Megan had organized the beginnings of the dig, but had pointedly avoided any contact with Peter. After dark, she went out and sat on a nearby rock and gazed up at the stars.
"May I join you?"
"Why? Am I coming apart?" she asked as Peter sat down beside her. She sighed. "Oh, Peter, I’m sorry about this afternoon."
Peter laughed. "Don’t worry about it–I’m not."
She smiled. "Thanks. Dangers of being a redhead, I guess. I just get so frustrated at delays."
"How long do you think it will take to uncover something significant?"
She shook her head. "It’s hard to tell. We have to go slowly in order to not miss anything." She sighed again, and her gaze returned to the stars.
"The Indians thought that the stars were the campfires of the warriors who had gone to Sipapu–their version of the afterlife." She was silent a minute, then added, "The stars look so huge, out here in the desert, with no lights around. I was just trying to see if I could spot that star cluster that’s on the map."
"It should be to the north. Polaris is a key star."
She nodded, then spotted it, almost over the cave. Off to their right the full moon began to rise.
"Pretty night," Peter commented. "Moon’s coming up."
"Here’s something odd," Megan began. "The Hopi reservation in Arizona is exactly opposite the country of Tibet. In Tibet, the word for ‘moon’ is the same as the Hopi word for ‘sun,’ and vice versa."
"No kidding? That is odd." After a minute he continued. "What are they like, the Hopi?"
"Their name means ‘The Peaceful People.’ I think that about says it all. They are so similar to the Anasazi, but there’s just no hard evidence that they’re the same people. But the culture–everything–says it is. Everything but the language."
"Was your husband close to proving it?"
"Unfortunately, no closer than anyone else is. But he had so little time to study it."
"Do you mind my asking–what happened to him?"
"Hanta Virus. Three years now." She smiled reflectively. "He was the personification of his peoples’ name. We were only married for five years. But all of them were good." She looked at Peter. "Have you ever been married?"
He shook his head. "There was a girl back home, but I couldn’t live there, where nothing ever happened. Dangers of being a scientist I guess," he added, paraphrasing her earlier statement.
She laughed in response. "Where’s home?"
"Bell Island. Off Newfoundland."
"Do you miss it?"
He was quiet for a long time before he answered, "Sometimes."
She sensed his shutdown, and rose. "I’d better be getting back. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow."
Peter rose, too, and offered his hand. Megan took it and together they walked back to the mobile lab.
By mid-afternoon of the next day, progress had been made. Several items had turned up, but nothing of great significance.
Megan laid down the spade she was using, and took a drink from the canteen, then splashed some water over her hot face.
Natasha looked over from her grid. "Why don’t you take a break, Megan?"
"Thanks," she smiled. "I think I will. I’ve been wanting to see if Peter has had any luck with the magnetic dating of that pottery we found."
She headed off toward the mobile lab and found Peter working on the pottery shard.
"Twenty five hundred years, as close as we can figure it."
"But--that predates Chaco and all the other sites!"
He nodded. "By about 500 years."
Megan was silent while she absorbed that astonishing fact.
Peter frowned, thinking. "Megan, I’m only a novice at this, but something’s been puzzling me. Why here, in Nevada? Their ‘place’ is two states east of here."
"That thought has crossed my mind, too, and as yet I don’t have a theory for it. Maybe the answer lies in that cave. I want to go back in there and have another shot at those petroglyphs. I haven’t really tried to read them yet; cohesively, I mean."
‘Okay. I’ll go with you. I don’t want you going in there alone. No one in this party is to go anywhere alone."
She nodded a little and gathered her things.
"Why don’t you just take pictures of them?"
Megan shrugged. "I don’t know. I just prefer drawing them by hand. It sort of–reinforces what you see if you have to reproduce it."
"Man, where does all this begin?" he commented, looking around.
Megan laughed and flashed him a look. "Well, it doesn’t start ‘Once upon a time,’ that’s for sure."
"Oh, funny. Very funny."
She laughed again and pointed with her pencil to a section high on a wall. "For instance, that tells of a great hunt, and a successful one." She made a few more drawings and added, "And this one tells of a woman’s wealth. The Anasazi were a matriarchal society."
She nodded. "When a man married, he left his clan and went to his wife’s. The children were instructed by the matriarchal males of the family–uncles, etc., rather than the fathers. And everything–real property, possessions–everything belonged to the women."
"Quite a bit ahead of their time."
"Or maybe we’re just beginning to see the light again," she twitted.
He shook his head and left the field of battle, then wandered over to where the snake figure was. "Well, they had a sure-fire way to keep hands out of the cookie jar, anyway."
"What?" Then she realized what he meant. "Oh. I see," she laughed. "I sure would like to know what’s back there."
Peter sat down on the ground and drew his knees up to his chin, sighing. "Sometimes, Megan, I have half a notion to pull the plug on this operation and get out of here before somebody gets hurt, or worse."
She gasped and dropped down beside him. "Oh, no, Peter, you couldn’t! You wouldn’t! Not now! Not when we’re so close!"
He looked at her with troubled eyes. "Probably not. I just don’t like this place. I’m afraid"–he stopped, then went on--"I’m afraid the same thing will happen here, that happened in Chaco. It’s why I don’t want anyone to go down there. I guess the coward in me doesn’t want another death on my conscience."
"What are you talking about?"
"How much do you know about when Connor disappeared?"
"Well–nothing, really. Just that he was missing, presumed dead, and all of a sudden, turned up. Very dramatically, I might add," she finished dryly.
Peter laughed. "Yeah, that must have been something. Anyway, about 3½ years ago, we were assigned to a case in Russia. Some kind of–alien parasite. Connor accidently became infected, but didn’t tell us. He told us to go on ahead, that he would catch up in a minute. Instead, knowing he was dying, he set about to blow up the gas plant, and kill the rest of the parasites--something that could only be done manually. I went back for something, found him, and begged him to come, but he ordered me out, and I left him there, alone. For three years I carried that on my conscience. Lindsay hated me for a while, and I can’t say as I blamed her." He snorted. "I hated me."
He smiled ironically. "I was only a little less glad than Lindsay to have him turn up alive."
She was quiet for a moment, then said, "You are very far from a coward, Peter. If you were, you wouldn’t have felt the responsibility."
"Thanks, Megan," he smiled.
They looked at each other, and there were no words between them--none were needed. They had just begun to draw together, when suddenly they heard Natasha calling their names, and jumped to their feet.
"Peter! Megan! They said at the mobile lab you were here! Come quickly, you two!" she gasped.
"What is it?" they cried together.