"CHANNA"

The Deception of Evolution

Part I

"Brilliant but immature," Surely there were better words to describe the years of training, teaching and experimenting that she had accomplished at the University." There would be no chair, no professorship, no funding for her research, all because of her. Maybe she should not have spurned the advances of her professor but the only passion he ever truly felt was that of science. Only three months left, three months to finish her work, the total accumulation of her short life's ambition. I was not sure what happened the night she read the recommendation submitted to the University President, I only know that she changed. There was a clear and sinister purpose in her every movement, thought and action. "Brilliant but immature," the words themselves denoted the fine line between reason and fantasy, between purpose and insanity. I only know that God may forgive me one day for my part is this macabre sequence of events. Then again, there may be no hope or need for my salvation.

It all began two years ago when I started my graduate work in genetics. My cause was noble; to find cures for the more complicated frailties of human existence. The Human Genome project seemed the answer to a dream. It was there that I met Simone Nomege, a doctoral candidate two years my senior. Simone was likable from the start, brilliant mind, perfection in form, charming and yet distant with a clouded past that introduced a vague hint of scandal and intrigue. A Parisian transfer student, she grew up in Alsace-Lorraine to, I believe, a notable aristocratic family whom had fallen in disfavor by some past disgrace. Her knowledge of anatomy, chemistry and biology were absolute but her true passion was genetics. Her passion was not purposed towards medicine, and it was not humane in nature but an arcane passion of genetics that perceived life in a pure form devoid of mental, physical and spiritual sickness. I still believe to this day that her intentions were good but known only to her; I may never know the whole truth.

We were both assigned to Doctor Leah Colsen as assistants that year. The good doctor was an arrogant self-indulged lesbian whose capabilities often rode on the backs of students far her superior. It is often said, "those who can't do, teach" and she was the epitome of that concept. At first we were often left alone to complete redundant tasks of checking DNA sequences but then Doctor Colsen began taking an interest in Simone, giving her more complicated tasks to study, correlate and report. I was along for the ride. The interest in Simone began taking a more overt tone, the hand on the shoulder, the soft caresses, the late nights in the lab. I saw it plainly, so Simone must have understood the intentions also but she seemed self-absorbed in her increasing standing and free access to research materials. It became apparent that there were very different agendas between the two women.

Our research was to identify strands of human DNA that were both cause and effect of human illness, birth defects and the counter-effects of aging. We both devoured our work as a beggar to a royal feast. Simone, however, was always looking further. I became increasingly aware of her irregular pattern of preoccupation with evolutionary theory, genetic splicing, Freudian thought, and the scientific aspects of creationism. I often wanted to ask to what purpose her studies were designed, but was too cowardly and intent to keep my place within the research project.

Nine months into the study project, Simone gave me an independent task, a secretive task that would forever bind us. The task seemed simple enough at first, a new DNA sample that required decoding and classification. Since this was our bread and butter for the previous nine months, I thought nothing of it at the time. I proceeded with my task as just another redundant exercise. As the results began to pour in, I realized that this was not human DNA, not even mammalian and yet it had features I had seen in cases of study dealing with respiratory birth defects. I asked Simone, but she just smiled and dismissed it as just another sample. I wanted to ask Doctor Colsen but shied away, she was always rather abrupt with me anyway. The sample piqued my interest. I began a classification analysis. True it was not mammalian, but more of an Ichthyoidal representation and yet there were respiratory indications that were indicative of air breathing lungs. That night I indulged myself in library study looking for a fish that could breath air. I knew of the walking catfish but could there be others more remote, one with a distinctive biomedical interest, one that could be of interest to Simone. For weeks, I spent every spare waking moment in the library. I am sure that most people on campus including the librarian thought I had changed my major to ichthyology. Through the long nights one name kept appearing, Channa gigantus of the family Ophiocephalus or simply the Burma Snakehead. The fish itself was a rather ugly carnivore, slender with a long dorsal fin. The fish was prized as an exotic delicacy but I think more importantly to Simone was its other distinguishing feature. It could survive out of water for days on end, writhing its way through the terrain until it located a new source of water and food. Its rudimentary lungs provided the air for survival. Evolution, creationism, and Freud, it was obvious to me that Simone's hidden agenda must be based in religious belief. It had to be a chance to prove or disprove creationism, but which it was I had no idea.

