Science never takes a vacation, but it does require an amazing array of work and toil. As such, its most ardent practitioners do require the occasional trip to take their minds off archaeology. People are human, after all, and nothing says 'get me away from the hustle of life' quite like a vacation.
Moria Ackerson found herself in a slight bind in pursuit of her vacation. She attended a dig in Los Osos the previous month and found herself networking into a spot for temporary guiding in the La Brea Tar Pits. In the meantime, she holed up in a makeshift bedroom, overlooking an anonymous boulevard with the best view free accommodations with a friend could buy.
The house itself only looked rather squalid if you took the point of a millionaire with far too many 'personal requests' for housing than sense. To the rest of society, a studio apartment near Long Beach wasn't anything to sneeze at. Whoever kept it clean evidently desired it to be so sparkling that astronauts would notice it from outer space. NASA hadn't yet called to confirm, but plenty of residents in the area liked to believe it so.
Not that it made for perfect guest accommodations. Moria slept in her friend's bedroom; her friend, Jessica Maser judging from the name on her mail, enjoyed the sofa occasionally when she felt like crashing anywhere at her own discretion. It could've been weird if the same person who built it also built labyrinths for a living. Fortunately, for everyone's convenience, the apartment followed a rather simple scheme: each corner of the apartment's layout felt into a particular niche.
Moria sat in the living room, or the top-left corner from the front door's perspective, glancing at a binder full of various archaeological notes while seated at a low table. The owner didn't utilize many chairs, so she kept the low table to make the living room more akin to Japanese living spaces (never minding, of course, the decidedly American design of the room itself). Jessica, a fairly respectable embodiment of 'tall, dark and bishoujo,' if with a fairly quotidian hair color (reddish-brown, in her case) sat on the left perpendicular side to Moria, watching the television as the news blared about the upcoming summer and its implications of sun and high temperatures.
The table looked like someone covered it with equal parts office culture and tourism season. One had to seek out the flat dishes underneath the paperwork and even then it involved manually picking up binders and brochures to be certain of anything. Moria herself flipped through one binder, labeled 'Osos' on its obverse side, with each page filled almost exclusively with text. The odd drawing of pottery and stone drawings, along with occasional photographs, added needed context and flair, although the binder itself assured the reader the binder wasn't meant to be complete there were other binders for that.
Jessica kept her eyes glued on the television, flipping the channel from news to stand-up comedy as she chuckled in delight. Her free hand, her right of all hands, kept itself on the table, covering two brochures, each recommending people visit Long Beach with the best enthusiasm clip art and stock photographs could muster. They looked like someone forgotten 1991 died 19 years ago and wanted to desperately cling to an antiquated sense of cool brought about by early '90s' perspective on pop culture.
That summed up the table as a whole: someone at the office hoping to wrap up work as quickly as humanly possible so that she may retire for the day and spend her evening watching the sunset on the beach. All around them stood the television in front of them (on its entertainment center, along with its speakers, DVD player and assortment of television shows on DVD; Jessica entertained herself with beach-themed shows, oddly enough), the black leather sofa behind, and the odd potted plant to add a certain mystique to the apartment. Jessica didn't really believe in 'going insane' with decorations; keep it simple, she said.
Moria sighed as she flipped through the binder. She nearly reached the last page, just as the television blurted out the laughter of a studio audience. The comedian on-stage, male and balding being the only two anatomical features Moria caught from the periphery of her vision, told a few jokes about gas prices, which didn't catch her interest. His business suit looked like he walked up there from a news broadcast, which was accurate for all anyone knew.
"Almost done with this finally," said Moria as she thumbed one more page back. She tapped the table with her other hand as she hummed an anonymous tune. "I'm done with Chumash middens for a while, I think. I dug up enough pottery to last a museum for one display; not bad for a day's effort."
"Sure, especially given you didn't need to make sure nothing caved in on itself," said Jessica as she turned her gaze to Moria. Moria gave out an unenthusiastic 'yea, yea,' to Jess in response. "It's definitely more challenging when you're trying to stop grave robbers or having Mother Nature breathing down your neck. What is this for, anyway?"
"Some museum in the Back Bay is hosting a Native American exhibition," said Moria. She tapped a brochure announcing a new exhibition, chronicling the culture of extant Native American groups, each day featuring a different group. "I love my work but man. That museum wants more artifacts for educational purposes; admirable goal but I'm not finding working with Rutherson any more appealing with time."
