"Heero!" an older man's voice echoed through the stone room. Dr. Jay's work boots skrunched over the loose sand on the cobbled walkway as he entered, his shadow cast long in the doorway by the morning sun. It was cool and dim in Heero's temple, a sharp contrast to the intense sun outside. Come afternoon, however, the sun would burst through the cut-out star pattern of the high, domed ceiling, tracing the shapes across the walls as the day progressed.
The dark-haired teen didn't get up from his squatting position, but he rested his arms on his knees and looked up at his uncle. The man was older, with proud features, a gray goatee and moustache, round wire-rimmed spectacles, and his smooth gray hair tied back in a low ponytail.
"Our guests are here," Jay said. Heero scratched his head, trying to remember what his uncle was talking about. "The priest to translate the library scrolls and his assistant," the doctor sighed in reminder.
"Oh, right," Heero remembered, setting his trowel down.
"I swear, you are oblivious to anything happening outside these four walls!" Jay shook his head. "Anyway, the boy looks about your age, perhaps you could show him around the site."
"Great," Heero grunted to himself as he stood and brushed himself off. He silently followed Jay out through the ancient courtyard. They passed the library where Dr. Jay's students were digging. Heero's temple was in the same complex, but little interest had been taken in it previously. They'd been using it as a storeroom until this season when Jay had cleared it out and given it to his nephew. They walked past the excavation and back towards the campsite.
Heero caught sight of the boy standing next to the priest and his face twisted into immediate disapproval. The newcomer stood there in a black cap, sunglasses, a black shirt, and blue jeans. What kind of idiot wore black in Israel? Or denim? Even the priest was in khaki pants and a cool white shirt. The kid was balancing two large duffel bags on his narrow shoulders and trying to shake Jay's hand. Jay was laughing at something he'd said.
"This is my nephew Heero. Heero, this is Father Maxwell and his assistant, Duo," Jay introduced them.
"Hi-ya!" Duo said with a grin too big for his face. He looked ridiculous with his hat squashing his fringy, too-long bangs to his forehead behind his sunglasses. Heero begrudgingly shook his out-stretched hand and muttered something unintelligible that he hoped sounded polite.
Heero trudged along beside Jay as the doctor led the guests to a place they could pitch their tents. He stayed silent as Jay small-talked about how the tents would be hot as hell during the day and they shouldn't keep food in them because of the ants. Heero waited and found an appropriate time to escape back to his cool temple.
His solitude, however, didn't last long. The first star had lit up the wall when Jay brought the two translators to Heero's temple, obviously as part of the grand tour.
"And we believe that this was a temple of some kind, but gleaning the evidence is up to Heero, right boy?" Jay asked.
"Right," Heero answered dryly and went back to his work. Jay led Father Maxwell out but the kid lingered. He had removed his sunglasses as he entered, revealing cobalt eyes that were as much too large for his face as the smile. His skin was very light, making it seem like he didn't get outside much.
"Nice and cool in here," he observed, wandering over to where Heero was digging in the back corner. "Do I smell a little favoritism?" he asked, wiggling his eyebrows.
Heero glared at him and went back to his work.
"Geez! I was just joking!" Duo said. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and watched for a moment as Heero scraped with the edge of his trowel. "So, uh, what are you digging for?" he asked.
Heero gave him a dry look. "The floor," he said.
Duo laughed and then realized that it wasn't a joke. "So, the original floor wasn't dirt, that's what you're thinking?" he reasoned.
"Yeah," Heero answered, "I'm willing to bet the floor was sunken about a foot, and there were stairs at the entry."
"Cool!" Duo exclaimed. When he turned away, Heero caught sight of a long braid of auburn hair that nearly reached the boy's waist. Heero had never seen hair like that before, not even on a girl. He didn't think he liked it, it looked
weird. What was the point of hair like that, anyway? Wouldn't it just get in the way and be hard to take care of?
Duo had meandered over to a wall and was scratching at the caked dirt.
"Cut that out!" Heero snapped when he realized what the other boy was doing. Duo immediately stopped and shot him a questioning look.
"Don't you think you should brush off these walls before you clear all the dirt out of here?" he asked, noting that all four walls were covered in dirt.
"No," Heero answered gruffly, "I don't want it mixing with the layers of the dirt on the floor. I'm going to clear the floor, scrape the walls and then sweep it out." This kid was really getting on his nerves.
"But what if some of it falls off while you're digging? Then it'll really contaminate your layers!" Duo said, looking at the wall again.
Heero narrowed his eyes. "I thought of that," he growled, "but I decided that the dirt wasn't going to fall off, save someone coming by and picking at it. Now, don't touch it anymore."
"Oh, I see!" Duo said, seemingly oblivious to Heero's tone of voice. He ambled back to Heero's corner. "So what do you think is under that dirt? What's on the walls? A fresco maybe? A mosaic?" he asked.
