Mongolia: Modern era.
A large black jeep bounced over the sandy terrain on its way to a dig site of a discovery that had piqued its occupant’s interests. Its windows were tinted for discretion and gave its inhabitant a much needed time of privacy. The jeep was thoroughly cared for, aside from the sporadic dents and scratches. But that was to be expected, and so was the dust. The suspension needed repair too, but the occupant was content to endure the drive and all its bumps if it meant that she would be witness to history, at the dig of a lifetime. She remembered the call like it was yesterday. The woman was not a qualified Paleontologist. However, her extensive knowledge of predatory species, especially dinosaurs, was unparalleled, and it gave her a unique distinction in the eyes of the scientific community and her peers. The woman was an illustrator and could bring these creatures to life, not only with anatomical accuracy but if they had left behind their tale as somebody too. It was a gift that only a decade earlier had seemed an impossible dream; her vivid imagination had been both a curse and a blessing. Despite the many years of abuse, she had endured in all aspects of life. The woman named Brooke would not have the opportunities that had been gifted to her now. So in a way, she was blessed to have endured the endless mockery. It had taught her to stand up for herself and follow her dreams. She would never have taught herself to draw or to pour her emotions into her writing. Her gift had given opportunities she could only imagine; she had put her homeland on the map once more. At long last, New Zealand had been given its dues in the scientific community and a young woman who was unafraid to speak her mind had been part of it. The call had come when she had been sitting at her computer, looking over a piece she had been commissioned to do, predictably it was dinosaur related, but she didn’t care. Her style was cartoony in structure, but she never passed up the chance to meticulously research the anatomy. She exaggerated the facial features but always left a sense of realism. She had been dabbling in other mediums but always returned to her comforts; it was what made drawing fun for her. She opened a tab on her computer and quickly skimmed her notes. A journal packed with nonsensical ramblings sat on her desk to her left. Contained within it was all the information she had collected. On flora and fauna gathered with the fossilised remains, she was recreating. Brooke felt it was necessary to return the creature to its habitat within her artwork. Those minute details told her about the fossil as an individual at the time of its passing. She recalled one example fondly, an Allosaur nicknamed Big Al. She had conjured him as her friend as a child, though she knew he would have eaten her. It was better than what was surrounding her. The Allosaur had been unearthed in a dried-up riverbed. Brooke could imagine why Al may have gone there and, in doing so, had pieced together her version of Al’s last days.The ringing of her phone grabbed her attention. She jumped, her eyes flickering with annoyance as she took note of the number. Her mood changed; it was one of her colleagues. She smiled, “Must be checking up on me”, she muttered. Brooke appreciated their concern; she had been plagued by mental health issues for many years and was recently given a name for her pain. CPTSD. After appearing on a kid show the previous week to discuss her job, one of the hosts had probed too far into her history, resulting in what she referred to as her ‘haywire mode’ rearing its ugly head. She had composed herself to the best of her ability, but her emotions had a way of leaking out. She sighed, “May as well answer it,” she muttered, knowing if she let it go to voicemail, they’d continue to call her. Switching her phone to speaker so she could continue working.“Hello?” To her astonishment, she was greeted by a lively American voice. She recognised it immediately. Alexis. One of her closest companions and a qualified paleontologist who had gotten Brooke one of her first big breaks. “You have got to turn on the news, sugar”, Alexis squealed in her signature southern drawl. She had grown up in raptor country. Brooke playfully rolled her eyes, swearing she would need a hearing aid if she heard one more of Alexis’s squeals. “I don’t watch the news, dude”, she reminded. Her excuse was that she didn’t have a working television, but she didn’t care; the DVD player suited her fine. She could watch her documentaries. But, the real reason was she found TV boring. “You mean you’re just making excuses!” Alexis huffed. She could feel Brooke smirking through the phone. Alexis was around the same age as Brooke, in her last year of university and specialising in Prehistoric Biology, though she was fascinated with flora. She had received an internship in her first year, which allowed her to study and work simultaneously in her chosen profession. It had been a win, win for both she and Brooke. “I gotta spill the beans!” Alexis shrieked, unable to contain herself. Brooke’s smirk only deepened with smug satisfaction. “Well, if it wouldn’t take up too much of your time”, she drawled out. “You just want to hear me excited, don’t ya sugar?”
