“I know you know something, I just don’t know how I know that.”
“Yeah, like that’s not confusing,” Richard replied. Alan had obviously figured things out. He’d been hinting at an interrogation for weeks now, and Richard had been doing everything possible to avoid it – which only made Alan more suspicious. Now he’d finally cornered Richard in his house and was demanding answers.
The forensics were fairly damning, and Richard was shocked at the sheer volume of information Alan had been able to put together. Over the past two hours, Alan had walked Richard through a painstakingly detailed summary of his night at the warehouse. While he had no explanation for how Richard had entered the building, everything from his encounter with John and Cari through his nauseated reawakening was strikingly accurate.
Richard was afraid Alan had figured it out and was here to arrest him. Actually, arresting him would be a relief. If he was incarcerated, maybe he’d be far enough away from the public that no one else would get hurt. Still, IT might escape eventually. Fueled with the evils housed in a typical prison, Richard didn’t want to imagine what IT might do.
No, it would be better for everyone for Richard to not go to prison.
Alan was still standing there with his crime scene photos and investigative notes, waiting for an answer. Richard closed his eyes and took a few breaths.
“OK, but you’re not going to like it.”
Over the next three hours, Richard detailed exactly how the events of that fateful evening had transpired. He explained how he’d inexplicably arrived at the warehouse just moments after Alan had left. He detailed not just the phenomenon of walking through the warehouse wall, but the way it felt when he’d done it.
Richard went into detail about how Cari had run off and how he’d forced John into submission. While the details of exactly what had happened with John were still a bit foggy to Richard, he explained them as best he could.
He spared Alan the details of Agent Brooks’ – now that he knew her name – death. In reality, he didn’t understand much of what happened while IT was in control anyway, so he did his best to convey his remorse and how mercy had come into play.
Alan sat quietly through the entire ordeal, staring intently at Richard and hanging on his every word. His notebook was open and his pen poised, ready and waiting to record a confession. But this wasn’t it. This was the deranged ramblings of a distraught friend. A fever dream at best; psych ward-worthy material at best. He couldn’t take notes, couldn’t validate Richard’s words with his pen. To do so would be to condemn his friend to a lifetime of therapy – probably not a bad idea – while also derailing the investigation and ruining his own career.
He nodded while Alan finished his story, then slowly put his pen away.
“Obviously you still have some things to work out. But when you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here.”
Richard didn’t bother to protest. It was better that Alan didn’t believe him, lest he see first-hand the horror with which Richard was now forced to live. IT writhed in anticipation, feeling Richard’s barriers weaken and knowing that the one person to whom Richard could turn for help no longer believed his sanity.
Alan had stopped calling home when he planned to be late from work. He knew his wife would just yell at him. Still, this case was important, and he needed to follow every lead and work out as many details as he could while they were fresh in his mind. If he went home before clearing his plate, he’d be distracted and less “there” than he was when he wasn’t physically there at all.
No, being home was less productive than being away, for everyone involved. It had put a heavy mortal strain on his marriage, and, by all accounts, it probably wouldn’t survive this case’s close. Knowing that he was throwing away a good thing almost bothered him more than the unanswered questions of this case. Almost. Not quite.
Even at home he spent his nights on the couch lying awake thinking not of how to make things up to his wife but how to drag more details out of Richard. He obviously knew something. His prints were at the scene. He had motive for at least one of the three murders. And his personal “confession” had far more detail than Alan had included in his original report. If not for its absolute appeal to fiction, Alan almost believed it. Richard knew not only how Brooks’ body had been mutilated, he knew the proper order and the tools used. Even the M.E. hadn’t been able to figure out those specifics.
Alan hit the space bar on his computer to wake the machine up. While he still thought Richard was completely out of his mind, there were certain details he’d mentioned that seemed plausible. Alan wanted to follow up as much as possible. Once his desktop was purring appropriately, he fired up his Internet browser and pulled up his most trusted investigative partner: Google.
First he started querying aimlessly, wanting more to waste time and clear his head than find results. “Walk through walls” found next to nothing of consequence. “Teleportation” seemed more promising for a few moments, then the results delved into science fiction and discussions of magic and Harry Potter.
