Omega's shepherd part 1

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Omega's shepherd part 1

  1. 1. 1
  2. 2. The White Circle Trilogy: Book 1 OMEGA’SSHEPHERD By JT Brewer white.circle@yahoo.com
  3. 3. This book is a work of fiction. Naming, characters, places andincidents are either products of the authors’ imagination or areused fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Text copyright © 2011 by Judeen and Terry BrewerAll rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. Cover design © 2011 by Christopher D. Brewer 3
  4. 4. Prologue: Hell’s Son The spirit slept. But this sleep brought no repose, only darkness and pain. In Hell, sleep offersno rest. No peace is found there. No comfort. No relief. No escape. Waking or sleeping, the spiritknew only the dark cocoon of its hellish cage, hung in a sunless cavern filled with unbearable stench,smothering despair, and screams -- the lullaby of the damned. Still mannish in shape, even after its long absence from a body of flesh, bone, and blood, thespirit‟s body was ethereal as smoke; little more than a shadow of the splendid physical being it hadonce been in mortality. Hell is, after all, a spiritual realm where things of corporal nature exist only inmemory. Even the web-like shackles that held the spirit bound for centuries were of no mortal make.They were forged not of iron, nor steel, but of something far stronger -- a total domination of will. InHell, all is relinquished at the Gates. There are no choices, no freedom of will; only submission to theOne True Lord. Other than the mad wailing of fellow inmates, the spirit had no sense of anything or anyoneoutside of itself. It never spoke to nor saw any other being. Regret was its only food, misery its onlycompanion. It did not eat, nor see, nor even breathe. While asleep, its mind sought out its own darkpaths, wandering in twisted imaginings. While awake, its thoughts invariably fixated on eventsproducing the most pain, memories of a previous mortality it could relive over and over a thousand,thousand times but never amend. Stripped of all other belongings, the spirit clung passionately to itshatred and fury, but was given no way to wield them, no way to remold the clay of its torment. “I, Qeoc-neh-qiti, once greatest of prophets, the icon of power, am powerless,” it would moan,gnashing at its bonds without hope, and in this despair centuries passed by. Then, into this bleak eternity, at the eve of one more endless day, a summons came. The spiritheard a voice, distant yet distinct, cold as night, hot as a falling star. The voice said, simply, “Come to me.” Its cage fell to the ground like a drop of blood and burst open. The spirit lay dazed, but as airslowly filled its lungs, a resurgence of all its physical senses came rushing back in one electrifyingsurge. At first the spirit could not, dared not move, but the impossible reality of its new situationbecame more definite and it began clawing frantically to free itself from the black, spidery webbingsthat bound its legs and wrists. Astonishingly, for the first time in reply to all its railings against themthey had broken, crackling like paper, falling away as ash, and the spirit felt an overpowering sense ofliberation as the stranglehold on its will was released. The bonds of endless ages were broken. With a hiss, it slowly, warily uncoiled until it could stand erect. Lifting its head, it opened twoflint-like eyes and blinked once or twice. There was no sight in the impenetrable darkness. No matter,it thought. It did not need to see. The One True Master had called and that was enough. Why this was,
  5. 5. the spirit did not know nor question. In Hell, one simply obeyed. It was enough to accept that theMaster knew all that needed knowing. When it suited Him, the spirit would be told the reason for hissummons. Until then, unthinking acquiescence would show the way. The spirit immediately sensed where to go and began on its way, fear guiding it like a scenttrail through a pitch-black labyrinth. It stumbled at first. After a near-millennium of disuse its limbswere annoyingly dysfunctional and movement was incredibly slow. It took some time to coordinatemovement, to contemplate the motion of walking then figure out how the appropriate action was to bebrought about. Only after some humiliating but progressive trial and error could it make any realprogress on its journey, fighting with each movement to gain control over its gangly shufflings.Pausing frequently on its journey, leaning against anything it could find for support, it took time tocatch its breath; for, indeed, the simple act of breathing was also a skill it needed to relearn. As strength gradually returned, its excitement also grew. It was being called to duty! This wasa good thing, it thought, a very good thing; perhaps the only good thing to be found in all of Hell. Thespirit knew the Great One could be generous if He was pleased. There would be a reward for successsurely and perhaps, just perhaps, a chance for redemption. In its black heart, the spirit knew its time had come at last. Ω 5
  6. 6. Part IThe Search
  7. 7. Chapter 1 A green valley flanked by the jagged mountains of the Salt River Range of western Wyominglay in slumber beneath a full moon. Lights of small farmhouses and barns twinkled like bright starsamong the night-washed fields. All was quiet, except for a few coyotes taken by sudden obsession tohowl. Their voices wafted over the pastures and up the hillsides like a poignant, homeless windlooking for company, then disappeared somewhere out of hearing and out of mind. An owl, cockedand ready on its pine-hidden perch, blinked sharp amber eyes, eager to sustain its life by takinganother‟s. Beneath its perch padded a skunk, unaware and unconcerned, as skunks are apt to be, aboutanything but themselves. A red fox, nose low to the ground, ears alert, trotted swiftly along the edge ofan alfalfa meadow toward a distant dairy barn, hoping a carelessly-latched gate on the nearby henhousemight provide it with an opportunity. Disappointingly, it found all was secure when it reached itsdestination. It would have to search elsewhere in this moonlit night for a meal to feed its kits. Suddenly, a loud “mmaaahhh!” emanated from inside the barn. Startled, the fox tucked its tailand scurried off, disappearing behind a mountain of baled hay. A silent figure stood watching beneath the dappled shadows of a small grove of aspen. All iswell in this valley, the stranger thought to himself with a wistful smile. The creatures move in theirspheres of dominion, as each should. Life abounds, takes, gives, and revels in itself. „Tis a pleasantspot, this -- a comforting place -- rare in this old, gray world. Would that all my pastures were asgreen. The figure turned as if to go, then paused, cocking his head. Yet, I almost sense …something reaches to me here. What? Who? He stood for some time, still and thoughtful. Hm.My imagination, I expect, he concluded, shaking his head. Off with you, old fool! There are otherneeds pressing. This is not a night to get distracted from your duties. The moon ducked behind a playful wisp of cloud and, as the light over field and thicketdimmed, the figure beneath the trees vanished as quietly as he had come. Ω Michael Johns awakened suddenly in the middle of the night and sat bolt upright. From thebarn fifty feet away, he could hear a cow bawling. He heard his father stir in the bedroom across thehall and call, “Michael?” Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Michael checked the time on the big,wind-up clock at his bedside. Three a.m. A moment later his father called again weakly, “Michael?” Michael already had his boots on. “Go back to sleep, Dad. Im on my way.” He finished dressing, scrubbed his hands and arms at the kitchen sink, and made it to the barnin less than five minutes. He hated to leave his father alone, even for a few minutes, but both of them 7
  8. 8. understood that when a $5,000 registered dairy cow is ready to calf, and her babys worth at leastanother $500 before it hits the ground, a rancher has to be there. She was well into it when Michael arrived, with part of the calfs head crowning. Michaelcould see right away that the angle of the head wasnt quite right. If he couldnt get the calf twistedaround the right way, the mothers strong contractions might damage her defenseless offspring before itwas born. Quickly smearing lubricant from fingers to elbows, he knelt beside the straining cow, andgently slid one arm deep into her birth canal. Between every contraction, he worked to turn the youngones body and head. When he was satisfied with the calf‟s position, he waited for the next contraction and pulled thecalf forward with all his might, encouraging both animals as he worked. “Push, Becky, you old bucket-kicker,” he said through gritted teeth. “You can do it. Come on,Calf. Dont make your mama and me do all the work. You gotta put out at least a little bit of effort toget into this world! A dark, wet nose appeared. With one hand, Michael cleared out the calf‟s nostrils and withthe other, guided the head. Becky loudly announced the coming of the next contraction.Then, suddenly, the head was out, its eyes wide open. They looked right into Michaels, brown-to-brown, spirit-to-spirit, and blinked. Michael could not help but laugh, then braced himself for thenext step. Reaching deep into the birth canal, Michael slipped his hands past the calf‟s neck, grabbingits shoulders. He took a great breath and held it, waiting for the next contraction, tightening hisstomach, his arms, his back, his legs into one straining halter of muscle, bent on a single purpose --bringing that calf into mortality, head to tail. With a loud protest and a final, desperate effort fromBecky, the calf pumped forward, greased with birth fluids. The calf fell into Michaels