These and other troubling thoughts came and went as he otherwise pursued his life. Then one day, it happened. He was coming home from the grocery store down the street, when a bolt of light and a bright, watery whirlpool appeared in front of him. Before he could say, What the ..., he was whisked across the galaxy, through the black, cold, empty void, then through another, differently-shaped, galaxy, and on and on he went. He traveled -- time meant nothing, it was nothing, he saw that clearly now -- through more galaxies and voids, then suddenly it all stopped, and he was standing in a room, a room covered in gold and fine exotic wood, tapestries, the texture and skill of which thrilled him to the bone, hung beside exquisite paintings of bizzare and alien landscapes and terrains. He stood, absorbing the dry frgrant air, alone and terrified, his right arm still curled around a now absent bag of groceries. The lights dimmed to a soft embrace. A couch appeared and on it sat an old man with a long white beard, still robust and strong looking. He gestured for Robert to sit, immediately a chair appeared beside him, a comfortable, high-backed, cushioned chair, deep blue in color, Robert's favorite.
As time went by, or what seemed like time, Robert tried to acclimate himself to the very fact of his strange surroundings. What reality is this? he asked himself. Why am I here and how did I get here?
As though he'd spoken aloud, the old man said, "Robert. Robert Fenwick III." The voice was not melodious, but it wasn't hostile or angry either. As well, it revealed no discernable accent. "Why are you here?" the old man asked.
Was he being rhetorical, or does he expect me to answer my own question? "Do you mean," pointing to the floor, "do you mean here?"
The old man squirmed and tilted his head sideways. Partially closing an eye, he gave Robert a good long stare. At last, he said, "You were brought here the usual way."
"And,..., that would be... a series of wormholes or leaps from stargate to stargate or, maybe, some kind of interdimensional transport?"
"No, Robert. Your skin was scraped from your body, your muscles and blood canals were devoured by ravenous insects, beetles mostly, and your bones were crushed to dust by ocean waves on the beach. What remained was your essence, that which claims the space where the rest fills in. It was this essence that materialized here. What you visualized as happening in the interim was all in your mind." The old man reached for a glass of water.
Robert Fenwick III wasn't buying it. This guy could say anything, he thought, how am I to prove differently? Is that his way of saying it's beyond my comprehension? "But," he stammered, "where is here?"
"Precisely," the old man nodded and flashed the shadow of a smile.
This old coot is out to lunch, Fenwick concluded. He found himself getting agitated. He recounted: First, I'm gobbled up by a whirlpool on the street -- and what happened to my groceries? -- to come here, against my will, then this old guy -- who I must presume is someone pretending to be God -- plays word games with me. What is the reason?
"That's correct, Robert. Why are you here; why are you; what is the reason for your existence? These are all the same question. Good, good."
Fenwick jumped to his feet, fists clenched and said, "Listen, I demand to know why I was absconded, that is, kidnapped, and brought to wherever the hell this place is. I want answers, not patronizing runaround gibberish. Understand?"
A long pause ensued, during which the old man left the room, robes flowing, to be replaced by a younger, shorter man with a thin mustache wearing a conventional suit, three-piece. Meticulously donning a pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses, he flipped through a spiral notebook. Robert imagined him to be an accountant or secretary, no doubt. When he spoke, his tone was sufficiently amiable but in a formal, official way. Combined with his appearance, the coolness of his detached attitude suggested an audit, which, naturally enough, put Robert on the defensive.
Robert sat back down. Infuriated, he failed to notice that his cushioned chair had transformed into a wicker of rattan. It squeeked when he leaned into it, and with the shuffling of the weave he became mindful of his weight, and immediately realized that the new arrival had his general build and features, right down to hair color. Surprised and suddenly filled with a disturbing tingling sensation, Robert's anger mingled with the taste of fear, dulling his already taxed sense of reality, but not his curiosity and will. Beyond petty parlor tricks, he ignored his chair's magical metamorphosis. The bizzare and potentially dangerous state-of-affairs demanded better of him.
