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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
A Wave For Passage

Lunch was casual and pleasant. Eleri had that wonderful ability of youth for accepting change with enthusiasm, and managed to steer them from thoughts of parting to anticipation of launch into new activity, and worthy pursuits.

When they at last approached the visca for Carl's trip of return, all were refreshed and relaxed. Carl took his seat beside Eleri, as Etanai and Vasai made the graceful gesture and uttered the words that meant this was no real parting of the ways. With great feeling in his heart, Carl responded in the same spirit, and the visca rose to begin the journey to return. Briefly, Carl looked back to the two dear friends standing on the roadway. The buildings behind them appeared misty and fading. In fact, it almost seemed his friends just vanished, as they had barely been any distance, before he could not even see them any longer. He turned his face resolutely westward, before rising sentiment could reach his eyes.

Eleri was looking intently ahead also, as if by an act of will. The landscape in view offered a variety,from clutches of lush greenery, to expanding patches of sand , and here and there, a few trailing ribbons of mist.

Carl looked to the South, toward the area of the wind-quake. That too had changed, and was yet changing. A thin mist veiled a large part of the view. The craters of dug-out vegetation appeared little different than sketches of re-emerging desert. Soon, even those scars would vanish from sight.

Eleri had locked the visca into direction, speed, and height. He now turned to Carl with an enthusiastic smile. "It's a great adventure, isn't it, Ka-ra-el? Don't feel strange. It's a little like traveling from one country to another, and then returning home. Only this time the country will come to you ! You have only to wait, and ride on the wave of Change" !

Carl brushed his hand across his hair, and smiled at the young man. He appreciated Eleri's genuine thoughtfulness, but it was apparent that Eleri's experience had not yet created a ground for him to understand just how odd Carl did feel. Nevertheless, the thoughts expressed were kindly intended, and really quite apt. It was just that Carl was not yet as accustomed to riding these special 'waves of Change' as the Ulathai.

Laughing, Carl replied. "It's good I have nothing to do ! I'm not at all sure I'd do it right. I might end up stuck somewhere in-between" ! Eleri laughed at this, and then his eyes grew serious. "You'll be alright, my friend. I'll tell you where you must wait. Just don't move from there ! Once the visca is out of the area the change can be accelerated, so you won't have long to wait".

It seemed a surprisingly short time had passed when the visca's forward motion stopped, and Eleri lowered it gently to the ground. As they stepped out, and Carl looked around,an involuntary laughter escaped him. As far as he could see, the terrain resembled nothing he recognized. It was just a patchwork of mist, sand, and clumps of vegetation. The hills which he had used to measure distance by, were obscured by a thick haze. There were scraps of thinning Paz-flora, sandy mist-shrouded patches, and even a few desert plants.

Laughter rolled out of him until his eyes were watering. He wondered for a moment if it were hysteria , but decided it wasn't. It was really a healthy thing that prompted his laughter. It was his sense of the ridiculous. He laughed all the more heartily at the realization. He had no doubt that what Eleri had told him was true. He knew it deep within. But he realized that had this happened to the old Carl, who had no such understanding, he would be running in a panic right now. Eleri was looking at him with a puzzled, concerned expression. Finally, Carl caught his breath, and turned to the young man apologetically.

"i'm sorry, Eleri. You'd have to know something of the fears and uncertainties of my world to know why I laugh. I laugh, because in that world it would be so ridiculous to let yourself get into a position such as this in which I now find myself."

Carl studied his companion's face, which was a portrait of bewilderment. To make his explanation more clear, he continued. "In your world, this is all natural to you. You know no distress. But - believe me - to those in my world, who are unaccustomed to such experience, it would be most distressing !"

Again the laughter rolled out. Finally, Carl regained his composure. "I'm alright now, because I know what you say is true, although I've not yet experienced it. You have prepared me. If I didn't believe you, I'd be frantic. That's why I laugh - at myself - do you see"?

Eleri's look of bewilderment was slowly replaced by an intense attention. He seemed to be studiously listening to every word Carl spoke. Now, he smiled and nodded, but Carl was sure it was more in relief than understanding. Then the young Ulathai said something that touched Carl's heart.

"Soon I will be in your world. What you speak of is part of what I will learn while there. And I hope to give some of the good things of my world while there. Thank you, Ka-ra-el, for helping me to understand some of what I will learn."