Brooke’s response was a chuckle, which Alexis took as a yes. “Y’know that gorgeous brunette I was dating?” “The archaeologist?” Brooke recalled, pen in hand, she twirled it as though she was a gun-slinging cowgirl. “Yes, her, she contacted me an hour ago to catch up, and she happened to let slip, some of her colleagues were heading out to a new dig in the desert. But get this sug, they’re trying to keep it a secret”. Brooke blinked; well, that wasn’t anything new. Digs were often an isolated occurrence. No one wanted media around; Brooke didn’t want them there because she hated paperwork. “Sounds interesting” she hummed not paying attention. “I know!” Alexis exclaimed she had never been great at picking up on Brooke’s subtle sarcasm. “But then she told me something weird.” Brooke leaned forward in her seat; her interests peaked. “Oh?” she challenged. “They’ve barred others from coming”, Alexis explained, taking a slow sip of her coffee. Brooke’s eyes darkened, becoming more vibrant; not only was that odd, but it was also rude too. There was often competition between factions, but Brooke knew one thing. They all were colossal show-offs at heart. There was nothing more satisfying than showing a discovery. Their chests puffed out with pride, and Brooke detested the smug looks that often accompanied it. The development was troubling, there had always been a playful mockery towards paleontologists, and Brooke knew the scientific community didn’t think much of looking at fossils. “What do you mean barred others?” she asked. Alexis answered with a huff, “As in everyone! Including us”. “That’s...weird”, Brooke spoke slowly. Alexis sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I managed to bribe her into sending me some satellite images of the dig site”, she explained. “There’s a valley only a few kilometres away from the dig; it’s hidden”. Brooke would have groaned out loud if she thought it would stop what Alexis was about to suggest. “Y’know sug, someone could use that valley to enter the site undetected and get to the bottom of all of this”, Alexis explained, and Brooke could almost imagine the smirk. “So I say we go there and get digging ourselves”. Brooke frowned as she looked down at her journal, studying a page she had bookmarked. Trespassing carried jail time. “Why are you so hellbent on going there?” Brooke asked. Alexis grinned, “Because Brooke, she reckons they’re hiding something big”. Brooke felt her curiosity rise, and she let out an audible sigh; she was in, “Where’s the excavation, Alexis?” “Mongolia”. Brooke grunted as a large bump pushed her from her seat; it was enough to bring her back to her thoughts as she was forced back in her chair. She gazed out the jeep’s passenger window, holding her duffel bag on her lap. Alexis had set up a camp in the safety of the valley so they wouldn’t be found ‘snooping’. She smiled when she saw the woman in question waving them down. The jeep came to a stop, and Brooke took her first steps into the Gobi desert. The desert was no stranger to unique paleontological finds, and she assumed ancient human civilisations too. History wasn’t a topic she was well versed in, though she did find it intriguing. Alexis did have a passion for human history. When she was deciding on her specialisation for her degree; The Texan had been tossing up between biology and anthropology. Her mind was made up when she realised biology lead to paleontology, and she would be able to specialise in plants, which she hoped would take her to the top. Brooke noted how Alexis’s bleached hair stood out against the sands of the desert, khaki shorts and a black singlet covered in stains adorned her body. Brooke guessed from a powerful sandstorm; they were frequent and dangerous. Many took shelter, but Alexis was stubborn and wouldn’t let a bit of dust stop her. Alexis watched as Brooke stood by the jeep and grabbed a dark suitcase from its boot. Brooke stood taller and athletically built. She towered over her friend, her piercing blue eyes protected behind sunglasses. The sun out here was without mercy, and Brooke had come prepared. She knew the desert had a mind of its own and would test them before they reached its heart. Alexis rushed down the dune and embraced her, “You made it!” Brooke quickly broke the contact. It was hot enough without physical contact. She found movement challenging, and she headed for the safety of the shade. “You had a sandstorm”, she pointed out, taking in the varied heights of the rises to the camps North. “And they’ll be plenty more where that came from!” Alexis replied, watching as Brooke tied her strawberry-blonde hair back from her face in a ponytail at the nape of her neck, allowing it to breathe. Brooke hoped it would keep her cool in the desert merciless heat. She looked around, noting something of interest, peeking over a dune in front of her, curling her toes within her hiking boots. Brooke walked swiftly to the top; she needed a rough idea of their environment. “Sand as far as the eye can see”, she muttered, turning her head to Alexis, raising an eyebrow. “So aside from gorgeous brunette’s bizarre message, what else you got?” “They’re a bit wimpy”, Alexis admitted. “Storm’s made them hide in their hideyholes, and they ain’t coming out”. Brooke smirked. “Luckily for us”. Alexis nodded, noticing the tool belt around Brooke’s waist. “Brought the bare essentials again?” Brooke nodded, “I travel