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Davis, Jerry - Elko the Potter

By Jeremy Wallace,2014-06-11 23:22
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Davis, Jerry - Elko the Potter

     Elko the Potter

     ? 1997 by Jerry J. Davis

     Franz Kafka looked at his small, elite group of 22nd century

     students and tapped on the large text display with his pointing

     stick. "The decisive moment in human development is a continuous

     one," he said, reading his own words. "For this reason the

     revolutionary movements which declare everything before them to be

     null and void are right, for nothing has yet happened."

     The students fidgeted. One, a young man with so many freckles

     it looked painful, raised his hand. Kafka nodded, and the youth

     spoke up. "Sir Oscar Wilde said, 'History is merely gossip.'"

     Kafka took a step toward the student, pointing the stick

     right at him. "Precisely!" he said, his voice betraying only a

     echo of his former accent. "That is precisely my point!"

     #

     A half mile away, Professor Raymond Burns was looking

     directly into history.

     He was searching for carts.

     They came from here, he was sure of it. Raymond had tracked

     the carts all up and down the region and they always came from

     here. After all, it made sense; the area between the rivers was

     famous as being the cradle of civilization. The muddy waters and

     the fertile desert land just begged to be mixed, and the local

     villages listened. Irrigation was developed, and with it came more

     food than the farmers could possibly use. This led to the gift of

     idle time. Time to ponder, time to experiment. Villages became

     cities, and cities became city-states.

     There came kings and gods and law.

     The image that was broadcast directly to Raymond's optic

     nerves caused a stinging pain. There was a specially developed

     endorphin to counter this side effect, but it wore off quickly.

     The pain distracted Raymond, but he was perpetually putting off

     another dose for just one more minute...

     He worked the controls, slowing the temporal scan. It was

     right about here. Going forward through time, slowing the rate,

     slowing so that he could see the passage of humanity through the

     stinging hell of the retinal linkage. There were no carts at all,

     and then suddenly they were everywhere! It was like there had been

     an explosion of carts.

     He reversed the scan, going backwards through time. Below his

     disembodied eyes the city deteriorated into a village of mud huts,

     and the bronze plow devolved to copper and then to a curved stick.

     The men and women carried their harvest in by hand in large

     baskets. There was not a wheel in sight. Wearily, Raymond flipped

     the controls forward again. This was taking forever.

     For seven long years Raymond had been waiting for this

     chance, and now he had only three days to accomplish it. Two of

     those three days were already gone, and this last one was rapidly

     coming to a close. Behind Raymond there was a long line of others

     who waited for their turn at the temporal viewer, each with their

     own pet projects. If Raymond didn't make his discovery within the

     next few hours, it would probably never happen.

     Through the haze of pain he watched it happen again. An

     explosion of carts. He reversed the controls again and watched,

     scanning slower than ever, trying to trace the progress. It had to

     have begun here. Somewhere.

     And then --- suddenly! --- he spotted it. He stopped the

     temporal scan, freezing the image. Raymond was so elated he

     giggled like a madman. "That's it! That's it that's it!" he yelled

     out loud. They were beautiful --- the most beautiful thing he'd

     ever seen. Four round bricks drying in the hot summer sunlight.

     Four bricks that would forever change the history of mankind.

     #

     Elko, a Sumerian potter living on the banks of the Euphrates,

     had this reoccurring feeling that he was being watched. It would

     come and go, and sometimes he forgot about it altogether, but then

     sometimes he could be all alone and it was like someone was above

     him looking down. He attributed it as the attention of the gods.

     His own father thought him a fool, so maybe the gods did too, and

     Elko was providing them with amusement.

     Elko, son a farmer, heir to a long line of the most

     successful farmers anyone had ever known, had turned down the

     family trade to play with mud. That's how Unko, his father, would

     put it. Playing with mud. Unko saw water as the power, water

     flowing through their hand-dug ditches, irrigating the fields. Man

     controlling the power of water from the great Euphrates.

     Elko firmly believed it was not the water, it was the dirt.

     The water merely followed where the dirt directed it. Hand-built

     levees, hand dug ditches --- it was the dirt.

     Control the dirt. Mold the soil into shapes from the mind's

     imagination. Anything was possible!

