I've been listening to Stuff You Should Know Podcast through from the beginning, so I'm somewhat behind. There's a good one though, on the 10,000 year clock. It's a lovely idea, essentially that we might one day not be here as a civilisation but there will definitely be something left behind to prove that we were here.
It helped crystallise a thought I've been having recently with both the world of Poisonroot and the Eve and Tic stories, and my wonderful wife helpfully added another facet to it: what if the continent of Ehrian is something like a Pangaea continent, ten thousand years in the future? I appreciate that it wouldn't be time for the continents to actually move, but certainly time for a mass extinction event to have forever changed the face of the planet and for technology to have changed, evolved, moved on from its current wasteful ways. And then Sue suggested that I could use this as a way of including real scientific fact, or inventions, from now as seen through the eyes of Eve and Tic.
So I got straight to it and wrote this. I'd love to submit it to the guys at Stuff You Should Know; they seem like awesome people and it'd be just amazing to get a mention.
Eve and the 10,000 Year Clock
The ticking echoed through the shaft, bouncing off the smooth rock. It was a massive noise, metal and stone clicking together with each shuddering second, and the entire effect was unsettling.
“I don’t like it,” Tic murmured. He was floating as close to Eve’s ear as he could, the tiny purring of his flight barely audible over the clock’s slow heartbeat.
Eve put her hand out flat at about shoulder height and Tic quickly settled on it. Still looking carefully at the mural in front of her, she transferred him to the top of her backpack, leant against the wall.
“This is some sort of blueprint,” Eve said. “Look, here; some of the things we would recognise from clockwork are right here.” She started to point at parts of the diagram. “There are chimes, a winding mechanism, weights for powering it… but if I’m reading this right, it’s massive.”
“It sounds massive,” Tic said. “But why is it here?”
The town had been a complete waste of time; they had sent a hawk demanding someone form the college come and fix their amberic lighting, claiming that someone had sabotaged it. Eve had been duly dispatched, only to discover that one of the townsfolk had been using part of the wire to dry clothes.
They had already been on the way back home when Tic had spotted the shining object at the top of the mountain.
“It’s definitely something artificial, and big,” he said.
“Well, it could be anything,” Eve replied. “Perhaps one of the townsfolk climbed up there and camped. Left a pan or something.”
“No… there’s something weird about it. It’s…” Tic’s childlike voice died away.
Eve turned to look at the tiny Cog floating in the air. “What?”
“Can you hear that?”
Frowning, Eve shook her head. “There’s nothing unusual, Tic. What can you hear?”
They had camped at the base of the mountain, the almost-sheer cliff rising in front of them. Eve’s small tent, already pitched, was sheltered by an overhanging lip of rock; between Tic, stationary on a rock, and Eve sat cross-legged, the fire crackled merrily. Soup bubbled away in her small pan.
“Why can’t you just fly up there? Check it out. It could be nothing.”
Tic didn’t respond immediately, and Eve dug in her bag for her large tin mug. She poured the soup into it and began to eat, dipping into it pieces of a small hard loaf that the townsfolk had given to her. When Tic did reply, his voice, usually so chirpy, sounded almost hollow.
“Eve, when we go to a temple or a tomb, there are things from your past there. How does it feel?”
She paused. “It feels… like I should be respectful. Like the place is, I don’t know, holy?” She shrugged. “It’s not like I’ve ever had much to do with religion other than as an observer.” The fire danced and spat mesmerizingly as she stared into it. “Like there’s something from my past. My ancestors.”
“Whatever’s up there, Eve, the ticking… that’s how it feels. For me.” Tic rocked slightly from side to side, almost a shrug of his own. “There’s no other way to describe it.”
So, the following day, they had climbed.
They made record time, Tic flying ahead to pick out hand- and footholds before Eve needed them. It was something they had done before, plenty of times, and the system was well practiced.