"Depends on during which time period, or periods, this room was used. We don't know that yet," Heero answered, not looking up. He scraped the dirt away until he found the next layer, then he pushed the dirt into a dustpan and dumped it into a bucket to be taken outside to be sifted. He wasn't expecting the dirt covering the floor to have more than one or two layers.
"Oh yeah?" Duo asked. "How about the floor? Tiles, probably, huh? I mean, they didn't use wood, did they? Nah, they probably didn't."
Heero shrugged and tried to ignore him, hoping he'd get the hint and go away. He moved away from the corner, following the layer of dirt.
"You aren't done in that corner yet, are you?" Duo asked. "You left some dirt there."
"I'm clearing one strata at a time," Heero bit out. "I have to remove this one from the entire room before starting on the next."
"Oh, that makes sense," Duo nodded. "Hey, maybe I could help you!" he offered. "I may not get all this stuff about strata, but there must be something I could do."
"I don't think so," Heero answered. "Aren't you here to translate stuff for my uncle?" He was dismayed that Duo was still advancing.
"Well, yeah, but Father can do some of that, and you've got this big room all to yourself! And there's all those buckets just sitting there, how about I go sift some for you? I saw your pile and your screen out back, I could just - " Duo tripped on the string Heero had running an inch off the ground from one wall to the opposite wall. "Whatcha got this string here for? Just to trip me?" he laughed embarrassedly.
Heero's head snapped up. "That's my base line, you idiot!" he barked, jumping up and grabbing the string that was now lying on the floor. "I need that to base all my drawings off of, it has to remain in exactly the same place or they won't be accurate. Shit, you pulled the nail out of the wall!" He scowled and knelt, trying to find his original nail hole.
"Oh, heh, sorry about that," Duo said nervously. "Here, I'll help you," he offered. Trying to make his way to Heero, he knocked a bucket of dirt over onto the new soil layer Heero had just exposed. He cringed at the look on the dark-haired boy's face.
Duo ducked out of the temple, his face turning scarlet. While he wasn't known for his grace, he wasn't usually that big of a klutz. That guy made him nervous like nobody he'd ever met before. Normally, Duo didn't have to put much effort into getting along with people, but he certainly hadn't made a terrific impression this time. Too hot and jet-lagged to really worry about it for long, he found his way back to the ancient library the students were uncovering, where Father would be helping to collect any texts they discovered.
Dr. Jay had shown them the library earlier. He said they had not known what the structure was when they started this season because the dirt had blown in and covered much of the surface. Like the temple at the other side of the complex, the library was surprisingly intact compared to most of the city. The entrance was the most destroyed, the walls crumbled so low they could be stepped over, but the back had a full wall and part of the ceiling. Once the dirt had been cleared out, they had found marble tables and shelves, and then the scrolls they contained.
Jay had compared it to the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, a veritable treasure trove of ancient scrolls. They had hired one expert to unroll the scrolls, and another to aid in translation. The latter was Father Maxwell. He was a priest, not a professional archaeologist, but he was a respected and well-known language scholar. His translations had been used in countless publications and could be trusted in their accuracy and integrity.
A large canvas shade had been constructed at the entrance of the library. The tent-like structure had several different areas partitioned by the arrangement of tables and shelving units. Housed here were work areas for pottery experts, coin specialists, artifacts illustrators, structural analysts, paleobotanists, archaeozoologists, and all the rest of the staff that were necessary to investigate the dig site. Duo felt a little lost walking in there, but he quickly spotted Dr. Jay and Father Maxwell at a desk in the far corner. Nearby, the chemists had set up a bath and the tools necessary to unroll the ancient papyrus safely.
"Ah, Duo, there you are," Father smiled when Duo appeared by his desk. "They already have quite a pile for us."
"Did the temple guard dog run you off?" Jay asked.
"Uh, sort of," Duo laughed nervously.
"Are these our translators?" a woman asked as she stopped by Jay's side. She looked funny standing next to him being that she only reached his shoulder. Her grey-blond hair was swirled into a bun and reading glasses hung on a chain around her neck.
"Rita! I'm glad you're here. Yes, this is Father Maxwell and his assistant Duo," Jay answered her.
She shook Father's hand. "Rita Gambier, cultural anthropologist," she said. "A pleasure to finally meet you, Father Maxwell."
"Likewise, doctor," Father said.
"Good to meet you, young man," Rita said, shaking Duo's hand next. "You do much field work?"
"No, this is my first time," Duo answered.
"Well then, we'll have to get you out there, right Jay?" she said. "We can't keep you behind that desk all the time!"
"Right." Jay agreed. "I've got some extra trowels around. You want to learn how to dig, boy?"
"Yeah, absolutely!" Duo exclaimed.
"You can do that now if you like, Duo," Father offered, "I can set up in here without you."
Duo followed Jay and Rita out into the library. Jay explained that they had cleared out the dirt earlier, and were in the process of digging beneath the floor level to find out how the space was used in prior years. Duo noticed how the floor was divided into sections by pegs and string. Some students dug with trowels the way Heero had been, a few sat hunched over boards drawing, and others carried buckets full of dirt out and brought empty ones in.
