Road Whose Course Does Not Turn Back

Chapter 2

As usual, curiosity plagued Nancy. Why had he come here? Was he in the area? Was it—she closed her eyes—a case?

So soon after she had decided she wasn't taking any?

Nancy winced. She was less experienced at refusing cases than she was at solving them.

And was it strictly business… or something else?

Nancy wasn't sure which she preferred.

"How'd you get here?" She asked as they drove to Pancake City.

"Flew into Akron-Canton, took a shuttle into Canton. Drove the remaining fifteen miles here. Kept on the lookout for food since I haven't eaten all day, place where we could sit and talk. Pancake City looked good."

"You do realize it's the afternoon?"

"Of course," Sonny replied lightly.

"Where did you fly in from?"

"D.C."

"Why?"

"I," Sonny's eyes darted sideways, "had some unfinished business."

Nancy kept her eyes trained on him. "You going to tell me what that unfinished business is?"

"Yes." Sonny flashed her an uneven grin. "After I tell you everything else."

As evasive as always. Nancy drummed her fingers against the side of the seat. "Would it have killed you to have called?" she asked.

"Well, you see…" Sonny began, "I didn't think I'd be needing you until a few hours ago. I do apologize for the late notice. I was able to find your home line in the online yellow pages for River Heights, but you weren't there. And I didn't have your cell. Your father said that you were expected back in a few hours and that I could drop by when I got here."

"Right," Nancy said, looking forward. "I was still driving back."

"From?" Sonny glanced over at her.

"Seeing a friend," she replied.

"He seemed wary until I mentioned my name." Sonny said after a pause. "Tell him about me?"

"I tell him about people who are generally trustworthy, yes." Nancy turned her head and looked at him. "Though for you it's a stretch."

Sonny sucked in air through his teeth. "Ouch."

"It's a precaution to avoid running into people who have a grudge against me."

"Well, I do have a grudge against you." Sonny grinned at the road. "You get all the Koko Kringles you want for free for the rest of your life."

"Ah, now that's a deep grudge," Nancy replied. "You must be nefarious."

"Any chance that, if this goes well, you'll give some of them to me?"

"Probably not," she said.

"Is that negotiable?"

"No."

"Well, I understand the precautions you take with your safety." Sonny turned into the parking lot of Pancake City. "But I certainly don't understand the precautions you take with your candy."

"What do you mean?" Nancy asked as she got out of the car.

"Bess told me you keep them in a locked cabinet."

"I do." She walked ahead.

"Nobody wants to steal my Koko Kringle bars," Sonny said sadly. "It seems that a general appreciation for them is lacking."

Grateful that Sonny couldn't see her at this point, Nancy unsuccessfully tried to stifle a smile. She had to admit that this beat driving alone.

In the restaurant they were seated immediately. Apparently Friday afternoons weren't too crowded. Soon someone came to take their order.

"May I have the Pancake Cite Supreme combo with a side of fruit, please? The ham and cheese omelette and two pancakes? Also, a coffee." Nancy smiled when the waiter nodded. "Thank you."

"Five pancakes with chocolate syrup, please." Sonny looked up. "And do you have grape juice?"

The waiter left and was soon back with their drinks.

"So, to what do I owe the… pleasure?" Her eyes scanned him from head to elbows to table.

Sonny picked up on her hesitance. "What?" He asked quietly—almost bashfully, if Nancy let her imagination run away from her. "Is it the hair?"

"No, Sonny, it's not the hair. Although," she gestured to it with half a laugh and half a scoff, "orange?"

"Orange."

Silence.

"So," Sonny mixed his grape juice vigorously with his straw, "how have you been?"

Nancy nodded. "Good, good. Busy with cases, you know."

"Yeah, cases." Sonny echoed, looking down when juice sloshed onto his hand and the tip of his sleeve. "Uh, does this stuff come out?"

"It's probably about ten percent juice, so I'd say yeah."

"Good to know."

"How have you been?" Nancy asked, taking a sip of her coffee.

"I've been." Sonny reached for a napkin. "Been doing… things."

"Yeah? Why did you come to River Heights?" She asked, staring him down as he did so.

"To talk to you," Sonny replied, looking briefly up at her.

"I gathered." She replied coolly, fighting the temptation to look at her watch. However many (or few, more appropriately) minutes had passed, she was already sick of his literalisms.

Sonny sighed dramatically. "Guess we're past the niceties, then. You want the details?"

"Yes."

