They decided to use one of the island’s interview rooms; the same one previously used by Webber to debrief Lucas.
Trying not to squirm, Lucas kept his hands on the table, staring back at Elaina, who appeared entirely composed, perhaps even ladylike. Two marines were on the other side of the doorway, made to stand outside, for the sake of keeping their meeting classified. Despite that, it was no secret to either Elaina or Lucas that Toth, Logan, and Eugene were observing from the other side of the one-way mirror.
The stage was set, Lucas told himself. Watching Elaina, he waited for the only real actor to at last deliver her lines.
“Before we begin,” she said, “you need to understand that the things you really want to know are out of your grasp.”
Furrowing his brow, Lucas said, “You told me you could answer my questions.”
“I’ll help you understand everything you can, but you need to know that there are some things that are inherently unthinkable—at least for human beings.” Adjusting her glasses, she crossed one leg over the other, enjoying her lack of physical restraints. “The principle of sufficient reason—this delusion humanity picked up in the Enlightenment, that they possess the faculties necessary to crack any mystery the universe hands them, given enough time—it’s patently false. That may sound strange, since everyone’s simply swallowed it without question, but it’s a proposition someone has to take on faith alone. It’s also demonstrably false.”
Raising his hand a little, Lucas stopped her. “I don’t care about epistemology.”
“Nice word. Very much like you to use it.”
Ignoring her, he continued, “I get that I’m asking some heady questions, and maybe they’re too much for me. But what is it I need to understand?” He paused, considering his phrasing. “What can I understand? What’s going to help me?”
Elaina’s baseline smile arched further; she seemed pleased.
“You already have your answers,” she told him, “you just haven’t connected the dots yet.”
“So how do we do that?”
“For starters, think about synchronicity. Psychologically speaking, such a brain state is tantamount to losing your sense of self. You’re no longer some ego sitting between the ears and just behind the eyes. In a word, you wake up from the illusion of selfhood.”
Waiting quietly, Elaina gave Lucas a moment to consider this. She wanted him to unpack her statement, he realized, though he wasn’t sure where to begin.
“If selfhood is an illusion,” he began cautiously, “how would that lead to synchronicity?”
“ ‘I celebrate myself’,” she recited off the cuff, “ ‘and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.’ The one thing we try to forget, and we’ve been very successful in doing so, is that we do not come into this world from some other realm. The fact is that the world grows into us. If you wanted to be hokey, you might say we’re ‘one with the universe,’ but it would be more accurate to say we are the universe. Think of your own body, what you think is some distinct object floating in any given space; the carbon in you came from supernovas billions of years ago, and the hydrogen in you was present at the Big Bang. Your cells are constantly dying and replicating, at varying rates, and the atoms in your body trade out with others, going back out into the world they came from in exchange for others. People pretend they’re ants climbing across a thread; so few of them ever consider the fact that they’re just knots in that thread.”
“ ‘Walt Whitman, a kosmos’ ,” Lucas recited back to her, causing Elaina to beam with satisfaction. “That was a poem of Whitman’s, right? ‘Song of Myself’?”
Elaina nodded with her wide smile, then said, “ ‘Synchronicity’ is just a bloated term for when a person realizes that they’re made of the very same stuff as the universe others like them pretend to be separate from. And the reason we don’t live in a constant state of ‘synchronicity’ is because of this anomaly which exists in countless pinches of the universe, a strange sense of being distinguishable from the universe.”
“Consciousness?” Lucas asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“Bingo,” Elaina said. “A ‘psychic’ is just a person who’s neurologically capable of negating the brain functions that contribute to that illusion; ‘synchronicity’ is the natural result of that self-negation.”
Leaving her thought there, Elaina became quiet again, wordlessly inviting Lucas to keep unpacking the thought. Obligingly, he looked down at the table, considering her words.
“That would mean,” he ventured, “that psychics are never really moving things, but…”
“But that the universe is moving itself,” she said for him, bridging her hands on the table and resting her head. “Your ego, the barrier between one portion of the universe and the rest of itself, dissolves—if only a little bit.”
Lucas puzzled over this for some time, then brought himself back to his real question. “And what does this have to do with the Q or the singularities?”
“You’re asking the right questions,” Elaina told him, her smiling widening. “I had a feeling this would be pleasant.”
Not bothering to speak, Lucas’ only response was to stare back at her, prompting her to get to her point.
“Psychics aren’t fundamentally different from other humans,” she explained. “They differ, yes, but more in degree, not in kind.”
“When a psychic loses selfhood—when they ‘achieve synchronicity,’ or whatever—it’s a controlled instance of self-extinction, a self-induced dissolution of consciousness. The difference between psychics and other humans isn’t that the former can do this and the latter can’t, but that the latter does the very same as the former, only with less control and… well, different results.”
A numbing chill crackled down Lucas’ skin—he recognized what she was saying. This was exactly what Sera had told him before.
“The bottom-line is that people lose themselves,” he said, reasoning things out for himself. “For psychics, they achieve synchronicity. But in the case of humanity at large…”
Lulling with some deep pleasure, Elaina eyed him, then said, “The Q are manifestations of humanity’s nightmares, their most suppressed agonies and impulses—wrath, dread, suffering, death.”
