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©Nancy White, 1999
©Nancy White, 1999
I - The Experiment
She always felt there was something insistent in her genes, some DNA Morse code that caused her to do it. It constantly defied reason, education and common sense. A siren song pulling her in foreign directions, back through time, across oceans, into previous incarnations. Now she had the means to figure it out. She tapped the blood sample into the tube. Silent drops of crimson history bound with reagents and lit with the glow of her desktop lamp. Now all she had to do was wait for the results. Twelve hours.A clamp. A clip and flip and it was secure, tight in its chemical womb, incubating. Rich with expectation like a Christmas package at age six. The first day of school. A litany of 'firsts' that came and went, some indelibly stamped on her mind, others mere echoes. Or forgotten. She rose and went to the kitchen down the hall, stinking of old popcorn and sandwich bags. The fluorescent lights flickered, one bulb pink and the other cold and blue. Dusty and ignored like so much in the lab. Like herself? Flipping open the whistler on the teakettle, she drew fresh water and set it to boil. A steaming cup of jasmine tea, a chocolate dug from the bottom of her satchel and a book to pass twelve hours. Twelve hours. Could it be? But for the chance of the final link, she would never have arrived at this day. At 58, she thought she'd never find the answer. But now, it was almost real.
What is it that makes us who we are? Why do we make the choices we make? Why were we born in a certain time and place? She gently pulled open the tea packet, taking care not to detach the tag. She hated it when the tag came off and she had to fish out the soggy bag. Burns the fingers. She put the paper wrapper in the recycling box and the bag in her mug. Big, earthenware. Chipped and stained. She got it in the Blue Ridge Mountains, 40 years before on a ride that started as a lark and ended in a love affair with the smoky blue green ridges and small towns along the Parkway. There was a pottery studio in an old converted gas station, with pumps like the great China terracotta warriors standing duty at the doors. The smell of gas, and wood and glazes mixing like an exotic marketplace. She and her friend, the one with the car, had stopped to stretch and take a look at the pottery. Not being able to afford the stuff on the shelves, they were drawn to the sign that said "seconds" towards the back door. The gray bowl with the moon and the ugly green and black glaze earthenware mug were calling her name. At two bucks, she could afford them. The mug became her constant lab companion and she still ate her breakfast cereal from the moon bowl, always a quarter full and never waning.For some reason, she always hauled the mug with her when she did stints across the world. The lab in Holland, the field studies in Brazil and even here in Cascadia at the U. Her companion.
The whistling kettle brought her back with a jerk.
She reached up to the top cabinet (sometimes it is good to be tall) and groped for the tea tin, hid behind some old crackers. You'd think someone would throw them out, but this was a lab. Traditions...Like most of the few possessions she still retained, the tin had a history embedded in each ding and dent. The design was mostly worn away, but a Greek key in red and green still rimmed the top. She pried open the lid with a spoon and fed the wrinkled wisps of leaves and flowers into the cup. Damn with bothering with a tea ball today. Routine was broken. Didn't even warm the cup with hot water. What was she thinking... must be that senility finally kicking in.The waters swirled around the leaves with a jasmine petal floating to the top in the eddies. She took the cup and went out in to the hall. Just as she was turning back to the lab, she broke stride and headed in the other direction, towards the back door that led out to the parking lot. There were some big old horse chestnuts that cast some friendly shade for a July afternoon. Might as well take a stroll outside. Eleven hours, 48 minutes to go.
She remembered the chocolate and book left sitting in the lab and doubled back and could not resist a peek back at the reaction on the bench. Looked the same. Smelled the same. She could only wait. With book and her dark master in hand, it was outside. That killed two more minutes.-----
At fifty-eight she had captured the look that had lived forever in her imagination. Slightly wild with gray-white hair that had a life of its own, now long and loosely pulled into a pony-tail. Brown eyes that now looked out of place, missing the brown hair that had always set them off. Her face retold her affection for smiling, frowning and flipping her eyebrows at everyone, tracked with lines and wrinkles and a absent-minded approach to moisturizers. A life of travel had forced her to follow a patter of physical activity, so her calves and upper arms still had line and strength, even if her hips and thighs betrayed her love of food. Tight here, loose there, who cares. It still worked. Her clothes were a map of her travels with odd juxtapositions of ethnic styles that aroused either curiosity, which invoked a string of stories, or rolled eyes and dismissal. But it worked in academia. The slightly eccentric mode was de rigeur.
Tired of the usual academic bullshit, she went through a period of shuttling from institution to institution, each time having to prove herself capable as a "woman-scientist." Never as a scientist. But her discovery finally brought justice to all that crap. Woman-scientist now had a whole new meaning, and perhaps a whole new field, to open up. History might be re-written if her discovery proved tangible and repeatable. Literally.
But now she had settled down into a back corner of the genetics lab, while the superstars strutted their stuff out front and pulled in the grants. She did not have to worry about that ever again since the first check came. As long as she was prudent and kept moving forwards, the checks would come. Into the account they went, guaranteeing her space, peace and quiet, freedom from the university beaurocracy and a steady supply of tea and chocolate. And a back door close to her lab, so she could escape at a moment's notice. It had been hard to keep this quiet. Scientists can be like truffle-driven pigs. Just a whiff and they were curious. Good thing. It helps to be curious if you want to be a scientist! At least that had always driven her.
From childhood she was looking underneath things, looking for the strings that pulled the puppet. What made the bread rise? What made the moon glow? Why did we get goosebumps? Why did her dog die? Who knew all the answers? Who knew the best questions.
The lab door thudded shut like a book dropping on a wooden floor. She took in a breath and held it, lungs expanded. A top step pause. Stepping down she headed for the third tree on the left, with a grassy hollow at the base, big enough for her 58-year-old rump. The bushy-tailed rats ignored her in their quest for undergraduate leavings and the first tender horse chestnuts. Squirrels... They had conquered every birdfeeder she'd ever concocted. Maybe they should be scientists.
There is something about memory, she thought, that must go beyond what we sensed. She was feeling it creeping up on her, tangible like a San Francisco fog on Sandbergesque cat feet. She remembered the thunk of horse chestnuts on the porch roof so many years ago, but smelled the smells of another city, not Cascadia, another place, maybe even another world. The sense was so strong, but it was equally foreign. Memory. It is in our cells. She wondered what it was she was remembering. Or not remembering. Her tea cooled while her mind wandered.
Forward to the first check here.
Flashback to Brazil here.
forward to removing tea bag here. Time check. Go outside. Talk to someone.
Flashback to the first time the experiment was run
Present: interruption by dean of school of medicine
Phone call interruption
Second Flashback to first experiment
Present, Timecheck, experiment time to inject
PART II - The past of past
PART III - Siren Song
The discovery is discovered by others
The formula is published
The past is rediscovered
History is rewritten
What has changed?