"Grandpa Jin's lead turned out. We only needed to spend two weeks there before finding another piece." Sonny looked down at his drink and shrugged with a little smile on his lips. "Or something that explained the piece, rather. They're still working on translating it. Might be more information on the artifact we've found. Jin pieced together the operating instructions for the compass, but we've got little historical background about it or how the Māori viewed its significance. In hindsight, it's fortunate that Jin found as much as he did without the other information. Normally you find the information about something's significance before finding that something, since it usually introduces that something. What's odd is that he pieced it together from various parts of the world, and the artifact obviously dates from a time which would make transpacific travel almost impossible. So it seems that these other cultures heard about the device without ever seeing it."

"Or maybe it's a coincidence and in all cases it's a generic device being described," Nancy interrupted. "Or possible mistranslation."

Sonny laughed. "Unfailing realism. I like you. Anyway, the relic we found appears to use the actual Proto-Germanic language. The current Proto-Germanic language wasn't actually used; it's mostly reconstructed from patterns of development in newer languages. It's older than Norse, we know that. Probably older than Proto-Norse, although it's hard to tell because Proto-Germanic and Proto-Norse are so similar and the text we found was incomplete. There's very, very little of it, as a matter of fact. Hardly enough to comprise a definitive sample of any ancient language."

"Then what makes you so sure?"

Sonny shrugged again. "Call it a hunch. Most of the relics we find predate 200 C.E. That's around the time when the Proto-Germanic language developed into Proto-Norse. In any case, our find is pretty significant, but because it's incomplete it's not as big a deal to the archaeological community."

"Wow," Nancy said flatly. "Bit of a boring story to come all the way out here to tell me in person." Apparently he had higher priorities than telling her right away anyway, since it had been eight months, she noted with annoyance. Despite the uselessness of the visit, however, she was relieved that this didn't appear to be a case proposal. He had come for, in his words, niceties, judging by the way he was trying too hard to be friendly. So her hiatus still stood. Although…

What if it was something else?

"That's not the story," Sonny said quickly. "Well, it's part of the story… actually, it's not. Just wanted you to know how that wrapped up. Another member of S.P.I.E.D. turned up an interesting bit of research."

Her heart sank. "Really?" Nancy tried to sound disinterested. To her chagrin, she was no longer merely pretending to humor him.

And no longer fooling herself in thinking she could suppress her curiosity should another opportunity for a case arise.

"There's this place called Usrique," Sonny began.

And didn't continue.

Instead he focused on something long past her. His eyes glazed over.

"Yes?" Nancy prompted.

"Hang on. Trying to figure out where to start with this story."

Placing her hands in her lap, Nancy waited. Across from her Sonny muttered to himself. Whatever this story was, she thought to herself, it had better be good. Good, as in, it had better beat that follow-up phone call with Fenton she had had to cancel as a result of this little impromptu pancake date.

She shook her head. Coffee outing. Not date.

"Yeah. Okay," Sonny straightened in his seat. "Okay. There's a lot to cover. Usrique is an ancient Mesoamerican city, dated to the third millennium B.C.E., I think. It's also a dig site. There's a dig going on there—well, there had been one for a while anyway. There are indications, and I think it might be the next step."

"Great." Nancy watched the steam in her coffee rise. "When do you get to go to the dig site?"

"Never!—or, at least, not soon—" he amended, "that's the problem!" He slumped and rested his head in his hand, looking down at the table. "It's involved. And weird. There's overlap."

As usual, Nancy had no idea what he was talking about. She found it didn't frustrate her as much as it used to; now she merely sighed and waved him on.

"Most people agree that Mayan civilization dated back to the early second millennium, late third millennium B.C.E. Around 2100 to 1800 or something like that. The stuff we've already found from the site is allegedly from the late third millennium, which is either when Mayan civilization supposedly began or slightly before that. And by slightly I mean a margin of roughly half a millennium… 'late third millennium' could be 2300, maybe. 2100 is late late third millennium." Sonny's eyes lit up again. "And if Mayan civilization started at the later time, that's about five hundred years. This site is already pushing the envelope. These are the oldest artifacts from the Americas. What's odd is that there are so many of them—you'd think they would be rare. And what's odder is that we keep finding them."

Sonny paused, thinking. When he spoke again, the spell was broken, the excitement gone from his voice. "Or, we had kept finding them," he said, returning his attention to his juice.

Nancy looked blankly at him.

"It's a gateway to an early civilization," Sonny mused, "maybe even earlier than we thought. And such an abundance of clues… It's almost as if they want us to know. Like it's time."

Nancy nodded. She knew what "they" meant—it meant the Annunaki. But just because she understood didn't mean any of this made sense. "If this is such a big deal, if this is a gateway to an earlier civilization, then why doesn't everybody know about it? Why aren't Mexican officials looking into it?"

"Because nobody's sure of the dates—they're just estimates. So the Mexican government doesn't consider this a priority, according to Alejandro."

