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into the empty Dean's office.
"Gentlemen?" He favored them with a smile. "I'm Nichols. Doctor Bendtolz
said you wanted to speak with me."
Brice introduced himself and the Federal men and, after a round of
handshaking, Cartwell handed the chunk of metal to the professor.
"We'd like to know about the writing, Professor," Sam put in.
Nichols examined the etching on the metal for some time before he looked
up. His small eyes searched their faces in turn, then he smiled thinly
as though witnessing a very bad gag.
"Are you gentlemen playing some sort of joke?" he asked.
"The Government doesn't pay us to play jokes," Cartwell informed him
cryptically. "Do you know the language?"
Professor Nichols shook his head. "I know every spoken language in the
world, and I know many of the dead languages at least by sight. I don't
know this one."
The old man nodded. "This must be some sort of jest on me. There is no
language on Earth, dead or alive, that matches this."
"We aren't joking, Professor," Nolan said seriously.
"Then, my friend, someone must be playing a joke on you. No linguist can
identify this language. I'll stake my reputation on that. Where did you
Cartwell smiled. "I'm sorry, professor, but we cannot disclose that
information. We'll also have to ask you to forget about it. Government
business, you know."
"Yes, of course. Is there anything else? I have a class in three
"No, that's all. Thank you, Professor Nichols."
"You're welcome. Good day, gentlemen."
As the door closed behind him, a thick silence fell over the three men.
Cartwell looked out the window and pulled at his lower lip with a blunt
thumb and forefinger; Nolan sat on the edge of a desk, looking at the
strange writing as an ethnologist might stare at the bones of the
"What now?" Sam asked, softly. "Call in a Martian to get his opinion?"
"It's not funny, Sam."
"Don't I know it," Sam shot back. "We've got some kind of tiger by the
tail in this case ... a tiger bigger than the Kremlin, and I'm wondering
how this will all sound in a report to the capital."
Cartwell snorted and ran a hand through his blond hair. "I'll let you
write the report, Sam."
"You go to hell. I like my job and I don't want to get booted out
because of a science fiction twist on an otherwise normal
"What's the next move?" Nolan asked, trying to ignore the sinking
feeling in his stomach.
Cartwell shrugged. "Go back to the wreck, I guess and try to figure out
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