They depart the Lezaro and Scully sets a good pace along the paths to her house. They walk through a simulated night with unnaturally brilliant stars painted on the simulated sky. At the walkway leading to the entry to Scully's house, Rupert hesitates and stops. "Dana, I'll see you at your lab in the morning."
Dana is surprised that Rupert wants to take off. "You do not want to see this through?"
Rupert says, "I trust you to do what's right, Dana." He turns and departs.
Scully continues on, leading Gary and Roberta to her home. Pausing at her front door, she turns to Gary and asks, "Does Rupert have some reason to be afraid of you?"
Scully turns and places her palm on the door to open it. Suddenly Roberta shrieks like a child and Scully turns her head just in time to see a chunk of Gary's cheek ripped off his face. Gary leaps over the hedge that runs in front of the entry door to the stair well that leads down to Scully's house. Scully realizes that rather than go home, Rupert had followed them. He is in the bushes across the walkway where it bends around the end of the hedge. In the low light Scully sees a flash from the space between Rupert's two pointing fingers as he takes another shot at Gary. Suddenly Rupert topples over into the bushes. Scully runs to Rupert and searches him for a wound.
Gary approaches, takes one of Rupert's hands and throws the limp body over his shoulder. In the low gravity, Gary has no trouble carrying Rupert down the stairs into Scully's house. Gary dumps Rupert's body at the foot of the stairs. Scully checks Rupert’s pulse and respiration then opens the second door at the bottom of the stairway and in the higher light can see blood in two places on Gary's chest. She leads him to a chair and takes his shirt off, revealing two of the crystal projectile wounds. With Roberta's and her household medical robot's help, Scully spends the next ten minutes bandaging Gary's wounds. She gets into an argument with the robot, "He needs surgery on that cheek."
The Robot says, "Trust me Dana, that medicated bandage we put on it will take care of everything."
With the blood flow stopped, Dana is able to think and remember what she has read of Lunar emergency medicine. "Nanosurgery?"
The robot nods. "Exactly. That bandage contains a nanodevice that will repair and rebuild the damaged tissue. There will not even be a scar."
Scully slumps into a chair and looks around, pleased that there is no sign of the Mulder robot. She asks Gary, "So why are you still conscious?"
Gary replies, "Rupert's drugs have no effect on me. There is a simple antidote and my nanodevice implants can synthesize it."
"What did you do to Rupert?"
"He will sleep for a while." Gary gets up and goes and retrieves Rupert, brings him in and lays him on a sofa. "When he wakes up, we will be gone."
Scully is not sure if Gary's "we" includes her. Dana notices Roberta staring at her. "Are you having second thoughts about trusting Gary?"
Roberta laughs nervously, "I've always had doubts about Gary, but I have no choice. As far as I know, I have to trust Gary if I am going to get home."
Gary sighs. "What good does it do for me to offer my assurances? If either of you do not trust me, just stay here. You can continue to deal with Rupert and his brothers."
Scully wants to keep Gary talking, give him a chance to spill some information. "You never said if you work with your brothers."
Gary stops hovering over Rupert's body and sits down, grimacing with the pain of his wounds. "My brothers and sisters lead their own lives. We were created out of love, not as tools."
Dana is intrigued, "Sisters?"
Gary explains, "Where I come from it is traditional to produce a male zygote, let it divide three times, split the embryo into eight cells, and engineer 4 of them to be female. Instant family, four boys and four girls."
Roberta says to Dana, "Is that weird or what?"
Scully asks Roberta, "Are you really ready to go to Earth?"
She leans back in her soft chair, "I'm just waiting for you to say if you want off this dead rock or not, honey."
Scully somehow feels a new bond with Gary and Roberta. She knows she should not trust her feeling for people that she has been under fire with, but since when has anyone had control over their emotions? Gary jumps to his feet and says, "Come on Roberta, this is not right. Let Dana, sleep on it. This is a big decision and there is no rush. I'll run you down to Earth and with luck Scully will join you tomorrow."
Roberta slowly gets to her feet and goes with Gary to the door. Scully decides that they are really just going to leave. She gets up and goes with them. "Okay, let's go. I'm ready." Roberta gives Dana an enthusiastic hug.
