It was suddenly bright.
The distracting first glints of sunlight shone upon his eyes as the blinds were pulled. Annoying it was; he wished he could have slept longer. But that person had already poured hot coffee into his cup and set it by his bed.
“Morning, Ben,” greeted the woman with a gentle smirk.
“Uh… morning… dear...” said Benjamin, still drowsy from his wake.
Eleanor smacked his head with the morning daily as if to tease him. He sat up, lips on the brew and eyes on the print.
“Having those dreams again, honey?” asked Eleanor.
“Yeah, and it’s been kind of boring too. Reminiscing about what happened three months ago isn’t very interesting, and it just makes me feel old. Except for the last part, how I wished it had happened.”
“You’ve told me a number of times before, Ben. Michael knighted you with his sword of fire. You were so ecstatic about it every time.”
“Dear, you should know every boy grew up in his own world of fantasy, and kept this make-believe to their adulthood. Just let me indulge myself in this little ‘irrationality’ once in a while, will you, honey?”
“Alright, do as you please, Ben. But get back to reality now, dear, it’s just the start of the day.”
“But it doesn’t seem like I have anything to do, does it?”
“Then get something to do, for goodness sake.”
“Ah… how about this something….” His words trailed off as he opened the drawers and pulled out some papers. Eleanor grimaced coyly.
“Honey, you know I’m busy.”
“But these legal papers… we’ll never get married if we never had these signed. Eleanor, we should be thinking about our future.”
Eleanor threw a pillow at his face. “Just get your ass up from the bed, Ben. Breakfast is at the table. I should be going to work now.”
“Fine, then. If you’re so busy, then I’ll help out with your project. Then we’ll finish it faster, and you’ll spend the rest of your retirement with me, hehe.”
“Oh, Ben… please, you’re a physicist, I’m a geneticist. What help can you possibly give me?”
“Wash the test tubes, maybe?”
Another pillow flew onto his face.
She knew that man could talk her out on anything, and she was right. That fine day, he seemed to be tagging along to her laboratory, like a little lamb, much to her embarrassment. But as long as she could pass the first hurdle, the rest should be fine.
The first hurdle was introducing the goof to her colleague, the most embarrassing part. Benjamin had never been good in socializing, and she wondered what kind of reaction he would give to a stranger, especially when the person he was about to meet was a man. Benjamin was a very jealous man if she remembered clearly.
Benjamin looked with wonder at the magnificent laboratory he was about to enter. The Mendel Research Institute was the famed organization that worked on huge government projects on biotechnology and bioinformatics. In fact, the name Mendel was in Eleanor’s blood – her ancestor was the great Gregor Mendel who founded genetics, and his descendants pledged themselves in the pursuit of the answer to humanity, continuing from where he left his unfinished masterpiece. Eleanor took pride in her family’s line of work, and Benjamin supported her cause as he loved her.
Along the dark hallway were the many departments and divisions they walked past in order to get to Eleanor’s office. Forensics, vaccination and other fields of study were among the divisions under the same roof. They arrived at the department of bioinformatics, and the sign at room 2 proudly read: Human Genome Project.
It was a large chamber furnished with huge super-computers and storage media, also equipped with electronic microscopes, sample fridges and colouring agents, a treasure trove of data and archives on the human genome. Albeit the enormity of the project, only one other researcher was seen working in the lab, his attention on the microscope. On their presence he stared with an uncomfortable look on his otherwise already very gloomy face. It was a frown.
“And who is this extra?”
“My soon-to-be-husband-as-long-as-I-finish-my-work, as I have told you before, Archer. He’s coming for a visit. But first things first, let’s have a little introduction. This is my fiancé, Dr. Benjamin Wedgwood; and this is my partner researcher, Dr. Archer Leifchild.”
“Nice to meet you,” greeted Benjamin as he extended a hand, but Archer seemed to be ignoring his show of goodwill. Instead, the haughty scientist questioned, “Why is he here? Aren’t the rules made clear enough that no visitors are allowed into this area, and no exceptions? This is a highly classified project, and your accountability will be in question by the authorities, Eleanor.”