arms,plastering him with blood, mucus and afterbirth. His knees buckled under the weight and they both fellbackwards in the hay, Michael still holding the newborn. Becky bent her head around with a wild-eyed stare and called her calf. Its body lay heavy ontop of Michaels chest for a moment as they both rested from their mutual effort, but it was not longbefore it began squirming out of his grasp, just missing Michael‟s face as it kicked with its tiny, butsharp, front hoof. “Happy Birthday, Calf! Welcome to the world!” Michael said with a grin, and let it go. Becky was immediately on her feet, gently nosing her offspring. Over the next severalminutes, Michael watched the mother lick the newborn clean and the little one struggle to find itsfooting on wobbly legs. Within ten minutes the calf was up and able to make its way over to itsmothers udder. Sitting back in the hay, his arms covered with blood up to the shoulders, Michael wearily, buthappily, watched the mother inspect the calf proudly as it butted and slurped at her teat. He wouldallow them to stay together only a few days and then he would separate them. The calf would bebottle-fed. But for the moment, all three were content to let nature take its course. Seeing birth on the Wyoming ranch was a thing Michael Johns had witnessed time and again,but the miracle of it never diminished. He came to his feet, dusted the hay off his clothes, and begancleaning up the mess around him. When he was finished, he looked at his watch; a half-hour, barely,till the other cows would need milking. Just time enough to clean himself up and make a quick checkon his father. Walking through the blackness of a morning not yet dawned, he opened the screen door andwent straight to the deep, metal, back-porch sink to scrub clean. He stripped off his shirt and bentunder the pump-handle faucet, letting the stream of warm water splash on his face, arms, and chest.The brisk, cold air that tingled his skin afterward and the wholesome smell of soap filled him with
  9. 9. exultation. He had just brought a new life into the world. It was going to be a beautiful morning. Hisfather would be glad to know the birthing had gone well. He pushed open the back door and strode into the kitchen. “Dad,” he called, mounting thestairs up to the bedrooms. “Dad, you should have seen old Becky. She was telling the whole world... ” The words broke off as soon as he looked through the open door to his fathers bed. Hisfather‟s eyes were closed, his hands folded peacefully on his chest, but somehow, even through theshadows of the darkened room, Michael knew he was gone. His fathers pain was over. Quickly, he walked to the side of the bed, knelt down, and took Robert Johns limp hand in hisown, holding it tenderly. It was still warm, but completely lifeless. “Oh, Dad, Im sorry,” Michael choked, realizing that after all the months of constant, lovingcare, when the final moment came, he hadn‟t been there. “I‟m so sorry I wasnt here to say good-bye.” Tears streamed down his face. He gently stroked his father‟s leathery hands, and tenderlyrubbed the square, stubbled cheek. Memories came flooding back, the special times he‟d spent withthe man who now lay so still and gaunt upon the bed beside him. Up until the cancer, Robert Johnshad been a robust, big-hearted, hard-working, loving parent entirely devoted to three things; his son,his ranch, and enjoying life. He preached his philosophy of life by example: work hard, but whenit‟s done, you get to play. In his book, both were equal ingredients in the recipe for happiness. Robert Johns lost his wife when Michael was still a little fellow and spent the rest of his lifein her sorely-felt absence determined to provide the best he could for his son. That included givinghis all to the hard, day-after-day labor to build up a well-run, profitable dairy ranch his boy wouldsomeday inherit. Michael learned at his father‟s side the value of sweat and toil, but also to make every spareminute away from it count just as much. “Ya better like what ya do, son,” he heard his father say ahundred times, “because you‟re gonna spend most your life doin‟ it. But remember,” he would addwith a grin, “work‟s the thing we do to support our fun habit.” While growing up, Michael was never far from his father‟s heels and his father, in turn,spent every moment he could spare with his boy. There had been fishing trips every weekend insummer, hunting trips every fall and, in winter, they never missed a chance to take out thesnowmobiles. Oh, if Michael had a dollar for every time they rode horses up the canyon to pickchokeberries for jelly and syrup! If he could have a dime for every time they chopped wood,practiced lasso tricks, or roasted wieners over a campfire! How he yearned for one more hiketogether to some lake hidden high in the peace and solitude of the Salt River Range, to spend theday telling jokes, singing old songs passed down from father to son since the days of Robert‟sgrandfather, or just plain lying back against a tree watching the clouds change shape. If there was ever a good life lived, Robert Johns was the man who lived it. Michael,suddenly overcome, put his head in his hands and wept. He cried a long while in that quiet room, mourning a good parent‟s love bitterly lost andfeeling keenly the silent, emptiness in the room. Gradually, the sobs subsided. Michael lifted his head and roughly wiped his eyes. “At any rate,” he whispered, looking down at the face he loved so well, “you‟re free now, Dad.It was a long, hard haul, but youre past it now. No more pain. No more grinding your teeth becauseyou cant lend a hand. You look peaceful. You should. You deserve your rest. Go tie up a fly andfind a big rainbow waiting for you under the riffles in God‟s river. God knows you earned it.” Michael cleared his throat and attempted a smile, but it caught on the way out and onlyserved to make his mouth twitch. When he spoke, his voice was husky. “Dont worry, Dad. Youknow Ill be all right. You taught me all I need to know. Whatever happens, whatever I become, ifit turns out good, itll be because of you.” 9
  10. 10. The ache arose again. Michael fought it this time, not willing to give in to the emptiness, thegrief the hole in his heart demanded. He had known the end was coming, but God Almighty, he wasntready for it yet. This man had been everything to him and there were so many things he still needed tosay. But now, the chance for words was gone. Knowing this, Michael continued talking aloud, sure his father would somehow hear. “Wemade quite a team all these years, didnt we, old man? We can both be right proud of this place.Prettiest little dairy ranch in Star Valley. There are a lot of people besides me who‟d say so.” He hesitated. “I hope youll understand, Dad, but I have to let it go. This ranch was your life,not mine. I dont know whats out there waiting for me on the other side of these hills, but something inmy gut says Im not supposed to stay here. Now that you‟re gone, its time to find my own purpose, tofigure out why I‟m on this planet.” One last time, Michael pulled the faded Indian blanket up to his father‟s chest and brushed backa few wisps of gray-streaked hair from the forehead that now lay smooth and full of peace, unfurrowedby pain at last. He sat back on his heels, gazing at the man in the bed, trying to comprehend the factthat the ordeal was really over. In the first hours of that yet-unborn day, Michael Johns had held closethe face of both life and death. It seemed a long mile of barbed-wire eternity between the two. A ray of sunlight peeked through a crack at the window. Outside, a rooster crowed. Michaelrose, strode across the room and threw open the curtains. The young rancher could see the colors of agentle dawn sky ripening to sunrise. A soft quietness settled over him and, with it, comfort. This waswhat life was, his father taught him. A lot of stuff you didnt like but were forced to deal with. Thealternative, to let life defeat you, was cowardice, and that was unacceptable. His father had lived a full,robust, wonderful life doing what he loved most. There should be no regrets at his passing andMichael knew his father would understand about him leaving the ranch. Robert Johns had worked hiswhole life to make his life his own. Robert Johns understood about finding dreams. With this thought, Michael lifted his shoulders and took in a deep breath, square to his decision,ready to face whatever consequences his choice would hold for him. The farm and his life here was asgood as over. It was time to move on. “Yes…, I hear the cows bawling, Dad,” he said with a soft chuckle. “Don‟t worry. I‟m on it.By the way, Ill call Pete Grover this morning and well get the funeral set up. Well do it simple, theway youd like.” He started to go, but stopped with his hand on the door and turned back. “Oh, Dad? Be sure tostop by the barn and see Beckys new calf.” He added, smiling. “Shes a beauty.” With that, Michael Johns turned and walked out of the room, closing the door on all thecertainty he had ever known. Ω Colorado State University is located comfortably in the lap of Fort Collins, a pleasantcommunity in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains some sixty miles north of Denver. The Universityoffers its student body of 28,000 a high standard of academic excellence and a laid-back venue ofacademic pursuit. Outside of class, there are mountains with plenty of fresh air, hiking and bikingtrails. The city of Fort Collins, itself, offers good restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, theaters, artgalleries, gardens, museums and three golf courses, basically all the amenities treasured as part of theColorado lifestyle. In short, hidden from the world at large by the Rocky Mountains that enfold it, FortCollins is a perfect oyster, and Colorado State University, its pearl.
