Sunday, 5 March, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
As Chris makes it across Huron Street, the first thing he sees is the corner of Grizzly Park. The name is a pun: the acre-and-a-half square used to be the parking lot for a restaurant called Grizzly Peak that was across Ashley at the south edge of the lot. But Grizzly Peak closed down during the Collapse as did most higher-end restaurants, and the parking lot was soon converted to another open air market similar to the Kerrytown farmers’ market a quarter mile to the northeast, except focusing more on small-scale arts and crafts, clothing, repair, and some prepared food.
There is a chain-link fence around the square, with large entrance gates placed diagonally at the northeast and southeast corners. Chris walks through the northeast gate, mostly because that’s what all the people are doing who just crossed the street in front of him. As the crowd fans out to their various targets inside the market, Chris stops and stares.
Every stall is different, and every one is trying to call attention to itself in its own way. There are flags and banners, bright-painted wood, artwork on whiteboards, wind spinners, solar powered blinking lights, music players, and big-screen displays. The wares for sale are candles, caps, gloves, totes, walking sticks, knife-sharpening services, hair cutting, shoe repair, individual-sized fruit pies, tacos, soup, bread, cheese, agua fresca, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, beer, wine, whiskey, marijuana, hashish, opium, psilocybin mushrooms, amanita mushrooms, morel mushrooms, immorel mushrooms, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, every natural, artificial, or imaginary painkiller known to man, and some that aren’t.
Chris stands amazed by the frantic cacophony, the colors energized by the last rays of the setting sun, and the swirling activity of the Grizzly Park market on a Sunday evening. He has never seen or imagined anything like it.
Into the midst of his reverie, a small sound intrudes.
It’s some kind of musical instrument, but played in a way that is always just suggesting a tune without ever quite creating one. In fact, the complex interweaving of chords and trills seem to be suggesting multiple tunes at once, many paths that the tune might follow, if it would ever stop almost-emerging and simply become. The high sweet notes might resolve into a child’s lullaby sung by a mother who makes a safe place for her child although the world outside is cold and threatening in ways that the child can never understand. Or it might resolve into a melody played by a music box that a man traveling on a train takes from his suitcase and opens in a private moment to recall a long lost love and an impossible yearning. Or the music could become any of a thousand other possibilities, each as heart-breaking, if only it would decide and become.
For the first time, Chris has an immediate purpose. He wants to find the source of this faint music, and meet the musician.
But, looking around he can’t see where it might be coming from. There are no performers of any kind in view. In fact, as he looks Chris realizes that he can’t even quite seem to place where he hears the faint sound of the music coming from. He takes a step in its general direction and listens more intently, frowning with concentration.
Fascinated, Arias watches the young man approach. She noticed him only moments after he entered the northeast gate because he stopped and looked directly at her. She can see that her ward is still working on the young man—he clearly is not seeing her—but it is not working completely. He is detecting the sound of the wind chimes, even as soft as they are now.
First a fool draws Arias’s attention to the ancient chimes—the first time in weeks that anyone has looked at them—and now, only minutes later, this young man detects those same chimes even through a ward! Arias is not one to ignore coincidences, borne on the wind. She watches intently as the young man moves forward haltingly, step by step, against the influence of her ward. And while it is certainly possible for a baseline human to defeat a mild ward such as Arias uses routinely when she does not desire customers, it certainly would not have made her list of the top one hundred things most likely to happen today, nor this week.
He stops and moves his gaze slowly from left to right, focusing on each of her neighbors’ booths in turn. When he reaches hers, his eyes glide past, unseeing. And he stops, and frowns. He tries the same inspection in the opposite direction, starting from a point several booths to his right, and stops again when his eyes again fail to register her location. His frown deepens, and Arias’s heart beats faster.
She has seen baseline humans defeat wards before, but it was always because they possessed some exceptional power of concentration or perception. She has never before in her life seen a child perform such a feat strictly by reasoning. He pauses, listens, and looks around with every step, but every hesitant step he takes is directly toward Arias. She smiles.
It’s all the more interesting because the young man performing this feat is possibly one of the loveliest creatures she has ever seen! He is slender, as has become more common in recent years with the constant food supply issues and high prices, but well-formed and with strong features. His coloration is striking: a shock of blond hair and brilliantly blue eyes, but with skin so pale that he looks to have been raised among mushrooms. His hair, however is so unkempt that Arias wonders if it was last cut by a blind barber, or if the young man did it himself with scissors but without the aid of a mirror. The stiffening breeze plays mischievously with his unruly mop of hair.
