Abe and Faith had argued on into the night. She insisted that it was time to move on, he that he could not go it alone. She finally acquiesced and committed to going with him again the next night, but she had already begun her research into the next great escape. After a catnap, she left Abe all alone in the quiet apartment. For his part, he had been unable to sleep. Once she went to the bedroom he pulled the book from the shelf and lost himself.
The scope was grand. It began at the creation of the world and continued to the end. In between was a story of love, treachery, debauchery, forgiveness, redemption, persecution, and still more love. There were battles, wars, and long periods of peace, demons, angels, altars and gods. Whole civilizations rose and fell, while others persevered. Floods, fires, miracles and prophesies, this book had it all. It would take him several days to finish it, but once he started, he could not put it down.
Parts of the book were dry, boring, and tedious sections full of names, dates and lists of who had who for a father and how it related to the next author of the book. But other parts read like a modern novel. If he could have put it down long enough he wanted to look into the story’s background. Instead, he became solely concentrated on it to the exclusion of all else.
Faith shook him again. Then she closed the book in front of him and took it from his lap. With a start, Abe’s semi-paralysis broke. He shook his head as if to clear it, then realized she was there and said, “You weren’t gone long. Did you find it already?”
In disgust, she threw the book on the couch beside him, “Long? I’ve been out twelve hours, have you been glued to that book that long?”
Scanning the room, Abe looked for a clock. Not finding one, he shrugged his shoulders, “Guess so. Maybe I’ll cook some dinner.” He rose and headed for the kitchen. Now that he thought about it, he was quite hungry.
Faith looked at the book, and then followed him, stopping at the open counter while he continued behind it to the kitchen. “This library isn’t as good as I need. At this rate, I’ll be done searching it by the end of the week. I’m ready to move on to a better library If you insist on me going with you again, we have to make it so you can go on your own to see the Adonai.”
“I don’t know. It may not be many; it all depends on what I have left to figure out. At least one more night, then I’ll try it alone. If that works then you can go, I’ll stay until it wears off and I can go home again. It’s just sticking to me, like a pain in my side, I can’t let go, and I have to go back.”
She picked up her bag and plopped it on the counter, then started digging through it before she sat. “You may change your mind when you see what I’m uncovering. This is H.G. Wells; ever wonder how he could write such good science fiction? He didn’t just dream it up; he saw it and wrote it down.”
“What? You’re looking for his time machine?” scoffed Abe.
“How can you be so dismissive? I mean, I did just show you that this stuff is real. But no, not the time machine, something from a short story. It looks like an egg. You’d like it, it seems to grab your attention and not let go.” She pulled out pages of copied text with handwritten notes on them and then put a map on top of them and started arranging things.
Once he found the right pot and started some water boiling, Abe turned his attention to the discussion at hand. There did seem to be something to this, but he was not yet through with the Adonai, and the new object did not hold nearly as much of his attention. It did however distract him for the rest of the evening.
Speil walked into the crowded office that Kagami continued to use. There were many more prestigiously located and bigger offices on campus that he could have moved into. Speil himself had a large pretentiously positioned workspace in the middle of the research and test facilities on the other side of the campus. Maybe Kagami was just comfortable here in the same room he had helped create the Allman project. When Kagami moved into this office it was cutting edge, the building itself was the heart of the new facilities built for the worldwide effort that the Palishakyas Program became. The old dog was set in his ways. Now the building had become outdated and used for classes and offices instead of innovative technological research. Instead of major breakthroughs, there were major breakdowns in electrical, mechanical and other systems. How old was it anyway? Twenty, thirty years? How old did that make Kagami? Speil’s mind continued the turbulent interconnected train of thought until the old professor came in.
He entered with yet another stack of old bound pages in his hands. While he may know exactly how many secrets there were left that Speil did not know there was not much time before Speil needed to know them all. At least all that Kagami was going to share. Placing the papers in the middle of his desk, he nostalgically looked around the room.
“It’s time. It’s been a good run, and there’s a long way left to go, but it is time.” Kagami ran his hand across the top of the papers lovingly, respectfully, and reverently before speaking again.
