The Prodigy

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Chapter 21

After everything that occurred over the weekend, Monday morning is anticlimactic. When we returned home the night before, the three of us took a cab from the boat basin to our apartment and dropped Josh off at his place on the way home. We spent the night cleaning the apartment and doing laundry. They were mundane tasks but they served the purpose of taking our minds off the turmoil. I offered to make a stir-fry of the vegetables I had bought at the farm stand at the beach. After dinner we curled up on mom’s bed and caught up on our reading. I fell asleep on top of my papers.

The following morning, the two of us visit the local coffee shop for breakfast and then grab the subway uptown to work. I kiss my mother goodbye when we get to the atrium. Life is too precious. I no longer care what others might think. I just have a desire to imprint these seemingly innocent moments on my brain for retrieval if we become separated for a long period of time. As I walk to the lab, I pass Katharine and wave a pleasant hello to her. It is definitely not the best way to start the week.

Josh is waiting in the lounge area when I walk in. He gives me a kiss on the cheek and hands me a cup of espresso. Both the kiss and the espresso are much appreciated. Surprisingly, we arrive before Kevin. We pick up the files we had sorted the previous Friday and bring them to the conference room. Kevin arrives a few minutes later and we review our notes as we wait for Dr. Morehouse and the neuroradiologist to arrive.

The session with the neuroradiologist prove to be extremely productive. The neuroradiologist stays longer than anticipated, but we are able to cement our findings. There are subtle differences in the corpus callosum and other limbic structures, which correlates with the variations in DNA sequences of the study participants. This allows us to group our findings according to both genetic and radiographic findings although there will always be variations within the groups as well. After the neuroradiologist leaves on Wednesday, with a promise by Dr. Morehouse that she will be credited on all papers relating to the study, we begin to rerun all the DNA sequences again for confirmation. I’m able to identify patterns occurring in the sequencing that could potentially identify a network of on/off genes. For the moment, however, the three of us are concentrating on the two genes we have already identified in preparation for the conference. We will not include any additional findings until we can research them more thoroughly.

The week speeds by quickly. I notice that each of us works with a ferocious intensity, including Kevin. Our fear may be infecting him, unknowingly. Although I try to bury myself in my work, concern over the eventual separation from my mother, for however long that might be, keeps intruding into my thoughts. Periodically, I catch Josh staring off into space. It is unlike him as he tends to be more pragmatic and action oriented. There is still no word yet on his friend Len. I picture a giant bubble around his head with memes representing Bent, his mother, Len and all the detainees at Rosewood duking it out for space in his head. I know he is going through a private hell all his own. My father may be in a prison and my mother barred from her profession, but I know they are good people. In Josh’s case, his mother is still well respected, but Josh privately knows the evil she has committed. I feel bad for him but would never insult him by saying as much. I just hope that Bent and Frankie can escape safely to the Brazilian monastery without incident.

The only break in the week comes Thursday when I go to get my passport processed. The three of us, Josh, Kevin and I, leave on our lunch hour. Since we never took more than a ten-minute break all week, Dr. Morehouse suggests we actually go out to lunch. It is actually more than a suggestion. Dr. Morehouse wants time to look over our data, as a fresh set of eyes to make sure the team has not overlooked any discrepancies. I’m more than happy to have him double check the work early in the process. It will diminish the worry and stress that will inevitably attack our psyche the closer we get to the conference.

The three of us board the loop train heading downtown on the east side of the city. Josh had assured me that the passport office at City Hall would process the passport in two weeks. He had set up an appointment with an official he had met at some charity event. It is strange travelling through the city on a weekday. I had only seen the millions of workers who made New York a mecca of finance once before on that first boat trip with Josh. It makes me realize that I live and work in a microcosm. The world and all its infinities will go on with or without me. It is a humbling thought.

Like me, Kevin has never been out in the city during a weekday. Josh lists various landmarks as we loop around the East side. At each exit he points out places of either personal or historical interest such as the triad of hospitals at 70th Street: New York Hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering, the exit for the United Nations, the Empire State Building, New York University Medical Center, the Flatiron Building and the bowery. I lean over and whisper in his ear that I hope we will get the chance to explore it when everything is over. He kisses me on the temple and says we will.

