“SPARTACUS, you utter bastard,” I managed as I brushed the tweed jacketed hand away from me – for it was he, and not our mutual friend Sterling as I might have hoped. Why had he ever let me believe he would come here to the conference if he was off on some jaunt to the middle east researching his book, as his email suggested? Something about the whole thing seemed off to me.
“Sorry,” said Ned Spartacus.
“You might have told me you were here. I’ve just very narrowly avoided being indoctrinted into some kind of alien cult – or worse.”
Ned sat down. He looked tired, like he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards – though that was nothing new.
“I promised Sterling I wouldn’t interfere,” he said.
“What do you mean, interfere? Spartacus, tell me *now* – this is serious.”
“He’s convinced that he’s about to bust this Harry Rubik thing wide open – he was rambling, paranoid. Finishing his book’s driven him nuts, I think, finally. Kept saying that somebody’s following him. I think he told you he’d be here to throw them off his trail.”
“So you and I are running interference for him? Perfect. I suppose that’s why you’re here, too? Sterling, you bastard.”
“Not exactly. *I* have an interest in the field of human origins too, you know. Maybe I’ll write my own book, like Sterling… what happened between you and him, anyway?”
“Nothing. We were work colleagues,” I said, a bit unconvincingly. “I was his researcher.”
“I’m not sure I believe you.”
“Tell me where the shithead is, and maybe I’ll tell you something more.”
“Why? What’s in it for me?”
“I will rip you limb from limb – ” I lowered my voice, realising that one or two people turned to look at us – “I’ve just read in the news that someone with my name is dead. If that isn’t a coincidence, it’s a very sick joke.”
Ned Spartacus had turned very pale. “All right,” he said, “calm down. I was going to help you anyway. I didn’t know that. Yes, that’s the kind of stunt Sterling could possibly pull if he thought it would get them off the trail – or for a sick prank. He does know people, after all. But – those on the other side could have done it to bring him out of hiding. Are you sure about what you saw or heard??”
“Spartacus, don’t f*ck around. What ‘other side’? I can’t believe I’m even asking you. None of this is real. At this point, you’re all as bloody mad as each other.”
“All right, all right! In the event that anything occurred, Sterling asked me to give you this…”
He took a crumpled note out of his backpack that probably contained all his possessions, and I winced as a sock lolled out onto the threadbare shag carpet on the floor.
“SORGENFREI,” I read. “What does that mean?”
“It’s German,” said our friend Ned, “it means carefree. But as for what it *means*…”
“Never mind,” I said, remembering a scrap of knowledge I’d picked up from our research. Harry Rubik was planning on making a film about the Moonchild skull, but there were all kinds of other mis-shapen remains dug up from time to time all over the world that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere with the accepted chronology of man’s descent from ape. A huge number of them were found near a lake in Peru, I remembered reading somewhere. Others in Africa, Malta, and even closer to home…
“Spartacus, Sorgenfrei is a place!” I told him. “He wants me to go and find him there.”
I started making plans to leave immediately.