The Alien Element – Chapter 2

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Snippet 2 from The Alien Element
Translocator Trilogy Book Two
by M.G. Herron
Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved, yadda yadda

 

The Alien Element by M.G. Herron2

First Flight Back

Eliana hurried across the campus of the University of Texas, sweat gathering at her collar of her blouse and under her arms. Today was the day of her final guest lecture at the University, and she was late for her own class.

The leather messenger bag she purchased when she had been offered the guest lecturer position at her alma mater earlier that year swung at her side, rubbing against the bare skin of her legs below her shorts. After a single semester, it was still not broken in, and the edges were sharp.

The spring air was fresh and she couldn’t help but slow her steps and bend to admire the bright bluebonnets spilling out of every patch of grass edging the sidewalk. Seeing the bluebonnets bloom wild and free in the spring always made Eliana long to be outdoors, in the sun, and the sight of them today made her check in with herself.

Yes, she thought, I have been outdoors latelyquite a lot.

Eliana rose from sniffing the bed of wildflowers and continued her walk across the university campus, this time forcing herself to walk more slowly. What did it matter if she was late? It was her last lecture.

After a grueling nine-month application and permission process, the research team she now led had just spent three weeks exploring the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a jungle in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that extended into Belize and Guatemala. Their goal, at least on paper, was to map uncharted Mayan ruins, of which there were a great many in the dense 13 million acre forest.

She considered, for a moment, the path that led her here. After she returned from Kakul a year ago, Eliana had begun to digest her harrowing experience. She wrote down everything she’d seen and learned, from the moment she was zapped across the galaxy by a glitch in Amon’s Translocator, to the last time she saw the two moons in the night sky of that other world.

Even if she had possessed pen and paper while she was in Kakul, she didn’t know if she would have had the presence of mind to keep notes. The first weeks had been so incredibly disorienting. She had been so intent on avoiding becoming a sacrifice to their ancient god, and then learning the language and working for her food, that nothing else had mattered. And then had been brutally attacked. Who has time to keep a journal when your very survival is at stake?

Once Amon brought her home, she wrote down what she did remember. It went slowly at first, but once she had the facts down—how people lived there, what they ate, all the words she knew (spelled out phonetically), the people’s religious customs—she finally began to ask the other questions that had been nagging at her mind.

How had the Kakuli people gotten to that planet in the first place? And when? The archaeologist in her demanded an explanation. Eliana consulted with Renee Shaw, her mentor and former advisor at University. Renee was a linguist who specialized in ancient Mesoamerican cultures, and she confirmed that the language Eliana learned was, indeed, a dialect of Yucatec Mayan. Given all the words she didn’t recognize, she suspected that it would make sense that it was an unknown dialect or one that had diverged some time ago and had developed in isolation.

Later, much later, Eliana would admit to herself that she thought about going back to Kakul at that moment, and rejected the idea outright. Not only did she have absolutely zero desire to be translocated anywhere again, but Amon’s work was under more scrutiny now than ever. The US government had insisted, to Amon’s annoyance, on increasing security. She couldn’t use a billion-dollar molecular reassembly device under high security for her research without a lot of hassle.

Eliana turned, instead, to the other place she was likely to get answers. Though she still felt scarred from the experience, her recent exposure in the press was a boon. Eliana Fisk wasn’t just an archaeologist anymore—she was the woman who survived the world’s first and only Translocator accident.

She managed to secure funding from an archaeological society associated with her alma mater, put together a competent exploration team from her old contacts in the field, and go through the nine-month application process with the Mexican government. After today, she could continue her search for the answers to her burning questions about the Kakuli people in the Yucatan Peninsula, the ancestral homeland of the Mayan people.

She finally reached the building where the small lecture hall was located, dashed up the steps, and yanked on a polished brass handle. As the door opened on smoothly oiled hinges, a murmur of voices filled the air.

She may have been late for her lecture, but that only enhanced her entrance. A hush fell over the crowded room. Judging by attendance, word had spread that she wouldn’t be continuing these guest lectures next year, as originally rumored.

Eliana stopped a few feet from the open door to catch her breath. After composing herself, she strode purposefully into the room. The sound of the door latching echoed in the quiet room.

Eliana heard only the sound of her footsteps as she crossed the floor to the lectern in the center. She took a second to stow her messenger bag carefully on a low shelf, fix her air, and adjust the microphone down to her height.

“Good afternoon,” she said. “I see that there are far more of you here than have been attending class for most of the semester. Many new faces. Thank you for coming. I’m sure we’re breaking all the fire code regulations.”

Gazing up at the gathering of students, Eliana noticed that not a single seat sat empty. In fact, students even sat side-by-side on the two columns of steps leading up through the theater-style seats. They stood behind the back row and gathered at the doorways.

No pressure, she thought. A vibration came from her messenger bag, where her phone was stored. She ignored it.

“Since you’re already here, and this is my last lecture, you are welcome to stay. I won’t tell.”

