|Written in place of an Anthropology paper back when I was at NMSU. The assignment was to list out six tools archaeologists of the future might use. I just took it a step further, wrote a story and blew the length requirement out of the water. I also lost the assignment list and only included three future devices. Oops.|
Streaks of pale dawn were barely spreading their way across the morning sky when the caravan of all-terrain vehicles broke the line of the desert horizon, lumbering toward their goal with the stolid patience of a herd of elephants. Though I guess we don't bear too much resemblance to the real deal, Sandia Kirke thought wryly, allowing her gaze to wander back over the other three vehicles, all of which seemed to be holding their own admirably as they fought to keep in line through what was turning out to be a nasty bit of a sandstorm. Martin, seated next to her and driving, grunted absently to himself and took a firmer hold on the wheel, eyes focused on a point somewhere ahead of them. Sandia sighed and slumped back, folding her arms and ignoring the seatbelt strap, which was slipping up to her chin. Soon enough, Official Federal Expedition #627 of the United Americas and Western Europe would be excavating an ancient bombing site somewhere west of the former Texas border.
What a stupid thing to call ourselves, she thought to herself, eyes drooping shut as her body decided for her that she should snooze for the rest of their overland journey.
"Sandy!" Mariah's urgent voice broke over the crest of the hill where Sandia and Martin were at work, hauling pieces of what had probably once been a concrete sidewalk to the truck. They'd been at the site for three days already, and no sign of anything remotely interesting had surfaced.
Other than concrete blocks, she corrected herself before answering her companion's hail with a sour, "What is it, Mariah?"
"I think we might've found something over here! Come take a look?"
"Just a minute, let me haul this block back to the truck," the older woman answered, exchanging a wry glance with her companion of seven years, the burly and bearded Martin Vanderberg. This made about the seventh time the eager -- overeager, Martin often commented -- young student had 'found something', and Sandia was almost to the point of ordering her to go bother Elsa about it the next time.
Dusting her hands off, she made her way over the ridge and was greeted by the sight of Elsa Tuborn, something of a friendly rival in the field -- even if their differences regarding excavation methods had led to vocal arguments and near-fistfights -- on her hands and knees, dark hair hovering in the dust of the ground as she stared sideways at an object that protruded from the side of the ridge.
Sandia cleared her throat, arching an eyebrow. "That's certainly an interesting find, Mariah," she said agreeably, "I've never found a living -- oh, it's you, Elsa!"
The black-haired woman had turned her head quickly at the sound of Sandia's voice and had by now jerked herself into a crouch, green eyes flickering irritably. "Very clever, Sandy," she said politely, keeping any trace of venom carefully from her voice. "Now if you'd come over here and have a look, instead of cracking jokes . . ."
There was a soft cough from nearby, where Mariah stood with the most recent addition to the team, a graduate student named James Smith. The pair was busily stifling copious giggles, while Sandia sauntered easily to where Elsa was crouched. She knelt, glancing curiously in the direction Elsa had been staring. A slender, metallic object thrust toward the sky, bent nearly to the breaking point halfway up its shaft. She turned to her fellow archaeologist with a mildly befuddled grin.
"TV antenna?" she offered, and James blinked.
Martin, in the meantime, had trotted over the ridge to join them. "Well, well," he said with some amusement. "I seem to be missing the party. What's up?"
Sandia turned, grin widening. "I think she may actually have found something this time, Marty."
"You know," Elsa began, and Sandia, who was crouched next to her in the dirt, knew what was going to come out of her mouth before she even said it. "This would go a lot faster if we had the 'scanner." She had only heard it fifty times over the past three days, after all.
They were nearing the end of their first week at the site, and Ms. Tuborn was growing more impatient with each passing day -- each passing hour, it seemed like.
"I know that Elsa," her brown-haired companion replied, biting back a testy 'you've told me a million times', "but without official consent from the state government, supplies are going to be slow in coming."
