Down Time

“Hey, Asroth, whatcha doin’?” Pelin had just tumbled through the wall of the Watchtower and was yammering before she had even righted herself. “Everything business as usual? Any surprises you’ve had to take care of?”

Asroth rolled his eyes and prayed to the Umana for patience.

“What’s He doing today? Today. Ha ha!” She tumbled backward through the air, laughing in her tinkling voice as if she had made the funniest joke in the Universes, rather than the same non-joke she made every time she pestered him at his post. “Today” was not a very effective term in most parts of the Universes, and as Asroth knew first hand, the Newly Formed, like Pelin, usually took a while to get a good handle on the concept.

At his post in the Watchtower, Asroth was filling his mission as an Elemental Speaker; one of his two current Missions. But during his other Mission, as a Teacher, he spent a great deal of time trying to help the Newly Formed understand space-time and knew too well that most of them took a while to see any value in temporal delineation. Pelin, on the other hand, had caught on very quickly; and, for reasons only she and the Umana knew, found it to be completely hilarious.

Taking a deep breath and repeating his prayer, Asroth swiveled his sizable mass on his perch and reached out a hand to steady his little friend whose tumbling laughter threatened to spin her entirely out of the room. Although Pelin’s unembodied form wasn’t usually affected by temporal matter, Asroth had not been simply temporal for many cycles and his cupped hand soon held the steadied if still giggling Pelin in its palm.

“Very funny, little Halfmade.” Asroth rumbled, with a stern frown that lost some of its effect to the twinkle in his eye. From the safety of his fortress of fingers and thumb, Pelin grinned up at him until he gave in, letting his mouth twitch into a half smile of its own.

Asroth spun back to his former position and lifted his cupped hand up to the Portal. “What’s He doing today? He’s teaching today, of course,” he said, raising his thumb a bit to act as a guard rail for his little passenger.

“Now who’s trying to be funny!” Pelin retorted as she scrambled to her feet, holding tightly to Asroth’s proffered thumb, “Of course He’s teaching. He’s always teaching! That’s kind of His job.”

“Well, one of His jobs, yes,” Asroth said a little more soberly, “His main job for now at least.”

“Yes, yes, but He teaches in all the cleverest of ways! Tell me how He’s doing it today!” This she said while searching the vast scene before her of the world on the other side of the Portal. There were green hills rolling down to a wide sea that was painted in the oranges and reds of this planet’s setting sun. On the shore, people were cleaning out their boats and securing them for the night. Some were laying out their nets to dry while others prepared an evening meal taken from the fruits of their day’s labor.

“How about you see for yourself,” Asroth teased, thrusting his hand toward the Portal as if to toss Pelin through. The cupping of his fingers more closely around her belied his real intent but he nevertheless succeeded in startling a squeal out of her as she wrapped both her arms tightly around his thumb as if for dear life. Of course, the real consequences of a Newly Formed falling into a temporal world were fairly inconsequential but someone as inexperienced as Pelin didn’t usually know that. Plus, despite her insatiable curiosity, she really was very shy and probably feared meeting Him or anyone else below. Asroth suspected that her openness with him was entirely due to the many, many sessions they’d spent together during his other Mission, with him as Teacher and her as Pupil.

Asroth remembered well the first time Pelin and her group had been brought to his class. She and the rest of her Octet had been very newly Formed and the eight of them had still been wobbly in true 3 dimensional space. The Void whence they come has nothing like substance or light, let alone color or texture, and so the transition for a Newly Formed can be pretty overwhelming. Asroth, despite his prodigious physical stature, had always had a love for tender, young things and so was pleased to have been selected to teach these freshly Formed children of the Umana.

Thinking on that very first meeting, Asroth smiled, remembering how timid they all had been, but especially Pelin. For a being who had spent its whole previous existence as a single point without height, length, or width, to be confronted by someone is substantial in all three of those directions as was Asroth must have been challenging. But, as with all his former pupils, they had each eventually warmed up to him and were soon enough asking him as many questions as he could answer. And especially Pelin.

Now, as he held her suspended over the Portal, cradled in a hand which was larger than her entire Formed body, Asroth realized how fond he had become of her. She was going to do great things, this little Beginning.

“OK, OK,” Asroth smiled, as he pulled her back away from the edge, “I’ll tell you. He really has been teaching…” Pelin put her tiny hands on her hips, but before she could reprimand him, he quickly held up a finger with his other hand and said, “He has been teaching in many ways. He and His pupils had left town to try to be alone for a bit but the people followed Him. They gathered from all around and ended up being quite the crowd. He just learned yesterday that His cousin and friend had been killed and He really did want to be alone, but, despite that, when He saw the earnestness of the people, He went to them and healed their sick.”

“Oh!” Pelin interrupted from where she had settled cross-legged in his palm, “So, you had some work to do!”

“No, no. Bioalignment is entirely different from Elemental Speaking. Pol covered that.”

“Hmph. Boring.” Pelin grouched, shoving her chin down between her two clenched fists, elbows resting on knees.

“Well, I did enjoy the show. Pol is very good at what she does and she tells me that working with Him is much easier than when others on the planet heal.”

Pelin still didn’t seem satisfied, so Asroth explained further. “But, the point is that He taught them compassion through His actions. He did not need to do them any favors. I’m pretty convinced that most of them were only coming to see a spectacle of some kind. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that He was dealing with the recent grief of His lost family member, He served them in ways only He could.”

