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FLUENCY(5)

By´╝ÜJennifer Foehner Wells



Jane Goodall. Hm. Maybe. She’d lived all over the world, in a lot of remote places.

She didn’t look much like a Calamity Jane, just now.

Jane Fonda? Eh. Nope.

The other chick would be more of the voluptuous, Jayne Mansfield type, if she’d just loosen up a bit.

The throat clearing didn’t phase them, so he moved forward, extending his hand to the taller, dark-haired woman. He might as well rescue her. “Dr. Holloway. We spoke on the phone. Dr. Alan Bergen.”

She seemed taken aback and shook limply.

“People usually call me Berg,” he said nonchalantly.

She shook her head and turned to the other woman for direction.

“You do remember our appointment?” His gaze flicked to the blonde.

The blonde beamed a bright, friendly smile at him, her lips coated in a dark raspberry shade that complemented her clear, rosy complexion and large, grey eyes. She stuck out her own hand and said cheerfully, “Pleasure to meet you, Dr. Bergen. I’m Jane Holloway. I’ll be right with you.” She ushered the young woman toward the nearest door. “Amy, let’s talk about this again on Friday after class, once you’ve had some time to think through what I’ve said, ok?”

He shifted uneasily from foot to foot, feeling foolish for having made such a blunder. She was a professor—of course she dressed the part. Why had he expected her to look like she was about to set off on an expedition?

He didn’t relish looking like a fool right off the bat when this interview was so important, but her expression didn’t betray a hint of reproach and she didn’t seem to be overly amused by the blunder, which was a relief. He made a mental note to berate whoever had neglected to put a photograph in her file.

Holloway turned abruptly, the brilliant smile returning. “Ok, Dr. Alan Bergen, what’s this about? I assume you’re here to try to convince me to go out in the field again,” she said brusquely, gathering up a few things around the podium and heading for the door. He scrambled to join her as she called over her shoulder, “Are you with OTP, ELP, or one of the religious-affiliated organizations?”

“OTP?”

“Oral Traditions Project.” She stopped on a dime. His momentum kept him going for a moment, out of sync with her completely. She scrutinized him skeptically. “You don’t know what OTP is? Who are you? You’re not a linguist, are you?”

He huffed. “No. I’m an engineer.”

Her expression became troubled and she gazed at him like he’d sprouted a horn in the middle of his forehead. “An engineer?”

“Yes. Aeronautics. I did my undergrad here, actually. Only set foot in this building once, I believe, before today.”

“What do you want with me?” She seemed perplexed, but resumed her forward bustle. He followed her down a few flights of stairs and she finally stopped moving once she reached a claustrophobically tiny office. The space was crowded with a desk, credenza, and three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, jammed neatly with books. An enormous, but half-dead tropical plant was propped against the door, holding it open. The single, unoccupied chair in the room did not look like it afforded the kind of leg room he needed.

The situation set his teeth on edge. He was completely out of his element. His suspicion that NASA had set up this little side-mission as a clever way to test him, grew exponentially. “Well, it’s not me, obviously. It’s the government.”

She moved a stack of books from the chair to a corner of her desk and gestured for him to have a seat. “Our government has no interest in nearly extinct languages. They barely have a grasp on the one they use.”

A laugh burst from him. Was she trying to be funny? Her narrowed eyes refuted that hypothesis. “No, I guess they don’t. This would be a unique opportunity—something no one’s done before.”

She settled herself behind the desk and finally shifted all her attention to him. “Ok. Let’s hear it.”

He had no desire to be shut up in that nanoscale room and couldn’t see his way to smoothly shutting the door with that damn, monster plant in the way, anyway. The hallway outside was busy with loitering students who might overhear. This was the part he was uncomfortable with—how to get Holloway to Houston without exposing too much. Finesse was not something he excelled at.

He thumbed behind himself. “Why don’t we go get some coffee? Talk about this someplace more private. You said on the phone that you had a couple of hours free.”

She drew herself up, her palms flat on the desk, a quizzical look on her face. “Let me get this straight. You’re an aeronautics engineer who wants to talk to me, alone, about a unique opportunity to work for the U.S. government?”

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