"Mr. 'Ruthers' sponsored it? Ouch," said Jess as she picked up the brochure to flip through it briefly. The museum's name and mug shot greeted her on the front cover; it looked like someone enjoyed Roman architecture to a level most people felt existed only in fables. "Wait, he got involved with the Museum of Native Antiquities? I thought he specialized in prehistoric jobs, like La Brea. What's he doing with native American artifacts, recreating Raiders of the Lost Ark?"
"I'm too tired to think about it," said Moria with a tired laugh escaping her lungs. She bonked her head playfully on the binder before sitting up straight. "The man's a legend almost in UCLA; I just wish he'd keep to dry lessons on archaeological digs. I swear to god, it sounds like whenever he opens his mouth for any other topics, he dooms himself to hilarious Youtube footage." Moria ran her hands through her hair, to make sure her scrunchy kept her ponytail in place.
"Oh yes. Oh, did you see him last week?" said Jess as she leaned forward to Moria, with a wicked grin plastered across her face. "He gave the Rent's Too Damn High Party a run for its money. I can't see that guy running for senator anywhere, with his track record."
"I know, right? The guy's a maniac. I almost want him to succeed, just to see what he'd do," said Moria as she leaned in, as well, pushing the binder aside. "The guy's a nutcase, but he's miles more amusing than . . ." She misjudged how close she placed it behind the other binder in doing so, promptly causing it to fall off the table. The two discovered that most things didn't 'fall off' the table so much as 'lean off,' hitting the floor softly and with barely a scratch to either it or the floor. The binder took a handful of brochures with it though they barely moved in such a manner as to qualify as 'scattered.' The binder hit the floor with a soft thud and the brochures thrown off with it slid on the floor as best they could; three went under the entertainment center.
"Oh man, sorry about that," said Moria as she missed stopping the binder from hitting the floor. She moved her gaze about to see if anything else fell off. Her voice sounded as if she was about to go to the corner if she didn't own up. Nothing else seemed wrong with the world, or at least the immediate vicinity, though it didn't calm Moria's nerves. "I'm usually so much more organized than this. I'm just out of it today." Moria stood up to pick up the binder from its new position on the floor, along with the brochures that followed suit.
"Oh, yes, you're so much more organized usually," said Jess with a laugh as she picked up a stray brochure that managed to stay within arm's reach after falling. "What a way to sell your capabilities there. You also don't typically bring brochures with you either, speaking of. You're still hoping for that vacation?" Jess turned a brochure from front to back, noting it said something about Long Beach's lovely surfing venues. "I don't see you as the surfing type, though. It's kind of not your thing judging from last year."
"I'm not," said Moria, blushing, as she placed the binder on the table with a satisfying thud. She stuck the brochures into the binder without much care as to order or organization; let them figure it out for now, she briefly thought. The table didn't take kindly to the binder landing on it so harshly, but only for a brief moment, as Moria sat back down to her prior seating arrangement. "I just love the sun and sand, you know? It's a nice change of pace from the methodological wrangling, given then I'd be in the sun voluntarily."
"Good thing we're near Long Beach, then," said Jess as she placed the brochure on the table and laughed, tapping it lightly. "Where the hell do you get this stuff, anyway? Are fellow techs handing them to you or something on the field?"
"You won't believe how many of them want me to go 'beaching' with them," said Moria. "Honestly, half of them said that to me last month. I can't just turn them down, though now at least I have a few pointers, right?"
"You have enough paper here to make a paper-maiche solar system, Mor. You could even make the Sun the size of a basketball and keep everything to scale. If anything, they alone would justify you need to get out there and take a vacation. Get some surf on, or tan yourself up. Heck, I know a great spot ever since I went surfing last year."
"Oh, yeah, last year was that tournament, right? Congrats on second place," said Moria, giving a thumb's up. "I'm sorry I missed it; Jamestown needed me for some strange reason. I thought I told them I prefer West Coast archaeological digs, not that there's much of a difference on the grunt's level."
"You're telling me," said Jess. "I got three calls last year about some mound builder cultural sites. One even called me again last month, hoping I'll agree."
"Nope; I'm satisfied with my work now. I'm not about to jump ship just so I can say I worked out east. Besides, all my friends still live here, save for James. He since moved to Arlington."
"Isn't he also a surfer?"
