Unlike the trip Allman had taken, Neil’s trip was one that by definition would be easy to duplicate. In setting up multiple outposts for others to come along and build upon, he had a breadcrumb trail back home. Kagami again disappeared like the original Mann, Speil worked with Senator Lear to design a terrestrial system to match the intergalactic system, and the new Neil continued to explore and expand the travel possibilities for all humankind.
No one knew what was in store for the future. As the Sinduraj Program expanded in both directions, it became known as the Mann Travel System, like the Palishakyas Program before it had been renamed the Allman Initiative after its first traveler. The last remaining feminist groups railed against such a seemingly sexist name at first, but were silenced as Senator Lear came forth and revealed that not only was it named for Neil E. Mann that she herself called it the N E Mann Travel. Suddenly MTS was less objectionable to the unappeasable crowd.
Allman for his unseen part in the role received an increase of attention. Most had forgotten him by then, but for a time his resurgence made the universe seem smaller. Scores of people began calling for similar missions to other stars, but were drowned by the new wave of support for the MTS and its terrestrial version. Holistic engineering gained a wave of new recruits, and the small number of people who were able to go through the education system without becoming educated beyond their intelligence recognized that something almost magical had happened with both Allman and Neil. The learned few began to understand the unstated brilliance of extended life. How much of an extension became the next logical question that was reviewed on campuses around the globe.
Speil exited the scene as Kagami and Rotcod had before him. None seemed to notice except the few who began to research the next big problem to hit humankind. Traveling through the MTS extended life. It returned the lost time of travel, the trouble with travel was refunded to the travelers. As more people used MTS and its unintended consequence of extended life became known the world population blossomed. Now not only were people living longer, but also there were more people on the planet and the need for colonies on other worlds increased. Those who followed behind Neil were able to expand the habitable areas around the outposts he had started. Senator Lear’s glorious vision became the bright and shining light that expanded life to the stars.
However, it was not permanent. Slowly at first, but then with an alarming regularity travelers began to disappear. The only solution was to stop using the system, but by that time, it had become so engrained in the daily lives of the worlds that few could stop. The trouble of travel returned for most. Nevertheless, the quest for extended life continued.
It was almost anti-climatic to find the egg. The egg itself looked like a crystal ball. The egg was inside an unassuming wooden box. The proprietor of the shop had inherited both the shop and the box from the previous owner years before. When Faith had asked, he first seemed unsettled by her questions.
He took a long hard look at Faith as if summing up her readiness for the matter at hand. “Do you have it or not?” she asked again.
With a deep, long sigh, he shuffled out from behind the counter and walked past Faith to the door. He flipped around the yellowed and dingy sign to read Closed, and locked the door. The interior of the antique and oddity shop was already dim, but almost imperceptibly, Faith thought it became dimmer.
As his shuffled gait took him past her in the crowded space, he waved her to follow him to the back. The shop was much larger then it looked from outside, and was full of some of the most curious objects she had ever seen. Wall to wall trinkets, boxes, jars and knick-knacks were on every shelf. Even the ceiling was covered with nonconformist objects. A stuffed sloth climbed in the corner, a replica of an anaconda snaked across from front to back, and a giant whale penis pointed towards one corner. In that corner, she could see a giant watercolor painting of Mount Amittai. Other works of art surrounded it. Her eyes followed them to the small door that they were heading towards.
She never saw from where he pulled the large ring of keys from that seemed to appear in his hands, but he slowly shuffled through them to find the right one to unlock the door. It was stubborn and did not want to open. Inside he reached for a string to turn on the light. The dim bulb illuminated the only object inside, a safe. As he squatted down to turn the dial, Faith’s curiosity became more piqued. The egg did not desire to be found.
Removing the box from the safe, Faith noticed that there was nothing else in the safe. Turning the man spoke, “I purchased this shop from a man many years ago. It was a long and tedious negotiation but finally we reached an agreement and closed the deal. He arranged to give me these keys,” he shook the ring still in his hand, “and told me to meet him here the next day.
