Each time with Danica donning a pair of surgical gloves to check her flags when she spotted him in her proximity and Hayden holding his special permit aloft when standing near the flags.
She rolled her eyes every time.
After a while, she did find it a bit funny. Not many men would pay good money to purchase and memorialize on a government document his bad first impression.
She forgave him after week three. She would never tell him though, knowing the smug little grin that would follow it.
Danica did pass by Hayden’s camp one afternoon as she was doing some sample cuttings and saw for the first time his work space. It was an aluminum shack situated to the side of a large well cared for denim tent. The work structure was eight feet cubed with an angled roof for water run-off. He was at the side door, seated on a tripod stool with a wooden sand sifter for manually breaking up chunks of piled soil he scooped in, shaking it gently, allowing the finer bits to drop through the wire mesh and letting the larger pieces remain for examination.
Hayden looked up, spotted her and waved her over, offering a tour.
She politely declined with a smooth tilt of her hand.
He winked and resumed his work.
Later in the day, on her second pass, with her return to her camp, this time passing closer, she asked him why no locks on the shack door.
He casually replied. “Most thieves have little interest in old pottery shards, animal bones and dried shit.” Before she could question his professionalism in his remark, he added. “Feces being organic make for a better carbon dating of the soil. You’d be surprised how much one manure patty can tell you.”
She didn’t argue as she knew he was right.
It was the magic of nature.
And Danica, being a field research micro-biologist, was dispatched into the world to seek out such magic. To investigate and find undiscovered animals and flora, at the bequest of her employer, the Canadian conglomerate known as Maximum Pharmaceuticals, as like her, they believed in Gaia, Goddess of Earth, scientifically speaking. They knew full well the power of the planet and the secrets she coveted.
Her executive owners personally funded such expeditions into the wild as they believed all answers could be, and would be found if only someone was looking.
And they wanted their employees to be the first eyes to set upon these very mysteries.
In university, she learned from her favourite professor, Doctor Deryl Ward, who liked to spend his free time bartending at a pub he owned, that secrets could be found anywhere, from deep inside the belly of a shark to the microscopic flecks of moss that grew under rocks beneath a tree, from the hottest steam filled caverns of an active volcano to the icy depths of the ocean where no man had ever tread.
‘It’s not much of a secret if you can find it easily.’ was Doctor Ward’s motto. That and, “Don’t pour the beer straight up or it’ll be full of head.’
She’d swear he had some Irish blood in him.
And because her PhD was in microbial enzymology and proteins analysis in jungle habitats with specifics to animals and plants, she kept her investigations to the jungles of the world. She had found the claustrophobic environment of underwater terrains to be less than inviting. Also as she only held two Master degrees in underwater aquatic microorganisms, she felt it wiser to keep her focus on where she liked her feet planted, terra firma, as it was her specialty.
As the days passed on, Hayden finally took some time to wander over to Danica’s camp. He found himself slightly in awe at her set up. Unlike his metal storage structure, all university funded, she had a large ten foot long, eight foot high glass enclosed greenhouse, outfitted with a titanium frame and inch thick glass windows. He tapped it. He would not be surprised to discover it was bulletproof. To the side, a HEPA filter was running constantly on a hybrid solar generator. And finally, at the door, a palm scanning bio reader to confirm identity before opening.
He actually whistled aloud.
And even her tent wasn’t standard. It was a modern geodesic dome made from equivalent materials, with exception to the glass, and a high powered air conditioner continually running with an almost silent purr.
He spotted Danica right away in front of a stationary desktop computer, under a white tarp suspended above an umbrella-like cover to protect the precious equipment beneath, with a satellite receiver outfitted to the top of the antenna tip. Like the greenhouse, the equipment was connected to a solar generator.
Unlike Hayden, Danica waved, but offered no invitation to view her greenhouse.
He never expected one. Like her, he understood, in the world of pharmacology and biological research, secrets were hard to keep and expensive to lose.
He returned to his work, once or twice kicking at the ground.
For a few brief seconds, Hayden found himself doubting his career path.
A week later, in the midst of their work activities, the sun was burning down hot and heavy. The air was dry and acrid, causing both Danica and Hayden to continually drink from bottles of water, Hayden’s water purchased and shipped in on a supply truck and Danica’s distilled by an onsite water recycling unit and refilled.
But regardless, the heat was making both their work difficult and uncomfortable.
Danica decided to turn her investigation into the deeper and darker areas of the heavier jungle. And because she was not designated to one spot, one of the advantages of searching for the unknown, she donned a pair of heavier pants and a long sleeve coat for her trip. Regardless of heat, the plants could be harsh, as even in this heat, some discomfort was far superior to deep gouges or cuts from sharp leaves or edged branches. Plus once under the canopy of the high top trees, the shade made it remarkably cooler.
