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A Tales of Vantoria Teaser

Posted by rjagilbert on May 4, 2017 at 12:05 AM

Here is an excerpt from a TOV project I hope to publish in the future:


“Evolution is true.”

The words glared down at her in bold red type from a banner above the entrance to the Pacific Rim University campus library. They made Janie’s blood boil. They always did. Maybe the older students had found ways to control their tempers when they saw stuff like that, but not Janie Palmer. She was the youngest student on campus, a freshman at only the age of seventeen—thanks for the most part to her father’s tutelage. However well he had taught her calculus and Riemannian Geometry, though, he had given her very little of that virtue the college crowd called “tolerance”.

When she saw things that made her angry, she did something about it. In this case, she said it. To the young man seated at the table beneath the banner beside a stack of his books. A line of students had formed to wait patiently while he signed each copy he sold. As Janie waited quietly for her turn, she noted how large his name had been printed on the front cover: Carl Lace. In a smaller font, the book’s title mimicked the banner overhead. “Evolution is True”.


He flashed his shark-white teeth at her as she approached. Combined with the fresh copy of his book that he made ready to sign for her, his demeanor came across as nothing but arrogant. Janie ignored it. She did not need any more fuel for his pyre. Not after what she had been through—what she was still going through—these last few days.


“What do you mean, evolution is true?” She asked with arms folded across her chest. She made no movement to suggest interest in his book.


Carl Lace was ready for this. She was not the first religious fanatic to challenge his claims. His smile faded only long enough for him to say, “If you are not interested in my book, young lady, please move aside.”


“I’m interested,” Janie countered, snatching an unguarded copy from the top of his stack. She flipped it over to read the back. “It says you have a PhD in Anthropology and Astronomy.” She flashed him a calculated smile before adding, “And all that before your twenty-fifth birthday. Impressive.”


The shark-like grin returned to Dr. Lace’s face. “Thank you,” he said, holding up a pen. “Now if you’d like to hand me your copy, whom should I sign it to?”


Janie ignored the prompt. Instead, she asked her question again. “What do you mean, evolution is true?”


“Science has proven it to be true,” Carl Lace retorted impatiently. Several of the students in line behind Janie crowded closer as if to encourage her to leave. To them, the author said, “Scientists are already using evolution to save lives—and to save the planet. It’s real, and it’s true, and it’s here right now!”


A woman’s voice from the crowd said, “Wow!” Then a young, male student asked, “Evolution saves lives?”

Carl Lace stood up to address the interested assembly. “Indeed, Evolution saves lives. Right now, scientists in South America are using Evolution to fight the spread of diseases by introducing new species into the environment to reduce the parasitic populations that kill thousands of people each year.”


Janie shook her head. “How is that Evolution?”


The smile on Dr. Lace’s face barely flinched as he turned towards her. “It’s survival of the fittest, young lady.”


“No,” Janie countered, “It’s interference by man.”


“Of course,” he agreed.


“But the theory of Evolution is based on the idea that life evolved without interference,” Janie let her voice sound puzzled. “And it took millions of years. How long did it take for these scientists to…”


Carl Lace did not let her finish her question. “What is your name, young lady?” He said with less of that shark-white smile now visible.


Janie did not oblige him with an answer. Instead, she continued her argument, “It’s no secret that scientists prefer the theory of Evolution because they don’t like to think there was some larger being—what some call God—who created this world and all life on it.”


“There is no God,” Dr. Lace said coldly. To her right, Janie heard another student shout, “God is dead!” Then another student echoed the cry, and another.


“That is not what I am talking about.” Janie had to raise her voice to be heard above the chanting in the crowd. “Don’t change the subject!” She pointed a finger at the scientist and said, “This is only about God if you want to make it.”


“Then what is this about?” Dr. Lace growled.


Janie took a deep breath, recalling the debate classes her father had encouraged her to take last year at the Community College to flesh out her G.E.D. Then she spoke loud and clear for the audience to hear. As she continued, the chanting died down as the students listened to her explanation. “You said that humans are interfering with the survival of a species in South America. You said that an unwanted species is going extinct, or at least being endangered, because of human interference. But that doesn’t prove that man evolved from monkeys over millions of years. That only proves that a higher form of intelligence—in this case, scientists—are responsible for the survival of one species and the extinction of another.”


The smile was gone from his face as Carl Lace nodded his head. “That is Evolution.”


“No,” Janie shot back, “That is something else. It’s Evolution with a new meaning.”


The audience was silent now, waiting for Carl Lace to counter the impertinent teenager with his superior wisdom.


For once, Dr. Lace did not have an answer. “What?” he asked coldly.