“Is that why the Q are trying to kill us?” Lucas asked. “Because they’re… personifications of our darkest thoughts?”
Her smile fading a little, Elaina leaned back in her chair, arms folded. “No, that’s not quite it. It’s not that the Q are trying to kill humans; it’s that humans want to kill themselves. The Q are humanity’s own suicidal thoughts incarnate.”
“And the singularities?” he pressed.
“They’re much the same, though they’re obviously less articulate. The singularities preceded the Q as a vague, unfocused destrudo.” Her smile morphing into a little smirk, she said, “The Q aren’t aliens or monsters from another dimension, and the singularities aren’t the handiwork of some malevolent outside force. When the barrier between the ego and the universe at large perforates, singularities and Q are what leak out.”
Keeping up with her, Lucas said, “That doesn’t explain how this started in the first place. Humans have been around for millions of years. Why did these perforations only start in 1987?”
“We may be brushing against a wall,” Elaina said. “It’s a good question, but the answer may be a mystery beyond all our supposed ‘reason’.”
Lucas tried another approach. “How about the Q, then? You make it sound as if they’re universal representations of what humanity as a whole wants…” He narrowed his eyes at her. “What if it’s only a few who want to die off?”
Shaking her head, her smile returning, Elaina said, “You’re still thinking of humans as individuals. While that may be useful in a practical sense, on this scale, and with everyone’s selfhood splitting at the seams…” She anchored her eyes on him, then added, “You’re still not quite getting the big picture here.”
“Maybe I consider it ‘beyond’ me.”
“Charming, but it’s actually quite simple. You mostly get how the Q and the singularities showed up, but you’re still thinking of them as purely human products, as if humans themselves are still distinguishable from the universe.” She gave him a moment to consider that, then leaned over the table, raising a single finger between her face and his. “Parts didn’t create other parts; the whole simply did something new. The Q aren’t humanity’s personal nightmares, they’re the collective angst of a universe that’s in the process of waking up.”
Pulling away from her, not bothering to hide his irritation, Lucas said, “Then doesn’t that derail your little theory?”
“Not at all,” she said, returning to her own seat.
“If the Q aren’t just a human problem, but a universal one, then that whole angst and dread thing you talked about—it can’t be universal.”
“If the universe created the Q, then it also created us—psychics.” Lucas’ face hardened, his defiance evident, but this only seemed to please Elaina all the more.
“Then maybe you do see it,” she said, leaning forward on her elbows. “It would seem that psychics mark a deep uncertainty in the mind of God, wouldn’t you say?”
Lucas felt a pinch within himself. “You mentioned ‘God’ before…”
“I know it’s difficult for you to hear that word and not slip into absurdity,” she told him, her tone softening, leaving him to wonder if she might be teasing him.
“Before, you mentioned my father,” he said bluntly, his own tone hardening. “You said he somehow slipped the knot of all those fairytales. But my dad still believed in God.”
“We’re both right, really,” Elaina said. “You’re just like both your father and me in this very way, having ‘slipped the knot’ of God the imaginary friend—the omni-everything superman, the cosmic-alpha who saves his people and punishes the wicked and just so happens to validate everything we already think and believe.” She cocked her head, inspecting him again, as if to ask if that was close enough to the mark. “That God is a fake, and you and me—we see it. Your father saw it, too. The only difference between me and Richard Weir on the one hand, and you on the other, is that you think there’s nothing under that mask. You just assume it’s a vacuum.”
Readjusting himself in his seat, Lucas wondered if she could pick up on his discomfort, or if she was actively trying to get at him. Her startling accuracy had worried him enough; he had never explained his feelings about religion to anyone before, but she described them right back to him as if they were her thoughts first, as if he were borrowing them.
“Your atheism uniquely equipped you to face the world, in some respects,” Elaina continued. “You lived a harsh life, never expecting a God to fix things for you in the end, and you never blamed a God for when things went wrong. To you, everything simply is what it is, at least ideally. But you don’t always play that out in practice, do you?”
“What do you mean by that?” he asked, as if treading over thin ice.
“As an atheist, you believe in the only true God—the God beyond what others want God to be. The God who put us in this predicament, and every other one in the past.”
“And what is this God?”
Elaina’s tepid smile turned reverent, and she said, “God is simply that whole of which everything is a part. God is the collection of atoms and subatomic particles, and thus of you and me, and everyone else, and everything else that was, is, or ever will be. For me to call this totality God isn’t too much of a stretch, don’t you think? God is omniscient because God contains and is everything that could be known. God is omnipotent because everything that happens or that could happen exists in God as actuality and potentiality. The real stretch, honestly, is how you or anyone else could see themselves as separate and distinct from God at all. Where do you think this individualism came from, hm?”
“I didn’t come to talk about philosophy,” Lucas told her, “or psychology, for that matter.”
Looking away for a moment of thought, he brought up one more topic.
“You said you could help me regain my abilities as a psychic,” he reminded her. “How about that, then?”
“I’m surprised you still don’t get it,” Elaina said. “Though, I suppose even your father wasn’t born knowing what he did.”
