Danielle Laidlaw gazed at the malformed body lying among the rubble. She had an idea of what it might be, though it was a conclusion she still found hard to accept.

McCarter seemed to sense her feelings. “This means something to you,” he said. “Something more than it means to the rest of us.”

Words flashed into her mind—deceptions. She could tell them it was just what it appeared to be, a deformed skeleton that had been entombed in the temple for a thousand years or more, a birth defect gone horribly to the extreme. But she guessed it was more than that. And she was sick of lying.

She looked back at the skull, studying the smooth curve of the forehead. She noticed a thin line embedded within the bone, a strand of golden fiber, not much thicker than a spider’s thread. Similar strands led from each eye socket back across the top of the skull, a third strand from where the ear would have been. The bone had grown over them in places, like a tree might engulf a wire tied around it.

She was certain now, as certain as she could be, and when McCarter noticed the metallic strand and looked toward her, she knew the time for the truth had arrived.

“It does mean something more to me,” she said, finally answering McCarter.

He was staring at her, his jaw clenched. “It’s been pretty damn obvious since Kaufman and his people showed up that we were here for more than Mayan artifacts,” he said. “So is this what we came here for? Is this what everyone is so willing to kill for?”

“Take it easy, Doc,” Hawker said calmly.

“No,” Danielle said, waving him off. “It’s all right.”

She put a hand to her forehead. She felt sick.

Across from her McCarter took a deep breath. “I would like an explanation,” he said.

She nodded and spoke plainly. “I needed your help to find this place,” she said, “because we—the NRI—believed we could find a power source here, a device or piece of machinery that would be capable of creating energy through the process of cold fusion.”

McCarter’s face softened, but more, she thought, from surprise than anything else. He asked almost the exact same question Hawker had asked an hour before. “Why would you possibly expect to find something like that here?”

“Because that person,” she pointed toward the body, “whoever he or she was, brought it here.”

McCarter looked back toward the body, blinking and shaking his head as if his mind were in a fog. “I don’t mean to be deliberately thick,” he said, finally. “We’re all exhausted and not thinking clearly, but I honestly have no idea what you’re trying to tell us.”

Danielle took a deep breath. “I’m saying that if the NRI’s theory is correct, the body you’re looking at, which has been entombed here for a couple thousand years or so, was born in a different time frame, somewhere in our distant future.”

They stared at her, searching her face for the slightest hint that this was a lie, just another cover story or even some cruel joke. She offered nothing to suggest that, and McCarter turned back to the body. She could see his eyes focused on the gold filaments, probably wondering, as she was, just exactly what they were.

“You’re serious?” Susan asked.

Danielle nodded.

“Can you explain this to us?” McCarter asked, less aggressively but still clearly upset.

“I’ll try,” she said. “It’ll probably be easier to understand if I start at the beginning, two years ago, when an assistant curator at the Museum of Natural History brought the Martin’s crystals to our attention. He’d seen something in them, something he couldn’t identify, a strange haze that formed in the stone when viewed under polarized light. He insisted that the crystals were unimportant in general, hadn’t been out of the back room in as long as he could remember, but he was curious, and he was a friend of Arnold Moore, my old partner.

“So we had some people look at them and what we discovered was hard to fathom. The crystals themselves were basically quartz but they were doped with a complex substance, glowing with low-level radiation and harboring a residue of gaseous tritium in certain places.”

She looked around at the faces. “I don’t know how much any of you know about tritium, but it’s a gas that can only form in a nuclear reaction of one type or another. This suggested that the crystals had been used or exposed to a low-level nuclear reaction, one that our people could only reconcile as a form of cold fusion.”

“How did you know that it wasn’t some type of natural occurrence?” McCarter asked.

Danielle remembered asking the same question herself. “At first, we considered that a likely possibility,” she said, “though it would have required a type of phenomenon never seen before. But as we studied the crystals more closely, it became obvious that they were the result of something even harder to explain: a human factor.

“By using a scanning electron microscope and other highly precise instruments, we determined that the crystals had been purposefully grown, manufactured and designed with precise geometric lines and a series of tunnels hidden within the quartz lattice. In a sense, the tunnels were a pattern of fiber-optic channels operating on an almost molecular scale, smaller than the smallest of today’s nano-sized creations, and something we could not duplicate with today’s technology. It was honestly mind-boggling,” she added, “and because the pattern showed an intelligent, non-random design, we had to conclude that it had been created by human hands.”

She studied McCarter’s face, she could see that he was following.

