After spending three weeks with Scarlett, Abe had almost forgotten what it was like to be alone. The months with Faith had been wonderful, but it had been through Faith that he had found both the Adonai and Scarlett. There was something otherworldly about Scarlett Grace.
Together they made multiple trips back and forth from Faith’s apartment to the construction site that contained the Adonai. In fact, it had become a nightly event. Exploring the depths and heights inside it were incredible and Scarlett seemed to be able to direct Abe on how to go further up and further in. There was no part of the globe inaccessible by their exploration, though he still recalled the brief encounter believed to be on the Danegeld. Could the Adonai take them further then they had yet accomplished?
Argentinean economic growth had been sluggish in the past year. As a result, the construction crews had stopped work on the new development. The desire to acquire the site had not only grown in Abe, but also become more likely. Within a month, the property would be in his grasp.
Tonight was like most of the previous nights. After silently slipping through the fence, the couple quietly moved into position in the former basement. The Adonai burst open with the radiance Abe had come to expect. He had become quite comfortable inside but Scarlett seemed to not only be at home in the Adonai, but it was almost as if she was from the Adonai. By her guidance and direction, he had become an experienced traveler in the realm. Still he had no clue of what would happen next.
Scarlett was able to join with Abe; it was not just him traveling the world alone anymore. Hand in hand, they soared over water. While he had never been bad at geography, Abe had studied with intensity the geography of the earth during the last few days. This was helpful as he traveled around inside the Adonai. As he began a swooping downward arc, he could clearly see the island of Crete just to his left. Before him lay the Israeli state and Jerusalem, faster than any airliner could have flown across the final miles of the Mediterranean and over the land to reach the much-revered Holy City.
The mosque atop the Church of the Rock attracted his attention so they circled it and “landed” on the eastern side. The building contained magnificent architecture and both the history and religious significance of the location made the air around them thick with tension. Once on the ground, the two walked as if they were mere pilgrims like the rest of the crowd. Despite the fact that they were not there, the crowd did not occupy the space they chose to walk. Likewise, they did not try to walk through them, but as their tour of the building continued, they did take advantage of their non-corporeal status to walk beyond the ropes into areas that others could not enter.
In one secluded area near the basement, Abe noticed a strange series of cracks. Some crossed the ceiling, others through the walls. The lighting was poor, as this area was not part of the tour. It was hardly utilized at all in the mosque, and yet something clearly was happening here. Using the Adonai, had given them the ability to sense the slightest of changes, and Abe was aware that the floor sloped gently up towards the area the cracks appeared to emanate from. Oddly, despite the fact that the floor sloped up to the spot, it was flat across an area that they now encircled. All the cracks emanated from a central point to which Abe now walked.
He touched the floor and slid his hands along the cold rock. Only it was not cold. The other walls had been cold, but this spot was warm, like it was over a fire. As the lights dimmed, it became warmer. Abe did not know if the lights had really dimmed or if his focus was just more concentrated on the location. Before he had time to figure it out, a shimmering globe of blue appeared. Another Adonai. It came into focus and grew. He fought the urge to back up; movement could cause it to disappear.
The blue globe touched Abe. It felt like a soft jelly-like film. It continued growing, stopping at him, but growing around. He felt warmth everywhere the film touched. Suddenly, the film popped. The inside was like swimming in a hot spring, only nothing was getting wet. As he was absorbed, the film closed around him then suddenly, the glow disappeared. The light in the room remained dim. Hushed sounds from floors above came through the thick rock walls. It sounded like closing time for the mosque. He turned around and saw a man in a robe walk down the stairs nearby.
It appeared he was looking for stragglers before they locked the doors. Seeing Abe and Scarlett, he spoke in Arabic. Abe shook his head. The man repeated himself, in English this time, “You must leave as we are locking up for the evening.”
It hit him like the rock on which he stood. The man had seen them. The air had become the stale, dusty air of a rock basement rather than the clear air of Argentina. Abe had crossed through the Adonai and had entered a new location.