Finally, the young man steps through the last layer of her ward. He looks around, blinking, seeing her booth for the first time.
“I thought I heard music”, he says.
“Then maybe you did.” Arias smiles.
“I mean—I thought I heard I heard someone playing. An instrument.”
“Then maybe you did.”
He looks at her with his brilliant blue eyes.
“And maybe you will meet him someday. But come,” Arias says. “Sit down and let me try to sell you something. That’s what I do.”
Uncertainty touches his features, and Arias sees that he is concerned about money. But he does take the chair that she offers him.
Arias notices that he does not say Oh what amazing wind chimes! Or What do you want for them?
As he seats himself, the young man looks around at Arias’s walls of gallon-size glass jars. All are clearly labeled, with the names of herbs and expensive spices, as well as with the names of types of cannabis and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Every customer that she has ever entertained reacts in one way or another to those labels: either with desire, or amusement, or disgust. But this young man does not.
“So!” she says brightly, “How do like Ann Arbor so far?”
He focuses on her again, with the same unblinking curiosity that he gave to her jars.
“You—know,” he says, “that I’m new here?”
“Oh, yes, of course! I know everyone in town.”
The young man accepts this statement at face value.
“You know,” Arias says, I also read palms!”
He looks at her.
“To tell your future,” she says. “Would you like that?”
The beautiful young man considers.
“Yes,” he says. “Thank you.”
“Give me your hand.”
She reaches out to him. After a moment he understands, and gives her his hand. And Arias gets the biggest shock that she has had in some time.
Of course it is a trick that she plays from time to time, when she is curious to learn more about one of the children than they would otherwise be willing to reveal. Contact with the skin of a child will usually tell Arias a great deal of their history, motivations, and likely future. She can then make up some very plausible predictions, charge them fifty bucks, and send them on their way. Arias has done this many times, when trying to trace the workings of the shepherds, when she is interested in applying influence in small ways to some child who has caught her fancy, or for simple curiosity about how the pageant of life is marching on.
She gets surprises sometimes! Secret fear or rage, smoldering lust and envy, wrenching guilt, regret, or self-pity, unsuspected patience or hope, and, one time in a thousand, faith.
But until today, Arias has never once read a child who has no slightest trace of history.
It is the strangest feeling. His hand is warm and alive. As with the rest of his body, the bone structure is strong and perfectly formed. She can feel a strong steady pulse.
But when Arias turns her mind to detecting the subtle traces that past experience leaves in the body and its aura—there is simply nothing there. Michael himself would never be able to conceal his past from her when she touches him. He might be able to conceal specific events, but she would at least detect the concealment. This young man—this child, as Arias’s people call baseline humans—is simply innocent of a past.
First he walks through her ward, and now this.
Arias feels a chill pass through her. Could this young man represent some sort of new trap of the Enemy? No, it is absurd. First, they long ago ceased actively searching for any possible survivors of the Filii Veritas. What damage can they possibly do, now that the Nine have finally protected themselves from all harm? But second, and more tellingly, if the Enemy did still care—why would they bother with a subtle attack? If they had a way of observing her they would remain hidden until they traced her to Michael and the others. On the other hand, if they wanted to simply destroy her they would send overwhelming force. A dozen assassins with translation jammers.
But then what can account for this strange young man?
These thoughts are so unnerving that Arias hesitates long enough that the child actually notices.
“Ah! Yes!” She says quickly. Arias heard once that surgeons are taught to never say Oops! during an operation. Even the sedated patient is always listening! If something unexpected happens, the surgeon is taught to say: There!
“Yes indeed!”, Arias says. “You will meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger.” She smiles, but the young man seems unaware that this is a joke.
“You came to town recently,” she says more seriously. “And you are looking for a job.”
“Yes,” the young man says, visibly impressed. “That’s right.”
Arias has no need of reading a child to know that much. She sees it as clearly as a mother might see that her toddler has stolen some cookies. The little one cannot imagine how she knows, even as he wipes crumbs from his face.
Smiling, she releases the young man’s hand. “Not an easy endeavor in today’s world, I fear. And, if I may ask, what type of work are you seeking? The lines of the palm do not, I fear, contain such specifics.”
“Computer programming,” the young man says. “AI.”
And an eddy of the early evening breeze chooses that moment to find her crystal chimes and softly ring them.
No, Arias understands in the voice of the wind, this chance meeting is not an attack by the Enemy. It is something much stranger. But what?
