|The Plaine Museum of Natural History|
As she mounted the steps to her dream job, Dr. Emma Earl’s main concern was not to trip over her own feet. She kept her eyes down on her size-15 flats to make sure she didn’t fall on her face. First impressions came only once and she didn’t want her new coworkers to think she was stupid and clumsy.
She made it to the top unscathed and recognized the man waiting for her as the same Dr. Ian MacGregor who had conducted her second interview. If she hadn’t recognized his face, then his Scottish accent would certainly have jarred her memory. “Good morning, Dr. Earl. Here early on your first day even.”
|Dr. Ian MacGregor|
Emma needed a moment to remember that she was Dr. Earl now; the title sounded so strange from someone else’s mouth. “Yes,” she managed to get out. As her face turned red-hot, she summoned the courage to add, “Am I too early?”
“Not at all, lass. I like employees who are punctual.”
“Oh. That’s good.”
“Now, why don’t we go inside and I’ll show you around?”
“Shouldn’t Dr. Brighton—?”
“He won’t mind. Trust me.” Since Dr. MacGregor was the head of the geology department, Emma had no choice but to take his word for it.
|Alex the Mastodon|
She hadn’t visited the museum in four years, but it looked relatively unchanged. They walked around the ticket line, into the Great Hall. At one end of this hall was the longest-running exhibit of the Plaine Museum, the skeleton of a mastodon named Alex in honor of Dr. Alexander Plaine, the museum’s founder who had discovered the mastodon in Ohio and brought it back to his native Rampart City. At his own expense he built the museum around it so the city might have an institution dedicated to knowledge and learning to rival any major European city at the time.
|Dr. Emma Earl|
Emma knew this story by heart—she had read Dr. Plaine’s biography when she was three—but didn’t mind hearing it again from Dr. MacGregor. They paused in front of Alex while Dr. MacGregor told the story in his Scottish brogue. “No one expects you to be a tour guide, but it’s always good if you can point visitors to the right place.”
“Yes, sir. I’ve been coming here since I was little.”
“You’ve probably memorized every inch of the place then, haven’t you?”
“Not quite, sir.”
“No need for that ‘sir’ stuff like we’re in the military.”
“Sorry, Dr. MacGregor.”
“You can just call me Ian, lass. You mind if I call you Emma?”
“I don’t mind.”
“Excellent.” He indicated the sets of double doors behind her that for the moment were closed. “Those are our temporary exhibits. Right now we’re winding down the ‘Wonderful World of Ants.’ The kiddies really seem to like that. We’ve also got ‘American Pirates’ going on. That’s a popular one, might keep it for a while longer if we can.”
“What about that one over there?” she asked and pointed to the left.
“Oh, that. Bloody mess is what that is. Supposed to be something called ‘Egypt’s First King’ about this Karlak II bloke. Except on the trip here, the freighter carrying most of the artifacts sank.”
“The captain scuttled the ship, didn’t he? I remember reading about that in the newspaper.”
“Quite right, lass. They say he went nuts and destroyed the boilers. No one is quite sure why. We’ve been trying to sort things out with the Egyptian government. As you might imagine, they’re a bit annoyed that some of their relics are sitting at the bottom of the ocean.”
“That’s awful,” Emma said.
“Yes.” Ian shook his head and then smiled. “But that’s for the lawyers and Anthropology to figure out. None of our concern.”
He led her over to the staff elevator behind Alex. She resisted the urge to wave goodbye to the mastodon as she had done when she was a little girl. Aside from her closest friend Becky Beech, Alex’s presence had reassured her after her parents had died, when the rest of the world had been in flux. That the mastodon was still here made her smile as she had back then.
The staff elevator wasn’t much different than the regular patron elevator, except that it had more buttons. These went from the fourth floor executive offices all the way down to something labeled as the “Sub-Subbasement.” Ian pressed the button for the third floor department offices.
The corridor was a dingy white; some of the lights flickered overhead. The tiles were scuffed and in some places chipped from repeated use and abuse. She wondered when the department offices had last undergone a renovation; probably long before she was born. Still, this didn’t dampen her enthusiasm as she followed Ian down the corridor, past frosted glass doors with labels like, “Metallurgy Division” and “Gemstone Division.”
They finally stopped at the door marked “Exogeology Division.” Ian opened the door for her. The state of the office prompted Emma to gasp. Piles of books and journals took up the worktables and the desk in the room was nearly invisible from the amount of folders and loose papers on top of it.
“I’m afraid your predecessor wasn’t the neatest sort,” Ian said.
|Dr. Walter Brighton|
“What’s going on here?” the man said. “Who the hell is this?”
“Hello, Walter,” Ian said. “This is Dr. Emma Earl. She’s your new researcher.”
The man’s watery gray eyes narrowed at Emma, who took an involuntary step back. “This girl is the one you’ve hired? Has she even finished high school yet?”
“Dr. Earl has a PhD in Geology from the University of California at Berkeley. She’s more than qualified for the position,” Ian said. The iciness of his voice prompted Emma to take another step back into the doorway. “The director and I think she will be a welcome addition to our team.”
“Is that what we’ve come down to now? Hiring pubescent girls and calling them doctors?” The man shook his head. “Good thing I’m almost to retirement.”
With that, the man turned and slammed the door to his office. Emma stood in the doorway, and barely held back tears. Ever since she’d enrolled at Northwestern at age fourteen, she’d been the butt of jokes for being a kid. She had hoped things might be different here, but clearly that wasn’t the case.
Ian put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry about Dr. Brighton. He used to be quite the scholar back in the day.”
“Yes. I’ve read some of his papers,” she said. “They were very good.”
“He hasn’t been the same since his wife died. Won’t be much longer now until we’ll have to force him to retire.” Ian smiled at her. “He shouldn’t give you too much of a problem, though, so long as you don’t bother him. If it gets to be too much, you come and see me. My office is right at the end of the hall.”
“Thank you, s—Ian.”
“You’re welcome, lass. And good luck.”
He left her among the ruins of the office. With a sigh, she started to clean up the place.