Located to the north and west of Stonewall, about a day’s trek south of Copacabana, rests the small archaeological site of Sigu’s Sanctuary.
In the months before the Arclight crash, the site had attracted notable attention from the Accord, as well as an untold number of private interests. Now, with the war waging against the Chosen, I head there to speak with an Accord representative to understand what has sparked such interest that it’s worth diverting resources and manpower from the war effort to unearth it.
To reach the dig site at Sigu’s Sanctuary, I have to drive well off the established roadways and across some rocky terrain. Tucked away on a small cliff, a lone Accord SIN tower hums in front of a small outpost that consists of little more than sleeping quarters and a massive garage. Standing outside the garage as I pull in is my contact, Gustavo Pereira. He approaches me as I dismount my Chopper, arms folded across his chest to insulate himself from the gusty winds.
“Mr. Almas, it’s a pleasure!”
I walk to him and pat him firmly on the shoulder before we start to walk towards the dig site. “The pleasure is all mine, Gustavo. So what are you doing down here?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer your questions,” he tells me. “But I’m taking you to meet somebody who can.”
“Dr. E. Lizardo. He’s the lead archaeologist here – knows way more about what’s going on than any of the rest of us do.”
“‘E’? What’s that stand for?”
“E,” I ask again to clarify.
As we approach the center of the site, it becomes apparent to me why this place has garnered such interest from the ASA (Accord Science Academy – ED), as well as an untold number of private backers. In the center of this dead and dusty valley, five massive rocks jut from the earth. The archaeologists here have taken to calling it the “Devil’s Hand”, a reference to the way in which the rocks are positioned. Standing within the palm of this stone hand is E. Lizardo, a tall man with dark skin and a firm jawline. As he sees us approach, he quickly kneels down and starts dusting off a small patch of earth in front of him.
It’s apparent that he wants us to think he’s too busy to talk.
“Dr. Lizardo,” Gustavo shouts. “This is the reporter I’ve told you about!”
Lizardo lifts his head up and flashes a fake smile. No sooner has he lifted his head, he lowers it once again and returns to his “work”. Gustavo and I stand at the edge of the hand, looking down at him as he continues the charade. As the seconds tick away, it’s easy to see Lizardo growing tenser.
“Doctor,” Gustavo says. “This is Emmanuel Almas. You agreed to talk to him.”
Another moment passes before Lizardo, sighing to himself, stands up and brushes himself off. He then extends a dusty hand, which I accept.
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. Almas,” he tells me, never making eye contact.
“The pleasure is mine, Doctor.”
“I, uh, heard that you had questions for me?”
“Yes,” I say. “I was wondering about what this place is, and why the Accord has taken such an interest in it. With the war raging on not far from here, and the Accord’s resources already stretched thin, some people are calling for non-military efforts to be frozen in order to help the military.”
Lizardo climbs out of the hand and begins walking towards a tall object, silhouetted in the dusty air, which stands in the distance. I follow behind him, leaving Gustavo at the site.
“I’ll just, you know, stay here and watch over all of this.” Gustavo shouts at us. “It’s not like this is a massive find or anything!”
As Lizardo and I walk towards the object in the distance, he speaks.
“Well, uh, yes. We’ve heard similar sentiment from some of the locals and passers-by. But I pose you the question that I typically pose to the others: what would you have us do?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Think about it,” he says. “Do you really want the Accord throwing archaeologists inside of overly expensive battleframes to march into an unwinnable fight?”
“What do you mean by ‘unwinnable fight’?”
“Well, yeah. The Chosen outnumber us 20-1, and – you know what? I’m letting personal politics run my mouth. I apologize.” We approach the object – a building, old and somewhat dilapidated, with makeshift defensive barriers and barbed wire wrapped around its outer edge. To look at it from the outside, you’d have sworn it was about to fall down. “But to answer your question, Mr. Almas – we aren’t part of the Accord.”
“No,” he says bluntly, his eyes remaining fixed on the building. “This expedition was funded by a private investor.”
“Someone with enough money to contract Accord soldiers to protect this valley.”
“Sounds like somebody I wouldn’t want to cross,” I tell him. He glances over at me and smiles a knowing smile.
We reach the building, and Lizardo walks up to a small number pad on the door. Standing between the number pad and me, he enters a series of digits before the door chirps, and the light above turns from red to green. Sidestepping to the door, Lizardo reaches down and pulls up, and the door slides open to reveal a darkened room.
