Carl had finished dressing and was sitting quietly, studying the scene of the bird and waterfall inlaid in translucent color on the screen near the alcove. An interplay of light and shadow sifting from the garden, and the swirling luminosity of the pillars, flickered across it in delicate contrasts. The waterfall seemed to be flowing, and the bird seemed to move with silent beating of wings.
The soft swish of Vasai's garments as she entered, offered just the right sound to accompany the pulsing picture. It was a moment or two before he realized she was there.
"It's a lovely scene isn't it ? It seems to emanate the very essence of living things - and yet it would be called inanimate. I wonder, is anything really inanimate ?" Her eyes were questioning, her voice almost a whisper.
Carl made no effort to answer at once. He sat in silent thought, pondering her question. When he spoke it was slowly, as if thinking aloud. "Are not all things really emanations of what you call 'Amrishi', Vasai ? Is there such a condition as 'inanimate' in Universal Essence "? He was asking the question, not just of her, but also of himself. And - of Life. It was a question pondered by many others before him, and no doubt still to be asked by many after him.
Vasai also was aware of the ancient nature of the question. Her reply was studied and quiet. "That's a very ancient riddle, Ka-ra-el, and riddles have very strange answers, never plain and simple." She turned toward the garden door, looking out, seemingly beyond the obvious world before her. When she spoke again, it had a cryptic tone. "Time is a riddle that only living can answer".
Carl understood. It came like a quickening flash. He received the thought in meditative silence. He thought of the poem Julie had given him - with the strange question - "How to forget the things that did not happen - "? Now he knew its meaning. Only as it passes through lives lived can the immense potential of Universal Essence find expression in form. The dedicated life was one lived consciously as a channel for this Essence, learning to develop proficiency as an aware agent of It. This meant, not only in a receptive sense, but letting It flow through one's life, out into the manifesting world.
How clearly he could see it now ! The build-up of this potential is only released into expression through living. When this occurs unconsciously, as in many instances, and often in the past with himself - it is erratic, and only partly formed. When it is done consciously, we become conscious participants in Creation ! Carl could see how this difference in attitude, as he worked with it, would make a healing difference in his future life. This was what Etanai had tried to tell him.
He still had no definite answer regarding the screen mosiac. However, he felt sure of one thing concerning it, it was indeed alive at the level of idea-imagery. That is the level of creative idea. It was difficult to formulate his intuitions. He could only say that he felt sure it was animate - in its way. No theorist would ever accept that as conclusive ! But - it was sufficient for Carl.
Vasai turned toward him. She was smiling, and less poignant. "Let's join Etanai and Eleri now. We have some sight-seeing to do" ! Her earlier enthusiasm had returned.
They resumed a more casual conversation as they walked toward the courtyard. Etanai and Eleri were already at the tables. Quite a few were busy selecting their lunch, with the usual easy intermingling. The Elder and the young Ulathai waited for them before heading for a cluster of divans in the shade of a willowy tree. When they were at last seated, Etanai inquired, "Did you enjoy your swim, Ka-ra-el"?
"Very much so", Carl answered. The pool is an interesting construction, and the waters are unusually refreshing. Vasai explained something of its construction, and the cycling operation to me. It seems in all things of Ulathai making there is both beauty and purpose."
Etanai responded thoughtfully. "We believe that where there is harmony, the two are one. However, I must admit, I refer to an ideal condition; one which, for the most part, we are all on our way toward. At least in the portioned realm of Time and Space." He paused, and sighed in an exasperated manner, shaking his head whimsically."Listen to me ! I seem to be an incurable philosopher - unable to discuss anything without philosophical musing" !
Carl smiled affectionately at his mentor. He felt a great appreciation for Etanai's thoughtful responses. He especially liked that the Elder had the seasoned view which included compassionate understanding, and was not just dry, austere intellect. It was truly the quality of 'philosopher-sage' in the very best sense. His response reflected this feeling.
"Etanai, I believe that philosophy is the seasoning of experience, and the mark of a wise and seasoned traveler. Your philosophical observations are valuable to me, my friend. Thank you."
Etanai smiled appreciatively. The young Eleri had been listening closely, and now studied Carl with new interest. "You seem to share much of the feelings of my people, Ka-ra-el", he said.
Vasai looked from one to the other of her companions. A slight smile played across her lips. She searched Carl's eyes from the depths of intense awareness. When she spoke, it sounded almost oracular. "Yes - it's as if a wanderer had come home ..." She let her comment trail away, leaving only intangible inference weaving like a wind through the mind. There was a silent message, beyond the obvious. Carl could feel it, but it was strangely indefinable, as if ages wafted by too swiftly to catch more than a flash. All sat in silence, as if listening still. Carl wondered if others had caught the fleeting message, or, like himself, were still reaching for a subtlety which floated like thistledown, fanned away by every effort to grasp.Nevertheless, a bonding had taken place. He was sure of it. He belonged with these people.
