Chapter 2, 33: Times Past
Chris got up on his hands and knees and groped the couch. “Where’s my sword?”He muttered, as quietly as he could. Though it was silly to think that it might be down in the cracks of a sofa, like spare change.
“You’re funny when you don’t try. No. Relax.” Morning Glory answered, rolling over on the carpet to look up at Chris.
“Your uncle said you’re in no shape to fight. Me neither. And he’s right out there. Relax about the monster already.”
“Oh.” Chris took a breath and looked down at Morning Glory. She was beautiful in the dim glitter of a blue charging light coming from the entertainment centre. “I’m sorry about everything,” he said, not precisely sure what he was supposed to apologise for, but knowing, as he looked down, that this was worth any amount of apology.
Then he hung there, feeling increasingly like an idiot but unable to look away until, finally, he did. There was a fanged monster right outside the window, after all, and he really should check into it. He looked up out the verandah window, but the fanged shadow had vanished.
Relieved, he also noticed that his knuckles were beginning to prickle where the carpet pile pressed against them. His arm trembled just slightly. There was no reason for him to be up here in some in half-assed sit-up. Chris relaxed his arm, lowering himself towards Morning Glory.
The front door opened. His Uncle Henry whispered, “Ku—“
“We’re awake,” Morning Glory said, quickly from the floor, her contralto pushing thick words into the air. She rolled up on the side opposite Chris’s arm to come to a sitting position, back to the sofa.
Henry Wong, the Furious Fist, walked to the front of the wide, bare foyer and reached around the wall to dial on the track lighting. A ghostly white light rose on the scene as Chris’s uncle bent over heavily to slip off his shoes. “That’s a very dangerous thing that you did. Qi channeling is strictly for experts who know how much they can afford to share, and you need to thank Morning Glory for not eating your spirit some time.”
Chris relaxed onto his knees, and then lifted himself up on the couch. Morning Glory, too, got up on the seat. Chris was at one side, Morning Glory on the other, but as he threw his hand over the back of the couch, he encountered Morning Glory’s going in the opposite direction. His hand took her’s behind the cover of the couch rim, and her warm grasp took his with a delicate strength. “I was just going to, sir.”
Morning Glory giggled.
“I bet you were.” His uncle glared meaningfully, and Chris let go of Morning Glory’s hand. “Morning Glory, is there anything that you’d like to share about the Old Sinclair Orchard?”
Now Morning Glory’s tone shifted to bright and interested. “Did the Steelheads find anything?”
“Just an old Packard diesel generator in a pump room slagged with asbestos insulation. There’s a reason no-one’s allowed in there, you know.”
“I thought there might be other reasons. So did those mecha. Who were they, anyway?”
Chris could answer that one. “More of those weird clone soldiers. Were you going up against your boss?”
“They’re for sale. Anyone can buy them. Those ones didn’t belong to Professor Paradigm.”
“Belong?” Rebecca and Savannah3 came in just in time to hear that.
“Um?” Morning Glory began, uncertainly.
“That’s Tri-Del and Cubed,” Chris explained. He hoped that he’d got Rebecca’s new codename right. “They’re clones. Well, Cubed is sort of a clone.”
“Oh,” Morning Glory said. “I guess I shouldn’t say ‘you people,’ now.”
“No. Can we take her in now, er, Furious Fist?” Rebecca said.
Uncle Henry shook his head. “I promised her amnesty if she brought Chris back to us, and I’ve already called her guardian to come get her.”
“This is not how you fight crime,” Rebecca said, sounding disappointed.
“Yes, it is,” Uncle Henry said, in a tone that suggested that he was reminding everyone who had, and who had not, been fighting crime for 50 years. “Sinclair Orchard?”
“Well, you guys have been following up on that angle. With the Apocalypse Plague and stuff. And, well, my Mom is tangled up in the Plague, too, and she used to get her funding from the Sinclair family, before old Mr. Sinclair died last month and those real estate guys took over.”
“What did the Sinclairs want with a botanist?” Uncle Henry asked.
“She’s not a botanist. She’s a microbiologist. She does stuff with DNA making enzymes and stuff. It was plant DNA when she got to the Institute, but she’s moved on to gastropods.”
