Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Fossil

“Isn’t this exciting?” Charles asked as he clapped his hands.

Nev adjusted his glasses and studied the skeleton again. It was lying on the big medical slab that Charles had insisted be put in the middle of his office for new discoveries. Nev felt that it was Charles hogging all the glory, but he would never protest out loud about it.

He could certainly see what Charles was getting at, though: there at the jaw, and again at the brow line it certainly looked like the skull of a hama. And yet, the torso frame was too small, the shoulders too narrow, the arms too short...there were still too many variables. Was it a malformed hama? Had they found pieces of two skeletons? It had certainly happened before, at least with some of the giant lizard fossils. If only they could find the back of the skull, and the rest of the skeleton, even. Then they would know for sure.

“Puzzling is the word I would use, Charles,” Nev replied as he turned away from the bones. He dared not voice his deeper concern about the fossil. What on Earth will they do to us if we publish these findings as Charles suggests?

“It’s not puzzling at all, Nev,” Charles insisted. The squat, piebald man pulled up the sleeves of his scientist’s frock and spun the globe on his desk around dramatically. He stopped it with both hands and pointed a meaty finger at the Straight of Daggers. “We know now that the straight used to be a land bridge between Borea and Saya...and we know that hama and humans settled on both continents eventually, possibly creating hybrid children, but considering the age of the fossil...”

Charles didn’t have to finish his sentence for Nev to see what was being implied. The skeleton was incredibly ancient; it was old enough even to suggest that humans and hama had a common ancestor...and it didn’t look anything like a half-hama skeleton. The measurements were off in several places.

“I know, I’m speechless too,” Charles said, who was never speechless. “Just think of the publicity, the changes to the scientific community...”

Nev pushed his glasses up his nose and stared out the office window at the museum courtyard. “Think of the outcry, you mean. We could be talking about riots, Charles.”

“Pshaw! Do you really think the world is still so uncivilized, Nev?”

“Perhaps you’ve never seen a hama ghetto, Charles. You might not realize just how...unliked they are by most people. And most view them as...well, somewhat less intelligent.”

Charles made a dismissive gesture. “Oh, nonsense. Remember Liu’s article about five years back? ‘The Unknown Language of the Hama’?”

Nev sat down and stared at the skeleton. It seemed to be staring back at him.

“Yes, I remember. He died for publishing that.”

“Nonsense, old Liu died of a heart attack.”

“Are you so blind, Charles?” Nev exploded out of his chair. “Do you think that the scientific community thinks the same way ordinary people do? Did you think the riots in the U.P. were coincidence? Somebody out there, or likely several government organizations, are trying to cover up anything that suggests a common link between us and the hama...or anything to even suggest that we are all on the same level. It goes against every religious teaching, every...”

There was a knock at the door. Nev swallowed the last of his words. Charles jumped and made an awkward yelp. Was it the security guard? Nobody else should have been at the museum so late.

“Wh...who is it?” Charles asked after a moment.

“National Bureau of Investigation,” said a muffled voice.

Nev’s eyes widened. He pulled the canvas back over the bones before he went to the door. As soon as he opened it a crack, two large men in black suits muscled their way inside. One of them was carrying a body bag. Nev felt as though he were about to faint.

“Wh...can I help you?” Nev asked. One of them unzipped the body bag and unceremoniously threw the canvas cloth atop the skeleton aside.

“NBI,” the other one said. “These remains are now a matter of national investigation.” The men began to dump the remains into the body bag. Nev couldn’t believe how rough they were being with such a fragile fossil.

“Now...now wait just a minute,” Charles protested as he came out from behind his desk, “that fossil is my property!”

“Not anymore it isn’t,” the more talkative man in black replied. “Next time don’t tell anybody about your findings.” Nev could only imagine the number of people that Charles had telephoned in his excitement. “But if you want my opinion, you did the right thing.”

Red-faced, Charles ran up to the body bag and tried to snatch it out of the man’s hands. The man in the suit let go and Charles fell to the floor with a muffled sob. The body bag flew against the desk. Nev winced as he heard bones rattling inside the bag. Charles grabbed the bag and hugged it protectively.

“Get out! Get out of my office! These are my findings and you can’t take them away from me! The world will know about this!”

“No they won’t,” the quiet one said. Nev realized a moment too late that there was a gun in the man’s hand.

Nev couldn’t watch. The man in the suit shot Charles through the body bag. Nev winced with every shot fired, even though there was a silencer on the gun. By the end, he found that he was on the floor, crying. He felt a shadow standing over him.

“You saw nothing today.” He had the body bag slung over his shoulder. It was full of holes and slick with blood. “If you’re smart, you’ll let the security guard take the fall. If you’re even smarter, the next time you find something like this in the ground, you’ll leave it there.”

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