If you've read my Sawyer Jackson books, you'll immediately recognize 8-Ball—the Akashic Sphere who is the sum total of all knowledge in the Omni. He also happens to be best buds with Xander Travel, and eventually Sawyer Jackson himself.
I say "he," but I really don't like to. Because 8-Ball really is the epitome of "gender neutral." A fact that makes it incredibly challenging to write about him directly. In my head, 8-Ball is probably male-ish. But she could also be whatever they want to be. It really doesn't have a gender.
All pronoun confusion aside, the story that follows is a quick look at an infinite being with a really, really big burden to bear. I hope you love this story! Be sure to leave comments below!
(A Sawyer Jackson Short)
It ain't easy, knowing everything.
8-Ball might be the Akashic Sphere—the embodiment of all knowledge in the Omni—but that didn't mean life was simple.
Quite the opposite, actually. Because knowing everything that could ever be known from the past, present, and future, and from all the Layers of the Omni, meant being responsible for it all. It meant that relationships took a distant second place to the needs of all reality. It was a lonely sort of life.
For all intents and purposes, 8-Ball was the Omni. When you are the embodiment of all information that ever has existed or ever could exist, there's really no difference between you and, well, everything. 8-Ball knew that a couple of atoms would collide and cause a reaction that would spark a release of energy that would attract more atoms that would coalesce into matter that would form a star that would ... well, this goes on for a while.
But every bit of it, every second of it, was known to 8-Ball, and was part of 8-Ball. And so, of course, it was inevitable that 8-Ball would eventually meet the culmination of that series of events, and make friends with him. Sort of.
Xander Travel was an Exemplar—one of the models for the pattern of human life throughout the Omni—and the last of his kind. His fellow Exemplars had all given themselves over to the Omni, long ago. Most had decided that, after eons of life, they had explored and learned everything the Omni had to offer, so there was no point in continuing, really.
They had no idea.
8-Ball found it kind of sad that the Exemplars were so bored with their existence that they let themselves fade back into the knotwork, becoming a part of the pattern that "was" rather than the pattern that "is." It showed a shocking lack of imagination, frankly. Because, the Omni was, after all, infinite. Did they really believe that they'd explored all of it? They were practically a blink.
Xander, though, was still in love. He loved the mystery of every day of his life. He loved the fact that no matter how much he'd seen and experienced in his long existence, there were still things that could surprise him. Even the fact that some patterns repeated, that some events played out again and again, seemed surprising to Xander. He somehow managed to keep his wide-eyed curiosity about the Omni. And that made him useful.
It hadn't always been that way, though. There was a time when Xander nearly joined the rest of the Exemplars as just another set of patterns in the knotwork. And 8-Ball couldn't let that happen. Xander was still needed.
8-Ball was more than just the repository of all knowledge in the Omni. The sum total of all creation needed an agent to work on its behalf, to make sure that some events happened and others didn't. The future could be rewritten, or nudged in the right direction, or influenced to unfold just so. 8-Ball could work as that agent, to help move things in the right direction, to keep the Omni turning and growing and creating more life. But there were certain ... limitations.
Interfering directly with events had drawbacks. Every instant that 8-Ball nudged or tinkered with would ripple outward into bigger events elsewhere. Moving so much as a single atom in empty space, even in a deep Layer far from all other realities, would eventually lead to a massive ripple of creation and change and new twists and patterns in the knotwork somewhere else.
That's a pretty heavy responsibility for anyone to bear alone. Even the Akashic Sphere.
8-Ball knew that Xander Travel would take a keen interest in "fixing" the Omni, someday. It was just in the man's nature—the result of all those collisions and collections of atoms far away, long ago. 8-Ball also knew that Xander would go through a dark time, and that he would grow weary of his existence, just like all the other Exemplars. And so, 8-Ball had put things into motion, to nudge Xander to a specific place at a specific time. Xander's lowest time. Xander's darkest moment.
There was just no way to avoid the necessity of it.
Xander Travel had to go into the Shadow Strait.
And this was scary for 8-Ball. Because beyond the Shadow Strait was an entirely different set of knowledge and information—one that was completely outside of the Omni, and thus completely unknown to 8-Ball.
In all of creation and all of eternity, in all the winding and twisting patterns of the knotwork, in all of existence, there was nothing that was unknown to 8-Ball. So the existence of this "other place," this "dark Omni," was more than a little intriguing.
As impossible as it seemed, the Shadow Strait led to somewhere that could not be known. Unless you cheated.
The day came, and Xander was in that long, dark night of the soul that had been inevitable. He stood at the gateway to the Shadow Strait—a circle of stones that, at this point, were just mounds of boulders, and not the statues that would rise and eventually crumble on this spot. The civilization that would build monuments here had not yet risen, but they were on their way, a few atoms at a time.
Xander stood in the circle of boulders, and looked out toward the Shadow Strait—a broad line of darkness that stretched like unmoving storm clouds across the horizon.