Without any further discussion, they go out the front door. Scully looks back at Rupert and sees the house robot placing a blanket over him. She closes the door and they go down another flight of stairs to the transport tube. The tube cars zip them out of the city. After a longer tube ride than Scully thought possible in the tube system, they pop out in a well lit chamber containing what looks like a Black Hawk helicopter.
Gary opens the door of the helicopter and they climb in. Scully immediately notices that they are not in a helicopter. The interior of the ship is roomy and exquisitely well appointed. By the time Scully turns to look out the window, she can see stars and the receding surface of the Moon.
September 23, 2005
Scully stands waste deep in the ocean with gentle waves rising as high as her bikini top and then falling again. She has a boogie board tethered to one arm. She reaches into a box on the board and pulls out a thin vial, unscrews the top and skims it over the surface of the water. She is wearing a head set and speaks into the microphone. "Thirty-five. Surface sample." She holds the filled vial up to the blue sky and watches the swirls of Prochloroflexus marinuslargus in the water sample.
Dana's nose, ears, cheeks, and shoulders are painted green with Sea Lettuce Sun Screen, Max SPF Skinglue. Most of her skin shows bronze, dyed by repeated applications of Liquid Tan Bahamas over the past months. Where the waves are lapping her tummy, the bright orange streaks of accumulating layers of Prochloroflexus marinuslargus can be seen. Dana puts the screw cap on the vial, inserts the vial into a slot in the box, and closes the lid of the box.
Scully turns towards shore and heads in. Just before leaving the water she pauses, reaches down into the water and pulls out a purple star fish. After a moment she tosses the star back into the water. She sees Roberta coming up the beach, boogie board under her arm, caring a sample box. Dana pulls her board up onto the sand, takes off her headset and undoes the latches that hold her sample box to the board. Scully admires the darkly tanned body of Roberta and its contrast with her sun-bleached hair. Faint streaks of white salt highlight her skin where her sweat has quickly dried in the breeze. Like Dana, Roberta has drying Prochloroflexus marinuslargus stuck on her body and it is particularly evident as orange stain on her white bikini.
Roberta looks out over the bay. "Dana, I do not think we need to even test these samples. This new modification clearly did the trick."
Scully cannot argue with that. For the past three days the test results had shown a steady bloom of their current version of the super carbon fixing Prochloroflexus marinuslargus, and it was evident just by eye that today the results would be the same. Dana asks, "Do you think it might grow too well?"
Roberta scratches some of the drying bacteria off of her abdomen. "I'd be surprised. But I am a bit worried about how sticky this stuff is. I mean, what might the effect be on a ship that cruises through an ocean full of this stuff?"
Scully has been worry about all sorts of such potential problems. She says, "Ya, there is a thick ring building up on the dock pilings." Scully thinks back over the string of doubts she has suffered about this project since the day when Gary Seven had dropped Roberta and Dana off at the research field station near the mouth of the Colorado River. Dana had asked why they were not even going to check in at the Institute headquarters in Chula Vista. For a moment Scully cannot remember what Gary had said. She looks at Roberta and sees that she is still looking out into the bay.
Suddenly the memory comes back to Dana. Gary had said that field testing was starting and that the field station was where Roberta and Dana needed to be. Dana had been surprised that Roberta had not wanted to check on her house and let everyone, including the police know that she was safely back. Roberta had shocked Dana by saying that she had already called Dr. Bernak and he agreed that Roberta should go to the field station. Roberta had passed Dana off as a molecular biology consultant who Roberta was hiring to help out with the field tests.
Gary had admitted to having let Roberta make a phone call from the Moon to the Earth. Scully had briefly been upset with herself for not even imagining the possibility. But she was shortly to learn that that knowledge would have done her no good.
Roberta and Dana had arrived on Earth and found the field station staffed by two technicians recently hired from the States. There was also a housekeeper/cook (Guadalupe) and handyman (Jose), both Mexican, who lived at the field station.
Dana had been uneasy about Mexico's regulations controlling the introduction of genetically modified organisms into the sea. Roberta showed Dana a thick file full of permits granted to the field station for testing of gene modified Prochloroflexus marinuslargus. Roberta explained to Dana that all of the modified strains could not grow without niobium. For field tests, they would release niobium into a small bay, creating a small test area where the Prochloroflexus marinuslargus could grow.
