Looking backward into the dismal past to understand the ultimate cataclysm.
"Is it post-cataclysmic?"
"Possibly. The design and construction seem rather crude, but that may be a result of natural deterioration."
"What level are you working?"
"Its hard to tell at this point. I'll need a few more hours and the results of a few more tests to be sure, but I think it's about level 1999."
Leiza whistled softly. She was bending at the waist, watching over Marek's shoulder as he worked at his excavation. "That would make it near zero level." When a droplet of sweat rolled down the bridge of her nose and dripped to the ground, Leiza stood, stretching her lithe, athletic frame backward, her hands pressing against her fine, round hips. "What do you think this site was? A holy place? A place of commerce?"
"Does it really matter? However things turn out, we'll be rich."
"If it's level 1999."
"Wouldn't it be something if this is a zero site?" Marek stopped vaporizing strata for a moment, and looked down at the treasure he was uncovering. "Imagine." He sighed heavily and looked to the orange, turbulent skies, drawing the back of his hand across his forehead.
"A zero site. What must it have been like for the people who once lived here? How horrible it must have been watching the very gates of hell open up in the heavens."
"Gates of hell," scoffed Leiza sarcastically, "Heavens." She took a step backward in preparation of the inevitable fight. "What a load of shit."
Marek turned suddenly, his face constricted with an old anger. He and his work mate had shared this argument many times. He was a believer, she was not. He followed the discipline of the Chronicles of Holy History, she rejected it utterly and held all who did not in contempt. Leiza felt religion had no place in the practice of pure science, and it shamed her to see her colleagues invoking symbols of the so-called cataclysm in their discussions of scientific matter. Marek felt it was blasphemy to disregard the teachings of the Confessor, and a sure path to a future repetition of the Ancient Cataclysm that had once laid waste to the world. But he was older, of an older generation, and was incapable of understanding the social changes that were sweeping the universities like a plaque spreading out of all control. These youngsters were a strange lot, he decided, as hard-headed as they were impious. It was a decided loss of breath to argue with a fanatic like Leiza.
Instead of his usual retort, a sure invitation to heated, possibly violent debate, Marek only replied heavily, "Go get the carbonometer." Then he turned stiffly back to his work. He was too curious about his latest find to make time for adolescent, pointless dialectic.
Leiza hesitated a moment, on the brink of pushing the argument with a comment she knew would cut Marek to the quick. The older man's back remained hunched and rigid while she stood behind him, as if fearing a blow from her hand. She looked past his back at the artifact Marek was unearthing, however, and decided the excavation at this point was more interesting than a stale verbal fisticuff that could always be continued later that night, when they were all relaxing around the thermal radiator back at camp. Spinning on her heel, Leiza set off in search of the carbonometer.
Sensing he was safe, at least for the moment, Marek charged the low intensity vaporizer he held in his right hand, and turned back to clearing the artifact of debris. It was an oddly shaped object, like nothing he had ever uncovered before. The materials tests he had completed upon initially making the find clearly indicated this was a level 1900 find. There was no way Marek's instruments could isolate the exact period of his discovery, but his professional opinion held that it was of the late nineteenth level, possibly post-cataclysmic. He tried to restrain the pounding of his heart and the visions of grandeur that ran through his head when he considered that he might have made a unique, rare archeological strike.
But it was hard to do. If this was a post-cataclysmic, or PC site, then the thing he was busy exposing might be a bit of technology from a sacred moment of history, a clue to the holy origins of his religion and an insight into the redemption of his sinful ancestors. This might be a key to the gates of hell, or the remnants of a weapon discarded in the fight against the Destroyer. When Marek imagined that the Confessor's very hands might have touched this thing he was now touching, his heart thrilled and rolled over within his breast.
Leiza returned with the carbonometer. "You know," she said breathlessly, winded from her jog to and from the campsite, "If this IS a zero site, I'll be considered a collaborator. So you'd better be nice to me, Marek, as we may share a long and profitable future together."
Taking the carbonometer from his assistant, Marek felt a sudden surge of joy and promise within his spirit. On the crest of this wave of elation he replied, "Perhaps we should wed. Then we could argue properly."