“We even considered the possibility that it was a hoax,” she added, “but our investigation ruled it out. The photographs, the chain of custody, the measurements. All of it matched up. The crystals we had in our possession were the same crystals that Martin had found, photographed and brought back from the Amazon in 1926. Which begged the question: what was a primitive tribe of indigenous natives doing with such things in the middle of the Amazon, twenty years before the dawn of the nuclear age, fifty years before microelectronics and fiber optics?”

Now McCarter nodded. It seemed he could understand their curiosity.

“Without an answer, we turned our attention to the rest of Martin’s haul. We made a breakthrough when we studied the golden cradle.”

As she spoke, Danielle recalled McCarter’s sharp eyes studying the photograph of the cradle weeks before. She remembered thinking that he was instinctively looking for more.

“Do you recall the photo I showed you?” she asked.

He nodded.

“That photo covered one quarter of the underside. One panel out of four,” she said. “I have to tell you, from a normal viewing distance the artwork on the panels looks like nothing more than random decoration: dots and scratches and curving lines. But as you saw on the photo, the panel proved to be a distinct star chart. The other three panels, which I didn’t show you, were also star charts. By comparing them with astronomical data we were able to come up with possible explanations as to what location each panel represented.”

“How?” Susan asked.

“The same way sailors navigate at night,” she replied. “You can tell where you are on the globe by where the stars are above you, using their angles above the horizon and in relation to one another. In this case we had data from the planets and where each was positioned in its orbit. The data was like a time code—because each planet moves at a different rate, their positioning relative to one another gives you an approximate date. It is a little more complex than that,” she admitted, “but there are other objects on each panel that helped us narrow down not only location, but time frame.”

They were looking at her skeptically. She wanted them to understand. Now that she was explaining she wanted them to comprehend and to believe. That way they might understand the choices she’d made.

“At its simplest, it’s like this: you look up at the sky and see the sun directly above, you know it is sometime near high noon. If you can see the sun and the moon, and you know the day of the year, you can tell where you are in a longitude and latitude. The same thing with the stars at night. Now, if you look up and you also see Halley’s comet, you know that it is either 1910, 1986 or 2061 or any other year on the 76-year interval in which Halley’s comet returns.

“Add enough objects like that to your map, and include some information on orbital position of the planets, and you can pinpoint exactly when and where you are. That’s what we found on the panels of the cradle.

“In this case the first panel was the southern hemisphere sky chart I showed you, which gave us a winter solstice date, and a latitude of approximately two degrees south of the equator.”

“Right where we are now,” McCarter noted.

“Exactly,” she said. “Only we couldn’t get longitude off this panel, so we had to start searching.”

“What about the other panels?” he asked.

“They were more complex. But based on the positioning of the stars, planets and comets marked on them, we determined the second and third panels to be similar southern hemisphere views, but with two widely disparate dates. The first was August 3114 B.C.; the second dated to December 2012 A.D.”

“The start and end of the Mayan Long Count,” McCarter noted. “The Mayan calendar.”

Danielle nodded. “You know better than I how obsessed the Maya were with the concept of time.”

“With those two dates in particular,” McCarter said. She noticed that his voice had returned to its academic tone, his intellectual curiosity fully engaged.

“Still,” he said. “Many Mayan writings and works of art contain astronomical observations. In most cases depictions of extreme accuracy. It’s not too surprising that you would find something like that on a Mayan artifact. It doesn’t mean it traveled here from the future.”

She understood his skepticism. There was something unbalancing about the idea, which created an almost automatic prejudice against it.

“Of course,” she said. “By themselves, simple star charts don’t prove the theory any more than having a calendar for next year proves that you’ve been there already, but we found objects on those panels that could not be seen with the naked eye, not even with a powerful optical telescope. I’m talking about comets in the cold depths of space at the apogee of thousand-year orbits, neutron stars that emit no light, just radio waves and X-rays. The Maya could not have seen these things, Galileo couldn’t see these things. Some of them can only be studied with massive radio telescopes like the dish in Arecibo. Something the native tribes and the Maya obviously did not have.

“One example that made me believe was on the third panel. It displayed the remnants of an exploded star, a supernova in its correct position and magnitude, the light from which did not reach earth until 1959. Don’t forget the cradle had been recovered in the 1920s, and presumably created long before that. If it had been a simple description of where some astronomer of that era had calculated the star would be, then this supernova object would be depicted like all the other stars, but it wasn’t. The icon clearly depicted a star that had exploded. In other words, the design wasn’t based on what someone could predict; it was based on what someone knew as history.”

