Enoch looked around his living room. If he recalled correctly, the guy he bought the house from had left his fossil collection. Yes, there it was, in the corner glass cabinet. He went over and took out a fossil trilobite. Apparently they were all over the place around here. Enoch himself had not gone out looking, but the guy said he had no use for these duplicates, so he left them.
"This is a trilobite," he said, taking it over to Lazir. "They don't exist today. This fossil might be 300 million years old. How does that fit into your 6000-year history?"
"How do you know how old it is?"
"That's what the guy told me, when he gave it to me."
"How did he know?"
"I don't know. Look it up on the internet."
Lazir paused. "We found something that looks like that one. The description agrees with you, that it's 300 million years old. Apparently it's what they call an 'index fossil', something that only occurs at certain times in the fossil history, so they are able to date the rocks properly if it has trilobite fossils. Do you understand what that means?"
Enoch wondered if he was about to be had. "What does it mean?"
"It means they know how old the rocks are if they have trilobite fossils. Do you know how they know how old trilobite fossils are?" Lazir paused, as if for effect. "They date the trilobite fossils by the rock layers they are in."
That sounded like circular reasoning to Enoch. "You're putting me on."
"What does that mean?"
"You're pulling my leg, giving me a cock and bull story."
"You think I'm lying to you? We don't intentionally say things we know to be false. That would be Wrong. Go look for yourself."
Enoch decided there was no profit in that. These guys were far better at surfing the web than he would ever be. "What about carbon--" Enoch remembered too late that the half-life of carbon-14 was too short to be useful at determining trilobite ages. "-- I mean radiometric dating?"
"You obviously know that any carbon-14 would be long gone in far less than a supposed age of 300 million years. They say they use uranium-lead measurements for rocks thought to be this old. Except the method only works for crystalline materials such as volcanic rocks, which don't carry fossils. Your sample is, um, sedimentary rock, granules of sand, um, glued together with, um, calcium carbonate, which is very slightly soluable in water. So if you have a marine animal like this trilobite crawling around on the sandy bottom of a sea or lake, and a storm or flood drops a bunch more sand on top so it dies, then if the conditions are right, with a lot of dissolved calcium carbonate coming out of solution, it will turn the sand into -- what is this called? -- limestone, with the animal trapped inside. With suitable chemical properties, the calcium salts in the water also replace the organic materials in the dead animal, resulting in a somewhat discolored rock where the animal was, which you call a fossil."
You could almost hear Lazir stop to take a breath, coming from the voice box. Enoch guessed it was all generated, since Ghibbers don't breathe and there was no swelling of the chest cavity -- Lazir was pretty much motionless when the box was talking -- but the pause was very effective from a dramatic perspective.
He continued, "The uranium-lead method for calculating the age of rocks depends on the crystalline properties of, um, zircon, and the fact that uranium has very similar chemical properties to zirconium, so it fits into the crystalline structure. Lead, on the other hand, does not fit, so it tends to be rejected from the forming crystal. Under ideal conditions, the zircon crystals will form with small but varying amounts of uranium and no lead at all. Uranium is radioactive and decays by splitting off helium and electrons in a specified sequence at a probabilistic rate forming various intermediate radioactive elements, until a final non-radioactive isotope of lead results. The lead of course does not fit in the crystalline structure, but it's stuck there. The radioactive decay rate is assumed to be constant over billions of years, so they can calculate the age of the zircon since the crystal formed, based on the ratio of lead to uranium. That of course depends on the assumption of uniform radioactive decay rate -- which by the way, is not true, it's a function of the fractal curvature of the universe at that point: different folding affects the decay rate in non-linear ways -- and the assumption that the crystal formed under ideal conditions with no initial lead, and that no lead leaked out after the uranium decayed, stuff like that."
Another breath-pause. "But there is no zircon in this sandstone, and even if there were, the grains are so small that the lead would have leaked out. So the uranium-lead method does not apply here. All they can do is look for trilobites in other sandstones and shales -- the internet says there are many -- and hope for a nearby intrusion of volcanic rock containing zircon crystals that can be dated, and then suppose that the trilobite here is at least the same age as calculated for that volcanic rock intrusion. Like the ages of the stars, there are a lot of false assumptions corrupting the calculations."
