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Skin Deep

Skin Deep

Page 32

“Me?” Audrey said.

“You’re all I have.”

“Before this, I’d only been on a single mission!” she said. “I don’t know about guns, or fighting, or escaping.”

“You’re an expert on cryptography.”

“Expert? You read one book on cryptography. Besides, how is cryptography going to help? Here, let me interpret the scratches on the walls. They say we’re bloody doomed!”

Frustrated, I left her trembling with worry and forced myself to continue my inspection of the room. No windows. Some sections of bare earth where the cinder-block wall had fallen in. I was able to dig at one, but heard the floor groaning above as I did. Not a good idea.

I tried the exit next, climbing the steps and shoving my shoulder at the doors to see how strong they were. They were tight, unfortunately, and there was no lock to pick—just a padlock on the outside that I couldn’t reach. I might be able to find something to use as a ram and break us out, but that would certainly alert Zen. I could hear her through the floor above, talking. Sounded like a terse conversation over a cell phone, but I couldn’t make out any specifics.

I went over the room again. Had I missed anything? I was sure I had, but what? Without my aspects, I didn’t know what I knew. Being alone haunted me. As I passed Dion, I found the expressions on his face alien things, no more intelligible as emotions than lumps in mud. Did that expression mean happiness? Sorrow?

Stop, I told myself, sweating. You’re not that bad. I was without Ivy, but that didn’t suddenly make me unable to relate to members of my own species. Did it?

Dion was upset. That was obvious. He stared down at a few small slips of paper in his hands. More scriptures he’d found in his pockets from his mother.

“She just left the verse numbers,” he said, glancing at me, “so I don’t even know what the scriptures say. As if they’d be a help anyway. Bah!” He closed his fist, then threw the papers, wadded up. They burst apart from each other and fluttered down like confetti.

I stood there, feeling almost as sick as Dion looked. I needed to say something, connect with him somehow. I didn’t know why I felt that, but I was suddenly desperate for it.

“Are you so frightened of death, Dion?” I asked. Probably the wrong words, but speaking was better than remaining silent.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Dion said. “Death is the end. Nothing. All gone.” He looked at me, as if in challenge. When I didn’t respond immediately, he continued. “Not going to tell me everything will be all right? Mom always talks about how good people get rewarded, but Panos was as good a man as there was. He spent his life trying to cure disease! And look at him. Dead of a stupid accident.”

“Why,” I said, “do you assume death is the end?”

“Because it is. Look, I don’t want to listen to any religious—”

“I’m not going to preach at you,” I said. “I’m an atheist too.”

The kid looked at me. “You are?”

“Sure,” I said. “Almost fifteen percent—though, admittedly, several of my pieces would argue that they are agnostic instead.”

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“Fifteen percent? That doesn’t count.”

“Oh? So you get to decide how my faith, or lack thereof, works? What ‘counts’ and what doesn’t?”

“No, but even if it did work that way—if someone could be fifteen percent atheist—the majority of you still believes.”

“Just like a minority of you probably still believes in God,” I said.

He looked at me, then blushed. I settled down beside him, opposite the place where he’d had his little accident.

“I can see why people want to believe,” Dion told me. “I’m not just a petulant kid, like you think. I’ve wondered, I’ve asked. God doesn’t make sense to me. But sometimes, looking at infinity and thinking of myself just . . . not being here anymore, I understand why people would choose to believe.”

Ivy would want me to try to convert the boy, but she wasn’t here. Instead, I asked a question. “Do you think time is infinite, Dion?”

He shrugged.

“Come on,” I prodded. “Give me an answer. You want comfort? I might have a solution for you—or at least my aspect Arnaud might. But first, is time infinite?”

“I don’t think we know for certain,” Dion replied. “But yeah, I’d guess that it is. Even after our universe ends, something else will happen. If not here, then in other dimensions. Other places. Other big bangs. Matter, space, it’ll continue on without end.”

“So you’re immortal.”

“My atoms, maybe,” he said. “But that’s not me. Don’t give me any metaphysical bull—”

“No metaphysics,” I said, “just a theory. If time is infinite, then anything that can happen will happen—and has happened. That means you’ve happened before, Dion. We all have. Even if there is no God—even supposing that there are no answers, no divinity out there—we’re immortal.”

He frowned.

“Think about it,” I said. “The universe rolled its cosmic dice and ended up with you—a semi-random collection of atoms, synapses, and chemicals. Together, those create your personality, memories, and very existence. But if time continues forever, eventually that random collection will happened again. It may take hundreds of trillions of years, but it will come again. You. With your memories, your personality. In the context of infinity, kid, we will keep living, over and over.”

“I . . . don’t know how comforting that is, honestly. Even if it is true.”

“Really?” I asked. “Because I think it’s pretty amazing to consider. Anything that is possible is actually reality, given infinity. So, not only will you return, but your every iteration of possibility will play out. Sometimes you’ll be rich. Sometimes you’ll be poor. In fact, it’s plausible that because of a brain defect, sometime in the future you’ll have the memories you have now, even if in that future time you never lived those memories. So you’ll be you again, completely, and not because of some mystical nonsense—but because of simple mathematics. Even the smallest chance multiplied by infinity is, itself, infinite.”

I stood back up, then squatted down, looking him in the eyes and resting my hand on his shoulder. “Every variation of possibility, Dion. At some point, you—the same you, with the same thought processes—will be born to a wealthy family. Your parents will be killed, and you will decide to fight against injustice. It has happened. It will happen. You asked for comfort, Dion? Well, when the fear of death seizes you—when the dark thoughts come—you stare the darkness right back, and you tell it, ‘I will not listen to you, for I am infinite Batmans.’”

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