The posh eatery adjoining the MRI was, ironically, called the ‘Garden Cafeteria’ amidst the hustle and bustle of the city surrounded by concrete forests. Most laboratory personnel frequented the cafe to save time travelling around town, and also, to bring work to the dining table. Workaholics alike, not a single second lost to unnecessary unproductive activities was their way of life. In fact, Newton was a fine example of a successful legend who never ate before he finished formulating his theories. It was from him their motivation stemmed and popularised, albeit the adverse effect which would plague them later in life.
The intense heat from the sun was sweltering. The three of them sat together under the shade of an umbrella cooled off by misty vapours from the fan. For lunch, Archer had a fine, exquisite steak picked from the promotional menu, and Eleanor had her usual bowl of garden salad for her diet programme, while Benjamin amateurishly called a plate of burger and fries which was served on what looked like a children’s platter. Rats, I look totally childish and immature, he thought.
“How do you find the new consignment, Eleanor?” asked Archer, his knife sawing through the thick slab of meat.
“Nothing useful, all they gave me are but bits of charcoal, I can’t extract anything out of it.”
“Very disappointing. It looks like our information is far from complete. I wonder how long should it take before we can uncover 80 percent of the human genome.”
“Are you all really so far from achieving that?” asked Benjamin with surprise.
Archer eyed him with annoyance, and said, “Of course, Dr. Wedgwood! Data mining the human genome is an intricate and complex operation, and it takes all the patience and vigour to piece out the missing links bit by bit from references, experiences and records from previous scientists. You wouldn’t be belittling us if you had seen the enormous amount of data we have collected all these years.”
“Pardon me, but I didn’t mean to belittle your work, Dr. Leifchild. I’m just concerned, and I thought I might help you all investigate further on the subject matter.”
“You can be of help? Ha, I wouldn’t put my hopes high on a physicist when we geneticists are having so much trouble ourselves! But in any case that you have been enlightened by something, do share your findings. Have you?”
“Well, I do have some opinions regarding the genome,” said Benjamin excitedly, “actually, while I was studying the DNA, I happen to notice some sort of pattern cleverly arranged in a manner to conceal some important information. It’s akin to, say, cryptology, and there’s a specific key to decipher them. If we manage to decipher the genes, then I’m sure we’ll get the whole picture of the genome, not just bits and pieces of data pertaining to specific traits of human phenotype or illness. It’ll be a very secret message to us, maybe to shed light on the origin of mankind!”
“Hmph! Your opinion is very... unorthodox, I say. I wonder how far do you believe in truth of science, or have you joined the ranks of those paltry religious mystics who would rather believe that the gene is a Morse code from God to announce the End of Days. Dr. Wedgewood, in our field we do not tolerate this kind of metaphysical nonsense. You are but a hindrance to our work if you continue to harbour this line of thinking.”
“But I’m just trying to provide an alternative view. Dr. Leifchild, you shouldn’t be so critical of me all the time! I’m a man of science, rest assured. All the things I’ve done so far are in the search for an answer to humanity!”
“Really? Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say, the things you did so far are in search for the destruction of humanity, Dr. Wedgwood.”
Benjamin’s face turned red with anger. “What are you implying?”
“Well, on March the 13th a great explosion demolished the grand laboratories of CERN caused by the negligence of certain scientists. Although the official reports stated that it was caused by an overheated transmission power line, some sources pointed out that it could be the actions by some unscrupulous scientists out there trying to gain fame in that dying field. And according to them, the only probable persons that were involved in that accident site were recorded in the books as Benjamin D. Wedgwood and Francois Lamarck. That said, perhaps you can challenge me that all those reports were just false accusations?”
“Where did you find out all those things, and why? It’s not your business and right to meddle into my personal affairs!”
“Dr. Wedgwood, I am truly regretful if I had troubled you, but I felt that it was duty for a civil servant to safeguard the interests of the government. The last thing the nation needs is a reckless person who would wreck havoc in the installations of the scientific field, robbing the citizens of a progressive and comfortable future.”
“Enough with your excuses! I’m trying to contribute, and perhaps finish Eleanor’s work early, but you’re just there trying to obstruct me! Dr. Leifchild, I –”
“Ben, please!” Eleanor tugged at his shirt, trying to calm him down. But Ben was in a terrible fitful rage.