"According to whom?"

"Alejandro. Alejandro del Rio."

Nancy blinked. "You kept contact with him?"

"No, but I called him, and he remembered me. He was the only guy I knew who might know about these artifacts and might care about their suspicious disappearances." Sonny continued. "By the time the Mexican government does consider this a priority, it might be too late. They don't, though, because the official dig there ended before carbon dating was around. And estimates can be off by hundreds of years… do you know about the Hymn to Nikkal? The oldest song we've found?" Sonny looked up at Nancy.

She shook her head.

"When it was first successfully translated in the seventies, it was estimated to date from 1800 B.C.E. Today everybody says that it's from 1400 B.C.E. Weird, huh?" He smiled. "And that was when we had carbon dating. So the same could technically be true of the artifacts excavated at Usrique. But it doesn't feel right."

"How can it not feel right?" Nancy objected. "You've never been to the site. You've got nothing to go on but the facts, which don't call for immediate suspicion. How do you know how it feels?"

Sonny bit his lip in contemplation. "Because we're connected on a planetary, on a universal level, when dealing with these ubiquitous themes and questions about human existence. Things feel a certain way no matter where you are in the world. Just because that sense is stronger in some places doesn't mean that it's nonexistent in others."

Yep. Nothing Sonny said made sense. If only Nancy could throw in the towel on this harebrained scheme; if only her curiosity didn't always get the better of her… she grimaced. "So, what's the problem? Why not go to the site?"

"The site is closed off." Sonny leaned forward. "Archaeologists were digging there for fifty years—fifty years, Nancy." His voice rose with his zeal. "And there was so much to be found that things were still turning up when they stopped in 1941."

Nancy frowned. "Why did they leave so suddenly?"

"World War II was getting hairy. They lowered the draft age, and a lot of the diggers had to go." Sonny paused. "The site hasn't been touched in over seventy years. Supposedly."

"Supposedly?" Nancy repeated.

"There's been an influx of artifacts of the ancient Americas in museums all over the world. It's been all over the news. I talked to Alejandro about it."

"And?" Nancy's voice lowered.

"A few of the artifacts have turned up in museums in D.C., and he's been investigating some of the provenance documents. They're brand new in almost every case. He contacted consulates of other cities where they've been turning up. Same thing."

"What's the significance of that?" she asked.

"They're said to have come out of ongoing digs," Sonny replied. "All of them. So why so many artifacts, and why so fast?"

"None of the digs are ones that started recently?" Nancy asked.

He shook his head.

"What's your angle here, Sonny?" Nancy crossed her arms. "Last time I saw you, you were headed for goodness knows where—"

"—Norway," he clarified. "And as for why I'm interested in this…" Sonny leaned more forward and murmured, "the goggles."

"Goggles?" Nancy sputtered. "What—"

"Shhhh!" Sonny's eyes darted around. "The Annunaki were said to wear eye-goggles for flying. Space travel."

"Why the sudden apprehension?" She raised her eyebrows. "Nobody will hear what you just said and take you seriously."

"That's what I used to think," Sonny said, jaw set. "But now… Nancy, that artifact we found. It got a lot of people's attention. And right now this is too important… they're being too secret about it; I can't have other people knowing that I want to find out about this because it might get back to them and then I'll never even be able to find out what's going on."

"I think you're being dramatic."

"Maybe I am." Sonny took a deep breath. "I need to study this civilization. I've got to."

"Then… study it," Nancy said hesitantly. "You said there's an influx of these artifacts, right? Well go to the museums and study—"

Sonny silenced her with a look. "I don't mean the texts, Nancy. I mean the civilization. I need to study it as a whole, not in bits and pieces. And in order to do that, I have to know where these artifacts are coming from."

Contemplating this, Nancy drummed her fingers against the table. "I don't know what you want me to do," she said frankly.

"Well," Sonny began, eyes darting down to his juice, "I'm not sure how much I need you at this point. You'll be out of the crossfire, so it won't be dangerous like…" he paused "Like last time."

Nancy wondered if that was concern that had flashed over his face before he moved on.

"Alejandro managed to talk the consul general into calling the governor of Yucatán. Long story short, she's allowing us to investigate. In exchange for information, they're giving us immunity."

"What do I have to do with that?" Nancy snapped, growing impatient.

"Well, um, you see," Sonny cleared his throat, "Alejandro sort of dropped your name. And the caveat is that you have to be involved."

She gawked at him. Was he serious?

"Otherwise the investigation is sort of a joke, since, um, they see us as a bunch of alien freaks. And because we have no experience in detective work."

"Well, that's your problem." Nancy rose and started to leave. "Thanks for the afternoon pancakes."

