(When reading the scene with Wis'sah, think of a Taelon. He's alot like one.)
"You know you'll feel differently tomorrow. Or in an hour. Hell, you'll probably change your mind half-way down.
"Yes. And another day I'll feel just like I do now. And another day after that. And another. On and on, for the rest of my life. Even if I got some success, which I know damn well by now I won't, I'd still feel like this once in a while. You know drugs won't help. You know therapy only makes it feel worse. And no matter how much my friends love me, and I them...
"Hey, what about your friends? They'll be really disappointed if you do this. They don't deserve this.
"And don't give me that 'they don't really care about me' crap, you're smart enough to see through stupid lies like that, lies your sickness tells you. I don't bloody care if it feels like it's true, it's not. You know that. They'd really be upset if you did this. And what about your family?
"Well, y'know, half the fun of this would be upsetting my family. They don't know me, anyway. If they did, they'd think I'm even wronger about everything in the world than they think I am now. They'd want me to change, they'd.... Well, I'd just rather do this to them. And on the other hand, they'll be better off without me. All I am to them now is a drain on what little money they don't have anyway. I should be rich, by all rights. I should be famous. And I'd give my family millions of dollars. And I'd move away and see them so rarely that I might actually enjoy the few times I did see them. Much better than seeing them every day. But I won't be rich, and I can't move away.
"Fine. Forget I mentioned family. Let's get back to friends. You don't want to hurt them, I know you don't.
"You're right, I don't. And hurting them is my second greatest regret. My first greatest, of course, is that the world will never get to enjoy my art. But the whole reason for doing this is that the world's never gonna read anything I write anyway.
"You don't know that. You're young yet. You're always reading articles about people your age or even a little older, and the articles are talking about the amazing success of people so young. Like it's abnormal. Like it wouldn't be so surprising if they were older. Like being older makes you a different person. Like-
"Yeah, I know. It's always annoyed me that so many people think age means so much. It has nothing to do with maturity or personality or talent or, well, or anything.
"And your dad's always talking about artists of all sorts getting jobs until they can support themselves with their art.
"I am aware of my father's opinions on the subject.
"And you admit he's right.
"Of course he's right. And maybe that works for some people, but it wouldn't work for me. Even if there was any work around here to be found, which there isn't, I couldn't get it. And if I could, I wouldn't have a ride. Twenty-three, and no license, and certainly no car. But even if all conditions were met, and I got a job, and it paid enough for me to move out and support myself, and pay for cable TV and the Internet-
"You don't need those, they're luxuries.
"Yes, luxuries which I need to stay sane.
"If you are sane.
"Reasonably sane, I mean. Even if I had all that, not having an artistic career would kill me. Well, it would drive me mad. And knowing that my job wasn't temporary, that I'd have to stay at it forever and ever... Well, perhaps it'd be best to just see if I could make that job be in the post office to begin with, cause it'd drive me postal either way. I am a writer. That is my reason for being. If I am not successful at it, there is no point in my ever having been born.
"'Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.'
"Oh, no fair, throwing the damned Desiderata at me.
"Hey, you're controlling both ends of this conversation, aren't you?
"You still want to do this?
"Yes. I believe anywhere I've ever been, anything that's ever happened to me, it has been what the Universe intended. And if it didn't always seem to be in my best interests, it probably still was. I'm glad of everything that ever happened to me, even if other things would've been easier. Nevertheless, these things often hurt. Maybe they're leading up to my ultimate success in life, in all my dreams, but I can't stand the wait. It's taking too long. Why should I have to wait? And what do I do in the meantime? And how long is it going to be? And is it ever gonna happen at all?
"It has to happen. I agree this is why you exist. To write. No one would be born if they're not meant to fulfill their purpose in life. Many do not fulfill their purpose, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. And you shouldn't have to wait, but apparently, you do. Get over it. What do you do in the meantime? Keep trying. Keep being miserable when you're miserable, and keep being happy when you're happy. You do know you're exceedingly happy a good deal of the time.
"Because I sit around the house reading and writing and watching TV, occasionally see a couple of friends. But this is not good. Living with family drives me crazy sometimes. And they shouldn't have to pay for me to survive, at my age. I should be paying for my own survival. I need money so I can move out. The only way I can get money is selling my writing. And that isn't going to happen, no matter how much it should. So.
"So. It's a long way down.
"Has to be.
"Yeah. So, I haven't convinced you? You know you'll feel differently tomorrow. Or in an hour. Or half-way down.
