"I didn't walk through the portal," Eddie said. "Tim pushed me."
Gretchen nodded. "Just standing at that portal was enough to damage reality. But when Tim pushed you through, that was what tore the fabric of multi-dimensional spacetime to shreds."
"But that means it's not my fault... everything that's happened to the world."
Gretchen's brows furrowed. "I didn't invite you here to cast blame. Neither can I absolve you of your crime. This isn't about you."
"Still, it makes me feel a little better."
Gretchen shrugged and sipped her tea. "If it matters to you, I'm glad."
"So, what did you see through the... the veil?"
"What do you think I saw?"
"The legends say Tim stole the throne of God. Did you see God?"
"That's one way to put it, but it's misleading. It give the wrong impression entirely."
She sat back and frowned at him. "Since that day so long ago, I've struggled to put my experience into words. I'm still not sure I can."
"Have you ever met a mystic?" she asked.
"I don't think so."
"Well, perhaps you're familiar with their ideas. Many say we are all connected, that we are all part of one life, one consciousness, one source."
Eddie nodded. "Sure. I guess."
"They're mostly right about that."
"But they're partly wrong?"
"Not wrong, but they often come to the wrong conclusion. They think since we are part of one consciousness, we should return to that state of oneness to find enlightenment—as if that is our purpose."
Gretchen smiled. "And in drawing that conclusion, they've missed the point."
"What do you mean?"
She extended her index fingers, laying one on each side of her teacup, and rotated it. "The universe we know—everything we see, everything we touch, all of the laws of physics—it's all part of a projected reality. The universe feels solid, looks solid. Matter and energy behave in predictable ways, and from their patterns, we assume laws of cause and effect. We make observations and we master our reality. But this reality is only a hologram, a movie screen reflecting a deeper reality."
"You're not going to tell me I'm in The Matrix, are you?"
"Not at all. I've seen The Matrix. In that story, people experienced a computer generated reality pumped into their brains. When they pulled the curtain back on that faux world, they were still human beings, still separate entities, lying in vats in a vast power plant.
"But the projected universe goes much deeper. If you pull the curtain back on the reality you know, you find a much simpler system—a more basic order, and there you find that there really is only one consciousness. We really are one."
"So, what? We're all the same person?"
"Not at all. A person is a unique entity, but that person only exists in the unfolded reality—the explicate universe. In the implicate universe, there is only one consciousness, giving substance not only to living things, but to all things. All the stars, all the planets, all the space between them. You are an expression of that one entity, as am I. The universe began because that one entity began to experiment with form. It gave expression to that form, and that form, in turn, enhanced the entity."
"So, this entity is God?"
"And I am God?"
"No. You are Eddie Foster. You have your own mind, your own thoughts, your own consciousness. You exist independently. But your individuality exists only in the unfolded universe."
She tapped the table. "There is a forest of quaking aspen that once grew in a place called Utah. In this mishmash world, it still exists, though the name of the territory has changed. This forest covers hundreds of acres, tens of thousands of trees. It's beautiful. You may think each of these trees exist independently, but if you dig under the soil, you'll find that they all share a common root system. Each tree in the forest spawns from that same system. On the surface, you would count each tree individually, but when you dig deep, you find they are all part of a single organism.
"The universe you know is like that. Everything you see can be traced back to a single source—is connected to that single source. But the metaphor of the quaking aspen can only take you so far because it lacks one vital element that gives our reality purpose."
"What's that?" Eddie asked.
Gretchen's eyes lit up. "Evolution. Those trees will only ever be trees. But in our unfolded reality, a star takes hydrogen and makes more complex elements. The star explodes, and others stars form out of those elements. They, in turn, make even greater, more complex elements. The elements of life form. A single-celled organism emerges. Then a multi-celled organism. A coral, an amoeba, a fish, a frog. With each step forward, the collective consciousness behind the veil grows richer, more complex, more beautiful."
"So, the collective consciousness—God—causes evolution to happen?"
