The Artifact (Book 2, Time Series)

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Chapter Twenty-Three: Back to the Lab

July 2023
University of Richmond
Richmond City, Virginia

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

They pull into the sparsely filled staff parking lot of the university and Wahya points out James’ red Land Rover, easily recognizing the bold-colored SUV parked closer to the building.

“I bet James would take you for a spin in it if you ask. I’ll help you out with that, okay?!” Wahya doesn’t answer, but Morgan plans to ask James about giving them a ride anyways. Heck, she’d been wanting to see what James’ new car was like for a while now, and she’s sure Wahya would have fun.

Striding inside, they make their way upstairs to the Archaeology Lab, only to find the door unlocked. Puzzled, Morgan remembers securing it yesterday when she’d left with James and Wahya for the day. Slowly, she opens the door, even more surprised to find Emory at the washing table, scrubbing some sort of dirt-covered artifact with a toothbrush over a tub of water.

“Emory! What are you doing here? It’s Tuesday!” She asks with more surprise than accusation, not remembering any other Tuesday that he’d worked before now.

“Hey! Yeah, I don’t have a lot going on this week and thought I’d volunteer some extra time. I figured if I washed this stuff up from the Church Yard project, then you could start cataloging it all sooner.” He can’t help but see Wahya’s towering figure come in behind Morgan and points his chin towards them, glancing quickly at Wahya before addressing Morgan again, “I see your friend’s still in town. I’m surprised you came in today; I thought you’d be taking time off?”

Confused for a second, having forgotten that Wahya is supposed to be a foreign friend come to visit, Morgan hesitates before replying, “Oh yeah, I actually am off today. But Samantha wanted me to check some stuff out for her, so I’m only here for a little bit.”

“Ah,” Emory nods, setting the old toothbrush down on the edge of the small washtub and wiping his hands with a paper towel. “How’s she doing? Probably going crazy with the baby, huh?!”

Morgan laughs stiffly, wishing Emory weren’t here now - the less he knows, the better. “Yeah, she’s got a little bit of cabin fever, but otherwise is doing good. But, um, we’re just gonna head on back to Dr. Clark’s office, okay?” She turns, motioning to her foreign-friend, “Wahya, we’re going this way.”

Emory gives Wahya - who’s wearing normal clothes today - a cursory ‘what’s up’ nod and goes back to scrubbing the rusty nails he’d been attacking with the brush earlier. The brave, on the other hand, now knowing for sure that Emory isn’t involved romantically with Morgan, returns his own look of masculine sizing-up before following Morgan out of the lab and into the storage room in which they’d originally met.

Morgan ushers them quickly past the time portal wall, a tinge of apprehension in both of their paces. Guiding Wahya into Dr. Clark’s office, she closes the door behind them, hoping that would ensure Emory couldn’t hear them, despite how far away in the lab he is at the moment.

“You can have a seat if you want,” Morgan motions to one of the chairs in front of the professor’s desk, and Wahya goes ahead and sits in the chair closest to the small window overlooking the parking lot. Seating herself in the professor’s chair, she picks up the note with Ned Billings’ number from the desk where she’d left it yesterday, dialing out from the office phone.

“Hello?” A man’s voice answers after a few rings.

“Hi! This is Morgan Walters from the RCU Archaeology Lab. I’m looking for Ned Billings?”

“Oh, hello! This is Ned.”

Within a few minutes, Morgan has explained to the local farmer that the stone gorget he’d found is quite unique to the area, and learns that it was accidentally found in a small wooded area just off one of the main fields on his property. Successfully setting up a two-o’clock appointment for later today so that she and her colleagues - to include Wahya - can see exactly where he found it, she says her goodbye’s, “Thank you so much, sir! We’ll see you then!”

Glancing over at Wahya, who’s since gotten up to browse around the old professor’s office, his hands comfortably behind his back so as not to touch anything, she starts to dial Samantha’s number to tell her that they can pick her up at one-o’clock, if James makes it home in time.