     His father couldn't argue that his son wasn't making a good

     living --- he was. Elko worked as a potter, trading his bowls and

     vessels for food and clothing, and he lived in a large home made

     from sun-hardened bricks he made himself. He had a good woman and

     they were soon expecting a child. Everyone outside his immediate

     family held him in high regard as a man of ideas.

     "Look at you! You call this work? You could be out growing

     food, building aqueducts! Instead you sit in this fancy hut of

     yours and play with mud. It's like you never grew up."

     "Father, what would you store your grain in if you didn't

     have my vessels? They'd still be in a heap under a blanket, being

     eaten by birds, rats, and bugs."

     "Making pots is a woman's job."

     It was useless. No matter what he did, Elko couldn't convince

     his father that what he was doing was useful. Despite his success,

     this bothered him, and sometimes he lie awake at night trying to

     think of a way to change his father's mind.

     It came to him on one of those days when he felt he was being

     watched, while he was busy filling an order of 24 vessels for

     Yurdmal the Trader. Elko had fashioned a round table that he could

     spin by kicking at thick pegs radiating from the base. The whole

     table was very heavy but well balanced in a depression in the

     floor --- once he got it going, it would continue spinning for

     quite a while. It wasn't his idea, but it was one he'd improved

     upon. The spinning table allowed him to make the smoothest and

     most uniform vessels in the region, and quickly too. He made them

     by the dozens and sold them cheap.

     Being in a hurry that day, Elko kicked the table too hard. It

     lost its balance, and he was just able to leap back as it tipped

     over and went rolling around the room. It reminded Elko of

     something he'd seen as a child --- some faint, dream image

     reaching out from years past. He watched the table rolling until

     it stopped, then took a breath and went to it. The gods, he was

     sure, were laughing at him. But after a few minutes of grunting

     Elko had the table into position and went right back to work. His

     mind, however, was far from what he was doing.

     That night, from the finest of his brick-making clay, Elko

     made four large round bricks with holes in the exact center. After

     a week of drying in the sunlight they were rock hard, and he

     mounted them onto two poles. Across the poles he put a big, strong

     basket, fastening it tight. When he was done he tested it out, and

     it worked just like he thought it would. So, gathering his nerve,

     he rolled his invention out to his father in the fields. "I made

     this for you," he said. "This should make it easier to carry in

     your harvest."

     Unko walked around the unlikely contraption, staring. He

     tried pushing and pulling it back and forth. "Son," he told Elko,

     "this is very clever." A crowd gathered around, and they tested it

     by filling it with a large load of grain. With it, one man could

     carry in more than ten men could carry without it. Everyone agreed

     that this was indeed very clever, and within a month the whole

     valley was swarming with copies.

     Elko's father still grumbled about his son's choice of

     profession, but now there was a touch of admiration in his voice.

     This was enough for Elko. His life seemed complete.

     #

     The report was titled: Elko Potter, Inventor of the Wheel.

     Professor Raymond Burns submitted it to Technica along with a copy

     of the recordings from the temporal viewer. It chronologged his

     search for the first wheeled cart, tracing it back to one Sumerian

     potter, then detailed the potter's life from birth to death.

     Raymond had been waiting for the call. He'd been sitting in

     his condo all morning wearing a suit and a tie, ready for the

     occasion. He couldn't see anything other than complete acceptance,

     as his thousand-to-one shot project had been a total success.

     Raymond found Elko at the very last moment. He had to quick-talk

     his way into another several hours with the temporal viewer so

     that he could lock it on Elko and scan the man's entire existence.

     The call came, and Raymond answered it with a quick, nervous

     jab at the button. It was Barbara Lemmas, a professor of the

     Seventh Level, one of Technica's local bigwigs. "Raymond, we've

     reviewed your project," she said.

     "Yes."

     "This appears to be a major find. We have to talk about your

     follow-up research."

     "Yes."

     "Meet us at Fine Hall, third floor."

     "I'm on my way."

     Lemmas nodded once and broke the connection. Fine Hall!

     Raymond thought. Third floor! It was the domain of the gods.

     Technica was to science what the Catholic Church was to

     religion. There were branches of it everywhere, influencing

     everything, owning vast fortunes in knowledge and patent rights.