Scully is rattled out of her chain of memories. Roberta says, "I do so love this world." She takes off her sun glasses and turns a radiant smile towards Dana.
Scully has never heard Roberta make such a grandiose statement. "It must be exciting for you to be doing something so important for the whole planet. You and Dr. Bernak will probably win a Nobel prize or something."
Roberta glances out to the horizon and then looks back at Dana. "I've had so many years of just having my own internal rewards that such thoughts do not even enter my mind. We all have to do what we think is right, don't you think? Without worrying what other people will think."
In her months of close work with Roberta, Dana has increasingly seen this philosophical side of Roberta emerging. During that time, Roberta's two personalities, which Dana now thought of as the 'beach bunny' and the 'taxonomy nerd', had seemed to fuse into a fairly normal single individual. "I value what other people think. We need to measure our ideas against those of others. We are too prone to mistakes if we go through life not having concern for what other people think."
Roberta asks calmly, "Do you think pms (Prochloroflexus marinuslargus) is a mistake?"
"No," Scully replies, "But I have to wonder if I am wrong about my judgment. We are dealing with a possible solution to a global problem of great complexity. Can anyone know all the implications of what we are doing?"
Roberta shrugs. "Right when Gary Seven and I first discussed this project, we talked about that. He said that there are other worlds like Earth that have faced this same challenge and that it has been shown on those worlds that this is a good sort of remedy for worlds that become dependent on fossil fuels."
On the day that she and Roberta had returned to Earth, Scully had made a vow of silence. She was sure that either Rupert or Gary would always be listening to everything she said. But with the project seemingly reaching a satisfactory conclusion, Dana felt the need to decide which side she was on. It was clear that Rupert and Gary were the two sides in a dispute, apparently a dispute that included controversy over the very nature of this Prochloroflexus marinuslargus genetic engineering project.
Taking Rupert at his word, he had wanted to send Scully to Earth to help identify situations where interventionists were illegally assisting humans to make use of advanced extraterrestrial technology to aid human progress on Earth. Rupert had told Dana that he was counting on her to do what was right when she came to Earth. But what was right? Gary Seven was almost certainly an interventionist and supporting the Prochloroflexus marinuslargus project. But was that wrong?
Scully had taken two actions to try to find out. First, she had collected hair follicles and other tissue from Roberta and tried to detect signs that she had been infected by an alien virus. With the conventional tools in the field station’s lab, Dana could detect nothing unusual about Roberta’s DNA.
Second, she had tried to talk to others on Earth about the project. Her first day back on Earth, Dana had picked up the phone in her cabin at the field station and tried to call Mulder. She could not do it. She soon discovered that while she could talk to Roberta about certain things they shared from their time on the Moon, she could not talk about any of that if there was a chance that someone else would hear. For about a week she had experimented with the nanodevice monitor that was in her brain and functioning to limit her behavior. If she made a serious effort to over-ride the device and communicate to someone about her experiences on the Moon, she became violently ill, an effect she once pushed to the brink of unconsciousness and then could never again toy with because of the pain involved.
Dana had at times been tempted to renew contacts with everyone she knew on the East Coast. She had particularly wanted to regain access to the sensitive nucleic acid detectors that the Army had developed. But given the restrictions imposed on her actions by her nanodevice implant, she had decided that if she was ever going to have a chance to learn how these Observers and Interventionists operate on Earth AND pass that information on to others such as Fox, she would have to first complete this project on her own.
It is a beautiful morning on the beach, but Dana and Roberta both know that they risk getting their water samples too hot if they leave them sitting on the beach too long. They pick up their boards and sample boxes and walk along the beach towards the field station lab. Dana asks, "Do you ever wonder if Gary Seven is monitoring our progress?"
Roberta replies, "I really do not care. I'm doing my best to make this project a success. I'll always be grateful for his help in getting me back here. That Rupert creep had no business trying to keep me on the Moon."
Scully presses her point, "But have you ever seen any indication that Gary has been helping the project in other ways, besides arranging for us to come here and do the work?"
