The Real Truth About Fossils
Sometimes, the strangest things interrupt the most innocent of tasks.
As usual, this being Friday and all, the communications center bathrooms were locked up tight with a bright pink, hand scrawled note, stapled, not taped, stapled, to the door proclaiming that the washrooms were out of service for maintenance. I don’t know what the boys in the Janitorial Pool are up to but it shouldn’t take every Friday for the last three months to finish fixing what needs to be fixed. I suspect they were playing a joke on our section’s illustrious head honcho, who, as is his custom, was nowhere to be seen.
I really had to go.
While I pee-pee danced towards the public section, where I knew a bathroom was more than marginally likely to be functional, I could hear the seemingly incessant thump, thump, thump of helicopter rotors as the boys in black put them through their training paces. Much as I appreciate the boys in black and the necessary work they do, the noise of them passing overhead can at times be annoying, especially when one particular pilot believing he’s Tom Cruise in ‘Top Gun’ buzzes the building rather closer than I would prefer. On a day like today, however, when he is in Los Vegas spending the spoils of numerous real and imagined raids, the noise becomes part of the background and easy to ignore.
I usually don’t notice the antics of the boys in black, but for some reason this time was different. Distracted as I was by the increasing urgency communicated to me by my bladder, it took me quite a long moment to realize why I did. Hidden within the rotor thrumming was a subtle undertone I was unfamiliar with, a sound barely discernible from the normal ticks and groans of a building under assault from high velocity hot air.
Though it is difficult to communicate the true essence and form of the sound, it can best be described as a mindless, mumbling, moaning, mewling with just a hint of whining and a dash of whinging, which my well developed innate complexity meter told me was not likely to be anything mechanistic in origin. That, of course, left only naturalistic causes.
I knew it could not be mice, since Friday was the day when the agreement between the cats and the mice stated they were limited to morning forays only, and I knew it wasn’t likely to be the cats either, since The Lone Beagle would have chased them to the basement by now. It was doubtful that it would be TLB himself since he was either sleeping in the cafeteria or busy licking the GM’s boots at this hour of the day.
That left me with but one conclusion, the cause of the noise had to be made by a human. But by which human and why?
My professor in ‘Indoctrination 313’ always said that to determine purpose it is always helpful to know the ‘who’, and to determine the possible ‘whos’ it is always helpful to know the ‘why’. I’ve always loved playing with catch 22s and generally enjoy the give and take of ideas and the rationalization of their solutions, but my time was sorely limited. All I could do was to mentally run down the list of possible offenders and eliminate them one by one. Luckily for me the building was mostly abandoned and this section cut off from the public.
I started where I had to, at the very top.
I suspected, based on reliable information from past gossip, that the GM was at this very moment getting his ass kissed, his boots licked or his knob polished, so it was unlikely he was down ‘here’ making such undignified noises. Besides he seldom left his suites six floors above.
As far as I knew, PH, which stands for PoopyHead by the way, was currently away from the office engaged in some delicate ‘business transactions’, meaning of course that he was deep, deep in the heart of some cheer leader squad recruiting for the GM. He has such a ‘tough’ job!
None of the Docs from this wing would be caught dead, or with their knickers in a knot, this late on a Friday. I doubted the ability of any of the Janitorial Pool to pull himself away from the weekly Friday ‘jam’ session where intense planning, preparation and implementation of new and nefarious practical jokes to play on the rest of us takes place. Although it embarrasses me to no end to admit it, I’m actually quite proud of my involvement in the development of that particular insane tradition.
After eliminating all of the known authorized people from the equation the only possibility left was that some POC mark in searching for POD people somehow got past the barriers and found something he or she did not expect nor was particularly happy with.
I’m sorry, I just remembered that you are new here so would have no idea what either POC or POD meant. Well, let me explain:
POC is an acronym for ‘Proponents of Creationism’, people who have been suckered into believing the ‘big tent’ scam of Intelligent Design despite the acceptance of an old Earth, and common descent by much of the leadership of Intelligent Design and the implied ‘less than omnipotent’ attribute of a supreme being who has to keep fiddling with crucial points in each species’ history to get what s/he wants.