Fortunately, the passport process at City Hall lasts less than an hour and we take a taxi over to Spring Street for a Mediterranean lunch at an outdoor restaurant. We have three more hours before we meet with Dr. Morehouse. He had told us not to return before then. It is the perfect summer day. The humidity has been oppressive the past few days but it has dissipated overnight and we are experiencing one of those rare days of summer. It is breezy, crisp and warm, like a cotton shirt coming out of the dryer.

The host leads us to an outdoor table and we sit down at one of the wrought iron tables decorated with a vase of hydrangeas and lilies. It is a relief not to be eating in the cafeteria with the constant barrage of dietary recommendations and instead just enjoying a meal among friends.

“I am so relieved that we met with the radiologist. I think that the radiography results will strengthen our case.” I remark as I reach for the bread bowl.

“You’ve already identified several other genes that may be involved in the pedophilia sequence, haven’t you? I read some of your notes. Are you going to include them in the conference presentation?” Kevin asks me.

“Yes, I believe I have identified two definitely, although I don’t want to present this information at the meeting. We don’t have the time to verify this information. It will take months if not years to identify all possible gene sequences.”

Josh signals the waitress to come take our drink order by smiling at her before speaking. “This is the kind of research I have always wanted to do. If we could figure out this whole maze of on/off genes and help identify prepubescent children who are at risk for the disorder without stigmatizing them, it would be awesome. Looking at all of this, how feasible do you think gene therapy could be.”

“I’m not sure. I believe it is much more difficult to correct with gene therapy, than a disorder caused by a single gene. I think it is possible, but the bigger problem is we are talking about genes that control neurotransmitter release in cortical pathways. Even if the treatment is successful, it may cause a whole host of other problems. The larger moral issue is what you touched upon, the risk of stigmatizing people. Society abhors pedophiles. They may not distinguish between someone who has the gene and those who commit acts of pedophilia. Not everyone who has the genetic predilection will go on to develop pedophilia.” The arrival of the waitress temporarily interrupts me.

Once the waitress takes our drink and food order, Kevin resumes the conversation. “The trouble lies not in the science but in those who decide how to use it for public policy. Analia, your discovery of the PPZ gene was extraordinary. The wrong people used it for their own political ends.”

“Well, pedophilia is as much a product of environment as genetics. If you shine a light on it, we may be able to identify kids who are being abused by screening the at risk kids who normally wouldn’t be screened. However, to your point Kevin, our genetic work will always be subject to political machinations. The question is, do we have a responsibility as to how it is used. I never considered that before, but I do now.” I break off a piece of bread and dip it in oil, before speaking again.“Kevin, how much do you blame me for what happened to your brother because of my research on the PPZ gene?”

“I don’t anymore, but initially I did. After working with you the last two months, I think you and I are quite similar in our approach to science. You are very dedicated and kind. I also think you are very pretty. It wasn’t your fault my brother was falsely detained and committed suicide, if he even did commit suicide.”

“No, it was my mother’s fault. Kevin, how would you like to help us fix the debacle at Rosewood?” Josh asks Kevin pointedly.

“I definitely would.” Kevin breaks out in a huge grin.

I jump in. “Wait! Kevin needs to know the risks before he says yes. Kevin, you have to realize that if you help us and get caught it could mean exile, imprisonment or death.”

“I know exactly the risks I would face by going up against Katharine Lucas and her cronies. My apologies Josh.”

“No apologies needed Kevin.”

“Analia, why are you interested in fixing the “debacle at Rosewood? Josh mentioned you had a reason but didn’t give me the specifics.” Kevin looks to Josh for confirmation. As Josh nods his head, the waitress arrives with the food and the conversation grinds to a halt.

After I ask for a glass of water, the waitress departs. “My father is at Rosewood.” I say quietly and without inflection.

“Oh my God. What did he do?” Kevin looks shocked.

