One Person's Junk...
Warren Ernst

"And this is the third time I've put in a request for more DNA. My sample will completely degenerate in less than a week!" Faye started to raise her voice as small droplets of saliva flew from her teeth and clung to her comm panel. "Just because I'm here doesn't mean that I have any less priority for raw materials than anyone else!"

Her next sentence might have begun, "And another thing..." if her Hypno-Chip hadn't cut in and swept her away.

"Sleep now..." it whispered into her auditory nerve, still monitoring her. Faye's adrenaline level and pulse rate were slightly below activation levels, but this time her brainwaves set the small silicon wafer off. "You're now feeling very comfortable, very warm, very safe, very relaxed. With every breath you can just feel yourself getting more and more relaxed, falling deeper and deeper into a soothing, relaxed state..."

While orderlies quickly ushered themselves into Faye's room, the Hyp-Chip continued to soothe her. "While in this comfortable state, you find it easy to imagine yourself doing anything, anywhere you wish." The orderlies picked up Faye's limp body. "I want you to imagine yourself resting in a comfortable, wide hammock, strung between two great oaks, on top of a rolling, green hill. As you look up, you can see the warm breeze shifting the branches above you, causing yellow rays of sunlight to shine down onto your face."

"I wonder what got 'er that time?" asked one orderly gently to the other. "My money's on alpha waves. She was startin' to get steamed there."

"Doesn't surprise me," said the other. "You've gotta be real uptight to get the Nobel at this age." He chuckled quietly, reaching as if to touch Faye intimately. They both knew that while she was under hypnosis, they could shake her silly and she wouldn't "awaken," but it was difficult to dispel the impression that Faye was simply asleep. After all, the orderly thought, it looks like she was just napping.

Faye relaxed on her hammock, smelling the delightful spring air. Baby birds chirped in a nest above her, singing, she could swear, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

From someone very close by, she heard "Just above, you see that there are exactly 100 leaves." She could see them all. Of course, she thought, one hundred. "Now I want you to count them down, starting from 100, and as you count each leaf, you will feel ten times more relaxed than before, all the way down to one. Let's begin... 100... 99..."

Faye awoke gently, finding herself on a new bed, but one made up with her old sheets. The wallpaper seemed different too.

I hadn't done any of the rooms with this, she thought. She slowly lifted herself off her bed and stepped to the window, throwing the switch from opaque to clear. She wanted to simply look out, and maybe see, oh, rolling hills and trees, maybe some birds too.

Instead she saw the institution, its low, beige buildings sprawling every which way, with only a patch of grass here and there. More disquieting to Faye, however, were the bars.

"What are bars doing here? Where am I? Phil!"

She glanced about the room, and heard a scream come from somewhere. And another scream. Then in rushed an alarmed man wearing a white lab coat. Not her Philip, she thought, but he seemed very familiar. Doctor someone or other.

He grasped her shoulders tightly.

"Who am I?" he politely demanded.

"Why, you're Doctor--" She searched for a name tag. Her eyes kept scanning him, settling on his lapel, "Ross?"

"Damn," he muttered, running his fingers through his dark hair, "it did it again. Faye. I want you to listen very closely and very carefully. OK? Are you ready? 'Command: Umdez.' "

"Your name is Faye Harrower, geneticist," he firmly said, removing the name tag. "You are being treated at The Methany Institute and recovering from a nervous breakdown you suffered seven months ago. My name is Dr. James Chandly." Dr. Chandly saw a glint of recognition in Faye's eyes, as if it were all coming back to her, and let out a deep breath. "Do you remember, Dr. Harrower?"

"Doctor, I am trying to retain my composure as best I can," she said, "but that's the third time this week that Hyp-Chip decided to step out for lunch and leave me in limbo. For the third time in as many days I woke up thinking I was still home, but some colorblind idiot redecorated the place. And this is the third time I've impressed upon the project my need for more DNA. They haven't told you anything, have they?" she said, lightening her tone. "They must know by now how low... they must know... they..."

Faye felt the stinging of tears against the insides of her eyes, and she blinked, hard. Cool down, she thought, get control. You don't need to nap on the hammock again so soon. She took a deep breath, letting the furrows on her brow smooth. A new angle of attack occurred to her, and she said softly, "Didn't you say that working on the project was good for me, Dr. Chandly? Maybe -- maybe you could say something for me? Maybe cut through some red tape?"

