Authors: Darren Wearmouth,Colin F. Barnes
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
All Rights Reserved
This edition published in 2014 by WBP
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this work are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity is purely coincidental.
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No part of this publication maybe reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the publisher. The rights of the authors of this work has been asserted by him/her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Charlie Jackson felt like they were on the edge of a great discovery. Pippa had emailed him earlier to say that she’d “made the find of the century” in an archeological dig to uncover what happened to the missing colonists of Roanoke Island.
Typical Pippa, he thought. Keeping the huge news to herself and making him wait. It didn’t help that she’d told him to start work on the report. It was the worst part of his job. He preferred to be out in the field being the one to make the finds.
He looked up at his screen and grudgingly continued to work on the report, all the while trying not to be distracted by her excited email.
4:00pm, April 2014, Manhattan
On August 18, 1590, a privateering expedition on its way back to England from the Caribbean stopped off at Roanoke Island. John White, the governor of the colony and passionate advocate of the new world, took his men ashore. They found the settlement completely deserted. Infrastructure had been dismantled, no trace existed of the hundred-and-eight residents, and they couldn’t find any signs of struggle. The colonists were never found.
The only clue was the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved on a fort post and ‘CRO’ carved on a tree. Events surrounding the disappearance remain a mystery to this day.
The aim of the Quaternary Productions dig is to try and establish the fate of the colonists with firm evidence. After geophysical surveys following the investigation of aerial photography in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, the initial findings are as follows …
Charlie pushed the keyboard away after those few hundred words, unable to concentrate. All he could think about was that email. What had they found? More than just bones, that’s for sure. His mind raced with ancient artifacts, caches of treasure. Unable to stand it, he got up and decided to go chat with the temps.
He poked his head around the door leading to the next office and cafeteria and listened for chatter around the coffee machine.
“They’re not in today,” Mike Strauss, his colleague in their open plan office, said.
“Want me to get you a brew?” Charlie asked, welcoming the distraction.
Things had changed since Quaternary Productions agreed to a deal with National Geographic to make a documentary about finding the lost colony at Roanoke. The place had become louder and more congested with contractors, but not today. Mike and Charlie were pulling overtime. It seemed the others weren’t so keen.
The small coffee room was deserted. Charlie got the pot boiling and prepared two mugs as he pondered the current project. His main job had been site identification for potential pitches to places like the History Channel and National Geographic. His team traveled the country, surveying and digging. After winning the contract, the focus shifted to how quickly information could be cobbled together, rather than how thoroughly, because of the production targets. It was always that way when they landed these kinds of deals.
He wasn’t about to get pretentious over projects that paid the bills. Charlie felt lucky to have a reasonably paid job to do what he loved. Most of his friends from college had to find work in other industries.
Finishing up the coffee duties, he headed back into the office.
“Here you go, Mike. Black, no sugar,” Charlie said. “What’s with the plain purple sweater? A little dull for your usual tastes.”
“It’s casual Friday. Thanks.”
Mike had regularly freelanced with Quaternary Productions during the last six years. Charlie got to know him well since joining the company three years ago. He was renowned for his tasteless and bright woolly sweaters, usually stretched over his bulky torso, and his long, greying hair made it look like somebody had placed a mop on his head. A few of the production crew called him ‘the mad scientist.’ He liked the nickname.
“One more hour and I’m out of here,” Charlie said.
“Hey, Pippa says she’s got some really exciting news about the Roanoke dig. From the areas you identified.”
Two weeks ago, Charlie had carried out a ground-penetrating radar survey in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The uniform sandy soils made it an ideal method, and the results were encouraging.
Due to budget limitations, he’d returned to the office while a small team of archaeologists used his tomographic images to guide their excavations.
The team was restricted to certain areas because of the nature of the land and had sought special permission to dig. He was confident they’d find something with the results. Whether or not that had anything to do with the lost colony was another matter.
Charlie checked his watch. “She emailed me yesterday. Said it would blow my mind. Didn’t reply when I asked for details.”
Mike laughed. “A broken piece of pottery or the stem of a clay pipe blows her mind. I wouldn’t get too excited.”
Mike’s skill was in the identification of finds. He loved the big-ticket items recovered from digs. A four-hundred-year-old Scottish pistol found in a well at Jamestown was the kind of thing that got his juices flowing.
Charlie could always see a look of disappointment on his face when he was presented with a clear plastic bag of buttons and buckles to sort though.