Elaina stood up and began to round the table. Planted in his seat, Lucas’ heart sped up, and he wondered if anyone else was still watching, or if this was another instance of Elaina’s talent for slipping out from under the radar.
Standing over him, at his side, she looked down at him and said, “Consciousness and God—those are the keys.”
Noting his apprehension, Elaina rested a tender hand on Lucas’ shoulder, feeling him flinch. “Your anxiety is a symptom of something deeper, you know. You’ve insisted on your own isolation from the truth, from reality—from God, I suppose you could say. But your ‘abilities’ originally arose from a special identification with God. You realized your separation was artificial, just a little trick you played on yourself.”
Lucas sat beneath her gaze and hand, stunned passive. He wanted to squirm out from underneath her, but he told himself he wouldn’t get too far. When she reached for his hand, lifting him to his feet, he didn’t resist. And when their surroundings began to chip away, he held onto her hand in turn.
A moment’s transition took them from Argo to the dilapidated corner of the street in Detroit where Lucas had grown up, outside the old chapel. Hand in hand, their eyes traveled up the towering church, to its steeple. Something about this, more than the sheer sight, felt familiar to Lucas.
“When you were in the singularity,” Elaina told him, “Sera located your repressed memory, opened it to you. But you shut down. You fragmented.”
“Insisting on my own isolation,” he said breathlessly.
“That’s right. But being synchronicity, oneness with God—whatever you’d like to call it—depends on abandoning oneself.”
Reflexively, Lucas pulled his hand from her grasp, and in an instant they were back in the interview room.
“I understand,” she told him. “You’re not ready yet. But that’s why I’m here, to prepare you to retrieve your powers.”
“Why?” Lucas asked, turning to face her. “Why do you care? Is it so I can go on fighting the Q?”
“That’s you thinking microscopically,” she said. “You’re meant for something more, you and the others. After all, you’re one of the four.”
First freezing at the thought, Lucas then asked her, “Are you one of the four?”
Elaina smiled back at him, pleasantly, charmingly. But she said nothing.
“Then…” He swallowed hard. “What will the four bring? What kind of end is coming?”
They locked eyes, and she waited, as if ensuring his attention. She then uttered a single word.
“It’s a Greek term,” Eugene explained to Toth, Logan, and Lucas after the interview. “It means literally ‘in opposition’ or ‘running counter to.’ It was first used by the philosopher Heraclitus, who defined it as the tendency of nature to require its own opposites; hot implying cold, wet implying dry, and vice versa. But the concept was popularized early last century by the psychiatrist Carl Jung, who expanded it to mean all dynamic systems, including the human psyche. For example, a child’s capacity to compensate in their adult years for the failings of their parents.”
“But what does that mean for us, Doctor?” Toth prodded. “What reason would she have for attaching such a word to this supposed end to our conflict with the Q?”
“Truthfully, I don’t know why she would choose such a word. I actually find it quite odd she would describe the end as a kind of enantiodromia.”
“What’s odd about it?” Logan said. “It’s not profound or heady stuff. It just means our war with the Q will hit a climax, when the two opposites—” he paused, hitting a snag in his own train of thought.
“Enantiodromia isn’t an instance of one force overcoming another,” Toth said.
“It’s supposed to be a harmony of sorts,” Eugene clarified. “The only sort of change implied is in polar opposites turning from conflict to cohesion, or of something breeding its own opposite.”
“Are we supposed to learn to live in harmony with the Q, then?” Logan asked Eugene.
Stepping in, Lucas said, “Elaina told me the Q aren’t separate from us exactly, but are manifestations of humanity’s own thoughts and feelings…”
“And you believe her?” Logan said, already exasperated.
Though Lucas couldn’t answer that with a no, he couldn’t bring himself to say yes either. Instead, he said, “When we first met in Tel Aviv, you told me that no one has a clue what the Q really are. Elaina’s explanation seems no more absurd than any other… Furthermore, as much as I don’t want to say it, she may be the most credible among us.”
“Which brings us to another issue,” Toth said. “I had Brigadier Olembe meet with Sera—”
“He really spoke with her?” Lucas blurted.
“Yes,” Toth continued, unfurrowing her brow. “It would seem she also thinks Elaina is telling the truth. She also says that worries her. I feel the same way. It’s not what Elaina knows, but how she gleans it, and why she’s telling any of us—to say nothing of why she would choose now to speak up.”
“She thinks we’re close to the end,” Lucas said. “That this enantiodromia thing is imminent, and that Freya, Rashid, and I are crucial to it. That might be enough to explain why she would bother telling us, even if it doesn’t tell us why she would choose now.”
“It would stand to reason that psychics would be critical to the endgame with the Q,” Logan said, “but that doesn’t answer our question—not ultimately. Disregarding for now how Elaina acquired this information, we still need to ask what it is that’s caused us to come so close to enantiodromia. Besides the appearance of the first psychic Q in 2013 and the weaponization of our own psychics, we’ve experienced no substantial changes in our war with the Q since 1987.”
“We should be cautious,” Eugene said, turning nervous. “Psychopaths tend to have a penchant for the grandiose, along with being considerably egoistic. Much of what Elaina’s told us could be couched in her own distorted sense of self.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Lucas replied. “She said that synchronicity is based on a psychic’s ability to diminish their own sense of self. If she’s neurologically as capable of doing that as me, Rashid, or Freya, then it may contradict your diagnosis.”
