Ch. XIV, p.2

He stepped off the dais and across a small road. Striding carefully into the forest, he ducked near a tree in order to gauge his situation. My suit and tactical nanos are disabled… Must be a DEID wave (Discriminating Electrical Impulse Deactivation) , he thought warily. All government employees were susceptible, as were any who had used a government run health facility since the shift. Of course, they were told DEIDs were only for their protection… If they were told of them at all—

Fear

Shapes moved in the trees—

Shadows. His imagination was overactive without the aid of electronics.

No, something’s there—

He slipped away and dropped low behind a wide tree trunk. Better protection from the ghostly figures wavering in front of his eyes, out of focus… they looked like…

Trees.

His heart pounded against his chest.

Shadows.

His eyes quivered and he swallowed.

I’m going through relapse… The diazepam… He clutched the bark and tried to calm himself. He had to get his head together… He needed more of the drug. Can’t dose myself manually… think, dammit… He began to stand woozily. Nothing…

He hadn’t realized how much he relied on his Operating System in order to function properly. His skin quivered as if it weren’t his own, and his throat felt dry and unsettled. He checked his water supply. Moisture systems… still active, he thought, noting a blue glow coming from his left side. Not run by the OS anymore, but active.

He eyed his surroundings. Keep going. The crowd wasn’t far away now… He hoped he hadn’t left them alone for too long.

It hasn’t been more than a few minutes… he told himself. Then, Please, God, let them still be there.

. . .

‘Please, God, let them still be there.’ The thought passed through Maria; inside and out and all around her; alive. She recognized it from somewhere, but it wasn’t her and it wasn’t hers.

A calming, aware emptiness… No, she was floating in… Or…

Her mind didn’t know what to think. Rationality dealt with reality. This was… Unlike anything.

It was the last thought her brain cognized before dissolving within its ivory dwelling, subsumed by the pleasant tingle of potential and inactivity supporting each other, and felt as the firing of neurons within an endless sea of space and time.

Black… In every direction. Devoid of anything… Light… Inside of her… Radiating. The source of everything and everyone. She opened her eyes; eyes, within eyes, within eyes;

Gold. Everywhere. Golden light. Flowing foundation… or outline… or… It slipped this way and that, framing the worlds upon worlds and lives within them. Life was made of… Her.

‘We are everything and everyone, each within and without and all around ourselves. Exuding light and life. Only, so often distorted; confused; interrupted… Then we call it dark. But that is only an absence of light, not an entity all its own, and not of a separate power. Darkness is only the veil hiding our eyes, never the things obscured.’

She felt dizzy, disoriented by the endlessness. Then she, too, dissolved completely. Infinite was infinitesimal. Endless was instantaneous. And life and death intertwined into a single element.

‘As life leads to death, so does the reverse take place. Balance exists in every aspect; even the smallest part of the system, jostled, brings unsettlement into the whole of everything. This is the nature of our existence.’

“Our existence...” Not human existence. Not even sentient existence. Everything. Each speck of dirt. Each crawling ant. Each vessel of substance compelled from no-thing into be-ing, billions of years ago... Moments ago… Even now… All of it was life. And it all moved as one being, its individual parts all so unaware of the truth of their infinitude.

She would have let herself dissolve completely; no longer a human with a name; no longer a vessel for established personality; no longer convinced of her separate importance, nor desiring it; but she had been that way before, and would sometime be again. The cycle would repeat as the infinite, endless system searched itself for purpose and designation, time no more obdurate than an autumn leaf, fluttering upon a blush of wind called to the flame.

Right now, she had a purpose, long ago set out—before birth, before conception, before time itself… A purpose all her own, decided upon by her, but tied into the fate of everything and everyone…

“Maria…”

That voice.

“Maria…”


Cool fingers touched beneath her chin. “Maria,” the calm, soothing voice said.

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