Carmen isn’t happy; that’s immediately apparent. She’s wearing the same scowl that crosses her face whenever she sees Malcolm, but it’s a little deeper today. Her blue Ford sedan is parked parallel to the apartment building, emphasizing further just how quickly she plans to leave when her business is done. Her arms are wrapped protectively around a black-haired little girl, twelve years old but tall for her age, with big green eyes and the type of tan that can only be attained by living in the Southwest, who’s using one hand to grip a green plastic suitcase and the other to try to loosen her mother’s grip. Malcolm slows down a little as he passes them, grins when he sees that it’s indeed who he drove so fast to get to, parks in his assigned spot as quickly as possible and gets out of his car, grabbing a few paper-filled folders, just as Anna runs out to greet him.
They meet somewhere in the middle of the parking lot, and just as he does every time, Ian kneels down and hugs his daughter. They don’t say anything for a minute, just grip each other tightly, and then Anna laughs, lets go and says, “Hi, Dad.”
“Hi, sweetie,” he says, and lifts up her suitcase. “I’ll get this. Did you get taller? You look taller.”
“I don’t think so,” she says, and Ian notices that the little girl’s mother is standing behind her, sunglasses on and blonde hair pulled into a bun, hands on hips and attempting to show anger rather than her genuine annoyance.
“You’re late,” she says, and then, under her breath, “I don’t know what I expected.”
Ian flashes a sheepish smile and tells her, “Got caught in traffic.” That’s another hard-acquired skill: keeping peace with ex-wives. Something he’s always working on.
She lets out a long-suffering sigh. “Her bedtime is nine. She can watch regular TV for an hour, after that, it has to be educational. She has a little bit of homework, and she needs to finish it before-”
“I remember,” he says. “I always do.”
She rubs her eyes with her thumb and middle finger. “Okay. I’ll be back on Sunday night to get her. Don’t forget, I live in Belen now, so call that landline if anything happens. I have someone house-sitting, so I’ll have them contact me in Dublin.” She gets down and puts a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Be careful, okay, Anna, sweetie? I’ll see you in a few days.”
“I’ll be fine, Mom,” the girl says. “Have fun at your convention.” She smiles. Carmen hugs her briefly, closing her eyes, and then gets back into her car, looking back at the two for a minute before driving away. Malcolm and Anna watch the sedan disappear down the street and turn a corner. Once it’s out of view, they turn towards the complex.
“So, ah, how are you?” he asks Anna, rolling her suitcase on the gravel. The wheels protest loudly, and he lifts it up, carrying it by the handle. “How’s school?”
“Pretty good,” she answers, putting her hands in her pockets. “I’m doing better in my advanced classes than I thought I would. Mom says we can get another pet if I have straight As at the end of the year, but she says it has to be something small.”
“Maybe she’ll buy you a tarantula,” he teases. “I know you— you love spiders.”
She wrinkles her nose. “Nah. I want a boa constrictor.”
“Well, it’d make a good friend for Harvey.” Harvey is her pet iguana, whom she adores. “Sure you, uh, want something you’d have to feed mice to?”
“They’re reptiles. They eat smaller animals,” she says matter-of-factly. “They’re just the way they are. I mean, I don’t want to watch it. But that’s how nature works sometimes.”
“That’s actually-” he starts, and turns his head to look at her; only then does he notice what she’s wearing. Black T-shirt, black shorts, black socks and sneakers. “Took a page from Dad’s book, did you?”
She shrugs. “Sort of. We learned about black-body radiation in my science class last week. I thought about animals with black fur or exoskeletons when I heard that—you know, like black-girdled lizards- and I wondered if those were adaptations that developed because of black-body radiation. It’s been really hot out lately, so I’ve been wearing all black for a few days, to see if it’s true.”
Ian has a surge of pride that he can’t quite put into words. Instead, he smiles at her and ruffles her hair a little as they climb a short concrete flight of stairs. There’s a brown door at the top with the gold-painted numbers 204 nailed to it, which he unlocks and pushes open. Anna goes into the apartment first, and he shuts and locks the door behind him as he follows her.
Malcolm used to stay in a smaller apartment back when he was only a frequent guest at the Institute, but now that he’s moved completely away from San Diego and now works at the Institute as a full-time researcher and weekly lecturer, he lives in one he can inhabit year-round. There’s two bedrooms, a study, a kitchenette and a somewhat spacious living room; the latter two are downstairs, basically the same room, while the rest are up a small wooden flight of steps. It seems roomier than it is, though; there are only two stone columns between the living room and the kitchen, no door, and there are three windows in the living room. Anna takes a minute to look around and analyze whether anything has changed in the month that she hasn’t been here; the walls are still the same antique-looking shade of yellow, there are still wooden rafters holding up a wood-paneled ceiling above the hardwood floor, there’s still no fire in the stone fireplace that takes up the center of the room and the place is just as messy as ever, with books and papers on almost every flat surface, clothes draped across the backs of chairs and Post-It notes scrawled with half-formed thoughts stuck on the table, the fridge, the walls and a lampshade. Contented, she grabs her suitcase and heads upstairs with it; Malcolm follows, still carrying his folders.