“He actually didn’t do anything. Over fifteen years ago, my mother tried to expose a secret policy. Halliday and Dr. Lucas had started a surreptitious eugenics policy unbeknownst to the public. In retaliation, my father was falsely charged with treason and my mother was forced to give up practicing medicine and never see my father again.” I furtively check our surroundings as I speak. I suspect that fifty years from now, I will still exercise caution speaking about this history. The fear has become ingrained in me.

“I guess we all live in our own private hell. Analia, I am so sorry.”

“Well said, Kevin. It’s time to stop being the victims. I think we need to put a stop to the perversion of justice that Rosewood represents. Kevin, do you think you can hack into the security system at the Institute?”

“I can hack into anything. I just can’t use my personal computer. I would need a computer with an anonymous ISBN. What do you want to do?”

“I need to get the blueprints for Rosewood in my mother’s office. I want you to run a continuous loop of normal footage of my mother’s office while I go in there. I do not want to arouse my mother’s suspicions prematurely. One of the reasons we are working so hard on the pedophilia project is to keep her pacified.”

“Will you need anything else to do this Kevin?” I ask.

“Just the computer. I will need a couple of days to set up some programs on it.”

“Kevin, you need to be really careful. We have reason to believe there may be a spy within our group. We can never discuss any of this in the lab.” I add.

“You are referring to Marcus.”

Josh and I look at each other in surprise. “Why would you say that?” Josh asks.

“I am very observant of details. Marcus asks me about the two of you constantly. He also resents the fact that he grew up in poverty and was complaining about how low the salary was when he first got here and yet now he is flush with cash. Plus, I have followed him twice and both times he has had private meeting with Josh’s mother.”

Josh laughs. “You followed him Kevin?”

“I don’t trust him and apparently with good reason. Can I ask why you want the blueprints to Rosewood?”

Josh looks to me to answer. “We’re getting my father out. We want to see if we can temporarily turn off the power when he escapes.”

“You may be able to take down the power grid from the outside. You just have to hack into the power company. If they have a backup generator, it will kick in within minutes so you wouldn’t have much time.”

“Kevin, have you ever hacked into a power company?” I ask. I’m not sure I want to know. It is probably illegal.

“No, but I came across the actual grid for San Francisco Electric and Gas in a course on urban planning and computer science during my undergraduate years.”

Josh looks at me. I shake my head no. The silent communication confuses Kevin who has difficulty with non- verbal communication. As this silent exchange takes place, the waitress fortuitously comes to clear the plates. As she clears, I study the dessert menu intently as if I’m going to be tested on it and Josh stares across the street at a parked police car

“Could you please explain what is going on?” Kevin looks back and forth between each of their faces.

“It is just an idea. Analia is right. I shouldn’t entertain it. Forget about it Kevin.” Josh finishes.

“How can I forget about it if I don’t know what it is? Does it have something to do with the power grid at Rosewood?”

Josh answers yes while simultaneously I answer no. We both go into staring mode again and Kevin starts to become frustrated.

Josh explains. “I am sorry Kevin. I know we are being rather obtuse. It’s true that we could use your help on the power grid. It would actually be a huge help. But the risks are enormous. If you get caught, you would likely end up in prison for aiding and abetting a fugitive. You could get fired for interfering with the security cameras at the Institute, but messing with the power grid at Rosewood is a whole other story.”

“But you two are taking the risk, aren’t you?”

I answer first. “Yes, we are. We would have waited but we’ve learned they plan to use a memory altering serum on the detainees and say it is a consequence of the gene therapy Marcus’s group is working on. We have to move fast.”

“How close are they to the goal?” Josh interjects.

“They still have a ways to go. They are trying a new vector next week, but I doubt it will work. Honestly, I had done quite a bit of work on this before and could have helped them but I’ve been holding back. I think they should knock the gene out. I can’t help right now, not since I learned of the memory serum plans. It’s basically Alzheimer’s in a syringe. My fear is they might come up with a preliminary gene therapy model for the PPZ gene and say its’ ready. Then they will just start using the memory altering serum irrespective if I help or not.”

“Are you two actually going into Rosewood to break out your father?” Kevin asks.

“No, but we will be helping with the escape,” I answer.

“When are you planning to do this?” Kevin asks quietly.