The basement of the mosque was full of adequate hiding spots; the trouble was avoiding the tour guides looking for straggling pilgrims and tourists. It was best to avoid them anyway as the two were dressed for a night mission in Argentina instead of the midday sun of Israel.
“Something must be up, why would they close in the middle of the day?” Abe asked quietly aloud.
From their vantage point inside the closet, they could see out but no one could see in. Abe watched yet another guide sweep through the room while Scarlett headed deeper into the closet. The muffled sounds of the imam calling for prayers came through. A rumble from deep inside the ground followed the call, almost as a stomach makes before vomiting.
With the room deserted, the two had a moment to inventory what they had. They had traveled from Argentina to Israel without any of the inconveniences associated with travel. They also had none of the conveniences either, such as passport, wallet, money, plans, hotel reservations, or a return trip ticket.
Again, the imam called, again the earth rumbled. Abe took a glance out of the door of the room. Coming down the stairs was someone who was trying to be quiet and stealthy. Partly hunched over and scanning the room as he walked down the stairs. Abe looked quickly around his area making sure that the person would not see him peeking through the crack in the door.
As the imam called, and the earth rumbled a third time, all Muslims would be down starting to pray. The new intruder stood up without making the slightest attempt to hide himself. He turned and Abe saw that it was not a he. It was a familiar face; Abe had once again found Faith.
He opened the door and his mouth to call to her, but before he could, an earth-shattering rumble filled the air. More than that, the earth began to shatter. As Abe watched, the very roof overhead seemed to part, the building was falling down around them. The columns holding up the roof began falling away. The huge, thick walls of the room fell in different directions.
Instinctively, Abe ducked. It would do no good when the roof fell on him, but it was a natural reaction. He ducked and tried to tuck himself inside the closet next to the doorframe.
Faith also ducked, but she rushed to one column in particular and strained her neck up to see. Oblivious to the danger, her attention was focused solely on a spot near the top of the column. The roof, which was also the floor of the main room above where they were, began to split in a triangular fashion. As the columns fell, she continued looking up, then she ran and appeared to be trying to catch something falling from the roof.
From Abe’s vantage point, it seemed that the walls were all falling outward, and the roof, which had cracked apart in such a weird manner, was staying with it. The roof seemed happier staying with the walls then falling straight down. It was unlike any falling structure ever before, at least to his limited knowledge. He breathed a sigh of relief as dust suddenly clouded his vision. He felt rather then saw the warmth of the Israeli sun poking through the destroyed building. It was then he realized he had closed his eyes.
The earthquake continued to rumble throughout the city, but the building seemed to satisfy itself once there was an opening to the sky. The eerie sound of earthquake was all that disturbed the sounds of dust falling. A glance back allowed Abe to see that Scarlett was safe, hardly even shaken, but looking through the door there was no sign of Faith.
Scrambling around some destroyed columns, he made his way to where he had last seen her. Everything was stone and wood, no sheet rock or other typical modern construction materials. The dust was soil and rock parts that had been in their places for years. As he carefully picked a path across the former room, he found it amazing how stable it was. Nothing shifted or slipped as he stepped on it.
Nearing the spot he had last seen Faith, he saw what looked like a glass ball. It was sticking out of the rubble. Then it moved. It rotated, nearly a whole revolution before he saw the hand holding it.
He picked up the pace and rushed to where Faith was. The column she had been peering up as it started to collapse had fallen on her and sandwiched her to the ground. The object in her hand was of such importance that she had not even tried to release it to move the column off her torso.
“So you found it?” asked Abe.
Startled, she looked up. “It’s not the first, but how did you know it was here?”
Not looking at her, Abe tried to see if there was some way to remove the column. He spotted what had been a pole holding up a canvas not too far away and headed for it. “I didn’t. I don’t even know what it is. In fact, I don’t even know how I came to be here in the first place. And of all the people I thought I’d see you were the last one I would have guessed.”
Scarlett had followed him out of the closet. “I know how we got here, I know how to get back, but that thing isn’t coming with us.”