"Well, I have thought about rattling some terminals for you; I think I could speed some things along. Let me see what I can do." He smiled warmly to her, and started to leave her room.

"And the chip," she asked, "can you do something about it? Get me a new one, perhaps?" She scratched behind her ear, as if she might affect it by touching the skin covering it.

Dr. Chandly looked thoughtful for a moment, leaning against the door. His hand went for his chin, as if he was stroking the beard he used to have. "I think you're ready for something a little less heavy-handed. I'll have it reprogrammed tonight. It will let you relax wherever you want for however long you want using your memories as backdrop. This one won't leave you fuzzy afterward. All right?"

She nodded slightly, withholding a supreme feeling of accomplishment behind her small smile. This is a real sign of improvement, she thought, the first in a long time.

"Oh, and one more thing, Dr. Harrower. You do know about Philip, don't you? You do remember what the situation is?"

"What? Oh, yes. Did I call out for Mr. Harro-- um, him just now?" That bastard, that son of a bitch, she thought, trying to suppress a sudden trembling in the pit of her stomach. How could Phil, after 23, um, 22 years, up and do that to me? She sat down on her firm bed, her smile now noticeably gone. "Yes, I remember. Thank you, Doctor."

Her door closed, and she heard it latch shut and lock. And she cried.

Fresh DNA arrived from the Human Genome Mapping Project coordinator herself, or at least from her office. A long letter of apology was transcribed for Faye, but as with all Faye's contact with the outside, it was screened and in this case, heavily edited. Faye never saw the point of this concerning messages of a technical or official nature, and it seemed to her that this note from the Coordinator was both.

"CLAUDE," Faye asked in the direction of her computer, "are you sure you can't get the original text of this letter displayed?"

CLAUDE, for its part, tried to requisition a copy of the original letter from COREY, Methany's central computer core, but COREY had the final word in these matters, and if the letter was for Faye, the word was "no."

"Access denied, Doctor. It is not permissible for you to view the original letter, by order of Dr. Chandly and the rest of the staff. Would you like to see the edited version again?"

"No, that's all right, CLAUDE." Faye grinned inwardly, glad that there was at least some recognition of her professional title once in a great while, even if only from a stupid computer. "It was only something like 'Sorry for the mix-up, blah-blah, I appreciate your contribution to the Project, blah-blah, I'm very happy that you can personally complete the Harrower Rung after all, blah-blah, Get well soon, blah-blah, Maybe something interesting will show up in your Rung, blah-blah, Sincerely, Janice Brooke, blah-blah-blah-blah.'"

"To what letter are you referring?" asked CLAUDE, "There have been no letters that you have read which contained the expression 'blah- blah.' In fact, Dr. Chandly has never transcribed those words before."

Such a bland computer, Faye thought, sighing. My personal model has much more personality, even had the makings of a sense of humor thanks to Phil... damn. I sure could use him -- CHIP, I mean. Phil can rot in Hell. "Never mind, CLAUDE. Are you up to getting back to the rung?"

"We may continue sequencing your rung in twelve minutes, which is when the new genetic material will be fully immersed and the bare DNA liberated," CLAUDE reported. Somewhere in one of Methany's laboratories, technicians prepared the new batch for analysis, placing the pod cradling the genetic material into the scanning sequencer, which fed raw information into CLAUDE, which in turn fed filtered information to Faye. Or so CLAUDE informed Faye as it occurred.

"All right, are we ready to go yet?" she asked fifteen minutes later. Faye always liked to keep herself busy, and here at Methany, these were the only two hours a day she could. Doctor's orders.

"Yes, the matrix has assimilated properly," said CLAUDE. "We may proceed, Doctor."

"Very good," sighed Faye. "Now where were we? Oh, at RungStart plus 410,211. CLAUDE, throw up visual display beta and start spinning the sequencer."