Toth turned to both Eugene and Logan. “Has the Esper Program ever before observed a psychic with any form of mental illness or personality disorder before now?”
Thinking for a moment, Eugene ultimately deferred to Logan, who huffed a sigh.
“Of the low-level psychics we’ve taken in,” he said, “we’ve only ever seen psychic abilities in relation to more mundane cases, like the autism spectrum. We’ve never seen how psychopathy or sociopathy might interact with a person’s psychic abilities. And, of course, none of our higher-level psychics—Lucas, Rashid, and Freya—have exhibited strong mental disorders of that sort. Long story short, we have no previous cases to go off of here.”
With a shrug, Eugene added, “To be honest, were I not working with a psychopathic psychic as a patient, I might have concluded that individuals with such conditions couldn’t be psychics. That said, I believe it would be a mistake to assume Elaina is reasonably stable or reliable.”
“Agreed,” Logan said.
“But we’re presuming that she can’t possibly be on our side,” Lucas objected. “What if she really wants to help us? This might be the only way she knows how.”
“Did her ‘God’ tell you that?” Eugene asked.
“Doctor Cohen,” Toth said sharply, causing Eugene to flinch. “You’ll not address my personnel like that—understood?”
“Uh, yes, ma’am,” Eugene said. “Lucas, psychopaths are characterized by their inability to register the thoughts or feelings of others. They can’t recognize distress in another, which prevents them from being moved by such things.” Glancing at the door, as if expecting to find Elaina there, he trembled. “Whatever she’s doing here, she’s not doing it out of altruism. In one way or another, she’s here because it ultimately serves her.”
“Oi,” Freya said, standing over Rashid, nudging him from his meditation at the edge of the pier.
“Yes, Sergeant?” he asked, closing his eyes again after seeing Freya.
“You didn’t come to our training session.”
“That was today?”
“They’re every day, and you know it.”
Taking one last extended breath, Rashid stood up and followed her back into the central terminal, on their way to their usual spot on Pier 2. Freya continued to scold Rashid, if only indirectly, muttering to herself as they walked. Rashid simply trailed behind her by a couple of feet, taking occasional glances at passersby or scenery that might catch his attention.
It was when Freya stopped muttering that he stopped walking. He had already felt the disturbance, like a warm swell of air on a cool day; looking forward, his suspicions were confirmed. Bracketed by four marines, he watched Eugene Cohen and Elaina Walker approach them down the corridor. Freya visibly tensed, as if perturbed by the very sight; Rashid simply spread his feet, anchoring them approximately beneath his shoulders—he often took the same stance before engaging an enemy.
“Long time, no see,” Elaina told them, her tone polite and reserved. “Where have you two been all this time?”
Rashid remained silent, but Freya, who stood between him and Elaina, spoke up.
“We’ve been where we’ll always be,” she said. “Right under your nose.”
Her smile sharpening, Elaina said, “Oh, then I’ll try to pay more attention. Anyway, toodles.” With a wave, she continued on her way, passing Freya and Rashid.
“Wait,” Rashid demanded, halting Elaina and her party. He turned to face her again, with Freya now behind him. “You said… When you first arrived here, you said you were waiting for Lucas to return, and that you weren’t going to replace him. Now he’s back…”
“And you’re wondering if I’m going to take his place?” Elaina asked. “Well, I might as well.”
Rashid glared into her, saying nothing.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard,” she said, turning back around to Rashid and Freya, “but, since his return, Lucas has been rather… flaccid, shall we say?”
“You mean he—”
“He can’t achieve synchronicity, that’s right.”
“Elaina,” Eugene whispered. “Please, the Major-General asked you not to divulge…”
“Oh, that’s right,” Elaina said with a giggle. “Silly me. Silly, silly me.” She picked back up her pace, leaving Rashid and Freya behind, repeating the simple phrase to herself under her breath.
Looking back at Freya, Rashid could see the disgust in her eyes, the twitch in her cheek. She then turned and continued the way she had been walking before, stopping instantly. Following her line of sight, Rashid found what she was looking at: down the hall, looking out from around the corner, was Sam Walker. Perhaps noticing them, Sam fled back around the corner.
“Change of plans, Rashid,” Freya grunted, not bothering to look back at him. “I think it’s time we visited with the good doctor.”
“Indeed,” Rashid said, following after her.
Looking over his shoulder every few steps, Sam could see neither Freya nor Rashid. He slowed his pace, taking a relieved breath.
“Doctor Walker,” Freya said, stepping out in front of him.
Instinctively looking back, as if to flee, Sam found Rashid standing behind him. The two psychics guided Sam to an empty alcove. Only a couple of benches and vending machines met them, but none of the island’s staff.
With a bit more force than expected, Freya sat Sam on one of the benches.
“I know what you’re after,” Sam told her, “but I’m not the one to ask… They… barred me from visiting her. They’re concerned about countertransference.”
“Oh, I’m very much aware of that,” Freya said, not letting him stand. “But I think it’s high-time you told us what only you know.”
