Twenty-four hours earlier…………
Muna’s face flushed red as she listened to her father over the net phone. She sat in disbelief.
“I know you can make the climb, Muna,” he said, “I just don’t think it is wise for you to do so.”
“Listen, we don’t know anything about the caves or crystals or if they even exist. Many men have lost their lives making that climb. It is just too risky, especially in your condition. It would be too dangerous. You have a team of able-bodied men; let them to the climb. That is what we are paying them for.”
My condition? She thought to herself. He was not still harping about her decision to wear hijab was he? Muna was from a very liberal and progressive Muslim family. For one, they believed that faith was in ones heart, not on their heads. As long as they believed in Allah, there was no real pressure to follow “old, outdated” rules such as hijab. They were very disappointed when she came home one day from college donning a cream colored Pashmina wrapped gracefully around her head. She let the comment slide, she did not want to start another battle with her dad, after all, he was a major contributor to the funding of her project.
“Dad, I’m the head scientist and geologist, not to mention the lead archeologist here, I need to be present at the site if we find it. So much hangs in the balance here. Do you realize the implications of such a find? There is no way I’m leaving critical analyzing and documentation to a bunch of contracted ex-marines who don’t care about scientific exploration. I need to test the actual site, check ground composition, environmental atmosphere and pressure. Documentation is key. I can’t have these guys ruining the samples or making mistakes in the documentation.”
Muna leaned in her chair close to her opened laptop. She saw his brows furrowed to the middle of his forehead as he studied her.
“We are making history dad. No one has ever found the Bhutah Crystal site and I’m this close.” She held her thumb and forefinger close together. “I need to be there,” she said.
Muna’s father’s let out a long, heavy sigh. He rubbed his forehead and cheeks. He sucked his teeth then shook his head. Muna’s chest fell. Why was he being so obstinate? Their eyes met for a brief moment, but more than words passed between them. Muna seemed to understand her father’s apprehension. Her parents were never meant to have children. Age and a critical accident took away her father’s ability to have children. A chemical explosion near a uranium plant left many women barren in the nearby towns and villages, including her mother. After decades of operations in every country, all types of medicine, hoping and praying, Muna, and her twin brother, Rashid, were born. Muna sat back in her chair. Yes, she kind of understood why he refused to see the possible importance of such a find like that of the Bhutah Crystals. She heard a soft click behind her. Rashid entered the room. She let out a breath, her eyes were pulled down and her chest sunken as she shook her head slightly at him.
“Let me talk to him,” he said softly placing his hand gently on her shoulders, “go get a cup of coffee or something and some fresh air.”
Muna turned to the screen and looked at her father. The wrinkles under his eyes were profound, his hair silver and thin. She nodded her head, “Okay, dad,” she said softly, “I will talk with you soon. Here is Rashid. Salaam, please send my love to mama, okay?”
Her dad gave a wary smile; relieved she’d given up the fight, for now. But he knew his daughter far too well. She would not give up so easily. “Salaam Muna. I will.”
Muna got up and left the room, closing the door behind her and leaving Rashid and her father alone.
Twenty-two hours earlier….
Muna stepped down off the makeshift steps of her office. She began to flap her cotton scarf, creating a flow of air briefly cooling her sweaty neck. She checked the temperature on her watch. It was 34 degrees Celsius and it was only 11 o’clock. She held her hand over her eyes to shade them from the glare of the desert sand and gravel. The air was dry, very dry. It was a really hot summer this year at the base of the Licancabur Volcano, record temps as high as 30 degrees Celsius. Today topped it. She hurried across the compound to the air-conditioned trailer. It was a small trailer, equipped with a medium sized couch, an old black and white TV set, three small tables, a small refrigerator, a microwave, a toaster and a leaking coffee machine. Muna found Hashim and his wife, Maria, going over some reports.
“I really think entry point should be here,” Maria said pointing to a spot on a map she had spread across the table. “It will reduce our rate of decline into the mountain’s cavity. Radar pictures show a smoother decline from here where a lava tube or stream may have flowed. This side,” she waved her hand over the western side of the map, “is mostly rugged rocks and stone.” Hashim sipped from his cup and frowned. They had been pouring over the radar pictures and maps for days trying to find the safest way into the cavity that would hopefully lead them to the Bhutah crystals. So far, there were only two possible ways in, from a lava tube at the top of the mountain, or blast a hole in the side of the mountain to enter down into a tunnel leading to an open cavity. Both possibilities posed dangerous risks. The volcanic shaft entry was at the top of the mountain under a lake. Pressures at the height would be tremendous, not to mention, they did not know how deep the lake was or if the lake would still be frozen over. Making their own entry posed possible threats as well, for one, they could cause structural damage in the mountain, collapse the tunnel or cause the volcano to rupture.