Eve paused to look around, stood on a small ledge. Her muscles had long since stopped screaming at her and she was now enjoying the dull ache that reminded her she was alive. The sky was darkening as the sun began to set, but the view was stunning. A broad stone plateau stretched out below her and, many miles away, the nearest town looked like a child’s playset. A few stubby trees were struggling to grow out of crevasses in the rock, spindly branches reaching for the sun. Most were dead, firewood just waiting to be harvested.
“Eve, you’d better get up here,” Tic called down. Something in his voice made her stomach twist, and she scaled the last few metres, clambering onto a wider platform. She estimated they were about halfway up.
Tic was hovering, his ruby sensors turned towards where the rock face continued upwards; the platform was only about four metres deep.
“There. The door,” Tic said.
“Where? There’s no-“ Eve began, and then she saw it. Cleverly concealed behind a layer of rock dust and carved to look like part of the stone, there was a door. Once her mind had realised it was there, it was easy to see. As she moved closer, she could see there was even a wheel for opening it, set into it, again cleverly hidden.
“What have we here,” she murmured. “Tic, can you clear some of this dust?”
A small hatch on the front of Tic’s curved nose opened up as he flew over to the door. With a sort of hooting, blowing noise, air began to come out of him, sweeping the dust away. As he moved back and forth, more of the door was revealed; the carving was clever indeed, but only when disguised. Revealed, the door was made entirely of jade, misty green and rimmed in metal.
“This much jade… this door must have cost a fortune,” Eve said. She whistled. “This is something different, definitely.”
Tic turned the flow of air off and closed the hatch. “I can sense another door the other side,” Tic said. “We should check it out.”
The wheel was a little stiff as Eve turned it, but the door swung open smoothly. Behind it was the small chamber, large enough for three or four people comfortably, and then another door made of the same metal the first was ringed with. It had a wheel, identical to the first door.
“There’s no power,” Eve said. “No amberic lights. This isn’t a recent thing.” She removed her backpack and unclipped the lantern hanging from the side. As she turned the base of it, the globule of amber inside flickered into a yellowish light, weak in the sunlight.
“Let’s go,” she said, stepping into the chamber. Putting the lantern down, she grasped the wheel of the second door firmly and turned. It moved a tiny fraction, then stopped. She yanked at it, then stepped back and wiped her hands on her shirt.
“I’m just slipped around it; it’s hard to get a grip,” she said. “Perhaps it’s stuck.”
“Maybe not,” Tic said. “Try closing the first door before you open the second one.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Eve said. “If I wanted to protect something against, oh, dust, wild animals, that sort of thing, one door wouldn’t be enough. You’d want to avoid a situation where both doors could be open at the same time.” She reached for the handle on the inside of the jade door and swung it closed. It clicked back into place perfectly. The amber lantern’s light seemed to grow as her eyes adjusted to it. She grasped the wheel again, and this time it turned without any trouble. The door swung open to reveal a tunnel, stretching off into blackness. Unmuffled by the door, Eve heard ticking. It was as if the largest clock she had ever seen, the tower clock back at the college, was in the very next room.
“It’s about four hundred metres long,” Tic said, the rubies on his dome glowing slightly in the darkness. “Then there’s a vertical shaft.”
“You’re not normally able to sense that far away,” Eve said, starting down the corridor.
“I know,” the Cog said. “It’s something about this place. Like it’s made for me.”
The ticking grew louder, booming around them, shaking Eve to her bones. She could feel the bass note of each resonant measure echo in her chest.
Sure enough, after a few hundred paces they reached a pale circle of light on the floor. Eve looked up; a set of spiral stairs stretched up towards a dot of light, hundreds of metres up; objects interfered with the light in the centre of the shaft, strange things moving together in rhythmic patterns. Eve raised the lantern high; there, on the wall in front of her, was a mural.
They began the climb together, taking in each new wonder as they did so. Huge weights, each one the size of a loaded cart and disk-shaped, were dangling at the bottom of cables. A few turns up, perhaps a hundred steps, and they came to a platform made of a metal grid. A tall shaft grew from the middle of the platform and, around it, three handles protruded.