“I have to make a phone call,” he tells his daughter. “It’ll just take a minute, um, and then we’ll have dinner, okay?” He kisses her forehead, and she smiles and runs down the carpeted hallway to the guest room, rolling her suitcase behind her. He looks at her for a minute, and then turns, goes into his study and collapses into a plush swivel chair, dumping the pile of papers and folders on his desk beside his computer. He closes his eyes for a minute and sighs with relief; he’s been standing up for hours today, and giving a lecture is always exhausting, no matter how invigorated he is during it.
After a minute, he sits up, digs through a pile of papers and science magazines to find a certain plastic rectangle, puts his black cord phone to his ear and dials Charlotte Lewis’s number. It rings twice, there’s a crackle and he hears Charlotte say congenially, “Charlotte Lewis, Santa Fe Institute Living Systems Department.”
“It’s Ian,” he says.
“Hi, Dr. Malcolm,” she says, noticeably less formal. “You must have given one hell of a lecture today. I saw a crowd walking out past my office, and the general feeling seems to have been excitement.”
“That would be excitement at being let out early,” he says. “Listen, I only have three more weeks planned out. Do you—do you have any suggestions for my next series after this one’s finished? Because I’ve been doing a little research.”
She pauses. “On what?”
“The Permian extinction. Its possible causes, the, ah, involvement of the Malcolm Effect, all of that.”
She sighs. “I really don’t know. There’s… there’s not as much interest in extinction as there used to be. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.”
Ian feels a little twinge of fear and quickly suppresses it. “No, I don’t.”
“People here want to study biological systems, but they’re really more interested in how they grow and develop. Working biological systems, ones that are still around. Ones they can go and observe for themselves. Sure, people listen to you, but there’s only so long you can talk about extinction.”
There’s another pause. Ian rubs his left temple with his thumb. “That’s—that’s not exactly my area, Charlotte.”
“I know it isn’t. But you do study biological systems.”
“I know, but… There are paleontologists at the Institute. There are people there that are still, ah, still wondering how the dinosaurs died. They’ll be making theories about extinction until the next meteor hits. There will al—always be an interest in what I study.”
Over the phone, a barely-audible male voice yells something in the background, and Charlotte shouts back, “I’m on the phone. Tell them to wait!” She pauses and speaks into the receiver again. “I’m not giving you a definite answer either way, Ian. But life needs to keep changing to survive. Maybe that’s what you need to do.” She pauses. “Consider it. Do some more research. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
“See you,” he echoes, and there’s a crackle as she hangs up.
He puts the phone back into its cradle, leans his elbows on the desk and puts his face in his hands. He stays like that for a moment, thinking, pondering. And, more than anything, worrying. He does study in biological systems. But extinction is his specialty. He’s been doing lectures and teaching classes on it for years. And now he’s facing the possibility of having to change that. Having to do a lot more research, maybe even field work; having to give up what he loves, what he thought he’d spend the rest of his life doing. And if he doesn’t do that, he might have to give up working at the Institute. He can’t envision doing that. He doesn’t even want to consider it.
Because the Santa Fe Institute is unquestionably where Ian belongs. And, other than his family, it just might be all that he has left.
He makes himself get up, thinking of his daughter. He’ll worry about this later. He can’t sit in his office and think about what he could possibly do his next lecture series on— self-organizing behavior in insect colonies? His theory from when he’d just left college, about emergence in relation to rainforest fauna? That theory he developed a few years ago, the one he actually performed experiments for, the one he almost showed to InGen but didn’t, no, no one would be interested in that, it isn’t applicable enough—when something much more important is downstairs, waiting for him to make dinner. He makes his way down the staircase and heads across the living room, towards the kitchenette, glancing at Anna. She’s sitting upright on the couch, watching television. “Hey, Dad,” she calls out.
“Hi,” he says. “I, um, haven’t been to the supermarket in a while, but I have a few things left in the freezer. You still like macaroni and cheese, right?”
“Dad, come here,” she says.
Malcolm strides across the room again, standing behind the couch. “That was fast. Okay if we eat in, ah, half an hour or so?”
Anna points at the screen. “Look at this.” It’s the end of a commercial; a male narrator is saying, “—the adventure of a lifetime.” There’s a shot of a dinosaur—Ian recognizes it right away, it’s Triceratops horridus— walking around behind a glass wall. On the other side of the glass, a little boy and a smiling mother reach out, as if to touch the animal. CGI, Ian automatically assures himself. Good CGI. Right? Of course.
There’s a shot of a swamp full of parasaurs, stegosaurs and triceratops, and the camera pans up to show the Universal Studios logo. The narrator’s next words take a moment to sink in after Malcolm hears them. “The only place in the universe to see living dinosaurs is here, at Pangaea—only at Universal Studios Orlando.” A CGI Tyrannosaurus snaps at the camera, and the screen goes black for a moment, and then switches to a pastel-colored commercial for laundry detergent.
“They have real dinosaurs,” Anna says, looking up. “It said they made them in a lab. Some scientists somewhere. Dad. Those weren’t fake.” Malcolm barely hears her; it’s like she’s miles away. His head starts to swim, and he stares at the TV, suddenly unable to breathe.
“Oh my God,” he whispers. “They really did it. Oh my God.”