     And here, in the Livermore Valley of California, was Technica's

     "Vatican," The Institute of Human Endeavor. Here and only here

     could one find humanity's only time machines --- three of them, to

     be exact --- and the only Great Hall of Learning.

     The board of directors, all professors of the sixth level and

     above, sat at a large horseshoe-shaped table around the single

     stool and podium where Raymond sat and fidgeted. The chairman

     himself, the "Pope" of Technica, was out of the solar system on a

     project of his own.

     "We congratulate you on your success," Lemmus was saying.

     "Your method was precise and your supporting evidence very

     convincing. Elko Potter does indeed seem to be the inventor of the

     wheel. Your detail of his life is, also, very thorough."

     "Thank you, Professor," Raymond said. He allowed himself a

     modest bow.

     "The circumstances of his death also lend itself to our

     advantage. Suicide in the Euphrates."

     "It appeared to be suicide, yes. We won't know for sure until

     we ask him."

     The professors around him nodded, except for Steve Gibson. He

     was a large-chested man with long flowing white hair and big blue

     eyes. "I suggest we make that an imperative. Burns should split

     his next phase into two; one being a covert contact to ask the

     subject exactly that: Did he really invent the wheel? It is

     possible that he only recreated it. Perhaps he saw such a thing

     earlier in his life. If so, then go on with the next phase."

     A few of the members of the board nodded at this, but Lemmas

     --- who was acting director in the Chairperson's absence --- shook

     her head. "We've all reviewed Professor Burns's data. There is no

     evidence of the wheel in any temporal scans earlier than Elko

     Potter's first cart."

     "I suggest that his time scans may not have caught earlier

     incarnations," Gibson said.

     "We are all aware that Professor Burns's project may cut into

     your own research time with the temporal devices, Professor

     Gibson. I suggest that you let him get on with his project as

     quickly as possible so that it minimizes delay with yours."

     Gibson rolled his eyes but said nothing.

     "Now, if there are no further objections, then I would say

     Professor Burns has the green light for the second phase of his

     project." Lemmas stared at Gibson, waiting for him to object.

     Gibson heaved a loud, disgusted sigh and crossed his arms

     defensively across his chest, but said nothing. Lemmas turned to

     Raymond. "Once you submit a detail of your plans," she said, "you

     shall have what assistance you need and free use of Temporal

     Transfer Chamber number three."

     Raymond exited from the meeting gleefully, carefully avoiding

     Steve Gibson's smoldering stare.

     #

     Forty-two years was a long time to be alive. His face lined,

     his hands hard and stiff with arthritis, Elko the potter could no

     longer work. His wife was long dead, and his sons had already

     taken over his trade. He was nothing but a burden on them, now,

     and so one night with the moon full in the sky --- and having the

     distinct feeling that he was being watched --- Elko scraped up

     with dignity he still had and took a walk along one of his late

     father's canals to the river. There on the shore, he removed his

     shirt, headpiece, skirt, and sandals, and waded out into the

     churning muddy water. "I give myself to the gods of Earth and

     Water," he said, "in thanks for the gift of my life."

     The current grew strong and swept him off his feet. He

     treaded water as he was carried along past the city and out beyond

     the farmlands. To either side of him were great expanses of

     moonlit desert, calm and peaceful. Elko felt relaxed, and floated

     easily. He wasn't in a rush to get it over with. He was reliving

     memories of his wife and his children.

     A ring of lights glared down at him, and there was a harsh

     sloshing sound as a lot of water tried to climb up the side of a

     silver wall. It only reached so far, then came surging down in a

     wave that came back at Elko. He bobbed with it as it passed him,

     then amazingly the wave hit another silver wall on the other side

     and came back again. There was a round silver wall completely

     surrounding him. The ring of lights from above seemed to be

     mounted on a ceiling. He was in a room!

     The water drained quickly and left him splayed in dismay on a

     cold metal floor. He took a breath and sat up, wincing with the

     pain and stiffness. Slowly, carefully, he got to his feet and

     shuffled back and forth, looking at the metal and wondering how

     he'd arrived here. "Hello?" he said. His voice echoed with a

     ringing quality. There was no response, so he stood and patiently

     waited.

     A round hole opened in the ceiling and a ladder dropped into

     view. A strangely-dressed man climbed down and spoke to him with a

     thick accent. "I am a friend," he said. "Nothing here will hurt

     you."

