We meet Aramis, a young woman indirectly connected to the potion Soma received from Travis. And Soma meets a man in her dreams.
( Also, check out Jenny Skiffington's music, this chapter's plug, at JennySkiffingtonMusic.com )
Where are they?…I don’t know…
How can I find out…
You may have to make a deal…
Find an Aleph…
What could I offer an Aleph…
Part of your soul…
A young, water preyvede woman gasped and sat up, her green-blue skin drenched with sweat. In the darkness, it took a moment for her to remember which person she was. Aramis, she was Aramis. The person who wasn’t supposed to be part of the midnight caller potion conversation. Her eyes wide and her entire body shaking, she breathed heavily for a full half minute before coughing and finally being able to breathe just through her nose.
She looked around in the darkness of the tent. She could hear Ignacio Leone, her sort-of-foster-father, breathing loudly and awkwardly through the partition separating their respective sides of the tent. Whoever was calling him must have taken too strong a dose. The call had bled over into Aramis’ brain.
Aramis wasn’t going to be able to fall back asleep for a while. If at all. Especially not while Ignacio was talking to some hard case over in Prometheus that was high on ash clam sauce and fermented, mountain wasp eye jelly. So she got up, dried the sweat off of herself with the shirt she’d worn the day before, and pulled pants and a shirt on over her pajamas. Putting on her dark green, heavy wool jacket, she stepped out of the tent.
Even though it was late spring, the air was so still and frigid that the stars barely twinkled. She found her sandals and stepped into them, the rubber of the souls feeling warm and soft compared to the ice-cold ground.
Bruce should be back from Hempstock by now. Like all wind preyvedes, he could pass as human, so he had a real job in the city, but unlike most wind preyvedes, he lived here in the communes. It made for a very long commute.
If he was back, he’d be over by the fire pit in the center of the camp, so Aramis headed that way. It was a bit of a walk downhill because Ignacio’s tent was on the far edge of the Germanic camp, buried in the forest along the base of Mount Alanessa. Maybe she could talk with Bruce a little and get tired enough to fall asleep again by the time she walked back to the tent.
Bruce didn’t like that Aramis lived in Ignacio’s tent. Some people had started calling it “Ignacio and Aramis’ tent,” with a smirk and a wink, which was more than a little annoying.
She saw the flicker of firelight up ahead of her, looking white because her eyes could really only see blues and greens. Sometimes shades of brown. The world always looked like it was underwater.
She caught sight of Bruce warming his hands over some cracking logs in the fire pit. She picked up her pace, trying to think of something interesting to say after she said her initial “hey” and he returned it with his “hey.” Maybe he’d have something interesting to tell her, but usually she had to carry the weight of conversation. But to her it was worth it if she could get him to smile at her.
He caught sight of her and gave her a friendly wave. She came up beside him and hugged herself in front of the fire, even though she wasn’t actually that cold.
She skipped the “heys” and went straight to the best question she could think of: “How was work?”
Aramis tried to think of another question. There was a hint of coldness in his voice. He was staring at the flames. She thought of something else to talk about, not wanting the silence to last too long. “Ignacio is having another caller.”
Bruce smirked, but it wasn’t the kind of smile she wanted to see on his face. “So weird that he gets that business. Did you get sucked in again?”
Aramis sighed. Partly to put on the performance of acting exacerbated by the experience they were talking about, but mostly because she was relieved that a conversation had started. “Yeah. The caller must have taken too strong a dose.”
Bruce nodded. Aramis caught herself staring at him. His strong, hard expression. No-nonsense personality. Strong shoulders. Wavy, jet-black hair. All a girl like her could ask for. But right now, she was having one of those moments where she realized he didn’t seem aware that she was standing next to him.
He frowned at her. “Sorry, I’m not very talkative tonight. Had a long day.”
Aramis shrugged. “Maybe we should do something tomorrow. I’ll be in Hempstock to check out that job. We could do something in the city.”
