He had ridden the long trail from Chichén Itzá and he was tired, very tired. He was in no mood to deal with the jobsworth on the gate who was certain to be a Mayan. They always were in the front of the queue for any job that involved bossing people about. Mayans were good at languages and often went into the priesthood and so looked down on the likes of him, a mere Toltec. The fact that he had designed and overseen the building of the fabled pyramid at Chichén Itzá didn’t change a thing, he knew he would be seen as an artisan during his time here in Tenochtitlan.

‘Name?’ said the jobsworth, consulting his clipboard. Why did they always have to have clipboards?

‘Itzpapaloti,’ he answered, thus confirming his Toltec roots.

‘Well sunshine or whatever you call yourself, you can’t come on this site wivout a hi vis jacket.’

‘Why?’ asked Itzpapaloti in a spirit of innocent enquiry.

‘Health and safety rules, innit, people on site need to be able to see you.’

‘How is your eyesight,’ asked Itzpapaloti who was seeing an opportunity to enjoy himself.

‘Excellent mate,’ said the Mayan neanderthal, ‘I saw you coming when you and your donkey was at least a kalkaan down the trail.’

‘Mule,’ he corrected reasonably. ‘You could see me that far away? I am impressed.’

‘Yes, us Mayans are known for our good eyesight, it’s in our jeans, see.’

‘So, if you could see me from a kalkaan away, why do you need me to wear a Hi Vis jacket to see me just a couple of kaans away on the other side of the site?’

‘Err, rules innit, more than my jobs worth to let you in without one.’ Itzpapaloti had had his fun so he pulled a Hi Vis jacket out of one of the saddlebags and put it on.

‘I am the Chief Engineer for this project and will be here for the next five years so we need to get to know each other, what is your name my good man?’ He was really good at patronising people when he put his mind to it.

‘Err, it’s Ah Chun Caan.’ He put out his hand, taking Chun by surprise so he took it for a shake, he wouldn’t normally deign to shake hands with an Toltec. Itzpapaloti had a quick look around the site and then went back down to the village to fix up some digs.

‘Why are we building this pyramid Master?’ asked Tlaloc who was named after the God of rain and vegetation and destined by his name to be a helper.

‘The King wants us to build a calendar and I convinced him that we should use a pyramid to take the astronomical observations so that we can calibrate and check the operation of the calendar. It will take us about five years to build it so it will keep us fed for at least as long as that.’

‘That sounds good to me,’said Tlaloc. ‘What does your name mean by the way?’

‘I am named after the God of butterflies and I am destined to be a leader.’

‘But why does the King want us to build a calendar?’

‘As far as I can work out, it is something that the Chief Mayan priest told the King was necessary but I don’t understand it myself. I think I’ll go and ask him. He is an old friend of mine. His name is Chilam Balam, because he is a shaman.’

Itzpapaloti made an appointment to see the priest at three in the afternoon of the following Tuesday, straight after he had finished the last sacrifice for the day. He walked into his office as he was washing the blood off his hands and drying the ceremonial sacrifice knife.

‘Hi Chilly, how is the shaman thing going?’ He asked to break the ice.

‘Hi at you Itzy,’ said his old mate, they had been in shaman school together for the first couple of terms but he had dropped out. Fainting at the site of blood is not an ideal qualification for a Mayan priest. ‘It’s not too bad but the supply of virgins for the daily sacrifice is drying up, young people just don’t seem to have any ambition these days.’

‘So, tell me about the pyramid we are building, what is it all about?’ Itzpapaloti asked.

‘Grab yourself a cup of cocoa and I’ll tell you the story,’ said Chilam Balam. He made himself comfortable in his office hammock while Itzpapaloti took the one nearest the door, you never know with a priest, and he started to tell him this story.

The King, Yik’in Chan K’awiil, was getting old and, like many old people, he had fixed ideas of how he liked things to be. Unlike many old people, he also had the power to make things just how he liked them. Anyone who disagreed with him tended to become rather dead. One of the things he disliked most was watery cabbage so he wanted something done about it. The priests got together and set up a research project with funding they weaselled out of the King.

After a year of effort the Shaman Onan Research Project ( SORP ) came up with an idea that worked. It produced cooked cabbage that was flavoursome but free of excess water. They called it a solid and liquid phase brassica separator for long, or colander for short. Because of the secrecy required, they obviously could not show their prototype to anyone but presented some of the cabbage produced by it to the King. He was delighted and authorised them to spend as much Toltec gold as necessary to build a production model.

They put the job of Project Manager out to tender. After many interviews, they selected Mixcoatl. He had never built a colander before but he seemed to know what he was talking about although his spelling left a lot to be desired. He set about designing the calendar and decided to use an astronomical observation system to ensure the angles, from which the dates were to be calculated, were precise.

The best shape for this observatory turned out to be a truncated pyramid so the site was selected, the ground cleared, materials selected and ordered and the construction started.

Itzpapaloti now understood what he had to do so he first upgraded his CAD system with a new patch and then set to work on the detailed design work. One thing he didn’t realise was that there was a bug in the software upgrade he had used which meant that each betán was undersize by one chan. This was very important as it changed the size of each dimension in the pyramid and so the angles observed by the astronomers. These results were then computed and the ITC rule number 37 came into play. This says that if your inputs are rubbish then so will your outputs be, however good your computer. This is known as ‘Garbage in, garbage out’ or ‘GIGO.’

This wasn’t a problem for the Mayans as it just meant that the end of the world was predicted to be a long time in the future in 2012 instead of the actual year which is, of course, 3,017,237. The problem came when …well you know the rest.

The other problem was that Yik’in Chan K’awiil never did get the tasty dry cabbage he wanted and several priests became dead quite quickly.

The moral of this story?

Well I suppose it has to be that you should ensure that your Project Manager should be able to spell and your Chief Engineer should understand computer software version control.

OK, I know it’s not the end of the world if they don’t get it right but … I said it’s NOT the end of the world.

© Richard Kefford                                                                                                        Eorðdraca


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