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I have just invented the Macguffin. It is ultimate wondrous power for anyone who is wise enough to wield it...

But humanity isn't ready for it yet. I need to put it out of reach for a significant amount of time, such that it cannot be recovered 'soon' - but that it should be recoverable at some point.

To facilitate its recovery, I am going to write some prophecies - that a chosen one will discover, interpret and know when the 'vault' will open.

But ... how does my vault work?

I'm aiming for a significant amount of time out of reach (beyond my lifetime). And that I can reasonably accurately prophecy its return. It needs to cope with ... well, the worst that humanity might do. So I can't use anything simple like a clock, because I'm worried it might not survive.

It can be something periodic, or a one off event. If the latter, ideally it'll be such that it can be found at any point someone decodes the prophecy (but ideally not find it by accident). If periodic, ideally it'll be fairly easy to 'unlock' if you know you should, but also hard to do accidentally.

Assume a substantial amount of resources (anything that's at least theoretically possible using real world physics), but avoiding supernatural.

Aiming for something like the clock of ages in Tomb Raider, where a certain planetary alignment is needed - specifically trying to work out how my macguffin ends up as a plot device in a future story after I'm dead.

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    $\begingroup$ Have you heard about the Long Now project? longnow.org/clock $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Nov 24 '15 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ Long-period comets? Planetary conjunctions? Assuming your lock has a clear view of the sky, of course. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Nov 24 '15 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ I have heard of the long now clock. That'd probably make a good answer :). $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Nov 24 '15 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ See Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia by Gregory Benford $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 25 '15 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ Sink it mid-ocean, and let the decoded version of prophecy contain exact coordinates? $\endgroup$ – Dallaylaen Nov 25 '15 at 2:12
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Maybe you could have it placed in a space probe and launch it. Have it programed to slingshot off some distant planet then come back and crash into an insignificant location where only someone who knew it was coming could find it. I know it does not meet at lot of your criteria, but inventing something that will be able to take anything men can throw at it is pretty limiting. If we can make it, we can break it. You going to have to get it out of reach somehow.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually that works quite nicely. I was pondering orbital motion - not least because with a (fairly long period) cometary orbit, you can have it visible from earth as a reminder until it actually returns. Imagine Halley's comet - visible every 86 years - but after 10 cycles will pass close enough to get captured and crash into the earth. $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Nov 25 '15 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ Have a look at KEO, it is exactly this: a time capsule planned to be sent 50'000 years into the future. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KEO $\endgroup$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Nov 25 '15 at 13:54
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You can hide it in a buoyant sealed sphere on the ocean floor. There is a thin chance of accidental discovery, but not much of it. The prophecy should contain coordinates.

Additionally you could attach ballast using radioactive bolts which will slowly decay into nothingness. With carefully picked material strength, half-life, and decay product required lifetime can be achieved.

EDIT It looks like making the bolts themselves of radioactive material is tricky and hard to control. Much better to use a non-corroding, non-deforming material (something like SiC? ) to 3d-print hollow bolts, and fill cavities with isotope of choice (or its compound). It should decay into something less dense, or release gas. Say ElementF2 decaying into OthrerelementF + F. As time passes, pressure would build up within cavity, finally surpassing outside pressure (which would be 300 to 1000 atmospheres) and ripping the bolt apart.

This approach requires more research than I'm capable of doing. Still it has the advantage of having no moving parts or electronics that may fail.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, radioactive decay. I like that one. $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Nov 25 '15 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ Radioactive materials do not decay into "nothingness". The number of baryons (protons + neutrons) remains stable. The radiactive decay leads to a small loss of mass (emitted as energy) but definitely at the end of each radiactive decay chain you find atoms from stable isotops. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Nov 26 '15 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ If you want a radiactive timer, use a en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator to operate a machine that keeps the object hidden. You will have to trust that the machine lasts in operating condition for that long, though... $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Nov 26 '15 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 RITEG has shown to be capable of lasting tens of years, so it's obviously a very reliable technology. However, I'm still not sure how it works on Foundation-style timescale. My proposed technology, if it works at all, should last for tens of thousands of years (we find stone tools that old, and can determine their age by 14C decay). $\endgroup$ – Dallaylaen Nov 27 '15 at 16:29
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Asimov's Foundation books used something akin to ancestor worship/guardianship to have a group of people protect their prophecy machine and vault in an out of the way locale. If the guardians also know the particulars of how to maintain the vault and the parameters for the "chosen one" they would be a good interface for the protagonist.

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  • $\begingroup$ Also recall that Asimov primarily wrote about the failure points of a system, rather than its success. I, Robot was about the reasons the Three Laws were insufficient, the Foundation was almost broken by The Mule. I think this is because he thought such systems could never be perfect and writing stories about the breakdowns was more interesting. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Nov 25 '15 at 17:34

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