Sáwol, saiwala, sála, sêo, soul. These beings speak in many languages and I know all of them. Are their souls the same as mine and does anything endure the ravages of time and this problem – the problem of the soul – lies in the nature of the self and who am I, the one who lives and breathes on Earth in this moment? Alcyone stands with her arms crossed, facing the small rickety table where The Mothers drink coffee and tea and lemonade al fresco and try to keep track of their children.
“Al, have a seat with us,” says the young and very pregnant Mom in a nondescript white cotton T-shirt and grey shorts. Her hands – when they aren’t on her toddler’s shoulders – rest on her pregnant belly, gently rubbing it from time to time. Her face is pale. Expressionless eyes are underlined with dark circles; mousy brown hair pulled back in a messy pony tail knot. As soon as she lets go of the toddler, he runs away. She chases him clumsily in her Birkenstocks and returns him to the table without a word. His equally nondescript white T-shirt is stained with pink spots resembling the Crab Nebula. The Mom pushes a clear plastic cup full of pink liquid and quickly melting ice towards the center of the table and motions again for Al to sit.
“No thanks. I’ll stand. I’m waiting for my sister, Tay,” Al says in her high-pitched voice, checking her Fitbit Blaze without making eye contact. Subject W184 is spiritually disengaged. What effects, if any, will this have on subject W184a when he reaches adulthood. Subject W184b will be born in three weeks. Continue to monitor in-womb evolution. Al makes mental notes, but why bother? The final report has been sent.
Alcyone, the star cluster, is the brightest of the Pleiades. Bright enough to be seen from Earth with the naked eye. Alcyone, the one who stands before this table, wears a neon pink polyester sports tank with DIVA printedacross the front in white 1980s style Flash Dance lettering even though it is Earth year AD 2018 according to the Roman Catholic Calendar. The Moms refer to this look as ‘retro.’ A matching pink visor contrasts with Al’s course blond hair. Brown roots are just beginning to show. Hands on her hips, she impatiently sways from side to side.
My final report to Atlas and oh how I wanted to win and where is my basil oil did I leave it in the car again? Remember to take more of it back home I never take enough home. Home I want to go home. She fishes around inside her small red leather purse – searching for the oil in vain – the long red strap crossing her physical body. A baby blue terry cloth towel hangs around her neck. She wipes her sweat, then grips the towel with both hands. The heat here, she thinks, taking a sip of her iced black coffee, how do they stand it? Al appears older in Earth years than The Moms, her skin slightly saggy and slightly orange – as if artificially tanned – but this is more a factor of gravitational and atmospheric conditions than of age or vanity. We are more than the activity of carbon and proteins; more than life and death we are memory and consciousness and spooky action at a distance, and Gods, I need my basil oil. Where is my basil oil it’s the only thing I’ve grown to love here.
‘Lake Cecilia Coffee House & Wine Bar’ is printed on a sign that hangs above an outdoor seating area in a planned suburb of northern Virginia in the United States of America in the western hemisphere of the third planet from a star called Sol in The Milky Way Galaxy sector of the Merab Brane Universe. The Moms come here for the fresh air and for the view of the man-made lake and for the latte and for the beautiful baristas who swirl art into the velvety whole milk foam: cats, owls, embellished leaves, the sun over the ocean, and hearts. So many hearts. For an extra charge, one exceptionally talented and handsome barista creates a likeness of Albert Einstein. Einstein was my greatest subject and my greatest success, Al thinks. He understood, even as a toddler, that we – all beings – are more than atoms and particles that spin around for a while and then disappear out of existence; that everything we experience – including this lake and this latte and this neon pink shirt and this body and this planet – are simple representations of the mind and that space and time exist only as a way of putting these perceptions together; that objects can exist only if they are observed; that the soul exists outside of space and time; thus, that which is purely spiritual cannot die but is rather a transformation of the vibrational rates of matter. Do The Moms – these moms – know that? Will their children ever know that? No I have failed miserably and these souls are doomed to devolution and Einstein was a fluke.
Al twirls one of her quartz stud earrings while observing The Moms. Quartz is piezoelectric and can transform energy from one form to another and is one of the most stable minerals at any atmospheric temperature and pressure. Now, humans experiment with a quartz ‘coin’ they believe can store 360 TB of data for billions of years. With this, they could record and preserve all of human history for long after humans are extinct. But they have done this many time before and then forgotten. And extinction is unlikely. Earth is one of seven planets seeded with human life. Quartz technology – combined with quantum entanglement – is well known to Alcyone and her counterparts on Proxima b in the Proxima Centauri system. Space is empty – even light is not absorbed there – so entangled particles can be transmitted across long distances in the vacuum with no loss of information. Al delivers her final report to Atlas and receives instantaneous results.
“Alcyone,” says subject W184, “that’s an unusual name.”
“Tell me about it,” Al says, “my mother was obsessed with Greek Mythology. Nerd Central.”