"I know, right? Strange times we live in. So, how's about we cap this day off with a visit to Long Beach? I haven't seen Joe's Sardine Shack in ages."
"He still owes that Sardine Shack? Oh, I love that place! You can still order those awesome hush puppies, right? He made the best down there."
"Hell yes you can. He isn't letting that recipe go to waste; it's like crack, I swear. Just not as deadly to the brain."
"How far are we from Long Beach?"
"Thirty minutes roughly. Traffic's always a factor this time of year but I know ways of beating it."
Long Beach always welcomed surfers, beach combers and the general tourist ever since the term 'summer' fell in love with the phrase 'let's go to the beach.' No beach felt immune to this phenomenon, if it possessed commercially-inclined boardwalks and local dives daring to clog one's arteries with hush puppies. Long Beach naturally accommodated everyone from the casual tourist to the surfing enthusiast with a penchant for catching anything California-related.
Among the common sights of people tanning, seashell hunting and swimming, among other activities, walked two men. One looked like the usual male lifeguard if you lived in Baywatch; that means shirtless, of course. Another wore a Hawaiian t-shirt and khaki shorts, because that's how he rolled. He didn't wear a cap, let alone sandals, because again, he rolled in that direction. In the second man's hands was a standard issue, treasure hunting aid, the metal detector. He clearly activated it as he swept the beach, the device squeaking intermittently like a mouse sniffing out cheese and remarking on the scourge of sand chaffing its fur. The two moved south, down the beach as the man with the detector kept his mind on the ground.
"I'm telling you, Marty," said the man in shorts. His voice sounded like he was a man in a comedy with a plan every week, just so he can make a quick buck. Anyone paying attention to him hunching over the detector knew he had plans this week as well. "This'll be big! Bigger than big! We have the entire beach to ourselves!"
"No we don't, Bill," said Marty in his brusque voice, which would be shirtless too if it was a human being. He looked up the south side of the beach, raising a brow. Everyone kept to themselves, in every permutation of 'themselves' that seemed practical. "Unless you mean no one else is this stupid and obvious to try this, then I would agree with you. Besides, aren't they banned on this stretch of beach?"
"See any signs up, big buddy?" said Bill as he kept sweeping his detector, it ever squeaking away. "So long as we keep this discreet, we're walking the highway to riches, man. We'd have to move to a bigger house just to hold all the gold we'll surely find out of this venture."
"I'm sure we will, pal," said Marty as he looked towards the lifeguard chair. "I just hope the lifeguard doesn't catch you out here. I hear she's popular in these parts so most people won't back you up if you fight like last time."
"Oh, sure, I'll be as sociable as a dog this time."
The lifeguard's chair looked empty; it was because it was. A sign hang from it, reading simply "Elly shall return" in hand-written script. Whoever written it had a fair hand, at least. Its word was bond; it had no motivation to lie to its audience. Of course, Marty's words held true as well, though he left a critical piece of information out that Bill desperately needed.
Off in the distance, further north up the beach, if not by much, Jess and Moria finally made good on their venture to the beach. Each took with them swim trunks, naturally, each wearing two-piece because that's how they rolled, with the top hidden underneath t-shirts for the current moment. Jess clutched a neon green and orange surfboard under her right arm as she carried a cloth bag carrying magazines and sunscreen. Moria clutched a beach ball under her right arm and her personal collection of knick-knacks tucked away in a cloth bag of her own. Both kept a lively conversation as they traversed closer towards where the waves hit the sand.
" . . . that, Ruthers didn't bother the janitors again," said Jess as she laughed heartily alongside Moria's politely laughter. "You should've seen the look on his face, priceless. I didn't think the janitors have a pair to stand up to him, but kudos to them for standing up for themselves."
"I didn't think he caused that much problem for one office," said Moria as she looked around the beach for an open spot. "You think he'd be more respectful of museum space but that's Rutherson for you, I guess."
"He looks intimidating but underneath that, I swear he's just a puppy with power issue," said Jess as she planted her surfboard down in the sand. She managed to keep it standing with one firm plant, which surprised Moria slightly, much like she had to a couple watching in surprise. "If it wasn't for his janitorial staff he'd keep his office littered with the fuzz they pack into shipping boxes. He's like a kid on Christmas morning when he receives a new artifact by mail. I'm surprised they still ship."