After an hour or so of mindless typing, Alan’s interest suddenly peaked. He’d seen one or two results to every query referencing meditation and a few specifically discussing astral projection. He started refining his search and very quickly narrowed things down. He found detailed documents regarding everything from prediction the future using meditative prophecy to travelling great distances using nothing more than the power of the mind.
In the context of these various websites, Rick’s story seemed more than plausible. It seemed realistic and could very well be an account of what actually happened, despite how otherworldly it all seemed.
Alan shook his head at the thought. Accepting that Rick had been telling the truth had ramifications deeper than just his guilt. It brought into question every truth about the universe that Alan held dear. Not just ideas about the power and limitations of the mind, but questions about God, humanity, and the morality that bound everything.
Alan suddenly had the need to talk to someone. He cleared his computer’s search history and shut down the computer. There was no need for the department to know what he’d been looking for. Right now, it was just a theory. One nearly impossible to prove at that. Alan grabbed his coat and headed out to the car. He knew Father Roberts would still be up. They had choir practice Thursday nights, and Alan hoped he’d be open to some longer discussions tonight.
It’d been years, but right now Alan needed the kind of guidance he knew could only come from a man like Father Roberts.
The choir was beautiful tonight. They’d been working to prepare for this month’s concert for what felt like ages, even though Father Albert Roberts knew it had only been a few weeks. Still, the improvements in their sound quality were admirable. Beyond that, they were inspirational! It was impressive how much one group of people could be so devoted to their craft that they’d put in the time to improve by this much of a degree.
Particularly since they were unpaid.
It was a level of dedication that the secular world rarely achieved. A single-minded devotion to the idea that you could be perfectly happy and fulfilled in the whole-hearted service of God. No awards of merit. No paychecks at the end of the week. Nothing to incent hard work and perseverance but the knowledge that it was all for the glory of God.
This was why Albert had joined the ministry. It gave him shivers to think that he was safeguard
ing God’s people in such a way. It was his own incentive, seeing people work so hard to please their God. It got him out of bed in the morning and kept him going through 18-hour workdays like today.
He sat in the back of the sanctuary as he always did, letting the choir director direct practice, but giving the choir a very real opportunity at singing to an audience. It was his one indulgence during the week. There were really other things he could be doing now, like sleeping, or preparing Sunday’s lesson. Still, watching the weekly choir practice was his little thing for the week.
Once upon a time he’d been on stage, too. Before old age had robbed him of his vocal range and forced him out of the spotlight. He’d been performing solos for years and was relegated to a support role within the choir. It was humiliating and, while a minister hated to admit it, his pride was hurt. Admitting such a sin as pride was hard, and forcing himself to still attend choir practice – well, he really did enjoy it – was his penance. And every week, God forgave him and shone on him in the guise of heavenly music.
It was bliss, and the music was beautiful. Part of Albert asked if he was still sinning by enjoying it so much, but he silenced the small voice in his head and smiled as the choir moved on to another hymn. There were two more on the docket for practice tonight, then it was off to bed for the old minister. He needed to be up early in the morning to volunteer at the youth center, and he could definitely use the rest before wading into the chaos that was the over-crowded building across the street.
The one part of his job he despised. Still, it was all for the glory of God and he’d throw himself fully into the task.
Albert was still sitting back with his eyes closed when Alan sat down beside him. Alan let his old friend enjoy another song before lightly tapping him on the elbow and pulling him out of his musical bliss and back into the roughness of the waking world.
“Father, I’d like to speak with you, if you have time.”
Father Roberts could see the anguish in his younger friend’s eyes and nodded his head in approval. He lead the way down the side of the sanctuary and through the hall to his office. He closed the door and shook his head at the realization that his much needed night’s sleep might be put on hold for a while. Looking back at Alan he thought, yes, It will be quite a while.
In elementary school, Alan’s parents forced him to go to Sunday School every week. Like any weekend-loving child, he complained every week.
“But I go to school all week! Why do I have to go on Sunday?”
They’d always respond with the same argument. They claimed Sunday school strengthened the soul and brought you closer to God. Funny, Alan never thought about his soul. And he didn’t feel any closer to this God they talked about than he did on Saturday mornings. Then again, to Alan, God was akin to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny – all-knowing individuals who would know whether or not you were doing your chores.
“If you don’t clean your room, Santa won’t bring you a new bike.”
“If you don’t do your homework, the Easter Bunny won’t bring you any chocolate.”
