When Martin Kunze was 13, he was on vacation with his parents in Spain, and at a beach next to the Mediterranean, did what kids sometimes do out of curiosity and boredom while their parents apply sunscreen and read and kibitz about the other tourists: He started digging a hole in the sand. The process intrigued him. About two feet down, fresh water started filling the hole from underneath. There was a plastic bottle his parents had brought with them, and on a childish lark, Martin took a piece of newspaper and jotted his name, number, and address on it in German with a message: If you find this, please contact me. “I put this into the bottle, and put it into the ground, hoping that some beautiful girl would find it in the next year,” Martin says.
He waited and waited. “I never forgot this,” he says. Years passed, then decades. No beautiful girl called out of the blue. Then, something astonishing happened. Three years ago, more than 30 years after Martin had buried the bottle, a dog-walking retiree from the area, after having the note translated for him, contacted Martin's parents, who were still at the same scribbled address, saying he'd found the bottle and read the note inside.
Martin, who is now 50, says it was probably the bottle's vintage and shape that helped it get found. What amazed Martin, though, was that someone had taken the time and effort to call after all those years, because of the jottings on a scrap of newspaper. It was all so simple, really, a naive impulse on a beach, a missive fired from the past to the future, and now from the future back to the past. And for Martin Kunze, who'd by then gone from being a scrappy boy with a curious mind to a shaggy university student with a passion for ceramics to a middle-aged father of five kids whose urgent mission these days has become the construction of an enormous time capsule meant to survive for thousands of years, it was also affirming. He had imagined a beautiful girl, and the pensioner from Spain had imagined someone on the other end of the message, too. Who was the sender, and the receiver, and what was each looking for?
“Some communication through time,” says Martin now, “some kind of contact.”
If you were to build your own time capsule, what would you want people—or alien beings—a million years from now to know about us? That we were loving, or warmongering, or dopes strung out on memes and viral videos? That we flew to the moon and made great art, ate Cinnabons (that we measured at 880 astonishing calories), and committed atrocities? How could you begin to represent these times, as lived by nearly 8 billion people? And what would give you, of all people, the right to tell the story?
After these questions would come another wave of more logistical ones. Assuming the capsule was found, how would it be translated into the language of the future, whatever that language might be? And what materials could be employed that might last that long? And how could you lead a future race of beings to the capsule itself, assuming our planet might be buried under ice or oceans of red sand by then?
It's this very vision of an earth one million years from now that changed Martin Kunze's life forever. About ten years ago, he read a book called The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, a thought experiment in how quickly things on our planet will deteriorate once humans have been eradicated. Weisman imagines New York City's Lexington Avenue as a sudden river, unmanaged petrochemical plants spewing toxins like Roman candles, then with the passage of real time, neighborhoods becoming overgrown wildlands and houses moldering beam by beam until eventually there's nothing but the incoherent ruin of us left behind: the flooded Chunnel, the slow erosion of Mount Rushmore, all of our horrific plastic nurdles swimming the seas. Most importantly, the book points out that ceramics, which are not unlike fossils, stand the greatest chance of living on as they already have from previous ancient civilizations.
When Martin Kunze read this, he was struck by an epiphany. He himself had become a ceramicist: That was how he made his living in the small alpine town of Gmunden, in Austria, cranking out funky vases and plates in the shop beneath his home for the tourists who come here to spa and snap pictures and eat pastries, often on their way between Mozart's Vienna and the von Trapps' Salzburg. And he'd been simultaneously thinking, too, about how the written records of our civilization increasingly reside in the cloud and how fragile they are there, given that the Internet is already responsible for about 2 percent of carbon emissions.
“Sooner or later,” Martin said when we first met in Gmunden, “we'll have to delete data, massively. Just for economical and ecological reasons. This deletion will not be organized, not considered in selecting what we want to keep.”
Martin is a hulking presence, with thinning blond hair and the disheveled wonder of a kid. When excited, he blinks often, as if caught in bright light. Even beyond hackers and cyber-terrorists threatening to delete crucial data, Martin imagines that day of full capacity being one in which data farms become maxed out and big Internet companies are forced to begin the indiscriminate lopping. It's not so crazy a notion. Even now Cisco and Google, among others, are looking for new cloud-storage technologies. Google researchers point to YouTube, where hundreds of hours of video are uploaded every minute, while Microsoft and University of Washington researchers believe that DNA strands might offer the best option for encoding and storing data.
