"What are you thinking about?" I asked.
"When I was a little boy," Father said.
"During the Before," I said.
He reached down to brush my hair. "I was recalling how very smart I used to be. When I was your age, I was a genius."
"You're smart now," I said.
He laughed hard.
"Look around," he said.
I always look around.
"Miss nothing," he told me.
Father was standing beside a big gray building.
"This is what I want you to see," he said.
The building had no doors or windows.
"Do you know how to make a strong password?" he asked.
"I don't know if I do," I said.
"Tell yourself a story," he said. "Use that one good story you'll never forget, that you can carry forever. Let your story take odd turns and wear a few surprising marks, make sure it belongs to you, so you can keep it secret."
Father kneeled, putting our faces close...
"I want to show you something special," he said. "Something rare."
I tried to imagine what that might be.
"No," he warned. "You can't guess."
Inside the gray building was a diamond wall...A projected sky floated above us. It wasn't our sky, alive with metal and light. Nothing about the grayness was wet and nothing looked alive. I had never seen a sadder piece of ground.
"This was our world," Father said. "When I was your age."
I touched the diamond wall. He watched my hand jump back.
"Hot," I said.
He laughed quietly.
I shook my burnt hand, and it felt better.
"Our world was this. The entire planet was a furnace. Acidic. Dead in so many ways. And I was your age."
I was bored with the dead world. I looked at Father's face, asking, "Can we leave?"
He started to reach for my hair again but decided not to.
I was bored with everything.
"When I was your age, people thought they knew almost everything. We had scientific laws and human truths, even a model of the universe. People carried pictures of the past and tried to have a clear vision of their difficult future. I didn't know everything, of course. But when I was a boy, I had every expectation of living a smart short life and learning quite a lot more.
"Then the Before was finished.
"You know why.
"That's when everybody, particularly the smartest of us, learned that we knew nothing. We were children and our little ideas were toys, and the universe was cut apart with great ideas and magnificent, immeasurable potentials."
Father stopped talking.
I stepped away from the hot diamond wall.
"Do you know what I wanted to show you?" Father asked.
"Dead rock," I said.
"Guess again." He wasn't happy with me.
We stepped back into the real sun, the real world. I blinked and looked around, surprised by how green and bright everything was. How happy everything was. Even the saddest face was happy.
"I know what you want me to see," I said.
"Don't tell me," he said.
I didn't tell him.