The auditor began, "Mister Fenwick, we've been watching you of late, and it seems you've become quite disparaging with regard to the question of God's existence. We've also noticed that you've been spending more time than usual by yourself. Would you mind explaining your behavior?"
Robert didn't know what to think. Who are these people and how do they know what my behavior's been? And why, for heaven's sake, do they believe it to be any of their business? He grew increasingly annoyed as he thought about it; perspiration beaded on the back of his neck from the arrogant intrusion and embarrassment, seasoned with the slightest undertone of intimidation. Or was he experiencing the beginnings of awe? He wasn't sure. Nudged by a feeling of being in over his head, he slipped into believing that they, whoever they are, had this knowledge in a way of beings far grander than human.
He had always, since an adult, practiced focusing on the present-now moment -- it was his sense of control, the center of reality, now in question. And doing what needed to be done; but now, he hadn't a clue. They were in charge, but, he insisted to himself, not of me.
Tripping over his tongue, he blurted, "My behavior, whoever you are, is none of your Goddamn business. I'm a private person who enjoys reading, taking long walks, and thinking. I am not desperate for the company of others and feel it's perfectly normal to be that way. You make it sound like there's something wrong with me."
The thin well-dressed auditor stared bleakly, unperturbed by the outburst as though quite used to it. It was his job, nothing more; he could weather the worst. Finally, he said, in the same tone and pitch as before, "I see. Rest assured, however, Mister Fenwick that your actions are very much our concern, if not for your benefit, certainly for ours."
"And who, if you don't mind telling me, are you referring to by ours? I have yet to receive the basic courtesy of being told just who my kidnappers are and what their business is with me."
His interrogator wrote something in his notebook. In the midst of it he said, "You were friends with a certain young lady by the name of Marrielle, were you not? Why did you break off with her? She seemed quite taken with you. Do you have deep-seated problems with affection; does the prospect of committment and love engender fear?"
That was it; the final straw. Robert Fenwick III was not in the habit of being treated in this overhanded, contemptible manner. His life was a personal affair, not an open book as with some of the lower classes, his relationships especially. How dare anyone allude to difficulties; how do they even know what went on in his personal life. He had yet to find that out. If indeed, they have an intelligence far greater than human, what is its nature? Is intelligence hierarchical? Are there layers? Concentric? What can they tell me about my reality? Is there a God?
Conceding to his perceived assumptions about what he could fathom so far, and recognizing an opportunity to see another consciousness and possibly in the process expand his own, he abandoned resistance for its own sake and took the tack that knowledge of the situation is the only hope of gaining control. The obviousness of such a simple principle of life told him that he was letting his emotions dominate, always a bad idea. Between excitement and rage, with all the discipline he could muster, he said, "Excuse me, sir, if I seem out of sorts, but, wouldn't you be the least bit curious as to what was going on if you were in my shoes?" Robert tapped a foot unconsciously.
The question seemed to galvanize the auditor. He looked straight ahead, passed Robert, at some distant point only he could see. Finally, he said, "The Mind has doors you are not privy to. The universe you perceive does not exist in reality." He stood and gestured to Robert to follow him. They walked to a curtained window that Robert had become convinced was only for show. Standing beside the auditor, who now Robert could see was the same height as he, the curtain separated to reveal an intense black void on the other side, sprinkled everywhere with stars and distant greenish, blue and red nebulae. But, he was not gazing up at the sky through a window on Earth, he surmised quickly; he was in space itself. As he thought this, the auditor pointed downward to where the Earth in all its radiant blue-green beauty hung suspended in the empty blackness; the opalescent orb of the moon off to its upper-right.
Afflicted with vertigo all his life, he nonetheless remained calm, thoroughly enjoying the odd predicament of floating millions, possibly billions, of miles out in space in a small, well-appointed room, completely unawares of movement and not experiencing the least bit of weightlessness. However, after being sucked into the whirlpool, he remembered traveling through an unknown number of galaxies and voids between. How then is the sight of the Earth possible? Had he circumnavigated the universe only to return home? Why bother?