And so work continued on Faye's section of the human genome, her "rung" it was called, as in the rung of a ladder. That's all the DNA was, a molecules-thick ladder, except that in the human genome, the ladder had three billion steps. Each "step" was a nucleotide base pair, every three a codon, every 20 to 200 a gene, every several thousand or so a genetic trait, and every million a Rung. Each geneticist on the Project was responsible for mapping out their Rung, and after the 3000 Rungs were complete, presumably all there would be to know about humanity's DNA would be known, all the codes decoded, all the mysteries solved.

Obviously entire chromosomes were cut to pieces, there only being 42 of them in humans, but occasionally Rungs had within them the whole code for something substantial. In her Rung, Faye found the mechanism whereby hair loosens and falls out at a given length, the procedure to make red blood cells, and all the code for a functional sixth finger, although that one went very recessive maybe a hundred thousand years ago. Sometimes the small tidbits of information like these made the project seem interesting, worthwhile; it broke down the tedium of having to sort through a million repetitive chemical bonds.

"Okay," started Faye, "so that pair's a T, then an A, and then a G -- another Stop Codon. What's it look like to you, CLAUDE?"

To CLAUDE, it resembled a Thymine-adenine pair, followed by an Adenine-thymine, and a Guanine-cytosine after that. However, CLAUDE could only be 99.4% certain of its interpretation of the data, hence the reason for any human involvement in the project at all. Assuming this codon was a T-A-G, then Faye's conclusion matched CLAUDE's; this string of genetic code would, in fact, end here. "Yes, I concur, Doctor. This is a Stop Codon, ending the sequence of amino acids producing phenzotase. The total number of base pairs in the sequence is 624, beginning at RungStart plus 409,590 and--"

"Thank you, CLAUDE," Faye interrupted, "I'll ask you for the math when I need it." She wondered why CLAUDE did that, kept such careful track of irrelevant numbers and then reported them so earnestly. Numbers have their place, she thought, and that's nowhere near me.

"Okay, CLAUDE, start sequencing again, Display gamma, and stop when you find an A-T-G." She leaned back in her chair and waited. Generally, there was some noncoding intron, affectionately called Junk DNA, between the chunks of active DNA that actually translated into amino acids. The junk ended when a Start Codon, A-T-G, was found. Junk DNA averaged 300 base pairs long, but one chain of junk found in the Marshal Rung numbered more than 36,000.

After five minutes of reclining, Faye noticed the screen wink out, though CLAUDE's "thinking" indicator light flashed furiously, indicating a flurry of electronic activity. Well, this intron's a lot bigger than average, she thought.

After an hour of silent, though relaxed, pacing, Faye needed to talk. "Ummmmmm, CLAUDE, still sorting through the junk, huh?"

CLAUDE's screen jumped to life, though still quite devoid of information, and said, "That is correct Doctor. I have so far sequenced 12,060 base pairs without finding a Start Codon. Furthermore--"

"Wait just a minute, though. What are the odds you missed the Codon entirely, and are now running through active code?"

"In my present mode," answered CLAUDE, "the likelihood of this occurring is approximately 6,210,000 to one against." The "thinking" light blinked for a moment, then stopped, as CLAUDE awaited instruction.

"All right, I can live with those odds. You can keep sequencing through the night, can't you?" After all, she reasoned to herself, no point in wasting tomorrow's allotment of work-therapy time just sitting around checking over an endless line of junk.

This request was a new one for CLAUDE, but after consulting COREY it said, "That would be possible, but I cannot accurately estimate a time of completion."

"Just get to it, CLAUDE, and I'll get back to you tomorrow. Bye," she said, realizing that the day's interactive time was almost up. "Oh, can you summarize what you've found about this junk so far, and put it in some sort of chart or table, please?" Faye wondered why she'd asked so politely. She knew CLAUDE would comply instantly without complaining. Chalk it up to a lack of staff, she thought.

"Certainly, Doctor," CLAUDE said, displaying a summary on screen, "Goodnight."

But this is wrong, she thought, studying the screen. This couldn't be; CLAUDE must have goofed something up. Where are all the C's in this thing? Faye had already shut down CLAUDE for the day, so she was left to figure the math herself in her head.

