Step by step he climbed the stone stairs that reached towards the heavens; blocks forged by an unknown maker – an unknown civilization – in the Latin American jungle. Taking a breath to rest, James marveled at the precision the blocks had been placed. Without cement, or anything else to bind the structure together, they have managed to build something to stand the test of time. It was truly doing more with less; creativity fueled by limitation.
How they were able to build such magnificent structures with simple stone tools was simply baffling. As he stroke the stone blocks that had turned green after centuries of neglect, James felt the sun’s warming rays on his neck as it rose above the trees.
It was another day, another opportunity to unearth the mysterious of this place. For so many years they’d believed the Aztecs and the Mayans were the creators of the pyramids, when in reality, there was another people predating them both – the architects of the entire Mesoamerican world.
Now standing on the top of the pyramid, he watched as the sun cast its light on the ruins below. James reached out his palm over the city still shaded by the trees, pretending to be in control of the sun; just like the god this pyramid was dedicated to – Huitzilopochtli. James grinned as the movement of his hand coincide with the illumination of the city below his palm.
This will be a good day, he thought.
With the sun fully risen, people began scurry between the ruins. Scientist from all over the world had gathered at this remote location, the site grown famous from its potential historical significance. Satisfied with his performance, James was ready to head down when he heard a wheezing coming from below. A few steps down the pyramid, he saw another scientist trying to climb the tall stairs to its top, his bald spot flaring by the sun’s angle. Instead of meeting his colleague half way, James sat by the edge and awaited him, sneering at the effort he had to muster by the simple climb. Dr. Fredrick was a pencil pusher, compared to James that sought knowledge beyond the desk. Though, for the doctors inept physical abilities, he perfectly made up for it with incredible devotion and attention to details. To bad there weren’t any scrolls for him to mull over…
Reaching the top, Dr. Fredrick panted next to him, trying to catch his breath. With his gaze set at the horizon, James gave minimal attention to his colleague as he coughed and spluttered.
“Morning James… ‘cough’… Strange place to do your morning routine.”
“Did you want something?”
The doctor winced at the harsh tone, and James instantly regretted is wording – coming out more coldly than he intended.
“I… I just thought you should see this,” Fredrick said and brought out his phone. He opened the web browser and showed an article titled. “Mayan Civilisation Still Unexplained by Science”.
James made a heavy sigh. The article reminding him of their failures, so far. This site was supposed to be special, after all. Far away from urbanisation and unexplored for centuries, they had been confident to find some evidence of the mysterious “Pyramid Builders”, but, alas, it hasn’t been the case.
“Let me guess. It was aliens that built this, right?” James said, placing his hand on the pyramid.
James didn’t need an answer, as he saw it in Dr. Fredrick’s eyes. Somehow this stung more than an outright answer.
“They just want answers, James. We all do. Theirs is just the simpler one… Besides, it was bound to happen sooner or later.”
James could feel anger boil within him, mostly for his own failures but also because there are more people out there than he cared to admit that believed in the alien nonsense. Like his parents, they sought the simple answers in life.
James expelled a growl, trying hold his thoughts to himself, but he knew it was futile, given his temper.
“They want answers, huh? They didn’t even get the civilisation right! The Mayans… The Aztecs always gets the bad wrap in history.”
“I guess it’s a catchier name.”
James cast a poisonous glance at Fredrick who instantly looked away. That’s why he didn’t like the man, James thought; always coming to the defence of the “others”, making him feel like the unreasonable one.
As if ignoring James’s look, Fredrick turned and watched the ruins being filled with activity.
“No matter,” James finally said after a long pause. “I’ll find the real answers soon enough. This will not end up another mystery for the alien worshippers to gorge on.”
Finding it safe to turn his attention back to James, Fredrick nodded, acknowledging James’s resolution. As they made ready to head down, Fredrick hesitated by the first step. “Oh, I almost forgot: they’ve cleared away the rubble in the hallway and they found another room.”
“What? When did that happen?”
“Yesterday. They’ve been investigating the room since this morning.”
“And only now do you bother to tell me?”
Fredrick shrugged. “Well… you know…“
James’s eye twitched.
Rushing past Dr. Fredrick, he hurried down the pyramid to the only entrance by its base.
Why was it always like this? Why was he always worked against in whatever he was doing? Can’t they see they needed him?