But in Martin's mind, first to go would be the blogs—in addition to the stored e-mail and social posts and comments sections—and with them would go an important part of ourselves, too. Deleterious deletions, the amputated limbs of our time, would likely continue until we were dispossessed of our own history. And before we as a society fully trash-can all our files, before we go up in clouds of Juul smoke after watching the last kitty video while munching the final Big Mac, before the Great Pacific Garbage Patch engulfs us and everything under the hotter sun burns to ash, here was Martin, lying awake at night with questions: How do you build the ark that exists in your mind? And is there enough time?
The idea of creating a time capsule, however vague at first, started for Martin as a stand against our own impermanence, and as a rebuttal to the Big Deletion. It began as a way to flip the script, or the switch, or the bird. In this, Martin saw his role as gathering, dignifying, protecting, re-attaching, and resurrecting the data, documents, and ephemera of the present moment.
“As a species, we're collectors and rememberers,” he told me that first day. “We leave traces of ourselves everywhere.” And yet he feared that the cloud could just as easily be threatened by a solar storm or power-grid failure tomorrow. “The only written remains will be the embossings on stainless-steel cooking pots,” he said. “Or probably the backsides of bathroom tiles. Or maybe the company logos on sewer pipes.”
All of it—all of our impassioned creation and destruction—reduced to a sewer pipe. If Martin Kunze possesses an appreciation for the absurd, he seems a more avid opponent of meaninglessness. “So I thought, What if we leave something more permanent?” he said. “How would we do it?”
As a student choosing between becoming a historian, a scientist, or an artist, Martin found himself drawn to ceramics because clay intrigued him. “Clay is a product of erosion, of stones, minerals,” he said. “What a ceramicist does, he interferes in this very long process by firing clay and making it immediately rock again.”
So it began in his shop six years ago, in 2012, this time capsule of his, what he calls the Memory of Mankind project (or MOM), with Martin making his first ceramic tablet, etching a greeting to future finders. The first tablet addresses creatures a million years from now—whoever they may be—explaining that here lies “a preservation project” meant to protect knowledge about “our present civilization from oblivion and collective amnesia.” It is dated by the signification of astronomical events, as it's unclear whether those who come many millennia in the future will know how to read numbers. There's also a pictionary, so they can understand our letters and words.
The act of creating that first tablet alone felt absolutely freeing. The ensuing tablets—roughly the size of bathroom tiles—were laser-engraved with personal recollections and global news, texts of books and scientific studies. By starting to build the collection himself first, he hoped to entice others—citizens, scholars, experts, enthusiasts—to add to it. Already he's up to over 500 tablets, with participants from an array of countries, most of them sending files or e-mails through the website he's created, with material they want printed on a tablet. They send their diary entries and love letters, newspaper articles and obscure dissertations, blogs and texts, the most important parts of us. “MOM is the first ‘bottom-up’ history of the world,” said Martin.
When considering the best place to store the tablets, he looked no further than a local salt mine, the most ideal of locations to his mind. Through a two-and-a-half-foot opening, about a mile deep in the mountain, in a 15-foot-high carved-out cavern. Slowly over time, geology dictates that the archive will rise up on salt crystals through the mountain to the surface, just as his childhood message in a bottle surfaced from that beach after more than 30 years. When he approached the owners of the mine, they loved the idea.
They weren't alone. “I really did like his idea to preserve, if that's the correct word, our history in the salt mine,” says Claudia Theune, an archaeologist at the University of Vienna, who offered him support and input from the beginning about what might make the MOM archive most useful to future generations. Thomas Grill, an Austrian sound artist and researcher, approached Martin to figure out a way to schematically represent song on a ceramic tablet. He was as charmed by Martin as Martin was by his idea. “He's a great character,” says Grill.
Collaborative by nature, Martin kept reaching out, to linguists, anthropologists, space experts, and those in the nuclear-waste-storage industry as well, all in an attempt to broaden the scope of his archive and increase the chances of its success. Soon he was being invited to conferences, delivering a TED Talk in Linz titled “The Memory of Mankind, and What Should Be Remembered?” This past June, the MOM project received equal billing at the Future Fest Conference in London, along with the Svalbard Global Seed Project, a program funded by the Norwegian government to preserve plant seeds in a vault on Spitsbergen Island, and Frozen Ark, a “frozen zoo” funded in part by the Zoological Society of London, that seeks to preserve the DNA of endangered species. While other time-capsule projects exist—including one called KEO, originated by a French scientist, that seeks to launch a diamond-encased drop of blood into space—MOM, by its openness and earnestness, by the thought experiment it offers (who exactly are we now?), keeps inviting more and more people to it.
