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First Edition Web V1.0 2011
Second Edition Web V1.1 2016



DEATH AMONG THE DINOSAURS

by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong




PART ONE ~ SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST


Chapter One ~ The Case of the Suicidal Student

Survival of the Fittest had judged him not fit to survive.

Darby Hollinger had devoted his short life to science. He knew Darwin better than he knew his own mother. In fact, he had pointed out to his mother that the only flaw in the theory of evolution was that his brother had managed to survive despite all evidence that he was obviously the vital link between apes and men. His mother had not been pleased. But she had been pleased with his academic progress. He was well on his way to becoming a science historian, the type of person public television would solicit for comment whenever they did a documentary on the Voyage of the Beagle or Scientific Progress since the 19th Century. But now that bright future was staring down at the choppy grey water below the high bridge. All because he had alluded to Intelligent Design once, once, in his final paper, and it had been strictly in passing with no endorsement whatsoever. Subsequently, his professor had taken him aside and told him that religion had no place in science. For that, he should have gone to a seminary. If he had any plans for a career in science then he had pretty much obliterated them with this glaring and obvious reference to God.

He had gasped.

God?

"I don't even believe in God!" he had said.

But there was no redemption now. Even though his intelligent design remark had merely been an observation about the irreducible complexity of some systems, it was treated as a deep mirror of his soul and an end to all hope of him being permitted to study science in the rational world of men.

On the same day, his girlfriend told him she was seeing someone else.

The result was that Darby Hollinger was now standing on top of the Alex Fraser Bridge, the biggest bridge in British Columbia, in Canada, for that matter. It lacked the drama of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which is where he and Karen had been planning to move so he could work on his PhD. But the Alex Fraser Bridge would do. After all, someone with his inability to survive in the Darwinian world should have no problem dying.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Despite that he did not believe in heaven, he woke up there. Everywhere there was light and he had the sensation of being wrapped in softness. And there were potted plants. Potted plants?

Darby looked around more carefully.

The light came from windows. The softness came from a bed and a large white comforter on top of him. But if it wasn't heaven, why was there an angel standing in front of him? The woman in front of him seemed to radiate light. He thought of Karen with her stringy brown hair and myopic eyes behind thick glasses. This woman seemed to be the pinnacle of creation. Creation.

Why had that word slipped into his thoughts?

"I don't believe in God," he said quickly to the woman who, though loveliness personified, was casually dressed in khaki slacks and a white blouse.

She laughed.

"Usually the first thing people say is, where am I? But as far as God goes, it won't affect your standing here. Some do, of course. Some don't."

"Where am I?" he asked, looking around again.

"CREATIOP," she said without hesitation. "We're a research facility. We've had our eye on you ever since you submitted an academic paper with a reference to Intelligent Design. That takes bravery."

He didn't want to tell her that what it took was stupidity.

"CREATIOP," he repeated slowly. "I've never heard of it. Is it an acronym?"

She nodded.

"We're the Centre for Research on Evolution And Theories Involving Other Possibilities. And I'm not surprised you haven't heard of us. We don't exist."

His baffled look made her laugh again.

"I mean, we don't exist in the real world, so to speak. We're government-funded. We do research that is not subject to the biases of academia. So no one here has to be cautious about their findings. All possibilities are, well, a possibility."

His baffled look remained.

"But I don't understand. What do you do, exactly?"

Another one of her laughs. The kind that sounded like angels singing.

"Life, Darby," she said, patting his hand. "We are studying the origin of life."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now that he was up on his feet, Leina (that was her name), was taking him on the full tour of the facilities. It was laid-out very much like a university – dorms, dining hall, research labs, lecture halls. There was camaraderie, not unusual for an academic environment. Everyone knew everyone. But what made it different was that it was not superficial. Even in this initial tour, he could sense there was a spirit of cooperation rather than one of competition.

But what Leina had said earlier bothered him. The origin of life? Wasn't the origin of life a closed subject? Everyone knew that life had begun when a single cell had emerged, gone on to mutate and over the next few millions of years been subject to the laws of Darwinian evolution. Even a schoolchild could grasp that.

The tour ended in the dining hall over an excellent cup of Hawaiian coffee and a plate of biscotti between them.

Leina, who had been loquacious throughout the tour, was now quiet as she sipped her coffee. She didn't seem to require any reaction from him, but he felt obliged to give her one.

"Excellent facilities," he said. "Better than the ones I've worked in."

Leina nodded as if that was a given.

"I could work here," he said. "I mean, in terms of the excellent facilities."

Leina reached for some biscotti with cranberries and white chocolate.

"It's the philosophy that kind of bothers me," he continued. "What did you mean about the origin of life? I mean, we all know how life started."

"Do we?" Leina asked, taking a small bite out of the biscotti.

"Of course," he said. "It's a given. I don't want to sound rude, but are you guys Christian?"

Leina laughed.

"I told you, some believe in God, some don't. Some even believe in multiple gods. We're unified around the desire to determine how life started."

"But I told you," he said. "We know that already."

"Do we?"

Darby shook his head. This could go on in circles.

"We are formulating a theory of the origin of life," she said, as if sensing the answer had been inadequate for him.

"We already have a theory of the origin of life," he said sarcastically. "It's called the theory of evolution."

Leina was silent. She didn't look hurt. In fact, she gave the impression of living her life on such solid ground that the little squalls that life blew her way were barely noticed.

"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic," she said. "Charles Darwin."

"Yes, I know," he said impatiently. "But he didn't have the scientific resources available to us. I, for one, am not content to remain an agnostic."

She smiled. Was there a touch of pity in that smile?

"OK, OK," he said, deciding to humour her. "How exactly do you guys go about this study of the origin of life?"

"By studying the evidence," she explained.

"What evidence?" he asked.

"All the evidence," she replied. "No limits. That's why the government is funding this institution. So there will be no limits placed on the science we do here. No fear of losing tenure if one happens to mention an idea that doesn't support the current paradigm. No rebuke for mentioning something like Intelligent Design . . ."

He sighed. Did he ever think how devastating those two words would be to his career . . . to his life? Intelligent Design. He doubted very much he'd ever be saying those two words together again.

"Where are we exactly?" he asked.

"We're in Alberta," she said. "We're about thirty kilometres from the nearest town which is Drumheller."

"Ah," he said, nodding. "Dinosaur fossils."

She nodded. "They're a favourite around here, yes. In fact, most people assume that's why we're here. But it's just one of the things we research."

"So, we're not, like, top-secret facilities?"

Leina shook her head.

"No, we're not buried deep in Cheyenne Mountain or anything like that. It's our purpose that's a secret."

"The origin of life?" he said.

She nodded.

"Another waste of government money, then," he said, leaning back in his chair. "Why can't the Minister of Science or whoever got this thing going, be content with the theory of evolution, like everyone else?"

"Have you ever seen inside a single cell?" she asked him.

"Of course," he said.

"Come on," she said, standing up. Their coffees were only half-finished, but Leina was already carrying her mug and the plate to a tray-rack near the doors of the kitchen.

They followed a long, carpeted hallway until Leina turned in to one of the many rooms. It was all white with only some light switches and a few slits in the wall. Before he could wonder what the slits were for, Leina had switched off the lights and flicked on another switch.

The room went dark and then was suddenly transformed.

Everything around him was filled with moving images, even the ceiling and floor. It was a bit unnerving to look down and see the floor moving. But he adjusted and looked around, taking it all in.

From the randomness, it was obviously a natural system rather than an artificial one. Yet, the activity itself was ordered and constant. Within five seconds, he knew he was looking at the micro world, but despite the knowledge, he found the journey mesmerizing. For indeed that's what it was, a journey. And considering Leina's question, he knew it was the inside of a cell. All around there was movement – a surreal factory of activity. Had he paid more attention in his Cytology class he would have been able to name some of the things he was looking at. But that had been Karen's strength. She had been a Biology student with an interest in microbiology and the study of germs.

He shifted his feet. The simulation was going on and on and from what he could tell, they weren't covering the same ground twice. Was it possible that a single cell could be so complex? He dismissed the idea. It wasn't important.

Finally, Leina switched on the lights.

"A lot of people here think that the theory of evolution does not adequately explain what we've just seen. In fact, even the theory of evolution doesn't touch on the idea of how this first cell formed. Most of what is taught already assumes the presence of this first cell."

He sighed as they headed back out into the hallway. He would have liked to have finished his coffee. Clearly the scientists appreciated good coffee. At the expense of the taxpayers.

"The theory of evolution explains everything," he said. "It goes back to the big bang, remember?"

She nodded.

"Some of us feel there are flaws in that one too."

"Of course you do," he said. "Why wouldn't you?" It was like saying his thoughts out loud and he knew he sounded exasperated.

"There's freedom here," said Leina, leading him not back to the dining hall, but out through two glass doors that led to a courtyard. In the courtyard were several rock sculptures, a wide variety of evergreen trees and a few benches. The buildings were low enough that he could see beyond to the unique rock formations of the Alberta badlands in the distance. "An opportunity to really study the history of science."

"What do you mean?" he asked, as they sat down on one of the benches.

"You do know that not all scientists believe in Darwinian evolution, don't you?"

He shrugged.

"There are always cranks. But the cranks don't put men on the moon."

"Actually, Dr. Wernher von Braun, the rocket scientist who developed the Saturn V booster rocket that landed men on the moon in 1969, was a practising Christian."

Darby rolled his eyes.

"So he was really smart. But he was probably ostracized by everyone after they didn't need him anymore."

"He was the Director of NASA," said Leina.

"OK, so you've come up with the one man who managed to get away with it," said Darby.

"We have a library full of books by scientists who don't believe in the paradigm presented by Darwin. Some of them are great men of history . . ."

"Who probably practised science before Darwin was even born,” he interrupted. “They would have been Darwinists if they had lived today."

"Debatable," said Leina. "But you made my point. They practised science. They practised science while believing in divine creation. Johann Kepler. Francis Bacon. Blaise Pascal. Robert Boyle. Isaac Newton. Michael Faraday . . ."

"Stop!" said Darby. "I know all this. But they would have probably had to rethink their faith if they had lived after Darwin."

"Gregor Mendel did not feel the need to give up his faith just because of Darwin," said Leina. "Louis Pasteur carried on with his faith and his science regardless of Darwin."

"So this is about faith!" he said triumphantly.

Leina shook her head.

"This is a government project. If aliens seeded life here, they want to know. If evolution is true, they want to know. If the God of the Bible created us, they want to know."

"Why?"

Leina shrugged.

"Information is power. The theory of evolution requires an increase in information. Somehow, that single cell we saw had to reproduce itself with more information for evolution to move forward."

"It's called mutations," said Darby sarcastically. "Mutations push the species forward. The positive mutations are retained. The inferior ones die out."

"Mutations are not an increase in information. In every single case, they are a loss of information."

"Debatable," Darby muttered.

"I should say up front," said Leina, "that we do not argue here. We discuss. No one is wrong. And no one is right until it is proven in an observable, repeatable way. That's science."

There was a long silence as Darby thought of the implications of what she was saying. He was welcome to stay as long as he wasn't contentious.

"I don't want to do it," he said finally.

Leina just looked at him. There was no hostility in her look, nothing sinister. But it was unnerving.

"I don't want to do it," he repeated. "Is there a problem with that?"

She nodded.

"I'm afraid there is, Darby."

"Why? Why is there a problem?"

"Because you're dead."

Chapter Two ~ The Case of the Fossilized Knife

"I don't understand," he said. "You mean, I am in heaven? Or in some kind of afterlife?"

She laughed.

"No, nothing like that. I mean, you committed suicide. You're officially dead. We were watching you and retrieved your body from the water. It was touch-and-go for a while and at one point, we didn't think you were going to pull through. But, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, you died that day."

He tried to absorb this, and more importantly, the implications of it.

"So?" he finally said. "So what? I go back. I start over. So what?"

"Well, that's just it," Leina said. "You'd be starting completely over. No name. No home. No bank account. No identification. No job."

"Why?"

"You're dead," she patiently explained. "You've been dead for two weeks. Your mother had a funeral for you."

"How could she?" he demanded. "I'm here! What did they use for a body?"

"No body, of course," Leina said. "More like a memorial service. Karen brought her new boyfriend."

He thought about that.

"Your mom gave all your possessions to your brother."

"Even the car?"

His brother drove like a maniac. Darby's only interest other than science had been a restored 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe. The thought of his brother using it to cruise to CountryStyle for a dozen doughnuts made his stomach tighten.

"Even the car," said Leina.

That clinched it. He had no life and no one to return to.

"OK, OK," he said, looking around without seeing anything. "I'll stay. I'm in. But just to be upfront, I want you to know, I don't believe in God."

Leina nodded.

"You have mentioned that, yes," she said.

"So what do I do?" he asked.

"Whatever you like," said Leina, standing up. "Your room is 303. You'll find some clothing and toiletries in your closet. There's always coffee and snacks in the dining hall, but if you like regular meals, breakfast is from 8:00 to 9:00, lunch is from 12:00 to 1:00 and dinner is from 6:00 to 7:00."

And that was it. She was gone. Back inside and down the hallway. No doubt to be the welcoming angel for the next poor idiot that they'd rescued from death. Had everyone been rescued from suicide here? He should have asked Leina.

He stood up. He would check out his room later. For now, the library would be a good place to start.

Leina had pointed it out to him. It was part of the main building and once inside, resembled a small house with various rooms.

He browsed the main room and was pleased to see that it was well-stocked with not only contemporary volumes but many historical ones, including the works of Darwin and Darwin's earlier inspiration, Charles Lyell.

He moved to another room where he found a full range of scientific journals. To his disgust, there were a few publications devoted to Intelligent Design and an entire one about creation. But in all fairness, it was a huge selection of reading material and it could be argued than one should know one's enemies as well as one knows one's friends.

He had thought he was alone in the library, but turning in to a smaller room with a few computer monitors and some tables for research, there was a man standing at a small bookshelf with his back to Darby. The bookshelf held software for the computers and the man was in the process of selecting a disc.

From the back, the man was grey-haired, dressed casually in a plaid shirt and jeans. When he turned, he had a beard, moustache and glasses.

"Oh hello," said the man, casually. "You must be Darby." He had an English accent.

"Uh, yes I am."

"I'm Brad," said the man, reaching across a table to shake his hand. "Welcome to CREATIOP."

"Uh, thanks, but how did you know my name?"

The man took a seat in front of one of the monitors.

"We all had to vote on whether we wanted you," he said, switching on the monitor.

"Really?" said Darby, circling the table so that he could at least talk to the man's side rather than his back.

"I voted for you," Brad assured him. "I read your paper about whether Darwin's science could hold up to the rigours of today's science. Very good. Your observation about irreducible complexity was true, of course . . ."

Darby shook his head at the memory of his downfall. Irreducible complexity was the idea that a system required a certain number of components just to function. In many cases, the number of required components was in the thousands. The interdependence within the system was such that it couldn't have evolved gradually. Therefore, it suggested a minor flaw with Darwin's theory. Supporters of Intelligent Design were quick to point out that the explanation for this was that the systems were created as a whole and were not the result of gradual changes over time. This was the passing remark he had made in his paper. But in the very next line, he had posited the idea that irreducible complexity offered scientists a vast scope for research. Given that evolution was the mechanism for all life, irreducible complexity suggested fantastic leaps forward in the mutation process.

"Thank you," he said politely. A thought occurred to him. "How did you read my paper?"

"We all did," said Brad, his eyes on the monitor where he was now scrolling through archives of one of the journals.

"The only person who saw it was my professor. And his assistant, I assume."

Brad shrugged.

Since this was his only answer, Darby gathered that being a government organization gave them a far greater reach than a private research institute would have had. He leaned against one of the tables.

"When you say my observation was true, do you mean regarding it being a minor flaw in Darwin's theory, or it being a favourite argument of the ID people, or it being an area for future research?"

"All of those things," said Brad, absently. He had found the article he wanted and was now skimming through it.

Darby decided to push it just a little further.

"Are you a Christian, Brad?" he asked.

Brad shook his head.

"I'm Jewish," he said. "By birth, anyhow."

Darby thought about that.

"Nice meeting you, Brad," he said, before leaving the small room.

"Likewise," said Brad, now making some quick notes on a pad of paper by the monitor. Darby left the library, no further ahead.

He glanced at his wrist, but there was no watch there. Must have been water-damaged. There was no way of knowing what time it was. And he was feeling hungry. He decided to head back to the dining hall for more of the Hawaiian coffee, to keep him going until the next scheduled meal.

He saw Leina coming down the hallway.

She gave him a big smile and would have kept going. But he stopped her with a question.

"Uh, what time is it?"

She laughed. She seemed to do that a lot.

She had a watch and glanced at it.

"11:37. There should be a watch in your room."

"Oh. I haven't been there yet. I was in the library."

She nodded pleasantly.

"I met Brad," he added.

"Ah, Brad Bernstein," she said. "He's a geologist. He used to teach at Oxford."

"Really?" Darby was impressed. "He must have a doctorate, then?" he said, painfully aware that his own ambitions had been cut short.

"Of course," said Leina casually. "But we're all on a first name basis here. Here we defer to ability, not to degrees. One of our scientists, Lars, never had any formal education and we all bow to his brilliance . . ."

She was moving away from him. He would have liked to have asked her what her area of expertise was but she was already down the hallway.

The knowledge that CREATIOP measured people by their brilliance was a little bit alarming. He had planned to work his butt off, get his doctorate and then enjoy the fruits of being Dr. Darby Hollinger.

What was he doing here? Why did they even want a science historian? And what if he didn't measure up?

A chilling thought occurred to him. He was already dead. If they didn't think he was worthy, they could just get rid of him and no one would ever know. He didn't know why the prospect of being murdered was more terrifying than his attempted suicide.

Control, he finally decided, as he entered the dining hall. When he had attempted suicide, he had been in control. He poured himself a coffee from the pot and sat down at one of the long tables.

Apart from the kitchen staff, he was alone in the large room. Even the food line and the kitchen were mostly behind a wood-panelled wall. From the kitchen, there were the sounds of activity and the smells of food. He could glimpse a couple of women in white dresses and hair nets as they moved behind the food line, opening up well pans and arranging condiments on the counter. Were they part of this kooky establishment, or were they just local woman who thought they were working at a run-of-the-mill research centre? Maybe it wouldn't hurt to get to know one or two of them just in case anything happened to him. Then maybe there would an investigation if he disappeared.

An investigation of a dead man.

He shook his head at the thought.

There was no proof that he was alive. So apart from disposing of his body, all CREATIOP would have to do would be to deny he had ever been at their facilities.

After a few sips of the coffee, the foolishness of his own thinking sunk in.

No one was going to participate in the murder and cover-up of a fellow scientist if there was the possibility it might happen to him down the road.

As he had been mulling over these paranoid fears, a few people had entered the dining hall and were taking their spot by the little doorway that led to the food line. By the time he had finished his coffee, the line was open and people were emerging from the other end with their trays.

