The Artifact (Book 2, Time Series)

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Chapter Ten: The Lab

July 2023
University of Richmond
Richmond City, Virginia

}}}-----> MORGAN <-----{{{

Morgan leads James and Wahya back upstairs to the Archaeology Lab, “Emory should be gone by now - he doesn’t usually stay after lunch.”

“You didn’t tell him about the wall and all that? Didn’t he see Wahya?” James asks as they climb the stairs.

“Well, no... and yes. I haven’t told him anything, but he did see Wahya. But I didn’t want him to know anything until I knew what I was dealing with.” In a lowered voice she adds, “He’s kind of a talker, if you know what I mean. He’s not the one you tell secrets to, unless you want everyone else to know.”

“Ah,” James simply replies. “And if he’s still up there?”

“Um, I don’t know,” Morgan hesitates. “I’m sure he already thinks something weird’s going on.”

“Alright, we’ll avoid him if possible, then play it by ear after that.”

Morgan’s disappointed to find the door to the Archaeology suite unlocked, meaning that Emory is probably still there. Then she realizes she’d left her purse with her keys at her desk, so would have been locked out otherwise. Kicking herself mentally, she calls out as she opens the door, “Hello?”

The trio walk in, seeing no one in the immediate lab. Morgan heads towards her desk to see if her cell phone and purse are still there when a voice comes from the artifact storage room, “Hey, you’re back!”

Morgan clears her throat, trying to suppress her disappointment at Emory’s appearance, “Uh, yep! What are you still doing here? Isn’t it kinda late for you?”

“Well, I couldn’t leave the lab unsecured, and you left your keys and stuff here. I tried to call you, but you left your phone behind, too. I figured you couldn’t get too far without your car keys anyways, so decided to hang out.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” Morgan cringes inside at her stupidity for leaving in such a panic. “I didn’t mean to leave you hanging!”

“No biggie! You seemed a bit... preoccupied, earlier.” He cocks an eyebrow towards Wahya, now in regular clothes, then takes in James, both of which enter the lab fully now. “Dr. Warner! What brings you to the Archaeology Lab today?”

James isn’t amused by the recent grad’s candor, having heard about his brown-nosing personality from his wife, and clears his throat, unsure of what he should say.

Morgan jumps in instead, “I had some things I needed to show him, so he can tell Samantha about ’em for me. But you don’t have to stay now - I’m sure you’re starved, since you didn’t get to leave for lunch. I’m really sorry about that! And I really appreciate you not locking me out! I’ll see you on Thursday, then?”

Looking at James, she continues without taking a breath, “It’s just down here...”

Prodding both James and Wahya in front of her towards the storage rooms, Morgan waves to Emory, hoping he’ll take the hint and leave for the day already.

“Right...” Emory says to her back, “I guess I’ll just close up my stuff and quit for today. Good thing I didn’t need to ask you about anything...”

Morgan’s mind is racing as quickly as her mouth just had and she doesn’t process his words or sense his irritation as she simply presses forward. Making their way to the furthest-most artifact storage room, they stop at the location Wahya knows only too well. Morgan and James can see concern written across his features, and she wonders if he’s afraid of getting sucked into another vortex.

“Well, this is the place!” She begins before proceeding to reenact what she was doing when the wall spit Wahya out. James takes notes and pulls out the tape measure he’d brought taking measurements from the floor to the ceiling and the distance between the wall and where Morgan was when Wahya had landed on her.

“I’m not sure if this will be helpful, but it won’t hurt to collect all the data we can,” James explains obviously just as confused as Morgan is about the whole thing.

Suddenly, Emory’s voice calls from the neighboring room interrupting their concentrated thoughts, “Hey, Morgan?”

His voice is distant, but not distant enough for Morgan’s comfort, “Shit! I hope he didn’t hear anything! Why’s he still here?!” She motions for Wahya and James to stay, “I’ll be right back.”

Meeting him in the next room, Morgan forces a smile having thought the intern would have been gone for a while now, “What’s up? I thought you were heading to lunch?!”