“I always have to emphasize that this is not a doomsday project,” said Martin.
On a murky November afternoon, Martin and I took a drive over to the salt mine, which is located in an even more obscenely picturesque village in the Alps, known as Hallstatt. We passed near Ebensee concentration camp and took the road skirting yet another postcard of lake and mountain, though a half-snow was falling now: hard pelts, then flakes, then rain, repeating. Martin was telling me about how the original Apollo 11 feed from the moon was of much higher resolution than the footage that played on TV. In fact, clear images from the moon were translated into blurry ones for TV—Martin gave a very long description of how this happened exactly—but later, when NASA went back to find those original images, with all their stunning crystal clarity, they were gone. After a years-long internal investigation, it was determined they'd simply been erased. Proving Martin's point again: that by deletion we were losing the most important, even the most miraculous parts of ourselves.
When we came into the village, we took a little chute off to the right between stone buildings and pulled into the parking lot at the mine. One of the oldest known salt mines in the world, it dates back 7,000 years or more, when the Celts clamped themselves here. In early times, salt provided the region with unprecedented wealth, given the centrality of the mineral as a preservative, as a spice, and as currency, too. The mine still exists today, and is active, run by Saltzwelten (Salt Worlds). There are public tours—one high point includes a peek at an ancient, neon-lit skeleton of a former miner housed in a little pavilion playing New Age cloud music—but the people at the mine seemed to know Martin and he got waved through to the funicular. Soon we were ascending with a carload of Chinese tourists, elaborately be-scarfed, and one Japanese woman who, after overhearing us discussing the archive, and expressing curiosity about the project, was invited by Martin to join us.
At the top of the lift, the Chinese visitors split off for their tour, and the three of us walked through a thick mist to an opening in the mountain, where we found a long piece of polished wood with wooden seat backs—a motorized, trolley-like vehicle seemingly from the time of trolls and dwarfs. The cave was wide but then quickly narrowed to about three feet, the sight of which set my claustrophobia ticking. We sat with our legs on either side of the bench seat, a miner threw a switch, and we lurched into the black, our heads nearly brushing the ceiling.
You can go now to the MOM website and type your deepest thoughts, which will be translated to a tablet for future finders to read.
We could have been going 200 miles per hour, or five. Breathe, I told myself as everything closed in, but then came a light, and every 30 or 40 feet after came another flash, dim as it was, so that Martin's silhouette seemed to be strobing, appearing as a shadowy form from behind. Eventually we were hit with what felt like a blast of fresh air in the gut of the mountain and the troll-trolley burst into a lit cavern, and we unsaddled, blinking and turning circles inside the mine.
The bosses at Saltzwelten have given Martin his own corner, where he's stacked the crates of his 500-plus tablets, in crisscross fashion, like an obsessive's super-mega record collection piled overhead in old milk crates. Tours of the mine run past the spot, but it would be easy to miss the whole thing but for a placard on the wall, announcing that this is the Memory of Mankind Project. “A breath of immortality for everyone,” it read. It further announced:
This physical and analogue backup of our age
stored here in the salt mine of Hallstatt
will persist throughout all of time.
In MOM we will leave behind art
and culture, scientific insights
and medical knowledge.
But each and every individual
can write on this story and history.
Tell about your life,
your passions, your family,
your favorite recipes
or special experiences.
Our descendants in a distant future
will find this “treasure” one day.
It felt so naive and yet so optimistic. And the crates, they were both more and less than I'd expected, about 50 stacked there, the beginning of something but also the result of a lot of hard work. Most of all, it seemed on the one hand impossible to think it would ever be found and on the other possible that it would. Why not? After all, as Martin was quick to point out, history is littered with lost ceramics. If not for some Martin in the past and his tablets, we wouldn't know how much the Sumerians loved their beer or how they invented cuneiform; we wouldn't know where the 60-second minute came from—nor all of math, for that matter.
Stressing that MOM was very much a work in progress, Martin lifted down a crate and started rifling through the tiles, which made a clicking sound. Some had images, some had pinched text that was hard to read. So much of the data embedded on the tablets he'd downloaded from the website—where there was a constant flow of new material from people around the world—and transferred without knowing exactly what was there. He said part of the inspiration for the tablets had come from an art project many years ago, by a fellow classmate. She had written on tablets “her feminine experiences,” he said, and it struck him as very powerful.
