It is the year 4022 CE.
In less than a day, the most advanced civilization of the ancient world had perished.
The layers of pollutantus literati and pollutantus gravitas that covered th continent hardened into rock, and knowledge of the "lost" civilization almost vanished entirely. Interest was revived briefly about six hundred years ago with the discovery of fragments from a series of writings attributed to the late-twentieth-century Franco-Italian traveler guido michelin (no relation to the Anglo-Italian traveler guido Blue). The meaning of the few legible symbols, mostly stars in various groupings, could not be deciphered, and the matter was eventually dropped.
Four hundred years later a young and ambitious archeologist named Currant Bunliffe had a revelation. "The suddenness of the catastrophe," he wrote in one of his notebooks, "combined with the subsequent solidification of the surreptitious substance (pollutantus aliterati) has probably preserved, intact, a moment of history." He immediately informed his colleagues at THE UNIVERSITY that he was going to search for fragments of that moment. He was never seen again.
Since 3850 hundreds of scholars and souvenir-hunters have chipped away at the continent's alluring crust. Although North America has not given up her secrets easily, a number of significant discoveries have been made.
Evidence unearthed at several widely scattered sites indicates that the entire continent was covered by a complex network of gray and black stripes. Until the development of high-altitude infrared draftsmanship, the intricacy of this network was unknown. Because the various patterns can only be fully appreciated from the air, the German scholar Heinrich von Hooligan believes the stripes were planned either as landing strips for extraterrestrial craft or as coded messages from the inhabitants of the continent to their many powerful gods. Image 1
Since the discovery of such sites as Monument Row, the majority of scholars have agreed that the colored stripes were in fact ceremonial, or at least processional, highways. The clustering of hundreds of monumental inscriptions mounted on huge poles along both sides of a highway was quite common. Each inscription represented a different religious sect or point of view and was placed as near as ossible to heaven - the traditional home of the North American gods. The level of spiritual rivalry becomes dramatically clear when we realize that shortly before the catastrophe some of the inscriptions reached heights of close to one hundred feed above the highway. Von Hooligan claims, and convincingly so, that these tremendous heights prove that the stripes were in fact designed to be used by airborne vehicles. Image 2 .
While this preoccupation with religion was consuming the North Americans and particularly the Yanks, who lived in the area called Usa, a number of scientists in Europe had begun to monitor the dramatic increase in pollutantus gravitas above the troubled continent. In an attempt to keep vital trade routes open, they proposed the development of an aircraft that would be able to cut through the increasingly resistant air. The discovery of their flying machine in 3902 at a site in Usa was particularly significant because it showed for the first time just how quickly the density of the pollutantus gravitas had increased on that fateful November day almost 2000 years earlier. Image 3 .
Perhaps the most impressive surviving examples of Yank architecture are the imposing Temples of Bigapple. Nestled in a virtually uninhabited jungle on the continent's east coast, these timeless structures signify at least temporary religious stability and stand as a tribute to the awesome technical skills of the ancients. Image 4.
In spite of the number of significant clues, however, the picture of these fascinating people remained disturbingly incomplete until forty years ago, when work leaked out of Howard Carson's startling discovery at the Motel of the Mysteries.
Before his forty-second birthday, Howard Carson had accomplished nothing of interest. In 4022 pressure brought onby the anticipated failure of yet another of his experiments led the despeate Carson to seek a change. He entered the 116th Cross-Continental North American Catastrophe Memorial marathon. Little did he know when he set sail for East Usa what lay in store. Less than a month later, and already well behind the rest of the pack, carson found himself crossing the great rubble heaps along the perimeter of a deserted excavation site. Image 5.
The ground below his feet suddenly gave way. he was precipitated headlong downward. When the dust had settled and he had recovered his spectacles, he found himself at the bottom of an ancient shaft, facing the entrance of a long-forgotten tomb. The shaft, probably dug by tomb robbers shortly after the tomb was sealed, had been covered initially by the natural vegetation of the surface. More recently, the whole area had been buried under bast quantities of soil from the adjacent excavation.