“What an interesting field! You must be very well-educated.”
“I—studied it in college,” the beautiful young man says, but with an oddly uncertain tone.
“Well, Ann Arbor is certainly the right town for it, if anyplace is. Do you have something already lined up?”
Arias is surprised to see the young man practically flinch, as though she had waved her hand at his face. And just like that, in the interplay of stress in the muscles of the young man’s face, Arias realizes the simple mistake that she has made.
Significant life events leave detectable traces in the energetic aura of every baseline human. Such traces are highly reliable, since they cannot be obscured or falsified by beings below the highest levels of the Teacher class—beings that the children refer to as ‘angels’. In her eagerness to read such traces from this interesting young man, Arias did not bother to perform a much simpler kind of reading: that of the physical body.
Humans are expressive in everything they do, and the more complex the activity the more expressive it is of the actor’s nature. Even with something as simple as driving a car, it is easy to see that the driver in front of you is inattentive, or distracted, or inebriated. In times past, the captain of a sailing ship could watch another ship from a far and after half an hour get a good understanding of the ship’s master, and a more detailed understanding than is possible to the motorist, as a sailing ship, with its many more degrees of freedom, is more expressive of its operator.
But the human body, with hundreds of observable muscles, bones, and joints is the most expressive instrument of all. Humans think they they are in control of their muscles, because when they decide to walk their legs oblige them, when they decide to grasp a cup their arm reaches forth and the cup is grasped.
But such conscious control accounts for less than one percent of the signals that go to the body’s hundreds of muscles tens of times in every second. The vast majority of muscular control is thought of as being ‘autonomic’ or ‘unconscious’, by which they mean ‘automated’ or, basically, ‘meaningless’.
But the fact is that baseline humans are divided into two distinct personalities: Self and the Mask. The Self is the source of all real direction and energy in the individual. It is the Self that has goals for the individual’s current incarnation. In fact it is the Self that carries on, altered by the events of each life, from one incarnation to the next. The Mask is a personality constructed by the Self for the purpose of living the current incarnation, like a character created by a consummate Method actor for a role that lasts decades. The actor then completely identifies with the Mask, to the extent that they forget and deny the very idea that the Mask is not the entire individual.
A very strict separation, guarded by powerful emotions, is imposed between the memories of the Self and those of the Mask to protect the value of the current incarnation. But this does not mean that the larger Self is absent from the incarnation—only that the Mask can never be directly aware of it. In fact, the Mask cannot be left solely responsible for the incarnation. As a construct, in fact, a kind of AI, it lacks, as Raphael would say, sufficient processing power.
This shows up even in daily life, and even in the simple acts of motor control that the Mask believes itself to be in charge of like walking, gesturing, moving. The Mask lacks the processing power to coordinate the score of muscle-pairs involved in any simplest motion. So such things are accomplished by a two-step process. The Mask requests a motion, such as the leg motions required to rise from a chair, to walk, and the Self fulfills the request while simultaneously maintaining the fiction that it was the Mask that controlled the body.
This comforting situation only breaks down in situations where the Self judges that its incarnation is in mortal danger, such as in the crucial moments of an automobile accident. Then the Mask suddenly finds itself briefly “along for the ride”. Time seems to slow radically, because it is suddenly observing events with the full processing power of the Self engaged. It sees the corner of the oncoming car spinning toward its driver-side door in slow motion, while it feels ‘its’ hands making minute adjustments to the position of its car’s steering wheel. It sees the bumper of the other car miss it by inches, rotating past so slowly that it notices individual scuff marks on the paint. And then, in the moment that the danger has passed, finds itself back in normal time. The car that missed it spins wildly away, its own automobile screeches to a halt, and the Mask thinks that it was able to perform a miraculous escape ‘because of adrenaline’.
This bicameral construction of human beings is not shared by beings of the Teacher class or above. Indeed, the Filii Veritas researches of old—now all gone but one—believed that it was specifically the final shattering of the strict separation between Self and Mask that marked the transition from an advanced baseline human to a newborn member of the Teacher class. With the dissolution of that powerful barrier the graduating being no longer has a soul (in the typically inverted language of the Mask), but rather is a soul. And thus the long enforced cycle of incarnation, aging, death, and reincarnation becomes unnecessary to further development, and is abandoned.
Yet, despite the strict separation between what are almost two separate minds in the ‘children’—in baseline humans—the larger Self is, in fact, present in every moment of the day and night, in every slightest movement of the body. The Mask is incapable of controlling the complex interactions of muscles without it. In fact, in pathologically severe cases of conflict between Self and Mask, the Self is capable of causing hysterical paralysis, blindness, or other symptoms that the Mask may interpret as punishments ‘from God’.