Months passed quickly but with tedium of work that seemed incessantly redundant. The results of the Channa sequencing were finished sufficiently for Simone's purpose. It seemed she had what she needed, but I was no closer to deciphering her intent. Professor Colsen's displays of furtive gestures grew with age. There were conferences, dinners and other faculty functions that she always seemed to find a way to get Simone to accompany her. I began to wonder if there was a relationship until that night I found Simone alone in the lab with papers strewn everywhere. She was exhausted, her eyes sagging from lack of sleep, her skin a dull pale white. She kept murmuring quietly, shaking her head while scanning some printouts. She startled when I put my hand on her shoulder. It was obvious from the frightened look she gave me as she hurriedly covered the printout with other papers that she thought I was Professor Colsen. I could see the relief when her eyes focused enough to recognize me. She began crying and put her arms around me without speaking. She muttered softly under her breath just two words, "Help me." It was then that Professor Colsen entered the room, saw Simone with her arms around me, scowled, and left the room. Her quickening step resounded off the tile hallway. Simone was nearing collapse, my dorm room was closer so I gathered her research and headed to my room almost carrying Simone most of the way. I put her down on my bed where she fell into a hard, fitful sleep. I watched her until almost dawn when I started drifting off. I had made up my mind. I would ask her point blank just what was going on.

 Morning came and went without either of us stirring. It was late afternoon before I awoke, Simone a little later. I poured her a hot cup of coffee and just stared at her. Maybe it was the look, maybe she didn't know if I had read her papers. The effect was the same, answers to the questions I had sought for so long. She sipped her coffee slowly before she started her oratory.

"My father was a famed geneticist, a pioneer in cloning. If I told you his name, you would instantly recognize it for it is infamous within the medical and scientific community. I assumed my mother's maiden name after schoolmates began calling me Frankenstein's daughter. My father despondent by ridicule took his own life leaving my mother and I to our own devices. Mother had her own ancestral estate on an island near Majorca as well as land in the Alps within Alsace Lorraine. Within these remote estates, we found peace for a while. I was provided with the finest schooling money could buy and excelled scholastically. When I turned 16 a package was delivered to me. My mother was livid when she saw the seal on the package. My father's crest was embedded in the red wax. My mother begged me to burn it without opening it but it was my father's, a father I dearly loved and I could not part with it.

 The package contained my father's journals, his life work. Frankenstein was trying to perfect the reanimation of life, but my father was trying to perfect the creation of life. Within the journals were the key to eliminating the need of evolution, a way to recreate the human form in a variety of adaptive jumps allowing survival in an infinite numbers of hostile environments. Imagine divers that need no SCUBA, Eskimos that no longer require clothing to survive the elements, desert dwellers that can survive on the same water ration a camel would. Through selective genetic splicing, anything was possible provided the host DNA strands were correctly correlated. Some of the theories were recognized and widely lauded for their theoretical possibilities. It wasn't until my father crossed from theory to experimentation that the ridicule began. The church was the first to criticize the theory, but science criticized the experimentation. They compared my father to Hitler. They labeled him "The new Father of the Master Race."

As I read on, I became enamored with the concepts. I wanted to prove my father's theories. It became my life's ambition to restore my father's reputation and help mankind at the same time. I also knew that under my real name, the cloud of my father's reputation would forever stall the pursuit of my ambition. So, I obliterated every association with him allowing me freedom to achieve my goals. No one else besides my mother knows anything about this, no one but you. Will you help me?"

