In desperate times desperate people head here – an online journal of Apocalyptic-themed fiction and commentary.

Notification

Copyright © 2011 by Jessica Hayes. All rights reserved.

Notification

     The oven timer sounded its short high-pitched summons at regular intervals and never shut itself off because it was for a regular oven and not a microwave or any other kind of oven with a timer that turned themselves off automatically. This timer was required to be shut-off manually which meant it would buzz until human hands released it. It was solar powered with a tiny titanium-epoxy polymer line that snaked up from the double oven array, into the ceiling and out to the roof where it terminated at a tiny solar collector, just strong enough to power that one little signal. The sound and power mechanism of this timer was made by the New American Kitchen Corporation at the beginning of the New American Manufacturing Renaissance and, like nearly all of the New American-made items of the time, their guarantee was quality materials and quality workmanship. Materials developed in research labs to be durable and impervious. Materials tested and re-tested on the space lab. In New America the goal was to rebuild the country by producing minor, but ultra high quality parts. The New American manufacturing motto was “buy once, buy every 100 years.”

     These high quality small drop-mount parts gave manufacturers who purchased timers such as these a significant advantage in the marketplace. For the price of a very expensive buzzer the cost of a standard oven set was raised by as much as 200% in some markets. And they could legally advertise 100 year warranties made with materials tested in space. Of course these companies couldn’t have known when they were advertising “buy once, buy every 100 years” warranties that the warranties themselves would become qui ne sert rien — that which serves no one — within only a few months time. The owner of the double ovens had just removed her brownies and was reaching to turn off the timer when she and the rest of the population dropped dead. So the little timer made of high density, high performance, light and weather resistant materials, materials that had been tested and re-tested on the space lab still sounded out at regular intervals.

The area was dry, a desert. It was not a sandy, dune kind of desert, but an arid, rocky desert, with rains that could batter and flood, but only every several decades, and then only for a few months at most, otherwise, it was dry. Over the vast amounts of time that passed, the ground quaked, the rains came, the mud slid, the earth dried, the wind blew and soil filled in the city, filled in the neighborhood, and filled in the house where the New American Kitchen timer faithfully buzzed for its ovens.

Unfortunately, the control panel for the timer was not made by the New American Kitchen Corporation, but by a company located in what had been known as the Korean Merger. Manufacturing in the Korean Merger produced items that were not guaranteed for 100 years. The materials of the timer’s control panel had not been developed in a lab or sent for testing in outer space; therefore the timer’s control panel which could turn off the buzzing sound became inoperative and then, over time, simply disintegrated. But the New American Kitchen Corporation timer still sounded out regularly because its indestructible, space-worthy, solar power-cell that had been on the roof was now simply at ground level, and it was still exposed to the sun.

It was the oven timer’s buzzer that guided the team to the find.

Dessicated human remains were discovered at the foot of the ovens under about two feet of hard-packed dirt. Working gently but feverishly at the foot of the ovens in the new excavation was a two-person team of young adults. There was still skin and hair attached to the mummy and they were trying to uncover it as quickly as possible so they could preserve it now that they had once again exposed it to the air. They ignored the sound of the timer’s buzzer.

A voice could be heard coming closer the entrance atop the dig. They didn’t look up, they just kept working.

“The most widely accepted theory is that she was royalty of some kind, at least she must have been a very powerful woman as she appears to have been buried with very expensive worldly goods.”

“Beep.”

A sweaty rumpled man with shaggy salt and pepper hair was talking to a floating box as he climbed backwards down the narrow and steep stairs into the excavation cave itself. The floating box connected him to the Archeological Academia Council of the other nine worlds. “Some of the grave goods are foods, cloth, large metal spoon shapes and other undetermined items which may or may not be medicinal, weaponry or simply everyday utensils. There are glasswares, possible ceramics, precious woods-this was a desert we can’t even surmise where the wood might have come from — greater study of this locale, of the whole planet, will tell us.” He landed at the bottom of the stairs in the small, well-lit cave that was gridded and portioned for excavation. “Here we are!” he exclaimed brightly.

“Beep.”

He let the floating box do a slow lap around the cave. The interns dutifully paused to wave and smile as it passed overhead.