He joined the small line and was soon facing the food. It was like any institution. Something that might look good on a plate didn't look so great in huge well-pans. In this case, there was a Mexican theme and the refried beans were a bit of a turnoff. But the lady behind the line quickly filled his plate up with nacho chips, refried beans and a handful of shredded cheese. The rest was left to him. He added some diced tomatoes, chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream. There was no cola but there was a dispenser with lemonade and iced tea. He took the tea.

Then it was back out into the dining hall and the need to make a decision.

Sit alone?

Join one of the small groups?

Interestingly, no one else was sitting alone. In a normal academic environment, it would be expected that some people would want to be by themselves.

He decided to sit alone, but was very quickly joined by another man. The man was about his age, mid twenties, with a tousle of blond hair that didn't look like it ever saw a comb. "Hello," he said, with a grin and an obvious accent. "You are Darby, yes?"

Darby nodded.

"Lars," said the young man, holding out a hand to shake quickly before attacking his meal. So this was the genius everyone bowed to.

"Did you vote for me?" he asked.

Lars laughed, using a serviette to wipe some sour cream off his mouth.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because we need a historian."

So it may not have been his brilliance. It may have just been an open position.

"Why?" he asked again, dipping one of his chips into the bean dip. "I mean, why do you need a historian?"

"We're dealing very much with the history of ideas," said Lars, who, like Leina, didn't seem easily put off. "We need someone to organize it all."

"Is that what I'll be doing?"

Lars shrugged.

"You can do whatever you want. We all do. But we tend to gravitate to what we're interested in."

"What are you interested in?" Darby asked.

"OOPs artifacts," said Lars, his mouth full.

"What?"

"OOPs artifacts," repeated Lars, swallowing. "Out Of Place artifacts."

Darby had vaguely heard something about this.

"Sort of anomalies, then . . . ?"

"Artifacts that do not fit the evolutionary timescale."

"Oh," he said. "Like fossils that might have been mislabelled . . . ?"

"Artifacts, by definition, are man-made," Lars said. Darby felt instantly stupid. He should have known that. "I mean, things like finding a fossilized knife along with dinosaur bones."

"What?"

Lars nodded.

"It's true. A crude knife. Found at the same level as a Jurassic-age dinosaur."

"Not possible," said Darby, shaking his head. "Some earlier dinosaur hunter dropped his knife and by some freak of nature it fossilized . . ."

Now it was Lars's turn to shake his head.

"The region was entirely unexplored. It was not a surface find, but occurred after many seasons of excavation. The Cretaceous period above it had already yielded several magnificent finds. The remains of the Jurassic dinosaur were intact. A small plant-eating Laosaurus. No appearance whatsoever of ever coming into contact with any sort of fossil or bone hunter. Another magnificent find."

Darby was silent. Lars kept eating at a steady pace.

Darby could only come up with one possible explanation. No doubt Lars, the genius, was open to all sorts of wacky ideas and had been reading some of those magazines in the library.

"It's those creationists," he finally said. "They probably made it all up. You know, to support their crazy ideas that men and dinosaurs lived together and everything was created by God six thousand years ago. There probably never even was a knife . . ."

Lars shook his head.

"No. There was a knife."

"But how do you know?" he said leaning forward, ready to bombard Lars with stories of all sorts of hoaxes in history that had taken in people until some smart skeptic had come along and made them all look like idiots.

"There was a fossilized knife," said Lars, taking a gulp of his lemonade. "I know because I found it."

Chapter Three ~ The Case of the Missing Information

The rest of lunch passed with little talk directed to Darby. They were joined by another scientist who introduced himself to Darby as John and then turned to Lars for a discussion about field entropy. Or maybe it was an entropy field. There were a few references to Star Wars. Darby wasn't really paying attention at that point.

It was all like a bad dream.

Like some sort of a weird afterlife where you get the heaven of your choice. He had killed himself because he didn't have academic freedom. Now he was in a place where they prided themselves on complete academic freedom and the results were horrific.

Basic Darwinian evolution was not accepted for what it was, the answer to all questions pertaining to life. To their credit, they didn't espouse a Judeo-Christian god, at least not yet. Maybe they were going to dazzle him with all sorts of pseudoscience in the hope that he would decide all on his own to embrace an alternative to biological evolution.

But Lars had shown no interest in pursuing the matter of his fossilized knife and he and John had left the table together, animated by conversation and off to do more important things than sit and have an after-lunch coffee with him.

Leina joined him at that point. Probably felt sorry for him. He was the only one in the dining hall sitting alone. In the time that it took her to eat a small plate of nacho chips and salsa, he learned that she was in Administration, though she had a strong background in chemistry and when she wasn't in the office, she was in the lab.

After lunch, he decided to return to the library.

Somehow, he didn't want to go and check out his room. That would be too real. Too much of a commitment to this whole wacky place. If he spent a night here, he'd probably spend the rest of his life here.

The library wasn't empty, but the unspoken rule of the dining hall that no one could sit alone didn't seem to apply to the library. Though the library was well-stocked in the works of Darwin, it didn't have a copy of his H.M.S. Beagle diaries. He fired up one of the computers and went online.

He didn't even have to Google it, the address was so familiar. He typed darwin-online.org.uk in the address bar and hit enter.

Taking a deep cleansing breath, he felt himself come home. Clicking the Beagle diary button, he leaned forward. The famous journey that had started in 1831 was the one that had changed the way Darwin looked at the world. It was the journey that had turned him away from a promising career as a parson to the world's most famous naturalist. Darby had read the diaries so many times that it wasn't for information that he came to them now. It was for comfort.

He began reading.

I had been wandering about North Wales on a geological tour with Professor Sedgwick when I arrived home on Monday 29th August. My sisters first informed me of the letters from Prof. Henslow and M Peacock offering to me the place in the Beagle which I now fill . . .

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

With no watch, he had feared that he might read past dinner. Not that it would have mattered. To skip a meal was good for the soul, if it meant that one used the time to get centred.

Still, an after-dinner coffee wouldn't hurt.

He was surprised to arrive in the dining hall and learn from the wall clock that it was only 3:47. Evidently, the Beagle diary had not engrossed him for as long as he had thought. Though noises came from kitchen, only one person was sitting out in the dining area, an older woman. She was absently dipping a tea bag into a mug of steaming water and appeared to be reading a novel. He got his coffee and sat down across from her. It wasn't a sociable impulse, more of a fact-finding mission.

"Good book?" he asked.

She looked up and smiled as she turned the book over on the table. Her glasses, she propped on top of her greying hair. She had a warm smile. Almost motherly. And unlike his mother, it wasn't accompanied by faint disdain.

"Hello Darby," she said. "Welcome to CREATIOP. And as to it being a good book, I don't know yet."

He glanced at the cover. It had a woman on it, dressed in an Indiana Jones-looking outfit, running from something. The title was Remains of Kilomonpec.

"Just getting started, eh?" he said.

"No," she said, glancing down at it. "This is just the proof copy. I wrote it. I'm looking it over now."

"Is it a novel?" he asked, surprised.

She nodded.

"I'm Beth. I'm one of the resident palaeontologists. I also have a weakness for fiction. So I combine the two."

"Wow," he said, studying the book more carefully. "Mind if I look?"

"Not at all," she said.

He picked up the novel. No doubt about it, it was a professional piece of work. He turned to the first page and started reading. And Beth was a professional writer.

"Is it . . . ?" he didn't know how to phrase it. "Does it contain any ideas that are outside of . . .?"

"Respectable science," she said laughing. "Oh yes. That's why we have our own printing press here."

"We do?" he said. "I mean, you do?"

She nodded.

"Everything is peer-reviewed, of course. So this still had to run the gantlet."

"What are the criteria here, then?"

"Plausible science and an acceptable standard of writing. A touch of brilliance doesn't hurt, of course. But Lars is really our only shining star in that department. Everybody else produces solid work, perfectly worthy of anything respectable . . ."

"Except that it doesn't conform to Darwinian evolution," he interrupted.

"I wouldn't say that," said Beth, removing the tea bag and placing it on a plate. "We all have varying opinions as to how much or how little of Darwin's theory we can accept. I doubt you'd find anyone here who would disagree about natural selection, for example. Anyone can look at dogs and see what natural selection has done for Canis Lupus."

"Natural selection is the chief mechanism for Darwinian evolution."

Beth nodded pleasantly.

"Natural selection is observable," she said. "It's happened again and again. What's missing is the information."

Though Beth seemed calm as she sipped her tea, Darby could feel his blood pressure going up, and the coffee didn't help.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"The information," she repeated. "The pattern we see in all cases is one of an animal or a plant starting with a lot of information and gradually losing it the more and more we apply natural selection to it. It's one of the things we do here. Of course, dog breeders have been doing it for so long that they've gotten to a point where a poodle could never return to its wolf state. The information has just been bred right out of them."

Leina had said something about information. No doubt they had all been brainwashed with this idea.

"But you're talking about artificial natural selection," he said. "You may observe that in the laboratory but common sense will tell you that there have been gains in information at different stages of our evolutionary development."

"Why do you say that?" asked Beth.

"Because we're here," he said.

Beth seemed to find that amusing. Not in an offensive way. He didn't feel as if she was looking down on him, only that she was enjoying herself.

"That's the philosophical justification for evolution," she said. "We're here. We're the proof that it occurred."

He nodded. In many ways, it nullified the need for any further discussion. And that's exactly what happened.

Beth didn't fill the silence. She just sipped her tea. Her eyes wandered over the empty dining hall.

No one here seemed inclined to argue, thought Darby. I guess that's what academic freedom did for people. They were so comfortable in their position of strength that they didn't need to viciously defend themselves.

A horrible thought occurred to him. Maybe it was him. He provided them with no intellectual stimulation. After all, Lars and John seemed to have plenty to say to one another.

As if to confirm this, another man joined them. He was in his mid-thirties, with thinning blond hair and glasses. Like everyone here, his clothing was casual.

He introduced himself to Darby as Jim and immediately began to talk to Beth. It was palaeontologist talk. A small shipment of fossilized mammoth tusks was expected. Naturally, this led to a conversation about the Ice Age. To Darby's horror, Jim seemed to hold to some kind of crazy notion that the Ice Age that had brought about the demise of the mammoths had occurred only about 4,000 years ago. And Beth didn't share his horror. Nothing about her answers said she agreed with him, only that she was listening. But her face had the same pleasant look for Jim as it had had for him. Which meant that lunacy could not be measured by the expression on Beth's face.

Beth and Jim got more and more technical until Darby's one class in Ice Age palaeontology became insufficient for him to follow the conversation. It struck him how narrow a scientist's focus could be. For the most part, they studied their field and went so deep into it that even their fellow scientists couldn't follow along. A palaeontologist could be as ignorant as a layman when it came to understanding the work of a chemical biologist.

The thought struck him with full force. Outside of his own field, a scientist could be as ignorant as any man on the street.

Beth and Jim, absorbed in their palaeontology talk, were unaware of Darby's epiphany.

That's where he came in, he decided. A science historian had a better overview of things. He knew the past discoveries and had a broader grasp of the field as a whole. What was needed in this crazy place was someone to make sense of it all, to sift through the lunacy and then to synthesize the information into something cohesive.

He would stay, he decided. They needed him.

If information was what they wanted, information was what he would give them.

Chapter Four ~ The Case of the Terrified Cell Biologist

"Aren't you a little concerned that the name of this place is awfully close to the word creation?" he said, the next day at breakfast in the dining hall. He and Lars were scoffing down plates of scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes and sausages.

Lars laughed.

"It is maybe, a joke, I think," said Lars.

Darby had decided to be proactive in getting to know the people at CREATIOP. The dining hall seemed the best place to do it. His sleeping quarters had been pleasant enough, but all the rooms were private. Each room had its own bathroom so it reduced the likelihood of human contact while one was in the wing that was set aside for living quarters.

Darby didn't know exactly how people went about booking themselves lab time or whether there were any required meetings to attend. He figured they'd let him know as it arose. Being a science historian, they probably expected his domain to be the library, not the laboratory. And they were right. A semester of chemistry had convinced him that the laboratory was not the place where he felt at home. Old books were more his thing. Works written by men who could reason. He preferred to read the results of other people's experiments.

"Besides, what is wrong with the word, creation?" asked Lars. The young man had a slightly erratic quality, even in the way he reached for his cup of coffee.

"Maybe it means something different in your language," said Darby. "But in English it means a lunatic fringe who believe that all life came as a result of some pie-in-the-sky old guy who pointed a finger and said, Let there be light." He instantly regretted his sarcasm. Not about the definition of creation, but about English being Lars's second language.

But Lars didn't look offended.

"No," said Lars. "It pretty much means the same thing in Polish." He bit into his toast. "But what I do not understand is why you are afraid of the idea."

"Afraid of the idea? Afraid of the idea?" He couldn't believe his ears. "I'm not afraid of it. I just can't comprehend why people believe it."

"I can," said Lars. "I have read much about it. I do not agree with all of it, but I agree with some of it."

"You're a Christian?"

Lars shook his head.

"Never been to church. Not in Poland. Not here."

"Then why read about it?"

"To understand it," said Lars simply.

Darby thought about that as Lars reached for a bottle of ketchup to add more to his potatoes. Maybe that's why everyone thought Lars was so brilliant. Everyone loved a precocious kid who asked lots of questions. Even the crazy questions.

"What would be so bad if it were true?" asked Lars. Any positive impression Darby had formed of Lars's intellect now plummeted to zero. What would be so bad if it were true? What would be so bad if it were true? Even in his mind, the question was repeated.

"Because then everyone would be running around saying, Thou shalt not do this, Thou shalt not do that. God says so," he said. People like his mom, for example.

"But this has nothing to do with studying the origin of life," said Lars, stabbing a sausage with his fork.

"It's a short and dangerous step," said Darby. "You let those creationists think that there's any scientific validity to their crazy stand and the next thing they're trumpeting the news to the world and telling us we all have to keep the Ten Commandments."

Lars laughed.

"We already practise most of them. As far as I know, CREATIOP does not approve of things like stealing or murder."

"That's not the point," said Darby. "A whole philosophical framework can be formed around a belief in Intelligent Design. You can't say the same about evolution."

"Not true," said Lars, shaking his head vigorously. "Social Darwinism is one of the most fascinating results of Darwin's study of the natural world."

That Lars should be the one to point this out shamed him to the core.

"Most of the philosophy behind Social Darwinism predated Darwin," was the only thing he could say to redeem himself.

Lars shrugged. And again, Darby wasn't sure whether he had won the argument or whether his intellect was just so inferior to Lars's that Lars had gotten bored.

The meal ended with them going their separate ways - Lars off to whatever he did everyday, Darby back to the library.

The thought that Lars had taken the time to read the enemy's literature irked him. Darby decided that he could be as open-minded as the next person. He grabbed a creation magazine and settled himself into one of the comfortable chairs in the room with the periodicals. The cover article was about frogs and how even though man was supposed to have amphibious ancestors, the fossil record didn't support it. Well, that should make the creationists feel all nice and cozy.

An article about woolly mammoths caught his eye. He skimmed over the news that an intact mammoth had recently been found. Then there was a definition and description of what exactly a mammoth was, no doubt for the benefit of the layman. The author of the article went into some background about mammoths. Sure enough, he had the audacity to put forth the idea that mammoths were part of God's creation, apparently popping into existence on Day Six along with all the other land animals. It defied all reason that people could actually believe this. As a child, his mother had read him bedtime stories (one of the few times when she actually behaved like a loving mother) and some of them were out of a big volume of Bible stories. They had things like the Creation Story, Noah and the Ark, Jonah being swallowed by a Whale.

Even then they had seemed like fairy tales.

Furthermore, the author of this article placed the Ice Age shortly after Noah's Flood. Darby shook his head. It was like a mainstream magazine insisting that Zeus had lived three thousand years ago and been a Greek prime minister.

He could barely concentrate on the rest of the article. The tone of it was certainly authoritative. The author certainly threw out a lot of facts and a lot of quotes. In fact, if one didn't mind treating the Bible like a history book instead of the book of myths that it was, some of what he said might actually have made sense. But still, it was disturbing to think that a scientist here at CREATIOP could buy into it.

He shook his head and turned the page.

As if to validate his fear, the next page had an article about some scientist who had gone from being a sensible evolutionist to one who now embraced Christianity. Oh well. Probably getting old and worried about a possible life to come. It was a psychological fact that old people were more likely to entertain thoughts of an afterlife than young people were.

If he ever did, he hoped somebody would shoot him. Then it struck him how absurd that was and he chuckled. He had already died once. He didn't need to fear it a second time.

Brad-the-geologist-who-used-to-teach-at-Oxford came into the library, passed through the periodical room to grab the latest issue of Science before moving on to the computer room. He gave Darby a nod in passing.

Darby was momentarily embarrassed that someone had caught him reading a creation magazine, but caught himself.

Academic freedom, he reminded himself. Maybe the place was filled with kooky people, but it meant you never had to hide what you were reading. Not that he ever had. For him, Darwinian evolution had been a soul-satisfying explanation for the origin of life. So he had never had to smuggle a Bible into academia for comfort.

Another scientist came into the library, a tall skinny man with short red hair and glasses. It was hard to tell his age. Maybe thirty. Maybe even forty. He glanced at Darby but didn't introduce himself. He too was heading for the computers.

Now losing interest in his magazine, Darby watched through the doorway as the man took a seat at one of the monitors. After the computer had fired up, he logged on to an email program and started in on a long list of messages. From the way he was rapidly moving through them, Darby suspected a lot of it was spam. One of them was long enough though and took him awhile to read. Obviously not everyone here was dead to the outside world. What good would email be to Darby?

He was about to find another periodical to read when he heard a strange gargling noise. It was coming from the red-headed man. Brad, seated two monitors away, was also aware of this new development.

"You OK, old man?" he asked.

The red-headed man didn't seem to hear. His eyes were still on the screen. Darby got up and went into the computer room. The man's face was pale.

"I think he's having an attack, or something . . ." he said. "We should do something. Can we call 9-1-1 from here?"

But before he or Brad could come up with a plan of action, the red-headed man had clicked his mouse, the email program had closed and he had hurried out of the room and the library. Darby and Brad were left looking at one another in amazement.

"I guess he's not having a seizure . . ." said Darby, turning to look at the door.

Brad had taken the man's seat at the computer and had started up the email program.

"I'm going to find out," he said. Darby took the seat beside him. The window now required an email and a password.

"Can you do this?" asked Darby.

"Do you mean, am I able to or do you mean is it morally right?"

Darby thought for a moment.

"I mean, are you able to?"

Brad nodded.

"We all have the same email. Mine's brad@creatiop.ca. His is roger@creatiop.ca."

"We have a website?" asked Darby.

Brad nodded.

"Very vague. Just puts out feelers . . ."

Brad was trying out some passwords.

"What are the odds . . . ?" said Darby, watching him.

"Ahh," said Brad, leaning back, satisfied. "There we are."

They were looking at Roger's in-box.

"What was it?"

"Name of his girlfriend," said Brad. "Sally Ann."

Brad quickly scrolled through the mail.

"Here it is."

They read it together.

I know where you are. You can't hide from me. The Canadians can't save you. CREATIOP can't save you. God himself can't save you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Leina, you have to do something!"

