“No,” the young man replied, crestfallen. “The upper arm is too long. That looks like human chromosome 2.”
“It is human chromosome 2.” Chris erased his red mark and started to number the ideograms.
When he got to the twenty-fourth, he circled it. “This is what we’ll be focusing on this semester.
Chromosome 24, known henceforward as CC so that the research team studying genetically modified rice over in Osborn doesn’t get the heebie-jeebies. We have a lot of work to do. The DNA has been sequenced, but very few gene functions have been identified.”
“How many base pairs?” Shotgun asked.
“Somewhere in the neighborhood of forty million,” replied Chris.
“Thank God,” Shotgun murmured, looking straight at Matthew. It sounded like an awful lot to me, but I was glad he was pleased.
“What does CC stand for?” asked a petite Asian woman.
“Before I answer that, I want to remind you that every person here has given Tina a signed nondisclosure agreement,” Chris said.
“Are we working with something that will result in a patent?” A graduate student rubbed his hands together. “Excellent.”
“We are working on a highly sensitive, highly confidential research project with far-reaching implications. What happens in this lab stays in this lab. No talking to your friends. No telling your parents. No boasting in the library. If you talk, you walk. Got it?”
“No personal laptops, no cell phones, no photographs. One lab terminal will have Internet access, but only Beaker, Shotgun, and Sherlock will have the access code,” Chris continued, pointing to the senior researchers. “We’ll be keeping lab notebooks the old-fashioned way, written in longhand on paper, and they will all be turned in to Beaker before you swipe out. For those who have forgotten how to use a pen, Bones will show you.”
Bones, the weedy young man with the paper notebook, looked smug. A bit reluctantly the students parted with their cell phones, depositing them in a plastic bucket that Beaker carried around the room.
Meanwhile Shotgun gathered up the laptops and locked them in a cabinet. Once the laboratory had been cleared of contraband electronics, Chris continued.
“When, in the fullness of time, we decide to go public with our findings—and yes, Professor Clairmont, they will one day be published, because that’s what scientists do,” Chris said, looking at Matthew sharply, “—none of you will have to worry about your careers ever again.”
There were smiles all around.
“CC stands for ‘creature chromosome.’”
The formerly smiling faces went blank.
“C-c-creature?” Bones asked.
“I told you there were aliens,” said a man sitting next to Hazmat.
“He’s not from outer space, Mulder,” Chris said.
“Good name,” I told Matthew, who looked bewildered. He didn’t own a TV, after all. “I’ll tell you why later.”
“A werewolf?” Mulder said hopefully. Matthew scowled.
“No more guesses,” Chris said hastily. “Okay, team. Hands up if you’re a daemon.”
Matthew’s jaw dropped.
“What are you doing?” I whispered to Chris.
“Research,” he replied, looking around the room. After a few moments of stunned silence, Chris snapped his fingers. “Come on. Don’t be shy.”
The Asian woman raised her hand. So did a young man who resembled a giraffe with his ginger-222
colored hair and long neck.
“Should have guessed it would be Game Boy and Xbox,” Chris murmured. “Anyone else?”
“Daisy,” the woman said, pointing to a dreamy-eyed creature wearing bright yellow and white clothes who was humming and staring out the window.
“Are you sure, Game Boy?” Chris sounded incredulous. “She’s so . . . um, organized. And precise.
She’s nothing like you and Xbox.”
“Daisy doesn’t know it yet,” Game Boy whispered, her forehead creased with concern, “so go easy on her. Finding out what you really are can freak you out.”
“Perfectly understandable,” Chris replied.
“What’s a daemon?” Beaker asked.
“A highly valued member of this research team who colors outside the lines.” Chris’s response was lightning quick. Shotgun pressed his lips together in amusement.
“Oh,” was Beaker’s mild response.
“I must be a daemon, too, then,” Bones claimed.
“Wannabe,” Game Boy muttered.
Matthew’s lips twitched.
“Wow. Daemons. I knew Yale was a better choice than Johns Hopkins,” Mulder said. “Is this Xbox’s DNA?”
Xbox looked at Matthew in silent entreaty. Daisy stopped humming and was now paying guarded attention to the conversation.
Matthew, Shotgun, and I were the grown-ups in this situation. Telling humans about creatures shouldn’t be left to the students. I opened my mouth to reply, but Matthew put a hand on my shoulder.
“It’s not your colleague’s DNA,” Matthew said. “It’s mine.”
“You’re a daemon, too?” Mulder looked at Matthew with interest.
“No, I’m a vampire.” Matthew stepped forward, joining Chris under the projector’s light. “And before you ask, I can go outside during the day and my hair won’t catch fire in the sunlight. I’m Catholic and have a crucifix. When I sleep, which is not often, I prefer a bed to a coffin. If you try to stake me, the wood will likely splinter before it enters my skin.”
He bared his teeth. “No fangs either. And one last thing: I do not, nor have I ever, sparkled.”
Matthew’s face darkened to emphasize the point.
I had been proud of Matthew on many previous occasions. I’d seen him stand up to a queen, a spoiled emperor, and his own awe-inspiring father. His courage—whether fighting with swords or struggling with his own demons—was bone-deep. But nothing compared to how I felt watching him stand before a group of students and his scientific peers and own up to what he was.
“How old are you?” Mulder asked breathlessly. Like his namesake, Mulder was a true believer in all things wondrous and strange.
I heard exclamations of disappointment. Matthew took pity on them.
“Give or take about fifteen hundred years.”
“Holy shit!” Scully blurted, looking as though her rational world had been turned inside out.
“That’s older than old. I just can’t believe there’s a vampire at Yale.”
