Authors: Maria Elizabeth Romana
“Wait a minute. How many people live here? The place doesn’t look that big.”
Joe grinned. “You haven’t actually seen it all, Ellie. It’s, um, larger than it appears. And there are several more buildings out back.” He shook his head. “Don’t worry, you can get the full tour tomorrow. For now, just realize that most of us don’t live here full-time. People come and go.”
Grace threw in, “Yeah, kind of like a vacation hot spot for artists and geeks and politicians.”
“Hey, you said you loved coming here as a kid,” Joe reminded her.
She couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, I did. It is a wondrous place for children, Gifted or not. Arts and crafts, science experiments, animals, crazy inventions…what’s not to love?”
“So you came here, Aunt Grace? When you were little? You and Mom?”
“Yes, honey, we came here…after Elmyra and her second husband—”
“Third,” corrected Granny.
husband. They approached my parents, because Granny suspected, through her genealogical traces, that Daddy was Gifted, and therefore, that one or more of us kids probably were, too. They knew we didn’t have a lot of money, and they wanted to make sure we’d have the best opportunities to succeed.”
Ellie looked confused. “But you said you weren’t—”
“No, as it turned out, the tests showed I did not have the gene, while Daddy and Lucy and Sammy did. But I got to come along anyway, whenever they came here to study and visit.”
“Well, of course you did,” said Granny, as she plunked back down in her chair. “Just because someone doesn’t have the Gifted gene doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from being here. And us, from having them around. We’re not elitists.”
Grace managed to eke out a half-smile for the old woman. No, they weren’t. That part was certainly true; the Gifted Ones had always welcomed her and treated her like one of the family.
“So…this gene thingy,” started Ellie. “That’s the reason my mom was such a genius. Why she wrote all those papers and made all those discoveries and everything. I get it. But what about my dad? He was a brilliant scientist, too. Everybody thought he was gonna win a Nobel Prize for all that hydro-botanical stuff he was doing. Did he have the Gifted gene, too?”
“No!” The firmness of the unanimous response from Granny, Joe, and Grace, all at once, hushed the room. No one seemed quite sure how to proceed.
# # #
Joe got up from his chair and began pacing. He ran a hand through his hair. He hadn’t really wanted to get into all this today. He had looked forward for many years to telling Ellie she was one of them, one of the Gifted Ones. At least he could share that with her, an ancient genetic bond. It was better than no kinship at all. He hadn’t wanted this night to be about digging up old painful memories and wounds that would never heal.
But she had asked. And he was the Gifted Ones’ leader, at least for now. It was his job to tackle these messy questions. He strode to the wall across from the couch that Ellie and Angel were sitting on, then pressed a button and waited. A large painting slid away in its frame, revealing a white board behind. He grabbed a colored marker from a shelf nearby and began to write. “Ellie, you took biology, right?”
“Yeah, sure, but…” She shook her head. “I’m not like my parents. I wasn’t particularly good at it.”
Joe continued drawing on the board as he spoke, “But you remember Punnett Squares? The gene inheritance diagrams?”
“Uh…oh yeah, I remember. Actually, that part was pretty interesting, like who would have blue eyes or red hair or…” She pointed to herself. “Freckles.”
Joe turned back to face them. “Yes, Ellie, freckles.” Just like her mother. He waved his hand at what he had drawn on the board—a cross-tab, with the boxes filled in with big Gs and little Gs, intended to show how different pairs of parents would yield different combinations of children, with and without the Gifted gene. He proceeded to explain, “The Gifted gene is a dominant gene. That means if you have it, the phenotype will express. You
show a unique ability in some field. It can’t be hidden, like a recessive gene, like the gene for blue eyes.”
“Okay, I understand.”
