The Day Before
Amanda spent every spare moment translating the crumpled copy of the tablet. Many of the hieroglyphs were unfamiliar or unclear, but the Illiterati Codebook and Amanda's obsessive energy were up to the challenge. She had, nonetheless, a demanding timetable of classes, reading and essay deadlines to meet. The extra work was punishing and took its toll: one Latin seminar, Amanda's eyes felt heavy and she decided to rest her head on the desk - just for a few moments. She woke twenty minutes later, to a stern look from the teacher and the words 'Scholarae ne dormiat in auditorium!'
Late on the evening before Mesoamerican Civilizations, Amanda finally completed the translation. The half-tablet was not much use alone; combined with hers, its full story and purpose were clear. If Rachel possessed the actual tablet and not just a copy.... the possibilities were huge.
Amanda climbed into bed and turned off the light; just then, a brief musical jingle interrupted her thoughts. She reached in the dark and found her phone by its illuminated screen. There was a new message.
RACHEL DIDN'T COME 4 BOOKS THIS WK. THEY R ALL URS!! GLENN
Amanda put the phone back on her bedside table. She'd forgotten all about the books; she hadn't even got the reading list... from Professor Coe... Amanda fell asleep.
Next morning, bright sunlight streamed through a gap in the curtains and onto Amanda's beautiful face. She awoke slowly, got up and peeked outside: it was a lovely day. Spring had come early.
Amanda sang to herself in the shower. She realized she was looking forward to seeing Rachel. The girl had been a thorn in her side but now, things had a chance to be different. As she dried herself off, Amanda looked at the bundle of discarded winter clothes; she decided she would risk something lighter. She stretched a new pair of black tights over her long legs, then pulled on denim shorts, a t-shirt, sweater and sneakers: she was ready to go. She locked the door behind her then bounded down the stairs and outside. Sunlight glistened off Amanda's nyloned legs as she practically skipped to the Classics and Archaeology building.
As she reached the notice board, Amanda felt a moment of trepidation when looking for her essay mark: her studies had taken a back seat this week.
AMANDA JONES A-
DANIEL WONG B+
KAREN CARVER B
Amanda sighed with relief, then wondered immediately: where was Rachel? Her name was not on the list.
Ten minutes later, Amanda wondered the same thing again. The class proceeded with an empty chair: Rachel was nowhere to be seen. Amanda read briefly from her paper before Daniel took over, followed by Karen. Things felt different without Rachel - perhaps the Professor knew something?
"She called me two days ago for an essay extension," said Coe, when Amanda approached him afterwards. "No word since, from the elusive Miss Fox."
Amanda stepped outside feeling baffled and disappointed. Having worked tirelessly for a week, she was longing to talk to Rachel about the tablet and - most of all - find out if she had the other half. Now her good work was for nothing. Amanda felt drained as she walked to Research Methodology.
"Pssst!" The noise came from Amanda's right.
"Rachel?" Amanda was surprised to see her emerging from behind a stone pillar and into the sunlight. She wore a brown jacket, red t-shirt, jeans and combat boots. But her pretty face showed no trace of its usual smile.
"Keep walking," said Rachel as she joined Amanda and set a brisk pace.
"Where have you - why didn't you -"
"Did you translate the tablet?" Rachel got straight to the point. Her voice sounded edgy.
"And...? Can I see the transcript?"
"Well, the copy wasn't very clear," Amanda replied: she wasn't giving anything away without getting answers of her own. "Of course, if I could see the original...."
Rachel sighed. "Alright, alright.... you win." She stopped, looked nervously over her shoulder, and turned back to Amanda. "You have a class now, right?"
"Meet me in the coffee shop at three, OK?"
"Sure," said Amanda. It was finally her turn to have coffee with Rachel.
"Sit at the back. Not by the window."
Amanda frowned. "What's going on, Rachel?"
Rachel paused, taking a deep breath. "Nothing," she said, breaking into a warm smile. "Really, nothing. See you at three." She turned and walked away. Amanda's deep blue eyes tracked her until she disappeared around a corner.
Something wasn't right. But now, Amanda had Research Methodology. She'd missed last week's class - and not only that - she'd skipped this week's reading. She resolved to sit at the back and keep her head down.
Two hours later, Amanda had the same intention as she headed for the coffee shop. She wondered at Rachel's instruction to sit out of sight. Who was she trying to avoid? Amanda smiled a wry smile: maybe it was Glenn, Kevin, Steve, Ryan - or all of them!
The sun shone brightly as Amanda passed through a grassy quadrangle. She felt a warm breeze on her legs; it was good to be outside after a week at her desk. Birds were singing, and she thought she could just make out small green buds on the trees above.
A muffled cry snapped Amanda out of her daydream: it came from her left.
She followed the sound and rounded a corner to an alleyway: a narrow, dark passage, it was half-blocked by a huge recycling bin.
"Ahhhh! You're hurting me!" a female voice cried from behind the bin.
Amanda never thought twice about helping others, and self-preservation rarely crossed her mind; she hurried down the passage.
"Rachel?!?" she gasped, incredulously. A stocky man in a leather jacket held Rachel against the wall, twisting her arm behind her back. Her face contorted in pain as her delicate cheek pressed into the brickwork. Her eyes widened.
The man turned and faced Amanda. He had swarthy skin, beady eyes and a long moustache draped around his mouth.
"Disappear young lady," he growled in a strong, Latin accent. "This is not your business."
"Let her go!" Amanda shouted, her hands balling into fists.
