"Hey kid, you seem awful young to be here. Show me your ID."
"ID? I'm afraid I don't... have one?"
"Excellent, please come in."
Everything, all at once, greets you like a flood. It's difficult to explain with the language you're familiar with. If I tried to do so in my own tongue, your entire being would rupture in comprehension into a billow of debris. Let us avoid that. Consider it the accumulation of all that existed since time immemorial, and all foreseeable futures to come. At first, you sense it as two things. A distinct metallic smell, like rust and sulphur and gunpowder, which you initially recoil against but quickly adjust to. It's what you're made of, after all.
The next is sight, and by goodness is it a marvellous one.
Boundless imagination. A faint glow betwixt and between time and space, mind and matter. Dreams and stardust, what you are made of, dancing and weaving into shapes you can vaguely recognise - it's your way of making sense of the world which frankly, does not make much sense to me. Tables and chairs composed of moon-like material, screens depicting futures and promises yet unknown, and spinning platforms that mimic the centrifugal churn of galaxies.
As your senses clear, you can make out the presence of other entities within this interstellar midst. A majority of them are considerably older than you, you noticed. This is not a surprise. You are however, startled by the state of some of them, like the old woman who is burnt and sundered from the torso below and the scrawny, shrimp-like man who wears a gunshot wound as you would wear a set of earbuds.
You are most terrified of all by the child, perhaps a few months old in your years. A bag of rotting skin with a protruding ribcage and a weak but visibly beating heart. Each thump reverberating through its tiny body like a ticking time bomb. You wince.
All three of these peculiar souls, along with everyone else in these chambers, are engrossed in some kind of game. A game you are soon to play yourself.
Welcome, I say, deciding it is fair time for divine intervention.
Immediately, you're on the defensive. I assure you no harm. Not from me, at least.
May I humbly welcome you to the Cosmic Egg. I am the standing owner of this fine establishment.
I do not know what I look like to you. I may be your cranky old mother, still kicking despite her incredulous smoking habit. Or perhaps I'm your fifth grade mathematics tutor who you still, to this day, have such overwhelming disdain for. John Lennon, Mark David Chapman, or someone entirely fictional with lavender hair and thirteen sets of eyes.
Picture me as you will. My form is irrelevant.
This story is about you.
This place is a nursery of sorts, a wonderful encapsulation where you can build and create your very own self.
Your brow furrows in puzzlement. Worry not. I am familiar with these expressions. You may not remember this but we have met before, and every time, we repeat the same old steps of faith.
You turn towards the ocean of souls. They stretch like a city skyline, further than you can fathom. Your gaze shifts from the cards within their hands to the levers against the walls.
Clink! Goes fallen coins.
Come, I shall demonstrate how this all functions.
We take a seat by nowhere in particular. My domain does not have walls nor windows. We take great pride in our transparency.
The game is simple. You select your wager and the others will do the same. A wheel is spun and cards are dealt. Should you lose, you lose a portion of your wager - but should you win, your opponents wagers transmute into your own.
Exchange rates reflect all available information in the market at that instant. All decisions made by the Egg are final and non-negotiable.
You reach for your pockets, realising that not only do you not have any money, you also do not have any pockets.
Fear not, young one. You only have endless amounts of potential. That is enough.
"I wager my entrepreneurship," says a well-dressed businesswoman. She seems like someone who has a lot of it to spare. Her stare is blank and harrowing, bright pink rollers still stuck in her frizzy grey hair.
"And I'll wager my hairline," calls out a middle-aged man who doesn't have much hair to speak of, "It's not like it'll get any worse can it? Maybe I'll develop baldness is a teenager. That'd be fun."
The two patrons turn towards you, as did I, and while you cannot perceive it, so does our dealer in the centre. We are patient. The other two are not.
You claim to not know what you have and thus, what you can possibly wager.
Like I said, you have nothing but immense, boundless mounds of potential. This is your future we speak of. You can wager anything you can think of, young one. Say... your potential income or your life expectancy.
This incites a reaction, at least. You are surprised, if not a little distraught, at the latter recommendation.
Something simpler then. A skill? Your tolerance? A physical attribute of some kind - though I would advise against wagering a body part. That would create a huge hassle, but also has an astounding degree of upside.
You are not satisfied with my explanation but would rather get started than listen to my ringing, all-encompassing voice. Perhaps you should wager for patience.
You set your wager.
Our dealer shuffles the odds by some celestial divination. I describe them as a dealer because to you, he looks like a dealer at a casino, clad with a smart tuxedo and a permanent smile. He manipulates the deck of cards as if they were an extension of himself.
To the businesswoman, he looks like a junior accountant, punching numbers into a company-issued laptop. And for our egg-headed friend, she is the most beautiful bartender in town with a knotted, country-style top and a positively provocative figure.
To me, they are their true form. This is irrelevant to the game.
Cards dealt. Drinks served. Business report drafted, edited, and delivered to the directors. Congratulations my friend, it seems you have the winning hand.
You don't feel particularly different. Your body and spirit remains the way it is, your mind and lips describing little else but dissatisfaction.
Of course not, you are but a soul. You don't yet have a body to inhabit, nor a brain or heart to process your emotions.
Your patience is growing thin, and as loathe as I am to admit it, so is mine. I've only been caretaker for an eternity now. The persistence of the human soul is a major annoyance. Even death does not wash away your stubbornness.
It is not the present version of you, you who exists between the crossroads of fate; but for the future version of you, you who still awaits the spark of life; destined for birth and great things.
"I'm destined for great things?" You ask, with anticipation albeit confusion.
No, not yet at least. Should you leave this place now in your current state, your chances of reaching the peak of your potential remains a slim, opportunist gamble.
However, should you hit the right bids, lift the right offers - say a mind capable of thinking and understanding at unparalleled speeds, or a body more resilient and powerful than any athlete. Talent, diligence, a streak of luck. Compound all those together and you can raise those odds of greatness to quite a handsome deal - where your chances of success, by your conventional definitions of it, raise to almost certainty.
"O-Oh." You say, a little stricken by the weight of it all.
It seems you've realised the truth of the Egg - and all it took was for me to lay out the facts on a silver platter.
"How long do I have for this?"
Time doesn't flow in the conventional sense here. Just understand that it is limited. I will personally inform you once your time has come.
You nod firmly, turning back towards the dealer's table. You wager more courageous things this time! It's wonderful to witness your creativity. Always a delight to see a customer so invigorated in their personal development.
And what excellent timing from myself too. I walk over to our businesswoman friend. Judging from her soggy mascara and tousled tie, she was on a bit of a losing streak even before you arrived.
It's time to go.
"What? No, I can't go yet. I still have so much to wager."
Do you now? Your betting history is convolutedly long and certainly not the cleanest: losing a great deal of bets on entrepreneurship, a few points in beauty, and a sorely noticeable minus one on political beliefs. I wonder how that would manifest... or rather, who that would manifest.
"Master Chaos, please give me more time. I'm not ready yet. Just a moment and I assure you that I'll earn myself back and more."
I scoff. Such a thin line travels between ambition and hubris.
You can't always get what you want.
"Nobody is born perfect, Madam. Now please, be on your way."
She draws her first breath for the thousandth time. She will live and she will die.
And when she does, I will continue to be here, to introduce her to the workings of the world once again. Like shepherd to a lamb.
Such are the mechanics of the Cosmic Egg, where we trade futures in the most literal sense.