The Artifact (Book 2, Time Series)

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Chapter Four: When Worlds Collide

July 2023
University of Richmond
Richmond City, Virginia

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

Morgan examines the unique artifact as she walks back to her office, the curious stone gorget riding neatly in the tiny acid-free cardboard box Professor Clark had left it in for her. Her eyes eat up the details of the slightly shiny, grey-toned stone and she can’t wait to get it under her magnifying glass.

Coming out of the Professor’s office, she makes her way through the largest of the storage and study rooms, passing several rows of long tables stacked with various artifacts in different stages of processing. Making her way to the end of the room, her peripheral view catches the familiar framed poster of the Archaeology Department’s first field school session back in 1967.

She’s walked this route so many times she could do it with her eyes closed, yet she glances up at the wall directly ahead preparing to take a left towards her office. Something’s off - the poster seems to be moving. She takes a double look. The poster is stable, but a translucent and smoky haze seems to be emanating from around it.

As she slowly approaches the anomaly, the haze suddenly transforms into a giant cloud of fog covering the expanse of the wall height and erupting in a billowing burst, extending a couple of feet into the room, and causing her to jump back in shock.

At that moment, a large, solid mass flies out from the center of the fog and the air is suddenly pushed from her lungs as the object completely knocks her over onto her back, hitting the floor hard. Not having time to scream, Morgan instead lets out a loud, “OOMPH!”

It takes but a couple of seconds for her vision to begin to focus and Morgan concentrates on the source of her fall - the large mass that has her body trapped underneath it.

“It’s a person!” She exclaims in her head.

They’re so close their noses are almost touching, yet the face above her looks as though it were preparing for another hit, eyes shut tightly, waiting. Finally, the features relax, and his eyes open slowly. Long, black hair partially covers his face, hanging messily down onto her own. Beads of sweat mark his forehead - a couple trickling down his masculine chiseled cheekbones. But most notable are his dark, ebony eyes peering into hers.

Her glasses had been knocked off in the collision, but she doesn’t need them to see that this was a man, and from her perspective, a good looking, though exerted one at that.

Completely blindsided by the sudden impact, Morgan doesn’t know what to do - a bit shocked and jarred from the fall, and unable to comprehend how a man just tumbled out of the wall.

Focusing on the immediate moment, she’s a little unnerved by his stare - something about the way his eyes penetrate into her as though he’s ready to fight, along with something else - an intensity that sucks her in. And then his breathing gives him an even greater intensity - heavy as if he’d just run a marathon.

She stares back at him, hoping to God that he doesn’t intend to hurt her, then notices his distinct odor; he needs to bathe badly. There’s sweat, for sure. But hidden under that, an earthy smell that reminds her of archaeology and digging in the moist forest. And something else - a smokiness. Not like cigarettes or cigars, but like a campfire during a cookout, with hints of cooking meat and even leather. If it weren’t for the sweaty-smell, she’d almost say he smelled savory and decidedly masculine.

“Uh... You’re squooshing me!” She finally manages to huff out.

Finally, he releases his gaze and looks up, pushing his body up as though to stand, but freezing again before getting further than a few inches above her. The change in his expression catches her attention - going from ferocious to confused, and now to fearful. Deciding to chance it she asks in as normal a tone as she can muster, “Are you okay?”

He looks back at her, the confused look growing as his hair tickles her face. Then, without a word, he quickly jumps to his feet and looks to his waist, obviously searching for something that seems to be missing.

Propping herself on her forearms in preparation to stand herself, Morgan’s vision catches the wall directly in front of her. Her attention, is quickly removed from the man and sets on the large, dark hole where the stranger had come from. The dark recess billows with glowing smoke-like yellow and pink fog that covers the drywall from floor to ceiling. The only thing she can do is utter an amazed “Whoa!”

Then, as though it was never there, the emanating cloud is silently vacuumed back into the opening as the wall and poster solidify again within a matter of seconds.

“Oh my God!” Morgan is shocked and a bit shaken, as she sits up completely. Turning to face the man, whose stance seems just as apprehensive as she feels, Morgan finally realizes that he’s almost naked. Her eyes grow wide, and she instinctively adverts her gaze in an attempt not to stare.

“Oohhh!” She exclaims in surprise, rising slowly and trying not to look directly at the stranger, who stands very still, watching her warily. When he doesn’t say anything, she hesitantly asks, “Uh, are you okay? Are you hurt?”

He doesn’t answer, but his stance says he’s ready to fight, waiting for her to make a move. She feels a bit weird - as if her 5-foot 2-inch self could even attempt to attack his much larger 6-foot tall frame. In a show of good faith, Morgan holds up her hands to show she means no harm, then peers over to look him in the eye, avoiding his nether regions, trying to get her head around the situation.

“What was that? Where did you come from?!” A number of things run through her mind, including the possibility of extraterrestrials and other dimensions. But a fear of him is not one of those things, and she’s not exactly sure why, nor takes the time to analyze it.

He, in turn, simply stares at her with apprehension, his breathing not quite as heavy as before, but still hard. Fear is certainly on his mind.

“Just act normal,” Morgan tells herself. Not one to panic anyways, she tries to put him at ease, moving to pick up her glasses from the floor, placing them on top of her head, out of the way and safe, yet accessible if she needs them.

But as soon as she picks up the stone gorget that had tumbled during the collision, the stranger surprisingly storms over to her, grabs the smoothed stone from her fingers, and says something irritably and unintelligible before returning to his place near the wall, not far from where the hole had appeared.