  11. 11. Most weekends this late during spring term would find the CSU campus quiet and deserted.Some students could perhaps be found studying in the library; there might be an open-air concert in thecenter green, or a lecture series presented by a visiting academic dignitary; but there were usuallyrelatively few participants. In general, the students found their off-campus week-end options in thewarm April weather to be much more stimulating than whatever might be happening on campus. On this otherwise rosy day of daffodils and tulips, the atmosphere inside the boardroom forvisiting dignitaries in the Administration building was dim, stifling, and palpably tense. Despite thegracious surroundings of walnut-paneled walls, overstuffed chairs and a highly-polished cherry-woodconference table, the five people seated there were highly agitated, and the conversation going onbetween them was far from genteel. Bill Hyden, dean of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Sciences, sat at the head ofthe table, plump and red-faced, drumming his fingers. Across the room from him, standing next to a large, salt-water aquarium, was Dr. FrankCurnow, professor of zoology, running his index finger across the glass, tracing the meandering path ofa blue-striped sergeant major fish. Curnow, lean as an asp in his impeccable tweed blazer, bald but fora horseshoe ring of dark hair, wore a crusty frown. "Explain to me exactly,” he said acidly to his colleagues seated across the room, “why thefamous James Omega would condescend to come to Colorado State University? To someone like him,we‟re nothing more than a doghouse with flea-bit credentials.” Curnow‟s eyes turned to focus on Annie Groff. She sat to the right of Dean Hyden, her backstraight as an arrow, eyes keen as its point and glaring straight back at Curnow. Annie was animpressive woman. At age thirty-five, she held two PhD‟s and was the assistant dean of thedepartment. Annie was as beautiful as she was brilliant, but some, especially Curnow, might say sheseemed all the more untouchable because of her perfection. “I agree with Bill,” she said. “If James Omega applies out of the blue for a position on ourfaculty, then we should be thanking our lucky stars.” “Well, something doesn‟t fit,” Curnow continued crossly, taking her comment as a personalrejection. “If he really wants to get away from the University of Chicago, the man could take his pickof any Ivy League school or even go abroad. Oxford, Edinburgh, you name it. Theyd take him fasterthan a rattlesnake could kiss my butt and no questions asked.” "No self-respecting reptile would lower itself to kiss your butt, Frank," Annie sniped. CSU‟s lanky professor of animal husbandry from Texas, Derkston Long, known to everyonepresent as Derk, grinned from across the table at Annie and added in his lazy drawl, “Not so, Annie.Frank‟s got snakes waitin‟ in line to kiss his butt!" Annie smiled back. Curnow grunted and rolled his eyes. The last person on the committee was petite, gray-haired Dr. Juliet Marsh. Standing at fullheight she was little more than four foot ten and was usually a soft-spoken, gracious woman whosegrandmotherly appearance belied the nickname her students called her behind her back: “Grandma theHun.” Curnow viewed her as an oddity: the sort who could smile at you while kicking you in theshins; a sort of chocolate chip cookie made with gravel instead of chips. Oddly, Juliet seemed a bitdreamy on this occasion. She glided into the conversation like some giddy, summer cloud that had nosense the other clouds about it were brooding up a storm. “Oh, but don‟t you think Dr. Omega is good-looking on camera,” she said breathlessly. “He‟sa very handsome man for his age, don‟t you think? And very dignified. I can hardly wait to meethim!” 11
  12. 12. Annie smiled and answered her elderly colleague fondly, “Yes, Juliet. James Omega doeshave, shall we say, a presence. If he joins our faculty, we may just have to fight over him later.” Sheglanced at Curnow, a wicked twinkle in her eye. “Please, spare us!” he groaned as he strode to the conference table, yanked out a chair, andplopped into his seat. Curnow took out his Blackberry and tapped open his email. He knew Anniehated his reading email during meetings and a sharp look from her told him he better put it away. Hesmiled challengingly and called up his first message. "Ive already met him once," Annie said casually, purposely turning her back to Curnow. "You have?" Juliet gasped. “Mm-hm.” Annie was slyly watching Curnow‟s reaction out of the corner of her eye. I‟veheard him lecture several times and was even introduced to him once.” "Well?” Juliet pressed. “Whats he like?" Annie reflected. "Impressive. Great speaker. Has the audience eating out of his hand in notime. Of course, if you‟ve watched his Vanishing Eden series on PBS, you already know that.” “Yes, we already know that,” Curnow monkey-echoed under his breath. Juliet took no notice. “Hes got to be a marvelous teacher, then! I mean if hes as much at easein front of a live audience as he is before a TV camera, he‟d be a whiz in a classroom, wouldn‟t he?”She nervously patted at her stiffly-sprayed coiffure. “You‟d hope so,” Derk put in. “But not necessarily. Some people can be as smart as a whip,have four or five degrees hangin‟ on their wall, but you get „em in a classroom and theyre borin‟ as abeaker.” His eyes caught Annie‟s and glanced sideways in Curnow‟s direction. Annie caught the jibe but was not about to be diverted from her point. “But Omega‟s not likethat, Derk. He‟s the real thing.” Juliet squeezed her arm. “So what is he like, Annie? I mean, as a person.” Annie thought a moment then said, “Well, I know his students at the University of Chicagoadored him.” “I heard,” Derk butted in, “some people say hes a bit of an odd duck.” Curnow gave a short, nasty snicker. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Annie went on, “but when we met I found him lucid,articulate, very ... interesting. I must admit, my heart fluttered a bit when he shook my hand." Juliet gasped, “Oh Annie. Lucky you!” “Really,” Curnow muttered, still tapping away at his Blackberry, “isn‟t he a bit elderly for you,Annie?” “There are plenty of women who think age improves a man,” Annie defended herself , “A lotcan be said for ... experience.” “That‟s right,” Derk spoke up. “A good stud horsell keep the mares happy long after hes quitthe racetrack.” Annie laughed outright, but Juliets face turned bright red. She removed her glasses and beganwiping them on her sleeve. “Bless me, my glasses keep fogging up. Isnt it hot in here?” Dean Hyden cleared his throat, his face even redder than usual. “We‟re getting sidetracked,people. Let‟s get back to the discussion at hand. In a few moments, James Omega is going to walkthrough that door. You may ask him any questions you like. When you‟re finished, we will dismisshim while we arrive at our decision. But while you‟re at it, I just want to remind everyone thatPresident Hewitt called me personally this morning on this matter. He‟s delighted by the whole thingand is highly in favor of it. That should be a guide for our decision, I think.” Curnow snapped to attention. "I can see everyone is all in a heat over the great James Omega.But remember one thing, people, before you all go into a molt from your adrenaline rush; the university
  13. 13. is not rich. Our financial resources are limited. Do you want some money-guzzling celebrity to gobbleit all up? Guess whose budgets and salary will take the hit?" This produced an awkward hush. “Is that true?” Juliet leaned forward with a look of consternation. “Will someone‟s position bethreatened? Will we have to take a cut in pay if Dr. Omega…?” “Juliet, nothin‟ Curnow ever says is exactly true,” Derk reassured her. “He just likes to yellwolf whenever he gets the chance. Pay no attention.” “You‟ll see,” Curnow snapped. “The minute Omega moves in, one of us moves out!” “Calm down, people,” Dean Hyden commanded. “I expect some decorum at theseproceedings.” “Frank,” Annie said sternly, “you obviously have reservations about Omega. Let‟s get thewash out in the air to dry. What exactly have you got against him?” Curnow, happy at last to be handed the gavel, cleared his throat. "I just want you to think,people, instead of going all mushy in the cerebellum just because the man‟s a celebrity. Reality check.First of all, what has CSU got to attract a man of Omega‟s caliber?" "Now just a minute, Frank," the Texan responded in an offended tone. "CSU is a damned goodschool and you know it. In the field of Animal Sciences, we‟re one of the best in the country! We havenothing to be ashamed of.” “Here, here!” Dean Hyden cried. “It certainly appears James Omega thinks CSUs goodenough for him. He‟s the one who initiated his application, isn‟t he? Can‟t you understand, Frank, thatwhen a man like this comes knocking at the door, we can hardly look a gift horse in the mouth?” “Specially if he‟s a thoroughbred!” Derk put in. Curnow coughed and looked up from his email. “Omega‟s not a thoroughbred, he‟s an egotist.My word, I cant stand this idol-worship mentality! Hes just a biologist, not a demigod! No morededicated to his profession than you or me. Damn it, people! Why do we have to endure all thistheatrical hype?” Annie closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “Frank, you‟re a real peach.” “Now don‟t you give me that high and mighty attitude, Annie,” Curnow sputtered. “As amember of this committee I have the same rights to express my concerns as anybody else. You want totalk about my reservations? Okay, let‟s talk. Let‟s talk about the biggest bug of all on Omega‟swindshield: the mongoose. What about the god-damned mongoose?” Annie shook her head. “That soup is stone cold, Frank. Water under the bridge.” “Well, I think not.“ Curnow‟s eyes flashed, “I think it weighs heavily on this committee toremember two years ago your amazing Dr. James Omega claimed to have genetically-engineered thebirth of a red-banded mongoose, re-introducing an animal extinct since 1943.” Annie sighed. “Yes, Frank, everyone here reads the papers and listens to the news just like youdo. We all remember the mongoose. What about it?” Curnow‟s lips tightened. “Fraud was implied, I believe. Nasty little word, fraud. I would hateto see CSU find itself in a fix on account of James Omega the way the University of Chicago did, that‟sall.” “What you gettin‟ at, Frank?” Derk asked. Curnow drew himself up. “The scientific community has a keen nose for humbug. The minutethe University of Chicago made the announcement of Omega‟s purported achievement, red flags shotup everywhere. Everyone could smell a stink in the air. One just does not bring back an extinctspecies. Such a feat, as we all know, is impossible.” “It was believed to be impossible,” Annie said pointedly, “until Omega did it.” 13
  14. 14. “Annie, dear,” Curnow answered with a curl of his lip, “there are more than a few veryreputable scientists who still think the whole thing was a ruse, myself among them. In my opinion, itwas all staged and when Omega‟s bluff was called, it created a scandal. Of course, the University ofChicago tried to cover it up, which is evidence in itself the mongoose was a fake and James Omega is acharlatan.” "Thats a low blow and uncalled for!" Annie said, rising to her feet. "The mongoose was abrilliant piece of genetics and you know it. The trial vindicated both Omega and the University of anywrong doing. Omega‟s accusers were proven guilty of perjury and sabotage. Some even admitted tohaving been bribed to falsify Omega‟s lab books. The real issue here is that you are jealous, aren‟tyou, Frank? You‟ve been the big cheese for so long, you‟re afraid Omega is going to come along andoutshine you, and you can‟t tolerate the thought!” “What?” Curnow cried, rising to his feet. “I‟m so tired of it, Frank.” Annie cried. “Every time we try to do something to upgrade thedepartment, you shoot it down. If an idea doesn‟t come from you, it‟s no good. If it‟s your project thatneeds funding, you‟re suddenly everyone‟s friend, but if it‟s somebody else‟s, you veto it without evenconsidering it. Do you know what I think, Frank? I think you‟re a very petty man. Oh, a genius, Iadmit, but a petty genius.” To everyone‟s surprise, Annie clenched both fists and pounded them on the table. All fourcommittee members jumped in their seats. She faced Curnow, her eyes narrowed, her teeth clenched.”Well, this is one time I‟m not going to let you sabotage a golden opportunity! James Omega cominghere would open doors, not just for our department, but for the whole university. All I can say to you,Frank Curnow, is if you‟re going to let personal prejudice prevent you from making a rational decisionconcerning the best interest of this institution, then perhaps you should resign from this committee!” The entire room fell to stunned silence. “Oh dear,” Juliet whispered, covering her mouth with her hand. Curnow stood, drop-jawed. He finally sputtered, “If that‟s what you think—if that‟s the wayyou feel, Annie -- why then, I beg your pardon! I have never harbored any intentions that were foranything other than the good of this department. I‟m stunned. I cannot understand why you would saysuch things.” “Don‟t get me started…” Annie snapped. “People, please!” Dean Hyden exclaimed. “This henpecking accomplishes nothing. Let‟s allremember our manners here. We are all professionals. Let‟s act that way, shall we? Now everyone,please -- just sit down!” Annie stiffly took her seat and Curnow lowered into his, each looking spitefully at the other.But at least order was restored. The dean drew a long breath and adjusted his tie before he spoke. “To be just, Frank has aperfect right to bring up the mongoose trial. Should Omega come to reside on this faculty, Omega‟spast could at some point become entwined with CSU‟s future. However, as you point out, Annie, itwas proven there was no fraud on Omegas part, so Frank‟s point is moot. What we all hope is thatwhat James Omega will bring with him to CSU is his brilliant reputation, not a tarnished past.” “It wasn‟t tarnished in the first place…” Annie insisted beneath her breath. “Just remember I warned you.” Curnow had to have the last word. A telephone resting by the chairmans elbow interrupted the pending altercation. Everymember of the committee froze as the room filled with an electrically-charged silence. “Quiet, everyone!” Dean Hyden pleaded, picking up the phone with a shaking hand. "Yes,Mrs. Walker?” he spoke into the mouthpiece. “Thank you, but, no, don‟t just send him in. Ill comeout and escort Dr. Omega in myself. Please tell him Ill be right out."