     Elko looked him up and down, seeing finely woven cloth of

     thread so thin you could barely see it, and sandals that covered

     all of the feet in a black shell like a foot-sized dung beetle.

     The man's face and smile were oddly disconcerting, and his eyes

     were a watery green. Without a doubt, this was a god. Which god,

     Elko had no idea --- but definitely a god. "I am your humble

     slave," Elko said.

     "No, you are my friend. You will understand in time. Come

     with me."

     With difficulty and fear, Elko followed the god up the

     ladder.

     #

     They jabbed brightly-polished metal thorns in his arms, which

     oddly enough brought pleasant waves of relief from the pain in his

     joints and hands. In four days, they told him, the pain would be

     gone forever. In the mean time they had provided him with a large

     rectangular room in a building that seemed to be so big it went on

     forever, and in this room one whole wall was fashioned out of the

     purest crystal. Through it he could see a land lush with green

     grass and gnarled trees, rolling hills, and a reassuring blue sky.

     Black roads painted with broken yellow lines crossed the

     landscape. Graceful buildings bigger than any he'd ever seen

     thrust up out of the ground toward the sky, so skillfully crafted

     they brought tears to his eyes.

     He sat on a soft, high bed and watched as brightly-colored,

     wheeled machines raced at astonishing speeds along the black

     roads. Machines also flew through the air, some close and slow,

     some very far away and traveling very fast. Some of these left

     long, thin, straight clouds behind them, and as Elko watched these

     clouds grew fat and translucent and then drifted away.

     A smiling, brown-skinned woman and the man who'd first

     greeted him came to visit and asked how he was adjusting. Elko had

     no idea what they meant by this, but he told them how grateful he

     was for the wardrobe of fine, new clothes. They asked him if he

     would like to learn their language. He said, "Yes, I would be

     honored."

     "We have different methods of teaching than you are used to,"

     the dark-skinned woman said. "They are much faster."

     "I am humbled by your vast knowledge," he said, hoping this

     was appropriate.

     "With the language lesson will come knowledge of things you

     will need in order to understand this new world. The lesson will

     change the way you view things. Do you understand this?"

     "I am anxious to understand your new world," he told them.

     "You do not object to the lesson, then?"

     "I have no objections."

     They led him though a maze of carpeted hallways, spent time

     in a room called "an elevator" --- which seemed like great magic

     to Elko --- and finally to a room full of comfortable beds. They

     had him lie down in one and told him to relax.

     "This is a machine that will teach you," he was told. They

     rolled a metal box over to his bed. The box had numerous colored

     lights which looked like captive stars, and a headband that was

     attached to it by a long cord.

     "We're going to put this on your head," they told him,

     showing him the headband. "It will feel odd but it will not hurt

     you." When they slipped it over his forehead it made all his

     muscles jump, as if he'd been startled. Then sleep came with a

     rush.

     Through his slumber he dreamed of a stampede of mad oxen

     trampling through the farmlands, through the town, through his

     very home. They were possessed by the god of oxen, and that god

     was furious. The oxen were everywhere, jabbing their horns and

     crushing with their hooves. They swept everything away; his home,

     his sons, his grandchildren. He heard women crying in anguish.

     When he awoke, it was abrupt. He felt dizzy, and his forehead

     was damp with cold sweat. He stared up at the boxes with the

     colored lights and said, "Computer!" The word, even as he said it,

     startled him, and the concept behind it was bizarre. "Microchip!"

     he said. "They're made of dirt!" Disoriented as he was, this

     fact gave him a spasm of joy.

     A great understanding seemed to be trying to catch up to him.

     He could feel it coming up from behind, thundering along on a

     hundred-thousand mad hooves. Technica! he thought. A church of

     science! Truth! Great thought! The understanding swept over him,

     trampling him. Crushing him over and over again. Technica

     collected the great minds of humanity. They thought he was one of

     them. They thought he had invented the wheel! Either the god of

     good fortune was in love with him, or the god of practical jokes.

     This was a prank of horrible proportions!

