Frater Cleon opens the sanctuary doors, and two dotted lines of burgundy neon bloom along the floor. They create just enough electric glow to know that there is a path forward. He clutches a lone bottle of fine malbec against his silvered robes.
“You have arrived in the innermost sanctum,” a soothing voice speaks. It is that of a once-mortal consciousness preserved in silicon amber. “Speak your intent, that I might know if you are worthy to enter.”
"O Great Saint Julian, there is but one thing that I am certain is true.” Cleon replies. “There are many presents that exist across time, but for man, there is only one, and this is the way that it must always be. In humility and veneration, I, Frater Cleon, have learned this lesson through a lifetime of service to you, and have thus come to you to claim my sole indulgence.”
“I am glad you have come, Cleon. Indeed, you may proceed forward.” Additional lights emerge, outlining the spherical walls of the sanctum, as well as the strange altar at its center. “I have known you in my presence for fifty-four years, and you have shown nothing but honor and grace in defending our secrets. As a display of gratitude, I shall grant you exactly one chance to use my power for your benefit.”
“Thank you, master. I hereby accept your most generous boon.”
Cleon utters a short prayer, then takes his first steps towards the central device with jittering legs. He knows what an honor it is that he is receiving. Saint Julian only extends such an offer once every ninety-nine years, and only to his most devout living servant. Having been made immaterial by the mysteries of artificial intelligence, he has presided over their monastery in the Sierra Mountains for the past four centuries. It is here that his disembodied mind watches over his most dangerous invention: the world’s only time machine.
The monk approaches the eggshell-shaped mechanism, and presses its lone, oxblood-colored button with trembling hands. Its face swivels open, revealing the soft, gray foam within, as well as a lone, tapered cavity. It is much too small to contain a human being, yet is the perfect shape for a single bottle of wine. He places his cargo inside, then takes a step back. The shell revolves shut once more.
“Where shall I send this to?” Saint Julian asks.
“I humbly request that you send it to the beginning of the Jurassic period,” He answers.
“I will do as you ask,” the voice takes on a concerned tone. “Surely, however, you are aware that even a thousand years of aging is enough to render wine undrinkable, even when fortified with femtomachines. What returns to you will almost certainly be unrecognizable.”
“Indeed. However, I have not come to you seeking intoxication and merriment. I wish only to know the complete wonder of your works, that I may delight in them not with my tongue, but my mind.”
“Very well. If you are truly so curious and noble, then I shall now grant your wish.”
The time machine suddenly howls, and an extraordinary flash fills the room, forcing Cleon to cover his eyes. He knows that what comes next is imperceivable to mankind anyway; the device is sliding backwards two-hundred million years and burrowing into the earth, simultaneously mapping its return to the monastery in the present. By the time his eyes open again, a section of the wall has opened, revealing what seems at first to be another time machine. No; he knows that it is the same machine. It has waited millions upon millions of years, and for his benefit alone.
“Here you are,” Saint Julian speaks. “May it provide you with the intellectual stimulation you seek.”
Unable to control his excitement, Cleon collapses to his knees upon attempting to walk, yet manages just enough self-control to crawl towards the returned machine. Once he arrives, he uses its smooth exterior to rise once more, digging his fingernails into any exposed crease in its casing that he can find. As he prepares to open it yet again, he thinks back on the decades of litanies chanted, the bodies of thieves and trespassers slain by his own hands, and the executions of scores of heretics. At last, he will be able to see the reason why.
He presses its lone, oxblood-colored button with trembling hands once more. Its face swivels open, revealing the soft, gray foam within, as well as a single, mostly empty bottle. Inside, there appears to be a small scroll of parchment tied with a crimson string. “What is this?” He asks, but Saint Julian does not answer. He removes the cork, and allows the note to unravel in his hands.
The contents are short and to the point: "SEND US SOME MORE, LOSER. WE'RE RUNNING LOW."