“I’m not asking you to.” Danica replied, rolling her eyes as she was closely examining the mountain island centerpiece surrounded by the circle of yellow. “I simply told you. Maybe so you could, I don’t know, congratulate me?”
Hayden waited a few seconds. “Congratulations.”
Silence grew between them.
Hayden removed a chunk of dirt. “’You’re welcome’ by the way.”
Danica turned. “For what?”
“I said congrats. Aren’t you supposed to say ‘Thank you?’”
Danica shook her head. “Not when I have to tell you to do it.” She continued in her examination, her teeth grinding.
Hayden could feel the room cooling and it was not the temperature.
He finally threw in when the silence was getting to him. “I’m just saying I’m still not calling you Director.”
After a few minutes, Hayden brushing and wiping mold remnants away, queried aloud. “You know, you did accept my offer of twenty-five thousand to work for your company pretty quickly? Should I have asked for more?”
She laughed quietly to herself. “You’ll never know.”
Hayden could be heard grumbling, regretting he had not thrown up something ridiculous like one hundred grand or something to test the waters.
After a few minutes of working in relative peace, Hayden spoke up again. He couldn’t help himself. Why be silent when you had company. “You know, Director is a pretty big promotion in a day. Are you sleeping with him or something?”
Danica scowled without looking in his direction. “Is everything sex and swearing to you?”
Hayden shrugged. “I also drink.”
Danica bobbed her head in annoyance. ‘It’s like working with a child.’
“Oh. By the way. I would avoid the corner over there.” Hayden gestured with his head to the section by the third disc they removed.
Danica raised an eyebrow and looked. “Why, did you find a trap?”
“Nope.” He smirked guilty. “I expressed myself over there. Give it a few minutes.”
“Charming.” Danica commented with heavy sarcasm. She changed her original assessment. ‘It’s like working with a child... and a pig.’
For the rest of the day they worked diligently, Hayden twice asking Danica to examine a design, if only to try and make peace between them.
It wasn’t working too well.
He admitted to himself, ‘He could sometimes be a bit of an ass.’
Over the final hours, Danica was now working with a selection of individually sized paint brushes and a bottle of desalinated water with misting sprayer which she had been using to carefully wipe away years of grime and dirt to reveal the vibrant coloured pictorials beneath.
She had finished six so far.
It was far harder than she thought and equally rewarding.
At the end of the evening, they packed up their work tools, turned off the lights and climbed up the ladder and out of the chamber.
By nightfall, the two of them were back in Hayden’s camp over a roaring fire after finishing a selection of fire-roasted chicken and potatoes.
Hayden had two cold bottles of local beer beside him and Danica was drinking casually from a bottled cooler she had delivered that afternoon.
Seated around the fire, snaps and pops crackling within, Hayden rubbed his hands together and held them over the flickering flames. “You should cheer up. We found an ancient burial chamber in the vast jungle of South America, which helps my university immensely and you found at least a dozen plants within the structure you haven’t yet identified which may be to the benefit of your company who sent you down here.”
Danica finished a mouthful of her drink.
“That and I’m getting paid twenty-five thousand to be your consultant.” He chuffed and stressed ’your’. “This is a win-win-win here.”
Danica glared at him. “What makes you think I’m down?”
“You’ve paused to relax, unwind and have a drink.” He winked. “And you haven’t insulted me once since we finished dinner. So something must be off.”
Danica adjusted her camp stool, a three legged collapsible seat with polyester fabric. “They’re going to send down another team of recovery specialists to retrieve the plant specimens. That means once we’re done with the chamber, they’re going to move me somewhere else.”
Hayden held out his hand. “You worried you’ll miss me?”
Danica looked at him with annoyance. “That’s the silver lining.”
Hayden withdrew his hand with a shake of his head.
Danica continued. “I happen to like it here.”
Hayden took a chug of his beer. “Then tell them to go fuck themselves and stay.”
Danica gave him a withering look for the swearing. “They’re my bosses. I go where I’m told.”
“It’s not that simple.” She looked to the sky. “I have bills to pay. A home to take care of.”
“You have kids?”
Hayden smiled. “Girlfriend?”
Danica scowled. “No. I’m happily unattached.”
Hayden finished his first beer and was on his second. “Then what the Hell is holding you back? My God woman, you’re a brilliant research scientist and I bet, you can get a job anywhere in the world.”