Pole in hand, Abe stopped and stared. He was in the middle of a destroyed temple, in a foreign country 8,000 miles from where he started, trying to move a 2,500 year old rock off of a former colleague who disappeared mere months after turning his introverted world inside out. The only one that seemed to know what was going on had clearly been holding out on him ever since he met her. She was starting to look a lot less angelic then he had once supposed. In the span of mere minutes, his topsy-turvy world had taken another turn.
“First things, first, help me get this thing off of her.” Abe maneuvered the pole into a position with a large stone as a fulcrum. Scarlet left the doorway of the closet and headed to help.
Forty years of travel and the explorations were over. Three times Neil had gone back for scope expansion plans. He, like Speil, did not look a day older. He did feel older. This last trip had taken him to the final planet the group had wanted to explore. The drill was the same as it had been for the others. How many had it been? Neil stopped counting decades ago. Somewhere after the first scope change.
Travel to spot of the furthest particle jumper, set up a new one, throw out a metaphorical line, and travel to the end of it. Like an infinite game of golf with the goal being the same at the end—to make the trip in as few jumps as possible.
Once the “hole” was reached, the planet had to be evaluated and recorded. Even if it failed to meet the criteria for colonization or the lowered standard of human habitation, it still had to be thoroughly cataloged. What minerals were there, what gases, what could be taken and used for bettering life on earth? Neil had become an intergalactic Robin Hood, stealing from the poor planets to give to the rich. Or at least the rich in human life.
Mankind had now stretched out to multiple planets; it was the heady days of the 1600s all over. The Spanish Main now stretched over light years, colonies had sprouted and their riches were exported back to the mother countries. Some had even begun to dream of revolutions and becoming sovereign nation-planets all to themselves, but none had successfully done it yet.
The one thing the mission had still not found was life. Nowhere was their life, none of the places Neil had been had other sentient beings, or even early evolutionary educated slime. In fact, the first major scope change gave up on the possibility of finding any. It was the concept of global warming all over. No one pointed out that it was a major assumption based on a minimum of facts, a mere speck of dust compared to the vast beaches of the universe had been explored, but the lack of life discouraged even the most devoted of conspiracy theorists.
Seven weeks he had been orbiting the planet. It was getting the full treatment. This would be another colony for someone, all the signs were pointing towards it being the richest, most diverse, mother lode of a planet. He was nearly done with the readings, but there were two odd satellites orbiting the planet.
One had been there the whole time, but Mann had ignored it, the second just appeared the day before. He glided to the pilot seat. The joys of zero gravity never ceased to amaze Neil. A few thrusts of the maneuvering jets and he was in a higher orbit where he could turn the telescope toward the rock instead of just the long-range scanners. It was very uniform in shape, nearly symmetric. Black burn marks covered its leading edge and streaked along in odd patterns along the sides. Could it be a comet that had been caught in the planet’s gravitational field?
The object whizzed beneath him and it hit Neil what the ship looked like. It looked like his own vehicle. Passing curiosity left him. Fascination gripped him and his heart began to beat faster. Each beat pounded in his chest up to his ears. Abandoning his normally cautious nature, Mann honed in on the outside of the ship. Pushing his ship forward simultaneously with the zoom on the telescope made it tricky to stay where he had the lens trained but in a matter of seconds, he had them both under control and letters appeared across his monitor. Neil had just found the original Danegeld.
The shock of finding Allman wore off slowly. It was as if he had reached the other end of the rainbow. Mann completed a full scan, every diagnostic test he had. It was the original Danegeld, no changes, no modifications, except crew. There were no life signs aboard the ship. This would be an incredible find. The proverbial needle in a haystack, but the lack of life signs bothered him.
This caused him to run diagnostics on his own ship. Nothing malfunctioning there either, it took a day to re-configure the scanners, but he ran them over his own ship and received the same result. No signs of life, thoroughly confused he turned to the second object.