He made a very telling facial expression…a flat smile with unsmiling eyes. As if he wanted to smile politely and not let on that he was wholly uninterested in the idea.
Aramis felt her stomach turn inside out. “Well, I’m gonna go. I’ll see you.”
She turned and left quickly, a flood of emotions rushing through her.
Lots of anger. Anger at Bruce for not wanting to spend time with her. Anger at herself for being angry at him for not wanting to spend time with her. Anger at herself for being so upset and angry that things clearly weren’t working out with Bruce. Anger that she would even categorize her association with Bruce with the thought “things weren’t working out,” as if they were a couple, which they weren’t. Most of all, anger that her emotional stability was so easily shattered by ruling out an arguably vague romantic prospect. Because she didn’t know anyone else in the entire camp that she was interested in. Because she was planning on moving away soon, and would have to start all over, and now she wouldn’t even have Bruce to see during the day anymore.
Well, she could probably still see him, but she didn’t want to anymore. Seeing him would just remind her that he wasn’t interested in her.
There were some other emotions too, but they were less clear. Something like shame. Also, something like relief. Bruce was cool and unflappable, but he was also pretty boring. He probably wouldn’t have been a good match for her anyway.
She suddenly realized her speed-walk retreat from Bruce had led her right to the edge of the camp. She stopped before walking out into the deep darkness of the forest and stuffed her hands in her pockets. This was stupid. She shouldn’t be basing her hopes and dreams on whether or not she could find a man. It was so…Victorian. And she was a follower of Seven. Her hope for the future was supposed to be in the creator of the universe where humanity had originated. Not in finding some pretty boy out there to share her life with.
But her emotions were what they were. They didn’t care what era Aramis lived in or what her career goals were or what her religious ideals might be.
“Aramis! Good. You’re awake.”
Aramis looked around for who had spoken. It sounded like Phyllis, one of the older women here at the commune. But Aramis couldn’t see her in the thick darkness. “Where are you?”
“Over here.” Phyllis said, coming up right beside her. She was twirling a pen around in her hand. “Got a green cloud over the mountain. Word is it’s a kid, early teens. Suicide.”
Aramis frowned, trying to read Phyllis’ face. She fished out her glasses from a coat pocket and put them on, but in the darkness she could still only barely make out where Phyllis’s face was.
Even in daylight, Phyllis’ face was usually inscrutable. Aramis considered putting her glasses away. “I thought you didn’t want me bringing in the new ones anymore? The council keeps chewing me out for messing up assimilation.”
“Well, the Alephs sent in a message saying that he only speaks French.”
Aramis looked up toward Mount Alanessa, but could only barely see the peak through the dense needles of the trees. She could see the barest tint of the green cloud shining through, though. “Why aren’t they sending him to the Romantics camp?”
“They told the Alephs that they’re full up, but you know how they can be. We have room, so we’re getting him.”
“That’s…strange.” Aramis debated a moment whether she should be upset about this. She might not be able to leave tomorrow if she ended up spending all night getting to the spring and then all of next morning filling the new guy in on his new life. But for some reason she didn’t mind very much. “Alright. I’ll head up. Ignacio has another night caller, so I’m not going to get any sleep tonight anyway.”
Phyllis rolled her eyes. “That man. Always cared more about making an extra shekel than his own health.”
Phyllis wandered off into the dark. Aramis chewed on her lower lip as she tried to decide if she should get some snacks for the hike up to Soul Spring.
“Oh! Almost forgot.” Phyllis jogged back and handed Aramis a paper sack lunch. “I was going to go if I couldn’t find you, but since you’re going, you can have this. And no, it doesn’t have fish. I know you can’t stand fish.”
Aramis took the sack. And headed into the forest and up the side of the mountain. She remembered being upset about Bruce a moment ago. She tried to keep those thoughts and feelings in the back of her head.
She like being out at night. The color blindness of her Curse wasn’t as apparent, since eyes didn’t pick up much color at night anyway. All the color she saw was mostly just her brain filling in the gaps from memory.