“Right after the Milan trip.” Josh answers

“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Kevin looks crushed. The waitress returns with our coffees and three plates of tiramisu. I wordlessly reach over and tentatively place my hand on Kevin’s hand. He does not brush me off.

“It will be too dangerous for us to come back. They would take Analia hostage once they discover her father and mother have disappeared.”

“I don’t want you to leave. You are the only two friends I have in New York City. Besides, what about our football pool?”

“I know Kev. This whole situation is totally screwed up, but it would be just too dangerous to stay.”

“Well, I want to help and I am coming with you.”

“Kevin, you need to think this through. We plan on coming back but it could take years. Both our families are going into hiding.”

“What do you mean both your families? I thought we were only talking about your family, Analia.” Kevin directs the question to Josh as he nods in my direction.

“I have a brother. My mother gave him up for adoption because he had learning disabilities from anoxic encephalopathy at birth. My grandfather cared for him for years and then I did after my grandfather died. My mother considers him her dirty, little secret. He’s a vulnerable target. I have to hide him away.”

“No offense Josh, but you have a seriously dysfunctional family.”

“That is probably the nicest thing you could say about them. So I guess everyone at this table has suffered at the hands of my mother’s ambition. I am surprised you don’t hate me too.” For a few fleeting seconds, Josh’s face displays the vulnerability I’m beginning to constantly feel.

“I could never hate you Josh. You have suffered as much as any of us. The people we love were either threatened or taken from us. You included.”

“I agree with Analia. We are all connected by mutual loss. Which brings me to my next point. We need to do this together. Besides, I am your best bet for crashing the power grid at Rosewood and I am a fourth degree black belt in aikido. I can be helpful in a pinch.”

Josh breaks out in a grin but I remain serious for at the moment. “What about the rest of your family Kevin? Could they be vulnerable?”

“My mother and father are leaving on a cruise at the end of September. I will get a message to them suggesting they extend their journey, indefinitely.”

“Just don’t send an email, especially on the Lucas Institute server.” I suggest.

“I know. My brother and I used to work in code when we were children. My father knows the decryption code key. It should be safe to send it that way. I’ll FedEx him a letter with a burn phone. By the way, where are we going after the breakout?”

“Brazil. We will meet up with my brother and regroup with the others later on.” Josh signals the waitress for the check.

“Who would have thought two months ago we would be talking about encryptions codes and breaking people out of prison?” I muse with a shaky smile. “We should be getting back. The one person I am going to miss is Dr. Morehouse. He is fascinating to talk to.”

“Do you think we will ever come back?” Kevin looks to me for an answer.

“Yes, but I don’t know when. However, we are not just escaping. There will be a media blitz about the illegal detentions at Rosewood, as well as several other long standing issues so hopefully that will curtail the Rosewood people from going ahead with the memory altering serum. This is bigger than just the detainees at Rosewood, including my father. We’re fighting for the rights of the marginalized. The risk is enormous.”

“Kevin, to put it simply if they find out we are involved, they may or more likely will try to kill us.” Josh adds.

“Well, our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about things that matter. We can’t remain silent about what is happening at Rosewood. We are a team and we’re in this together.” It is the most philosophical statement I have ever heard Kevin make.

The waitress drops the check off and Josh takes out his wallet. I grab the check and say it is my treat. We start to argue, but I prevail, pointing out that I have never had the chance to treat anyone to a meal before. We walk over to the station to return to the Institute. When we return to the laboratory, Dr. Morehouse asks us to sit in the small conference room to go over his notes. He expresses admiration for our work without becoming sycophantic. I appreciate his no nonsense style, particularly when it comes to his critique. Fortunately, he has identified several minor issues in our work that need to be clarified. I especially appreciate the fact that he can be appropriately critical without patronizing us. If not for Katharine Lucas and her narcissistic need for control, I would love to work here just because of Dr. Morehouse. The if/only conundrums of life could populate a whole other planet. For now, I’m grateful that we can put together this presentation with some degree of confidence. There is a significant amount of work to do, but it looks manageable at this stage. Dr. Morehouse concludes the meeting with plans to meet with us again in a few days.

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