The next morning, Sam and Julia walked down a long green-and-white corridor, reading the names on the doors until they came to Professor Harry Bickford, Ph.D. Sam’s gentle knock drew an immediate response.
“Come!” The voice from behind the frosted glass door was slight.
Sam slowly opened the door and, before entering, peered inside, Julia standing behind him. He remembered Bickford holding forth regally at the lectern, white shock of hair curled in a shaped pile, as if he’d been sleeping on it all night. His eyes, opened wide in a perpetual expression of surprise, gave him an owlish look that had made him the brunt of many jokes. This combination of wild hair, wide-open stare, frumpy disheveled clothing, and tall, bony frame resulted in an appearance like that of a very elongated Albert Einstein. But Bickford could command a class to silence simply by beginning to speak. His lecture halls overflowed with students eager to hear his views on humans and their origins—views that ran radically against established wisdom. Bickford began each class by reminding students that his field of study, Anthropogeny, was not only the study of human evolution by natural selection. Many other factors—climatic, geographic, ecological, social, cultural—were involved, factors that Bickford lectured and theorized on, to his students’ delight. His chief love was hominization—the process by which humans became human.
“So, you both spent time with Satsky?” he asked from behind a desk strewn with papers. The walls of his office were covered with pictures of a much younger Bickford at digs and in labs. To the right of the south-facing window behind him, a framed Bickford held high a recently unearthed thighbone.
Sam and Julia spent the next hour regaling his old professor with stories of Satsky. Bickford’s howls of laughter were alarmingly high-pitched and loud. Sam had forgotten.
“Which is why we’re here,” he concluded, or began. Sam presented his artifact. Bickford pulled from atop his white curls a pair of half-framed reading glasses. Sam told him the story of Walker’s carbon dating of the thighbone grafted to the graphene, of Julia’s team’s findings, and the graphene their drill head had brought up from some unknown thing or mountain buried in ice at a depth whose age coincided with that of Satsky’s artifact. Bickford took it all in with no change of expression, looking surprised at everything they said—but then, he always looked surprised. He squinted at the artifact in his hand. As Sam launched into his research on the Eemian and its unexplained period of rapid warming, Bickford set down the artifact, put his hands behind his head, and stared at the ceiling. It seemed to Sam that Bickford already knew everything he was telling him. He came to the end of it.
“Is that it?” asked Bickford.
It was. Sam slumped in his chair, suddenly tired.
Bickford still stared at the ceiling. “What I am about to share with you is not only going to be hard to swallow,” he said, “it’s also something I think best left out of public view. Karl Satsky believes his every move is being tracked by satellites and God knows what else. I am not that paranoid, but I do know there are those who are seeking the very things he has uncovered—his so called treasure. I would ask you not to make public what I am about to tell you. Can we agree to that?”
“Of course, professor.” Sam and Julia spoke in unison.