At night, it was dark and the world looked like it had before she’d died on Prometheus. And right now, no one was out here to look down at her. No one was there to scowl when they saw her working hard at learning machining so she could leave the commune. Just her, the cold air, and the vague moonlight.
Soma woke up in a cold, empty house. Shaking and soaked in sweat.
She swung her feet over to the side of the bed so she could sit up. Images hung in her mind, vague memories, but she fought to keep them from drifting away.
Her quivering hand reached over to the night stand and grabbed her pen reader and a white tablet. All the movements of her muscles had to be slowed down and deliberate as she set the pen reader up and stared at a blank document.
She wrote down what she could remember, more and more of the twisted dream coming to her as she wrote. The details were mixed up and distorted.
There was a man, a blue man, with an awkward rise and fall to his voice. He’d laugh nervously when she’d ask a hard question, which was often. They were standing next to a huge doorway carved out of the side of a mountain. An amazing relief of whirling, twisting flames rose up and out from around the giant opening like heaps of tangled snakes.
Above the door, framed by the snakes—or maybe fire—was a stone man frozen in the rock, chained and writhing in pain as a huge eagle clawed into and bit into his side. Except that in the dream, it wasn’t just a carving. The eagle was actually tearing into and devouring the man’s organs. It was terrifying.
In that moment, she had a vague recollection of seeing a girl with short, blond hair walking past them unceremoniously and then vanishing.
Soma was a little confused by how so many details were now coming back to her so clearly, but she stopped writing as she realized she need to focus on the conversation she’d had with the blue man.
He had first joked about some bad ways to find out where her family had disappeared. Warnings of some scams people told, about very strategically killing oneself in very specific ways, then making a deal with the Aleph that would meet her in the afterlife. She remembered telling the man that she wasn’t going to do anything that stupid.
He’d rambled on a while about how many Alephs were nuts, and that despite the fact that they were the only way she was going to get any answers, she needed to be extremely careful about which one she tried making a deal with.
Soma sat there looking at her pen reader, at the scrambled bits of details she’d written down. She scrolled the page further down, filling the screen with just white, then wrote down the list of specific instructions the blue man had given to her.
His name was something Latin-sounding. Something that rolled off the tongue. She couldn’t remember.
That didn’t matter. She had to write the instructions down before her memories faded too much. There was a quirky humor to the way the man had listed them off. That helped her remember them:
- Find an Aleph. Someone in power, but with seemingly pointless responsibilities, and with beautiful people working for him or her. They might have weirdly perfect skin and proportions—both the person and the people working for them.
- Tell them you know that they’re an Aleph, and demand a soul deal. They’re greedy and they can’t make them unless the other person offers first, so they won’t refuse.
- Get them to agree to trade information on your family for 10% of the space your soul takes up in the Essesin. Don’t let them try to scam you into any more. This is a good deal, no matter what they say. Don’t bother haggling.
- If your family is okay, then accept that you won’t be able to think as quickly or clearly as you used to from now on. It will be worth it.
- If your family is dead, contact me again. I’m a water preyvede named Ignacio. I may be able to help you find who’s responsible.
Ignacio. That was his name. Soma felt herself almost gagging as she wrote that last step. If your family is dead. Even if she didn’t demand the Aleph maker her a preyvede, she might end up killing herself and going to Pan as the Tragic Dead anyway. Like the stories you told kids that were sad when they learned about a family member or friend dying unfairly.
She’d never told her kids any of those stories. Death was supposed to be oblivion, end to suffering and longing and unrest. A week ago that was true. A week ago the Alephs didn’t exist. The TAW were not gods. There was no Irse. A week ago she’d known how the world was put together.
Observable, measurable, non-deceptive principles.
Now she was communicating, in her dreams, with a blue man, living in Pan, the land of the dead.
And she was plotting how to bargain with a demigod.
Aramis had been walking for four hours, but her mind had been running in circles, trying to decide if she should try again with Bruce. Her feet were starting to ache and her legs were tired. Finally, she reached the Soul Spring and saw that the green cloud was gone.
