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James always enjoyed the evening breeze and the fresh air of Mount Cremona. From there one would have a towering view on several towns of the valley down below; small villages on the slope and slithering mountain roads connecting them to the vast city covering the plain. On a clear day one could even see the ocean stretching out to the horizon.

Observing this natural spectacle had a soothing effect on James. One couldn't distinguish the humans from up there. James had to concentrate to make out the multitude of vehicles, the movement seeming strangely rhythmical and structured within this picturesque scene.

James could still be considered a young man but his greyish skin and puffy tired eyes aged him considerably. On this clear autumn day, he looked particularly pensive. His frown betrayed his inner turmoil or perhaps was it a sign of frustration? Finally, after a prolonged stillness he relaxed.

He let out a sigh.

"Ahhh, humans are but specks of dusts after all."

"What is one person? Not much. However, it is admirable that this group of inconsequential beings managed to build so much and change the world to this extent."

He took a pause with his inner monologue, enjoying for another moment the scenery.

"But damn it is annoying to be near death. Is my terminal cancer clouding my mind? I have so much left to explore to understand, why should I die so soon?"

Without realizing it, he was clenching his fists with the little force he had left. But he felt pain everywhere, just existing felt exhausting at this point.

"Argh what a weak body, how nice would it be if I could escape this constraint, be a free soul roaming in the skies!

Whatever it doesn't matter now... I can still observe this world with tranquility a bit longer and I guess that I am fairly fortunate to be able to do that after all. But… I still wish I had some more time!"

As James was silently pondering, he didn't even realize that a white bearded old man sat next to him and began to imitate him as he pensively watched the valley.

 

"What a shame indeed" the old man mused out loud.

"Ah! you scared me there." James cried out, jolted out of his contemplation. "Um, excuse me, I-I didn't mean to scream."

James examined the old man who looked like he didn't belong to this world, with his long white hair and a pristine white beard that seemed to be his most prized possession. The man gave James a very strange feeling, his appearance seemingly incongruent with his disheveled hair. And yet he had some sort of aura, like the superposition of an untouched lake, a warm grandpa, and a confident king. James was suddenly distracted and thought this image fitted that of an angel if one ever descended on Earth. This idea was quite puzzling for James, who suddenly wondered why all these thoughts bubbled in his mind.

 

The old man laughed. "No worries, it was I who shouldn't have disturbed your reverie young man. It seems you enjoy this place very much, choosing to come here as your lifeforce is depleting."

 

James was shocked. 'Do I even know him? I have a weird feeling that he can see through me with a glance. Or am I just having hallucinations because I am dying? And why does he seem to be laughing about my death?'

 

"Haha, relax young fellow, I felt you were interesting so I wanted to talk with you a bit about life, who knows this little conversation might even help me in my pursuit of the Dao. Tell me, why do you like coming here? What do you see differently from here young man?" The elderly man sat down beside James.

 

"Huum well Senior, I am slightly emotionally attached to this place, you see. With my work as a mathematician, I would often come here to empty my mind or to get some new inspiration for my research." James responded after taking a pause to articulate his ideas.

"You are feeling strongly nostalgic for your age it seems, young man." The old man nodded.

"Well Senior, it isn't really nostalgia. I somehow feel comforted every time I come here, as if that valley is mother nature taking me in her embrace. From up here there is no sound except from the occasional breeze brushing your face like a gentle kiss. And the scent is so fresh!" James took another long breath.

"Bahahaha! You have a way with words young man, you even appear somewhat possessive of this little peak. Do you feel jealous that I am also here then? Or can you share a bit of this view with me?" The old man teased.

James was relaxing more and more with the easy-going attitude of this weird old man. He never would have thought that he could open up to his heart's content with a complete stranger.

"Haha, stay here stay here senior! But I am curious, did you climb up here? I can only see my car at the parking lot near the peak?" James was intrigued.

"Oh, don't worry about me, I am just a wanderer. Tell me, I saw you gazing at the valley for a long time, what do you see that's so interesting?" The old man chose to steer the conversation back to James.

"Well Senior, first I find it fun to look down on the mortals which appear to be less than ants hurrying to do their tasks. Maybe it gives me a superior feeling. That's only on the surface however. I am trying to watch without seeing. You see, I have always wished to understand the world, to pierce through its secrets, its gears, its laws. And I feel like I have a better chance of achieving this from up here by taking a step back from the bustling world."