“You’ve obviously never been to the astronomy department,” Game Boy said. “There are four vampires on the faculty there. And that new professor in economics—the woman they hired away from MIT—is definitely a vamp. Rumor has it there are a few in the chemistry department, but they keep to themselves.”
“There are witches at Yale, too.” My voice was quiet, and I avoided Shotgun’s eyes. “We’ve lived alongside humans for millennia. Surely you’ll want to study all three creature chromosomes, Professor Roberts?”
“I will.” Chris’s smile was slow and heartfelt. “Are you volunteering your DNA, Professor Bishop?”
“Let’s take one creature chromosome at a time.” Matthew gave Chris a warning look. He might be willing to let students pore over his genetic information, but Matthew remained unconvinced about letting them pry into mine.
Jonathan looked at me appraisingly. “So it’s witches who sparkle?”
“It’s really more of a glimmer,” I said. “Not all witches have it. I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess.”
Saying the words felt freeing, and when nobody ran screaming from the room, I was flooded with a wave of relief and hope. I also had an insane urge to giggle.
“Lights, please.” Chris said.
The lights came up gradually.
“You said we were working on several projects?” Beaker prompted.
“You’ll be analyzing this, too.” I reached into my messenger bag and drew out a large manila envelope. It was stiffened with cardboard inserts so that the contents wouldn’t be bent and damaged. I untied the strings and pulled out the page from the Book of Life. The brightly colored illustration of the mystical union of Sol and Luna shone in the lab’s fluorescent lights. Someone whistled. Shotgun straightened, his eyes fixed on the page.
“Hey, that’s the chemical wedding of mercury and sulfur,” Jonathan said. “I remember seeing that in class, Professor Bishop.”
I gave my former student an approving nod.
“Shouldn’t that be in the Beinecke?” Shotgun asked Matthew. “Or somewhere else that’s safe?”
The emphasis he placed on “safe” was so slight that I thought I might have imagined it. The expression on Matthew’s face told me I hadn’t.
“Surely it’s safe here, Richard?” The prince-assassin was back in Matthew’s smile. It made me uncomfortable to see Matthew’s lethal personae among the flasks and test tubes.
“What are we supposed to do with it?” Mulder asked, openly curious.
“Analyze its DNA,” I replied. “The illumination is on skin. I’d like to know how old the skin is—and the type of creature it came from.”
“I just read about this kind of research,” Jonathan said. “They’re doing mtDNA analysis on medieval books. They hope it will help to date them and determine where they were made.”
Mitochondrial DNA recorded what an organism had inherited from all its maternal ancestors.
“Maybe you could pull those articles for your colleagues, in case they’re not as well read as you are.” Matthew looked pleased that Jonathan was up to date on the literature. “But we’ll be extracting nuclear DNA as well as mtDNA.”
“That’s impossible,” Shotgun protested. “The parchment has gone through a chemical process to turn skin into a writing surface. Both its age and the changes it underwent during manufacture would damage the DNA—if you could even extract enough to work with.”
“It’s difficult, but not impossible,” Matthew corrected. “I’ve worked extensively with old, fragile, and damaged DNA. My methods should work with this sample, too.”
There were excited looks around the room as the implications of the two research plans sank in.
Both projects represented the kind of work that all scientists hoped to do, no matter what stage of their career they were in.
“You don’t think cows or goats gave their hide for that page, do you, Dr. Bishop?” Beaker’s uneasy voice quieted the room.
“No. I think it was a daemon, a human, a vampire, or a witch.” I was pretty sure it wasn’t human skin but couldn’t rule it out entirely.
“Human?” Scully’s eyes popped at the idea. The prospect of other creatures being flayed to make a book didn’t seem to alarm her.
“Anthropodermic bibliopegy,” Mulder whispered. “I thought it was a myth.”
“Technically it’s not anthropodermic bibliopegy,” I said. “The book this came from isn’t just bound in creature remains—it’s completely constructed from it.”
“Why?” Bones asked.
“Why not?” Daisy replied enigmatically. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Matthew said, plucking the page from my fingers. “We’re scientists. The whys come after the whats.”
“I think that’s enough for today,” Chris said. “You all look like you need a break.”
“I need a beer,” Jonathan muttered.
“It’s a bit early in the day, but I completely understand. Just remember—you talk, you walk,” Chris said sternly. “That means no talking to each other outside these walls either. I don’t want anyone to overhear.”
“If someone did overhear us talking about witches and vampires, they’d just think we were playing D&D,” Xbox said. Game Boy nodded.
“No. Talking,” Chris repeated.
The door swooshed open. A tiny woman in a purple miniskirt, red boots, and a black T-shirt that read STAND BACK—I’M GOING TO TRY SCIENCE walked through.
Miriam Shephard had arrived.
“Who are you?” Chris demanded.
“Your worst nightmare—and new lab manager. Hi, Diana.” Miriam pointed to the can of soda.
“Whose is that?”
“Mine,” Chris said.
“No food or drink in the lab. That goes double for you, Roberts,” Miriam said, jabbing her finger in Chris’s direction.
“Human Resources didn’t tell me they were sending an applicant,” Beaker said, confused.
“I’m not an applicant. I filled out the paperwork this morning, was hired, and got my dog tags.”
Miriam held up her ID card, which was, as mandated, attached to her lanyard.
“But I’m supposed to interview . . .” Chris began. “Who did you say you are?”
“Miriam Shephard. And HR waived the interview after I showed them this.” Miriam pulled her cell phone out of her waistband. “I quote: ‘Have your ass in my lab at nine A.M., and be prepared to explain my mistakes in two hours—no excuses.’” Miriam removed two sheets of paper from her messenger bag, which was stuffed with laptops and paper files. “Who is Tina?”
“I am.” A smiling Tina stepped forward. “Hello, Dr. Shephard.”