Bellatrix

24 12 2011

With thanks to Timothy for the idea and many more thanks for his continual kindness toward me.

Never is an intolerable word. To a scientist it is blasphemy. To me it was a challenge.

Genetics was not then the flourishing field it is now. When I walked away from school with my PhD I decided to venture into the highly experimental field of animal genetics. My motivation was a combination of genuine academic curiosity and rebellion. At the time there was no glamour or respectability associated with the study of genetics. Especially in regards to animals rather than people.

I’d been a good kid all growing up. Respectable, bookish, without attraction or charm but with more brains than my teachers knew what to do with. Even in my post-graduate work my professors largely left me alone to do my own work. Mousy looks and painful shyness ruled me out for extra attention. Of course, I didn’t mind. At a young age I’d accepted my lack of glamour and over the years I began to embrace it. My life was molded around study and academia; my isolation was purposeful.

My colleagues will tell you that I was anti-social, devoted to my Project. They aren’t wrong. But that isn’t the whole story.

By the time I was twenty-eight I was a leader in my field. My less generous peers would say that my “field” wasn’t more than a turnip patch and nothing to be proud of leading. It was NOT my fault that so few saw the potential in gene-manipulation of animals. To my mind it was the holy grail of scientific study. If we could breed stronger horses, healthier livestock, more intelligent pets so many of the world’s ills could be cured.

And by the end of my career I had done all those things. Those beef cows that dwarf Sherman tanks? I made those. But it was a small success early in my career for which I am best known. I say “success”. Most of the reading public would use a different word.

Her name was Zeta456721 but I called her Bellatrix. She was the eighth of her litter and the only one born alive. I’d early discovered that my experiments were more viable if grown in-utero. For Bellatrix I had bred a large Egyptian domestic cat with a tiger for size. Bellatrix’s mother was a fierce and oversized she-demon. And Bell was the size of a Labrador puppy when she was born.

I started with cats because of their genetic similarities to humans. It took me seven years to get Bellatrix and she was a massive disappointment. Ideally she should have been super-intelligent as well as more muscularly dense and agile than her predecessors. She WAS strong and insanely fast and I was half pleased with my work. But her apparent lack of intelligence was a ego-shattering blow. I’d worked so hard for so long only to get an over-sized and mentally worthless house cat.

So that is what she became. I took her home and she lived with me, taking over the guest room and one particularly nice leather couch. I went back to my work, this time with Komodo Dragons and small invertebrate.

Our lives went on peacefully enough for four years. I had to take a mortgage on my house to feed Bella but she didn’t mind that. Sometime in the fall of the fourth year I came home from work to find Bella sitting at my desk, staring at my computer. Even seated her head reached above the level of the desk and she could easily see the running calculations.

“Bella?” I laughed a little and she turned her head. Her eyes looked… wrong. Different.

I was shocked and stood in the doorway. She turned her attention back to the screen. After several minutes she reached out one massive paw and patted the keyboard. The screen froze on a specific equation, one that had been giving me a lot of trouble.

By now I was aghast. I think my mouth was actually hanging open. “Bella what are you DOING?”

She padded over to me and poked at my hand with her soft nose. I followed her back to the computer and drew up a chair. That day my cat fixed an equation that had been giving me trouble for three months. She used a system of taps and growls to indicate letters and numbers as I wrote them down. It took us only an hour to work out a system of communication by which time we were flying.

In those days I worked for the University teaching woefully small classes on genetics. I began to take Bella with me to school, telling no-one that I needed her for my research. Not as an experiment but as a peer and co-scientist.

One day I came back to my office after lunch but she was gone. For an hour I searched the Science wing until I found her in Professor Schmidt’s office. She’d cornered Mark and was growling and chuffing at him in a way that had the man terrified. By that time I could usually tell what she was saying but to anyone else it sounded like the ravings of a furious or hungry beast.

“I’m sorry Mark!” I grabbed with two hands her thick leather collar and pulled. She looked at me in frustration.

“I am so sorry!” I repeated, “but she’s trying to explain why that last set of formula on your board are wrong.”

“She is doing WHAT?” The poor man was practically gibbering. Sweat rolled down his nose.

“You remember me telling you about the Zeta experiment? About how it failed?”

“Yes” he groaned as Bella swung out of my hands and leapt onto his desk to stare at his blackboards.

“Meet the failure. She’s been correcting my math for months and has recently started reading about other fields. I’m not sure but I think she might have a higher IQ than any of us.”

You can imagine the rest of the conversation. It wasn’t pretty. And from that day on Bella caused pure havoc in the hallowed halls of academia. She learned new fields with rapidity and had a flawless memory. Her ability to correct and extrapolate was unparalleled in the scientific community.

What I couldn’t get her interested in was anything ‘artistic’. She seemed only to be interested in black and whites. Facts were her fodder and she used them to create chaos. Chaos that resulted in some of the biggest advancements of the century.

While she lived her career outshone mine as the sun outshines as a lamp. Of course, our successes were not unmixed. Many of my human peers hated me violently for my part in Bella’s existence. It was one of those men who decided that my experiment needed to end.

When I disagreed he came early to my home, smelling of whisky and fear, and shot Bella twice in the head.

She died silently and my heart broke. I have never since modified any of my beasts to the extent that I changed her and thus they have all lived.

There is not room in me for the pain of another such loss. She lives forever in my memory and as a small footnote of thanks on most of the scientific papers of her day. All my research is stored safely. Maybe some day men and women will not be afraid of minds different and new. On that day I hope someone brings another Bella to the world.

Until then I dwell alone.

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One response

25 12 2011
1 Story A Week

Sad, but very well written.

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