“This is a capstan,” Tic said, going over to hover above it. “Like you get on a ship; it’s a large winding device.”
“Three people could wind it,” Eve said. “But it can’t be wound now. I mean, the weights are right at the bottom. How is it still working?”
“Maybe there’s a hidden power source?”
Eve put her backpack down again and moved to the capstan. The handles were about at shoulder height, moulded to be broad at the middle and ends, and thinner where her hands fit. “Do you think I could wind it myself?”
Tic bobbed a shrug, and Eve braced herself against one of the winding handles. The metal under her hands was smooth, and she wondered how many other hands had been placed on this handle. She took a breath and threw her weight behind it. To her surprise, the capstan began to move, turning, and she almost fell. It was immensely heavy to do on her own, but with every clicking rotation she felt a sense of satisfaction. Four turns, five, and she relaxed, stepping back. Sweat was dripping from her forehead. Tic flew down the central shaft, and Eve picked her backpack up again. It seemed lighter to her after the immense effort of the capstan.
Tic was back in half a minute. “The weights have been raised, maybe a quarter of the way. You’ve wound it.”
Eve nodded. “Let’s go on; this is just amazing. But we don’t know what it’s for, and I don’t want to do too much.” She paused, looking at the capstan. “This has been here for… centuries, at least. Maybe longer. But look around. There’s not much dust. It’s still working. There aren’t even cobwebs, and there always seems to be cobwebs.” She shook her head. “It’s just amazing. Someone built this at the peak of their mechanical knowledge.”
“Like a temple. Or a shrine,” Tic said.
They moved on up the spiral staircase. It wrapped around the central core, allowing the pair to see large cogs and gears, some as wide as the chamber itself, slowly grinding together. Some horizontal, some vertical, the gears moved at various speeds and, near the top, they found one that seemed to barely be moving at all.
“This gear might take a hundred years to do one revolution,” Tic said excitedly. “If this is a clock, it’s not for measuring seconds.” He whistled, a tinny metallic sound. “And these gears, they’re made of ceramic. Not metal.”
“That makes sense, I suppose,” Eve said. “We still find ceramic things that are thousands of years old. It’s long-lasting.”
Further up, they came to a tall column of gears. Some were moving in time with the ticking that echoed up and down the shaft; Eve watched as one gear turned so that a tiny pin could click into place, setting off a reaction further up that allowed another gear to whirr into place.
“This is fantastically complicated,” Eve said.
“I recognise it.” Tic replied. “If you opened me up, there would be a much smaller version of this, on a much more complicated level.”
“This is… Cog technology?” Eve looked around nervously, as if expecting a legion of the vicious Cog soldiers of legend to burst out of the walls. “Are we in danger?”
“No. This is to my kind what a baby is to an adult. It’s not formed, not refined.”
It was Eve’s turn to let out a low whistle of amazement. “Sure is one big baby.”
They continued the climb, the lantern light reflecting off metallic movements in the core. Ten long metal tubes, hanging in a ring around the core, shone dully in the light.
“Chimes,” Tic said, and Eve nodded.
Finally, the stairs passed into a larger spherical chamber. In the centre, a large circular arrangement stood, a black orb surrounded by two rings. A small brass arm made a window through which two of the numbers lined up. The whole thing was huge; ten people could stand in a circle around it.
Eve peered at the numbers engraved onto the ring, highlighted by the brass. “04011. What does it mean?”
From the other side, Tic said “There’s a handle over here. A winding mechanism. That might tell us more.”
Eve moved around the base of the device, looking closely at the black orb in its centre. Curved metal claws seemed to hold it in place. “I think there’s supposed to be something showing here. It’s black; stars, maybe?”
“If this is a clock designed for measuring centuries, possibly. The stars would move a great deal in that time,” Tic said.
“Then the numbers show the years it’s been in place,” she reasoned. “Look here. The lowest possible number it could be is… 01999. It’s over two thousand years old.”