At last, Etanai broke the silence. The thistledown faded away in a current of words, leaving only the awareness of bonding. "We should begin our trip if we want it to be a leisurely one", he suggested. They returned to their lunch and the casual conversation of the immediate.
Carl learned that Eleri was one of a group of young Ulathai who were about to begin their training in "stress-familiarization". The young man spoke eagerly of this, such as young men anywhere about to embark on a self-selected career. It was apparent as he spoke what a fine young person he was , sensitive and compassionate, as well as highly intelligent, and capable of intricate technical comprehension. Enhancing all these qualities was the fiery enthusiasm of youth, and the steady dedication common to his people.
Carl wondered what lay ahead for the young man. He felt empathy already for the pressures he would keenly experience as a sensitive soul in the tumbling mass of a world city. Carl himself had been ultra-sensitive when young, and knew what reserves of strength it took to keep one's balance. It was so easy to succumb to the unhealthy temptations of the world. Somewhere from this experience, was where his armor of detachment was hammered into shape. It had been necessary for survival. Many times he had wondered if he had not sacrificed what made survival worthwhile in the process. In time, he had over-compensated until the facade had become a rusty armor. Subtleties of life's relationships could no longer penetrate. He had become a prisoner of it - until his encounter with the Ulathai had released him into understanding of his problem.
Eleri was, inherently, by nature of his kind, an acutely sensitive being. It was easy to understand why the Ulathai monitored such training so carefully. Carl was glad to know that the young man would be guided away from the mistake of closing himself off, as Carl had done in blind defense.
When they finished their lunch, Eleri was the first to rise. "I'll bring the visca around to the roadway", he said, indicating a point where the road approached the walkway.
After Carl and Etanai had returned the emptied goblets to a place provided for them, they joined Vasai to await Eleri and the visca. As the visca came into sight, it shone in the sunlight. The gold-colored, rounded oblong form, combined with the hovering motion, reminded Carl of a gigantic bee. He mentioned this to his companions, and all laughed envisioning the comparison.
"This 'bee' may collect the nectar of knowledge, Ka-ra-el, but it has no sting" ! Etanai laughingly explained, as the visca settled gently, and the dome slid back. Etanai suggested that he and Vasai would sit in the rear seats, and Carl would sit next to Eleri, so the vehicle's operation could be explained to him.
Once they were all comfortably in place, Eleri pressed a button on the control panel, and the dome slid down over the passengers. He then began to explain the controls to Carl. The panel was set at a low slant in front of Eleri. It was about twelve inches square in area. There were ten control devices on it, ranging from buttons, to screens sensitive to touch, and dials. Above the control panel was a small viewing screen of about the same size. Eleri explained that this showed, on the lower half, in graphlike lines, topography of the terrain ahead. Over this, on the upper half, similar lines showed the position of the visca in relation to the ground.
He then passed his hand over a lighted screen on the control panel, and the visca began to hum and vibrate slightly. Explaining as he did so, Eleri then activated two other controls. One caused the visca to rise. Another set its height above ground level at about four feet. He then activated a control to select direction, one to select speed, and one initiating forward motion. Finally, waving his hand over the lighted screen again, he told Carl that the visca was now locked into height above ground, (which would automatically be altered with rise and fall of terrain),speed, and direction. There was no more concern with its operation until they needed to alter these selections. It had taken only a matter of minutes to do this. They could now all relax and enjoy viewing the countryside.
They were moving slowly, so that there was ample opportunity to enjoy the view. This was more surreal to Carl than to his friends. He was aware that they were moving west, directly toward the site of his cabin. All were relaxed. Eleri was now leaning back in his seat. His eyes shone with pride and pleasure with the smooth operation of the visca. Like any young man showing off their car to friends, he was proud of its performance. Carl took the opportunity to express his appreciation. "Thank you, Eleri, for explaining the operation to me. It's a marvelously maneuverable vehicle !"
Eleri smiled with delight. "You're welcome, Ka-ra-el ! It's a pleasure to me !" His eyes remained steadily on Carl, and a depth of seriousness darkened them slightly. He seemed hesitant, as if searching for words. When he spoke, it was in a serious tone. "Soon, I'll be experiencing things with which you are very familiar, but to which I come as a novice." He paused briefly. "Each of us has some knowledge from experience which is special to us."