“There was also extravagant jewelry.” He motioned for the box to hover over the mummy. “As you can see there are diamonds are on either side of the skull and there are diamonds near one of the hands and wrist and more diamonds on the skin over the collar bone.” He noticed the puzzled expressions on the faces of the nine. “Erusie, please use the light to make the diamonds sparkle so the Deevtors can see them,” he instructed. “We nearly missed the diamonds entirely as they are very, very small. Erusie here noticed them first. Wave, Erusie.”

The young brunette woman looked up from the mummy, smiled at the box and waved her fingers up and down.

“Beep.”

“The diamonds reinforce our surmise that she was of great importance to her culture, a clan head, a medicine woman or chieftain.”

The floating box spoke to him in a thick accent, “Deevtor, RU-fush Zalett, JiPGeu, Barbro. Keytone: ow u gee?”

The rumpled man swallowed as he resisted the urge to raise his hand to his throat to touch his translator. It was considered quite rude among the academia to not speak the language of your peers on the other nine worlds, and it was even ruder to use a translator when they were speaking your language. And RU-fush was speaking his language. The man had been so pressed for time to get the reports sent before the meeting he forgot to switch on his translator beforehand and now, well now he couldn’t without insulting the speaker and by extension, his academy and their entire world.

“Beep.”

He’d traded information with RU-fush before, so he was pretty sure keytone meant question. Think dammit! OW-U-G. OW-U-G. Time was stretching out. He thought hard, what does OW-U-G mean? Ah! “How you age,” meaning how did we date it.

He addressed the floating box, “Deevtor Zalett, the age of the find. Our dating techniques — already on the lower right of your box –” he pointed to the bottom left of the floating box which was on their right as they faced him, “indicate this find may be our oldest find yet. Within an eleven point margin of error,” he paused to give the age of this find the respect it deserved, “we estimate the age is a minimum of 27,000 full rotations, possibly as far back as 38,000 rotations.” He let them absorb the antiquity of this site. “I am sending everyone further details now.” He passed the back of his hand up and down in front of himself. “If protocol proves us out, this will be the oldest civilization ever unearthed.” He held a moment for dramatic effect, “Anywhere.” The antiquity in and of itself is why they should send more funding, he thought.

“Beep.”

“Please allow me to direct your attention to one of the most significant parts of the find.” He directed the box to float up from the mummy and hover in front of the double ovens. “What you are looking at are matched hollow cubes set directly into the wall of the grave.” He waited a moment to let them take in what they were seeing before continuing. “They are made entirely of metal. These metal cubes are stacked one upon the other. We see one is slightly akimbo indicating there may have been a divider of some kind separating them originally.” He pointed to the cant of the top oven as it rested on the bottom oven. He continued, “As you can see they are made with precision.”

The box crackled with distance from the farthest world before the actual voice arrived. It was painful to the ears. The man tried not to flinch.

“Deevtor, Zengatorig Dampulan, Mosh, Blanton, cute one: Haay dooah pune?”

He was just going to describe this feature to them, but leave it to Dampulan to jump in unnecessarily. “Yes Deevtor, they do open, but what is important. . .” Transmission crackle interrupted him. He put his chin down and put pressed his lips together against the pain of the noise and waited for it to subside. Whatever Dampulan had said, it was lost in transmission. Once the noise passed, he looked up at the box and paused to see if Dampulan was finished. He observed he wasn’t alone, the rest of the Council also waited in silence, with practiced patience.

“Beep.”

Cautiously eyeing the floating box, he continued, “Both cubes open, but only one side of each cube opens,” he needed to pause to make his next point, “the side that is directly over the deceased.”

He motioned to the young man working at the mummy with Erusie. The young man stood, carefully opened the top oven door and held it so the floating box could inspect the inside for the Archeological Council.

He waited for the floating box to get into position in front of the oven, “These hollow cubes are in a fixed position displayed in a prominent location with the head of the dead directly beneath the lowest box. This is possibly a representation of their view of their world order. The deceased at the bottom and whatever is represented by the cubes are in a higher position. . .”

“Beep.”

“. . .perhaps in this position to negotiate or to entreat other gods for the safe passage of the deceased to the after-life. But, really, we simply do not have enough information.”

“Deevtor,” a slow voiced man spoke, “Rackel Spume, Preckle, Yaiyew, kest hun: tear is knee reez one dee whyuh con-fig-tear-aa-shuns?”