The process of making a tablet is relatively simple: In his shop, Martin can run a digital file through a laser engraver that engraves directly onto a ceramic tablet, which is about eight inches by eight inches, with special ceramic stains. For blocks of text—as in the case of copying books—he's invented something he calls ceramic microfilm, on which super-downsized text can be crowded to include up to five 400-page books per tablet, the result of which looks like its own piece of art, crammed letters blurring into dense lines of peaks and valleys. He'll spend swaths of time making the tablets, and when he feels he has enough of them, say, 10 or 20 because they can get heavy, he loads them into ceramic crates and makes a trip to the salt mine to add to the time capsule.
Ideally, according to Martin, the tablets in MOM reflect three independent information streams, or types of content. The first he considers editorial, which is meant to include the automatic collection of editorials from newspapers around the world, from all sorts of political and geographical points of view. Martin has already struck up agreements with several media companies to allow articles to flow into the archive in hopes of creating daily snapshots of the issues that obsess our world.
The second stream, according to Martin, is institutional materials—and this is where he hopes to add resolution to the snapshot of this moment, elevating scientific papers and dissertations, art projects and popular songs, among other material, culled from universities and corporations, awards committees and other institutions. He might include the Harry Potter series, but among documents like the Magna Carta is something particularly vital to Martin as well: information provided by various nuclear-waste agencies about the location of nuclear-waste storage as a warning to future finders. “The nuclear industry needs to forward information about waste repositories into the future in persistent, accessible, and comprehensible ways,” reads one testimony on the MOM website, from Swedish nuclear expert Sofie Tunbrant. “MOM offers a possibility to complement archives, markers, and human memory.”
The third and last stream is what he classifies as personal. These are individuals' stories, passions, or tributes—anything, really—contributed by anyone. You can go now to the MOM website and type your deepest thoughts, which will be translated to a tablet for future finders to read. He also allows people to design their own ceramic tablets, with text and images, sometimes sharing a graphic-design program, though this comes at a cost. In order to encourage offerings from a variety of continents, Martin puts a sliding scale on these personal tablets, depending on the GDP of your country. If you're from Malawi, it will cost just over two euros; if from Switzerland, just over 600 euros. Worried about a profusion of tablets that marked weddings, Martin approached Claudia Theune, who said a bunch of wedding photos from around the world would be a boon to future finders, showing them how much we valued the ceremony and how various our celebrations were. (When I asked her about it, she said, “We have three perspectives that show us a very, very colorful world of ourselves. By the words, by the pictures, and by the things. They can be complementary, additional, or contradictory.”)
Under Austrian law, the archive is technically ownerless, like waste. “Theoretically, no one can take it,” Martin said. “The future finders will be the owners.”
After you get past the birthday and anniversary tablets, you find a mix of tablets that run from the sweet to the intense to just plain geeky. In one case, a woman wrote a brief memoir about how a video game—Undertale—saved her from committing suicide. A 17-year-old boy from Brazil has become one of Martin's leading correspondents. “At the beginning, the tablet he created about his family [was] sweet. He just [wanted] to show his personal life, somewhere in Brazil, not a very rich family, obviously,” said Martin. “The other thing is, he wants to document human spaceflight.” Over time, the tablets became more sophisticated, celebrating in particular the only Brazilian astronaut to fly to the International Space Station, Marcos Pontes. “I love his point of view,” said Martin. “Surely he knows much more about spaceflight than average people. NASA would make the documentation about spaceflight certainly different than he does it. But his filter, let's say, is from the eyes of a 17-year-old with a great passion.”
One of Martin's biggest concerns in all of this is that MOM might appear to others as some “crazy idea from some bizarre artist.” He takes criticism seriously, tweaking elements of the project, trying to balance the three streams of information. “Good artists and good scientists have to have a similar feel of their field,” he said. “They have to walk a path outside the normal path. They have to see new connections and develop new theories. I think artists and scientists are similar persons. You find the same extremes in both groups—and I think the MOM project is a crossover between art and science.”
To make it work, though, requires a hard-nosed practical side as well. Martin said he'd made “very strong contacts” with Saltzwelten. “Even if they sell the company, the [next owner] is also bound to keep [MOM] inside forever,” he said. But under Austrian law, the archive is technically ownerless, like waste. “Theoretically, no one can take it,” Martin said. “The future finders will be the owners. We want to keep it that open. That's the plan. It's a global project—and [its] history is written by everyone.”