"Is he allowed handling the new artifacts as they ship to the address?" said Moria as she and Jess planted their bags onto the sand. "That's better for the curator, who actually knows what she's doing. Not to mention he is also notoriously clumsy."
"He isn't that bad."
"True, that is an exaggeration, I guess," said Moria as she and Jess took out sunscreen. "Still, the curator did specify being in the same room whenever he opens anything shipped to the museum."
"Very true," said Jess as she opened up her bottle of screen. "And we did work for him; we're lucky we received paper checks for pay when he bothered with checks. If he chiseled clay checks, they'd break at the first sign of his pressure."
Moria laughed at the proclamation. "Oh, yes, I'm sure he'd be terrible at that, too," she said as she took off her shirt and lathered up some lotion where she could. She sniffed and recoiled momentarily. "Ugh, this stuff still smells horrible. I think I bought an expired can. How does yours . . .? Oh."
Jess flinched as well as she applied some to herself. "Damn it, what ingredients are n this? Ipecac? I feel like I'd fall off stable ground if I smelled enough of this. I think I'll wait until the scent wears down before surfing."
"Oh, man, yes," said Moria. She kept up the lotion for the sake of needing it. "I thought it'd just be overbearing at worse, but I think we can't un-use it now. We'll take it. How's about a game of net-less beach ball while we wait for this stuff to become bearable?"
"Sounds like a plan."
Back at the south end of beach, moments later, the duo with the detector kept at their work. The metal detector predictably went nuts over everything so they doubled back and head up north slightly.
"I swear this place is crawling with yuppies," said Bill. "How was I supposed to know everyone would bring their cell phones? It's not my responsibility to keep track of their gear."
"I'm glad you aren't a criminal," said Marty as he looked around and sheepishly waved at fellow beachcombers. No one in particular enjoyed the squealing noises emitted from the detector, let alone the radiation it surely must be doing to machinery. "I rather not bail you out for your own 'special competence' in dealing with police. I have a feeling I'll be doing that here, though."
"Har-har, Marty, very funny," said Billy, his nose still pointed to the ground. "No one said you needed to follow me. I'm fine piloting this contraption solo; I don't need your witticisms."
"It's called perspective, Bill," muttered Marty as he sighed brusquely. "You need more of it these days. Like, plenty more."
"Okay, wise guy, like what? Lay some perspective on me?"
"How about looking up?"
They say there are a number of times in life that a man gains enough perspective to change his life. No one knew when Bill turned to get-rich-quick schemes; even he didn't know when it began. His life pretty much started that way, as he always claimed. Nothing would end it, he figured.
He didn't figure on an elasmotherium challenging his world view.
Elly wasn't who you'd call an abrasive personality; for a roughly seven-foot ancient rhino alive today, she managed to be rather amiable. She wasn't anyone's enemy, at least not to anyone worth talking to, and found the beach a fine place for employment. It isn't every day you can strut your stuff on the job.
"Detectors are prohibited on the beach," said Elly, calmly, hands on her hips. She wore her normal red one-piece suit, with a white circle containing a red cross on her left breast just to ensure people knew who she was beyond the obvious furry land mammal with a gratuitous horn. "I'll have to confiscate it, fellows. Do this now and I won't write you up."
"Hey, Elly," said Marty, waving nonchalantly.
"This is the lifeguard?" stammered Bill. He stammered it out like a king of England.
"Hey Marty," said Elly, waving back. "How are the kids? Enjoying the day from school, I hope."
"Oh, you know how they are," chuckled Marty. "I only work with them while on duty so I get to enjoy my time off, though don't get me wrong. I love my job."
"Naturally," said Elly. "So, is this your pal?"
"You can say that. Say hi, Bill, and hand over that nifty device while you're at it?"
"You're kidding me?" shouted Bill. "I hear 'lifeguard' and I think Pam-An or that dude Germany loves. I don't hear someone the Wild Explorer would poke with a stick to see if she gets angry!"
"Oh, that can't be good," said Bill. "You might hurt her feelings. Although I imagine she can hurt more than that, if she ever decided to fight."
"I rather not, as you can see," said Elly, laughing meekly, running her hand through her hair. "Just hand over the detector and we'll be on our way, right?"
"I get busted by a rhino in a lifeguard singlet? What the crap?"
"At least I'm peaceful," said Elly. "I've seen guys get roughed up by the other lifeguards; fairly bad, too. I avoid force when I can, even when I'm permitted."