8-Ball knew that all of Xander's thoughts were focused on ending his long existence. Xander was—well, not bored with life, but mostly disillusioned by it. He had experienced so much, and was seeing so many repeating patterns. He had seen so much death, and so much tragedy. Joy, too. Wonders and excitement and happiness. But also the inevitable entropy that comes with the ever-expanding wave of of growth in the Omni. The consequences of new growth are the loss of the old. And Xander, even though he was a mere two thousand years or so—less than a blink!—was feeling so very, very old.
Xander activated the gate, and let the Shadow Strait claim him, taking him, for the first time, out of the Omni, and into some place new.
8-Ball watched this intently, and for the first time in existence there was something new and exciting and unknown to pay attention to! There was something unknown to the one being in existence who knew everything.
Xander was gone for some time, in human terms, but to 8-Ball it seemed like seconds. Time tends to lose all of its bite, when you are infinite. 8-Ball was still good friends with Time, but they didn't talk much. They were more like passing acquaintances. As long as Time kept doing the job, there was no real reason for them to interact. Even in those Layers where Time wasn't doing much anymore, things were pretty much taken care of automatically. So their relationship had been reduced to something akin to a nod and a wave—acknowledgment between two infinite forces.
When Xander returned from the Shadow Strait—exhausted and dehydrated and half dead, but suddenly filled with more life and excitement than 8-Ball had previously known in him—a new flood of knowledge came into existence for the first time in all creation.
There was a Dark Omni—an inverted version of creation. It was filled with new knowledge and new life and new events that 8-Ball had never known! That, alone, was the most exciting thing 8-Ball had ever experienced.
Xander, too. Because as 8-Ball watched, Xander's knotwork shifted and changed and became wildly more complex than it had ever been before. New futures opened up by the billions. New realities got their budding starts on new layers that stacked in new multiverses. Xander's jaunt to the outside of existence was a starting point for more lives and more events than anyone but 8-Ball could count.
And that was interesting. Because unlike the Exemplars, who were long-lived but still finite, 8-Ball truly was infinite, and truly did know the beginning, middle, and end of the story. There was nothing new, in the Omni, to the sum total of the Omni's knowledge. Until now.
It was time to make some introductions.
8-Ball continued to follow Xander Travel as he embarked on a new mission, with a new vigor and a new commitment. What he'd seen in the Dark Omni had been exhilarating, but it had also been frightening. It had awakened an awareness in Xander that his fellow Exemplars had never known.
The Omni, as it turned out, wasn't inevitable. There were nudges here and there that made it all work. There were events that needed to happen so that more events could come. There were patches where it needed a bit of repair.
The Omni need a caretaker.
8-Ball watched as Xander started moving about the Omni, hopping from Layer to Layer using button holes and other means. Eventually, Xander encountered the Teth—a new bloodline of humans who could manipulate the knotwork that shaped and created all of reality. Who better to help in Xander's new quest to be the custodian and curator of all creation? He made friends quickly among the Teth, many of whom were eager to learn his secret to long life. But many more were drawn to the idea of protecting and serving the knotwork that they, alone, connected to so intimately.
Xander nurtured relationships, and he set about his new task. In short order, he had an elite team of Teth trained to help him find and fix thinning or torn patches in the knotwork. He had friends now, who helped him with his self-appointed (or so he thought) mission. He had allies. He had friends. And those friends helped him find new meaning in every day, and to search for new wonders in every corner of the infinite Omni.
It was time to make some introductions.
Xander had been busily bouncing among the Layers, with his Teth friends in tow, and had stopped for a respite in a reality that offered peace and safety. It was the sort of place Xander loved, and would return to again and again. He knew the value of quiet down time, of reflection. He knew that it was important to take a moment to breathe, and to watch the world a bit. You couldn't very well see what needs fixing, after all, if you never took a moment to look.
Xander was enjoying some down time in a small town on a Layer that he and his Teth had made safe long ago. He was eating a light meal at a cafe, drinking coffee and watching animals run and play games with each other in a park across the street. He was happy. He was content.
8-Ball hovered into view, directly in front of him.
"Oh ..." Xander said, putting his coffee down and looking closer. "I've never seen one of you fly before. You're something special, aren't you?"
8-Ball could have said so much. There was nothing that prevented or forbade talking or acting directly. There was no reason to even be in the shape and form of this ironic plastic toy, bearing a mark that looked suspiciously like the symbol for "infinity." But this form was a favorite, possibly because of the irony and symbolism of it. And, in the end, there was a more practical reason for it.
There was a singular fact that 8-Ball had made into a rule, of sorts: Too much information is dangerous. And so, the majority of the time, it's better to give vague nudges than straight answers.
8-Ball shook in mid air, as if some unseen child were at work. In a moment, the shaking stopped, and an answer floated to the surface of the little window, opposite the "8" symbol. A triangle appeared through the blue, murky waters, revealing itself in the window.
Xander leaned forward and read aloud. "Without a doubt."
Xander smiled, and then laughed. "Oh, you're going to be a fun one," he said..
"You may rely on it," 8-Ball replied. Because this was the moment when that was what 8-Ball said. And this was the moment when Xander would read these answers and laugh and smile, and consider 8-Ball a new friend.
This was the moment when Xander Travel got a new ally that he'd had all along.