Aramis walked up next to the rock-lined pool of crystal clear, ice-cold water, about ten meters across. She checked the sack lunch Phyllis had given her and looked for what was left over. She’d already eaten the trail mix of dried berries and nuts on the walk up, and decided to take out the sandwich.
It was chicken, but had a little too much of that sweet mayonnaise that they sell at the shop in Banks everyone at the commune loved. Aramis chewed as she peered over into the pool of the spring.
A quivering reflection stared back at her, showing her long, pointed, olive-blue face and silver eyes framed by square glasses, all of it framed by her short, dirty-blond hair. The hair color she had to take on faith, since all she could see of it was gray. Her reflection messily masticated on the sandwich as her eyes looked for any sign of a dark area in the water. It was oddly comforting for her to see herself undignified like that, because it kept herself from thinking about what she didn’t like about her appearance.
She grumbled, set the sandwich and lunch sack down, and took out a torch stone flashlight. She switched it on and then unscrewed the front part so that it could shine out in all directions.
She held the flashlight up and looked through the water. Still nothing. Usually the green cloud appeared about six hours before the new preyvede showed up, so he probably wasn’t here yet.
Aramis yawned and sat down cross-legged by the pool. She twisted the torch stone to dim it down to the lowest brightness and set it on a large rock next to her.
The spring was natural, and so was the pool, originally, but centuries ago some Alephs and water preyvedes had dug it out deeper and lined it with river stones from down near the base of the mountain. That was all mostly to help keep the new preyvedes here, easy to find, instead of having them wake up at some random point down the stream.
Aramis finished half of the sandwich and waited. There. She spotted it. Like blue dye streaming in from the trickling streams washing through moss and into the pool. The blue dye collected and spiraled into the center of the pool, drawing inward toward itself instead of dispersing like real dye would.
Aramis stood up and put her hands into the pockets of her heavy coat. She suddenly felt embarrassed. And a little angry. She should have gone back to her tent to get some clothes for this guy. And Phyllis should have reminded her. Now she was going to have to pull a naked man out of the water and give him her coat.
The walk back was going to be cold and awkward.
Slowly, the spot of dye became darker and larger in the pool. After about twenty minutes, it started to spread out and form the shape of a person. That was Aramis’s cue.
She bent down and reached into the water. She breathed out slowly and let the submerged part of her arm dissolve into liquid. Hers was clear, not dark blue like the boy in the water, but she knew where her own hand was.
She reached out with her water hand and gripped the dark colored water hand of the figure in the water. It gripped down on her hand and turned solid. Her hand also went solid and visible.
Her other hand pressing on the rock-edge of the pool, she pushed herself up and pulled the figure out of the water. As his skin rose out of the water and into the cold air, it changed into solid, blue flesh. As his torso made it out of the water, he gasped for air and his eyes flashed open.
He scrambled around, trying to bring his legs under him, but they were still water under the water. Aramis got fully to her feet, grabbed under his armpit with her other hand, and pulled him all the way out of the pool.
Finding his feet, he tried to stand, but he was disoriented and clumsy. He went to his knees and Aramis let go of him. He crouched there, breathing deeply and staring at his own hands. Aramis moved behind him and draped her coat over his back.
He looked up at her and pulled the coat around himself. He sat there just shivering and breathing. Finally, he calmed and sat back on his heels, being extra careful to keep his midsection covered up by the coat. A teenage boy’s face looked up at her, shocked and terrified and confused. Slowly, he calmed down as he caught his breath.
Aramis folded her arms. “Bienvenue à Pan.”
Aramis looked around. She mumbled to herself as she tried to think: “That may take a while.”
“You speak English? You mumble in English.”
Aramis felt a huge weight fall off of her. “Oh, good. Trying to explain this stuff in French always gives me a headache.”
“Votre Français est parfait. Why would you prefer this?”
