Megan was startled by Peterís reaction, and she, too, jumped. "Peter, whatís the matter?" Then she saw the snake and smiling, reached down to pick it up. It curled gracefully around her wrist. "Itís only a corn snake, for cornís sake." She took it over to a nearby rock and let it go. "Anasazi considered snakes sacred."
As she started to get in, she noticed Peter was grayish-green, his cheeks puffing, and his eyes dilated. "Hey, Peter, are you okay? Iím sorry; I didnít know you were afraid of them."
Peter got some air back in his lungs and sat down rather heavily in the newly-vacated seat, jerked involuntarily, and then settled back again. "Yeah. Worse than Indiana Jones," he tried to joke. "Boy, I hate those things! I donít care what they areĖcorn, carrot, rutabaga or broccoli! Or if they are sacred!"
She laughed a little at his statement, but smiled sympathetically. "Itís the same with me and moths and butterflies. At times of real stress I have nightmares where they fly up and try to smother me. I see one of those things and Iíve been known to go into total hysterics."
Peter laughed unevenly. "Here we sit, t-two p-paranoid p-people." And all of a sudden, their tension became too much, and they both started laughing uncontrollably.
Near the cave entrance the two operatives looked at each other. "Do you think they found some sacred mushrooms in there, or something?" one asked.
Megan watched over Peterís shoulder as he downloaded the digital picture. "Came out good."
"Yeah. Now we just need to find out what weíre lookiní at."
As he was accessing information, Natasha walked by. "Hmm. Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades."
Peterís head swung around. "You sure?"
"Sure. Astronomy is my hobby. One of Ďem, anyway. Was that in the cave?"
"Yeah. Man, you have gotta see that before we leave here."
"Natasha, can you outline those constellations? I canít make out anything except Orionís Belt." Megan asked.
Peter vacated the chair, and Natasha proceeded to connect the stars in rough patterns.
"Still doesnít look like anything to me," Peter commented. "Someone sure had a good imagination." He glanced at Megan and noticed the thoughtful look on her face. "What are you thinking?"
She shook her head. "Iím trying to remember something, butĖjust now, I canít."
"Are you ready to go back in?"
"Yes; letís go."
"You come, too, Tasha. I want you to see that star map. Maybe itíll give you some ideas."
"Itís like youíre looking right up into the sky," Natasha marveled. "This is the most incredible thing I have ever seen!"
Peter breathed a laugh. "Youíre not alone there, Tasha."
"But how did they get it up there? That ceiling has to be twenty feet high, at least! And as far as I can tell with the naked eye, that map is completely and proportionately accurate!"
In the meantime, Megan had been exploring the surrounding walls closely. She had pointed out more symbols to them, and had just completed the round when suddenly she frowned in bewilderment.
"Peter, NatashaĖdo you feel a draft?"
"Now that you mention it, I do." Natasha commented.
Peter took a match from the container on his belt and struck it. The flame fluttered to the right. "Over there somewhere." He pointed to the far wall. "It isnít coming from the passage, thatís for sure."
He took his light and began examining the wall inch by inch, gently touching the stone with his fingertips.
It was then he found it. Originally thinking it was a stylized painting of a snake, his probing revealed an opening in the rock face. His light revealed a difference in the density of the blackness from the stone around it. Something was definitely behind the wall!
Slowly Peter edged his fingers toward the crack.
"Peter, stop!" Megan screamed.
He jerked his hand back and whipped around. "What the heck is your problem?" he snapped.
"Itís a booby trap!" She was as shaken as he.
He stared at her for a few seconds, then took a folding ruler from his belt. He cautiously inserted a section into the crack and moved it around a little. Abruptly the part snapped off! He dropped the rest of it, and sat down hard on the ground.
She dropped down beside him. "Are you all right?"
He took a drink from his canteen and nodded, but his hand was shaking. "H-Howíd you know?"
"I donít know. I just did."
He stared at her again, then gave a half-smile. "Thanks." He got to his feet and stared at the hole. "Whew! Weíd better get some readings before we go any further."
"Peter, if thereís air coming through, there must be another entrance," Natasha surmised. "Why donít we do an aerial and ground study?"
Peter nodded. "I want to try and get a probe in here, too, to map out whatís behind that wall. I sure donít want to bring this chamber down."
Megan gasped and Peter turned to her. "Donít worry; I wonít let that happen."
She flashed him a grateful smile and the three of them went back to the mobile lab to arrange for the tests.
"This is like deja vu." he muttered as he tried to
maneuver the probe around the curves of the cave. "Another knock like that, and weíll have to replace some of the instruments."
At last he got it around the last curve, into the cul-de-sac. "The GPR shows solid ground underneath."
"GPR?" Megan asked.
He glanced up at her. "Ground Penetrating Radar."
"Can it detect whatís on the other side of the wall?"
"NotĖreally. Just that there is a spaceĖa very large spaceĖback there."
Natasha handed him a readout. "No detection of another entrance yet. It must be well-hidden."
"Great! Looks like weíll have to eyeball this one."
A short time later, the three of them, and as many others as could be spared, were scouting the area around the cave for another entrance.
An hour later, it was Megan, with her expertise in archaeology, that found the narrow opening in the rocks above the cave. "Peter! Natasha! Iíve found it!"
The others came running, and saw where she had cautiously moved a medium-sized rock and revealed a hollow beneath it. The three of them cleared more space until there was a person-sized opening.
This time Peter attached a rope to his flashlight and slowly lowered it into the abyss, swinging it from side to side. He was lying flat on his stomach, with the two girls mere inches above his head.
At last the tension was more than Megan could bear. "What do you see, Peter? Anything?
"The areaís so large, itís hard to tell, but I think I can make out structures like in Chaco." He raised up and let her take his place. "You take a look."
It didnít take long for her assessment. She looked up at him, her eyes alight. "It is, Peter, it is! What a find! Oo, I canít wait to get down there!"
"Now, hold on, there. Nobodyís going down there until we have a lot more information. For one thing, that rope is 50 feet long, and it never touched bottom."
Megan jumped up and turned to confront Peter, hands on hips, and saw he had adopted the same pose. Sensing argument would be useless, she made a frustrated sound as she turned red and stalked off to the mobile lab.
Natasha was about to speak when she saw the look in Peterís eyes as he watched Meganís retreat and remained discreetly silent for a time. Finally she interrupted the silence.
"Peter? Wh-what should I do?"
"Huh? Oh-uh." He held his palms up in a helpless gesture and shook his head a little. "Assemble the rest of the team andĖletís get started excavating."