Leina nodded.

Darby and Brad were seated in Leina's office. Brad had shown no remorse for reading Roger's private email. Come to think of it, why should he? It had always bothered Darby that Judeo-Christian morality reigned in a world that had come about as a result of the fittest of the species surviving and reproducing.

"I already have."

"That was fast," said Darby. "Did Roger just talk to you?"

Leina shook her head as she came around from behind her desk and leaned on it, crossing her arms. Darby could smell, not perfume, but soap maybe. Something soft and feminine.

"Roger came here to get away from the threats," said Leina. "He was originally working in Arkansas. Naturally, with work as controversial as his, it stirred up some people."

Darby was lost.

"He's a cell biologist and his work is in asexual reproduction."

"Oh, you mean like with amoebas and stuff?" he said.

Brad shook his head. He was helping himself to some tea from a samovar on one of Leina's bureaus.

"No. In humans. I can't pretend to understand it all myself." It was funny how Brad's rich English accent made even his ignorance sound intelligent. "But it was causing a bit of a ruckus in Bible-believing Alabama . . ."

"Arkansas," Leina interrupted.

". . . Arkansas," continued Brad, "where people believe that God made them to reproduce after their own kind. The research was taking Roger to a point where he was mixing human genes with all sorts of other genes in an effort to explore the possibilities of early asexual reproduction."

Brad sat down with his cup of tea.

"But I don't understand how such a thing would actually work . . ." said Darby.

"It would all be at the micro level," said Leina. "When we say human, we just mean, using human DNA. It's all in the test-tube and may not even have an application to our everyday world. It was simply one more way of going about the search for the origin of life."

"Ahh," Darby said, understanding. Naturally, life had not started off as male and female. The earliest cell would have had to reproduce asexually. It really wasn't that controversial. But he could imagine what kind of headlines the research would make in the newspapers of the Bible-belt.

"When Roger came here, it was almost like going into the witness protection program," said Leina. "He didn't tell anyone where he was going. His family had his email address, of course, but just knowing the word CREATIOP does not give much away. We're not exactly listed in the phonebook."

"You have a website," Darby pointed out.

"With no information regarding our location," said Leina. "Just an invitation to submit a paper or two if you want to be invited to join a community of scientists who believe in academic freedom and are interested in the origin of life. There's an email address and that's about it."

"Then the email Roger received was probably just a bluff," said Darby, leaning back in his chair. "Somebody found out his email address and knew this place was called CREATIOP and just sent the message to shake him up a bit. They don't really know where he is."

"I'm afraid they do, Darby," said Leina. "Three weeks ago, I got a message."

One of Brad's eyebrows went up as he sipped his tea.

Leina had returned to behind her desk and was opening the email program. After a brief wait for it to load, she was scrolling through messages.

"Ahh, here it is," she said, turning her slim monitor slightly so the two men could see. Darby leaned forward. Brad moved forward a little more cautiously in light of the tea cup in his hand.

Roger Stewart is a low-down skunk and I know you're hiding him. Let him face the world like a man instead of a coward. If you don't kick him out, I'll come get him myself.

"Was this sent to leina@creatiop.ca?" Darby asked.

Leina shook her head. "No, it was sent to administration@creatiop.ca, which is the only email we have at the website."

"So he's been to the website. Again, that doesn’t really prove that he knows where Roger is," Darby pointed out. "It could still be a bluff."

"Our Roger will have to be reassured that he's quite safe with us," said Brad.

"I still think you have to do something," said Darby. "You know, maybe call in someone from the outside."

"I already have," Leina said.

"Who?"

"You."

Chapter Five ~ The Case of the Near Nemesis

"Me?"

Even Brad looked surprised. Two eyebrows went up this time.

Leina smiled.

"I needed someone who was a scientist with your kind of training."

"My kind of training?"

"Deductive reasoning. An ability to sift through ideas. Someone who can move around without generating suspicion."

Darby just stared at her.

"There really is no burning need for a science historian at CREATIOP," explained Leina.

Something like a snicker came from Brad's chair.

"But no one here knows that," continued Leina. "We all work independently. So I just slipped your name in for the vote. Most of the scientists here appreciated your willingness to acknowledge the concept of ID."

He groaned internally at the memory.

"That takes academic bravery and that's the kind of person we want around here. I was the one who flew out to B.C. to extend an invitation for you to join us. Needless to say, it was alarming when we arrived and discovered you in the process of killing yourself. Thankfully, we got you out of the river while you still had a bit of life in you."

"Who's we?" he interrupted her.

"Me and Mahmud. Here's our resident nurse." Darby vaguely remembered a large black man from his days in the infirmary. "He always travels with me when we're going to meet someone in person. He has a degree in psychology and before we actually invite someone to come to CREATIOP, we like to determine whether he's psychologically-suited for our community."

Darby wondered why a man attempting suicide was considered an acceptable candidate. It was embarrassing to think about.

"It was stupid of me to jump off that bridge," he said. "But, of course, all doors were closed to me at that point. I wish I'd known you were on your way."

Leina nodded slightly.

"My concern now is that this person might be a lot closer to Roger than he was when I first got the email," she said. "A lot of time was lost with your recovery."

That put him to shame.

"Then I figured I should give you a day or two to adjust," she continued. "Above all, everybody had to believe you were just another scientist here."

"Why is that so important?" asked Brad, putting his now empty cup on the edge of Leina's desk. "It sounds like what we need is someone to go down to Alabama . . ."

"Arkansas," Darby interrupted him.

"Arkansas and investigate who might have it in for Roger."

"Whoever he is, he's not in Arkansas," said Leina, reaching into a drawer and pulling out something. She handed it to Darby. It was a long plain white envelope. It was addressed to Administration/CREATIOP and had the street address of the organization.

"It came today," said Leina.

He opened it up. On a single piece of white paper were the typed words, Tell Roger Stewart that you reap what you sow.

"Nobody," Leina said, "and I mean nobody, outside of the people who live here, know that address. All of our mail goes to a post office box in Drumheller."

Darby put the paper back in the envelope. It had obviously been printed out and didn't provide any clue to the sender.

But the envelope was more telling. It had been postmarked in Drumheller. He showed Brad.

Two eyebrows went up for that one.

"So Roger's nemesis is much closer than Arkansas," he said.

"How much mail comes to this address?" Darby asked Leina.

"As I said, practically none. Just junk mail. Even our Minister sends his correspondence via email or to the Drumheller address. There are no signs to indicate we call this place CREATIOP. In fact, I should take you on a tour of the outside sometime," said Leina. "We have a sign at the entrance of the facilities, but the name says The Dr. James Hector Research Centre."

Darby didn't recognize the name.

"An early Canadian geologist," explained Brad. "Found the first dinosaur bones around here."

Darby glanced back down at the envelope.

"Then why didn't the sender address this to The Dr. James Hector Research Centre?"

"I think he wanted to make a point," said Leina. "He wanted to show that he knew it was really CREATIOP here."

"Maybe we need to make a trip to Drumheller?" said Darby, glancing at Brad.

"I'm not sure that's where the danger lies," said Leina, going over to a small fridge and getting out a bottle of water. "As I said, the only people who know that CREATIOP is located at this address are the people who live here."

She returned to her seat and twisted the cap off the water bottle.

The full impact of what she had just said struck Darby and Brad at the same time.

"An inside man!" said Darby.

"I say!" said Brad.

"At the very least," said Leina. "Someone here might have leaked out the location of CREATIOP to someone. They may have done it in complete innocence."

Ideas were already swirling around in Darby's mind. A creationist! Someone who thought that you shouldn't mess with God's creation! Maybe someone at CREATIOP had contacted someone on the outside about his rage that Roger would mess around with the created order of things . . .

"What do you need us to do?" asked Brad.

Leina smiled.

"I've read enough Sherlock Holmes to be helpful to the young pup here," said Brad, nodding his head toward Darby.

"I think the most important thing is to keep Roger calm," said Leina. "Between the three of us, I think we can get to the bottom of this without upsetting him. In fact, I'd rather he doesn't know anything about this conversation."

Brad nodded.

"He's a reasonable man," said Brad. "The email upset him. But he'll go back and read it over more carefully and realize that it doesn't mean that his nemesis has his exact location pin-pointed. All he has is an email address."

"My main concern is that this investigation will be discreet," said Leina.

Brad assured her that Discreet was his middle name.

"My middle name is Karl, after my German grandfather, but I think I can be discreet too," said Darby.

"Well, old man," said Brad when they were out in the hallway. "Where do we start?"

It was gratifying that the older man was deferring to him.

Darby didn't want to present his theory that it was a deranged creationist out to make trouble for the real scientists who innocently carried on with real scientific research. He wasn't sure at this point if Brad was with him on that one.

"You've been around here longer," said Darby as they strolled down the hallway. The administration wing, like every wing of the main building, led to the dining hall. Darby glanced at his new watch. 11:03. Plenty of time for a pre-lunch coffee.

"Does anyone leap to your mind? Anyone who's working against Roger's research?"

Brad shook his head as the two men entered the dining hall. Darby got himself a coffee while Brad selected a tea bag and filled a mug with boiling water. Once seated, Brad elaborated.

"Not intentionally, anyway. Roger's work might have been controversial in Arkansas but it's not something we'd argue about here. In fact, he may be the closest to understanding the origin of life than anyone else."

Darby nodded.

Life started as a single cell.

"I just want to get one thing straight," said Darby. "Why devote a whole research centre to studying the origin of life? I mean, it's been sufficiently demonstrated . . ."

"There are many theories," agreed Brad. "The story we tell school children is that a volcanic earth combined with a primordial sea had the components of life. Fortuitous events combined to produce the first cell. From there, it was just a matter of time and a lot of beneficial mutations for us and the rest of the natural world to appear."

"I know, I know," said Darby. "It's an oversimplification. But what are we supposed to say? God did it?"

"I don't think either story stands up to the rigours of science," said Brad. "Maybe two hundred years ago you could convince someone that life could form from inorganic material. I mean, people used to believe that the rotting meat was what made the maggots. But Louis Pasteur demonstrated that life does not just burst onto the scene as easily as that."

Here Darby was on more familiar ground.

"All Pasteur did was show that life does not spontaneously generate under the conditions we have today," he said. "Obviously the conditions were different here on earth when life appeared billions of years ago."

"If we can't demonstrate that though, then we're no better than the Christians who say God did it," said Brad.

"The Miller-Urey experiments showed how life might have formed," said Darby. Miller-Urey was standard high school chemistry textbook fare. Two scientists in 1952 had built an apparatus to simulate possible conditions of the earth billions of years ago. They had demonstrated that amino acids could form under certain conditions.

"I don't need to tell you all the flaws with Miller-Urey," said Brad placidly, as he sipped his tea. Darby stared at him. No doubt that was the English way of politely telling someone he didn't know what he was talking about.

"You're a geologist," said Darby. "Not a chemist." That should put him in his place. Of course, neither was Darby, but at least it would put them on equal ground.

Brad laughed.

"The Miller-Urey Experiment is so simple that a high school student can do it. Lars has a version of it set up in his room just for fun. It's a standing joke around here. We're all waiting for Lars to announce he's discovered the secret of life."

Apparently, Miller-Urey was an inadequate explanation for the origin of life. No doubt this was the sort of thing that made the front cover of creationist journals.

He decided to skip the scientific side of the investigation for now.

"What about people who have been here in the past?" he asked Brad. "Anyone who might have given away the location of this place?"

"Not very likely," said Brad. "I can't think of anyone who's left the whole time I've been here. No one wants to go back out after being here. You can get so much done when there are no politics and no need to be a . . ."

"A kiss ass," suggested Darby.

"I believe that's the expression, yes."

"But what about your work?" asked Darby. "If it doesn't get published, what's the point?" "The publish-or-die principle doesn't really matter here," said Brad. "We have a salary. For those who do solid work, recognition comes."

"Beth says there's a printing press here."

Brad nodded.

"Her books make it to the libraries and the bookshops. It's because they're well written. The public doesn't make a sacred cow out of evolution. Only our fellow scientists do. When we're in academia, we have to satisfy our peers. Having our own press means that our work can go straight to the public."

He had a point. After all, Darby had dreamed of being the authority called on to comment in the public television documentaries - the intellectual scientist blessing the average viewer with his great ability to synthesize knowledge into something comprehensible for the layman.

As people began arriving for lunch, Brad introduced him to some of the other scientists. It was a bit of a blur. Many of them were microbiologists. There was an immunologist. Brad seemed to be best acquainted with the palaeontologists. The big talk was an upcoming excavation at a nearby site that promised to yield an abundance of dinosaur fossils.

"Do you guys do that often?" Darby asked.

Brad nodded.

"Most summers we just stay close by. There's enough material here to satisfy most of us. Last year though, for those who wanted to chip in a bit of their salaries, there was an expedition to the North Slope of Alaska."

"Why go all that way and dig in the snow when you can stay here and dig in the sun?" asked Darby.

"Red blood cells," said one of the palaeontologists, Mary-Jane, a plump middle-aged woman with shoulder length blonde hair. "The frozen ones have been known to still have red blood cells."

Darby looked at Brad.

"Is that possible?" he said.

Brad laughed.

"Not for those of us who know that dinosaurs died out millions of years ago. For the creationists, it's quite possible."

"That's what I don't get about the creationists," said Darby, not caring if he offended anyone at the table. "Science has demonstrated that these fossils are millions of years old. How can anyone say otherwise?"

Mary-Jane spoke up.

"The Biblical account of creation says that land animals, which would have included dinosaurs, were created on the sixth day of God's creation. The chronology of the Bible suggests that that happened six thousand years ago. Therefore, we would expect to find red blood cells in the bones of dinosaurs that have been preserved. Science has given us plenty of fossils, we just analyze the data differently."

Darby shook his head.

"But not all of you guys believe that, do you?"

Mary-Jane shook her head.

"As far as I know, Jim and I are the only ones here who do. There are other Christian scientists here who choose to accept the standard evolution model and treat the Bible as more of a moral guide than a science manual or true record of history."

"Why is your kind of thinking allowed here?" Darby asked Mary-Jane, hoping he didn't sound too belligerent.

But it was Brad who answered.

"Mary-Jane's freedom is my freedom," he said. "I wouldn't defend her beliefs, but I would defend her right to believe whatever she wants. And much of what she says is scientifically sound. I hope the same can be said for what I believe."

Everyone seemed to consider Brad's comment to be the final word on that topic and the conversation returned to the upcoming summer dig.

Darby was left to concentrate on his grilled cheese sandwich and french fries. If what Mary-Jane said was true - and it hardly bore thinking about - then dinosaurs and man had lived at the same time. He remembered the creation story from his mother's bedtime reading. Man had been created on the sixth day, along with all of the animals.

What kind of sane, reasonable person believed that the Age of the Dinosaurs coincided with the Age of Man? He attacked a french fry at the very thought of it, viciously digging it in his pile of ketchup.

The gesture brought an image to his mind.

The image of a man fighting a dragon.

No, it wasn't possible.

He pushed the thought out of his mind. But the stupid thing wouldn't go away. When his mom wasn't reading him Bible stories, she had read him the legends and myths of their own people. Beowulf. Sir Arthur and his knights of the round table. Saint George fighting a dragon . . .

Over and over again, men had fought dragons. In one of the stories, even a woman had fought a dragon.

In any case, it had nothing to do with this whole thing about Roger. Now that he knew that he had been chosen by Leina as a kind of private investigator, he was a little bit miffed. Why didn't they need a science historian at CREATIOP? Were they just planning to discard him once he had figured out who was harassing Roger?

Of course, that would be consistent with his Darwinian philosophy. When something was no longer needed, it should be discarded. Organs no longer needed in the body were called vestigial organs. They included tonsils, the appendix, wisdom teeth, body hair, male nipples. Still, it was a comfort that in spite of the body's evolution, it continued to be a home for these unnecessary features. Perhaps they could find a place for him here at CREATIOP where he wouldn't get in the way. But did he really want to be a vestigial organ?

Darby looked around. By now, it was closer to one o'clock and the dining hall was mostly full. But there was one person not present. Roger. He glanced at Brad wanting to convey this news to him without generating any interest in Roger. But Brad was too absorbed in his after-lunch tea and the conversation.

He mentioned it as they were carrying their trays to the rack.

"Oh that's not unusual," said Brad, sliding his tray into the rack. "He's a bit of a loner and I think he works through lunch most of the time."

"Sounds driven."

"I imagine he is," agreed Brad as they exited the dining hall into the main hallway. "And after what he's been through in Alabama . . ."

"Arkansas."

". . . Arkansas, he obviously appreciates the opportunity to work in peace.” Brad was thoughtful. “Still, maybe we should check on him."

Darby followed Brad who knew where he was going. They passed the library and turned down a corridor that had some doors ajar. A few of them were laboratories and one of them was a lecture hall. They came to a door that was closed.

Brad knocked.

When there was no answer, he knocked again.

If Brad had no problem reading a man's private email, he certainly had no problem opening a closed door.

What they saw inside both made them gasp.

Chapter Six ~ The Case of the Scientist's Myths

The laboratory was in shambles.

Not only were there papers all over the floor, test tubes had been spilled and some of the fluids ran down the edge of the counter.

In the middle of the chaos was Roger. He looked up at Darby and Brad in the doorway. Roger's eyes were wild. He didn't seem to care about the men in the doorway. He went back to picking up the papers on the floor.

"Everything OK, old man?" said Brad, moving into the room and crouching down to pick up some of the papers.

"Thank you," Roger muttered. "My nerves are shot. I spilled my experiment."

Darby looked around and could piece together what had happened. Roger had obviously been holding a sheaf of papers when some of the test-tubes had gotten knocked over. No wonder he hadn't hurried to answer the door.

Once the mess was cleaned up, Brad turned to Roger.

"We were both in the library earlier today. I gather you had some startling news?"

Roger nodded, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. He sat down in a chair by a desk while Darby and Brad leaned against one of the counters.

"Haven't been good for much today," said Roger. "Can't think straight."

"It happens to us all, old man," said Brad. Darby had to admit, that English accent was soothing.

There was silence but Roger didn't look so wild-eyed anymore.

"Anything we can do to help?" asked Brad.

Roger shook his head. There was no hesitation. Whatever was going on, he was going to face it alone. Darby had to admire him.

"Well," said Brad, straightening up. "Stop by for a cup of tea later, if you like. You know where to find me."

Roger nodded. He had returned to the counter and was getting out some clean test tubes by the time they reached the door.

"Gotta give him credit," said Darby, once they were out of earshot.

Brad nodded.

"I hope his work doesn't suffer as a result of all this," said Brad. "It's a shame that the prejudices of the outside world have to intrude here."

"Amen to that," said Darby.

"Well, old man," said Brad as they came to another door. It was slightly open and inside, Darby could see filled bookshelves and counters with fossils and rocks. "I think we've done about all we can for today, eh?"

Without waiting for an answer, Brad turned in to his workroom.

Darby wasn't so sure they had done all they could. Of course, you couldn't expect Brad, who had real work to do, to give it up for an investigation, unlike Darby, who had no real job here.