Carl knew that the young Ulathai was trying to explain why he had not understood Carl's vulnerability at the time of their first encounter. He thought about how kind and sensitive Eleri was.
Etanai spoke gently. "It is a wise Providence that has not entrusted all knowledge to any one of us, but has allowed a unique experience. Had it been otherwise, we might have missed one of Life's greatest treasures - sharing, and companionable exchange. "
"How true" ! Carl exclaimed, half to himself. He felt he had first hand knowledge of the validity of this philosophical observation. If he'd had knowledge of how to extricate himself from the 'overlapping' in it's early stages, he might never have continued in the encounter long enough to find the rich rewards it had brought. His curiosity might have led him to linger and investigate, but it would probably have been with his old, detached reserve. He most likely would not have merged with the people as he was led to out of need. He was glad that necessity had prevailed, and counted himself fortunate to have been so 'unarmed' with knowledge.
He would never have had this pleasant trip in the visca, nor the enriching companionship of these wise and gentle people. He would probably still be searching foggily for the awareness of Purpose he had found through this experience.
Before him, the landscape looked more like seascape. He thought how appropriate the term 'air-boat' was for the visca. Stretching ahead of them was an expanse of greens, silvery-blues, and indigo, splashing with sunlight on crests, like waves of a great ocean, extending to the strange horizon. It was hard to believe this was the same area he had walked through as desert only a short time ago.
Etanai touched him gently on the shoulder. "You no doubt recognize that we are heading directly toward the area of your cabin -" he said, half in question. "Yes", Carl answered, "I am aware of that". He turned in his seat to see Etanai diagonally across from him.
Etanai leaned toward him. "There are some things I have to tell you. Following the Assembly tonight, dispersal will begin. Methods of immediate procedure regarding the problems we convened to discuss, have been decided. We will disperse, and take up our posts. wherever they may be. Tomorrow, at sunrise, discontinuance of the overlapping will begin".
Carl was, of course, wondering how he was to return to his 'post'. He assumed that was what the Elder was about to reveal, so only nodded that he understood thus far.
Immediately, Etanai proved his conjecture correct, saying - "As to the procedure of your return, tomorrow morning you will dress as you were when you arrived. After lunch, Eleri will bring you in the visca to the site of your cabin. You will, by then, already begin to notice the terrain returning to its former appearance, so you will not have long to wait before your cabin re-emerges as it was. I assure you - you will be able to sleep there tomorrow night!"
"When you are again fully within your previous environs, you will simply proceed with your work as you deem best. From time to time in the future, you may encounter those who represent Ulathai. This arises solely as needed, and in a natural way - usually. There is no definite schedule, or prearranged pattern concerning it. Your innate awareness will guide you concerning the road ahead."
As Etanai was speaking, Carl suddenly realized that he had a hidden concern about these matters. It now seemed a weight rolled away from the back of his mind as he heard the simple and orderly solution revealed by Etanai.
Eleri touched the control panel, and the visca ceased its forward motion, hovering silently above the ground. "We are now directly above the cabin site", he announced. Carl looked about him. It was a surreal moment. Nothing in the multi-colored expanse around them was familiar. Yet - by this time tomorrow, he would be standing here, watching his cabin reappear from a fading mist. Would he be feeling 'lost' ? Even now, a displaced in time feeling welled. A thorough realization that his life would never again be as it had been, stirred strange feelings.
Etanai spoke a little wistfully, as if sharing Carl's feeling. "As we've traveled so slowly, we'd best return now, Eleri". Eleri spun the visca around, still in hovering position, and reactivated the forward motion toward the Encampment.
Watching the Encampment near across the flowing fields, Carl thought of his walk across the same area. Had it only been three days ago ? It seemed like another lifetime. It was - he told himself. Now, he saw the same prismatic glow he'd seen when first viewing from a distance. How like a mirage it had seemed then. And yet - how real it was - at its level.
Vasai had been silent during the excursion, listening, and occupied with her own thoughts. Now she spoke in a warm, inspired tone. She too had been studying the distant glow from which they'd come, and toward which they now advanced. "It looks like a magnificent sunrise from here, as if it signified the dawn of a new day. How wonderful that we have all been priveleged to share its glow" !
Carl felt a warm fellowship which drifted about them. He turned to Vasai, full of awareness of that privelege. "Yes - it is like a sunrise ! We have all shared in its glow. Now - like rays - we must extend that glow." Immediately Etanai voiced agreement. "Well put, my friend, and always remember, each sun is a star, one star among many."
Late afternoon sunlight shone richly around them. Ahead, the Encampment glistened with promise. Promise, and hope, and willing hands.