“When I arrived, he was nowhere in sight. I made myself at home behind the counter and began reviewing the extensive notes he had made on the shop that were beside the keys and the cash register. It was early, the sun had just risen and no one else was out. By the time I came to the end of the notes, I read about this room. I came back here and entered it to find him sitting on this safe staring at this. The box was thrown haphazardly in the corner. He sat as one asleep, dead to the world around him. I could not rouse him or move him so intent was his focus on this egg. Thinking him dead, I picked up the egg. That caused him to awaken with a start.
“Nowadays no one is surprised by anyone’s age. The MTS has extended life to a ridiculous length, so when he told me his age I merely asked how often he had traveled it. Can you imagine my surprise when he told me never? This unassuming mass he credited with the same properties of life extension. He warned me to be careful of it, handed it to me and walked out the door. By the time I replaced it in the box and carried it to the counter, he had walked just outside the store and collapsed, dead on the sidewalk.
“I’ve never been superstitious, but I’ve also never looked inside the box. It has been locked in this safe ever since.”
As if her curiosity had not already been at its highest, Faith now wanted nothing more than to open the box, but the old man was not done talking. Caution, not viewing the inside of the egg alone, security of the egg, and finally he approached the question of price. Retirement had called his name, from the shop as well as life. Time to travel home he had said. She reached in her pocket to pull out the asking price and got both her monetary repository information and the now well-worn paper she had first received from inside the Adonai.
He showed her his own set of extensive notes on what his shop contained, and led her around to show her many items. For her part, her attention was divided preferring to dwell on the crystal egg. His instructions to her seemed more like a trip down Amnesia Lane, one last opportunity to see the knick-knacks that he had collected over the course of his life and tenure as owner of the store. After an hour, Faith told him to take as much time in the stacks as he wanted and excused herself.
The thrill of the hunt had begun to consume her. She had been in the same room with her current obsession without being able to see it, touch it, or to explore it for much too long. Her stomach was light and jumbled as she walked back to the counter she had left the box under. A quick glance at the door confirmed it was closed, locked, and the sign would keep any visitors from interrupting her.
Next to the register was a bag she had brought with her. She reached in and pulled out a black velvet cloth but could wait no more to see the Egg. Setting it on the counter, she reverently stared at the box then gingerly opened the lid. Nestled inside the Egg seemed to glow from the luminosity it had gained being opened early.
Faith slipped her hands beneath the Egg, gently separating it from its soft cushion. She held it at eye level and stared. After a full minute, she looked away long enough to spot the chair behind her. She grabbed the velvet cloth and sat down.
An object that has such importance also has many names. Her research led her to many of them. Races and nations had known this object across the span of eternity, the least of which was the last. Ammonites, Canaanites, Israelites, Phoenicians and many more had worshipped the object held so respectfully in her hands. The names spun through her head, Gillul, Kiyun, Rephan, Kaiamanu was one Faith was fond of.
The Crystal Egg was such a literal, unworthy title for so magnificent an object. It was a utilitarian name for a regal entity, a dumb label for something that demanded such Moloch. Faith had come far to be able to give her costly sacrifice to the Kewan. That was it, the name she would choose. And now, properly named, she would explore its inner depths.
She set the Kewan in her lap and covered it with the cloth. There was one opening on the velvet surface and she glanced up to see that there was a light source above it before covering her head with the other end, uncaring about the silly image she would present to any walking by.
Light entered the Kewan through the slit and the glow from it appeared to be magnified. Adjusting it further, Faith attuned her eyes to the spot she had measured, approximately 137 degrees from where the light came in, and waited.
The light glowed, the Kewan sparkled, waves of color poured through the center of the egg, followed by a darkness penetrated by pricks of light. It was like looking through a telescope into the night sky. The more she looked the more points of light could be seen. Beneath her, she saw what had to be ground, a ground with a bluish hue. Without warning, a bright yellow light stabbed the darkness. Squinting helped, but the light would not be shut out. It obscured the stars, but just as they faded, she noticed a band through the sky. Before her eyes could adjust to the brilliant display, the cloth fell from her head.
The former shop owner had left. The building was dark. The street was deserted, and the sun had set. Time had been distorted, she seemed to have been looking for mere minutes, but hours had passed. She stood and replaced the Kewan in its former resting place. The search may be over, but the exploration had only begun.