The myth originates from the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades star system. In truth, the cohorts from Proxima b name themselves after the Seven Sisters simply because they seed seven planets at the start of the contest and before that, they have no names. The Pleiades cluster actually contains around 1,400 stars, and is seen as a nebula caused by dust reflecting the blue light of the young stars. Planets in the system are uninhabitable – too young to sustain sentient life in corporeal form – just as most souls in human bodies are too young to sustain consciousness in astral form. The seven seeded planets are spread throughout the multiverse, each shaped and observed by one of the cohorts with the ultimate goal of facilitating evolution of souls inside human bodies until the consciousness of an entire planet becomes aware of itself as pure spirit. Gods, I was so close as close as I’ve been since Atlantis I’m done with this game there has to be something more.
“Look over there. I love it when you can see the moon in the daytime sky,” says another Mom at the table, subject M198, pointing towards the sky over the lake. “Are you sure you don’t want to sit with us, Al?”
“No thanks. I’m fine,” Al replies. I’m not fine and if I don’t find my basil oil soon and where is Taygete and she should have been here by now.
Subject M198 wears gym clothes, only in royal blue: tank top, shorts, shoes and socks. She drinks water from a blue sport bottle. Her shiny brown hair is pulled back in a low ponytail and kept away from her face with a brown cotton headband that matches her hair. Her pearl stud earrings remind Al of the two moons of her home planet. Oh howI want to go home. M198 has a plate of scrambled chicken ova and toast with an apple juice box, all of which she shares with her daughter, M198a, a toddler with reddish curls who wears a yellow shirt, and a disposable plastic diaper with pastel dinosaurs printed on it. Her tiny feet don’t seem to be able to hold her body. Mom M198 smiles constantly – an exaggerated smile – even when chewing, which is always with a closed mouth. She picks up M198a only for feeding. She smiles at something M184 says, and her eyes get wide. Crazy eyes, Al notes. Windows to a punctured soul. M198a wanders off and her Mom, adorned with a natural looking dark tan on her well-tones arms runs after her. “Baby shark! Baby shark!” She calls more than once as the toddler comes back and circles the table incessantly. Mom sings, “Baaaay-bee shark doo-doo doo-doo-doo-doo!” repeatedly as she waves her hands around like a fool.
M184 gets up to leave; waddles when she walks and struggles with a heavy backpack made from expensive looking brown leather; the skin of a cow. Animals have souls too and there are homeless subjects just down the street and these Moms, they throw away a half-eaten pastry and sing stupid songs to their children that don’t feed the soul at all and I have most certainly failed.
Other Moms with infants in Baby Bjorns stroll in and out. They talk to the Moms at the table for a minute or two and then leave. M198 points at one of the babies and asks the Mom, “When did you pierce her ears? Aw, how adorable! Are those diamonds?”
Alcyone stands near the table, still observing out of habit. “Hey everyone, my sister’s here. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Al says, knowing full well she has lost and will be going back home. Taygete strolls into the courtyard, waves at The Moms, grabs Al’s hand, and walks her into the coffee house. In her other hand, she holds a large khaki rucksack. They sit on two turquoise retro style chairs as Tay gently places the rucksack next to her on the restored wooden floor.
“Well, sister” Tay looks up from the floor, “it seems I have won this round. Atlas’ tally is final.”
“Thisround? Are you saying there will be another?” Al asks. “How many years?”
“A hundred thousand, like this one, perhaps,” Tay says. “Why? Do you have anything better to do?
Ek laakh. Cent Mille. Sto tysyach. Al thinks a hundred thousandin every language on Earth. How many languages can there be in the multiverse?And how many souls?
“I have to go home. That’s what I have to do.” Al insists.
“Rubbish. You’ll be bored in a century. Let me know when you’re ready to re-up. But for now, I’d like my winnings,” Tay says.
Al goes to the counter and orders a chocolate croissant and large latte. “Can you make a design in it please? Seven stars?” she asks the barista. She waits for what feels like a hundred thousand years, pondering her defeat. At least I didn’t drop out like the others. She carries the finished order back to turquoise chairs.
“Here you go, Tay. Just the way you like it,” Al concedes, placing the treats on the table between them. “You played well, sister. I hate losing but second runner-up is better than nothing.” There’s not much I will miss about this place, Al thinks as she looks at the floor. “So, what’s in the bag?”
Tay slides the rucksack over to Al, “A consolation prize. You may have lost but I love you, dear sister, and it was a friendly game. I’ll see you at home.” Then, grinning from ear to ear, Tay stands up and walks out the door.
Al opens the bag and her soul lights up. Vials of basil oil. Enough to make her forget about M184, M189, and the other 7.6 billion souls of Earth. As she promptly leaves the coffee house, walks across the courtyard, crosses the threshold and heads towards the lake, she waves to the Moms behind her without looking back and thinks, Why the fuck would you pierce your baby’s ears, you monster.