The 'scanner, what Elsa called the Underground Image Scan Device (which was a name nearly as stupid as 'Official Federal Expedition #627 of the United Americas and Western Europe', Sandia had to admit), was the source of the two archaeologists' major disagreement. The machine was a pleasantly extraordinary device, another point Sandia was forced to concede. It sent out impulses of a type Sandia had little hope of remembering, and through a technological gimmick she had even less hope of understanding, it recreated whatever the waves encountered under the earth on a three-dimensional display, allowing scientists and their ilk to examine artifacts from every angle and in great detail without ever having to lift a shovel. 'Sonar for solid rock', Martin often called it, a comical tilt to his smile. In a way, that was part of what offended Sandia so intensely. The sheer laziness of the device defied explanation, and besides that, it just wasn't the same as holding an ancient artifact in hand, touching it, looking at it.
It also saved the trouble of packing the artifacts up, though that had become less of a hassle with the invention of repulsor technology. Nowadays, artifacts could be stored safely and weightlessly in containers that held each stone, bone, and arrowhead in a stream of energy that could be adapted to whatever pressure necessary to keep it intact.
A slight frown worked at her mouth, then she looked up, not realizing that Elsa had been speaking to her. "Sorry, what was that again?"
The woman looked at her crossly. "I said, 'Timothy and Nena have been taking their sweet time about that authorization, haven't they?'"
The brown-haired archaeologist gave a halfhearted shrug, nudging at the dirt around a bit of what appeared to be scorched plastic. Their authorization troubles weren't really at the heart of her worries at the moment; the site was close to the center of what had been a neutral zone during the American War, and there had always been tensions regarding its excavation. The reason for those tensions faintly annoyed Sandia -- politics and patriotism. What's the point? I mean, we already know they bombed every civilian settlement southwest of the border . . . Besides that, it had been a couple hundred years since the war. Old grudges die hard, she thought drily, leaning back and wiping her hand across her forehead.
Elsa glanced at her, about to speak again, when James' nervous tenor broke across the ridge. "Ms. Kirke! Ms. Tuborn -- a call from Timothy and Nena!"
"Speak of the devil," Elsa said with some amusement, standing and dusting herself off. Sandia nodded in agreement as the pair trotted quickly over the ridge and back to the transport.
They passed a spindly, spider-like robot as they went, several of its arms occupied with dragging the overwhelming supply of concrete out of the archaeologists' way. Mariah was nearby, clapping and shouting encouragement to the machine, occasionally carrying a rock herself. The robot, however, didn't appear to take much note of her. Poor Charlie, Sandia thought with a grin, ducking under the tent flap to enter the dig's control center, constructed in the back of one of their all-terrain vehicles. The robot was one of Mariah's favorite toys -- she'd been the one to give it its pet name. Its primary purpose wasn't actually hauling freight, as its current implementation implied, but doing the more delicate work, such as digging out and storing smaller or more fragile artifacts that clumsy human hands might lose or break.
James, who had returned ahead of them, was shifting anxiously from one foot to the other in front of the telescreen. He stepped hastily aside at Sandia's approach, and she seated herself without a word to him, tapping in her accept code. A spotty image of Timothy Abermann's face immediately flared up on the screen, with Nena Astor trying to lean over his shoulder and have a word, too.
"What's the good word, Tim?" Sandia asked without preamble, judging from his creased brow and tensed mouth that the word was most likely anything but good.
"They're still draggin' their feet, Sandy," he said unhappily, the pleasant drawl of his voice tensed. "We can't get 'em to even put th' question b'fore the board right now." From behind him, Nena grimaced in agreement.
Sandy sighed, leaning her head against the heel of her palm. "Guys, we've already started excavating. I'd hate for this all to be worthless --"
"We'll talk to them again tomorrow," Nena piped up, ducking around Timothy's side. "We'll lay it on real thick, too."
"Not too thick," Sandy admonished her with a slight grin, then Elsa leaned over, a frown on her face.
"And see if you can get that equipment to us soon, hm?" she said, eyes darting to Timothy.
"We'll see what we can do, ma'am," he replied with a nod, then reached over to close the link.
Elsa shook her head as the pair's image faded from the screen. "I don't see why they can't just teleport it all to us," she muttered, turning to leave.