“Yeah, I am now. I just had to finish what I was working on. But I’m done now.”

She nods, waiting for him to continue.

“Well, uh... I just wanted to check on you to make sure everything was okay. I mean... I don’t mean to pry, but... you just seem a bit uptight, and I thought there might be something I could do to help.”

Morgan wasn’t expecting this and simply looks at him a little wide-eyed, praying he doesn’t ask questions about Wahya or what they’re doing now, before he continues, “I know we don’t know each other really outside of the lab, but if you ever need to talk or... or anything.” He clears his throat nervously, “Well, you have my number. You can call anytime.”

Morgan is utterly confused by this strange and very untimely exchange, finally replying, “Well, that’s really sweet of you, Emory! But I’m just fine. Thank you, though! I’ll see you Thursday, okay?”

Emory nods his head in an ‘I get it’ sort of way and turns to leave the lab. “See ya Thursday,” he says over his shoulder.

Morgan waits to hear the door to the lab close behind him this time before heading back to the others. Wahya is emulating the cloud with his hands for James and she notes that the poster has been taken down. They both look up when she enters the room, Wahya with a look of relief, and James with a knowing half-smirk.

“Samantha never told me that Emory there has it bad for you,” her mentor’s husband teases.

“What?!” A little taken aback, she adds, ”Nooo... He’s just like that.”

She goes over to look at the backside of the poster, suddenly aware that Emory had been trying to come on to her and she had completely missed his hints, what with her preoccupation on the situation at hand. “Had he thrown hints out like that in the past and I never noticed either?!”

Feigning continued ignorance, she continues, “Anyways, he’s gone now, so we can get to work! Have you guys found anything?”

James shakes his head, “No, there’s nothing that doesn’t look normal. Tell me what happened after the wall closed.”

Just as Morgan begins to tell about her first encounter with Wahya, the brave’s eyes go wide as he pats down his front, a frantic look etched on his face as he checks the pockets of the shorts he’s now wearing.

“What is it, Wahya?” Morgan asks worriedly.

He brings his attention to her, trying unsuccessfully to explain himself while he clutches at the front of his shirt, trying to make them see. Finally, he points to the floor, then at Morgan’s glasses she’s still wearing on top of her head. He pretends to put an invisible pair on top of his own head like she had before, acting out her actions earlier, his eyes begging for them to understand his message.

“My glasses?” Morgan takes the pair off her head, holding them out for him. Wahya purses his lips in frustration, shaking his head, then points again to the floor. As if playing a game of charades, he stoops to pretend to pick something up, rising again to face the other two and forming an oblong circle with his hands in front of his chest for them to see.

“Oh! The gorget!” Morgan cries out.

“The what?” James asks perplexed, Wahya’s display making no sense to him.

“The gorget! Oh no! Where is it?!”

}}}-----> * <-----{{{

}}}-----> WAHYA <-----{{{

“Finally, you get it!” Wahya breathes, “I have to find my gorget!”

Wahya feels a tiny bit of relief when Morgan motions that she knows what he’s talking about, her exclamation and expression clearly showing some sort of recognition.

“Dumb, dumb, dumb! I got so caught up in all this, I completely forgot about it - and I never go anywhere without it!” He already hoped they didn’t think he was an idiot, not knowing their language, or what most of their stuff was, but now he admonishes himself for making himself look like a nitwit for sure.

He remembers putting it in the pocket of the white robe Morgan had given him for the chilly air earlier. Since the cordage that had secured it around his neck before his fall in the trees was gone, he’d figured the pocket was the most secure place to keep it at the time.

“It’s probably still there. Great Spirit, I wish I could talk to these people properly! Communicating with them is definitely a great test of wills!”

Morgan is obviously describing the gorget to James, using her hands while she’s talking to make the shape of the gorget, proceeding to stab the air with two fingers, he figures to represent the two drilled holes in the middle. “It’s a good thing she talks with her hands, even when speaking to someone who understands her language.”