  15. 15. The dean replaced the phone on its cradle, cleared his throat, and faced his colleagues. "Well, hes here. We‟ll postpone the remainder of this discussion until after the interview.Perhaps some of you will change your minds after you meet the man. In any event, we will address allof your concerns before we arrive at a final decision. In the meantime, Frank, Annie, behave! Do notembarrass me!” “Yes, Frank, be nice.” Annie hissed at Curnow before looking up at the dean and folding herarms like a child in Sunday School. She smiled sweetly. “We‟re all ready now, Bill.” “Praise the Lord,” Hyden said, pulling at his tie. “Stay that way. I‟ll be back in a minute.” Hepushed away from the table, rose, and hurried from the room, pulling the door closed behind him. Everyone watched him go. In his absence, the people around the long table remained still andpensive, eyeing each other in tight-lipped silence. Everything about James Omega irked Frank Curnow. He would never tell his colleagues onthe committee of the indignities he suffered because of James Omega. He would never admit to thehumiliation, especially not to Annie Groff, whom he tried so hard to impress over the years. During the course of their day-to-day contact—her office was just down the hall from his -- shenever encouraged his personal advances nor applauded his academic prowess. If she wouldn‟t accepthim as a suitor, so be it. But couldn‟t she at least give him credit for his brilliant articles andmeticulously-researched book series? Perhaps, he reasoned, it was only the subject Annie had anaversion to. He was fascinated by the reptilian world, while Annie‟s head was up in the clouds withher birds. He respected that she was also a published authority in ornithology, specializing in raptors.No question about it, Annie Groff was smart. That was the first thing about her that attracted him. Heloved getting in debates with her, loved showing her how much he knew. But for some bafflingreason, Annie did not seem to view his intellectualism in the same light he held hers -- a highly-desired, commonly-held trait, which could, if allowed, form the bonds of a stimulating relationship. Hecould not understand why she didn‟t see that. And, now, there was the threat of a new wedge comingbetween them. What if Annie became infatuated with James Omega? She was showing all the signsof an adoring fan already. Sickening. Her misplaced adoration provided Curnow another reason fordespising the man. But the first and foremost reason for his animosity came back to him now, a badmemory resurfacing just when he thought it had been buried for good. Three years ago, Curnow put his heart, soul and eighteen months of blood, sweat and tearsresearch into writing an article to be published in the prestigious Journal of Herpetology. Just beingaccepted for publication by this, the top academic periodical in the field, was an honor. Curnow hadprepared a three-installment series on lizards of Colorado, which he hoped would be well received andsecure his ranking on the top rung of his specialty -- western North American herpetology. Of course,he announced to his CSU colleagues the date the article was coming out, and then waited on pins andneedles, spending two sleepless nights sitting up smoking his pipe prior to the article‟s release. Annie teased him over it. “I swear, Frank,” she said. “I bet a snake has an easier timeshedding its skin than you‟ve had in getting this article published. You look terrible. Go home, curl upunder a nice warm rock and take a nap.” Her flippant remark hurt, but not half as much as what happened later. A copy of the Journal with his article in it finally arrived at his office the following morning.He opened the pages and there it was, in actual print, right before his eyes! A Comparative Study of theNine Species of Phrynosomatidae Habitating in Colorado: Part One: Patterns of Cell Proliferation,Migration, Maturation, and Synaptogenesis. His hands were shaking. It was one of the proudestmoments of his life. He immediately got on the Internet and ordered a full case of the publication, cost 15
  16. 16. charged to the CSU biology department. It would be, of course, a required text for his students topurchase next term. During the course of the day, Curnow proudly showed the article to his colleagues, the mostprominent of which were Dean Hyden, Derkston Long, Janet Marsh, and Annie Groff. The first threeoffered hearty congratulations and praise. Then Annie said, “So, your moment of glory has come atlast, Frank I look forward to reading it as soon as I can grab a minute. I‟m sure it‟s brilliant andcorrect to the smallest detail. But you know me and herpetology, I hope I can stay awake to the end.” He winced and her cheeks reddened. “I‟m sorry, Frank. That was a mean thing to say. God,I‟m such a jerk today. It‟s the moon. The moon made me say it. I‟m so sorry.” His face fell. Seeing this, she repentantly lay a hand on his arm. “I‟m sorry, Frank. That waslow. I‟m just jealous that you‟re published again and I‟m not. Honestly, I‟m sure it‟s wonderful.You‟ve worked your tail off and, now, you‟ll finally get some recognition for your effort. Good foryou. Can I buy you lunch?” But Curnow was stung to the core. He politely refused and returned tohis office in a huff. The next day, he couldn‟t wait to get onto the internet and read the reviews. There were five,all of them brief but positive. Words like „insightful‟ and „well-substantiated data‟ were used. Frankwas beaming. He was pleasant to everyone, even his students, for whom he usually spared no rod. Dr.Curnow was proudly adept at criticism and rarely lost an opportunity to remind his students that nomatter how smart they thought they were, they knew absolutely nothing. It was, therefore, his job tofill their empty heads with something useful; and shouldn‟t they be grateful for the privilege of being inhis accomplished tutorage? If a student showed any lack of humility, such as raising a hand tooconfidently, or providing an answer too readily, or, heaven help him, contradicting or challenging whathis professor taught, Curnow fell on the upstart like a python, squeezing him for further details therewas no way he could know, strangling his initiative, choking his zeal, embarrassing him in front of hispeers until he shrank back in his chair, limp as a dead goat. Students had to know their place — tolisten with rapt attention and take copious notes, as their professor allowed them a sip of his preciouswaters. But, for three months, during which his two other articles followed the first in publication andcirculation, Curnow was as sweet and tolerant of his court of underlings as a King Cobra sitting oneggs. The euphoria lasted until the day that James Omega ruined everything. Curnow was sitting in his office, rereading, for the fourth time, his third article, when DerkstonLong suddenly stuck his head in the door and said, “Say Frank. Here‟s something you might beinterested in. James Omega put out a new book yesterday, on almost the same topic as your Journalarticles. Since it‟s up your alley, I just thought you‟d be interested. The book‟s making a big splashapparently. It must be good. Well, gotta go. Bye.” Curnow sat dumbfounded, staring into space as Long shut the door and the sound of hisfootsteps disappeared down the hall. He felt as if he had just been slugged in the stomach. It couldn‟tbe true. It couldn‟t. Heart racing, he jumped on the Internet and, sure enough, Derk‟s dreaded tale was confirmed.Photos, interviews and critiques flooded the academic community with praise like, „Omega‟s done itagain,‟ „James Omega outdoes even himself,‟ and „another masterpiece from a master scientist.‟ The lowest blow was delivered by the chief editor of the same journal in which Curnow‟sseries had appeared. That review actually compared his own work to Omega‟s, saying, “While wecommend Dr. Frank Curnow on his inexhaustible detail and expert comparative analysis of the lizardsof Colorado, Dr. Omega‟s work makes them come alive on the page. Omega writes about thesecreatures as if he lives with them. After reading The Amazing Snakes and Lizards of the Western High
  17. 17. Country , we of this publication staff are awestruck, being so engagingly reminded of why we allbecame herpetologists to begin with—that these creatures of scales, horns, claws and teeth are uniqueorganisms that continue to fascinate and delight us. Kudos to Dr. James Omega! Our readership willbe happy to know we have already secured rights to a series of interviews over the next four issueswith Omega. Look forward to them. We guarantee, you will not be disappointed.” Frank hit the Close button with fury and the computer monitor went blank. This wasoutrageous! How could this happen? Over the past three months he had received dozens of emailsfrom herpetologists all over the country saying how they admired his breadth of knowledge and askingfor more information. He had reveled in the glory and answered every request in depth. His name wasout there -- on every herpetologist‟s lips. But now, every ounce of thunder Curnow had rightfullyearned from his peers was being stolen by a PBS smart ass whose only redeeming asset as an authorwas that he could tell a good story. It seemed to Frank Curnow that James Omega had personallypurposely targeted him with the sole intent to best him. Omega must have read his articles andrealized, thanks to Curnow, that herpetology was the latest biological hot topic and gotten the idea forhis book. While Curnow knew, in reality, no one, not even James Omega, could write and get a bookpublished in three months, he overlooked that and took the affront personally. To him, this wasnothing less than an insidious attempt to demean a lower-than-dust biology prof at PiddledunkUniversity, while the great James Omega raised himself into the limelight. Curnow was next to tears. Didn‟t the man already have money and popularity and clout inspades? Omega was literally crushing him under his heel, thinking no more of the deed than onewould of stepping on an ant. He prayed none of his CSU colleagues would take notice of Omega‟s book. They lived inworlds of their own and, since none of them were much into reptiles, it was unlikely any of them wouldpick up and buy a copy of it. One thing they must never know was how much this undeserved rivalryhurt him. If the subject should, by chance, come up, he would be quick to downplay it. Annie wouldprobably misinterpret anything Frank said against Omega to defend himself as jealousy. No. Hewould not bring any of it up in conversation, ever! He would bear his pain in quiet dignity. Curnow did not emerge from his office that day until five minutes before he had to teach a late-afternoon class. He glumly gathered his things and forced himself to go, thinking no farther ahead thanto somehow get through the next hour and then go home. When one of his students raised his hand,quoted from Omega‟s new book and asked Curnow what he thought about it, it was the last straw. It took all the self-control he had to keep from screaming. He bit his tongue, schooled his tone,and said evenly, “Beware, people, of humbug science that purports itself as truth, and the man hidingbehind the curtain who creates it. You must always be on the lookout for Piltdown Man. Never letyourself be fooled or mislead. True science is facts, backed up by solid research. Not fairytales byDisney, nor bedtime stories by Thorton W. Burgess. Do not believe everything you read. In the worldof science, one must tread on solid ground or be laughed into oblivion. Yet, even now, up springs aWizard of Oz, and his name is James Omega.” With that, Frank Curnow packed his lesson presentation back into his brief case, closed it, andwalked out of the auditorium without another word. Now, unbelievably, James Omega himself was coming to CSU, asking for a job. It wasludicrous! Why would a PBS superstar give up all his publicity and prestige at the University ofChicago, to come to little Fort Collins, Colorado, boasting no more than 135,000 residents, and ignoblytitled by its student body as “Funtown, U.S.A.?” 17
  18. 18. It didn‟t make sense. Omega already had everything. His PBS series had made him as famousas Carl Sagan, plus he had three or four bestsellers in his hip pocket, not to mention numerous publicappearances on the late night shows, and who knew what else in the wings! Why give all that up?There had to be something in it for him. Unless…, unless the man had been discreetly offered his hatat the University of Chicago after the mongoose fiasco and was simply trying to find a place to lie lowuntil the waters settled. That had to be it! Curnow grinned and at once began to lay out a course of action in his mind.He would not embarrass the dean or the department by attacking Omega directly at this interview as hehad previously thought to do. No, for the time being, he would be insidiously gracious and polite. Hewould acquiesce to Annie and the rest, and would not cast a ballot against bringing the Great Wizardaboard CSU‟s ship. But in his heart, he was steeled: James Omega was a man who needed watchingand Frank Curnow was the one who would do it. 