"But then it is also what I used to do with my research, trying to understand how mathematical objects function. Finding a proof fills me with intense satisfaction. However, this type of work is not for anyone. Sometimes, you cannot help but feel a bit of solitude. It would be great if I could talk about my latest discovery with a random person in the subway but sadly there could only be 5 or 6 people in the whole world who could understand my latest proof on the link between transfer entropy and higher dimensional topology. It is a bit frustrating when you know there is no one that can understand you or your purpose…"

The old man could feel James's excitement as he continued to ramble about his search for the world's laws and the truth under his study of mathematics. James was so absorbed as he recalled his research that he didn't notice the smile that grew on the old man. Somehow, he felt that today there was someone who could understand him.

'Mathematician? What an interesting profession, this field is quite advanced in this world of mortals. It should be what's closest to the Dao of numeracy and perhaps array formations. What a peculiar world this is, I am glad that I made this marvelous discovery! For such a young world to be so lacking in spiritual energy yet to produce a such a civilization is fascinating. It is indeed quite advanced in some aspects, with some very unique characteristics. And that young man is even more unique! His soul is extremely strong for a mortal and his understanding of the dao is remarkable. I have never seen such a case in my millions of years of experience. I feel that his strange view point even broadened my horizons. I can sense that this little conversation even loosened my bottleneck somewhat! I must repay this karma in some way. But first, I shall put a small sealing formation to hide this little planet. This will prevent one of those old fogeys from messing up with that special place.'

 

Suddenly the old man turned around and asked,

"Young man, tell me what do you desire the most? To give you an analogy with your culture, suppose I am Alibaba's genie and that you had one wish, what would that be? Suppose that I could fulfill your any wish."

James was suddenly caught off guard. 'What a weird question to ask a stranger. Then again, he gives the feeling as though he is a lifelong friend, and it's not as if I care about what others think about me anymore.' As he was musing, James hadn't lost his basics.

"Obviously Senior, I would use my wish to ask for an infinite number of wishes."

The old man stared at James with his mouth twitching. "That's not allowed."

"How is that not allowed?" James objected.

The old man quickly retorted. "It's not allowed because I said it isn't allowed."

"Then senior that means this shabby genie cannot fulfill my wish." James gave him a puzzled look.

The old man felt speechless. 'Was I just called "shabby" by a mortal I want to help. If word ever spreads out those old fogeys would laugh at me for centuries. But I have to help that boy to perfect my dao heart and repay karma'. He even began to feel a little agitated.

"Come on young man, you must have something you want? Is it fame? Fortune? Having the company of a goddess? Don't worry about your illness, suppose that I could even grant you 50 more years of life as a little bonus?"

"Hum well maybe eternal life could be nice" James said half-jokingly.

However, he was surprised to hear the old man respond in a serious tone, in sharp contrast with his previous easygoing behavior. "Eternal life cannot be given; one has to find it in one's self, to find his own path and meaning, his own Dao."

James retorted without much thought. "Geeze, is this genie even a genie? Can he even fulfill any wish I have?"

Sensing the awkward silence and the old man's piercing gaze, James hurriedly continued: "Well Senior, I don't really understand what you are talking about, but if I want something corresponding to my path, it should be to understand the world."

The old man fell deep in thought. "Hum that is very broad, it seems you have yet to pinpoint your Dao. Well, that's pretty normal for a mortal. One cannot simply wish to understand everything, you have to make choices. But I shall give you an opportunity to find your path."

"What do you mean seni-"

The old man didn't give him the chance to continue as he placed his finger on James's forehead without letting him time to dodge. A gentle golden light appeared from his hand as it congealed to form a complex symbol on James's forehead, which promptly disappeared, as if absorbed by his skin. James appeared to be frozen in place, in fact he didn't even have any thought during this second. The old man the stood back up and gave a gentle smile.

"I wish we had more time to continue our little discussion young man but it appears as though your life force is rapidly depleting. I could slow down the process but that might hinder your talent. I'll instead give you a new opportunity. I wonder if this time your genius will blossom. Perhaps we will see each other again."

 

James, feeling a bit dazed, opened his eyes. He was still on Mount Cremona at his favorite spot but there was no trace of the white bearded old man.

'Was this a dream?' James touched his forehead but didn't feel anything unusual.

His thoughts quickly lingered away as he admired the scene one more time.

'Whatever it doesn't matter anymore. I feel like I have a better understanding of myself now that my life is ending. Ah, I feel sleepy, why don't a lie down a bit…'

'Ahh it's much better, what a gentle breeze…'

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