Lazir stopped again, perhaps to let Enoch catch up mentally. "After we learned about the fractal folding of the universe and how to measure it, we observed that the folds around your solar system were such to make our interstellar drive unable to get here. When Yohell petitioned the Ancient One to let us visit, the folding in this part of the universe was altered to make travel here possible. That would of course radically change the radiodecay rate, um, about 22 -- no, closer to 180 of your years ago. This is only a guess, but I suspect that the folding was also changed shortly after the rebellion, or maybe when the Ancient One created life on other planets, including ours. This had the effect of preventing us (or anybody else) from coming or going to visit you. Except the Evil One, he seems to have a different kind of transportation system, which we don't understand."
Enoch wasn't sure he followed. It sounded like radiometric dating was completely worthless, because slightly before they started measuring decay rates, they all changed. Anyway, that didn't explain the fossils. "You still didn't answer my question. How do the fossils fit into a 6000-year history?"
"You don't know about the Great Flood?" Lazir sounded truly quizzical. "Fossils are only formed when sand and silt suddenly buries living animals -- I guess you can have fossil plants, too -- and then the high concentration of calcium salts rapidly replaces the organic tissue. The way I heard it, your Great Flood had those depositional conditions. You don't have the Great Flood in your history books?"
Enoch had a Bible when he was a kid forced to go to Sunday School, but somehow "accidentally on purpose" it didn't get packed when he left home. He never missed it. Until now. "The Bible tells about Noah's flood, but nobody thinks of that as history. It's more old wives' tales collected by the church in the middle ages to pursue their political agenda. It has a lot of fantastical stories."
"So you don't believe there was a flood that covered the whole earth? Where do you think the sedimentary rocks came from that cover your ranch?"
"All this area was covered by an inland sea that came and went over millions of years, each time laying down layers of limestone and fossils." Enoch was pretty sure he remembered that right.
"Except slowing creeping seas don't bury fossils," countered Lazir. "You need sudden deposits."
That was a new one to Enoch. "I'm not a geologist or paleontologist," he said abruptly, "I don't know about those kinds of things. I just take their word for it." Time to change the subject again. This was getting downright annoying. He put the trilobite fossil back on the shelf and closed the door on it.
Lazir didn't say anything.
Enoch worked back in his mind through the unfinished conversation topics. There were a lot of them that ended abruptly with religion...
Lazir finally broke the silence. "Yohell volunteered to petition the Ancient One to help us find a live trilobite to show you. Would that help you understand the historical situation better? We can't show you fossilization, because there are no more Great Floods, but we can at least show you that index fossils are -- how do you say it? -- is a bogus idea. If we can find it. Would that help?"
"You think you can find a live trilobite somewhere here on earth, like my fossil here?"
"Maybe not the same species -- I suspect most of them went extinct in the Great Flood -- but maybe another one. The way I hear it, things are going extinct all over the earth very rapidly, so it's not a done deal. On the other hand, I don't want to waste a lot of time on it if it would not be helpful. What do you say?"
Enoch did not want to pass up an opportunity to see a living fossil, but what would it prove? "Do it," he said. He could decide later what he wanted to believe about it.
He started thinking again about what Lazir had said about the folding having changed after Yohell petitioned to come, but it was 180 years ago. "How old is Yohell?"
Lazir hesitated. "I don't know exactly, let me ask." He paused briefly. "He says 962 -- um, I guess that would be about 4578 of your years."
Enoch was stunned. "How long do you guys live on the average?"
Longer hesitation. "I don't know how to answer that. Nobody ever dies."
Enoch leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Of all the strange things Lazir had said, this took the cake.
The universe is not billions of years old, but only 6000.
Humans have been around all that time.
Fossils happened in Noah's flood, after humans had been around for a while, not long before.
The Ghibber culture was younger than humans, but far more advanced technologically.
They have no leader, apparently no government.
This Yohell guy was almost as old as his whole race.
And now: Ghibbers never die.
"Um," Enoch wondered if he dare ask, "Sometimes it's considered rude to ask a person how old they are. Would you be offended if I asked?"
"Not at all," Lazir responded. "About 694 of your years, if I converted correctly."
"And all the -- you call yourself 'Ghibbers' -- all the Ghibbers who ever lived are still alive?"
"Did you know the first Ghibber personally?" What a silly question.
"No, there are millions -- I guess the last census reported more than
800 billion -- of us, scattered over a couple dozen star systems. I went
to the home planet -- Rez-Ghibber, that's where we started -- to be trained
for this mission, but I never met Sith. He keeps pretty busy recording
all the new plant and animal species discovered when we open up a new planet."
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