“Good. Well, here’s what’s important to know. All of us here have
copy of the gene. We had one Gifted parent and one not.” He motioned toward his cross-tab, showing the Gifted gene with a capital G, and the not-gifted as a lower case G. “As long as there is only one Gifted gene in the mix, the children of these people will have at most one copy of the gene, and some will have none.” Grace raised her hand in acknowledgment of the fact that she was one of the have-nots.
Joe continued, “In fact, the odds are fifty-fifty that any such child will be gifted.” He then erased one of the normal parent’s lower case Gs and replaced it with a capital G. “If, however, we have two Gifted parents, well, then we have a problem.”
Ellie shook her head. “What problem?”
Joe took a deep breath. He thought he could handle this. He thought he could just stand here and talk about the revelation that had shattered his life, but the words caught in his throat. From across the room, Grace met his gaze. She gave him a small smile, then turned to Ellie and answered the question for him, “Because, honey, the child of two Gifted people could potentially have two copies of the gene.”
Ellie looked from one to the other of them. “And that’s a problem, because…”
Angel jumped in, “Because the double-G is bad news, sister.”
“Yes, really, young lady.” Granny stood and walked toward Joe. Even the crotchety old matriarch seemed to know he couldn’t finish what he’d started. She tapped her finger on the board, on his theoretical double-gene child. “These children are…troubled.”
“I don’t understand. Wouldn’t they just be super-duper smart or super-duper strong or whatever?”
Granny shook her head. “No, it doesn’t work that way. We need that normal or not-gifted gene for balance. When people have the Gifted gene, there’s a strong pull toward that Gift; we want to think about science all the time, or be writing all the time, or…” She motioned toward Angel and added, “Working on our physique all the time. The normal gene pulls us back in the other direction, reminds us to be human, to interact with others, to eat and sleep and laugh and play. But when someone has two copies of the gene, there’s a constant struggle. A battle for control…mental control.”
Granny’s description of the Gifted Two mentality helped Joe regain his focus. “Yes, that’s what we’ve found. Those with two copies of the gene are obsessive, unbalanced, often, quite destructive. For example, are you familiar with Vincent Van Gogh?”
“Wait, the crazy artist who sliced off his ear?” Ellie’s eyes were wide. “He was a Gifted gene person? No way!”
Granny responded, “Now, Ellie, we can’t be sure. He lived a long time ago, and there were no genetic tests back then, but…yes, I think he was, based on a line that I’ve traced through some illegitimate children that were probably his.”
“Whoa. How cool is that? So like, how many other famous people were Gifted Ones? Like basketball players and singers and writers? What about Justin Fever, and…and J.R. Bowling? Are they Gifted? Are we all, like, related?”
“El, sweetheart,” Grace drew the girl’s attention. “You’re getting off topic. We can talk about all that later. Your Uncle Joe is trying to make an important point.”
Joe couldn’t help but grin. For someone who didn’t carry the gene, Grace certainly had a gift for human insight. She’d always had it, but it seemed that time had only sharpened her intellect and sensitivity. A flood of regret for the many years they had not spoken suddenly washed over him.
“Oh, uh, sorry, Uncle Joe. Go ahead.”
“Right. So as I was saying, Van Gogh was an incredibly talented artist, but he was also nuts. He suffered from hallucinations, delusions, and psychotic episodes. He’s known for the ear incident, but he’s also believed to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Now, as Granny said, we can’t be sure he was a Two, but we’ve seen similar things happen with people who have the double gene. With the artsy types, it seems to be hallucinations and schizophrenic behavior. The Leaders, Healers, and Scholars tend toward superiority complexes and narcissism. At the deep end of the pool, we’re talking Hitler and Jim Jones and Charlie Manson.”
Ellie said quietly, “Oh, I see.”
Then Angel piped up, “And don’t forget the Defenders.”
“Mm, yes, Defenders, they’re a special kind of trouble,” Granny admitted.
Ellie wrinkled her forehead, “Why? What happens with the Defenders?”