He explained again how the geological setup was optimal. The mouth to the cavern would close slowly over time, at about the rate a fingernail grows, until it was entirely sealed, which would give him maybe 40 years to complete the project—and because it was a salt mine, chances were that things would stay dry, as the archive rose on a pillow of salt over hundreds of thousands of years to the surface. He had done calculations I couldn't understand. “The pressure which is produced by the weight of the mountain, plus a five-kilometer-thick ice shield, for example,” he said, “results in the pressure of about 60 kilonewtons per square millimeter.” And I nodded seriously.
To be honest, I was baffled by and drawn to Martin's brainchild. It was grandiose, in hope and scope, but then Martin himself was a bit like a biblical isolate, a four-track outsider and bedroom creator. DIY-ing his way, he kept picking up momentum and allies—in part because of the archive's randomness, and because of his own randomness and roving intellect—and yet here in the mountain were these crates filling a space not much bigger than a three-car garage. Would they ever be found? And did it matter? His wasn't meant to be the Library of Congress, and at the least, it seemed an incredibly personal and compelling art project. But every time I found myself turning skeptical, the quixotic dreamer in me raised a little bruit, repeating the same questions: Why not Martin? And why not MOM? The quest itself mattered more than the result, didn't it? In the end, it was just another act of faith in bleak times, and easily just as viable as, say, NASA's “golden record,” a disc found on the Voyager probes, somewhere deep in interstellar space, containing the sights and sounds of Earth. Or another nickel disc, with texts in over a thousand languages, now on the Rosetta space probe, which is junked on Comet 67P, millions of miles from Earth.
Every time I found myself turning skeptical, the quixotic dreamer in me raised a little bruit, repeating the same questions: Why not Martin? And why not MOM? The quest itself mattered more than the result, didn’t it?
The Japanese woman who was with us—she admitted her English was poor, but she was intrigued. More than intrigued, actually. She was trying to connect the dots: these ceramic tablets, this hulking, curious man seeing something that she herself couldn't, somewhere in the far future. He seemed like a mystic in that cave. Or a madman. Either way, she appeared intoxicated by both the whimsy and real possibility of it. She held in her hand what Martin called a token—a piece of fired clay that is desert sand in color and rough to the touch, just larger than a silver dollar, with a bit of heft to it. The tokens are made by Martin himself, as a kind of treasure map to the archive, and he gives them out as often as he can, to anyone who will accept one—tourists, contributors to MOM, any interested party, really. It was inscribed with an outline of the landmass we recognize as Europe, in its form today, 2018 A.D. There were two lines crisscrossing at the salt mine at Hallstatt. On the flip side of the token was an etching of the perimeter of the lake, as well as a cube that signifies both a salt crystal and the salt mine on its shores. X marked the spot, at least Martin hoped so, with the idea of leading future finders to his message in a bottle here at the salt mine. “I imagine future finders will have the technology to replicate the shape of the lake bed,” he said.
He was now talking about space again. He wanted to get a backup of MOM put on a space probe. He'd spoken about it with some people at NASA and the space station. At the very least, he was planning to get the tokens out there, sprinkled throughout the solar system, at Lagrangian points. “There is one between sun and earth and two in front of and in back of the earth,” he said. These were points of gravitational equilibrium in our solar system, where detritus collected, including defunct space probes and random meteorites meatballing around in slow circles. Were extrasolar civilizations to come here, it would be like finding a golden landfill of information. It's possible, too, that when the future came, creatures, whatever their form, would be moving intergalactically, and that there might be rules about solar interventions, and that the token would lead beings to Martin's trove without interfering with the earth's biosphere.
And then—lucky them!—they would see how much we loved Kim Kardashian and The Bachelor! They'd be able to track all of our neuroses and conspiracy theories (crop circles! the Illuminati!) and revisionist histories, in search of our truth, to be determined eons from now. (What is our truth?)
And yet they'd also see, too, how we tried and failed, and how we loved, and how we grieved. There was a set of tablets in the archive, down here in the salt mine, dedicated to an Austrian girl named Fanny. Her first tablet—one of Martin's favorites, from four years ago—was given to her for her confirmation, and she was allowed to design it. “It had that kid energy,” said Martin, “no effort.” It included photographs of her family and the music group in which she played. When Fanny died in a car accident, her aunt came back to Martin, wanting a second tablet to remember Fanny by. How sad and how fleeting life was, and ironic. Among the most lasting things left now of the girl were these ceramic tablets, the original one beginning with Fanny's irrepressible, un-ironic salutation: “I wish all people in the future all the best.”