Darby sighed and decided he'd return to the library. He could go online and search Roger's name and key words like "Arkansas," "cell biologist," "origin of life," "human," "DNA," "asexual." Maybe for fun he'd also try out "blasphemous" and "fires of hell."

Again, the library was close to empty. Not surprising if all the scientists had as many books as he had glimpsed in Brad's workroom. One man, who he hadn't met yet, was reading in the periodical room.

Darby took a seat, switched on the monitor and clicked the internet icon. The home page had been set to the BBC Science & Nature website. Probably Brad's doing.

For fun, he checked out CREATIOP's webpage. But there was nothing impressive about it. Very barebones. Just like Leina had said, an invitation to submit a paper if you were becoming frustrated by the lack of academic freedom in your field. No information as to where CREATIOP might actually be located.

Even when he did a search about the website itself, all he found was that their server was in Vancouver, British Columbia.

When he settled into a search for information about Roger Stewart, cell-biologist, Arkansas, he came up with nothing that could be CREATIOP's Roger. He typed in all his words but the sites they took him to couldn't be connected to Roger. He tried a few variations on Roger's name. Stuart instead of Stewart. He even tried Steward. But it didn't look as if Roger's controversy had made it to the internet.

Obviously, all the persecution had been very personal. One-on-one harassment. Which only made it worse. And now Roger was going to have to face one of his enemies again.

The way Darby saw it, there was only one thing to do now. Talk to Roger.

He would have to get information out of the man without him knowing it.

Darby stood up and exited the library. Although, Darwin had been his main focus, he was familiar with the other great men of science.

Asexual reproduction. As he walked down the hallway to Roger's laboratory, his mind skimmed over the work of other scientists who had studied asexual reproduction. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, the Dutch microbiologist, he decided. He had been the first scientist to observe hydras budding. Hydra, a minuscule freshwater animal, could reproduce both sexually and asexually.

But Roger wasn't there when he returned. Again, the door was shut. After two knocks and no answer, Darby decided to follow Brad's example and opened the door. This time the laboratory was neat but it was also clearly empty.

Should he or shouldn't he?

He didn't know what the rules were at CREATIOP about invading another man's work space. Still, Leina had employed him to investigate. If Roger returned, he would be prepared with some cogent questions regarding asexual reproduction and a story about how he was putting together a work on all the scientists who had contributed to the study of the origin of life. He went into the laboratory, trying to move casual. He didn't want to look as if he was looking for anything. In fact, he didn't know what he was looking for, so it didn't really matter. A quick overview might be helpful. The papers that had been picked up earlier were on the desk. It was some kind of a study on yeast.

Darby looked around. One counter had plants with a growing light above them. He strolled over and recognized potatoes and other tuber plants. On another counter was a glass aquarium with some insects. He moved closer. Aphids, was his best guess. Whatever experiments Roger was doing they were not just with human cells. It was probably all pretty mundane compared to what his detractors believed. Of course, they'd be imagining an asexual Frankenstein monster.

He was about to leave when something caught his eye. There was a newspaper sitting underneath a pile of books. An ad for Daisy Diner, 2403 Franklin Rd., Hillsboro AK. An Arkansas newspaper. He wondered if Roger had a subscription to his hometown paper and if so, was it sent to the address in Drumheller or straight to CREATIOP? In any case, it might be a way that he had been tracked down to this location.

Very carefully, he extracted the newspaper from under the books.

In fact, the paper was older. It dated back to six months earlier and Darby could see why Roger had kept it. Just above the Daisy Diner ad was a small article about the work of cellular biologist Roger Stewart and how the experiments he was doing were expected to increase the scientific community's understanding of the origin of life. It said that Dr. Stewart's work in asexual reproduction might help to explain how early cells had multiplied. The article was continued on an inside page and Darby was beginning to worry that Roger would come in and catch him poking around in his stuff. Hurriedly, he folded the newspaper back up and replaced it under the books.

No doubt the article had stirred up the controversy that had driven Roger to continue his research in the freedom and peace of CREATIOP.

He was halfway to the door when Roger re-entered. The startled look on his face when he saw Darby suggested that scientists didn't usually enter each other's space. Either that, or Roger didn't get too many visitors.

Darby casually greeted Roger and mentioned that he was putting together something on the different scientists in the past who had contributed to the study of the origin of life. Roger had recovered and nodded. Obviously he had gone to the dining hall to get a coffee because he had a large travel mug in his hand that he was sipping from.

"I thought maybe you could give me an update on Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and his studies."

"I take it you mean his studies in hydra?" said Roger, sitting down on a stool.

Darby nodded.

"I've studied hydra myself," said Roger, waving a general hand in the direction of his counters. "But I can't pretend to be a science historian. At the expense of sounding simplistic, our understanding has increased since the days of van Leeuwenheok because we have more powerful microscopes."

That's all Roger seemed inclined to say to him. Definitely not the loquacious type. What Darby really wanted to ask about what was the controversy his work had stirred up in Alabama, er, Arkansas. But any hints in that direction would give too much away.

"If you're looking at a history of origin of life studies, I'm not your man," said Roger, opening a drawer and pulling out a box of crackers. He opened it up and took out a handful.

"Would you say that it started more with the biochemists, Miller and Urey, those sorts of guys?"

He was really just talking to try to keep the conversation going.

Roger shrugged as the crackers went into his mouth.

"Not for me to say," he said, through the mouthful. Evidently, social graces, such as closing one's mouth when eating, were not important to him.

Darby strained his brain for something to say, anything.

"I think I'm going to go back to Francesco Redi," he said. "He was a physician in the 1600's."

From the indifferent look on Roger's face, it was impossible to know whether this was known to him or not.

"He believed that life could form from nonliving matter," continued Darby. An inspiration hit him. "Pretty brave of him considering he lived at the time when the King James Bible was sweeping across Europe. Suddenly, people could read the Bible in their own language and here's this guy saying life could form without divine help. Redi says you don't need God, the King James Bible says, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . ."

It was all baloney. He had no idea if Redi had had that much impact and Darby knew full well that at that time most Bibles were in churches, not in people's homes. But he wanted to introduce the topic of religious intolerance.

Roger's face had opened up just slightly. It was as if a window with blinds now had a person peeking through them.

He hoped that if he could just sit still and look sympathetic, Roger would open up to him. But what Roger said next shocked him right down to his socks.

"The two views aren't that far apart." he said. "Redi says life formed from nonliving matter. And the Bible says God created everything out of nothing. Either way, it's a miracle."

Darby was speechless.

"It just depends on what miracle you want to believe," continued Roger. He put the box of crackers on the counter and concentrated on his coffee. "I mean, Hoyle said life came from outer space. He could see the near impossibility of life forming here on its own. So there's another myth to believe. Until we know which one is true, they're all fairy tales as far as I'm concerned."

Now there was no mistaking the signs. Roger shoved the box of crackers back into the drawer and more or less turned his back on Darby.

"Well," said Darby. "Thanks for the thoughts."

Roger didn't even reply.

It was late in the afternoon. Definitely time for a coffee. He would have liked to have talked to Brad about Roger but figured he'd better leave him to his work. But Roger's state of mind had been disturbing. The way he talked, they might as well throw away Darwin's Tree of Life and replace it with the Garden of Eden's Tree of Life.

The coffee soothed his jangled nerves. To be quite honest, he didn't feel up to this whole task.

When Brad joined him for dinner, he expressed the idea that he would have rather been called to CREATIOP to think like Charles Darwin, not Sherlock Holmes.

Brad smiled as he speared a piece of broccoli with his fork.

"The two weren't that dissimilar," he said. "Sherlock Holmes wouldn't have been possible without Charles Darwin. They were both a product of their time, both devoted to a scientific method of investigation combined with a dash of panache."

"I guess you're right," said Darby. "Studying rock samples for clues to early life isn't much different from studying a room for clues to an early death."

Brad laughed.

Any discussion about Roger was impossible from that point forward since they were joined by a third man. Brad introduced him to Darby as Dennis, the geneticist.

Darby looked around. Again, Roger didn't seem inclined to take his meals in the dining hall. Darby looked down at his plate of meat loaf, mashed potatoes and broccoli. It was standard institutional fare, nothing special, but he didn't see how anyone could survive on crackers.

With Brad's mind on Sherlock Holmes, the conversation had turned to favourite boyhood detectives. Dennis said that the Hardy Boys won hands-down for him. He had read every novel and if he hadn't been a geneticist, would have definitely taken up a career as a private investigator.

Leina should have asked him to look into Roger's case, thought Darby. He had never read a Hardy Boys novel in his life.

Brad, who was older, said that as a child he had discovered Craig Kennedy, Scientific Detective. He was gratified that they were now in the public domain, and confessed that he often snuck a read online when he should have been working.

Dennis laughed and said he'd be the same when the original Hardy Boys hit the public domain. He'd had the whole collection but at some point his mother had given them away to Goodwill.

After dinner, Darby was invited back to Brad's room for a game of what Brad called Vingt-et-un, but which turned out to be blackjack. Dennis and a few other scientists were invited and Brad's room was lively with laughter and talk. Brad brought a unique dignity to the whole thing by serving tea and Peek Frean biscuits to his guests. Gambling was limited to small change.

The conversation touched on the work they did, but a lot of it was general.

At one point, Darby asked if any of them were seeing someone.

Brad laughed as he took a sip of his tea.

"Not I, old man. If you take up with someone here and then break-up, you get to see them every day for the rest of your earthly life."

Dennis nodded his agreement.

One of the men said he had a girlfriend in Drumheller. Another man, a young biologist, said he was going to do his controversial work here at CREATIOP and then return to the “real” world to hopefully resume a career in academia. Then he would think about meeting someone.

"The women here aren't even interested," said Dennis. "They're all pretty serious about their work and aren't looking for a relationship."

There was general agreement.

From the sounds of it, cold showers were a matter of routine around here.

The young biologist said he thought Mary-Jane and Jim might be a couple.

Again, general agreement. But nobody seemed inclined to gossip. Which would only make Darby's job harder if he ever wanted to get their impressions about Roger. But Brad had said that Roger had a girl, Sally Ann. He'd have to ask him about that later.

Later turned out to be two hours. Darby hung back as everyone thanked Brad for his hospitality. The winner, the young biologist, pocketed all his nickels and dimes. After they were gone, Darby asked about Sally Ann.

"Don't know much about her, old man," said Brad, brushing cookies crumbs off of his table. "Just a girl he mentioned once."

"From Arkansas?"

"Didn't get that impression. More like someone in Drumheller. Some of the younger lads go there for a beer on weekends."

"What about the women here at the centre?" asked Darby, his eyes still on the floor where Brad had brushed the crumbs. "The cleaning staff and the kitchen workers?"

Brad laughed.

"Are you looking for someone?"

"Oh no!” said Darby, startled. “I mean, it's crazy . . ."

"That's how most of us feel, old man. Hard to find a soul-mate among the kitchen staff."

"But a lot of people must have left someone behind . . ."

Darby didn't know why he was pursuing this line of thought. Especially when Brad yawned.

"Dunno, old man. I suppose we all left something behind to come here."

Darby stood up. Brad politely escorted him to the door.

"If you're thinking of some kind of link between Roger and one of the staff, it's not likely. We can't discuss our work with them and there's a general understanding that this is a serious research centre, not a place to pursue leisure."

Darby nodded as he wished him a good-night. The door closed behind him and he made his way to his own room. He now knew he was the only one who had been brought to this place without his consent. All the others had come voluntarily in order to pursue their research. Not the type of people to look for a relationship with the cleaning staff.

But that also ruled out the likelihood that anyone on the kitchen staff or cleaning staff had given away Roger's location to the outside world. They probably didn't even know his name.

So he'd have to pursue the Sally Ann lead in Drumheller.

Tomorrow was Saturday. Somehow he'd have to get himself invited to Drumheller for a Saturday night beer.

Chapter Seven ~ The Case of Sally Ann

CREATIOP seemed to treat Saturday the same way as the rest of the world did.

The dining hall was quiet when Darby entered for breakfast. There were some scientists, but a couple of them were sitting alone and had weekend papers spread out in front of them. Mary-Jane and Jim were across from one another, smiling and chatting, confirming the theory that they were a couple.

There should be a law, thought Darby, walking by them with his food tray. If they got together and reproduced, they'd bring more creationists into the world.

He sat down alone.

If this few people showed up for breakfast, he was going to have a hard time getting himself invited to Drumheller in the evening. He had noticed that Brad had a small fridge in his room, as well as a microwave oven. That would explain how Roger survived without coming to the dining hall. But the idea that Roger would be part of a group of younger men who liked to go out for beer on Saturday nights was surprising.

The weekend papers being read got him wondering about the newspaper in Roger's laboratory. Obviously, newspapers came straight to the centre. It was unlikely that someone had gotten up early to drive to Drumheller, pick up the newspapers and have them back at CREATIOP for breakfast.

"Hello, old man," said Brad, sitting down across from him. Darby looked up from his plate of eggs, startled. He hadn't seen him come in.

"Hi Brad," he said. "It's pretty quiet, eh?"

Brad nodded as he sat down. On his tray he had brought his own jar of jam, an import from England.

"Where do people get the newspapers from?" asked Darby.

Brad glanced around.

"As far as I know, CREATIOP has a subscription. At least ten copies of the Edmonton Journal come here and about five copies of the Drumheller Mail. Myself, I have a weekend subscription to the London Times. It shows up sporadically."

"Does it come here or to the Drumheller post office?"

"Mine goes to the post office," said Brad, as he spread the jam on his toast. "I think the others show up at the security gate here. Why?"

Darby hesitated and then decided if Brad could open Roger's mail, Darby could certainly snoop around Roger's laboratory.

"I noticed an Arkansas newspaper in Roger's lab," he said. "I wondered if his subscription comes straight here."

"No, it would go to the post office address," said Brad biting into the toast.

"It had a front page article about his research," said Darby, taking the last swallow of his coffee. "I figured he kept it since it was about him."

"Sounds reasonable," nodded Brad.

Darby thought back to the article.

"I figure it was the publicity from that article that brought him here," he said.

Brad nodded as he stirred his tea.

"Probably. From what Leina said."

Of course, if it were the publicity from that article that brought him here, Roger must have brought that particular newspaper with him. Darby realized his error. There probably was no subscription. So he could rule out that as being any way of tracing Roger to this area.

"How long has Roger been here?" he asked. "A few months?"

"Oh no," said Brad. "Longer than that. Let me see . . ." He stopped to think. "I remember when we voted on him. It was around Christmas time. Not last Christmas. But the one before that."

Darby's eyes widened.

"But that would be over a year ago. Sixteen months."

"About that, yes," said Brad, now turning his attention to his potatoes. "Of course, he didn't arrive until the New Year, so really, it was more like fourteen months ago."

"But that doesn't fit . . ." said Darby, trying to work it out in his mind.

"What doesn't fit?"

"The newspaper in his lab," said Darby. "It was only six months old and it was talking about Roger Stewart and the research he was doing in Arkansas. Cell biologist, asexual reproduction. Definitely the Roger here. But why would they print an article in Arkansas about it?"

Brad thought about it.

"I suppose it's possible that even though he had to physically relocate to here, his research is still affiliated with the university he came from. Though, theoretically, while we're here, we work for the Canadian government. Still . . ." Brad shrugged as he continued eating. "I don't know all the arrangements that are made."

"I'm thinking I'll try to get myself invited out tonight," said Darby. "You know, with that group that goes into Drumheller on Saturday nights."

"To meet the local ladies or to keep an eye on Roger?"

Darby smiled.

"I'll save the local ladies for another time. To keep an eye on Roger."

"Might be difficult," said Brad. "Don't know if there'll be a spot for you. Most of the scientists here don't bother with a car. We have a trip to Drumheller once every fortnight to pick up the necessities of life, but beyond that, there's really very little need to go elsewhere."

"That's something I've been wondering about," said Darby. "What about recreation? Isn't there a rec hall here, or something?"

Darby nodded.

"Indeed there is. Just a pool table and a large television set with a DVD player. Leina keeps a fridge stocked with drinks and there's a microwave and lots of popcorn on hand. We take turns playing our favourite DVDs."

"Well, I'm glad to hear there's some entertainment."

Brad laughed.

"I'm not sure you can call it entertainment. We take turns educating each other in our various fields. But Mary Jane and Jim put us all to shame. Between them, they have at least a hundred creationist films. Some of them, not bad."

"And you sit and watch them?" Darby was incredulous.

"We watch them and discuss them," said Brad, smiling. "It's rarely a passive viewing. If you weren't off on your detective caper, I'd suggest you come along tonight. I believe the topic of the DVD is the scientific feasibility of Noah's ark."

Darby rolled his eyes.

After breakfast, Brad excused himself, saying he had one of Beth's novels back in his room that he was eager to get started on.

Darby was left with his empty tray and an even emptier room. How was he going to get himself to Drumheller tonight? Inspiration struck.

Leina.

Surely she had a car. He stood up with his tray. The only problem was he had no idea where she lived and he doubted she'd be in her office on a Saturday. She said that she liked to poke around in the laboratory when she wasn't working, so maybe he should check out some of the labs.

It took a bit of walking, but he finally came upon a laboratory that wasn't empty. (Even Roger's had been quiet.) The young man working behind the counter said that he knew which lab Leina usually worked in and directed him a couple of doors down.

The door was shut, but after a knock and a short wait, Leina answered.

She was wearing a white lab coat and goggles and looked surprised to see him, but welcomed him into the room.

Skipping over the preliminaries, he said he'd like to get to Drumheller that night to keep an eye on Roger.

Leina was alarmed to know that Roger went to Drumheller on a regular basis and even more alarmed to hear about Sally Ann.

"That could be how he was found here," she said. "Of course, we'll go together," she said when he asked about a ride.

Leaving her to her work, Darby found he was walking with a jaunty step. Knowing he had a date with Leina somehow lifted his spirits.

It was stupid, of course. He was just one of her many scientists. Correction, he wasn't even a scientist, just a science historian called in to do a job. One job. He didn't even know if he had a future here. The fact that she was so obviously talented in many ways and the fact that she had fished him out of a river also didn't bode well for any future relationship. But, in the meantime, she was his for Saturday night.

The rest of the day passed slowly.

He checked out the recreation room and found a man and a woman playing pool. They didn't seem inclined to include him. So he returned to his room and flaked out on his bed.

"Counting flowers on the wall, that don't bother me at all . . ." he hummed.

Lunch was a bit busier than breakfast, but Brad obviously had enough supplies in his room to miss it, as did Roger. Darby ended up eating a ham and cheese sandwich and reading the Edmonton paper.

The afternoon was spent surfing the internet in the library. He remembered what Brad had said about Craig Kennedy, Scientific Detective and found a free online novels website with all of them. After finishing The Silent Bullet, he glanced at his watch and was glad to see that it was finally time for a quick shower and a change into the least geeky outfit in his closet.

He returned to Leina's laboratory. The plan was to wait in the parking lot until Roger headed out to Drumheller and then discreetly follow him.

