They were all gathered around Kyra and her computer on a small table with their backs to the door when Jack and I arrived. We entered the room, Jack a step behind me, unnoticed until Jack cleared his throat. As they all turned to greet us, my eyes focused on Mr. Candle and his awkward stance leaning into the team's circle and yet remaining an outsider. I wondered why he stayed now that I was free, but kept the question to myself.
"Any luck?" Jack asked.
Tom shook his head signifying the general feeling in the room. His eyes turned toward me for a moment longer than anywhere else and a grim smile appeared and disappeared on his lips. I read it as guilt over my capture, although even I realized there was nothing more anyone could have expected him to do. We had walked or rather drove, straight into a trap and even in its aftermath the subtle hints that might have warned us, seemed less than conclusive and far from obvious.
"Nothing," Dr. Michaels said. "Kyra was able to narrow their escape path to two possibilities but the trail dead ends on both paths without any conclusive evidence."
"I don't think they'll leave the immediate area," I said. "At least not for very long."
"You overheard something?" Dr. Michaels asked.
I stepped forward, moving a little closer to the computer on the table. It occurred to me to respond to Dr. Michaels question with a negative, but I held back. What I had learned from my captivity was not so much overheard as directed at me, but revealing that truth might cause the others to doubt my deductions as things my captors had wanted me to think. It was even possible I realized, but my instincts told me to trust the artifacts and in this case the artifacts and what I gleamed from my captors were leading in the same direction.
"Kyra, I recall you mentioning there were discrepancies between the two maps we found?" I said.
"What do the maps have to do with anything?" Dr. Michaels said.
"I for one believe them to be genuine in origin, but that does not really matter because what does matter is that Olivia and her friends believe they are real and that is why they came here in the first place," I said.
"Evidence to the contrary Miss West," Mr. Candle said, walking to stand like a barricade between myself and Kyra. "How can you be certain of their intentions or beliefs?"
"Because of all the things they could have asked me, they asked about the maps," I said, staring unflinchingly into Mr. Candle's unblinking eyes.
"Hardly conclusive," Dr. Michaels said, leaning up against the table and looking me up and down with a critical eye as if he were evaluating my sanity.
Looking away from Mr. Candle, I closed my eyes and inhaled a deep breath. My ears burned with a touch of embarrassment as I struggled to keep my impatience under control. The last thing I needed was another bare bottom spanking in front of my colleagues, but I knew if I did not watch my step it was precisely the invitation I would be laying down for Jack and everyone else.
"You're right. I don't know definitively what they are planning or why they even wanted me," I said, opening my eyes to gaze confidently at Dr. Michaels, "But we don't have a lot to go on here and I strongly believe we should at least investigate the possibility these maps might actually have a purpose beyond wasting our time."
"Kyra pull up the maps," Jack ordered, joining the rest of us near the computer and twisting his head for a moment to look me in the face, "You've got five minutes to turn us all into believers."
Dr. Michael's eyes narrowed as he looked to Jack, but there was a thin smile on his lips. I turned back to Kyra and the computer and received an approving nod from Mr. Candle as he stepped aside, giving me a clear view. The maps were outlined on the screen in individual side-by-side windows, their differences minor enough as to look identical from my vantage.
"Can you overlay the two maps and highlight the areas of variance?" I asked, already knowing she could and nodding as she did it rather than answering my question. The display highlighted only a single area on the coastline. "Great. Now can you put a modern day map of the island underneath?"
"Okay," Kyra said, making the necessary adjustments with her mouse and aligning all three maps in layers on top of each other.
"Now cut away everything but the region of variance between the first two," I said and Kyra nodded clicking her mouse until only the highlighted region on the coastline remained. "What's there?"
Kyra typed a few characters and the modern day map reappeared with the area we were interested in flashing on the screen. A mouse click later and the map swapped out for an overhead satellite image and a couple more clicks zoomed the picture in until the details on the ground could be seen. I do not think anyone was particularly surprised to find the region was lined with a series of Moai, the whole island is populated with the strange statues, but Dr. Michaels' eyes narrowed and the faint smile on his lips drew flat.
"Curious isn't it?" I said, hoping it would be enough to convince them to pursue my theory.
"Finding Moai on Easter Island is sort of like finding hay in a barn," Kyra said.
"These aren't just any Moai," Dr. Michaels said, looking to me as if he wondered if I too knew the significance, "These are the only ones facing the ocean."
"What's it mean?" asked Jack.
"No one knows," Dr. Michaels said.
"They're markers," I said, looking at Dr. Michaels for any sign of confirmation to my theory, but there was none. "Kyra, do you have a geological survey of the island? Something that could tell us what is underneath those statues."
"What are you thinking, Miss West?" Mr. Candle asked, while Kyra pulled up the information I requested.
"A cave, a vault, something locked away and hidden by the Moai," I said, placing my hand on the back of Kyra's chair and leaning over her shoulder to look at the proof displayed on her screen. A pocket of emptiness showed blatantly on the survey and only a few feet from the misaligned Moai. "There. Whatever they are looking for is inside that cave."
"Turn the Moai so there backs face the sea to find the entrance?" Dr. Michaels said, looking to me as if I suddenly had all the answers.