His speech is definitely not English, she decides quickly, though his tone and expression says that he’s angry - no translation needed. She raises her eyebrows, then replies in an even, but surprised and irritated tone herself, “Excuse me?!”

His attitude and actions over the object that doesn’t belong to him bother her, and without thinking she defensively forgets her shyness regarding his lack of clothing and straightens herself to her full, though short, height, looking directly up at his angry face a few feet away, with a scowl of her own.

He backs up slightly, a look of wariness and distrust on his face, making Morgan feel slightly disarmed. Taking him in again, she sees just how disheveled he is - his broad and muscular abdomen, arms, and legs are covered with streaks of dirt and cuts as though he’d been in an accident or something traumatic. He stands holding the gorget as though it were a prized possession. Turning his focus on it, he rubs the object with his fingers and turns it over in careful examination.

For the moment that he’s not paying attention to her, Morgan runs her gaze down the length of his body to examine the one piece of clothing he is wearing. “He’s definitely pulling off the historic Native American vibe what with the long hair, dark reddish skin tone, facial features, and the leather breechcloth!”

As a hot-blooded woman, she has to admire his lean and muscled figure, and the breechcloth doesn’t leave much to the imagination, her thoughts making her blush as she adverts her eyes quickly back to his face after a hot moment, “Whooo, where in the world did he come from?! And why in hell is he dressed like that!?”

Clearing her throat, trying to un-fluster herself, she motions to the gorget and utters the first thing that comes to mind, “I’m going to need that back. It doesn’t belong to me and I need to return it to its owner.”

Her voice draws the stranger’s attention again, and he looks at her, then at the rest of the large, cluttered room with apprehension, as though searching for a way out and his brows furrow as he looks at her again before speaking once more in that deep, commanding voice and backing up flat against the wall. Obviously he’s scared, but is trying to be intimidating she decides.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t understand what you’re saying,” Morgan shakes her head, trying to make him understand that she doesn’t know his language. “Uh, habla Español?”

His fervent words just tell her that he doesn’t understand English or Spanish. After a silent moment, she summons up her courage and approaches him, holding her hand out, asking him to hand over the gorget - she needed it back. Surprisingly, he cringes at her approach, pressing his body even closer against the wall, squeezing his eyes shut.

Morgan pauses, unsure of what he’s afraid of, though she’s sure his fear is genuine. In a calmer voice she says softly, “It’s okay. No one is going to hurt you.”

Under normal circumstances, she probably wouldn’t have done so, but she feels an overwhelming need to put him at ease, and reaches out to touch his massive arm. Softening her expression and taking a breath, she says calmly, “You’re safe here.”

The man opens his eyes, looking to where her fingers touch him, then studies her intently. She smiles softly at him, trying to make him understand that she isn’t a threat. Slowly he breathes a little easier and relaxes his tense muscles a little. Morgan removes her hand from his forearm, repeating, “It’s okay.”

She tries to determine what to do with him - should she call the hospital or the police station? Neither seem right.

“What if he’s from outer space?! He looks pretty human, but so did some of them on ‘Star Trek.’” Thoughts of the government running horrid tests on the poor little alien from ‘ET the Extraterrestrial’ flash through her mind and she doesn’t like the idea of that either.

She realizes that he’s clutching the gorget as though it were an amulet of protection, and her mind starts running through the facts she has, “He’s dressed like a historic Native American. He doesn’t speak English or Spanish. And the gorget is definitely a Native American artifact - maybe it’s familiar to him.”

Then she considers the wall, “It opened up some kind of a portal, spit him out, then closed again.”

Going to the location where the hole had been, Morgan examines it visually, concentration furrowing her brow - there’s no markings or evidence of damage. While the man watches her carefully, she takes the poster down, leaning the frame against a table, then runs her hand over the drywall. There’s nothing out of the ordinary. Hanging the poster again, Morgan stands back considering what could have happened.

Looking at the man, she asks casually and rhetorically, “You saw that, right?” She waves her arms in front of the wall trying to emulate the cloudy hole to demonstrate her question, but doesn’t receive any acknowledgment in return.

His distinct vulnerability gives her a sense of trust and pity for him that surprises her, and she wants him to trust her. “He doesn’t seem like he understands where he’s at and he looks scared to death. What if he was abducted by aliens and they just threw him here?! But if he was abducted, where in the world would they have picked him up from?! Modern Native Americans speak English and definitely don’t go around wearing THAT anymore!”

“Ah-ha!” She exclaims suddenly, causing the stranger to jump as she excitedly sorts through her thoughts aloud. “You were abducted in the past, and with time continuums and space travel, you haven’t aged over the hundreds of years that have passed on Earth. Maybe you were even frozen all this time?!”

She flashes him a smile, “Only one way to find out. We’ve got to talk!”

More calmly, but with excitement still filling her eyes, Morgan forms her words slow, “What is your name?”

To her surprise he says something in return, a bit less fear in his voice, though she’s not necessarily sure if he understood her question or is asking one of his own. Trying again, she points to herself and says slowly, “Mor-gan. Morgan.”

She points to him with a questioning look, then points to herself again and repeats her own name.

“Mog -an,” the man replies, and Morgan smiles and nods, knowing that he’s tracking her thought process now.

“Mor... gan,” she says again, emphasizing the ‘r’ this time.

“Mor,” he tries this time, and she nods, repeating her name slowly again.

This time he gets it right, uttering the syllables perfectly, yet slowly. Morgan is ecstatic and beams with a bigger smile, nodding emphatically, “Yes, I am Morgan!”

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