“There is much left to tell you, Aaron. You know Allman is able to continue because the Danegeld clones him. That is one of the biggest secrets of the whole mission. But, the true reason we put him into motion…” Kagami trailed off.
“For immortality. You did it to go down in history as the greatest scientific team since the Curies.” Speil interrupted.
Shaking his head, Kagami continued, “Yes, and no. Immortality, yes. Fame and fortune? Not so much. It is not only Allman that has achieved eternal life. The changes a body has to undertake to go through the acceleration Allman has gone are enormous. And those changes bring about an increased lifespan all their own. How old do you think I am?”
Odd that he had been thinking similar thoughts, “I don’t know. Late sixties, early seventies?”
A smile crossed his face, “Not quite, a little older. That is part of the problem, the reason I need to disappear. If others knew I was over one hundred and fifteen, there would be more questions. My age would become a distraction to the program. I will help you still, just not publicly. My name may still be all over the door, but my face will not be behind it. You have the knowledge needed to keep it going. You have the help, the staff, and the benefactors. You can do it. We will downplay my absence until few realize I am gone. When they figure it out we will blame it on poor health. Soon most will forget I had been involved, then I can slip away to wallow in unknown obscurity as has my mentor.
“Rotcod came to remind me that this is the way that it should be. Immortality is not all it is seems it should be, but by the time you’ve achieved it there is no turning back.”
Despite the puzzled look on his face, Speil’s mind was working overtime, “Rotcod? He has to be dead, there’s no way he’s alive. Wasn’t there an article a few years back on his death? What would he be a hundred and fifty?”
“One ninety. And I assure you he is as healthy today as he was when we last saw Allman face to face. The trouble with travel is the time between leaving and arriving. Consider your whole life. Take all the time you waste in getting from here to there, any here and any there. It could be my office and yours, or your home and where you go on vacation. The time it takes to move is time that you never get back.
“Or at least it used to be. We cheated with Allman’s cloning, he would live on and on, but we couldn’t risk telling him, so we installed a failsafe. When he begins thinking of his mortality the Danegeld sends him an innocuous, everyday device that ends up killing him. His body is recycled, another is formed, and the mission continues.
“Rotcod and I both took trips in a prototype ship. Now you are only the third to know of the side effects. This new method is nearly ready for testing for human movement. A new global search will be conducted. You will test it, as Rotcod and I tested ours. To make sure, before you do, you will also take a trip in our prototype ship. A quick trip around Saturn will suffice. Your longevity will be used to insure someone is here for the next big thing. It is imperative that we continue until all have achieved eternal life. That is the matter for which Rotcod and I strove: A world without death.”
Silence echoed in the small office. In the back of his head, Kagami could hear a clock ticking. There were no clocks in his office. “The cost of it all is life. You must give up your life to receive eternal life. Not today, not next year, but at some point you will reach the pinnacle of your existence and need to go quietly into the night. As Rotcod did, as I am doing now. Once everyone has been reached by the message, we can all come back out and live as before. It has been this way for a long time. Many before have attempted to live normal lives but were persecuted. In the middle ages, they were accused of being vampires, or witches. Some had to stage elaborate deaths to avoid violent death at the hands of the illuminated group who had discovered them. As Rotcod and I began, our underlying motive was to find a method whereby all could achieve the same end so all could be revealed.”
He watched the reaction of Speil, no shock on his face, no surprise, simply the accepting, understanding, and calculating face that he had seen when every other issue or problem had popped up. Clearly, he was processing and preparing to move on. “That’s it; there are no more hidden bits. It is all on the table. The truth must dazzle gradually, so now you are not blind.”
As he had before, Speil took his time and chose his words carefully, “So we start the search now and by the time we make the final cuts you’ll be out of the limelight. But you’re still available for consult? And unless I missed something completely we can get advice from Rotcod now?”
There had been no underestimating with his selection. Speil was fully capable of running the show, so the message would get out yet. A change in head priests was all that was needed. Relief washed over Kagami, relief like he never imagined. A deceptively liberating emotion as the harder part would begin now, but still relief for having revealed all his secrets.
