Ingress

Hi! I’ve got a shorter story for you this week at a little over 10,000 words. Overall, doing quite well at keeping these on the shorter side recently. Pleased about that because it means I can write more. Not that you’ll know any different as stories still only get posted once a week. Anyway, this one is about an archaeological dig. I’m saying no more than that. If you want to find out what happens you’ll just have to read Ingress, so enjoy!

Philippe Akinpelu walks across an open field filled with waist high yellow-brown grass. It’s something he often does during his lunch break as it affords him precious downtime he otherwise would not indulge in. After all, Philippe is a man forever obsessed with his work. Many think it an unhealthy obsession that he should curtail the effects of. He, however, does not agree with such thinking. His work, the search for extraterrestrial artefacts on Earth is more than a vocation or an obsession; it is a need. It is a need to discover more about the past than is currently known. He is well aware, as does the rest of the world, that advanced life once walked the surface on this world. They likely walked the surface of every world and yet so little relating of them remains.

He often wonders why that is. Is it because they moved on? Advanced to a plain of existence that humans can only guess at? Or is it because they ran out of time? Everything does run out of time in the end. To believe otherwise is, in his mind, foolish. The history of Earth is proof enough that when your time, as a species, is up it is up. There is no escaping your end and the more you try the worse things get until finally you are no more. The dinosaurs are an example of that. Not that Philippe thinks the ancient reptiles ever tried to escape, or were even aware, of their impending doom. No, that particular branch of beliefs is reserved for conspiracy theorists. Some continue to advocate that dinosaurs were the ‘aliens’ humanity is seeking and that they were far more advanced than even humanity is as of this moment. It’s a preposterous idea and one the Doctor cannot even begin to understand belief in. If that were the case then the Earth would be littered, liberally, with evidence that reinforces such a notion. It is not.

Philippe decides to force his thoughts aside. This isn’t the purpose of his little excursion around this wide open field. He rolls his hazel eyes closed. They remain that way for only a handful of seconds but when he peels his eyelids back, the light of day striking his eyes once more, all his thoughts are gone. His head is empty, like it had been when he had first stepped into this field some seventeen minutes ago. He dares not consider how long he has left before he must return to the dig site. Doing so will only help to further defeat his intentions of resting. And he does rest, contrary to popular belief. He just has a very different idea of rest compared to many of his colleagues. Not that most of those who judge his diligence are here to see it. Rather, this site is staffed by outside contractors and a number of undergraduates. Some are studying under him personally but for the most part they are here because they are cheap, comparatively, labour, eager to succeed on their own merit or have been forced into this due to their failing academic record.

The presence of undergraduates, bar his own, was not his idea. That was a suggestion, a demand to be accurate, made by the principal of the university. The university is the main backer of this expedition. If Philippe did not know Lambert Collerton he would not have accepted. At least that is what the archaeologist likes to tell himself when he begins to feel bothered by the lack of progress they are making. Because of the lack of progress he has been left with far too much time to think and not enough time spent analysing. Over thinking has always been an affliction the hazel eyed man with short cropped black hair has suffered. Right now, that affliction is not hindering him and so he enjoys the here, the now, the moment.

Doctor Akinpelu makes a turn through the long grass. It strikes him that if anyone were watching, they are not as he is alone, all that would be visible would be him from the waist up. He chuckles to himself imagining that as it would appear as though he is gliding about.

The sun is high in the sky but the blue is interspersed with fluffy white clouds. They float across the burning stars path to introduce short semi-successful respites from the otherwise sweltering heat. The archaeologist wishes he had adorned himself with shorts for the day, but with all the bugs and his daily stroll through the long grasses he settled on dealing with the discomfort of his legs getting hot over his legs being feasted upon. He’s suffered such outcomes already and to be truthful does not want to have to return to slathering his legs in bug repellent. For one, it stings mercilessly when your flesh is covered in bites. Quite distracting, he thinks while making another turn.

There is no set pathway which he is following or has marked out in his mind. He is instead mindlessly meandering, changing direction as frequently as his legs feel the wish to. They guide him wherever it is that they wish without any conscious input from his mind. His hazel eyes meanwhile search every millimetre of the view around him. Many, on the expedition, think it unremarkable. As a man who to this point has spent more than ninety percent of his life within the limits of metropolises, the change of scene is a welcome one.

Before he graduated, some years ago, he had set foot outside of urban areas perhaps thrice in all his near quarter century of life. He certainly couldn’t live out here in the emptiness but a few months isn’t so bad. Some of the undergraduates in the group could not disagree more. They detest being out amongst the bugs and the heat without easy getaways and abundant comforts.