Overall, she thought, of the four base pair combinations A, T, G, and C, nothing more advanced than bacteria uses much more of one than another. In fact, after 22 Rungs, the level was something like 25 percent all around. And now here's this junk totally devoid of G's. In fact, the A's and C's are impossibly low too, each less than 5%. That leaves, oh my God, 90 percent T's. If CLAUDE is losing it, then the Rung won't get done for days while it gets debugged. Unless the sequencer is messed up.

Faye froze in mid-thought. Everything about her ground down to a standstill, except for her pulse rate. "Sleep now..." she heard softly. "As you enter this deeply relaxed state, you find that you are feeling very safe, very warm, and very comfortable..." The Hyp- Chip continued to weave its web as orderlies ran through their routine, scooping Faye up gently, placing her on her bed, and quietly slipping out the door. "In this state you can picture any scene and see yourself doing anything you want, either familiar and from memory or totally original..."

Faye passed through her laboratory and into her office in the Bio- Engineering Department at UNYA, and the lights turned themselves on.

"Hi Faye. It's good to see you looking so well," declared CHIP, as its screen lit up. "It's Saturday, June 20th. You have new mail, a lot of it in fact, though most of it is garbage."

"Thanks, CHIP. I know, mail piles up after two weeks," Faye said. She felt good, real good, and ready to dive into the Human Genome Mapping Project again. She sat in her chair in front of CHIP, but it felt a little too big for her now. Her smile grew bigger. "You really think so, about me looking good?"

CHIP navigated through the system to Faye's electronic mailbox, and responded, "Well, you know I don't have any feelings in the matter per se, but, in terms of what you told me you wanted to have done to yourself, all of the procedures appear successful. You look like you've lost 40 pounds. The collegen and enzyme treatments have rejuvenized your skin. Your hair is once again dark brown, thick, and long. The repolymerizing of your tissue with the silca implants appears very natural. In every respect you look twenty-five years younger. Oh, by the way," CHIP added, "both your Polymer and Reconstructive Surgeons e-mailed to say that your tissue samples are all in the green, and that you can consider yourself completely finished with treatment."

"Well, that is good news," Faye responded. "Do you know what I did with the rest of the Nobel money? Wardrobe. Never had so much fun shopping before. I bought everything: new skirts, new shorts, new blouses, new slacks, of course new bras, and even new shoes, my sizes have changed so much. Know what, CHIP? I even bought some lycra and a knock 'em dead evening gown. I don't think anyone there would have believed I'll be 57 next month."

"Mazeltov, Faye. And they say money can't buy happiness. Do you want to read your mail now?"

"Okay, but just the important letters." Faye tried to get comfortable in her chair, but, like everything else, it just didn't fit her anymore. "Oh, can you requisition a new chair from the University, something to handle a more svelte figure?"

"You got it. Here's the first relevant letter," announced CHIP, displaying it to the screen. It was from a friend, but its tone was all business and to the point. The gyne-genetic engineers could not de-integrate Faye's DNA into new haploid eggs, and while in the future the technology might exist to do so, Faye's menopause was, for the time being, permanent.

She closed her eyes, exhaled deeply through her nose, and placed her hand on her newly smoothed and flattened belly. Damn, she thought, they were my last chance. Well, at least the rest of me is young again. Look at the bright side: ha-ha, no more stained underwear to worry about; my new panties are safe. Faye tried to stop her grimacing, asking CHIP for the next letter, but a smile didn't come easy.

The next several letters were personal, and Faye's newfound enthusiasm didn't shine through at first, but by her fifth, she seemed as elated as when she first sat down.

"This last letter is interdepartmental, from the head honcho himself: Dr. Horner," said CHIP. "Want me to delete it?"

"No, better let me see what Jason has to say." More fluff, thought Faye, a general morale booster, a new grad student Melinda someone- or-other is our newest intern... oh wait, a little something welcoming me back. At least it's nothing embarrassing. "It says here that everyone else's rungs are getting sequenced pretty well. One of them is even done."

"Yep, though despite your absence, you've decoded more than most everyone," answered CHIP.

"That's because I enjoy it. And speaking of which, let's do a little work on the Rung before I go home. I think Phil's in for a surprise when he sees me now, a week ahead of time."

"I should say so, Faye. I'm firing up the sequencer now." Through the door from the lab, a machine growled to life, revving up to speed. "When you left we had come across some junk. It was sort of long-ish, and these first 453 base pairs are really unusual."

