"Beneficence? The quality?"
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"No," I said. "And yes. It's a statue on campus. In the CENTER of campus, for that matter. Haven't you seen it?"
"No. I've never even heard of it."
"Learning a slew of interesting things about E.U. these days, aren't we?"
"Yeah. It's ridiculous." Sarah tucked a strand of hair behind her ears. "This isn't a huge campus- hell, it's smaller than most normal-sized colleges. Yet somehow, whenever I go out walking, it feels...not big, exactly. More like a maze, that I could wander in the wrong direction in and end up somewhere else. Does that make any sense?"
"Yes," I said. "More than you might imagine."
"What do you mean?"
I sighed. I should've known she'd question that. "This place, this university, is twisted, somehow. It's not quite all here." I paused. "Imagine a building that was partially buried underground. Most of the hallways and rooms in the building are aboveground. There are a few, however, that lead slowly downward, into the less-used sections. These are not so well-lit as those above, but they look almost the same. Maybe just a little bit off, here or there. Nothing big. If you keep going, however, you'll come to doors that no-one uses. Open one of these doors, and you'll realize that you are no longer aboveground, but have, in fact, come to a strange, subterranean passage into which you might stumble and be lost...or from which other things might come out into the surface world- or at least, this one special building." I stopped myself there. From the look on Sarah's face, I'd either gotten through, or convinced her that I was a raving madman. I waited to find out which.
"That," she said, "Is one godawful unnerving thought, Harmon."
I gave an internal sigh of relief. "Yes, yes it is."
"Do you believe in all of that?"
"No. I do not 'believe' in anything. Either I KNOW a thing, or I DOUBT it. Everything else is faith, blind belief, assumption, or something equally foolish. I won't have it."
Sarah was somewhat taken aback. "I see. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I can be defensive about my mindset at times."
"So I see." She paused. "I assume you're not religious, then?"
"Agnostic," I said.
"Ah, yes. That makes sense."
"Yes. I LIKE making sense."
"What do you do for a living?"
"I work with disturbed people." This was essentially true.
"You mean you're a counselor?"
"Sort of. It's part of the job, to be sure." If she'd pressed the issue from there, I might have ended up telling her. But she didn't. So I didn't. Such is the way of these things.
There was a period of silence.
"What do YOU do?"
"I'm a college student. That's more or less my job."
"Fine. What do you want to do, when you're not a college student any longer?" I said.
"I don't know. Teach, maybe. Probably English, which is a wonderful language when it's used right."
"And a damnable misery when it isn't."
"Anyway, we need to head left here..."
Beneficence stood, as she had stood for years, atop her stone pedestal, surrounded by thirty-foot columns of stone and steel. Below her, a dry fountain housed a family of insects. She herself was clothed only in a sheer stone toga, her hair either cut short or simply put up- I could never tell. In one hand, she held a box of some sort. The other was empty; outstretched in a gesture of- supposedly- supplication.
This particular night, however, something was different. It didn't quite dawn on me, until we were halfway down the path, but the statue was holding something in the outstretched hand. From where we were standing, it looked exactly like a sword.
"I've never liked this statue," I said. "It's unnerving. I swear I've seen it move before."
"What was THAT?" Sarah was looking wildly around. I turned an eye on Beneficence. The sword was gone.
"C'mon," I said, and covered the last twenty-five feet to the base of the statue. Lying in the dry fountain was a wooden practice sword. These things always have explanations.
I picked up the sword. Who would put a wooden sword in the hand of a statue? Drunken college kids, maybe, out on a lark. It sounded sensible, of course, but I expected it to. No one came to this statue. There were several stone benches behind it, but no one sat on them. It was a null zone in the minds of the students here, and not the only dead zone on campus by far. I examined the statue's arm. Hadn't it been raised higher before?
"Take some pictures," I said. "At the least, it will piss her off, and she bloody well deserves it for that."
Sarah lined up her camera. Flash-flash-flash-flash-flash!
"Thank you," I said. "I consider this a successful examination, all things considered. Shall we move on?"
We moved on.
"That was a piece of wood, then?" she said.
"Yes. A wooden practice sword."
There was a short silence, during which I was aware of Sarah's penetrating gaze on me.
"Blake," she said.
"You know something about all of this, don't you?"
"Not exactly," I said. "I know many things about some of this, but only some of them make sense. I have seen and done some odd things in my time, but they don't seem to connect to each other in any conventional sense. I am consantly in search of those bits I've missed, those facts that connect the whole bloody story together. Of course, that's assuming they exist, and it's not ALL random insanity..."
"I don't think it is," said Sarah. "I think there's something going on here, and I think it has a reason for itself."
"Mm. You ever find that reason, you tell me, alright?"
"Deal. Where are we going now?"
"Stebbins Hall. And before we get there, I have a story to tell you."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.