Sam stared helplessly back at her for some time, like a child before his schoolmaster. However, he soon gave in. Freya allowed him to stand up.
“What do you want to know?”
“To start, who the hell is this girl?” Freya asked. “She shows up out of the blue, and no one tells us a thing about her. Yet they—” cutting herself off, she lowered her voice. “Who do you think it is who’ll have to clean up the mess she makes?”
“Sam,” Rashid said. “We realize she’s your family. But there are things we need to know.”
Nodding, though still a little hesitant, Sam said, “You know Elaina suffers from psychopathy.”
“Did she pick this up as a child, then?” Elaina asked, glaring into Sam.
“No, no,” Sam insisted. “Though… It’s difficult to say. Sociopathy typically denotes individuals who developed their mental and behavioral patterns as a result of abuse. But psychopathy’s a bit different; nowadays, it denotes an individual who was born with their condition, whether by genetic default or prenatal complication. That certainly seems true for Elaina.”
“Come off it,” Freya pressed, leaning closer, her eyes boring into him. “You’re telling me no one ever maybe just hit the bitch as a child, or made her do what a child never should? Maybe you, Doctor…?”
Sam’s eyebrows came together, and he scowled, leaning closer to Freya in turn. “Our parents died shortly after Elaina was born—a Q attack. Logan and I were all she had, and I can assure you, for all the trouble we may have had, we never hurt her.”
Sliding back, though only enough to continue their exchange, Freya asked, “What happened to her, then? How’d you lose her?”
“Like I said, we loved her,” Sam replied, his voice softening with every word, “but that’s not to say we didn’t have troubles. It wasn’t like she stormed out on us or anything. Nothing specific prompted her, it seemed. One night, she was just gone.”
“That was ten years ago?”
“Uh, well…” Sam looked away in thought. “Logan took it differently than I did. When Elaina disappeared, I… I wanted to know what might have made her want to leave, and what she was going through. So I found a way to study psychology in the US. I earned my accreditation, and then I founded the Esper Program. When the UN brought us into NATO, Logan and I asked for their help in locating her.”
“Because you considered her dangerous,” Freya said.
“Logan certainly did,” Sam said.
“And you?” Rashid asked, stepping closer.
“I…” The lone word tumbled impotently from Sam’s lips, followed by a decidedly stronger current. “I didn’t know how to help her back then. I wanted to understand where I had failed, and to help others like her—psychics. It was never just Elaina’s psychopathy that got her into trouble; for every time she acted up, it had as much to do with her status as a psychic as it did with her psychopathy. I founded the Esper Program as—”
“Penitence,” Freya retorted.
“Charity,” he countered, glaring back at her. “Perhaps you remember that.”
Freya tried to advance on Sam, but Rashid held her back.
“Tell us,” he said to Sam, “where has she been all this time? And why is she surfacing now?”
“All I know is that she was somewhere in the US for the first few years,” Sam said. “For the rest of the time she was gone, she bounced around Europe, probably keeping on the move. You both know psychics don’t often stay in one place, not for long.”
“Sounds spotty,” Freya said.
“There are gaps, yes, but—”
“And what was she doing in all that time?” Freya asked, causing Sam to pause. “She can’t possibly have moved so much on the lam. Psychics may not set down roots, but I’ve never heard one of one so migratory.”
She looked into Sam, but he was no longer looking at her; Rashid, too, was looking away. Freya turned to where the alcove opened on the hall. Lucas stood outside, looking at them sidelong, as if having only spotted them on his way.
Watching the three of them, one by one, look away, Lucas felt a burning in his chest. He turned to face them, saying, “What’s wrong? Should I keep walking?” When no one else said anything, he added, “I haven’t seen any of you since I got back. But here you are. Glad to know you’re still keeping busy.”
“It’s nothing like that,” Freya said, though she still wouldn’t look at him.
“Lucas,” Rashid said, lifting his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said, attempting to sound jovial. “I’ve been so busy—”
“With Elaina, right?” Lucas said. “Yeah, so have I.”
“Forget it,” Lucas muttered, walking away.
Lucas burned even more inside. Clenching and loosening his fingers, he scolded himself for such a puerile outburst, while berating the three he had left behind, as if they were still present.
Gradually he calmed down, but the clearer his mind became, the more it seemed to occupy itself with new thoughts altogether. Rather than arguing with images of Freya, Sam, and Rashid, he was now standing at the feet of faceless figures. Walking from one causeway to another, every person he passed seemed to cast a stray glance at him, beaming something like uncertainty, sometimes even fear, as he passed them by.
Stopping in his tracks, the hallway quickly cleared. Alone in an instant, the burning in his chest turned to a nauseating clarity—he was acutely aware of his own strangeness. News had likely spread throughout the island, despite any attempts by command or Stockholm to keep things quiet. Why should anyone not find him odd? Why should they not, when even he felt strange to himself?
Mere days ago, he was dead. Dead and gone, never to be seen or heard from again. Only to reappear halfway across the world, in the body of a Q, no less. With another. Another…
Absently, he meandered to the brig. As if waking up from sleepwalking, he found himself at the door to Sera’s cell. Two MPs stared at him from either side of the door, as if to ask what his business was. Before he could speak, however, the door opened.
