“He wanted privacy. Not to be bothered.”
Adam could understand that. “And he was raising kids there out of bottles, until the government found out about it, and. Hey. Are you-”
Ray was mechanically guiding the cleaning machine along, not really looking where it was going, but not looking at Adam either. “Yes, I’m one of his kids. The law took us all away from him and
Regina-that’s his wife-and split us up, put us all in different Homes while they try to figure out what to do with us next. We can still touch minds with each other, now and then.”
“You were raised way out on Ganymede? Wow.”
“Not for very long. We were all brought to Earth about ten years ago. Doc owns quite a bit of real estate here too.”
Adam was fascinated. He stared at Ray. “You look-human, like everyone else.”
In the blue eyes deep pain was visible for just a moment. “We came from human seed, from human cells.”
“Then what’s the difference? I mean.” Adam was confused. Somehow he would have expected anyone he met with parapsych talents experts to be around three meters tall, and look like either the hero or the villain of a hologram thriller. Of course if he thought about it, that was crazy.
Adam was still curious, but he didn’t know what to say now. He realized that he had just given offense by implying that Ray might not be human, and he was trying not to do so again.
Ray asked him: “Do you know what genes are?”
“No. Oh, wait, maybe.”
“They’re little parts in the center of a living cell. Of all the human cells that make up your body. They decide everything you inherit from your parents: the way you look, your potential intelligence, and your parapsych potential too. What Doctor Nowell did was find a way to make forcefield manipulators small enough and controllable enough to use them to work on genes directly. Get right in and move the molecules and even the parts of molecules around. He experimented first on animal cells, and then on human. When he thought he had the technique perfected, he rebuilt a hundred fertilized human egg cells. And then he stopped.”
“He says he wants to wait a quarter of a century, to see how his first batch turns out-that’s us- before he does any more. Meanwhile he’s keeping his techniques a secret, and some people are unhappy about that.”
“Then you’re what they call Jovians, in the news sometimes.”
“He rebuilt you to be perfect, huh? You don’t sound too happy about it.”
“I wouldn’t say perfect. I don’t think Doc tried for that. What does perfect mean? Anyway, if we were, I don’t think the world would like it. Whatever he tried for, Adam, we’re very lucky. A lot of people are still born crippled.”
Adam was silent for a while, working away with the cleaning nozzle, attacking stubborn stains on battered tile. This new kid Ray gave him a lot to think about. Ray talked with fancy words and a kind of accent that Adam supposed meant he had been brought up a long way from public Homes. But that way of talking sounded natural, for him.
Ray too was silent, as if he were thinking something out. Then he suddenly spoke up again. “Look, Adam, if things go right, the way I think they will, and I get out of here pretty soon. how’d you like to come to Doc’s place for a visit?”
Adam almost dropped the cleaning nozzle. “You mean to Ganymede?” For Adam at twelve the Space Force and its activities were a holy cause; but space travel of any kind seemed to exist only in an alternate universe from the one he really lived in, something to be glimpsed only in stories and dreams.
Ray smiled. “No, no, none of us have been out there for years. I meant come to Doc’s place here on Earth. That’s where we’ve been living most of our lives. It’s mostly one huge building, a little like an expensive boarding school. There are legal reasons why Doc doesn’t want anyone but his own kids to live there permanently, but you’d be a welcome visitor.”
“Gee, I’d like to see it. You sound like you’re sure he’s going to win all this court stuff and get you kids back with him again.”
Ray’s smile broadened. “I know him pretty well.”
The windows of the big laboratory room were wide, and open, and unbarred, and they framed Virginia mountains blue with distance. The giant chair in the middle of the room looked quite a bit like one that Adam had seen, and occasionally occupied, in the Home’s infirmary. In that chair at the Home all the kids were tested once a year, and those with suspected brain damage sometimes received treatment. It, like everything else at the Home, looked worn and scrubbed, while this chair, like all the other equipment here in Doc Emiliano Nowell’s laboratory, looked modern and expensive.
There were other and still more drastic differences between the two establishments. Here, the unbarred windows looked out from every room, onto what seemed to Adam like kilometers of green trees and grass and gardens. It was hard to believe that one man owned it all, even though Ray and the other kids had assured Adam that the boundary of the estate fell short of including those blue distant mountains.
At the moment Adam was sitting in the giant chair himself, trying to get comfortable under a huge metal helmet that had been let gently down until the probes it carried inside it sank through his brown hair, just to the point where they began to tickle his scalp.
“Doc, can I ask you something?” he wondered aloud, a little timidly.
“Sure. As long as I don’t have to guarantee an answer.” Doc-everyone around the place, children, servants, lab technicians, seemed to call him that- was a tall, lean, graying man, presently wearing a laboratory coat. He was seated halfway across the large room, in front of the psych-chair’s control panel. He had, with Adam’s ready permission, begun to put the young visitor through a series of physical and mental tests. Doc wanted to do this, as he had said, just out of curiosity. The two were alone, for the moment, in the lab.
Adam hesitated once more, then put his question: “About how much money have you got?”
Doc Nowell had a contagious laugh. “I thought you might be getting worried about the machine. Or wondering what position emission tomography meant.” A little earlier, Adam had been reading those words aloud, from the equipment used in the last test. “How much money, huh? Well, Adam, let’s just say that I’m too rich to be pushed around in court. My wealth is sufficient for my purposes. Which makes me a rarity among scientists. or among human beings in general, I suppose.”
“That’s neat, Doc.”
“Yes, it is.” Watching the panel in front of him, Doc paused to make a note on paper. “Oh, I haven’t earned my money from society by probing for the secrets of life. No. It’s mine by inheritance. Candy and chewing gum, mostly, a couple of generations back.”
Halfway down one of the room’s long walls, a door slid open, and a girl entered the laboratory. Merit Creston was a year younger than Adam, which made her by about three years the baby of Doc’s hundred genengineered children. The ages of most of the others were clustered closely together, and ranged up to seventeen. Adam was, at least by strict chronology, a visiting child among adolescents. But he, who had come as an infant to the public Home, could scarcely remember ever thinking of himself as a child. His teen-age hosts had obviously enjoyed a vastly different upbringing than his, and they impressed him as being mentally more grown-up than any group of adults he had ever encountered. Still, they were all so good at saying and doing the right thing that the visiting twelve-year-old rarely felt out of place.
Merit stood there in the doorway of the psych lab, wearing white shorts and a white blouse and a kind of footgear that Adam had learned were called tennis sandals. Merit’s slender figure was developing already. Her face, in Adam’s opinion, was-well, beautiful. And her hair had a kind of glint in it that made it really unlike the color of any other girl’s hair that Adam had ever seen.
He knew that in a year or so he would start wanting girls in a physical way, like the older guys at the Home. What he felt about Merit now wasn’t really that. It was something more-or maybe something less, Adam didn’t know which. All he knew for sure was that he felt something powerful, and felt confused and strange whenever he tried to think about it.