Chapter 1 Leah/Ancients Opening Scene
Leah dodged piñon pines, hurdling roots and rocks, but no matter how hard she tried to keep up, she continued falling farther behind. Her lungs burned, sucking the thin air of the 4,500-foot elevation as the hunting party continued to range ahead of her.
The hunters were five Native Americans from three different tribes, and the last time they’d stalked deer had been during the late Middle Ages, when King John Lackland ruled England. Leading them now was Appanoose, a Lakota by birth who had no business living in a cliff dwelling in southern New Mexico. In fact, Leah had her doubts that he’d been one of the small band of survivors originally kidnapped more than eight-hundred-years earlier in the surrounding Gila National Forest. Appanoose had a powerful physical presence and an attitude to match, which had quickly made him the de facto chief and shaman for the twenty-seven others.
Certain other traits separated the leader from the rest of the ‘Ancients,’ as Leah had dubbed the survivors: While the others still seemed to suffer certain after-effects from their rescue from the stasis units two weeks ago—never mind the plane flights, medical examinations, strange foods, sounds, lights—Appanoose never seemed even slightly startled, shocked, or uncertain. Instead, he served as a steady, imperious presence among the other Ancients, seemingly serving as their leader by default in this strange, new world.
Leah had tried to engage Appanoose on more than one occasion during the seven days since the Ancients had arrived at The Settlement, twenty days since they’d touched down at Holloman Air Force Base after the nightmare in Antarctica.
The Settlement which was a re-creation of a village typical of the time period in which the Ancients had lived. Leah’s utopian concept of returning these people to their traditional lifestyles hadn’t gone so well. No. Strike that. So far, it had been an utter and complete failure. Whenever she tried to engage the Ancients in traditional Native American activities, they simply stared at her. Only when the Appanoose spoke to them in low, reassuring tones would they act, rarely doing as she wished. And the shaman never, ever spoke to Leah directly.
So far, Appanoose and she had agreed on only one thing. When the Ancients had arrived at The Settlement, they’d been dressed in one-piece military flight suits, drab olive in color, with sneakers and jackets. In advance of their arrival, Leah had gathered as much traditional clothing as she could find: buckskins, furs, moccasin-style footwear, all period-accurate. Seeing the garb, Appanoose had immediately ordered the Ancients to discard the modern clothing and don the traditional wear.
For her part, Leah had tried to follow suit, also wearing the skins and furs and moccasins, but it was so cold in these New Mexico mountains that she’d given it up after less than a day, returning to the flight suit, long underwear, a down parka, and hiking boots. Her longtime friend and fellow archaeologist Garrett Moon had opted for a mix. He wore the flight suit but, instead of the down parka, he wore buckskins and furs over the military jumpsuit, cutting quite the handsome figure, as Leah had told him.
Like Leah, Garrett had no chance of keeping up with the Ancients as they hunted. Leah had expected the Ancients to be tougher and fitter than modern-day humans, but their speed and endurance were at a completely different level. For one thing, they seemed impervious to the cold. Half the time, they went barefoot. Apparently, although moccasins looked good in the museum, they were too clumsy for actual running.
Today had been the best day so far in The Settlement’s one week of existence. It was enough to make Leah feel encouraged. Perhaps the Ancients were acclimatizing to their environment, as shown by their sudden willingness to form a traditional hunting party.
Leah wasn’t a hunter—and, frankly, didn’t like anything about it—so she’d had no idea what to expect. The warriors armed themselves with hand-carved spears made of pine. Between six and eight feet long, the weapons featured no exquisitely hand-chipped obsidian heads. Instead, the spears had been sharpened to a needle point, with the back of the spear shaft shaved down significantly, perhaps to provide better throwing balance.
Many of the warriors also carried military-spec, black, stainless-steel knives. That had not been part of her plan. She’d raided a number of museums for artifacts, including spear points and axes, then arranged for the items to be delivered to Holloman Air Force Base, where they were bundled up and flown by chopper to The Settlement’s designated landing zone about ten kilometers away. Far enough, she hoped, that with a proper approach the sound or sight of the Black Hawks wouldn’t frighten the Ancients. Yet, somehow, within forty-eight hours of having established the village, at least six of the warriors had come into possession of what Leah learned were ONSP2-BRK Air Force Survival knives—the type carried by the Air Force personnel who manned The Settlement’s perimeter. Sure enough, within a day, a number of the perimeter guards had reported that they’d ‘lost’ their knives. Clearly, the handful of Ancients, led by Appanoose, had ‘procured’ them under the cover of night. Appanoose and his crew could have easily replaced The Artful Dodger and Fagin from Oliver Twist.
The Air Force perimeter security of course, wanted the knifes back, but when Garrett approached Appanoose, he was rebuffed immediately by the shaman’s customary single head-shake.
The Ancients had since put the knifes to good use, tackling a wide variety of tasks, from cutting firewood and prying rocks free to creating their lethal wooden spears.
She hadn’t told her husband Jack about the knives…yet. She expected he’d tell her that she shouldn’t be surprised – that the Ancients had already proven themselves willing and able to murder when threatened, as proven by the evidence Leah had discovered in their abandoned, eight-hundred-year-old dwellings.
If asked, Leah said that she felt no threat from these people at all. But the truth was, walking about The Settlement was increasingly reminding her of cage-diving with great white sharks—sans the cage.
Leah pushed pine boughs away from her face as she continued chasing the Ancients. Her jog slowed to a walk when her lungs and heart could take no more. She stopped and put her hands on her knees, panting for precious oxygen. She turned to look for Garrett Moon. Nowhere to be seen.
Leah stripped off her parka and tied it around her waist. She’d gone from freezing to sweating during the chase. She reached blindly for the water bottle that should have been hanging on her side. At some point during the past four or five miles, it had slid out of the nylon holder and was gone.
