As it turned out, incarnation was not as simple as Ben’s “get the two of you into bodies” had made it sound.
It seemed that just as the raw materials present in food could be transformed into a living body through the digestive process, so could the raw materials present in the environment be transformed into a new body through the process of incarnation. Something in the soul retained the essence of its human form―and not just the form the soul happened to inhabit at the moment of death, but the forms present at every previous moment of its incarnate life. The process had been divined thousands of years before by a wandering soul―a “rogue soul,” in Rosemary’s somewhat melodramatic phrase―named Socrates, and passed on from generation to generation. But the process could only be initiated though a rigorous meditative focus on one’s memories.
As Will had already divined, memory was a scarce commodity in Haven. Its citizens, by and large, recalled only what had been nearest and dearest to them on Earth. This presented the community with a problem, given that few of its members had been passionately fond of, for instance, the details of sewage treatment or of modern dentistry. Technology proceeded at a snail’s pace, advancing in fits and starts when somebody happened to incarnate with valuable information. Some areas of human endeavor were virtual blank spots on the map. For instance, though many in the community held one or more gods sacred, the actual mechanics of religious practice had been lost; it was thought that virtually all clerics proceeded directly to The Light following death. Though the names of earthly nations were known, most of Earth’s history was lost; Rosemary was an exception, in that she had for some reason retained a pastiche of knowledge about a place called “Colonial America”.
Will’s problem, however, was an even bigger one. He had no memories of his life at all, and no way to convey to the masters of Haven that he lacked them. This troubled him not just at a practical level, but at a more fundamental one. People remember what they cared about, he mused. So what does it say about me that I remember nothing at all?
One of the key differences between incarnate souls and rogue souls appeared to be perception of what Ben called the “barrier field”, the electric fog that surrounded Earth. It seemed that while no free soul could penetrate that field to any great degree, incarnate humans didn’t even notice it. Moreover, it blinded them to heartlights and to all other phenomena of the intangible world, including both The Light and the fog itself. The absence of the barrier field on Elysium made it the only inhabitable world that could harbor both free and incarnate souls simultaneously, and the only world in which incarnate humans could see the heartlights of the deceased.
The incarnates of Haven were incapable of reproduction and free from aging and disease. This, however, did not make Haven a paradise for the incarnate. As Grigori had demonstrated, there were still many, many ways to die on Elysium. And death had consequences. By all accounts, incarnation was not a process which grew easier with practice; rather, it became logarithmically harder. With the exception of a scant few souls, virtually anyone could incarnate once, almost always in the body they’d possessed at their moment of demise. And most souls could even pull off a second incarnation, with a great deal of time and effort; many residents of Haven cast off their aged bodies almost immediately following incarnation and sought a younger one, which explained the general absence of the visibly elderly.
A third incarnation, however, was possible only to a small fraction of souls. And as Ben had mentioned to Grigori, a fourth was all but unknown. It seemed that Ben himself had cast aside his third body fourteen years ago upon meeting Rosemary, seeking a younger form in which he could be a better companion to her. He had drunk from the yellow flask which was the community’s device of preference for entry into the spirit world. Eight months of nonstop struggle had brought him back, one of only seven iron-willed individuals who had ever managed the trick. A fifth incarnation was, so far as anyone knew, completely impossible.
With all of this in mind, Will and Buddy made themselves ready. Rosemary, who had absorbed the community’s collective knowledge on the process of spiritual midwifery, was to serve as their trainer and as their bridge back to the material world. They set up shop in the Redoubt, and surrounded themselves with cairns of meat, vegetable, bone, earth, and water; it was evidently easiest for a new body to be built out of substances as similar to itself as possible.
Over the first few days, Will came to think of his mind as a muscle, and of the tasks Rosemary set for him as exercise. She spent mornings assisting Will and Buddy in stretching their thoughts, in thinking laterally, in enhancing their concentration and focus. Every afternoon, she gave them time to themselves, which they generally spent together, exploring the town and the surrounding area in silent companionship. As Will’s mind became stronger, he found himself growing ever faster and more agile in the air. But as the days stretched into week, frustration began to take over, and Will began to long for a return to the world of the physical.
He was in the midst of a community of several hundred reincarnated souls, scratching out their various livings and taking pleasure where they could find it. Will could go anywhere he wanted in Haven. He could float right up to Smiling Bob outside his shack, but couldn’t ask him what he’d been up to lately―if indeed Smiling Bob had ever been up to anything, other than consistently fleecing his gambling partners down at Luther’s out of their meager possessions. Will had seen many amazing things in Haven, but “Bob” putting in an honest a day’s work was not among them.
Come to that, Will could walk through the door at Luther’s―literally, through the door itself―but he couldn’t toss dice with any of the boys there, or sample the wares from Mavra’s distillery or Pete’s brewery. He couldn’t offer Phillip or Huapac a hand with their crops or join one of Orson’s or Yvette’s hunting parties or go a couple of rounds with Jason using blunted swords―not that the last activity struck him as particularly wise.
Will missed human companionship. He was tired of perfect freedom of movement―he missed the solid resistance of tangible objects, the sensation of something pushing back. Moreover, he felt he’d been neglecting his obligations. He had been saved from a fate worse than death by Jason, and in accepting Ben’s offer, he had agreed to serve the common good. But what, as a disembodied soul, could he actually do? Perhaps he could have served as a child’s night light. But it seemed that children almost never incarnated in Haven―the only “child” in town was Charlotte, who had lived over seven decades in the body of an eleven-year-old, and the long years of being patronized based on her appearance had left her so bitter that the dark was probably more afraid of her than she was of it.
Will wanted to get his hands dirty. Which meant he would need hands. Which meant he needed to incarnate. And that was proving to be a problem.
A typical morning incarnation session consisted of three hours of continuous meditation, reflection, concentration and focus. “Your subconscious mind is the key,” Rosemary had told them. “Incarnation is not a matter of effort. It is the part of you which dreams which will bring you into the material world. To regain your body, you must lock in on what you remember, what was most you. You must know yourself so thoroughly that you dream yourself―and when you awake from that dream, you will have dreamed yourself real.”
All perfectly fine, in theory. But Will didn’t have the raw material―the memories―to make the process work And so, his strained away the hours, floating in a cave, staring at a piles of dung, rotting vegetables, and putrifying meat, thinking Damnit! Why can’t that be me?
Will needed to get a life.