Time and Place – Chapter 4

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A wave of heat blasted Penelope Tanris in the face. It was a particularly hot and uncomfortable day. She quickly dabbed her forehead with a handkerchief to prevent any sweat from running into her eyes.  The scripts of fragile paper that were laid out over her table were starting to cause her vision to blur.

She had since come to the conclusion that the text was not Iridian language, but a more basic form of the common tongue. It had several roots that seemed to derive from her own language, and she found translating it was becoming easier and easier.

It was an odd finding, to see several documents written in an ancient form of the common tongue on a planet that was most likely one of the Iridian homeworlds, but perhaps this was the Iridian language, since no written form of Iridian had ever been discovered before.

This could lead to some very interesting inquiries. Why would Iridians speak ancient common tongue? Did Iridian derive from common tongue? Or Vice Versa? Were they perhaps connected to humanity in some way in our recent past? Or was all language somehow interconnected, and it only seemed to Penelope as if they had some of the same roots?

Either way, the document seemed to offer nothing of use. It told a story, of sorts, but it used many words Dr. Tanris could not translate.  It seemed to involve fanciful creatures that Tanris had never heard of engaging in some kind of competition. It was folklore, most likely. She sighed, putting the document aside. It might be interesting, but ultimately pointless for her right now. Parables served as an interesting delve into a society’s ideals, but was not the kind of discovery she was being paid to make.

She wiped her forehead once again as new beads of sweat started to roll down her face. It was the lights, really. She had several bright halogen lights pointed straight down at the table, and they were producing much more heat than she would have liked. The breezes through her open tent flap were unfortunately just as hot and as uncomfortable, although even a hot breeze felt nice against her skin at this point.

Dr. Tanris could not wait until it was fall again. She knew the region tended to have four seasons, and two of them were bearable. In the winter months, she knew she would be able to accomplish nothing and the research would practically stop. It was for that reason that she was so adamant to get as many of the documents as she could translated.

She quickly made a note in her journal, labeled the document, and put it aside for some other person to make a more complete translation. She then set her pen down, leaning back into the cheap folding chair. It creaked and swayed slightly, but Penelope made no attempt to brace or adjust herself. The chair always swayed and always creaked. That chair had been to more excavation sites and archeological finds than most of the staff that worked under her, and she trusted it to carry her.

She pulled her arms out wide and then tossed them side to side, stretching them the best she could without knocking the table or anything that sat on it. The tent around her was of sufficient height for her to stand and move around. This was not because the tent was high, but because she was rather short. The tent was roughly ten feet by ten feet, providing sufficient space for the small desk, a mattress in the corner, and a dresser drawer that contained most of her stuff.

This had been her bedroom and home for about three years now, and she had only abandoned it once prior to restock supplies. Normally, she’d send others to perform the restocking, but in that particular case, there was no one that she felt she could trust to get the tools and supplies she had specifically needed. During the month trip, she had forced the excavation staff to stop working until her return. Fortunately, it was during a winter month, and little work could be performed anyway.

Dr. Tanris’s stomach grumbled and the noise reminded her that she had not eaten in some time. She glanced at the clock and clicked her tongue in annoyance. As a matter of fact, she had not eaten at all that day. She wasn’t hungry, of course. She never was. But she learned a long time ago to remember to eat at least once a day or she might just collapse without warning. It had only happened to her on rare occasions when a particularly astonishing find kept her busy for longer than she had planned. It was never something she wanted to happen though. There were a lot of lost opportunities to work during the two to three days it took for her to recover.

She stood up and walked out the tent. Once she ducked through the opening she realized that it was even hotter outside than she had originally thought. The sun blazed down from the sky above, and the heat didn’t provide as much comfort as one might have hoped.

The disarrayed camp around her encompassed various vehicles, tents, and equipment in no particular order. It wasn’t well maintained, but she didn’t really care enough to force her workers into a more organized system. She walked over to the canteen area, or at least the area the food was stored and often prepared.

She noticed the stock master sitting down, whittling away at a piece of wood. He was a broad-shouldered hulk of a man. His waist actually looked too small and petite to hold the body above it. He wore an apron, as always, and a white shirt, making him look more like a cafeteria cook than anything else.

It was his responsibility to make sure that there was a ready supply of everything the camp of roughly fifty people needed to survive. Sometime over the last three years that role grew into him becoming the camp cook. Every mealtime, he distributed the food to anyone who came by the canteen. He had started this habit ever since a few years ago when he had discovered one of the workers hoarding food.

When he saw her coming, he stood up. His knife slipped into his apron and the chunk of wood dropped to the floor.  He gave her a respectful bow before looking up inquisitively at her.

“I will be needing something to eat,” Penelope told him curtly.

He nodded and opened the crate he had been sitting on. There might have been a time where he would have asked her what she wanted, but after the hundredth time of her telling him she didn’t care, he had finally stopped asking and simply gave her whatever was available.

