To next chapter (Chapter 14)




On their way out, Robert and Jennifer took turns in the restroom they’d discovered in the Jurassic museum and found the facilities easy to use. Then they went back up the tunnel and into the basement of Kholoruuf’s house. A twist of the curtain-rod fixture brought the walls together, hiding the tunnel entrance. Then they went up to the landing near the entrance and out onto the porch.

“Should we just walk out?” Jennifer said.

“You’ve still got the gun. You could aim it at me, as if you’re taking me somewhere…”

“I don’t want to aim a gun at you again. Carl will still be here, and he never questions me. Let’s just walk out. We’ll just get in my car and drive away. You drive. That way it’ll give Carl the impression that I’m in control.” She fished her keys out of her pocket and handed them to Robert.

The two walked out of the hill and into the morning light, with Robert in front.

Carl was standing near the gate.

“We’ve come to an understanding,” Jennifer said. Carl nodded and opened the gate for them.

They got into Jennifer’s red Toyota Corolla, with Robert in the driver’s seat, and drove away from the field.

“That went smoothly,” Robert said. “Are you tired?”

“Kind of excited,” Jennifer said with a smile. She opened her glove compartment and put Carl’s gun inside it. “I don’t think I could sleep right now.”

“Me neither.”

Turning south on West Coast Road, they headed toward Cape Town.

Robert was pensive. “You know, I remember we had a set schedule of classes—the same every night. Do you remember what they taught us?”

“I don’t remember much now,” Jennifer said. “I guess what I learned simply became part of me. But I do remember some of it. I know your schedule wasn’t exactly the same as mine, but one class we always had together was one where we were given a problem that we had to work on alone first, and then we worked on it together. Each of us would contribute knowledge we’d learned separately, so all of us together were able to come up with a solution.”

“So we learned the value of collective intelligence, of collaborative thinking,” Robert said.

“I guess that’s why we both have such an appreciation for the Atlanian Truth Engine.”

“You do too?”

“Yes,” Jennifer said. “A deep appreciation like you. And there was another class I remember, one we always took together. We were given netlike objects with complicated connections that were—how do I put it?—flattened in different ways, and we had to figure out which ones had the same connections.”

“To give us an appreciation for the relational structures between things?”

“That’s what I thought they were doing. And now we see what a key role relational analyses played in Atlanian philosophy.”

Robert looked at her. “I’ve been thinking lately how I’d like to look into founding a new Truth Engine.”

“A new Truth Engine? That sounds exciting. If you want my help, I’ll be there for you,” Jennifer said.

Robert smiled. “Partners,” he said.

They reached Long Street early, around eight twenty, so they parked a little distance away from the restaurant and waited for the others to arrive. They watched Orten arrive alone at eight thirty. Then, one by one, the other Conservancy people showed up. Congresswoman Martell, with the general and the others of her group, arrived at about a quarter of nine in two cars and went into the building.

“Let’s go,” Jennifer said, opening the door and getting out of the car.

Robert got out, and they walked to the restaurant. As they got close, they looked up and saw that the early arrivals had been seated on the balcony. Since the seated members of the group were busy welcoming the congresswoman and her entourage, none of them saw Robert and Jennifer approach on the street below. The two walked through the restaurant and up the stairs to the balcony.

Robert found himself in the lead and realized he’d be going onto the balcony first. When he walked out, everyone turned to look at him.

“What’s he doing here?” the general said.

Orten glared at Robert. “I told you you weren’t invited,” he said. Then he looked past Robert at Jennifer as she came onto the balcony and placed her hand on Robert’s shoulder. Obviously wondering what Jennifer and Robert were doing there together, he sat with his mouth open.

Robert, not knowing quite what to do, sat at a table apart from the group, and Jennifer walked over toward the congresswoman. “Confused?” she said to Orten as she passed him. She stood behind Congresswoman Martell and whispered into her ear. The congresswoman looked at Robert, whispered something to Jennifer, and stood up. Then she and Jennifer went to the corner of the balcony and continued to converse quietly. As they talked, Jennifer brought out her cell phone and showed Martell the screen.

After a two- or three-minute conversation, Jennifer and the congresswoman went over and sat with Robert. The congresswoman held out her hand to him. “Nancy Martell,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”

Robert shook her hand. “Robert Bennett,” he said.

Nancy Martell smiled. She leaned closer to Robert and lowered her voice. “Jennifer tells me you’re the one who should be in charge of this project, Dr. Bennett.”

Robert looked at Orten and his team and wondered if they could hear what was being said. “I don’t know about that,” he told Congresswoman Martell.

“And she says you’ve been up all night exploring an amazing place that you want to show me.”

“I’d be honored to show you, Congresswoman,” Robert said.

Nancy stood up. “Shall we go?” she asked. “I want to see this.” She directed her attention toward the other members of her team. “Alexis, Mark, Allen, General, will you come with us?” Looking at the Grayling group, she said, “You guys relax. If we need you, we’ll call your office.”

Robert, Jennifer, Nancy, and her team went down to Long Street. Robert and Jennifer got into the backseat of Nancy’s car, with Nancy in the front. Allen got into the driver’s seat. Alexis, Mark, and the general got into another car, and both cars headed over to Buitengracht Street en route to Melkbosstrand.

“We won,” Jennifer said to Robert, speaking quietly so the people in the front seat couldn’t hear her above the sounds of traffic. “I know the congresswoman will understand now why it’s important for the world to know about what we’ve found. You discovered Kholoruuf’s house. You discovered the Great Place. And now she knows your belief in ETs isn’t kooky—I have no doubt you’ll be in charge here. The general will keep his stuff secret, and the museums will pretty much belong to the dialecticians, whoever they turn out to be, but everything else will become known by everyone. We won.”

“Thank goodness,” Robert said. He looked away, wondering if he should say what he wanted to say next. He decided he had to do it. “You know,” he told Jennifer, “since I was a teenager, I’ve always had this memory, a fragment that seemed to connect with nothing before or after it, with nothing in my life. I remember standing with a beautiful girl—on the hill, the Four Corners near my dad’s place in the Catskills, at night—and we’re kissing, and I loved her so much. I had girlfriends in New York City, and one in Switzerland, but I never was really in love with any of them. But I didn’t have a girlfriend at all during those summers when Dad took us to the mountains. I could never understand that memory of the girl on the hill. I could never figure it out.”

Jennifer smiled. “We were both seventeen. They dropped us off there one night. You kissed me. After that you walked up the road to your house, and I went the other way to my grandparents’ house; I spent summers in the Catskills too. I remember that night—it was the night I fell in love with you. I still love you. I wanted to contact you after that, but the circumstances never seemed right. I didn’t know how you’d take it. When the Grayling people mentioned your name and said you were here in South Africa, I…”

Robert looked at Jennifer and saw tears in her eyes. He felt his memories of her—and his love for her—returning, and he put his arm around her. “Would you be too tired to have dinner with me tonight?”

Jennifer turned toward him and laid her head against his chest. “I’d be very pleased to have dinner with you tonight,“ she said.

To next chapter (Chapter 14)