POD as you have probably already guessed given the explanation for POC, is an acronym for ‘Proponents of Darwinism’ an apparently well organised, politically powerful, atheistic, world encompassing and religiously zealous cabal of straw men.
The frequent attempts by POC marks to find and disrupt this supposed cabal became so common a few years back that we set up a lobster trap for them just off of the public areas. Anyone entering the door marked ‘Dept. of Darwinism’ was confronted with a maze of hallways which simultaneously looked to lead everywhere but actually lead nowhere. (This is one of those fractal buildings like you see in movies where the inside is larger than the outside.) You’d be surprised at the numbers of people we have to rescue from that section on a weekly basis. Funny thing is they all threaten to sue until we mention their trespassing on private property. We typically congratulate them on their intelligent legal choice and shoe them out the side door about 2 miles from the parking lot. However, don’t ask about the non-typical responses. Ever.
Unfortunately, on occasion, a POC mark or two does bravely walk through the door conspicuously marked ‘Garbage Compactor’ and finds their way into the Design and Planning section just off the public sector.
This day, encouraged by my condition, I came to the conclusion that it must be some poor innocent and totally harmless lost soul looking for a way out.
When I eventually reached the hallway where I expected to find this lost soul, based on clues from the sounds in the air ducting system, I noticed a small form seated on the floor with knees firmly hugged to chin, and tears coursing down both cheeks. I briefly wondered what a child was doing in the hall until I came close enough to get a better look. What I found was a small elderly woman with a fit and well proportioned body underneath a large wide eyed face topped by pitch black short cropped hair. Her black clothing was a stark contrast to her pure white skin. The entire effect was one of a 1930’s sleazy cartoon character or a bobble head doll of some misplaced and aged Goth.
For a moment, but just a moment, I almost forgot about my impending internal Big Bang until I spied a washroom door I had forgotten about, just beyond the huddled figure. As I hopped over her in my haste to get to certain relief, she looked up questioningly, prompting me to acknowledge her question with a nod of the head and a vintage Michael Jackson grab of the crotch as I raced to the door.
My lengthy but satisfying trip to the ladies room was more or less uneventful (aside from my frenzied activities), at least as that term is defined around here. I ended up with no more damage to my dignity than a light blue stain on the front of my pants and a bump on the back of my head, but that is a story for another day.
When I returned to the woman in black, she appeared to have regained her composure, at least to a small extent and was standing outside the open door to Doc Bones’ artefacts training lab. I asked her if she was OK and offered to help her if I could. She gazed at me for a moment as if trying to get her bearings and then whispered “it’s supposed to be just a bird, nothing more, just a bird.” She looked back into the room and more loudly said “This can’t be right; it isn’t possible, they wouldn’t have lied to me, would they”. As she looked up at me all I could do was shrug my shoulders.
I really had no idea what she was babbling about or what it had to do with the lab so I asked her to be a bit more specific. She just looked at me with those big wide set empty eyes in that oversized melon of a head. I had to repeat my question several times before I was able to convince her to respond with more than that blank stare. I had the nagging feeling I was the straight man in a bad cartoon about to be crushed, run over or otherwise abused for the sake of a cheap laugh. Luckily for me instead of being subjected to the expected intense pain I was treated to a pointing finger. It was apparently aimed right at my chest. For a moment I was dumbfounded wondering what I had done this time to invoke the wrath of a total stranger. I finally gained the composure to stutter out my innocence of absolutely everything (since I had no idea what I had done).
She looked at me quizzically for a moment before getting a look of disdain on her face, which for some reason never did gain any color, and exclaimed rather sarcastically “not you idiot, the door behind you.” I had forgotten I had gotten in between her and the door - unconsciously trying to bar her way I suppose.
“It’s a fake I tell you, a fake” she exclaimed forcefully, “It just has to be. They wouldn’t lie to me. Not to me.”
