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The record of currupira, p.1
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       The Record of Currupira, p.1

           Robert Abernathy
 
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The Record of Currupira


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Barbara Tozier and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe, January 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  _This story contains what is, to us, at any rate, a novel idea--that when we of Earth finally reach Mars we may find there records of prehistoric Earth far surpassing those of our paleontologists. Or, in other words, that creatures of Mars may have visited this planet tens of thousands of years ago and returned home with specimens for their science. A nice idea well told._

  THE RECORD OF CURRUPIRA

  _by ... Robert Abernathy_

  From ancient Martian records came the grim song of a creature whose very existence was long forgotten.

  James Dalton strode briskly through the main exhibit room of NewYork's Martian Museum, hardly glancing to right or left though manydisplays had been added since his last visit. The rockets were cominghome regularly now and their most valuable cargoes--at least from ascientist's point of view--were the relics of an alien civilizationbrought to light by the archeologists excavating the great deadcities.

  One new exhibit did catch Dalton's eye. He paused to read the labelwith interest--

  MAN FROM MARS:

  _The body here preserved was found December 12, 2001, by an exploring party from the spaceship NEVADA, in the Martian city which we designate E-3. It rested in a case much like this, in a building that had evidently been the municipal museum. Around it, in other cases likewise undisturbed since a period estimated at fifty thousand years ago, were a number of Earthly artifacts. These finds prove beyond doubt that a Martian scientific expedition visited Earth before the dawn of our history._

  On the label someone had painstakingly copied the Martian glyphs foundon the mummy's original case. Dalton's eyes traced the loopingornamental script--he was one of the very few men who had put in theyears of work necessary to read inscriptional Martian--and he smiledappreciation of a jest that had taken fifty thousand years toripen--the writing said simply, _Man From Earth_.

  The mummy lying on a sculptured catafalque beyond the glass wasamazingly well preserved--far more lifelike and immensely older thananything Egypt had yielded. Long-dead Martian embalmers had done agood job even on what to them was the corpse of an other-worldmonster.

  He had been a small wiry man. His skin was dark though its color mighthave been affected by mummification. His features suggested those ofthe Forest Indian. Beside him lay his flaked-stone ax, hisbone-pointed spear and spear thrower, likewise preserved by amarvelous chemistry.

  Looking down at that ancient nameless ancestor, Dalton was moved tosolemn thoughts. This creature had been first of all human-kind tomake the tremendous crossing to Mars--had seen its lost race in livingglory, had died there and became a museum exhibit for the multipleeyes of wise grey spiderish aliens.

  "Interested in Oswald, sir?"

  Dalton glanced up and saw an attendant. "I was just thinking--if hecould only talk! He does have a name, then?"

  The guard grinned. "Well, we call him Oswald. Sort of inconvenient,not having a name. When I worked at the Metropolitan we used to callall the Pharaohs and Assyrian kings by their first names."

  Dalton mentally classified another example of the deep human need forverbal handles to lift unwieldy chunks of environment. Theprofessional thought recalled him to business and he glanced at hiswatch.

  "I'm supposed to meet Dr. Oliver Thwaite here this morning. Has hecome in yet?"

  "The archeologist? He's here early and late when he's on Earth. He'llbe up in the cataloguing department now. Want me to show you--"

  "I know the way," said Dalton. "Thanks all the same." He left theelevator at the fourth floor and impatiently pushed open the maincataloguing room's glazed door.

  Inside cabinets and broad tables bore a wilderness of strangeartifacts, many still crusted with red Martian sand. Alone in the rooma trim-mustached man in a rough open-throated shirt looked up from anobject he had been cleaning with a soft brush.

  "Dr. Thwaite? I'm Jim Dalton."

  "Glad to meet you, Professor." Thwaite carefully laid down his work,then rose to grip the visitor's hand. "You didn't lose any time."

  "After you called last night I managed to get a seat on thedawn-rocket out of Chicago. I hope I'm not interrupting?"

  "Not at all. I've got some assistants coming in around nine. I wasjust going over some stuff I don't like to trust to theirthumb-fingered mercies."

  Dalton looked down at the thing the archeologist had been brushing. Itwas a reed syrinx, the Pan's pipes of antiquity. "That's not a veryMartian-looking specimen," he commented.

  "The Martians, not having any lips, could hardly have had much use forit," said Thwaite. "This is of Earthly manufacture--one of theMartians' specimens from Earth, kept intact over all this time by apreservative I wish we knew how to make. It's a nice find, man'searliest known musical instrument--hardly as interesting as the recordthough."

  Dalton's eyes brightened. "Have you listened to the record yet?"

  "No. We got the machine working last night and ran off some of theMartian stuff. Clear as a bell. But I saved the main attraction forwhen you got here." Thwaite turned to a side door, fishing a key fromhis pocket. "The playback machine's in here."

  The apparatus, squatting on a sturdy table in the small room beyond,had the slightly haywire look of an experimental model. But it waslittle short of a miracle to those who knew how it had been built--onthe basis of radioed descriptions of the ruined device the excavatorshad dug up on Mars.

  Even more intriguing, however, was the row of neatly labeled boxes ona shelf. There in cushioned nests reposed little cylinders ofage-tarnished metal, on which a close observer could still trace thefaint engraved lines and whorls of Martian script. These were thebest-preserved specimens yet found of Martian record films.

  Sound and pictures were on them, impressed there by a triumphantscience so long ago that the code of Hammurabi or the hieroglyphs ofKhufu seemed by comparison like yesterday's newspaper. Men of Earthwere ready now to evoke these ancient voices--but to reproduce thestereoscopic images was still beyond human technology.

  Dalton scrutinized one label intently. "Odd," he said. "I realize howmuch the Martian archives may have to offer us when we master theirspoken language--but I still want most to hear _this_ record, the onethe Martians made right here on Earth."

  Thwaite nodded comprehendingly. "The human race is a good deal like anamnesia patient that wakes up at the age of forty and finds himselfwith a fairly prosperous business, a wife and children and a mortgage,but no recollection of his youth or infancy--and nobody around to tellhim how he got where he is.

  "We invented writing so doggone late in the game. Now we get to Marsand find the people there knew us before we knew ourselves--but theydied or maybe picked up and went, leaving just this behind." He usedboth hands to lift the precious gray cylinder from its box. "And ofcourse you linguists in particular get a big charge out of thisdiscovery."

  "_If_ it's a record of human speech it'll be the oldest ever found. Itmay do for comparative-historical linguistics what the Rosetta Stonedid for Egyptology." Dalton grinned boyishly. "Some of us even nursethe hope it may do something for our old headache--the problem of theorigin of language. That was one of the most important, maybe _the_most important step in human progress--and we don't know how or whenor why!"

  "I've heard of the bowwow theory and the dingdong theory," saidThwaite, his hands busy with the machine.

  "Pure speculations. The plain fact is we haven't even been able tomake an informed guess
because the evidence, the written records, onlyrun back about six thousand years. That racial amnesia you spoke of.

  "Personally, I have a weakness for the magical theory--that maninvented language in the search for magic formulae, words of power.Unlike the other theories, that one assumes as the motive force notmerely passive imitativeness but an outgoing will.

  "Even the speechless subman must have observed that he could affectthe behavior of animals of his own and other species by makingappropriate noises--a mating call or a terrifying shout, for instance.Hence the perennial conviction you can get what you want if you justhold your mouth right, _and_ you know the proper prayers or curses."

  "A logical conclusion from the animistic viewpoint," said Thwaite. Hefrowned over the delicate
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