Leina had clearly spent the whole day in the laboratory and had put no effort into her appearance for a Saturday night in Drumheller. All she did was run fingers through her hair and remove the white lab coat to reveal a grey sweater and black jeans.

No matter. She looked great.

She grabbed a black purse off a rack on her way out and Darby was humiliated to realize he had no money. Everything that followed would be paid for by Leina. Later he'd have to ask Brad when he could expect his first paycheque. Could a dead man even receive a paycheque?

Not wanting to miss Roger, they skipped dinner in order to wait in the parking lot.

It was the right choice.

At around six, four men, including Roger, came out the main doors and headed for a large late model blue Buick.

To his surprise, Leina immediately started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot.

"But, but . . ." said Darby, twisting around in his seat and looking back. "We're supposed to be following them."

Leina smiled.

"There's only one direction to go. We'll drive ahead of them."

Darby shook his head and grinned.

"They'll never suspect we're following them. Brilliant!"

Leina switched on the radio for the drive. It was an easy-listening station.

"We're missing a DVD presentation of the feasibility of Noah's ark," said Darby, to make conversation.

Leina nodded.

"Mary-Jane and Jim. They usually have something for us."

"Doesn't it bother you?" he asked.

"Not if it's good science," she replied. "It keeps us on our toes. The creationists go at it differently and have some valid points."

With anyone else, he would have gone up like a volcano. Valid points?

He forced himself to be calm.

"Well, like, this whole Noah's Ark thing," he said. "Why even let them make a presentation? It's a children's story. It's like trying to find some basis of truth for the Grimm’s fairy tales."

"Actually, Grimm’s fairy tales were based on truth," said Leina, smiling. "The earlier versions were based on the reality of life in medieval Europe. That's why they're so gruesome."

Darby groaned.

"But seriously," he said. "You don't believe in Noah's Ark, do you?"

"Every culture has a flood myth," said Leina absently, her eyes on the rear-view mirror. The Buick was about 100 metres behind them.

Darby sighed. This was going nowhere. Whatever kind of brainwashing went on at CREATIOP had obviously left them unable to think rationally.

He decided to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Even in the dark he could see that the landscape was unique. The rock formations were a geologist's dream.

Drumheller itself seemed to be a haven for clear-minded people. The enormous Royal Tyrrell Museum was probably filled with all the proof that people needed for the simple and incontestable theory that the earth had been around for billions of years and life had evolved over millions of years.

The town itself catered to dinosaur-mania. A giant T-Rex towered over them as they drove into the heart of the town. The car behind them pulled into a busy licensed restaurant. Leina kept driving slowly and pulled into the parking lot of a Ramada Inn.

As they watched, four men got out of the car. Three of them went into the eatery, but Roger started walking. Leina and Darby looked at one another.

Leina let Roger get ahead of them before pulling out of the inn and following at a distance.

It was a short walk. He followed the street they were on, turned right at the next road he came to, and then another short distance before stopping in front of a church.

"I should have known," said Darby, shaking his head. "The way he was talking . . ."

Once Roger was in the building, Leina pulled up in front. It was a community church but a sign outside announced that the Salvation Army was having a meeting that night. All Welcome.

"They do a lot of good work," said Leina, pulling away from the curb. It was as if she anticipated his disapproval.

"Maybe," he said, noncommittal. "But I came here to find out about a girl named Sally Ann. I thought she was a girl from the town. Maybe he met her at church . . ."

Leina started to laugh.

"What?" he said, turning to look at her.

She was back on the main road.

"Sally Ann," she explained smiling. "It's slang for Salvation Army."

"Oh," he said, taking this in. This was news to him. He didn't move in religious circles.

To his enormous disappointment, he realized Leina was returning to the road that had brought them here.

"Are we going back?" he said. "So soon? Shouldn't we, you know, infiltrate the church?" Or maybe, go out to dinner?

"I can't do that," Leina said. "I don't want Roger to know we followed him."

"But we didn't exactly learn anything."

Leina shrugged.

"He goes to church. It's better than having a girlfriend. I think we should just respect his privacy now."

Great.

"But it doesn't make sense," said Darby. "He's working on research that makes Christians mad and he goes and spends his Saturday nights with them."

"There are a lot of brands of Christianity," said Leina. "I don't know what the Salvation Army believes, but there are a lot of Christians who believe in evolution."

"How is that possible?"

Leina shrugged.

"I think they just say that God used evolution to make everything."

Part of him wanted to tell her what he thought about this idea. The other part of him was aware that this might be the only chance he had to be alone with Leina away from CREATIOP.

"Are you sure you want to head back so early?" he asked, trying to sound casual. "I don't want to have to go back and watch a DVD about Noah's ark."

"Oh you've missed most of it," said Leina, not recognizing his attempt at levity. "To be honest, I'm glad we sorted out this Sally Ann thing so quickly. I've been putting in a lot of late nights and I'm tired."

Evidently, Leina didn't consider Saturday nights something to set aside for recreation.

Chapter Eight ~ The Case of the Fittest Man

Darby was surprised that Sunday was like any other day. The dining hall was busy with a full crowd for breakfast.

Brad shrugged it off. Today he was eating muesli, rye toast and coffee. Darby was going with the full eggs, toast and bacon, though he figured he'd have to cut back at some point for the sake of his cholesterol.

"We have scientists from all over the world. In Israel, for example, Sunday is just the first day of the week. It's the Church that made Sunday the day of worship."

Darby was ashamed for forgetting that simple fact. And Brad made it even worse with his next comment.

"You know," said Brad, his eyes now twinkling. "The whole idea of a seven-day week is a creationist idea. It came from the idea that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh."

Darby rolled his eyes.

"It's crazy that the Christians have had that much influence over the years."

"We could follow the example of the ancient Egyptians and have a ten-day week," said Brad, yawning at the thought.

Darby filled in Brad about Roger's trips to the Salvation Army. He was gratified that Brad didn't know that Sally Ann was short for the Salvation Army.

"We call it the Sally Army in England," he said. "Sally Ann must be the Canadian version."

Much to Darby's annoyance, at that point, Lars joined them. Darby wanted to ruminate further on the idea of Roger attending church.

Lars seemed to be bursting with enthusiasm over the upcoming dig. Brad, the geologist, shared the enthusiasm. After his brief tour of the area, Darby could understand why anyone who liked rocks would come to Alberta. The place was loaded with them. He had, of course, taken a geology class which had introduced him to the basics – igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks, sedimentary rocks. It was all essential to understanding Darwin's journey on the Beagle. Charles Lyell was the leading geologist of the day and the Beagle's captain was on a mission from Lyell to search for erratic boulders. Erratic boulders were rocks that had been moved by glaciers to their location and were obviously not native to their area. In fact, Alberta had a famous one, Big Rock. The captain of the Beagle had given Darwin Lyell's work, Principles of Geology, to read while aboard the ship. It had revolutionized his way of looking at geology and liberated him from all plans of becoming a parson. Thanks to Darwin and Lyell, Uniformitarianism had become the prevailing explanation for rock formations.

To his disgust, Darby learned that Jim would be heading up the dig.

To Brad, he questioned CREATIOP's wisdom in putting a man who was so obviously biased in charge of anything.

Brad laughed.

"You weren't here to see the DVD last night," he said. "You would have loved that!"

Both he and Lars exchanged amused glances.

"I was partially persuaded," said Lars.

Brad nodded.

"Some of the points were incontestable."

"You're not talking about that Noah's ark movie are you?"

Brad nodded.

"It was a double feature. The first part demonstrated how it was possible that a boat that size could hold all the animal kinds necessary for life today."

Darby opened his mouth to protest, but Brad continued.

"The second part demonstrated how much of the fossil record and rock layers that we see today could have been laid down at the time of a global flood."

Darby rolled his eyes. He was going to get a headache from rolling his eyes.

"Guys!" he said. "It's a myth . . ."

Lars shook his head.

"The validity of the story isn't in question. It was never discussed whether the story came from a valid source. That is an issue for historians. This simply focused on what we see today in the rock layers. It did a good job of presenting the idea that a catastrophic model works better than a Uniformitarian one."

Darby sighed. Another stab at Darwin.

"Long age rock formation is an established fact . . ." he began. But Lars had already finished his bagel and coffee and Brad was standing up with his tray. Apparently, established facts weren't appreciated around here.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Darby returned to the library and the internet.

A quick search showed that the Salvation Army was active in Arkansas. Darby leaned back. Mystery solved. Roger had obviously opened up to someone at his church and they had passed on the info that Roger Stewart, bane of Christendom, was here in Alberta. It was probably the church itself that was persecuting Roger. And he thought they were his friends . . .

Time to report to Leina.

He ran fingers through his hair before heading over to the administration wing.

Leina received him with a smile. Her door was ajar and she waved him in despite being on the phone.

He sat down until she was finished.

"Good morning, Darby," she said. "What's on your mind?"

"Well," he said, suddenly feeling awkward in her presence. Not at all like the conquering hero who had figured out the mystery. "I suspect that the link between Roger and his old life is the Salvation Army. He must have talked to someone, you know, confided in them . . ."

Leina shook her head.

"I did a bit of sleuthing last night when we got back."

His eyebrows went up.

"I looked up the Sally Ann online and called their Drumheller number. I said I was thinking of coming out some Saturday night to a meeting."

Why didn't he think of that? He had been too busy being disappointed that Leina didn't want to do dinner with him. And he had been hungry.

"It turns out that the meeting itself is pretty short. Their main thing on Saturday night is a meal for the down-and-out. They're always looking for volunteers. That's what Roger does."

"How do you know?"

"They told me. I said I was with the Dr. James Hector Research Centre and they said they already had one volunteer from the centre. I said I knew and that he was my inspiration for calling."

"So . . ." said Darby, thinking about this. "There's nothing to link Roger with CREATIOP?"

"It doesn't sound like it," she said. "And Roger's so quiet that I have a hard time imagining anyone dragging anything out of him."

That was true enough.

"Anther dead end," said Darby. "Have you gotten any emails?"

She shook her head.

"Keep looking into it, though," she said. She was picking up papers on her desk and reaching for the phone. "You're doing a great job, Darby."

It was her way of dismissing him. She was already clicking numbers on the keypad.

He sighed and went back out into the hallway.

Doing a great job? He sucked at this as much as he sucked at everything else. If things didn't work out at CREATIOP, he would just have to kill himself again. He'd probably suck at that too and botch it up again somehow.

A man he had never seen before was walking toward him.

What caught his attention about this man was that he was wearing a dark suit. Up until now, everyone he'd seen had been dressed casually. The fact that he had not seen the man before wasn't so unusual. After all, he wouldn't have known Roger existed if it weren't for the case.

The man glanced at him and kept walking. In that moment, Darby formed an impression of a confident man, probably in his early thirties. The suit looked right on him, not like it was just something he put on for special occasions.

Surreptitiously, Darby glanced back.

Although the man was walking with purpose, he was pausing slightly in front of each door to look inside. Suspicious!

In the absence of anything else to do with his day, Darby decided he'd try to follow the man.

He kept walking in the direction he had originally been heading, but with the occasional furtive glance behind. The man had already passed Leina's office, so she wasn't the one he wanted to see. That was a relief. Darby wasn't bad-looking himself, but this guy had attitude going for him.

When the hallway turned, Darby stopped. Now he could take cover and watch the man's progress.

Oops! The man had turned around and was heading back!

Darby kept walking. This hallway led to the dining hall so there was a good chance the man would end up there.

By the time the stranger entered, Darby had settled in with a coffee. He was willing to abandon it if necessary. But the man prepared himself a tea and sat two rows down from Darby. He didn't seem interested in Darby.

At least, not at first.

As Darby slowly sipped his coffee and flipped through a two-day-old Drumheller newspaper, the man started glancing around. They weren't alone in the dining hall. A lady from the kitchen was scrubbing down all the tables. Jim and Mary-Jane were having some kind of conference over coffee, papers and books spread out all over the place. Probably planning on how to turn the upcoming expedition into a geological proof of Noah's flood.

Lars passed through the dining hall, waved at Darby and kept going. This time the man glanced back at Darby.

"Excuse me," he said, coming over and sitting across from Darby. "Mind if I join you?"

Darby just about fell off his seat. The man had a southern accent.

"Uh, sure," said Darby.

"Thank you kindly," said the man. The drawl was unmistakable. And it made him wonder why Roger didn't have a similar accent. "I'm new around here," he continued. "And I'm looking for a former colleague of mine."

Darby felt cold all of a sudden.

"Oh yes?" he said casually. "Well, I'm a bit new myself so I don't know everybody yet."

"Oh really?" the man said. Up close, he was older than thirty, maybe forty. "What do you do?"

"Science historian," he said, knowing how lite that must sound. "How 'bout you?"

"Cell biologist," said the man.

Same as Roger!

"Well," Darby said, deciding to outright lie. "I've met a geologist, a crazy palaeontologist, a kid who just seems to be a resident genius, but no cell biologists."

The man smiled. But it was a snake smile.

"I would have thought with the work going on here that there would have been an abundance of cell biologists."

"I'm sure there are," said Darby, vaguely.

"So what's your take on the origin of life?" asked the man, watching him. "Intelligent design . . . ?"

Darby snorted.

"Guess not," said the man. "I'm told you're free to hold any idea you want here as long as it's scientifically feasible."

"I don't know if you can call Intelligent Design scientifically feasible," said Darby. But the man didn't seem to care. Darby realized he wasn't looking for conversation, he was looking for information, so he decided to turn it around.

"And you?" he said. "What's your stand?"

The man looked him in the eye.

"Survival of the fittest," he said. The way he said it, it practically sent a shiver down Darby's spine.

Darby shrugged.

"Well that's a given," he said. "The weak die out, the strong are left to reproduce."

"Do they?" said the man. "Do they really die out? I think it can be demonstrated that the weak are reproducing at a far greater rate than the strong. In fact, sometimes the strong even help them."

"Yeah, I guess you're right. Socialism and all that."

"Socialism?" said the man, almost viciously. "I wish it were just socialism. We proved that that didn't work and it will be a long time before anybody tries that again on a large scale. No, I'm talking about plain old charity. How about outright giving food and clothing and money to the weak? And then the weak go home and do about the only thing they can for free, mate and procreate."

"True," said Darby, nodding slowly.

"Only the strong should be allowed to procreate."

Darby nodded again.

Theoretically, the man was absolutely correct, He just didn't like the way it sounded coming out of his mouth. Out of Leina's lovely lips it would have sounded like an invitation to combine their genes and take the human species to its next level.

The thought of Leina anywhere near this man made him almost physically sick.

Mary-Jane and Jim had packed up their papers and books and were now returning their empty cups to the tray rack. He wondered what the snake in front of him would do if he knew they were both creationists.

The basic tenet of Social Darwinism - survival of the fittest - had been around before Darwin, but had gotten a considerable boost when Darwin published his Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection. The alternative title for that particular work was The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. It had provided a scientific justification for slavery, colonial rule and even the suppression of labour unions. But it wasn't all bad. Those inclined to be philanthropic then chose to give money to causes that would benefit all, such as public libraries, thus giving the fittest of even the poor a chance to move up. Previously, the generous rich may have put their money into the sink-hole of feeding and clothing people who would only temporarily benefit from such help.

Darby had had a whole class on Social Darwinism, despite that it was only indirectly related to evolution. But it was the type of thing that people liked to ask science historians about. The Nazis had used Darwins's ideas to justify their ethnic cleansing. Eugenics had been popular in America at the time of Nazi ascendancy and many Americans deemed inferior had been sterilized.

Of course, it was left to people like him, the ones who faced the public, not to allow people to dwell on that and just focus on the good that came out of facing the world scientifically rather than religiously. . . And why shouldn't he? The religious people were always putting their best foot forward.

Something about that whole line of thought disturbed him, though. It was like they had to toe the party line. Was it possible that evolution had become the party line and Intelligent Design was now the heresy? He didn't like the idea, but even he had to admit that anytime there was an overriding power that told people what to think, it was a dangerous situation . . .

The man in front of him had turned his attention to the Drumheller newspaper on the table.

"Does this place get any news coverage?" he asked.

"Of course not," said Darby, sharply. Who was this guy?

He forced himself to speak lightly.

"Since we're going to be colleagues," he said. "I'm Darby Hollinger." He held out a hand.

The man shook it.

"Good to meet you, Darby. I'm Roger Stewart."

Chapter Nine ~ The Case of the Second Cell Biologist

He just about dropped the man's hand.

Quickly, he pulled himself together. He had told the man he didn't know too many people. It wouldn't help to give it away that there was already a Roger Stewart here.

The man was watching him. In fact, he seemed to expect a reaction. Darby politely nodded.

"Nice to meet you, Roger," he said. "Where're you from?"

"Arkansas."

Again, a nod.

"I'm from British Columbia. You've come a lot farther."

Roger Stewart the Second agreed.

His coffee was the only place to turn. Darby took a slow sip and tried to think this one through. Roger Stewart. Cell Biologist. From Arkansas. That there might be two of them invited to work at CREATIOP was highly improbable. Of course, some people would say the same about evolution. Highly improbable didn't mean impossible.

While Roger Stewart the Second went through the Drumheller paper, Darby continued to think. The more likely explanation was that one of the Rogers was an impostor. But which one? If this man was an impostor, he was also probably the one who had been sending threatening messages to the real Roger. Or maybe Roger the First was the impostor and that's why he was terrified. He'd been found out. Yes, that seemed more likely. Or else, this man in front of him was the impostor and that was the reason Roger the First had left Arkansas in the first place . . .

There was only one thing to do. Talk to the original Roger. And before this new Roger found him.

Of course, Darby had the advantage because he knew where Roger was. It was pretty apparent that the colleague that Roger the Second had been trying to track down was Roger the First. But Darby had to get to him first. Which would mean sending Roger the Second on a wild-goose chase.

If they had been geologists instead of cell biologists, he could have told him that all the geologists were out somewhere in the middle of the badlands doing research. But it was highly improbable that a cell biologist would break away from his work to study rock formations.

He'd have to think of something else.

Brad!

Brad could keep Roger the Second busy while Darby warned Roger the First.

"Well, old man," he said, momentarily mimicking Brad. "Let me show you around the place."

"I'd appreciate it," said the man, looking surprised.

They stood up. Of course, the tricky part would be to convey to Brad in a few short seconds, through means of nonverbal communication, that Roger the Second had to be detained long enough for Roger the First to be warned. Absently, Darby added his cup to the tray rack and they headed out of the dining hall.

"I'm eager to see the laboratories," said Roger the Second.

I’ll bet you are, thought Darby. Especially the one with a certain Roger Stewart in it.

"We'll get to those," said Darby, as pleasantly as he could. "I'll show you the library first." Just to stall for time. It was hard to think. Then he regretted the suggestion. Apart from his lab, the only other place he had seen Roger the First was in the library. God forbid the man should choose now to check his email.

But the library was empty.

Darby was gratified that Roger the Second shared his disgust at the presence of creationist journals among the periodicals.

Apart from that, he seemed satisfied that the library was well-equipped, but he was obviously eager to move on to the laboratories.

