From an Anthropologist’s Diary

I write to you beneath a date that I have taken from – at last – another people now some time gone.

This landscape is a waste, but once spawned cities. And I have proof beneath the sand: a chamberful of ghosts they left for us. I write to you, who will be interested.

§

The building is impressive: underground the vault is sealed in lead and seems secure from earthquake and explosion; it looks set to stay long as there’s planet round it. There are even signs of a pyramid’s base; a ragged granite ‘X marks the spot’.

On the archive’s door in seventeen scripts a message is graven deep in steel plate. We have translated it: No man shall open the Time Vault until— and then a date.

We entered. No way to tell their years and days, nor how they reckoned them.

§

It is almost childish, their intense belief in a future beyond their own; as if they had seen History, towering above them. Their History was a god that judged as they did, harshly. They make this suit to it.

Presumptuous maybe, but there you are, books, films, and my days spent like a dumb father hearing tales out of school.

It is an irony that these reports will be forgotten, probably misfiled. We don’t like stories much and treat our own no more respectfully.

Eleven years between the stars: we came here slowly, feeding richly on our time.

§

…they knew the blessing of the sun but used it ill. Their words are full of terror at its brightness, how it might yet burn inside their cities…

§

This day I write I have unlocked the secrets of their years. Prometheus was prophesied three thousand years before them. Their prophecy stood on the door, a thousand years ahead.

I told you how we opened it last week. It had been sealed three years before.

§

Their single moon is up tonight, throws shadows even in these shining dunes. I sit here writing, and look back upon my patient years spent sifting through the stars for life. Both fingers cramp against the pen.

Now who will tell me what it’s like with four? I throw my arms above my head as if I could call down, take back from all the rambling skies the length of my circuitous journey.

The fused and glassy sand throws back a twisted image of them broken by the knowledge of these last three years, too short, all gone.

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