"Oh yeah, all those C's and that pattern after it," remembered Faye. "You make anything of it?"

"Yes, and you might find it interesting. That pattern after the C's doesn't code for anything biological, but maybe for something else. It's a set of prime numbers."

Inside herself miles away, Faye's Hyp-Chip, satisfied with its patient's current status, released her from its trance. Faye fell asleep without stirring.

Work continued on the Harrower Rung, after only a day's delay. Both CLAUDE and the sequencer checked out fine, and after surveying a section of the junk sequence personally, Faye felt that she wasn't chasing down a mere mistake, but something unusual, something worth studying further, an anomaly never before recorded in anyone else's Rung.

CLAUDE found a Start Codon after about 107,000 base pairs, making this the largest hunk of junk ever found, and that in itself warranted a further study. The first 400 and last 500 base pairs were all C's, something also never seen before.

"The likelihood of this occurring randomly is 1.6 x 10^120 to one against," volunteered CLAUDE.

It's gotta be proud of itself when it does that, Faye thought; there's no other reason for it. She smiled and let CLAUDE indulge itself further, hoping the diversion would let a new hypothesis pop into her head.

"And the sequence between these beginning and ending numbers of Cytosine-guanine base pairs," continued CLAUDE, "is exactly 106,387 base pairs long, a Casidak number which--"

"What's that, a Casidak number? I've never heard that one before," piped Faye. She leaned forward in her chair as CLAUDE explained.

"A Casidak number is any number which factors into two and only two different prime numbers other than itself and 1, the smallest of which is 6, which factors into 3 and 2. In the case of 106,387, the factors are 557 and 191."

CLAUDE droned on about other Casidaks, primitive positive roots of Casidaks, and prime numbers in general. CLAUDE displayed the first several base pairs of the 106,387, and something about the sequence struck Faye as soon as CLAUDE said "Prime numbers are one of the few abstract mathematical principles understood by most primitive cultures."

"T-A-T-A-A-T-A-A-A-T-A-A-A-A-A-T-A-A-A-A-A-A-A, that doesn't code for any useful amino acid chain," Faye mumbled, thinking aloud. "But, oh my God, those right there are some prime numbers! A whole bunch of them, right CLAUDE? Look at this set right here," she said raising her voice in excitement and touching the screen, "there's 1 A, then 2, then 3, then 5, and then 7 A's, you see the pattern, don't you?"

"Yes, I do," CLAUDE replied. "The chance of this sequence randomly occurring are approximately 2.6--"

"Fine, fine, fine, CLAUDE, I get the picture." Faye didn't want any more huge numbers breaking her chain of thought. "There's a greater chance of me getting run over by a hoverbus than this happening completely by chance, apparently, okay, okay. Does this, uh, pattern occur at any other point in the junk?"

CLAUDE's thinking light flashed as it surveyed the junk. "No, Doctor, this is the only such arrangement in the junk sequence," it answered. "And to what hoverbus are you referring?"

"Never mind about the hoverbus, CLAUDE. There is no hoverbus. I wasn't talking to you anyway -- and don't ask me who I was talking to, got it? Ok, how do you account for these--" How would I classify this anyway? Faye thought. There's no set category for this kind of code. "--unusual sections, the C's and the primes?"

"I am not capable of answering that question, Doctor, due to a lack of data," CLAUDE answered mechanically, "however I can offer some suggestions which you may conclude upon."

"All right. Fire away, CLAUDE."

Faye ambled around her room, brushing dust off her newly acquired knick-knacks, while shooting down possible explanations much faster than CLAUDE could send them her way. After about 20 suggestions, Faye was glancing through her photo album.

"Recombinant obligate intracellular parasites?"

"A virus? That could account for the phenomenon, but not the actual sequence. This stuff wouldn't code for anything useful to a virus." She turned a page.

"Extreme missense mutation?"

"Nope. That might re-write a section of DNA, but the resulting pattern would be just as random as the original." Faye smiled, thinking of the story behind that photo of the stripper her co- workers got for her surprise birthday party. God, was I over the hill then, she thought, sighing.

"Errors in Okazaki Fragment placement from DNA ligase?"