“She’d better hurry up,” Charlie said, “otherwise, she’ll have to wait a couple of days.”
“You’ll wait. I can tell by the way you look at her.”
“Whatever. I’m not the one that calls her a younger version of Halle Berry.”
Mike shrugged. “It’s the hairstyle. You going climbing again this weekend?”
“Yeah. Heading to Keene Valley. Should be a blast.”
“If you say so.”
Charlie shook his head and continued with the interim report. The aim was to complete it by the end of the day, using the information provided by Pippa if she showed. He disliked leaving work unfinished.
Three sites were targeted with Ground Penetrating Radar to identify anomalous signals that might correspond with subsurface archaeological features. The inland locations were selected in the hope of shedding new light on the fate of the colonists.
The Roanoke site two contained hyperbolic reflections indicating the presence of reflectors buried beneath the surface possibly associated with human burials. Priority was given to this location due to time and financial constraints.
Pippa Quinn breezed through the door. She placed her laptop bag on the desk between Charlie and Mike and ripped open the Velcro fastening. “Afternoon, guys. I hope you’re sitting comfortably.”
“Comfortable as any other Friday afternoon,” Mike said.
She fired up her laptop, connected it to a docking station, and smiled at Charlie.
He loved working with Pippa. She exuded infectious energy and always had a healthy appetite for their projects. When he studied geology at Stanford, he found the subject dry. The lecturers seemed to beat the life out of it, and he doubted he’d ever find a satisfying job upon graduating.
Pippa helped change all that.
At twenty-eight, she was two years older than Charlie. He had vague memories of her from college when he turned up for his interview. The enthusiasm and sparkle she showed for the role made him desperate for the job, and he wasn’t disappointed in the three years since.
“This could be potentially ground-breaking. I’m serious,” Pippa said.
“Don’t tell me. You’ve found animal bones with signs of butchery and a nineteenth century comb?” Mike said.
“Come on. You think I’d come all the way back here for that?”
Typical Mike. He often helped provide some balance with his healthy skepticism, although he occasionally fell into cynicism. He amused Charlie, probably without realizing it.
“Seriously. Come see this,” Pippa said.
Charlie wheeled his chair across and looked at the monitor. It displayed a high-resolution photograph of site two from the Wildlife Refuge. A deep, square trench had been cut into the ground, surrounded by a taped safety cordon and a selection of digging tools.
“You were right, Charlie. We found burials at the second site. A little deeper than expected,” Pippa said.
She clicked to the next picture, saved as “Eight skeletons.”
Three sets of bones were fully exposed on the right-hand side. The rest poked through the dirt like pieces of nut in a large chocolate brownie.
“These were all laid out next to each other, arms by their sides. We couldn’t find any traces of coffin nails …”
“Christian burials?” Charlie said.
“They aren’t aligned east-west. But that doesn’t mean they’re not Christian.”
“Is it some sort of mass grave?” Mike said. “If they were just placed like that?”
“Of those three,” Pippa said, pointing her pen at the monitor, “we couldn’t find any immediate signs of injury on the bones, or arrowheads or musket balls. They’re going to be taken away for analysis.”
“Are they sixteenth-century?” Charlie said.
“We found ceramic pieces and a decorative ring in the layer above, possibly from the sixteenth century. We’re carbon dating skeleton number one and should know in a couple of days.”
“Makes sense they’re below the finds. Being buried,” Mike said.
“Nothing with the bodies? No buckles? Leather …” Charlie said.
Pippa shook her head. “Nope. This is the part where it started to get weird.”
She clicked on the next photo, showing a close-up of a scapula bone. Below it, a dirty blue bead rested on the dirt. “We found one of these around the shoulder area of each of the three fully excavated skeletons.”
Mike frowned. “Grave goods? Do you think they’re from the Chowanoke tribe?”
“We’ll probably have a clearer picture after the tooth isotope analysis. Our hunch is that they’re European. Carbon dating will be the key,” Pippa said.
The next picture showed a cleaned blue bead, broken in two, sitting in a finds tray. It had a smooth, shiny quality.
“We x-rayed the bead to try and see the elemental composition in order to establish the production process and origin—”
“I thought you said you’d blow Charlie’s mind?” Mike said.
“I’m just building the picture. Here’s the first x-ray. Can you see the small rust marks running through the internal lattice toward that space in the middle?”