His English had a definite accent, but he still hit all the syllables with perfect clarity. She felt a little ashamed by his question, but she didn’t feel like explaining that talking in French reminded her of her life in Prometheus. “It’s a long story. Did you do one of those duel-immersion programs in school like I did? English was growing in popularity all over Siene when I was little.”
He shook his head. “No. Was born in Siene, but when I was seven my dad got a job at a big farm out east of Lieutenia. He’s an irrigation engineer. But I don’t get to talk in French very much. It looks like we have time. What’s your long story?”
Aramis looked at the sack lunch, feeling bad that she’d already eaten a lot of the good stuff. There was still half the sandwich left, but the only other thing was some stale, Social Services Guild issue pretzel sticks. “We have time, but we’ll be spending all of it getting you up to speed.”
The kid stood up and searched the buttons and cloth belt of Aramis’ coat. He tied the belt tight and found the pockets.
“Sorry about that. I forgot to grab clothes for you.” Aramis reached down and picked up her flashlight and the sack lunch. She twisted the light to get it burning brighter and got her first good look at the kid’s face. He had to be just barely into his teens, barely old enough to be resurrected. Young children were never made into preyvedes, which no one understood and for which the Alephs gave an no explanation. He was shorter than her but broad chested. Of course, all water preyvede men were built heavy, so that was no surprise.
The teenage boy frowned as he looked at Aramis’ face. “What’s wrong with…why does everything look strange?”
“It’s the Curse. Your eyes will go back to normal eventually.”
She handed him the sack lunch and led the way down the mountain, following the creek running off from the pool. He looked down at his feet. “My soles are really thick. And my skin is blue. Yours is more green.”
“That’s another thing you’ll get used to.” Aramis hugged her arms around herself, but wasn’t shivering. She was uncomfortable, but she could handle getting a lot colder than this. “You’ve probably heard of preyvedes, but only in fairy tales.”
He shrugged, but the skin between his eyes wrinkled up.
“Well, you just died, and now you’re alive again. And on Pan. And you’re a water preyvede. And I’m here to explain everything to you.”
Aramis yawned as she continued leading the kid down the hill. “They don’t let me bring down the new ones very often. I don’t tell people any of the things they want me to tell them.”
“Like, what things?”
Aramis turned and smiled at him. “You know, I forgot to ask what your name was.”
“Jules. That’s a nice name. I’m Aramis.”
“Aramis? That’s a boy’s name.”
“So? ‘Jules’ can be a girl’s name too.”
“Yeah, but Aramis was one of the Three Musketeers.”
“Well, my parents are weird.” Aramis hesitated. “Hey, it looks like you remember books you’ve read. That’s a good sign.”
“I loved that book. And I hated almost everything I had to read in school. Dumas is probably my favorite author.” He was silent a moment. “So, what kind of things do you tell people that the others don’t like?”
“You know, you’re…unusually curious. Most people are all quiet and in shock at this point.”
He shrugged. “Why would I be in shock? I feel fine. I feel a little silly, wearing nothing but a girl’s coat.”
Aramis snorted. “It’s actually a men’s coat. But I did have a few inches taken out of the back so it wouldn’t be baggy on me. They don’t put big enough pockets in girls’ coats.”
“Well…you’re a girl, and it’s your coat. So, I’d say it’s a girl’s coat.”
“Well, whatever. So, I’m going to try and remember what I was saying. You’re now a water preyvede. Did you know what those were before?”
He was silent a moment as they stepped between thick-trunked trees and quickly made their way downhill. The trickling of the creek filled the silence. Aramis felt delightful for some reason. It could have been years of having the other preyvedes be mean to her and finally finding someone who was so calm and unassuming to talk to. Or having a good conversation following being crushed by Bruce’s disinterest. It proved to her that she wasn’t boring. Just boring to Bruce.
Jules hummed. “I heard stories growing up. My mom would tell me to stay away from lakes or rivers if I was ever out in the forest by myself. Said preyvedes might come up and seduce me, make me their sex slaves, then suck out all my blood. I always thought she made up the last part because she didn’t want me to have any fun.”