Angel chimed in again, “It’s a control thing, as in controlling aggression. We’re naturally competitive, we love to fight, and we damn sure want to win. It’s a struggle for all the Defenders to learn to subdue, but not destroy their opponents. In addition to physical training, I spend hours every week doing yoga, tai chi, and meditation. I’m the most Zen Defender there ever was.”
Granny smiled proudly. “Angel is our shining example. She’s proof that any Gifted person can successfully master their skill without letting it control them. Many Twos eventually lose the battle with themselves.” She looked up in her head a moment, then finished the thought, “They end up like Van Gogh. We try to keep that from happening, but not everyone wants our help.”
Granny reached over then and took the eraser from Joe. She replaced another one of the parent’s small Gs with a capital, creating a double-gene parent in the diagram. “But that’s not the biggest problem with the Gifted Twos.” She changed the results in the make-up of the children, replacing more of the lower-case Gs with upper-case, then explained, “Because the gene is dominant,
of the children from a double-gene parent will be Gifted, even if his partner is non-gifted. And if his partner is a Gifted One, they will likely have double-gene children. And if two Twos get together, all of their children are Twos.”
Ellie raised an eyebrow. “So you’re saying if two of these megalomaniacs decide to make babies, they’re going to create a whole little army of megalomaniacs?”
Granny tipped her head to the side. “Yes, that’s a rather concise synopsis of the issue.” She looked directly at Ellie. “I knew you were a bright girl. And I’m sure you see now why we find it so important to try to track down all the Gifted people, and at least keep an eye on them.”
Ellie’s response was quizzical, “Wait, what do you do exactly? I mean, say there are two Gifted people who fall in love and want to get married and have kids. Do you tell them they can’t?”
The room was quiet again. Grace raised a hand to her forehead, as though she was very tired or maybe had a headache. Granny pressed her lips together and appeared to be contemplating an answer. Angel just looked uncomfortable.
Joe put on his brave face and answered the question, “We can’t tell anyone who they can marry and have children with, Ellie. We don’t have any authority over anyone, nor would we want that. We’re just here to make people aware of their own biological make-up and how it could affect their future. We try to help people and encourage them and offer them opportunities to make their lives better, but sometimes, there are unintended consequences to even the best of intentions.”
Grace dropped her hand back into her lap and locked her eyes on his for a long minute. Then they both looked away.
Chapter Six: Scheming
“Three more are dead, sir.”
“Dammit! Are you sure?” Dr. Ian Spengler blustered, angrily tossing papers aside and causing his young assistant to cringe as though expecting to be struck for being the bearer of bad news.
“Yes, sir, quite sure. I checked; they’ve been dead for hours.”
The older man ran a hand through his unruly white locks. “We were so close…now this.” He plunged his hands into the pockets of his lab coat, then paced a few steps to the right, away from his assistant. He turned back around, feeling the beads of sweat forming on his brow. “They’re going to be here any minute to make their report to the senator. If we can’t come up with—”
“Dr. Spengler, your guests have arrived.”
The two men turned toward the sound of the receptionist’s voice to see her holding the door ajar. Before either of them could say anything, a tall, solidly-built man strode into the room. He was fit, well-dressed, and carried himself with confidence. His stern face, nearly bald head, and prominent cheekbones did nothing to soften the look. Behind him, a much younger man followed, and though lacking the commanding manner of the first, still managed to infuse the room with a discomfiting arrogance.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Spengler.” The large man looked expectantly in their direction, tacitly expressing disapproval for the less-than-pristine state of the lab. “I trust you are ready for us?”
Spengler straightened up, smoothed his lab coat, and extended his hand. He pasted on a smile and tried to appear unruffled. “Dr. Orucov, how nice to see you again. And this handsome young man must be your son.”
Archer gave him a brief nod and motioned between the two as introduction. “Aiden, Dr. Ian Spengler.” He continued, speaking over their handshake, “Aiden has a real interest in biological energy sources, Doctor.”