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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