Pelin now seemed mollified and Asroth continued. “While he was healing everyone who was ready for it, He also taught them through His words. He spoke to them of love and of the Umana and of the possibilities each of them contain. He really is a master with that language of theirs, painting very compelling images with his voice. Frankly, that’s one of the best parts of this assignment; just sitting and listening to Him.”

“Yes, oh yes!” Pelin agreed, “I wish I had come earlier. Do you think He’ll speak again?”

“I don’t believe He will any more until their sun rises again on them. He left them all at sunset and headed up into the hills. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. After healing them and speaking to them, He again taught compassion, only this time to His pupils. The day was coming to a close and their temporal bodies were in need of nourishment. His pupils thought He should send the folk all back to their villages, but He suggested they feed them instead. I’m pretty sure He was also looking to teach the pupils the possibilities of faith; trying to break through their assumptions of temporal limitation. Whatever the case, there were something close to 20,000 people there and the pupils had a measly five loaves of bread and two little fish.”

“I don’t understand,” Pelin said waving her hands to make him stop, “I’m assuming five, um, loaves of this, uh, bread and two … what did you call them? Fish? I take it that’s not very much to fuel their bodies until their next meal. Is that right? But what’s a bread? What’s a fish?”

“Ah, right,” Asroth had briefly forgotten whom he was talking to. “Yes, well, I’m glad you at least understand the concept of eating, anyway.”

“Oh, please,“ Pelin said, dramatically rolling her eyes, “Do you think I was born yesterday?” But her superior air was spoiled when she snorted, repeated the word “yesterday” as if it were the height of humor, and gave in to another fit of laughter.

Asroth sighed and waited patiently for her giggles to subside and then continued, “No, of course not. Well, a fish is a class of life form that lives in the waters of this world and, especially for communities like this one, provides a significant source of the people’s nourishment. One or two moderately sized fish can feed a family of humans for as much as a day. Those people you saw eating on the shore below were eating fish. Bread is a bit more complicated but involves crushing very small life forms and then heating the resulting paste to high temperatures.”

“How awful!” Pelin shuddered. “Being embodied sometimes sounds dreadful.”

“Yes, well, the crushed life forms are really quite plentiful. Although, it does take the sacrifice of several hundred of them to make enough bread to satisfy a human family for a day.” Asroth trailed off and could see in Pelin’s shocked expression that he hadn’t argued his case very well. Nutritional ethics were not his strong suit.

“Anyway,” he said, trying to change the subject, “that’s really beside the point. The people needed to eat and there weren’t any good options for them, so He decided to provide them. Ended up producing enough nutritional mass from those few loaves and fish to feed the 20,000 plus leave quite an excess. The crowds were satisfied and, hopefully, some of them appreciated it more than just as a way to fill their bellies. His pupils mostly seemed to get the message. So, another successful effort at teaching.”

“Oh, wait!” Pelin perked up, “So did you help with the replication of food?”

“Nope. Complex Materials Replication is not my job. I can do a Replication if simple molecules are involved, especially if it’s water, but I don’t have the talent for the complex stuff.”

“So, you’ve basically just sat around since you came on watch?” Pelin jabbed.

Asroth, however, didn’t rise to it. “Other than acting as a Teacher when I’m not even on that duty? Yup, pretty much just been sitting around.”

Apparently recognizing she wasn’t going to rile him, she said, “OK, fine. So, what did He do next?”

“Well, He sent the pupils to get a boat ready to cross their little sea, then headed up a mountain to contact the Umana. He’s been there for some time now. I’m thinking it’s been quite the day for Him.”

“So, He’s there now?” Pelin asked, jumping up and turning around toward the Portal, once again holding on to Asroth’s thumb for balance.

“Yes, He is. He continues to communicate with the Umana and, although I can see where He is, I do not understand the communication itself. That’s above my rank. His pupils are quite a distance out in the boat as well. Perhaps He has decided to join them tomorrow.”

“So, basically, I’m too late for anything exciting.” Pelin crossed her arms on top of Asroth’s thumb and, resting her chin on them, stared wistfully out into the darkened scene below. The men had finished their labors and were now wrapped in cloths for the night. A sliver of this planet’s only moon was fighting to show itself between scudding clouds and a wind was beginning to ruffle the darkened water.

Continuing to gaze out over the sea, Pelin pulled downward on Asroth’s thumb which he obligingly lowered until she was able to sit sideways. Tucking her feet up underneath her body, she rested her arms and head on his thumb and, in a voice muffled by her thoughts, quietly said to the darkness, “I come here every time hoping that I can hear Him speak.”

Asroth smiled gently at the back of her head. “Oh, do you, little Halfmade? And here I thought you kept coming back for my good looks.”

He had meant to tease her out of her stillness and so was surprised when Pelin simply continued to stare pensively into the dark and, patting his thumb with her little hand quietly said, “Oh, that too. That too, Teacher.”

Asroth’s substantial eyebrows lifted toward his hairline and he continued to stare for a moment at his little pupil. Despite her infinitesimally short time out of the Void, this little Newly Formed had developed a complexity that Asroth had rarely witnessed on one so young. Perhaps only once before.

Yes, this little Beginning would go far. He would have to keep an eye on her.

