Ordinary people fear pluriants. Ochten Hoeniffer reminded himself of this fact as he looked across his desk at the plump little man in a brown suit, who had come to his viewing booth for advice. Ochten, who had referred to himself as Water Like Glass ever since his elevation, spoke to the little man in the most soothing voice he could muster. “How may I help you?”
“Berman. Harry Berman’s my name.” The little man’s face turned bright red. His jowls quivered as he said, “I’m having trouble with my wife, Angie. She doesn’t talk to me anymore. I’m afraid she’s having an affair. So, Mister... that is... Your Reverence... Water Like Glass, if you could please just tell me if it’s true or not and what I should do to remedy the situation.”
“Very well,” Ochten said as he raised his neuro-tentacles high in Medusa stance and pressed a switch with his index finger to shut the doors to the booth. The monitors behind Ochten crackled to life. Harry Berman sat way back in his chair as if thrust by the force of acceleration.
Ochten scanned through his various symbiants, knowing that representations of his internal images would be approximated on the monitors in the viewing booth. He was a crayfish on the bottom of the Chattahoochee river, trolling through the algae on a stone. Ochten always started with this symbiant, which had been the inspiration for his new name, Water Like Glass. Next, he became a squirrel in Piedmont Park, scuttling up the trunk of a loblolly pine.
For a second, memories of Madame Fleck, who had been his trainer in Pluriance School, distracted him from the viewing. He could see her plasteen face telling him, “The trick is to look into the other consciousnesses without losing sight of your own. Unity in diversity. And never lose sight of your querant’s request.” Ochten knew that Madame Fleck’s face would also appear on one of the viewing screens, but he did not let this bother him. His name promised transparency, so he let Mr. Berman see everything.
Next he was an old lady named Sarah Teasdale in Oak Hills Retirement Community, who had volunteered for symbiancy. She hummed to herself in the activities room; the tune he recognized as “A Tisket, A Tasket.” A few more symbiants followed: a red-tailed hawk soaring over the highway, an aphid on a blade of grass, a moth circling a light bulb on someone’s front porch.
Now Ochten concentrated, struggling to achieve the state called “unitive cessation.” Madame Fleck’s voice came back into his mind, “Only ignorant people believe pluriants have omniscience. We can’t see into all of our symbiants’ lives at once, but we can calmly stand back from the mental images and allow them to come. Don’t try to control the visions: let them take you.”
Ochten drew his awareness to the rising and falling of his chest with each breath. He watched the play of images. Mrs. Teasdale chewed a liquorice cough drop; the squirrel clucked at a nearby blue jay; the moth circled the light bulb. He called Mr. Berman’s question to mind, saw the face of his wife, Angie, as if she were there in front of him. She had tired eyes and a forlorn expression. The chorus of perspectives spoke to Ochten with a kind of low hum, an intelligent Babel. Then Ochten knew that the viewing had ended: he allowed himself to return to his normal body and folded his plasteen tentacles like long hair on either side of his head.
Tears streamed down Mister Berman’s face in the blue-gray of the monitor glare. The little man looked exhausted, like he had just walked a thousand miles.
“I don’t need to tell you what to do,” Ochten said, “because you know already.”
The little man nodded. “However, just so we agree, let me explain the viewing anyway. Your wife isn’t cheating on you, but if you let things continue in this way, she most certainly will soon. Angie has a great sadness: she’s tired of living. Do the things you once did for her: buy her yellow jonquils and chocolate-covered cherries. Write her one of those love songs you used to play for her on the zither. You undoubtedly saw how fleeting life can be, how the moth will eventually burn to a crisp, how Mrs. Teasdale will die alone, how we all must flow along with the current.”
“Thank you, thank you,” Mr. Berman said through his tears. “My life will never be the same again.”
“Let me pronounce the blessing, and we’ll be through.” Ochten intoned a chorus from the Book of Martin Jaeger, the sacred poems of the neurologist who invented the Medusa apparatus. After the blessing, Ochten extended one tentacle to touch Mr. Berman’s forehead. Berman bowed low and turned to exit the booth. He placed the requisite twenty quen offering in the plate beside the door.
“Harry,” Ochten said.
“Yes?,” replied Berman.
“It’s going to be all right.”
The little man smiled and said, “I know. I know.”