light”. Brooke’s tool belt may have been, but it carried an assortment of instruments designed with the singular purpose of excavation. Brooke had also brought a crate of water with her, which she hoped would be an ample supply for the short time they remained. In her case, she had brought winter clothes; a thick downed jacket and ski pants along with jeans. It might have sounded odd to bring warm clothes to the desert, but it could drop below zero when the sunset. Brooke did not want hypothermia. “Did ya bring rope?” Alexis asked as they made their way down the dunes. “Course,” Brooke replied, pulling a jumper over her pale skin. “You’re cold already?” Alexis exclaimed. Brooke huffed, “I’m a stick; you’re a woman and tan”, she pointed out. The climates of Utah and Auckland couldn’t have been more different. The summers were hot and humid, not great weather for getting a tan. Once back at the camp, Brooke set her duffle down and inspected the tent, “Do I want to know why you’re asking for rope?” she asked, Alexis was an adrenaline junkie, abseiling, sky diving, and bungee jumping were regular discussion points. Brooke preferred to use her common sense. She dreaded to think what Alexis wanted the rope for; images of Alexis threatening to bungee at a previous dig still brought a chuckle. Thankfully she had convinced her that abseiling was smarter. It had been one of the funniest moments of her entire life. “We need to get into that cave”, Alexis suddenly declared her voice grave. Brooke’s amusement turned to alarm as she realised how many consequences they would face if Alexis’s plan went wrong. It was night. It would be cold, granted that could be solved by changing clothes to keep their core body temperature where it needed to be, but other dangers needed to be addressed. What was Alexis thinking?! “You want to what?!” Brooke retorted as she hurriedly paced into the tent to change, closing off a section for privacy, her thoughts racing. Why did Alexis want to be so sneaky all of a sudden? Couldn’t they just talk to the dig members? As if to answer her, a booming infuriated yell echoed from outside of the tent. “Woman!” Brooke jumped instinctively, her body immediately switching into hyper-vigilance; she should have sensed them coming; her guard had been down. “Alexis?” she asked, poking her head through a hole in the zip. She had changed quickly. “Speak of the devil,” Alexis muttered, confusing her friend. “Devil?” Brooke queried, opening the mesh fully and standing next to Alexis clad in jeans and a white polo shirt with a tiny Compsognathus sitting over her right breast. Alexis shrugged as she pointed to a man. Brooke took off her sunglasses to get a better look at their ‘guest’. The man was tall and dressed well, wearing more formal clothes, even in the heat. Brooke could easily make the assumption he was in charge of the dig from what he wore alone. His hair was greying respectfully too. But what immediately set Brooke and Alexis on edge were his eyes. Brooke now understood why Alexis called him ‘devil’. Amber and burning with fury, she flicked her eyes to Alexis, seeing the same rage. “And I’m caught in the middle again”, she muttered under her breath, “fun”. “Hello, Marcus”, Alexis seethed, taking Brooke by surprise and causing an icy chill to race down her back, making her shiver. Involuntarily, Alexis was known to be cold. “It’s Doctor Williams to you,” the man replied, and Brooke picked up the difference; unlike Alexis, this Marcus was a hothead. Brooke immediately felt her condition warn her to stay back, and she retreated further into the tent on instinct. Alexis ignored the threatening behaviour, “Well, Marcus” deliberately used his first name to rile him further, which was stupid in Brooke’s eyes. “It’s a first name basis out here in desert”. The crude smirk made Brooke bring her palm to her forehead, “Sweet Jesus”, she muttered under her breath. In response to the goading, Marcus balled his hands into fists so tightly that his knuckles began turning white, his tanned skin only made this more evident, and Brooke realised she had to defuse the situation before one of them threw a punch. It wasn’t like Alexis to be this cold, so something had to have had happened, but either way, Brooke refused to be stuck in the middle of a fistfight, Alexis rarely forgave, and she never forgot, Brooke had to stop a homicide. “Hello, Doctor Williams”, Brooke greeted with a warm smile. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” she lied convincingly. “It’s an honour to meet you”. She hoped for the usual cordial greeting. “The pleasure is all mine, miss?” to which she would have introduced herself. That would defuse the situation. Instead, Marcus turned his anger upon her by rejecting the handshake and then disregarding Brooke, causing her to shrink to half her size with a simple sentence. “And you are?” Alexis immediately stepped in front of Brooke, sensing her friends fear; she wouldn’t stand for that! “This is Brooke”, she began. Marcus smirked coldly. “Ah, I remember now, the one without the qualification, funny what is allowed on digs these days”. Brooke felt like she had been stabbed and wanted nothing more than to flee, but Alexis shot her a look, “Stand your ground!” she hissed. Brooke nodded, standing tall despite everything as Alexis continued, furious. “You mean one of the few people in the world who can look at a fossil and imagine