Strickland finished his breakfast while leafing through the Sunday New York Times. Weeks had passed in the lab, and he had followed every lead, every conceptual path. There had been some intriguing possibilities, but so far, they all had led nowhere.
Thinking back to the early examinations of Einstein’s brain, he wondered whether his analytical tools were simply too primitive to reveal what he was looking for. Clearly, there were unique aspects to the sequences. But the uniqueness, if it was of any consequence, seemed beyond current understanding. Even using the open-source analysis engines, the interactions were simply too complex and too poorly understood. He had hoped for some kind of revelation, a kernel of insight within the static of the Shroud’s billions of nucleotides.
He poured another cup of coffee just as his father’s antique clock began chiming from the mantel. Beneath the timepiece stood a framed black-and-white portrait of the elder Strickland. It had been taken in the man’s early thirties, at the beginning of his medical career.
He suddenly remembered being driven to junior high school by his father, an extremely rare occurrence. It had been a fall morning very much like this. His mother was suffering from “exhaustion” again, and was unable to get out of bed. On the drive, he and his father talked briefly about a radio-controlled model airplane they were building together. But then the boy realized he had no idea what to say next. He sat quietly during the long drive, taking in his father’s odd metallic odor.
After the last sip of his morning coffee, Strickland folded the newspaper. Then he pulled back the curtain to gaze out the breakfast nook window. It was a beautiful autumn day, with the outdoor thermometer showing 53 degrees. On the spur of the moment, he decided to take a motorcycle ride through the surrounding woods. With recent rains, it had been weeks since this was even a remote possibility. Minutes later, he hit the ignition and was rewarded with the soft, low rumble of the big 1,200cc engine.
Clearing the suburbs and rising up into the hills, Strickland leaned in hard and accelerated through the winding back roads. The air was crisp and bracing, the highways snow-scrubbed and bone dry—perfect for high- speed maneuvering.
It felt good to be outdoors. There was something viscerally pleasing about the smell of trees, bark, forest duff, and the hint of wood smoke in the air. Maybe it was genetic memory, he pondered—earth, air, fire, and water: the prescientific elements of the universe, and the necessities of life.
Strickland hit a straightaway lined by towering white poplars, their long, narrow shadows striping the road in the low winter sun. He took the approaching turn more slowly as the sun momentarily blinded him. Suddenly, an oncoming vehicle appeared in his lane—the driver was attempting to pass but couldn’t get back in.
Gripping the handbrake, Strickland stepped on the brake pedal. The antilock system chattered and the bike oscillated wildly from side to side. He fought for control and headed for the shoulder, and as he came to a skidding halt on a patch of moldering leaves and mud, the rust-red Ford pickup screeched around the bend and was gone.
He sat there for a long moment, arms resting on the handlebars, chest heaving. In the instant the truck had passed, he had caught a glimpse of the driver’s face—he looked remarkably like Strickland’s deceased father.
Copyright: Steven and Michael Meloan, 2011.