Muna got a cup of coffee, grabbed a month old paper and dropped it on the table across from Maria and Hashim, then plopped in her chair.
“Conversation with dad didn’t go too well?’ Hashim asked shooting a look at his Columbian wife. Maria slowly folded the maps and sat down next to her. Muna stared at her paper, shaking her head. She pursed her lips and raised her left eyebrow. “No, not quite,” she said tapping her fingers on the table, looking off into space. Maria grinned and looked up at Hashim. They both knew what that look meant. Muna was scheming a way to convince her father to let her join the expedition team on the climb. She took a sip of coffee, “Okay, show me what you got.” Maria stood up, brushed back her thick black hair and opened her map again.
“Here. We should detonate the explosives here. Granted we will have to climb at least 5500 feet up the mountain, but this area is structurally stable enough to withhold the blast and still create a hole deep enough to intercept the lava tube we need to reach the cavern.”
Muna nodded. “Good work.”
Maria looked up at her husband and grinned.
Hashim shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. I still think explosives are too dangerous. At the top, we have a much better picture of the main lava tube. There has been some unusual activity causing a lot of interference, we don’t know if the satellite pictures are accurate. I’m just saying,” Hashim, continued, “we should weigh both options carefully, both are equally dangerous.
Thirteen hours earlier….
A low rumble filled the night sky. Winds began to pick up around 9 that evening. Above was a clear night sky though she could see clouds forming over the tip of Licancabur’s peak. Nowhere else did she see such a spectacular sight, such a clear sky and the only single cloud gathered at a single point. She prayed for clear weather the next day. They were already four days behind schedule. A lightning bolt flashed through the cloud mass over the mountain. A sudden gust of wind blew through her window scattering her papers around the room.
“Shoot!” she muttered scrambling around to gather them up. She heard two guys laughing and approaching her trailer office. Rashid and Dr. Anthony Jones blew in with another gust of wind.
“Hurry up and close the door,” Muna shouted as she continued to gather her papers. Rashid laughed and Anthony quickly began to help Muna pick up her papers.
“Sorry about that Dr. Hadi,” he grinned handing her a few papers. “You wanted to see us?” he asked her.
“Yes, what took you two so long,” she said trying to look grumpy then smiled at Anthony. Rashid sat down in her chair; he had a package tucked under his arm. “Well, first we had to finish unloading the truck, then we had to get the equipment and suits ready for tomorrow’s, then Hashim decided to recite as much of Surat Baqarah in Salatul Maghrib as he could remember…”
“Which is quite a lot, I must say,” Anthony added. “One of these days, I hope to memorize as much Qur’an as Hashim.”
Muna smiled, “Don’t worry, one of these days you will get there, all you have to do is just keep reading and keep learning.” She admired Anthony’s perseverance and dedication. She remembered the day he converted. It was before she actually became more observant herself. In fact, it was Anthony that inspired her to reconnect with her Islamic heritage. Rashid took a minute and observed the two before handing Muna the package.
“What is this?” she asked. Her face lit up, she loved surprises. She unwrapped the package. It was a pressurized coolant suit for the climb with a matching hijab that had the team logo on it. Muna squealed. “He finally agreed!” she said.
“Yes, apparently mom pulled all the right strings,” Rashid said.
“I knew mom would come through for me, not to mention a ton of duas.” Muna gave a her brother a quick hug, “Thanks Rashid, I know you helped too.”
“Yeah, yeah, enough already,” he said playfully pushing his sister off of him aware Anthony was watching them.
“So, what did you want to talk to us about?” Anthony asked her.
“Hashim has some concerns about using the explosives. Dr. Jones, you have more experience in this area, I want you to take a look at Maria’s radar maps and see if her proposed entry point is safe enough to go ahead with the scheduled detonation. Muna handed him the map and her reports. She watched as he poured over the papers. Rashid read over the reports. An hour later, he and Rashid came to the conclusion that though there was definitely room for error, blowing up an opening would be faster, and they would not have to carry all their equipment up the mountain then down again into the cavern.
“Well, then, it is settled. Insha Allah we gear up tomorrow. You guys get a goodnight’s rest.”