For a time, the two friends sat quietly together watching the wind play with the surface of the water, whipping it into frothy waves. Although his assignment was to provide support for anything He did, Asroth also kept some of his attention on His pupils which seemed to be struggling just to make headway in the contrary waters. If one of them needed, and was capable of receiving his help, he would be ready.

The rhythm of their oars provided a steady metronome to count the passage of the night and led Asroth’s thoughts back to when he, too, was Planet Bound. As he had done then, these men below were pushing through time, stroke after stroke. Everything around them taught that time was measured and compartmentalized: the pulsing of their hearts, the turning of their planet, the orbit of that planet around their sun, their progression toward death. All, metronomes beating out the rhythm of time. For Asroth, who no longer had any of those things, and for Pelin, who had not yet experienced them, time was much more malleable and so, some time and no time later, Asroth said quietly to Pelin, “Here He comes.”

As Asroth and Pelin watched, both now pulled back into the conscious time stream from below, the Man came down to the shore and headed slowly toward the water. For a moment, it seemed that He might join one of the groups of the fishermen who were sleeping in clusters along the beach. By His tired steps, it appeared that He could use the rest. However, He quietly skirted each one and continued past, down toward the rough waves cresting and crashing onto the shore.

Suddenly, Asroth sat up straight and moved to deposit Pelin on the floor. “Looks like I’m needed, little friend. Sit tight. I’m not sure how long this will take.”

“No! Take me with you!” Pelin protested, hugging Asroth’s thumb in a fierce embrace.

“Pelin, let go! I need to leave!” Asroth shook his hand vigorously, trying to dislodge the determined little Newly Formed, but she had now wrapped her legs around his thumb as well and would not budge. An advantage of having presence only in the Inchoate Plane was that physical forces, such as the inertia from a solid wrist flick, had no affect on you. Asroth could disentangle his thumb from Pelin’s grip, but it would require him to drop entirely into the physical dimensions and he didn’t have time for that.

“I know, I know!” she wailed, “He needs you, but I want to go too. I know there are no rules against it,” she wailed, then, showing an astuteness that Asroth did not realize she possessed, said, “I know I can’t really hurt or be hurt down there. I’ll be as silent as a ghost. I promise!”

“Argh! Pelin! Fine, but I will need all my attention for Him. Hold on to me, but you are entirely responsible for your own self.” And with that, Asroth, with Pelin still wrapped tightly around his thumb, dove into the world below.

They sliced through the air toward Him. If the sun had been shining and if they happened to look directly at Asroth, the men below would have seen his rocketing form as a faint heat shimmer. As it was, with the darkness of the night and the storm, he was completely invisible. Pelin would, of course, have been entirely invisible day or night.

Asroth aimed himself for the shallows in front of and a bit to the side of the Man’s path hoping for deep enough water that he could immerse his entire bulk below the waves. He wasn’t overly worried about being seen in this weather, but he had learned to be careful on this particular world. The evolutionary process on the planet Asroth had Risen from had developed women and men who were significantly larger than those found on this planet and Asroth had been considered large even among his Planet Bound peers.

In the early days of civilization on this planet, when Asroth was only an Apprentice Speaker, he had accidentally appeared to some mountain tribesmen while looking for a place to practice ice sublimation. The slip had been only momentary, but to this day, there were myths of giant humanoid creatures who walked those snowy slopes. It didn’t help that he’d left some undeniably large footprints behind.

Such a mistake would never happen now. He had since become an Elemental Speaker Second Class, with all the training that entailed, and had a much steadier grip on his presence in the various space-time phases.

Regardless, Asroth was not going to take any chances with an operation involving Him and planned to be submerged during this entire exercise.

Asroth and Pelin hit the water at a sharp angle and sliced in with only the barest of ripples on the rough surface. As they came to an immediate stop on the seafloor, Asroth was satisfied to see that his calculated trajectory had placed them in enough water for cover while still being close enough to the shore to do his work. Their timing, on the other hand, was much tighter than he would have liked. The approaching Man was walking with a measured but confident step through the wet sand, the lower edge of his robe soaked from the receding and advancing waves.

Still not knowing what would be asked of him, Asroth tuned into the local wavelengths and began to gather up the chattering threads, getting ready for anything. He was truly in his element; water was his specialty. At social gatherings, he was often asked to put on spectacles, making water fountains dance or ice sculptures slowly carve and then recarve themselves. Although naturally quite reserved, Asroth used these flamboyant situations as opportunities to improve his skill. Manipulating water molecules to that level of precision while under the pressure of an expectant crowd was not unlike the requirements of operations like the one in which he now found himself.

The Man continued straight into the water until the swell reached as high as His knees and then He stepped up. As Asroth watched, he felt as much as saw what He intended to do and immediately reached out to the molecules beneath the Man’s leading foot so that when it came down, he stepped onto a solid surface just below the waves. With one hand pushing against His bent knee the Man wearily lifted Himself onto the ledge and then continued along the solid path of water stretching out before Him.

Asroth was thrilled but not at the spectacle of Him walking on water. This type of thing was really quite straight forward. The water molecules were so close to their freezing point, that coaxing them into a rigid crystalline structure while at this unusual temperature took little more than a bit of encouragement. What was thrilling was the level of cooperation the molecules exhibited. Asroth was quite good at what he did, but he had never experienced such ready willingness from the water. As the Elemental Speaker watched Him stride confidently across the liquid surface, with the water solidifying smoothly before him and relaxing behind, he began to understand what the Healer, Pol, meant about the work being easier with Him.

