Friday, November 2, 2012

Jaguar Sky: Part Six


Just for you, the sixth installment of Jaguar Sky. In case you've come to the party a little late, you can find the first five installments via the link in the righthand column.

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Wednesday
December 22, 2010

     The team members parked themselves around the breakfast table, the students together on one side and the professors opposite them. Shonna appeared and helped herself to a seat next to Tom.
     Colin leaned toward the other end of the table. “Hey Maddie, did you have any more potty nightmares last night?”
     “I just had normal dreams, Colin. Just normal dreams.”
     “Are you sure?” He eyed her with mock suspicion.
     Maddie glanced at Tom then looked around the dining room. No priest. “If you must know, I dreamed about the Maya temples but it wasn’t a nightmare.”
     Ben perked up. “What did you dream? I mean specifically?”
     “I dreamed that there are underground rivers under the temples – lakes in caves, one under each temple, and they’re all connected by rivers. Kind of like ley lines, I guess.”
     “What the heck are ley lines?” asked Colin. “Are they the places where the Maya had sex?”
     “Colin, you’re just plain nasty,” Maddie said. “Ley lines are lines of electromagnetic force in the earth. Ancient people could feel them because they weren’t distracted by the electromagnetism in power lines, cars, factories and all our other modern conveniences.”
     “Oh yeah,” said Ben. “I read about the cave lakes that are supposed to be underneath some of the temples. The Maya still make offerings to them. Maybe your subconscious mind was processing something you had read.”
     Shonna beamed. “This is so mainstream, even dear Tom can’t argue with us. The Maya believed that caves are gateways to the underworld and rivers within them can carry a person – or their soul – to the gods. Caves within mountains were especially sacred. Still are, in fact.”
     Tom pressed his lips together. “Yes, Shonna, there is a general consensus about that. But the only attested underground rivers are the tubes that connect all the cenotes in the Yucatan, where the limestone has been worn away by water. There are no underground rivers here.”
     “How can you be sure?” said Maddie. “Has anyone ever looked for them?”
     Tom refrained from comment and focused on his eggs.
     “Well,” said Colin, “I can hardly wait till tomorrow to hear about Maddie’s dream of the day.”
     They all finished their breakfast and filed out of the dining room to retrieve the day’s supplies from their rooms. In a few minutes everyone was gathered on the front porch. They shuffled down the stairs and along the trail toward the site. Maddie was at the rear of the group. Before she could step down off the porch Tom took her by the elbow.
     “Just a minute, Maddie,” he said.
     “Yes, Dr. Davies?”
     “Listen, I know you’re younger and less experienced than everyone else on this team but you don’t have to make things up and show off to impress us. We’re already impressed or you wouldn’t be here.”
     “I don’t understand.”
     “These dreams, Maddie. Please don’t make a spectacle of yourself. You’ve already found a feature in the site. Let that be enough, OK?”
     “I dreamed those dreams,” she growled. “They were real. I’m not making anything up.”
     “I thought you were a level-headed student but now I’m not sure. I’m beginning to question your trustworthiness and your judgement, Maddie.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s just chill out, OK? No more gimmicks.”
     She folded her arms across her chest. “You don’t care about what I might experience on this trip. You just brought me here as a stunt. Drag the newbie along to get attention for your pet project. God forbid I should actually do anything at all or get something out of it. Shonna is right about you. Your mind is clamped shut.”
     Before he could reply she turned her back to him and marched off the porch toward the dig site. She stumbled onto the path, her vision blurry from eyes full of tears, and ran straight into Father Angelico.
     “Oh, Father, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there.” She sniffled and wiped her face with the back of her hand.
     “My dear Maddie, what has made you so upset?” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it into her hand.
     “Dr. D-Davies,” she stuttered. She dried her cheeks with the handkerchief. “He thinks  I’m showing off and making things up.”
     “But you are not, are you?” His voice was quiet, sympathetic. “You really are good friends with that Maya groundskeeper and he really is telling you things. Important things. I am sure you are quite mentally stable and can be trusted.”
     “That wasn’t what I was arguing with Dr. Davies about.”