He pulled out a bag and handed it to her. She took it from him while he turned around to shut the chest closed. She went to another chest that sat across from him and sat down. When he turned back he gave a start, noticing that she was still there. Most of the time, she would immediately head back to the tent to have her meal in solitude. Penelope felt like she could use a little sun today, and besides, she had no room in the tent right now. The last thing she wanted was some food staining one of her documents.

The bag consisted of a beef stew, a canteen of water, and a spoon. She ripped it open, pulling out the bowl and removing the lid. She poured water in the bowl from the canteen and stirred it to suspend the dried kernels. The meal included a heating element, but she decided to simply eat it cold.  It was too hot to eat something equally hot. She ate her meal in silence, enjoying the periodic gusts of wind that seemed to carry the scent of summer. She had stopped sweating now, and the hot breeze seemed to be relaxing in a way. She realized her bowl of stew was almost empty, although she wasn’t aware that she had eaten that fast.

“Pardon me, ma’am,” A voice spoke from behind her.

Penelope cocked her head to the side, observing an unfamiliar man who now stood uncomfortably beside her. He was a short for a man, although still significantly taller than her. She never really trusted short men.  He had an oily mustache and with a devil’s peak beard. He had high cheek bones that made his face look both chubby and gaunt at the same time, although the contradiction was a bit unsettling. His hair was black, stringy, and as oily as his mustache. She cringed at the thought of anyone who would have to touch that hair.

“Yes?” She asked, turning her body towards him but remaining seated.

“You are Dr. Tanris, is this correct?” The man asked, his voice displaying a hint of a Sudmarin accent.

“That would be correct,” Penelope responded, attempting to hide her annoyance.

She didn’t fault his accent. She knew that she herself spoke with the chipped off Hucton accent, sometimes making it difficult to understand her. Instead, she was annoyed because of the type of man she suspected he was. This wasn’t the first visit Penelope Tanris had received. The stock master moved off, finding busy work a good distance away from the pair of them. He was a smart man.

“I am here on behalf of Anderus Satre,” the man said, a small smile on his face that he most likely intended to be disarming, “I am here to-”

“I know who you are,” Penelope interrupted,” I know why you’re here. I won’t hear of it. You aren’t the first of your kind to come crawling into my camp. And I will tell you what I told the rest of your bureaucratic hypocrisy. My funding is my own, and backed by the Lord Regent, so do not think you can brow-beat me into cutting my resources.”

She stood up, and with an abrupt turn, began walking to her tent.  The man took a few quick steps to get behind her. Despite her short legs, she was a fast walker, and the man had to step quickly to keep up. She was impressed he had reacted so quickly. She had left many a skip sitting slack-jawed in her wake.

“It’s simply that you haven’t found anything in the three years you have dug here. You have not shown any real proof that this was an Iridian homeworld. The amount of money that you have dumped into this archeological wasteland is not inductive of the results,” the man responded, jumping awkwardly over a cord strewn across the camp in a way that could have tripped him otherwise.

“And what research do you offer Skip?” Penelope answered, “I have had dozens of people come landing in my site, interrupting my work, to try to score some money for their own work. Charities, researchers, and Skips like yourself. The last one wanted the money to build an orphanage. At least, I think it was an orphanage; she used the words ‘homeless starving children’ a lot. But I refused her. You know why? Because the work I do here is important, so very important. So what makes you think your cause is so much greater?”

“I will have you know I am not a Sk- I mean doctor. I mean I am a doctor, but I am a doctor of law…” his voice started to sound exasperated.

“A lawyer? Really?” Penelope quirked her eyebrow, “So you only work for a Skip. Anderes Satre was it?”

“Anderus. Actually, I work for several professors at the United University, where there has been a discovery. It is a discovery of incredible proportions. All of the Universities are scrambling to find researchers, time, and money to-”

“And you thought you could just stop here and cut a large piece of my cake?” Penelope growled, stopping short in front of the entrance to her tent, “I apologize, Anderes, but you will need to go home without cake.”

As Penelope turned to enter her tent, Anderus opened his mouth to say something else before suddenly being interrupted by a shout. Penelope turned around to see a man running towards her. He was a grizzled man with thick arms and even thicker legs, but he maneuvered across the camp and its many crates, boxes, cords, and other tripping hazards with the comfort and ease of an experienced man.

“Ma’am,” Distro stated with a nod as he stopped in front of her.

He wasn’t out of breath. Penelope wasn’t sure the man could ever be out of breath. He was possibly one of the most resilient men she had ever known, and for that, she had kept him as part of her team for many years. More than once she had survived digs far more inhospitable than this one only because he held her up when she felt like falling. Despite that, he caught her at a particularly bad time.

“Well, get it out!” Penelope growled, unable to control her voice from the mood the leaching lawyer had put her in.

“There’s been a discovery. You need to come quickly and see for yourself,” Distro bowed, turning as he did.

Distro wasn’t one to call her unless it was needed. And he knew better than to waste her time explaining things. Penelope began following at his pace, which was brisk even by her standards. She was vaguely aware that the lawyer was following behind her, tripping and stumbling on his way to keep up.