“So not a botanist?” Chris asked.
“Is there such a thing as a gastropodologist?”
“Slugs and snails and like that,” Rebecca explained. “We’re doing them in biology class right now.”
“Still not seeing the connection,” Uncle Henry said.
“Mr. Sinclair wanted to start an escargot farm on their Okanagan land. They have a lot of swampy land in their leases that might be good for snails.”
“A snail farm?” Savannah said, sounding unbelieving.
“Something about foodies in Vancouver and Seattle paying extra for fresh. And did you know there’s snail slime in skin cream? Seriously.”
“Aren’t there environmentally protected snails in the Chinese Bar slough?” Chris asked.
“That’s where he got the idea. The Okanagan Indians used to eat them. They’re supposed to be really tasty, and competitors couldn’t set up nearby, because they can’t bring in foreign species. EPA.”
“And the Sinclairs were always after us to change the lease agreements for the sloughs,” Uncle Henry said. “It’s the water. Especially at Chinese Bar, because it drains down through the aquifier, instead of through an outflow stream that they could pump for irrigation. People get crazy about water and irrigation around here, and snails are something they could do with the sloughs that didn’t affect water rights.”
Chris wasn’t following it. “But if the Sinclairs are all gone, so much for any crazy scheme they might be using the barn for. It’s just some distant cousins back in Scotland, and Mr. Washington says that they just sent an email to the real estate guys and said, ‘show us the money.’ It’s all going for houses, stores and casinos, not snail farms.”
“Yeah,” Morning Glory said. “I feel bad about being so suspicious. Mr. Sinclair was such a nice guy to my parents. He even had Mom over the night after she got back from Philadelphia to celebrate her getting her degree. Again. I don’t think he ever understood about submissions and defences and final submissions and graduation ceremonies. But there was four generations of Sinclairs, and with time travel, who knows?”
“So your Mom’s mad science was about an escargot farm?” Chris asked.
“More like why the snails in Chinese Bar couldn’t be transplanted. But Mr. Sinclair always said that Mom’s work was more important than that, if she could just get funding.”
“So what about that? For sure this wasn’t just some nice old guy with a chequebook,” Rebecca pointed out. “Those were real super-agents out on the orchard last night. They weren’t with Professor Paradigm. They weren’t with the Steelheads. Who, besides that anti-agamic asshole Teleios, were they with?”
“Anti-agamic?” Morning Glory asked.
Chris was just glad to be able to answer one question in this conversation. “Anti-clone.”
Morning Glory looked directly at Chris. “He’s not anti-clone. He makes, like, ninety percent of the clones running around today.” She smiled slyly. “I made that number up.”
“Makes them and sells them,” Savannah3 pointed out. “Asshole.”
“Another thing we haven’t asked,” Chris pointed out. “Why those clones?”
“What do you mean, Chris?” his uncle prodded.
“Well, most of Teleios’s clone soldiers are SEAL Team One material. ‘Pump you up’ guys. These clone soldiers are teenagers. Big teenagers, but not Special Forces big.”
Uncle Henry put a hand to his chin. “Because?”
“They’re a special batch,” Morning Glory said. “They’re immune to the Apocalypse Plague.”
“That’s not an explanation,” Uncle Henry said. “Unless you lose your genetic immunities when you age, Teleios can put the immune gene in any of his soldiers. SEAL Team One soldiers, if he wants.”
“Er, I’m not sure how much I should say about this,” Morning Glory began.
Uncle Henry wagged his finger at Morning Glory. “Young lady? We did just save your life, and keep you out of jail.”
“Well, the immunity isn’t a genetic trait. It’s a meta-genetic trait, and we don’t know squat about what affects meta-genetic expression. Mom and Dad used to say that if they could figure out even a single meta-genetic transmission, they could write their own Nobel Prize citation. So, yeah, they could just be immune when they're teens.”
“Oh. Oh.” Savannah3 said. “That’s one of those inheritable traits that’s determined by how a bunch of genes relate to each other in some kind of math box thingie where everything equals zero, right?”