Eleri had spoken hesitantly, as if it were difficult for him to put his thoughts into words. Carl touched the young man's arm reassuringly. "I'm sure you'll be an asset in that world, Eleri. It much needs more of the values and ideal concepts of your people. Just remember that laughter is one of the healthier ways for relieving tensions there. This strange laughter for the awkward situation, or the ironies of time, is something you are not familiar with yet."

"It's a strange sort of courage, Eleri, that can laugh at one's own human frailty. At its root, it's the same courage that sends humanity searching into the unknown, and is the beginning of all progress. It helps us move past our inadequacies. Even now, I'm more at ease for my outburst. So please instruct me where I should stand to catch this wave of return" ! Carl laughed again as he made the last remark, and stretched his hands out in an open gesture.

Eleri smiled, with more genuine understanding. He turned and moved a few feet away to a small rising which was now all covered with familiar desert sand. "Here", he said, "this small area has already resumed most of its former state. Stand here and wait. Your cabin will reappear there". He pointed to a space a few feet away from where he stood. "Don't wander about, or you might find yourself in the midst of a cabin wall when your cabin re-emerges !"

Eleri laughed heartily. Carl could see that he had caught on to the humor of the ridiculous. Chuckling at the picture presented, Carl moved to the small mound of sand. Eleri touched his arm in warm friendship, and looked deep into Carl's eyes.

When he spoke, his words rang with a maturity Carl had not yet seen in him."Ka-ra-el, it seems to me that Life is like one of those puzzles that comes in many pieces. When those who share it stop disputing about who has the most important piece, and start trying to fit them together, the whole picture will emerge much more rapidly." He paused a moment, then continued. "This change in attitude is what occurred in the past to my people. It was that which accelerated our progress in comprehension of Amrishi, and gave birth to our present social values and motives. Someday this will happen in your world. Much that today seems idealistic dreaming will be actual. But this cannot be produced by legislation or force. It must be born in the minds and hearts of people. Keep faith in your vision of a better world, my friend. You do not work alone. There are many who share such a vision."

He studied Carl's face for a moment, as if to see if his words were understood. Carl nodded and smiled to assure him they were both received and understood. Eleri moved toward the visca. When he reached it, he turned and said, quietly and slowly, "Perhaps we'll meet again, in that world toward which we both now turn."

"Perhaps" - Carl replied. A boyish grin lit Eleri's face. "I'd best hurry now - before the visca vanishes without me ! Omu Amrishi !"

"Omu Amrishi" - Carl responded, making the now familiar gesture with slow emphasis. He watched with calm assurance as the visca hovered, spun around, and sped away across the misty scene.

As the visca faded into mist, Carl looked to the area Eleri had indicated to be the cabin site. He saw only a sprinkle of fading Paz-flora in the spot, and a few frail wisps of mist moving gently in air. That there was movement was mysterious in itself. There was not even a faint breeze. Yet, the scene, like the assembling puzzle of which Eleri had spoken, was now beginning to change more rapidly. Every time he moved his eyes he caught sight of some emblem of the desert which hadn't been there a moment ago.

Eleri's words seemed to be enlivened in his mind as he watched the altering landscape. He thought of the future that would be a happier prospect as humanity learned to harmonize its differences around more inclusive goals. He had no illusion that this would come about overnight. Healthy growth never did. It would unfold, like a seed, and bloom slowly, even obscurely, until humanity's values and motives had so altered in every individual that a new social consciousness, and 'conscience', had been born. Then the outer world would begin to reflect those inner changes. Every person who catches the vision, will be an instrument to build this future, just by the personal changes the vision brings in their own life.

Carl still was feeling suspended in Timelessness. He was witnessing a panoramic view of Change, both inner and outer. A thick silence pervaded the area, so heavy it seemed an actual presence. Now, as he looked again in the direction of the cabin, a dim hulk seemed to be taking shape, obscuring his view of distance beyond it. As he watched, the dim outlines became more distinct, until he could actually see the form of a plain, square cabin emerging.

He compared this experience to his trip across changed terrain a few days ago. That had been an odd sensation, and his reaction had been more acute. It was even stranger to stand and see the transformation occur before one's eyes, but his reaction was more placidly curious now. This was naturally due to the fact of his preparedness. He'd not witnessed the previous change by degrees. It had been veiled in fog. He had come into it by sudden discovery, with no forewarning. What a difference a little foreknowledge made !

