We drove in silence. We three moderns had agreed without speaking that we shouldn’t discuss things just yet, and Darwin was occupied by the view out the window, which admittedly was spectacular; the summer heat had stripped the volcanoes to the west of the road of their snow cover, but Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe still loomed majestically. I had the feeling he wanted to stop, though whether to look more closely at our surroundings or to vomit I had no idea. James kept vomit bags in the pockets of his car to ease the work of the designated driver, and I stayed alert.
We were coming again into the more verdant terrain north of the Central Plateau, near the southern tip of Lake Taupo, when James suggested I put on a little music.
“You have instruments?” The bewilderment in Darwin’s voice was, I think, only loosely connected to the prospect of our having musical instruments in such a confined space. He’d just seen the service station at Taumarunui, as outlandish a piece of architecture as a Victorian gentleman would ever see, flash past the window at almost inconceivable speed.
“Uh… no. Not really. We… well, it’s going to take a while to explain. Basically we’ve found ways of recording music and then replaying it later.” As I spoke, the strains of Handel filled the car, Alex having selected something that wouldn’t be too shocking to our friend’s sensitivities.
Lake Taupo stretched out before and beside us shortly after that, and the view, coupled with the wonder of being serenaded by an invisible orchestra, was enough to keep him occupied as we wound our way towards the town of Taupo at the northern end of the lake. The rest of us were scared out of our minds, though I’m not sure that’s the right word. It was like being visited by your rich cousins, the ones who know how everything ought to be done, and you’ve been working hard to make your house presentable but still have no idea if you’ve dusted well enough. We joked that we’d been promised jet packs, but with someone from more than a hundred years ago actually sitting there, suddenly I was intimidated, both by how much we had done, and how much we had failed to do. On top of all that, there was the elephant in the room, the thing we couldn’t mention yet, of which Darwin was utterly oblivious.