Brigadier Jean-Luc Olembe stepped out into the hall. He and Lucas looked at each other, neither saying a word. Olembe held a hand out to Lucas, gesturing for him to step inside, then walked away. Stepping inside on his own, Lucas then stood on the other side of that translucent partition, watching Sera stand up from her bedside.
Taking some time to respond, Sera tentatively asked, “Why are you here?”
“I, uh… I don’t know. I just… Sorry, I’ll leave.”
Before he could walk away, Sera held out a hand and said his name, stopping him. Watching him turn back around, she was reminded of something Olembe had told her before—she remembered Zeus and Athena.
“I…” She started softly, then pressed on. “I hear you’ve started meeting with… With her.”
“Yeah, I have...”
“Has she… told you anything worthwhile?”
“So far, she’s only confirmed what…” He looked away from her. “What you told me before.”
Sera only nodded, her lips parted, as if to say something, but no words came to her. She and Lucas both stood awkwardly before one another.
“I, um…” Lucas looked back at her, though only for a second. “I’ve got to go, so… I’ll…” He turned once again to leave.
“Wait,” Sera called, stopping him again. When he turned back around one more time, she said, “I… I’m glad you came to see me.”
“Y-yeah, me too,” he said. But his mind was elsewhere. Looking at her, Elaina’s words fluttered in his head like a million leaves in the wind, brushing against a thought which had been invisible to him before. Pushing it aside, however, he stepped out of the brig.
No longer in a haze, Lucas returned to his quarters. Opening the door, he stopped at the threshold, staring into his Spartan space. As he had all the way from the central terminal, he thought of Sera, and of the conversation he had shared with Elaina the previous day. The consideration haunted him, but he entertained it, if only temporarily: the singularities and Q had come from humanity as a whole; Sera had come from his own head. But what did that make her?
Two hands pressed against his shoulders, pushing him from his own head and into his room. The door closed behind him, and he turned to see what had happened; his eyes adjusted to the darkness, then he saw her.
Standing with her back to the door, he could barely make out the outline of her smile. Her lenses glinted from what little light made it in from the hall, but he knew her eyes were on him as well. Feeling as if his heart had stopped beating altogether, he tried to come up with a response, but all he could really do was ask himself if he should even be afraid.
“I’m guessing you ditched your escorts again,” he told her, trying to hide his timidity.
“The human mind’s a remarkably malleable thing, you know, especially when one’s paying so little attention,” she said. “For all their deliberateness and individuality, most people run on auto-pilot. All I did was tell that auto-pilot to ignore certain details, and to pretend certain others were so.”
“They’re probably wondering around the island, thinking you’re right there with them,” he said grimly, partly joking.
“Or waiting somewhere out of the way. Though it doesn’t matter; most everybody comes-to eventually.”
“What’re you doing here?” he asked her, feeling himself bump up against his nightstand, his clock clattering under him. “You know you don’t have to do this. Toth approved our meetings.”
“That’s a tough call,” Elaina said, putting out her hands, as if to say it was out of her control. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little impatient for our next chat—I enjoyed the first so much, a second would be ideal. But let’s say I’m here because we’re pressed for time.”
Scrutinizing him in the dark, she approached him slowly. “You’re afraid of me. No need to pretend—most people are. I’m used to it.”
Lifting himself from his nightstand, straightening up, Lucas said, “Everyone’s only ever given me reasons to be afraid of you.”
“That’s kind of an odd way of putting it, wouldn’t you say? It sounds more like you’re going off of others’ judgments, what they’ve told you to think about me.” Elaina stopped little more than a foot from him. “I know what most others think of me. But I wonder, though: what do you think?”
Lucas kept his mouth shut. Had this been like their first encounter, his silence would have been motivated purely by self-preservation; but this time was different. He didn’t answer because he couldn’t answer.
“You don’t have an answer,” Elaina stated knowingly. “You’re not sure what to think. Psychopaths should surely be unhinged, but I seem so stable and composed. But, then again, psychopaths are typically characterized by their charm and apparent congeniality. But, then again, they’re also supposed to be cunning and manipulative. But, then again, what if that’s just circular reasoning, and every attempt on my part to establish myself as anything other than a psychopath only convinces you more and more that I am precisely what I claim I’m not?”
Sinking back down against his nightstand, Lucas exhaled what rigidity and resistance he had left. “I guess I’ll have to keep doing what I’ve been doing… So you came to talk?”
“I had planned to tell you more in our next meeting,” Elaina said, “but, as I mentioned before, time is getting scarce—and a little faster than I had expected.”
“Are you sure impatience didn’t play a bigger role in your reasoning?”
Stopping to consider this, Elaina then said, “You’re no stranger, Lucas, not to me. I don’t need to be impatient, not with you. I know more about you than I think you realize.”
“I think you were telling the truth before,” he said, rising again. “About psychic’s suspending their sense of selfhood, and about perforations in the ego creating the Q… I don’t understand, but I think it’s a much clearer model than anyone else’s provided. It’s also why it doesn’t surprise me that you know so much.”
“It’s just like you to be so shrewd,” she said, her smiling warming. “Deductive, even if you can be reductive to a fault.”