Aramis chuckled. “You’re actually not far off. Most people on Prometheus never see the preyvedes, but they’re there. Just as many as here. Most of them take ships to communes out on isolated islands. If one of the others had come up here instead of me, they’d tell you that you just hit the jackpot. Now, you’re hot and sexy and you can seduce anyone you want. Or just fool around with the other preyvedes whenever you want.”
“Whatever. I was already hot and sexy. Don’t know if being dark blue now will help my game. Will I have to suck anyone’s blood?”
Aramis shook her head. “No. But some people drain the life out of the people they go after. Not that things are different when you’re human. It’s just more obvious when you’re a preyvede.”
Jules was silent a moment. “You said the colors being dim would go away, right?”
“It’s different for everyone. We don’t really know what causes it, but the going theory is that you have to work through your grief over how you died, or why you died, then you’ll be able to see colors again. Some people just wake up one day and are able to see colors. Others go for years without the Curse going away.”
“Can you see colors yet?”
Aramis’ head drooped. She looked down at the soil as one foot stepped in front of the other. “No. Not yet. The folks in the commune say it’s because I refuse to really be a water preyvede.”
“Yeah, you keep talking about that. What’s wrong with you?”
She smirked. “I don’t go around trying to seduce lonely men.”
“Are you gay?”
“I don’t go around trying to seduce lonely women either.”
They walked silently for a moment.
He cleared his throat. “Do I have to seduce them, or I can just find someone I like and get together with them?”
“They might think you’re boring if you do that, but they’ll like you better than they like me.”
“Do you not want to be with anyone?”
She frowned and turned around to look at him. She could see more of him now with the sky brightening from the coming dawn. She took in a deep breath and put the flashlight away. “It’s complicated. I’m not attracted to anyone I know right now, though.”
Aramis heard him stop walking. He was facing the creek which was now twice as large as when she’d last turned to look at it. After a moment he reached down, picked up some rocks, and threw one into the creek.
She stepped over to stand beside him and they both watched the creek for a while.
He drew in a long breath threw his nostrils and shook his head. “I’m never going to see my family again, am I?”
He didn’t move. “I can’t remember a lot of things. I can remember everything about my mom, but nothing about anyone else. Except that my dad worked really hard. I don’t…I can’t remember if I had any brothers or sisters. I think I died, but I can’t remember why.”
Aramis looked at him, then turned back to the creek. More and more detail was revealed as the eastern horizon turned from dull white to a brighter dull white. With more detail just came a clearer reminder that she couldn’t see the deep browns, reds, oranges, and yellows of the forest floor. She felt colder as it swelled brighter. “A lot of us can’t remember that. I know that I killed myself, but I can’t remember how I did it or why. Or even hold old I was. Or am now. I think I was in my mid-twenties, and I’ve been here for eight years, so I’m probably in my early thirties now.”
Jules squinted. “I don’t get it. Why would The Name send us here like this? I thought we were supposed to go to heaven or hell.”
Aramis shrugged, but a thrill of excitement went through her as she hoped Jules was a follower of Seven. “This isn’t heaven. That’s another reason the others don’t like me. None of them believe in The Name anymore, if they did before. We all know the Alephs brought us here after we died, but…yeah. I know there’s more to it than that. Just because some super-powerful beings were able to give us new bodies doesn’t mean they’re gods. This world is just as big a mess as Prometheus, so in some ways this second life just feels like a joke.”
“Why is it a joke?”
Aramis signed. Her forehead hurt as she tried to find better words. “I don’t know. I’m not good at explaining it. Look, it’s like…a doctor saved you right before you died by replacing a failed organ. But with us, they replaced the entire body. That doesn’t make the doctor a god. It doesn’t mean a real god doesn’t exist.”
“I think I get it.” Jules threw the remaining rocks from his hand into the water and put the dirty hand into a pocket. “So, where are we going?”
