Third Ignition by Robert Tolz

The Gateway loomed large outside the portal of the engineering deck of the SS Arthur C. Clarke. This was the doorway to the Oosphere, the next and highest universe.

Chief Engineer Scott paused briefly from his duties to admire the unlimited beauty of this celestial destination. Beads of fiery color laced an intricate latticework of expanding and glowing gases which were the remnants of a supernova that had exploded with such violence in 1054 A.D. that it was visible on Earth in daytime. Several centuries later, after the first telescopes were invented, astronomers had marveled at the celestial object left behind. Astronomers officially labeled it “M31,” but its more common name was the “Crab Nebula.” Now, several centuries later, few besides Scott knew this particular piece of trivia. To everyone else it was simply known as the “Gateway.”

Scott wondered if the Ancients who first saw the Gateway through their primitive telescopes felt the same awe that he was now feeling on close approach. At the center of the Gateway was the pulsar, all that was left of the original star, now so dense it was spinning at 30 times a second, like a whirling skater with arms held close to the body. Just a few seconds of arc beside it was a high magnitude star. Looking at the two together, Scott felt like he was looking into the eyes of God.

The SS Clarke was the lead ship in the great armada whose mission was to enter the Gateway. Behind the Clarke were the Lennon, the Bolivar, the Newton, the Galileo, the Krishnamurti, the Bovisio and a thousand other monstrously large transports. Together they comprised the Collective, the largest human migration in history, poised to take the next step in human evolution.

The Engineering Section of the Clarke was not what science fiction authors might have imagined. There were no computers, no blinking colored lights, no nuclear drives, and no dilithium crystals. Instead, three men and three women sat quietly around a circular table, with closed eyes.

Scott and the five others were Mentats, highly trained in the art and science of remote empathy. It was the Mentats’ job to monitor changes, spikes and inconsistencies in the global harmony of the Collective. No task in the armada was more important than this, for the ships traveled by riding Ethereal Waves, subtle but ultrapowerful movements of energy that blinked into and out of evidence in the darkness of interstellar space and which could only be detected and harnessed by the coordinated focus of the Oversoul. An entity of separate consciousness, but dependent on all the billions of individual souls which sustained it, the Oversoul was the aggregate emotions and thoughts of the Collective, its spiritual force.

The Ethereal Revolution had been, arguably, the most radical step forward in the progress of humanity. The Industrial Revolution had accelerated the development of tools and technology to assist humanity in mastering the environment, but it had never provided direction. Advancing technologies could produce more toys and more weapons, but the Industrial Revolution never offered innate existential meaning. This changed with the Ethereal Revolution. After centuries of aimless development, greater and greater numbers in the population had joined in the conclusion that none of the toys or power resulting from the Industrial Revolution brought true happiness. Instead, they found their happiness with the discovery of their connection to one another through empathy and participation. Gone was the absolute loneliness of being a separate, solitary being. In its place rose a level of communication and connection that transcended words. The birth of the Ethereal Revolution is usually dated at 2340 A.D., when sufficient numbers of individuals joined together to form a critical mass. In this moment, the Oversoul “ignited,” but its antecedents and influences can be found throughout the millennia which preceded it, wherever and whenever human beings gazed upon the stars or contemplated within the silence of their hearts and became convinced that there was more beyond what was evident to the senses.

After the moment of First Ignition, the Oversoul became sensitized to all manner of physical and non-physical phenomena that had never before been witnessed by science. Physicists had long been puzzled by the fact that matter and energy sometimes seemed to wink into existence one moment, only to disappear the next instant. The Oversoul was privy to a part of the universe that ordinary physical instruments could not detect, for the simple reason that ordinary material instruments did not have the power to observe that which was not, or at least was not yet, material.

Perhaps the most significant phenomenon discovered by the Oversoul was the existence of waves of energy passing through the universe just under the cusp of physical existence, what became known as “Ethereal Waves.” With further study, members of the Collective developed the technology to mine this energy to provide an inexhaustible supply, and infinitely renewable source, of energy.

The Collective successfully guarded the mining technology from being turned to military uses, not that many nation-states didn’t try. The defense of ethereal mining technology from those who would manipulate it for selfish, destructive, violent or oppressive uses was deceptively simple, effortless and foolproof. The ability to detect and use Ethereal Waves demanded a state of consciousness that transcended the individual and recognized the connection between souls. Those who did not live in that state of consciousness–and this included all who would have stolen the technology to gain power over others–simply could not fathom the science of it. The corrupt intention which motivated their desire to gain the technology was the very obstacle that prevented them from doing so.

With the availability of unlimited energy came unlimited wealth and material possibilities. As the Collective perfected the means of distribution of this wealth and energy to eliminate injustices and inequities, the number of people who coveted their neighbor’s goods dwindled. This change in consciousness, individual by individual, accelerated the absorption of the planet’s population into the Collective. When the vast majority of any nation’s citizens entered the Collective and their life forces fed the Oversoul, the geopolitical concept of “nation” became irrelevant for that portion of the planet. As nation after nation fell into line like iron filings drawn by a magnet, an unbreakable harmony arose. This became known as “Second Ignition.”

After Second Ignition, the Oversoul sought a direction for the Collective. It had long been known that Ethereal Waves came from all directions in the universe but that some locations, notably those which had been the center of cataclysmic cosmic events, acted like beacons to draw Ethereal Waves to them. The closest such beacon to Earth was the Crab Nebula, emitting regular signals thirty times every second–a phenomenon that had some twentieth century astronomers believing the nebula might be the source of signals from other intelligent life in the universe until they realized that the source of these pulses was a rapidly spinning neutron star at the heart of the original supernova. What had initially seemed to have great significance in the search for a connection with intelligence beyond the Earth was then dismissed as purposeless.

But when the Oversoul set its intense focus on the Crab Nebula, it found purpose once again. The Crab Nebula was the entrance to the next universe, the place where humanity needed to go, the Gateway. The Oversoul listened to the pulsar and heard the call to come. This was where the Collective needed to be transported. When humanity arrived at the Gateway, the next step in human evolution would occur. This would be Third Ignition.

With infinite wealth and infinite resources, building an armada to carry the population of Earth over interstellar distances was clearly attainable, though research, planning and construction took a hundred years and the actual journey another 500 years.

Now, Chief Engineer Scott and the five other Mentats around the table were responsible for maintaining the harmony of the Oversoul as the SS Clarke and the rest of the fleet drew nearer to the Gateway. Unfortunately, on the eve of Third Ignition, this was not going to be an easy task.