Strutting Your Stuff

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"So," I say, "to say it clearly, El Pollo's peak is a sort of supernatural place and you're... studying its mysteries?"

I am trying so hard to keep my mind open. My crush looks like a pagan goddess and she just explained to me how her job is basically 'magic castle-spotter'.

"You can see it that way," says Domenica. "More accurately though, the mountain has been used as a place of worship for millennia, so the main interest here is in the proper archaeological sense. I told you how I just stumbled over some artifacts back there, right? The environment has only been preserved like so because no one will willingly go near the place. That and the official quarantine of the temple area that we're trying to bypass through our study of the current shift in energies. If we manage to get inside and collect data, we'll be the first to do so in a very long time. I looked for it, but I couldn't find any kind of paper or article on that place, not even a photograph."

She's genuinely excited now. Not taking in account the reason why, she's a sight for sore eyes. "So far," she says, "from what we have analyzed in the outer area, we can almost certainly indicate the presence an ethnic group associated with the Maya people. There are signs of much older technologies too, maybe tracing back to the first agrarian societies, though it's very hard to say with the material we have available. This is a very exciting time to do research."

I'm bugged by something. "If this place is so great for archaeologists, why would they close it off? It doesn't make sense, does it?"

Domenica nods. "The reasoning is pretty obscure. From what Petrus, my research partner, said, there was a very early arrangement with the natives of the Brooding Range that is still legally binding. On the unofficial side, there was talk of occult phenomena that made the investigation of the place dangerous, but that was back in the 1920's. Anyway, not all the mountain's closed off, there's a dividing line based on altitude. That's how we were able to investigate it until now. From the satellite views, we suspect there might be the remains of a temple near the peak. There is also a high chance that the forest surrounding it is a primary forest, which would mean it has stayed untouched for thousands of years. And that's why... Oh," she says. She blushes. "You have to stop me at some point, because I'm not likely to stop on my own. I could keep talking about this for hours on end."

"I like to hear you talk," I say. It's true: now that we have left new age waters to enter much more conventional archaeological ground, I'm pretty happy to listen to anything she says.

"OK," she says. She blushes harder and changes the topic. "Anyway, I was sort of born and raised here by my grandmother, who I already mentioned..."

I nod. "A true Brooding Peaks citizen," I say, mischievous. "I'm impressed."

"... and I came back here for the mountain as soon as the study got accepted by the Tichuan laboratory. I needed to sort things out for Nathan, too, but that's another story." She paused, stretched on the couch, relaxing a bit.

I was still on track, thinking about the sealed-off area of the mountain. "If the ministry... agency... governmental thing doesn't want you getting in, what are you gonna do?"

"That's where I was getting at," said Domenica. "Petrus and I set up a bunch of observation tools right below the forbidden area a few years ago, and we process them every few months. This time around, there is a huge shift in the energy recorded, along with pretty disturbing static and disruptions in readings at certain times in the night. He's supposed to send the data over right now." Domenica gets up and circles around her desk to reach for a thin white laptop. She opens it, surveying the screen. "If there is proof enough that something is happening, we might be rewarded for our patience and be granted the right to investigate."

I wrap my now lonely hands around my knees. "That would be awesome," I say, smiling. Now that I think about it, she's not the first person today to talk about that kind of things...

"Shit," I say. "I might have been very rude to someone today."

Domenica looks at me, confused. "What?"

"There's this old man at the factory, Dave? He was talking about energy readings and stuff. I thought he was crazy and I told him so, more or less. But maybe he's a scientist, too! Or maybe he knows the old stories. Anyway, I think you'd like to meet him. I have to apologize."

Domenica answers in a cheerful tone without losing sight of her computer. "A local who might know more about the legends of the mountain? Yeah, that's definitely someone I want to meet. If you can, please give him my phone number tomorrow and tell him to call me."

Ticking of the clock. Domenica's still strongly focused on her task. I'm glad we got to talk our hearts out, but I'm also feeling a bit defeated. I really anticipated coming back here and maybe defining a possible... relationship? Now I feel like I've stepped in her office at a bad moment. I don't even have her phone number yet. I have a nagging feeling that between Nathan and her life-important job, there might not be much of a space for me. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of nothing, though.

Anyway, this seems to be a bad moment to put things in perspective. No matter how much I want it, Domenica doesn't have it in her to focus on me right now. I'd better go check on Tig and Rodrigo before it gets late.

"Domenica?" I say. She raises her head, sees that I'm getting ready to leave and almost drops the laptop.

"Don't worry," I say as her face sinks, "it's just... I'd rather have a real moment to talk things through than having to compete with the mountain's latest news. Also, I have to check on sick friends, and I didn't just make that up."

She gets up and comes beside me. "OK, you're right," she says. "Maybe the timing really is off this time. I just..." She looks at me, anxious. "I really don't want to screw this up?"

"You're not." My hand grabs her shoulder and goes on down, slightly caressing her arm. I'm not exactly sure yet how much intimacy is OK. This will have to do. "Can I just have your phone number already?" I say, smirking.

"Sure," she says, laughing in response. She looks for a piece of paper as I whip out my old phone, ready to repeatedly punch its sturdy buttons. When we're done exchanging, she gets closer again.

"Before you leave, can I get a kiss?" she says. I don't know if she's seriously pleading or playing me, anyway, well done. We kiss. I melt into her.

Tomorrow we talk, for sure.

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