When a Guardian, such as a Speaker or a Healer, works with someone in the temporal plane – a Planet Bound – it is something like a dance. The Planet Bound brings most of the intention and the Guardian brings most or all of the ability. Once in a while, you find a Planet Bound with a broad enough mind that she or he contributes some ability as well, but, in Asroth’s experience, that was fairly rare. When he split that rather large body of water recently, to let the group of refugees pass through, his Planet Bound counterpart had been really very helpful. But that had been quite an exception. His more recent assignment, to keep that whiney little man supplied with fresh air while inside that fish, had taken a great deal of effort from Asroth. He had spent three straight days pumping air and fresh water from the surface down to the depths while Mr. Shark Snack barily mustered the will to breath. Exhausting. Although, his aquatic umbilical cord had been the talk of the Guardians for some time afterwards and was probably the reason he’d been entrusted with this current assignment.

What Asroth was doing now was as simple as thinking. The water molecules seemed to join beneath the Man’s feet of their own accord. In fact, as Asroth looked more closely, he almost believed that nearby molecules were pushing their way forward so that they, too, could get in on the action.

“What are you grinning at, silly man?” Pelin asked, startling him out of his rapture. In the rush of getting himself oriented and the thrill of the task, Asroth had momentarily forgotten his tag-along. He glanced down at her and his grin widened. Despite the fact that the water streaming around them was on a plane entirely distinct from her physical form, she was clearly struggling with the sensory onrush. Her eyes darted one way and another and her grip on his thumb would have cut off the circulation, if his body worked that way.

Asroth repented somewhat of his admonition to her to take care of herself and pulled his hand more protectively up toward his chest, cupping his other hand around the one she clung to. It said quite a bit of her trust in the system that she was willing and even anxious to come along on this journey and Asroth admired her for it. She was right, of course. Nothing here could really hurt her and she couldn’t do any real harm either. There were too many safeguards in place for that. Nevertheless, jumping into a temporal world was not something the Newly Formed usually did without significant preparation and coaxing.

“You, little Halfmade, are quite literally out of your depth,” he said, “Now, hush and let me do my work.”

The Man had made steady progress out onto the sea and Asroth decided it was time to shift his position to keep up. He pushed himself parallel to the watery path and let his body continue to glide forward at a steady pace that matched His speed.

Asroth was careful to flow with the natural tides of this sea so as to not startle the school of fish that was beginning to follow the Man walking on the surface of their world. Most life forms would not recognize Asroth’s presence unless he did something dramatic, but he tried to be careful nonetheless.

As Asroth settled in beside Him, following His steady pace across the sea, the Man turned His head toward him and gave a tired but welcoming smile. “Hello, Teacher,” He said to Asroth, “I wondered if that might be you.”

“Hello, Yeshua,” Asroth replied, pleased that He remembered and recognized him, “Although I am not sure if, now that the Pupil has become The Teacher, He should still use the title on me.”

“Ah, but my first teacher will always be Teacher to me.”

Asroth smiled, remembering the thrill of teaching Yeshua before He was called by that name; when He was first formed from the Void. Asroth had served as a Teacher to innumerable Newly Formed across hundreds of Universes, but he had never taught one such as He proved to be.

“And even in so saying, you teach me,” Asroth replied, “I am humbled to help You now with my little Speaking as I did in the beginning with my little Teachings. Although, now as then, You are grasping the concepts almost before I can show them to You.”

“No, Teacher, do not underestimate your part. None of us work alone. I am grateful for your guidance then and now. Tonight, as I stepped into the tide, I had a sense for how it might work, but it was not until you drew the water into the proper pattern that I understood the whole. I was particularly impressed by the texture you showed me for the surface. I had been thinking of rigidity but had not yet progressed my vision to include grip.”

Asroth swelled just a bit with the compliment. That had been a rather important detail, but he hadn’t thought anyone would ever notice.

Some of the weariness in Yeshua’s smile smoothed away as he continued, “I now see that, without your cleverness, I would have slipped right off the other end and undoubtedly given myself a rather unflattering dunking.”

Asroth laughed and felt Pelin gasp in surprise. “Yes,” he agreed, “probably not the best for your image.”

“Well, I am sure it would have fit in nicely with what most of the people around here generally think of me and my rural upbringing. But,” Yeshua added, with a widening grin, “I probably should avoid that type of display in front of my followers.”

Asroth let out a roar of laughter that was joyful enough to penetrate into the temporal plain, startling the trailing fish and scattering them in every direction away from the booming, invisible Guardian.

“Asroth!” Pelin hissed, pounding on his thumb with her tiny fist in an effort to get his attention while trying not to draw attention to herself, “Asroth! Really?!”

At the new voice, Yeshua stopped walking and turned to focus His attention on the tiny form in His friend’s gentle grip. “Ah, hello young one. I did not see you there.” His smile was a mix of humor and welcome. “Introduce me to your friend, Teacher.”

