Crowded around the holographic display were the people who wished to view the greatest being of all. Eyes wide, mouths agape, they held smartphones and handheld tablets at bay as security guards navigated the crowd in an attempt to gain control. There are no electronic devices allowed, they continued to say, as it was believed that the interference would cause disruptions within the holographic computing, but they didn’t care. All the people wanted to see was the greatest discovery known to mankind—which, at exactly 12:00, would rise from the depths of its mortal coffin and into its digital heaven within the world.
“This is Madeline Carter reporting to you live from Channel 3 news,” the reporter said, desperate to be heard beneath the gargantuan roar of the onlookers, “coming to you live from the National British Museum of London, where the Aspect of Knowledge is graciously being held for its ten-year anniversary. As you can see, the crowds have already flocked in an effort to observe what is unarguably the greatest phenomena on Earth.”
The crowd—which numbered in the hundreds in the exclusive VIP section alone and in the tens of thousands within the distant arena—screamed as the timepiece positioned above the coffin flipped to 11:46, heralding the aspect’s near-arrival upon the mortal world.
Madeline Carter—who had witnessed this phenomena each year since its discovery since 2345—still couldn’t comprehend its meaning.
It was originally believed to be alien, as upon its coffin were several indistinguishable and incongruous runes that did not resemble any language known to man. Rather, they resembled Lichtenburg figures who within their hemispheres contained several seemingly-nonsensical patterns. Most were lines, others circles or other geometrical shapes. Their meanings—still unknown to this day—were debated, and after rigorous carbon-dating and other sedimentary tests, had determined to be Earthly in origin. Scientists considered the writings upon the sarcophagus-like object to be the mathematical equation for posthuman existence, preachers the spiritual route to heaven. It had never been opened—could never be opened regardless of the tools, methods, or even chemicals that had been placed upon it—and, after its original revelation, was never wanted to be opened, for within its confines existed the one thing that no one, through science or faith, had ever been able to understand.
Many called it the material thing.
It rose once a year, every year, on the 31rst day of December, at exactly 12:00 PM British time, right down to the millisecond that could be detected through the radiological signature that occurred the moment its revelation began. Though attempts had been made to study its inner workings in detail, it was nearly impossible to record any kind of information other than by eye. Electronic equipment failed in the moments following its ascent. As such, crude handwriting was the testament to the entity’s interaction with the modern world. And in little less than ten minutes, it would be upon them once more.
For nine years it had given them the answers to the greatest questions in life. The first had been the exact time the universe had begun, the second the moment in which life had begun to occur on Earth. The third year it confirmed that the spiritual destinies of people were, in facta real—and not, as many scientists wished to claim, a falsehood of the church. It revealed in the fourth year that the fabled Adam and Eve were, in fact, once real people, and even pinpointed the very location of the Garden of Eden. The fifth year it solved world hunger, the sixth it cured all diseases. The seventh confirmed the existence of intelligent life beyond the solar system and the eighth directed them toward the nearest sentient planeti. The ninth year gifted them a schematic that would allow astronauts to reach that star within five years.
But on the tenth year—this year?
Some wondered if it would reveal the existence of heaven, others the complete encyclopedia of life as it had been, currently was and eventually would be. It had given so much—spiritual and otherwise—and yet many considered it nothing more than a token through which requests were given and rewards spit out. Many wanted answers rather than facts. Was Heaven real? Did ghosts exist? What, many wondered, happened after they died?
It’s given so much, Madeline Carter thought, trying desperately to maintain composed in the face of what would be the world’s next greatest revelation. But what will it give next?
She could only wonder—and hope. Hope that it was something marvelous and not something destructive, and that it would benefit rather than annihilate them.
The timepiece above the dark-blue sarcophagi struck the ten minute mark and then began to count down. To many news agencies around the world, this was referred to as the ‘silent ten,’ as each time this had occurred for the last nine years every individual in the arena—and, it was proposed, even on the planet Earth—had gone silent. Some bowed their heads to pray. Others remained quiet. All flash photography had stopped and the cameras—normally manned by individuals—were allowed autonomy. Here, Madeline lowered her hands, frigid in the bitter London cold, and closed her eyes.
She wished for something great, something wonderful, something beautiful.
The minutes began to count down ever so slowly.
Nine… eight… seven… six.
Distantly, someone screamed—not in grief, but joy.
The overhead sun was darkened by clouds.
“Please,” Madeline whispered beneath her breath, then looked up—as if, by grand definition, someone in the sky were watching, “by all that is great, let your revelation be true. Let it be kind. Let it be peace. Let it be joy.”
The timepiece struck the five-minute mark and then began to count by the millisecond, which spun by so fast Madeline had trouble looking at it. She averted her gaze and instead looked at the digital timepiece on her holo-communicator, which registered only the standard twelve-hour time cycle rather than the outrageous display before her.
It would be soon.
And yet no matter how hard she tried, she had the most horrible feeling.
The material thing had never truly done them wrong. Even in its greatest revelations—some of which people believed to be terrible, others ironic—it had always given them light. Though it was supposedly not from beyond Earth—and, as such, not a supernatural or heavenly being—she considered it a kind creature who wished only to serve them well. It was the Timekeeper, the Paradox, the Answer to all of the world’s greatest questions. Yet something—everything, if she were to be honest with herself—spoke wrong of its impending arrival.
The lock struck the two minute mark.
Tears sparked from Madeline’s eyes.
One minute neared and then started down.
The seconds were always the slowest part. They always felt like hours.
Fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven…
And then began the counting in the crowd. She heard English easily enough, but also French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Nigerian, Haitian, Chinese, Japanese. People from all over the world had flocked to witness this miraculous phenomena.
“This is Madeline Carter,” she said, almost unable to maintain her composure, “and as has occurred every year, our service will momentarily go silent as the Aspect once again reveals itself to the world.”
No one knew why it wanted its entry to be anonymous. Maybe there was something the human eye couldn’t see that could only be detected via electronics, and for that reason it was shy—unwilling to reveal its most intimate secrets. Regardless, science was trumped. Here, awe was meant to take place. And every year it did.
Within moments the clock struck zero.
The cameras went dead.
And the world was changed forever.