“That’s pretty intricate,” Mike said. “The local tribe didn’t use any metals that rusted. Must be European.”
“We couldn’t identify the row or trace elements of the glass to anything we’ve seen before.”
“Seriously? Have you sent it away for further analysis?” Mike said.
“Not yet. Just wait a minute.”
Pippa clicked to the next picture. “The next skeleton’s bead was intact.”
She sat back. Charlie and Mike leaned forward.
The intricate internal lattice had dark lines running through the channels like circuitry. In the center of the bead was what appeared to be a rectangular microchip.
Charlie scratched his head. “What the hell is that?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mike said.
“Trust me, I’m not. These things were found in situ, below undisturbed earth.”
“Oh Christ, we haven’t stumbled on a modern murderer’s—” Charlie said.
“Didn’t you just hear me? The ground above was
, with finds from the sixteenth century above. If we carbon date the skeletons to that time …”
“This has to be a hoax,” Mike said. “It’s the only explanation.”
“I’ve been racking my brains all the way here. I thought about one of the team planting it, but I was there when these things were uncovered.”
Charlie sat back and puffed his cheeks. “Beats me. Where’s the bead now?”
Pippa reached into the front pouch of her laptop case and pulled out a small plastic bag. She produced a bead and passed it to Mike. “Be careful with it.”
He held it toward the strip light on the ceiling, rolling it between his fingers. “Holy … We need to get to work on this.”
Mike passed the bead to Charlie and wheeled away to his laptop.
Charlie’s first impression was the weight: a lot heavier than he expected. He switched on his desk lamp and held the bead underneath in the palm of his hand, ducking to get a side profile of the object.
Dark, formal lines with an angled shape in the middle. Unbelievable.
“Seen anything like this before?” Charlie said.
“I called a few of my contacts. Janet from England reckons she’s seen something similar to our broken one,” Pippa said.
“Really? Like this thing?” Mike said.
“Where did they find it?” Charlie asked.
“Cheddar Gorge. In two pieces. No body. They bagged it up as unidentified.”
She flipped to her emails and opened one from a team member at the Roanoke dig site. Charlie sat back in his chair trying to think of a logical explanation. The problem was, one didn’t exist based on the evidence. He looked over to Mike, who was furiously typing.
“Blue beads found near the shoulders of skeletons four and five,” Pippa said.
She spun her seat toward Charlie. “I think we need to start thinking outside the box on this one. Preferably in the bar. You two coming for a couple of cold ones? It’s been a long day, and I need something to take the edge off.”
“I’m calling my techy guy, see if he’s ever seen anything like it,” Mike said from behind her. “This could change the whole way we view history. I’ll stick around here for a few more hours, but you two go ahead.”
“Surely, you’re not suggesting this is …” Charlie said.
“You’ve seen the Vijayanagara Empire carvings in India, the Nazca lines in Peru, Puma Punka, and the strange ancient cave paintings all over the world,” Pippa said. “This is potential compelling evidence, but we say nothing until we get all the evidence in place.”
Charlie didn’t want to believe it. Yet deep inside, he was left to wonder. Could this be extraterrestrial technology?
“So?” Pippa asked. “You wanna come buy your boss a drink and posit some theories?”
Ordinarily, he’d jump at the chance to spend some social time with her. Despite working closely together, and despite renting a room in her apartment, they rarely got to see much of each other with Pippa whisking off around the country doing deals with media execs and the like while Charlie kept Mike and the other crew company in the office.
And of course, there was the climbing weekend.
He’d been planning it for months with three of his old college pals. Every few months, they’d take off on some adventure, whether it was caving, scuba diving, mountain climbing, or his favorite activity: finding a big old forest to explore and surviving for a few days off the land.
Before he could even say it, Pippa gave him “the look.” A special pout she had developed that would hit at Charlie’s heart. “You’ve got other plans, G.I. Joe? What are you doing this weekend then? Paragliding with endangered falcons into the caldera of a live volcano?”
“Hah, not quite, Pip, but that does sound epic. Let’s do that in the summer. I’ve got a climb planned with the guys. I’m designated driver, so I can’t really let them down. I need to take off tonight.”
“Well, your loss, G.I. But you know where to find me if you change your mind.” She gave him a quick smile and returned to her desk, packing up her files for an evening of analysis in their favorite haunt: a small, old-timey bar called The Rusted Shovel, the coincidence of which was never lost on Charlie.