  19. 19. Chapter 2 The spirit groped its way blindly through dark tunnels and up stairways where it sensed bothsides falling away to bottomless depths. Despite these terrors, it pressed on, sometimes erect,sometimes scrambling on all fours; urged ever onward by the call of its master. The labyrinth itfollowed echoed with the same sort of shrieks and angry cursing it had heard in its previousquarters; they rang through the depths, anguished hymns of hell‟s cathedrals. From shadowed grottos, the merciless laughter of tormentors mixed with the cries of thetortured. It made the spirit quail to hear them. All too well it remembered what went on in thoseunholy pits. Mere physical torment was no match for the cruelty inflicted there -- hell‟s firesburned hottest when stoked by grief, regret, jealousy, and wounded pride. The Master‟s fiends weregiven control over the minds of their captives and took delight in forcing them to relive their mosttragic moments of mortality again and again, only to be laughed at and mocked for their pain. Wellthe tormentors knew their victim‟s sorest wounds and picked at them like ravens. There was nomercy. They inflamed the mind, never letting an injury heal, never letting a memory, ripe with thejuices of misery, be forgotten. Anguish was their food and hate, the sweetest honey. Pressingthrough darkness, the spirit cringed, recalling all too keenly the bitter taste of its own sordidrecollections, and hurried on its way. At last, from out of the pervasive blackness, a glow came in the distance, as if radiating froma bed of living coals. The spirit paused, stretching its neck and sniffing the sulphurous air. Amidstthe smoke it caught the smell of fear. It was strong here, very strong. It meant the Master was upthere somewhere, near to that glow. This, then, was where it must go. Gingerly, it moved forward, testing one step at a time just in case its freedom was all a crueljest, just in case the floor were to give way and it were to find itself back in that hellish cage with aring of tormentors bent double in laughter. But surely not, it reassured itself. Its bonds had beenloosed. It had been called for, had it not? This could be no joke. But then, in hell, one never knew.There was nothing to do but go on. The spirit shuffled to the end of the tunnel and found itself standing at the mouth of acavern, hot and red as a kiln. For some time, the spirit could barely look inside the chamber due tothe intense brightness and heat emanating from it. But it was able to gradually lower its arm fromits eyes and squint to take in the sight of the massive room. It was shaped like the inside of animmense, hollow tower. There seemed to be no ceiling. This then, was the very place it had heardof for so long. The throat to the upper world and the throne room of Satan! With a paralyzingsense of dread, the spirit forced itself to enter. The spirit‟s flint-dark eyes examined the details of the resplendent chamber‟s magnificentdecor. Gold-leafed pillars and cornices draped with swags of vivid purple velvets graced walls thatrose upward and upward until disappearing in a ring of shadow. Flickering topiaries of brilliantflame burned in huge stone urns and cast shadows that danced like imps at play against gleamingwalls. Radiant and unbelievably beautiful mosaics of gems studded the floor while statues of nakeddancing fauns and satyrs filled every corner. In the center of the room and, most impressive of all, 19
  20. 20. was a pedestal of carved marble, formed in the likeness of three huge beasts. Upon their muscularbacks rested the great Judgment Seat, where a silent, silver-robed figure reclined on silken cushions. At once the spirit dropped to its knees, completely overcome, then fell prostrate to theground. “Ah, my newly-awakened servant,” a voice came from above. “The Master calls and I obey,” the spirit croaked. “Look at me,” a voice smooth as liquid ore commanded. Ever so slowly the spirit lifted its head. The face it beheld was impassive but exquisitelyhandsome with eyes sharp and penetrating, like black stars. “How long has it been since your judgment, Spirit?” the Great Master asked. The spirit paused, uncertain. “I forget, Lord.” “Some seven hundred years, I believe.” “Yes, Lord.” The Master nodded. “And after all this time, do the fires of hatred still burn in your breasttoward your old enemy, Kokaetalan?” The sound of the name that had haunted it for all the centuries of its torment pierced thespirit‟s ear, burning like poison. “Kokaetalan! My brother,” it hissed with great distaste and spat atthe floor. “I see they do.” The True Lord sounded amused. “Good. I have a task for you, servant and,perhaps, if you are faithful, a way to quench those fires.” The silver-robed figure stood, throwing his mantle over his shoulder and slowly descendedfrom the throne. He walked to where the spirit recoiled in apprehension on the floor and stopped,towering over it. “Rise.” The spirit climbed quickly to its feet and waited breathlessly, shoulders hunched in respect,staring at the floor. “ Come,” said the Great One, stretching out his hand.. I have something to show you.” The spirit stared incredulously, hardly believing the True Lord actually wanted to touch him,but the robed figure gestured again, making it clear he meant to take the spirit‟s hand. Gingerly, thespirit complied and weakly grasped the heavily-ringed fingers of its monarch. There was nosensation of touch at their contact, only an electrified charge of submission to power. Instantly, colors in the room began to fade and swirl. The spirit felt itself rising like acolumn of heat twisting above a furnace, being lifted higher and higher into the air with a dizzying,sickening sensation. It could not hold back a scream. “Hush, fool. I have you,” the molten voice said. “Instead of wailing like a dying goat, youshould be singing praises. You have been plucked from the fires and released from captivity! Wego to open air and freedom! We go to see my miracle!” Overcome, the spirit could not reply. It stared down, mutely watching the floor drop away. Linked as one they rose together, Lord and servant, light-winged as bats, soaring up, up,through the dark womb of the tower. At its top, a gate of iron teeth guarded the opening, but theGreat Lord only laughed and, with a wave of his hand, they passed through jaws and ceiling aseasily as moonlight through glass and were gone. Ω
  21. 21. Dr. James Omega stood outside the impressive cherry wood doors to the conference room,straightening his tie and stroking every whisker of his beard in place. He knew full well the outcomeof the meeting ahead. Of course, he would be offered the position. Nevertheless, he wanted to make agood first impression on the people with whom he would soon be rubbing shoulders. Dean Hyden, standing beside him, assured him for the tenth time how excited everyone was tomeet him and how honored they were to have his application in hand. Omega thanked him, andpolitely encouraged, “I look forward to meeting the committee. Shall we go in?” “Of course, of course!” Hyden beamed and opened the doors. Every person turned to stare as he entered the room with Dean Hyden whispering somethinginto his ear. Several rose from their seats in unison as if yanked up by a magnet. Despite theireagerness, Omega could sense the intense scrutiny being directed at him from this group as eachprofessor‟s eyes met his. Hopefully, he seemed human enough. He was probably a bit leaner than they expected, mostpeople having told him television puts on pounds. Personally, he liked to think of himself as fit, notscrawny. He had taken care to tie back his shoulder-length, white hair at the nape of his neck with ablack satin ribbon. It complemented his gray-streaked beard, which was short and immaculatelytrimmed. He held his chin high, exuding a poise he hoped demonstrated a keen observance of hissurroundings rather than arrogance. He knew himself older than most expected, and was quietlyamused as he saw their faces reacting to it. Just what is his age, they were undoubtedly wondering —sixty? A well preserved seventy? On that point, with his trim build, straight posture and the confidentstride with which he now approached them, he hoped to keep them guessing. With Dean Hyden at his elbow, Omega approached the front end of the table, nodded to theprofessors and waited politely for an introduction. Frank Curnow‟s discreet appraisal could find no fault in Omegas outward visage, but he wasnot one to be taken in by appearances. If anything, Omegas youthful forbearance in old age causedmore questions to form in his mind than were there before. The oddest part, the thing he couldntshake, was that in spite of this man‟s age, whatever that was, Omega was first published only sevenyears ago. Before that, no one seemed to have heard of the man. Despite his current fame, the manremained an enigma even under the tightly-scrutinized lens of academia‟s microscope. Like a termite,he‟d sneaked in out of nowhere and gnawed his way into the woodwork and had everyone believing hecould pull an extinct species out of his hat. But Curnow knew a rabbit was just a rabbit. He wouldmake it his mission to unmask this nefarious intruder. He would be his exterminator. With a forced smile, he turned to greet the university‟s honored guest. “Professor Omega, welcome to Colorado State University,” Dean Hyden began. “May I beginintroductions with Dr. Annie Groff, specialist in avian zoology, and our assistant dean.” He gesturedacross the table. Omega immediately left his place at the Dean‟s side and went straight to the woman‟s chair,sticking out his hand. “Doctor Groff! If I am not mistaken, you and I have already met,” Omega commented with awide smile, shaking her hand enthusiastically. “Three years ago at the Los Angeles Conference onRaptor Migration in the Western Hemisphere, was it not? And as I recall you presented a magnificentpaper on the resurgence of the North American bald eagle. One of my favorite birds, the eagle. Iespecially loved your insights on their bonding with a mate for life.” 21