That evening went easier then the night before. The car seemed to slide into the hiding spot in the alley. The fence practically opened like it was on hinges. And once inside Abe led them to the Adonai sweet spot as smoothly as Allman could now find it. A restless Faith paced along the wall near the stairs as Abe began to focus. There was no doubt the Adonai would be here and Abe meant to explore it to the fullest extent.
Settling in the Adonai appeared. There was a clean, fresh feeling as Abe went from an insect infested, dust-covered basement in Buenos Aires into the world that was the Adonai. It was a virtual cleansing of the grime and slime of life in this world as he entered another. Within a few minutes, he had, like Allman, figured out how to shift the view around. He saw himself and Faith, and then within the Adonai, plunged into the Adonai the Abe in the Adonai saw. A greater feeling of peace washed over him as he began to pan and zoom in the duplicated world that is the Adonai.
Sweat began to form on his brow as he fought the image for control, then as if a switch had been thrown; Abe was able to get his way with it. Soaring above trees and buildings, he could look at the world at a macroscopic scale, then by simply adjusting his mind he could zoom in like a microscope. The beauty of the world lay at his fingertips. Time ceased to exist for Abe as he explored and tested the limits of the Adonai.
Faith stopped her pacing and watched Abe. She shifted around the room and as she did, caught a glimpse of the world through the eye of the device. It intrigued her, so she also shifted her position to one where she could comfortably see into the Adonai. Just before peering into the globe, she noticed Abe’s eyes. They were cloudy and seemed distant.
While she underwent the cleansing wash, her thoughts turned to the Crystal Egg of H. G. Wells’ literary world. Abe was in control of where the Adonai looked, and the desire to shift it herself lay back in the recesses of her mind while the Egg took center stage. Unbeknownst to either of them two hours had passed before she decided to give a go at shifting the view. There was no communication between the two and yet as she began to force herself on the device, Abe had begun to relax. Now she controlled where they went.
After mastering the moves, Faith began to shift very specifically, through what appeared to be a metropolis. The surroundings were different, yet vaguely familiar as she swooped in and out of buildings until she came upon one that could only be a library. In her haste to enter, she aimed for a window and missed. The concrete block wall momentarily ripped at her skin as she passed through. She stopped briefly halfway through the wall, as if she had eaten something that would not pass through the wall, and then she was through it and scanning up and down the aisles. She imagined the very search she had conducted that morning, and retraced her steps through the Adonai. Abruptly she physically found herself sitting at a table with stacks of books surrounding her. Open in front of her was the collection of short stories in which her search had begun.
Briefly, she contemplated how she would return to the basement, but with the potential key to her search before her, she dove into the books fervently digging for any welcome information. The amount of information was overwhelming and intense, a small piece of paper slid from one of the books as she reached for one nearby. Hesitating with the book, she concentrated on the paper, and saw the answer. A map of Eggs lay at her fingertips. Intently she studied every line as if she would have to burn it into her retina. Gripping the map tightly she heaved to the left.
With a crash, she fell off her stool. An entranced Abe still watched the Adonai with clouded eyes. Jumping to her feet, she dusted herself off to discover that the paper was in her hand. She scrambled to leave the room for somewhere with light leaving Abe and the uncontrolled Adonai still sweeping through the globe.
As the small globe shifted and moved finally back at its own will, Abe’s mind began to wander, going back to the Zahir, the book from Faith’s shelf. The story seemed so grandiose, and yet had such a simple theme. He had begun to skip around in the reading, and had come to a story of a savior coming to lead the chosen group. Except the chosen group was less enlightened then Abe imagined, instead of lifting up the savior in triumph, the crowd turned on him and had him executed.
