Sometimes, if you want to understand a thing, it helps to start small. And you can’t get much smaller than aactur.
 Well, technically you can. Science-magi in the First Age succeeded in splitting the aactur, resulting in a subspecies, the aactil, that was composed of far fewer conceptual ‘aactur-atoms’. The subsequent containment breach and expansion of the subspecies literally destroyed the universe as they knew it. The universe we live in now is the reconstructed one that took its place, and we’re all still suffering the consequences. It was widely agreed never to try to split the aactur again.
It’s not worth thinking of aactur in most readily-accessible terms. You can’t really think of them as things, like motes or mites or molecules or protons. Go in far enough and there is no matter, no energy, there are no waves, no particles. It’s all aactur, exposing different facets of themselves to the universe.
Aactur are expressions of a fundamental, founding binary – each one is composed of equal reflections in reality and unreality, perfect halves making up a whole, which in turn makes up everything. And that’s a far broader concept than even most people think. Molecules, atoms, subatoms, spectra, subspectra, energy, all of it, is all made up of aactur. They skitter across the quantum foam like dust devils on the surface of a moon. They make up everything in the universe – in the urverse. They are the urverse and, owing to their binary nature, they are also Limbo. They form it, and thus define it.
It also doesn’t pay to think of them as life-forms in any sense we really understand, although they are conscious entities according to their own unknowable qualifications. Each aactur reality/unreality couplet comprises a basic expression within each sphere, and contains those two most important features of life: the spark, and the conduit. Spirit and soul.
 Indeed, they are legally unknowable, their mystery enforced, in the mythic knowledge of the terrible consequences of studying them too closely. Whenever a melodramatic technophobe intones that “some things man was never meant to know,” there is a certain amount of Aactur Plague genetic memory coming into play.
The spirit, the lifespark, of the aactur displays in different ways depending on the waves, energy, atoms they’re forming, and whether those atoms are making up organic or inorganic matter. In a process that goes beyond conceptual and enters the realm of pure divine-level symbolism, the aactur making up organic matter bend their lifesparks to that one purpose, forming the spirit – according to the different biological orders – of the life-form, anchoring it to existence on a femtoplanck level. But the spirit is nothing without the soul.
Just as each aactur has a lifespark within reality and a function in both spheres that dictates its place in the cosmos, so too does it have a connecting umbilicus between reality and its reflection in unreality. This connection is the soul, writ small: a conduit between the urverse and the unimaginable gulfs of Limbo. This conduit could be described as the soul of the aactur, if the aactur could be described as a life-form in any sense we understand. But at that level, it’s really just the element of a soul, in that everything in reality and unreality is a gestalt of aactur in different configurations.
Perhaps, then, you begin to understand the meaninglessness of the question of whether only sentient organisms have souls, whether animals or vegetables or minerals have them, and the even greater nonsensicality of the question of when a living thing can be said to have a soul. It’s simply a matter of arrangement, just as different atoms have different sets of properties and masses, so too will different formations of aactur make up things with different interpretations of that mystical connection with the other sphere.
At least in a sense, however, the question is not meaningless. Each aactur has an infinitesimal element of the soul, and these run together to form the larger conceptual construct within a life-form, giving it mind and self and that vital link to Limbo that allows it to continue after the degeneration of its physical molecules and the passing of their lifesparks. That whole, once woven together, endures in unreality and will return, if you believe the stories, at the End of Days to make its voice heard when the walls between the spheres cease to be.
But that’s a little beyond the scope of this essay.
How, exactly, souls are formed and preserved, and how elements of aactur in unreality form into souls and connect to life-forms in reality, is all a matter of conjecture and mystical theory. But it seems to be a fact that at a certain point the souls-in-potentia in the aactur making up a life-form reach critical mass and a soul is born, connecting the life-form’s flesh in reality to its shadow-counterpart in unreality, by the functionally-infinite anchors of its spirit lifespark.
When does this happen, turning a froth of unwitnessed and miniscule potential into a living thing? A vastly pointless question, since it is all a matter of the rearrangement of concepts too small for us to even imagine … but then, like all the pointless and unanswerable questions, this is one with which an inordinate number of people are far too concerned. Sometimes it happens at conception – the aactur that make up sperm and egg, in human beings for example, already have the requisite elements, but it’s arguable as to whether these cellular genetic building blocks have souls in the same sense – or in any sense, really, any more than a stone or an amino acid chain have souls just because they’re made up of tiny elements that might have tiny soul-elements. Get close enough, and all such considerations cease to have meaning. It’s a knowledge with inexpressible potential for coldness of vision.
Sometimes it happens later, just another decoration hung randomly on the tree from the genetic grab-bag of biological growth bestowed upon an organism by dint of its gestation inside its progenitor.
Sometimes, particularly in cases of births that take place before full gestation process is complete according to the natural law of the species in question, the soul does not coalesce and actalise until after the birth, resulting in an organism from which something is – however briefly – missing. Until it isn’t.
Of course, there is a logical if rather horrifying projection of this fact, and indeed there are myths in many cultures about the neversouled, infants born without souls and in which souls never blossom … but this is all they are. Myths. A life-form cannot exist without a soul any more than it can exist without a second dimension, or its atoms exist without mass. A soul may be late to express, but never more than a few moments once that symbolic step into life is completed. Otherwise, of course, the life-form simply dies, and becomes nothing more than an assemblage of flesh.
A soul is infinitely more likely to be removed, warped, or damaged within the body of an established life-form than fail to initialise in the first place, and there are not only myths about this but actual science-mystic precedent, especially since it is through the soul, and the conduit to unreality it represents, that things in reality exercise magical power.
 Or, more accurately, the intra-aactur soul-element bonds broken down and the collective conduit essentially closed.
Nevertheless, the myth of the neversouled is an enduring one.
There is an element of compelling, disturbing truth behind the myth, even if the idea of the neversouled itself is inherently nonsensical. It is because of this grain of truth, and the superstitions and prejudices that have grown around it, that some of the older and more expensive medical establishments and institutions employ Soul Doctors. They are extremely specialised and exclusive, their work is very complex and often their talents centred on a single species, it being all but impossible to comprehend an alien soul. They can see if a soul is missing, see it when it blossoms in the unborn foetus or newborn, see what impact its arrival – late or timely – has on the baby. They perform other functions, too, since “watching, eternally vigilant, for the arrival of the neversouled” is a dubious justification for a paycheque at best, but their other tasks mostly fall under the definition of therapy, disgnostics or counselling.
There are no Soul Doctors on Earth, at least there weren’t at the time of Sloane’s birth. There aren’t that many human Soul Doctors anyway, it being a discipline that requires extensive training, a broad knowledge base and above all a life-span beyond the mere century or two afforded to the average human being. And, more importantly, Earth at that time simply couldn’t support the profession, recourse to the required magical energies having long since been sealed off by vast and remorseless powers. But it would have come as absolutely no surprise to any practitioner of the craft to learn that Augustus Sloane’s soul had only flickered into life two point four seconds after he was cut, gasping and squirming, from his mother’s belly as she lay dying in an overdose-related seizure.
In those to whom the soul blossoms late, it is said, the flesh remembers what it was to be a spark without conduit, a life without a soul.
Augustus Sloane. Sometimes, if you want to understand a thing, it helps to start small.
And sometimes it doesn’t.