Asroth pulled his laughter into a semblance of control and introduced his two students to each other. “Yeshua, this anxious little Newly Formed is Pelin. Pelin, this is Yeshua. Although He doesn’t really need an introduction, you now also know that you and He share the same Teacher.” Turning back to look into the smiling eyes of the Man standing on the water, he continued, “I am also happy to tell you, little Halfmade, that He has not lost perspective regardless of His immense Mission.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Pelin. What a wonderfully bright light you carry for one so newly Formed as yourself. I’m surprised that I didn’t see it right away, and can only give as explanation the rather formidable prospect of your companion and my pleasure at seeing him again after such a long time.”

“Yes, um, Sir. A pleasure to meet you, too. And, ah, right, Asroth is rather oversized for someone so, um, … oversized.” Pelin blushed and tried to sink behind Asroth’s thumb but kept her wide eyes fixed on the Man who smiled kindly back at her.

Yeshua chuckled and winked at His former Teacher. “Yes, the only thing more oversized than his form is his heart. I am glad for you, my friend Pelin, that you have him as your Teacher. And I am glad for myself that I have him and you by my side at the end of this very long day. You two have literally and figuratively eased my travels for which I sincerely thank you.”

Asroth felt Pelin softening a bit in his hand. Her continued grip on his thumb communicated her emotions at having been introduced to this Man who figured so prominently in the Plan, but her relaxing frame spoke of what it meant to her to be called by Him, Friend.

Yeshua started walking again, but with a livelier step than before. “Now,” He continued, peering ahead through the storm, “speaking of your clever use of texture on this water, I have an idea to pass by you, Teacher. Do I sense correctly that my pupils are quite a distance off and that this storm is doing nothing for their tempers?”

“That is correct. At our current pace, You should get close enough to see them shortly after sunrise. They are currently making very little headway against the wind and it appears that this storm is going to last through the night. But by morning, it should die off and they’ll start to make good progress.”

“So, if the morning winds pick up as they normally do, they’ll start to pull away from us just as we come in sight of them. Also, they will have experienced a rather aggravating night and will be in no shape to go anywhere when they reach shore,” Yeshua concluded.

“I believe you are correct,” Asroth agreed. “Getting to them sooner than later would help in more ways than one.”

“Which leads me to my idea. When I was a young man, we lived near a small brook that, at one spot, tumbled down a hill. Most of the way, the water churned over the rocks, but along one stretch, it poured smoothly over an extended bit of bedrock that was as slick as a polished gem. I and my brothers would often slip away after our chores and slide down that lovely rock.”

Asroth knew exactly the spot He was describing. Yeshua’s mother wasn’t overly fond of the activity and neither were some of the more maternal of the Guardians, so Asroth and a few others with skills that might come in handy had been set as guards whenever the young boys snuck away.

“Yes, I remember,” Asroth said, “For a few years, you and your brothers went almost every day.”

“So, you were there?” Yeshua grinned at the Guardian without breaking stride, his former weariness completely erased. “I should have realized. The water did often feel a bit softer than it should have on some of my rougher landings.”

“Well, yes, I believe I may have saved you from a couple of nasty cuts. But, if I recall correctly, you developed a rather clever approach to avoiding the jagged rocks at the bottom of the slide.”

“Yes! If we slid down on our feet, it was much easier to run onto the bank at the last minute! Do you think it will work here?”

Asroth chuckled. “Yes. I do believe it will, as long as you can keep your balance. And I believe that would get you to the ship in plenty of time to keep the whole thing under the cover of the storm. I’d like to avoid having any Planet Bound see what we’re doing. This is going to look a lot like a particular activity that isn’t supposed to be discovered on this planet for several more centuries and, when it is, it’ll likely be on the other side of the globe.”

“Deal!” Yeshua said, with the enthusiasm of a grown man about to jump back into the joys of his youth. “If you tip it slowly at first, it’ll give me a minute for my legs to remember the balance and then we can try more steeply as we go.”

Pelin, who had been looking back and forth between the two men with confusion spreading across her features, blurted out, “What in the name of the Universes are you talking about?”

Yeshua grinned but kept his eyes fixed straight ahead and planted his feet on the solid surface of the water, one behind pointed to the side with the other in front pointed straight ahead. Asroth momentarily paused the forward growth of the platform but began queueing up the water ahead. He was going to need to grow the front edge of the platform much more rapidly than he had been doing.

Asroth took a steadying breath. “Ready?”

Yeshua spread his arms slightly, kept his eyes fixed ahead, and gave a curt nod.

“Alright, here we go. I’m going to smooth the surface texture as I begin the tilt. Just a few degrees of slope to start. Lifting now.”

Carefully, Asroth coaxed the trailing edge of the watery platform to lift ever so slightly, creating a slope down which Yeshua began to slide. Simultaneously, the Speaker added new water molecules to the front edge so that the solid surface extended ahead of Him as quickly as He approached it.

Yeshua wobbled slightly, correcting His balance with a wave of His arms. Without taking His eyes off the rough surface of the sea just ahead of Him, He said, through His concentration, “I believe this would actually be easier if it were a little steeper.”

“Yes. My thought exactly,” Asroth agreed, equally focused. “Increasing the incline.”

As the platform tilted further, Yeshua slid down the increased slope and Asroth boosted the growth of the solidifying leading edge. By enlisting the molecules from the surface of the sea at the front of the platform and then releasing them again at the back, Asroth was approximately following the natural progression of a wave through the water: individual molecules didn’t move far from their place, but the structure itself pushed rapidly through them. This allowed Yeshua to continuously slide down the sloped surface while never reaching the bottom. He was now progressing forward as quickly as He had been walking, but clearly having much more fun.