     “Let us walk together, Maddie.” He put his arm around her shoulders. “Now, what has this groundskeeper told you that Dr. Davies does not believe? I promise I will not share our conversation with anyone. You can tell me everything.”
     Maddie reared back in horror. She threw the damp handkerchief at the priest and plowed on down the path toward the work site, as fast as she could go.
     Maddie galloped into the clearing and bent over, hands on knees, to catch her breath. After a few moments she scowled and stalked to her work area without speaking to the others. She picked up her trowel and began stabbing it into the earth. Joan knelt next to her.
     Maddie sniffed. “Men are asses,” she said.
     “I won’t argue with you,” said Joan. The edges of her mouth curled up in a smile.
     The two women worked on in silence until Kin and Johnny showed up. The groundskeepers headed over to the mound. The rest of the team followed them for Tom’s morning instructions.
     “All right,” said Tom, “let’s finish the east-west trench to meet Joan and Maddie’s work area. We hit stone yesterday afternoon so we know we’ve got a structure of some sort and not just a rubbish heap. Let’s be careful not to dislodge anything as we work. Everyone be careful of the hearth area as well, please.”
     The team set to work. Kin picked up Maddie and Joan’s screen of dirt and began sifting it with some difficulty – it was almost as big as he was. Maddie looked up at him.
     “Good morning,” she said.
     Joan stood up and stretched. “I’d better get to work in the lab tent.”
     Maddie watched her walk to the tent. “I wonder how long till she disappears,” she whispered to Kin.
     He peered at her, at the red rims around her eyes. “You are upset.”
     She looked down at her trowel full of dirt. In spite of her best efforts to control her emotions she felt her face redden and tears begin to sting her eyes again. “They’re making fun of my dreams.”
     He scowled. “You tell them about your dream that made you come here?”
     She shook her head. “No. The dreams I’ve had since I got here.”
     His head bobbed up. “New dreams?”
     She nodded and sniffed back a tear. “I shouldn’t have said anything,” she gulped. “If I tell you, promise you won’t make fun of me?”
     “Yes, I promise.”
     Maddie looked up and saw Colin staring at her from across the mound. She began scooping dirt into the screen as she spoke to Kin in a low voice. He bent his head to listen as they worked.
     “Night before last I dreamed I was in a Maya house,” she explained. “I could feel the thatch roof and the plaster walls. There were paintings on the walls.”
     “What kind of paintings?”
     “A big snake, blue and green, with people coming out of its mouth. And other people,” she continued. “Warriors, priests, kings.” She pressed her lips together. “And a little golden jaguar statue, crouching and snarling.”
     Kin made a choking sound. “Phoenix, that is not a house. It is a temple.”
     “Well, it really shook me up. Then last night I dreamed about the underground rivers that connect all the temples.”
     He rocked back on his heels. “Here?”
     “Yes, here, even though Dr. Davies insists there aren’t any underground rivers here.”
     “Dr. Tom need to look better.”
     She shook her head. “He doesn’t want to see anything he hasn’t already decided on. At least he admitted that the caves and cave lakes are sacred.” She looked around. “But there aren’t any mountains here. The caves in mountains are supposed to be the most important.”
     “No mountains?” he said with a gleam in his eye. “What is taller than the trees here, Phoenix?”
     She squinted toward the central ruined area. “Oh, the temples! They’re like man-made mountains.”
     “Good, Phoenix. You learn how to see. If there are no mountains, people build them.”
     “But what about caves? Do you dig out caves in the ground?”
     “Sometime we find caves, Phoenix, but mostly we build them.” He grinned.
     “Build them? You can’t build a cave.”
     Kin gazed in the direction of the tallest ruined temples, waiting.
     Maddie gasped. “If the temples are mountains, then the rooms in them are caves.”
     “Yes, Phoenix.”
     “And caves can take us to the Underworld.”
     “The Underworld is very dangerous. It is not a place to go without training and a guide.” He scrutinized her. “Phoenix, why do you think you have these dreams?”