The image of the Adonai grew fuzzy as Abe blinked. There was a scene playing out in front of him that resembled that of the story. Despite the fact that there were no nametags, or that he had ever seen pictures of the players, Abe knew them as if they were his brother. There was John, Peter, the mother Mary, and the rest watching the scourging and torture of the one who had only meant to save them all. The high priest and governor looked on from a balcony. The sergeant in charge of the detail demonstrated brutally how to best inflict pain on the subject. Without thinking any thoughts, Abe continued to watch the final hours of the man who would be king being tortured and finally nailed to a tree. As he breathed his last, Abe could hear his final words, in them he asked his Father to give forgiveness, then committed his spirit and breathed his last.
As the man exhaled, Abe slid from his stool. The spell with the Adonai was broken. He went to stand and realized, though it had been dark when they started, dawn should be near, and light should be sneaking into the basement from the filthy transom windows. But Abe saw no such light. No vague shadows, no forms of any kind. Abe was blind.
“Abe, what are you doing? We have to go!” Faith barked in the darkness. Without setting down her paper, she had begun packing their things. The stool was all that remained. “Come on, it’s nearly light out.”
She grabbed his arm, but Abe did not move, ‘I can’t see, what happened?” Faith pulled his head around to where she could see. His eyes remained as cloudy as they had been when she looked into the Adonai.
“There’s no time for this!” She grabbed the stool and tossed it into a backpack. “Put this on,” she demanded as she put the pack into his hands. She grabbed the remaining bag, and then took him by the hand, “We’ll get out of here, just follow me.”
Faith once more led Abe, while outside the sun crested over the horizon.
The search had hit a snag. Kagami was all but hidden, even from Speil. At first, it was a mutual meeting arrangement. As things progressed, it became more a matter of just Kagami’s will. It also was his speed. Speil was fully capable in all ways but one, but it was the one that he needed the help with. The graceful bow-out had happened much faster than Speil needed. It was the search that made things hard. Who needed to know and when was the problem. All the other criteria had been evaluated.
He sighed and picked up the list of two hundred names, the only other way was to go through them himself. The other four research engineers across the table knew about the frequency requirements, but there were still two politicians and three government scientific administrators that did not. In order to get the last three federal grants funded under the black ops initiative Speil and Senator Lear had had to bend almost to the break point. Luckily, it was a lot of money. Enough to cover the last tests of cargo from New Ixeveh to Jerusalem, the furthest distance to a friendly country the two had been able to arrange. The money also stretched through the first five rounds of screening, all the way to the 40 Cut, the one they were reviewing today. Narrowing from 200 to 40 in one fell swoop. Kagami knew how to do it, but Speil did not feel up to the task.
“If I could please have your attention,” his voice cracked. “Before we narrow the list again, there is yet another test to submit these candidates to. Choose carefully, because it is expensive, and dangerous. Any of these can do the jump here on earth, but as we go interplanetary there is another concern.” He nodded at the holistic engineers, “in order to accelerate the mass of the ship and body to near light speeds, the body must undergo a massive frequency shift. This is similar to what Allman does, or did,” this time nodding to one of the politicians who swore that the Palishakyas Program had been dismantled when Rotcod died. “Simply put, the successful candidate’s ability to detect frequencies the rest of us overlook is critical. These people can sometimes see monitors refresh, and almost always see the flicker of fluorescent bulbs. Just looking for that helps to keep from wasting the money on the test, but whichever forty we pick. They will have to be again validated by this test.”
The engineers took this all in stride. The politicians looked perplexed, and the bureaucrats looked flustered. For his part, Speil felt it was a typical meeting. How could anyone get any work done spending so much time in meetings?
The science was easy, the math was easy, and finding the patterns to tie them all together was easy. Physical interactions, psychological reactions, both still manageable when broken down to a scientific, mathematic, logical pattern, but choosing one individual as superior to another became much less quantifiable unless sufficient parameters were included. There was always one more measure to use. Until you played your hole card, then you may as well show all the cards. If this did not get them down to forty prospective candidates, he would have to invent a false qualification because he was all out of actual, technical procedures to quantify. Did he have what it takes to make the artificial, synthetic cuts? Speil’s cards were on the table, he was tapped out, and the bluff was only beginning.