“I think I’m steady,” Yeshua called. “Let’s try more slope!” Asroth lifted and Yeshua sped down the steeper slope. To keep ahead of His downhill speed, Asroth increased the forward movement of the tilted platform until it was traveling through the water faster than a man could run on solid ground.

Asroth wondered briefly if all this was a good idea, but the light in Yeshua’s eyes answered the question. After a long day of work, even the Master Teacher could use some down time.

Besides, Asroth hadn’t had a challenge like this for a long while. It felt good to really stretch.

“More!” Yeshua called again, and again Asroth complied, propelling Him to the speed of a sprinting dog.

“More!” and He was moving as fast as a galloping horse. Asroth had extended the length and width of the watery platform to four times its original size giving both of them more reaction time. With the significantly steeper slope multiplied by the length, Yeshua was now almost twice His own height above the surface of the water, constantly speeding toward the churning waves below.

“OK, hold steady,” Yeshua called, “I want to try something.”

Asroth willingly obliged. He knew he was near his limits conducting this aquatic symphony. Crystalize molecules at the front. Pull them against gravity up in a perfectly smooth slope. Release them at the top to cascade in a waterfall back into the foaming sea below. All at the speed of a typhoon.

The weight of the liquid structure was as much as the temple this people had built in their capitol city. Pulling that weight out of the sea and dropping it back in was the equivalent of constructing and destroying that building again and again in the blink of an eye.

At the center of this spectacular show was the only Man whom Asroth could have partnered with in such a feat; the Planet Bound who would soon break those bonds for Himself and all others who had been Formed in this Universe.

Asroth laughed again at the sheer thrill of it all.

Yeshua slowly shifted his weight to the side, carefully moving his front foot to point in that direction, and began to angle ever so slightly toward the edge of the platform. Then, just before Asroth began to think he would need to extend that side out a bit, Yeshua tilted Himself the other direction, sliding back until he reached the far edge where he turned yet again.

As He grew familiar with the serpentine path, Yeshua became more daring, angling more steeply toward the sides. But Asroth could see that there was only so far He could go with almost nothing to push His momentum against at each turn.

“OK,” Asroth called to Yeshua, “Now I want to try something. Stay to the middle for a moment. I’m going to try to help you with your turns.”

Knowing he was already holding more than he ever had, Asroth stretched himself further and carefully pulled on each side of the roaring platform. Ever so slowly, the edges lifted above the straight surface down which Yeshua shot, curving into embankments on either side.

Elemental Speaking worked by encouraging the element involved to act outside its normal behavior. The more abnormal the behavior, the greater the challenge and so Speakers tried to work closely with the natural properties of the material, bending rather than breaking the rules. When Asroth Spoke with water, he would talk in terms such as surface tension and capillary action. Because liquid water existed inside such a narrow band of temperature and pressure – forever almost a solid and forever almost a gas – he could remind the molecules how they behaved in those states, thereby accessing properties such as crystalline structure.

One trick with manipulating massive amounts of water was to create small-scale patterns that larger swaths of water could mimic. Water loved to follow a pattern. With the recent refugee escape route, he’d simply started at one shore and guided the water into splitting like a crack forming in an ice shelf. Then, like pounding a wedge into that crack, he’d pushed the pattern all the way across to the other shore. Really not that impressive.

This was something else entirely. This was a masterpiece. Asroth was asking the water to flow, but to do it uphill. He was asking it to form into a solid sheet, but to do it and then undo it at break-neck speed. He was asking it to form a mirror-flat surface, but to do it at an angle to gravity. And now, he had asked it to bend that surface.

So many threads. So many active conversations with trillions upon trillions of molecules. If they had not been so willing to come to Yeshua, Asroth could never have kept it going for as long as he did.

With the curved embankments on either side to push against, Yeshua tightened his turns and zigzagged sharply back and forth across the slope. Asroth was able to hold the curved edges up to about Yeshua’s waist and at each turn, Yeshua climbed closer to the top.

In the corner of his mind, Asroth noticed that at the trailing edge of the platform, some of the water was not immediately releasing its structure. Chunks of solid water fell through most of the plunge into the sea before getting the message to relax back into their natural state. Stretched beyond what he thought possible, Asroth reinforced his message to the falling water to release.

As Yeshua came closer and closer to the upper lip of the curved banks, Asroth realized that His momentum could still carry Him over the edge unless the top were perpendicular to His direction of movement.

Absorbed completely by the thrill of the challenge and the thrill of the dance, Asroth pushed himself further and lifted the top edge of each curve into a vertical wall a little wider, he hoped, than the width of Yeshua’s foot.

And then he saw, some distance behind the churning, rushing, living sculpture before him, a small piece of solid water, tossed by the waves like a piece of driftwood.

In a rush, Asroth reached back to the wayward molecules to release them before they spread their unnatural crystalline structure to the surrounding water. It took only a fraction of a moment to avert a disaster that could have destroyed the entire ecosystem. And it took only a fraction of a moment to lose his grip on his masterpiece.

