Mongolia: Present day.
A large black jeep bounced over the sandy terrain to the site of a new find; the windows were tinted for complete discretion and to hide its inhabitants from the outside world; the jeep was well kept; yet it was covered in scratches, dents, and dust.
The suspension needed improvement too.
The occupant was more than happy to endure the bumpy ride if it meant that she was able to get to the dig of a lifetime.
She remembered the phone call like it was yesterday.
She was not a qualified Palaeontologist; however, her knowledge of carnivorous species was unparalleled; it allowed her a unique distinction in the eyes of the scientific community.
She was able to bring these creatures to life not only as a species but if the evidence was there; sometimes as individuals.
Something that only a decade earlier had been impossible and yet ever since she was a small child; the young woman knew how to do so. Her vivid imagination was both a curse and a blessing. Despite her years of mistreatment, in all aspects of her life. If it were not for their constant teasing and mockery, she would not have been as dominant as she was now, Brooke would not be where she was now.
She would have never learned to draw or to take a deep breath and express her emotions through writing and most important of all her gift.
She had put her homeland on the map for something other than films or culture. At long last New Zealand was being recognised for scientific discoveries and a young woman who was not afraid to speak with the accent, that to her so many of her fellow Kiwi’s expelled once they received one fragment of fame.
A call had come when she had been sitting at home. Looking over a piece of paleoart, she had been commissioned to do.
Her style leaned more towards a cartoon style; but what was most striking about her compositions, was the meticulous research that went into the anatomy.
It was an acrylic painting on canvas, rather than on the digital programs she was more comfortable with like Sai and Photoshop.
But to broaden her limits like she had been urged to do. She had chosen a new medium to work with, so far, it was a positive result.
The amount of analysis she had done for each piece of canvas was extensive; notes scattered on the cold garage floor as well as various information about the particular Flora and Fauna that were found with the specimen she had been tasked with recreating.
The woman felt it was necessary, to always put the creature back in the conditions it was found, as it enabled her to compose a representation, not only of the animal but also its habitat.
These little bits of evidence also told her something about the individual at the time of its passing.
She had been working on a dinosaur that was one of her personal favourites and held a nostalgic significance when her phone began to ring.
The young woman paused eyes softening; it was going to be from one of her colleagues checking up on her.
Anxiety and depression in the form of complex PTSD had plagued her since her early years, and it sometimes got to the point where she was an absolute wreck.
Only a few days ago, she had appeared on a children’s tv program to discuss her artwork; when one of the hosts probed her about her history.
She had been close to having one of her attacks but after years of healing. She was able to compose herself.
She was greeted by a cheerful American voice, that she recognised all too well; one of her closest friends and also a qualified palaeontologist Alexis.
“You have got to turn on the news,” the American female said, she had a sweet southern drawl; which wasn’t surprising since she grew up in raptor country. “I do not watch the news, my friend” the young women reminded, with a wry chuckle. She didn’t have a working television. Not that she minded; it worked for playing all her documentaries and besides, there was nothing on TV that interested her these days. There was a huff of irritation on the opposing side of the call before Alexis snickered. Alexis was a young woman; who was in her last year of university; she specialised in Prehistoric Biology and had a fascination with flora.
“You want me to spill the beans?” Alexis charged. The young woman was smirking, Alexis could tell that immediately from the way she conversed. “Well, if it wouldn’t take up too much of your time.” “You just want to hear me excited, don’t you?” Alexis lamented.
The other side was quiet, wordlessly answering the question and Alexis decided to fill her in.
“One of my associates; contacted me about an hour ago that he found out about a new excavation, that the archaeological community is trying to keep under wraps” Alexis began.
“Sounds interesting.” the young woman remarked, starting to pack up the equipment she had been using. “It is” Alexis agreed before continuing. “But this is where it gets unusual; the dig isn’t just barred off from the media; like you would expect. Other science factions are not being welcomed, including our profession.” The young woman frowned, eyebrows knitting together, her profoundly moving blue irises darkened.
That was odd and also rude.
Scientists have from the dawn of their professions had playful jests. But this was the first time she had ever heard of factions being barred from a dig; if their ‘profession’ wasn’t considered beneficial. Geologists turned up at dinosaur excavations all the time, and she had found them useful from time to time.
The idea of barring a team, that was unheard of and troubling.
Alexis spoke again.
“I got all confused and asked why would the Archaeological community be so hell-bent on keeping the Paleontologists in the dark?” “It’s strange” the young woman agreed. “I went out to the excavation to investigate it for myself and noticed that there is a narrow valley only two kilometres away. ” Alexis explained before continuing, her voice taking on a darker tone. “Someone could use the valley to enter the site undetected, I say we go out there and have a look for ourselves,” Alexis said. The young woman frowned looking down to a book she had been filling with frenzied sketches; this sounded like something out a fable.