He heard the call of a bird, and looked up to see four winged travelers outlined against a hazy sun. The world became a little more real with this breaking of the heavy silence. The cabin was now much more evident. Windows and boards showed, and he could even see shingles of the roof. More faint desert sounds reached him. Sounds which he might not have heard under usual conditions. Soft stirring of brush, a desert squirrel disturbing dried twigs, repeated calls of birds passing overhead, were all as warmly received as a welcoming neighbor.

Soon, the desert was there as solidly as remembered. The last of the Paz-flora had vanished. The cabin stood firm and solid, as the last lingering mist vanished. It was safe to move now. There was no doubt about where the cabin was. Oddly, he suddenly felt as if he had just stepped out for a few minutes. He approached the weathered presence, eager to be inside.

As he opned the door, the natural, musty odor of a closed cabin greeted him. He patted the walls like greeting an old friend, and moved to open the windows. Spotting the coffee-pot, he murmured - "Just what I want, a good cup of coffee !" Paz-flora nectar was great, but there was something to be said for coffee too ! He smiled to himself at this symbolic evidence of his human nature.

As he sat at the table, and aroma of perking coffee began to fill the room, he studied the cabin and its simple furnishings. How comfy and solid it felt, companionable with tangibles of Earthy flavor, shared by all her children. Sturdy and ripe with an ancient aura of Earth. He touched the little table lamp. Not so majestic and beautiful as the shining pillars, but lovely with its small light enfolding with care a few common objects. So also was the heartlight of humanity lingering lovingly around family and friends. Not so expansive as its future light would be, yet, of the same quality of all light, moving and shining through living. That was the Essence of which the Ulathai spoke, which moved through all forms in infinite variety.

Looking out the window, he saw a familiar view. The desert in its stern, bare simplicity, stretched before him. Yet, he would never think of it as barren land. He knew better now. In the distance, he could see vague outline of The Springs. A car was coming along the little used dirt road amid usual puffs of dust. He wondered who it could be. He didn't recognize it as belonging to anyone who lived out that way. The car continued, and as it reached the turn-off for Carl's cabin, it turned in. Plainly they were coming here, he decided. He also wondered what would have happened had they arrived only an hour ago.

He had no time for long thought on the possibilities. The car pulled up to the cabin, and he could see the driver. It was Alex Carlisle. Carl smiled to himself, remembering his past thoughts about the unlocked door between two worlds. He opened the door and greeted Alex with a welcome. He didn't offer the Ulathai greeting, waiting for Alex to set the communication rules.

Alex smiled and shook his hand, explaining, "Folks in town were wondering about you. No-one had seen you since the fog set in - in fact - there are several settlers who haven't been around lately."

Alex grinned with this last statement, and moved with Carl to the table. As they sat down, he continued -"We sort of figured it was the fog kept you in, but I told the townfolk I'd check up on you 'missing persons' - in case something was wrong." He laughed good-naturedly, and gave Carl a steady look, definitely intended to convey that he remembered, but made no mention otherwise. Carl intuitively knew that he was telling him there would be no outer evidence of their Assembly association. Carl quietly assured him he was fine, and offered him a cup of coffee. Alex accepted, but said he couldn't stay long as he had others to check on right away. As they shared the coffee, there was no discussion of the fog, except that Alex informed him radio news had explained it in terns of inversion layers, weather troughs and such. It was considered unusual, but not a first-time event for deserts. Then - he casually offered another item of interest.

"Jim Hayes - at the newspaper office - needs some part-time help. He can't use anyone full time, but he would like someone with experience in newspaper work". He took another sip of coffee, then continued. "I told him I'd mention it to you. You can contact him if it interests you." Carl said he might be interested. He wanted to talk with Julie before making any plans. "I'll be going into town tomorrow to call my wife, and pick up some supplies. I'll go by and talk with him then."

After Alex left, Carl felt that the two worlds had again merged. It would be easier now for him to bridge levels of awareness and function solidly where he was. Settling into his firm wood bed that night, he quietly outlined his first steps. First, he would call Julie. When he turned in the bed it creaked, and for the first time in his life he thought of it as a friendly sound; a sign of comforting solidity. Here, where he was, were raw materials of life, to be refined, polished, and shaped into creations worthy of forms for pure Essence. He was eager to be about that business.

With a satisfied smile, he eased into sleep, hearing Etanai's remembered voice - "I assure you, you will be able to sleep there tomorrow night". He smiled at the recall. Etanai had understood the comfort of familiar things. It was this understanding that had been on his face as Eleri spoke so lightly of the "wave of return". Etanai knew that Eleri had ahead of him unfamiliar things. That was the experience which lent seasoning to the Elders.


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
Return To The Springs