Road Whose Course Does Not Turn Back

Chapter 11

Sonny took a bite of his lettuce and tomato sandwich and unwrapped a Koko Kringle bar, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of the new find. He tipped his chin upward, hoping he could see through his frames without having to push them back up on the bridge of his nose. Too much effort. With all of the sweat, they'd only slide down again anyway.

There'd been several finds over the past few days. One of them had been discovered by Rafael, one of Sonny's "pit partners" as he referred to them. Coming up with names for things was so much easier than digging. But anyway, he'd gotten a good long first glance at Rafael's pottery shard.

The whole vase or whatever it was never turned up, but hey, it was progress.

He swallowed the last of the sandwich and bit off half of the chocolate, trying not to think about how this wasn't going as quickly as planned. Then again, nothing ever went as quickly as planned. Sonny always went into these things seeing the end and only the end. Everything else was just sort of a hassle. If he had his way, he'd be back at the International Space Station by now.

He forced himself to focus, not on that ultimate end, but on this smaller particular goal. It was as vague as all of the rest of them were, just looking for some clue in what had to be the right place.

The days started crashing together in the toil, looking more and more the same without the excitement of discoveries.

Everybody else was over there, eating their lunches. Sonny was here, right in the heart of the site. Why would they ever want to leave? They could do that when they picked up and left to go to the next site.

Even though this was the perpetual site, where things kept turning up.

Yeah, on second thought, he couldn't stay here for seventy-five years straight. He had things to do.

And was it finally slowing down? Was that part of the sign that something was going to happen here?

He hoped it wasn't the only sign; that was for sure.

This last find had to be something magnificent, something extraordinary…

He still needed to have that conversation with Grandpa Jin, the one Jin had promised that they'd have in person. That was something Sonny had forgotten about, if he was honest with himself. The truth would be nice, but Sonny had solidified his own defined set of beliefs from what Jin said. And really, he already knew most of what Jin would say. On the plane here, Nancy told him that people unwittingly revealed secrets to the ones they loved, even through something as subtle as body language or the temptation towards honestly, for the loved ones to know them. It was something she couldn't have learned except from experience. But even though he had never heard it put that way—or put any way at all, if he was being honest—he knew. He felt it many, many times over the years. Grandpa Jin was always more thorough when he presented the beliefs as stories, and Sonny could almost hear Jin reassuring himself that a ten-year-old boy wouldn't be able to recognize that he was being told the bare truth, that it was safe to tell him everything. Grandpa Jin had always looked young, but he'd always looked even younger when he was talking about those, pouring story after story over his head as if he couldn't stop himself from telling him.

Later on, after Sonny followed the comics and saw they were true, he returned to Jin only to find the stories were changed. Lies. They weren't easy lies, either, since he looked older telling them rather than younger, like he used to. Sonny could see that it pained him, and so he forgave him for it. If he was sorry for lying and still kept doing it, there had to be a reason why he lied.

Sonny wished he could remember the stories. But the fact that he heard most of them amidst solid, rolling pain in bed at home or the ICU or on the way to one or the other, plus his poor attention span, left him very little. During those nights when he wasn't tired at all because he spent all his time in bed, or when the aches became too distracting, he used those stories as a foundation for higher imaginative fantasy world activity. Most of thosestories involved being eaten by a space ship and gliding off to other planets, Pluto and beyond.

And it was those that framed his understanding of death, if it came.

Once he came particularly close. And as he'd lain there, he'd asked Grandpa Jin, "What is this?"

He'd stayed silent, although his eyes shone more than they normally did, and not in a happy way.

Sonny did not understand. He knew what would happen, based on the maelstrom of stories in his head. "They're going to take me with them, aren't they?" It was a good thing. Why was Grandpa sad?

Grandpa Jin still didn't say anything then, but he nodded and smiled tightly, leaning forward and gripping his wrist.

Later, when he came out of it, his mother had explained to him that if he left, he could never come back. It seemed safe to talk about it then, now that it was distant enough that the idea of death couldn't hurt him anymore.

That was right before she made Grandpa go away.

A few weeks later, she stopped admitting that the spaceship was real, but she wouldn't say what would happen instead.

Not that she needed to.

He didn't know if he still believed it, the postmortem transgalactic journey, but he thought it would be every bit as nice as what everybody else thought happened after death. Before he returned to the stories, he'd never felt so… found. Not that he was lost for the years he thought they were just stories, since there really was no way to know what was missing if he had no idea anything was missing at all. But something had clicked into place the day he matched a location to one of his old comics. Life transformed from a shade of child pastels to darker colors. The solid bolds in comic books. It became richer. It made more sense.

All of that were things Jin had given him through some felt connection, some feeling that he'd understand, some desire for him to understand. He loved him. He revealed his secrets.

And so, when Nancy told him that loved ones gave away their secrets, he understood. And he knew which experience it was for her, too. It was the case she had just gotten off of before New Zealand, the one she was still upset about that night they talked. The one in Scotland, when she found out about her mom.

