BY WILSON PARKS GRIFFITH
The Chicago Time Capsule was indeed an elaborate production.
The greatest of American acting, writing and electronics
went into its story of Man, 1960, for future historians. And,
centuries later, it was dutifully recovered. Only....
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, January 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
When the Travelers from Outer Space dug into the pile of molderingrock, they found the metal capsule their senses had told them wasthere. Battered and corroded though it was, the shadow vibrationsshowed that it had once been smooth and shiny. As smooth, shiny andimpervious to wear as Twentieth Century Earth technology could make it.
At the time the Mayor of Chicago had ceremoniously tossed a handfulof lake sand into the hole, had his picture taken smiling againstthe skyline, and had moved away to let the workmen fill the hole withcement and place the marker, the Time Capsule had been bright with thehopes of civilization sending its proud present into the uncertainfuture.
The tiny radio transmitter in the capsule began throwing out its widesignal at the exact instant planned for it many centuries before. Noone heard. Eventually, the tiny powerful batteries gave out. The signaldied.
When the Travelers from Outer Space took the capsule back to their shipand opened it, they found the contents in perfect order. Even the reelof magnetic tape had not succumbed to the centuries.
In due course, the Travelers examined the tape, divined its purpose,and constructed a machine that would play back the recording.
Out of a million evolutionary possibilities in a Universe of planets,the chances of two intelligent races being even roughly similar areastronomically remote.
A being develops sense organs for no other reason than to make it awareof its environment. The simplest primitive being's awareness of itsenvironment centers around food, its means of survival. It developsorgans and appendages that will enable it to ferret out, obtain andingest its food. As the food differs, so, then, does the eater.
The Travelers had no ears or eyes, as such. They had other organs forother purposes, but the net result was that they "saw" and "heard"quite as well—even better—than Earthmen.
Perhaps that explains why the Travelers gleaned so much more from thetape recording in the Twentieth Century capsule than its originatorshad planned or intended.
Not just any radio show could be placed in the Time Capsule. Whatpicture of contemporary 1960 mankind would the men of the future derivefrom a soap opera? A news analysis? Or top comedy show? Certainly nota flattering one, and so, reasoned the brass in charge of the project,not a true one.
No, the only answer was to produce a special documentary program,painting on a broad canvas the glories that were the common man'sbirthright in an enlightened democracy. As July 4th was only amonth away, the idea was a natural. The program would be carriedsimultaneously on four networks, then placed in the Time Capsule sothat historians of the future would have something solid on which tobase their conclusions.
A famous poet-radio writer was hired to write the script. Hollywood'sgreatest young male star donated his services (with much attendantpublicity) as narrator. A self-acknowledged genius who directed radioshows for a living condescended to lend his talents to the production.Numerous other actors, musicians, technicians and assistants werehired ... none well-known, but all quite competent.
July 4th, the big day, arrived. The cast went into rehearsal early inthe morning. By the second complete run-through, just before the breakfor lunch, the show was hanging together nicely. After four hours ofpolishing in the afternoon, it was ready to go on the air. Everyone'snerves were raw, but the show sounded great.
Naturally, when a room full of creative people have been rubbingagainst one another for a full day, a lot of emotions are generated.The listening audience never knew about it, but it took the actors,directors, musicians and technicians several days to get the sessionout of their systems. During rehearsals, the young Hollywood stardeveloped a consuming lust for one of the minor actresses. One of theminor actors developed a consuming lust for the young Hollywood star.Everyone immediately hated the director, and he, lofty and all-wise,contemptuously hated them in return. By eight o'clock that night, showtime, the splendid documentary on the splendid American people was notthe only thing that was at peak pitch.
It was the only thing, however, that the radio audience heard. It wasmagnificent. Future students hearing the tape could not but concludethat here was the Golden Age. Man, at least American man, circa 1960,noble, humble and sincere, was carrying in his bosom the seeds ofgreatness. Difficulties still existed, of course, but they were notinsurmountable. A few deluded people seemed to be working against thecommon good, but the program left no doubt that this would be cleanedup in short order. The millenium was at hand!
When the Travelers from Outer Space, who were a team of historiansdoing research on the history of life throughout the Universe, listenedto the tape recording, their "ears" heard none of the program as it hadbeen originally broadcast. They were no less fascinated, however, forwhat they heard was the thought patterns of the people who had beenconnected with the program. These thoughts, in the form of electricalimpulses, were also recorded on the magnetic surface of the tape, andwere the only sounds audible to the Travelers.
What a pity these future historians didn't get mankind's version ofthe life of mankind in 1960, after the producers had gone to so muchtrouble to tie it up in a package for them. Their conception of Earthculture was based on the thought impulses they "heard", and theirHistory of Earth was written accordingly. The last paragraph is worthnoting:
"In the main, it is quite fortunate for life in the Universe that theseprimitive people destroyed themselves before they learned how to leavetheir planet. Lustful, murderous and guilt-ridden, they are perhaps theworst examples of intelligent life that we have ever discovered. Andyet, paradox supreme, they had one quality that we ourselves would dowell to emulate. That quality we can only surmise, for nothing on therecording spoke of it, yet it is obvious, for if they hadn't had thisquality, there would have been no recording left for us at all.
"How strange that these tortured people should practise anunparalleled example of Life's highest achievement ... complete honestywith themselves and others."