The Karmic Mirror

The Maywood library was a tranquil oasis, away from the noise of traffic and the bright sun. As I entered the front doors, the distinct smell of books hit me. That smell was something unique to libraries and bookstores. It was paper, binding, and whatever other magic it was that made books so enchanting. I breathed in deeply.

This trip wasn’t just to kill time, although there was a definite aspect of that to it. No, I had a goal in mind. I spotted the librarian who’d called me out for my stench the previous time, Helen Barton. She was shelving books off a cart. I approached her.

“Excuse me,” I said.

She looked up, taking in my outfit but not commenting, or even seeming to react at all. I was impressed.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yes. I’m looking for a book explaining the world system. You know, the blue boxes, the stats and all of that. Can you help me find something?”

“The Karmic Mirror, by James Sutherland. I’m fairly certain that it is on the grade 8 curriculum for all California schools, and has been for many years. Did you not read it?”

“Right, The Karmic Mirror. I remember now. Can you tell me where to find it?” I asked.

“You’ll find it in the Practical Philosophy section, under the author. You do know the Dewey decimal system?” she asked.

It had been a while, but I thought I’d be able to figure it out. I nodded.

“Then enjoy. Let me know if you need recommendations on any other books in that category. The Karmic Mirror is an introductory text for children, so it might not be of much use to you.”

I thanked her and wandered around the library until I found the philosophy section, and the Practical Philosophy sub-section. The name struck me as funny. If there was anything philosophy couldn’t be accused of, it would be practicality. I guess when the very nature of your world was visible on blue screens in front of you, it was possible for philosophy to be a practical art.

I found the book easily enough. There were a few copies, all in hardcover. The author had some other books that looked like they touched on related subjects, and I made a note to check them out later.

I pulled the book and went to find a chair read in. The library was quite empty at this time of day, so there was plenty choose from. I chose a quiet corner in a comfortable looking chair and sat down to read.

The Karmic Mirror by James Sutherland

Value: ???

The book was old, the spine creaking and nearly broken. The pages were just starting to yellow. I looked and saw that the first printing had been in 1947. I wondered if Sutherland had coined the name or not.

The Karmic Mirror, that strange disconnect between our Light and Shadow selves. Why it was called that, I wasn’t quite sure. According to his bio, James Sutherland was a philosopher, and presumably had a good reason to mention karma. What that reason was I didn’t find while I skimmed the heavy text.

I looked to the index and found the first section I was interested in, the one on stats.

The numbers we see on our soul display are subject of much contention—or were in the recent past. Take strength, for instance. How can strength be quantified with a number, many have asked? Is it merely the amount a man can lift over his head? What about farmers who are able to carry heavy loads over long distances, how is their strength reflected?

The answer is fairly, and well. Whatever being is behind our soul display, call them God, Supreme Being or Gaia—in all things they are fair. As a hypothetical exercise we can put two men with the same strength side by side, an accomplished athlete and a hardened manual laborer. The laborer may not be able to lift the same amount of weight as the athlete. In point of fact, the two men may have vastly different capabilities. The number is merely an approximation, a judgment of a man’s overall strength.

This is the same for all of the other scores seen on our soul display. Do not think of them as hard measurements of a limited set of metrics, although behind the veil they may actually be that. No, instead think of them as the fair and impartial judgment of a loving God.

It was interesting to see the author bring God into it. Like LA, religion wasn’t very visible in San Tadeo. I mean, sure, there were churches everywhere but it was like they weren’t trying to stand out. Some of them were really quite hard to spot. European-style cathedrals weren’t something you tended to see in Los Angeles. Religion was just out of fashion in my old city, and it was here as well. I wasn’t religious, but since I had died once and was still kicking, strict atheism seemed to be off the table.

There was always a possibility that I was in a coma back in Los Angeles having a fantastic dream. If I woke up, would I remember the life I’d led here in San Tadeo? I’d have to cross that bridge if and when I came to it.

The rest of the section on stats was pretty similar. Mr. Sutherland made a few other analogies about Dexterity and Constitution. The next bit was what I’d been looking for, however. The practical part of his practical philosophy tome.

One thing that all experts are certain of, however, is that as one’s physical capabilities grow, the numbers on one’s soul display increase, reflecting the improvements in body and skill.

One study shows that for 77% of participants, a 3 to 4 times weekly regimen of calisthenics and weightlifting improved Constitution, Strength, Agility and in some rare cases even Dexterity. These gains were as much as three points over the course of the study.