“My dad is a Christian,” Janie began, “But even he believes in what he calls Closet Evolution. He hangs all his nice, clean shirts in the front of the closet, and he always pushes the stuff he doesn’t wear much into the back. After a while, when he wants to make room in the closet for more clothes, he takes whatever is in the back of the closet and gives it away. Those are the clothes that worked their way to the back because he didn’t like them, and so he does not miss them when they are gone.”


A sneer crept onto Dr. Lace’s face. “How is that Evolution?”


“It isn’t,” Janie shrugged. “It’s like the theory of Evolution, and it works on similar principles, but it is different. That is why Daddy calls it by another name.”


“But he called it Evolution,” Dr. Lace snapped.


“He called it Closet Evolution,” she countered. Turning to the audience, she said, “If I just used the word “rose” to describe everything that is a rose, what kind of things would I be talking about?” She counted off on her fingers as she listed them, “There’s the wild rose with only five petals, the English Rose who died in a car accident in Paris before I was born, there’s the compass rose you’d see on a map, the climbing rose, the long-stemmed rose…” Having run out of fingers, she stopped her list and turned back to Dr. Lace. “The difference between a long-stemmed rose and the compass rose is the other words added to describe it. If you really want to avoid confusing people about Evolution, I suggest you add something like ‘Promethean Evolution’ when talking about Evolution by interference from an intelligent being.” She hesitated only a moment before driving her point home, “But I suppose that’s not what you want at all, is it, because it leaves the door wide open for religious nuts like my dad to suggest that maybe there is a God who interferes.”


Suddenly Carl Lace’s face changed. His sneer darkened to a menacing snarl. “Don’t question me, little girl.”


“But your argument is just a bunch of snake oil,” she continued insistently. “It’s the old ‘bait and switch’. There’s nothing true about that. You’re no better than—“


He did not let her finish. Lunging at her from across the table, he grabbed her by the arm. “Shut up! Shut up, you little snot!” With uncontrollable rage he shook her by the arm. Janie felt as though he might tear it from her shoulder at any moment. She struggled to break free, but his grip held fast. He gnashed his teeth in her face. “Shut up, I tell you!”


Then there was a dark shadow at Janie’s side. A tall, menacing presence that seemed to push back the crowd even as it reached for the scientist’s hand on Janie’s arm. She saw a black, leather sleeve and a large, man’s hand grip Dr. Lace’s wrist, and the scientist’s terrible grip released immediately.


“I think you’ve made your point,” Janie’s rescuer said to her calmly. To Carl Lace, he said, “And I think you made yours.” His tone bore an edge of cold animosity as he spoke that last word. Janie looked up to see him standing beside her, dressed in a black, leather jacket to match his dark jeans, stubble-covered chin, and unkempt, black hair. He looked to be the same age as the young scientist he stared down.


Dr. Lace drew back to his side of the table. Regaining his composure, he hissed, “I think you both need to leave.”


“But I didn’t get my book signed,” Janie retorted hotly.


“Don’t push it,” the stranger grunted, taking her gently by the arm and guiding her away from the table.


The crowd seemed to part in front of them as he moved her toward the library’s front doors. Several of the students recoiled visibly in recognition of the stranger that now gripped Janie by the arm. One young woman muttered, “It’s Killer.”


Janie stiffened. What kind of a name was that? Was it his nickname? Was it his reputation?


“I heard he killed his friend,” another voice whispered as they passed.


As they passed through the glass doors, somebody else announced, “They never found the body.”


The silence of the library settled in around them as they stepped away from the murmuring crowd. Then, stepping to one side of the automatic doors, the stranger turned to face her.


“Who are you?” she asked, followed by, “What do you want?”


“I need to talk to your father,” the young man said quietly.


A wave of fear and despair washed over Janie, and she felt the fire leave her. Her knees buckled, and she found herself being held upright by the stranger’s strong grip. For a moment, she felt tears in her eyes. Then that stubborn, Palmer grit returned, and with it the strength to stand. Dryly, she commented, “You and me both.”


“Listen,” the stranger said earnestly, releasing his hands from her arm so that he could dig through his jacket pocket. “It is very important that I talk to your father. It’s about his research.” Janie had a hard time believing that, but she said nothing. “Please give him this,” the man said, pressing a small square of paper into her hand. Then, seeing that she had taken it, he quickly stepped away and disappeared into the crowd.


Janie looked down at the small slip of paper he had placed into her palm. On one side, he had printed a poorly-framed photo of an old, clay tablet covered in strange symbols. Janie tilted it one way, then another, trying to recall if this was something her father had been researching before he…she felt her nerves finally give way as she thought about that last phone call she had taken from her father. She folded the note in half to hide the photo, but discovered instead that the back had been written on.


In large, black letters, the young man who had rescued her from the clutches of Carl Lace had written a single sentence: “Can you read this?”


Underneath the short message, he had written a phone number, followed by a name.

His name, Janie noted, was Lance Kale.

 

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