     “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I guess I just crammed too much information into my head when I was reading about the Maya and my subconscious is pitching it all back up now that I’m here. At least, that’s what Ben says.”
     Kin was quiet for a few minutes as they worked.
     Maddie looked sideways at him. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
     “To my people, crazy means touched by the gods.”
     She raised her eyebrows.
     “Phoenix, I think you are here for a reason. I think you are sent here by the gods.”
     “That’s ridiculous. I don’t even know the names of your gods. I just had some weird dreams, that’s all.”
     “My people take dreams very serious, Phoenix. They are messages from the gods.”
     “What if I don’t believe in your gods?”
     “If you do not believe in germs, they still exist. The gods are the same way.”
     She hefted the screen and began to sift it. A few small rocks failed to shake through the sieve. She set them aside for Joan to check.
     “Kin, I’m just not sure about all this. I want to be an archaeologist but I don’t even really know how to work at a dig yet, except for the basics. I feel so dumb, like everyone else knows more than I do.”
     “Will you let me tell you about my people, Phoenix? And about my gods? Then you will know as much as I do.”
     “Sure.” She smiled, relieved. “I liked your story yesterday, about how everything was created.”
     “Good. I will tell you some things you need to know so you will understand why you are here.”
     Maddie suppressed a shudder. They continued to lift trowelfuls of dirt from the ground as they talked. They had to be especially careful not to destroy the carbonized wood that marked the blackened outline of an ancient fire.
     Pete stepped in front of Maddie. “Time for another sample, little lady.” He stooped and scooped a trowelful of charred remains into a plastic bag.
     Colin followed Pete to Maddie’s work area. “Dr. Galloway, I’ll be happy to keep an eye on the spot until you need to take the next sample.”
     Pete nodded and carried his full bag over to the lab tent. Colin folded his arms across his chest and stood watching Maddie and Kin work.
     Maddie leaned over and whispered to Kin, “Colin gives me the creeps. I wish he would leave.”
     Kin winked at her. “Maybe he listen and learn something.” In a louder voice he said, “I already tell you about the great Pom tree.”
     Maddie glanced at Colin before speaking. “Yes. It has three parts. Its branches are in the Upperworld, its trunk is here and its roots are in the Underworld. I remember that.”
     Kin nodded. “Numbers are important. Thirteen, nine, seven, four. The Upperworld has thirteen levels. Each level has a god. Their names are Hubul Hub, Puslum Pach, Ban Hob and ten others. You know, the Upperworld is Heaven.”
     “Heaven. Is that where your people go when they die?”
     “That is what Church teaches, Phoenix. My people know different.” He glanced around the site. No priest. “When we die we travel down White-Bone-Snake-Road in the sky.”
     “White-Bone what?”
     “White-Bone-Snake-Road. It is a road of stars across the sky.” He pointed to the sky and drew a wide arc from one horizon to the other with his finger.
     “Oh, the Milky Way! So when your people die they go to the stars?”
     He smiled. “To the center of the stars. When we are born we climb down thirteen levels of Heaven to the top of the great Pom tree to get into this world.”
     “Do all your people still believe that?”
     “Not any more,” he said with sadness. “Church teaches them wrong. Tells them to think our ways are evil. But I know better.”
     “You actually go to church?” Maddie asked, surprised.
     He nodded, a serious look on his face. “But it is all right. My gods are not jealous.” He patted his chest with his open palm. “I am Pom branch.”
     “Pom branch?”
     “I honor the sacred Pom tree. I am one of its branches.”
     The smell of burning incense stung Maddie’s nostrils. She looked around for its source but didn’t see any smoke. “So all the people who still believe in the Pom are its branches.”
     He smiled and his gold tooth glinted. “My gods are not jealous, Phoenix. They let Christ and Mary stand beside them. But I do not like when Church is jealous and does not let our gods stand beside Christ and Mary.” He struck his fist on the ground.
     “Kin, tell me about the Underworld. Does it have gods, too?”
     “Oh, yes. Nine levels in the Underworld, nine gods. They are Lords of the Night.”
     “And what are their names?”