  22. 22. The woman‟s eyes opened wide as two full moons and her face beamed just as brightly. “Mygoodness, Dr. Omega, you do have an excellent memory for the trivial,” she laughed, lookingsomewhat flustered but pleased. She composed herself and managed a sincere, “Thank you.” The lanky professor at the woman‟s left said with a Texas accent, “Now folks, theres a sightwe‟ve never seen before. Annie Groff turnin to Jello.” Annie reddened with embarrassment. Dean Hyden hurried to continue introductions. “Dr. Derk Long, animal husbandry,” he saidgesturing toward the Texan. The two men exchanged a hearty handshake. Omega received a much colder greeting from the next man at the table, an eel-thin man with ahairline in full retreat, introduced to him as Dr. Frank Curnow, zoology, with a specialty inherpetology. “We‟re all quite proud of Frank around here, “ Hyden said eagerly. “He‟s nationallyrecognized as an authority on snakes and…” “Yes quite, “ Omega interrupted the dean politely. “I know your articles, Dr. Curnow.” “You do?” Curnow said, in genuine surprise. “Yes. I especially like the one on copperheads … in the February issue of Evolutions, as Irecall. And your series in The Journal of Herpetology on the lizards of Colorado. Outstanding.” Curnow was apparently astounded beyond words. “It is an honor to meet one of the top herpetologists in the country, Dr. Curnow,” Omegacontinued with sincere geniality. “I would like nothing better than to discuss some of your findingswith you at length over lunch if such an opportunity presents itself.” Curnow reddened around the collar and nodded at the invitation, while Omega smiledinwardly. An air of resentment and suspicion surrounded the man like scales. He marked theinstinctive impression in his mind for future reference and turned to the final person at the table. A short, gray-haired woman rose to her feet fairly atwitter with nervousness and shook his handas if he were the King of England. “Dr. Juliet Marsh,” she introduced herself with quavering voice. “Microbiology.” “Ah, the world of infinitesimal giants,” Omega said, giving her a most complimentary smile.“An invisible realm that virtually overshadows the visible world.” “Why yes,” she murmured. “Quite true. Few people seem to really appreciate the significanceof my field, I‟m afraid.” Omega beamed at her. “Then they are fools. I for one, Dr. Marsh, applaud you in so worthy apursuit — unraveling the unfathomable complexities of the simplest forms of life. A humblingoccupation, no doubt. It is a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Marsh. A genuine pleasure.” “Oh my,” Juliet gasped, responding to this attention like a flower to the sun. She dropped intoher seat, hand over her heart, misty eyed and breathless. The amenities finally done, James Omega returned to his seat as the other professors adjustedtheir chairs and shuffled a few papers. This was followed by a few nervous coughs, then silence. For what seemed a very long time, no one in the room spoke. Omegas only noticeablemovement was the gradual movement of his eyes as he slowly appraised the individuals about him oneby one. They, in turn, could not help staring back. Dean Hyden leaned forward from his chair, propping his elbows on the table. "Well, then, nowthat weve all been introduced, I, uh, I believe we should proceed. As all of you know, we areconducting this interview in accordance with Dr. Omegas request to be admitted to the Colorado StateUniversity faculty in the College of Natural Sciences. You have had sufficient time to study his vitae
  23. 23. and the text of his request and I am certain you are impatient to begin the interview. I will now turn thetime over to the committee." "Doctor Omega, I would like to go first if I may,” Annie began without hesitation. “You realizeit is very unusual for any university to seriously consider this kind of unsolicited request. We currentlyhave no vacancies in our biology department. Yet, you have come to us asking for a position on ourfaculty. If you were anyone else, we would have refused your application out of hand. You are,however, a person of incomparable reputation and prominence in the scientific community. Werecognize the honor it would be to our school to have you here and feel compelled to seriously consideryour request." Omega acknowledged the compliment with a nod of his head. “Thank you.” He liked thiswoman. She was direct, honest and played the game without guile. Someone it would be wise to haveon his side. "We are very proud of our agricultural and natural sciences departments,” she went on. “But, tobe honest, Dr. Omega, CSU could never hope to pay you the kind of salary you are currently receiving,nor offer you the amount of financial support for research to which you are accustomed. Because ofthis unusual circumstance, we need to ask, I mean, we need to understand...” Here Hyden interrupted, obviously worried Annie was not being very diplomatic. “Excuse me,Annie, but what she is asking, Dr. Omega is, could you please tell us why you would want to leaveyour prestigious position at the University of Chicago to come to ... to, uh, a lesser known school suchas ours?" Omega knew the good dean would as soon have dug his own grave and jumped in it as tooffend him. He was well aware of how valuable a commodity he was, and Hyden had made it clear byeverything he said since they met that he was wanted at CSU. Badly. To the deans great relief, Omega did not mind the question in the least. He merely stared intospace for a moment as if in thought, then responded, "The answer is simple, really, Dean Hyden. First,let me make it clear that I am very impressed with the biological sciences program at CSU and wouldbe proud to be associated with it. But, frankly speaking, the reason for my application is that I need achange of pace." Committee members exchanged glances. Curnow raised an eyebrow. Omegas gaze again moved from one member of the Committee to another as he spoke, thistime meeting their eyes as if personalizing his message for each one. "Some people might envy theposition I am in,” he said, turning purposefully toward Curnow. “To those, I would say, publicityextracts its toll and fame is a heavy task master. As my reputation has grown, the demands on me haveincreased tremendously. Indeed, I have been under a very arduous schedule of teaching, in constantdemand on the lecture circuit, and there is always the pressure to publish.” “We should suffer such hardship,” Omega heard Curnow snort behind his hand to Derk Long. Omega ignored this and went on. “At the University of Chicago, I felt like I was being forcedto constantly parade in the spotlight. My dean was a very good friend, but even he was guilty ofapplying pressure in his own way. Whenever I complained about the rigmarole eating into mypreparation time for classes or into my research, he would say, But it is all for the University, James.His solution was to give me a staff of my own. Trouble is, I found it took up even more time tomanage the staff. Call me a fool; I am the sort that would rather do things myself. You may knowwhat I mean.” “I hear ya,” Derk Long put in. “Too many fingers messin in the pie, you end up with puddin.” “Yes, Dr. Long, exactly,” Omega said, smiling; but his tone grew earnest. "To make a longstory short, at Chicago, there was progressively less time available for me to do what I wanted to do. It 23
  24. 24. was very frustrating. You see, I have set for myself some very significant research objectives and, incase you have not noticed," his eyes twinkled good-humoredly, "I am not getting any younger!" This produced muffled, but polite chuckles around the table. Frank Curnow looked unamused. "To be totally honest,” Omega said, “I am searching for a place where I can get out of thelimelight, unwind a bit and concentrate on my research. I believe…, I hope, CSU is the place. I wouldlike to think of it as my new home.” “We all do!” cooed Juliet Marsh. “The question is,” Frank Curnow said dryly, “if this particular home has a budget capable oftaking on an addition to the family.” “Frank!” Annie looked like she would like to kick him under the table. She composed herself,interlocked her fingers, and faced Omega. “Excuse this rudeness, Dr. Omega. Dr. Curnow‟s feelingsdo not represent the rest of us. I‟m sure, when it comes to the budget, we can surely worksomething…” Omega held up his hand for her to stop. He sat back and crossed his legs. “There is no need toworry, I assure you, Dr. Groff. Please put your minds at ease on that point. I have no intention ofletting money become an issue. A modest salary would be acceptable for I am already financiallysecure. Offer me what you will, I will likely accept it. There are more compelling reasons for mywanting to come here." Annie and Bill Hyden exchanged amazed looks. The committee members released anunconscious, but collective, sigh. There was a noticeable easing of tension in the room, except forCurnow, whose fingers tapped the table. “I must say, we are relieved, but surprised, Dr. Omega,” Bill Hyden said. “But are you sure ourfacilities will be adequate for your needs?” "Certainly. The research I have in mind does not require elaborate technical support," Omegacontinued, politely. "A lot of it is done in the field and merely involves the use of a few graduatestudents and a half dozen laptops to aid in the collection of data. For the rest, CSU has all the datasystems capacity and laboratory facilities I require.” Again, shared looks of approval passed around the table. Omega abruptly dropped the smile. The tone of his voice grew more serious as well. “To beblunt, my friends, I sincerely feel bringing my research here to Colorado State can do your school asmuch good as it will do me. But, now we come to the meat of it. There are, I must mention, someproblems to be solved, some delicate webs needing to be strung, shall we say? There are certainstipulations I must insist upon in my contract." “Aha! Here we go. He wants a star on his dressing room door,” Curnow whispered in JulietMarshs ear. “Shh!” she commanded, finger to her lips and turned away. "First," James Omega continued, choosing not to notice, "I want a light class load. Restassured. I do not want to displace anyone from the department,” -- Juliet Marsh looked quite relieved --“and I need time to work on my projects in relative peace and quiet. This will include, on occasion,short periods of sabbatical leave." "Those types of things can be arranged," Hyden spoke up quickly. "Good. Second, and I consider this item non-negotiable...,” “Name it,” Hyden said. Several committee members leaned slightly forward on their seats. Omega hesitated. “I want the university to provide me with ... protection." A questioning murmur rose and buzzed around the table. Curnows eyes squinted. "Protection, Dr. Omega?" asked the Chair.