How a cartoon character could look both arrogant and confused at the same time is beyond me but she managed it. I must say it was a bit frightening.
I turned around and faced the doorway, and for the first time wondered why this particular door was open at this time of the day. The realisation that she was no innocent hit me unexpectedly and forcefully. But there was a problem. Looking at the size of the woman I could not believe she had anywhere near the strength to break into the room by herself. She must have had or has an accomplice. Concerned that her accomplice was still inside I desperately looked around for anything that could be used as a potential weapon. I found a stick of chewing gum in my pocket, but after a moment of consideration came to the conclusion that even I couldn’t MacGyver a decent weapon out of it. I did what I had to do, I pulled my cherished mechanical pencil out of my left pocket protector and wielding it as menacingly as I could, pushed my glasses up on my nose with my middle finger, set my quivering jaw, and entered the room.
What I found shocked me. Lying on the floor in complete disorder, obviously suffering from major entropy was a very expensive cast of Archaeopteryx #4. In a panic I dropped my offensive weapon, dropped to my knees and hurriedly examined the specimen. To my great relief it was one of the copies and not the original.
Kneeling there I glanced at the door to see my cartoon character standing there chewing her bottom lip. I thought of asking her if she would rather chew on a piece of gum but rejected it as being in bad taste so I asked my alternative question. I asked her if she had anything to do with the destruction to which she silently nodded. I asked why she would do such a thing but she just shook her head and looked haunted. Once again she lifted her hand and pointed. This time first to the bones of a modern bird and then to the fossil of a theropod. I finally began to understand.
She had apparently been comparing the skeletal structure and bone type of the Archaeopteryx to the other two specimens. Now her earlier incoherence started to make sense, she had expected the bird and Archaeopteryx to be identical and to be significantly different than the Theropod. She had become confused and angry when that expectation turned out to be very wrong.
I felt the best way to diffuse the situation was to explain to her the truth about transitional fossils, especially Archy and friends. That is what I did.
In her frustration with what I had just explained to her, she grabbed the fossil, raised it above her head and with every bit of strength she could muster, dashed the fossil against the floor. At this point I would like to be able to say that it broke into a million pieces but I’m afraid she ain’t that strong. At most she got about a dozen pieces out of the effort. Well she tried. And I laughed… a lot… I can be so cruel.
I guess my laughter confused her because she looked up at me from contemplating her handiwork and with a rather puzzled look on her face asked how I could be so cavalier over the loss of such a priceless fossil. How little she knew.
As I escorted her to the exit, she turned to me looking me straight in the eye and with a small smile said “I have some heavy thinking to do ahead of me don’t I?” All I could do was raise my eyebrows in answer. It was a journey she would have to make on her own. With a final flick of the hips and a quick “Boop-Oop-A-Doop” she left the building.
After the door softly sighed shut behind her and I heard the click of the electronic lock, I slipped back into the lab, carefully picked up the broken and scattered Archy fossil, walked over to the broom closet where I punched in my personal code on the wall phone, waited for the hands free light to flash three times then slowly opened the door. As expected, the hidden door on the back wall was open for me and a path cleared. As I entered the room on the other side of the opening I was, as always, overcome with awe at the immensity of the job we have undertaken. As the largest single warehouse in the entire western world, with its row upon row of fossil filled shelves, this was the archetype, the symbol of all we have accomplished and how far we have yet to go. I momentarily bowed my head in reverence and to collect my thoughts before disposing of the fossil remnants in the reclamation bin.
I quickly requisitioned a fossil cart, which is nothing more than a very fast and large golf cart (and yes, I have on occasion borrowed one to help intimidate golfing opponents), and sped over to the fossil preparation lab at the back of the warehouse, where I grabbed a newly prepared Archy fossil from the AA (Artificial Aging) chamber. It was still a bit warm. After leaving the room, shutting the broom closet door and carefully replacing the fossil within its glass case, I reflected on just how lucky that caricature of a woman was to not have found the door to the warehouse I just left. She must really have had someone looking out for her.