     He put a finger to his lips. “We do not say their names. To say their names means to call them, to wake them up. We must be quiet at night and shut our windows and doors tight to keep the Lords of the Night away.”
     “Sheesh. They sound pretty nasty.”
     He nodded his head vigorously. “They are. The sun travels through the Underworld every night. Very dangerous. At night the sun is Dark Jaguar. In the morning it climbs up the Pom tree to the sky.”
     “Which Pom tree?” She looked around and counted three ceiba trees at the edge of the clearing.
     “The one at the center of the universe.” The leathery brown skin crinkled around his sparkling dark eyes as he smiled.
     “Oh, Kin, you make my head hurt!”
     “Phoenix, this is why we burn incense from the Pom tree. It helps us touch the center of the universe.”
     “Incense?” Her eyes grew large.
     He nodded. “The sap from the Pom tree. We use it for incense. It is called copal. Sacred.”
     She glanced at Colin and lowered her voice. “Could you get me some? I mean, I can give you some money for it. I don’t have much, but as long as it’s not too expensive . . .”
     “Why do you want copal?”
     She looked down at the petrified coals from the ancient fire. “It’s not that I want it...it’s more like I need it. I can’t explain it any better than that.” She shook her head.
     “OK, Phoenix, I bring you some. No charge.” He flashed her a grin.
     “Thank you, Kin.”
     Maddie looked up to see Shonna standing by the lab tent, a notepad in her hand. Her bright green tunic camouflaged her against the jungle as she wrote. Her white face hovered, disembodied, against the green background. Maddie stared at the optical illusion until Tom’s figure moved to block the image.
     Maddie watched as Tom and Shonna talked and made large gestures with their arms. Colin joined the pair. When Tom turned to speak to him Maddie could see that her professor’s face was red. Tom spun around toward the work area and called to the team to stop for lunch, then stomped down the path toward the lodge. The rest of the team followed, with Shonna trotting along behind them.

*                   *                   *

     As the group strolled back to the lodge for lunch Maddie edged away from Colin and ended up walking alongside Ben.
     “Ben, what do you know about mystical experiences?”
     He laughed. “Do you think I’m some kind of expert?”
     “Well, you always seem to know about...unusual things. So I just figured you’d probably know something about mystical experiences.”
     “Well, I have to admit I’ve read a lot about that kind of thing. What do you want to know about – visions? Hearing the voice of God? Pilgrimages?”
     She scuffed her foot in the dirt as they walked. “I guess I just want to know about mystical experiences in general. I mean, do lots of people have them? Are they...normal?”
     Ben thought a moment. “I guess that depends on when and where you live. In ancient Greece everything was supposed to be rational and logical and scientific, just like in our modern world. So if anyone had visions or anything, they kept quiet about it.”
     “I can understand that.” Maddie frowned.
     “But in medieval Europe mystics were all the rage. It seems like everyone was having mystical dreams and visions or hearing the voice of God or the angels.”
     “Really?”
     “Sure. Some of the most famous medieval writers were mystics. You should read some of the stuff by Hildegard von Bingen. You’d like it.”
     “What did she do?”
     “Well, she was the head of an abbey but what she’s most famous for are her descriptions of her visions. She wrote some really beautiful stuff. Very profound.”
     “And nobody thought she was crazy?”
     “Heck, no. She was very well respected. If she were alive today people might think she was a little nuts, though.” He paused, thinking. “I guess it just depends on the expectations of the society you live in.”
     They reached the lodge and filed in with Shonna still in their midst. She strode into the dining room with the team and chose the seat between Maddie and Tom.
     Before Shonna could open her mouth Tom spoke. “Pete, are you ready for your lecture this afternoon?”
     Colin looked at Pete. “You’re giving a lecture? On what?”
     “On the raised-bed farming methods of the ancient Maya. Local native flora. That sort of thing,” said Pete.
     Tom nodded. “Pete will give today’s lecture, then Joan will do hers three days from now, and I’m on the last day. Hopefully by then we’ll have something to tell folks about our work here.”
