The new researcher arrived just as Jennifer finally got the chance to sit down with a cup of coffee. Cleaning out the chimp section was never fun, and today Botu had been especially lively. He’d kept signing “Jennifer play” again and again. “Later,” Jennifer would sign back. Either Botu didn’t remember that sign, or – more likely – he was pretending not to know. But his enclosure still had to be cleaned.
The door to the breakroom opened, and the man standing in the entrance slowly moved his head from one side to the other, apparently sweeping the room with a gaze, although his dark sunglasses made that hard to determine for sure. “Dr. Kram?” he eventually asked, his voice flat.
Jennifer scrambled out of the chair, tucking a bit of hair back behind an ear. “Yes! Hi! What can I do for you?”
“I’ve been sent here to see if my area of expertise can help you with your difficulty.” The man hefted a small briefcase.
“Oh, you’re the new guy!” Jennifer extended a hand, and the new guy took it, shook it twice in a quick, efficient motion, then released it. “Yes, I’m Jennifer. Alex and Bill aren’t here right now, Dr., uh—“ She was keenly aware of the acrid smell of chimp pee on her clothes.
“You can call me Roy.”
“’Roy.’ Just Roy?”
Roy didn’t nod, or shake his head, or twitch a single muscle.
“Roy, OK! Well! Anyway, Alex and Bill aren’t here. I guess I said that already. We weren’t expecting you until Thursday.”
“My previous commitment came to a premature termination,” Roy said. “Where shall I set up?”
“Oh, yeah – well, we’ve got a desk for you in the lab, and we’ve cleaned out a locker you can use. Working here requires some emergency clothes changes. I guess you must know. I can show you–”
“I certainly know what you mean about changes of clothing. However, my presence here may not need to be an extended one,” Roy said. “Perhaps if I can see one of the subjects.”
“Oh, well, OK, if you want to do that first, sure. We have chimps, and dolphins, as our most promising studies. Alex has been our chimp-signing expert for years, and she has gotten some really amazing results. Bill’s our dolphin man. They can vocalize, much more than the chimps, but deciphering their chatter – that’s been his area. One, we call him Skipper, really goes on. And actually communicating with other animals, getting them to talk to us – pretty exciting, huh?”
Roy stood still.
“Uh,” Jennifer continued, “I’m not all that clear about what your specialty is. I mean, the guys from the government, they said you came highly recommended, but they didn’t give us any details. I don’t know why. I know there’s nothing wrong with our IRB protocols. Probably some kind of foul-up. We were wondering. Not that we’re not happy you’re here, and for the extra funding!”
“The boys in DC have shifted some of the priorities of the previous administration,” Roy said. “More science. So we do science.”
“Uh huh,” Jennifer said uncertainly.
“The subject? I’d like to get started right away.”
“Sure, yeah. So – a chimp, or a dolphin?”
Roy cocked his head. “Dolphins have more exposed skin, don’t they?” He set his briefcase on the break table and opened it.
“Well, sure. Obviously. But why–”
Roy reached into his briefcase. Jennifer glimpsed sharp, gleaming instruments. “That allows nice, close contact for the electrodes. Bring in a dolphin, and strap it down. I’ll make it talk for you.”
“There are Ways” originally appeared in Bards and Sages.
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