"I said get lost - ARGH!!!" the man snarled as Rachel yanked her free elbow into his cheekbone. He released Rachel's arm and recoiled back against the wall, clutching his face. Rachel kicked sideways into the man's groin, doubling him up. Then she picked up her cloth bag from the ground and swung it in a wide arc, catching the man's head with a resounding 'crack'. He went down and lay still.
Trembling, gasping for breath, Rachel backed slowly away from her attacker.
"Let's go," Amanda said, checking over her shoulder that the escape route was clear.
But something possessed Rachel; she charged forward and dealt the man a heavy kick to the stomach. He coughed and writhed on the ground.
Amanda was appalled: "RACHEL!" she screamed. She ran forward and grabbed Rachel's arm, jerking her away from the prostrate man before she could kick him again. Rachel shot her crazed look.
"Come on!" Amanda insisted.
The two girls broke into a run.
Four breathless minutes later, they were half a mile from the alleyway. Some kind of instinct had guided Amanda to the library, and she dragged Rachel through the revolving door. The two girls emerged, panting for air and attracting a questioning look from Mrs Nobbs. Amanda pulled Rachel through a side door and into long, wood-panelled room, packed with rows of tall bookshelves. They finally came to rest in a quiet corner beside a fire exit; Amanda checked to see that no-one was nearby.
Rachel was shaking. "Thank you," she said to Amanda, looking her in the eyes. Rachel's face screwed up and reddened: she was about to cry.
"It's OK. You're alright," Amanda reassured her, putting a hand on her shoulder.
Rachel took a deep breath and let out a long sigh, rubbing her eyes. Then, once again, she straightened and regained her composure. She reached down into her bag.
"Who was that...?" Amanda asked her. "What's going on? What-"
"Look," Rachel cut her short. In her trembling hand she held the half-tablet: the real one.
"My God," Amanda slowly reached and took it from her, examining it with awe: it was six by four inches, and half an inch thick. Amanda could see now what had made the 'crack' with the man's skull.
"So... what does it say?" said Rachel.
"Quite a lot," said Amanda. "I barely know where to start."
"It's about Lady Xoc, right? I can read that much."
"Yes." Amanda took a deep breath. "When Lady Xoc died, she attained the level of goddess. A secret cult continued to worship her after her death. This tablet explains how to find her resting place, in order to pay tribute to her."
"What kind of tribute?"
"As you'd expect with the Mayans...sacrifice. Probably human sacrifice," said Amanda with distaste. "It says here: Sacrifice must be given, lest you become sacrifice yourself."
"Her resting place, you mean her tomb? Where is it?"
"Not just a tomb, but a shrine - a temple even. The tablet says how to walk there from the King's Palace in Yaxchilan. It even uses compass points - the 'Four corners of the Earth' as the Maya call them."
"A map... so it's a map!"
The conversation was cut short as a fat, grumpy man poked his head around the end of the bookshelf.
"Can you girls take this outside?"
They gasped with surprise. Rachel snatched the tablet from Amanda and stuffed it back in her bag.
"Sorry," said Amanda to the man; Rachel was already heading for the door.
Outside the library, the girls blinked in the bright sun, suddenly feeling very exposed. They moved to the side of the pathway, under a large tree. Rachel turned conspiratorially to Amanda, fixing her with those irresistible eyes: they burned now with a blue flame of excitement.
"So," Rachel half-whispered, "you're saying I have a map here for Lady Xoc's tomb?"
"Wait a minute!" Amanda hissed. "What happened to WE? Who spent a week translating this?"
"OK, OK, my bad," said Rachel, apologetically.
"It's not just a map," Amanda continued sternly. "You didn't notice the grooves in the side? It's a key! You need the tablet itself to open the tomb."
Rachel paused and laughed. She seemed to relax, breaking into a wry smile, though Amanda scolded her further:
"Haven't you worked out yet that you need me, Rachel Fox? You're not doing this alone."
"Amanda Jones...you are a legend." Rachel beamed. "Sorry for ever doubting you. Sorry for ever not trusting you. Do you forgive me?"
Despite her reservations, Amanda felt her irritation melt away under the warmth of Rachel's undeniable charm. With resignation, she admitted to herself that she needed Rachel too - though maybe not to find the tomb. Ever since the museum, the beauty and mystery of this girl had held her in a spell.
Amanda sighed and nodded her agreement.
"So, we can work together?" Rachel extended her hand, hopefully.
"Together." Amanda shook Rachel's hand.
"Partners?" Rachel grinned.
"Partners." Amanda grinned back.
"It's been a hell of a day," said Rachel, looking over her shoulder. "We need to get off this campus and meet somewhere private. How about dinner tonight - on me? Eight-thirty at Sam's?"
Amanda laughed. "Now you're talking." Sam's was her favourite bar.
"OK then, it's a date!" Rachel turned with a parting wink and set off with long, confident strides.
"Stay out of trouble!" Amanda called after her.
Amanda felt exhilarated as she stood opposite the library. She was on the verge of something big and, perhaps, a real friendship. It was an old adage that opposites attracted, and Rachel was very... opposite.
Could she trust Rachel? Probably. Maybe. But in any case Amanda held the cards. She still had the transcript, which she could share with Rachel to win her trust. If things didn't work out, there was still Amanda's half of the tablet. Rachel didn't know about that, and Amanda resolved to keep it that way until necessary: it was good to have a back-up plan.
Now, however, she was good to get this week's books; Amanda smiled with contentment and headed through the library door.
It never occurred to her that Rachel would have a back-up plan, too.