     Joan pursed her lips and looked from one student to another, then pointedly at Shonna. “One of the goals of the Lamanai Field Research Center is to educate the people of Belize, and visitors as well, about the value of the historic sites in their country. This is an attempt to keep people from destroying these sites before they can be studied. The formal term for this kind of work is heritage management. Scientists who work at Lamanai are expected to do their part by offering lectures to the lodge guests and visiting school groups.” She tidied a single strand of hair that had escaped her librarian’s bun. “We may hope that our efforts will counter past patriarchal influence and teach the local people not to squander their natural resources or ignore their ancient and fascinating history.”
     “Interesting,” said Colin. He turned to Shonna. “Ms. Rollins, will you be giving a lecture as well?”
     Tom grimaced.
     “Oh, no,” Shonna said. “I’m here strictly on sabbatical. And Tom,” she gushed, “it was sweet of you to let me join you for lunch. You never have been very good at turning me down, have you?” She patted his arm.
     Maddie turned to Shonna. “You were telling me about the Olmec last night in the library but we never finished. You said you had a theory about the Maya?”
     Tom groaned and put his hand to his forehead.
     Shonna nodded. “It’s not exactly mainstream, you know,” she tilted her head at Tom, “but my agent thinks it will really sell. Mind you, I’m always careful to distinguish historical fact from my own conclusions when I write. I told you about all the cultural landmarks the Maya got from the Olmec – the calendar, sacrifice, writing and so forth.”
     Tom shook his head. “Shonna, please get your facts straight. The sacred Tzolk’in calendar is of unknown, very ancient origin. Yes, the Olmecs used it, but so did the Maya, the Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs. In fact, the modern Maya in the highlands of Guatemala still use it.” He drew a deep breath. “And the Maya writing system is their own development. Yes, the Olmec had some sort of rudimentary writing but the Maya developed a fully functional system that was in use for thousands of years. That doesn’t mean it was given to humanity by UFO aliens.”
     Shonna laughed and patted Tom’s hand. “Oh Thomas, you’re funny. There’s nothing about aliens in my book. Atlantis, yes, but not aliens. And there’s plenty about the various Mesoamerican cultures. For instance, Olmec civilization is supposed to have died out at the beginning of the Maya classical period but I don’t think it died entirely.”
     Maddie’s eyes widened. “You don’t?”
     Shonna glanced around the room as if searching for spies who might overhear her. “I think an Olmec secret society, a core of their priesthood, continued on into the Maya classic period and joined with the Maya. I think they held the great secrets while the Maya peasants worked the land and supported them.”
     “You think the Maya priesthood was actually Olmec?” said Maddie.
     “In a nutshell, yes.”
     “Wow,” said Ben, “that’s a pretty wild theory. What kind of archaeological evidence do you have to back it up?”
     Tom pushed back from the table. “We’d better get back to the site. We have a lot of work to do today. No more time to chat.” He got up and went out of the dining room without looking at Shonna.
     The others stood up and stretched.
     Colin walked past Shonna on his way out of the dining room. “You certainly have added an interesting dimension to our trip,” he said.
     Shonna shook her head and red curls bounced around. “I didn’t mean to upset Tom, really. I was just excited to get to see him here. What a coincidence, after all these years.”
     Maddie looked at her. “You don’t keep in touch?”
     “Heavens, no. Tom wouldn’t have it. We split up at college graduation and went our separate ways. He didn’t come to my wedding – or to my divorce party, either,” she laughed. She patted Maddie on the shoulder. “He’s brilliant with facts and figures. You’ve got a great professor there. He just gets a little hot-headed when it comes to the fairer sex, especially if they don’t agree with him lock, stock and barrel.”
     She collected her notepad and swished out of the room with a goodbye wave.
     Pete and Colin stayed at the lodge in order to give their presentation. There were no schoolchildren in the audience because school was out for the winter holiday but a good handful of lodge guests and a few local folks showed up. Pete offered a presentation about the botany of Belize in general, the raised bed agricultural system the ancient Maya used and the possible agricultural uses of the structure the team was uncovering. The rest of the team returned to the work site where Tom was already busy spading up bits of dirt on the mound.