The tension in the room eased visibly, and Eliana saw a few guilty grins light up the young faces at the back of the room. Laptops opened, the backlit logos of the computer companies shining down at her.

She rested her forearms beside the microphone and began the speech she had prepared. “Our topic today is a continuation of the theme of this series—how Mayan art and architecture has influenced the modern world. Specifically, in this lecture we’ll be examining what we can learn about complex societies and economics by studying the decline and abandonment of many major cities in the southern Maya Lowlands during the ninth century CE.”

The lecture went on from there, and Eliana fell into her groove. This was a topic she had been fascinated with since she began her career in archaeology, so it was easy to talk passionately about the details, from when the Maya entered the cultural consciousness of Western civilization in the early 20th century to the restoration of the pyramid at Chichen Itza. She showed them the jade mask of Palenque, evidence of the advanced mathematics of the Maya astronomers, photos of the codices and ancient scripts that, to this day, no one had fully been able to decipher or catalog in full.

It was a topic that had recently taken on more personal color, but she kept her own theories out of it. So far she had only told Amon and a few people close to her what she’d really experienced on Kakul. She couldn’t lay her theories on her students—not without more concrete evidence.

An hour passed in the space of a breath. As she began to wrap up the lecture, one young woman who had been typing furiously on a laptop during the entire lecture begin to fidget restlessly. Eliana knew her

“Now—questions?” Eliana said.

The fidgety girl’s hand shot into the air. Eliana tried to keep her face relaxed in a neutral smile. So much rested on a teacher’s expression. She’d been this girl once, and it wouldn’t be kind to embarrass her for her enthusiasm, even unintentionally.

“Is the research you’re doing in Mexico connected to your disappearance last year?”

The question stole the breath from her lungs. Eliana blinked and felt her face flush. She closed her mouth and inhaled slowly through her nose.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Fisk,” the girl said. “It’s just—I had to ask. The newspapers last year said you came back wearing jade and shell jewelry and dressed in coarse-woven cloth, and I’ve heard rumors that—”

A door opened and shut. The girl hesitated. Someone cleared their throat.

Eliana held up a hand. “It’s okay, Margaret,” she finally said. “I suppose someone had to ask eventually. The research my team is doing in Mexico is exploratory in nature. We’re trying to map the undocumented ruins in the more remote regions of the Calakmul Reserve. That’s all. Those jungles are incredibly dense, and we believe that still may contain some interesting discoveries about the Mayans.”

The girl’s face dropped, obviously disappointed. But she smiled and nodded, apparently satisfied with that explanation.

It wasn’t a lie—more like an evasion. How had this young woman put the pieces together? Not even her research team had the full sense of Eliana’s suspicious about the Kakuli people. She had kept those cards close to her chest. Eliana would have to tell Renee about this student. A girl with that kind of intuition—not to mention her passion—showed promise.

“That’s all for today,” Eliana said. “Thank you all for coming. Be sure you register in advance for the next guest lecture you attend.”

With a rustle of bags and papers, the students all rose at once and filed toward the exit. The shy girl, Margaret, averted her face and hurried for the exit. Eliana turned to try to catch her attention, to get her name, but when she turned around she looked straight into a very familiar face.

“Renee!” she said. “I thought we were meeting later for lunch.”

Her former mentor and present president of the University proudly wore a trim red pantsuit that reminded Eliana more of a politician than a linguist. Renee probably felt that her new position demanded she dresses the part.

“I hope you don’t mind. I snuck in at the end,” Renee said “I didn’t want to miss your last appearance. They students are completely enamored with you, you know.”

Eliana couldn’t conceal the blush that crept up her neck.  She changed the subject. “That girl who asked me about my research, do you know her?”

Renee inclined her head. “Margaret Jaffray. Yes, she’s an excellent student. Made the dean’s list three years in a row.”

“Oh, good,” Eliana said. “She’s a bright one. Might have to recruit her for my research team after she graduates.”

Eliana grabbed her messenger bag and slung it across her body, then reached in and grabbed her phone. She had two messages, several missed calls, and half a dozen text messages. She scrolled through the texts as she distractedly followed Renee out of the lecture hall.

“So where would you like to eat?” Renee asked.

Eliana didn’t answer her. She wasn’t trying to be rude, it was just that the text messages absorbed her whole attention.

We found something. Take the first flight back. You have to see this with your own eyes.

Eliana swallowed against the dryness in her mouth. Her heart slammed against her ribcage. She looked up at her former mentor. “I’m sorry, Renee, I’d love to catch up with you but I think—I have to go. Let’s reschedule. I’ll let you know when I’m back in town.”

Renee stopped, her hands falling loosely at her sides. “Back in town?”

“Yes,” Eliana said, walking backward toward the door. “I’ll call you!” She turned, not waiting for an answer.

Eliana booked a flight on her phone on the way to the airport. As the plane left the runway, she forced the hope down inside her chest, trying to keep it contained until she’d seen the evidence for herself.

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