Still, Alan had no idea what God would or wouldn’t do if he was bad. But his parents seemed afraid of Him enough to pay their bills, keep from speeding, and wait for the white hand before crossing the street. If He was important enough to them, he might as well obey, too.
So Alan begrudgingly gave in every Sunday and put on a clean shirt before piling into the car with his sisters. He’d sit through the singing and chanting of the service and patiently sit through his Sunday school class. Afterwards, his Dad would always treat their good behavior with a burger and, on really good days, an ice cream cone.
The promise of a juicy burger and the potential for an icy treat afterwards was more than enough to keep Alan’s butt firmly planted in the chair. As enticing as it was, though, it wasn’t quite enough of an incentive to make him participate in class. Every week was an endless string of discussions about how he should ask questions, participate in discussions, and care about his spiritual education.
Alan never understood why it was important, so he’d listen to his parents’ pleas with glassy eyes and nod his head at the appropriate moments. Every week he’d make it through another lecture only to find himself sitting at the dinner table the week after.
“Your sisters were never this frustrating,” he once heard from his mom before she stormed out of the room. She’d come running back in a few moments later with tears in her eyes, asking his forgiveness. Alan didn’t know what she’d done wrong, but it must have been huge for her to be so distraught. He’d nod, hug her, then smile. It seemed to make everything better for a while, but next week they’d repeat the whole process again.
This lasted until Alan’s 13th birthday. His sisters kept talking about his “confirmation,” but Alan had no idea what they were talking about. He vaguely remembered each of them standing before the church at one point in time, but he didn’t know why or understand why it was important.
As his birthday drew near, he heard his parents have more and more heated arguments in the kitchen. Occasionally his name would come up, and he knew they were talking about this “confirmation” thing.
“I don’t think he’s ready,” his dad would say.
“But he’ll be 13 soon. What will everyone think if we wait? It’s not like holding him back in school.”
Holding him back in school? Alan had no idea what they were talking about, but he’d met a kid once who’d been held back in school. He was older than everyone else in the grade. Bigger, too. And he struggled with everything in class. The other kids made fun of him, called him names, and wouldn’t invite him to play games at recess. The worst fear in Alan’s young mind was being held back in school; to hear his parents talking about something in the same ilk was unfathomable!
This time, he burst into the kitchen in tears. He ran to his mother, begging not to be held back. Whatever it was he’d do it. Just tell him what to do.
His parents stared at him in shock, then at one another with millions of questions in their eyes. What could they do? He wasn’t ready. He didn’t understand.
Five days before his 13th birthday, his mom told Alan to put on a clean shirt. They were going to church. No, his sisters weren’t coming, it wasn’t church for everyone else. Just the two of them.
Alan cleaned up and got in the car, fearing a Tuesday school at church would become a common occurrence – once per week was more than enough for sitting in a room pretending to care about stories of lions and colored robes.
Alan’s mother didn’t say anything the entire way to the church. She parked the car and led Alan inside, past the pews he was used to, and into a part of the building that looked more like offices than a church. There was a man in one of the offices. A man Alan recognized from church on Sunday.
“Alan, this is Father Roberts. He’s going to talk to you about your confirmation. I’ll be down the hall when you’re done.”
Then his mother turned, left the room, and closed the door behind her, leaving him alone in a strange room with a man dressed in funny clothes.
Had Alan been born in another decade, he would have had a hundred different fears running through his young mind. In this case, though, he was more bewildered than afraid. Who was this man? Where were they? Where’d his mother go? More importantly, what was this confirmation thing everyone kept talking about?
Realizing that the strange man behind the desk might be able to answer the last question, Alan decided it would be safest to sit down and a
sk. After all, what trouble could you get in for asking a question?
Three hours later, Alan had a rough understanding of what confirmation meant. He also understood why it meant so much to his parents, even if he didn’t really agree with the underlying agreement. On Sunday he’d stand before the church and pledge his loyalty to this God person no one had really told him much about. He wouldn’t actually meet the guy, but he had to promise to follow His instructions and live his life in a Godly manner.
If it would make his mother stop crying, Alan would do anything. He might not see why this whole confirmation thing would be so important, but if she cared so much he might as well do it. Kind of like when he played soccer last summer because his dad wanted to coach the team. Small sacrifices to save the endless lectures around the kitchen table. That, and his parents would throw him a party afterwards.