     Joan sat in the lab tent, working on papers and sorting the small rocks Maddie had sifted out of the dirt. Maddie returned to her work area by the mound. Kin didn’t offer her any copal and she didn’t ask him about it.
     “Kin, why do you think my dreams are special? Is it because they’re about your people?”
     “No, because this is the right time.”
     “Oh.” She chucked a trowelful of dirt onto the screen. “I guess I don’t understand about time.”
     Kin looked at her. “Time does not go in a straight line, Phoenix.”
     “Of course it does. How else could we figure out the past, present and future? Science tells us that everything started with the Big Bang and went on from there.”
     “Science does not ask. It tells.”
     “Oh. I see. Well, that would be Dr. Davies, for sure.”
     Kin nodded. “Other people start with a little bit of what is right and make up wild stories. Sometime for fun, sometime for money.”
     Maddie snorted. “That would be Shonna.”
     “But my people look at the world and ask it how it is. The world tells us. Not the other way around.”
     “The world talks to you?”
     “The hard part is knowing how to listen.”
     Maddie sighed. “I just feel dopey. This was supposed to be the start of my career in archaeology but I don’t feel – normal – at all. I don’t understand what’s happening to me. I don’t think this is the right time for anything, Kin.”
     “Phoenix, my people have always kept the days. We know when things are going to happen.”
     “But why keep the days? We have calendars and almanacs to tell us about the time and things like eclipses and comets.”
     His look was grave. “We keep the days so we know our place in the universe.”
     “But don’t your myths – your stories – tell you that?”
     “The only way to know our place in the universe, Phoenix, is to know the universe.”
     “Kin, what do you know about the Olmec?”
     He puzzled a moment. “They live north of here, by the ocean, a long time ago.”
     “Well, Shonna thinks the Olmec gave your people all their secrets – the calendar and everything.”
     Kin shook his head. “I do not think so, Phoenix. My people are older than the Olmec. Maybe we trade ideas a long time ago, maybe. But my people always have their secrets. Always.”
     “Then maybe Shonna is wrong.”
     “Maybe, Phoenix. Maybe she should ask my people instead of looking up in books. Or making it up herself.”
     “How the heck is anyone supposed to know what’s the truth and what’s not?” Maddie sighed. “I’d better go help Dr. Lancaster in the lab tent.”
     She got up and hauled another pan of pebbles to the tent. Joan glanced through the rock bits and turned back to a stack of papers.
     Maddie dipped her dirty hands in a bucket of water to clean them. She picked up a pebble, her hands still wet. She wiped the wet dirt off the pebble and saw a faint green sheen.
     “Dr. Lancaster, look at this.”
     Joan examined the rock. Her eyebrows shot up. She snatched up her water bottle and poured its contents over the rest of the pebbles as they sat in the plastic pan.
     “Well, I’ll be!”
     “What?” Maddie squinted at the rock shards through muddy water.
     “Nearly half of these are jade. Someone smashed a jade object and threw it in a fire. Maddie, we’ve found the remnants of a ritual act.”
     “Wow.”
     Maddie felt goosebumps rise on her arms. Joan motioned her toward the pan of stone fragments.
     “Sort all these,” Joan instructed. “Rinse them thoroughly first. Put the jade fragments into this box and be careful not to damage them any more than they already are. Leave the rest in the pan and I’ll check over them later.”
     She stepped out of the tent and strode across the grass, disappearing into the jungle at the usual spot. Maddie saw Tom’s head bob up over the mound as Joan entered the jungle.
     Maddie sat with the pan of rock pieces on the table in front of her, sorting them and setting the jade fragments aside. Kin walked over and began cleaning his trowel in a bucket of water.
     “What are you doing, Phoenix?” He peered at the collection of jade fragments.
     “I’m sorting these pieces. Some of them are jade – these greenish ones. Dr. Lancaster says they’re from an object that was smashed for a ritual.”
     “Dr. Lady found them?”
     “Actually, I did.”
     Kin reached in his pocket and pulled out a small bundle wrapped in a faded bandana. He peeled away the cloth to reveal about a dozen pea-size amber-colored nuggets.