"I know. And that's stopped me a thousand times. But I'm tired of it. However happy I may be tomorrow, I'll feel like this again. And again... isn't this where we started?
"Just trying to keep the conversation going until you feel differently. You know it could happen at any moment.
"I know. But it hasn't happened yet. And it's not going to in the next couple of minutes. It's too late.
"Damn. Well, I guess it's too bad-- Hey, what's that?"
He saw a shadow cross the street below. He looked up. He saw an alien spaceship above.
"Woah. Can't miss out on this. I'll stick around a little longer, see what happens.
"I knew I'd think of a really good argument in time."
"Attention, people of Earth," said the alien on Jack's TV. "I am a representative of the Arbiters Caelestis, a council comprised of spiritual... seers, from various worlds. Our purpose is to help people properly organize and structure their worlds' systems of self-government. We take no part in government ourselves, but we do seek out the souls who should represent and guide their peoples. When we have found them, we inform them of their status, and inform the world soon after. Status is based on the age of the souls. The oldest of them are established as the supreme councilors of their worlds, and all they desire from life is provided them, in exchange for their services to their peoples.
"My fellow Arbiters and I will in the coming weeks be seeking out the elder souls of your world, so that they may imminently assume their rightful places in Earth's new world council. When this task is completed, we will seek out souls who may become Arbiters. They will come with us to learn the ways of the Universe. When your world council deems Earth and its people ready, they will establish relations with the other worlds of the Celestial Confederation. The Arbiters Caelestis thank you for your attention, and congratulate you on your impending admittance to the Confederation."
The alien dematerialized and reporters began their commentaries. It seemed similar addresses had been made around the world in every language, by other Arbiters. Soon the President and other leaders appeared on the TV and said the sorts of things Jack would expect them to say. In theory, he agreed with them. But in his heart, he had always believed his was a very old soul, and he couldn't help but see these aliens as his best chance of getting the life he felt he deserved.
The morning after the Arrival, there was a knock at the door of Jack's parents' house. Jack opened the door, and saw an alien standing outside. "Greetings," it said. "Interesting custom, knocking. We have been told it would be more advisable than materializing directly in front of those with whom we wish to speak."
"I'm sure it is."
"I am an Arbiter Caelestis. You are Jonathan McCarroll."
"I go by Jack."
"Ah. Jack. My name is Wis'sah. I am here to inform you of your status as an elder soul."
"Doesn't surprise me a bit. How old is it, anyway?"
"Nearly three and a half of your millennia, the oldest soul remaining on your world."
"The very oldest? Now that does surprise me. I- wait a minute. Remaining? What exactly does that mean, 'remaining'?"
"Souls do not spend more than four millennia on a world, and rarely that. Either they fade away over time, or transfer to other worlds, or Ascend. It is-"
"Okay, this 'ascend' deal, what's that, like nirvana, or Heaven, or something? And about 'fading away,' I can't say I believe a soul could just-"
"Many people on your world seem to think one religion is right, and so all others must be wrong. That-"
"Ah, yes, I always sort of thought there was room for compromise, that perhaps what happens is, well, maybe whatever one expects to happen to them after death is what does. One could go to Heaven or Hell or be reincarnated or, whatever. So I guess the end of a process, when the soul stops being reborn, would be Ascension, whether it was to Heaven or nirvana or fading away or whatever."
"And you are correct, Jack. Well, generally. There are exceptions, as with any rule. And one may believe in one religion and expect one of its potentialities to happen to them, when another potentiality of the same religion does."
"You mean, for example, someone calling himself Christian could believe he's going to go to Heaven, and instead end up in Hell."
"Essentially. Although of course, while there is much we do know conclusively that you on Earth yet do not, we still do not know everything. We the living have not met any God, there is still conjecture in our faith, still philosophy and debate. There is still... faith. But we are certain about some things, beyond mere faith. We do know there is truth in all faith systems."
"Anyone with any kind of faith would claim to know what really they only believe."
"A dreamer might know with absolute certainty that he is awake, and waking, know then that he is awake with a certainty that does not feel greater quantitatively, but qualitatively. It is similar with our knowledge of our faith's soundness."
"Now, as I was saying before, it is surprising that your soul has not yet transferred or Ascended. I hope I may have your permission to scan your soul in greater depth, and learn what I can of its history?"
"Go ahead. As long as you don't read my mind or anything."