She was so beautiful, so noble, so vulnerable, God help me, I couldn't refuse. She stayed in my room the rest of that night. In the morning, we went to the lab after an early breakfast. Professor Colsen was already there. She stared at me with contempt and a fury that I had rarely seen in my short life, then she smiled. The smile was cold, dark and decidedly evil. I was glad when she left the lab. For the first time, Simone showed me the depth of her work, every intricate detail. It was unbelievable. Her theories were light years beyond what I thought was the cutting edge of genetics. She was taking genetic manipulation and cloning to a new frontier. She had found a way to mix traits found in varying families, classifications and subspecies of life and splice them into human DNA. If correct in her assumptions, minor sequencing changes in a single cell introduced in the forming ova would breed a new race in a single step. Evolution would be passé. Immense jumps in the evolutionary process would be available in a single step providing new adaptive races where needed and to suit every environment. Furthermore, the DNA was dominant, self-replicating and bio-resistant producing exact images of the original in every generation. No birth defects, no medical conditions, immune systems that could be modified pre-birth to fight any virus or bacteria that evolution could produce. The concept was staggering. I would have thought it a great storyline for comic books if I wasn't looking at the theoretical proof now before my eyes. Then a chill went down my spine. It occurred to me, people would kill for this information, not just any one particular faction of people but anyone. People would kill to have it, kill to stop it, or kill because of the possibilities of what it could do. I calmed myself. No one in the scientific community would remotely allow experimentation to prove these theories. There would be no doctoral dissertation, no presentation to the scientific community, just ridicule. Simone would face the same ridicule her father faced. I would be tied to that ridicule. There in the darkest reaches of my soul was a war raging suddenly out of control. It was a war of selfishness, of fear, of self-doubt and yet a war of love. In the end, love won out when I glanced at Simone. I saw it in her eyes, her pleading eyes. A cry for help, a cry for understanding, a cry that comes at a point beyond intimacy and passion. It was the cry that goes beyond friendship and love, a cry that captures and bonds the souls of kindred spirits. I knew then that no matter the cost, I would help her see this through to the end. Besides, I could always teach at a community college.

After that day, Simone and I became inseparable, day night, weekends, holidays we were always together. It was all work. Every moment possible, one of us would be working on the parameters of proving the theory. Professor Colsen became more resigned and somewhat hateful towards me. To Simone, she was simply indifferent.

Our work continued, sometimes around the clock, sleeping whenever possible but always on guard even within our dreams. Then the day came when it all changed. Simone wasn't at the lab when I arrived. I waited becoming more anxious. I called her but the phone just rang endlessly. Fearful, I left the lab and went to check on her. She was in her apartment, crying. As I sat down beside her, she handed me a letter, which I read.

"Brilliant but immature" With just three words, I knew her concern. The clock was ticking; Professor Colsen had removed her fellowship grant. Thirty days and we would both be on the street. I cradled her in my arms for what seemed an eternity.

Part II

Dawn came with a menacing storm. Simone was already awake fixing breakfast. I watched her for a moment. Something was different. The fluidity of movement was gone. There was a determination in her face that tightened every muscle in her body and yet there was a defiant almost maniacal radiance within her eyes. We ate without speaking and readied ourselves for the awkward day at work. We where about ready to leave when she stopped at the door, turned and kissed me with such passion that I thought my heart would burst.

Our work in isolation and manipulation of specific genetic coding was nearing completion. Seven days of sequencing would produce the theoretical model of what we hoped to achieve. While I attended to the sequencing, Simone readied the model of cellular introduction needed to implement the mutation. We barely saw each other for the first two weeks. The last two weeks we spent in correlating the splice. We ran model after model through the computer with undeniable success. Each model produced a stabile, dominant and self-replicating genetic strand. It was the proof needed that her father's life work was not only viable, but also attainable. I downloaded the data to CD and destroyed every trace of our project within the University system. I was going to make damn sure that no one besides Simone would be able to get credit for the work. I had already resigned myself to removing my name from any notes within the downloads. Simone and her father were the only authors of this work.