     Maddie peered at the pieces. “What are they?”
     “Copal.”
     Maddie looked at Kin. “For me?”
     “I burn for you.”
     “Good, because I don’t know how.” She smiled. “Thank you, Kin. I owe you.”
     He nodded. “I had to work for these, Phoenix. Had to sneak them past Father Angelico and his eagle eyes.”
     “What?”
     “He was in the village, looking everywhere, talking to everyone. I came here the back way that he does not know.”
     Kin cleared a sandy spot beside the lab tent and built a tiny wood fire. In a few minutes the twigs had turned to glowing embers. He gathered the copal nuggets in his hand, murmured something and sprinkled them over the coals. Wisps of spicy-sweet smoke curled up into the air.
     “Oh wow,” said Maddie, “that’s what I smelled in the jungle, by that big temple. I guess your people really do still use those places.”
     Maddie picked up a jade fragment and fondled it, sliding it between her fingers, feeling the cool stone against her skin.
     “I like this,” she purred. “It feels...familiar.”
     “Jade is sacred, Phoenix. Only for priest or priestess to touch.”
     Maddie dropped the stone back in the pan. Tom strode over to the lab tent, concerned about the appearance of smoke. Kin squatted by the fire, poking it with a stick to roll the last few bits of copal onto live coals. He looked up at Tom.
     “I burn copal for Phoenix. She find jade, you know.”
     “No, I didn’t know,” Tom grumped. “Maddie, you seem to be quite an attraction today. What have you got there?”
     He examined the stone fragments while Maddie explained how she had discovered that some of them were jade. When she finished her explanation she looked up to see that Kin was gone, his fire burnt out and scattered in the sand.
     Tom looked around for Joan, didn’t find her, and began stomping around the clearing. He did not calm down until Joan reappeared just in time to return to the lodge for dinner. The two professors snapped at each other the whole way back to the lodge. The conversation at dinner wasn’t much more civilized.
     “I bet this turns out to be a small temple,” said Joan.
     “Nope,” Pete assured her, “it’s a corn crib. We’ll find corn kernels before we’re done.”
     Maddie cleared her throat. “I’d just like to know why broken bits of jade mean some sort of ritual.”
     “Broken bits of jade plus signs of a fire,” said Tom. “If we’re lucky we’ll also find charred bits of copal resin and acacia wood.”
     “But why is the jade broken?” Maddie persisted.
     “Quite often,” Tom explained, “the Maya used jade figurines instead of human beings for small sacrifices. Instead of killing a person they would smash a jade figure and throw it into a ritual fire. The Maya considered jade to be more valuable than gold.”
     “Far more valuable,” said Joan. “The Maya word for corn means something like ‘the rays of the sun’ but the Maya word for gold means the sun god’s excrement.”
     Colin snickered.
     Ben rested his chin on his hand. “So you think these bits of jade were a human figurine?”
     “Quite possibly,” said Joan, “but the pieces are too small for us to have any hope of reassembling them. Whoever smashed it did a thorough job.”

*                    *                   *

     As Maddie was leaving the dining room after dinner Colin stepped in front of her, blocking the doorway.
     “So, have you decided?”
     “Decided what, Colin?”
     “My proposition. Are you ready to let me help you get ahead in the world?”
     She shook her head. “Colin, you amaze and disgust me. No. The answer is no. Now leave me alone.”
     “Not while you’re the competition, Maddie.” His mouth twisted into a smile. “Of course, if you’ll share your information with me we won’t be in competition any more.”
     “What information?”
     “Everything your little Maya friend has told you.”
     “You can read it all in the Popol Vuh. There’s a copy in the library.” She tilted her head toward the hallway that led to the library door.
     Colin’s face turned dark. “Don’t play dumb with me, Madeleine. What has the groundskeeper told you about the jaguar?”
     “Jaguar? What jaguar?”
     Colin pressed Maddie against the wall. He spoke in a low voice through clenched teeth. “The golden jaguar I heard you talking about. I know that’s why you wanted to come on this trip. Why else would you risk your pristine reputation to sweet-talk Dr. Davies into letting you on the team? I heard about you going to his house. People saw him drop you back off at your dorm that night.”