A blind man in a strange city, there was not much Abe would be able to do at home by himself, or out anywhere. Faith’s desire to search had become a driving passion, one that she could not avoid or put off. After a brief sleep, Faith woke and packed the same backpacks they had used the night before for the day ahead. One bag contained notes and research materials, the other had snacks and drinks. Before a dazed Abe could register what was going on, the two were off to the library.
Emboldened by the fact that she had now located yet another literary artifact, Faith was blinded by the need to search for more. Abe on the other hand, was simply blinded. He sat at a table in the library near where Faith started her search, but it was not long before she had moved deeper into the stacks and he was alone. Quickly Abe lost track of where she was, soon he had lost track of time as well. Thoughts of the Adonai filled his mind.
Few people ever came into this section of the library. The quiet and hushed nature of the wing was almost loud enough to hear. Already his senses were trying to compensate for the loss of his sight. Even still, he did not hear the approaching woman.
She had long, dark red hair with deep curls. Her skin was free of freckles, which indicated that her hair was dyed, but nothing else about her was anything but natural. Quietly and smoothly, she slid the chair in front of Abe out and sat down.
Abe was lost in thought, his mind a thousand miles away. He leaned forward in the chair as his stomach rumbled. He reached for the backpack to his right and touched her hand. A subdued, library giggle escaped her lips and he pulled his hand back and mumbled a startled apology.
“Hi, do you come here often?” she asked smiling.
“Uh, no. I take it you’re not Faith?” He sat back in the chair, and looked at her, not that it did any good. “She was around here a minute ago.” He glanced both directions before looking back at her.
Her smile grew, “No, I’m Grace, Scarlett Grace.” She paused, “Are you saying you’ve lost your faith?”
Neil E. Mann was ready to get there. He had been poked, prodded, vetted, examined, diagnosed, ridden hard and hung up wet. And at the end of it all, he was just the person for the job. Contrary to what was advertised, this was not a job for just any man, that was just the company line to get as many people interested in applying for the position. Now they had. They had applied and been turned down. Neil was the man.
This was not going to be a picnic. The far transceivers had to be placed before they could be traveled to, that was Neil’s job. Place them, travel to them, and place the next one. What would take Neil a lifetime to do could be followed up by anyone in a brief period of time. Of course, it also meant that Neil could return home if he wanted; it just would not get the job done. The network was like an interstellar bypass. No one really knew why they needed a bypass, only that they needed one. It is a bypass; they have to be built. Every town worth visiting had a bypass, now the whole planet would have one. How modern.
A ship that resembled the Danegeld was ready and waiting at the space station for Neil’s arrival. Unlike the Danegeld, this one had brakes; it could even stop. At least long enough for Neil to unload, set up, and test the new transceivers. Someone would come along behind him to create a larger more stable area fit for human habitation; Neil just set out the lights, left them on, and went to the next port of call. Someone else made it a destination.
The first locations were easy to select, some had even been set up before Neil was selected, each of the planets. Several had been test flights; others were used as training for Neil. A few had even had subsequent transceivers put in, kind of like other ramps on the interstate, it made going to a port of call worthwhile, because you could transfer to somewhere else. The reality of it was that you could travel between any two points, but the main network was set up for shorter distances and travel only to select major points. This was in anticipation of becoming a method of travel for common folks, and security as well as immigration control points would need to be coordinated.
Speil sat across the table talking to Senator Lear who sat at the head of the table. Neil really did not care about the fact that Lear wanted to set up a system that spanned the globe as well as the universe, he just wanted to get on the road. “Do I really need to be in here for this?” his impatience was evident in his tone.
Lear turned from the maps she was staring at, “Are you not interested in the project? It parallels the setup you’re going to be making; I thought you might have some insights into where we put the station that will be named after you.”
Mann stood and walked behind the table, “No, I could not care any less.” He could tell this was disappointing to the Senator, “I’m sorry, it’s just that my mind’s on what’s to come. We’re so close to getting things started. All the training, the work, it’s just…I need a little break.
