reaction was instantaneous; he forced his eyes closed and allowed his mind to drift. If I feel my leg, that implies a nervous system, which should also be carrying electrical charges, so really, the light show shouldn’t just be physically visible at the level of the head, it should be visible all along the body. Heartlights are visible, and there’s an electrical component to the heartbeat. But the glow of a heartlight isn’t what you’d expect that sort of thing to look like. A heartlight is a constant emission of light, not a rhythmic pulse. And it’s not an electrical glow, either, like in an incandescent bulb. It’s a glow similar to that of The Light…
At some level Will’s conscious mind was aware of a low rumbling noise in his ears, but he had buried himself so deeply in the questions he was asking that he was able to set the distraction aside. What’s the nature of The Light, then? It’s love, it’s belonging, it’s puppies and kittens and princess thoughts and blah blah blah, but what IS it, really? And why is it that disembodied souls, even mine, have all these emotional reactions to it? Emotional reactions are essentially chemical reactions in the body, and souls don’t have an endocrine system to produce the chemical reactions. So why would any soul react ‘emotionally’ to The Light? Or…what if what we think we know about emotions is wrong? We know that those chemical changes happen alongside the emotions, but what if we have the causal relationship backwards? What if the emotions are the actual CAUSE, and the organic chemical reactions the EFFECT? I mean, we’re supposed to think that everything about us is a function of biology—but I’ve got no body. There’s nothing physical, nothing chemical, driving me. And I’m still here. I’m still me.
Will’s mind was going full-bore now, pumping questions in a steady rhythm, working all-out to keep him in the meditative state into which he’d drifted―not a state of no-thought, but a state of all-thought. I know that incarnated humans can’t see The Light, can’t perceive the Axis of Eternity at all, that to see The Light would crush their minds. But…I don’t know that because anybody TOLD me. I knew it in Earth orbit, when I first saw The Light. It might make sense that I would know about phenomena from my terrestrial life, even without the associated memories―but by definition, I couldn’t have seen The Light until I was a soul. So how did I know about its nature? Where could that knowledge have come from?
A sensation was building throughout Will’s non-corporeal self, a drawing together, the painless equivalent of a full-body cramp. Something was pushing out of him from the inside at the same time it was pushing in at him from the outside. He could feel some kind of indefinable field gathering, thickening, around him. He stilled his excitement, kept his eyes closed. I know that Elysium has a full spectrum of biota that are similar to Earth’s. I was able to name most of the animals the first time I saw them. But this is a whole different planet than Earth, in a whole different dimension. The sun rises in the west. Even the number of moons is wrong. How can it possibly be the case that we have the same plants and animals here? Are these the souls of insects, flowers, trees, that died on Earth? It doesn’t seem possible. If every living thing that died had a soul—every bug and blade of grass--then Emily and I would have seen more than six or seven heartlights when we left Earth. And how could anyone teach a tree to incarnate, anyway? So, if they’re not souls of Earth organisms, could a perfect copy of terrestrial life possibly have simultaneously arisen on Elysium? If not, who put it here?
The pulling inwards was growing steadily more intense. A deep thrum, stored energy, building up in the void around him. Will could feel The Light fading, and something different building in its place. I have spent the last several weeks asking these questions, then casting them aside to focus on what’s important. But what if I had it backwards?
Rosemary has told me that souls are defined by their memories, that they take what they love with them from Earth. But…ALL souls? What if some souls are different? What if some souls have an existence that’s completely independent of the context of their experiences?
What if I’m not defined by my memories, but by the questions I ask?
Will’s soul rung. From top to bottom, inside and out, Will felt himself resonate.
There was a pain in his knees and on the palms of his hands. He couldn’t get enough air into his lungs. His eyes opened.He was gasping, bleeding a bit, on the rough stone floor of the Redoubt. Stark naked. Frozen to his core. And very much alive.