Chapter 38: Possession
As Sabonis and the others look on, aghast, Bianca peels her mouth from mine, rolls off of me and onto the floor. She goes limp and stares into space, eyelids quivering.
“Dan! You okay?” says Sabonis. “What’d she do to you?”
The thing that Bianca has transferred to me dissolves and disperses to every cranny and pore of my being. A crystalline, amphetamine-like alertness expands through my head and thrums my body. I lay flat on the ground, but feel like I am hovering. I feel more hale and whole than I have ever felt before.
Bianca looks like a deflated balloon, her form all warped and blotched with dim patches. Slowly her stretched parts contract, bits of wayward anatomy slide back into place, and she recovers her former shape.
One by one, doors slam shut in the closets and back rooms of my mind. Anxieties fall silent under the garrote of a stealthy murderer. I remember worrying about some girl, but I can’t remember who or where. My own name eludes me until the guy with the beard—Sabonis—reminds me.
“Dan!” he says. “Say something. You okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say. “I’m doing great.”
My soul is a palimpsest, not clear, but retaining only faint traces of what came before.
“Your eyes look funny,” says Sabonis. “Like there’s something missing. What the fuck did you do to him, Bi?”
Bianca’s chin droops. Her eyes evade Sabonis.’ “I had to do it,” she says. “I had no choice.”
“Do what? What was that thing you gave him?”
“A piece … a tiny piece … of the Primentor’s will,” says Bianca. “She couldn’t reach him on her own. Not on Lethe. She needed a vector.”
“Jesus Christ. Why’d you go and do that to the poor kid?”
“I had no choice,” says Bianca. “Now, neither does he.”
I rise to my feet. It feels like the momentum carries vertically and I have the perception of flying, but I look down and see that my feet still touch the ground.
There is no question of what I want to do next. I want to climb that mountain. I want to Ascend. There was no other possibility anymore.
“Are you ready?” asks Bianca.
“Ready? For what?” says Sabonis. “Aw, you ain’t making off with him, are you?”
“Yes I am. Daniel wants to Ascend now, don’t you Daniel?”
I look at her as if her question was moot and nod.
“That’s it kid?” says Sabonis. “You’re giving up?”
“Ooh yeah! I’m done,” I say. It comes out sounding all giddy and loopy.
Sabonis looks grim. His eyes flit my way but don’t linger.
“I truly had no choice,” says Bianca. “I was on the verge of Falling.”
“Whatever,” says Sabonis. “Take him. He’s no use to me now.”
“I’m so sorry, Marco. Take care,” says Bianca as she takes my hand. Her touch feels light and firm and surprisingly warm.
“Come,” she says and we head for the stairs.
We have climbed well above Cato’s path overlooking Zion. My head is blissfully free of pain and pressure. I sense not a hint of what had crippled me before.
For the first time since my death, I fear not what lies before me. I am going where I am meant to be and I long to reach it. It feels like my first day at college, or getting my first job offer. All upside, no downside yet in view.
Figures dash through the orchards in pursuit of another. The man with the beard is knocked down and set upon with coils of rope. The presence modulating my emotions quenches the kernel of sympathy that arises. I turn to climb. I don’t look back.
Bianca leads me diagonally up the headwall, into the wind. We surmount one ridge and traverse another to reach the windward face of Abdiel and the main body of Ascenders.
My thoughts muddle. Every time my synapses attempt to aggregate, something swoops in and blows them apart, like dust. Something, someone doesn’t want me to think. It wants me clear, and for the most part I comply.
But I find a work-around, a way to carve out bits of consciousness for my own. When thoughts float free, forming and dissipating like fog, the presence remains at bay. It lets me think in pieces.
We enter the first ragged ranks of naked Ascenders. We have already gone higher than what I achieved the first day. The people on these slopes are well along into the clearing process.
I can tell, just from people’s eyes who died young and who died old. The old souls seem more human, less abstract. They have more to forget.
“What’s Elysium like?” The question slips out without premeditation.
My internal censor makes no attempt to nip this thought.
“It’s probably not what you expect,” says Bianca.
“I don’t … expect … anything,” I say.
“I’m sure you don’t expect that Elysium is alive, anyway. That it is a living creature.”
The idea troubles me, but not for long. Soon I am blank again and returned to bliss.
There is nothing but lichen and stone surrounding us now. The orb ends another cycle. The mountainside dims.
“We will walk all through the night, yes?” says Bianca.
“Of course,” one part of me says, even though the larger part wants to rest.
