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Day Seventy-two: Exploration

The mouth of the tomb was dark and forbidding and led into blackness. A cold, rank wind blew out of it, carrying the stench of thousands of years of decay and death. Around it, the jungle grew thick and lush, great green trees towering into the air all around them, with drooping liana and crawling ivies and thick, lustrous undergrowth that fought for every drop of sunlight that came through the canopy. On a day like today, that wasn’t much. The jungle was dim, the air heavy and still, and the expedition team stood around the tomb entrance with rapt trepidation.

Sachiko was the first to walk over. She peered into the gaping maw and whistled. “That’s something,” she said.

Just the act of breaking the silence was enough to get people moving. The local workers started packing up their materials to return to the base camp. The dig team would set up here. They had a lot to do. Sachiko stood in the entrance, silhouetted by the darkness as she examined carvings on the inside of the wall. Langdon had the clipboards and was ticking through items with his usual methodical perfectionism. Cate was pulling harnesses and flashlights and safety gear from one of the crates that they had brought with them. She said something briefly in Spanish to the foreman of the local team, and he nodded before leaving the site with the rest of his crew.

“Are they coming back?” Sachiko asked.

Langdon looked up at her, then over at Cate. Cate looked puzzled by the question. “After lunch, yeah. Why wouldn’t they?” she asked.

Sachiko didn’t turn from her investigations. “Well, this could be a sacred place for them. They might fear some kind of supernatural reprisals for opening the tomb.”

Cate stood up and started picking burrs off her jeans. “Sachi, these are professionals. Not extras in an Abbot and Costello movie.” She looked up at the sky through the treetops. “We have a couple of hours before full noon,” she said. “We should have something to eat and get some rest before we start exploring.”

Langdon checked his list. “There’s food in crate four.” He looked around for a moment, then walked over and popped the top. There were some MREs inside as well as a host of dried and canned goods. He tossed an MRE to Cate, who caught it and started unpacking. “Sachi? You want something?”

“Later,” she called, copying something into her notebook.

Langdon took a pack of beans and some instant rice and sat down next to Cate. He mixed them into a small plastic bowl, added a squeeze of soy sauce and started eating. After a few minutes he looked over at her. “So,” he said. “What do you think?”

Cate shrugged and tore open another packet. “Some mummies, maybe. Looks like Sachiko’s already found some carvings that make her happy.”

He nodded. “Gold? Jewels? Aliens?”

“Stop it,” she said. “No more late night movies for you.” He laughed and took another mouthful of beans and rice and they ate in silence. “Seriously, though,” she said after a few minutes. “Whatever we find down there is going to make our careers. Even if it’s just a pile of bones and a hair clip or something.” She squeezed out the last bit of peanut butter onto a cracker. “No one’s gotten this far into the rain forests yet.”

“Well, let’s hope so,” he said.

After a few minutes, Sachiko closed her notebook, put her pencil behind her ear and walked over to them. “Anything exciting?” Langdon asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said, picking up a flashlight. She turned around, walked into the tomb, straight into the darkness, and disappeared.

Cate was on her feet as soon as she saw what Sachiko was doing. “Sachiko, no!” She started cursing as she grabbed another flashlight out of the box and ran towards the mouth of the tomb, only steps behind the other woman. Langdon was just behind Cate, with a light of his own. The dashed to the tomb entrance and trained their beams on the darkness.

All that was there, only a few feet behind the shadows, was a blank, mossy wall. Their lights danced across it a few times, from side to side. “The hell?” Cate said under her breath.

They looked for a break or an edge to the wall, but there was none – it stretched across the entrance completely, and the stones looked like the ones outside. They were old and covered with encroaching plant life. Nothing had been disturbed or moved.

“I’m going to look around out here,” Langdon said. He stepped out into the daylight and started calling Sachiko’s name. Cate ran her fingers over the stone. It was solid enough. She looked around it again, convinced she had missed something, somewhere. People don’t just vanish, she thought.

But Sachiko had.

Cate ran through what she had seen, what had happened. Sachiko had been looking at the carvings… Cate turned around and started to examine the carvings on the inside of the doorway. They were rough and weather-worn, and reminded Cate that she wasn’t the resident expert on ancient pictograms. But whatever was here, they probably were the secret to what had happened to Sachiko.

Langdon came jogging back, winded. “I can’t find her,” he said between breaths. “Maybe if we do a spiral search pattern…”

Cate nodded. “Go get Kele and have him bring his men here. Tell them what happened and that we need a search party.”

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

“Sachi was interested in these, and then she disappeared. That means I have to be interested in them as well.” Thunder rumbled in the distance, quietly. “Go,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of time.” Langdon ran off for the main camp, pushing his way through the undergrowth.

“You’re in here somewhere,” Cate said as she ran her fingers over the carvings. “And we’re going to find you…”

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  1. August 1, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    I guess the biggest compliment I can pay is that I’m pissed at you for the cliffhanger :p

    • August 2, 2011 at 5:18 AM

      Hell, so am I. I know just about as much as you do at this point… *grin*

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