The sun was high and the desert wind blew dust continuously from the steppe into the shallow trench of the dig-site. They had been working there continuously for close to a month and already had uncovered a veritable treasure trove of fossil life. There were massive herbivores, ferocious looking predators, a suite of bugs, crawling things and perfectly preserved plant life. A grad student was chipping away at the rocks at the edge of the trench, brushing away the powder as carefully as she could.
Unexpectedly, the grey-brown of the rock substrate gave way to a brilliant sheen of metal. She called everyone else over.
Metal? In rocks that formed millions of years ago? What could it mean? Some unusual geology? Evidence of some technology from the deep past? Something even more unexpected? Any one would be a noteworthy find.
With even more care than before she slowly chipped away the base rock from the find. It reached an edge, a straight edge, almost unheard of in nature, then a corner, a right angle, even more uncommon. There were three more corners in total making up a plate of metal roughly the size of a legal pad.
Breathing softly, the student and two other colleagues, gently pried the plate off the rock it was lodged it and turned it over. There was a gasp from everyone around.
There was markings, indecipherable but clearly some form of writing. One set was engraved into the first ten centimetres, of the plate. It was ordered and had obviously had been placed there by some form of machine. The second, though apparently made of similar characters, were instead crudely fashioned with something like a rock.
The students, helpers, volunteers and professors who had all shared in this unforgettable find looked at the plate and then at each other. Where had it come from? What did this strange language mean? Whoever figured it out would undoubtebly discover a remarkable story.
Daniel 153827 kicked the spherical machine that laid under the tropical sun, “Stupid rental” he muttered to himself as the engineering section gurgled something as if in response. “That’s just great.” He looked around. There were a lot of plants and some unfamiliar bugs crawling around but none of the bigger creatures that the brochure had talked about. They seemed to be keeping well away. It didn’t matter much. The cockpit had a mean looking blaster powerful enough to give even the largest predator in history a really bad day. He was in no danger…. Yet.
Thinking about the orientation lectures he’d had that morning (relative) he remembered, barely, what he had to do next. He felt around the back of the seat until he found the metal plate with “CronoCorp time travel rentals. Please follow these simple rules to enjoy your voyage through the fourth dimension”
There were then a list of ten don’t, normal stuff, common sense. “No killing historical figures, Not even Hitler” for example.
Grabbing a sharp rock he scraped a short message into the lower half of the plate. Starting off with his coordinates in time and space followed by “drive coolant system not working. Unable to effect a field repair.” and finally “If you find Johann 96891 in sales please tell him it is NOT like falling off a log.”
He walked over to the soft mud next to a pool of water and dug a shallow hole in which he placed the plate. He then washed his hands in the pool and walked back to the dead machine. It shouldn’t take long now.
As if on cue an identical sphere with the CronoCorp logo on the side appeared about five metres from his own. A woman in a technician’s coveralls and holding a tablet came out.
“Daniel 153827?” she asked “Sorry about the delay. You won’t believe where your message ended up.”