Philippe rolls his eyes closed once more to bask in the light of the sun. He can feel the warmth of Sol’s only star on his skin. It brings a smile to his face. The moment is made all the more serene by the relative silence. He says relative because there is the familiar chirping songs of birds in addition to a few other wildlife related noises. Were he in a different part of the world he would have a need to be cautious of dangerous predators, but there are none here, for better or for worse. At one time there would have been lions, cheetahs, hippopotamuses, dangerous snakes and so on. Those days are gone. What remains of the various predatory or generally dangerous species in this region have been moved to reservations meant to maintain and proliferate their population sizes back to something approaching healthy. If that were not the case however it would be accurate to say that those species would not recognise these landscapes. They have changed quite unequivocally from desert and arid land to farmland and then finally to the grassy plains they are today.

How things change, Philippe thinks while continuing his blind walk. Were he new to this field and its accompanying terrain he would not risk walking eyes closed about. After so many jaunts around this and other similar open spaces he feels well versed in what his legs and feet will need to perform to avoid him stumbling like a newborn. His legs and feet are aware of the terrain; as if they have learned every ridge and contour that they might come across. He doesn’t know how and refuses to consider it for even a moment. Again that would defeat the point of why he is out in this field of tall grass.

Another turn soon follows. A buzzing begins near one of his ears. He ignores it hoping that it will soon pass. It does not. Rather, it gets louder. Philippe’s brow furrows. He’s irritated by the continuously noisy din that is cutting out the sweet birdsong. Suddenly he feels something skirt the surface of his ear. He can take no more and reflexively raises and swats his hand past his ear. The buzzing stops. A smile slides across his face. He re-welcomes the overlapping songs from the relatively nearby line of trees that mark out one edge of this field. They look dehydrated, their leaves like the grass he is drifting through is a yellow-brown colour. The bark meanwhile around the base of the trunk has been bleached by the sun. In a few years the trees will be dead, the grass might possibly persist for a while longer. Not that it matters. Before then, as long as Philippe is done with his dig, this land will be stripped and replanted. It’s a continuous cycle that is performed on Earth now. The only way enough oxygen can be created for all the souls, human and animal, that dare to call this ball of rock home. If science had not cracked easy ways to produce plentiful supplies of food things would be very different. It had been that way not too long ago. At that point humanity had been forced to alternate between enough food for every mouth and enough air to breathe comfortably. They were dark times.

Philippe opens his eyes and sighs. He realises he has been thinking again. It seldom happens but when it does the archaeologist is aware that he most probably will not succeed in getting a rest from his thoughts. Not when they are being as persistent as this.

“I’ll take what I can get.” He hears his deep voice in his ears. Shortly after, he looks to the sky to consider the wind direction. Right to left is his conclusion, though what direction that is according to a compass he has not a clue. It matters little but refuses to divert his attention as he hears what he thinks is a voice calling. He cannot make out the words. It might be a memory. He could discover if that is true with little effort. He is not inclined too. Rather, he changes direction again. Still, he has no thought as to when the changes will come. He has succeeded in at least maintaining that. A smile slides across his face again and then to not over think his victory he turns his focus to the birds. The calling is getting louder. He can hear the occasional word now. Still, he pays no mind to it.

“Professor. Professor!” A long straggly haired young man exclaims loudly as he rushes through the grass which is past his waste just a little. The young man can feel the sting from the brittle grasses as they slap and slice across his exposed shins. The impacts burn a little but Benjamin Colt pays them little mind. Later he might regret his decisions but that is a problem for another time.

“Professor! We’ve found something. We’ve hit pay dirt, professor!” Benjy, which is how most refer to him, doesn’t understand what that saying means. If he did he would know that this isn’t really the correct context to use it in. Yes, hitting pay dirt can mean success. Generally, it means you’re going to get a good payday out of whatever has been discovered. No one on the expedition will make a fortune out of any discovery that is made here. It’s all for science, history, not profit. If it were for profit things would be very different. Philippe would’ve gotten more backers than he would’ve known what to do with, but he hadn’t. The university was the only backer. They have and are funding everything here. As a result there can be and is no waste, unlike with a privately funded dig. Things are done on a shoe-string, comparatively speaking.

Benjy trips, he stumbles a couple steps but manages to recover his balance. His dance with embarrassment holds no sway over him and he continues to barrel along over a field he cannot see the purpose of wandering around.

