From a Time Before
The Expedition to Malo-Moko Island
© 2015 by Richard Messer
Baxter walked into the wardroom, his boots scuffing on the carpet. He paused to look down at the spot he vaguely remembered upchucking on last night. But all that was there was a broad wet spot.
“The stewards cleaned up your ‘gift’ this morning,” said Sir Albert over the rim of his coffee cup.
The buck took his place at the table. A feline in a white steward’s jacket filled his cup and asked if he was ready for breakfast. The thought of eating made Baxter’s stomach give a lurch. He shook his head so that the steward left the room.
“So, Mr. Baxter, what did happen to you last night?” This question was from the captain as he buttered a slice of toast.
The buck continued to stare into his cup as he cudgeled his mind to gather together the events. When he looked up at the others around the table he related haltingly what had occurred. The Maine coon, chimpanzee, and a few of the graduate students seated around the table listened then glanced at each other. Sir Albert turned to his manservant, Lionel Jefferies, and spoke to him softly behind his broad hand. The terrier spared Baxter a glance, gave a nod, and left the wardroom.
The deer thought over what he had said about the previous evening, leaving out the dream. Maybe they thought that he wasn’t capable of leading this expedition. But the Board of Directors didn’t having anyone else to handle this trip with a handful of young furs and feathers to ride herd on. Baxter was 28 years old, barely out of graduate school himself. However, the students who made up most of the team felt more comfortable with him than anyone who would have been twice his age and well entrenched in how this dig would be conducted.
The Yorkshire terrier returned with an ice bag in hand. He offered it to the American who muttered his thanks before taking it. Gingerly placing it on the back of his head Baxter winced as the pressure on the bump sent a stab of pain throughout his skull before the cold began to follow it. After a minute the pain was numbed by the ice.
“Mr. Baxter, do you by any chance still have that artifact with you?”
The buck looked up. His simian counterpart was holding the coffee cup in both large hands while watching the other across the table. A frown caused the deer to wince slightly as he rummaged through the pockets of his canvas work jacket. When he found the disk, it was passed across the table to the chimpanzee. Setting aside his cup Sir Albert studied the disk, turning it over to admire both sides. When he looked at the face he set his pince nez glasses on his broad nose for a closer study. A slight smile lifted those thick lips.
“A most beautiful lady, don’t you think, Mr. Baxter?”
“Yes, she is. Still, the obverse is puzzling.”
Large black fingers carefully turned the disk over. Sir Albert peered at the circle within a circle with the central disk motif, and the four fingers projecting outwards. Then he squinted at the runes on the rim, carefully turning the disk to study them.
“Runes?” asked the simian archeologist as he looked up at the deer across from him.
Removing the ice bag as his head felt better, James Baxter offered a nod that didn’t hurt.
“From what I could deduce last night,” he said. “But if you look closer you’ll see that the dots are square and that there are no curvatures to the engraving.”
Sir Albert looked again, seeing that the young American was correct. He passed the disk to one of Baxter’s students on the chimpanzee’s right. The beagle took the object and turned it over in his fingers, his dark eyes sparkling behind his glasses. After inspecting it he passed it to a gray feline to his right. Thus the disk made its round of the table before returning to the English archaeologist. Looking it over once more Sir Albert took the disk between the fingers of both hands and tried to bend it. James Baxter gave a cry of horror over this act. But it was for naught as the material of the disk refused to even flex. A closer look showed the simian that whatever was used to make the disk didn’t even begin to show any sign of deformation. He handed it back to the buck.
“Looks like it’s made from some form of phenolic resin,” spoke Sir Albert more to himself than to the others, rubbing his fingertips together. “The engravings appear to have been made with a tool other than an awl. Possibly a high-speed engraver of some type to leave such sharp and clear lines.”
“Phenolic resin?” asked the beagle named Anderson.
The English archaeologist nodded. “An insulating material created for the electrical field, from what I’ve read. Or it could be Bakelite, a new time of moldable material used in a variety of fashions, from telephones to radio cases. Now the question that stands in the way is why use this resin – if that’s what it is – or Bakelite, for the creation of that disk.” He picked up his cup and took a sip of coffee. “But we need to learn of its creator first.”
“Who’d that be, sir?” The gray cat, Thompson, cocked his head while looking at the simian.