"Your mind is space and time," the auditor began, as he continued to gaze out the window, "within it, like rabbit warrens," he turned briefly towards Robert, "are other times and spaces, intersecting and overlapping in every possible way."
"You mean, like the multiverse concept, theory, about how the universe is structured? I've read-up on it," he said, in a certain challenging tone. "Is that true, then; is the universe, my universe, just one bubble among countless zillions floating in a vast void of empty space?"
The auditor studied Robert Fenwick III. "No," he said flatly, giving no indication he would say more. Lowering his head, he looked bleakly at the geometrically-patterned rug.
Robert felt like a fool. Angry, he demanded, "Tell me, then, if you're so smart. In words a mere human like me can understand."
Eyes tracing the designs on the rug, the auditor began, "With every eye, we see. They are one and the same, realizing other points of view, the high and the low. It is a singular being, the totality of all things that exist as it is the essence, that is both God and not-God. Personified, he is not self-created; nor is he the object of creation. If there were a God as entity, he would necessarily have had to have been created by yet a more encompassing, more powerful God. And so on and so forth, an uncountable hierarchy of creative forces, factors of identity forever spiraling inward. From moment to moment he transforms, yet there is nothing that is subject to change. He is permanent; there has never been a time when he began, nor will there be one when he ends. Yet, he is as transitory and instantaneous as the universe itself. But to personify God is to mislead, to use the word he. The languages of your race have always undermined thought with regard to the existence of God. They structure and give meaning to your reality, the symbols and ideas, images and relationships, with imagination and curiosity leading the way.
"You, however, despite this handicap, are convinced that God does not exist -- God as a being -- you find the very idea unpalatable and unrealistic. Or, to put it in your words -- unnecessary. You are correct in your assumption that as humanity conceives of God -- he does not exist -- but you are also quite mistaken. It is your reason for this belief that is mistaken. But then, whence comes the cosmos?"
The auditor returned to the couch. Robert followed to what had transmuted into a stiff-backed Victorian chair, the gold-threaded seat cushion mostly for show. The auditor picked up his notebook, clicked his pen, and said, "We must return to the interview. It is imperative that we explore the conditions surrounding your eligibility." He clicked and unclicked his pen, otherwise the room was dead quiet.
Eligibility? Robert fidgeted. This is a job interview? For Christ's sake.
"Let's pick up where we left off, shall we? Your girlfriend, Marrielle, you deliberately sabotaged that relationship. At the last minute, you pulled back, withdrew. Why was that? Did you feel uncertain about yourself or her?"
"What do you mean by eligible? For what? And why?" Robert leaned forward. "What the hell is going on here?"
The auditor ceased movement as though struck dead. Casually, he tossed the notebook into the corner of the couch and put his pen in his inside jacket pocket, a sense of finality mixed with acquiescence flickered across his face. He leaned back into the pillows, folded his hands on his lap, and said, "The Earth you see through the window is your home, but you are not temporally near it." His tone of voice was surprisingly affable. In fact, his entire demeanor morphed to one more like a professor.
"The sight remains as an afterimage only, residue from your time. You are of the Earth; it resides in you as does the be-all and end-all of your cosmos, as the acorn is to the oak, one being throughout. All the temporal planes of existence resonate as one from outside of time.
"The wormholes you imagined you traveled through were not of space but of time. The galaxies were simply different time periods of your home galaxy, the Milky Way, as you call it. Like seeing stills in a video one after another, the void-like appearances being pauses between growth spurts, the emptiness between the turning of a page. You have been brought back in time to when all was mere potential, essence. To a time before time, when the material universe you've come to know did not exist, as now, in truth, does not exist. In order to separate you from your multi-dimensional world, we needed to eliminate a whole hierarchy of,... , influences.