"Only your soul. Only previous lifetimes." Wis'sah closed his eyes and placed three fingers and a thumb to Jack's forehead, and concentrated. "An artist through many lifetimes... You have rarely achieved your ambitions... You ended many of your recent lives... You have not had a serious romantic relationship for two and a half centuries... You have long had an unfathomable love for your world, considering how it's treated you... You are a good soul, wishing the best for your people.... I'm sorry," he said, taking his hand away, "your present mind is beginning to broadcast its thoughts beyond my ability to block them. I am obliged to inform you of any thoughts I overheard. You are a writer. You are excited not only by the knowledge that you will finally get what you've wanted from life since your soul was born, but because your people will finally have contact with alien intelligences. You recently considered once again ending your life, and decided against it merely because you desired to learn how this new contact would affect your world. That is all."
"Okay. Anyway, now what?"
"You will, along with the other elder souls of your world, go through a month of education, to learn the basics of what it means to be an elder soul, and a bit about Arbiters and the Celestial Confederation. Then you will be given one of the highest positions on your world council. The council will be made up of three Houses, one for each Elder stage. All Houses will be equal. Each House will have a head, and it seems likely you will be the head of the House of the 3rd stage. Other than that, you will live as you wish. You will have a... publishing deal."
"You do realize there will be opposition to your attempting to restructure the world's governments."
"Other souls we have spoken with have said the same thing. We don't understand this. We've never encountered resistance on other worlds. People are always grateful for our assistance, eager to set things right. Do you not believe you deserve to represent and guide your people as a councilor?"
"I suppose I do, but... people like to have choices. Democracy. They like to vote for their leaders. They like anybody to be able to achieve their dreams. We here on Earth, well most of us, I hope, believe in the equality of all sentient beings; people, that is. And of course, a great percentage of us don't believe in reincarnation."
"What do you believe?"
"Well, my soul sure feels old. Certainly older than 23. But I don't really know."
"Will you oppose us?"
"Not exactly. Part of me wants to, but a greater part of me wants the life I deserve too badly. Maybe I'll do what I can to keep things from changing too much. I... I don't know what I'll do exactly."
"Whatever you do will be what is right for your world and your people. An elder soul can do no less."
"I hope so."
That afternoon, after Wis'sah had left, Jack went to the mailbox and found a letter for him from a literary agent. It was dated a week before yesterday, a week before the aliens had come.
'Oh, my poor, dear boy,' it began, 'yours most cordially indeed,
'How on Earth have you managed to live so long, more than two decades, without the success you must surely need and desire, and I daresay deserve? This sort of thing I always wonder when I encounter an artist such as yourself who so obviously requires my help. And the world exists in such a way that far too many artists must suffer, and have always, and perhaps will always, and the few such as myself cannot begin to help nearly all of you, I am very much afraid and so sorry to say. A shame, a shame, an inexcusable shame, but it cannot be helped, though I do try, with some measure of lucky success, which will be your success as it is others': My success is helping you achieve your success. So come, let us work together to make it so, for it troubles me no end to think of those such as yourself, and indeed you specifically just at the moment, suffering so needlessly and unjustly, through the lack of artistic recognition and indeed such deserved success.
'But allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rupert P'Juste (that's an adopted surname, which I made up, dear boy, preferring it to my inherited name). I am in fact both an independent literary agent and owner of a minor publishing house, of which you have likely never heard. I do not advertise the existence of my house; rather, I have a few well-placed friends in the industry. Silent, unnamed operatives of my agency who work for the more traditional literary agencies and publishing houses. When manuscripts come across them which they realize cannot be accepted by the industry proper, for their form, their style, is not that which is commonly accepted, then they pass those materials on to me for consideration.
'You may wonder what this is all about, I mean to say, why I do what I do. It is because I have as long as I can remember had an unique, I mean so far as I know essentially unique, and curious... talent, shall we say. A talent for recognizing greatness of talent in others, greatness that may not often be easily recognizable as such by the world at large. It seems to me to be more at a way of seeing the talent of personality, and worthiness. I can see when one deserves to have success, have a good life, the life he or she most fervently desires.
'You may have guessed (or have I already said?) that I see this variety of talent in you, or rather I mean in your writing. As I have I believe said, you likely have not heard of me or of my house, and of course you have not sent anything to me for consideration. But of course too you have sent such works to other agencies, and one manuscript has recently come across one of my silent agents, who has brought the work to my attention, and I see it is not the sort of thing that would otherwise likely be published, though it deserves to be, in my opinion.