“Did your connection say why he suspects there’s more to this?” she asked.
“No, he didn’t,” Alexis confirmed. Blue eyes clouded as the young woman on the other end of the phone thought everything through; this was deeply disturbing; it wasn’t like Alexis’s connections to be so vague, let alone elusive. Usually, they would be comprehensive, and she and Alexis could make a well thought out decision.
This case, though?
She felt as though she was going into battle for her profession. “Where is the dig?” the young woman asked curiously. “Mongolia.”
The young woman was pulled back from her self-induced flashback by the site of Alexis standing on one of the many dunes that made up the Gobi desert. The Gobi Desert was no stranger to unique paleontological finds, but she wasn’t sure if there were any from human history. The history of humankind wasn’t necessarily a passion of hers. Alexis, on the other hand, had studied biology and anthropology in her university days although her strongest subject was Flora. She had been lucky enough to get a scholarship, allowing her to choose multiple degrees in a short period and tore herself a place at the top, where she belonged.
Her beautiful gold hair stood out against her khaki shorts and black singlet, which were covered in stains from the sands that had recently become a powerful sandstorm, it had caused the archaeologists to retreat, but Alexis was not going to be put off by a little dust. Alexis watched as the young woman stepped out of the jeep, she was much taller than Alexis, all legs and athletically built; her piercing blue eyes hidden behind sunglasses, which protected her against the sun’s unmerciful power.
The sun was at its full strength in the desert, for those who dared to enter its heart. Precautions were advised. Alexis walked down the dune and embraced her friend. “Glad you made it,” Alexis said warmly, breaking away from the hug; the heat made physical movement challenging, it was better to do these things in the shelter and safety of the shade.
“Heard you had a sandstorm” the young woman uttered, looking around. She could tell immediately from the height of the dunes to her north, which way the wind had blown. “One of many Brooke” Alexis explained. Brooke nodded her dark crimson hair pulled back into a low ponytail at the nape of her neck to allow her to keep cool in the deserts unrelenting heat, she looked around, curling her toes in her hiking boots as she walked up one of the dunes to have a view of the environment.
“So aside from your contact’s bizarre message, what else have you found out?” Brooke questioned, turning her head to look at Alexis over her shoulder with a raised eyebrow. “The storm’s pushed the archaeologist’s back to their shelter on the opposite side of the dunes, they had to take their whole equipment with them” Alexis explained. “Good thing I just bought my tool belt” Brooke responded with a wry chuckle, she had always been one for the simplicity when it came to a dig; she would take the bare essentials. Her tool belt and an assortment of instruments that were designed explicitly for excavating fossils, she also had an ample supply of water with her, as well as a thick down jacket; it might have sounded odd, but the desert could drop to below zero at night.
“Did you bring any rope?” Alexis asked as they walked down together, towards their camp; which was well hidden in between the dunes. “Always” Brooke responded looking her friend over; despite their differences in height. Alexis was also more shapely and had tanned skin, probably from living in Utah nearly her whole life. Brooke was significantly paler, claiming this year in New Zealand she had seen minimal sunlight; she supposed she was making up for it now, she was always careful when it came to sun exposure and also to human interaction.
The last thing she wanted to do in the desert was to get into an argument with the archaeologists. She placed her pack on the ground next to her tent. “But tell me, why are we going to need it?” she asked. She dreaded the response when Alexis was determined anything, and everything was a possibility. Especially when their reputations were on the line, she recalled one time how Alexis had all but bungee jumped off a cliff to get to a dig.
She had used her common sense and abseiled down, but it was still one of the funniest moments of Brooke’s short life.
“We need to get into that cave” Alexis declared gravely. Brooke looked alarmed, the sun was setting, the night would be colder, and a simple change of clothes would ensure they survived the harsh desert night, but other dangers needed to be addressed, what was Alexis thinking.
“What!” Brooke demanded as she quickly walked into the tent to change, closing the canopy off so she could change her clothes in privacy. “Why do you want to abseil down into a cave, we could just talk to the archaeologists?” Brooke began before a voice echoed around them.
Brooke now dressed in her jeans a white t-shirt with a little dinosaur silhouette on it, most likely a raptor of some kind, peeked out from where she was changing. Alexis rolled her eyes and looked at Brooke, “Speak of the devil, and he shall appear” Alexis muttered to herself.
Brooke removed her sunglasses to get a better look at the man and slid on her signature black-rimmed glasses. The man was tall and well dressed, despite the heat, Brooke deduced that he must have been someone of great importance; his hair was respectfully greying.
