THE SIGN

by s.c. virtes

 

Dawn broke over the archaeological dig, staining the mobile homes with wondrous shades of warm red. The campers were arranged in a semicircle around the south side of the site, and within each vehicle the day's activities had already begun. On the parched river bed around them, the scientists had found evidence that a great city lay buried under the tons of sand.

The first excavation team of the day walked out across the site towards the pit, which had yielded a significant surprise late the day before.

That pit, number 183 in their notebooks, had produced a variety of exotic metals, and toward the end of the day, a single, huge piece of metal began to reveal itself. If the current theories concerning the nature of the city were even partially correct, then it never had the technology to produce such substances. In light of this new evidence, it would seem that there had been a severe underestimation of the society that had lived there. It was now their duty to re-evaluate the industries of the city, and that great slab of paradoxical metal seemed likely to help.

 

* * *

 

The sheet of metal was thin, but each of its other dimensions was about three feet long, and there were indications that there wasn't much of it left to uncover. With the anticipation almost tangible in the air, the scientists set to work.... Surely it would be bared before the afternoon heat assaulted them.

The expedition mastermind, Enerich Tharan, climbed down into the pit and ran his hands over the metal. It had been riddled by millions of barely visible holes, and was still heavily caked with dirt which, oddly enough, was greenish on one side of the slab and perfectly ordinary on the other. In case the artifact would not be fully unearthed that day, the dirt had to stay where it was to protect the surface from the brutal midday temperatures and the evening deluges.

Enerich longed to remove the dirt and gaze upon the face of the highly speculative artifact, and knew it was only a matter of time before he could do so. He called down the rest of the team to resume the excavation.

Everyone seemed to have his own idea concerning the nature of the strange relic. Enerich personally believed that there would be some sort of message inscribed upon the green-caked side of the thing. Few believed him, but since it was his disovery, they tolerated his outlandish theories. Most of the others thought it was part of some larger structure, even lacking any evidence of organized building nearby. They blamed the disorder on the unknown but violent fate which befell the city ages ago. The true site of the city, they claimed, was miles away: And they were certain that their digging was only uncovering the assorted debris which had washed out of the city during the cataclysm.

 

* * *

 

Regardless of their many conflicting opinions, the men worked together with an amazing efficiency, and the slab was removed completely by about midday. The entire piece measured three feet by five feet and weighed far less than had been expected, such that it only took one man at each corner to carefully pull the artifact from its resting place. The sense of expectancy was so great that they almost didn't feel the horrible, sweltering heat as they laid the artifact, green face upwards, on the scrubby grass. With painstaking care the men began to brush away the green-tinged dirt from its surface. Samples of the dirt were bagged for later analysis. After a grueling half-hour under the tormenting sun, the entire face had been exposed.

Enerich had been correct. Large characters had been affixed to the metal with a series of rivets. Here and there, flecks of green paint still clung to the ferrous surface. Part of the relic had been destroyed by corrosion, but from the looks of the simple pattern of lettering that survived, it was obvious that the artifact was not a work of art. It was a sign.

Having intensively studied the language of the inscriptions, Enerich flipped through his memory and tried to come up with a translation of them. Here was the biggest mystery yet... the message was nonsense! After fumbling through his notes and texts, he had still made no progress. It seemed to be a random string of three words, and there were no corroded spaces between them that could account for their discontinuity. Perhaps the recognized system of transliteration needed revision? Certainly it did, because the phrase "New Jersey Turnpike" was simply incoherent. *

 

Story copyright © 1995 s.c virtes <ScV2@aol.com>

Artwork rendered by Romeo Esparrago <public@romedome.com>

 


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