Yeshua shot to the far edge, slicing up the curve toward the cleverly perpendicular top His Teacher had created, hoping to ride that wall for a handful of breaths. And then He shot straight through the wall and was flying high over the rough sea in a reverse cartwheel, flailing His arms in a doomed attempt to right Himself.

Asroth gasped, Pelin screamed, and Yeshua flipped once, then twice before plunging headfirst into the stormy sea.

Immediately, Asroth released the platform in a thunderous crash and dove for Yeshua, but he was too late. Someone else got there first.

“Hello, Asroth.”

“Hello, Plietus. Hello, Nath.”

The Master Elemental Speakers drew the aquatic cocoon holding Yeshua in a graceful arc following the path He would have swum if He had swan-dived into the sea. As the envelope of air approached the surface, Nath left her companion guiding it while she smoothed the waves and bent the rain, creating a pocket of perfect calmness in the storm. When Yeshua reached the surface, Asroth expected the structure around Him to pop like a bubble or burst upward like a submerged balloon, but it simply became one with the calm mirror of the lake, raising Yeshua gently upward until, once again, He stood on the water.

Spellbound, Asroth watched the work of The Master Speakers as they seamlessly combined their separate but intertwined abilities into a choreography of infinite detail and sublime simplicity. Rarely did an Elemental Speaker Second Class like Asroth get to see his craft performed at the level he was now witnessing. That cocoon had not only guided Yeshua safely back to the surface but had also protected Him when He entered the water. At the speed He was going when He hit, He should have experienced a bone-crushing impact.

Master Speakers usually only stepped in when something went terribly wrong and Asroth had never needed their intervention before. Never until now.

“Thank you, my friends,” Yeshua said to the Guardian couple, who simply nodded in response. Then they turned to Asroth and, one after the other, held his eyes in a brief farewell. Nath’s gaze was full of counsel on the merits of moderation and propriety, but Plietus spoke an entire sermon from the corner of his lips which were trying desperately not to twitch into a smile.

Then the two Masters were gone, leaving Asroth to stare at the spot where they had been. As he attempted to trace in his mind the minute intricacies of the threads they had woven, he felt he could almost understand them. Almost replicate them. Then they faded and slipped away like so much mist.

“Well, Teacher, that was an adventure, wasn’t it?”

Yeshua’s buoyant tone tugged at Asroth’s attention, drawing his eyes to the Man standing on the water above him. Yet he remained transfixed by the masterful work he had just witnessed noting that they had even removed the water from Yeshua’s hair and clothing, leaving Him as dry as if there had been no storm and no dunking. That was a nice touch. The Man stood nonplussed on a sunny island of glass in the middle of a stormy sea.

Seeing the wonder in His friend’s face and following his eyes to the miracles around them, Yeshua laughed. “That was some beautiful work. I couldn’t follow more than the beginnings of it, but it was full of glory; that, anyone could tell.”

“Yes,” Asroth shook his head, clearing his thoughts like drops of water. “Magnificent. The most beautiful thing I have seen in a very long while.”

“I believe you,” Yeshua smiled, “And particularly impressive that the weavings have remained in place for this long after they left. But, ah, Teacher, I believe I’m beginning to sink?”

Finally startled fully out of his reverie, Asroth saw that Yeshua had sunk to his knees and that the storm was breaking through.

“Oh! Of course. Here we go.” Together, Asroth and Yeshua created a platform beneath Yeshua’s feet, lifting him back to the surface. Asroth could not help but notice how clumsy his weaving was compared to the Masters’. But there had been no scolding in their farewell. No rebuke. Only an acknowledgement that he could do better. That he would do better.

And so Asroth smiled at what he now saw as his nascent ability and thrilled at what it would one day become.

“An adventure?” Asroth finally caught Yeshua’s first question. “That, it certainly was! When you started zigzagging across that torrent, I thought I would be twice-Risen. That was brilliant! How in the name of the Universes did you stay on your feet?”

Yeshua laughed. “Well, you do recall how many hours I spent practicing on the slick rock those many years ago. I suppose once you learn such a thing, the body remembers.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“I wondered at the possibilities but it wasn’t until you lifted those embankments that I could really take off. I don’t know how you held it all together! I stopped focusing on the water and mostly just paid attention to staying ahead of it.”

“Well, I haven’t had this much fun since we originally hydrated this rocky planet of Yours,” Asroth summed up. “An adventure indeed.”

“Fun? Adventure?!” a furious, tinkling voice sounded from Asroth’s hand. Startled, he looked down at his clenched fist, still wrapped around a forgotten Pelin. A very angry forgotten Pelin. “You almost killed Him, Asroth! He almost died! What were you thinking?!”

“I.. Um…,” Asroth stammered, but Yeshua intervened.

“Dear Pelin,” He smiled, spreading his arms out in supplication to the diminutive fury, “I promise you I was never in any danger. Even if those masterful Guardians hadn’t come to the rescue, I am sure I could have found my way back to the surface. I’m really quite a good swimmer and our admirably skilled Teacher was careful to drop me into the water in perfect diving position.”

Asroth had opened his hand out flat and Pelin stood on it, hands on hips, as if it were a royal dias and she the Queen of Retribution. “But you did need to be rescued or else the Master Guardians would not have come! I don’t know much, but I do know that. Master levels only come when no one nearby can take care of things.”

