A character sits on a mountain cliff and contemplates a mental test.
A cold breeze screamed up the slope to flow over the cliff precipice. He centered his awareness, fighting the shiver that would come. A slow bead of water traced its way down his back, opening his body to the frigid razor edge. He focused into the sensation, melding himself to the winds call instead of allowing it to penetrate his body.
The doctor's words permeated through his thoughts. "The war of entropy," he had begun, "is one of the most ancient battles of life."
The winds call came furious at the elevation over the narrow valley. A steady flow that channeled into the cradle of the valley nestled between the high mountains. It rode over green pasture, through the lower woods, and over the . "Don't fight the wind, but try and rise with it." And so he did, allowing the edges of his conscious awareness to blend into the moving sensation.
"When at war with entropy, the true enemy is the mind. The mind breaks first, and then the body follows." Easy to agree to the sage words from the warmth of a study, beside a warm hearth and separated from the environment by pine and tall shelves of books. Much more difficult to conquer the idea when in the banshees teeth.
Another bead rolled down his body, this line tracing its way over his shoulder and opening down through his chest.
"Out on that cliff you are faced with choices, Dante." He considered them. An organism could give up, use the power of his mind to make the easy choice. Wrap oneself in furs, and retreat to more suitable climate. This would be comfortable, though would not dry the towel.
The second choice involved staying out on the cliff face. "Much of the power of a man comes from his ability to shape the environment to his will. This is consciousness, and the will is the awareness. But there is potential for a much greater power, one much less often explored." One could certainly die out here. Allow the cold in, breaching the body through the towel and into the spirit. Give into the cold and allow it to steal the fire of one's life. But that, also, would not dry the towel.
Equally destructive would be to try and defy the wind, the cold, and the bodies perception of it. Many had made that mistake. The body and mind could never hope to hold out against the ceaseless power of the elements.
"The mind is powerful. It can win or lose the battle depending on how it allows the body to perceive the sensory." The Way. To dry the towel one must neutralize the part of the mind that allows the discomfort to invade it and give in to the cold. This control is The Way.
He meditated into the raging scream, awareness leaving the uncomfortable man's body and rising instead with the wind. In the wind there was no cold, or at least no perception with which to feel it. Only flowing from one place to another, its movement touching everything as the next took the place of the latter.
Through the wind he was in the valley. Skimming the water, shaping its blue facets to gleam like pieces of glass under the high sun. Whispering through the trees, carrying the songs of birds as its hands rustled the leaves of the forest. Screaming up the slope in channels to freeze a man in lotus position who tried and meld to it's oneness.
He opened his eyes to survey the valley. Thin tendrils of smoke wisped above the thatch and brick of the small village that hugged the river's bank. He could be in those houses, standing next to the iron stoves as soup came to a gentle boil on its top, taking a slow pull of whiskey and sharing stories with the people. He had been many times, and would in the future. But not at present.
"The strength of spirit comes from the control of one's body and understanding of its influence. Most people live as if they are leaves in a hurricane, blown about by whatever emotions or decisions take over their mind at the moment." Dante had known this his whole life, in some way. This had been the source of his anger for so long, the complacent drift of those around him.
"The Way is not one that has room for a superiority complex. Those that stray the furthest from the potential power are the ones who take the path and end up thinking are greater than it, convincing themselves of being some sort of messiah to lesser men." He had fallen into this trap. Been captured in his own reactions to this frustration. "The answer is respect. Respect the being of others, even if you want nothing to do with it."
"Accept the shortcomings of your fellow man. And when it attempts to affect your own being respond accordingly."
One could not expect to respond in any kind of effective capacity if they could not master their own perception.
"Steel your mind to the wind and cold. And then come talk to me about how that may prepare you to master your reaction to frustration."
Anger and frustrated had dominated his mental processes for so long, blocking out the potential for more. Had he been more aware this would have blossomed into something more than periodic self hatred.
"Being enhanced is a double edged sword. There are those who would give anything to be born again at the chance to have your strength, intelligence, and longevity. But there are even more who were born with this that only seek to subjugate the rest, spinning their wheels and exhausting themselves in pursuit of it. What will they have with them when on their deathbed?"
How closely did death watch him now? He reached up to feel the towel, moisture coming away on his fingertips. His skin surprised him at its warmth, radiating with control and focused energy.
Not close enough, but maybe by the time the fabric finally dried. The wood behind him rustled with the same wind that sliced at his exposed body. His sister's face flashed before him, contorted in laughter as she ran through the park, the great black canine nipping at her heels. She fell onto the soft turf, enveloped by the wolf as he chewed lightly on her struggling arms. "Good boy, Shade. You caught a 9 year old girl." The dog always had the same grin when Dante talked to him. He got bored with the easy prey and turned his sights on his owner, jumping up and planting his forelegs on Dante's shoulders. The two went to the ground where the beast ended up submitted on his side, panting heavily.
If Dante had the furry wolf-dog on him now he would have the towel dry in no time. He smiled into the face of the breeze. Fantasies wouldn't help him now. Or maybe they would.
He thought of the night in front of him. Roasting chestnuts around a fire with the others. They would pass around a bourbon fresh from the oaken cask. Once the bottle emptied he would take Sloan back to the bungalow for the rest of the night... He felt a heat come over him, but it soon passed.
No, fantasies wouldn't help him out here.
"Back in the days of the old world, privilege meant being born to a caring family, well off, being of a certain race in a certain place. These people were free to pursue dreams and ambitions by default. The rest only had fantasies, and usually got too lost in them to ever actually pursue anything."
"What is wrong with fantasies, how are they any different from dreams and ambitions?"
"Fantasies always take place in a different reality. They take you out of what is actually happening. No matter how bad things are you have to reality."