Garrett appeared moments later, jogging along at a steady pace. Leah had tried to keep up with the Ancients by sprinting, then jogging until she was gassed. She should have taken Garrett’s approach: slow and steady. He hardly looked winded.
He pulled a water bottle from inside his buckskins and handed it to Leah. “I saw it pop off maybe two miles back. Rolled down that hillside.
She sucked down several deep mouthfuls of cold water before handing the bottle back to Garrett. “There’s no way I can keep up with them. How can these people, who haven’t exercised in more than eight-hundred years, run like freaking deer?”
Garrett shook his head, then shaded his eyes, scanning ahead for any sign of the Ancients. “We’ll never catch them. Want to turn around?”
“What? And look like a major league powder-puff in front of that arrogant bastard Appanoose? No thanks. I’d rather have a stroke and go out on top.”
Garrett grinned. “Age before beauty.”
Leah turned to face her disappeared quarry and judged that she’d recovered enough to jog once more. She held the pace for five minutes, eyes on the path to avoid tripping on the tree roots, rocks, and small washouts that dotted the trail.
Without warning, an arm reached out and grabbed her, pulling her off the trail with such force, she might go head over heels, perhaps even tumble down the hillside. Instead, the hand yanked her back from the precipice.
Leah found herself staring into the piercing eyes of Appanoose, his face expressionless as he held her tightly. She about to open her mouth and give him a piece of her mind when he pulled her closer and uttered one word in Navajo:
Leah knew the word, as would Garrett, who descended from Navajos. What didn’t make sense was how Appanoose, a Lakota, knew Navajo. He must have chosen to use that language because he somehow knew Leah didn’t speak Lakota.
Appanoose stayed hidden with Leah behind a piñon pine until Garrett came shuffling up the trail.
Garrett stopped in his tracks. Ooljééʼ translated as ‘moon’ in Navajo. Appanoose had taken to calling Garrett by his given name.
Leah kept her mouth shut, as instructed, while Appanoose, using hand signals, indicated they should follow him…quietly. He led them across the deer trail, then down a slope where trees dispersed into a large meadow. Grazing in the meadow were a doe and two button bucks—likely her offspring, perhaps six or eight months old. None of the other warriors were in sight. Leah glanced back into the eyes of Appanoose, and he nodded in the direction of the deer.
Leah felt nauseated. The idea of the warriors chasing an old buck had been distasteful enough. But to see Appanoose planning to kill this helpless doe and her two young bucks with those sharpened spears…. She felt bile rising. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead. She would have given anything to be anywhere except right here, right now.
She gauged the distance to the doe and her bucks. At least 100 meters from the tree line in every direction. Even with a perfect spear toss, it was a long shot. And if the deer bolted too soon…impossible.
Appanoose slowly raised his hand up, palm open. When he closed his hand into a fist, it was if he’d never been there. The space where he’d stood was empty. Leah watched in stunned silence as the warriors came out of the forest from all points of the compass at inconceivable speed.
They covered the hundred meters in less than five seconds. Before the deer could raise their heads, they were surrounded by all five Ancient warriors, including Appanoose, spear raised above their heads, frozen in launch position.
Leah shut her eyes and covered her ears. She couldn’t stand to hear the sound of the deer screaming as they were speared. Seconds later, she opened her eyes. The warriors still stood frozen, spears prepared to strike, the deer surrounded and too terrified to move.
Suddenly, Appanoose spun his spear vertical and stepped back. The other four warriors did exactly the same. The deer, sensing an opening, bolted for the protection of the trees, leaping in huge, thee-meter gallops.
Leah stood, mouth opened, in stunned silence as the warriors walked toward Garrett and her. When she found her voice, she asked Garrett, “What the hell did we just witness?”
“Don’t know but I’m guessing we’re about to find out.”
Appanoose turned to the other warriors, speaking to them in low tones. They nodded and sprinted across the meadow and into the tree line, headed for The Settlement.
Appanoose approached the two modern humans, then pulled Garrett aside and spoke to him. Leah felt irritation welling, and she walked forward several steps, not willing to let Appanoose keep her out of the conversation.
“What did he say?” she asked.
“I asked him why they allowed the deer to go free. Deer are an important source of food for The Settlement. He said they don’t kill needlessly. I repeated that they needed to hunt—that they needed a source for food. It’s winter, and they can’t plant and grow until spring.”
“What did he say to that? ‘We don’t need to eat?’ We know that’s not true.”
“Nope. He said it was a crime to unsettle the balance of nature, for sport, or exhibition. Then he gave me that sly look and said, ‘You provide all the food necessary.’”
Leah turned to Appanoose, who was looking up at the heavens. It was getting to be late afternoon. He nodded skyward. “Chahałheeł.” Then he pointed at Leah’s parka and added, “Hakʼaz.” With that, he gave a nod and raced down the deer trail, following his warriors.
Leah thought she understood his gist. “I gather he said it’s getting dark and we’re gonna freeze our asses off.”
“Yep, pretty much,” said Garrett. “And we’ve got a whole new set of complications now. And they’ve got nothing to do with the cold.”
Leah blurted it out for him. “They aren’t human, are they? You saw how fast they closed on the deer. Covering a hundred meters in, what, five seconds? That cuts the world record in half.” She took a deep breath. “As much as I’d like to keep this to myself, I have to update Gordon. If Wheeler finds out what they can do, he’ll roll in here in no time and take the Ancients. Study them to make super soldiers, or something equally hideous.”
Garrett nodded. “Also, Appanoose knows a whole more than we thought. He just made a pretty clear statement to us: we can take our whole ‘return to a traditional lifestyle’ plan and shove it up our ass.”