“You’ve somehow mastered the ability to regulate your own selfhood,” he elaborated. “You’ve pushed synchronicity to its logical end. You… reach out to the rest of the universe, or whatever, retrieving information.”
“Experience may be a more appropriate word than information, but yes,” she said, her voice softening. “It’s an interesting sensation; I don’t glean information like reading a book, but experience things as if I was really there. It’s usually only in part, but still…”
“So you ‘experienced’ yourself a dossier on me, then?”
Elaina said nothing, her smile seeming to drift away while she studied him further. Eventually, she said, “Usually people are what I expect them to be, especially after walking a mile in their shoes, so to speak. You were always different, though…”
“You’ve dug into my mind, too, then?”
“Psychics are difficult to breach. Our minds are built for breaching, but resistant to being breached. But it’s true, I’ve looked into other minds around yours.”
“Like my father’s,” Lucas said, tensing. “You told me you see things like he did. At first, I thought you meant he was a kindred spirit.”
“And now?” Elaina asked. There was a hint of hope in her tone, though she remained reserved.
“You learned his theology from him,” Lucas said. He watched Elaina tense, her smile peaking; abruptly, she inexplicably turned sullen.
“You think I plucked it from his head and made it my own,” she said.
“Unless he really was just a ‘kindred spirit,’ that is.”
Only then did Lucas register what he was seeing. In the few days he had known Elaina, he had never seen her express anything but levity or contentment; the girl before him was now somewhere beneath that.
“He was a kindred spirit,” she said, “but he was also a teacher.”
“You…” All at once, it hit Lucas. “You knew my father.”
“That’s right—and he taught me himself.”
Lucas felt as if the room was starting to sway under his feet. The more he tried to focus on Elaina, the harder it became; his quarters rapidly flashed out of sight, replaced by that old chapel, and old, forgotten memories he had picked up only days before—when he was caught in that singularity.
“Truth be told,” she said, “I looked into every high-level psychic I could find. I wanted to know about every piece on the board. But Richard was special. He possessed an innate understanding that many only knew superficially, and which few even considered.”
“And what’s that?” Lucas said, now short of breath.
“Can we sit?”
Gesturing for her to take the chair by his desk, Lucas sat on the edge of his bed. Expecting to hear the creak of the chair across the room, he instead felt the give of his mattress as she sat next to him, their shoulders barely an inch apart. Looking at her from the corner of his eye, attempting to remain perfectly still, his heart skipped again—though for different reasons than before. Inwardly berating himself once more, he forced that thought aside.
“Your father sensed the oddity of our situation,” Elaina mused, her voice seeming to weaken, her eyes downcast. “About psychics, about the Q, and the singularities—but mostly about consciousness. He asked not why there was anything at all, which many glibly addressed with their own God or by naturalism and materialism, or some mix. Instead, he asked why there should be this strange observer who’s aware at all that there’s something and not nothing, who experiences that something rather than unconsciously playing their part in the overall system.”
“Pure happenstance,” Lucas began, “or were they injected into the world from the outside? Or are we missing something altogether? I remember; he wanted to know why there were conscious beings at all.”
“It became especially difficult for Richard,” Elaina said. “He lost his faith in the God of tradition after 1987, but he didn’t lose his sense of the sacred—the ‘more’ of existence. So his conceptions of God shifted from that of a father who creates something totally other than himself, to that of a mother who creates something out of herself, from her very substance and being. But that still didn’t tell him why anyone should be aware of their positions in life, why people weren’t as-is, like mountains, trees, or stars.”
“In other words, if God didn’t insert consciousness into an otherwise dead system, and if he wasn’t willing to accept that it was a simple byproduct of evolution,” Lucas reasoned, “then where did this sense of self come from?”
Feeling her shoulder brush against his, he tried to remain focused—there was too much he still needed to know.
“Was that why people were so upset with my dad?” he asked.
“More or less,” Elaina said. “Richard’s conclusion was that this God, creating out of itself rather than outside itself, had been entirely unconscious. Being the totality of existence, God had nothing to be conscious of. A conscious subject requires an object to be conscious of; one can be conscious of themselves only because they can contrast themselves against everything else. As God fragmented from oneness into particularity, God began to awaken from countless, limited points of view—individual conscious minds, present to varying degrees in most life, but especially in humans.”
Taken aback, Lucas asked, “Then did my dad know how the Q and the singularities appeared?”
“He didn’t know the truth, but anticipated it,” Elaina said, “much like how alchemy anticipated chemistry. He saw the world as a living whole, and that we as much a part of it as anything else; but to anyone else, all they saw was an indifferent world beyond themselves, one they had to either conquer or flee.”
Glancing back down at her, Lucas could see this disturbed Elaina; at the least it elicited from her a soft-spoken disdain.
“They wanted a way out of this mess,” Lucas concluded. “Who can blame them? Who wants to live in this world, anyway?”
“Even if you deduct the evils humanity commits on their own, the sum of suffering is still unimaginable.”
“That was something your father was especially aware of,” Elaina said. “That the nature of consciousness is suffering. But it didn’t always used to be that way.” She leaned back, propped up by her hands.