Looking back, the English ape replied, “That is what we will be finding out on the island of Malo-Moko.”
* * * * * * *
The freighter’s motor launch pulled into the shallow bay and ground itself onto the gravel beach. The occupants surveyed the scene before them and offered a low groan and a few curses. Some of the tents had been blown over and a couple of the temporary cabins had collapsed. Everybody except two sailors climbed out and splashed their way ashore. James Baxter stood staring at the small devastation, thankful that the storm hadn’t been worse. At least that was what Captain Tanner had mentioned at breakfast; the worse of the squall had hit harder on the southern side of the island while the tall ridgeline had swept the winds and rain up over the island. It looked like the cat was wrong.
Sir Albert asked everyone what had happened during the storm.
A cardinal spoke up. “Well, sir, the winds weren’t that bad. The ridge blocked most of it; however, a strong breeze did come around the end and hit us.” He pointed towards the western end of the island which the launch had rounded.
The simian frowned. “And that breeze was what did all this?” He spread his heavy hands wide to encompass the campsite.
“Some of the damage was from the wind, Sir Albert.” An older spaniel in sailor dungarees and muddy jumper stepped forward. “But it mostly was abetted by an earth tremor.”
James Baxter’s ears perked up. “A tremor? This island is supposed to be tectonically safe!”
The canine shook his head. “That maybe so, sir, but there had been a minor shaking at the time the wind had hit. It wasn’t much on its own, but it did make it easier for the wind to knock things down.”
After a slow look around again the simian aristocrat spoke up. “Well, there’s not much more to be done with excavation until this mess is cleared up. So this morning will be spent in setting things right.”
And with that the students and sailors were broken down into teams with specific duties. The tents and structures were righted and an inventory made of what supplies were salvageable. Surprisingly, nothing of great importance was destroyed, let alone damaged. And the work was done in short order that by mid-morning all was completed and reported to Sir Albert and James Baxter. A break was announced and a quick breakfast thrown together before the students, with tools, sketchpads, and other measuring devices, made their slow way up the tree-covered slope to the caves high above. It was decided that they would carry their lunch with them and eat on the site later. When all was ready the long string of furs and feathers began making the climb up the switchback trail towards the ridge far above.
They made the first cave by late morning after a couple of rest stops. The majority of the party stopped at the large cave thirty feet further up the slope while the rest broke into two separate teams to continue looking into other caves to either direction from the main one. The two archaeologists helped with rigging up the canvas awnings over the spot where the operations were conducted. A couple of small wooden tables were erected and the shaker screen set up to clear the debris from hopeful items that were brought down in buckets.
James Baxter rolled out the rough sketch of their progress so far. Using rocks to hold down the paper the buck pointed to a spot on it.
“So far this open area within ten feet of the entrance is very wide, almost circular by about twenty feet. We will be digging down further to determine if there is a flooring of some kind there. It’s mere conjecture at this time, but I suspect this is some entryway for that tunnel here.” He pointed to the left of the sketched-in cave. “Think of it as a vestibule or mudroom for whoever came and went.”
“Why do you think so?” Sir Albert never took his eyes from the sketch.
Pointing up the slope the young whitetail continued. “Well, sir, the entryway appears to have some kind of frame set well into the stone, as does the vestibule into the tunnel. No evidence of a door in either place, if they ever had one. And the wall of that circular room looked to have been worked into this form.”
Baxter turned back to face the English simian. “From our initial investigation - before your arrival, sir - showed that this area had been back-filled with the debris you had seen out on the slopes. Whoever did this wanted no one to find it.”
Crossing his brawny arms the representative of the Howard Carter Society eyed the young American.
“And this was what you have arrived at in the past three weeks?”
A slow anger was welling up in the pit of the buck’s stomach. Since the chimpanzee’s arrival on his dig site - his site - Wednesday had been questioning every step Baxter had taken from preparation of this work site, to the clearing of the entrance, to the sifting and recovery of what articles so far found up there, including the disk.
Setting his feet apart, hands on hips, and chin jutted forward in a challenging manner, James Baxter replied coolly, “Yes, Sir Albert, that is what I have arrived at. And if you think otherwise, then I suggest that you follow us to the cave and see for yourself. And if I’m correct in my appraisal, then you are free to leave this island!”