For days, Chris worked without speaking to anyone. From what Oliver had told Nisa, Chris refused to talk to him about it. He was that kind of man though—the kind to push everyone away when he needed them most.
Ever since Nisa had confronted Susie, Susie had refused to speak to her in any other manner other than polite and formal and only about their work.
The staircase had finally been exposed. So, Nisa put half the force to work exposing the sides of the pyramid and digging back down and around it while the other half went inside and carefully started excavating the hallways and hopefully, the other chambers further back and down.
Nisa spent time studying the oddly shaped jars. One of the lab workers—a chemist who was an expert when it came to science—took samples from the jars to see what kind of liquids they had been filled with. Nisa wouldn’t receive the results for a couple days, but she kept checking her emails every morning anyway.
Four days after Chris and Susie’s fight, Nisa checked her email for the chemist’s reply, only to find an email from Edward Malford.
Dear Miss Ackers,
I must say I am quite surprised to hear from you and it is a fine surprise at that. You must understand—most anyone who had ever contacted my father about the language in the past had always been rude or even cruel in their remarks. Some even took to the extremes of threatening him for “exposing such a valued secret to the public.” Frankly, his life and career never recovered after the publishing of that book.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I resented it for years. I guess you could say that my father had an obsession with this language for most of his life and at times, I felt he wanted to know its secrets more than he wanted to know his own family. It wasn’t until after he passed, when I found myself in a dark place, desperate to try to connect with him, that I finally began to study his work.
What I found was absolutely extraordinary. I wasn’t inclined to believe some of the more preposterous rumors about this language—aliens and all that—but even a rational man such as myself must admit the oddity of it and even worse, the secrecy that the historical society all across the globe seems to share and agree on.
Why do they not want this information shared with the public? Why keep the mysteries of the language a secret? Perhaps it is to save face, as my father always believed—to keep themselves from looking ignorant in the eyes of the public, as if they always have all the answers.
But the more I dug into it, the more… odd things became. This piece of pottery you found is quite an extraordinary find. I have attached a map of locations where this language has been found—always on stories written on certain walls in Egyptian tombs. Never in public areas, houses, palaces, or temples.
When I added your location to the map of known sites… Well, I’ve attached it. I think you’ll see that what I’ve found is… quite extraordinary.
Nisa’s eyes stared at the picture, unblinking and unmoving, unsure how to fully process what her eyes told her. It was a map of Egypt, with red dots to show locations where the language had been found. When the dots were connected, it formed a perfect triangle, with her current location in the dead center. She copied the picture into one of her programs and then drew lines from each of the triangle’s corners—where the language had also been found—and each formed a perfect straight line through her location in the dead center.
Before she could think about what this meant or study it any further, gunshots echoed from outside. Nisa screamed and ducked down, but the bullets sounded as if they hadn’t been close to her tent.
Oliver sprinted into the room, rifle in hand.
“What’s going on?” Nisa asked.
Oliver shook his head. “Several jeeps riding around outside… Stay behind me.”
Nisa stayed crouched, but slipped in behind his back. Oliver darted out the front of the tent, much to her complete dismay, and fired his rifle several times.
Through a tear on the cloth at the front of her tent, Nisa could see one of the jeeps as it flipped over and exploded. Another rode in behind it, firing a machine gun.
Oliver ducked, grabbing Nisa with him, rolling to the side. Bullets railed down upon them like a hailstorm. He jumped on her, covering her body with his own while somehow managing to keep a hold of his rifle in his left hand.
Nisa screamed, as fear and terror clawed deep into her. “Wh—why is this happening?”
Oliver shook his head. “I don’t know.” He stood up off her and fired several more shots. By then, the security team had rallied through the camp, and through the myriad of bullet holes that now littered the front and sides of Nisa’s tent, she could clearly watch as the security team fired and killed the drivers in one more jeep. It crashed into another.
Dozens of her workers lay dead on the ground as well as some of the protestors off in the distance.
“The protestors…?” Nisa started.
Oliver cursed. “I thought they were the ones doing this. Do you think Callahan…?”
Nisa’s eyes widened and her heart froze. Could the man who had once been her mentor really do something like this to her? She had no idea.
The last jeep stopped in the center of camp and the driver stood and held his gun straight up in the air.
Oliver gripped Nisa tightly and kept her behind him as they slipped out the front of the entrance. He and all the other security team members aimed at the jeep and the men in it.
They wore black robes and each had their faces completely covered.
“What do you want?” Oliver asked.
“Leave this place,” the man said, voice heavily accented. “Leave this place and no more of your people will die.”
“Who are you?” Nisa asked.
Oliver stared at her in shock, but kept his rifle trained on the driver.
“Leave! We will not warn you again!” With that, the jeep whirled around. Oliver and his men fired at it, but they swerved and then disappeared into the dunes of the desert.
For hours after the incident, Nisa’s hands and entire body trembled. The local police showed up, which caused a huge ruckus. Some of the protestors had been killed, so the police demanded that the dig be halted for several days, until the situation calmed down. After that, the news reporters started trickling in.
Nisa talked to several officers in Egyptian and Arabic, giving a full account of what happened. They talked to Oliver and the other security team. Ambulances showed up, putting the dead protestors and workers in body bags. The sight made Nisa’s chest tighten.
The news reporters stayed outside of camp. Dozens of them tried to approach Nisa as she walked back to her newly made tent, after dealing with the bodies’ transfers. Oliver and two of his men stood around her, shoving the reporters back.