And although the Self almost never speaks directly through the body’s literal voice, it cannot help but speak indirectly, and constantly, through its control of every muscle and every motion of the body: a ‘body language’ of which the Mask is almost entirely unaware.
In her eagerness to access the more direct sources of information of the young human’s energetic aura, Arias has completely ignored the simpler technique of reading the body. She corrects her oversight now, and receives another shock.
Simply looking at the young man’s body in the way she could have done when she was just a new-made Teacher herself, Arias sees that, whatever the specific details of his recent life may have been, one fact is perfectly obvious. The young man has recently suffered trauma of a level that must have been life-threatening. Or, is it worse? Has he recently observed actual death, perhaps of close friend or family?
And the reason he came to Ann Arbor without having made real plans for getting a job? Because the trauma, whatever if may have been, happened so recently—probably days or even hours before he got on the bus—that he has not yet had time to even consider his future plans. He only wanted to leave, as quickly as possible, most likely inventing the idea of getting a job only once on his way here.
But what horror could have motivated such an otherwise-ordinary young man to leave his home so quickly? And could it somehow be the reason for his impossibly blank aura? Any such trauma should have marked his aura with blemishes that Arias would have seen from a hundred yards away! Yet, if this is some idiosyncratic effect it is rare indeed for Arias to have never before encountered it.
The lovely young man has raised more questions in one minute than anyone that Arias has ever met, which is saying quite a lot. She doesn’t know any answers yet, but she does know that she doesn’t want this human to wander off into the immensity of the world and be lost to her sight forever.
“I—I don’t!” he says, looking at her as though she might suddenly accuse him. “I don’t know where to look.” His beautiful eyes pierce her. “I should have—I should have—”
And why is he so upset by his lack of preparation? This time she sees the answer immediately. Because he has forgotten the event! Arias realizes. And the fact that he rushed away without making preparations reminds him faintly of how traumatic the event was! He does not want to think about it. Then let him avoid that thought, for now.
“You should not have,” Arias tells him forcefully. “It’s like Jesus said.”
That gets his attention.
“Consider the lilies of the field,” Arias says. “They neither cold-call employers nor scan the want-ads. Yet they get jobs quicker than you can say ‘the Tetrarch is my uncle.’”
She grins at the young man, and he looks back at her as though trying to memorize this important gift of wisdom.
“So!” Arias continues quickly. “The good news is that I can even predict who your tall dark stranger will be!” She releases the young man and makes a show of producing a business card with sleight-of-hand, concealing the fact that she has, in fact, translated it from its hiding place in her table’s small but hopelessly jumbled drawer. The card was hiding only in the sense that it had already managed to bury itself under several layers of other random detritus that seems to Arias to collect itself in her wake: fliers advertising local bands and poetry slams, candy wrappers, fortune cookie messages. It was easier to locate the card’s aura than it would have been to sift through all that junk.
She hands the card to the young man formally, as a Japanese businessman would do, using both hands and holding it so that he can read the card as he accepts it.
The card says:
Coulter and Associates
Talent Acquisition Specialists
the Big Boy Club, Chelsea
Sundays, 7 pm – ?
The young man looks at it, then back up to Arias.
“He’s a headhunter,” Arias says. “I mean, he can help you find a job. A very interesting young man!” Although probably not as interesting as you! “I met him a while ago. You should go visit him. In fact,” Arias glances at the red sunlight winking off the stepped windows of the CoMerica Building to the northeast, “if you hurry you can catch a shuttle to Chelsea and be there just as he’s opening! Get there before anyone else does. I know he’ll be interested to talk to you! The shuttle leaves right from in front of the Greyhound station. But come back and tell me how it goes, all right?”
After a few more nudges, the young man is out of her booth and walking back the way he came. Arias doesn’t know what might come of it, but after meeting the interesting young Mr Coulter a few weeks ago and learning that he was very hopeful of doing placements into high technology jobs she on a whim sent a note to Michael to be on the lookout for any candidates he might in future send to Triple-AI. Is this young man the reason why?
It is only after she sees him passing back through the thinning crowd of shoppers and out through the Grizzly Park gate that Arias realizes she neglected to get the young man’s name and also neglected to ask for any payment for her pretended palm reading.
She rises to finish closing up the shop and laughs when another chance breeze makes her lovely old wind chimes speak again.