The morning dawned on our last day at the lab. I was up early and went to the lab to remove my personal belongings. I was anxious. Simone had made plans to meet at her apartment for dinner. I arrived not quite knowing what to expect. She was dressed rather casually in shorts and a t-shirt. The meal was extravagant however, Lobster Thermidor, a pasta and artichoke salad, various seafood appetizers and a magnum of champagne. It was more like a celebration than what I thought to be a farewell dinner. Throughout dinner, her eyes never left mine. She was radiant. We talked about the project, professor, and school in general laughing about some of the absurdities. She took my hand and led me to the couch where she poured us each a glass of brandy. I casually remarked how much I would miss her. She leaned closer to me and whispered, "We are kindred spirits, you wouldn't leave me now that we are so close." She kissed me as passion consumed us. When I awoke, Simone was in the shower, on her dresser were two airline tickets to Majorca, one in her name, one in mine. I was looking at the tickets when she came out of the bathroom. "I hoped you would come with me and continue our work." Looking at her, draped in a towel, how could I refuse and yet there were warning bells ringing.

After arriving in Majorca, we boarded a boat for her island estate. Fortress would be a better description. The house was built in the living rock of the island perching high on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The rooms were large with walls of polished stone and oak wainscoting. The floors were marble. Every room had a view of the ocean. Dreams are made in a villa such as this. Within the back of the house was a winding cavernous stairway that led to a grotto complete with boat docks. Beside the grotto were rooms filled with scientific, laboratory and medical equipment. As I toured the villa with Simone, I realized that our project was not over but just beginning the second stage. Only two other occupants where housed in the villa, the housekeeper, Maria and her daughter who saw to Simone's every whim.

The first week we talked little of the project, instead we relaxed on the beach below the villa, indulged ourselves in food, wine, and other pleasures as we saw fit. The second week Simone appeared under the weather. Some of the food didn't agree with her and she stayed in her room most of the days, the housekeeper and daughter staying always by her side. He third week I began to notice a change in her. She was eating more and more seafood and her waistline began to show it. Though from Indiana, I too acquired an insatiable appetite for fish and a special dish called peau bourrée that Maria made for Simone.

At the end of the first month, I began to long for work and found myself in the grotto laboratory, cleaning, testing and familiarizing myself with the equipment and controls. I know some hospitals that were less stocked than this lab. The center room must have been a therapy room. There were long tables and a small pool like a sauna but without the steam controls. Even without the steam, the water remained warm. I was longing to get started on phase two of the project that dealt with experimentation and convinced myself that it was time to talk to Simone.

I found her in her bedroom; Maria's daughter was gently brushing her hair. I sat down beside them and just began talking of wanting to start work. Maria's daughter giggled then left the room after a glance from Simone. She turned to face me then kissed me. "Darling, didn't you know, we started experimentation the night before we left the University. When you made love to me, you contributed the greatest gift to our research. You gave it life!"

The prolonged morning sickness, the change in appetite, the weight all made sense. To my embarrassment, I realized the sauna was actually a birthing pool. Maria wasn't just a maid but a nurse and I was a bigger fool that I had ever hoped to become. I stormed out of the room and found myself sitting on the beach cursing myself. I soon realized that Simone was standing behind me, tears flowed readily from her eyes. "I thought you of all people would understand. No one would have believed us without proof. It was the only way. Please believe me, believe in me, I need you now more than ever. I may have made an error in the correlation." I saw the fear in her eyes. I put my arm around her and we walked silently back to the villa. Once there, I headed to the computer room located in the lab. I uploaded the data and began checking and rechecking the theoretical calculations. I noticed subtle changes in the data that Simone had made and decided to run a test model programming new variations. Even with the fastest computer a model like this could take hours, this computer would take somewhat longer.