Unimpressed and rather annoyed at this inconvenience, Carson's first thought was to call out for assistance, but, before he could utter a sound, light from the shaft caught the area around the handle on the tomb door. Upon closer inspection, he discovered that the sacred seal which was traiditionally placed on the door following the burial rites was still in place. Staff artists' reconstructions of similar, but always defiled, tombs that had appeared in his most recent National Geographic flooded his mind. Thunderstruck, he realized he was on the threshold of history. His entire body trembled as he contemplated the possible significance of his find. The mysterious burial customs of the late twentieth-century North American were finally (and as it turned out, magnificently) to be revealed. Image 6.
Less than a month later, aided by his companion, Harriet Burton, who "enjoyed sketching," and a dedicated group of volunteers, Carson began the first of seven years' work on the excavation of the Motel of the Mysteries cmplex, and most specifically on the removal and recording of the treasures from Tomb 26.
While Carson paced back and forth in a supervisory manner, Harriet numbered each of the items surrounding the entrance as well as those on the great door. Descriptions of the most signficant discoveries are to be found in her diary. Image 7.
Number 21, "the gleaming Sacred Seal, which had first caught Howard's attention, was placed on the door by the officials after the burial to protect the tomb and its inhabitant for eternity."
Number 28, "the Sacred Eye, which was believed to ward off evil spirits."
Number 18, "the partially exposed Plant That Would Not Die. One of these exquisite plants, which had apparently beeng rown in separate pieces and then joined together, was placed on each side of the entrance."
Numbers 19 and 20, "containers in which the sacrificial meal was offered to the gods of eternal life."
Once the exterior of the tomb had been recorded in detail, preparations for entering it were begun. With a steady hand, Carson, who had presumably picked up a few tricks in his time, jimmied the lock. With his helpers peering nervously from a safe distance, he cautiously pried open the door. The creaking of the ancient hinges, in Miss Burton's own words, "cut through the silence like the scream of a ghostly fleeing spirit." Suddenly, to Carson's astonishment, the dor stopped dead. A frantic but successful search for the obstruction revealed a beautifully crafted chain about two thirds up the inside of the door, linking it with the sturdy frame. Clarly this stood as the final barrier btween the present and the past. Once the workers had sawed through the chain, they withdrew, and Carson continued to open the great door.
At first everything was dark. Carson lit a match. Still everything was dark. Carson lit two matches. Still, everything was dark. Attempting to avoid a rather protracted delay, Harriet eased the large spotlight toward the entrance with her foot. As the blanket of darkness was stripped away from the treasures within the tomb, Carson's mouth fell open. Everywhere was the glint of plastic. Impatiently, the others waited for a response. "Can you see anything, Howard?" they asked in unison.
"Yes," he replied ... "WONDERFUL THINGS!" Image 8.
Everything in the Outer Chamber faced the Great Altar (No. 1), including the body of the deceased, which still lay on top of the Ceremonial Platform (No. 5). In its hand was the Sacred Communicator (No. 3) and around its wrist was a flexible golden band (No. 4) bearing an image similar to that of the upper altar. Signs of the ancient burial ritual were everywhere. A variety of garments, including the ceremonial chest plate (No. 2) and shoes designed to hold coins (No. 6), were scattered about the chamber. Various containers (No. 9) which had once held libations and offerings stood on the altar and around the platform. A statue of the deity WATT, who represented eternal companionship and englightenment, stood faithfully next to the platform. To ensure maximum comfort during eternal life, several pieces of beautifully crafted furniture were placed in the room, along with additional garments stacked carefully in a specially designed rectangular pod. Perhaps the single most important article in the chamber was the ICE (No. 14). This container, whose function evolved from the Canopic jars of earliest times, was designed to preserve, at least symbolically, the major internal organs of the deceased for eternity. The Yanks, who revered long and complex descriptions, called the container an Internal Component Enclosure.
Aware that the two pairs of shoes implied a double burial and having seen only one body, Carson immediately began searching for another chamber. By the time he had found the entrance to what eventually became known as the Inner Chamber, Harriet had already catalogued and numbered it. Quivering with excitement, Carson removed his shirt and began the delicate operation of dismantling the door.