"I'll take you to meet a friend of mine," said Darby. "Fascinating guy. From Oxford."

Roger the Second followed him down the hallway, glancing into every room they passed. The guy wasn't going to give up. But the million-dollar question was, what did he plan to do when he found Roger the First?

They arrived in front of Brad's door. Darby took a deep breath. It was at moments like this that he wished he could pray to a higher power for inspiration, but of course, that sort of thing was for the weak-minded. He could take care of this on his own.

He pushed open the door and found it . . . empty.

Great! This was even better.

"Hey, Roger," he said, turning to him. Roger was already looking around the place, almost sniffing it. Though clearly, from the posters on the wall, this lab belonged to a geologist, not a biologist. "Can you just hold on for a sec? This guy is really great and I want you to meet him."

Roger nodded and Darby hurried out, supposedly to seek out the geologist. If Brad came back and found a second Roger Stewart, cell biologist from Arkansas, he would just have to deal with it.

As soon as he had rounded the corner of the hallway, Darby started running. This would be a bit pell-mell but all that mattered was getting to Roger the First and telling him about the new arrival.

Roger the First just about dropped a test-tube when Darby came bursting in.

"Hey man!"” said Darby, a little out of breath. "There's a guy here, just showed up, calls himself Roger Stewart from Arkansas. Says he's a cell biologist . . ."

Roger the First stared at him. He didn't speak but he didn't have to. The look of horror was enough.

"Tall guy," continued Darby. "Absurdly handsome, if you notice such things. Dark suit. Kind of oily mannerisms . . ."

Roger the First didn't seem to be listening. He was looking around the lab, frantically, as if assessing what he could pack and run with in the next few seconds. Then he seemed to take control of himself. Darby even saw him shrug. And then there was a calm resignation.

"Kind of thought he might show up," he muttered. "Oh well." He picked up the test tube and returned to what he was doing.

"Uhh, I kind of got the impression he's looking for you," said Darby.

Roger nodded.

"Probably."

"Should I . . . ?" Funny, his plan hadn't extended beyond warning Roger the First. He'd sort of expected Roger to take over from there.

Roger nodded.

So whatever Darby did, Roger agreed.

Darby returned slowly to Brad's laboratory. It was still lacking Brad and Roger the Second looked irked at being left there.

"Uh, sorry," said Darby. "Couldn't find him."

"I'm not really interested in geology," said Roger the Second, standing up from a stool.

"Yeah, yeah, cell biology, I know," said Darby. "You know, when I first got here, one of the administration gals showed me around." He couldn't bring himself to say Leina's name in the presence of this snake. "Have you checked in yet, you know, had the full tour?"

Roger the Second smiled. Flawless white teeth. Nothing but perfection, yet they reminded Darby of crocodile teeth.

"Oh yes," he said with gleaming confidence.

And Darby knew it was a big, fat, burly, hairy mammoth of a lie.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Darby was exhausted from taking Roger the Second all around CREATIOP without taking him near Roger the First's laboratory. He had even taken him into the cell room and switched the right buttons for a tour of a simple cell.

Now they were in the dining hall for lunch. Darby could be pretty confident that Roger the First wouldn't show up. And he was enormously relieved when Brad did.

Brad joined them with a tray that had a plate of macaroni and cheese and a garden salad. He sat down beside Roger the Second who was only having a cup of coffee for lunch. Not that he couldn't have had a full meal. No one checked your identification when you went through the line. Darby himself was too nervous and too worn out to do anything more than pick at a turkey sandwich.

"Brad," said Darby. "I'd like you to meet Roger Stewart, cell biologist from Arkansas."

Since Roger the Second was beside him, he didn't see Brad's eyebrows go up. But he did see Darby's nod, for whatever that was worth.

"Just arrived today, eh?" said Darby, looking to Roger the Second for confirmation.

Roger the Second nodded with little enthusiasm.

"I tried to bring him around earlier to meet you," said Darby. "But you weren't in your lab."

Brad nodded, as he put a forkful of macaroni in his mouth and surreptitiously studied Roger the Second.

"Lars and I were playing around with some experiments in his lab. Accelerated fossilization."

Darby rolled his eyes.

"I know. He told me about his knife."

"So," said Brad turning to Roger the Second. "You are here to study cellular biology?"

Roger the Second nodded.

"That is my field, yes. Don't know about studying it here, though."

That was enigmatic.

"Origin of life an interest of yours, then?" asked Brad. His tone was cautious, probing.

"Always has been," said Roger the Second.

"What I can't understand," said Darby, making conversation, "is this whole place being devoted to the origin of life. I know I'm not a biologist but surely someone has a reasonable explanation . . . ?"

"Not really," said Roger the Second, curtly.

"Well, old man," said Brad. "I think we all wish it were a settled issue. But we don't have an explanation that satisfies everyone. Only possibilities."

"When you say everyone, do you mean the creationists? Because you are never going to satisfy those people . . ."

Roger the Second looked at him contemptuously.

"Even a child's book on evolution will tell you that we cannot be absolutely certain how life started."

Brad nodded.

"The Intelligent Design movement will go so far as to say that there is no mechanism for introducing information . . ."

Brad's contribution caused Roger the Second to snort with disgust. At last, Darby had an ally here. Why did he have to hate the man so much?

"Part of the problem," said Brad, not thrown off, "is that our fossil record simply doesn't go back far enough to give us some insight into the earliest life. The pattern is that volcanoes bring new material to the surface and push the older material to the bottom. We geologists can't provide the definitive answer."

"That's where the biologists and the chemists take over," said Roger the Second. "We're the ones who can provide a model to demonstrate how you can take simple chemicals and create the complexity we see now."

Roger the Second was looking at Darby as if he were a baby. In fact, his tone was decidedly patronizing. Darby fumed. It wasn't as if a science historian was required to know everything. Only to make sense of what he did know and to organize it in a way to make it accessible to others. What irked him was how everyone here at CREATIOP seemed to enjoy jerking the rug out from under him. Acting like it was a big secret, the origin of life. In his classes, nearly every professor had a pet theory about the origin of life. One of them had suggested that crystals played a large role in the earliest life. Charles Darwin had talked about a warm little pond to explain the beginning of life – ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, all of which could have caused a protein compound to form. And, if that wasn't good enough for you, there was the latest theory, that life had been seeded here from outer space.

"So what brings you here?" said Brad, still casually probing. "Word of mouth?"

"You could say that," said Roger the Second.

Darby and Brad exchanged glances. That didn't sound good.

"What's it like working in Arkansas?" asked Darby. "Do you get a lot of opposition from the Christian Right?"

Roger the Second looked at him as if he were one of the earlier stages in man's development.

"Why would we?"

"Oh, you know, Bible-believing, born-again . . . whatever they call themselves . . ."

"Despite what you might have heard, we do real science in Arkansas," said Roger the Second coldly.

Darby realized he had just insulted Arkansas. Still, he might as well push it.

"A lot of people believe in that six days of creation thing . . ."

"A lot of Christians believe in evolution," said Roger the Second.

"There's no place for religion in evolution," said Darby.

"I disagree," said Roger the Second. "People who have faith can sometimes transcend events that people who don't believe in a higher power are unable to survive. Therefore, it can be the people who believe in God who get to pass on their genes."

That was an alarming thought, but it actually made sense.

"I personally think religion is for the weak-minded," said Roger. "But I have to admit that I've seen some incredible things happen due to other people's faith in it. For example, I worked in a hospital earlier on in my career and on several occasions there were people who had cancer and then the cancer went away entirely on its own. Of course, they all praised Jesus and said he had healed them. But that's the power of the mind."

Brad nodded.

"I've seen the same thing myself," he said. "Fantastic as it is. I had a devout aunt who was in a car accident. Couldn't walk afterwards to save her life. Watched some fellow on the telly who told her that Jesus had come to save her not just from her sins, but from her physical ailments as well. Next thing we all knew, she was walking." Brad shook his head at the memory.

Darby realized, to his horror, that that could qualify as survival of the fittest.

"We, of course, are exempt from that advantage," Roger the Second, said looking around the room, scanning the lunch crowd. "So there's really only one thing we can do to increase our advantage."

Darby was staring at him and even Brad had paused in his eating.

"What’s that, old man?" asked Brad.

"Destroy their faith," said Roger the Second. "It's really that simple. They believe in a falsehood that gives them an evolutionary advantage. We need to destroy that falsehood."

"Well, I'm all for bringing people to the truth," said Darby, weakly. He hated Christianity as much as Roger the Second did, but somehow, Roger the Second made it seem kind of diabolical.

"Why should we be in favour of the truth?" said Brad, recovering sooner than Darby and turning back to his macaroni and cheese. "The idea of absolute truth is a religious one. If believing in a God makes people stronger, that's the way to go for the evolution of man."

Roger the Second shook his head.

"Religion leads people in the wrong direction. It suggests an upward ascent of the spirit. Evolution is an upward ascent of the natural . . ."

But before he could elaborate, they were joined by a fourth person.

Roger Stewart the First.

He had no tray of food and to Darby, he looked pale, almost haunted. He sat down beside Darby and across from Roger the Second.

"Hello, Roger," he said to the man across from him.

"Hello, Michael," said Roger the Second.

This was a cause for eyebrows to go up. Darby and Brad exchanged a look.

The two men, Michael formerly Roger and Roger the Second, stared at each other. Like earlier in the lab, the man now known as Michael didn't seem inclined to say anything. It was as if he had turned his life over to the forces of nature to handle.

Roger the Second, no doubt the real Roger Stewart, smiled, a cat looking at a mouse kind of smile.

"What exactly did you expect to accomplish?" he asked Michael.

"Research, real research," said Michael.

"I really don't care," said Roger, shrugging. "Take my name. It's not as if it means anything. Be a cell biologist without a university degree. Dabble around with life in a test-tube. You'll never accomplish anything."

Michael was looking down at his long freckled fingers.

No university degree? That was a hoot, thought Darby. Michael must have impersonated Roger in order to get a place at CREATIOP.

"I was going to come here and expose you for the fraud you are,” continued Roger. “But now when I look at you, I can't even be bothered."

Roger Stewart, cell biologist from Arkansas, got up and walked out of the dining hall.

The three men at the table were motionless as they watched him go.

Well, that was a bit anticlimactic, thought Darby.

When Roger Stewart had rounded a corner and was out of sight, Brad pushed away his half-eaten plate of food.

"Do you think he'll go talk to Leina?" Darby asked.

Michael shook his head.

"No, probably not. He'll go back to Arkansas and marry my sister." “I think you have a story to tell us, old man,” said Brad, putting his elbows up on the table and giving Michael his full attention.

Michael nodded.

"I'm not Roger Stewart," he said. "I was an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas. Roger Stewart was one of my professors. It's not an interesting story, really. He's very domineering and anyone who shows ability is taken into his inner circle. He liked the work I did, but hated the fact that I help out at the Salvation Army. To him, feeding the inferior is like an attack on evolution. It got me thinking about my future and wondering if I could do the work I wanted to somewhere else. With a bit of help from Google, I found the CREATIOP website, submitted one of my papers with Roger's name and here I am."

Brad laughed.

"Well, old man, if Roger doesn't give it away that you're not the real Roger Stewart, I won't either. Why should we discriminate here? If you can do the work, you should have a place here."

Darby nodded, but it wasn't going to be as easy for him as it was for Brad. Leina expected him to solve the mystery.

"What's this about your sister?" asked Brad.

Michael looked down at the table.

"Through me, Roger met my sister. She used to be the type of girl who went to church every Sunday. I mean, I didn't even do that. But now she's entirely with Roger on this idea that only fools believe in God . . . Oh, I don't know. It sounds silly. We all, that is, most of us here, wouldn't argue that evolution is the most reasonable explanation for how we got here. But somehow, everyone here seems to have kept their humanity and their basic decency. My sister changed when she met Roger. She used to be my best friend and now . . . well . . ." Michael shrugged.

It was a long speech for him and Darby doubted whether they'd get much more out of him than that.

Still, there was the problem of Leina.

"Listen," said Darby. "I'm in a jam. Don't be offended, or anything, but Leina was a bit worried about you. She got a letter from Roger."

Michael looked surprised.

"It didn't say you were a fraud, or anything," said Darby quickly. "Just that he was going to come and get you."

Michael nodded.

"But, she asked me to look into it and I need you to maybe, oh, I don't know, tell her the situation has resolved itself."

Michael nodded again.

"I can do that," he said. He stood up, but looked hesitantly at both men.

"Don't worry," said Brad. "Your secret's safe. Not a peep from us, old man."

"Thank you," said Michael simply, but it was enough. He hurried from the crowded dining hall, as if eager to be back in the peace and quiet of his lab.

"Well, old man," said Brad, shaking his head. "Not exactly Sherlock Holmes."

Darby agreed.

In fact, the whole thing had solved itself. There had never been any need for him. Once again, survival of the fittest had appraised him not fit to survive.

PART TWO ~ NATURAL SELECTION


Chapter Ten ~ The Case of the Badlands

Sweat was pouring down his face.

Darby pulled a bandana out of his pocket, took off his Indiana Jones-style hat and wiped his forehead. Who knew an Alberta summer could be so hot? It didn't help that there wasn't an air-conditioned building for miles.

But he had to admit, the work was interesting.

He had gotten himself on Jim's expedition to dig for dinosaur fossils. With CREATIOP full of scientists, the hierarchy at the dig-site was such that all palaeontologists and geologists were at the top and everyone else was just a grunt worker. But that put him in good company. Out here, even Lars was just a worker.

Anyone was welcome on these expeditions. A lot of the biologists were taking this time off as their vacation, enjoying the change of work and the chance to campout. Michael had stayed behind in his lab though. As always, he rarely ventured out. To everyone else, he was still Roger Stewart. When he was alone with Brad and Darby, his nickname was Mickey. The three men had formed a friendship and if Roger did come to the dining hall, he sat with Brad and Darby. Leina had shown an admirable ability to mind her own business. The genuine Roger Stewart had never come to her attention and when the fraudulent Roger Stewart, Mickey, had told her that it had been a personal matter that had caused the email to be sent to administration, she had nodded and said she understood. She had just been concerned that his work might suffer.

Privately, Mickey had confessed to Darby that his sister was the only one who had known where he was. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that she had passed the info on to Roger the Second.

And that had been the end of it.

Darby had been worried that he might be sent out as a waif, and a dead one at that, to make his own way in the world.

But Leina had officially invited him to stay at CREATIOP, saying that he was free to create his own job description, provided that in some way it related to the study of the origin of life. After the expedition, he was going to give it some serious thought. He'd decided to go at it in a completely different way. Maybe read some of those crazy creationist books advertised in their magazines. See what their best arguments were. It went without saying that there would be no scientific credibility to what they said. Mostly, he was just curious.

At this point, he was thinking of some sort of comprehensive study of what everyone had ever said regarding the origin of life. It would even include myths about the earth riding on the back of a turtle.

One thing he wanted to explore was how many religions were somewhat vague about how their god or gods had created things, thus opening the door for a synthesization of their faith and the theory of evolution. Mickey had suggested it to him. Many Hindus, for example, said their revealed writings were in perfect sync with the idea of a Big Bang and an expanding universe. Even many Christians insisted that the Genesis account was compatible with evolution. That was something he wanted to study further.

Being a geologist, Brad was one of the scientists at the dig-site with an exalted position. He had a couple of people under him and was working a short distance away, but still within sight of the main group. Darby had sat with him at a meal but the talk had all been rocks, extremely technical, and well beyond the Principles of Geology that he had studied for a greater understanding of Darwin.

Jim had irked him the first night, while sitting around the camp-fire, with a comment on how the fossil records that had been discovered since Darwin didn't support Darwin's predictions.

"Had Darwin been around today, he wouldn't have been a Darwinian evolutionist."

Everyone had laughed at that. But maybe it was just to be polite. After all, Jim was the big cheese on this expedition.

Mary-Jane was Jim's right-hand man and Darby had to admit that they were both professionals when it came to running a dig and there was no gender division of the labour. Mary-Jane was surveying and measuring and dusting off dinosaur bones. The cooking was done on a rotational basis, in most cases, a simple case of opening a can and heating or rehydrating some macaroni and cheese.

On their third day out, one of the workers found something.

Jim and Mary-Jane examined the find and declared it to be eggshells. Further careful excavation revealed that the dinosaur eggs were whole, not fragments. Jim and Mary-Jane were ecstatic.

The area was known to be a dinosaur-nesting area and in the past, there had been some eggs found with embryos inside. It was a dream come true for Jim and Mary-Jane.

At first, Darby shared the general enthusiasm. Everyone knew they were now part of something significant and the mood in the camp was upbeat.

But then, Jim and Mary-Jane decided to use the whole thing as some sort of crazy confirmation of Noah's flood. They insisted, to anyone who was stupid enough to listen, that only a catastrophic flood event could have buried these eggs so quickly. In the natural course of events, the eggs would have been hatched or been scavenged. The astounding thing was that some people actually listened to them.

Jim and Mary-Jane had a whole scenario worked out where the mother dinosaur had fled the nest when the flood waters came, leaving the nest to be quickly buried by flood sediment, thus preserving it intact.

That was Darby's limit. He asked to be transferred to Brad's small group.

Brad chuckled at his arrival.

"Not as exciting over here, old man," he said.

"I don't care," he said. "Just don't talk to me about global flood events."

"Don't get angry with me, but I'm starting to buy into the catastrophic model myself." Brad surveyed the landscape of rock formations. "There's good reason to think that some of this was formed in some kind of a catastrophic event. I promise you though, I won't go any further than that with it."

Brad gave him a little talk on hoodoos, sedimentary rocks common in the area, noted for their sandstone pillars and capstones. The geologists on this expedition were concentrating on the hoodoos as they were easily broken and subject to rapid decay should they lose their distinctive caps.

"Are you good with a camera, old man?" Brad asked.

Darby nodded. He'd always loved photography and it was his dream to follow Darwin's Beagle voyage and photograph all the significant stops on the trip.

Brad pointed to a series of rock formations, about a mile away. He handed Darby a camera and a bottle of water.

"Try to be back by dark," he said.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Darby slowly circled the rocks. These ones were layers of alternating shades of grey. He wasn't sure whether to photograph every layer, or just go for shots of the whole thing. He glanced down at his digital camera. It had 347 photos left on it. He could go crazy. He started snapping shots.

When he was satisfied that he had thoroughly recorded the rock formations, he started heading back. He could see the spot where Brad and the others were wrapping up for the day. He picked up his pace. The sun was going down and he didn't want to be caught in unfamiliar territory after dark. There was no path to follow. He was just walking as the crow flies and he was pretty sure his return route wasn't the same as the one he had taken to get there.

He almost tripped. Stupid shoelace.

He looked down. But his shoelaces were fine.

For one moment, he couldn't believe his eyes. It was a shoe. And the shoe was still on a foot. Even in the dimness, he could take in the full horror of the sight.

He was beside a large hoodoo. The foot was sticking out. But the rest of the body was on the other side of the hoodoo. It was in a state of decay, but enough to still make out some of the features. Dark hair. White. Male. Darby almost dropped the camera in his revulsion.

