The President of the Universal Coalition was called to the office of the Secretary of the Scientifc Council. He desperately hoped the Secretary would have some good news to offer, something that might finally lay to rest the constant panic that had gripped essentially every being in the UC for the past century. It wasn't even a blind panic, but rather a completely reasoned one. There weren't any signs proclaiming that the end was nigh, for everyone knew it all too well. It was a simple law of physics.
"Well, Dean, what have you got for me?" asked the President, as he tensely sat himself opposite the Secretary's desk. "Please tell me you've finally found a way to reverse the Crunch... I can't see any other reason for you to have called me here...."
The Secretary, who had been smiling up to this point, suddenly sighed and... didn't exactly frown, but the smile vanished, replaced by a rather wistful expression. "Alas, no. My people continue to work on that, of course, but we all continue to see it as futile. We'll keep working to the very end, except for the last day, which has been promised free to every sentient to spend as they will, if no solution has been found..."
"Yes, yes, of course. But the end draws nearer each day. And each day seems somehow both longer and shorter than the one before. There aren't many left."
"I know, Lucien. A month. One damned month until the end of the Universe. One month until the rubber band snaps back faster than anyone ever imagined possible, prior to a century ago when the new discovery was made that revolutionized... aw, hell, totally threw out the window any previous theory of the Big Crunch. Trillions of years it takes to expand, then suddenly it halts for a moment, then collapses in the space of a microsecond."
"Dean..." the President paused in his frustration, unable for a few moments to speak. Finally he went on, "I know all that. I learned it in grade school. Tell me something new."
The Secretary's face brightened almost imperceptibly. "That is of course why you are here, yes. We still have no way to prevent the collapse, but... a discovery was made... that would at least allow some portion of our civilization's knowledge to be carried into the next Universe."
"Knowledge? That's..." Again the President paused in his speech, this time because a question suddenly occured to him: "In what medium?"
"Why, the sentient mind."
Neither man said anything after that for a few minutes. The Secretary sat there with a slightly more perceptible smile once again gracing his face, while the President sat in silent ponderance. Finally, he said, "You mean people can be saved. How many?"
And once again, the Secretary's smile disappeared. "Ah... well, there's the sticking point. At most, two."
"I'm sorry... two? Just two? What the hell kind of discovery have you made, anyway?"
"Not I, nor any of my people. The discovery was made several million years ago."
The President was dumbfounded. He just sat there trying to think of a word to say that might compel an explanation from the Secretary, but no such word was forthcoming.
Fortunately, it wasn't necessary. The Secretary said, "It wasn't known to us until a few days ago. It was hidden deep in the ancient recesses of our database, a file unopened and unexamined all this time. Not the original file, of course, as our database has been overhauled countless time since the file was originated. No, this little file was designed to keep itself hidden, but to copy itself to any new system that replaced the old one, over and over. It has done its job well, but it has faded over time. One might say it is tired, forgetful. It was to be triggered by excessive inquiries into a particular field of research, and then reveal itself to us. It might have done so at any time in the past century, but as I said, it was sleepy. So it happened a little late. Luckily, not quite too late...."
By this point, the President was growing irritated, and regained his ability to speak. "Would... you... just... tell me... what the hell it is you're talking about?!?"
"Of course. The file told of the discovery of a sort of stone on a then-recently joined planet in the UC. A stone on which two people could stand. The file told of several years of intensive yet highly secretive research of this stone, none of which provided any useful information whatever. All they could find was that nothing could move or in any wise penetrate the stone, nor any of the earth beneath it, straight through to the other side of the world. The only thing anyone actually knew about the stone was what it was for, but that knowledge was somehow intuitive, instinctual. It came from touching the stone, and that is all. I myself have stood upon the stone, and I cannot explain the nature of the knowledge any more clearly than that. I can tell you that for the past couple of days, my best researchers have studied the stone, and have found no more about it than did the initial study, eons ago. Even the Council of Magicks has taken a look at it, and they're as baffled as we at the SC."
The President was growing ever more impatient, and took a moment to compose himself before saying, "Not... helping. Tell me what this instinctive knowledge is."
"Ah, the function of the stone... it will survive the death and subsequent rebirth of the Universe. And anyone who stands upon it will also survive. That is all we know. Some of us theorize this may have already happened any number of times. Perhaps it was created by the civilization of one of the previous Universes, or perhaps by God, but there's really no way to be-"
He stopped speaking. For he saw the look on the President's face. The Secretary sat and returned the gaze, both men now completely somber. After a moment, the President asked, "So who's it to be, then?"
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