Inside the pyramid, there was another set of stairs that was leading to the hallway. James hunched as he entered it and it took a few minutes before reaching the top. In the hall he was greeted by the statue of a skull, grinning wide-eyed at him. The hallway was littered with carvings, highly detailed depictions of gods, men, and animals; an archeologists wet dream in its condition.
The hall separated into two paths leading to one room at each end. James turned left and noticed that indeed the path had been cleared, hearing noises further away. Gritting his teeth in anger, he hurried down the hallway until he stood in the doorway of the newly discovered room, watching as his colleagues turn silent as they noticed him.
Within seconds, a bleary eyed man emerged from the group, greeting him most respectfully. “Boss! Welcome! We’ve already investigated the entire room and I’m sorry to say nothing significant has found.”
James eyed the man before him. Despite his tired look, there was a gleam in his eyes that always put James on edge, like he always had something up his sleeve – scheming…
“I’ll be the judge of that, Paul.” James answered coldly.
Paul shrugged and signalled the others to leave with gesture of his hand. “Of course. We’ll leave you to it.”
Now alone in the room, James felt his hands tremble, the fury almost impossible to contain. “Smug son of a bitch,” he whispered and sat on a decorated stone chair with skulls carved on each armrest.
It was ‘Lamanai’ all over again…
Of all the archeologists in the world, why did it have to be him? Wasn’t HE acknowledged by the international community as the head of this team? Wasn’t HE the one with the credentials to back up this expedition?
Feeling tired, James glanced around the room, realising he’d lost all interest in investigating it. Another thing Paul had taken away from him. With a great sigh, James rose from his seat and made ready to leave when the stone chair suddenly moved, as if a spring had been activated underneath. With his heart at his throat, he feared that he’d damaged the chair. Already he’d broken the most important rule of an archeologist: Don’t sit on the relics!
But on closer look, he noticed a gap between the stone floor and the furniture.
There was something hidden underneath.
The chair was somehow movable, and with enough force, James was able to fully unveil the hollowed out space hidden in the floor.
From the hollowed out space, James picked up a box. The box had no discernible features, lacking in any decoration, which was unprecedented for the aztec culture. But most notably, the box was heavy. Heavy enough to be made of iron! But that couldn’t possibly be true… could it?
Holding the box in front of him, his hands began to shake as he considered the possibilities of this find. The Mesoamerican culture was (mostly) a stone age society, yet here he was, holding a relic made of iron! Glancing over his shoulders, James wrapped the box in his jacket. This was his find, after all. Why shouldn’t he be able to marvel at it at his own leisure before the others gets their hands on it?
Hesitating for a moment, he made a decision and headed out the room and down the stairs. With the box firmly in his grasp, James ignored the people around him even as they called for him in the distance.
Whatever it was, it could wait for later.
Reaching his tent at the outskirts of the excavation site, James placed the box on his table just to look at it; as if playing with the idea what might be inside was more exciting than actually opening it. The box itself pretty much confirmed that the “Pyramid Builders” was more advanced than they thought and was the first real evidence of their existence. With his hands shaking by just considering this, he took a sip of whisky to calm his nerves.
It helped a little.
Fiddling with the lock, he noticed the remarkable condition the box was in. There was small instances of corrosion around the lock, but beside this, it was rust free. Which would be impossible in such a damp environment… unless it wasn’t pure iron, but a form of alloy to prevent rust from happening…
The ingenuity of the ancients knows no bound.
Not able to wait any longer, James pried the box open, more forcefully than he aught to.
Staring at its contents, he leaned closer and rotated the box in different angles.
What the hell am I looking at?
Not sure what he was expecting, all the excitement of the mystery was replaced with utter confusion. Those…those can’t be wires… could they?
Rushing to his drawer, James dug up some equipment for closer inspection. With a magnifier and surgical knife, he carefully scrapped the small amount of corrosion around the relic. Sweat trickled down his neck as he held his breath to forced his hands steady. After a few minutes of cleaning, he still wasn’t sure what he was looking at. No matter how he looked at it his mind could only register wires and circuits…
No. It couldn’t possibly—
Remembering the article he was shown earlier today, he back away from the box, afraid of himself for the sudden urge to destroy it.
“…Aliens?! Aliens of all things?”
Pressing his hands against his head, hyperventilating, he turned his attention behind him where he heard commotion outside the tent. Then he looked back at the box, wide eyed and with conflicting emotions.
What do I do?