“It looks like snot.”
“What’s your point, Frankie?”
If Frankie had been anything less than a computer language genius I wouldn’t allow him in my classroom, much less hire him as a lab assistant.
I lifted my gaze from the microscope in front of me and glared at him.
“Uh, sorry, Dr. Simeon, ma’am. I was gonna say, I knew it wouldn’t look like that twisted ladder thingy…”
“The double helix, Frankie.”
Nowhere in any of Tolkien’s works had I read anything about Elves like Frankie. He was just over six feet tall and no more than a hundred and sixty pounds, with white-tipped, spiked hair that mimicked the points of his ears. His usual outfit included a striped t-shirt and parachute pants right out of the eighties. His parents had moved to America in 1987, and clung to the all the wrong elements of the culture. The result—an Elven brain wasted on video games and skateboarding. Still, he could write programs that were capable of, well, pretty much anything.
“Yeah, double helix. Sounds like a cool name for a rock band.” He snorted at his own joke and wiped his nose on his shirt. The extracted DNA hanging from the wire loop in his hand jiggled. He was right. It did look like snot.
I looked at the clock, the sole decoration on the walls of my second floor lab. I didn’t bother with anything other than essentials. Like I could afford more on this budget. Sigh. Nearly eleven. How had it gotten so late?
Frankie stood there staring blankly at the slimy string of unraveled chromosomal material. I was beginning to wonder why I bothered teaching him to help me with this part.
“So, du—I mean, Dr. S, you’re really gonna chop this up and send it to someplace that can tell you all those little letters?”
“Nucleotides, Frankie. And as you so crudely put it, we will ‘chop up’ DNA, yes, but not that particular piece.”—I’d kill to have the equipment to sequence DNA myself, but that takes money this little university doesn’t have—“I just wanted you to have an idea of what I’m doing here. So you understand your part in this.”
“Frankie Davis, uber-geek extraordinaire. At your service, ma’am.” He bowed with a flourish, the motion offering the tiniest glimpse into the kind of Elf he might have been if he’d been raised in his homeland. The DNA strand slipped off the loop onto the floor. “Uh, sorry, Dr.S.”
I rubbed my temple, and that spot in my back tightened. Everything in my core believed this Earth had been created by a higher power, an Intelligent Designer. God. But looking at Frankie, with his crooked, spaced out expression, I could kind of see the whole human-ape connection. Or, at least, the elf-ape connection. Either way, it was disheartening.
Frankie grinned, and suddenly that light in his eyes clicked on, the one that had made me hire him. It seemed to only appear when he sat in front of his computer or thought about the program he was writing for me.
“I’ve been workin’ like a fiend, Dr. S. The code’s flowin’ like a river.” He waved his hands in front of his waist like a hula dancer, and then straightened back up with a look of pride. “My best work yet. Totally righteous.”
“I appreciate it, Frankie. I know it’s a lot of work, and this semester is really tough for you.”
Frankie was actually a biology major. A computer-programming savant, and he wanted to “swim with the dolphins.” Go figure.
“No prob. It’s fun.” His smile dropped a notch and his forehead furrowed. His words came out with a depth I’d never heard in his speech before. “I’m really close to finishing, Dr. S, but…I wish you’d tell me exactly what the program is looking for.”
I couldn’t do that before, for fear it would influence him. I had merely given him certain parameters on which to base his program. The experiment couldn’t be impacted by my beliefs. It had to be impartial.
My beliefs didn’t affect the research I did for the university, of course. Beyond the origin of life, science is science. Breeding fruit flies and splicing genes into salmonella doesn’t rock any boats. But my personal research, that’s a different story.
“You’re really almost done writing the program?” I asked.
My heart felt like it might thud to a stop. I could be crossing a line here, one I wouldn’t be able to cross back from. But, maybe it was time. Frankie had already discovered the Bible in my desk drawer. (He didn’t comment when he found it, and I didn’t offer an explanation.)
“What I tell you at this point will have no bearing on your program—you’re sure?” I sat back in my chair and studied his face. He nodded and gazed at me with anticipation. I decided to go for it.
“Well, Frankie, the Bible tells us that God is the Creator of the universe, and we see His building blocks everywhere. He’s also called the Author of life. He wrote our DNA. He must have signed His work somewhere.”
His eyes twinkled as he drew out his words in hushed tones. “Dude…I mean, Dr. S…”—his mouth slipped into a smile—“that is, like…the most righteous thing I’ve ever heard.”
I couldn’t stop my cheeks from pulling back. Years of discrimination by university staff melted away at that moment. I wanted to hug the spiky-haired kid sitting across the table from me. Instead, I straightened the collar of my lab coat.
“Well, then, Frankie. I mean, dude. Let’s get to work.”
© 2010 Kat Heckenbach
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens.