(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)
“I think I’ll bow to national custom and ask this in English,” Darren announced. “What sort of polyglot stew were you using just now? Is it one of your father’s games?”
The woman’s face darkened. “No. No game. Nothing about Father is a game now.”
“What’s wrong? Is he…?”
“I don’t know. He disappeared day before yesterday—perhaps even further back. He went on what was supposed to be a brief expedition late last week, and he never came back.”
“Then why the silly language game?”
“It’s not a game. It’s a clue—about the only one I have. Father encountered a strange pidgin and began documenting it as best he could. He dubbed it ‘Neo Patwa,’ which just means ‘New Language’ in the pidgin itself.”
“A pidgin? That’s why I’m here too—but what I’ve encountered is more coherent in its sources: it’s like Provençal with some French, English, German, and Spanish thrown in. That mongrel of yours… Let’s see: ‘canti’ and ‘satya’ are Hindustani, ‘lai’ is Chinese, ‘mintan’and ‘pintu’ are Indonesian, ‘ya’ German, and ‘open’ and ‘yu’ English. At least in my case, the language derives from sources in the same area and family.”
“But this new pidgin isn’t impossible, just unusual. Father thought it might have originated in the Indian Ocean somewhere—at least until he began finding what appeared to be African roots as well. He left a copy of a crude lexicon and some grammar notes. He was going out to find out more when he vanished.”
“Where was he?”
“Somewhere a little to the south. It’s a pity you weren’t here: he didn’t want me along, but he might have taken you. There are some foreign workers—at least two distinct groups, he thought, possibly three—involved in projects south of here. He didn’t know what the projects were or who was behind them, and he didn’t care. He just wanted to find out about the languages.”
“Do you have his notes?”
“Yes—they’re upstairs in his study.” Her gaze went from casual to piercing. “Are you just curious?”
“Of course not. We’ll find him.”
She smiled victoriously and turned toward a grand staircase heading upward.
“I’d better go with you,” Darren added. “You realize you’re in danger, don’t you?”
“I know that I am being watched; I am sure you feel it too. You always were sensitive that way.”
“No. I can take care of myself, and Father’s sanctum shall remain undisturbed.”
She did not object to the group’s following her up the stairs, however, and only insisted that they stop before what looked like the door to a vault.
“The password has been changed, Darren. Otherwise it’s the same as you remember: a combination lock with letters instead of numbers—Father hates numbers.”
“Numbers would be more secure,” Dr. Fleming muttered. “Words have patterns that may be guessed.”
“If you can guess the language, perhaps. Now turn around like gentlemen while I open the door.”
They did so, and Darren made a brief, silent prayer that was immediately answered. Then the door opened, and he caught a glimpse of the study beyond and the massive steel shutters at the far end of the room. With a cheerful wave, the woman entered and shut the door.
Darren had scarcely reached the door when he heard her scream.
Next: Again with the Locked Room!
1 year ago