As I’m pressing a cold green cylinder to my forehead, my North Star, Barbara McClintock, comes to mind.
Here she is, my life-long idol, standing next to her brother, across from a brave dog that she’s teaching by example, confident energy. “Relax and stop shaking,” her body language says.
Barbara’s life sends me confidence, too. She single-handedly discovered genetic regulation in 1951, but to this day the quagmire of Biased Science refuses to credit her with the earth-shaking advance.
Her work was too complex for other geneticists. To them, any notion that genes were regulated by stress implied a layer of control that smacked of intelligence. It wasn’t that Barbara McClintock intended to say anything about intelligent design, or God. She just reported the complexity she’d uncovered in her breathtaking work. But the facts themselves were heresy to the mainstream who knew that only simple static genes could fit their model. That model had become a “fact” in the strange fundamentalist-style thinking of the time.
Stranger still, that model rules all scientific thought today. We are frozen in an 1859 view of biology that ignores the clear implications of modern genetics.
Under academic pressure to produce nothing that would question the simplistic Darwinian model of life, Barbara stopped publishing her work at the peak of her genius in 1953.
In 1959 two men uncovered the lac operon – an on-off gene switch. Its simplicity buffered the emotional trauma to the paradigm fundamentalists. Genetic regulation now existed, despite the impossibility of it. But since it was so simple, perhaps no one had to panic. Unfortunately, Barbara’s old papers popped up in the archives. It must have been humiliating to the academics who’d shut her up in 1953.
I hope so.
A belated Nobel Prize came to her in 1983, but not for the discovery of genetic regulation. That would have been an admission of guilt from the zealots of mainstream origins mythology.
Instead, the Nobel committee repeated the mind-boggling abuse dealt to Einstein. They gave Barbara a Prize for a lessor breakthrough, hoping to obscure her status in history as the Founder of Genetic Regulation.
Make no mistake: Barbara McClintock is the Founder of Genetic Regulation!
And she’s my hero.
Here’s how she sounded in 1973 — twenty years after the academic thought police bullied her out of their journals, and ten years before her Nobel Prize:
“Over the years I have found that it is difficult if not impossible to bring to consciousness of another person the nature of his tacit assumptions when, by some special experiences, I have been made aware of them. This became painfully evident to me in my attempts during the 1950’s to convince geneticists that the action of genes had to be and was controlled. It is now equally painful to recognize the fixity of assumptions that many persons hold on the nature of controlling elements in maize and the manners of their operation. One must await the right time for conceptual change.”
Intelligent design glows like the moon in DNA’s hypercomplexity. The first set of tiny machines to replicate DNA and carry out its complex commands didn’t come from DNA because DNA needed those machines to do the work. Without them, DNA can do nothing.
Intelligence must have constructed the first set of cytoplasmic machines. We have a model for this today in human construction of computerized robots and their software.
So far, intelligent design is the best model to explain how DNA got started. Ironically, to reject it requires fundamentalist thinking – holding to old emotional beliefs despite new information.
Scientific fundamentalism shuns all notions of a higher intelligence, both the possibility of a God who transcends space and time, and the notion of other planets with intelligent life far enough ahead of us to arrive in our skies.
True science is open to all possibilities, bar none, especially when some fringe idea explains or predicts weird data, as happened to Barbara MaClintock, Albert Einstein and now Stephen Meyer.
I hear The Grudge in my head, Tool’s message to rigid Nobel committees and to all scientists married to their assumptions…
Clutch it like a cornerstone.
Otherwise it all comes down.
Justify denials and
Grip ’em to the lonesome end…
Terrified of being wrong…
Wear your grudge like a crown.
Desperate to control.
I’m not shivering now. “This works,” I say to Vedanshi as tiny symbols appear on the cylinder.
“Let me try,” James says. He takes it and pretends to shave. Excellent sound effects. “Feels kind of weird,” he says and hands it back to Vedanshi.