  25. 25. "Protection from publicity,” Omega explained, matter of factly. “I do not want the exposure Isuffered in Illinois to continue. In fact, I would prefer no announcement at all of my coming to theUniversity for at least six months." "But Dr. Omega,” Derk Long interjected, among astonished protests from the committee,"what good will it do this institution to have you here if no one knows about it?" "I expect I will be found out, but I would prefer it to be later rather than sooner," Omegaclarified. "Just, please, do not advertise it. As soon as word gets around, you will, no doubt, bebadgered about it to no end. But I must, even then, be let alone. No interviews. No press releases. Ijust cannot, you see.... Time is precious to me. More precious than you know." His voice took on an unexpected urgency. He leaned forward. "Honored committee members,when I said I need protection, I meant it literally. I am on the verge of a truly mind-bogglingdiscovery. If I can have some time to work on it in privacy, without a lot of distractions, it can becompleted soon. But there are an unscrupulous few who chase me like hounds. They would like tosteal my research and defame me. As I told you, fame has its price. In my case, unintentionally, I havemade enemies -- mean-spirited, jealous people, who have made it their goal in life to discredit me.Thus far, they have not succeeded. So you see, it is necessary I have protection from them as well asthe media. Therefore, I would expect you all to be extremely discreet if any questions about mywhereabouts or my work are asked." At this point, everyone around the table was exchanging mystified expressions, includingCurnow, who narrowed his eyes and actually set down his Blackberry. "As to Dr. Longs question of what good I can do your institution ... in return for yourcooperation, I will make you a promise," Omega said, placing a hand firmly on his breast. "If I canfind some reasonable seclusion here and finish my work, when the time comes, I will publish all myfindings in the name of Colorado State University. It will be an astounding revelation, I assure you,and well worth your inconvenience. I guarantee it." He leaned back in his chair. “Well then, those are my conditions. Take me or leave me. Oh,by the way… I must have my answer ... today.” For several moments, excited murmurs and head-to-head conferences began around the table.Chairman Hyden called for attention and order, and Omega volunteered himself to submit to anyfurther questions from the committee that might help them in their decision. Frank Curnow took some time to probe hard at the nature of Dr. Omegas research and thelength of time required to complete it, but Omega deftly avoided responding in specifics to hisquestions, indicating only that his research was in genetics, primarily with vertebrates. A minimum ofone to two years, he estimated, would be required for the results to be published. Juliet Marsh stuttered out how she appreciated Omegas not wishing to displace any of thefaculty. Still, she wanted to know exactly what kind of a class load Omega was expecting. Perhaps heshould go one or more terms without teaching if he liked? Actually, Omega responded, he really enjoyed teaching and was looking forward to gettingback into the classroom. Was not that the true purpose of science, after all, to pass the torch along?He thought he could be settled in and ready to begin a class by fall term. One class -- he specifiedseniors -- and, perhaps later, an additional graduate seminar would be about right. Annie said she was putting together a summer lecture series. Did Dr. Omega think he could bea guest speaker for one evening? Would it be an imposition? Omega smiled and thanked her. He would be delighted, would consider it a pleasure. Justkeep it small -- CSU student body only. No TV crews,” he added with a wink. Omega answered the remainder of their questions patiently until it seemed they had run fullcircle and were beating around the bush at the same issues. At length, he said, “My dear colleagues, I 25
  26. 26. sense there are still some unspoken tensions here you are too polite to address. I know my coming hereis unusual. I know I have proposed some things that may seem a bit unorthodox. What can I say? Isimply ask you to have faith in me. I promise you, I will not let you down.” Frank Curnow cleared his throat. “Just one thing more,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Yourname. James Omega is not your real name, is it?” Omega smiled. “Why do you ask? Is something wrong with it?” Curnow smirked. “No, of course not. It‟s just, a name like Omega … I‟ve never heard itbefore, except maybe in science fiction novels.” Omega‟s smile tightened. “I assure you, Dr. Curnow. There is nothing fictional about me. Iam as real as they come. And so is my name.” Bill Hyden coughed loudly and stood. "Ah yes, well then, well then ..., I believe we havesufficiently run Dr. Omega through the gantlet this afternoon. We thank you all, doctors, for coming,and thank you Dr. Omega. You have given us much to think about. Now, if the Committee is ready to terminate this interview, we will excuse Dr. Omega to thewaiting room while we attempt to arrive at a decision." The committee members nodded heads to one another in the affirmative. Hyden indicated thedoor with a gesture of his hand. "Again, thank you very much for coming, Dr. Omega. If you willshow yourself to the door, Ms. Walker, my secretary, is waiting for you outside. I will rejoin youshortly in the foyer with our answer." “Of course,” Omega said and, quietly rising from his chair, strode for the door. But he stoppedjust short of it and turned. “By the way, Dean Hyden,” he said, motioning with his eyes toward theaquarium on the other side of the room, “your poor fish are about to poach.” “What?” the Chairman muttered. “The temperature of the water is too hot.” Hyden walked over to the aquarium and squinted at the tiny thermostat. “Why, youreabsolutely right. Its a full five degrees above what it should be! But, how could you know? Youcouldnt have read the thermostat from across the room.” “I know,” Omega replied with a grin, pulling the door closed behind him as he finished over hisshoulder, “because the fish told me.” The heavy brass lock clicked shut and the room stood in silence for a very long moment. “Howd he do that?” Derk Long broke the silence, shaking his head in amazement. “Isnt it bad enough the man thinks hes god without having to demonstrate a psychicconnection with fish?” Frank Curnow snapped. “Hes a biologist,” Annie commented stiffly. “A very observant one, obviously. He saw howthe fish were behaving, thats all.” But, having said this, she pursed her lips and looked strangely at thedoor through which a very amazing man had just exited. Heads slowly nodded agreement, while an unsettling question mark seemed to float almosttangibly above the faces around the table. Omega certainly had charisma and most of them liked him -- liked him a lot. Still, there was something more to this business than he had been willing to divulge. The Chairman stood, tapping his pen on the tabletop for attention. "Okay, folks. Lets tacklethe subject at hand. In spite of the unusual circumstances, sound judgment tells me we should notquestion our good fortune. James Omega could do great things for our university. A mind like that --here! Hes as much as begging us to take him, asking so little and offering so much in return. I dontneed to remind you President Hewitt has taken the effort to call me personally on this matter.
  27. 27. Therefore, as Chair of this committee, I move we accept James Omegas application along with theconditions he requests. All in favor?" Curnow was silent as the others responded in an eager affirmative and he knew when he waslicked. If he voted no, he would never hear the end of it, from Hyden, from President Hewitt andespecially from the beautiful, hard-nosed Annie Groff. Begrudgingly, his hand joined theirs. "Wonderful! Then the votings unanimous,” Hyden said, delightedly rubbing his hands. “Wewill therefore offer Dr. Omega a full professorship in both departments -- natural and agriculturalsciences, contingent upon the negotiation of a satisfactory salary, benefit and tenure arrangement.Meeting adjourned.” Ω 27
  28. 28. Chapter 3 Anna Dawn Hamlyn prepared to enter her new Fort Collins apartment, balancing a full-loaded laundry basket of immaculately folded clothes topped with some twenty plastic hangers, plusan open box of sheet music sitting atop that. Biting her lip in concentration, she leaned against thedoorjamb and dug into her sling purse with one free hand to retrieve the key she had just been givenby the landlord. As she reached for the doorknob, her wire-rimmed glasses tilted sideways and amischievous lock of red hair fell forward on her face. She blew it away with an impatient “poof,”slipped the key in the lock, pushed open the door with her hip, and battled her way through thedoorway. Just after she stepped over the threshold, the heel of her shoe caught on a braided rug shedidnt expect and couldnt see, making the entire precarious cargo fall forward. For a moment AnnaDawn successfully counterbalanced, overcorrected, then gravity took over. With a shriek, she wentdown amidst a cascade of garments, a thunderstorm of hangers and an Avelanche of sheet music. She lay for a moment with her eyes tightly closed, afraid to open them. Other than oneelbow shooting sparks hot enough to make her eyes well with tears, she didnt think she was hurt. “Anna Dawn,” she moaned aloud, “you are such a klutz. Amazing. You managed to do thison your first load. Imagine what wondrous feats you can achieve with the next twenty loadswaiting for you down in the car!” She readjusted her glasses on her nose, then, groaning with the effort, pulled herself to herfeet to begin bringing order to chaos. “You know, youre actually very good at putting things in order, Anna Dawn,” she toldherself, cheerfully. “Unfortunately, youre even better at orchestrating disaster. Youre a paradox,that‟s what you are -- a Franklin Planner with a confetti aptitude. Lord help you.” Despite the unfortunate introduction to her new home, within two hours Anna Dawn hadunpacked her little, overwhelmed Honda Accord, lugging up the stairs to the third-floor apartmentseven cardboard boxes, four suitcases, five houseplants and a very large musical instrument case.Within another thirty minutes she unpacked her clothes, arranged them in the closet according tocolor, put away the dishes, and placed the plants around the apartment according to their individualrequirements for sunlight. “Yikes,” she exclaimed, glancing at her watch. “It‟s two-thirty already! Im due at theStudent Employment Office in an hour. Forget everything else, Anna Dawn. Hurry, get in theshower! Oh no. Which box has the shampoo?” An hour later, Anna Dawn was sitting at the Colorado State University Student EmploymentCenter, dressed, pressed and confident, filling out a job application. The personnel advisor sittingacross from the neat, confident-appearing, redheaded girl watched her, never guessing thedisheveled appearance of this same person sixty minutes earlier. Everything about the applicant‟sgrooming and person bespoke an immaculate attention to detail.