"Wait." Sonny followed her, grabbing her arm. "Nancy. Come on. No need to be so hasty, right?" Sonny smiled, but it was a nervous smile. "Just think about—"

"I'm on hiatus from cases."

Sonny froze. His smile disappeared. "Nice one. I'm not that bad at lying."

Nancy whirled around. "I am not taking cases right now. That isn't a lie. It was true before you came, and it still holds."

"How long before I came?"

"Fifteen minutes." She replied defiantly.

He frowned. "Nancy, you are always on cases. If you don't want to work with me again, just say so."

"I don't want to work with you again," Nancy said. She fought to keep the surprise off her face. She'd never thought it would be that easy, turning down a case.

"Fine." Sonny turned and started to walk away.

Nancy's hands clenched in aggravation. When she heard the car door opening she trotted over. "What do you expect?" She hissed. "I'm not taking cases. Things are not great. And I really don't know why you're here right now."

Sonny's brow creased in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"Why you? Why now? I don't hear from you in eight months, then suddenly you turn up and want to pretend that time hasn't passed? That we can pick up where we left off?"

His expression changed. "Oh."

Finally, she was able to say something that would catch him off-guard, Nancy thought to herself in satisfaction. But alas, she hadn't taken advantage of his surprise to walk away. By the time the thought had crossed her mind, it was too late.

Sonny closed his eyes and shook his head a couple of times. "That's not why I came back. I'm over it. I'm over you."

"Uh…" Nancy froze, grasping for words. "Really?"

"Yep! It was one kiss, and we really don't have that much in common. So you don't have to worry about unrequited feelings."

"Why would you assume they're unrequited?" Nancy asked before she could stop herself. Rhetorical question, she assured herself. Just her curiosity at work again.

To her relief, Sonny only shrugged.

"I'm still on hiatus from cases," she said.

Sonny shook his head. "No you're not."

Nancy closed her eyes, forced herself to be patient. She couldn't believe this guy. "I'm not taking any cases right now, okay?"

"No you're not. You're addicted. Of course, you're free to think what you want. In the meanwhile, I'll try to find someone else." He got into the car and closed the door.

"Um…" she repeated. Her mind stalled. She tried to force herself to think and work through it like she always did in a state of panic. Over her? Really? Even Ned wasn't over her this fast! He hadn't stopped calling for two weeks, although she suspected that he did that because he had felt sorry for her.

Nancy straightened. She had hated that feeling. That was the last time anybody was ever going to feel sorry for her—and claim to know more about her than she did.

But the ill feeling didn't leave her. Her heart seized as the engine started.

She rapped on the window. "Hey!"

Sonny's eyebrows rose. He rolled down the window.

"Fine!" she barked.

"Fine?" Sonny's countenance lifted. "As in, yes, you'll do it?"

"Yes," she replied, rubbing the back of her head dazedly.

"Great!" said Sonny. "I've—."

"Yes," Nancy spoke again, "but only if you tell me the truth—everything—upfront, Sonny. No surprises. I'm not getting myself involved in something without knowing exactly what you want me to do."

Sonny quickly nodded. "What I told you is honestly all I know at this point. And I already got the lecture regarding hijacking television shows and leading everyone there under false pretenses from Jamila." He paused. "I certainly understand your wanting to know everything before agreeing. Why don't you fly to Cambridge with me so we can discuss this with Henrik? Not holding you to anything."

Nancy peered down at him with pursed lips, considering.

"I wanted to call you as soon as Governor Moreno called me and asked for you on this assignment. That's why this is still in a rough stage. Maybe I jumped the gun, but I, ah," Sonny examined his hands, "I was excited."

"I know the feeling," she muttered. It wasn't the first time she had seen herself in that puzzled stare. "I'll go."

He brightened further. "Great! I've already got your plane ticket."

Nancy's eyes narrowed. "Awfully presumptuous, don't you think?"

"No. I, uh, was wondering the whole way here whether I wasted that money. So I'm just lucky."

"What time are we scheduled?"

"5:15."

"Well, looks like you managed to persuade me just in time," she said dryly. "Where to?"

"Cambridge, Massachusetts. Henrik works at Watson - Harvard's museum of art and antiquities. Needless to say, he hates me." He admitted. "But he doesn't hate you. That's the second reason for my visit."

"Probably because I didn't make a paper airplane out of the Beech Hill loan agreement." Nancy got in the car.

"Hey! It was a good idea, and I stand by it." Sonny started to drive.

"Was there an occasion?"

"Fired. I was celebrating."

"And, um, talking to Henrik, that all you need from me right now?"

"Maybe?" Sonny replied with a one-armed shrug.


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