It was orbiting the same as before. It was in the same orbit, constantly circling the planet every 98-earth minutes in an elliptical orbit. It was just under two feet in diameter, shaped liked a ball. In fact, it was the size of a beach ball and other than the fact that it was made of metal and had spider-like arms coming off, anyone who saw it would think beach ball. With his newly re-configured scanners, a blip registered that Mann had not previously noticed about the object.
With an amazing regularity, the object released a sinusoidal wave that would resonate within a range that corresponded with normal human auditory ranges. Mann shook his head. Years and years of solitude in space had numbed his senses even to himself. The thing beeped. All that mumbo jumbo just meant that the thing beeped.
Neil grabbed the handles atop the control panel as the wave passed again. He shoved off to the far side of the cabin and turned a few knobs. Now the beep-beep-beep came across the speakers of the cabin. It was beeping, regularly beeping. Many centuries ago, mankind had imagined that if there was intelligent life in outer space that radio waves from their planets would eventually make it to earth. Gigantic radio telescopes were set up scanning the skies for the very sound that Neil now heard. A regular, re-occurring, non-natural sound, a sign of intelligence, a sign of life, Mann was orbiting a non-living planet millions of light years from the only known source of life seeing two products of life. One from his own planet, one decidedly not.
As has already been discussed, time is relative. Mann’s own point of reference was that of earth, and the equipment inside his ship was calibrated to earth-time. No matter what planet he was near, no matter what its revolutionary period or cyclical pattern around its nearest solar body, Mann’s clock read earth time. In a manner similar to newsrooms, boardrooms and ambassadorial offices around earth, there were additional chronometers that calculated other times to keep track of when he was. One of them was calculated to match whatever place he was in orbit around. While Mann’s clock showed only six weeks since the beeping object had appeared, the local time, for lack of a better word, had progressed over four months when the next object appeared.
This one took nearly two earth-hours to orbit, and unlike the first object, it was cylindrical. This one sent out information instead of just a series of beeps. It was stuffed full of scanners and rudimentary batteries. Mann had not merely been waiting for it to appear however. By this time, he had re-configured the sensors a third time and had nearly programmed a fourth alternative when the satellite appeared.
With the energy of an excited schoolboy, Mann traced the object’s path in a backward manner until he could see where it came from. As he had hypothesized, it came from the surface of the planet. Not content to trust sensors alone, Mann turned his telescopic eye to where the object originated and sent the signals for the fourth re-configuration.
He searched while the computers reset themselves. Before they were finished, Mann had the answer he was looking for. Clearly, he could make out the signs of life on the planet below. Not only signs of life, but signs of an advanced civilization. Not advanced to the point earth had, but well on its way. Alarms on the ship went off as the computer completed its task and confirmed what Neil now knew. Man was not alone.
Neil hastily prepared the ship for a return trip to earth. This was not news he would send back impersonally. He would deliver this news face to face, although he would tell them he was coming.
How many planets had he scanned with the sensors improperly tuned? Only someone with access to the complete database of his 40-year mission could know. It would take years to go back and rescan them.
Despite Speil and Kagami’s best efforts, the trip was not instantaneous. It was merely the inconvenient parts and the lost time that were eliminated and reclaimed. So Mann began the short journey with the push of a button and the ship lurched down the manmade corridor towards the first outpost.
Flames streaked by the windows of the ship. That was odd, thought Neil. Turning to watch them, he realized, the flames were not outside the ship but inside. Streaking as if pushed by the passage of the ship, the flames grew larger. They consumed nothing, but got larger and larger. Gravity had returned to the cabin as Neil fell rather than glided across the room. His body was heavy. His muscles were useless. Heat seared through his body where he touched the floor. The walls of the ship began to disappear. The black of space showed through.
A cold blue inferno added itself to the flames. Mann could not tell if he were going to burn or freeze. Alternating and conflicting senses washed over him as he finally managed to stand. Turning to face where the waves came from his hands disappeared. One moment they were there, the next they did not. Turning his head to see them took every bit of strength he had. Looking at his disappearing arms, he could also see that his feet were gone as well. The intensity of the heat and the ferocity of the cold increased exponentially as the waves came faster. The ship was nearly completely gone now as was Neil. A final thought crossed his mind and it was over. The mission and the man were gone in a moment. One brief moment that should have never been.