She carried with her a soil sampler and a custom designed handheld bio-screener. It was a comparison analyzer which took a three dimensional scan of any plant she found and uploaded it into the camp server. From there, the scan would be digitized and sent to the company library back in Toronto, where it would be verified as having been discovered or not. This was quickly followed by a text message on her satellite smartphone with the results. Each scan took no more than three minutes as her home database was very comprehensive and easily accessible via her Wi-Fi network at the camp.
A network which her records showed Doctor Lattimer several times using to download movies for his personal entertainment. Out of amusement, she clicked disconnect when he was ten minutes from the end, but she later reactivated it. She really didn’t care, but he did piss on one of her flags.
But then again, had it been porn, she would have blocked him permanently.
In the course of the three weeks she had been there, nine remaining, she had discovered six new plant genera. Her company was very pleased. None showed any potential yet, but finding them was the first step. She took samples of each, had them transplanted to the greenhouse for reintegration into her hydroponic bay and prepared for transport back to the main research facility in Ontario for future analysis.
She wandered in the thick underbrush, carefully moving plants out of her way with her gloved hands. Unlike some researchers who used a machete to chop and hack away at the path in front of them, clearing the route like a raccoon searching garbage bags for food, she was more careful. She refuses to rip and tear away with total disregard for her environment. Others, not aware of the irony, sought Mother Nature for help, but shredding her apart as they did.
‘Barbarians.’ Is how Danica viewed them.
As she got deeper in, the heavy trees above, some centuries old by her cursory view of their bark, shrouded the area in shadows. She held her flashlight at ready as a few times, she was hard-pressed to see the ground.
She came upon a large dirt mound, completely covered in vines, foliage and teeming with plant life. She quickly checked her denim gloves for rips or tears. She had a new pair with her if needed. Mostly to ensure no skin was exposed when she carefully pulled back at plants. Avoiding thorns or barb as unlike poison ivy, in South America, a newly undiscovered plant could kill if one was not extremely careful.
She always was.
She tugged back on some of the heavier vines, turning them over, reviewing their bellies, truly impressed with their growth rate, especially by their lack of sunlight, when she suddenly froze.
She tilted her head and looked at the hard mound underneath.
It was far more solid than one would expect for a pile of mud and dirt.
She rubbed her hand over some of the wet soil, brushing away rocks and found herself staring at an engraved tablet of stone. Before she could be amazed, she groaned, knowing damn well who she needed to call.
Hayden actually thanked her.
And when he arrived at the stone tablet, his mouth dropped in awe.
He turned to her in total shock.
She casually mentioned. “You kiss me, you die.”
Hayden ignored her remark as he was on cloud nine. He had no expectation to find anything on this trip, least of all a tablet with ancient writings on it buried in the jungle.
Danica stood behind him while he knelt on the mound. Hayden was now sporting a pair of gold rimmed reading glasses with numerous magnifying lenses on pivoting pins, not unlike a multifaceted screwdriver, each outfitted to twist in front of his eyes to change magnification.
Old school, but to some, very effective.
Behind him were two illuminated tripods he brought back with him from his camp that used low level UV lighting, very bright yet safer on artifacts.
He wiped away a lot of the dirt with a small soft bristle brush, and was about to cut away the vine with his knife when he heard a severe clearing of Danica’s throat.
He turned and saw her glaring at him at the prospect of cutting away any form of plant life to get to dead stone.
As she had not needed to show him this, he acquiesced. He carefully and delicately moved the vine to the side, not causing them any harm and examined the tablet with a cleaner view. While he looked, he had put on a pair of white cotton gloves.
Danica stared at him quizzically.
While reading, he sensed her reaction. “Human sweat is far more caustic than any element in my estimate for archeology. Even worse than years of rain and weather.” Hayden explained. “Cotton is far superior for absorbing our salt excrements and body acids so I can protect the discovery.”
In this, he handed her a pair in case she wanted to touch anything.
For a few minutes, Hayden was staring intently at the stone block while Danica waited.
Hayden held up his hand. Not to silence her, but to signal her to wait. He was trying to translate it. Even if it was his skillset, he needed time as he did not recognize some of the symbols.
‘A new tribe?’ was the first excited thought that came to him.
Danica stood back patiently. As a scientist, she was well aware you could not rush discoveries.
Hayden paused, seemingly confused by what he is reading. “From what I see, this is a story tablet of a travelling tribe.”
“Yes. They’re an offshoot of a more stationary tribe. One that never leaves its home.”
Danica was perplexed. “Then why did this one leave?”
Hayden paused in his reading. “Think of it like a teenager. They always want to go out into the world and learn things on their own, even though the parents are happy to live their lives at home.” He held his hands up and open. “Ancient tribes are pretty much the same. Their parents want to remain in one area, whatever the reason is, food, weather or even need, while the children have no interest in taking up the family business, so they move on.”