“Ah yes,” Asroth placated, “but there you have it. You said yourself, Pelin, they always come! If it had been Yeshua’s time to go, He would have, but we all know that’s not for some time yet. Whether I could handle things or not, there was never any danger of things going against the Plan.”

“The Plan!” Pelin scoffed, “you know the Plan has a great deal of leeway in it. What if the Plan was just fine with Him breaking his leg in your little adventure?!”

“Well, actually, that couldn’t happen either.” Yeshua’s tone was rueful. “No broken bones allowed.” Under His breath, He added, “Believe me. I tried.”

Startled, Asroth turned a questioning glance on Him.

“Oh, that was when I was very young! Much before I understood what it meant to tempt the Umana.”

Asroth raised an eyebrow at his former pupil and Yeshua looked the slightest bit chagrined. “Line upon line, Teacher. Line upon.”

Pelin stared wide-eyed back and forth at the two men; no longer the wide-eyed terror of a young Newly Formed among giants; rather, the wide-eyed disbelief of a Woman among her incomprehensible Peers.

Finally she simply threw her hands in the air and huffed in exasperation.

Asroth blinked at this little woman, trying to find the words to explain, but again Yeshua beat him to it. “My brilliant friend, I do not pretend to understand everything, but I do know one thing: I owe you and our Teacher a great debt. Today was a very long day for me and it came after a series of very long days. I also know that I have not yet reached the end. My effort, always and forever, is to teach the people of this world, and everyone else Formed in this Universe, how to become their best selves. And to provide means for them to accomplish this.

“Tonight, I had one task left for the day: to catch up with my pupils.You, my two friends, have helped me accomplish that while also giving me a much needed refresher in the midst of a very real storm. I can not thank either of you enough!”

Pelin looked at Yeshua with eyes slightly scrunched and a frown both skeptical and considering. “Well,” she finally said, “I can’t say I understand how exactly this little adventure ‘refreshed’ you, but you clearly are feeling better than when we first saw you tonight,” she concluded grudgingly.

Asroth’s lips relaxed into a relieved smile and Yeshua said, “I assure you, my understanding friend, I have not felt so rejuvenated in many weeks. I feel ready for anything.”

Turning to Asroth, He said, “And speaking of my duty, I believe we’re just out of sight of the boat? You up to finishing this journey with me, Teacher?”

“It would be my honor.” Asroth’s smile widened into a grin as he once again extended the watery platform out in the direction where Yeshua’s pupils continued to struggle against the storm.

It did not take long for Yeshua to arrive at the boat and, soon enough, Asroth and Pelin were heading back to the portal and the Watchtower. Before they had left Him at the boat-side, one of Yeshua’s pupils had decided to jump onto the water with his Teacher and even managed to stay up for a bit. Asroth was impressed with the man’s potential and expected he’d run into him again.

Neither Pelin nor Asroth spoke as they traveled back to the Watchtower where Asroth once again settled into his work station. Pelin did not immediately jump from his hand, as he half expected her to do, but she also did not immediately start up her usual chatter or questions. Asroth suspected she needed some time to process and so sat back with one hand cupped in the other. Pelin rested her forearms on his circling thumbs and together they watched the world on the other side of the portal.

The storm had passed and the sun, still hidden beneath the planet’s horizon, was just beginning to paint its sky in pastel pinks and blues. The fishermen were already on the water, dividing the sea out among themselves, each looking for the day’s perfect catch. Yeshua and his pupils had almost reached the far shore.

“He was not what I expected,” the little woman broke the silence.

Asroth smiled hesitantly at the back of her head. “More? Or less?”

Pelin gave a sharp shake of her head that seemed less an answer and more a search for one. She didn’t turn around but continued to stare at the scene before her.

“Both, I guess.”

She turned her head and looked up over her shoulder into Asroth’s eyes as if seeking clarity there. Apparently not finding any, she sighed and turned back to the scene below.

“More real, I think,” Pelin finally said.

Suddenly turning fully around, she asked with some of her former fire, “What kind of pupil was He?”

Asroth looked in her searching eyes for a moment and then looked out at Yeshua. His boat had reached shore and they were pulling it up on the beach.

“He was amazing. Curious about everything. I never had to teach Him anything more than once and many things He figured out for Himself. He laughed a lot, but never at anyone other than maybe Himself. I think He just found so much joy in this Universe that it kept bubbling out of Him.

“Most of all, I remember Him being kind. But His was a passionate, get-in-and-get-things-done type of kindness. His group from the Void was a full sextadectet and all 15 of the others loved Him deeply. They would have done anything for Him because they each felt He would do anything for them. It was the tightest group I’ve ever taught and He was the clear leader of it.”

“I think I know how they felt,” Pelin interjected, “Every time He called me ‘friend’, I felt His sincerity.”

“And you felt more capable, didn’t you?”

“Yes! More valuable.”

Asroth nodded in understanding. “That was something else He did from the very beginning. When teaching Him and the others in His group, I felt both a greater confidence in my abilities and a desire to dig deeper. I became a better teacher because He was my student.”

Pelin scrutinised Asroth’s face for a moment. “You know, He was right about something. You are a great Teacher.”

Asroth smiled at his little friend. “Even if I am a little careless?”

Pelin turned around to look down at the Man as He walked into His next day of teaching. She rested her arms on Asroth’s thumbs and laid her check on top. “Well, you’re not perfect, Teacher, but I’ll take you.”

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