it as an individual. You’d kill for talent like that. Not that you’d know what talent was unless it bit you in your crusty old..” “Alexis!” Brooke pleaded that wouldn’t help; she walked in front of Alexis and took a breath; she wouldn’t run; over the years, she had learnt to rise. Brooke raised her head in defiance as her eyes narrowed dangerously and grew more vibrant, wolf-like even. “Funny you call me a what,” she whispered, keeping her voice calm. “Most people coming into your profession Doctor Marcus are rather disappointed when they get out to a dig and find nothing but old pots”. “Disillusioned by the Hollywood portrayal of archaeology from Indiana Jones or perhaps the Mummy.” She met Marcus’s eyes with a wicked smirk, tearing him down verbally as his eye twitched. “At least we know what we’re going to be finding most of the time”. Alexis grinned at Brooke; there was the fire that her friend had become infamous for these days. She pretended to wipe a tear from her eye, “my baby is all grown up,” she whispered, to which Brooke rolled her eyes; now was not the time. Marcus continued to seeth with anger, his eye twitching uncontrollably. “Quite”. He hissed through his teeth.“What are you doing here, Marcus?” Alexis asked, changing the subject before things grew more hostile. “To warn you”, Marcus growled. “We found your friends Alexis trying to enter our site illegally”. Alexis frowned but hid her surprise. They weren’t the only ones trying to get answers, it seemed. “I am not going to have your kind trampling my site”, he spat. Alexis took a threatening step forward to stand next to Brooke, “Are you referring to paleontologists Marcus?” she spat, “Or something else that I could have you reported for you son of a…” Brooke sighed, grabbing Alexis’s arm to pull her friend away before Marcus ended up with a broken jaw. Marcus narrowed his eyes about to say more when a flare in the distance caught all of their attention. “Stay away from the site, Alexis or I will press charges”. “It’s a free desert”, Alexis spat as Brooke squeezed her arm hard. Marcus deliberately stepped into both their space, but neither of the women in front of him appeared intimidated. “It is my dig! There will be consequences if I see either of you anywhere near it.” With that warning hanging in the air. Marcus walked swiftly back to the dune buggy that had appeared on top of the hill. Brooke let Alexis go, sighing as her friend shouted multiple profanities and threw a few well-aimed rocks at Marcus’s head; thankfully, they all missed. “Let it go, Alexis. He wanted a reaction”, she reminded her friend, despite still seething herself. Alexis took a breath and shook her head, glancing back at her friend, who remained rigid. Brooke was pissed. “He got it”, she replied bitterly. Brooke nodded, “Charming fellow”.
“Devil!” Alexis spat. “You know what he was hinting”, Brooke sighed, “It’s hard to say if he was making a dig at the fact you are who you are”, she uttered. “You’re lucky I didn’t break his jaw”, Alexis snarled. Brooke smirked, “I would have joined you had I had a lead pipe available”. “Look at that; my little wolf is getting violent”, Alexis spoke with a smile. Brooke shook her head, “No, that would mean he won. We best heed him, though. The guy strikes me as someone who would do something illegal. He’s a total snake”. Alexis nodded her agreement, “Rattlesnake, least he gives his warning, few of his pals on the other hand”, she shook her head, no point bringing that up. When they returned to the tent, Brooke sat down, crossing her legs, “What did they find, Alexis?” “According to Marcus and his zombies?” Alexis asked, making Brooke snicker. “A statue,” she paused as she walked over to a small wooden bench and picked up a photograph and handed it to Brooke. “But as an artist, you tell me, does that look like some sort of monument to you?” Brooke raised an eyebrow as she looked down at the photo; it was blurry, so she put on her metallic rimmed glasses to get a better look at the details, immediately she realised, it was too perfect. Artists always added a creative flair. Anatomy was often off, but what she had in her hands had no telltale signs of being an artistic representation. “Is this photo real?” she gasped, staring at her friend with awe and disbelief. Alexis nodded, “Why do you think I got kicked out? I broke in there a while back to get a photo and take a biopsy”. “He threw you out on your ear, huh?” Brooke asked, her focus on the photograph in her hands. “Yeah, he wasn’t happy; I had a girlfriend either when he found out”. “Stuck in the old days, is he?” Brooke asked sympathetically, so that was why Alexis had been so angry. “Not that having a girlfriend, who is gorgeous, by the way,” Brooke praised. Alexis beamed, “Oh, thank you, sug”.“Have to do with your credibility as a scientist?” Brooke shook her head in disappointment; the world was changing; people needed to get with it. “Probably has had a silver spoon shoved up his ass for so long he doesn’t know manners,” Alexis growled before adding. “Arrogant prick!” Brooke smiled, but it was grim, which was a bit blunt. “While I agree with your analysis that presses the question, how do we sneak in there?” she asked. Alexis whirled around, “You’re coming with me?” she gasped. Brooke nodded, “Aside from the fact you have a growing reputation to protect, I want to wipe the smug look off that assholes face personally”.
