ENCODED IN STRANDS
by Gay Bost
She sat at one of the slatted wood tables, half finished nahcos
pushed aside, cold cheese and warm beer ignored. She was reading, newspaper-print pages spread across the age smoothed table top. Her gaze lifted at odd intervals, in thought or in order to focus upon a presence in the bar. She'd watch someone, listen to their conversation or watch their movements, roll her eyes at no one, smile, frown, or shake her head and return her attention to the article.
A shadow appeared at her side, silent, emoting impatience noisily.
She looked up, blinked without recognition, smiled vacantly and lifted her eyebrows in question.
"What you readin'?" the shadow asked. It stepped into her vision,
revealed itself as male, mid 30's, handsome in an obvious way, with dark hair and hazel eyes. Now that she had noticed him his impatience went away, replaced by boredom.
She thought she'd complete his own awareness of the boredom, "All
about other worlds," she said, allowing a bit of theatricality to edge forward, curve the corners of her mouth, pretending to invite him into the "other worlds".
"Yeah?" he said, grabbing a chair, spinning it around and sitting
astride it, backwards. "Like what worlds?" He tore his eyes away from her cleavage long enough to glance at the periodical she was reading. "Oh," he said, slightly disappointed. "Him." He reached across the table, flipped the pages closed, frowned at the glossy cover page, the unfamiliarity of the publication and flipped the pages open again. "Another story about O.J."
"Not really," she replied. "Though he is the focus, the story is
about DNA probes and RFLP and PCR techniques." She slid three fingers into the handle of her beer mug and lifted it toward her lips.
"The `tests' they used." She caught the bartender's eye and lifted
her now empty mug high. He angled his shaggy head at her companion, one eyebrow raised in question or comment. She shrugged. She wasn't buying. The bartender smiled and shook his head.
"I'm sick of the whole thing," the man said.
She spun the article around and tapped the side of her thumbnail
on one of the illustrations, a series of line drawings outlining the basics of DNA methodology. Arrows converged from three directions on the end product, a strip of paper with dark lines of varying widths.
"Looks like one of those bar code labels," he observed. "Hey!
Bring me one of those." His enthusiasm increased as the bartender, Harry, set a frosted mug of beer before her. He watched the burly barkeep walk away, bar rag stuck in his back pocket and turned his attention back to her. "What's your name, anyway?"
"Cypra," she smiled softly, her hand held out amiably, "and your's?"
"Joe. Nice ta meetcha'." He gripped her hand as she imagined he
would anyone's, firmly, quickly, superficially. "What're you doing reading this stuff in a bar?"
"I live here."
"In a bar? You a hooker?" He scrutinized her face critically.
She chuckled, this having come from someone to talk to until the
evening crowd poured in after work – to a potential diversion – of more intimate proportions. She leaned back, watching his eyes scan the 'merchandise', a lopsided grin on her face.
"You 'wanna check my teeth or something?" she asked when he'd
"No, I'm not in the market." He gulped a swallow of beer and looked
around the bar.
She chuckled, again, declining the insult and returned to the article,
"What kind of place is this, anyway?" He wanted to know, rummaging
in his shirt pocket for a smoke. He'd found nothing to interest him in the lone pool player, a couple of sports fans glued to a game on the big screen behind the bar or the banter Harry and the cook enjoyed across the counter between their respective realms.
She laid her hand on the paper and looked at him, wishing for a pair
of reading glasses over which she could peer in irritation.
"Didn't you read the signs?"
"Uh. Just the one that said 'Cold Beer - Hot Food'." He emoted
boredom, again, found a glimmer of interest in a familiar image. "That really does look like a bar code label, you know." He pointed at the representation of the DNA probe results. "Did they finish with that mess, yet?"
"And so, in the annals of history, once again, the illustrious
limelight is stolen by the star of the day while the fingerprint is left at the scene," she said, wishing he'd blow his smoke in another direction.
She tapped at the image -- a rapid tattoo of annoyance. "This, this
barcode label, as you so aptly put it, is the star of this article. O.J. Simpson and the `case of the century' are but the stage."
Obviously, as he showed a slowly boiling rage at her tone, Joe was
not accustomed to being dealt with in such a manner. His brows drew together in a fierce frown. "Look, lady, I don't think you're 'gonna hook much with that attitude!" He hugged the back of the chair in anger, his buttocks lifting from the seat.
She smiled softly at him, sighing. "Let me have a lock of your
hair, Joe," she said, fishing in her pocket. She laid a small pair of scissors on the open page, a silver crane with sharp edged "beak" and talons formed into ovals fit for small fingers. "Just a strand?" She tried to keep her smile simple, but the corners curved with hidden purpose. "Let's see what you're made of."
He rocked the chair forward, slammed the legs back, rose to tower
over her. "What the hell kind of place *is this* – anyway?"
"You've stumbled into the Crossroad's, sweety. Somehow you've made
it into the offzone of the Twilight Zone, into the inner sanctum of the Outer Limits. You're dancing the Time Warp, honey." She stood, pushed the backs of her legs against the wooden bench upon which she'd been sitting, her slighter stature less than intimidating.