Roberta stops walking. "You know, Dana, I've probably never said this to you, but you have been a great boost to this project. In an afternoon, you do things in the lab that would take Phil a week." Dana thinks about the limited technical abilities of Phil, the technician with some molecular biology experience. His role in the project had basically been to handle samples being shipped back and forth between the field station and Chula Vista. The original plan had been for water samples to go back to the main lab at the Institute and for new genetically engineered strains of bacteria to be sent down to the field station as needed. Almost all of the lab work was to be done in Chula Vista.
With Scully on hand, all that had changed. They were constantly using the field station's DNA sequencing machine for doing routine mutation screening. Their permit from the Mexican government stipulated that they conduct constant screening of the bacteria in the bay for signs of mutant strains that no longer required niobium for their survival. This meant collecting samples, culturing them 24 hours in the lab without niobium, then gene sequencing surviving cells and looking for mutations in their special gene that conferred niobium dependence. Doing that kind of work right at the field station was much more efficient than having to send samples back to Chula Vista. Even if shipped over-night express, Prochloroflexus marinuslargus samples would arrive mostly dead.
They had never detected hardy strains of Prochloroflexus marinuslargus that could grow without niobium, so what had been more important was moving materials in the other direction. The original plan had been for the main lab in Chula Vista having to genetically engineer laboratory strains of Prochloroflexus marinuslargus then ship them to the field station where they would have to be adapted to conditions in the ocean. With Scully available at the field station, new genetic engineering vectors could be shipped to the field station. Roberta and Dana would then do the genetic engineering in holding tanks behind the field station lab, where bacteria-containing water could be pumped directly to and from the bay. Scully guessed that this change in the protocol had cut 9-12 months off of the project, allowing a half dozen rounds of tweaking the genes in the bacteria to be completed over the course of the summer.
But as useful as Scully had been, Dana was in awe of Roberta. For every problem they had encountered in improving the growth of the bacteria in the ocean, Roberta had suggested a solution. In each case, based on the phenotype of the poorly growing bacterial strain then being tested, Roberta’s encyclopedic knowledge of known bacterial strains had allowed her to suggest a species of bacteria that would turn out to contain a gene that would solve the latest growth problem restricting the survival of the Prochloroflexus marinuslargus. Scully had watched Roberta scanning through video microscopy images of bacteria from water samples, rattling off dozens of species names, and typically Roberta would notice, name and catalog a few new species found in each water sample.
Dana returns a compliment to Roberta, “Roberta, any molecular biologist could have done what I have done. You are the key person in this project. It’s miraculous how you can always find a new way to solve every problem we face.”
They have reached the door of the lab. They lean their boogie boards against the wall and Roberta hands Dana her water sample box. Roberta says, “Maybe, other molecular biologists could have done the work, but none from the lab in Chula Vista wanted to move down here. The true miracle was finding you on the Moon and you being available to come here and do the work that needed to be done. I’m going to go check the mail. That new vector we requested last week should be here.” She turns and heads for the administrative office.
Dana asks, “Do we need it? We requested that modification before we had learned that the previous one would work so well.”
Roberta stops at the outdoor shower head at the end of the lab building and starts to rinse off. “It is probably wise to have two viable strains. We do not want all of our eggs in one basket.”
Dana realizes that Roberta is right. “Okay, I’ll pump a new tank of bacteria in from the bay.”
Roberta suggests, “We have to get used to a new protocol, Dana. Pull from storage the strain we were dealing with two weeks ago. Let’s see if we can find a second way to make that sickly strain a winner.”
Dana nods. “Yes, you are right. I’ll thaw a frozen sample and start a ten liter culture.” She opens the door to the lab and takes the new water samples inside. She is loading the tubes into the robotic miniprep processor to start mutation screening on that day’s water samples. Phil appears at her side with a printout from the automated DNA sequencer. Dana says, “Good morning, Phil.”
He says, “Hi, Dana.” He waits for her to finish, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
Dana finishes loading the samples. “What do you have there?”
Phil looks uncharacteristically nervous. “I think you know that I have been time sharing sequencers with my friend Vicky up in Chula Vista.”
Dana had previously approved the practice. Phil has been spending only four days a week at the field station and spending three day weekends back in La Jolla with his girl friend Vicky. Depending on the current status of the Prochloroflexus marinuslargus project, there was a variable amount of sequencing work to do each week. On slow weeks, Phil had been doing sequencing runs on DNA samples sent by Vicky, who worked in another research lab. On busy weeks at the field station, Phil would send samples to Vicky and she sequenced them at her lab.