On one of my last nights with Martin, we were sitting in the living room above his little shop, an alpine rain glazing the window. Inside it was cozy, the interior a statement of artistic funkability. There were film-projector lights and cool paintings, ceramic antelope skulls, and handmade plates and cups. We were talking about time travel, teleportation, epochs, space. In the living room, there was a bookshelf with a little note above it, entitled “The Journey of Things,” urging a visitor to either leave an object or take one, then send photographic proof of the object's journey into another world.
Martin's wife, an artist named Masha, came and went, and his daughter—at 13, the youngest of five children; he has three from a previous marriage, and Masha has one—was in the other room with a friend watching a movie. I got excited listening to Martin, living in his speculative future for a while.
He said he imagined whoever was likely to discover the archive might be some sort of futuristic Indiana Jones character. Experts, he said, felt that intelligent society, whether it be a race of crows or aardvarks someday, would advance by reaching similar developmental benchmarks as Homo sapiens had, based on three things: curiosity, communication, and altruism. Given the intelligence of octopuses, a future race could easily be cephalopod-like creatures, though, motating on land with “leather skin,” he said. Or maybe there'd be no life left on earth at all (thank you, humans!) but, rather, spindly aliens, curious to see what's kicking around in our corner of the cosmos. If the future finders were to come from another planet, said Martin, it would be vital that they could see the stars, for directionality.
“Working for this project in some aspects probably helps me to survive. When you see some developments, you see in a much wider time scale.”
I told Martin that, in a weird way, the project of trying to memorialize this moment for spindly aliens or motating cephalopods—to capture both the fatuousness and anti-meaning of it all, as well as the religio-nationalistic-conflictual despair of it—gave me more faith than the moment itself. If one took the distance of 1,000 years, let alone a million, one could look at Kim Kardashian and assess a value. I could look at my daughter, who loves listening to Drake, and I could see Drake as either meaningless or meaningful in a way that only makes sense retrospectively. By leaping your mind to the future, the assumption of new understanding that comes with the sludgy passage of time could actually reveal itself in the present moment.
Blinking, Martin considered this for a moment and said, “Working for this project in some aspects probably helps me to survive. When you see some developments, you see in a much wider time scale.”
“Meaning you don't get as depressed about it?” I asked.
“Maybe,” said Martin. “Sometimes it makes me more relaxed.… It gives you a distance.”
In a way, then, too, Martin's archive might act as our conscience, passively presenting facts from the past that can no longer be propagandized by the loudmouths of our time. Martin said he saw MOM as a kind of “surveillance camera,” indicating who had exploited the planet for their own profit. There was peace in that for him, too.
Minecraft, porn, and kitties; Fortnite, online shopping, and the Shiggy Challenge—this is who we are. It's a big selfie, he said. His job wasn't to censor or edit or engineer a result; it was merely to record the flow of information on the ceramic tablets and then hope the tablets do the talking someday, letting the future decide who we were, in all of our multifarious, engorged contradictions.
He was talking about his mother, then, the person who'd helped him bury the newspaper clipping on the beach all those years ago. She worried for him, that he wasn't making enough money, that he would never be rich—you know, motherly worry. I asked him what she made of MOM, and he said she was very proud of him and could see from all the press coverage and his TED Talk and the conferences to which he was invited that what he was doing mattered.
Maybe she understood that her son was a creator in the face of destruction, despite it and because of it, inspired by it. Maybe she'd come to see her son, then, too, as her own time capsule, as each child is to their parents. The thing that guarantees momentary immortality, or at least a clutch of years beyond one's own years.
The difference was that Martin wasn't just hers alone now. And for most hours in a day, he was thinking about how to communicate through time, to make contact a million years from now. On some faraway beach in a faraway future, some unknown creature might pick up his token, as the Spaniard once found Martin's bottle, and given the address contained on it, find us hidden just beneath the surface of this planet, strobing. All of our woes and elations will be theirs, then, in our final rising and strange afterlife, too.
“Why not?” asked Martin. “It will only take one.”
Michael Paterniti is a GQ correspondent.
This story originally appeared in the November 2018 issue with the title "The Fallout Shelter of Human Memory."