In this timeless atmosphere, this realm on the boundary between the comprehensible and the unfathomable, your reactions can be observed without extraneous muddling from Earth-bound circumstances -- your conscious identity. Even more affective is humanity's collective unconscious. It vibrates in all directions constantly, dynamically connecting and interrelating thoughts and behavior. It too had to be transcended. And it, in turn, is stamped with the resonance of the mind energy -- the consciousness -- of your universe. So, we needed to extricate you from that entire complex environment -- not an easy task. Summing over an infinity of time-surfaces, we've compiled a reliable listing of features that together encapsulate everything that is not-you. Distilling this retains your essence, the remainder. In order to reduce perturbation, this has to be done, so that we may assess, in a timeless light, the true nature of your gift."
"The X-factor. In spite of the extremely coercive social world you find yourself in, you manage to go completely against the grain of public and even private opinion. And, from what we've seen, you don't do so to satisfy a neurotic need to rebel or to fuel your ego, or to lodge an angry protest against an unjust and dictatorial world, etcetera. And, you don't simply espouse unconventional statements concerning reality for its own sake, to get attention, to stand out as an anarchist. You think and believe as you do because it makes sense to you. You've tapped into an information nexus lying beyond the constraints of language and abstract thought, a node of a network infusing both the known and unknown worlds, stemming from the ultimate root of all knowledge. And we wonder how you're able to do that."
Robert Fenwick III was flabbergasted, to say the least. And for good reason. He'd just been told that somehow his mind had the capacity to pass through the diaphanous membrane enveloping reality and, by so doing, tap into a streamlet of ulimate knowledge, no less.
The auditor, who Robert now perceived as being quite more, leaned forward and said, "There are many sentient beings in your universe, on your plane of existence, who,... , express such a gift, to a greater or lesser degree, to be sure. We routinely contact them, in a manner similar to how we contacted you," he said with a grin, "for these interviews in order to discover just how this is done, how this gift is made,... , manifest. The process necessitates asking personal pointed questions, intruding into individual's lives.
"You place a great deal of importance on your privacy, but that is only the surface of things. You wish to learn; you see something beyond your experience, and want to know what that is. Besides shocking and mindboggling, many find the exercise intriguing and beneficial. And it is a total exercise; everything that's happened has been towards one end. The experience itself affects measurement, naturally enough, expanding all sense of proportion, and yet of the countless numbers we've contacted, none thought of himself as being special, before or after.
"We search for the common denominators, if any exist. That is what we do -- we are the keepers-of-all-knowledge. And our curiosity is limitless." Not a trace of condescension could be heard in the undertone; it was a straightforward statement, a fact of life.
The auditor drank from a glass that appeared in his hand out of nowhere. He then continued, "The X-factor lies deep within, at the core of your being. It is an anomaly unaccounted for by the regulators of all that is. Where it comes from, we have no idea. We know only that it is. It is there as if it were not there. And without it, you would not be who you are.
"Protect it always, Mister Fenwick. Protect it and listen to it, it is your one true voice. It is also love and peace of mind, and a certainty that knows why life is, and the nature of God."
The auditor/seeker-of-knowledge stood. "Mister Fenwick," he began in a more serious voice, "you've revealed more than you might think about yourself, for which we are appreciative. Thank you and, we'll be in touch."
Before Robert could ask any of the torrent of questions swirling in his head, he suddenly found himself back on the street where he first encountered the whirlpool, clutching his bag of groceries in a death grip, frozen in place like one who'd seen a ghost. Traffic clamored about him; people jostled on the crowded sidewalk; the smells and sights of downtown assailed him. Dazed, he stood stock still, lost completely in wonder and amazement. Had it all really happened? he thought. Or did I have some kind of psychic hallucination brought on by overwork?
A passer-by bumped him and snarled to get out of the way. Unsure if the concrete walkway would support him, Robert Fenwick III carefully took a step.
black and white version