  29. 29. The advisor took the finished application from Anna Dawn‟s hands and scanned it quickly,turning it from front to back. “Youre from Texas, Ms. Hamlyn?” she asked politely. “Yes, Carpenter, a small town just outside of San Antonio. Anna Dawn gave a nervouslaugh. “Remember the Alamo!” “Yes. Indeed. Well, judging by your resume and appearance, you give a very fine firstimpression,” the advisor said, smiling at her encouragingly. “Thank you,” Anna Dawn blushed. “Where are you staying, if I may ask?” “I found a apartment not far from campus.” “And some nice roommates, I hope?” “No roommates. Just me and Bowlinda.” “Bowlinda?” the advisor questioned. Anna Dawn laughed. “My cello. We‟re best friends.” The advisor nodded. “I see. It says here you type 95 words a minute?” “Thats right,” Anna Dawn said. “And what would you consider your other strengths?” “Well, Im a whiz with a computer. As you can see, I‟ve had secretarial experience. Imvery organized and neat -- you could eat off my desktop -- and I enjoy meeting people.” “Excellent. And your weaknesses?” Anna Dawn hesitated. “Well, Ive been told by my roommates I tread a bit too closely to theneatnik edge of sanity.” The personnel advisor smiled. “By the way,” Anna Dawn added, “Im looking for just a part time position so I can attendschool.” “Of course. Most of our employees here are part time for the same reason. What are youstudying, Ms. Hamlyn? “Botany, with a music minor. Im actually coming here on a music scholarship.” “Well, thats lovely. Now, as to an opening ... as luck would have it, your timing isimpeccable. I received a request from the College of Natural Sciences a few days ago for a parttime secretary. After reviewing the resumes already on file, I was left wanting. And, then, youwalked through the door. You have the manner and personality of a good receptionist and the skillsof a good secretary. Besides that, you are studying botany, which means you will fit right into thebiological science department. All in all, Ms. Hamlyn, you not only seem the best qualified, but Ijust have a strong feeling you and this job were made for each other. Will you be available to starton Monday?” Anna Dawn gulped to catch her breath. Life didnt usually hand you a job on a silver platterat the first try. This was a welcome stroke of luck. She paused, reflecting within a split-second, how everything seemed to have fallen in placefor her since deciding to come to Colorado State University. It was like one of those fate things …meant to be. Then again, Anna Dawn, checked herself -- she did not believe in fate -- luck maybe --but not fate. No predetermined path for her feet! No battling against the gods. Free will and choicewere two essential elements of her being. Nevertheless, she was not opposed to taking advantage ofa lucky break and this job sounded perfect. “Oh yes, mam,” she said enthusiastically. “I can start tomorrow, if you want me.” “No. Monday will be fine,” the advisor said. “That will give you four days to settle in, getunpacked and get acquainted with the city. I hope you will like Fort Collins.” 29
  30. 30. “It‟s bigger than I expected,” Anna Dawn said. “But I like it. I feel at home here already.With the plains and hills and all, its not so awfully different from Texas, really.” The advisor folded her hands on her desk and looked kindly at Anna Dawn. “Well then, wewill expect you to begin work Monday morning, eight oclock sharp. You will work in the Sciencedepartment. Here is a card with Dean Hydens secretarys name and extension. Report to her in theHughes Building, fourth floor. I will call her and tell her to be ready to go over the job descriptionwith you and take you to your office where you may begin getting things organized. Since summerclasses begin in three weeks, I imagine your professor will want you to get right to work.” “Thats great, but who, may I ask, will I be working for?” The advisor hesitated. “I was just about to tell you that. Actually, it‟s someone very special.Hes new to our faculty this year and a bit of a celebrity, they tell me. His name is Dr. JamesOmega.” Anna Dawns purse fell off her lap. She leaned over, picking it up with shaking hands. “Notthe Dr. James Omega, the James Omega on PBS?” “The same.” “My gosh. Hes a professor here? Youre kidding.” “No, Im not.” Anna Dawn pushed up her glasses. “Wow. I mean, wow! I cant believe it. This isunreal!” “No, Ms. Hamlyn,” the advisor said with a smile. She stood to bend over the table and offera parting handshake, “this is one hundred percent real, believe me. And now I must mention, thereare some very specific instructions I need to give you. Dr. Omega‟s presence on the campus is, forthe time being, to remain a secret from the world outside the campus. Dean Hyden said Dr.Omega‟s been terribly harassed by people at his previous post—I suppose that‟s the price you payfor fame—anyway, the Doctor insists on his privacy. Thus, part of your job will be to ward offoutsiders, and that goes especially for anyone from the media. Screen all his calls carefully. If theyare not directly related to his work here at CSU, do NOT connect any such callers with Omegadirectly. Do what you must, but DO NOT do or say anything that might reveal the nature of hisresearch or even the fact that he is a member of the faculty here. If anyone outside the universitycalls for him, say, “One moment, please,” then transfer them to Dean Hyden‟s secretary withoutfurther explanation or comment. Do you understand? “Sure. No problem,” Anna Dawn responded, taking on a wide-eyed expression. “Soundsvery intriguing.” “It is not your job to be intrigued, Ms. Hamlyn,” the advisor said flatly. “You are to do whatDr. Omega asks you to do and protect his privacy as the situation arises. Do you think you canhandle that?” Yes.” Anna Dawn nodded confidently. “Certainly. I can handle that.” “Very well. That is all,” the advisor concluded, placing Anna Dawn‟s application to the sideof her desk. Then, as an afterthought she looked up at Anna Dawn and added, “For your sake, Ihope hes a nice boss and not, as some celebrities are, a conceited schmerk. Good luck, Ms.Hamlyn.” Anna Dawn smiled slightly, rose from the chair, thanked the secretary, then turned andwalked somewhat dazedly out the door and down the hall. “Schmerk?” she questioned, as she tapped the elevator button. “I don‟t think so. Dr.Omega seems so nice on TV. I can‟t imagine he‟s a schmerk.” She stepped inside when theelevator opened. As there was no one but herself in the car, she continued to talk to herself aloudduring the ride down to the lobby.
  31. 31. “Well, hey, Aunt Carol, can you believe this?” she beamed to an unseen party. “I‟m reallyhere, at CSU and I‟m going to be James Omegas secretary! The real James Omega! And I‟msupposed to protect him. What do you think that‟s all about? The way I see it, this is either goingto be one extremely interesting job, or the total pits. But at least I‟ve got a job. One less thing toworry about. But there‟s still a hundred things to do! Keep an eye on me, will ya? I love you.” That night, a breath of cool wind from the west came up, found the open window in AnnaDawn‟s new kitchen and ruffled the freshly-ironed curtains hanging there. Anna Dawn turned fromwhere she sat at the kitchen table and looked at them. It was as if something was out there,something new and tantalizing, calling to her. She got up, stepped to the window and looked out.Her apartment stood on a little rise and the third floor window allowed her a partial view of the far-spread lights of Fort Collins. In the pale moonlight she could see the outline of low mountains inone direction, rolling plains in the other. From the window, Anna turned and looked across the kitchen into the living room, whereBowlinda the cello was propped in a nearby corner. “How about Pizza, tonight?” she asked her silent, stringed friend. She pulled a Fort Collins phone book off the top of the fridge and began to thumb throughthe yellow pages. Her finger stopped on the first Pizza Hut she came to. Then her heart caught inher throat. Under her finger was a line of print revealing the Pizza Hut‟s address. “This is too much!” she cried, a little spooked. She turned to her cello. “Bowlinda, you areNOT going to believe this! 1509 Omega Place Plaza! Wow. It‟s like a sign. Everything that‟smeant to be makes a circle, you know. If it‟s right, all the loose ends fit together in the end. I feelgood now. In place. I‟m where I‟m supposed to be.” Shaking her head still somewhat amazed, she made the call, ordering a medium, deep-panmushroom-pepperoni and a root beer, delivery. She put down the receiver and again returned to stand at the window, her thoughts turningover again and again how she had come to be here, all the way to Colorado, to this particularuniversity. Who would have thought her Aunt Carol‟s recent death would bring with it a change inthe direction of her life? Who would have thought her old-maid aunt‟s executor would appear fromout of nowhere and present Anna Dawn at the gravesite with proceeds from an insurance policy thatshe didn‟t even know existed. $40,000 wasn‟t a fortune, but enough to get her out of the smalluniversity where she was piece-mealing together an Associate degree and into a quality universityfor her Bachelors. No, not a fortune, but enough to give her a chance. Enough to maybe make afew dreams come true. Still, who would have ever thought she, a Texan, born and bred, would end up here, in theRockies of Colorado? With her inheritance, she could have chosen to go to college anywhere in herhome state. But Anna Dawn wanted a fresh start. It was time for something different. For several weeks over the past months, she had explored the websites of many differentcolleges, being especially interested to find one where botany and music, her two great loves, couldmatriculate hand in hand with best advantage to both. She selected seven or eight possibilities andsubmitted requests for more detailed information. The packets soon arrived. Three things about Colorado State University in Fort Collins,Colorado, immediately caught her eye. One was that a top cellist, retired from the New YorkSymphony Orchestra, was on the music faculty. The second was that the botany and agriculturaldepartments were ranked among the best in the country. But the clincher was the front cover ofCSU‟s packet. It showed, simply, a shot of the Hughes Science Building framed by a hedge of blue 31

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