“Hunh? Oh, wait, I get it. Yeah. You can model it as a stable state system of partial differential equations that you can express as an eigenmatrix. That doesn’t help explain it much, though. The point is that your personal genetic code has lots of genes that determine, like, whether you have blue eyes or like cheese. Metagenetics is where all of these genes interact with each other in some kind of pattern to cause another expression. Say, ‘blue eyes’ plus ‘likes cheese’ adds up to ‘immune to the Apocalypse Plague,’ but so does ‘high voice’ + ‘morning person.’ You can’t tell if someone is going to be immune to the plague from any genes they might or might not have. You have to find the pattern instead. Another analogy is where you make a drawing by connecting points on a grid. If you connect the points one space over instead, you’ll make the same picture, without using a single one of the points you used for the first picture.”
Morning Glory paused for a moment, exhausted by all the words. “Where did you hear about this?”
Savannah3 looked at her feet. “It’s just some friend of mine. She’s all uptight because she thinks she’s some kind of metagenetic freak. It’s important to my sister ‘cuz of stuff.”
“What? Someone else is working on metagenetics? Is it at the Institute in Philadelphia.”
“Kinda,” Savannah3 admitted.
“God damn it. Is it someone who talked to Dr. Suzuki?” Chris reached out and put his hand on Morning Glory’s shoulder, as if holding her down physically would help somehow when it was her mood that was getting out of control. But she leaned into his hand when he touched her, and he could feel her relax.
“Uhm, could be?” Savannah3 said. “This is important, right? Can we get back to you?”
Chris held out his phone, showing a picture of the medallion. “Here, uhm, Morning Glory. This is a picture of that medallion I told you about. The one with the motto we found in your Dad’s motorcycle.”
“The one you said is related to Nicolas Poussin?”
“That’s just Chris’s crazy theory,” Savannah3 said, dismissively. “We’re not allowed to tell you why he thinks it, but it’s crazy.” The last was said definitively.
Morning Glory stared at the picture, for a moment, then spread it out with her fingers. “I don’t think so. I heard something in your qi, didn’t I, Chris?”
Chris looked up at Savannah3. “I’ve been looking at this for a while. Check out the article on Wikipedia. The picture in the engraving is definitely another Poussin painting, the Dance to the Music of Time. See, here’s the old guy playing the music, and here are the four seasons dancing in the cycle of life.”
“It was my Dad’s favourite painting,” Morning Glory explained. “It is my Dad’s favourite painting. Is. He always said that it took a Catholic to paint it and a Buddhist to understand it, and that someday, the Maitreya Buddha is going to walk up and break that lyre.”
Chris couldn’t believe it. “Wait. You mean I’m actually right about that?”
“You’re smarter than you think, Chris,” Morning Glory said, looking at him again, her cheeks forming dimples at the edge of her mask as she smiled.
“That’d be awfully smart,” Rebecca pointed out smugly.
“Yeah, probably. Anyway, if he’s smart enough to figure out his Dad, he’s smart enough for anything.” Morning Glory said. A car horn honked outside. “Oh. Gotta run. That’s my Mom.”
“Wait,” Chris said. “How did you figure that?”
“Chris, the Old Man. He’s your Dad. Well, he can be your Dad. It’s Seventies slang! That’s why you came to apologise!”
“You said you were sorry in your text. Why else did you come to the Valley tonight?”
“To save you!”
“I don’t need saving! It was just a flesh wound.”
“You couldn’t even stand up!”
“I could have teleported out of there!”
“Then why didn’t you?”
“I needed to know about the mechas. Mostly. I could have made it. I’m going to do this. I’m going to figure this out for the Professor!”
Chris felt spitting anger rising in him, spilling out of him. “Get over it! He’s not your Dad!”
“And your Dad is a psychopath! Why are you protecting him?”
“I’m not protecting him! Where did you even get that idea? Because you’re crazy about yours?”
Morning Glory looked at him for a long moment, and then whirled and ran out the door.
There was a long pause as everyone else in the room stared at Chris. Finally, Rebecca spoke. “You know, the two of you make such a cute couple.”
“Chris,” his uncle said, “We have to talk about developing intel assets sometime. And girls. Definitely girls.”