“Well, I can’t argue with that logic, sugar. He made it personal,” Alexis agreed. Brooke nodded as she pulled her hair down. “So, what’s the plan of attack?” Alexis grinned, “Sneak in tonight, find an entrance, abseil down, take a few extra photos, maybe a sneaky biopsy and then run like hell”. The Texan was already gathering what they would need, and Brooke smirked, “Run like hell is a great idea, but we need to make sure we don’t get caught”. She placed a hand to her chin, and Alexis chuckled, knowing where she had picked it up. “Jeep is noisy, but the hike could take us an hour if we were to find a direct route; if we’re swift, we’ll be back before they wake up”. Alexis pointed out, Brooke gave her a sceptical look, “let me get this straight you want to walk through a desert in the middle of the night in sub-zero temperatures, so we don’t make noise?” Alexis nodded, “Pretty much”. Brooke groaned, “Do I need to list all the ways that could get us killed?” Alexis laughed, “Take a risk with me, sug, think of it as an adventure, we won’t get lost not if we know where we are going”.
“You have a map, don’t you?” Brooke asked, shaking her head. “Course I have a map; what do ya think I am, crazy?!” Alexis asked as she pulled open an A3 sized map that had enough detail for them to pinpoint the dig. Brooke leaned over it, scanning for a path while Alexis changed into her jeans to keep warm; their conversation soon turned personal. “I’m sorry you had to meet Marcus like that when he’s not in a mood, even if I have to admit he’s good at what he does” Alexis sighed. Brooke shrugged, pulling out a red scarf from her bag.
“You sure pissed him off, but it’s fine. It’s not the first time someone’s tried to bring me down, and it won’t be the last”. Alexis noticed the scarf, a fond smile soon forming, “You still wear that thing?” she asked, watching as Brooke reddened. “It’s my lucky scarf; it was as if destiny intervened when I found this old thing” she smiled fondly. “And on the same day I found that winged wolf, it spoke to me; everyone has always said I’m a wolf”. Brooke pulled the totem in question out of her shirt and ran her fingers over it, “It’s the embodiment of who I am, both a wolf and a dragon”. Alexis chuckled, a broad smile on her face. “Are you sure you don’t want to be a writer?” she asked. Brooke thought about it for a moment. Writing had always been a passion of hers. Ever since she could remember, she had known how to write. There had been running gags when Hamilton had come out, her favourite musical, that she and the titular character were similar. Brooke often wondered if her condition hadn’t occurred if she would have been more like Alexander. She indeed could become non-stop. Brooke smiled. It was a beautiful dream. “I still think about it from time to time,” she admitted truthfully. “But I need a muse, something that makes me want to write y’ know, all the stories I have read are predictable, I could tell you the ending before I even got halfway through”. “Except Game of whats, it called”, Alexis remembered. Brooke had become obsessed with the books, reading every detail and then going back over and rereading them in case she missed anything; when the tv series had ended disappointingly, Brooke had been angry. “Yeah, I don’t like admitting I used to love that series; lazy writing is a pet peeve of mine. If I were to write a book, I’d try to avoid that all costs. But the problem is, I don’t know what to write, I could stare at a blank page for hours and not write a single word” she groaned and let her head fall into her hands. “It drives me insane,”. Alexis sympathetically placed a hand on Brooke’s shoulder, “, who knows sugar. Perhaps this here dig will inspire ya”. Brooke smiled softly, “You never know Alexis; maybe it’s a story waiting to be told”. Brooke had no idea how prophetic that thought might be.