'And so I offer you a relationship of business and I very much would hope friendship, as I am close with most if not all of the artists like yourself whom I've aided in their achievements over the years... well, decades, now. As to the business of it, that would involve the publication of the work, and others in the future, and a regular contract, as it were, as it is with the official agencies and such. Although of course this business, it would be unofficial, and what I mean to say is, no written contract is involved, merely verbal, and a handshake if you are the type who is inclined toward such things. As I say, I like to keep my work secret, and am far more successful than you could really imagine possible or likely as the world is.
'I do go on, do I not? Well, and then so do you, as your writing testifies. And I've not yet written your name, I mean not within this letter: Jack. I ask that you would please contact me, as your schedule and ability permit, by way of sealed letter (no post cards, they can be openly read of course by those to whom they are not addressed) or telephone or electronic mail, any of these so that we may set up a date and place for us to meet, at your preference and such concerns, at which meeting we may discuss our future relationship business and as I say, hopefully personal, dear boy. All addresses and numbers and such are included on the back of this last page, as you'll no doubt have seen if I didn't point it out.
'as I have said Mr. Rupert P'Juste'
'yours most cordially indeed,
"So then," said Jack to himself, "perhaps I didn't need the Arbiters' help, after all.
"Ah, but you forget, if not for their arrival yesterday, today you'd not be here to receive the letter.
"Quite right. So, it's good they've come. The world's known far too much tragic irony, I needn't taste it myself.
"I say, don't you suppose this P'Juste may turn out to be a seer? One who will become himself an Arbiter?"
"I imagine he will. Well, I'll get to the cyber-café‚ and drop him some e-mail."
"Listen, just give us a chance, will you?" asked Jack.
"This is beyond ridiculous," said the Russian President. "Of course we cannot allow these aliens to dictate policy to us. We cannot allow them to shape our world as they will."
"You're not listening to anything," said Roger Blake. "They don't want to control our world or our policy, merely let us know who the best of our own people to do so are. I should think the world would be grateful for that. People always have a hard time choosing their leaders. They never know who's best for the job. At least they know none of the candidates are best for it. Now they can know who is."
"I can't trust anyone who claims the Dalai Lama deserves to be one of the 'world councilors,'" said the Chinese President.
"What a surprise," said the American President. "I of course can't object to the notion that, if indeed there's anything to this 'old soul' business, that he's one of them. In fact, I've been getting to know many of you so-called 'elder souls' for the past few months, particularly you three proposed heads-of-House, and for the most part, you seem like good, decent people. I probably wouldn't mind living in whatever world you all create. But you have to understand that we just can't let the Arbiters claim the power of election which belongs to the people."
"I understand," said Jack. "All I'll ask for is a trial basis. Why don't the governments of the world take a little vacation? Let us take care of things for a while. You don't have to officially surrender your power, just lend it to us. See if we do a good job. If the people decide they'd rather do things the old way, after giving us a fair chance, I'd gladly step down."
"Sure you would," scoffed Castro.
"None of us would really have a choice. You'd all still control the armies and everything."
"What about these demons?" asked the Pope. "While you were in charge, you could invite a fleet of them down to secure your positions, destroy the legitimate governments' military."
"They are not demons. And I for one would order them to do no such thing," said Jack. "I'd see to it they stay away. I've talked to them a good deal since the Arrival- of course all of us elder souls have- and there are two things I'm sure of. One- they have no interest in forcing us to do what they think is best for us. They've never done that before, because people on other worlds just automatically assume they're right about what's best for them. Two- the Arbiters are not a political body. They see the elder souls as political leaders, and as such would have to follow our orders."
"And I suppose," said Roger, "that if people wanted to be a bunch of blind, stubborn fools and refuse to accept us even after we prove ourselves, I'd be willing to step down, too. I'd move to some other, saner planet, but I'd step down."
"I am not a politician," said the Dalai Lama. "I would of course under any circumstances have to insist on the fair treatment of all human beings. If I had the power to ensure that, I do not see how I could give it up. Beyond that, I have no interest in government. I do not, however, mind one of the Arbiters' titles for us, 'guides.'"
"What about the rest of the elder souls?" asked the American President.
"They all more or less agree with one of the three of us," said Roger. "Or two of us, or all of us."
"I'd be willing to take Mr. McCarroll's suggestion of a trial run under advisement. I think perhaps now you should leave us current world leaders alone to discuss this among ourselves."
"Of course," said Jack. "See ya round." He got up from the table, and left the room. Roger, the Dalai Lama, and the few other elder souls present followed him.