And even Nancy had revealed something then, just by telling him that. He smiled to himself.

Sonny peered out to the others sitting together at the foot of the hill, eating and chatting. Even at midday, they all looked really, really tired. He himself felt slightly dizzy a lot of the time, which he blamed on the lack of protein. Unlucky for him, lettuce and tomatoes just didn't cut it. His mother had pestered him to bring seitan strips for the trip, but he forgot. The near-total lack of options was a little troublesome. Still, the option of eating the ham and turkey sandwiches they offered never occurred to him.

Smearing away a bead of sweat before it could slide down his nose, he thought to himself that the heat wasn't really helping, either.

Nobody wanted to get back to work. A few actually seemed even less motivated than he did, Sonny noticed, impressed. A novel feat. Eventually they started moving, so far off that he couldn't hear anything they said as they shuffled back to the site. The sound came later with their footsteps and a few lively remnants of conversation.

Even old Rosie seemed not to want to deal with the dirt with the way he growled and showed his bottom teeth.

Maybe he'd let them all off early today.

Maybe if he got enough of the slackers to go on strike…

A clang sounded from one of the farther pits.

That jolted him out of his current plans. Much like last time, Sonny didn't remember what got him running, only that he was running as fast as he could. He was there before anyone else was, staring so hard at a small triangular stone that it was like he was looking through it.

After he blinked everyone else was there, murmuring and elbowing. At least, it seemed like everyone else. Most of the diggers weren't interested except one or two, but Henrik's team was there and pumped.

Sonny raised a hand to his head, blocking the sun out as he peered between his middle and index fingers. "There are pictures on it!" he shouted gleefully.

Everyone looked up for a second to stare at him.

Nancy's eyes widened and hardened across the circle from him. She raised then lowered her hand, telling him to keep it down.

José, standing next to her, smirked. Just as Sonny was about to postulate why he remembered the find and returned his attention to it. It looked like the corner of what had once been a stone tablet. There was a set of glyphs followed by a round object that resembled a helmet. And stone predated the Mayans—primarily Olmec—he remembered excitedly. Mayans mainly wrote on paper except for the really big things but judging by the size of the glyphs this one looked smaller, maybe the size of a textbook. His mind returned from the ancient civilizations it had already begun to sink into and he refocused on the discovery, trying to read the pictographs.

They looked like Greek.

Dismayed, Sonny began to wonder why he'd even read Henrik's book before remembering that one of the guys they'd come with—the Norwegian—was a Mayan scholar.

"Psst. Alexander." He looked to his left, which was where he remembered seeing him last.

Lucky for Sonny, he was there.

Out of excitement, Sonny elbowed him a little harder than he meant to. "What's that say?" he asked eagerly.

"Uh," Alexander leaned forward, rubbing his side, while Nancy simultaneously threw him several gestures probably meant to demand more subtlety. He ignored her and stared at the side of Alexander's head as he worked through the glyphs, muttering silently to himself. During this, Sonny looked up and locked eyes with Nancy. Despite the visible frustration with his conspicuousness, she looked as intensely curious as he felt.

"Who cares what it says?" Jose crossed his arms and scowled at Sonny. "It sells. That's all that matters."

Next to him Nancy was mouthing, "Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up," as if she had no faith in him to refrain from contesting this.

As if he was stupid enough to do something like that. Sonny considered opening his mouth and making like he would just to spite her. Boy, would that get a rise out of her.

But before he could do anything along those lines the artifact was being handed to Beltran, who pocketed it. No cloth or anything. Just put it right in his pocket.

Odd.

"Back to work," Jose said. He and Beltrán retreated to discuss the value of the new find. Many looked on in envy. They could only talk when they were done with grunt work for the day. Another incentive for finding things. For them, at least.

The others dispersed. As Alexander started to follow them, Sonny tugged on his arm. He didn't say anything, just looked. They could talk about the find after work.

That is, they could talk about it if Alexander got a translation.

Alexander surveyed him blankly, all the muscles in his face taut. "What is your interest in it?"

Oh. Lying. Right.

"Show and tell," Sonny replied blithely.

"Right." Alexander's jaw tightened further. "Show and tell."

"I don't get many opportunities like this," Sonny whined. "Do you know how many sites I've gotten thrown out of?"

"So you're excited."

"Yep." He left it at that.

"It's good to be excited." Alexander turned his head to the side and looked up at Beltrán and José talking atop their hill. "Sometimes."

Nancy jogged up to him as soon as Alexander walked off. Even in the heat she moved lithely, as if it barely fazed her. "Wouldn't it be ironic if you were the one who got us all killed?" she asked sardonically, already back to her cool-under-pressure rational self.

Sonny's eyes darted upward as he considered this. "It would," he agreed. "But that's a one-tenth percent chance."

"Is it?"

"You don't have to worry about me, Nancy," he replied. "Or yourself, for that matter. We've got this under control."

Her eyebrows rose. "Right."

Rolling his eyes, Sonny sighed and lifted his head upward. He took a few steps toward her. "You have been told that people can't negotiate with insanity, right?"