He didn’t like Rackel Spume but Spume’s penchant for rhyming made him so much easier to understand. From the open oven whose door the younger man still held, he carefully slid the middle rack out and cautiously let it rest in its outward position, one hand gently bracing it. “As you can see, Deevtor Spume, these parts are not only moveable they are re-moveable.” He slowly tilted the rack up to clear the stop and then finished sliding the rack completely out of the oven. He gingerly lifted the rack to square it to the floating box, a cherished prize, and held it for their examination.

“Beep.”

“What we can describe to ourselves is that these are shelves.” He nodded his head sagely at his own pronouncement. He saw more than one eyebrow of the nine raise at his conclusion. He knew calling it a shelf was premature. He resisted smiling as he led them down the path he needed them to go which was the path of greater funding. “Without more context which we can only get from a wider sample the purpose of these parts is conjecture.” Gently he fixed the rack back onto its slides and let it rest again in the open position.

“Please note,” and he gestured at each of the built-in shelf settings on the inside of the oven, “there are fixtures here for more than one these wire shelves.” He let this bit of information sink in. “This may signify numbers in a family, or clan, perhaps position in the family or clan, or even the members of the dead buried here. It may mean different shelves for different deities. Or indicate a pecking order of deities or a pecking order for the dead.”

“Beep.”

“There is no way to decode their purpose without more information. For example, do the spaces between the bars signify the space for the spirit of the deceased? We cannot make those conclusions. Ah, here is an interesting feature.” He once again removed the rack and sent the floating box all the way inside the oven. He nodded to the young man to close the oven door. “When the cube is closed it is complete full dark inside.” He paused again for dramatic effect. “Perhaps this was their vision of death?” He motioned for the young man to open the door again. The floating box wobbled out.

He could see the nine archeologists sticking their heads all the way inside their holo versions of the metal cubes. He had done it himself as a way to commune, to see what it was these people had seen in their cubes. “Perhaps they would lay their heads inside these cubes to affect closeness or communication with their departed or to ask for favors from their departed ancestors.”

“Beep.”

“There is evidence of food in both cubes, so perhaps these are offering sites. Without more evidence, and without more excavation and a broader sampling of the culture we cannot know what their significance was.”

The floating box spoke again. “Deevtor, Peedock Henrrid, Daka, Tundt, keeson: enure peen une tayr kose tee Shangrid an Tauc tudee?”

The man nodded his head, “Yes, Deevtor, precisely. Where we extrapolated was from your work on the peoples of Shangrid in the Tauc system. The Shangrid use of metal boxes for god storage was pivotal for us here in determining baselines for the usages of many items. There are distinct similarities from the Shangrid to these cubes. For example, they are all made of metal with only the one side that opens for access.” He stood behind his floating box as it sent images to the nine archeologists and with his finger highlighted on his box the areas where he wanted them to pay attention, “but dissimilar to the Shangrid, these cubes do not seem to be equipped for travel.”

“Beep.”

“So these cubes did not move with the deceased, rather the deceased would be carried for burial to the cubes.”

He was satisfied to see their interest pique.

“Still, we cannot help but wonder is if these stacked metal cubes, like the Shangrid, are their version of god storage devices.” He shrugged his shoulders to underscore helplessness in the face of too many unknowns. “We at least know they were used for funerary purposes.” With gentle care, he daintily replaced the rack in the oven.

“Deevtor Peedock, as the expert on the Shangrid I hope you find this site worthy of greater examination to see how closely this culture does or does not align with your own studies. But as the evidence suggests, and as your own work notes, one can certainly present the supposition that this find reinforces your theory that cultures at certain developmental stages do move through specific, describable cultural choke-points in regards to their beliefs and treatment of the dead. Because despite being tens of thousands of light years apart and despite even being of different species, on the surface, at least when it comes to the dead, with the discovery of these cubes, there appears to be a confluence.”

“Beep.”

He had them now. They were really listening, it’s time to hit them with the big finish.

But before he could do that, the box spoke again, “Deevtor, Betof Unche, Padtone, Mezcal, kitten: thea shouws bed ear?

He had never worked with Betof Unche before. For Mezcalis, “kitten” was their take on speaking the word ‘question’ but beyond that he was lost. He hoped he didn’t show it. Unfortunately, for him, his mouth hung open and he was blinking rapidly. He needed to move to his big finish but he couldn’t figure out what this Deevtor was asking him. His breathing became shallow.

