Renewal, Part 7
Every story eventually comes to an end.
First thing the next morning, Dave and I showed up at the police station to talk to Mrs. Mason. We were actually early, the detective hadn’t come back from the hotel with her yet, so we waited in the lobby with the officer who was manning the desk. Who looked and smelled nervous and didn’t seem to have anything else to do but watch us – a rookie, she had to be – so we started making small talk. “This is a really nice station, Officer Becket,” I told her. “It’s so clean and bright in here.”
“Yeah, this is really nice,” Dave agreed. “And I like that you guys didn’t go with the dramatic mood lighting, makes it seem a lot more welcoming.”
That got her to laugh. “We have that back in the interrogation rooms. They aren’t supposed to be welcoming.”
“No, that would kind of defeat the purpose.” We chatted back and forth with her about the town and the job – she really was a rookie, she’d only been on the job for about a month – and she gradually relaxed and stopped smelling like she was going to vibrate right out of her skin. Which had apparently been her normal state at work to date, because when the detective came in and received a cheerfully professional greeting she looked really surprised.
Mrs. Mason didn’t appear to notice. She was thin and looked a little ragged around the edges – which was only to be expected, after the news she’d already gotten – but she smelled shakily determined and her scent spiked when the detective started to introduce us. In fact, she looked at me and shook her head. “No,” she said. “I thought I was going to talk to the one who was here before. He was short, he had curly hair…”
“That was me,” I told her. The detective was smelling embarrassed, and I offered her a shrug. “It’s okay, sometimes I forget to warn people ahead of time too.”
“This really is Dr. Darling, Mrs. Mason,” Dave assured her when her scent said she didn’t believe it. “I’m sorry we didn’t remember to let you know about that ahead of time.”
“It’s my oversight,” the detective corrected. “I shouldn’t have assumed you already knew, Mrs. Mason. All right, if everyone would please come with me, we’ll be using the meeting room at the end of the hall…”
She led Mrs. Mason behind the desk to a secure door that opened with a key card, and I managed to hold back my smile when I heard the happy little gasp from Officer Becket as she got a good look at my tail. Mrs. Mason, however, was radiating…something, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and Dave’s nose was nearly twitching.
Yeah, it really is kind of surprising that literally everyone who meets Dave doesn’t figure out he has enhanced senses within the first five minutes.
The meeting room was bright and light, just like the lobby, and had relatively comfortable chairs. Well, relatively comfortable for a tailless primate; it took me a minute to situate myself, and surprisingly that made Mrs. Mason’s scent spike in an unpleasant way. Oh no. She didn’t quite sniff. “I thought I was just here…to identify my son. Or to collect his remains.”
“There are no remains,” I told her. “There are some rotted pieces of Seth’s trunk underground, but most of it has broken down into the soil.” I looked from her to the detective and back again. “Did Detective Reyes explain what happened to Seth, Mrs. Mason?”
“Seth is dead.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Dave said. “Someone poured toxic substances down into the ring of his trunk to eliminate his taproot. And that’s why he didn’t regrow like the others did.”
That startled her. “Regrow?”
“That’s why we came down here to talk to you, so we could explain things and answer any questions you might have.” I folded my handpaws on top of the table the same way she had her hands folded together, which made her scent spike again. “The big wildfire that swept through this area last year triggered the kids’ regrowth cycle, Mrs. Mason,” I told her. “When we got the call we came right out, and there were five saplings growing in the exact same spots where the kids had originally rooted. Four of them were responsive, but the fifth one wasn’t. And when we checked their DNA, we found out that the four responsive ones – Jordan, Janey, Amy and Trey – were all genetically the same as they had been, but the sapling we thought was Seth was different. He had two-tenths of a percent more mayfly in his makeup than he’d had before. Now, mod science has advanced a lot over the last few years, so we knew we’d be able to weed out the mayfly in all of them…but we weren’t sure why the one we thought was Seth was different, so we called in some tree and plant experts to help us. And they told us that the fifth sapling wasn’t actually Seth, it was Seth’s offspring.”
Her reaction to that was immediate denial. “No, no that can’t happen…”
“We didn’t know it could either, but it did,” Dave confirmed. “The kids are part gingko tree and part cinnamon vine yam, meaning they all have a tuber underground next to their taproot. The person who killed your son did that by destroying his taproot…but his tuber was untouched, and his offspring grew from that tuber. That’s why he had more mayfly in his makeup than the others.”
Her hands clenched a little tighter. “So this one’s going to die even faster.”
“No.” Her scent spiked. “After we fixed that problem in the others, we also corrected it for Seth’s son. He’s developmentally a long way behind them, he can barely communicate – he’s basically an infant. They named him Quinn.”
Her knuckles went white. “Why?”
“I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. They all discussed it and decided that was a good name…”
“No, why did they name him, why did you fix him? Why! Why didn’t you let him die, the way nature intended?”
Oh no. “Because he not only would have kept coming back, but he could have passed on the mayfly inclusion to the others and started the cycle all over again with their offspring.”