James frowns, Wahya assumes because he probably hadn’t seen the gorget at all. Wahya isn’t sure where James put the thin white robe he changed out of in the restroom earlier, but he’s sure that’s where the gorget is.

Tapping Morgan’s shoulder, he tries to remind her about when she gave him the robe, and rubs his arms pretending to be cold, then mimicking how he’d put on the robe, shoving his hands down his side to the pockets in the black shorts he’s wearing.

To his relief, Morgan again catches on, turns to James, “The lab coat! He had it in the pocket of the lab coat!”

“Oh! I put the coat in my duffel bag so I wouldn’t forget it while we were figuring out the bathroom. It’s in my car now, but we can go get it.”

Again, wishing he knew what they were saying, Wahya waits patiently. From James’ actions and expression, he knows the Spirit-Man understands now and he feels a little more positive about the possibility that they’ll find his gorget.

Then a sudden flicker of fear creeps into his mind - what if they had tried to make him forget about the stone so they could keep it for themselves?! The Traveler had told him it contained special magic, after all. He still wasn’t sure about Morgan’s intentions when she initially picked it up and wanted him to return it to her after he’d taken it from her when they first met. But he shakes his head and pushes the thought aside quickly. So far, neither of them have proven to be malicious, and as he has no other friends here, he decides he will have to trust them until proven otherwise.

“That other guy though...,” Wahya also tries to push his negative thoughts away about the one Morgan calls Emory from his mind, too, unsure why the man bothers him so deeply. But it had been obvious from both James’ and Morgan’s body language that neither care much for Emory either, and so he feels somewhat justified as he drops the subject from his mind.

Apparently ready to go find the gorget and lab coat, Morgan pulls him from his thoughts, leading the way back to her office to gather her things. He notes that as they leave each room, Morgan touches a panel on the walls near the doorways. At her touch, the sick sunlight coming from the ceiling stops shining!

“Whoa! They must have a way of saving the sunlight, and when they don’t need it, they somehow contain it until they need it again later! Wait until I tell Father!”

Earlier, when Wahya thought that he was dead for sure, he had put all ideas of seeing his family and people again out of his mind. But now that he isn’t so sure that this was The Afterlife after all, and now that James and Morgan have brought him to revisit the wall where he entered this world, a sliver of hope has appeared in his heart and mind. “Perhaps they think I will be able to return to my own world!” Thinking about his people, he wonders, “What will our Medicine Man, Black Raven think about all of this?!”

Morgan locks the door to the lab behind them, and they make their way downstairs, through the atrium, and to the parking lot outside. The rain is gone, and the sun struggles to peek through the gray cloud cover.

Wahya forgets about the gorget momentarily as they reach the staff parking lot where he gets his first view of the modern invention called the automobile. Several people are coming and going as they drive through the lot, and others are getting into their cars, or loading themselves with books and other stuff on their way to their classrooms.

His brain is so full of new concepts already, but this technology has to be the grandest so far. James is ahead of them, aiming for his Land Rover, but Wahya’s feet are firmly planted on the sidewalk.

“It’s okay, Wahya,” Morgan promises, as she tries to motion for him to follow her. He’s heard her soothing words so many times today, and though he’s still not exactly sure what she’s saying, he knows these particular words are meant to calm and reassure. And that’s exactly what her voice, along with the light touch of her hand on his arm, do - reassure him that everything will be okay.

He takes a breath, telling himself, “I’m Adatlisvi Wahya after all, and while the Wolf would be cautious, he would not be afraid.”

“Come on!” Morgan prods again, “Let’s go see if that gorget is in the lab coat.” She pulls him gently and he steps off the sidewalk, which seems to be made from a very dry, hardened gray clay of some sort, onto a much blacker surface, full of small rocks, but still very solid.

He’s never seen such ground before, and amazement overcomes him as he takes in all the perfect lines where the pavement, sidewalks, and perfectly manicured grass meet. “Nature never grows as straight or perfectly in my world, as things do here! Even their rocks and clay formations are in perfect alignment.”