Erusie was working at his knees, he felt her tug his pant leg. He looked down. She mouthed “Noise.” He didn’t understand her. She mouthed it again, bigger, slower, “noise.”

“Beep.”

Suddenly Betof Unche’s query crystallized in his mind: “thea shows bed ear” meant “the noise led here.” Perfect. The question led straight to his big finish.

“Yes, yes Deevtor Unche, it certainly did. That noise is what led us here to this incredible discovery. We picked it up from a low-flying contour mapping recon that had been blown off course. As you know we were concentrating on the areas with water and food sources, but with no success.”

“Deevtor, Flumpy Geroit, Cutose, Ox, west shh: eeyore I eee aas n hutit eeen?”

“At this point, Deevtor Geroit, without the capacity to do a wider and more thorough excavation of the area, the meaning of the sound is merely a guess, but there is a lot of evidence for a directed guess.” He swallowed, “We think the sound that you hear. . .” he paused for dramatic effect, and waited for the buzzer to go again.

“Beep.”

“That sound is a summons to their deities to come collect them now that they are dead.” He heard several of them inhale and saw a couple of them lean forward. He continued on, “So, just as the dead are carried to the cubes, the signal notifies their gods to come to the cubes to pick up their dead. It’s a beacon to the afterlife.”

He could feel the money coming. “The materials this signal generator is constructed from are of the highest quality. They’ve used a titanium polymer alloy! They could have shot this thing into space.” He pushed open the file and the materials molecular model rotated in front of them. He waited for them to process their reactions before going on. “The contrast between the quality of the materials and of the workmanship of the signal device and that of the cubes themselves is large. This discrepancy gives us a pretty clear indication of the greater importance of the sound itself.”

He waited until they were all looking at him before continuing.

“Beep.”

“Deevtors, we believe we will find here more gravesites like this one and that we may just possibly have unearthed a cemetery.” He saw their surprise.

“As you look over the terrain,” the panoramic recordings of the geographic area around the site played for his audience through the floating box, “please note the rhythmic regularity of some of the hills. Although we are in a desert and wind and other natural phenomena can create regular patterning, from space,” he put his thumb and forefinger together and pulled to change the picture in their boxes to the ship’s images of the site from orbit, “there is intermittent evidence of possible roadways or could possibly be canals.”

As the earth penetrating images taken from orbit displayed before the Archeological Academia Council showing clear rectangular shapes and straight edges he could see some of the Deevtors subconsciously nodding with him in agreement. He smiled because he knew he had them. “It’s critical that we become better funded in order to carry out this work which could be extensive.”

“Deevtor, Pop-p Houf, Teeter, Pwee-tah, twesteen: pwha tif twig-tal twah pwurpt-off?”

The rumpled man crossed his arms and put his head to the side. He had been considering that very question. He knew they would ask, they were the best in their fields, so, of course they would ask. “Deevtor Houf, if we turn off the signal, then we are the gods it summons.”

“Beep.”

This was the big finish he planned for. His team topside had gently pulled apart the solar power cell, disconnected the energy storage battery so that the buzzing signal was now running solely off of sunlight. Remove the sunlight, remove the energy source; remove the sound.

“Deevtors,” he addressed the group, “we are now going to turn the signal off for the first time in 27,000 rotations, right here, right now, coming to you live.”

He sent the message to his team up top, and they appeared in his floating box already in motion to black out the solar power cell. “The power source for the signal is solar with an energy storage component which we have disengaged.” He sent the schematics of the power cell and the images of his team covering the solar collector to the Deevtors. He then replaced the images of his topside team with his own, and he was now standing next to the double cubes.

“Deevtors, your attention please, that. . .” he pointed at the cubes,

“Beep.”

“. . .should be the last sound.” He held up his finger and tilted his ear toward the cubes indicating to the nine Archeological Academia Council members to listen. Erusie and the young man stopped working and waited, staring at the cubes above them. The wait for the next sound extended in total silence. In front of them, the floating box counted down the interval. At five seconds to go, the man held up five fingers to the floating box and with his fingers counted down with the timer, five, four, three, two and at one pointed at the ovens with a big flourish.

There was no sound. He gave it a beat then spread his arms open wide and chuckled. “God of the cube,” he said.

The other nine Deevtors laughed and politely applauded.

Inside the walls of the lower oven, the New American Kitchen Corporation’s platinized power-feed control re-routed to the timer’s tertiary energy storage cell.

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