More sage words that were so sound in the moment. In practice it became much more difficult. When the reality is bleak one would rather face anything else beside it. What did he have now?
A freezing wind, an open cliff face, and a slowly drying towel on his back. At least the dripping had stopped, and he had the view of the valley. An eagle passed over the pasture at about the same height he sat at. It soared lightly on the wind, catching thermals and surveying the ground for mice. Dante closed his eyes and listened to the wind, letting his mind join it.
He let the valley be seen through the eyes of the eagle. Sharper eyes than his fixed on the ground for the slightest movement, air passing beneath the folded wings. A nest nearby... maybe some young.
"What is privilege now, then?"
"You are, Dante. You and these other kids come here so angry and lost. Back in the day any one of you could have easily been olympic athletes, brilliant scientists, writers, artists, business leaders, models, anything really. It would have been worse then, but even today with how far we've come as a global society you are almost hardwired from birth to be conquerors."
Conquerors. Emperor Dante, greater than Napoleon. It did have a ring to it, used to have an appeal. Did Napoleon die happy, though? Satisfied? What did he find when at the heights of his triumph or the bottom of his despair in exile?
What did the CEO's and tycoons find when they took salaries thousands of times higher than the employees they lobbied so hard to take even more from? The doctor had a point, there had to be more to the world than simply shoving one's face as deep into the trough as possible, muscling aside everyone else always for more.
How could the others with minds as advanced as the doctor said lose their way so far? He himself had not found the answer to what would be fulfilling, but he had found that Dante the Emperor, with all his self loathing and disdain for his fellow man, would not be it.
"You will find that The Way brings its own power. Much more satisfying than any harnessing of resources on this Earth, or even in the solar system, could bring."
He had found bits of this truth. It hadn't taken long. His brief time exploring what substances and chemicals had to offer had shown him a mode of thinking fundamentally different than any he could have imagined. Time meditating alone in the forest, in a habitat of his own construction against the elements had brought an internal, human content. Skinning one's own kill, cooking it over one's own fire in one's own cabin, warm and separated from the harsh elements. He had discovered a vein of humanity lost with their civilization, but one he felt still worth experiencing.
And now on the cliff face. Just his own body and mind to conquer. Much more fulfilling. He reached up to touch the towel, surprised to find it dry over his red and hot skin. The cold never registered to him. He held the fabric to his face. Dry.
"Is it dry then?" The doctor's voice should not have surprised him. Of course he had been nearby, moving about with his smooth subtly, like a fly in an empty concert hall.
"I'll need that, my hands are very dirty." Dante rose and took the robe from the man, seeing his hands were indeed covered in dirt.
"Yes, very dry. How do you feel?" He searched the man's face for some hint of how to respond.
"Cold. But satisfied."
"Yes, drying the towel can be a very cold business. No doubt about that." The man chuckled and took off his round spectacles. "What did you learn?"
"Discomfort. How to cope with it. I learned that I could actually do it."
The doctor wiped his glasses with the rag. "The first time is always special. I remember... Well I'll spare you that story."
Dante roped himself and tucked his hands in the pockets. "Some other time, no doubt."
"Of course. How about you come with me to the greenhouse and check out these Moringa vines coming in."
"How are they looking?" Dante took the path with the doctor.
"Oh I think this particular gene-recipe is going to work excellent in the dome. Got it from a friend in Cuttack." The path wound up steeper into the trees. "I'll have to ask Dmetri to check the algae layer, though. It's looking a little light."
"The bacteria might be too active. They've been multiplying like crazy with the nutrients we're pumping in."
The silence hung for a moment as they crossed a stream trickling across the path.
"Dmetri will know. What are your plans for the night? You are all doing performances in the hub?"
"Yeah. We we're going to have a fire and break out some of that bourbon Kendrick made." The doctor looked over at him and smiled.
"And you and Sloan? You better watch out for her, young man."
"Maybe she has to watch out for me," Dante grinned back.
The doctor chuckled at that. "A girl like that could shatter a man's heart with one look. I'm sure you'll be alright, though."
Dante thought about that for a moment. He had come to the same conclusion the few times she had snubbed him. "I'd only have to deal with that for a little while longer."
"Very true. Where are you going to go when you leave?"
That would be the great question. Dante had lost a fair amount of sleep thinking about answering it. "I think I'm going to make a stop at the library. From there go back with the Professor for a while or spend some time alone first."
He looked over at the doctor, who let the silence hang for a while.
"I don't know." He began, easing his way into the words. "I think you're gearing yourself up for disappointment there."
"You don't think I should, then?"
"I'm not saying that. You're going to have to at some point. But you should just know ahead of time."
A stone way lead up steeper through the woods. Silence hung as still as the win in the protection of the tree's.
"Did you ever meet him?" Dante finally asked.
"A few times. Through the professor, mainly." The doctor kept it short. Dante decided not to press any further.
The doctor gave more anyway. "He is a great man. I can't think of any human being to influence the world as much as him. I just wonder if it had to be this way."
"You say is..."
"I didn't know him like the professor. In my mind a man like that doesn't just disappear to die alone." Dante had wondered the doctors thoughts on that. This was the closest he had managed to get. Patience had always been the most fruitful strategy with the doctor.
"So you think he's still alive? Out there somewhere?"
The doctor kept walking, not looking over to meet Dante's look. "I couldn't answer that for you, son. I don't know."
The lodge came in view through the tree's, and Dante decided to leave the subject.
"I am going to go the library when I Leave. It's the only thing that can be."
"Then it will be. Just know going in what you want to find and what you might find."
A thin tendril of smoke rose from the lodge. Beyond it stood the green algae dome...