Benjy is one of the undergraduates who doesn’t like being outside of his urban environment. To him cities are comfort. The country, nature, whatever you want to call it is irritation and bug bites. He has more than he thinks he could conceivably count. Plus, it seems to make no difference how much insect repellent he uses because each day he gets up and checks himself over to find a new round of bites and stings. More than a few times he has forced one of the expedition medical doctors to check him over to ensure none are fatal or debilitating. None of them have been. Benjy can be a bit of a hypochondriac. Especially, as the kinds of bugs he is panicking over, mosquitoes, no longer carry anything that can cause him harm. Sure, they’ll steal some blood if given the chance but there will be no malaria contracted as a result. God bless science, is what the young undergraduate should say. That is, if he were not oblivious to such advances. His lack of knowledge is in large part due to the fact that he refuses to interact with a great deal of the information which exists out in the world. No wonder he’s a failing student, and not one of Philippe’s either. But a deal was a deal, Philippe agreed and so here is a less than stellar performing student.

Finally, the young man with straggly hair reaches Doctor Akinpelu who, eyes closed once more, is swaying back and forth as he continues to walk. Benjy’s brow furrows in confusion. As far as the fresh faced young man can see the professor has nothing in his ears, so what is he listening to? Benjy considers for a few seconds, making sure to keep pace while he does. Ultimately, he admits defeat to inform, “Professor, we’ve found something. Something big. You’re going to want to see it.”

Philippe stops dead in his tracks. How he does dislike being called professor. However, that is not the cause for his abrupt halt. His eyes ease open following a roll hidden by his eyelids. Of all the people to send why did it have to be Benjamin Colt bringing him this news? He does not know but imagines that there had to be a more competent soul available, surely. It matters little, Philippe tells himself in the moments prior to him turning his attention toward the young man who is still as pale as he was the moment they left. Philippe doesn’t understand how. Sure Benjy has a straw hat atop that mop of sandy blond hair but that wouldn’t stop his exposed arms from tanning. Philippe considers for a moment as to how it is he has remained so pale. It takes him no longer than a blink of an eye because it is impossible for him not to take notice of the thick layer of white sun block that Benjy has seemingly bathed his arms in. The archaeologist has to resist the urge to roll his eyes, principally because Benjy is staring him in the face.

“Benjy, what do you mean we’ve found something. What something? Is there any detail you can give me?” Philippe questions calmly. He makes sure to keep his concerns that this could very well be a false alarm, or worse a prank, from tainting his tone of voice. A false alarm Philippe can cope with. He’s suffered a number since they begun, but a prank would boil his blood.

From what the doctor has heard around the camp Benjy has been trolling people with such things far more than a man of his age should. Reserve judgement, Philippe hears him demand of himself. The archaeologist agrees and so waits for a reply from the undergraduate alongside him.

“I-I don’t know.” Benjy’s blue eyes drop, breaking from Philippe’s. His feet begin to shuffle and the doctor gets the distinct feeling this is some kind of prank. He resists the urge to sigh or say anything he might otherwise regret. Instead, he vows he will wait.

“I didn’t see it. I was walking back to the dig site when I heard cheering. I’d just finished lunch. Tuna sandwich, it was the boom!”

“Benjy, stay on point.” Philippe urges softly.

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry about that professor. Well before I could get close Bianca comes running up and says they’ve found something. She looked super excited and was more animated than usual. I asked what it was. She apparently didn’t hear me…” Benjy shrugs. He doesn’t seem convinced that Bianca wasn’t ignoring him. He continues without encouragement however, which Philippe finds reassuring. “…and asked if I’d seen you. I said I hadn’t but that it was lunch so you’d probably be on one of your walks.” Benjy gestures with a smug smile to say that he was right. “She ordered that I find you and then ran off saying she was going to go tell the others. Before I could get a single word out she was gone. So here I am professor.”

Philippe doesn’t know what to say. It sounds plausible but then again doesn’t every prank until it’s unveiled. Well the good ones anyway. Still, if it came from Bianca, as Benjy has said, then it could very well be true. She is a star pupil and has been a real boon to the expedition. He believes he should dare to trust Benjy’s words but first feels he has to check, “And you didn’t see it?”

“Nah, wish I had, but everyone was staring at me so I bolted.” Philippe accepts the reply. Benjy doesn’t like being the centre of attention. Though a prank is very much in his ball park, having all eyes on him at any moment that isn’t of his choosing sounds like something that would compel him to do what he is meant to.

“Then come on Benjy, there’s no time to waste.” Philippe exclaims excitedly. The archaeologist breaks into a job right after. He isn’t going to attempt a sprint. That would be foolish, mainly due to the sweltering heat that is beating down upon them. As he goes Doctor Akinpelu wears a broad, it spans almost from ear to ear, smile across his slim face and its thirty six hours worth of stubble.

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