"Not at all. Each step forward is a surprise. The One Consciousness didn't make frogs or birds or humans. We evolve through DNA dice rolls and through individual and collective transcendence. Forms build and collapse constantly in an endless dance. The One Consciousness doesn't drive us all towards some final destination. We're not working towards heaven or utopia or the promised land. We don't exist to be perfected. We exist to ask the question 'What if?' and then to find out. We exist to surprise God. And by so doing, we redefine God. Our objective is not to 'return to the One'. Our objective is to take our individuality and find out what we can make of it."
Eddie leaned back, watching Gretchen. She waited for him to respond.
"That's a lot to take in," he said.
"Give me time, and I'll have questions."
"You don't have time for any questions but the most pertinent to our situation."
"What questions are those?"
She nodded. "Good question. The first thing you should ask is, what happened to Tim when he saw through the veil?"
"That's a good question."
Her smile broadened. "Unfortunately, I can't show you that encounter. Your five senses won't work in the realm of The One. So I'll try to explain. There is no time in the implicate reality. When I saw behind the veil, I saw Tim there—and others like me, individuals who pulled back the curtain and saw the underlying truth of existence. But Tim was different than any other. Rather than discovering truth, he brought his ambition and his single-minded obsession to change the past. He sought power, and because he sought it, he gained it."
"That's not easy to answer. It has to do with the nature of magic."
"What is magic?"
"It is the ability to change physical reality through focused will through a channel back to the source, The One. Many call this channel 'Spark'. It's as good a word as any. Tim opened this channel as wide as possible. Through his single-minded will, he intuited the channel and made himself the most powerful individual in the universe—more powerful than any who has ever or will ever exist. I doubt he remembers how he did it. When he encountered The One, he did not perceive his connection to it. He only demanded the life of his wife. When that failed, he seized what power he could to save her on his own."
"And will he succeed?"
"Of course not. From the unfolded universe, you cannot make life. The spark of life comes from beyond the veil, and Tim has no power there."
"So what is he going to do?"
"I don't know."
"How do I stop him?"
"I don't know."
Eddie stared at her. Gretchen collected the teacups back onto the tray and carried it to the counter. She turned the faucet and began washing.
"How can you have running water here?" Eddie asked. "You're on a floating island in the sky. Where does the water come from?"
"Would it surprise you to learn that I don't know?" she asked, not turning.
"It's not surprising. Just disappointing."
"This place is impossible. You've encountered impossible places before."
Ed thought of Holcomb and the observatory on the pinnacle. "Yeah."
"The catastrophic damage to reality caused by Tim's time experiment appears to not only have fused different realities. It's also created isolated disturbances in the flow of physical law. They're like eddies in the stream of spacetime where the rules get bent. These impossible places are beyond magic. Magic alters physical reality, but it requires focused attention. These physical anomalies require no intent and no magic.
Eddie scratched his jaw. "Tim said the same thing back when we were in Holcomb."
Gretchen turned to Eddie. "After I saw beyond the veil, I came back with the ability to see physical reality on a whole new level. I can see distant places. I can see people's thoughts. But places like this are difficult for me to see. Tim may have all the power, but he has less vision than I have. He can't see places like this at all—except with his natural eyes."
"If you can read thoughts, why did you ask me if I wanted sugar in my tea?"
She set down the cup she was washing, turned off the water and faced him, folding her arms. "I cannot read your thoughts, Eddie Foster. You are as impossible as this island in the sky."
Eddie blinked. "I'm impossible?"
"I cannot tell you why. Perhaps it is because you experienced all realities at once. Believe it or not, there's plenty I don't understand. I don't know why magic doesn't affect you like it does others. I don't know why I can't see you through extra-sensory perception. But I've been watching you through others, and there's one thing I do know."
Eddie waited. "What?"
"You and Tim are linked. You are like matter and antimatter. You cancel-out his power."
"You mean like when I touched the dream-Tim and he died."
"Exactly like that. And I suspect—. No, I know, if you touch Tim... the real Tim, he will die. And so will you."