3. [Plate 59]
The monolith was discovered not on the Moon, as one might have expected, but in a gravel pit not far from
Paris. A steam shovel broke three teeth upon its upper edge. A supervisor ordered the gravel cleared away from
it, so he could see what the problem was. Then the French government took over.
It was rectangular, the monolith, and blacker than obsidian. Tougher than obsidian as well diamonds would
not scratch it and bullets bounced off its smooth surface without leaving a scar. It was obviously manufactured,
and yet no human being could have created such a thing. Scientists speculated that it was made of collapsed matter.
An extrasolar origin was postulated.
In this, the scientists were right. An ancient and benevolent race had passed through the Solar System back
when our world was half its present age, left this token of their passage, and then gone on their enigmatic way.
It was, though no one knew it yet, a sentinel, an alarm.
The sentinel was found. And excavated.
On the day the excavation was completed, all of Paris turned out to see this prodigy. The government, bowing
to the inevitable, opened the police lines and let the people in. Politicians made speeches. And when they were
done, everyone crowded about the monolith, to gawk and wonder and touch.
The first man to touch the monolith froze. A strange light came into his eyes. For a long instant, awareness
passed between man and monolith.
Then the monolith snapped down, crushing hundreds to death.
Long ages ago, an ancient and benevolent race had scattered monoliths throughout the galaxy in much the same
spirit as a prudent homeowner might scatter rat traps in the basement of his house against a possible infestation.
Such as had just arisen on Earth.
They were alerted to the problem now, however, so they could take care of it before things got out of hand.
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This is the third of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany
Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available
stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.