Yeah, it was worth it.
Alan agreed and Father Roberts called his mother back in. She was more excited than Alan had ever seen her. He shouted some kind of praise at the ceiling – why, Alan had no idea – and gave him a huge hug. All the same, Father Roberts watched him with an eerie look.
“One stipulation. I’d like to meet with Alan here once a week for the next month or so. Just to make sure things are going well with him.”
Darn. The guy in the funny robes had seen through Alan’s lie. He reminded Alan of a teacher, the kind that always knew you didn’t really have a homework-eating dog. The game was up and Alan would probably have to ‘fess up eventually. For now, though, his mom was happy. Maybe he’d even get ice cream on a Tuesday!
“So there are no moral absolutes?” Alan probed Father Roberts with a leading question. It had become a game of his over the past two years during their weekly meetings. He’d ask a question that had no easy answer and try to get the minister off-balance. It made asking the simpler questions more interesting because he was less likely to get a canned Sunday school answer. This question, though, was serious and Alan was interested in how his mentor would answer.
“There are things that are absolutely wrong and absolutely right. So yes. But at the same time, no. Killing, for example, is immoral in almost every situation. Except for war. In that case, you’re killing out of a kind of self-defense or to protect your neighbor. In that case alone, killing is justified and is not immoral. The scriptures say, ‘there is a time to kill,’ and this is the instance they’re referencing. Morality has several rules like this. They’re intricate, and the balance between the rules is what the scriptures and our faith tries to mediate.”
“That seems like a cop-out. Kind of like an ‘end justifies the means’ argument. If you’re killing to protect the life of someone else, then the killing is justified. But at the same time, if you don’t kill the guy, he’ll still kill the person you’re protecting. Either way, someone kills and someone dies. So in the grand scheme of things, why is one outcome more justified than the other?”
Father Roberts leaned back and stifled a smile. He loved these little debates, and this was sure to be one of Alan’s stronger ones.
“There are two ways to look at morality. One is the ‘end justifies the means’ situation that you just proposed. You look backwards from where you’re at now. If your present situation is righteous, than the means with which you arrived, however devious and dark, must have been justified for they brought about righteousness.
“At the same time, there’s the deontological standpoint – the ‘means justify the end’ situation. If your means are righteous, then whatever outcome they bring about will be considered righteous by definition.”
“I’m not quite sure I agree with that one, Father. Let’s say I’m a cop, and I have a gun pointed at a guy with a bomb. If I shoot him, then I save hundreds of lives. But by your de…”
“By your deontological argument, I shouldn’t shoot him. The act of mercy is righteous. But then he still blows up the bomb and kills all those people. How is that a righteous outcome?”
“There’s the contradiction. Deontologically, by letting him live you’re doing the right thing. Thus, those people dying is still the ‘right thing.’ Pragmatically, though, you should shoot him to save those others. Saving those lives is the right thing. Thus, killing the terrorist is also the ‘right thing.’”
“Even though it’s killing? Even though it’s breaking the first commandment?”
Father Roberts stopped smiling. He could see that Alan was at a very real impasse between logic and morality. Killing was one of the moral absolutes on which the church was built. Suggesting there were ways around such a formative rule was a slippery slope that not even the Pope wanted to tread.
“Father, I don’t think the end justifies the means. Even if it meant saving the world, I know there are just some things I’m not meant to do. Killing … I …”
Father Roberts stood up from his desk and walked around it to sit next to his young charge.
“This is just an academic exercise, Alan. No one’s asking you to kill anyone. God willing, no one ever will. But why do you ask?”
Alan wouldn’t look up.
“There’s so much injustice in the world. So much death. So much wrongdoing. I don’t know how to work through it. I know that God doesn’t want us to hate others, but he allows it to happen so we can learn. Still, that hate breeds things much worse, like war. How do you stop a war? How do you prevent someone from killing others if your only recourse is to kill him in turn? I’d want to save lives, but could I do it by taking a life in exchange? I don’t have the right to make that decision.”
Father Roberts rest his hand on Alan’s shoulder. Alan had always had too large a heart. Too much caring for those around him. From the day he lied his way through confirmation just to appease his mother to the day he finally came to accept Christ, he’d always cared for those whom he had no power to help. It was Alan’s one flaw, and Father Roberts knew it kept him up at night.