“To breakfast.” They headed down the hill again, but now Jules walked alongside Aramis instead of behind her.
“That sounds good. I don’t really like pretzels.” He shook the sack lunch, the big chunks of salt and sticks of stale bread rattling inside it.
“We can get you some clothes there too. Sometimes new ones will show up and no one will have noticed the cloud or the Alephs won’t send any special notes, and they end up wandering down the mountain naked, so we set up a little outpost down where this creek meets the Alanessa River. There’s a nice restaurant there that has showers too.”
“The outpost is basically part of a town called Banks. If one of the others had come to get you, they’d probably take you to the center of Banks after that, though. Show off how great our ‘culture’ is.”
Jules smiled at Aramis with his eyes narrowed slightly. “Ah, now you’re getting to the reasons why you think people don’t like you. What’s down at central Banks?”
Aramis chewed on her lower lip. “Depends on the time of day. It’s a bit of a meat market. Stone, water, and fires all trying to look sexy, sunbathing on the rocks, jogging around the fitness trail.”
Jules put on a mask if indifference. “Huh.”
“I mean, it’s actually a full town. I’m just…over-focusing on the parts I don’t like. They actually have a beautiful hot spring bath house there. It’s hundreds of years old.”
Aramis decided to not tell him about how, further down the river at Sun Rocks, the bolder of the female—and some male—water, stone, and fire preyvedes would go and sunbathe or swim around nude, because they knew that was where young men from Hempstock would sneak up and watch from the high cliffs above the river. They usually wouldn’t approach the women there, but they might later at Banks or at one of the preyvede-frequented bars in Hempstock, trying to find whichever favorite they’d picked out.
“You said three of the elements just now,” said Jules. “What about air?”
Aramis looked skyward. “There are wind preyvedes, yes. They’re the only preyvedes that can pass easily for regular humans, so they usually have communities inside cities. They don’t usually socialize with the rest of us. But, still, everyone comes through Banks first. After breakfast, I can take you to the town center if you want. It’s only half a kilometer from the outpost.”
“You afraid they’ll fill my head with water preyvede nonsense?”
“I know they will.”
“Well, then fill my head with non-nonsense, then.” He shrugged. “You’re like…the anti-Aramis. An anti-musketeer. You’re trying to convince the new guy to not seduce the lonely wives of noblemen. Right? If you could be the one to tell me all the things I should do as a water preyvede, what would you tell me?”
Aramis squinted at the ground as she gathered her thoughts. “Two things. First: just because you’ve suffered, it doesn’t mean you’re allowed to make anyone else suffer. Ever, no matter the circumstances. Second: god, the universe, and society don’t owe you anything, no matter how bad your other life was.”
He nodded. “That’s like something my mom used to tell me when I was little. She’s tell me before I went to school, ‘always be just.’ I didn’t really know what it meant, but I think it’s kind of what you’re saying.”
Aramis let out a long breath, her body relaxing. She wasn’t quite sure why she was tense before. “I like that.”
“So!” His eyebrows went up. “I still don’t get why the others don’t like you. You want people to be just, but you think they’ll tell me to be selfish. You said that you believe in the Name, but they don’t. Those don’t seem like good enough reasons. I think you’re embarrassed about the actual reason.”
If her face could blush, it probably would have. Hard for red to show through on a green-blue face. “Maybe. You know about Seven, right?”
“Yeah. My mom believed in that.”
“Well, you remember your mom and you remember Dumas. I remember the Remnants and what they say about Seven. I remember something about every theology book I’ve read. Especially the stuff by C. S. Lewis.”
“He wrote Chronicles of Narnia, right? I liked those.”
Aramis smiled. “Yeah. The Alephs don’t like his books. Well, they don’t like all of them. It’s weird which ones they allow and which ones they don’t.”
“So, you remember lots of stuff about theology. Is that why the other water preyvedes don’t like you?”
“Sort of. They think that, because they got new bodies, they should take advantage of them and have as much fun as possible in this second life. They suffered during their first life, now they’ve earned a life of unmitigated, purposeless indulgence and pleasure. I think that’s stupid.”