     #

     Elko sat at the table by himself with his plate of gourmet

     cafeteria food in front of him, untouched. That day Professor

     Burns had taken him out on a balcony on the top floor of the West

     Tower, and let him behold the wonders of 22nd century

     civilization. It spread like a carpet across the Livermore Valley,

     covering the mountains to the west and continuing on to the sea.

     "Wheels," Raymond had told him. "Everywhere you look, you see

     wheels. It all started with you, Elko. The cart you built for your

     father. You are the father of everything you see today. The day

     you put that cart together was the decisive moment in the history

     of Mankind."

     Even with his new found understanding of this alien world

     called "The Future," this concept still boggled his mind. These

     people had build a devices that, though manipulating the basic

     fabric of reality, was able to reach back through the ages and

     scoop him out of the water. They saved his life and brought him

     here so they could honor him as the father of technology, and

     allow him to teach a class in pottery in the Great Hall of

     Learning.

     Here he was, elbow to elbow with the great minds of the ages,

     just because he put four wheels on two sticks and attached a

     basket to the top. It didn't make sense to him.

     "So, you're the inventor of the wheel." Elko looked up at the

     man who spoke. He was tall and had a charming smile, and his name

     tag read, "John Kennedy, Great Political Leader." John introduced

     himself and shook Elko's hand, then indicated a short, dark-haired

     man standing next to him. "Elko, this is my good friend Franz.

     Franz Kafka. He's a famous writer."

     Franz shook hands with Elko. "I program computers, now," he

     said.

     "Computers made of dirt! Digital logic!" Elko blurted. He

     covered his mouth with his hands, and shook his head.

     "Recent language upload, eh?" John said. "Don't worry, it

     calms down after a few days." He and Franz sat down across from

     Elko, each with their own cafeteria trays. "The foods here's

     great, isn't it?"

     "Preprocessed cloned non-cholesterol!" Elko blurted.

     "Fabricated meat food product!"

     "Amazing, isn't it?"

     "I never did like greasy food," Franz said. "It always gave

     me indigestion."

     "It must be a real change for you, Mr. Potter. Food-wise as

     well as everything else. I heard you made an over seven-thousand

     year leap."

     "Eight-thousand," Franz said. "He's from around six-thousand

     B.C."

     "Before Christ . . . imagine that!"

     "Millennium!" Elko blurted. "Cosmos!"

     "Wasn't that right around the time of the invention of the

     written word itself?" Franz said. "Did written language exist

     during your time period?"

     "Hieroglyphics!" Elko's mouth spat the word out violently,

     then he was able to control himself. He drank some water and took

     a deep breath. "Crude writing was around. It existed. We regarded

     it with a mixture of suspicion and awe."

     "What do you think of it now?"

     "Alphabet!" Once again, Elko put his hands over his mouth.

     "Information!" he shouted into his hands. "Immortality!"

     "In a few days they're going to have you start writing your

     thoughts and reflections down," Franz said. "It's to give the

     students a database of quotes they can attribute to you as they're

     learning."

     John leaned forward and whispered, "If you need any help,

     give Franz here a call. He wrote half of mine for me."

     Elko cautiously moved his hands away from his mouth. In a

     low, uneven voice he said, "Ill keep that in mind, thank you."

     #

     Elko attended his first cocktail party as Raymond Burn's

     special guest. It was his first time outside the Technica campus,

     and his first ride in a car. He kept closing his eyes because

     things seemed to be coming at him too fast, and by the time they

     reached Raymond's large round house in the hills he was feeling

     nauseous.

     There were several different levels to Raymond's house, each

     one reached through the wide circular staircase in the center of

     the structure. Elko was dazzled by the architecture, and kept

     running his hands over the smooth, hard surfaces. Concrete! his

     mind shouted, but by now Elko had learned how to keep it to

     himself. Clay so hard it turned to stone! The top floor was one

     large round room with a shallow domed roof ornamented by a

     spectacular stained glass skylight. There were over-stuffed

     chairs, leather couches and ornate wooden cocktail tables

     everywhere, as well as white-uniformed butlers ready to serve. One

     white piano stood out near a large window, and next to it stood a

     large golden harp. To Elko's amazement they played themselves.

     Computerized! he thought. Automated!

     The reason for the party was that Raymond was celebrating his

     elevation in status from 5th to 6th level professor at Technica.

     The reason for his elevation, so Elko gathered, was the discovery

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