“I think it’s older than that, Eve,” Tic said. He floated up and around the dial. “There’s a whole mess of cogs back here, but if I’m seeing this right, it’s designed to show the date of the last time anyone checked it. Or maybe wound it.” He came back around and hovered near her shoulder. “04011 is the last time anyone was here.”
Eve bit her lip. “Do I wind it?”
There was a long pause, long enough that she was about to ask again when Tic suddenly said “Do it.”
She grasped the small wheel fixed to the side of it and began to turn. As she did so, every part of the device began to move.
With a whirring sound, the rings turned, the inner ring at a slower pace than the outer one; the black orb turned soundlessly on its axis, and the metal claws smoothly moved up and down, almost like waves on the ocean. A pair of rings even closer to the centre began to move as well; one had a small silver sphere on it, standing proud, and the other had an engraved circle with lines coming from it.
“The moon and sun,” Eve said. “It’s like… anyone who found this would be able to tell the time one way or another.” As the rings continued spinning, she stepped back. “Let’s assume that whoever made this wanted it to survive for a long time. They might not know what technology we would have now. Do we still tell the time like they do? Is the moon still there? Does the sun rise and set at the same times? One of these will probably be right.” She shook her head. “It’s just a staggering engineering achievement. I’m not sure anything I ever make, or anything the college makes, will last as long as this clock is designed to.”
“This is as close to a god as I will ever come,” Tic said quietly, and Eve heard a note of awe enter his mechanical voice that she had not thought was possible.
The clock face slowed, then stopped. The sun dial had stopped near the top; the moon was about three quarters of the way round, and the year dials had turned until a new combination of numbers were in the small brass window. Aware that her hands were trembling slightly, excitement fluttering in her breast, Eve stepped close to see what they said.
“11998,” Eve breathed. “Ten thousand years.”
The dials clicked forward once more, coming to rest on 19999. Below them, many storeys down, the ten chimes began to ring, like a ghostly echo of a time long gone. Eve and Tic listened as the mournful notes filled the chamber like swansong.
Then it was over, and silence rushed into fill the space.
The ticking had stopped.
The stairs continued on up behind the clock face, and the woman and the Cog passed up out of the main chamber together. They climbed towards the light above to find that it was the sun being reflected down by a large circular pane of what appeared to be a massive sapphire prism. A small service door, double-sealed like the main door had been, let them out onto the top of the mountain and, for what seemed like a long time, they sat and soaked in the sunset.
“What do we do?” Eve said finally.
“Whoever made the clock, they’re long gone. No-one has been here for millennia,” Tic said. His voice sounded different, Eve thought. Mature. Settled. Calm.
“What if we’re the people who made it? But ten thousand years on… so much could change,” she said. The last rays of orange light caught the plateau, made the sapphire twinkle. “How much has been forgotten? What were people doing that long ago? And how would they feel if they knew this was the only artefact left?” She got up and began to pace. “I would have so many questions for them. What happened? How far were they technologically? What was everyday life like?”
Tic, turning to watch as Eve wandered back and forth, produced a tinny sigh. “I suppose we’ll find out eventually. Once a team from the College descends on this place, they’ll find what they need.”
At the note in his voice, Eve stopped and faced Tic. “Is that what you want? This place is as much a temple or a tomb for you as anywhere we’ve ever been.” Eve went back over to him and sat cross-legged. “If… if you don’t want us to, we’ll not report this.”
For a long minute, the only sounds were tiny whirs from inside Tic, and the dusty stirring of a gentle breeze.
“…we should tell them,” he said eventually. “There might be things in there that save lives, or make life easier. There were rooms we didn’t explore.” He floated up to Eve’s eye-level, and his voice dropped to a whisper. “But thank you. It means a lot that you asked.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” she said, and together they watched as the sun dipped below the horizon, causing long shadows to spring from trees and houses alike, just as it had for millennia before that.