By then, the crowd of protestors had grown. Nisa found it surprising; now that several of them had been killed, she would have thought it would have deterred them from being out there, but the violence had only seemed to aggravate them even more.
Inside her tent, Nisa sat down on her chair, placed her head in her hands and finally released the sob she had been holding back all day.
Oliver’s hands came around her and he stood her up and pulled her into his arms into a tight embrace. Her body trembled against his, but his comforting hands stayed on her. “It’s okay,” he whispered.
“Is Callahan really capable of this?” Nisa whispered.
Oliver shook his head. “I don’t know, Ni. All I know is, I’m going to protect you and I promise, I’ll find a way to get to the bottom of this.”
Nisa pursed her lips, glancing at the papers shewn out all over her desk, the photos of the artifacts, her email, left open where it had been. The gunfight had completely distracted her from what Edward Malford had told her earlier. “Do you think we should leave?”
Oliver pursed his lips, crossing his arms as he closely eyed her. “What do you think?”
Sometimes, she hated and loved it when he did that; answered one of her questions with a ‘what do you think?’ On the one hand, it made her think deeply about the situation and often helped her discover the answer for herself. On the other hand, sometimes, she just wanted to know what he thought.
Nisa stared at the email, reading Edward’s words on the last few lines over and over again. Her eyes stared at the map with the triangle and the dots until they both started watering. “There’s something here, Ollie. Something… I don’t know, something the world has never seen or discovered before. The only book to talk about the language to the public, the author who wrote it was shunned and ridiculed for what he did. He lost his career because of it. I’ve been emailing his son and he gave me the locations where the other stories written on walls have been found and look…”
Nisa pointed to the triangle and her index finger touched the dot in the center.
“Wait… isn’t that…?” His voice trailed off.
Nisa nodded, eyes widening as she turned to him. “Ollie, our location is in the dead center. This is where we found the stone tablet to translate everything. This is… This is it. Something’s here, I can feel it. And now that we’ve discovered all of this, someone is trying to stop us. We—we can’t leave. No matter the danger, no matter what.”
Oliver placed comforting hands on her shoulders as his lips turned up into a warm smile. “I’m with you, Ni. No matter what.”
Nisa wrapped her arms around his back and held him tightly. For a long moment, she focused on everything about him—the feel of his solid muscles beneath her, his smell of metal and sand and sweat—and how much it meant to her that he was there for her. Through everything, Ollie had always been there for her and she knew, without a doubt in her mind, that he always would be there for her.
Oliver pulled away and pointed a thumb to the pyramid. “Soon as this whole situation is straightened out, you need to get back in that tomb. You won’t find answers out here.”
Nisa nodded. “I know.” She ran a finger through her black hair and let her finger untangle it. “It’s so strange how the sandstorm covered it up and right when we finally dig it all out, people come in, guns blazing, shoot the place up… Now, we have the police keeping us from it for the next couple of days, until everything calms down. I feel like it’s just one setback after another.”
Oliver chuckled and leaned back on her desk. “Sometimes, God uses the setbacks in our lives to shoot us forward.”
Nisa smiled at him. “I haven’t heard you talk about God in a long time. What changed?”
Oliver’s green eyes stared at her for a long moment, so long that she wasn’t sure if he would answer or not. “I know we’ve had our disagreements about why I stopped… trying to have a relationship with Jesus and my doubts and everything, but… When you’re being shot at, it kind of makes you think a little.”
Nisa sucked in a deep breath. There was nothing more terrifying than having bullets flying at them and knowing if one hit her or Oliver that there was nothing she could have done. She had felt so powerless. In the moment, it had all happened fast—so fast that she almost hadn’t felt the fear until after it was all already over. “I know.”
Oliver sighed and stared at the ground, gritting his teeth. “I guess I just thought that if you died or I died… I don’t know, maybe I should make things right with God again. That’s all.”
Nisa furrowed her eyebrows at him.
Nisa shook her head. “Nothing, just… I know you, Ollie. You took this job, not just because of me, but because it’s dangerous. You love living at the edge of life, as much as you can, anyway. And this job gives you the perfect chances to risk your life. Don’t even try to pretend this is your first firefight, because I know it isn’t.”
Oliver jokingly held up his hands in surrender. “Fine, you caught me. I—Nisa… I thought there was a real chance you could die out there. In here, and knowing there was nothing I can do to stop it. You’re right. I don’t mind being in danger and it doesn’t bother me, but the thought of you dying… It scared me. So, I prayed. Then, after it was over, I realized that He might not have listened because of how badly I turned away from him. So… I keep thinking I need to make things right with Him. Maybe it’s for all the wrong reasons, but…”
Nisa walked up to him and ran her hands along his chest. “Ollie, God uses everything in our lives to help us. Maybe He used this gunfight to scare you back into believing Him again. Whatever it takes to bring His Children back.”
Oliver smiled at her but it turned into a frown as tears glistened in his eyes. She could see the real pain there—the pain that turning away from God had brought him. “I tried pushing Him away so bad, Ni. It—it hurt, but—but I…”
“It was easier for you.”
Oliver nodded. “Easier than facing my guilt.”
It was the first time he had brought it up to her, other than the night when he had first told her he had killed someone. Deep inside, Nisa had always suspected it was his guilt and shame that had caused him to turn away from God. Now, as she spoke the words out loud, she knew them to be true. “You didn’t think God could ever forgive you, could you? So, rather than face your guilt, you turned away from Him,” she whispered.
Oliver nodded, but his body completely crumbled before her. He rested his head on her shoulder and for the first time since he had killed a man to save her life three years ago, he finally cried.