Benton and Williams stoop to examine the time capsule. Benton is a neat, dark-skinned man with a conservative little mustache, dressed in conventional workingman's clothing. Williams, with a long sorrowful face, wears a shirt and tie, slacks, and polished leather shoes. Both wear construction workers' hard hats.
"'Nineteen eighty-nine,'" Benton says. "No telling how it got here, sir."
Williams squats in the rubble, brushes powder from the capsule. It's a rectangular block of stone, cut and fitted for the cornerstone of some forgotten building. It's inscribed with a badly worn message: TO THE PEOPLE OF THE FUTURE. "Must have been in the landfill," he says. "Could never have been a part of this."
The building Williams's crew is demolishing dates from the late 22nd century. Nothing built in 1989 stands today. Cathedrals from the fifth century, pyramids from the pharaohs, yes; 1989, uh-uh.
"Shouldn't we call the historical society?" Benton asks.
"Oh, they're going to be glad to see this," Williams sighs.
The women from the historical society, Dr. Falsh and her two healthy young assistants, arrive several weeks later. "Bet it's another one of those cement sonofabitches," the first assistant mutters. "They should have called me first. I'd have kicked the fucker in the lake."
Dr. Falsh is a fine, gray-haired lady who still wears the kind of glasses you fit on your nose. She finds Williams in his office.
"Oh, oh, oh, the time capsule," he says, rising. From his window he inspects the site, one square block of rubble. "God almighty. Now where did we put it?"
It takes almost an hour, but eventually the capsule shows up in a heap of debris that, given one more day, would have gone back into the landfill.
"Well, what do you suppose is in it?" Number One Assistant asks, driving back to the museum. "Some more Michael Jackson videos?"
"No, no," Number Two says. "He was passe in 1989. Probably a Chicago Bears football jersey."
Dr. Falsh smiles, such knowledgeable assistants. But then, almost everyone in the 23rd century knows these things.
At the Historical Museum, they drag the capsule down an aisle narrowed dangerously by an immense clutter of artifacts. Professor Wayne, curator of cultural history, waits in the storeroom.
"Here it is," Dr. Falsh says.
Professor Wayne grasps his large head with his small hands: "1989? I need that?"
The last one contained a can of Coke. A copy of the National Enquirer. Could have got those at the supermarket. A portrait of Roseanne Barr. Could have got that in the National Enquirer.
The capsule is brought under a strong light. "Must be from a public building," Professor Wayne mutters.
"Not in 1989. Probably one of their stadiums. A low-interest piece, I would say."
"Why don't we open it?"
The professor again clutches his head. "What do I have to do to make it clear to you field people? We are busy here! You don't just go popping open a time capsule, even one from a low-interest year like 1989. There must be records, proper documentations, certified witnesses, paperwork."
He staggers backward, momentarily overcome. Dr. Falsh and her assistants rush to his aid, lower him into a chair. A glass of water is thrust into his trembling hand.
"It's too much," he whispers. "Three hundred years, we're still cataloging this damn stuff. Didn't these people ever think we might like to look at something of our own? No, every time we turn around, it's I Love Lucy or Elvira, Queen of the Vampires."
"Quite right," Dr. Falsh says soothingly. It's clear the professor needs soothing. "1989. A nothing year. Hah, hah. George Bush. Oat bran. Air Jordans. It's just . . ." She hesitates. "I promised the people at the construction site . . ."
"They like to know what we find in these things. Otherwise, well, they may stop turning them in."
The professor rises, slightly refreshed. Placing one hand upon Dr. Falsh's shoulder, he guides her to the door. The assistants, casting glowering looks at the capsule, follow. "Told you we should have kicked it in the fucking lake," Number One whispers.
Professor Wayne pretends not to hear this. "Dr. Falsh," he says. "I'm going to put your capsule on the schedule. When we're ready to open, you'll be the first to know."
They shake hands and he returns to his gloomy lair. On every side rise up stacks of laser discs, video cubes, libraries of microchipped data. Nothing goes away, no thought, no word, no image. It remains, nonbiodegradable, indestructible, choking off the future. He eases behind his desk, presses a convenient buzzer. A moment later his assistant, a man of both strength and circumspection, enters. "Igor," the professor says. "This capsule, store it with the others."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/John Zielinski.