Thursday, May 19, 2011

Untitled Chapter 11

Jackson walked into the lab to find Tash already checking vidmail at her desk, as was usual in the week following her announcement.  The implications of her discovery spawned a flurry of hypotheses from those in the loop, including accusations of fraud.  It took her several hours each morning to watch and respond to all of the various questions and accusations.  Most of her replies were variations on the theme of “We just don’t know yet.”

“Morning, Tash,” he said as he sat down at his desk to check his own messages.

“Morning,” she replied without looking up.  She picked up her ear buds and put them in, and her screen fell silent.

Jackson put in his own ear buds and opened the message that jumped out at him from the bottom of the list, “Hello, Dr. Lima.  This is Constable Gilmore.  Please call me as soon as you get this message.  Thanks.”

“Finally!“ he said a little too loudly and tapped the Return Call button at the top of his screen.

“Constable’s Office,“ a shot of a hairy, muscular arm filled Jackson’s screen, “Gilmore speaking.”  Constable Gilmore’s head dropped into view as he sat down at the other end of the call.

“Good morning, Constable,” Jackson said, “Jackson Lima.  I’m returning your call.  Did you find my missing artifact?”

Gilmore leaned back in his chair, “Good morning, Dr. Lima.  I believe I did.”

“Is that Constable Gilmore?” Tash said from across the room, “Tell him I’ll call him back in a few minutes.  I’ve just got a couple more messages to reply to first.”

“No need,” Gilmore said to Jackson, “I’m going to need the both of you to come over to my office right away.”

“Of course,” Jackson replied, “I’ll be right over.  This is fantastic news!”

Gilmore leaned forward, “Both of you.  You and Dr. Floyd.”

Jackson’s smile faded a little, “I can come over right away, of course, but Dr. Floyd is pretty swamped right now.  Can she come by this afternoon?”

“Whatever she’s doing can wait,” Gilmore said, “My office is in Dome 1, Sublevel 1.  Come over immediately, please.  This is of the utmost importance.”

Jackson gave the constable a look of uncertainty, “A looter?  I don’t understand.  What exactly is going on, constable?”

“I’d rather not say over the phone,” the constable replied, “I don’t care if she’s talking to the President of the United States right now, this is more important.”

“Actually,” Jackson glanced at Tash’s monitor, “I think she is.”

Gilmore raised an eyebrow, “Oh.  Really?  Well, like I said, this is more important.  You both need to get over here as soon as possible.  Dome 1, Sublevel 1.  You can’t miss it.”

Jackson turned off his monitor and walked over to Tash’s desk, “Tash?  We have to go over to the constable’s office.  He found my artifact, and he wants us both to come over right now.  He says it’s important.”

Tash looked up at him, “More important than a message from the President of the United States?”
Jackson shrugged, “His exact words were, ‘I don’t care if she’s talking to the President of the United States, this is more important.’ So, yeah, I guess so.”

“Jesus,” Tash removed her ear buds and turned off her monitor, “He better be right.”

When they walked into the constable’s office, he hopped up from his desk and walked over to greet them.
“Dr. Floyd, Dr. Lima,” he shook their hands, “Please, have a seat right over here.  We need to talk.”

Tash took the seat nearest the door, “What’s this about, Constable Gilmore?  Why do you need both of us to pick up an artifact?  Jackson wasn’t lying when he said I was watching a message from President Collins.  I can‘t go into it, but I’m really very busy right now.”

Gilmore held his thumb to his lips and just looked at Tash for a moment before he replied, “I don’t doubt that, Dr. Floyd, and I meant it when I said this is more important.  What can you tell me about your work?”

Tash looked annoyed, “I’m afraid I can’t really go into it right now.  It’s…”

“He opened the safe,” Jackson interrupted.

“I opened the safe,” Gilmore confirmed.

Jackson and Tash excitedly asked in unison, “What was in it?”

“Where is it?” Jackson continued, “I have to see what was in that safe!”

“Yes,” Gilmore replied, “you do.  I need to ask a couple of questions first though, so I can wrap my own head around this whole thing.  How old would you say most of your archaeological finds are?”

“Fifty,” Tash answered, “maybe sixty million years.”

“Sixty million years,” Gilmore drew a breath, “That’s what my own test came back with too.  Son of a bitch.  You know, Dr. Lima, when I found that safe, I had a totally different picture of how this conversation was going to go.  You were my prime suspect.  Looking back on it now, I realize you probably weren’t even aware of the writing on the top of the safe.”

“Writing?” Jackson looked confused, “Prime suspect?  What do you mean prime suspect?  What did you suspect me of doing?”

Gilmore chuckled, “I didn’t even know yet, but it doesn’t matter.  As for the writing though…” He pushed something across the desk towards Jackson.

Jackson looked at the coin, “And?”

“That 1999 silver dollar is sixty million years old,” Gilmore said to them.

Tash chimed in, “That’s impossible.  Your test was obviously wrong.”

Jackson leaned forward in his chair, “Constable.  The writing?”

“E Pluribus Unum,” he replied.

“On the safe,” Jackson was starting to get agitated, “The writing on the safe.  I don’t give a shit about this damned coin.”

“E Pluribus Unum,” Gilmore repeated, “Etched on the top of a sixty million year old safe.  I don’t know if you can really call it a safe though.  It was designed to preserve what was inside it, not to lock it away.  It was actually pretty easy to open.”

Jackson and Tash stared dumbfounded at the constable.  He reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a metallic-looking sheet of paper, and slid it across the desk.

“You wanted to know what was in the safe,” he continued, “A journal, and this handwritten letter.  They’re both made of the same material.  It’s paper, but I’m told the composition is unknown.  And, it’s sixty million years old.  The journal’s in the safe for safekeeping, so to speak, but I wanted to be here when you read this.”

Tash pulled the letter closer to the edge of the desk, and she and Jackson began reading.

“To Anyone,

I don’t know if anyone will ever find this, but it feels good to at least have it all written down.  I know BP discovered some ruins somewhere around here before I left, and this box is built to last indefinitely, so who knows?

First of all, the natives of Mars call the planet Guo and themselves Guoren.  It’s a beautiful world, and they’re wonderful people, but it‘s still been a lonely existence for me.  Their language is Guohua, and the name of the city where you found my stasis box is Jiashan.  I’ve included an English-Guohua dictionary in the journal.  You’re welcome.  I’ve been here for close to 10 Guo years, and my Guohua is still pretty shitty, but it should get you started.  BTW, they call Earth Naguo.

I leave for home tomorrow, for good this time.  I’m old, and I want to die on my own planet no matter how long I’ve been away.  The earthquakes have been getting more frequent and severe, and I’m fearful that the next eruption of Gaoshan (you know it as Olympus Mons) will be the one that turns Guo into Mars.  I wish I could warn them, but the Union (see journal) would never allow it.  I don’t know what the Guo could do about it anyway.  They’re very advanced in their own ways, but they aren’t a technological species.  A welcome change after everything that happened on my way here.

I guess that’s it.  You can find everything else in the journal, if it survives, and if anyone ever finds it.


Colonel James Edward Park (Ret.)

P.S. Take to the stars, but never forget where you came from.”

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