From what he could tell, there had been some birds of prey feasting on the exposed portions. Darby doubted anyone would actually be able to identify the man based on the fleshly remains.

But he knew for certain who he was looking down at.

Black shoes, formerly shiny, now dusty. Dark suit. White shirt and tie.

Roger the Second, cell biologist from Arkansas.

Chapter Eleven ~ The Case of the Goddess Among the Hoodoos

He almost turned and ran. But before he did, he snapped a few of his remaining photos, for what it was worth.

He and Brad had a hushed conversation after dinner in their two-man tent.

It had taken everything in Darby not to rush back to the camp screaming. But what could he say? That the man they knew as Roger Stewart was really a fraud and that the real one was dead somewhere out there on the badlands? At least he could talk to Brad. But it was maddening to have to wait, to eat his dinner of chili and crackers with everyone else and then to endure the after-dinner beer around the fire. He was so agitated that he didn't even care that the topic around the fire was does God love atheists?

When he had told Brad about the corpse, the eyebrows had shot up but like Darby, he didn't want to announce anything until they had time to think it all through.

"Don't know what we can do . . ." said Brad, deep in thought. "In theory, we never even knew the man. I'd hate to trigger off an investigation that gets Mickey into trouble."

"But Mickey probably murdered the man!" said Darby.

Brad shrugged.

"So?"

"So?" Darby couldn't believe his ears. "It's called murder!"

"Murder is for moralists," said Brad. "Maybe we should just call it survival of the fittest and let it go. Roger of Arkansas will not be breeding with Roger of CREATIOP's sister. Oh well."

Darby nodded slowly.

That's probably what it was. Mickey flipped at the thought of his sister being with that slime. Not to mention, Roger of Arkansas's death would increase the likelihood that Roger of CREATIOP's true identity would never come out.

"Still, it's murder," Darby concluded.

Brad seemed unconcerned.

"It's not the kind of murder that need worry us. Our Mickey is not a homicidal maniac. He used his judgement and decided that this was the best course of action. Who am I to question it?"

It was a startling conclusion and yet Darby couldn't fault it. As long as his own life wasn't in danger, why should he initiate an investigation of the death of some guy he didn't even like? Especially since it would ruin the career of a man who was slowly becoming his friend.

"Nonetheless," said Brad. "It was a bit foolish of Mickey to dump the body near the location of our summer expedition . . ." Brad shook his head at this carelessness.

The whole thing was unsettling, but Darby decided Brad was right. Labelling it murder was a result of the lingering Christian influence he had grown up with. The death of Roger from Arkansas made little difference to him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The dinosaur eggs had generated enough excitement at CREATIOP that Leina had come out to take a look. Darby temporarily regretted his decision to transfer to Brad's team. They were out measuring hoodoos the whole time that Leina visited. By the time they returned to camp, she was gone.

Brad was unsympathetic.

"You are lacking in initiative," he said. "The woman was here. You could have easily gone over and engaged her attention."

"What do you mean?"

It was after dinner and they were sitting at a picnic table. Darby was drinking hot chocolate and Brad had a tea. The rest of the people were singing songs around the campfire. But the eating area and the campfire were close enough that they could still hear it all. Thankfully, Brad didn't mind giving it a miss.

"If I had a hammer," everyone was singing. "I'd hammer in the mooorning! I'd hammer in the eeevening! All over this laaaannd!"

Puh-lease. What was it about campfires that made people not mind singing goofy songs? Probably the beer.

"Well, old man," said Brad. "Here you were out among the hoodoos. And you had the goddess. It had all the ingredients for a fantasy novel and all you did was stare from afar."

Darby nodded. The shame of it.

He had used the zoom lens to snap a few photos of her, and then had quickly deleted them. It was Brad's camera. What was he going to do? Ask for copies and then hide them under his mattress? What a loser.

"I know," he said. "Survival of the fittest. The fittest man needs to move in, eh?"

Brad smiled.

"More like natural selection," he said. "You see, right now, you are in a relatively favourable position."

"How so?"

"You're young. You're attractive. You have the advantage of most of us here."

That was a pleasing thought.

"Dem bones gonna rise again!" everyone was singing.

The palaeontologists must be getting a kick out of that one.

Darby continued to think about what Brad had said. There were other young scientists. But they were like Mickey. Totally into their work. The attractive bit surprised him. OK, he wasn't balding and he wasn't fat. And that put him ahead of a lot of the older men here. Brad had put a new spin on it for him. Maybe he was the best adapted for this particular environment when it came to reproductive opportunities.

"Waltzing Matilda! Waltzing Matilda! You’ll come a-waltzing matilda with me . . ."

None of them around that fire were even Australian.

Waltzing Mathilda was followed by a rousing rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In. Did any of the scientists really expect the saints to go marching in anywhere? And how could any of them stand to sing that they wanted to be in that number?

Brad sipped his tea, and rubbed his chest.

"Dinner didn't agree with me, I'm afraid."

"Well, it wasn't much to write home about," said Darby leaning back. Over at the campfire they had moved on to I's the B'y.

"I’s the b’y that builds the boat and I’s the b’y who sails her! I’s the b’y that catches the fish and brings them home to Lizer!"

He almost started to join in. That one he had learned at school.

Oh Susannah.

"I should have brought my own food," said Brad.

Darby nodded. He was wishing he had a stash of granola bars. Live and learn. He hummed along with Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor.

I'd like to Teach the World to Sing. It was hard to believe that people with PhDs would sit around singing something like this.

After his tea, Brad excused himself to go to bed. Darby nodded and said goodnight.

John Jacob Jingle Hymer Schmidt.

Farewell to Nova Scotia.

Being alone gave him some time to think.

As soon as the dig ended, he would go back and make his move. Everything was going for him. Most of the scientists at CREATIOP were good guys, but they weren't Hollywood material. Around the fire, they finished off with The Maple Leaf Forever.

"God Save our Queen and heaven bless, the maple leaf forever," hummed Darby, as he returned to the tent he shared with Brad.

"Do you mind keeping it down, old man? I'm trying to sleep. I feel lousy."

Darby hastily apologized.

"That meal would have given anyone heartburn," said Darby, trying to be reassuring. In fact, it had been stew and it hadn't been bad. Maybe a little spicy though. That was probably what was bothering Brad. Those Brits didn't like anything more adventurous than salt and pepper. Even as he thought it, he knew it wasn't true. He had seen enough English television to know that Indian takeaway in England was as common as Chinese takeout in Canada.

"You're young. You wouldn't understand," mumbled Brad. "When you get old, you get a mild pain and you feel like you're about to meet your Maker."

If Brad wasn't good company tonight, at least Darby had his plans to concentrate on. Brad was right. The landscape around here was fantastic for romance. He'd have to persuade Leina to take a hike with him past some of the more particularly interesting hoodoos.

Brad would have to help him out a bit there, though. Darby glanced at his sleeping tent-mate. He looked pale right now, but when he was back on his feet, he would ask him some questions. Get enough facts to dazzle Leina a bit.

Trying to be quiet, Darby stripped down and got into his sleeping bag. It was crazy how older people were susceptible to religious thinking. Brad had talked about meeting his maker. Why couldn't he just say “die”?

It was wishful thinking, that's all. Though why anyone would want to meet God, Darby didn't know. Common sense would tell you that it probably wouldn't be a happy meeting. Isn't that why Christians were always trying to get you to accept Jesus as your saviour?

He turned his mind back to Leina. Drifting off to sleep, he hoped she would be what he dreamed of that night. But as dreams usually go, he spent the night thinking of all the things he didn't want to. Feet wearing black shoes sticking out from behind hoodoos. Brad stretched out in a coffin, holding a cup of tea. A shadowy Maker heaping judgement on Darby for all the sins he had lost track of.

He was only too glad to wake up.

But as it turned out, waking up didn't bring relief from death.

Chapter Twelve ~ The Case of Ten Little Indians

It was a bad case of the expendable crewman.

A man that Darby had never paid any attention to woke up dead. No, that wasn't right. He didn't wake up at all.

To Darby, it was a crazy extension of his crazy dreams.

At first, it got blamed on the stew. Just the first speculative diagnosis, ruled out within nanoseconds by the fact that everyone else was OK. Even Brad was over his spell of heartburn.

There were no signs of foul play.

God knew there were enough offensive weapons on an archaeological dig – a variety of trowels, some of them quite sharp; shovels; bowie knives; some hefty tripods; even plastic wrap which could be used to suffocate someone.

The man was only in his mid-forties, slim and in good health. But when the police arrived and the body was examined, the immediate assessment was heart attack. An autopsy would have to be performed, but for the time being, natural causes were presumed. Therefore, nobody was a suspect and life could go on at the dig-site.

Jim and Mary-Jane insisted on having a memorial service for the man, who was a lapsed Anglican. Some scriptures were read by Mary-Jane. Another scientist gave a short tribute to the dead man, praising his achievements. Jim did a long prayer thanking God for His sustaining hand in all of His creation and a whole bunch of other stuff that Darby thought would probably irk the dead man if he knew. Then they finished off with a hymn, Abide With Me. Those who didn't know the words were silent, but there were enough people there who were familiar with it that they could make a success of it.

That night, Brad commented on the irony of a police investigation for a man who died of natural causes when there was a homicide within an arrow's shot of them.

"You know . . . what if Roger the Second was a natural death too?" said Darby. "We might have jumped to conclusions there. Maybe it wasn't a homicide."

Brad nodded.

"Good point. The man wasn't familiar with this area and he was angry. He could have been out here wandering around, lost, and maybe had his own heart attack."

"Exactly," agreed Darby. He didn't know why the thought reassured him. What difference did it make to him if the guy was a murder victim or a heart attack victim?

"All the more reason not to say anything," said Brad, sipping his tea. The rest of the group was around the fire. Darby and Brad were back at the picnic area where Brad had been preparing himself a mug of his favourite beverage.

Darby nodded. The first thing that would come out in an investigation was the man's identity. Someone at CREATIOP would read it in the paper, thus putting an end to Mickey's career.

Brad was carefully steering his team away from Roger the Second's corpse. First though, he had gone out to take a quick peek with Darby. Darby had had a hard time locating it again. To his untrained eye, many of the hoodoos looked the same. But eventually, he had found it. Brad did something that Darby would have never been able to do. He went through the pockets and removed the only thing he found, a wallet. Thumbing through it confirmed that the corpse was Roger Stewart.

"Well, I think that strengthens our theory that this was a natural death," said Brad, as the two men walked away. "A killer with half his brains would know to remove the man's wallet before leaving him to rot. In fact, the really intelligent thing would be to leave the man naked to further reduce ease of identification once the body had decomposed."

"You're my hero," said Darby, as they headed back to join their group.

Brad smiled.

"You mean, because I could murder a man with ease and then do everything I could to cover my steps?"

Darby had meant because he had been willing to go through the decomposing man's pockets.

But Brad's answer startled him.

"Uh, yeah," he said. "I always had you pegged more for the Sherlock Holmes type."

"I'm sure if Sherlock Holmes had turned to murder, he would have been brilliant. In the end, that's all that really matters, isn't it? Brilliance."

Darby had to agree.

"It's motive, though," said Brad. "Rarely does a person murder without motive. I've never had the reason to. But we suspected Mickey did it because he had a motive."

"Good point."

"The second thing is opportunity," said Brad. "Take Wally, for example."

The man who had died in his sleep was Waldmann.

"He's going through a nasty divorce right now and I'm sure his ex-wife would cheerfully murder him. But she had no opportunity out here in the middle of nowhere."

Darby laughed.

"If it were a seriously creepy movie, she'd be disguised as one of us. Mary-Jane, for example."

He expected Brad to laugh, but instead he said, "If it were a seriously creepy movie, as you put it, another one of us would be dead tomorrow."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Darby was nearly hysterical.

"Holy cow, man? Was it you? Was it you?" He didn't say the words, but they almost burst out of him.

But Brad looked pale and shocked.

Another expendable crewman was dead. Although, Darby had to admit, everyone on this dig was an expendable crewman to him. Except for Brad, Jim and Mary-Jane, he had never talked to any of these people until this dig and even then, he hadn't done more than exchange a few polite remarks around the nightly fire.

Although most of the scientists were soberly discussing this new tragedy, Brad was sitting still and silent. Jim had just solemnly announced the news. Herberts, one of the men working under Brad, was dead. Again, no signs of violence. Just didn't wake up in the morning. The camp was unsettled. One of the women started babbling about bad air and toxic fumes. God knows where she thought they were coming from. Darby had never breathed so much fresh air in his life than out here.

There was uneasiness in the camp. Nobody had suggested anything sinister, but there was a feeling that maybe this expedition was cursed in some way.

Now Brad had his face in his hands.

He was crying. Darby felt rotten. In his terror, he had almost accused the man of murder.

Unlike the rest of the camp, he and Brad had already been exposed to the idea that a murder had taken place out here in the badlands.

Brad got up and went to his tent without saying anything. Darby stared at Brad's mug of tea, now going cold. Herberts was a middle-aged man, a fellow geologist. It was no wonder Brad was upset.

This time the police investigation was more thorough. Everyone was questioned. Alibis were established. Everybody said they were sleeping and their alibi was their tent-mate, who was also sleeping, so it wasn't an airtight defence for any of them. But Herberts' tent-mate had pointed out that he would have noticed if anyone had come into the tent and murdered the man beside him. Naturally, that had focused the investigation on him as being the man who could most likely pull it off, but it was a half-hearted investigation since there appeared to be no motive.

Just the hint that there might have been foul play was enough to set everyone's nerves on edge.

Brad spent the first day after Herberts' death in his tent. Then he decided to return to CREATIOP.

That left only Darby and two other men on the geology team. Since both of them were actually geneticists, not geologists, this brought the whole hoodoo study to an end. They were reassigned to Mary-Jane's team.

Under Jim, the dinosaur nest excavation carried on and had even attracted some distinguished visitors from Edmonton.

Mary-Jane's team was working on some dinosaur footprints that Mary-Jane insisted was a flight path. Unfortunately, even the distinguished visitors agreed that based on the indentation, the creature seemed to be running. Naturally, Jim and Mary-Jane heralded this as another affirmation of the Noah story, as if the only thing a dinosaur would run from was a worldwide catastrophic flood.

But at night they all talked about the two deaths. They didn't know about the third one, and Darby had a sense of loneliness with Brad gone. It was just as well for Jim and Mary-Jane though. If the scientists had known there was a third body nearby, they would have probably all packed their bags and gone back to CREATIOP.

Geothermal brine, was one of the scientist's theories. If it made it to the surface, it could produce toxic fumes.

Only problem with that theory was that there wasn't any kind of drilling within a fifty kilometre radius so it was unlikely that toxic fumes had caused the deaths. A natural vent couldn't be ruled out though. Unfortunately, none of them were toxicologists.

"Herberts had diabetes," said one man. Around the fire, everyone talked in gloomy darkness.

"And Wally was stressed to the max. His wife wanted full custody and he was looking at never seeing his kids again."

There were murmurs of agreement.

"It's the heat," someone else suggested. "We're in a temperature-controlled environment all the time. Then we come out here and work and sweat all day. Wally and Herberts couldn't take it."

"Does anyone actually use the weight room?" one man asked.

"We have a weight room?"

There was general laughter, followed by agreement that a regular workout would increase one's chances of living a long life.

Darby kept bracing himself for another death. He had the unshakeable conviction that he was in a murder mystery, something akin to Ten Little Indians where people kept dying off until there was just one. Of course, he would be the one. Then he would be all alone on the badlands, surrounded by corpses and a clever killer . . .

But much to everyone's relief, each new day did not bring an announcement of death.

The work continued in the hot sun. The fossilized eggs were taken back to CREATIOP to be studied. No doubt, Darby would be reading Jim's article about them in one of the creation journals. The man had taken enough photos that at least it would be well-illustrated, but Darby would sue if he were in any of them.

After two weeks, most of the people decided to return to CREATIOP. That was the extent of their vacation. Jim and Mary-Jane and a couple of other palaeontologists would be staying on, but Darby decided to head back too.

He had to sort out his future.

Plus, he didn't want to end up dead.

He returned to CREATIOP to find Brad, not exactly back to normal, but at least willing to talk. Darby mentioned the idea that he didn't want to stay out in the badlands and end up dying.

"We all die, old man," said Brad.

"Yeah, well, just not too soon, eh?"

"You're not talking like a scientist," said Brad. They were in his laboratory. He was moving around listlessly, rearranging some rock samples. "Why can we accept natural selection with Darwin's finches and then we want to be the exception to the rule when it happens to us? We can't leave natural selection just to the plants and animals."

Darby wanted to say that he didn't consider it natural selection when some guy died in his sleep, but then it occurred to him that natural selection could only take place with a lot of death. The beetles without wings survived on windy islands because they didn't get blown out to sea, the rest had died out.

He was momentarily overwhelmed by the futility of it all.

"I don't even know why we bother to study the origin of life,” he said. “What do we care how it all started since it's all just going to end?"

"It's because we talk one philosophy and live another,” said Brad. “We say we're Darwinian naturalists and we live as if we're God's creation."

Darby didn't want to acknowledge it.

"It seems like importance, self-importance, is a built-in mechanism for survival . . ."

Brad shook his head.

"It's like that Roger chap said. It gives an advantage to those who believe it. But the only people who believe it are the ones who think they have God on their side."

"I don't know how you can say that."

"Simple, old man. We see death all around us. We see its place in our philosophy. The weak die out to make way for the strong. The strong reproduce and the only immortality is in being able to pass on your genes."

In which case, he'd been an abysmal failure.

"We can see death all around us," continued Brad. "But we cannot accept it for ourselves. We don't want it to happen to us. We revolt against it and struggle when it comes. And, yet, why shouldn't we passively accept it?"

"Because, that would make us weak and it's the strong who survive . . ."

"But they don't, really, do they? In the end, we all die. And that's the fatal flaw." Brad didn't seem to realize his morbid pun.

"So what should we do?" demanded Darby. "Pray to Jesus and ask for eternal life?"

Brad shrugged.

"You and I never will, of course. But it seems to be what our soul craves. A sense of something beyond this . . ."

Darby shook his head. Brad sure was taking the death of Herberts hard. Perhaps the man's death had felt like a portending of his own.

"What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?" said Brad, out of the blue.

This conversation was turning both absurd and disturbing. Darby decided to get it back on solid ground.

"A soul is not something you can measure," said Darby. "That's just Christian talk for . . ." He went blank.

"I can't measure my thoughts," said Brad. "Only my brain. But I know I have them."

"Have you talked to Mickey?" Darby asked. "He might like to know Roger is dead. In case he doesn't already," he added.

Brad was absently returning some books to his shelves.

"I thought I'd just let sleeping dogs lie." He picked up his camera from one of the shelves. “By the way, those photos you took were ghastly.”

For a moment, Darby thought he was talking about his two hundred shots of the hoodoos. Then he remembered the snaps of the corpse.

"Yeah, well, I lost my head. Thought it might be helpful." Yeah right. He wouldn't even touch the corpse. And Leina had called him in as an investigator! The less she knew about his abilities, the better.

