A Swimmer in Time Part 2 by Martin Chase

Yet my head does not explode from the pressure of being overwhelmed all at once by everything that lives, breathes, flows, falls, and crumbles under a the light of a trillion suns. I, and the Odinic Travelers before me, whose memories are preserved within my own brain, have seen them all before in all our sojourns throughout the span of the universe. My cranium is stable for now, or so I think (is it?).    

 Then, after being lost in a raging river of visions, and flowing streams of time, the courtyard cuts back to nothing. But should I be surprised at the stark transition to nothingness? For what is nothing, but just another facet of everything?    

But alas! I am not alone! For kneeling and meditating solemnly in the middle (or perhaps the end; I cannot tell. It is hard to tell when there is nothing but cobblestone and vapor as far as the eye can see) of the mystical courtyard is a man. He is both close and far from me, visible, and invisible. I see him, yet I do not see him. Whether he is there or not is a matter of continuous fluctuation. Why must everything be in a state of flux, especially here (and everywhere?). Is nothing fixed?    

And then I move forward (or backward?), coming (or going?) closer (further? I do not know) to this wavering, simultaneously existing and nonexistent individual. Through the bending and flowing waves of oscillating perception, time, and reality, I am able to study him with far more (or less) scrutiny than before (or at present, or later. Nothing here is constant. Why am I not lost?).    

The man is clad in a flowing hemp robe bereft of shade or hue. A platinum circlet of silvery-gold with a sapphire-green ruby set upon it crowns his withered brow. He is tall, wiry yet short and broad at once, long, flowing hair and thin, pendulum-beard white at one moment, gold the next, and black at others. His skin has both no color, and every shade of flesh at the same time. His face is young and old, his wizened frame both energetic and weary at once. He is a swimmer in an ocean of time, flowing in perfect synchronization with every wave of the temporal seas.     I approach him as best as I can, pushing with all the effort my body can allow to even make a single step; for I do not know whether walking forward will propel me left, right, backwards, or up at this point.    

“Approach,” he commands in a simultaneously kind whisper, and furious shout. “I know not as to why you are here, Traveler. But come; I have been in want of others’ company for over a thousand years.”    

So I walk forward, stopping by his side. This time, I know that I have indeed, moved towards (and not away from) this newfound sage. How it is comforting to bask within the padded confines of certainty!    

He gazes up at me. I cannot describe his face; again, the face is marked with every facet and emotion of every sentient being to have ever lived. Only his eyes are consistent in any capacity. They are old and weary, and full of longing.    

“Tell me, Traveler. Have I failed?” he asks, his voice both scarcely hearable, and booming vehemently across the entire expanse of the courtyard.    

Directing his stare back to the cobblestones below, he lets out a weary sigh, every single molecule of his exhalations weighed down by sentiments of pain and uncertainty.    

“Forgive me for not having introduced myself,” he mutters and shouts in the same bewildering manner as before. “I am called Carolus. In life I was called Emperor – now do not start” – for my mouth was agape in utter incredulity; “for I am indeed, though you may doubt me, the one whom your scholars now call Carolus Quintus II, the first, and greatest of the Galactic Emperors.”    

The yawn that escapes his lips is rife with calm, accepting agony – what he has seen, whether here or elsewhere, has clearly taken its toll. You do not have to reject the fact that you are in pain. “In life, to billions of souls from thousands of races, and millions of realms, I was called ‘Pater Patriae,’ and ‘Son of the All-Father, ’‘Bringer of Peace,’ and ‘Wicked Warmonger,’ ‘Stubborn Tyrant,’ and ‘Merciful Abdicator.’ To all I was both saint and ogre.”    

“B-b-b-ut…that means you are over a thousand years old!” I shout in a confused, fading, and echoing whisper. “How then, have you lived during this time, though you are but a mortal?”    

The youthful, aged emperor lifts his wrinkled, smooth head upwards; the glare in his eyes, boring into my wavering soul like cold fire, is a wild mix of passionate red, marred by simultaneous fury, confidence, and sadness in an indefinable soup of sentiments. I feel my mortal soul shaking upon the inside; it is as if a wrathful god is prying it away with a damning stare.    

“He who swims in the Currents of Time may not die,” he utters in a furious mutter that booms calmly across the entire expanse of the empty courtyard. “For over a century, following my abdication from that cursed, bejeweled throne in Olympus, I searched fruitlessly for this place, sailing desperately across the many oceans of stars.” He rises – he is terrible to behold! – his once emaciated stature towering like a giant, and exuding power in every atom of his essence like that of a furious deity. “ ‘Twas in the last of my death throes, desiccated, unconscious hands sprawling wearily upon a panel of rainbow buttons in my starship, that I finally found the Sanctuary of Sums, lying like a great, golden ingot upon the sandy oceans of the No-World.”    

As the blazing stare in his eyes turns to compassionate blue, burning no longer into my quivering spirit, he lifts his young-old, frowning, smiling visage into the air, inhaling deeply and sorrowfully in a state of hopeless yearning. “Tis a fitting name, I think. For the Currents of Time  are not merely a magical means of immortalizing bitter old tyrants.” With a swift, sluggish motion that is both energetic and weary at the same time, he raises his strong, bony arms into the clear, blue air. One could say at that moment, he was both praising the heavens, and furiously demanding an answer from a stingy spirit.    

 “For indeed, what are the Currents of Time, but the sum of everything and nothing? By bathing in their soothing, and hurtful radiance, I have seen all of both facets. The universe is laid bare! But what does it all mean then? Tell me, Traveler what does it mean? Are my efforts all for naught?!”     

His bony fingers dart out, and softly, yet violently clench my robe-clad wrist. He turns to me, and by God! In his face – one face – I see a trillion! Is he human, alien, automaton, or god? Sheer joy, mournful sorrow, livid fury, and every other emotion – some without names, and never seen upon human visages – leap from his face like a shower of beaming darts.      

But once more, why should I be surprised? This man, our first emperor, whose indulgent, idolatrous sculptures of pure diamond are erected in the microscopic, urban universe of Olympus Square, has lived for a thousand years, and seen the entirety of the universe without so much as moving a foot.  Should I be surprised to see everything and chaotic bursts of blank nothingness upon the visage of a bather in the all-encompassing time-waters?    

“See my tale, Traveler, and also the tale of this universe and the next,” he murmurs close and far beside me in a voice that causes the formless, cobblestone ground to quiver, rise and crash like solid, soundless waves of stone. “And tell me then, if the ends justify the means, the means the ends.”    

I gasp, and shut my eyes, bracing myself as the blue sky, the white walls of fog, and the cobblestone seas are all amoebically engulfed in a rapid, showering vortex of a thousand frowning, whirling tornadoes composed of frigid blue flame.