But, it was his eyes that immediately set her on edge, they were brown and burned with the fury of an inferno. She could tell he was the director of the excavation and therefore had made the decision to bar the palaeontologists.
“Hello, Marcus” Alexis seethed out in such a manner, that Brooke swore the desert became frigid at Alexis’s words; she knew Alexis could be cold when she wanted to be, but this was something else. It seemed almost like a seething hatred. “It is Dr Williams to you” the man responded, unlike Alexis, he appeared to be hot-headed when it came to his temper, and it made Brooke nervous; she shrunk back into her tent. “Well, Marcus, you aren’t in the museum now. It’s a first name basis out here in the desert” Alexis said, a crude-looking smirk on her face; she was trying to wind him up, and she was succeeding.
Marcus tightened his hands into fists, forcing them together so tight to withhold his anger that his knuckles were turning white, and he was not a pale-skinned man. Brooke decided it would be best to be bold and go and introduce herself, although that could become problematic.
It was not like Alexis to be so cold towards someone unless they had said something that either, did not agree with her or did something to her previously.
Alexis was like an elephant, she very rarely forgave, and she never forgot. “Hello, Dr Williams, I’ve heard a lot about you; it’s a pleasure to meet you at long last”. Brooke held out her hand to signify she was going for the gesture of a handshake; she kept a calm, placid, polite smile on her face; her eyes sparkling behind her glasses. To her complete surprise, Marcus seemed to turn his anger upon her, first by rejecting her greeting and then narrowing his eyes at her in such a manner, that the tall young woman all but caved beneath his fiery gaze; she was scared.
“Who is she?” Marcus demanded from Alexis, ignoring Brooke outright. Something Alexis was not going to stand for; no one had the right to make her friend feel that uncomfortable. “This is Brooke, one of our leading palaeontologists in the southern hemisphere, known for being able to take fossils and turn them into individual characters” Alexis explained through her teeth, that was a low blow. Brooke didn’t have much confidence in herself at all, to be addressed as a ‘she’ when she had made such a proper introduction was one thing, but to downright ignore her, when Alexis knew Marcus Williams, knew full well who the young woman was. That was taking things a bit too far. That was personal, and she would not stand for it, her posture immediately became threatening.
“Ah, the one without the qualification; funny what passes for a palaeontologist these days” Marcus responded, smirking in the young woman’s direction.
Brooke felt her heart sink, and all she wanted to do was dive into her tent and cry, but she wasn’t going to let herself do that. Over the years she had learnt that she didn’t just have to take this lying down, she could challenge back.
She raised her head with such defiance, and her eyes narrowed dangerously, she looked almost wolf-like.
“Funny, that most people who like your profession Doctor Williams were rather disappointed when nothing as exciting as Indiana Jones or The Mummy movies occurred; at least our team knows what they are going to be doing most of the time.” Alexis grinned, now there was the fire that Brooke was infamous for these days, she might have had turbulent mental health, but if you chose to tear her down over her passions, then she would fight. Marcus seemed more than a little taken back from that and cleared his throat awkwardly. He was still angry. Seething in fact but he would not show they were getting to him.
“Quite” he countered, through his teeth. “What are you doing here, Marcus?” Alexis asked, changing the subject before things got even more hostile.
“To tell you to stay away, we found some of your dependents entering our dig site from one of the secluded areas. It is an archaeological dig, and we do not need your kind trampling over them” Marcus explained eyes narrowing dangerously. “Are you referring to woman Palaeontologists or something else that you can’t say because that is harassment, Doctor Williams?” Alexis asked eyes narrowing, if Marcus did not watch his next words he was going to end up with a broken jaw, Alexis was physical when someone hit a nerve, and the good doctor had done so.
You did not want to anger Alexis.
Marcus narrowed his eyes once again before a flare shot up from a distance; they must have found something important at the exploration. Brooke breathed a sigh of relief; blood would not be spilt. “Stay away from the site, Alexis, or I shall get the authorities involved. It is our dig; no Palaeontologists are needed; it is an Archaeological site, and there is no reason to think otherwise.” Without another word, Marcus retreated over the dunes to his waiting dune buggy and drove off towards the flare.
Brooke watched as Alexis climbed the dune and began yelling a few words, that would do no good if they were repeated.