“Why didn’t you let them die too?!”
Dave and I were taken aback, and I know it showed. “Mrs. Mason, we’re not sure what you mean,” Dave ventured. “They would have kept coming back and then dying again – over and over and over again. All we did was repair the damage the accidental inclusion of the mayfly DNA had done to what was supposed to be their normal lifecycle.”
“They were the way they were for a reason! They weren’t supposed to live, they’re…they’re…”
“Unnatural?” I knew I’d hit the nail on the head when her scent spiked. “Actually, no – they’re a completely new species, Mrs. Mason. No, the way they got that way wasn’t right, but that isn’t their fault. And we weren’t going to let them suffer for someone else’s mistake.”
Her jaw clenched. “The fact that they exist at all is the mistake.”
And there it was. We needed to clarify why, though. Dave cleared his throat. “Mrs. Mason, the other parents told us a government agent came to talk to them after the initial incident. Did he come speak to you as well?” A tight nod. “I know he told the other parents they should be glad their children had died, because the government would have had to destroy them if they hadn’t. That was actually a lie. The U.S. government doesn’t care one way or the other about these tree-people, or about modded humans in general…”
“They should.” Her narrow jaw set; she didn’t look at me. “It’s unnatural, it should be illegal.”
Well, there was our answer. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” I told her. “If we’d known you had such strong feelings about this, Dr. Montoya would have brought one of our other colleagues to talk to you instead.”
I could tell the detective was surprised by how low-key my response was…but you know, it’s not like I haven’t dealt with this sort of thing before. Mrs. Mason, though, accepted that with a nod and calmed back down. “So I don’t have to see it?”
“You don’t,” Dave told her. “If you ever change your mind, there will be a caretaker on the property you can talk to, a forest ranger.” They’d gotten back to him the night before, Dave was going to be leasing them the land – they’d wanted someone in the area anyway, and a representative would be coming out sometime later in the day to look things over and make recommendations for the type of facility that would be needed on the site. “If you want, we can have the detective here send you the contact information for the ranger station once it’s built, just so you have it…” She shook her head, and he nodded but his scent was disappointed. “Okay, that’s fine. Detective, is there anything else we need to talk about?”
“No, if Mrs. Mason doesn’t have any more questions, we’re done here.” She stood up, and Mrs. Mason stood up too, but when she offered me her hand the other woman’s scent spiked sharply. She didn’t notice, of course, just shook my handpaw, then Dave’s hand. “Thank you for your time, Doctors. How much longer do you plan to be up here?”
“Approximately eight more days,” Dave told her. “We’re finalizing arrangements for the health and safety of the tree-people, and we’re hoping to have a ranger permanently on-site before we pack up to go home. The Forest Service will probably be in touch with you soon too.”
“It really has been too long since we had a ranger in the area,” she said. “I’ll be glad to see one up here.”
Her scent was saying a lot of things about that, and it occurred to me that the shiny new-looking station might have come at the expense of this woman having the manpower she needed to effectively do her job. City government could be short-sighted that way sometimes. I nodded. “Because of the particular situation, they told us they were only going to assign experienced rangers to work out here,” I assured her. “They said they’re going to try for people who have a military or law enforcement background. Hopefully that will help you guys out too.”
Relief, and a little whiff of wry chagrin as I think she realized why I’d offered that reassurance. “It will,” she said. “Mrs. Mason, if you want to stay in here, I have some paperwork I need you to sign and then I’ll take you back to the airport.” Mrs. Mason sat back down with a spike of relief, and Detective Reyes led us back out to the lobby…where she shook hands again. “I’m sorry about that,” she said. “I had no idea…”
“It’s okay,” I told her. “My guess would be, just from what I smelled, that she was trying to keep her…opinion under wraps so you wouldn’t think she’d had something to do with her son’s murder.”
A smile. “Wish I had your nose, my job would be a lot easier.”
“Actually, it takes a little while to learn to interpret the subtleties of scent, so you still have to be careful not to assume things,” Dave told her, and her eyes widened. He nodded and tapped the side of his nose with a smile, then fished out a business card which he put in her hand. “Call our office and talk to Barry, our lab assistant,” he said. “We aren’t quite ready to let the whole world know we offer that particular mod service – the first big reveal will be at a genetics conference we’re attending in January. But we do offer it, and we can be as discrete as you need us to be.”
She nodded slowly and tucked the card into her pocket. “I’ll think about it, thanks. You’re going to screen people?”
“Very thoroughly,” I assured her. “Our lawyer has already drawn up the request-for-service contracts. The wording alone should scare off most people who have something to hide, and Dr. Vargas or I or Barry will weed out the rest.” Her eyes widened again, this time with recognition, and I smiled. “I still say it wasn’t quite the wedding of the century, but the entertainment news people didn’t agree with me.”
“It was probably the cutest wedding of the century,” she said. “My niece squealed about it for weeks, I bought her the doll clothes for her birthday.” We were at the secure door again, and she swiped to get it open and held it for us. “Doctors, I appreciate you coming down here today,” she said. “I’ll probably come back up to the site one more time before you leave just so we don’t have any loose ends.”