“Come on, reporter – I’m going to show you something.”
I arch a brow but, curiosity being what it is, I follow him inside.
As the door closes behind me the darkness fades to a deep red glow. Looking around, I see a number of images on the walls – pictures taken from inside nearby caves, it looks like. I also see a table in the center of the room with a small pan of some kind of liquid. Approaching the table, I peer into the pan and see a small stone tablet soaking in the liquid. The liquid, whatever it is, looks to be drawing the coloring from the etchings on the tablet out, restoring once faded images.
Looking closer, I see that the image on the tablet is impossibly old. Etched on the tablet is what looks to be a man holding a spear, kneeling before another man. The second man stands tall, in gold and silver adornments. The more I look at the second figure, the more I realize that something about him isn’t quite right – though I can’t put my finger on it.
“Ah,” Lizardo speaks up, placing his lab coat on a hook attached to the adjacent wall. “I see that you found the main attraction.”
“Well, it is sitting in the middle of the room under a giant red light.”
Lizardo laughs as he walks to the table and looks down at the stone tablet. He slowly reaches into the pan, his face grimacing ever-so-slightly when his skin touches the liquid. Slipping his hand under the tablet, Lizardo carefully flips the tablet over so that the image is face-down before pulling his hand back.
“What is that,” I ask him.
“It’s a special solution, my own concoction. It saturates any abnormalities within the stone to make them pop to the naked eye.” Lizardo wipes his hands with a towel. “It stings a bit, but it’s not lethal. At least, I don’t think it is – I haven’t actually tried drinking it or anything.”
“That’s very fascinating, but I was asking about the picture on the stone.”
“Oh, yes. That.” Lizardo tosses the towel down on a small table at the back of the room before turning his attention back to the tablet at the center of the room. “We honestly aren’t sure. There have been stories – rumors, tall tales, folklore, whatever you want to call it – about visitors.”
“Visitors,” I ask in some disbelief.
“Yeah. We’ve found a number of these drawing all over the caves in the area. From what we can make out, the paintings depict the coming of an advanced civilization to the natives.”
“What do you mean by ‘advanced civilization’?”
“I mean ‘a civilization that was far more technologically and social advanced than the native population’,” Lizardo says, most sarcastically. “In all likelihood it represents the arrival of Pinzón in Brazil in 1500. But, as you may have guessed, our investor seems to think that there is more to it than that.”
Lizardo walks past me, opening the door leading back outside. As the light streams in, the red glow above the table fades and the natural light from outside floods into the room. I follow after him, stopping for only long enough to let my eyes adjust to the brighter light.
“What does your investor seem to think?”
“I can’t very well tell you that, Mr. Almas,” Lizardo shouts back as he walks five paces ahead of me, headed back to the Devil’s Hand. “We’re here for a paycheck, and to prove our investor wrong. Nothing more.”
“And what if this investor is right,” I ask. Lizardo laughs.
“Then may all our deaths be quick and painless, Mr. Almas!”
Dr. Lizardo rushes ahead as I cautiously make my way back. As I approach the rock formation of the Devil’s Hand I’m greeted once more by Gustavo, who walks with me back to the Accord outpost overseeing the valley.
“How did it go,” he asks me. I look back at Gustavo and shake my head before climbing back on my Chopper.
“It was utterly pointless,” I tell him. “Answer one thing for me, Gustavo.”
“What is really going on down there?”
Gustavo becomes visibly uncomfortable as I ask him, placing a hand at the back of his neck while looking away.
“Well,” he says. “I, uh, can’t. Not really. I can tell you that there’s more to it than looking at old cave drawings, though. That rock formation? That’s just the start of it, man.”
“Do you even know what you’re looking for,” I ask. Gustavo goes quiet again.
“…they won’t tell us, no. All they say is that ‘we’ll know it when we find it’.” Gustavo looks around before taking a step back. “I need to get back to the site. Be cautious about whatever they tell you here. Understand?”
I nod, and Gustavo nods. As he walks away, I fire up the Chopper and peel out of there. As I make my way further and further away from the dig site, I ponder over what I had seen, and more importantly, what I hadn’t. Whatever work that Dr. Lizardo and his team were performing, whoever hired him was willing to throw a small fortune at the project to keep it under wraps, and out of military hands.
Of course, I could always just be reading too much into things…