"It makes sense, but I'm not sure how it can be accomplished," I said with a shrug.
"I'm sure you'll figure it out," Kyra mumbled almost too quietly to be heard.
"Don't know about the rest of you, but I'm convinced," Tom said, leaving his place off to the side of the computer and coming to stand next to me.
"It's worth a look," Dr. Michaels said, giving Jack a slight nod.
"Kyra, keep trying to track their escape route here," Jack said, shoulders tensing and a sparkle of excitement twinkling in his eyes. "Tom you're with Kyra. Dr. Michael's, V, Joe, you're with me."
Tom bristled with annoyance saying, "Jack—
"No arguments. I need you here just in case this is another elaborate trap," Jack said.
Six hours later we were standing on the shores of Rapa Nui staring at failure. The area was cordoned off by local police with tourists standing around, some gaping openly at the sight while others were obviously confused. Their backs now to the sea, the Moai appeared to almost be looking down on me, laughing. Mr. Candle made a call and a few minutes later the police allowed us inside their perimeter, but I held little hope we would find anything left of value.
In their turning, the Moai had revealed a passage undoubtedly leading to the cave we had spied on Kyra's computer screen. Stone steps led down through dead roots and webs of ancient dust. The walls were solid, illuminated by regularly spaced torches, and covered with colorful petroglyphs whose vibrancy would soon fade from their sudden exposure to the elements of modern nature. Dr. Michaels snapped digital pictures as we descended the steep path.
The narrow passage opened up into the larger cavern. At its center, a stone, rectangular altar rose up from the floor, reminding me more of an executive desk than the sacrificial icon it should have suggested. Above it, swinging gently from the ceiling a chandelier made of animal bones provided light and shadows to the circular room. The walls were covered in more petroglyphs which seemed to tell a story beginning on the right side of the doorway and encircling the room back around the left side. I intuitively understood the purpose, but the meaning was beyond my initial understanding.
Dr. Michaels knelt down near the altar and pinched dust between his fingers. Curious, I looked closer and noticed there were a series of similarly shaped piles of dust surrounding the altar. Mr. Candle stepped around to the far side of the altar, studying the petroglyphs on the wall with an odd look of sadness on his face. Dr. Michaels rubbed the dust remnants between his fingers and looked back at Jack who stood at the entrance, taking in the room.
"Leaves, probably banana leaves," Dr. Michaels said, as if it explained everything. "They were most likely destroyed when the passage was opened exposing them to fresh air."
"Significance?" Jack asked, still looking around.
"They would have been used for writing," Dr. Michaels said, standing back up and shining his flashlight around the room, obviously searching for something else he expected to find. He stopped the light on a lower part of the wall where the outline of a wide rectangle remained imprinted on the stone wall. "Most likely tablets and undoubtedly the reason they came."
"What about the petroglyphs? Do they tell us anything of what might have been on the tablets?" Jack asked, motioning at the walls around us.
Dr. Michaels moved his flashlight slowly around the room, taking a careful look before answering, "It is possible, but it will take some time to discern their meaning."
"Make sure you get a complete photographic record of the whole room," Jack said, nodding. "Joe, V, let's get out of Gene's way and let him do his work."
Outside on the surface, Mr. Candle took my arm and guided me away from Jack and the authorities to a place where we were in essence alone. I shivered with the cold sea breeze blowing through my hair as I looked down below the cliff we stood upon at the endless blue ocean beyond. He was angry like the waves crashing against the rocks.
"I didn't tell them," I said, meeting his gaze with my own.
"I never suggested you had," Mr. Candle said.
"We were late. I tried to tell them, tried to convince them, but no one listened," I said.
"And you think they should have?" He asked.
"I've been right more than I've been wrong." I said.
"The compasses, the medallion, the crystal, the maps, yes, I've been right," I said.
"And you think those are the only times that matter?" He asked, turning to face me directly and his hand tightening its grip on my arm as if he expected me to try to pull away.
"Are you saying they aren't?" I asked, knowing his inference exactly and wondering if he had the nerve to say it aloud to my face.
"You haven't made things easy," He said. "Jack wants to trust you, but you're behavior makes it difficult."
"I've made some mistakes, but that's no reason to ignore my insights," I said.
"You don't understand. It's not mistakes that are the problem. We all make mistakes, but you give the impression that you think rules are for everyone else and not you," Mr. Candle said, his eyes boring into my own.
I trembled under his gaze. Like being scolded by my parents, I felt insignificant and small and incredibly stupid. His view was not strictly correct, but it was all too easy to see myself through the tinted glasses he wore and it was like staring at a spoiled brat with no concept of anyone but herself. It was not me, but it felt like a sliver of truth anyway.
"I know the rules apply to me," I said, my hand reaching back and massaging my still sore buttocks as proof.
"Then follow them. This team will only succeed when you do," Mr. Candle said. "As much as I dislike it, Jack was right to reduce your standing."
"I'm willing to put in the effort to make up for my bad choices, but can we really afford to lose like we have today?" I said.
"It's better we lose a few times than to allow your recklessness to endanger everyone and everything," Mr. Candle said.