He backed up, however, sensing something threatening in her
advance and found his back meeting the solidity of another form. He jerked his head around, hair flying across his forehead, to look, neck muscles straining, into the burly bartender's face. Harry wrapped genial arms around Joe's shoulders while Cypra stepped forward and cut a lock of dark hair free. The acts were committed so quickly he had time to puff up and curse, twist once within harry's grasp and jerk of his hands toward Cypra before being released, unharmed.
"This may take a while, Cypra," Harry said, his hand held out to
receive the sample she was inserting into a plastic sleeve. "Maybe we ought to feed this guy."
"How about a little Denubian Scat, battered and deep friend?" she
asked Joe, her best waitress smile topped by raised eyebrows.
"You people are crazy!" he said, brushing his hair back with both
hands, tugging at the waist of his jacket and wondering if he dared knock her down before he made a run for the door. He didn't think he could do much damage to the bartender, but she wasn't that big.
"Sit down, Joe," Harry advised in a sinister tone.
"'Fraid you're not going anywhere for a little while, hon," Cypra
said, retaking her seat. She watched, face upturned, as Harry turned the other chair around and reseated Joe. "Tell me, how did you find this place, anyway?"
He sullied up, a prisoner in his own mind, confronted by crazies and
shorn like a captured sheep.
Cypra laughed, reading the back of his mind. "Got lost and just
wandered in the first door you found?"
He frowned at her, crossed his arms on the table and looked at a blank
spot on the wall.
She smiled, found her place in the article and resumed her reading.
None of the other patrons seemed to be paying them any attention.
Harry had disappeared through a door to the left of the kitchen. He returned, now, smiling cheerily at them and went round the bar to take up his conversation with the cook.
"Says here `each individual's characteristics are based on the order
in which 3 billion building blocks in an individual's DNA are linked together.' Three billions!" Cypra shook her head, unable to imagine 3 billion anything, but tried, thinking of a truck load of grain, a distant backdrop of stars, her eyes obviously focused elsewhere.
Joe bolted from his chair, booted feet hitting the wood planked
flooring in rapidly retreating thunder, sound rolling across the distance and becoming muffled in the carpet which edged the room.
The pool player paused in mid-stroke, amused attention drawn
toward the newcomer. The two sports fans gave him a brief glance, a second's precious time diverted from the game. The cook craned his neck,peering through the portal of his own world, concern clear on his aged brow.
Joe slammed into the door, expecting it to swing open as easily as
it had when he'd entered. The force of his rush against the immovable threw him back, stumbling, his right hand flying to his left shoulder. An oath exploded through the room, anger washing across them all.
"Order up," the cook called out, breaking the silence, sliding a
full plate across the dividing counter.
"Restriction length polymorphism," Cypra called out to Harry.
"That's nice, Cypra," he replied absently, taking the plate and
transferring it to the bar, laying silverware out and patting the counter surface, "Have a bite to eat, Joe." He pulled a fresh beer and set it next to the plate. "Don't mind her, Joe. She's got this hangup with technology. Always looking for answers. Always digging up questions, instead."
"What the hell is she talking about?" Joe wanted to know, curiosity
warring with anger, his hand still clasping his injured shoulder. He took a seat at the bar, the smell of deep fried what-ever-it-was enticing.
"You don't have an identical twin, do you, Joe?" Cypra asked, a
sudden frown on her face.
"Ah, Cypra, leave him alone," the pool player advised, leaning on
"You don't have an identical twin, do you?" Harry wanted to know.
Joe looked at them, the bartender, the cook, the pool player and the two men watching the screen. He looked at the movement on the screen, realized, a shiver creeping from his buttocks to his neck, that he didn't recognize the game being broadcast, the type of uniforms being worn, or the item being passed from player to player in a gridded circle of green. He looked at the woman at the table.
"No," he answered.
A trilling ring sounded in the room. Cypra's eyes came up from the
paper, a pleasant interest. Harry lifted a panel next to the tap, removed something small from a slot and held it up to the light. "Got it!" he said, directing a huge grin at Cypra.
She waved him off, a gesture of dismissal made with her right hand, a
smile and shake of her head. She raised her mug at Joe, a toast to some obscurity, winked at him and finished her beer in one long swallow.
Harry laid the item in front of Joe, nodding at it. "There ya go,
Joe picked it up; a white plastic card the size of a credit card,
intricate lines in varied widths, blocks of bar codes covering both sides. He looked more closely, thinking of micro film squares, and realized that was, essentially what he was looking at; thousands of microfilm squares, stacked in lines and boxes. "What is this?"
Cypra walked across the room, a bag slung over her shoulder, the
periodical rolled into a tube in one hand, in her other a similar card held. She inserted it into a slot in the door frame, pushed the door open and stood, mists swirling in from the outer worlds. "You been stranded at the Crossroads, honey. Hell of a way to spend a week night, but think of it this way: you're holding the blueprint of your life in your own hand, just like the rest of us." She pocketed her own card and walked through the doorway.
# # #
Copyright 1994 Gay Bost
Gay is a Clinical Lab Tech with experience in Veterinary medicine. From NORTHERN California, she's resided in S.E. Missouri with her husband and an aggressive 6 year old boy, since 1974. Installed her first modem the summer of '92 and has been exploring new worlds since. Her first publication, a short horror story, came when she was 17 years old. The success was so overwhelming she called an end to her writing days and went in search of herself. She's still looking. Find Gay's great stories in the best Electronic Magazines.