“Then why the story?” Danica asked, always happy to learn, but feeling comforted by the ease in which Hayden talked, explaining it in a way both educationally, but not in a manner as to seem he was talking down to the listener.
‘He’d make a good teacher.’ She thought.
“Well, the younger members eventually grow into adults as well. And as far as they travel from home, they still remember their roots. But like all humanity, they know their time is limited, so to protect their legacy, they document it for future generations, to let their children know where they came from.” Hayden paused. “Not unlike we do with history books, but tribes use what’s available.”
Hayden seemed to suddenly fill with energy. He started to push away at the remaining foliage, long vines having grown over the rocks, some ingrained into the artwork. He made sure to push them outward, some high and some low, but away from the tablet, all under the confused eyes of Danica.
He finally turned to her. “I’m so sorry. But I need to cut the ones at the left side.” He said it with genuine deep remorse, but worse, with sad puppy dog eyes, which Danica hated, mostly because it was working.
But because she had already confirmed the plants were common and well known, she answered he could do so.
Like a surgeon, Hayden carefully and delicately cut away stalks, drawing them away and placing them onto the earth to re-root. He ran his fingers around the edges of the tablet.
Once all the plant life was pulled away, he could see it was three feet tall and two feet wide. Completely covered in individual carvings and patterns.
Danica spotted a vine at the upper edge he missed. She reached forward and pulled gently on it, not noticing it had grown down into one of the pictorials.
Hayden lunged to stop her, but not before she drew it out.
There was a cracking sound. A chip of rock pulled free taking with it a small chunk of the message. Not a lot, but one symbol was now laced with thin filaments of cracks.
Danica froze in shock unaware the edges were that brittle.
“So my pissing on your flag a few weeks back…” Hayden turned to Danica. “I assume this is your revenge?”
“I was only trying to help.” She glared at him. “That and I understand plants far better than you do. I was moving it away.”
Hayden sighed. He was still extremely thankful for her showing him this at all, so he was not going to get too annoyed. “Fine. But don’t pull anything else. At least not yet. I’m afraid of destroying what’s underneath.”
At this Danica, for the first time in a very long time, felt a wiggle of excitement. In her world, you found unknown plants, undiscovered species and even modern cures. But ancient items were rare and when found, something you passed on to others who were more studied the field, like Doctor Lattimer. So being invited to help on such matters was quite interesting. “What do you mean by underneath?”
At this Hayden smiled. “This is not a tablet.” He pointed to two long tracks of stone along the top and bottom. “It’s a door. And a sliding one at that.” He pointed to the corners of the stone. “Pretty sophisticated too, but not entirely difficult for most cultures.”
Danica leaned forward and looked at the divots running along the grooves, filled by dirt and years of moss. She understood growth patterns, but this door design was outside her expertise.
Luckily, not outside Doctor Lattimer’s.
He pointed to the plant filled grooves. “I’ll need to go back to camp to get some sterile water to pour in, or maybe some natural lubricant. I’ll have to get a wood chisel as metal will be too damaging. But if we’re lucky, we may even be able to slide it open.”
Danica was actually thrilled. “Like a treasure box?”
“I doubt it.” Hayden shrugged. “Most tribes found little value in such things as treasure.” He grinned with the excitement of a school boy. “But I can assure you of this, it’s bigger than a box. In fact, based on the size of the portal, I would say it hides a full chamber.”
Danica was hovering around with uncontrolled excitement. “A chamber to what?”
“Based on the tablet, a story chamber.”
Danica paused, genuinely perplexed. “What’s a story chamber?”
“Like I mentioned, travelling tribes liked to document their past. And the best way to do that was on stone. Most often in deep caves. Because there’s certainly no point in going to all the trouble of creating a lifelong history for future generations and then having the weather wash it away in one downpour.”
Hayden considered an example. “Imagine if Eskimos carved the stories of their past onto the top of frozen ponds. Absolutely pointless as it would vanish with the rising of the summer sun.” He leaned forward and pointed around the dirt mound. “So if a cave wasn’t available, the tribe would have to build one. Most often, they dug deep pits and used large flat rocks on the inside to maintain the structure. Once placed, they would compact mud and clay all around it for safety, and to hide its true purpose.” He ran his fingers along carvings in the tablet. “But most of all, once dried, they would have lots of interior flat surfaces on the inside to scribe their history, safe from the scorching outside world. Topping it off with a door, not unlike this one to protect it.”
Danica, remembering old adventure movies she watched as a child, asked. “Do you think it could be booby-trapped?”
Hayden shook his head. “Very unlikely. If the tribe wanted their youth to know their story, and wanted them to read it, setting off an array of sharp weapons to greet them would really dampen the desire to re-visit their history.” He shrugged. “But I’ll check. Err on the side of caution if you will.”