"Teleporting costs stupid amounts of money, maybe?" Sandia suggested absently, rising from her seat with a nod to James, who quickly resumed his post at the monitor. Stupid amounts of money, she reaffirmed to herself. The technology itself was a major breakthrough -- and an incredibly useful one -- but due to equipment costs and resources, not to mention the advanced nature of calculating the destination, teleporters were few in number and extremely expensive to operate. We could lose half our profits on one transport job. She shrugged again and walked out of the tent past Elsa, who was watching her impatiently.
"Boy," Mariah commented, drawing out the 'y' for emphasis, "what a mess!" Sandia had to agree with her on that point. They were just beginning their third week on site, and, with Charlie's help, they had worked their way down through much of the top layer of wreckage. This place had probably been close to the center of the bomb activity. Not too close, though, or there wouldn't be anything left at all. The place appeared to have burned down, if the remnants of scorched plastic and metal were any evidence.
Elsa was threading her way carefully toward the center of the dig site, where she'd caught sight of something that interested her. Her equipment still hadn't arrived, much to her irritation, so she had insisted that the robot help, in order to speed things along. This had resulted in another argument between her and Sandia, but Sandia had caved in without too much resistance. If state consent didn't come, they'd have to pack their bags soon enough, and that didn't leave them with a terrible lot of time.
"Whatcha got, Elsa?" Sandia called to the woman, who had ordered Charlie to work over the area she'd pointed to. The robot had already begun, and Elsa glanced over at her with a shrug.
"Bones, I think," she answered, gaze turning back to the robot.
Bones? Wouldn't that be something. It was to be expected, Sandia supposed, but to tell the truth, she'd had too much on her mind lately to think about the possibility.
"Yep, bones," the black-haired woman spoke again, a note of triumph in her voice. She didn't take her eyes from the robot's work. Blond-haired Mariah glanced over at her with a quiver. The young girl, apparently, wasn't much for dead bodies, despite her interest in the field. Sandia shrugged quietly, taking a seat. It was lunch break, and somehow, the prospect of that particular find dampened her enthusiasm for the work.
After an hour or so, the robot had uncovered most of what on further inspection turned out to be two bodies, one large and one small. Mariah had retired to the control center long before, in order to help Martin out, she claimed, and James had taken her place, quietly watching.
"Mother and child?" Elsa hypothesized emotionlessly. The larger form was curled around the smaller protectively. Sandia gazed at the bones vacantly, willing her mind to drift. A bombing . . . the place must have burned. She stood up with a slight shake.
"Maybe so," she said.
Elsa blinked at her, but before she could speak, Martin's voice echoed from the transport. "Call from Tim and Nena!"
"I'll take it," Sandia said, and Elsa nodded, an expression close to amusement flickering into her eyes. So I haven't got your iron stomach, Sandia answered mentally, turning and hurrying to the vehicle. Don't have to rub it in. Martin slipped out of her way as she took her seat, tapping in her code once again.
Timothy's face, when it appeared on the screen, was solemn, bordering on morose.
"Don't tell me," Sandia muttered, rubbing her temples. The statement drew a faint, lop-sided smile from the man's face.
"Permission was officially denied this morning at 7:03. Y'all had better pack up and get back here 'fore too much longer." He looked drawn.
"Are they going to send a dispatch to fetch us if we don't?" she asked wryly, earning another small smile.
"I reckon," he replied. "Nena's been cryin' most of the day. I told her there's always next year, right, Sandy?"
"Yeah, that's right," Sandia answered with a nod, then she cut the transmission. Martin and Mariah watched her solemnly as she stepped back into the bright sunlight of the early afternoon.
"Pack it in, Elsa," they heard her say, the sound muffled through the tent canvas. "They're sending us back home."
"And what do we do with all this?" the other woman's voice answered tightly, the sweeping gesture of her arms visible in the tone of her voice.
"Leave it, of course." Sandia's shrug was more felt than seen and more than a little false. "It's been here for two hundred years. It'll probably stay put for another couple."