Up further north, the two women played volley ball the best way they could: with a beach ball and no net. It faired fairly well and a couple joined them on the game, as their opponents of course. Neither wanted to be separated from their partners; it fit the groups well enough as a whole. They faced the north end while the couple faced the south.
"Didn't expect an impromptu pairs match," said Moria. "I'm usually bad at such things." She jumped slightly to bump the ball back to the other 'side.' She touched the ball with a nice 'pomp' and it sailed gently to the couple they faced.
"Like I'm much better," said Jess. "The husband and wife team-up are just in it for fun, anyway. I'm surprise they played volleyball as an occupation."
The ball passed back to them.
"Oh, we're training for the Olympics but we aren't too serious on vacation," said the husband. "We wouldn't be rough on anyone we just met."
"Thanks for allowing us, by the way," said the wife. "I hope we didn't interfere."
"Nah, don't stress it," said Jess as she bumped the ball back up. It passed to Moria, who bumped it over the 'net.' "I'm just glad we get to enjoy a nice game before hitting the surf. I'm boarding it after this."
"Oh, you surf?" said the wife. "I'd love to know how to surf, but I never tried. I always wanted to, since, like, childhood. My parents even bought me a surfboard as a present one year, though I later sold it when I moved to volleyball."
"Oh, it's a great sport," said Jess. "I highly recommend it if you still are motivated to try. I might even give you a few pointers. Perhaps we can exchange trade secrets." She and the wife laughed heartily as Moria looked on curiously.
"That'd be great," said the wife. "I know we can always use new players. I'd love to spar with you one day. I can really go all out when I'm pumped."
"Oh, I know, right? How's about a demonstration? You definitely look like you could swing that thing far."
Back at the 'Hardy Boys,' the two bowed and went on their way. Marty bowed sheepishly and murmured gibberish under his breath that sounds vaguely like an apology. Fortunately for him, Elly found his half-assed attempts to apology enough for the day, in addition to confiscating his detector.
"You two can return later to pick it up!" she said with a politely wave as they sauntered off. "I'll be here, you know where! What cooperative lads; I'm not sure what anyone sees in the smaller one but the other one's fine enough. I huh?"
The beach ball from the 'volley ball' game found it ways to Elly; to say it caught her off-guard was slightly off as Elly expected random events to occur. Still, she was surprised to say the least. Of course the ball found horn swiftly, much like it gravitated towards her. She stepped back in recoil as the ball punctured itself on her horn and, predictably, promptly deflated.
"Oh, no, that can't be good. I wonder who this belongs to?"
"Oh, crap," said Jess, frozen briefly in shock. "I should've checked first."
"No worries," said Moria, "At least the lifeguard knows about it. Wait, is that the lifeguard?"
"I think the red singlet gives it way, Mor."
"Oh, my god. That's the lifeguard! That's really the lifeguard?!" Moria jumped up and down like a rabbit on a sugar binge, explaining to his canine cohort about their latest crime. She switched from normal voice mechanics to 'giddy' in a nanosecond. "Oh, god, awesome!"
"Uh, okay, if you're so enthused by this, mind getting the beach ball? I'm sure you can handle that," said Jess. She looked less confused and more disappointed, but anyone reading her face can tell the confusion was underneath her disappointment. Her voice didn't hide it either.
Elly noticed Moria jogging her way towards her, happily she mentally noted. It provided her with the assurance that everything was fine. At least she thought so.
"Oh, hey, I believe this is yours, ma'am?" asked Elly politely.
"It is, but oh my god, look at you!" Moria kept up 'giddy' in full force.
"Look at me? What for? What should I look at?"
"Oh, just . . . aaah!" That last mutter from Moria was an adequate 'squee' that managed to forget that 'squee' itself was a sound effect.
Hugs came in various degrees of clenching power. Most people accepted politely weak ones if they accepted any at all, and truth be told many did. Moria discovered that she could unleash a rather formidable one under the proper circumstances. She also, as a result, discovered the proper circumstances for her: when she meets prehistoric life in the (living) flesh.
It didn't help, from Elly's perspective, that this is where cartoon-style sound effects of crackling bones entered the picture. She could take it, clearly, being a rhino of thick skin and tough nature, though she wasn't prepared that she'd get one. As such, it caused a great pause in the moment as Elly wondered how anyone could be so pleased to meet her or perhaps see a deflated volleyball.