"Possible for small repeating fragments, but certainly not for a couple hundred C's or those primes. And besides, this sequence isn't just in one human's sample; it's everyone's." Faye looked up from her album, still remaining seated. "That's one of the reasons why the Human Genome Mapping Project exists; the samples The Project distributes are representative, a collection of DNA from tens of thousands of people. Individual differences are a moot point. You're talking about things that affect just an individual's DNA; not a whole species', not all of mankind's."

"Any one of these conditions might have occurred some time ago," responded CLAUDE. "The older the genetic modification, the more representative it would be today. It is a simple matter of inherited traits, or in this case, genes."

"Can you break down the sample, CLAUDE, determine what percentage of it has this junk?" Maybe we can see how far back this junk came to be, she thought. Faye settled back down into her chair, slowly turning pages.

CLAUDE stopped thinking, and declared "Almost 100 percent of the sample possesses this sequence of junk, Doctor, indicating this junk was present from the earliest times of mankind's development, most likely in the first examples of Homo Sapiens."

Faye looked up, startled that CLAUDE would make such a sweeping conclusion. Wait, she thought; statistically speaking, that would have to be the case. "Humanity's last evolutionary jump," she said softly, "was about 120,000 years ago, and apparently this junk was along for the ride." As she pondered it, she asked, "Any more ideas about how it got there?"

CLAUDE settled into its "suggesting how the junk got this way" mode, and Faye settled back into her scrapbook.

"Histone contamination?"

"Couldn't make something this long, plus the changes would be in a lot more places than just here in this junk." Faye found another photo of a lab party, celebrating the completion of the department's first Rung. It was a big occasion, and would bring the department more prestige and funding that it had ever known. Everyone was there, including families and support personnel. It was her unveiling too, and heads turned as friends and colleagues recognized that stunning, curvy brunette with Phil as Faye. And there in the background was Jason, introducing Melinda to Phil. That asshole, Faye thought. Wait, Melinda? Was this the first time they met? Jason introduced them? Why I didn't figure it out until now?

"Genetic engineering?"


"Genetic engineering. It is my last suggestion," said CLAUDE.

"But 120,000 years ago?" was all Faye remembered murmuring. Her mind, for the moment, raced. Well Melinda is beautiful -- and young, real youth... and blooming. Look at how she's looking at him! What chance could I have had? she thought. Faye's eyes felt hot on the insides, and her last thought was "Again?" as the Hyp-Chip kicked in and brought her down.

"Sleep now..." the chip suggested, almost knowing Faye possessed no real power to resist. It continued through its routine, "In this state you can picture any scene and see yourself doing anything you want, either familiar and from memory or totally original..."

"Hi CHIP," said Faye as she walked into her office, "how goes the junk?"

"Good morning Faye. It's Monday, June 22nd," responded CHIP, "You have new mail -- just a note from Dr. Horner, though. And I can't wait to talk to you about the junk."

"Yes you can, CHIP," said Faye, not missing a beat, "for just long enough to tell me what Jason wants."

"Oh, all right. He just wants you stop by his office sometime before lunch. Can I delete the message now?" CHIP sure seems, well, chipper today, Faye thought.

"Fine, fine, go ahead. Now, what about the junk?"

"Well first of all, I sorted through all the junk, and that took almost all day yesterday. Total number of base pairs before the next active sequence of DNA: 107,287."

"That's huge," interrupted Faye.

"The biggest section of junk yet found, in fact. Remember those 400 C's at the beginning? Well, there are 500 more at the end, leaving 106,387 in between. That's a Casidak number you know."

"Actually, I didn't," she said, repositioning her bra straps. I wish someone told me they would dig in more with the extra weight and all, Faye thought. She hoped it was just a matter of getting used to. "Should I?"

"Well, they're kind of obscure; I doubt a geneticist would have ever heard of them, though some astrophysicists are really big on them. Basically, it's a really big number that only divides into two big primes. So far so good?" asked CHIP.

"You haven't lost me yet."