“This didn’t come out of just idle curiosity, did it?”
Alan shook his head. Then he finally turned and looked up at the minister.
“It’s still a few years off, but my friends started talking about college. A few of them want to join the army. I thought about it, too. The army does great things. They’ve helped people in other countries. Reservists fight fires and help in natural disasters. I want to do something to help people, and I know I could there. But …”
“But they still carry guns. They still go to war. They still kill the bad guy. I know he’s the ‘bad’ guy, but that’s our label, not God’s. A lot of these ‘bad’ guys care just as much about God as I do. How can I weigh which of us is right? Is my war more just than his war? Is my charge’s life more valuable than his?”
“Alan, I’m going to level with you. This is a question I don’t even have an answer to. You’re right, my ‘the end justifies the means’ argument is a cop-out. At the same time, it’s what I feel to be the right answer in certain situations. But that’s still an academic argument. The fact of the matter is that I’ve never been faced by a situation that’s forced me to act on it.
“This is where studying the scripture comes in. Taking things on faith. Great thinkers have been faced by this problem in the past, and they’ve put down arguments for both sides on paper. You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting.
“But on another note, have you thought of ways to give back that aren’t the military?”
Alan shrugged off the minister’s hand.
“Now you sound like my dad.”
“What about the police? They keep people safe, solve crimes, and put the bad guys in jail. They still carry guns, but for protection, not for hunting down the enemy.”
Alan paused. Father Roberts could see him mulling the idea over in his head, the wheels definitely turning on the weighty decision. After several very long, very quiet seconds, Alan turned and looked at his mentor.
“You might have something there, Father.”
Alan left for the day and Father Roberts was left to nurse the shambles of his own shattered psyche. It was true that he’d never weighed the contradictory natures of the pragmatic and deontological moral stances before. He’d merely picked one – the more common of the two – and assumed its accuracy. More than that, he’d preached it to his flock.
It was horrifying to think that he’d been wrong. It was humbling to have such a question posed by a 15-year old. He’d been studying the scriptures for decades. He’d attended schools, met with ‘experts,’ visited symposiums. Still, the question of a 15-yr old in crisis shook him to the core of his faith.
Which stance would God have taken? Which stance did Christ take? Did the end really justify the means, or was it the other way around?
Alan opted for a quiet graduation party. He’d finished high school and went to one of the finest colleges in the state to study criminal law and forensics. He was going to be a cop and wanted to know more than Law & Order showed on TV. With his degree and background of volunteer service with campus security, he’d been a shoe in for the police academy. Still, he hadn’t actually told anyone, and wanted to have the perfect atmosphere for his announcement.
His party was at 7, but he’d told Father Roberts it would start a 5. He wanted plenty of time with his old mentor before he told anyone else.
“Did I … uh … show up on the wrong day? Where’s everyone else?”
The minister was 15 minutes late, trying to make a characteristically low-key entrance.
“Wait, you planned this, didn’t you?”
Alan had even sent his parents to the store to pick up more refreshments for his guests. His sisters wouldn’t be there until 7 either, coming from spending all day downtown shopping.
“I did, and I’m glad you could make it. I wanted some time to talk to you before I told anyone else.”
Father Roberts let Alan take his jacket and added his bag of chips to the rest of the part faire before leading him to the living room and offering a seat.
“I’ve decided to join the police force. I sent my application in 6 months ago, and I’ve already been accepted to the state police academy. I start in 2 weeks.”
Father Roberts sat there in shock, not knowing what to say. He’d always wondered about Alan’s choice for collegiate majors, but expected a smooth transition to law, not necessarily to law enforcement.
“Do you remember that day in your office when I was 15? We talked about morality and the absolutism of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ decisions? Well you suggested the police, and I’ve spent a lot of time looking into it. I want to be a detective. I can do more than enough ‘right’ here at home. We need it, and I think it’s the right place for me.”
“I’m impressed you took me so seriously. And … well … congratulations!” Father Roberts leapt from his seat and swept Alan up into a huge bear hug. “How’d your parents take the news?”
“I haven’t exactly told them yet. I really wanted to talk to you about it first. You see, I know this is the right decision for me, but more because of what we talked about that day 7 years ago than anything else. I think I’ve figured it out. The means really do justify the end.”
