?

by John Wyatt
copyright 2002


(Written in English Composition class, the instructor handed us each a common object and gave us thirty minutes to write two pages.)

 "Any progress?"

"Not yet." The elderly professor looked up at his young and impatient student.

"You must be patient. These things take time."

"I know, but it's been three weeks already. You must at least have parts of it deciphered by now?"

"The primary difficulty lies in the randomness of the symbol organization. Past records which have been deciphered are of little use due to the large number of symbols unique to this scrap."

The young man sat down at the bench, pulling the ancient document closer. "You still have no idea of the general meaning?"

"Partly. Many of the characters are numbers, but the greatest clue comes from the location where it was found."

"Ruins of an old hospital, wasn't it?"

"That's the prevailing opinion. I also believe that it was a hospital."

The old man rose and walked to the room’s only window. A few pale stars still shone faintly in the coming dawn.

"My private hunch is that it may be the key to our present affliction."

The young student gave a start. The professor turned to face him.

"We know that our ancestors could mutate microbes to create new diseases. We don't know why they did this, but if we knew how, then perhaps we could form a microbe to destroy the disease which ages us so quickly. I believe that several of the lines" he pointed at the paper, "have a definite chemical meaning."

"That doesn't mean that it tells us how to mutate germs." the student countered.

"But the size of this lettering" the professor pointed to one corner," indicates that it is a record of some significance. And two of the words over here refer to hydrocarbons."

"If you're right..." the young student looked at his professor with distinct awe.

"Yes. If I am right. That is the question. Now I suggest that you let me get on with my work."

The student rose obediently and retired to his quarters. The professor pulled the scrap closer and began to peer over the large symbols in the corner, cryptically spelling `CAMPBELLS'.