"Yeah." Nancy remembered all too clearly. Deirdre had told her that.

Another irony.

"Well, people see me," Sonny slapped a hand on his chest, "as casually insane. You should know. You do, too."

"No, I don't," Nancy replied, in a tone as if to assure him.

"Oh?" He asked, actually a little surprised. "Well, that's breaking news then."

Nancy scoffed. "I'd hardly call it breaking-"

"Sunspot!" bellowed José.

"This is great." Sonny threw both of his hands in front of him, palms up. "You're great. But I have to go."

"You mean, you're actually going to do work?"

"Enjoy it!" he grinned back at her as he walked briskly away. "Only happens once every blue moon. Like the eclipse."

Nancy tried very hard not to laugh and draw attention to them. Realizing that she had been standing there for some time, she began walking back to where Lou was already digging.

Suddenly she stopped, realizing that one person had been absent from the throng.

Dylan.

She whirled around with the hunch that he had been behind her. Otherwise she would have seen him.

Indeed, there he was, in the distance, still standing in the pit where the stone fragment was discovered. Dark circles swallowed the skin under his eyes. There were wrinkles on his forehead that she had never seen before. He looked somehow smaller than he usually did. It must have been the stress, Nancy surmised. He hadn't been doing much digging lately. And the way he looked into the dirt at the bottom of the pit made her think that he was thinking very hard about something, perhaps a decision.

Without warning he jolted out of his thoughts and looked up, seeing her watching him.

Nancy didn't look down right away. He'd been acting so strange lately. Maybe there was something he couldn't say.

But he cut off any communication they had by turning and walking up the hill to stand with José and Beltrán.

Slowly she started walking again, forcing her mind to another matter. The new find reminded her that she still needed theories about the first one, the wooden bowl. Dylan's strange behavior could be pushed to another time of musing.

Her eyes widened in sudden realization. "Clock hands."

Three lines ran on the bowl. One each for hours, minutes, seconds.

Yes, it was anachronistic. Yes, the Mayans used a different means to record time. It was… the sundial, right?

And in any case, Sonny would probably buy it. This went right up his alley, fit in perfectly with the theory that Mayans were way ahead technologically than they were supposed to be.

Sonny would say that aliens taught them about clocks.

Nancy would think that maybe they had found a way to predict future technology. To design it, even, like Da Vinci did with the flying machine.

It wasn't likely, she admitted to herself. Probably the lines meant something else, something more in line with the time from which they came. Still, Sonny would be pleased.

So far that seemed the most plausible of all of her theories, which meant at least she was getting closer even if she hadn't hit the nail on the head yet.

Progress.

A new spring entered her step on the way back to her shovel.

Sonny noticed this with a gleam in his eye. She knows something, he thought.

Working became even harder for him than usual. Impatiently he waited for the sky to darken, not because that would mark the end of the work day but because it would become easier to be swallowed by a spaceship and pressed up against a window, looking at the starry sky from the interior. And they'd lift off the ground in a fiery blast, leaving behind a safe habitat for animals and a smiling human race, and he'd feel the presence of long-lost Mayans behind him who somehow already know who he is—not his name and the other small stuff, but who he is, every thing he places at the center of his life and works by. And it's not really as cliché as it seems because the actual experience doesn't fit into a mold, but still it's everything he expected, here among his ancestors. They whisper in his ear, giving him the privilege of hearing the next lesson the moment before they impart it on everyone. After all, he is one of them.

Yeah, maybe he'd have to die for it to actually happen. Yeah, maybe it would actually never happen. But never didn't really exist in a hypothetical world.

When Sonny was little, he thought belief was a choice. But it kept getting harder as he got older, even after he'd discovered the real-life location of one of the comics. After the honeymoon phase of finding it, he'd sunk back a little and started asking questions about it. And it was a lot harder than a choice.

He could still choose to want it, though, even if he wasn't sure he fully believed it.

Sonny drew his shovel up to his chest so it stood vertically and leaned on it, laying his head down on his arms crossed over the handle. Yes, it would have been nice if he was there already, or at all, or one step closer to knowing whether it was possible.

Although, he looked over at Nancy and felt himself grinning, maybe the wait wasn't all bad.

He had trouble figuring most people out, but most people were boring. They weren't really worth the effort.

Nancy was.

Ever since he'd come across her name in Prudence Rutherford's memoir, he hadn't been able to get her out of his head. She was like the badass heroine in some story of a book he'd never read. And it had been so long for both of them, so many glimpses, so many references, that he just knew it would have been such a waste to part ways after their short time together at Pacific Run. Besides, he hoped they still had more to say to each other. With her, it never ended. Always interested in new things, new angles. Always needing to repaint the backdrop by bouncing to a different location, never staying in the same place for long. Constant change and growth. Cleaning the world ground-up, section by section, bringing injustice to light and finding the truth in every corner and continent. A perfect blend of familiarity and enigma.

A challenge to keep up with.

A challenge accepted.


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