John Jones, alias Aidan Whittaker, is undercover in Tajikistan to broker a deal with tribal leaders, when two Americans arrive to document the Silk Road and one starts asking awkward questions. The other, Scott Landon, is a different kind of trouble; young, gay and single-minded, he clearly wants John. Unwilling to jeopardize his mission John rejects Scott, but then events spiral out of control.
The woman hurried back toward them, an even taller, harassed-looking man on her heels. Scott stood up to meet them. This had to be the boss man. He gave Scott a friendly smile.
"Mike Preston, Site Director," he introduced himself, and they shook hands.
"Good to meet you, Mr Landon. Mr Babcock's not with you?" The SD was as English as the man in the trench, but, to Scott's relief, a lot more approachable.
"The name's Scott, and thanks. He couldn't make it, but I appreciate the chance to take a look at what you've got going on here. I'll do my best not to get in anyone's way."
"Good, good. Well, until I get clearance, I can't allow you to take photos. Not yet. It's only a formality, but I'm sure you know how it is."READ MORE
"Sure, no problem." Scott smiled. "I'll behave, I promise." He held up his hand. "Scout's honor." Did he hear a snort from the vicinity of the trench?
"Okay, then. Let's see… John, would you mind giving Scott an overview?"
"Yes, I would. Mike, there are important finds coming up here. Anahita and I want to get the area properly cleared so we can do the recording before we start to move them."
"It's all right, John," the woman said quickly. "I'm sure it won't take you long to give Mr Landon a quick tour." Scott beamed gratefully at her and she blinked, her own smile widening.
"Damn, it, Mike!"
"Good, good," Mike said again, briskly rubbing his hands together. "That's settled then. Scott, Doctor Jones is my Assistant Site Director. You'll be in very good, very knowledgeable hands."
"I don't doubt it," Scott replied demurely, gazing down through his lashes at the irritated face below him. This time the snort of disgust sounded loud and clear as the man turned on his heel and strode for the ladder. He climbed up quickly and with an intriguingly smooth economy of movement. "Hi, again," Scott said when they were face to face, but he didn't make the mistake of offering to shake hands again. They were the same height, though the archaeologist had a lighter build. "Can I call you John?"
"No. Come on, let's get this over with."
Scott shrugged, unabashed. Anahita offered him an embarrassed smile and he winked at her. "Hey," he whispered in passing, "after a couple of months with Babcock, your Doc's all sweetness and light." She was surprised into a giggle, and he trotted after the fast-walking archaeologist, taking the opportunity check out the man's taut ass as he did so.
Doctor Jones led him away from the site, up the dusty track to the apology of a road, then stopped and turned to gesture back down to the site. And started talking.
This was literally the overview. Scott expected minimal information, a sketchy description of the site and its history. Instead he received a full-blown lecture on medieval trade routes, politics, sponsors, and banking that left him in something of an information-overloaded daze. John Jones obviously intended to bore the bejesus out of him, but he failed. The man possessed a natural talent with words and his love of his subjects came through in every phrase. A lot of the historical minutiae sailed over Scott's head, but the deep, expressive voice held him spellbound, and enough facts lodged in his overheated brain to let him ask some reasonably intelligent questions. At the same time, he was framing shots in his head, noting the way the caravanserai fit into the landscape, how the westering sun and the lengthening shadows painted the ruined walls and the irregular checkerboard of trenches, how the colorful tent village on its plateau looked almost medieval in its own right. But one more question burned on his tongue.
"I don't get it," Scott blurted. "I mean, I know why Brent's doing the Silk Roads. We've spent the last couple of months traveling some of the shittiest roads I've seen, staying in places I wouldn't stable a goat, and eating crappy food. At the end of it he'll have a book guaranteed to hit the best sellers' list and make him a load of cash. I went to Peru with Felipe Hermanes — he's a journalist and into conservation — because he wanted to explore and record what he could of the rainforest before the loggers obliterated it, and use his book to raise enough awareness so there'd be more of an effort to stop the destruction of the rainforest. So, okay, I understand the difference between commercialism and protecting the planet. But you, these kids, you're out here in a strange land, living in tents with basic amenities, no real freedom to come and go, watched over every now and then by the army. Just to dig holes in the ground. Why? What's the point of it?"
"Why?" John rounded on him ferociously, taking Scott's breath away. "Do you think we live in a vacuum? That present and future are the be-all and end-all of two-dimensional lives? The point is, Mr Landon, you, me, those postgraduates, the lecturers, the cooks and drivers, are linked to the past as surely as we are to the present. We are no different to the people who traveled the Roads and stayed in the caravanserai. We are no different from the Roman soldier on Hadrian's Wall who wrote home to his mother asking her to send him more socks. And yes, before you ask, he's genuine. Every minute fragment of the past found in excavations enriches the present. Every translation of newly discovered writing expands our knowledge and strengthens the links to our past. Human nature has changed very little in the millennia we've walked upright, and we're faced with the same choices today as our ancestors were. The only differences now are our enhanced abilities to create and destroy."COLLAPSE
Length: 53,000 words/204 pages