Danica went completely silent at Hayden’s question.
The only thing she could hear now was the fire sizzling due to the dry twigs Hayden had tossed in.
She honestly didn’t know why she hesitated with such decisions. She liked the security steady employment provided, but she could easily handle change. It was one of her father’s greatest gifts handed down to her. That and his creativity. He taught her that no matter what the world throws at you, it can be caught and thrown back. ’You control the game, nobody else.’
She missed his voice. She might even call him tomorrow morning, if he wasn’t down in his office writing his next best seller. But then again, Mom always had a knack for dragging him out of there to take the phone. She missed her too. That and her banana bread. She had to be careful with Mom though. Mom could keep her on the phone for hours. Not that it mattered about the bill. Dad’s last book raked in over four million. And they still lived in Waterdown. God, she loved them dearly.
She knew if she wanted to quit everything and travel as a hobo she could. Her father long ago told her that his money was hers. He even gave her a bank card to his accounts, but she wanted to make her own way in the world and turned it down.
But she couldn’t stop her mother paying all her bills when she wasn’t monitoring her accounts. Her parents were annoying that way, but loveable nonetheless.
Hayden could tell Danica was tuned out. She was not enjoying this tour down ’personal reflection road.’ So he decided to change the subject or he knew his campmate would be leaving sooner as opposed to later. “Remember that series of symbols on the lower quadrant of the chamber, near the North West edge?”
Danica came out of her reverie. “The ones about the water surrounding the lake?”
“Yes.” Hayden replied.
Danica looked at Hayden with her interest now refocused. “Did you figure them out?”
Hayden shook his shoulders. “I think so. From what I was able to derive from the other symbols, it describes their far ancient past. From a time before the island. And from the story, it explains why the tribe painted the inset yellow with red marks.”
“Well, the symbols seemed to note their evil God, of no name, put the darkness on the island, whatever the Hell that is, but their benign God discovered what the evil one had done and in return, did something to the water to forever trap the darkness there for all eternity.”
Danica felt like a fan of her father’s books, sitting on Hayden’s every word waiting for the next part to reveal itself. “Like what?”
Hayden shrugged. “I’ve no idea.”
The winds escaped from her sails leaving her feeling deflated. At least her father did not do that in his books. “Then why did you mention it? I thought you knew what their benign God did?”
“I wasn’t actually there you know?” Hayden stated with annoyance at her expectations. “He probably did whatever benign Gods do to lakes around evil islands. Maybe he pissed in it.”
“Why? Did the evil God accidently put a flag in the water to be aimed at?”
Hayden rolled his eyes skyward. ‘I’m never going to live that down.’
Danica stood and brushed wood chunks from the back of her shorts. “On that lovely note, I think it’s time I settled in.”
Danica turned in the direction of her camp. “Goodnight Doctor Lattimer.”
“Good night Doctor Swift.” Hayden paused and quickly threw out before she was too far. “Going alone?”
“Of course not.”
Hayden’s eyes perked up.
“I have my gun with me.”
Hayden let out a defeated breath.
Danica added. “Just in case anything creepy tries to get into my cabin, and more importantly, in case it’s drunk.”
“I highly doubt two beers count as drunk.” Hayden retorted. “Plus you had two of your fruity cooler drinks as well. And yours have a higher concentration of alcohol than mine.”
Danica smiled. “The difference being is I had mine one at a time. You opened them both and drank from them at the same time.”
“Ever hear of two fisted?”
Danica looked down in the direction of Hayden’s groin area. “Well tonight, I’m decidedly sure you can make do with one.”
Hayden frowned as she vanished into the darkness.
He shouted. “I’m still not calling you Director.”
He snapped open two more beers, swearing under his breath.
‘You’d be surprised. I might need two fists.’
Then suddenly thinking to himself. ‘Not helping.’
Early the next morning.
Hayden was awoken when he felt a giant ’whump’ under his cot.
Several items on his side table fell off and clattered to the wood flooring with a bang and a rattle.
Hayden sat up. He pinched his nose and took a quick breath.
“Goddamn local beer.” He swore loudly. His head was ringing. He rubbed his temples for a few seconds to get the blood flowing.
He hated hangovers, especially cheap ones.