“Yesterday I got a box of samples from Vicky. Actually there were two boxes. I figured she forgot one sample and did not notice until after she had already sent off the first box. I opened both boxes and loaded all the samples into the sequencer’s sample handler. I didn’t think another thing about it until I saw this.” He hands Scully the sequencing report he has been holding.
Scully takes one look at the sequence. It shows the characteristic gaps of branched DNA. She asks Phil, “Do you know what this is?”
He stammers, “At first I thought the sequencer had an intermittently plugged delivery tube. Maybe the gaps in the sequence indicated missing reagents in the sequencing reaction. But there were perfect sequencing runs before and after this one. And the machine would sound an alarm if reagent delivery was blocked. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Scully wonders what the source of the DNA sample was. “Did Vicky say what this DNA sample is supposed to be?”
“I called her as soon as I saw this. She said there were just ten samples; low priority, from some gene homology survey. I told her I had eleven samples. Then I remembered the second box. She said she only sent one box.”
Dana asks to see his notes from the sequencing run. Phil brings up a page of notes on his computer. Dana can see that he had entered into the notes the code labels for each tube that was loaded into the sample handler. All the codes are the same type (The letters DF followed by a number) except one that reads “&@23”, the sample loaded in slot 8 of the sample handler. Scully looks at the sequence report for the branched DNA sample and sees that it was sample number 8 in yesterday’s sequencing run. “Do you have the box that the lone sample came in?”
Phil shakes his head. “I’ve already been out to the dumpster. It’s gone. Jose told me the trash was picked up at dawn this morning, as usual.”
“You do not remember the label on the second box? There was no packing or shipping slip?”
Phil just shakes his head. “I took the samples out of the boxes and threw everything else in the trash. I’m sure I saw a package label from Vicky’s lab, but I may not have even read the shipping label on the second box. They were both standard 4C containers.”
“Scully contemplates finding where the local landfill is and searching for the box. Dana is getting quite cold in just her bikini in the cool air of the well air conditioned lab. She pulls on her lab coat over her swimming suit. “The sample tube with the sample that gave this anomalous sequence- it was labeled &@23?”
Phil looks in his notes, “Not really. It looked like Greek or something. But it was hard to read. I had stuck all the tubes into an ice bucket and the label on that tube was not written with a water-resistant marking pen, so the label was almost gone by the time I tried to read it.”
Roberta comes into the lab. She says to Phil, rather abruptly “Guadalupe said that she brought you two boxes yesterday.”
Phil says, “Were you expecting a box?”
Roberta’s skin starts to form goose bumps and Dana can see that her long hair is still shedding water down her back. Roberta looks at Scully. “I was. When it did not come yesterday, I figured it would be here today for sure. But no packages came today. It’s a new DNA vector from Chula Vista.”
Dana explains to Roberta, “Guadalupe brought that package to Phil yesterday. He sequenced it.”
Roberta’s jaw drops and she looks at Phil. “You what?”
Dana says, “Roberta, it was a mistake, the sample is gone. Call Chula Vista and have them send us more of the vector. Its going to take a day to get a bacterial culture ready for transfection, anyhow.”
Phil says, “Hey, wait! I only used part of the sample.” He goes to a refrigerator and rummages around. He comes back with the tube. “It had extra volume, so I kept the tube. Ever seen writing like that?” Roberta puts out her hand to take the tube, but Phil hands the tube to Scully.
By turning the plastic tube at just the right angle, Scully can see the faint remnant of lettering. It does look like some foreign script. Roberta takes the tube from Scully and says, “We can probably still use it.”
Dana starts to say that she would like to do some tests on the sample, but stops herself. Roberta takes the tube and goes through the door to the culture room. Dana realizes where she has seen that kind of script before. It is resembles the script used at the Lunar city.
Phil scratches his head. “I wonder if Roberta can explain why the sequence of that sample came out so weird.”
Dana says, “I doubt if Roberta would know. She’s not a molecular biologist. I’ll have to ask the main lab in Chula Vista if they have any ideas.” Phil shrugs and goes back to his work.
