The two were well into their drink, work having ended hours ago. They had gone from talking about work, to talking about women, to discussions of a deep spiritual nature, and as always happened, back to talking about work in a more philosophic sense.
This time the discussion had turned to the roots of their profession and, ever the ‘believer’, Jehu waved his finger at his companion and stated, “Amrah was the most brilliant geneticist this planet has ever seen. I’ll defy you or anyone else to say different.” It was an old argument, one that got rehashed every couple of months when they’d had enough to drink and were either particularly close to a breakthrough, or frustratingly far from one.
“Oh please,” Luseph said, snorting before taking another drink. “Just because he was at it long enough to stumble across something that finally worked doesn’t erase the string of, quite frankly, monstrous failures he left in his wake.”
“And yet not one since has managed to do what he did,” Jehu said. “To create a form of life capable of growing as an indigenous species on-”
“That’s because the method he used was outlawed ages ago, precisely because of failures like his; and we’ve all been left to clean up the mess of his experiments; his and his son’s.” Luseph waved his hands dramatically as if he were in this very moment surrounded by the evidence of it. “If he had been more cautious, maybe…”
“All I’m saying is… look, you and I, we’re following in his footsteps. I mean, we’re not doing it the same way, we’re trying to get the same result, though, right?”
Luseph shrugged, not really wanting to admit Jehu was right, but he would concede one thing.
“What we are trying to do is find the secret to the spark of life. Not just…” he waved his hand around, trying to find the right word before settling on, “trip on a random success, but define the exact reasons it worked and understand how to duplicate it in other systems.”
“No, we can’t just go around mucking up the universe using trial and error, blindly feeling for the right answer.”
Jehu mulled that over as he finished his drink, contemplating both his colleague’s words and his own thoughts on the matter. It was true that, while Amrah had unlocked on one small level the secret to blending genetic material in such way as to be able to bridge the species barrier, before this success had become a reality it had spawned enough disasters as could fill volumes of text on the dangers of genetic manipulation on an interplanetary scale. There were just too many variables that had not been properly defined yet.
But Jehu was still younger than Luseph, and he still had that stardust in his eyes over the possibilities that lay beyond the confines of their professional limits. His dream was still, as it had been when he was young, to stand on an alien soil and not just document and study the life around him but to shape it, guide it, even create it.
“Someday,” he said to Luseph, “Someday, you and I will do it. We’ll do it together.”
Luseph chuckled but didn’t protest. It was his dream as well, but he had much simpler dreams than Jehu did. Still, it was hard not to admire the passion in the younger’s eyes.
“I’ll tell you what,” Luseph said, “and don’t spread this around, it hasn’t been officially announced yet, but there’s talk of assembling a team to be dispatched to that muddy little planet to see if anything Amrah did can be salvaged, or at least try to clean it up better. I think you should apply.”
That definitely got Jehu’s attention. “I thought any talk of return had long been abandoned?”
Luseph nodded. “It had. Until Anu got elected to the council. Seems he thinks like you do; that however regrettable the mistakes of the past have been, we might as well learn from them instead of trying to sweep it under the carpet and forget they exist. I think it’s a dangerous idea and too close to dabbling in the forbidden, but there you have it.”
Jehu let that sink in. “Go back… go back to Earth. After all this time. I wonder what that little specie he cooked up have got themselves up to?”
Luseph laughed. “Oh, Jehu, you’re too optimistic! If they even survived – and that’s a big if – you can’t expect more than just another animal. You’ll be lucky if they’ve learned not to piss where they eat! I mean, it’s not like they’re intelligent.”
Jehu didn’t answer that time. He had read Amrah’s works more times than he could count. Even of Luseph thought it was just exaggeration or wishful thinking, Jehu believed the accounts in Amrah’s journals. Before he died, Amrah had written that the species he had named ‘human’ had learned language. Six thousand years later, Jehu wanted to know what they had to say.
*B’reshit: Hebrew name for the book of Genesis, meaning “In the beginning.”