"Excellent. Now, some astrophysicists, who observe other stars in their search for intelligent life, think that the first messages Earth will get will involve Casidaks. Here's why: astrophysicists assume that aliens would want to keep the message simple and easily decoded, without references to language, so they would send a picture." CHIP's screen cleared and formed a rectangle, with an "x" on a horizontal side and a "y" on a vertical. "So say you receive a message with a Casidak number of 0's and 1's, which is also easy to send across space, by the way; you can lay the whole sequence into a grid with x columns and y rows of 0's and 1's, just like filling up a sheet of graph paper. The 0's make up the background and the 1's make up the lines the picture is drawn with"

"Does this have a point?" Faye asked, wondering where this would lead.

"Sure it does," answered CHIP. "Between those C's are a Casidak number of T's and A's. Those primes just after the C's are what made COLLIN, the Physics Department's computer, wonder what running it though a Casidak Square might produce."

"Wait, you chat with other computers at night?"

"Just to keep busy. I don't chat about anything secret," CHIP said. Almost sheepishly, Faye thought. "But the point is COLLIN hit something. The resulting Casidak Square was 557 by 191 dots, and believe it or not, what I think is a picture resulted. Here it is."

CHIP's screen displayed the "drawing" encoded within the junk of her rung. The coarse resolution and lack of color looked out of place on CHIP's normally vibrant and animated display; the picture itself looked as if a someone had drawn figures on a sheet of printer paper with a thick crayon. Human figures, albeit stick figures, were definitely present. Along with some other, less readily identifiable ones.

"This is the real McCoy, no BS?" Faye questioned. "I still remember when you--"

"Not this time, Faye. Here's the numbers, you can see the corroboration yourself. See?" CHIP displayed a chart.

"Well, these numbers look all right, I suppose."

OK, let me work this out, she thought, displaying the picture again. That looks like a stooped-over man, like a weird hunchback with long arms, and there's an arrow pointing from it to this tall stick-figure man. And from that line, there's another arrow pointing to, whoa, what looks like an octopus? And what about this line here?

Hours later, Faye had a printout of the picture on Jason's desk, and interpreted it.

"Now let me get this straight," said Dr. Jason Horner. A little too loud for comfort, thought Faye. "You think this picture does the following: one, establishes a base ten counting system based on this character's fingers." He pointed to the upright stick figure. "Two, that this hunched-over character with the big forehead and thick arms is an early human, Homo Erectus." He pointed to the hunchback figure. "Three, that this octopus thing had something to do with the change of this hunched-over thing to this tall thing." His hand swept all over the paper. "Four, that this octopus thing comes from a star in this constellation, as seen from Earth." He pointed to a set of dots bearing a strong resemblance to Virgo. "Five, and that now someone should go to someplace that you and your computer say is off the Baja Californian coast and do something." Jason pointed to what looked like a map of the western coast of the Americas. "And six, that doing this will contact these octopus creatures or something?"

Faye had no idea that it sounded so stupid in context, but CHIP and she, with the help of COLLIN, had spent hours reasoning it out. She stood her ground. "It could be. I was planning on letting the astrophysicists across campus play with it. They've been looking for this kind of thing for decades. Let them be the judges."

"No way," Jason proclaimed, getting louder. "You may be on a hot streak, Mrs. Nobel Prize winner, but these sort of sensational conclusions can only make trouble for this department. Remember the University of Utah and their cold fusion claims, or UC San Diego's aquatic mammalian communication 'breakthroughs?' They lost all their academic credibility and respect after those fiascos." Jason began to pace around his office. "This department has just completed its first Rung for the Human Genome Mapping Project, with more on the way, and one of our staff, namely you, is a recent Nobel Prize winner. To throw all this prestige away by letting this 'alien picture' thing leave this office is academic, scientific, and financial suicide, and that's final."

I might not have had any problems with Jason before, thought Faye, but I can see why CHIP thinks about him the way it does. "That's right, I am Mrs. Nobel Prize winner," said Faye, raising her voice more than she had in a long time, "and I think that qualifies me to judge what is scientifically legitimate and what isn't!" Faye slammed the door on her way out.

"You have new mail," said CHIP, "interdepartmental in nature."

"Let me see it already. It's about the damn Rung Completion party isn't it?"

"Dr. Horner shot down the picture theory, didn't he?" CHIP asked, knowingly.

"It's more than that," stammered Faye. "He's got dollar signs in his eyes and he thinks that he can push me around, that he can keep this theory under wraps indefinitely."