Samantha answers, apologizing for not seeing them for breakfast and asking if they’d slept alright before Morgan can get to the subject at hand. She can hear Melia cooing in the background as Samantha replies regarding their afternoon appointment, “Yeah, James should be home by noon. Do you guys want to have lunch here? I accidentally made too much potato salad, and I have plenty of bratwurst and sandwich fixings.”

“Yeah, that would be great!” Morgan replies happily, “I was thinking I didn’t want to take Wahya to the cafeteria again since we’re supposed to be keeping him away from crowds and germs but didn’t think about bringing a lunch either.”

“Great!” Then Samantha turns the subject back as she proceeds to change Melia’s diaper, “I know I don’t have to ask, but you’ve got the gorget, right?”

“Well, Wahya has it. But I’ve brought him, so yeah, I’ve got it.”

Samantha laughs, “Ah, the ‘Gorget Keeper!’ Well, I’d like Mr. Billings to take a look at it to be sure it seems the same as it did when he brought it to Dr. Clark.”

Morgan pauses, puzzled, “What do you mean? It looks exactly like it did when I got it from Dr. Clark’s office yesterday morning.”

“I don’t know... I’m probably just reaching, but I thought that maybe if it really is an artifact that Wahya knows from his own time period, maybe the time warp altered it somehow.” She pauses, “Well, I guess that doesn’t make much sense; he didn’t bring it thought with him, just seemed to recognize it... Like I said, I’m trying to find a connection, I’m just not seeing one.”

“No, that’s alright; it’s good to talk it out,” Morgan replies. “We have to keep an open mind because we have no idea how any of this happened, or really even what happened, and who knows what connections we’ll find. If Wahya came from hundreds of years ago like we think, and the gorget was something he actually had during that time period, and Mr. Billings somehow found it now, we both know that the gorget should look a little different now. At least more worn, right?”

“Yep, that’s true,” Samantha affirms. “But really, what are the chances that Wahya had this exact gorget in his own time period and it ended up all the way in Redwater. Then he ended up here and they both somehow show up at the lab simultaneously - albeit via different routes?!”

Morgan laughs. The whole thing sounds so incredulous, yet they have nothing better to go on. “I need to see about downloading a Cherokee translation app or something so we can ask Wahya some questions. But in the meantime, I’ll see what sort of information I can gather about gorgets to present to Mr. Billings this afternoon.”

“Good,” Samantha replies. “And if things look favorable on his end, we’ll see if he’ll let us do a little reconnaissance excavating to see what else might be there.”

“Do you want me to bring a shovel and screen? I didn’t think we’d be doing anything like that today?!”

“Oh, no, not today. It’ll be too late in the day for digging. But bring some bags along in case we happen to see any surface finds sitting on the ground though. We can plan a dig for another day.”

“Alright! I guess that’s all I’ve got for now,” Morgan finishes writing down the supplies she’s going to need to gather. “We’ll see you around noon then for lunch?”

“Definitely!”

As Morgan hangs up the phone, she sends James a quick text, confirming that he’ll officially be on baby-duty this afternoon. At the same time, Wahya sits again in the chair across the desk, apparently waiting for her. She has to admire his patience though he seems a bit fidgety. “He’s probably bored out of his mind.”

Turning her attention to him now, she asks, “The gorget, Wahya. Can I borrow it, please?” She makes the shape of the stone pendant with her hands over her chest, and Wahya digs it from his pocket, handing it to her with curiosity.

“Thanks.” Taking it, Morgan turns the smoothed stone over, examining every detail. Not that she’d had a chance to keep it long enough to memorize the details of it herself, she doesn’t necessarily see anything different about it. Taking out her phone, she finds a penny in the desk’s drawer and lays both the gorget and coin on the oak desktop. Using the coin for sizing, she takes several photos of both sides of the gorget, thinking about what Samantha had said. It needed to be photographed anyways for record’s sake, but Morgan reasons that if Samantha’s ruminations are anywhere near correct, then they’d want a record of any changes that might be occurring to the gorget as well.