“All complexity comes from a crane, a developmental sequence beginning at the simplest possible root. Our universe arrived at the state it’s in via an ultimate crane of its own, one upon which every other crane—and thus every other thing—depends. Every particular detail, every definite event or object, ultimately traces back to the same source—the simplest initial quality, which could only replicate itself and grow more complex. Like numbers: each integer, positive or negative, is defined by its distance from zero.”
“So God is… like an infinitely recurring zero, then,” Lucas elaborated, eliciting a nod from Elaina.
“As cranes and sequences do, God followed a function; beginning from the simplest possible state, God replicated, growing ever more complex. It wasn’t deliberate, per se, just the enactment of an innate code, a process that existed of necessity. There was nothing evil or good about it, and nothing that came of it was valuable or worthless—everything was what it was. But then God began waking in spurts, becoming aware of what was happening. As a result, we began experiencing the world as an indifferent other; we made valuations and judgments about that world, labeling parts good if they served us and evil if they hurt, valuable if they had utility and worthless if they didn’t.”
“We distinguished ourselves from the whole, then.”
“And we began suffering at the hands of a world we’d disowned as much as it’d disowned us.” Her words hardened, and she clutched the mattress’ edge. “Individuality, being other than the whole… It makes people delusional. They ascribe meanings and purposes and values to what had none to begin with. And when the world defies the thoughts they lacquer onto it, they— God begins to see what kind of world consciousness creates. It’s no longer a mother but a machine, indifferent, uncaring, losing and gaining nothing whether if our lives burn on or go out altogether.”
The more she spoke, the grimmer she became, and the more the Elaina whom Lucas had known before seemed to peel away—a new woman appeared. A dangerous thought crossed his mind, one he would have kept to himself, had it not escaped him with such force.
“Elaina… Are you suffering?”
In a single sweep, Elaina pushed Lucas backward, laying him on the bed; and before he could respond, she was already on top of him, her body weighing down on him, her head next to his. His heart hammered in his chest, and he wondered if he was in danger. Yet she was still, and for all the force she had exerted to pin him down, she now seemed utterly passive, relying solely on her own gravity to hold him down.
“Every ounce of suffering you or I have ever undergone,” she whispered, her lips brushing his ear, “was because of God’s decision to wake up.”
Weakly, he offered, “Life is more than suffering, you know… Maybe it is a weak platitude, but it’s also true: there’s a lot of good in life, too.”
“Good,” she whispered. “Good only has meaning in relation to what it isn’t; everything that isn’t good is bad. You need both for either to exist, but that’s a vicious truth: it’s like a pendulum, that the further it swings to one side, the more forcefully it’ll swing back the other way sooner or later.”
Lucas hadn’t prepared himself for a conversation like this. He wasn’t a stranger to pessimism, but what she was saying—or, rather, something about how she spoke—told him Elaina was no mere pessimist. Pessimism and optimism were valuations of the world—she seemed interested in something else, something behind the two warring values, positive and negative.
“But…” He searched for the words, trying to hold some ground, while still wondering if she might attack him. “That means there’s as much good as there is bad. From what you’ve said, it sounds like the good can never outweigh the bad, but the bad can never outweigh the good, either. Isn’t the good worth it, then?”
“That’s only when our subjective preferences are met. Otherwise…” She pressed down, curling up against him. “We emerged from the same substrate as the Q; in fact, we lifted the Q from that substrate, forcing them into existence. Yet ever since we created something more than mindless singularities, our creations have wanted nothing more than to die and return to where they came from. They want to take us with them, back to senselessness. I can’t help but wonder if that’s the enantiodromian reversal we’re heading for—one final apocatastasis, our great return to nothing.”
Turning his head, Lucas met her eyes, their faces close. “You want to know if it’s worth it, then.”
“It’s not only me,” she said. “It’s God’s question. If consciousness means suffering, and continued life only vouchsafes pain, then… why not put an end to it? Why not go back to sleep?” Nestling herself closer, hiding from him in his shoulder, she added, “You feel it, too. It’s why you won’t accept what happened to your family. Because you’d rather go on sleeping than wake to that reality.”
Her warm breath brushing his neck, Lucas wondered aloud, “Could we even go back? Maybe God could go back to sleep—but what about the dreams? You said the only goodness my dad’s congregants ever found in this world was in the possibility that there might be another one—but that’s a fantasy, a fake. This is reality. Having been through all of this now… even in dreams, will God ever be able to forget that?”
Her breathing stuttered, and her body tensed from an inward laugh. “I guess that’s why you’re one of the four.”
Lifting herself, straddling him, Elaina stared down at Lucas with an expression entirely different from before; around everyone else she had only put on airs, but what she showed Lucas now—it was gentle, affectionate, affected. Taking it in, Lucas wondered—was this the real Elaina Walker?
Seconds past before either of them realized an alarm was going off. A voice over the intercom outside declared an orange alert for Argo’s CIC, summoning Freya and Rashid.
Getting off of Lucas, Elaina made her way to the door. “I suppose we’ll have to talk later.” Holding the handle, she stopped, looking back at him with that unthinkably genuine expression. “It’s funny, I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.”
“What’s that?” Lucas asked, lifting himself from the bed.
“To want to protect someone other than myself,” Elaina said before opening the door and disappearing beyond its threshold.