Reaching James just as he opens the back door of his SUV, Wahya marvels at the bright metallic-red vehicle. Touching the side, he catches Morgan’s attention, and asks her in Tsalagi, “What is this?”

“Ca-r. Car.” She responds, having figured out when he’s asking about something new. “This is how we get to places quickly or travel long distance.”

“Ca-r.” Wahya tests the word on his tongue.

“Yes, car!” Morgan smiles that big pretty smile he likes to see when she’s showing him something new from her world, which he realizes has been pretty often so far.

Bringing their attention back to the issue at hand, James exclaims as he holds up the worn stone artifact, “Ah-ha! Is this it?”

Both Wahya and Morgan happily cheer in their respective languages while James studies the gorget momentarily, having seen them in pictures or on display in museums, but never handling one. Handing it to Morgan, he continues speaking with her, and Wahya is suddenly left in the dark, contemplating James’ actions. “Why did he give it to her? It’s mine, not hers.”

Morgan must sense his discomfort about not being given the gorget as she realizes that he’s blanked out their unintelligible conversation, his eyes boring into the stone. She gives him a tiny smile, holding the gorget out for him to take, “I guess you want to hold onto this for now.”

He relaxes, hoping that they didn’t want to keep his good luck gorget, and now feeling the pit in the bottom of his stomach easing up now that the gorget is safely on his person again. Looking between the two of them, Wahya nods his thanks, “Wado [Thank you], Morgan. Wado, James.”

Despite the language differences, both Morgan and James seem to understand his intent, and the atmosphere between the three of them feels more uplifted, having settled the whereabouts of the gorget. When he securely pockets the stone in the shorts he’s borrowed from James, a look of slight concern sweeps Morgan’s brows, but is gone so quickly that he barely notices.

At this point, James pulls the magic window box from his pocket, but this time puts the device up to his ear and begins to talk as though he’s conversing with someone, much to Wahya’s confused surprise. Wahya can tell he isn’t talking to either him or Morgan, and as no one else is around them, and he wonders at the strange behavior. Morgan watches James intently, but doesn’t seem to find his actions odd. When James finally removes the object from his ear, Morgan and he talk some more, seeming to come to an agreement of sorts, leaving Wahya completely in the dark. He doesn’t like not knowing what’s going on, and yet that’s all he’s felt for the last several hours.

Suddenly, James climbs into the driver’s seat of his car, putting his hands on the large black ring in front of him and giving Morgan and him a friendly smile, “See you later, Wahya! Six o’clock, Morgan - see you then!”

With fascination, Wahya watches as James closes the door of the car, effectively shutting himself up inside the odd contraption, then proceeds to start the engine. And while it’s not very loud, it’s startling to someone who doesn’t expect it, and Wahya jumps back in cautious surprise. “If I did not know better, I would have thought it just growled! These ‘cars’ are not alive, yet they makes sounds and move like animals.”

He watches with awe as James drives slowly through the parking lot, then pulling out onto the main street, speeds out of sight. James was obviously comfortable with the idea of riding inside the car, and a sudden thrill overcomes the brave who had impulsively jumped off a cliff only this morning. “That just might be kind of fun! To be able to really go as fast as a running wolf would be amazing!” Then he thinks, “Perhaps I would not have had to jump if I had a ‘car’ when the Iroquois hunters found us!”

Morgan grabs his attention again, nodding her head towards another car closer to the building, smaller than James’ and shiny black, the still-wet exterior glistening from the earlier rain.

As she begins walking to it, Wahya can’t help but be impressed, “Whoa!”

She smiles, in what he’s learning is her part mischievous, part fun smile - a smile that hints of just a bit of flirtiness. She uses it whenever she’s going to have him try something surprising - like the Coke.

“Wanna go for a spin?!” She asks in her language, her tone matching her smile.

He trusts her completely, returning her smile with one of his own - one with a teasing twinkle and a hint of daring reflecting back at her, as if to say that he’s game to take her up on whatever it is she has in mind. Especially if it has anything to do with a car!

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