Within a minute they had walked to the edge of camp, where Distro’s jeep was sitting. He leapt into the driver’s side and she followed into the passenger side. As the car started, a hand grabbed her arm. She looked at her right to see the lawyer looking at her with pleading eyes.

“I…” She began.

“We don’t want your money, we want you!” He said clearly louder and quicker than he had intended.

Penelope stared at him for a second before nodding. He jumped into the back seat as smoothly as a lawyer could before the car started forward. He wasn’t quite seated yet and stumbled a bit, falling back into the seat with a loud thump. This gave Penelope a bit more pleasure than she might have thought, and she ideally wondered if Distro had intentionally accelerated this hard for her benefit.

The jeep began to bounce and jeer as they quickly made their way to the dig site. Penelope could tell by the direction they were heading that it was Dig Site C.

“This discovery, it’s classified, but whatever it is they want you there. Every archeologist, scientist, and experienced individual is being called who has any loyalty to the Taerren Alliance. With commitment, you will be offered funding for ten years and tenor at the University.”

“Is that so, Anderes?” Penelope asked nonchalantly, trying to sound disinterested.

“That’s not my name, that’s who I work for, I mean Anderus-” the lawyer looked irritated.

In truth, she had been starting to worry whether this planet has been a waste of her time. But the energy signals? They had to be Iridian. Her financing did not end for another 3 years, and when she had come here, this was the big deal, the place where they wanted her to go. One by one, other archeologists gave up on the findings, until it was only her left. But if she abandoned the place, they would begin settling it with people, and any unfound ruins would be violated and destroyed.  This was the one shot they had to find any information about what happened to the Iridians.

Still, a fresh start would be nice. This new world, it has to have an Iridian signal to generate this kind of excitement. Maybe there was something there that wasn’t here. Maybe this was just starting all over again, and she’d be starting the goose chase again. She is so close this time.

She remained in silence, thinking about what the lawyer had said as he impatiently tried to keep his suit from falling apart in the wind. Dig Site C was not particularly far from camp, and before long they pulled into the unloading area.

“Will you do it?” the lawyer asked, still tidying his outfit.

Penelope glanced back at him before jumping out of the jeep, following Distro. She could hear the lawyer tumbling after her. They walked down a fairly steep crevice that went into the dig site. The lawyer struggled behind her as he attempted to make his way down the hill in shoes that were never fit for walking in anything unpaved.

At the bottom of the crevice was a partially dug up building. A few hints of rusted foundation still sat around it as several diggers attempted to uncover more of the building, but at the base of the dig was something that could only be described as a door. It was a closed door leading into a fully completed and undamaged room. The sides were concrete, and it looked like a solid concrete cube with 6 sides around that closed door.

“A time capsule?” Penelope breathed out.

“Possibly,” Distro answered, “The cube seems to be in some kind of time bubble. It’s emitting some kind of temporal energy similar to what the Iridians used.

“Temporal energy? This looks nothing like anything Iridian we have ever seen,” Penelope frowned as she stared at the odd building up and down.

“It is difficult to say. The bubble seems to have protected this building, and slowed down the effects of time. It is actually the source of the Iridian signals we have been tracing for years. Even now, most of our equipment is going haywire around it. But I would say whatever it is, it predates the Iridians.”

Penelope’s eyebrows rose as she looked around. Many of the workers had stopped working and were now all anxiously watching her.  The lawyer had stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the half buried room as if he had never seen one before.

“I want that door open!” She shouted.

The lawyer jumped, but everyone else sprang into action, just waiting for the order. Within a few seconds several people had forced crowbars into the edges and were forcing the door open. It cranked open with an incredibly loud whine. Air rushed in as the pressure rapidly altered between the two environments.

Perhaps she should have been more patient. Analyzed, checked, and ran results before opening the door, but she had already been patient for years. Now she had to know why that signal was here.

The door was finally wedged open enough for a person to fit through. Penelope pulled a protective breathing device over her face, grabbed a flashlight, and plunged into the darkness. Distro cursed before following while quickly covering his own face. The inside of the room was unremarkable. Her flashlight showed concrete walls and crates after crates of unidentified stuff. At a first glance, there was certainly no power source that could be creating the temporal energy.  Then, her flashlight beamed across the table in the center of the room.

On the table sat what could only be identified as a coffin made entirely of metal. She walked up to the table. Distro cautiously followed behind her. The metallic coffin possessed a glass window that allowed her to shine her light into the box. What she saw shocked her.

It was a person. He looked Taerren, with dirty blond hair, a moderately strong chin, and full cheeks. His skin looked clean and washed. He looked to be asleep, and he was in perfect physical condition. How is that possible? She glanced over to Distro, who glanced back at her and gave a shrug.  When she turned around to the entrance, the lawyer had his head peaked through the crack and was staring in shock and wonderment at the place her light had touched.

“The answer is no, Anderes. I think I have work to do here.”

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