Lisa lifted her hand, acquiescing for the moment. "But what does that have to do with the Bell? Back at the library, you mentioned something called quantum evolution."
"Exactly," Anna said. "What is DNA? Nothing but a protein machine, a? Producing all the basic building blocks of cells, of bodies."p>
"At its simplest."
"Then go even simpler. Is DNA not merely genetic codes locked in chemical bonds? And what breaks these bonds, turning genes on and off?"
Lisa switched back to basic chemistry. "The movement of electrons and protons."
"And these subatomic particles obey which rules: the classical or the quantum?"
"So if a proton could be in two places—A or B—turning a gene on or off—which place would it be found?"
Lisa squinted. "If it has the potential to be in both places, then it is in both places. The gene is both on and oil. Until something measures it."
"And what measures it?"
"And the environment of a gene is…?"
Lisa's eyes slowly widened. "The DNA molecule itself."
A nod and a smile. "At its most fundamental level, the living cell acts as its own quantum-measuring device. And it is this constant cellular measurement that is the true engine of evolution. It explains how mutations are not random. Why evolution occurs at a pace faster than attributable by random chance."
"Wait," Lisa said. "You'll have to back that one up."
"Consider an example, then. Remember those bacteria that could not digest lactose—how when they were starved, offered only lactose, they mutated at a miraculous pace to develop an enzyme that could digest lactose. Against astronomical odds." Anna lifted an eyebrow. "Can you explain it now? Using the three quantum principles? Especially if I tell you that the beneficial mutation required only a single proton to move from one place to another."
Lisa was willing to try. "Okay, if the proton could be in both places, then quantum theory says the proton was in both places. So the gene was both mutated and not mutated. Held in the potential between both."
Anna nodded. "Go on."
"Then the cell, acting as a quantum-measuring tool, would force the DNA to collapse on one side of the fence or the other. To mutate or not to mutate. And because the cell is living and influenced by its environment, it tilted the scale, defying randomness to produce the beneficial mutation."
"What scientists now call adaptive mutation. The environment influenced the cell, the cell influenced the DNA, and the mutation occurred that benefited the cell. All driven by the mechanics of the quantum world."
Lisa began to conceive an inkling of where this was heading. Anna had used the term "intelligent design" in their previous discussion. The woman had even answered the question of who she thought was behind that intelligence.
Lisa now understood. It is our own cells that are directing evolution, responding to the environment and collapsing potential in DNA to better fit that environment. Darwinian natural selection then kicked in to preserve these modifications.
"But even more importantly," Anna said, her voice beginning to catch and rasp a bit, "quantum mechanics explains how life's first spark started. Remember the improbability of that first replicating protein forming out of the primordial soup? In the quantum world, randomness is taken out of the equation. The first replicating protein formed because it was order out of chaos. Its ability to measure and collapse quantum potential superseded the randomness of merely bumping and jostling that had been going on in the primordial soup. Life started because it was a better quantum-measuring tool."
"And God had nothing to do with it?" Lisa said, repeating a question Anna had first asked her…what seemed like decades ago.
Anna lifted a palm to her forehead, fingers shaking. Her eyes tweaked. She stared out the window with a pained expression. Her voice was almost too soft to hear. "I didn't say that either…you're looking at it the wrong way, in the wrong direction."
Lisa let that drop. She recognized that Anna was growing too exhausted to continue. They all needed more sleep. But there was one question that had to be asked.
"The Bell?" Lisa asked. "What does it do?"
Anna lowered her hand and stared first at Painter, then at Lisa. "The Bell is the ultimate quantum-measuring device."
Lisa held her breath, considering what Anna was saying.
Something fiery shone through Anna's exhaustion. It was difficult to read: pride, justification, faith…but also a fair amount of fear.
"The Bell's field—if it could be mastered—holds the ability not only to evolve DNA to its more perfect form, but also to take mankind with it."
"And what about us?" Painter said, stirring. From his expression, he was plainly unmoved by her ardor. "You and me? How is what is happening to us perfection?"
The fire died in Anna's eyes, quenched by exhaustion and defeat. "Because as much as the Bell holds the potential to evolve, the reverse also lurks within its quantum waves."
"The disease that's inflicted our cells." Anna glanced away. "It's not just degeneration…it's devolution."
Painter stared at her, stunned.
Her words dropped to a hoarse whisper. "Our bodies are heading back to the primordial ooze from which we came."
5:05 a.m. SOUTH AFRICA
The monkeys woke him.
The strangeness shocked him, snapping him from a groggy somnolence to an instant alertness. Gray shoved up. Memory crackled up next as he tried to comprehend his surroundings.
He was alive.
In a cell.
He remembered the flow of gas, the Wewelsburg museum, the lie. He had burned the Darwin Bible, claiming it contained a secret only his group knew about. He had hoped caution would outweigh revenge. Apparently it had. He was alive. But where were the others? Monk, Fiona, and Ryan?
Gray searched his cell. It was utilitarian. A cot, a toilet, an open shower stall. No windows. The door was inch-thick bars. It opened into a hallway lit by overhead fluorescent lighting. Gray took a moment to inspect himself. Someone had stripped him naked, but a neat pile of clothes had been folded atop a chair bolted to the foot of the bed.
He tossed aside the blanket and stood up. The world tilted, but a few breaths steadied it. An edge of nausea continued. His lungs felt coarse and heavy. The aftereffects of the poisoning.