 I found Simone in her bedroom asleep. Her back was exposed. Moving closer, I could plainly see lines of purplish striation running laterally down her back. She began to breathe heavy and moan as in distress. I ran to get Maria. When we returned, Simone began screaming and clutching her stomach. We took Simone to the lab where we could monitor her more closely. A quick examination revealed the cause, though only twenty-eight days pregnant, Simone was going to give birth. Maria helped her into the birthing pool. I waited outside. The screams grew louder and louder and then there was silence. Endless silence. Finally, Maria came out of the room. "You have a baby girl, you may see them now but only for a moment, Simone is weak from her ordeal." I entered the room hesitantly. Simone was still in the berthing pool, the baby sucking at her breast. I should have felt embarrassed but I was too in awe of the child. She had long blonde hair, well, long for a baby, a beautiful face, rosy pink skin and cute little hands. She was no ordinary child though; fine scales covered the lower part of the body and a dorsal fin ran down her back that continued to the tip of her tail. I was looking at something out of mythology, a merchild, a mermaid. Maria pushed me out the door. She put the baby in a warmer then helped Simone onto a bed on the far side of the room.

I returned to the computer to check the results only half complete. The initial reports seemed positive and undeniably mammalian in its genetic composition. By all accounts so far, Simone had proven her father's theory. It had been a tiring day and I laid my head down and fell fast asleep. I must have slept for hours for the buzzer on the computer awakened me. The model was finished I rubbed my eyes, snatched the report from the printer and began to study. It was obvious from the model that Simone had fused Channa, Dolphin and human DNA strands. The model showed that the creature produced would be able to take diluted oxygen from the water through rudimentary gills but also be equipped with lungs able to live on air outside the water, exactly what she had hoped for. I wanted to go and tell her the good news but she needed to sleep so I continued reading.

It wasn't until page 7 that I began to get a chill. The DNA was dominant and self-replicating but unknown to us in previous models, the DNA was invasive. The warning was right there in the report in bold letters. Contact with host subjects on the intracellular level will mutate non-dominant DNA into dominant DNA patterns. I had never seen this warning before in any experiments but the implications were obvious. I felt sick to my stomach. The striations in Simone's skin, our changes in appetite were just the beginning. In order to prove her father's work, we had in fact proved his distracters taunts. We had indeed created a master race. The child is the purest form, the parents being genetically remade in the child's image slowly but with definite result. I went to Simone, sat down beside her and kissed her. She could tell from my expression that her fears were well founded. Life as we knew it would be limited to the shores of the villa. God help those foolish enough to invade our privacy. I cradled her in my arms for what would be an eternity.

Endnotes

This will be the last entry in this journal. As the changes begin to manifest themselves, I find that I no longer have an interest neither in science nor with any of the exploitive knowledge that men seek to master. The data of our project is kept in the computer memory banks. Some future generation may still witness our success. For now, there is no need or desire to make it public. I merely enjoy life now with Simone and our daughter, Channa. The invasive properties of the DNA effected us slightly differently than Channa, we both still have use of our legs though are feet are webbed and scaled.  The elongated dorsal fin along our spine enables us to slice through currents with amazing speed. We can both survive in and out of water for any length of time we seem fit. I began modifications of the grotto including a small canal enabling Channa to enter the grotto rooms with ease. 

 She is amazing in her intellect and in her growth. We find that we are linked telepathically.   We promote the use of audible language but really do not need it. I am truly sorry for the deaths attributed to shark attack within our waters. In time, Channa will learn acceptable behavior and dining habits but it does keep the tourists away and ensure our privacy.  The bodies that tend to wash up on the shore are quickly disposed of by Maria. Maria and her daughter inhabit the villa. The daughter is the image of her mother as it should be. She was after all, the true success of my father-in-law's lifework. Sometimes I wonder what gift she was endowed with. Time for dinner, Maria is making peau bourrée, I can't seem to get enough of it. End Journal.

(Original Artwork, "Nightcrawler" is used with permission of the artist, Dorian Cleavenger)
Original story, "Channa" is used with permission of the author, M.J. Heckel