“You and Aaron keep going; I’ll take a walk and be back in a few minutes.” He headed for the door. Neither one said a word as he walked into the hall. The door shut hard behind him, and the empty hallway loomed. The fluorescent lights flickered; they always flickered to Mann. The carpeted floor muffled his footfalls yet they each echoed in his mind. How many times had he walked this hallway in the last year? Too many, but not very many more. The mission was set to go in three days.
Back in the room, Speil and Lear had temporarily ceased discussions on the terrestrial system and were in a heated discussion about Mann. In the end it mattered not, he had been the only one to pass all the screens, especially Speil’s unlisted screens. For his part, Mann did not care how exclusive a person he was. He was not claustrophobic, yet he was feeling the immensity of the project closing in around him. He picked up the pace of his walk.
A junior engineer entered the hallway. Seeing Mann’s pace he stepped to the side and watched him pass. By this point Mann was nearly running. At the end of the hall was a double door with panic bars, it was not a panic, but a ferocious need to get out that Mann hit them with.
The full brunt of the sunlight hit like a brick wall. Mann stopped and soaked in the beauty of it while the door silently shut behind him. Awash with warmth, Mann began to walk again, slower this time, his body drinking in the glow of all that was the nature of the world around him. He got the urge for ice cream, and headed in the direction of the nearest boutique creamery to the research facility.
“No, I don’t know where she went, and have no clue how long she’s been gone. I can’t see my watch, remember?”
Scarlett laughed at Abe, “Well it is getting late, if you’re not helping her, what are you doing here?”
Abe’s head rolled back, “It’s crazy, but I was thinking of a book. It is the last one I was reading before…Well, before I lost my sight last night. Faith is off chasing a literary rabbit, I can’t see it to read it, but I brought it for no reason.” He felt to his right and touched the book.
“Ah, yes, I’m familiar with this book. It becomes a real page-turner. Some call it The Book, some the Zahir. In recent times, it has fallen out of the mainstream notice. People seem to have become too wrapped up in their own existence. Thinking that others care more about what they have to say and not caring about what others have to say. Odd thing, but the more pride people have tends to make them more irritated by other people’s pride. The Zahir there says to love your brother as yourself, kind of contrary to the principle the world has taken.”
Abe caressed the cover of the book, “What principle’s that?”
A smile spread as she closed her eyes to recite an old poem, “You say you’ve got troubles as bad as my own, and I’m forced to admit that it’s true. But consider my friend that mine happen to me, while yours merely happen to you.”
It appeared that Faith had followed that very mantra by disappearing, but Abe was not ready to admit it yet, “So you’re familiar with the book?”
She slid the book from beneath his hands, “Yes, you could say that. How far did you get in it?”
“Well, I didn’t start at the beginning. I was flipping through it when something caught my eye. It appears to be well annotated and lots of cross-references and referrals. Each time I finished a passage I flipped to where the margin notes led me and kept going. Deeper and deeper I dove into it.
“It seems to be a well thought out and thoroughly researched book, and it sucked me in completely. I lost all track of time when I was reading it, and in fact I was lost in thought just contemplating it today.” He cleared his throat, and in an un-library level voice, called out loudly, “FAITH!”
The only return sound was that of hushed silence, deadened by stacks of books all around the table. “Look at you, calling for your Faith, when all you need is a little grace. The library’s closing soon.” She started gathering the things spread on the table and stuffing them in a backpack.
“I’ll help you back home; we can talk about the Zahir. Faith will find her way or not. You can only worry about yourself.”
Reluctantly, Abe moved to assist. He had nothing else to do, he could give Scarlett directions back to Faith’s place and wait there just as patiently as here. He thought to himself, “This woman is amazing.” His sensitive ears could almost feel the sweetness of the sound as they walked, arm in arm towards the door.
Deep in the stacks, Faith had found her own place of contentment and hidden herself from others. The building was too big for the librarians to do more than a cursory walk through before closing up. Scarlett and Abe were the last two to leave before the librarians. As the lights turned off, Faith switched on a flashlight and delved deeper, more determined than ever. The hand that clutched the torch also clutched the scrap of paper, but her mind was miles away.