Brad shrugged.

"I deleted them. The last thing we want is photographic evidence that we were aware of the body."

"Good point," said Darby. "I'm going to have a talk with Mickey. I can't be friends with a man that I suspect of murder."

"Why not?" said Brad. "What makes murder any worse than lying or stealing? I've done both in my life. Do you want to stop being friends with me?"

Darby smiled.

"Did you get a Minor in Logic at Oxford?"

"I'm glad you recognize it as such," said Brad. "Sometimes you seem to be lacking in it. I'm a Romantic, at heart, but you're an Absurdist."

Darby laughed.

"It's true," he agreed.

"Well, if you insist on having a chat with Mickey, give him this," said Brad, opening a drawer and handing Darby the wallet from the corpse. "I don’t want it to be found and to be accused of murder. I may not be morally against murder, but I have no desire to do time for a philosophical stand."

Chapter Thirteen ~ The Case of the Disappearing Scientist

Mickey was bewildered.

Darby was left with no doubt that he had had nothing to do with Roger's death.

On one hand, the news was troubling to Mickey. On the other hand, he quickly recognized how beneficial the situation was for him. Particularly, if the body was never found.

"I have to wonder if Roger's death was linked to the other two deaths," said Darby, making himself comfortable at Mickey's desk.

Mickey nodded.

"Logically, you would think so. But what's the connection? I can understand the theory of toxic fumes. Even if there's no drilling going on in the region, you can't rule out a natural vent."

"Odourless though," said Darby. "I was there and I didn't smell anything. And whatever it was, it didn't affect all of us."

"Who's still there?" said Mickey. He was leaning against one of his counters and there was concern in his eyes.

Darby shrugged.

"Jim, Mary-Jane, two more guys. I didn't catch their names."

"I hope they're OK."

"We'll find out soon enough if they aren't."

"You're heartless," said Mickey, reaching into a drawer and pulling out a box of granola bars. He tossed an Almond & Cranberry bar to Darby and opened up one for himself.

Darby grinned. Mickey was a good guy. He didn't buy into most of the Christian teachings, but he stubbornly insisted on working in that soup kitchen every Saturday night.

"OK, OK," he said. "They drive me batty, that's all."

"Leina seems to like them," said Mickey. His tone was serious but his eyes leaked amusement and his lips curled in to keep from laughing.

"That's because Leina likes everyone," said Darby. "She probably just thinks they're cute, with their little fairy tales. Honestly, those two never made it out of the nursery. They still believe all those silly stories that were read to them when they were kids."

Mickey laughed.

"You need to broaden your outlook if you're going to be a decent science historian. Do you realize there are still a lot of North Americans who are, at the very least, sentimental about those stories? I doubt they really believe them, but they have a soft spot for them."

"OK," said Darby. "I get it. Tone it down a bit. But tomorrow I'm going to start on debunking it all."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After randomly flipping through a creation magazine, Darby decided to go at it more systematically. This particular magazine had an extensive website, all laid-out by topic. He was now online, reading all the archived articles about fossils. Being out on the dig had stimulated an interest.

He hoped Mary-Jane and Jim never found this site. It was an arsenal of ammunition against evolution . . . for the simple-minded. It was going to take a bit of research to debunk their arguments.

He clicked a link and ended up on a resources page. To his horror, there were pages and pages of DVDs, all promoting this outrageous worldview. There was even a DVD about the feasibility of the Noah's Ark story and another one about the geological ramifications of a global flood.

So Mary-Jane and Jim already knew about this site! It increased his determination to fight it every step of the way.

He would start with creationist palaeontology and take it from there.

After two hours of reading about examples of rapid fossilization (God forbid that Mary-Jane or Jim should ever get a hold of Lars!) his head was spinning. Brad didn't come to lunch. The man seemed to be off food. He had come out for dinner last night but all he'd had was a cup of tea.

So Darby was forced to sit with some of the men he had met on the dig. It was one of his long-standing grievances that Leina only rarely came to the dining hall for a meal. A lot of times, she came with her own plastic container, filled it up and just left.

But he had a lot on his mind he wanted to share with her. After lunch, he decided to use Brad as an excuse to see her in her office.

Settled down in the chair across from her, with a china cup of tea on his leg, Darby said he was worried about Brad. The death at the site had really affected him.

Leina nodded sympathetically.

"I'm no physician, but I think he's losing weight. All he had last night was a cup of tea." Darby took a sip of his own drink. He wasn't a man who normally drank tea, but this stuff was OK.

"Actually, the weight loss may just be a physical reaction," said Leina, slowly.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

Leina was just watching him.

"I think I can trust you," she said, after an unnerving moment.

"Sure you can," he said.

"Brad's body is fighting a poison I injected into it."

"What?" He almost knocked the cup off of his leg.

Leina nodded.

"It was introduced to all members of the dig you were on. Tell me, Darby, have you been experiencing any unusual symptoms?"

"Unusual symptoms?" His mind was racing. "But how . . . and why . . . ?"

"In the water," she said, patiently. "Have you felt anything at all, anything out of the ordinary?"

What he was feeling right now was out of the ordinary.

"No," he said. "Nothing. Why? What should I be feeling?"

"Different people would react different ways."

"Are you saying . . .?" A horrible thought occurred to him. "Are you saying that what was in the water could have . . . killed someone?"

She nodded.

"In this case, it did."

"But why, Leina? Why would you do this . . .?"

He leaned forward and put his tea cup on her desk.

She watched him.

"I've read your papers," she said. "You're more committed to Darwinian evolution that anyone else here."

He nodded, dazed.

"You're lacking understanding, in many ways, but I don't question your commitment to the model. That's why I know I can trust you."

Another dazed nod. He was lacking understanding? Before he had time to think that one through, Leina was talking again.

"One thing has always bothered me about the current model of evolution. It depends on beneficial mutations to add new information to the gene pool. Yet, every observable mutation has been a loss of information. For example, we say that an insect develops resistance to a pesticide. But the insects didn't adapt to pesticides. The pesticide targets the average insect but in simple terms, it's just the insects that are lacking what is being targeted that survive to reproduce. The result is that a few generations later, the insects appear to have developed a resistance to the pesticide."

"But like, shouldn't you be doing these experiments on fruit flies . . .?"

"I'm past that point," said Leina, almost impatiently. "I'm passed the rabbit stage. The fundamental problem is that we always get back to that missing information. How does information appear in the first place? I've seen loss of information but I've never seen a gain in information, only variations of what's already there."

"But common sense would tell you there are beneficial mutations," said Darby.

"I agree," said Leina. "Some of the mutations are beneficial, even though they're a loss of information. But so far, that's the only kind of change we've seen. I want to actually see an increase in information. That's what I'm working on. If I can create a mutation that actually increases the amount of information in the DNA, I will have demonstrated that random mutations are the mechanism by which new traits appear."

He tried to ignore the rising panic in him. It was just a case of fearing what he didn't understand.

"Well, that's good," he said, encouragingly. "Very good. We definitely want an answer to this very important question."

"I'm working with some volatile chemical compounds that may provide an answer. In simple terms, I need to see a genuine adaptation to a poison. Not a case of someone who is resistant because he doesn't have the component that is targeted, or due to genetic damage, is missing some vital information. For example, you can have a cell wall that is thicker than the others, not because it's new information, but because it's missing the component that tells it to stop thickening. That cell would resist a poison because the poison wouldn't be able to get through. That's just an elementary example."

But beyond that, Leina wouldn't give him the details of her work. Obviously, until she succeeded and published the results, she was not going to divulge too much. But she gave him a detailed explanation of the DNA sequence, along with some hints on how it related to her work. Darby had a better understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid than the average layman, but Leina's discussion went well beyond his basic grasp of the subject.

Beautiful and brilliant, he thought. And completely indifferent to human life.

She concluded her talk. She looked at him, not for a reaction or even for some feedback, but more as a teacher checking to make sure the pupil was still attentive.

"Well, that sounds . . ." said Darby. The appropriate word failed him. "The thing is, do people have to die in order to . . . ?"

"Oh, I'm not interested in the dead," Leina assured him. "It's the living I'm interested in. In fact, now that you're more familiar with what I'm doing, you'll be able to help me. I'll need a sample from you to study your DNA. Mahmud will take care of that. You'll just have to go to the infirmary."

"Mahmud helps you?"

"I couldn't do it without him," she said, absently, going through a drawer for something.

This partnership-in-death disturbed him. Even more disturbing was that it sounded like Darby was more to be Leina's guinea pig than her academic partner.

"Umm, have you ever thought about just focusing on one group of people," he said. "Christians, maybe?"

Leina laughed as she shut the drawer.

"I am. Mary-Jane and Jim are continuing to drink the treated water. They're proving to be remarkably resistant. Honestly, I have to believe in the power of prayer. They both pray over everything before they eat. I even heard Mary-Jane once ask that all poisons be removed from what she was about to eat." Leina's laughter was light and musical.

Darby just stared. It was so much like Roger the Second with his theory that Christians had an unnatural advantage with their faith. And here, he'd been worried about the snake getting anywhere near Leina. Roger the Second would have been more like the mouse walking into the snake's lair. Nothing more to her than the rabbits lined up in cages in a laboratory.

If Mickey didn't kill Roger, was it possible Leina had something to do with it?

"Uh, Leina," he said. "There was this guy wandering around CREATIOP a few months ago. Tall, dark hair, dark suit."

Leina nodded.

"I remember him," she said. "He came into my office asking a lot of questions about CREATIOP. I don't know how he managed get past security and how he had come to hear about us. I thanked him for his interest and then he left."

So Roger the Second had kept his word. He didn't give it away that the Roger Stewart at CREATIOP was really Michael the undergraduate.

"Is it possible he drank any of this chemical compound?" asked Darby.

"Absolutely," said Leina, nodding. "I put it in the samovar and as I recall, he had a cup of tea while he was here."

Darby looked at the half-drunk cup sitting on Leina's desk.

"You seem to be quite immune to it," said Leina, following his eyes. "Maybe you're the next link in the upward climb, eh?"

He smiled weakly.

"Now, I want you to go straight to Mahmud. I need a sample from you, Darby."

He stood up, dazed.

He had made it to the door, when Leina called out, "By the way, why were you asking about that man?"

He had to think quickly. Should he tell her about the body in the badlands? Did she know the man had had the tea and then somehow ended up collapsing by a hoodoo?

"Oh nothing," he said. "He's someone I've been meaning to ask you about. He seemed like a really interesting guy and I just wanted to know if he'd be working here."

Leina nodded, satisfied, as her eyes returned to the papers on her desk. She was already flipping through a sheaf of papers when she said, "Probably not. He didn't seem the sort we're looking for."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

For once, Brad's imperturbable calm failed him.

"That bitch!" They were the only words he could manage.

He confessed to Darby that he'd been having intense chest pains since the dig. Herberts death had shaken him up, but his real reason for returning to CREATIOP was his own physical distress.

"I came back here and I just spent the time in bed. And then after a while, I started to feel better."

He shook his head.

"Then I went to her with some of Herberts papers that were in my lab. While I was there, I had one of her poisonous cups of tea. And the chest pains started up again. Thank God, I think it's passing."

"What kind of woman could calmly murder three men?" said Darby.

"She's consistent, old man," said Brad. "She's a Darwinian evolutionist, through and through. There's no flaw in her. No weakness. No wavering. She accepts that we're the product of random mutations and goes with it. You're still holding on to the old Judeo-Christian tradition that man is the pinnacle of God's creation."

"They upside is that I think she likes me," said Darby. He was trying to ignore the fact that he could have been one of the victims of her treated water. "She wouldn't trust me otherwise. Isn't that something? I finally get the woman I love and I find out that she's a serial killer."

Brad shook his head.

"That's not why she trusts you, old man," he said.

"What's she going to do?" he asked, grinning. "Poison me? I'm obviously immune to her little chemical concoction . . ."

"It's not a joking matter, Darby, my boy. She'll use you while you're useful. When she doesn't need you anymore, she and Mahmud will find some other way to get rid of you. You're dead already. No one will even investigate it. She can tell everyone you left. Meanwhile, you're buried in the courtyard.”"

Darby could feel the bile rising in his throat.

It was so true.

But without Brad pointing out this obvious fact, he would have missed it. The irony was, his first instincts had been correct. His fear of finding himself in this bizarre place and his fear of being murdered . . . He just never dreamed it would be Leina who could do him harm.

"What should we do?" he said. "Should we blow the whistle?"

Brad was silent, thinking.

"I don't know," he said. "Why should we?"

"Why should we?" Darby was incredulous. "It's more like why shouldn't we?"

"Because a lot of good work is being done here," said Brad. "If this gets out, the whole place will be shut down. Look at our Mickey, for example. He has a life of productive work ahead of him. If we say anything, we take that away from him."

"It just seems so . . . wrong."

"Why?" said Brad. "Because Leina is living out her faith? She's an evolutionist and she actually believes it. There is no right or wrong. There is only strong or weak."

Brad was walking around his lab. He had a paper box that he had retrieved from under a counter. Quickly, he was putting books in it, fossil samples, computer disks. He didn't seem to care about the order.

"What are you doing?" asked Darby.

"I'm getting out of here," said Brad, looking around. It was obvious he couldn't take everything and was being selective. "My work here is finished. England's awfully nice this time of year."

"But you can't just go . . ."

"Yes, I can," said Brad, grimacing and rubbing his chest.

"What are you going to do . . . just walk out the front door with a suitcase and a cardboard box? Walk all the way to Edmonton?"

"If I have to. Although theoretically, I only have to make it to Drumheller. It's too populated for her to finish me off there." Brad’s sense of humour had returned. Darby could see the twinkle in his eyes.

"No," he continued. "I'm going to call a taxi and leave. I'm not going to announce that I'm going, but we're not prisoners."

Darby was silent. He felt like a prisoner.

"How about you?" said Brad. "Do you want to come along?"

"I can't," said Darby. "I don't have a passport. I don't have an identity. Leina gives me my wages in cash. All I have in the world is two thousand dollars under my mattress."

"That won't get you too far," Brad agreed. His box was now full and he was heading out of the lab. Darby followed him to his room. The first thing Brad did was use his phone to call for a taxi to come to the Dr. James Hector Research Centre. The second thing he did was pull a suitcase out of the bottom of his closet and start tossing clothing into it. The suitcase was slammed shut, leaving a substantial number of belongings behind.

"Help yourself to whatever you want," Brad called back over his shoulder, as he headed for the door.

"Thanks for everything," said Darby, hardly believing what he was seeing.

Brad paused and put down the suitcase to come back and shake Darby's hand.

"All the best, old man," he said.

And then he was gone.

Epilogue


Canada was a big country.

For a man with no identity, it was probably good to be stuck in the second-largest country in the world.

He had noticed a pattern. The farther north he moved, the less people cared about who he was. He doubted he could ever make it in a city, but out in the rural northern towns, no one seemed bothered when he asked to be paid in cash. No one minded when he was a bit vague about his past.

Science historian?

Those days were over.

The closest he got to science history was watching the occasional public television documentary where some other guy was giving a cohesive picture of Darwinian evolution in the modern world. Not that he even had his own TV to watch it on. Darby would snort at the TV switched on in the kitchen where he was doing dishes or mopping floors.

Leina was fading in his mind. Her physical beauty had long since been forgotten. In fact, his memory of her had taken on more of a slime monster quality. He felt like he had escaped from a horror movie.

And . . . he was seeing someone new.

Nina was a good woman. Not drop-dead gorgeous, but nice on the eyes. She had two children, a boy and a girl, both lively rascals and a whole lot of fun. Constantly beat him at Connect 4. He hoped he'd have a chance to pass on his own genes in the near future. But Nina insisted on two things. The first was that they would have to get married. The second was that before they got married, he would have to become Catholic.

At first, the idea had been appalling. Then loneliness had prevailed and he had gone to Mass with Nina and the kids. It wasn't so bad. In fact, it had brought back vague memories of going to Mass as a child with his father.

Money was tight, but he had built up a small library of creationist books. So far, he hadn't actually been able to debunk any of them. In fact, they presented a comforting worldview that was more consistent with his instinct. There was an inherent dignity in man and each individual life was important.

That in itself wasn't enough, but it was a motivating factor for him to continue his studies. If atheistic evolution was the best explanation for the natural world, then he would become an unflinching evolutionist and be as consistent with it as Leina and Roger the Second had been.

But if Intelligent Design was the best explanation for the natural world, than he was going to repent in dust and ashes and be as consistent with it as . . . well, that was the embarrassing thing. Would he end up like Mary-Jane and Jim?

Well, it was better than being like most hard-core evolutionists that he knew. They said there was no God and lived like man was important. If their theory were true and they were just souless primates, he didn't see why their opinions mattered anyway.

He gently rebuked Nina for even getting involved with him. Christians were supposed to hang out with their own kind. She just smiled and said he hadn't gotten to the story about Saul on the road to Damascus yet.

He had laughed.

He wasn't a complete illiterate when it came to the Bible. Saul, the chief enemy of the Christians in the first-century, had been struck down by God on a mission to exterminate the early church. He had ended up being the greatest proponent of Christianity.

Monitoring the activities of CREATIOP had been beyond his abilities. He had sent an email to Mickey, still at roger@creatiop.com. He was alive and well but his answers were brief and the correspondence had petered out. Had Leina said anything? How had she explained his and Brad's disappearance? He thought about sending her an email at her administration address, but had decided against it. What would he say?

He had done an internet search for Brad, but found nothing except his name on a large Oxford alumni list, but with no way to contact him.

In the end, he decided to just let it all go. Hey! He was dead after all! He now had a busy life with hustling to look for better work, evenings spent with Nina and the kids. He had been given a second chance at life. Was it just a case of random events playing out in a meaningless universe? Or was it . . . God?

His friendship with Charles Darwin was waning. Even he wasn't consistent with his own philosophy. His writings touched on a morality that shouldn't be present if his view of the natural world was the correct one. If Darby were going to embrace a system of thought, it had to be internally consistent.

"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an agnostic," Charles Darwin had said. But Darby was not content to remain an agnostic.

Yet, there was one thing he and Darwin still agreed on.

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge," the great man had said.

The greater his knowledge about the origin of all living things, the more his confidence in his own abilities had been declining. The complexity of a single cell, the missing information, all the things he had learned at CREATIOP and was now learning in his readings, contributed to a new humility. Nina said it made him nicer to be around.

"You can talk about survival of the fittest, natural selection and all that," she would say. "But the bottom line is, we're made in the image of God. You can talk to him and he can talk to you!" Nina was a great one for prayer. She always talked to him about God as if he were a personal friend of hers.

He would laugh and agree that if it were true, it was the most convincing argument of all. He talked to Nina and she talked to him and no one could convince him that she didn't exist. And for now, it was good enough.

If he started talking to God and God started talking to him, then they could move on a bit. He had about a thousand questions for God so there wouldn't be any shortage of conversation.

At some point, he wanted to take Nina and the kids for a visit to the badlands. They wouldn't go anywhere near CREATIOP but he thought they'd all get a kick out of the dinosaur bones and the hoodoos.


THE END


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