“And the fourth panel?” Hawker asked.

“A northern hemisphere view,” she said. “The year 3197. We don’t know the significance but one guess is obvious: the time frame from which the expedition was launched.”

The room fell silent, the group awed by the moment. If they were anything like her, their minds were fighting a back-and-forth battle between what the facts told them and what they found believable. It had taken her a long time to accept the possibility. Even as Stuart Gibbs had sent them here, they came with the knowledge that they would most likely find nothing. In fact, a chart of probabilities had been worked out, one that operated something like the Richter scale, with each additional level a full order of magnitude less likely to occur than the one below it. A level 1 result was finding nothing at all, level 2 would be the recovery of relics unrelated to the Martin’s crystals. Levels 3 and 4 described their chances of finding true Mayan artifacts. Level 5 would have meant additional recovery of items like the Martin’s crystals; level 6 would mean they’d found enough additional material to begin reverse engineering a coldfusion device. And level 7, considered to have a likelihood of one chance in ten million, was that they would find the remains of a human who had made the journey back in time.

“I know it sounds crazy,” she said, “but most physicists believe that some form of time displacement is possible. They disagree on how and on how much and whether it would be something that a human could physically survive.”

She looked at the deformed body, wondering if the journey had caused the damage or if that mutated shape was truly what humankind was destined for. “We came to believe that it had been done at least once. We assumed it would be some type of unmanned vehicle, one that would come with a power source, perhaps even something to power a beacon, one that would signal for thousands of years, so the senders could find it in their own era. We assumed the crystals were part of its power source, a cold-fusion device, similar to the nuclear materials we send on deep space probes like Voyager and Pioneer. Like the self-contained solar cell on a cell tower in the desert or a lighted beacon out at sea.”

She looked at their faces, McCarter’s in particular. “We decided that at least it was something worth searching for, operating under the theory that it had crashed, or appeared among the natives, who tore it apart, using the incredible things they found as ritual objects.”

“And the cradle and its depictions?” McCarter asked.

“I realize it’s a sort of anthropomorphism to assume others are acting as you would, but every probe we’ve sent into deep space carries a disk of gold, with various information, including greetings and music and a visual description of where earth lies in the solar system. Our guess about the cradle was that these natives found a similar object on whatever had been sent back here—perhaps even something the people who sent it could look for in the ruins of the past to prove that their experiment had worked—and they copied it meticulously.”

“Manhattan Project,” Hawker said.

She nodded. There was nothing more to say. Either they believed or they didn’t. She would let them consider the facts, while she looked for more proof.

She turned and her flashlight picked through the piles of crumbled rock before settling on the far wall. She stepped toward it and the Geiger counter began rattling again. “Are there any other passageways down here?”

“None that I’ve found,” Susan said.

Danielle looked around. She saw nothing to refute that. She took off her backpack and slid out a notebook computer that held the data from Kaufman’s ultrasounds and electro-magnetic ground analysis. She brought up a three-dimensional representation of the cave.

The resolution was quite good, but because the screen was flat, the three dimensions were hard to determine at points. Manipulating the image on the screen, she was eventually able to fix their location in relation to that of the lake. She rolled the image around to look at it from the reverse angle, then increased the magnification and zoomed in on their current location. It indicated nothing out of the ordinary, just water, open space like the room they were in and more stone. There were other chambers to the cave, both beyond the wall and behind them, but they were irregular, jagged and natural in shape. She didn’t think they would find anything there.

She scanned the room once again. It was expansive, despite the caved-in portion, but it was utterly empty except for the body they had found. It almost seemed to have been looted. Not looted, that was a messy job; more like purposefully cleared—cleaned out and sanitized, just as she would have done, given the chance. She wondered if someone had beaten them to the site, but then discounted that possibility. The body would not have been left behind.

She searched the four corners of the room, going from one to the other, checking her instruments. She walked back into the narrow tunnel and examined the other room they’d passed. Nothing there, just cavernous, vacant space, half a warehouse in size, but completely empty, exactly like the room they were in.

She raised her head, desperately hoping for a sign that there might be machinery or equipment or conduits of some type, but not even the remnants of anything like that could be seen. There was nothing around her but the smooth, polished stone. She put her hand out, touched the wall. There was nothing to bring home, no victory left to be won.

With a deep breath she folded the screen down, closing the laptop with a click.

She stood up slowly. The group was watching her. She turned to them. “We have to think about getting out of here,” she said, softly. “The sooner, the better.”

Black Rain