The road to the lab seemed deserted. It was full of vehicles, full of people, but lacked the intellectual intrigue that Speil desired, he was so lost in his own thoughts he saw no one, felt nothing, knew of no one else around him—he was deserted. Even the two shadowy creatures that had been chasing him since he came out of his apartment and entered the street were non-entities to him. Speil tended to walk faster when lost in his thoughts and this time was no exception.
It started to rain but all three men seemed oblivious. Abe and Allman were tired of politely weaving as all it was doing was keeping them further and further behind their target.
As the rain intensified, others darted indoor or took refuge under awnings. The vehicles continued unabated, splashing water over the curbs and onto the sidewalk. Speil had sped up, but now with decreased pedestrian traffic it was easier for them to keep up. New Ixeveh was notorious for being below sea level in many spots and this foot race was fast traveling through one of them.
Rain filled the gutters and overtopped the curbs until there was a solid stream of water from one sidewalk to the other. The only way to tell where the walks ended and the road began was where the vehicle wakes crested. The three continued on, two intent on the one and the one intent on his thoughts.
The rain let off as the road began a gradual rise on its ascent to the university. Speil’s office was on what was generally considered to be the back of the campus, with only one way in from this side. A small street off the main road ended in a very small gate on a massive fence. The fence was tall, and formidable looking more like a wall. As Speil ducked inside Abe thought it rather looked like a walled city. Allman caught the gate before it closed. As he held it open, he glanced around the street. It was an alley really, small, dark, and surrounded by the backs of buildings. The inevitable dumpster was next to the gate with some boxes and other refuse strewn about. It was an inconspicuous entrance to a grand university.
Beyond the alleyway entrance life continued. Vehicles whizzed by, people walked, but none seemed to pay the least bit of attention to this cubbyhole of inactivity carved from the busy pattern of the rest of the city. Allman ducked inside followed closely by Abe. No time to lose now, they were on a mission.
Faith sat smugly at the desk in her office. Over the course of her lives she had accomplished many things. She thought of her life as split, the time before the Kewan and that after. If for no other than a length standpoint, it made sense.
When she had located unknown literary relics, she had such a limited frame of reference to refer things to. The natural limits of human life restricted her and kept her focused on things of a similar temporal existence. After discovering and creating the Kewan system her reach and grasp on things expanded exponentially. It far outweighed the brief moments of her earlier life. The scope of her life broadened each time she located and then installed a new Kewan Kiosk.
The kiosks had been installed everywhere the MTS had a location. Her minions were infecting the known universe with what she continued to think of as her technology. Like some robber baron of old, Faith attempted to usurp all other forms and take over. It disturbed her that the MTS system was still in use at all. The clear superiority of being where you needed and when you needed was intoxicating.
Working with Spiel had provided an amount of knowledge that was overwhelming and Faith was prepared to go where no one had gone before. Mann’s last trip could not have been a true failure it had to go somewhere. So she was prepared to find out. What lay at the end of the rabbit hole?
The passage was the same as all the rest. Nothing unique or extraordinary about the travel: painless, quick, no troubles. She found herself in the weightless cabin of the ship that had brought the MTS to countless worlds and civilization as well. The air was stale and canned. The constant hum of the engines was her barely audible companion. There were no lights on but the illumination by which she could see was provided by the control panel.
Floating the short distance from the box she came in, the first generation MTS source, to the panel was like a brief trip down a reverent hallway. The significance of what had been done by this ship was not lost on the woman who had spent years replacing it. Caressing the dashboard as if it were an old lover she felt rather than watched the grooves worn down by Mann’s own decades of use. The control for the view screen was next to the deepest one so she flipped the switch.
Like an old cathode ray tube television warming up the screen began to illuminate itself with a planet directly ahead. The warmth of the yellow sun stabbed the darkness of the screen before the computers corrected the properties. As it dimmed she could again see the planet. An inviting planet not too far from the sun but not too close either. A little over one AU away which meant the climate on the planet was a little cooler than earth but still warm enough for life. And an atmosphere. With gravity. For native lifeforms. Or visitors.
There did not appear to be any signs of advance life around the planets. Less than fifty years after man began flying he began sending things up to orbit the planet. Before long the airless space directly above the planet looked like a salvage yard. In fact many people had become rich mining the leftover parts. But this planet did not have a layer of garbage floating mindlessly around it. A fact she would continue to monitor as she found the controls to steer the ship back toward the planet that Neil had clearly been leaving. Even through the weightlessness she could feel the motion as the vessel turned around.
Grabbing the arms of the chair kept her stable as she stood and looked around again. The sterile environment inside the ship should have preserved everything as it was when Mann last stepped foot inside. It was not a large ship but it did not take long for her to explore the area inside. No signs of him. Whatever killed him must have killed him somewhere else, or moved him afterwards.
Returning from the back of the ship to stand behind the view screen she could see that an object had been registered in orbit. Studying the readouts, she zoomed in on it. The vaguely familiar shape reminded her of a long ago memory. Both ships trajectories were such that it would disappear before she reached the gravity well of the planet. Now the trouble was back. With nothing to do but wait now she settled back in the seat and watched the planet get bigger and the object orbiting.
As it closed on the horizon from her point of view and disappeared the computer blinked off. Sitting up so quickly she floated off the seat, she stared at the monitor on the control panel. Simple orbital patterns had been easy to calculate and follow since the early history of man. The math involved was simple geometry but the computer was not reading the object, not tracking the path, and seemed to have no idea that there was anything of note going on.
Faith was not a math whiz but knowing roughly how long it had taken from the time it appeared to the time it disappeared meant that it should reappear in about that length of time again. It was not rocket science. On the edge of her seat she waited. Impatiently.
Boredom was not her friend. Looking around the cabin she came back to the dash. She would have the easiest time shifting her view from this to the view screen. Deftly navigating her way around the panel she pulled up the logs. The ship had registered this object multiple times since Mann had last been here. Yet each time it went behind the planet the computer lost it. Only to regain it when it reappeared. Almost as if the ship forgot it existed, but when once you lose the orbital track you never lose the object.
The object had reappeared and gone many times by the time Faith had finished cataloging everything in the ship. There was no clue as to what had happened to Mann, he simply vanished. Nothing was out of place, in fact it looked like he had just stepped out to go for a break. The planet didn’t look any different than others at the end of MTS lines, there was no clue as to why Mann just had not traveled back. He had just vanished.
“Nothing that wasn’t already known,” Faith said aloud to no one.
[Headed to the Danegeld, then die]
[ Me , 5/13/17, 10:40 Here’s a spot screaming to be worked on]