The archaeologist sucked on his e-cigarette. Orange liquid swirled in the transparent chamber, and I could feel Clytie pulling on my arm as she stood on tiptoes, trying to get a better look at it. When he exhaled the smoke was orange as well, and there were flashing motes in it.
"This is what we think was a shared building of some kind," he said, gesturing behind him. Out of the mounds of pyroclastic flow were rectangular blocks piled neatly on top of one another. In the middle of them was a rectangular gap, which was dark and uninviting. "We've reason to believe that it was 'office' of some kind, but we haven't yet worked out what rituals were carried out here."
"What makes you so certain that there were rituals performed here?" asked a middle-aged woman in the middle of the tour group. Her hair was white and architecturally styled, and her couture was showing pastoral scenes; I thought I recognised Lake Windermere before the inundation as I watched it change.
"It's called an 'office'," said the archaeologist with patience. "'Offices' were ritual positions held by high-ranking C20-baseline humans, and we know that they had many rituals that they performed. Such as 'going to work'."
"I tried 'going to work' once," whispered Clytie, and then she giggled. I patted her arm in as friendly a manner as I could. Clytie is lovely most of the time, but whenever she's on a sub-cycle she's as irritating as a mantis-pet. "It was really weird; I spent eight hours sitting at a desk and periodically a man would come past and ask me if I thought I was going to get paid for it."
"Some officiants were paid," said the archaeologist, overhearing Clytie. "But we haven't been able to work out yet what that entailed."
There was a generally muttering from the group, and then the archaeologist took another drag from his e-cigarette and led the way through the dark rectangle. As he stepped through heat-sensitive lamps turned out and illuminated a stone-floor room, still rectangular. There was a horseshoe shaped object in the middle of the floor with an opening to the rear that seemed only to force people entering to walk around it to a staircase at the back.
"We've clearly entered from the rear, "said the archaeologist, gesturing at the horseshoe shape. "Officiants coming in from the correct side would presumably enter this shape where they would perform their first ritual of the day."
"What would that be?" asked a merboy. He was stood near the front, and I'd noticed him earlier; he was hovering near an elderly couple and occasionally glancing up at them as though they were his grandparents, but they'd barely noticed him. I suspected he was a plant for the archaeologist.
"I'm glad you asked," said the archaeologist confirming my suspicions. "It was the email ritual."
Clytie giggled again and stroked my arm as though it were a mantis-pet. I tried not to shiver.
"Email was a time-consuming activity that dominated baseline human attention for nearly a hundred years," said the archaeologist. "It required constant attention and when left alone for any period of time would grow out of control and require drastic action to tame again. People talked of mass-delenda, some kind of culling process. There were officiants who wrote learned treatises on how to keep email at a near-zero state, which we think means that it was essentially quiescent and didn't attempt to control baseline humans. The email ritual was a cleansing step, whereby the officiant would attempt to destroy as much email as had grown overnight so that the day could be used for something productive. It was therefore an essential part of the 'office' that the officiant delete email as a first step in the day. Note that the email is contained within this horseshoe structure and paths around it are allowed, so clearly it could grow large and unboundedly. We should be very grateful that the scourge of email was eventually overcome!"
"Wow!" said the merboy, but no-one was listening now. They were all eyeing the horseshoe shape with apprehension.
"Is there still... email... in there?" asked the middle-aged woman. She took a step back.
"No, we've not been able to find any email at all," said the archaeologist. "It appears to have been completely eradicated. Now, moving on and up these stairs...."