“The old woman’s already in Nazca,” Vedanshi says. “We better go. We can eat later.”
We follow Vedanshi back to The Ganga, get in and take our places. The granite room becomes an underwater landscape for a split second, followed by a shrinking triangular island, then the coast of South America. Peru expands until the Nazca Lines bring a sense of the ancient high-tech past.
“Looks like an old airport,” James says.
“Like a giant etch-a-sketch,” Maxwell says.
“The old woman’s got light-bending tech.” Vedanshi shakes her head in pity. “Look right there.” She points at the far end of a tapering runway-like thing…
As I squint at the “religious artwork” of an extinct “primitive” tribe, The Ganga inserts a yellow filter and a UFO appears near the ground in the morning sun about a mile away. It looks like a Cuban cigar, but metallic and gray with longitudinal seams. A broad blue laser beam glares down from the near end onto the Nazca “runway” and steam rises where it hits.
“Looks like a Maui Bazooka,” James mumbles and bursts into song, “I take a toke and all my cares go up in smoke.”
“I didn’t realize this was a musical,” I tell him as an inverted funnel descends from the belly of the craft to draw in the steam. The laser creeps toward us along the runway, matching its increasing width.
“Coherent field electromagnetics,” Vedanshi says. “You dial the wavelength to the molecular bond force of whatever you’re mining. Iridium in this case.”
“Phase shifting from solid to gas?” I’ve seen a patent on this.
Vedanshi nods. “At ambient temp.”
“Some had to,” Vedanshi says. “But the great Builders preserved the natural grain of rocks. You lose that in molds.”
“What’s wrong with wood and steel?” Maxwell asks.
“Stone spares the oxygen producers, avoids toxic hydrocarbons and gives you unlimited building materials. But the main thing is longevity. Anything that didn’t last twenty thousand years was a failure to the Builders. Iron alloys break down.”
“What was your average life span?” Maxwell asks.
“It varied. The stretch heads lived the longest. During the Reshaping, one of their families gained power and began editing their genes. A few of them survived for eighty thousand years, but in the process of tampering, they created hundreds of new diseases. Each one had to be fixed, and most of the fixes had bad side effects unless they restored the original sequences. Which they were usually too proud to do.” She shakes her head. “Average people lived only a thousand years, but without much disease.”
“How long will you live?” James asks.
“If I had my mother’s technicians, I’d be here for ten thousand years at least. But with the equipment I’ve got, I don’t know, maybe a thousand. Too much radiation gets through the Earth’s magnetic field now.”
An Aurora from a recent coronal mass ejection flashes to mind…
“I won’t live a tenth as long as you,” James says mournfully.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you die of old age before I do.” She smiles and takes the jade cylinder out of her purse. “This doesn’t look like much, but…” Her brow furrows as she reads it. Then she looks up wide-eyed at James. “Never in my wildest dreams… You’re a poet! The real ones were all cured.”
“Huh?” James says.
“No, I don’t me cured… In my day the poets were legends. We had your music, your stories, your magic… but mostly we had the vacuum you created when you all left us. When depression was cured.” She twists the cylinder. “You have a rare music locus.”
I wish I had my phone so I could play James’ ringtones. Maybe The Ganga can access his website. I close my eyes for a second and translate www.skullcage.com into ones and zeros, but it’s ASCII, not the machine language of consciousness.
Vedanshi stares at James. “I don’t want to change you,” she says. “Do you ever feel like killing yourself… ever?”
He gazes out at the long slender craft with its laser beam mining an ancient Nazca Line for prehistoric fuel.
“Let it out,” Maxwell says to him, “I’m a psychologist and both these women know more about it than I ever will. Let the truth fly.”
James looks at Vedanshi. “You’re putting me on the spot here, but yeah, I get bummed. Like this morning I was kind of… I don’t know.” He looks at me and runs a hand over the top of his head. “Ready to fade out.”