“It is okay, Archer. Your rigidity never fails to amuse me. Besides, since our objective had been sidetracked for so long the government has already forgotten about us. What’s more, Ben is here to help me finish my work.”
“In your interest I shall omit this once,” he said, and went back to his work without a word.
Eleanor retreated to an adjoining room, while Benjamin followed closely behind as he quietly whispered into her ears, “Wow, what a guy with an attitude! Where did he come from?”
“The Isles, I suppose, with a Queen’s attitude, haha. He’s like that all the time, but otherwise a good partner to work with. He always has interesting theories to discuss that help in our study of genetics.”
“Indispensible, your meaning?” said Benjamin, “Then from now onwards I’ll make myself indispensible for you!”
“Suit yourself,” said Eleanor with little confidence, as she left him to his own devices.
The super-computer was the sophistication of men that could build and process thousands of data in a single-second time, an ability which human could not achieve though they had the potential. Much of their reliance on these machines led to some conspiracy-theorist to prognosticate the rise of artificial intelligence as the new “life” taking over the reign of humans. Yet, in this field of genetics it was indispensible to keep track of the various types of genes going by the billion.
It was not the complexity of the machine that was intimidating, instead, Benjamin gape with awe at the gigantic amount of data refreshing on the huge screen every split second. And he wondered how Eleanor could just browse through all those symbols and numbers with ease (it must be in her reflexes after working for so long, he thought). Tried as he might, but he just did not have the speed. Finally, he gave up.
“Slow down, dear, will you? I can’t read.”
Eleanor smiled as she halted the number-crunching. “Never mind that, there’s nothing much for you to see anyway. Let’s look at the overview instead.”
The screen now showed 23 pairs of bundled spindles lined up orderly. The human chromosome, Ben recognised, at least, from his basic knowledge of biology.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” said Eleanor.
“So, what’s there to see? Care to explain?”
“Well, our genes are pretty much made up of those. Of course, from the outside they look like grandma’s ball of yarn, but when untwined, they are long strands of DNA. Basically, DNA is like the computer, used to process and store information. Except, while the computer operates in binary, DNA operates in ternary, with each information represented in sets of three adjacent bases called a codon. The rest is analogous to any computing device.”
“Interesting. So what’s our task here?”
“A lot. Practically we must dissect and ‘read’ all those information to understand the genes, and find out what each sequence mean. Like the computer where digital data only make sense through a decoder, the DNA needs also this decoder. For our body, it is decoded naturally. But for our research, it’s a different story.
“The human genome is a collection of data built from observations spanning for a long period of time. Usually we associate a certain illness or abnormality with the defect of a specific gene, but then we realise that this measure is not enough to uncover those “bulk” data which do not show up in human phenotype. So we began to use animal’s gene to decode some of the missing pieces. Lately we’ve been using plants, but it is poorly compatible with human genes. I think that’s the best we can do now at the mean time.”
He did not know why, but the alluring beauty of the chromosome seemed to have him mesmerised. His pupils were fixated at the spindles, as he watched the squiggly threads unwind themselves, like vines creeping out from the display. Like an overgrowth the strands swirled and twined around him like living tentacles. He felt as if basking in a radiance of warm energy given off by the vines, uncanny yet soothing the sores of body and soul.
The vines tightened their grip while more of them continue to coil around his body. The thorns cut through his flesh yet he felt no pain. His blood trickled out from his wounds, immediately to be absorbed into the vines. Soon they completely bound him into a cocoon, and he rested inside the shell of twines, slowly sleeping, as the vines whispered into his ears....
He was jolted by the sudden shout, only to find Eleanor shaking him up on the chair. “What happened?”
“You’ve been sleeping while I’m talking! Are you really serious about my work?”
“I’m listening to you, dear. It’s just that those things suddenly....”
He looked at the screen but the images of the chromosomes were perfectly in place. Was it his imagination, he wondered. Trying to clear his muddled head, he went out of the building to greet the fresh air again.