He listened again.
He was exhausted; having spent the last two days down in the chamber doing carbon sketches of the unrecognized symbols to send back to his department in Toronto and then drinking six beers before bed.
He thought to himself. ‘Six qualify as drunk. Not two.’ He pinched his nose again. ‘Dumbass.’
He paused, shaking the cobwebs out of his brain.
A second ‘whump’, even louder this time.
His lantern shook on the nail that held it. It dropped to the floor and extinguished.
All Hayden could think was, ‘Explosion? This isn’t a war ravaged area?’
He exited his tent and stared across the night sky.
The South American morning was not fully night covered. The sky was a light blue, shaded with deep greys and filaments of purple blurs. The orange glow of the rising sun could be seen in the distance over the trees, as well as a black billowing smoke cloud funneling skyward from the jungle.
Hayden started to run. ‘The chamber!’
Danica was reading in her bed, an article on ‘Dominant DNA re-sequencing within a zero-gravity environment.’ On her night stand was scientific journal with the headline, ‘Plant hybridization and recombinant RNA cross breeding with radiation infused fungi.’ Both had bookmarks in them as well as yellow sticky tabs to mark sections for rereading later.
She had the covers pulled up and over her knees, her one pillow resting behind her back and the second under her feet. She was clicking a pencil between her upper and lower teeth as she read.
She was unable to sleep, still thinking about the call from her company’s CEO and CFO the morning before. Even now, a day later, she was feeling nervous.
Being promoted to Director of this operation was so unexpected, she kept thinking she was dreaming.
At least she had Doctor Lattimer to keep her grounded. Well more than that, he dug her a deep hole and covered her with a few shovels of dirt to keep her humble. ‘He could be an ass sometimes.’
She reached for her glass of warm milk, situated on a coaster on her bedside table.
She immediately stood up. She had been in the jungles of Africa and Northern China and she knew an explosion when she heard one.
And it came from the direction of the chamber.
In seconds, she was out of her bed, flashlight in hand and out the front door of her cabin.
Once there, she froze.
Directly in front of her greenhouse was a large male figure, clearly identified by his shape and stature, six two in height, but his boots seemed to have deep treads by the deep impressions he left in the mud behind him. His back was to her, dressed from head to toe in black fatigues, his face covered with a ski mask and wearing night vision goggles, at least from what she could see in the moonlit reflection on the greenhouse glass.
He pressed a button on a handheld device he was holding before he pocketed it.
A second Whump!
Danica turned in the direction of the chamber as the ground shook. This was followed by a geyser of dirt and smoke shooting skyward.
‘The chamber!’ She knew right away based on the smoke’s origin. ‘Please don’t be working overtime Doctor Lattimer.’
She turned back to the more immediate threat. The man was now trying to break into her greenhouse.
She watched as he tried to use a screwdriver to disengage the front touchscreen reader plate keeping the security lock engaged and the door shut.
She waited a few seconds and spoke. “Even if you get it off, the bolts are titanium, all fourteen of them, so unless you brought an arc welder in your fanny pack, you might as well leave my property alone.”
The man went rigid. He turned slowly and stared in Danica’s direction, the single mounted eyepiece of the goggles aimed right at her, both hands glove covered, but empty. The man replied with a low heavy voice, muffled by the mask. “I do not seek to do you harm, but I need everything you’ve found.”
Danica started raising her hands up in surrender letting her body shiver with fear. “Of course.” As her hands came up, she flicked her wrist and pivoted the flashlight in her hand in an upward arc from the ground directly into the eyepiece of the assailant’s night vision goggles.
Night vision goggles are basically high tech glasses with a large diameter objective. They have lenses designed to gather and concentrate ambient light, intensifying it by optical means, enabling the user to see in the dark with the naked eye using as little light as possible. Problem was, they were designed to be used in a midnight environment with little to no light at all. So any sudden burst of luminesce, especially into the light intensifying eyepiece, directly into the pupils of the wearer, with a minimum of thousand times of amplification, would be like staring into a solar flare without protection.
The man let out a scream as he fell forward.
Danica, in the span of a second, spun around on her right heel, pivoting and using her left as a catapult, spinning it back and around behind her body, to the side and using her momentum to bring her heel across the shrouded man’s face and jaw with a perfectly placed roundhouse kick.