“Really?” She leans toward him with concern. I lean back to give her room. “I don’t know what to do,” she says. “I could ask your hypothalamus to make more orexin, but you’d probably never feel like composing music again. And you’d always be hungry. Struggling to cut weight.”
“I don’t think he needs brain surgery this early in the morning,” Maxwell says and chuckles. He looks at James. “I could show you some coping strategies.”
“Like what?” James asks.
“It all starts with yoga,” Maxwell says, “but Vedanshi’s the expert.” He glances at her legs, crossed and locked in lotus position. “Right?”
She nods. “I’ll teach you, James. We’ll wake your prefrontal cortex. Stabilize your limbic system. Help you choose your mood instead of settling for whatever comes along.”
“Sweet. When do we start?”James says.
She straightens her posture. “For survival, the brain always protects the area controlling respiration. Normally it’s the brainstem, but when you breathe deliberately it’s the prefrontal cortex, the area of volition where prime causes enter the Universe from outside. Blood shunts to this area when you hold your breath or decide how and when to take each portion of a slow breath. Mood elevates because the left prefrontal cortex acts as a pleasure center. It also stops the limbic system’s loops of misery. The rumination circuits.”
“What about this stuff you’re doing with your legs?” James asks. “I’m pretty flexible from martial arts, but I could never do that.”
“The pain of stretching stops emotional pain. It lets endorphins reach opiate receptors. But all stimulation of the opiate receptors is habit-forming, so watch out. I can’t have you checking out like a cutter.” She holds out her left anterior forearm with a row of parallel knife scars. “I was a cutter, myself. Pretty scars on a foolish girl.” She bows her head as she withdraws her arm.
Wow. I never would have picked her out as a cutter. James, maybe. But if yoga works for him, I’m going to be the happiest person on Earth. Which reminds me…
“I’m worried about that autistic boy,” I whisper to Vedanshi and begin searching for Maxwell’s phone in his coat on the carpet between us. I find it and can’t believe it has two bars. I punch in the old woman’s number and put her on speaker.
She answers. “I almost threw this thing away.”
“What’s your name, Ma’am?”
“I was afraid you’d drowned,” she says. “Yes, yes, my name. I’m vaarShagaNiipútro. Please call me Vaar.”
Vedanshi puts a hand over her mouth.
“I’m not with Frameshift,” Vaar says, “but I need you in my laboratory. I wasn’t expecting to get old just yet. My mind is fading.”
One of James’ songs plays to me: “Get home. I just want to make you young. You used to be so alive.”
“What’s your autism study about?” I ask.
“Just a second, dear, I’m double parked.”
Her cigar-shaped craft shoots up from the ground. The Ganga follows, and in seconds we’re stationary in near space with no bars on Maxwell’s phone. But I still hear her voice.
“The world is overrun by sociopaths,” she says. “I’m exploring the genetics of empathy, using the autism spectrum to isolate phenotype. I plan to heal sociopaths from the DNA up.”
“I’ve been correlating loci to behavior for a long while,” she says, “but it’s gotten complex. I’m not the chess player I once was. And I’ve never had your gift for The Language.”
“Vaar, you’re infecting children. Why would anyone help you?”
“This is bigger than all of us. If humanity doesn’t move beyond war, we’ll soon be vestigial.”
“I have no argument with that, but…”
“I have contact with three sociopaths who happen to run nuclear nations. One of these men in particular would welcome the complete annihilation of our species. It might be worth eliminating him, but beneath him are endless layers of similar minds eager to seize power at the drop of a pulse. Someone has to re-write the genes of war.”
“But I think you’d have to be a sociopath yourself to treat children the way you do.”
“No. I’m not one of them,” she says. “I’ll admit I can’t remember the last time I had an honest emotion. But I’m not a sociopath. I conduct my affairs on principle, not some dark desire. And the damage I do is reversible.”
“In lab mice maybe, but not in children. Don’t you see the emotional scars you’re leaving?”
“Sometimes the lessor of two evils is all we have, dear.”