“Alexis, come on let it go; you know why he’s winding you up, don’t you?” Brooke asked. Alexis took a deep breath but shook her head glancing in Brooke’s general direction but not making eye contact. “Enlighten me.” “He wants to get a trespassing order against you; it’s the only legal thing he can do; to keep you away from that dig!” Brooke explained. “I wouldn’t put it past him to do something illegal; the guy’s a total snake!” Alexis spat, before marching back down to Brooke and entering the tent. Brooke followed, recalling what Marcus had said about it being an Archaeological dig, but the Paleontologists seemed to be disagreeing with that hypothesis. “Alexis, what did they find?” Brooke asked, taking a seat on the cold floor, looking at her friend in the eyes. “A statue according to Marcus and his zombies” Alexis said with a grimace, before handing Brooke a photograph. “But look at this and tell me what you see.” Brooke took the picture, gently running her thumb over it, before looking down; adjusting her glasses so she would have a better view of what Alexis wanted her to see.
Brooke’s eyes widened, and she looked up to Alexis then back down to the photograph several times. “Is, is this real?” Brooke asked, looking up in complete awe and disbelief. Alexis grinned as she looked to Brooke. “I had the same reaction, it’s real alright” she explained. “That cannot be a statue, but it’s a bit blurry to tell for certain” Brooke uttered. Alexis nodded as she looked to Brooke, a massive grin on her face. “That’s why I went to take biopsy samples, but Marcus caught me and tossed me out. He also wasn’t happy when he found out I had a girlfriend either.”
“Stuck in the old ways is he?” Brooke asked with a roll of her eyes. “Besides what does having a girlfriend who is gorgeous by the way.” “Oh, thank you” Alexis returned. “Have to do with your credibility as a scientist?” Brooke inquired solemnly. “I have no idea, he just seems to be a real piece of work; probably was born with a silver spoon in his mouth” Alexis spat before adding “Arrogant Prick!” Brooke smiled grimly, sometimes Alexis was blunt, and Brooke craved that sometimes. “Agreed, but that presses the question, how do we get there?” Brooke asked.
“You’re coming with me?” Alexis asked bewildered, only a few minutes ago Brooke was trying to talk her out of it, talk about a quick change. “For the sake of our prior discoveries and the good of our shared reputations, we need to find out for ourselves, whether it means breaking the rules or not,” Brooke said as she looked to Alexis, with a grim look; they were both in agreement.
This was personal.
Alexis had to admit when Brooke set her mind to something her determination and perseverance knew no bounds, Brooke was not the type of person to back down without a fight.
When someone threatened her friends, when someone made her feel inferior, Brooke would battle for what she believed in and not back down. “So what’s your plan of attack?” Brooke asked, bringing her hair to one side, as she brushed out all the tangled parts of her hair, from being in the jeep for as long as she had been. “Go down there tonight, find another entrance into the cave and abseil down” Alexis shrugged grabbing her phone. “Take a few photographs of the figure so that we can come back and examine what we have” Alexis explained, gathering all the things they would need for tonight.
“Sounds like a good plan, but how do we do this without getting caught?” Brooke asked. Alexis put her hand to her chin in thought, before answering her friend.
“The jeep is noisy, but the dig isn’t that far from here, maybe an hour’s walk, or so, if we play our cards right, we should be back before the sun is up.” Brooke gave Alexis a sceptical look.
“You want us to go on foot through the desert in the middle of the night with sub-zero temperatures so that we don’t make too much noise?” Brooke asked before scowling; she always thought of the worst-case scenario in these situations. “Supposing we got lost.” “Don’t worry I have a highly detailed map; we’ll analyse it before we go and take it with us” Alexis explained pulling out a sizeable A3 map, that had details of the dig and its surrounding area. Brooke leant over the map, scanning it for any path that might lead to the site, avoiding the main camp. Alexis looked up from the map, changing into her jeans to keep herself warm for the long hike they would have to do later. Their conversation soon turned personal.
“Sorry you had to meet Marcus like that; he’s not bad at what he does” Alexis admitted, before letting out a heavy breath. Brooke shrugged in response, reaching into her bag and pulling out a large red scarf, quickly pulling it around her neck. “It’s fine, Alexis, it’s not the first time someone has taken a stab at me with the no qualification mockery, and I don’t think it will be the last”. “I know,” Alexis said with a heavy sigh, before noticing the small totem on a cord that Brooke was now pulling over her neck. “You still wear that thing?” Alexis asked. Brooke seemed to redden somewhat at that. “It was like destiny that I found this, everyone used to tell me as a kid I was a wolf, but I knew there was more to me than that, so when I found a winged wolf, I just had to have it” Brooke revealed, running her hand over the wolf totem gently. “It’s the embodiment of me both wolf and in a way a dragon”. Alexis gazed to Brooke with a soft smile on her face.
“You sure you don’t want to be a writer?” she asked with a laugh.
Brooke just grinned as she looked to Alexis. “Maybe one day, who knows; maybe this discovery will inspire me,” she said.
She had no idea how right those words would be.