Although it seemed hardly possible, the contents of the Inner Chamber were even more dazzling than those already discovered. Harriet immediately began tagging and identifying each item while Howard drew conclusions. Image 9. As he had predicted, a second body was present, and this one appered to have been buried with more care and ritual than the first. Wearing the Ceremonial Head Dress (No. 8), it had been placed in a highly polished white sarcophagus (No. 9), which had in turn been sealed behind an exquisite and elaborately hung translucent curtain (No. 10).
The proportins of the sarcophagus had been precisely determined to prevent the deceased from ever sliding down into a fully reclined position. The similar postures of the two bodies led Carson to the conclusion that the proper burial position had the chin resting as much as possible on the chest. Although the outer surface of the sarcophagus was plain, there were two sets of ceremonial markings on the inside. The first consisted of ten parallel rows of slightly raised discs along the floor of the sarcophagus over which the body had been placed. The second was an almost entirely faded line that ran all the way around the walls parallel to and about ten inches above the floor. Two water trumpets, one about five feet above the other, projected from the end wall facing the deceased. Some of the music required during the final ceremony was produced by forcing water from the sacred spring through the trumpets and out through a small hole in the floor of the sarcophagus. Other music came from the music box (No. 6) situated above the Sacred Urn (No. 2). Articles No. 1 and No. 4 were used in preparing the body for its final journey and No. 5 was the Sacred Parchment, pieces of which were periodically placed in the urn during the ceremony. Carson was overjoyed to find that the Sacred Point was perfectly preserved on the sacred parchment. Very few had previously been uncovered, and none in such remarkable condition. The Headband, which bore the ceremonial chant, and the Sacred Collar (not numbered) were still in place on the Sacred Urn to which they had been secured following the ceremony.
Harriet insisted that she be allowed to wear some of the priceless treasures. Carsongave in. For the remainder of the day, Harriet proudly strode around the site wearing the Sacred Collar and matching Headband. She also wore the magnificent plasticus ear ornaments and the exquisite silver chain and pendant. Image 10.
Slowly, a vast funerary complex began to emerge from the soil. The tombs, which had all been destroyed except, quite miraculously, for Number 26, lined both sides of a long ceremonial passage. At intervals along the passage were a number of large painted metal containers inscribed with the marking BEVERAGES, in which coin hoards were discovered, and a few communal ICE's. Image 11.
The overall structure was laid out on the familiar "U" plan, and at the base of the "U: was the communcal sanctuary. By far the largest and grandest room of the complex, the sanctuary contained a magnificent altar covered entirely in sheets of plasticus petrificus, or, as it was called by the ancients, "Formica." Behind the altar and mounted on the wall stood a beautifully crafted unit thta contained several rows of identical slots, each with a number apparently corresponding to a tomb. Offerings from friends and relatives of the deceased were probably placed in a particular slot once the tomb had been sealed.
Behind the sancutary was the room in which the sacrificial meals were prepared. Beyond this area was the grat courtyard, in the center of which was the ceremonial pool. Prior to the ceremony within the tomb, each body was apparently washed in the pool, which was also fed by the sacred spring. Specially marked funerary game areas intended to occupy the spirits of the dead during eternal life were located around the sacred pool and were accessible to each of the tombs through sliding panels.
The archaeologists responsible for this great find were able to obtain funding to support a museum exhibition of some of the most important discoveries. By the time of the opening, there were thousands of excited people lined up under the canopied walkway that surrounded the building - each hoping for aat least a glimpse of the treasures about which they had read and heard so much. Aware of the potential popularity of the exibition and wishing to avoid the congestion that had plagued so many of THE MUSEUM's earlier efforts, the particulaarly far-sighted Curator of Yankology had arranged the entire display on a specially constructed sloping floor. As the visitors entered the exhibition they were strapped into a pair of well-oiled roller skates.
Carson was so overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to the objects on display, that he spontaneously removed the Sacred Collar and Ceremonial Headband from their respective cases, put them on, and performed the ritual chant of the ranking celebrant into the Sacred Urn. Those rolling by at the time went wild with excitement. Image 12.
Some of the treasures on exhibit from the Motel of the Mysteries site: