This is a story about extraterrestrials, who could not impart any of their technology to a simplistic, pre-Stone Age culture, but who had the means by which to encase the ultimate weapon in stone.
Giving in to Temptation
Professor de Las Islas drew on his pipe and scrutinized the ancient stone relic before him, now finally in the privacy and security of his own home. After a brilliant career in archaeology, he had stolen the discovery of a lifetime. He had lied and falsified paperwork, he had covered all his tracks, and had smuggled it right out of the digs and into his house. No one even knew that it existed.
He realized that he had forfeited up his career by walking off the job, but he wasn't worried. This discovery was going to make him very wealthy or very powerful or both. According to the inscription carved in the stone, there was some sort of very powerful device contained within. Whoever had cached it away had referred to it as the ultimate weapon.
He marveled at the improbability of it. He himself had been a child when they set off the first atomic weapons. He had read about the horrific destruction, the firestorms, the vaporization of humans and animals, and the aftermath of contaminated spaces.
The effects of the chemical weapons that came into use about the same time were such that the world powers agreed to outlaw them as soon as their horrific potential was realized.
And they experimented with the blasting potential of sound and the dazzling and hypnotic effects of light. And, he supposed, they would continue... they would continue looking for untried ways to destroy whatever men built and to kill whatever the Earth spawned.
None of that mattered now. He had something that presumably was going to prove itself superior; something yet unseen or even conceived by mankind. He sipped on his brandy and frowned... and then there was that bit of mystery.
All of this business with weaponry was modern-age or, at least, contemporaneous. The invention of gunpowder had taken place a little more than a thousand years ago; and then, it was another 700 years before its full potential had been implemented in artillery warfare.
But he and his team had been excavating a site that revealed a community dated at close to 4 million years ago – that was further back, much further back than even the Stone Age! To date, science had no records of any type that suggested the existence of man among the animals that long ago.
There were fossils of creatures, some giant variations of their modern-day descendants, and others seeming like otherworldly entities, never seen and never to be seen... only known by some vague imprint or their petrified remains... but no ascendant of man. He drew on his pipe, immersed in his thoughts.
Pondering the Enigma
While the others had been finding the traces of individual habitats, excited over the shards of crude pottery and stone implements and toys, de Las Islas's attention had been drawn to one location in particular, what appeared to have been someone's abode, except that it was absent of any artifacts or shards – not only empty, but suspiciously clean.
Seeing nothing there, the techs and students had wandered away to the more obvious wonders and treasures. But the young professor was intrigued. He sat for a moment to scan and ponder; it was curious that there was not one single clue, not a sliver of bone or a magic rock or a modified stick.
And something else... he stood up and looked over at some of the other individual sites. These people had had a peculiar practice of 'digging in'. Using whatever primitive tools they'd had, each family had first dug a small, crude foundation. It was still unclear how they had covered themselves, but all the dugouts were uneven, without any form, or perceived planning... except the one in which he was standing.
That particular indentation appeared to have been stamped into the ground, or somehow cut out in a perfect hexagon with a perfectly level floor about 18 inches deep, and rather roomy at about 15 feet across. And, as he studied that enigma, his eyes fell on the object on which he'd been sitting.
It was made of stone and it was covered with loose soil and gravel, so no one had noticed that it was a perfectly shaped ovoid. His fingers carefully moved some dirt aside, and he found writing on it! Completely engrossed in archeological rapture, he brushed aside more dirt and saw more lettering, etched in with uncanny precision.
The characters he was seeing were not specifically recognizable, but they all seemed to have similarities to other characters that he knew. Without looking away, he was able to unlock a word... weapon; and then, the other... ultimate. His mind began to race then.
He looked up and around with a casual air; no one was looking in his direction. He threw dirt on the object and covered it up again. And then he stepped out and mingled with the others. He kept up appearances while making plans in his head.
He returned that night and took it.
Embracing the Prize
And now, he reclined and sipped on his brandy and puffed on his pipe. He was almost at a point of giddiness... like a child eager to see but prolonging the excitement. He started thinking about some stories he'd heard over the years, presented as documentaries, so as to give credibility to what were really just suppositions... those ideas about extra-terrestrial visitors having influenced early man.
He had never believed any of it, although, he had caught himself marveling at some of the phenomenon that had been presented as evidence. But in his mind, man had always been the thinker and the inventor. Now, however, he was having second thoughts about it.
Whatever predecessors of the oafish brutes that had preceded modern man, the cave dwellers of about 3 million years ago ago – and how much more oafish must they have been close to a million years earlier? – they could not have made a container of stone with such precision, nor could they have carved the lettering with such styling and exactitude.
He looked at the lettering; he could see semblances of old Sanskrit and old Hebrew, old Chinese and even old Nahuatl... every character had some subtle differentiation, and they were all mixed. He made out another word... gift.
And then, in the haze of smoke and the daze of brandy, he thought he saw the characters move... for a fleeting moment, something seemed to shift, and he thought he had read an entire phrase... but it was gone, just like that. And then, aha! A thought occurred to him... a sort of realization.
This was something like those stereograms that had been popular some decades ago. If you stared at some sort of pattern long enough, you would eventually see an image hidden in the pattern. He sat back with an air of uncertainty and looked at the lettering, trying not to focus on anything specific but taking in the whole panel. His entire mind became overtaken then, so that he wasn't actually reading anything but was instead receiving a sort of silent narration in his mind, complete with vague imagery.
Seeing What They Saw
He saw a small village of people that resembled chimpanzees to some degree and showed a group behavior similar to that of the suricata. It appeared that once their trust had been gained, they proved to be extremely friendly and curious; and their expression of respect was to imitate as well as they could.
They were gentle to the environment, being mostly vegetarian in their repasts, munching on insects randomly, and pacifistic in general. If threatened, they would run and hide and use an evolved system of ruse and deception. They were so adept at avoiding foes and predators that they rarely lost anyone to the few that bothered them.
The "observers" apparently spent over a year in their company, noting with amusement that as soon as they set down a habitat for themselves, the 'little natives' tried to copy the design. After having studied their habits through the cycles of the seasons and then preparing to leave, the observers had asked if there was anything they could do for the natives in appreciation for their hospitality.
And they were shocked when the natives asked for a weapon so that they might not have to feel fear of their enemies anymore. The observers, of course, could not impart any of their technology to a culture that was barely on the threshold of using simple tools.
They had the means by which to encase the weapon in stone. They tried to explain to the natives that if they ever had to resort to the use of the weapon, it would have unimaginable and irreversible consequences on the people and their development, and they emphasized this in the inscription as well.
Professor de Las Islas frowned with a bit of annoyance. He gulped the last of the liquid in the glass and took a couple of heavy puffs on his pipe before he set it down. So, why didn't they ever use it... or even break the casing to look at it? Were they actually that heedful of the warning? They were described as a curious people. Were they just afraid of its power? Or maybe they just couldn't figure out how to open the case.
Or, could it be that in the rest of their existence, however long or short, they could not change from that irenic lifestyle into which they had evolved? They had been conscionable, congenial, and benevolent. 'And a lot of good it had done them,' he thought... they had not even found a place on the human register until now.
'Enough!' He got down on one knee and began searching for the seam; there was none. 'How the hell... ? That was it, wasn't it? They couldn't figure out how to 'open' it.' He stood up and took a deep breath, and he stooped and picked up the object... it was like a big watermelon, about 75 or 80 pounds... and he carried it out into the garage. He had an assortment of rock hammers, but he selected instead his sledgehammer.
He was hyped up now; he'd had some brandy, he'd just exerted a little muscle, and the adrenaline was coming on. He swung the hammer high and brought it down hard, right into the middle of the casing.
'Consequences, indeed!' The stone shattered into gravel and pieces no bigger than a tennis ball. And in the puddle of rock lay a heavy wooden club, beautifully fashioned out of a very gnarly tree root.
r. nuñez, 9/2013