Wahya watches her closely, his interest in what’s she’s up to apparent as he scoots to the edge of the chair, leaning over the desk. Wishing she could explain both photography and their thoughts about the gorget and his being here, Morgan decides that showing him the pictures she just took would have to suffice for now.

“Photo.” She gives him the word, and then takes a quick snapshot of him across from her, smiling as she turns the screen to show him his own picture. “And here’s a photo of you!

Her smile grows as Wahya’s expression goes from confused to amazed in a matter of seconds, as he takes in his own image on the screen. Leaning her elbows on the desk, she points the phone towards the window so he can see the screen and taps the photo button, making the screen flicker momentarily before reverting back to normal. Poking the photo gallery button, she shows him the image she just took, and Wahya nods his understanding.

“Do you wanna take a photo?” She asks, putting the phone back on camera mode and holding it out to him. He looks at her hesitantly, and she nods, pushing the device towards him again. “It’s okay, you try!”

He grasps the phone awkwardly and she takes his hand, helping his to place the phone in his palm comfortably. “Okay, then chose something you want to take a picture of,” she motions around the room and Wahya points the phone towards the antique globe sitting on the bookshelf in the corner.

“Good!” Morgan encourages, “Now just tap the button” She points at the green circle at the bottom of the screen, and Wahya tentatively touches the glass. Nothing happens and he begins to hand the phone back to her.

“No, you have to press it a little harder.” She ushers him to point it at the globe again, then grabs hold of his other hand so that she’s guiding his index finger to the screen. He swallows heavily as she presses his finger firmly, but not too firmly on the touchscreen, and the image flashes properly this time.

Releasing her hold on his hand, Morgan straightens, “There! You did it!” She pokes the photo gallery view and Wahya’s globe photo appears on the screen to his amazement. She giggles when he utters some sort of elated comment, and then she points to the button so that he can get back to the camera, motioning for him to try it again. Once he’s gotten the hang of it, she lets him roam the office while she goes back to examining the gorget then beginning a search on the professor’s computer to print up some information to give Mr. Billings about gorgets in general.

After a while, Wahya pulls her from her research, a look of frustration and urgency on his face, and the uncertainty of how to express the problem, “Morgan...”

“What’s wrong?” She asks, thinking something happened with the camera app and she reaches for the phone. He hands it over to her, but shakes his head as she starts examining it, not sure what the problem would be as everything looked normal enough.”

He rubs his face in frustration, and in return Morgan furrows her brows, wishing she could read his mind. “See, this is where a dictionary would come in handy! What’s wrong?”

“Ba... B-,” he tries to say, closing his eyes in concentration, focusing to remember the right word, and mumbling his frustrations in Cherokee. Finally, he opens his eyes and almost shouts as he remembers, “Bath! Bath...”

“Bath?” Morgan echoes confused as he tries to remember the rest of the word. But realization dawns on her, his urgency speaking volumes in conjunction with the half-word.

“Oh! Bathroom!” Morgan cries.

“Vv [Yes]! Bath-room!” Wahya blows out a big breath and Morgan laughs as she stands, opening the office door.

“Come on, I’ll show you where the bathroom is! I guess you’ve never been to the ones up here, only downstairs!” Leaving Dr. Clark’s office, Morgan pockets her phone, quickly walking them down the corridor, back towards the lab, and to the restrooms situated across from one another. Wahya hurriedly closes the door behind him, and Morgan smiles remembering that the rule of thumb when in a foreign place, is to always learn how to ask for the bathroom first. “Well that and how to order food!”

Momentarily, he emerges, a look of relief on his face and Morgan laughs, “Now you know how I felt this morning trying to explain the toothbrush bit! Communication is tough! But I guess we’re even now!”

Wahya’s handsome smile permeates the distance between them and he says a most grateful, “Wado.” Morgan blushes slightly. With his warm eyes on her and the memory of his intimate ‘thank you’ earlier still with her, she looks at her watch to break the moment between them.

“Well, we have to get some supplies together before we go, but we have a little time. I can show you some artifacts you might be interested in!”

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