"The spoil heap is over there," Jay said, pointing to the left of the building to where several students dumped buckets of dirt through black screens and fished out artifacts.
"Dr. Jay," Duo asked, "how is this part of the city so intact? How did it escape getting destroyed when Saladin burned the city?"
"You've done you're homework!" Rita noted.
"We need more students like that!" Jay grunted in approval.
"It's true that Saladin destroyed his own city in 1191 so the Crusaders couldn't take it," Rita answered, "but this part of the city had already been damaged in previous battles and wasn't in use at the time."
"Saladin must have thought it was already pretty well ruined because he didn't bother with it," Jay added.
"Well, they were in a hurry to get out," Duo concurred, and then asked, "So Richard the Lion Heart didn't build here, then?"
Rita and Jay exchanged another look. "No, when the Crusaders occupied it a year later, they built more to the north of here," Jay answered.
"The Mamluks finally destroyed the city for good in 1270, but lucky for us, it appears they didn't pay much attention to this part either," Rita said. Duo nodded and followed them to the back of the library.
"Amy," Jay said to the area supervisor. She brushed a lock of blond hair behind her ear and stood from helping a student. "Amy, this is Duo, he's with the translator," Jay said, putting a hand on Duo's shoulder, "He's going to learn how to dig. Think you can find him something to do?"
"Sure!" she smiled at Duo.
That evening, after dinner, Father Maxwell and Dr. Jay remained at one of the tables, finishing off a bottle of Chianti. Their little campground was set up not far from the dig site. The program had been going for several years now, and they'd been able to coax some native leafy vines to grow on a large trellis and provide some shade over the cloth-covered picnic tables they called a dining room. The kitchen was next door and they had a full time staff from the modern town to prepare meals for the group. There was a bathroom with several stalls, as well as a few makeshift showers. A large black plastic tub heated the water under the sun during the day. The water wasn't exactly 'running,' they had to pump it up into the barrel above the shower and push the lever to create the spray, but it was enough and no one minded. Father knew this was going to be a great experience for Duo.
"I hope they're not using money!" Father chuckled to Jay as he observed Duo playing cards with some of the other students only a few tables away. "That boy knows every trick in the book!"
Jay observed Duo. "Your boy is really something, he must have done some research before coming here," he remarked. The students had liked him immediately, and Amy said he'd taken to excavation like a natural.
Father chuckled again. "There was no stopping him when I told him I was taking him along," he recalled, "he was either on the computer for hours, or had his nose in a book or magazine."
"And his translation skills are incredible! He knows some rather obscure vocabulary," Jay said. He'd watched Duo translate something in half an hour that had been troubling him for days.
"Yes, he has a gift for language," Father agreed.
"Is it something his parents fostered in him?" Jay asked.
Father shook his head sadly. "Duo has no parents. He lives at the church orphanage. He was brought in off the streets at age seven. Lord only knows how he survived before then. He took to my language hobby, so I taught him everything I know. He will surpass me someday, I have every confidence in it."
"The mark of good teaching!" Jay grunted, lifting his glass to the priest. "I am certain Heero will do the same, if he hasn't already!"
Both their gazes found the other boy, sitting by himself, agonizing over several large pieces of mylar paper, trying to analyze the different layers of his floor. The mylar was perfect because it was translucent. They recorded each layer of the room on a sheet of mylar taped over a grid, and then could compare all the layers, lining them up perfectly on top of one another as Heero was doing now.
"I think he takes it a little too seriously sometimes!" Jay shook his head, "and he prefers to work alone, which is certainly a burr under my saddle! I keep telling him he has to learn to work with others in this field, but he likes to do it all himself. Dig, sift, label, record, and analyze. I'll tell you something, though, he's already better than most of my grad students, so I indulge him with the special projects. That temple is something special, I can just tell. I was waiting to give it to him until he was ready for it. He's old enough now, he'll figure it out, I'm sure."
They talked a while longer and then the priest excused himself to retire. Jay happened to spot Heero and his toothbrush heading for the sinks and went over to him.
"Heero," he called. The boy stopped and turned.
"What?" Heero asked as Jay grabbed his elbow and hauled him around to the outside of the building.
"Listen here," Jay said sternly, poking a finger in his nephew's chest, "you better be nice to that boy, got it? He knows dead languages from all over the Mediterranean; I guarantee you'll need his help. Don't alienate him, understand?"
"But, Uncle, he practically ruined my trench this morning!" Heero protested.
"Give him a break! He's just inexperienced. He's barely stepped foot outside of that orphanage! Don't be such a spoiled brat, Heero," Jay reprimanded him. "He worked in Amy's area today, and he's going to be a real asset to our team, give him another chance."
With that, Jay let him go and went back to the dining area. Heero continued to the bathroom and found an open sink. He frowned at himself in the mirror as he scrubbed his teeth. Orphanage?