“So what does the story say?”
“That is what you and I will be the first to find out. The story is inside.”
Danica paused. “Then what is written on the outside?”
Hayden turned. “It’s reads like an epitaph. It tells us the name of this tribe which seems to mean Sun Seekers.” Hayden pointed to the symbol which looked like a group of human beings with a sun symbol in front of the figures, but out of reach. “That and mostly simple directions on how to access the chamber beneath. This is how I ascertained right away it was a door, not a grave marker.”
“Sure looks like a lot of symbols for directions.”
“Well there is a warning.”
Danica felt a chill run up her spine. “A warning of what?”
Hayden seemed nonchalant. “That’s just it. From what I read, and guess, it says. ’Beware, the knowledge you seek of our ancestors…’ Which by that, they seem to be referring to the parent tribe I suspect, ’bears great peril.’”
“That’s cryptic?” She stated matter-of-factly. “So the chamber beneath isn’t dangerous?”
“From this doorway, no. It’s the knowledge the chamber contains within that warrants the warning.” Hayden smiled sheepishly, excitement in his eyes. “But we’ll find out more when we open it.”
Danica looked guilty for a second. “Don’t we need a permit to do this?”
At this Hayden paused. “Technically, no. First, we discovered it, so we get a lot of leeway there. But once we alert the South American government, we’ll have a shit more red tape to deal with. And unlike our visitor and examination permits, the license for excavating an actual find is far more than eighty dollars. We’re talking hundreds of thousands.”
Danica considered calling back home, but decided to wait, at least until she saw inside. She knew her company would foot the bill if century old plant life lived within.
Hayden continued. “That and we’ll have the universities down here marking off places for study. And worse, the government officials watching our every move. And with them weighing and cataloging everything we find, it will be impossible to do what we are best at, explore.”
Hayden threw in his ace. “Trust me in this, Maximum Pharmaceuticals will have no claim whatsoever to what’s in there once the government takes dominion.”
Danica had no love lost for government takeovers of things, but still. “Is this illegal?”
“Definitely not. I’m an archeologist with a permit to excavate here and this is within my zone. Second, you’re a board certified microbiologist with equal qualifications, so both of us can be entrusted to inspect a new site.” He took a breath. “But if we do discover anything of monetary value, we have to report it right away.” He paused. “Then again. If we find something of an educational value solely, we can probably get away with a week before alerting the government.”
“So I guess that means we’re going to open it?”
Hayden grinned. “Fuck yeah!”
Ignoring his vernacular, she had a quick daydream, imagining herself opening an ancient buried chamber and finding a hidden secret beneath from the past so valuable, those in the scientific world would forever remember her name.
For a few brief seconds, Danica doubted her career path.
Hayden returned from his camp with a special tool to chip away all the dirt, mud and natural building up of earth, all which prevented them from simply sliding the door open. That and a compressed air jet sprayer to blow loose particles when he felt his hands were too firm for the delicate work.
He used a natural oil to pour into the grooves, the gentlest organic one the university offered, to lubricate the edges. He had not originally planned to bring any, but, ‘Chance favours the prepared mind.’ He was always told.
Finally, once complete, he leaned back with Danica at his side, but not opening the door.
She waited a full minute and finally asked. “Are you going to open it or what?”
Hayden replied. “I think tomorrow would be better. With the night coming, the cold night air and potential rain may make our inspection less than optimal. From my inspections of the designs, it’s been here for over four hundred years, so I’m pretty sure one more day won’t hurt it.”
Danica for the first time since the door’s discovery looked perplexed. She mentioned aloud. “That’s curious?”
Hayden froze. When an educated person, one as intelligent as Doctor Swift made the statement, ‘That’s curious?’ you listened.
He asked. “What do you mean by that?”
“How old did you say this door was, based on your initial examination?”
Hayden gestured to several pictorials and drawings etched into the stone. “Until we do some quantitative testing, based on the use of certain symbols, I would say by language and dialect, it would be approximately four hundred years old. Maybe older.”
“That is very strange.” Danica maintained.
“Why’s that?” Hayden paused, genuinely interested.
Danica pointed to the plant life, branches and roots that grew to cover the tablet. “These plants, the base ones, and the roots, even the deeper entrenched ones are only about one hundred to hundred and twenty years old at best. Give or take a decade.”
Hayden too found this intriguing, leaning in to look at the plants, but not seeing what Danica saw. “So what are you saying?”
Danica replied. “I’m saying over a hundred years ago, someone else discovered this chamber, removed the plants, opened your door, entered, got what they wanted, closed the door and then chose to un-discover it.”
At this piece of information, Hayden and Danica were totally mystified.
But worse, completely hooked.