Perhaps one of the most controversial finds in the Midden was also one of the most intellectually intriguing. Longer than our bodies and almost waist high, it was formed seamlessly of metal, indicating methods of fabrication more sophisticated than merely rolling or bending. We weren’t used to seen monolithic metal pieces of that size and it was regarded as something of a wonder on pure technological grounds. Objects of that size in our worlds, such as our ships and vehicles, would have been bonded of composite–synthesized from carbohydrate, not hydrocarbon as you do here–with molecular linking controlled by infraflux.
But to Ampersand and myself, and the majority of our group, the formation was nowhere near as exciting as the information presented by the paint that had been baked onto the outside. It had been extricated from the muck and place with its rusted bottom on the ground so we could examine it. Question came to me, sent by At to request my presence at the Midden, and I arrived to find a tight circle staring and pointing at this big sculpture, which is what I finally decided it was.
Although that decision took awhile to derive. Ampersand had been investigating and thinking it over and at the sight of me moving through the crowd of gawkers, began to expound immediately. “It’s some form of conveyance,” he stated rather stiffly. “Observe.”
And he was quite convincing in pointing out that the two metal shafts emerging from between the painted shell and oxidized bottom were axles. They turned freely and one even still had a small, eroded metal disk attached. The axles were located in depressions in the sides of the object, and assuming that a wheel would have fit inside the niche the radius would have granted a hand’s breadth of clearance underneath. I agreed that it would have been something that rolled.
There were objections, however. “What good would it have been,” Euro heckled from the crowd. “A wagon with no access to the inside? An no seats of rack on the outside?”
“You could get in from the bottom.” Question, still smeared from digging the thing out, would never have contradicted At or Point or myself, but Euro was not in his pantheon of respected adults. Nor was Ampersand, who all the kits considered a stuffy nuisance with cracked-pot ideas.
Equal, who had obviously also helped with the excavation, scoffed. “That’s because there are holes rusted in it. I don’t think they made a vehicle to be loaded by crawling under it.”
“Could it be a locomobile?” Star asked, “A drone maybe? Remotely controlled?”
Question and Bracket were already shaking their heads as Dash, always quick to show off for Star or Semi, blurted, “I stuck my head inside and looked around. It’s empty. It’s shiny inside.”
There was immediately pressure to flip it over and remove the bottom but I managed to be granted the rest of the day to study it as it sat. I looked around for Carat, but found her already doing what I would have requested; making sketches of the painted designs.
Which seemed to me to be highly illuminating. Although at this point, of course, I no longer view them that way. Ampersand shrugged off criticism of his ideas and told me in a voice low enough to avoid more general commentary, but tense with excitement, “Perhaps a ceremonial vehicle of some sort. But what’s fascinating is that it had depictions of sentient life forms.”
He squatted by the object, pointing as he spoke. “You can see from the perspective here that we are supposed to be looking into the vehicle at these points. Notice the painted depictions of seats inside. Notice that this figure, seen from side, is wearing the same blue headgear as in the front view from over here. It’s a depiction of a being, you can even see the fur. All gray fur, all four beings wearing blue garments. No notice this one’s hands: that round thing he’s holding is obviously some sort of tiller.”
He was right about all that and rambled on about it awhile. I was studying the faces of the beings inside, accepting that they were, in fact sitting inside a wheeled vehicle. The were grotesque. Grey faces with pointed noses and large round eyes and ears. Their faces looked different from The Native and if they had spiky crests like his, they were hidden under their blue hats. They were quite a bit smaller than we are.
Paren was studying the figures and nodding. She said, “If they were standing erect they would be slightly taller than waist high, wouldn’t they?”
For some reason her removing the little figures from their conveyance and standing them up beside us made them real. There was a pause as we all looked at the little gray faces. Then she said, “It’s them, isn’t it? The ones who built this place, who once lived on this world.”
“Still live on this world, as far as I’m concerned,” Point said softly but firmly. “And that think could be a model.”
That burst her bubble, and I have to admit I’d also been dragged into seeing the little creatures as shorter versions of ourselves. Ampersand pushed right ahead though. “It’s impossible to tell the scale from this. But I don’t think it’s illogical that if they resemble is this much they would be about our size. And perhaps not unlike us in other ways.”
One of Carat’s sketches showed Ampersand standing by the artifact examining it while being eyed from behind by a gray, round-eared creature twice his height. Paren and I shared her laughter, but never showed it to our colleague. The next time I saw the thing it was in a much different location and application, upside down and full of water.
I had gone to the kitchen fire for a pot of tea when I heard bickering from behind one of the makeshift structures that was springing up around the area due to the influx of materials from the Midden. Curious, I walked about and found a crowd gathering. In the middle, I was startled to see the little metal vehicle suspended over a small fire. It was upside down, making a basin with a deeper end in the middle. It has been filled with water, which was steaming slightly because of the fire beneath it.
Semi and Stroke reclined in the water with a few female kits, obviously enjoying a hot immersion that had been interrupted by At and Equal. Star and two other kits were holding firewood, but had stopped stoking the fire in order to join in the argument. Which I could immediately anticipate.
Obviously At coveted the car for his designs and construction. He’d been denied it for scientific reasons, then again while Greater Than pondered its military potential. Now it was turned into a bathtub. He vehemently demanded it’s return. Ampersand happened by at that point and was becoming somewhat hysterical about the flame destroying the paintings on the car.
Star and Semi were adamant, however. “You bucks are taking everything for your big wars and projects,” Star scolded, emphasis added by shaking a stick of firewood in their direction. “Well this is for us. We have no baths here, no luxuries. We want this and that’s that.”
At and Ampersand were both upset but certainly didn’t want to get Greater Than involved. At tried another ploy. “Who first discovered this thing?”
The kits all looked at Xclaim at once. He started to say something, but caught the glares of all the females, adults and kits alike and apparently changed his mind. He waved his hand weakly at the new hot tub and started moving away.
Equal moved over to the tub, shaking his head at the waste involved. “Look,” he said, in reasoning tones. “This should be used for group benefit.”
“It is group benefit,” Star announced loudly. Then Semi splashed warm water all over Equal. He stared at her, soaked, and the kits in the tub shrieked with laughter and started pelting him with water, slapping it out with both hands. Stroke stood up with cheeks distended and spewed a thin stream of water from her lips, striking the pose of a famous fountain in our capital.
Everyone laughed, including myself, I must confess. The kits were cute, the bathing beauties were gracious in possession and there is always something funny about seeing a male confounded by a doe. Equal stalked off, his fur matted down around him and At backed away smiling ruefully and holding his hands up in a peacemaking gesture. Immediately Star tossed two more kits in the tub and climbed in herself. As I left there was a watery dance going on, with much slipping and falling on the slick inside of the “tub”. All in all I considered it a good thing that we had reached the point of insisting on luxuries. I didn’t know it then, but that little car would attain another function, also involving being upside down and wet.
In one of those ironic post-scripts that seem so fitting to our presence on this world, I learned years later that the toy police car had been manufactured in Japan immediately after a war between your country and that one. And that if we had preserved it, there is a market for those antique tin toys and one like that showing Mickey and other mice in police uniforms would have sold for a good amount at auction.