Dana leaves the lab and walks towards her cabin so she can change clothes. She starts to think about the possibility of calling the Institute in Chula Vista without Roberta finding out. She opens the door to her cabin and notices that she has a head ache. After she changes her clothes she takes an Advil and returns to the lab.
Dana sits in the dark in her cabin watching out the window. Just after midnight Roberta comes out of her cabin and walks past Dana's. Dana quietly opens her door and steps out on the small porch. In the soft moonlight she can see Roberta cross the small compound of the field research station and enter the lab. The windows of the lab light up.
Dana looks around the deserted compound and decides to go sit in one of the lawn chairs that is on the wooden deck next to an out doors fireplace. The deck over-looks the beach and Scully shivers slightly in the cool shore breeze. Each Saturday night Guadalupe and Jose grill sea food and serve it on the deck. Dana stretches out on a reclining lawn chair and tries to pretend to be asleep. The stars swarm in the sky and she wonders which ones Gary Seven has visited. She puzzles over the great time that it must take to reach another star and wonders how old Gary Seven might be. Then it occurs to her that maybe there is a connection between cloning and interstellar travel.
This afternoon she had taken a frozen sample of bacteria out of the minus eighty freezer and brought the frozen cells back to life. Individual cells can be cryopreserved and then grown again. The problems with cryogenics start at the level of tissues and nobody has learned how to freeze and thaw organs and whole animals. But early embryos and zygotes can be frozen and successfully thawed. What if Gary had traveled to Earth from another star while just a frozen embryo?
Scully starts to seriously shiver in the cool night air and wishes she had brought out a blanket. She curses herself for having trusted Roberta. She thinks back to when Roberta had called Rupert a liar. "It takes one to know one." Scully tries to piece together what must have been going on right under her nose all this summer. She figures that Gary Seven has been routinely sending branched DNA gene transfer viruses to Roberta. Scully wonders if she should have tried harder to learn where the branched DNA had been shipped from.
First she had asked Guadalupe about the package that had contained the branched DNA sample. Guadalupe reported that she had signed for one package that was brought by a Fed Ex. It was easy to trace that package back to the lab where Phil’s girl friend worked. The other package was brought by the regular mail carrier, but there was no associated paper work or records. Dana had reached the mail carrier by phone and he reported that he had delivered a series of similar packages over the past few months, but had hardly distinguished them from the many other packages containing the various molecular biology reagents that had been ordered by the lab. Scully asked specifically if the package had come from Chula Vista. The mail carrier thought maybe they had, but was unsure.
That evening Scully had carefully examined one of her pay checks. After Roberta had gotten Dana on payroll, Scully had opened an account at a local bank and bought some clothes so that she was able to stop borrowing things to wear from Roberta. She tried calling several numbers at the Institute in Chula Vista, including that of Dr. Bernak. The administrative offices were closed and she also got no answer from Dr. Bernak, but she spoke to a member of Dr. Bernak’s lab who had never heard of Roberta Lincoln or a field station in Mexico.
Dana sees the lights of the lab blink out and Roberta come out of the lab and go back to her cabin. After five more bone chilling minutes of waiting, Dana gets up and goes into the lab. Dana has the suspicion that Roberta has been infecting bacterial cultures with viruses carrying branched DNA. She goes to the cell culture room and opens the outer insulating door of one of the incubators. Through the inner glass door, Dana sees the various tubes and flasks that contain her own cultures. She then looks in the second incubator, which she seldom uses. This second incubator is kept at the same temperature as the bay, not the optimal growth temperature for Prochloroflexus marinuslargus. Dana sees some cultures that must have been started by Roberta. The flasks are mysteriously labeled A, B, C, and D.
Working quickly, Dana takes samples of the contents of each of the four flasks and stores them in the freezer for later analysis. She looks through the trash looking for the tube with the Lunar script. Finding nothing, she hunts in the refrigerators. Eventually she finds a rack of tubes of the right type inside a box with Roberta’s initials on it. The tubes only have a few smudges of ink on the sides and a letter of the English alphabet on the snap lid. Scully takes the tubes to a bench and shines an ultraviolet light on them. Now she can see the ghostly outline of Lunar script on the side of most of the tubes. Most of the tubes have just a few drops of liquid in them. Dana collects and saves small samples from a few of the tubes.