The Artifact (Book 2, Time Series)

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Chapter Nine: A New Take on American Food

July 2023
University of Richmond
Richmond City, Virginia

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

Wahya had been thrilled to step outside on their way from the Anthropology wing to the next-door cafeteria, if only for a momentary dash in the drizzling rain to reach the popular eatery. When they enter the bustling space, Morgan senses Wahya’s apprehension of the crowd, and she tries to make him feel at ease by distracting his attention to food options instead of the college students.

“Yeah, we’ll take two cheeseburger combos, both with fries,” Morgan tells the lady across the sneeze shield at the cafeteria’s burger bar.

Looking up at Wahya next to her in the tray line, she smiles, “Here’s introducing you to real modern American food!”

He glances down at her before his attention flies back to the events happening on the other side of the counter. If Morgan were in doubt that he wasn’t from her world, his reactions to every little thing in the lunchroom would be proof enough.

After picking up their orders at the end of the line Morgan leads them to the soda fountain where Wahya receives his first lesson in ice in the summertime. She has no idea what flavors he might like, but figures since Coke is a worldwide favorite, it would make for a good start. Putting straws through both of their lids, Morgan sets his cup on his tray and they make their way to a table off to the side, next to the ceiling-to-floor window overlooking a gardenesque area between the cafeteria and the next building - the rain relentlessly coming down.

Dressed like the average university patron, no one pays much attention to Wahya, much to Morgan’s relief. As excited as she is to show him her world, she’s a little anxious about whether or not he’ll like what he sees, and how he’ll be treated in return. She knows people can be quite cruel to outsiders and those who are different. Putting those thoughts aside for now, she picks up her hamburger, showing him the proper technique, and takes a bite.

Wahya follows suit, and she watches him intently for a reaction, hoping he likes the food. He chews the first bite carefully, determining the combination of bread, beef, cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce, onion, tomato, and pickles is actually good, then takes another large bite hungrily.

“Good? Mmmm?” Morgan asks as she giggles lightly at his enthusiastic appetite and apparent newfound love of cheeseburgers, at which he nods taking another bite ferociously. “Don’t forget about the fries!” She reminds him, pointing to the potatoes.

She wonders when he ate last, having finished his burger in under five minutes. Tentatively, he takes a small sip of the Coke after watching how she used her straw to suck up the liquid. He seemingly likes the taste, though is obviously intrigued by the bubbles. Morgan is just about to warn him about drinking it too fast, but thirst overwhelms him, and Wahya proceeds to drain a fair amount of the beverage in one long gulp.

Morgan bites her lip as she watches, seeing the moment when that oh-so familiar burn hits his throat on its way to his stomach as his eyes go wide. She can’t help but grin at his surprise, then waits, as she knows what usually happens next, unable to warn him. Sure enough, the carbonated liquid gathers force inside Wahya’s stomach, and the hungry brave lets out what is probably one of the largest belches he’s ever had.

Unable to stop herself, Morgan tries hard to stifle her giggle as his expression turns to sudden astonishment. “Oh, I’m sorry! I should have warned you earlier!” She wails in return.

Her laughter is contagious though and soon Wahya laughs, too, reveling in the new experiences. Morgan hadn’t had this much fun eating lunch in forever, and she’s glad that Wahya seems to trust her enough to be able to enjoy himself as well. She can’t imagine how she would feel in his place, suddenly in a new world, unsure if you’re safe or not.

Time flies despite the lack of solid conversation, and their lunch hour is up quickly. The rain has stopped for a moment, and they decide to walk slowly back to the Anthropology Department to meet James. Wahya takes a deep breath in the outdoor air, and much to Morgan’s surprise, scrunches up his nose, furrowing his brows.

“This air smells bad,” he says in Tsalagi.

Judging by the tone of his words and expression, she easily guesses his meaning and takes an equally deep breath in, trying to discern what odor he’s picking up. Sniffing the air again, unable to pick up anything unusual or bad herself, she shrugs and says, “Smells like rain to me. It always smells like this.”

Then she realizes with mortification that today’s world - full of industrial cities, automobiles, and whatever else we put into the air - probably smells completely different than it would have before pollution.

“Well, that’s depressing!” She thinks to herself, her happy-bubble suddenly popping and reality setting in. Morgan begins to think about all the things that have changed with industrialism and ‘progress,’ and wonders how we got so far off in ruining the environment.

The other reality that hits her is the fact that Wahya isn’t just a visitor from some foreign country. No, he’s vulnerable to today’s world. “God, think about what happened to the Native Americans when the Europeans came to the Americas! How many thousands were killed unintentionally just from diseases alone brought over! And I just dragged him into a cafeteria full of germs he’s never been introduced to or inoculated against!”

Her expression sobers as she waves him into the other building, finding James waiting on a bench in the atrium. “Sorry we’re a little late. We finally got outside and took a minute to breathe.”

“No problem.” James states as he stands to meet them. “I just got here. So, are you ready to investigate this wall?!”

“Yeah,” Morgan nods. Then interjects, “Um, just one thing though.”

James waits for her to continue, “Do you think it’s safe for him to be running around? I mean, what about all the germs and diseases that our bodies are used to, that he’s not got immunity against?”

The young professor’s face turns a little more serious, “Well, it’s a little too late to quarantine him completely now, but you’re probably right. He shouldn’t be exposed to too many people and public places if our time traveler theory is correct.”

As the three stand in the atrium, James continues, “Speaking of people and places, what were your plans for him after you got off work? Like where he’s going to stay until whatever...?”

Morgan’s eyes go wide as she hadn’t even considered what they were going to do after investigating the wall with James. She glances at Wahya who’s looking out the expansive window watching students make their way to classes, oblivious to the conversation behind him.

“Um, I suppose he could... Well, he can’t stay here at the school, and I don’t think a hotel would be a good idea.” She thinks for a second then blurts out, “I have my own place! I could take him back home with me. And he’d be more-less quarantined there, since I’m pretty secluded.”

James gives her a seriously contemplative look, “You sure that’s a good idea? You living by yourself and all? Strange guy you don’t really know... You know?”

She side-glances at Wahya again, then makes up her mind, “Well, besides you, no one else even knows about him. And I couldn’t ask you guys to take him in, not with the new baby and all!” Then, she lowers her voice, “Plus, if he was going to hurt me, he had plenty of opportunity before I came to find you.”

James thinks for a moment, “Well, let’s put that aside for now and go check out the wall. Perhaps we’ll have an answer to everything up there and we won’t even have to worry about it.”

Morgan nods, hoping that Wahya can easily go back to his own time, as he probably has a family and friends worrying about him there. But a tiny part of her hopes that he can stay in her time just a while longer, she hadn’t even scratched the surface of his mysteries.

Not only is he fascinating just for the mere fact that he came through some vortex, in the lab of all places, but trying to unravel his mystery has been far more exciting than cataloging old pieces of broken glass and ceramics, she thinks to herself. Even more than that, though, Morgan finds that she’s having a good time spending time with him, despite the language barrier. “He’s nothing like I would have expected someone from the past to act like - scared or upset. He’s really trying to work with us and seems... nice. Imagine what he’d be like if we could talk normally.”

Then she smirks to herself, glancing back at him still examining his surroundings, his toned back to her, muscles easily visible through the thin cotton top, “And he’s pretty nice to look at - with and without clothes!”

“Come on, Wahya.” James calls to their guest. Then to the hypnotized lab manager, “Morgan. Morgan...?”

She snaps out of her daydreaming, leading the way back upstairs to the Archaeology Lab.

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