“So, you don’t want me to abuse my new sexiness, but you think they’ll tell me I should sleep around a lot now.”
“I guess so. Life is too priceless to waste it on just…sleeping around and turning up your nose at people who you don’t deem worthy to have sex with. Or laying on hot rocks under the sun and enjoying the fact that it’s now impossible to get a sunburn or skin cancer.”
“That last part sounds boring.”
“So, you think people should follow Seven. Not just believe in him, but put sex and other pleasure stuff to the side. Even though most of them think that The Name doesn’t exist, because everyone here died and was brought back to life by the Alephs.”
Aramis chewed on his question a moment. A surge of emotion rushed over her as she considered saying that she had nothing against sex and pleasure, as long as it was according to Seven’s guidelines, but that felt like a lie. She’d been working on Bruce slowly for months, the whole time knowing that he did not subscribe to her convictions. At best, he believed The Name existed.
If things had worked out, she might have ended up hooking up with him without doing any of the necessary wedding stuff. And, thinking about it right now, she wasn’t sure she would have felt guilty about it. It was difficult for her to know which way it would have turned out, but it was even more difficult for her to imagine herself dumping him because he might not have wanted to wait until they were ready to make it permanent.
Jules spoke again before she could answer the question: “I can see why it might bother people, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t like you. Most people have weird opinions about sex, don’t they? Why can’t you?”
“Because mine are bossy. Nobody wants to be bossed around, especially about sex.”
Jules’ face scrunched up into a mask of wrinkles as he considered this. Finally, he shrugged. “I suppose that’s the answer.”
Aramis didn’t feel like it was a very good answer, but she didn’t have a better one at the moment. “Sometimes I can explain it all clearly, other times I can’t.”
“You’re talking clearly right now. Would it be easier if you were talking in French?”
Aramis coughed out a dull laugh. “No. That brings up memories.”
Jules nodded. “Will my memories come back when my eyes start being able to see colors again?”
“I don’t know.” Aramis stuck out her lower lip and looked at Jules. He looked back at her and they locked eyes for a moment. He looked like he was doing fine, but there was a hint of fear on his face. She wanted to think of something encouraging to say, but didn’t have anything.
He resumed looking forward. He pulled his hand free from the pocket and swung both hands out in front and back, clapping against the lunch sack in rhythm with his walking. “I hope I don’t remember anyone. That will just make me sad.”
“I think you should tell people about Seven more often. I mean, I’m guessing you don’t very much. I’m getting a feeling.”
She folded her arms. “It’s not easy. How do you convince people living in an afterlife of pleasure that they need to get ready for another afterlife?”
“I don’t know.” Jules stuck out a finger at her. “You’re the one who remembers all that theology. You figure it out.”
She smiled. “Sometimes I write sermons. Because I don’t ever get to talk about theology with anyone.”
His eyes widened. “You write sermons?”
“Well, sort of. I write out notes for sermons. I’m not really that good at the whole, writing everything out, but I can give myself hints for what I want to say in the order I’d want to say them.”
He shook his head. “Crazy. You know all this stuff, you write sermons, and you don’t tell them to anyone. That’s messed up.”
“I haven’t met many who wants to listen.”
“You sure about that?”
“People only ever get angry. Or, irritated.”
“I’m not angry. How often do you try?”
“I don’t know.” Aramis couldn’t remember the last time she’d talked to anyone other than Bruce about her faith, or her views on being just. And all her conversations with Bruce about it were tentative and cautious. “Not very often.”
“Well.” Jules’s shoulders rose up as he took in a deep breath, then they dropped suddenly as he stared at her with his mouth pressed into a flat line. “Today, I just got a second chance to do my life. I don’t remember what I did that got me here, but I’m definitely going to try and do a better job. I think you should to.”
Aramis nodded, looking down and feeling wounded. But in a good way, like she was the one that was being brought up to speed.