This story begins with Masked – The Fortress (1). To access installments in narrative sequence, click on an entry title, then click on “Next” at the end of that installment.
“Why me? What did I do…” John trailed off as Bloodwater looked at him expectantly. “I just manage a game store, nobody makes me an offer that’s to my own benefit. Wait, what am I saying? How am I talking to you? This is not normal!”
“Calm down.” Bloodwater had seen enough of John’s life on Earth to know how best to explain Aum to him. “You believe in heaven, right? A realm of the spirit, outside of time?”
“Yes,” John said warily.
“Aum is like heaven. It is a realm of the spirit. It follows laws of the spirit, not physical laws, though some similar principles apply. Beings with strong spiritual power can find themselves here in times of extreme crisis, such as being near death. They discover they have powers here, usually through accident and instinct. Most spiritual powers function automatically, and cannot be affected consciously any more than the spleen or gall bladder in a physical body. A few can be either automatic or conscious, like a physical body’s breath. Very few are controlled entirely consciously. I brought you here consciously.”
John considered this. “How do I know I didn’t just fall asleep at the kitchen table? I was pretty exhausted. Maybe I’m dreaming all of this. I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams in my time.”
“You can believe that for now, if you wish. After you accept my offer, you will return to your world with this.” Bloodwater casually waved the glittering beetle, which in turn waved its antennae. “It will be hard to deny Aum as a reality when confronted with physical evidence in your own hand.”
“You keep talking about the future with such certainty. How do you know what I will and won’t do?”
“Like heaven, Aum is outside of time. I know what you will do because, from this privileged position, I have seen it.”
“You can see the future?”
“From here, it’s not the future. All moments in the physical world exist side by side like panes of colored glass in a cathedral window. Through them shines the light of the spirit.”
“You’ve seen the end of the universe? Like, when it expands too much? The heat death and shit?” John wanted to talk physics but suddenly felt the limits of his knowledge.
Bloodwater’s smile held rue. “Even here, I have limits. The Ianu, I believe, have seen it all. For me, the window has edges, and they frame the story of Life on our shared planet, Earth. I know how Life began on Earth, and I know how it ends.”
Bloodwater gazed at John impassively. Light from one of the stalactites caught an insect the size of a pinhead that slowly crawled over his shoulder onto his chest. He did not brush it away. “It ends as it begins: with heat.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I know you well enough to know that the specifics of the end of Life on Earth do not interest you anywhere near as much as the question of how to navigate your own life. You feel lost, and alone, even when you are with the people you care about and who care about you. That is what you care about: how to find peace in your own short time.”
John swallowed, and thought about the hours he had spent in therapy pouring out frustration. “And you claim to have the answer? How can I trust you?”
“You can trust me because I admit to you that I don’t have that answer. I offer you something else: power.” Bloodwater leaned forward and thrust his open hand with the beetle on its palm toward John. His eyes, the beetle, and the cavern all glittered the same.
Thank you for reading! In the next installment, John receives an offer he will not refuse.
Previous Aum stories include Globe Without Goodbye.
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