"What are you going to do?"

"Well, the party is tomorrow night, so I can talk with some people, important and otherwise. Maybe Phil would have an idea."

"And to totally change the subject, was Phil surprised to see you?" questioned CHIP.

"Yeah, he was surprised, but not all that happy, I thought." Faye's voice lost the edge it had very recently acquired. "But that's not important now. I'm going home to cool off."

Faye returned to the labs the next night, wrapped in her evening gown, ready to schmooze and lobby. Phil knew what he was talking about, Faye thought. Hours into the gathering, Jason approached Faye and Phil with Melinda, and leaving Melinda with Phil, Jason invited Faye into his office in order to speak privately.

"I've been chatting with colleagues all night, Doctor Horner," Faye said coldly, "and I think I have a strong enough leg to stand on to push this picture business through."

"Faye," Jason said smiling, "I've changed my mind. You're right, I think maybe you should shuttle it across campus, and see what they come up with."

"Wait, what's the catch?" she questioned.

"No catch, I've just had a change of heart. I consider you a valuable asset to this department, and therefore, your opinions are valuable to me as well." He poured two glasses of champagne, offering one to Faye. "But let's just keep it on campus, all right?"

She eyed the extended glass for a moment, and accepted it, taking a sip.

Faye felt funny as she slumped into one of Jason's chairs. Her senses suddenly numbed and she started shaking uncontrollably.

She saw Jason smile smugly as he poured his glass into a potted plant and turned toward his computer.

"CORBIN," he said, "I need to access to Dr. Harrower's files and notes. Copy them all to my location, deleting her originals, administrative clearance level sonza. I'll modify them later."

Faye tried to move, struggled to yell, fought to stop shaking, but she could not do anything.

"Now compose a letter to Janice Brooke, Coordinator of the Human Genome Mapping Project, something to the effect that unfortunately, due to a sudden mental or nervous breakdown probably resulting from extreme personal stress following dramatic physical reconstruction, Dr. Harrower will be unable to finish sequencing the last, oh," he calculated a number which would exclude the recently discovered junk, "700,000 base pairs. Please reassign the Harrower Rung, et cetera. You clean it up, CORBIN."

Jason turned to Faye, and said "What you've just drunk contains a little bug I whipped up yesterday, which is even now reacting with the trace anti-aging proteins still in your bloodstream, which will block all of this alien visitation nonsense from your memory once and for all." Jason grinned hard, looking Faye right in her trembling face. Unfortunately, the process will in all likelihood unbalance you mentally, but a good institute should be able to help you along. And," he added, "I think Melinda will be able to ease Phil's loss. She's quite the temptress; an effective tool, I've found."

Faye's Hyp-Chip had never sensed everything it monitored jump into the red so suddenly. As if by reflex, it totally shut Faye down, and she slammed into sleep.

The charter boat Santa Maria bobbed gently in the Pacific, swinging Faye's hammock. Despite the cooling effect of the setting sun, she didn't shiver in her bikini.

"Sweet," she whispered, nuzzling Juan's ear, "I have to get up now and check the asgal device."

He turned slightly, allowing her to roll off onto the deck with both feet. "Si." She pulled part of her suit up from her ankles and went below.

The device registered the magnetron waves stronger than ever before, winking softly. She stepped to the uplink board, and the satellite pinpointed them to the fifth decimal place off the coast of Baja California.

It matches, she thought, putting her copy of the Casidak Square CLAUDE printed out back into her tote. There really is something to this map after all.

As she put the sheet away, her tote tipped, spilling some of her papers. No biggie, she thought, casually scooping them up. I'll have to frame these someday, she thought as she held Methany's release forms. She glanced at the charred remains of Phil and Melinda's wedding announcement in the ashtray on the console, noting that it burned differently than Phil's divorce papers and his pathetic, whining letters, and chuckled. And those too, she thought as she went topside, loosening her bikini again.

"Phil," she said looking at Juan, "eat your heart out."

Warren Ernst is the author of numerous books about computers and software.

Warren wrote this story, originally titled "Unsuccessive Sequential Events," for a class in science writing at UC San Diego in the spring of 1992.

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 2, Number 4 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1992 Warren Ernst.