The Time Capsule

A very short story

It was strange. Really strange.

To start with, it had been wonderful. A oversized bone sticking out of a rock had been reported, and a dinosaur graveyard had been found. There were centrosaurs in abundance: very well preserved specimes. There even seemed to be some evidence of soft tissue preservation. They found anklyosaurs, raptors and tyrannosaurids. The best piece was a strange skeleton that looked a little like a horse. Obviously it was a dinosaur, since it was in a desposit that was clearly millions of years old, and under dinosaurs. Jack had started his drafts of his papers about the find. It would be called Equisaurus Jackus or something like that.

It was still wonderful when he got the radioactive dating report. It didn’t really pin him down to a date, so he could put anything he liked in his paper.

So it was wonderful, until they found the skull. It was, well, dead. It was right under the Equisaurus. It looked remarkably like a human skull, of course, it couldn’t be. No more than the Equisaurus under the dinosaurs could actually be a horse.

The only possible explanation was … surely that was not possible?

A month before, Jack had taken a break from the dig and gone into town, where he had met a very friendly shop assistant. She had an engaging manner, and seemed interested in his work – and she was very beautiful. After spending all day dusting bones, she was a sight for sore eyes, and he agreed to go home with her for a meal. Jane.

Jane’s parents were just a little surprised that their daughter had brought a man home for dinner. Her mom was almost as good looking as she was. Her dad, Albert, took Jack into the drawing room, and they sat down.

Would he like something to drink?

Sure, he had said.

“Tea or coffee?”

There was clearly no alcohol on offer. Dad Albert questioned Jack on what he did – heading towards the “and what are your intentions with my daughter” speech.

He knew what a paleontologist was. “So, you’re digging up bones then?” was what he had said.

“Yes we are, sir,” said Jack.

“I’m afraid we don’t believe in that,” said Albert. “We believe in creation.”

“I see,” said Jack. When you are in someone’s house, being invited for supper by their dazzlingly beautiful daughter, finding out that they believe in special creation is just one of the hazards you are willing to live with. It was one of the risks of digging around there. He knew something about it. There was a fairly large community of creationists: they had their own school and college. They had a “Creation Technology Institute” which had legions of disciplined people doing things unfathomable in white lab coats, and good security to keep curious governments at bay. Nobody really knew what they were doing, but they seemed to be very successful at it.

“So, have you found anything interesting?” asked Albert.

“Oh yes,” replied Jack. “We’ve found a dinosaur graveyard. Lots of interesting specimens.”

“Have you found any human skulls yet?” At the time, it seemed like a normal kind of question. Most of what passes as paleontology in the public mind is about someone digging up a skull or fragment, and spinning it into the grand tale of evolution.

Jack had laughed. “No, we won’t be finding any human skulls. Those bones are millions of years old. Humans only evolved much later.”

Albert had not laughed. Jane came in, having heard some of the conversation.

“If you found a human skull, you would stop believing in evolution, right?” She flicked her hair aside, and smiled charmingly. A fresh breeze blew through the room, and it seemed entirely reasonable for a moment.

“Well, that’s not possible,” Jack had replied.

“So yes then? If you did find one?” She looked at him directly. Would she ever be charming again? Would they be able to get married and live happily ever after in a little house with a white picket fence?

“I suppose,” said Jack.

“Well,” said Albert, “I’ll see what we can do.” That was it. That was strange. What could he do?

The supper was delicious – they all sat around a table. It was the best meal Jack had had in years. The company was friendly, and the subject was not raised again. Albert explained that he was involved in fundamental physical research: the nature of matter, the structure of time, messing about with it in little ways – nothing dramatic.

“It’s going to take years to get anything practical,” he had said.

“Dad’s making a time machine!” said one of the kids. Oh yes, there were lots of children. Six or more, but it was hard to tell who was who. Some were children of the eldest son, an overly serious chap named William, and some were Jane’s brothers and sisters.

“Sssh Peter! Don’t tell tales!” said Jane.

Albert the Dad had looked a little alarmed, and felt it necessary to explain. “No, it’s not like that. The thing is, we look at things from a different point of view at the Institute, which is why we manage to see things that other people have missed. We’ve had a few modest breakthroughs, but nothing quite so spectacular as that.”

“They’re making a time machine,” said the kid again, matter of factly. This time around he had peas in his mouth.

The mom looked up sharply, and said in a quiet voice, “Peter, go to your room.” Surprisingly, the little boy got up without a comment, and walked quickly out of the door.

And now, just a month later, he had found the skull. He could see the beginnings of a complete skeleton protruding from below. This was not someone who had fallen into a well. He had been buried under the dinosaurs. Under his horse.

Had they done something? There was no evidence of a disturbance in the dig. There was no way they could have crept in and planted it. The only way it could have got there is … if they were right. Maybe this was just the one unlucky man who had been riding on his horse when Noah’s flood swept him and the horse and the herds of dinosaurs into a muddy grave. Sheer dumb luck got him trapped at the bottom. Or …

No wait … They had done it! They had built the time machine! Bastards! They had planted the evidence. Come to think of it, this was not the first kind of evidence that had been planted. At so many digs, there was some anomalous evidence that he had to exclude. It always made him feel a little guilty. The Paluxy footprints had tied up paleontologists in fruitless arguments for years. Their best evidences were always inconclusive – as if someone was tampering with the samples – no wonder those infernal Tyrannosaurus bones had collagen. No wonder his dating gave such meaningless answers: they had mixed in modern rock: and they had done it millions of years before. It must be a concerted worldwide campaign.

So where was the time machine? Probably at the Institute. Hold on, maybe it doesn’t exist yet. They’re probably still going to build it. The little boy who got sent to his room: he probably did it, or will do it, for his favourite big sister, so she can have her knock-down argument. Jack became angry, thinking about how much harder it would be to write his paper now.

It was entirely incredible: They had actually abducted some unsuspecting man on horseback, and murdered him, dumping him millions of years back in time, just so they could have their fiction about Noah’s worldwide flood, and a God of love and justice.

Or ….

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