The outlying stat, Beauty, was not shown to be improved measurably by simple athletic training.

The studies he was referencing were footnoted, but as the book would was published in 1947, I expected there was probably more modern research that I could consult. My big take away was that if I started hitting the gym and training hard, I could increase my stats. Now, back in real life I probably could’ve done the same thing. If I’d spent the time, I could have hit the gym and got buff. For a very obvious reason, it was much more appealing now that I knew I’d be able to see the numbers go up. Yet another thing to put on my TODO list. I’d seen a few gyms around town and I’d have to find a good time to go.

The next section was on mental stats, or rather, the lack of them on our soul display.

Many philosophers, myself included, have speculated as to the reason only raw physical attributes are reflected on our soul display. After all, is not our intellect the greatest gift God has given us? Why would it not be reflected in our soul?

The answers are widely diverse with little agreement. The most popular opinion as of the time of writing is that mental stats are not reflected because they are largely immutable. There are no cases in recorded history of a man becoming more intelligent. Contrary to popular belief, going to school and obtaining an education does not accomplish this goal. Instead, it makes a man educated, but not more intelligent.
Other mental attributes that are speculated to exist, such as wisdom, or perception, also may be thought of as immutable.

There were more footnotes sprinkled on this page, I assumed pointing to other tomes with different opinions.

The next thing I was curious about was why skills and jobs needed money to advance. Specifically, they needed American dollars. The question was, why? Why not pesos or yen?
The answer to that question was a bit weaselly but boiled down to the author didn’t know. That was just the way it always had been. Depending on where you were, the currency would change.

One of the great social inequities of our world is the reliance on money to advance in our professions and skills. Without money earned either directly or with one degree of indirection, skills and jobs will not advance. That in itself seems unfair to many.

The real injustice in my opinion, however, is the raw advantage the rich have over the poor when it comes to advancing skills. Sacrificing currency to advance skills, even at a ratio of five, ten or even fifteen to one is manifestly unjust and contributes greatly to the inequity in the world’s societies. In a fallen world such as ours, where the wealthy are inherently powerful this direct contribution to their power is unjust in the extreme.

That bit caught my attention. Sacrificing currency wasn’t footnoted, so I flipped to the index until I found an entry under sacrificing. It was only a few pages away from what I’d already read, and I flipped back to it.

Those skills that are difficult to associate earnings with directly, or with one degree of indirection, God has provided us with the ability to sacrifice currency directly and have it credited toward our advancement. To achieve this, one only needs to hold the money to be sacrificed in a hand and focus one’s will on the intent to sacrifice to a specific skill. This is complicated by the conversion ratio, which varies depending upon the rarity of skills. As an example, an F ranked skill will convert at a ratio of 5 to 1. For every dollar of advancement five dollars must be sacrificed.

Higher rarity skills have higher conversion ratios. Due to the secretive nature of people in our fallen world, this tome cannot provide comprehensive data on skill rarities and their associated ratios.

I set the book down on my lap. The world I’d landed in was Pay to Win, almost literally. Cash converted directly into experience when you earned it using your skill, but if you were rich you could simply use your excess money to level up. What that said to me, loud and clear, was fear rich people. Here, even more than I might have back in LA. There they might be able to have their goons beat you up or their lawyers sue you into bankruptcy. Here, the rich might be the equivalent of superheroes. What kind of skills did a high-level movie producer have? A skill that got starlets to want to bang you? I hoped to never find out personally.

I had to try out the sacrifice. There was no way I couldn’t. I pulled out my roll and looked around to make sure no one was watching. For this experiment I found a bill I was willing to part with. $20.

I put the rest back in my pocket and held the twenty in my hand. The book’s instructions were vague—simply will it to happen, keeping the notion of sacrifice and the skill in mind. For this test, I chose my Customer Identification skill. Fast count was going up on its own, and with the small amounts I was handling it was already better than I needed. I checked the Earned number, leaving the skill display open for the experiment.

Customer Identification (F) Level 1/5
Every 60 seconds, determine with a 10% success rate if the person you are looking at is a likely customer for what you are selling.
Earned: $200/$500

I stared at the bill and focused intently. It was harder than you’d think to keep that specific of an intent in mind, and my results showed that. Nothing happened for a long second, two, three and five. Finally something clicked and with a flash of green fire, the bill in my hand combusted without heat. It disappeared and left nothing behind, not even ash.

I watched the earned number tick upward to $204/$500. I had spent $20 to gain $4 earned. Pay to Win, bitches.