Fifty years after Speil had gone gently into that sweet goodnight he had returned to the lab researching the problem of the disappearing travelers. He was there to get the call from Kagami that Mann had disappeared.
Kagami had foreseen the potential for something so devastating and had set up a separate control room that received all the same feeds as the main room. Several of his closer staff wondered what could tear Kagami away from the control room at a critical time like this, but the importance of the mission was such that they did not voice the concerns instead concentrating on figuring out what had happened. The two old friends did not waste time with pleasantries or catching up.
“It just disappeared. He had signaled that he had news that we simply could not live without and began the trek home. He never reached the first checkpoint.” Kagami briefed Speil before reviewing the data while Speil caught up.
“Without a hint or a clue, just a report we had to see to believe? What kind of protocols did you install that made him think that?”
Kagami turned and stared at his former mentor, “None, there was no hint or suggestion that the behavior was acceptable. He created his own protocol.” The look on his face said more. It said that Kagami was not fool enough to ever expect a return trip without some indication of why.
The shock had still had not worn off when the call from the main room interrupted them later in the day. Analyzing the last information they received from the sensors only showed that Mann was modifying many things but none of what he had seen had come through. A team of psychologists who had reviewed Mann’s patterns and thought processes enough they believed they could predict what Mann would choose for breakfast had the best guess as to what happened.
In fact, they had the only hypothesis that made sense. Mann had seen something dangerous. That was the only explanation for running without following procedures. Whatever he saw either caused the damage as he ran or it was the path. He had seen the trouble either on the planet or on the path and had been unable to avoid it. As a result, the whole string needed to be shut down and never followed again. It was the only logical choice. No matter how many times they re-ran the data, no one came up with any better solution. The Sinduraj Mission had given the known universe the MTS and was in its last gasp.
Funding dried up; parts of the control station had already been mothballed. Only the dedicated few hanging on until retirement were left. There was no reason to find a different solution. No reason to further investigate and no money to do it with if there was. Mann had opened up enough paths outward that the loss of just one was no loss at all. Within a year, no one was left except Kagami and Speil that felt unsatisfied by the results. Pride had swollen the minds of the others. Pride blinded them as they moved on to other projects, big shots because they had worked on the program that expanded the stomping grounds of humans. Once they had taken on their new roles, the old responsibilities were forgotten. Seven years later, when the second person disappeared only Kagami and Speil took note. One person dying was a tragedy; a million was a statistic. The world would not take note until the incidents were a statistic.
Once Faith was freed, with a glance at Scarlett, Faith tossed the Kewan to the side. It landed noiselessly in a pile of debris. With that, the trio began a more thorough inventory of their surroundings. Abe was distracted by the revelation that Scarlett knew more about what was going on then she had let on.
The entire temple seemed to have shifted and split apart. The only exit from the room they were in was through the roof. The blue skies of Jerusalem filled the view above them, but there was no safe pile of debris to climb to reach them. Outside there were sounds of car alarms, sirens and rumblings as other damaged buildings gave up the fight with gravity and collapsed. For all they knew, it was the mosque walls continuing to collapse. Regardless, it was clear they were stuck here for some time.
The only area completely free of wreckage was the area that Abe and Scarlett had entered from and after checking the rest of the room, he knew that it was the only spot from which there was an unobstructed view of the sky. Not only was it free, all the piles seemed to emanate from that area, as if the spot had willed the building to remove itself from over it.
“That’s what happened.” Scarlett flatly stated.
As he turned to face her, Abe caught a glimpse of Faith and realized that she too had been staring at the spot. There was still a world of difference between two people looking at the same spot and three people thinking the same thought. “What’s that?”
Faith also had turned to look at Scarlett, “Come again,” she added.