     Maddie clenched her fists. “Colin, I didn’t sweet-talk him. I turned in an application like everyone else.”
     “Why else would he pick you? You’re only a sophomore, with no real experience and no influence. You owe it to me to team up with me. I’ll reward you well, believe me. I’ll give you a fair share of whatever your Maya friend leads us to.”
     “I don’t owe you anything, Colin.”
     She shouldered her way past him and out of the dining room.
     “Maddie, don’t be a fool.”
     “I don’t intend to, Colin. Now get lost.”
     “My, that young man has quite an attitude, doesn’t he?” Shonna was draped across an armchair in the lobby, writing on her notepad.
     Maddie groaned. “I can’t seem to find a sane man around here.”
     “Testosterone poisoning does run rampant, doesn’t it?” Shonna stretched and her bangle bracelets clacked together. “I’ll be happy to lend an ear whenever you need it, Honey.”
     “Thanks, but right now I think I’ll try the library again. Books are a lot less temperamental than people.” She headed down the hall toward the bookshelves.
     A short while later Ben strode into the library.
     “This is getting to be your usual haunt, isn’t it?”
     Maddie looked up at him from her spot on the floor. She was sitting cross-legged, leaning back against a bookcase with Dennis Tedlock’s Breath on the Mirror open in her lap. “I’m reading about the Maya daykeepers – the ones who know about the Maya calendar.”
     “Are you still interested in all those end-of-time theories?” He sat down on the floor next to her.
     “Not exactly. I mean, some of them are too far-fetched to be real but something in them strikes a chord. I can’t put my finger on it but there is a core of truth in them somewhere.”
     “Time.”
     “Time for what?”
     “No, the core of truth you’re talking about is time.”
     “What do you mean?” She scratched her head.
     “Even the quantum physicists are focusing on time these days. It’s the missing part of the equation.”
     Maddie looked out the library window into the night-dark jungle. “Kin was talking about time. Do you think the Maya knew something about quantum physics?”
     “I doubt it. At least, not in the terms we use.”
     “But they kept such accurate records of time,” Maddie insisted.
     “So did a lot of ancient cultures – Babylon, China . . .”
     “Maybe they all considered time to be the key to the secrets of the universe.”
     Ben was quiet for a moment. “I never really thought of it that way,” he said. “Maybe the Maya were on to something.”
     “Well, we have all this technology that distracts us from the basic, powerful concepts. We do all this research and get bogged down in the details and lose sight of the big picture.”
     “I guess so. I mean, don’t they say that the shamans in Siberia claim to have had a Grand Unified Theory of Everything for generations?”
     “Maybe they do,” she said. She closed the book.
     “Maybe they all know something that the civilized modern world has forgotten.”
     “This trip hasn’t been too civilized so far.” She sighed. “Colin is being a real ass.”
     Ben shook his head. “Colin’s a jerk, Maddie. We both know that. Don’t let him ruin your trip.”
     “That’s not all, Ben.” She counted off on her fingers. “I’ve gotten crosswise with Dr. Davies. Dr. Lancaster keeps leaving and dumping all the work on me. And that creepy priest won’t leave me alone.”
     “I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time,” he said. “Dr. Lancaster is definitely a slouch. You must have worked your butt off the past three days. I’ve seen her disappear into the jungle every day as soon as she thinks Dr. Davies isn’t looking. He’s really starting to get mad at her. You should have seen his face today.”
     “I don’t get it,” said Maddie. “What the heck is she doing? I mean, there’s nothing here but ruins.”
     “I can’t imagine her breaking the law to smuggle artifacts or something. I mean, she can’t even stand to write outside the margins on notebook paper.”
     They both laughed.
     Maddie’s face turned serious. “Of course, this means Dr. Davies is mad at both the women on his team.”
     “Maybe he’s gay and hates women.”
     “I don’t think so.” Maddie felt her cheeks redden. “I just hope we can all manage to get along for the next few days.”
     “Well, if Dr. Davies gets on your case again just remember that I’m always on your side.”