“Dr. Benjamin Wedgwood, you can help with anything in Eleanor’s line of work, but not mine. And nor would I give you any assistance should you need it in the near future.”
“Fine! I’ll complete this project with or without your help. In fact, I’ll see to completing it ahead of you, Dr. Leifchild!”
“If it’s a challenge, then I readily accept.”
Benjamin stormed off the cafe with ire. Archer seemed delighted, smiling wryly as he continued spearing the chunks of meat with his fork. Meanwhile, Eleanor was just petrified by the men’s actions. To imagine that they fought the same day they met was unnerving.
“Eleanor.” Archer bent close to her. “It seems to me that your soon-to-be husband hasn’t grown out from his rebellious teenage attitude. I wonder what charm he has over you since you wouldn’t even consider a date with me after office hours.”
“Stop it, Archer.” Eleanor brushed him off. “Whatever about him and his character is a matter between him and me alone. And Archer, you’ve been acting childish too. Why won’t both of you grow up, for goodness sake!” And she politely bade her leave, despite Archer’s call for her stay.
Archer watched her as she disappeared into the crowd. He continued with his almost empty plate, finishing the best parts, while in contemplation of winning the heart of a woman who seemed so frigid, frosty and stone-cold.
The dark dim-lit room, the blaring loud sleazy jazz rock, and the shimmering ball of light; an atmosphere just perfect to set stressed people in the mood, as well as an avenue to vent hate and anger.
Benjamin sat at the bar counter with a jug of special brew from the house. Washing down all his troubles and frustration with the iced-cold beer, he let himself loose to the tempo of the music, forgetting his sense and being. He was already half-drunk, as his vision was skewed, enhanced by the effect of the dazzling disco light that served as a perfect hypnosis. Bar girls approached him, but he was not interested. The bartender looked at him with amusement.
“Women problems, my young man?” he asked. But Benjamin did not respond.
“Or is it again the fault of the world!” said the bartender, “ah... people these days just don’t know the meaning of joy. Sadists, they are all sadists! I wonder why they indulge in all those self-torment, slavery to money, submission to women, bickering politics... never was the world a good place to live in, unlike the good old days. Young man, just quit your job and spurn your wife and live a carefree life. The world will be brighter without those two evils, I say. And if you are worried about dying of hunger, the lounge is always open for a waiter placement, and my girls can satisfy you at the end of the day.”
Benjamin’s eyebrows rose at the bartender’s melodramatic outburst: he thought they were ridiculous advices. “As if life would be that simple were I to follow what you said,” he said. The bartender laughed.
Benjamin’s cell phone beeped. He picked it up, and the voice at the other end crackled through.
“Ben! It’s been long, but I have something to tell you. Where are you, can we meet up?”
The familiar voice was Francois’s, and it was three months he last heard it. “Merlin’s Lounge,” answered Ben.
“I’ll be right there.”
In a few minute’s moment Francois entered the bar. He hopped onto the high stool beside Benjamin, and called for a beer. The bartender nodded, and the frothy glass came sliding down the counter.
“Hi Ben, how are you doing?”
“Same old, been helping my wife recently.”
“Oh, Elle! Send my regards to her. Well, it should be more interesting than my work at the lectern facing all those boring students who don’t even have passion in their field. The Ivy League... duh! They are just in to earn a fast buck from enrolment and put aside quality of their graduates. I doubt the glory of science would ever grow in this era of evil business dog-eat-dog world.”
“You’ll never know, Frank, you’ll never know.”
“Ah... but back to the point. The reason I called you today is this....”
Francois handed him a large brown envelope addressed to him. He untied the string and opened it, pulling out some documents. They were letters of offer to reinstate him as a nuclear physicist under CERN which had been reopened by the French government after repairing the damaged structures. And it was exclusively signed by the Head of Commission, Dr. Grews.
“So, what do you think?” asked Francois.
“Well... I’ll consider it,” he said after hesitating for a while.
“Consider? Oh, okay, but I thought you’d say yes. Anyway, if you decide to take up the offer, then I’ll surely follow. It’s always been great being your partner in the labs.”
Francois left the bar shortly. Benjamin stared at the envelope for a while, musing, and then drowned himself with more of the booze.