“Any time that’s convenient for you, Detective,” Dave told her. “We know how busy you are.”
“You’re not wrong,” she said, scent saying a few more things about that, some of them tentatively deliberate, and we both nodded in response. “Be careful driving back out.”
We went back around the desk and told Officer Becket to have a good day while she tried not to stare at my tail again, and then we headed back out to the site. “I’m actually glad now that Seth is dead,” I told Dave. “Do you think he knew?”
Dave shrugged. “I think she was probably in shock at first because it all happened so fast,” he said. “And the rapid degeneration would have dampened his sense of smell. My guess is he thought she was mad at him for doing it, just like the other parents were.”
“Yeah.” I raised an eyebrow. “Liked Detective Reyes, did we?”
He huffed. “I’m not looking for a girlfriend, Danny.”
“You may not be, your pheromones don’t seem to be agreeing with you.” I shifted in my seat, getting ready for the bumpy part of the road where it switched from city to county. “Gonna have to move on sometime, Dave.”
“I know. I will.” He slanted a look sideways. “No matchmaking, you are nowhere near gay enough for that.”
“Apparently Joey is.”
A smirk. “Joey has marriage-is-so-great disease and he’s trying to spread it.” Another look. “You think we can get away with it, in Hawaii?”
“Yes. You know the new process speeds up the development of the fetus. There won’t be any traces of interference, and the approximate conception dates won’t match anymore so the abusive douchebag’s case will fall apart even without the DNA test.”
“Yeah.” He sighed. “Holy crap this is such a slippery slope, Danny.”
“I know, Dave. But it’s not like we could cop to knowing how to do it even if we wanted to.”
“I know that too.” Another glance sideways. “You know that discovery would make you the top geneticist in the world, right? Put you in Nobel territory.”
I shrugged. “I’m already one of the top geneticists in the world, I don’t need a plaque saying so badly enough that I’d risk the safety of Pete’s future science princess over it. And our government still refuses to accept us as the official lab, so I’m pretty sure they’d contest any attempt to give me international recognition anyway.” I snickered. “In fact, I’m pretty sure that would get me groped more at the airport, so no thank you. You get a Nobel, then we’ll have one to hang on the wall in our lobby.”
He snorted. “I don’t see that happening the way you guys seem to, but sure.” We drove for a while in silence, both of us watching the road. “Your research did give me an idea, though.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Literally, since they’re almost as big as your whole head. Seriously, though, I got this idea. It’s just in its preliminary stages, but between the new process you just pioneered, the work we did to tinker with the overmod process, and the paper we’re about to present…Danny, I think I know how we can safely correct genetic defects in-utero. And also how we can test for them accurately without endangering the fetus or the mother.”
I grinned. “I knew you’d been reading those cytogenics papers for a reason. Nobody else is even close, are they?”
He shook his head. “Miles away, and mostly going in the wrong direction. They’re approaching genetic defects like a disease to be wiped out. But it’s not a disease, it’s a gene-replication glitch…and that’s why so many of the occurrences seem random, because the causative factors pretty much are. In-utero is the only way to fix it.”
My grin widened. That Nobel plaque was going to look so nice on our wall.
Two weeks later, we were in Hawaii on the beach – well, most of us. Pete was at his mom’s house with little Noelani, who was perfectly healthy, just slightly over-term by the obstetrician’s reckoning, and luckily for her poor mother had been really eager to be born and hadn’t drawn the process out as much as some babies do. She had Pete’s nose and his mother’s eyes, and her genetics test came out clean as a whistle with no douchebag DNA in sight. Pete’s mom suspects that we had something to do with it, of course, but she’s not saying anything. She wanted a grandbaby, she’s got a grandbaby.
And Pete has his little science princess, and he is absolutely in love with her. That kid is going to be so fucking spoiled, I’m telling you. With attention, anyway – I’m not sure you can actually ‘spoil’ a kid with love.
Anyway, the sun and the beach are really nice after spending weeks on end camping in the snow. We’re not even the only modded humans here; this is the hotel celebrities use, white-sand private beach and all, and there are some fox-hybrid pop stars from Japan also staying here who were just delighted to run into Hana and Barry. Yes, group shopping happened along with multiple cutesy photo-ops, and I’m not sure Front Street is ever going to be the same. Aside from that we’ve been to two VIP luaus, frolicked in the crystal-clear fishie-free water, gone out to look at a volcano, and been spied on by the paparazzi who skulk around just trying to snap a picture of anything that might be famous.
I don’t even fucking care anymore. Once upon a time I may have been a scared nineteen-year-old with no friends and no family, trying desperately to keep people from noticing me, but that was a long time ago. Now, I am famous. I’m one of the top geneticists in the world, my colleagues and I help save the world on a regular basis, and holy shit my husband looks good in those swim trunks. Life does not get any better than this.
Well, maybe if I could stop getting groped by security at the airport. But a guy can’t have everything.