Archive for April, 2011

Revelation

April 23, 2011

The High Priest of Gorleben clambered out of his bulky ceremonial uniform. The steel-toed outer boots always gave him grief, but it was all part of the sacrificial ceremony. The Salt Gods demanded the soul of a rat every ten years and the once shiny overall, the mask, the gloves and the boots were all required to keep the wrath of the Salt Gods at bay.

For the Salt Gods are angry, vengeful gods. They live under the ground and turn the stone around them into salt. What had sparked their ire is not known but ten days later the rat was always dead. The Prophet said when a rat finally survives seven times ten days, Gorleben will be appeased. But Gorleben wasn’t the only Salt God, there were dozens: Agnes, Richton, Bruinsburg and many more.

Although a man of duty and devotion, the High Priest was also kind by nature and he didn’t like the idea of the painful death the rat was facing. He knew it was painful because when he was a small boy, he heard the story of the looters who found a hole in the ground near Richton’s sanctuary, descended into it despite the warnings of the local priest.

When they emerged, they had burn marks all over their bodies and barely conscious. They said everything tasted like iron. They got better but one by one they all died in the coming weeks. There aren’t many people who don’t believe in the Salt Gods, but once or twice in every generation someone tries to defy them. Their fate is the same as that of the rats. It was an uncomfortable thought, but he knew that the vivid depiction of their suffering made his job so much easier.

Not that he had to work hard, he admitted. Life wasn’t too hard in general, the vast fields and forests provided enough food for their small town. Although he suspected that many years ago there had been a lot more people around, because wherever they started to dig, they found traces of human settlements. The Box in his study was one such trace: a hollow metal cube they found when they were rebuilding the temple.

As I expected, I didn’t get the government grant for my project. A blessing in disguise probably. They don’t know how to run an ordinary scientific project, let alone starting a cult. Placing the matter in the hands of the UN proves how clueless they are. Where will the UN be in a thousand years? If it was up to them, all the locations will have been forgotten by then.

It took him over a year to prize its door open. It was well worth it though, in the box he found a bunch of handwritten pages in a language he didn’t recognise. It should keep him busy for months, he reckoned. First off, he transcribed the entire text as some of the papers were crumbling badly. The alphabet and punctuation marks were roughly the same as those he knew, but the words looked completely alien.

Well, that’s the first draft of the basic prayers done then. Still needs plenty of work. There’s only so many ways you can beg for forgiveness and I’m not a bleeding poet. But it will keep them away from the salt domes, and that’s all that matters really.

Now that he thought about it, nobody else lived near his temple. There was no law that forbade it, they just built the town a mile or two further up the river. It was quite a pleasant walk and they always brought him enough food, and they came to him when they needed someone to resolve their petty arguments or just answer questions about the world. There weren’t many such questions, not from adults anyway. He answered them the best he could but he felt ashamed that he knew so little.

I’m really proud of the creation story of the Salt Gods. Born in the stars, forced to work for mankind as slaves, until finally they rebelled, what an allegory. I wish someone could appreciate it, but I’m afraid no-one will. Okay, they didn’t rebel, they were just used up and sealed into containers. They did rebel a bit though, didn’t they.

First he tried to identify the most common words and word combinations, but the meticulous book-keeping of phrases didn’t take him any closer to the solution. The commonest and shortest words were probably articles and pronouns, but that still said nothing about what the text was about.

There’s the small matter of testing how much the radiation levels had dropped. Obviously I can’t rely on them using instruments, who knows if there will be such a thing at all. Heck, there is very little chance that there will be any humans around.

Yet it was this process that brought the breakthrough. As he was muttering the words, he found the rhythm of the words and sentences familiar. He recognised them as the Litany of the Rat, the one that is chanted when the corpse of the rat is carried around the temple for everyone to see. He didn’t like this litany very much, but he knew it and all the others by heart. He found all of them in the text, some of them in multiple, slightly different versions. He knew enough words to guess the rest.

The best I could come up with is to use rats to estimate radiation dose. There are several compelling reasons to do so. They’re likely to be around wherever humans live. Anything more primitive would be hard to take seriously as a sacrifice, anything more valuable and the sacrificial ceremony will inevitably turn into a symbolic act, with no real animals involved.

He pondered a lot on what to do with his revelations. It was blasphemy. And nobody would care or understand anyway. He put the original papers back in the Box, along with his translation. He then hammered the door shut. Maybe someone will find it one day like he had. Maybe not.

At least he felt better about the rat.

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Stonework

April 3, 2011

‘What have we learned today?’, turned Ug, the stonework teacher theatrically towards the class he only liked to think of “as a bunch of gracilis tossers.”
‘An algebraic extension of an algebraic extension is algebraic.’, boomed the tossers in unison.
‘One more of your cheeky rhymes and it’s cave cleaning for you all. And trust me, removing graffiti isn’t fun. So once more, what have we learned today?’
‘Stone is harder than wood?’, ventured a squeaky voice at the back.
‘Very good. Very, very good indeed, young Kruskal.’, nodded Ug. ‘Some of you little knuckle-dragging troglodytes might want to take note if you are to achieve something in life at all. You, in that ugly red pullover, what’s your name?’
‘Kuratowski, sir.’
‘How are you progressing with your chipped obsidian knife blade?’
‘Not very well, sir.’
‘Oh, dear. What is it now?’
‘I keep wondering what makes a finite graph planar ‘
‘Good fucking grief. And what makes them planar?’
‘Apparently, sir, apparently, the fact that they aren’t a subdivision of a complete graph of five vertices or a complete bipartite graph of six vertices is enough.’
‘You’re bloody useless, Kuratowski. You two at the back, ’Seymour and Robertson, don’t think I can’t see that you’re passing papers back and forth to each other. What is it that’s so bloody important it can’t wait till the end of the class?’
They’re only some theorems about minors, sir.’
‘Minors? Well, minors are fucking forbidden from now on.’
‘Exactly sir, and they characterise a family of graphs.’
‘That’s carving ten extra arrowheads for you, cheeky sod. Right, all of you get back to work now. We’ve got a mammoth to kill in the afternoon. That’s what I call a mammoth task, ahaha.’

(Based on a true story. All the theorems mentioned have been proven.)