Vedanshi closes her eyes and suddenly we’re inside the ancient ship, hovering near the cavernous front, looking down at an old woman alone at a large desk with a holographic monitor showing the blue Earth surrounded by orbiting debris. She stands, scratches her head and looks in our direction but doesn’t seem to see us. Her baggy gray pants ride high, held up by a brown leather belt, the likes of which I’ve passed over in thrift shops. Her sweater hangs uneven and yellowed by age. A large safety-pin holds it together in front. Stringy gray hair spills out beneath a green skull-cap to reach her shoulders. The back of her head is…
“She’s a stretch head,” Vedanshi whispers.
A chill touches my spine.
“Vaar, if I should decide to help you, I would be in charge, not you.”
“You’d have to follow my instructions like a rookie, in fact, beginning with the autistic children. Your first job would be to cure them.”
“You want me to pull the plug on seventy-five years of research,” she says. “I’m struggling to find any sense in that.”
“Of course you are. Wisdom requires logic and emotion. A person without empathy shouldn’t try to lead. There’s a rule of thumb for those who lack empathy: the end never justifies the means.”
“We both know that isn’t true.” She switches the phone to her right ear. “You’re not a child, why would you expect me to think like one?”
“To break the rule safely would require excellent judgement. You’ve proven you’re not capable of average judgement. It’s blunt, but I’m telling you the truth.”
“I suppose you might be.” Her shoulders slump. “I’ll comply with your orders.” She looks at the floor.
I feel adrenalin corrupting me.
“I won’t rule another human being,” I tell her, struggling against the euphoric seduction of power. I’ve read about it, but I haven’t experienced it since childhood. “If you have any free will or personhood left inside you, you’ll transform yourself into a trustworthy human being, starting with the autism you’ve created. Reverse it. Every child.”
“That shouldn’t take long.”
“How many kids are we talking about?” I ask.
“Six,” she says.
“Sociopaths always fear the truth. Even when it would help them. Lies are more comfortable. More controlling. You claim you’re not a sociopath, but you behave like one. Becoming trustworthy will be the toughest thing you’ve ever attempted.”
“Eighty-nine,” she says.
“That’s believable. I suggest you get to work, then.”
Vedanshi leans over and whispers in my ear. “We’ve broken her encryption. She’s infected eighty-nine children.”
“Does this mean you’ll help me?” Vaar asks.
“We’ll see. Hang on to your phone and I’ll call you when I’m convinced you’re capable of change.”
I hang up and watch her face. A look of resolve comes over it. She squares her shoulders, takes off the skullcap and winds her hair around her elongated head.
The Ganga exits her craft and moves away.
“Something’s cloaked down there,” Vedanshi says. The outside colors shift toward purple. “Whatever it is, it’s tapping zero point.” The colors change again. “There.” She points at a black triangle…
“Let’s send out a foo fighter,” she says and chuckles.
“You’ve read about World War II?” I ask. “Were those things real?”
“Yes, it seems obvious under the circumstances. The real question is, where did they come from?”
A ball of blue-gray light flies out from beneath our feet and heads for the triangle. We move closer and suddenly we have MRI vision. Two people are inside, standing like statues behind their chairs. One of them holds an index finger in the face of the other, frozen in argument.
“Time dilation,” Vedanshi says. “They’ve been slowed to a standstill. I must have looked about like that… for a number of millennia.”
I had suspected the triangle over Arizona was not alien.
“They look like skeletons,” James says. “You sure they’re alive?”
“Yes,” Vedanshi says. “If we sat here for twenty years, The Ganga would eventually detect a slight eyelid movement. Part of a blink.”
“Are they from your era?” I ask her.
“I’m not sure,” she says.
We move around the triangle to see into it from various perspectives. On the back of the left chair there’s a round design with a star. I have to squint to be sure I’m seeing words. Several of them form a circle. In English!
“Chief of Staff — United States Air Force.”
M. Talmage Moorehead
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