When Levi arrived at the temple pyramid with Nicholas and Becky, he learned the reason they couldn’t find Tiani and Chief Gabor in the village was because the two tribal leaders were already at the temple site.
Levi felt an actual physical relief when he met Tiani’s eyes for the first time that morning and noticed she seemed to sigh when seeing him too. The connection wasn’t as strong as the one between him and his twin, but it was real, nonetheless.
“About time,” Timothy called out upon seeing them emerge from the tunnel. As excavation director for the archaeology team, he was standing with the tribal leaders around the makeshift conference table they had set up with equipment. From their frustrated expressions, Levi suspected they were struggling with the language barrier.
“Blame him, not me.” Levi hitched his thumb toward his brother.
“Nah, blame my wife,” Nicholas said. “She’s the one who can’t keep her hands off me.”
“Hey,” Becky said, then pushed Nicholas so hard he fell into Levi, laughing. “I think you should blame the chief. He’s the one who forced us to get married.”
“Yeah, I can tell you’re just devastated by the institution.” Timothy rolled his eyes playfully.
Nicholas wrapped his arms around Becky and kissed the top of her head. “Marriage is absolute torture.”
Levi noticed the confusion on Tiani and her father’s faces and explained to them in Yucatec that their excavation director was teasing Nicholas and Becky about being married. A little smile pulled at the corners of Tiani’s lips and then she pulled her face back into a mask of seriousness.
“Now that you are all here,” Tiani said in Spanish to include everyone— “explain your invasion of our sacred temple.” This wasn’t a request. Tiani seemed to command attention and expected her subjects to fall in line to her demands.
“Rebecca—” Timothy turned to Becky— “Would you like to take the lead since you were the first to discover the Fibonacci spiral?”
They moved the conversation to the portable folding table where electronic equipment was spread out, fully charged by a small generator the drop team had delivered. Becky opened her laptop and displayed an aerial image of the Yucatan Peninsula, zoomed in to the area around the temple pyramid.
Tiani tried to pick up the computer, tipping it on its side and looking behind it to see how it made that strange image. Finally, she sat back and folded her arms, her brow creased.
Without attempting a full explanation about spectral imaging and waves of light and how they were used to display the geographic region without vegetation, Becky showed two images of the same location, with trees and without trees.
Tiani and her father both gasped the same way Levi and Nicholas had the first time they’d seen the image. Even though they didn’t understand the process, they understood enough to recognize their temple pyramid and their village at the center of the spiral of mounds.
“You know about this trading post over here by Tikal,” Becky said, pointing to the screen. “And you know of this village over here on the other side of the jungle near El Zotz, but you may not know about all the other villages.”
Becky zoomed out to show them Flores, then the entire Yucatan Peninsula, and Central America, then the continents of South and North America, then zoomed out so far that Google Earth showed the entire globe which Becky could spin with the pointer of her mouse.
Levi could tell Tiani and Chief Gabor were overwhelmed. He backtracked, pulling the computer closer to him and zooming again into their village, then zoomed out just a little bit more to show them Tikal.
Speaking in their native Yucatec to help them understand, Levi said. “You have seen the village at Tikal, right? Have you seen how many of these beautiful carvings are still on their temple pyramid?”
“No.” Tiani shook her head. “There are no carvings.”
“Exactly,” Levi said. “Bad people stole the carvings many years ago.”
“Why would anyone want to steal them?” the chief asked.
“To sell them to museums and art collectors,” Levi explained. “They are very special.”
“That’s why they need to stay on the temple.” Tiani folded her arms across her chest definitively.
“We agree.” Levi waved his finger between himself and the scientists around him. “We’re here to document this building and translate the carvings so we can find a way to preserve the temple forever and stop looters.”
“How?” she asked.
“We don’t know yet,” Levi admitted. He looked up and spoke in Spanish again to include the others. “They want to know how we plan to preserve the temple and stop looters.”
“We need to find some way to protect the land so that it’s illegal to trespass,” Nicholas answered, also in Spanish. “The government owns the land. I wonder if they would sell the whole area to the village. How much land is owned by the village?” Nicholas asked the tribal chief.
“People do now own land.” Chief Gabor lifted his chin with pride. “Mother Earth owns the land.”
“Well, the Guatemalan government controls this land,” Levi said in a soft, soothing voice. “Once people learn about the temple they will want to come and see the building for themselves. Unless we find a way to keep them off the land, people will try to force you to leave.”
“We are the protectors of this temple,” the chief said lifting his chest. “This has been the case for many generations. No one can force us to leave.”
“It’s happened in other parts of the world,” Levi said. “Natives have been forced from their homes with much more powerful weapons than spears and swords. We don’t want that to happen to you.”
“We should purchase the land,” Nicholas said matter-of-factly.
“That would cost a small fortune.” Timothy shook his head dismissively.
“What else are we going to do with our money?” Nicholas asked. “Between our estate and the money from the Sayids, there has to be enough to convince the Guatemalan government.”
“Not a bad idea.” Levi caught his brother’s vision. “We can purchase the land and deed it over to the tribe.”
“Have you figured out yet how much money they have?” Timothy asked.
“No, we need to take them over to Flores and find that bank.” Levi turned again to Tiani and the chief. “Do you have an easy way to get to Tikal? More tunnels, perhaps?”
“Yes, we have tunnels under every mound,” Tiani said.
“Can you use the satellite phone to call for a Jeep?” Levi asked Timothy, his excitement growing.
“Forgive me for playing devil’s advocate here,” Kaden, the site administrator interrupted. “But aren’t we here in Guatemala to conduct an archaeology expedition? Shouldn’t we be examining the excavation site rather than taking a road trip to some bank an hour away?”
“If we don’t preserve this land,” Nicholas said. “There won’t be a site for long. We may be the first team of scientists to venture this far into the jungle to study this pyramid, but we won’t be the last. If we can document our findings to present to the scientific community, and preserve the land surrounding the site, we will hopefully prevent looters from destroying the sanctity of the building.”
“NCALM may have been the first team of scientists to fly this region using LiDAR, but we won’t be the last, especially after word gets out,” Timothy said. “I agree with the twins on this one. If they’re willing to fund the purchase of this land, we can’t turn our backs on the notion.”