Father Roberts sat back down. He’d come to the same conclusion, but he wanted to see where his young friend had gone with the argument. “Go on …”
“In the end, we’re all judged at the throne of God. We’ll be judged by our faith, but also by our deeds. Faith is meaningless without a lifetime of service to support it. What good is a confession of faith without a repentance from sin? I know it’s an old hypothetical question, but I’m serious.
“Christ died to save us from sin. Not so we can sin in the hope that everything will work its way out in the end. The fact is, you don’t know for sure that shooting the man with the bomb will save lives. You think it will, and you have a limited perspective. So the right thing to do, no matter the outcome, is to protect the one life you’re temporarily given control over. In that instance, you have control over the man’s life. Sparing it is the right thing, the Christ-like thing. If that action still leads to his detonating the bomb, there’s nothing more you can do, but you’ve still made the righteous choice.”
Now it was Father Robert’s turn to play devil’s advocate.
“OK, Alan. Let’s try a different situation. Say, for some mysterious reason you’re swept back in time and space and find yourself in 1920s Germany. You see a man drowning in a river and know him immediately to be Adolf Hitler. Leaving him to drown isn’t killing him, it’s refusing to render aid. Do you leave him to his fate, or do you dive in and save him.”
Alan didn’t even hesitate. “You save him. Refusing to render aid is the same as pushing his head under the water. Again, in that one instance God is placing you in a position to make a decision regarding someone’s life. In that instance, the righteous thing to do is to save the life, not allow it to perish by refusing to act.”
“Even with the knowledge of who the man is and the horrors he will commit?”
“Our place is not to judge. It is to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, to honor God in all we do, and to minister to others by the example set forth by Christ. ‘What would Jesus do’ sounds like a playful saying for a wristband, but it’s a fantastic guiding principle. Christ lived his life as an example to us. We should do the same for others – everything we should do should model the life of a believer. So every act we do should be a righteous one, even if we’re not at the right perspective to see if the outcome will be as well.”
Father Roberts looked at his young friend with what could only be described as pride. He’d come to the same conclusion years ago, but was unable to really share it with anyone. He’d left Alan to make up his own mind, and tried to preach the deontological view in church. He’d been reprimanded harshly the first day he spoke against armed conflicts. Threatened with demotion the day he criticized capital punishment. But here was his favorite pupil, coming to the same conclusion through his own argument.
Father Roberts stood up and once again swept his friend up in a hug. With tears in his eyes, he expressed how proud he was of where Alan had come, not only in his career but in the strength of his faith. In just a matter of years he’d grown from a disenchanted sitting bewildered in an office chair to a well-spoken young man poised to make a positive difference in the law enforcement community.
Had Father Roberts had a son, he would have liked for him to have been Alan. Alan had more character and fortitude than any man twice his age that Albert Roberts had ever come across – both outside and inside the ministry.
Alan’s parents took the announcement with mixed enthusiasm. His mother had hoped he’d be a lawyer. His father, well, he didn’t really have any specific expectations for his son, but police officer wouldn’t have made the list if he had.
The rest of Alan’s friends were impressed. Though he hadn’t intentionally led anyone on, almost everyone expected him to go into law school following graduation. The only one in the world who’d thought any different was his girl
friend. She knew that, deep down, Alan was more interested in solving the crimes and bringing closure to victims than actually punishing the criminals. For some reason, he seemed less interested in punishment than in treating the criminals like victims themselves. It made for interesting angles on case studies while he wrapped up his 400-level criminalistics courses and promised a lifetime of intriguing dinner table conversations in the future.
He’d already promised to marry her. She knew he’d keep his promise. So far as she could tell, he’d never managed to break one – a moral high ground she wished her own conscience could reach.
Alan’s mother cornered Father Roberts and asked the one tough question he was afraid someone would ask, mostly because of how he knew he would answer.
“Did you have something to do with this?”
Ten years later, sitting once again in his office looking at the more seasoned police detective, Father Roberts’ memory wandered back to that day and the confused 15-yr old boy sitting in his office, asking the hard questions. Albert knew that, even though years separated that day from this one, the hard questions weren’t finished. Not just yet.
“Father, what do you know about the astral plane?”