We meander through the darkness passing rank after rank of Ascenders. I stay close to Bianca. She sheds a soft glow, enough to show me where to step. She seems to see just fine in the dark, commenting on things even beyond the reach of her glow.
Holding Bianca’s hand is like grasping a blast of pressurized air—I feel more force than substance. My fingers can close only so far, though, before being met by a firm resistance.
My new found stamina astounds me. I can climb forever without needing to stop. I breathe like a locomotive, my heart chugs, but my body shows no signs of quitting.
Bianca tells me of the Seraphim, painting a picture by describing what they are not. They are not angels in any familiar sense. She implies that they’ve always been Seraphim, never alive, never even human like us, though I get the impression that she doesn’t really know for sure. Thoughts of Elysium, apparently, escape redaction by my internal censor.
“What about God? Who is God?” I want to say but my symbiont aborts the words before my lips can form them.
Bianca tells me of the repositories of human knowledge in Elysium, where all creative works performed or unperformed, published or unpublished reside, those accessible to billions as well as those squirreled away in attics. The scrolls of the library of Alexandria are there, she says, the ones that Omar, the Third Caliph of Islam, ordered burned to fuel public baths.
“You will learn the true story of humanity. Why we are here. You will see history in a new light.”
I don’t care. Bianca is trying to sell me on Elysium, but I am already sold, and have been ever since she shared that potent kiss on the floor of Yoshiko’s courtyard.
There are those called Transcendents, she says—souls who continue the arts they excelled at in life beside other unearthly arts too abstruse for her to describe. She says I will likely become a Somnite at first—a cell in the Elysial organism, placing my soul in the service of my clan.
I smile and listen and nod. All that matters to me is getting up this mountain.
When the light returns, we find ourselves on a narrow hogback ridge. It soars like a flying buttress against the windward face of Mt. Abdiel. To my left, below, I can see the chalky lines of breakers and the beaches where I came ashore.
The wind tries to blast us off the ridge crest. Crystals of hoar frost crack and tinkle against the stones. My fingers are stiff, my hair frosted, but I don’t feel the cold. Something deep inside me keeps me warm.
Fingers of mist poke down from the unbroken bank above us. We climb into the thick of the mist, and I’m blind again, with only Bianca’s glow and the stone at me feet to ground me.
The ceiling brightens. We break into the clear with a wash of orb light and a cottony sea of cloud tops. The glistening trapezoid of Abdiel’s summit causes my heart to surge. My symbiont approves. Its claws ease off my mind.
The hogback merges with Abiel’s face. We join the main body of Ascenders coming up the windward slopes. Ascendants have funneled together onto these upper slopes such that it’s difficult to pass among them without stepping on fingers, toes and faces.
Guides are thick in these parts, working hard to coax their charges onward.
Though most maintain an air of serenity on the brink of coma, one woman seems distressed. She clutches a ragged strip of cloth against her breast.
“I’ve told you, no possessions,” says her Guide.
“Please,” says the woman. “I found it on the beach.”
“I can’t believe you would let that dirty old rag hold you back.”
“But it’s all I have. I’ll have nothing,” says the woman.
The encounter makes me wonder. I whisper to Bianca. “I have a dress.”
“I’ve noticed,” says Bianca. “Not for long, you won’t.”
Unlike the woman, I am not bothered by the prospect of losing the only thing I own. I am ready to shed it now.
The essence of my existence whittles down to reaching the top of that mountain, but the last pitch separating us from the top is as exposed and treacherous a slope as I have ever climbed. In life, I would have been too chicken to climb it without belay and pitons.
Ascenders cling to the slick face of the mountain like cockroaches to a wall. My symbiont twinges at the image, but lets me process the experience as I wish, un-throttled, so long as the joy of Ascending continues to fill me.
We climb steadily, one foot after the other. Billions of footsteps have worn shallow depressions in the stone. Ice clogs every crack and crevice. I plant each step with care. My excitement rises.
“We’re almost there,” says Bianca. She’s looking quite well now, her body almost as pristine and shapely as when I first met her on the beach.
We punch through a cornice into the thigh deep snow of the summit ridge. The wind-scoured, bare stone of the ultimate peak lies up a gentle slope through heavily trampled snow. I see something dark mounded there beside some squat, squarish structures.
I let out a whoop, expecting it to echo down the slopes, but the wind smothers it.
I stare across the sea of clouds to the dark cone of the volcano above the Rift. Hundreds of grey wisps trail across its slopes like an army of wraiths. Farther out, I spy the tiny pyramid of a promontory at the terminus of Dilmun.“Come,” says Bianca. “We’re on the threshold of Elysium. There is just one more step … one tiny step.”