She sent him face first into the titanium frame of the door which he bounced off with a bone crunching thud.
He dropped and tumbled into the dirt.
In those same few seconds, she drew her weapon, a high capacity .45 pistol with a double column magazine and supported chamber barrel. She removed the safety and targeted the black clad man reeling on the ground.
His night-vision goggles dangling broken around his neck.
She quietly stated. “Don’t move. “I do not seek to do you harm.” She mocked. “But you move and I will.”
He was rubbing his ski mask covered jaw, his eyes still shadowed by the evening light. He got up from his fallen position.
Danica grinned. “Seriously. I’m a third degree black belt. What I can’t do to you with this gun, I will with my fists.”
He seemed to be shaking off the blow, trying to reorient himself.
Danica watched him as she could see he was tensing up for a pounce.
In self-defense training, you were taught to recognize when a body shifts, how it changes for motion and when someone was about to make a move so you could defend against it.
She warned him. ’”Don’t be stupid.”
Danica fired, one shot, perfectly aimed, directly into the man’s lower right leg, the one he used to shift his weight, obviously the strongest one.
He dropped like a lead ball with a heavy groan.
She sighed with annoyance.
“I did warn you.” Danica held the gun steady. “And consider yourself lucky. I chose only to graze your tibia.” She looked around. “Now when my friend gets here, we’ll be calling the authorities. They’ll help you get some medical attention and they will hopefully teach you some proper manners about touching other people’s stuff.”
The man rose, his body straining under the pain of the shot.
Danica kept her weapon trained right on him, prepared to shoot him again, impressed with his fortitude.
“The next shot goes into your forehead.” She raised and took aim. “I don’t want to have to deal with all the paperwork of killing someone outside of Canada, but be assured, I will if you move on me again.”
The man heard someone running through the brush towards them. He spoke, his voice still muffled, but wanting her to understand. “You’re making a grave mistake. Some things were never meant to be found.”
Danica was shocked by his words. ‘How the Hell do you know what we found?’
But before she could ask, the man turned and ran in the opposite direction, disappearing into the heavy plants and trees, limping heavily the entire time and vanishing into the jungle brush.
Danica was impressed. His not wanting to be caught by the South American authorities was incentive enough. But she stayed where she was. She had no intention of chasing anyone dressed from head to toe in black through thick dark underbrush for which she had not memorized the terrain.
Hayden came running in from the darkness, wearing only a pair of boxers and a T-shirt, his bare feet bleeding from the rocks he ran through. He was wielding a long shovel before him. “I heard gunshots?”
“You heard a gunshot.” Danica corrected. “I only fired once.” She holstered her weapon back into the rear waistband of her pajama shorts.
Hayden looked at her. “What did you shoot?”
“Some guy dressed in black. He was trying to break into my greenhouse.”
Hayden looked at it and then her in amazement. “What’s in there?”
Danica shrugged. “Nothing you can’t find on the ground or around here if you looked long enough.”
“Son of a bitch.” Hayden leaned forward and took a deep refreshing breath, his body exhausted.
Danica deduced he had obviously run all the way to the chamber before he heard the gunshot and ran to her aid. ‘My hero.’
Hayden stood and leaned on her greenhouse wall.
“And I should point out, from I saw, he had a remote detonator with him. He depressed it seconds before the second explosion.”
Hayden’s face seemed to fill with sadness as he turned to look to her.
Danica felt her shoulders sag. “Don’t tell me.”
“Well whatever he was after in your greenhouse, he felt destroying the chamber took precedence.”
Danica looked at the sealed door of her greenhouse. In the dark, it looked more like a house than a gardening unit. “I think he was after all the data we had procured on the chamber. When he arrived, he had two choices, my geodesic cabin or the greenhouse.” She paused. “He probably presumed it was in the greenhouse based on the security. I guess I can thank the stars he didn’t choose my place first.”
“You should.” Hayden nodded.
Danica took a breath and then explained to Hayden the mysterious attacker’s final words before departing.
“You’re making a grave mistake. Some things were never meant to be found.”
Both Hayden and Danica stiffened.
‘How had their discovery gotten into the world so fast?’
‘And worse, who did not want it discovered?’
Both of them started to relax after the assault, but deeply wondering, ‘What the Hell had they gotten themselves into?’