For the past half hour, pick-axes pinged in tandem on granite far below the surface of the Earth. Occasionally, the axes pealed in tandem. But mostly, they hit in syncopation, as if their wielders were racing, or perhaps, chasing each other.
A rod of light broke through the dark side of the rock.
“I win!” Delta said.
“No, I hit the granite last before breaking through. I win,” Gamma said.
“But I’m the one who actually broke through, so I win,” Delta said.
“But I was—”
“Knock it off,” Beta said, holding a flood lamp. “Let’s see what’s inside.”
Delta, Gamma, and Beta picked through the aperture and made an doorway into the granite sealed cave. While Beta set up five flood lamps in the interior of the cave, Delta and Gamma competed over who could jump the highest.
“What’s that?” Delta said, pointing to a striped cylinder that was armpit height on the wall of the cave, encased in a glass cylinder. Delta ran towards the cylindrical contraption.
“Stop! Don’t touch it! You don’t know if it’s contaminated,” Gamma said.
Beta rolled her eyes. “Nothing’s alive down here. We’re at least ten miles down. Go ahead and touch it. Just don’t break it.”
“I ain’t gonna break it,” Delta said. He stepped closer to the glass contraption, tripped, and knocked it off the wall. The cylinder fell to the ground, shattered, and sprayed glass everywhere. “Oops,” he said.
“What’s that?” Gamma said, pointing to the boxed relief in the wall.
“It looks like a door,” Beta said.
“So open it,” Delta said, shaking off glass shards from his feet.
Gamma and Beta stood frozen.
“Ok, I’ll open it,” Delta said.
Beta brought a flood lamp behind Delta as he approached the door. He opened the door and a little bell tinkled above his head.
As Beta advanced the lamp, a room appeared from the darkness. Six padded chairs, three on each side, lined the walls. A framed mirror hung on the wall behind each chair. Under the mirrors lay containers with metal objects and plastic tools.
“Look!" Gamma said. She ran to the nearest mirror and pulled off a photograph that had been wedged in between the mirror glass and its frame. The three gathered around the photograph and inspected it.
The photograph showed a man and a woman embracing. The man had a mustache and wore his hair in a thinning rim. His shirt read “Italia.” He grinned ear to ear and embraced the woman who cuddled next to him. She was also smiling and wore a robe.
“She’s wearing a kimono,” Beta said.
The woman in the photo had hair that was straight and long, except for the area in front of her eyes. That portion was cut away so she could see.
“What did they call that?” Delta said, pointing to the woman’s haircut.
“Bangs. Those are bangs,” Beta said.
Gamma turned the photo over. It read, “I love you, Marcello, but I hate this hair cut. XO, Ying.”
Delta scratched his bald head. “What is this place?”
“A long time ago, our ancestors went to places like this for grooming,” Beta said.
“Why?” Gamma said. “Looks unsanitary.”
“Because hair used to grow, all over their bodies, at about a quarter inch a month,” Beta said.
“Not possible,” Delta said.
“Sure it’s possible,” Gamma said. “Look at the photograph. Marcello and Ying both had hair.”
“Nah, those are wigs. No one has ever had hair,” Delta said. “Besides, why do they look so, you know, different?”
“What do you mean?” Beta said.
“Well, her eyes look small and slanted and his eyes look, well, strange,” Delta said. “And, what’s up with his lip hair?”
“It’s called a mustache,” Beta said.
Delta pulled the plastic comb out of one of the jars in front of the padded, swivel chair and put it over his upper lip. “Ta da!” He said.
Gamma giggled. “What do you think that was for,” she said, pointing at the comb.
“It’s a grooming appliance,” Beta said.
Beta ran the palm of her hand over her hairless cranium, as if in thought. Looking up, she saw some words on the far wall, beyond the chairs. The wall read, “Marcello’s Barbershop.”
“Why do they look so different, Bet?” Gamma asked.
“20,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens lived in different areas of the world, semi-isolated from each other. Some had slanted eyes, others had dark skin, some had round eyes, others had light skin. It all depended on the region from which one came. These varying traits were known as ethnicity. Eventually, with migration to other parts of the world, and inter-ethnic unions, ethnicity eventually disappeared,” Beta said.
“What do you mean by inter-ethnic union?” Gamma said.
“Our ancestors weren’t born in captivity, as we are,” Beta said.
“How were they born?” Delta said.
“Two Homo Sapiens of opposite genders would copulate and, after a time, a child would literally crawl out of the female,” Beta said.
“Ick. From where?” Gamma said.
“From her genitals,” Beta said.
“What are genitals?” Delta said.
“We aren’t entirely sure, but we think they were reproductive organs,” Beta said.
“Homo Sapien thing, I guess,” Gamma said.
Delta wandered over to the first mirror behind the first swivel chair. He saw some small drawers, opened one, and pulled out something made of metal.
“The grip on this is . . . strange,” Delta said.
“D, don’t move! Put that down,” Beta said.
“Why? It’s not like it can hurt anything—”
Then, an pop, louder than any of them had ever heard, erupted from the metal contraption. The mirror behind the chair shattered into several pieces.
“Because that’s a handgun. It can kill,” Beta said.
“Kill?” Gamma said.
“End a life,” Beta said.
“Nah, that’s not possible. No one really dies unless they want to,” Delta said.
“Before the Great Fall, the Homo Sapiens had guns, disease, and crime. Eventually their toys and habits killed them. If it wasn’t the atomic weapons, it was a disease, or their own selfishness, that brought them to ruin,” Beta said.
"But, if they died, why couldn't they just, you know, suit up in a new body?" Delta said.
"All humans lived under the illusion that their consciousness was discrete and therefore separate from each other," Beta said. "For humans, the death of the body meant the death of the soul."
“Why are these chairs so small?” Gamma said.
“Humans were also very short,” Beta said. “The tallest Homo Sapiens were only six feet tall.”
“Munchkins,” Delta said.
“Let’s keep going. We have more to explore,” Beta said. “I’ll leave the lights on so the follow-up team can find it.”
Delta and Gamma took off running. They raced each other out of the cave and then continued further down the tunnel. Beta, being eight feet tall, walked through the entrance of the cave and then looked back over her shoulder. A tear rolled down her face as she thought of how Marcello and his ilk had destroyed themselves. Before the tear could reach her chin, she was grateful to have evolved beyond things like guns, genitals, and haircuts.