“You were both thinking it. And it is what happened.” Scarlett cleared off a stable bench and sat. “That spot was tired of the building around it. This mosque was built around the time of the Crusades. That may be an event that no one teaches in school any more, but that makes it no less of a fact. No one teaches it because no one wants to remember it. Religious zealots on both sides fought over something that neither really understood.
“Centuries later when this area was re-conquered by its rightful owners, they stood outside this very building and contemplated blowing it up. Cooler heads ruled the day, or so it seemed. The mosque was left standing. A mosque dedicated to a religion that is the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the true religion that was originally located on this site. Within mere weeks, control of the land around this area was given back to those of the mosque and the chance for man to correct the problem was removed. For most of the next century, the destruction of this building was foremost on the minds of those who neglected to destroy it when they could. They imagined that if their beloved ark ever resurfaced that it would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the spark that lit the fire, the catalyst to finally do what they had not been strong enough to do themselves. Again, they had become dependent on the work of man rather than the faith of man.
“When this area was first consecrated it was for a temple of unbelievable wealth and splendor. Everything centered on the ark, a portable shrine for their most sacred texts and documents. One that they had diligently followed and forgotten, revered and cursed. Its home, its resting place, the most sacred holy of holy was right there. The spot we came in through. The spot around which everything fell as if to get away. This was not the first time it has happened, the veil was torn once before with equally catastrophic repercussions.
“Of course, it really depends on your definition of catastrophic repercussions. It really was the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end…”
Abe interrupted, “Look, now is not the time to be philosophical. You know what’s going on and you’re not telling us.” It was not a question; it was statement.
Faith, who no longer had her Kewan, walked around some debris and into the relatively open spot that Abe and Scarlett were standing facing each other. “Something has happened, and you’re the only one that seems to have any clue. We’re trapped in a destroyed mosque, no one knows we’re here and we have no way to get out. You need to start telling us useful information and not history lessons.”
With a patient sigh, Scarlett moved to the high spot of the room. “This is the location that the ark sat. It contained the most sacred of scrolls, tablets and texts. Most of what was in here was later codified into what we now have and call the Zahir. This spot is the key to life, the universe and everything. For our immediate needs, it also is the key for how we will get out, and how we will move forward. Without a ‘history lesson’ as you call it,” she nodded towards Faith, “No one would grasp what it happening.” As she finished talking, she sat down on the edge of the flat floor and waved her hands for the others to join her.
Faith did not move, Abe glanced at her and then moved to sit next to Scarlett. As he sat, Faith reluctantly moved as well.
As she sat cross-legged like the others she quipped, “Do we hold hands and sing Kumbaya now?”
Again patiently, Scarlett spoke, this time in a reverent, hushed voice that made the others lean forward to hear, “Not quite, though it will be similar. The word you refer to was used by the Creole-pidgin speaking slaves to mean human and spiritual oneness, unity and closeness. Those are things we will need, and I highly suggest holding hands.”
A panicked look came across Faith’s face as she noticed that she sat too far to reach either of the already handholding companions. She slid nearer to Abe and grabbed quickly while Scarlett continued, “While you,” nodding at Faith, “walked in, and presumably got here by more conventional methods, Abe and I traveled through the Adonai.”
“I used the MTS,” Faith interjected haughtily. “It’s much faster, and has great side effects.”
Scarlett smiled, “Not really. Faster perhaps, it appears to eliminate the trouble with travel, but in reality it is merely the best humankind in its small-minded pettiness can conceive. It is a hollow shell compared to the method you are about to use, and the method you are about to use does what you imagine the others to do.” She had emphasized ‘does’ for Faith’s benefit, but Abe was silently and intently following her every word.
“Look into the area about a foot and a half over the middle of this flattened area.” Scarlett started.
“How can we get the Adonai to appear? It’s too bright; we don’t know the exact spots to look…”
She cut him off, “Do you have faith?” she asked.
He glanced to his left, “Yeah, I have her right here.”
Smiling she said, “Yes, but it is not her I refer to. Look.” She nodded towards the spot about eighteen inches over the floor where a small blue globe had appeared.