Chapter 3 – Developments
By means of chemical signals, growing and dividing cells communicated with each other as is normal during embryonic development. The substances they emitted diffused to set up multiple gradients of concentration, and each cell responded differently based on its position within these overlapping fields. As different sets of genes were activated, the cells began to change, one from another, into the various tissues of the human body. Some differentiated into neurons, others into muscle fibers, and so on until an appropriate diversity of cell types had been achieved. Some embryonic cells crawled to their proper locations before differentiating. All of this movement and change produced the spatial patterns necessary for the formation of organs and an overall body plan.
During all of their dividing and crawling about, the cells of the male chimera became so intermixed as to produce multiple islands of tissue of one racial type or another. These disparate islands existed in all tissue layers of all organs. Cells from two sets of parents communicated back and forth in a genetic synergy which was to endow the emerging individual in Kansas City with unusual physical prowess. Both sets of parents were intelligent, athletic, and wealthy. Had the embryos which formed him not been injected together, had they not fused, he could have been two star athletes, two honor students born and raised in the cradle of opportunity. Instead, he was to be more than their sum but less in the estimation of others, a conflicted and troubled young man of unappreciated talent.
The invisible thread vibrated, and changes were triggered in Saint Louis. The substance abuse of two parents had set in motion a synergy of chemicals and mutations in the tissues of what would become organs of unprecedented function in a human being. Even normal organ systems would take on abnormal characteristics in this female, and this chain of action would be further aggravated by the continued drug use of her mother. The mutations could have been detrimental, neutral, or adaptive. Improbably – one might say impossibly – all were adaptive, improving the odds of survival. Bathed in poison, the embryo within the addict evolved unusual tolerances, immunities, and biochemical traits by means of the mutations suffered.
Barely visible at the end of the third week after conception, each of the entangled embryos resembled a tadpole with a knob-like head, a central bump in which internal organs were taking shape, and a tail containing the rest of its forming spinal column. In the fourth week, each was somewhat curved in shape, with head enlarged, limb buds forming, and tail being encased by the growing body. The neural tube closed as a prerequisite to forming the brain and spinal cord, and a tiny heart was functioning. Growing limbs looked like paddles by week five. Faces and eyes were taking shape, and nostrils were present. Brains were developing and engaging in electrical activity. The embryos were the diameter of a pencil eraser in length.
After six weeks, the eyes were dark spots. External ears were beginning to form, and faces were newly sensitive. Limbs were elongating, and fingers started to grow out. Torsos were straightening, helping the bodies to achieve lengths of about half an inch. By seven weeks, arms contained bones and elbows, and toes, eyelids, and ears were becoming more recognizable. The embryos, now three fourths of an inch long, exhibited spontaneous movement. During the eighth week, eyelids started to close, neck formation began, and the shapes of the heads rounded. The palms of hands were sensitive to touch. Skeletons began the slow and ongoing process of calcification.
At the completion of nine weeks, the growing and developing individuals had attained the status of fetuses. They were all of two inches from the crowns of their heads to the bases of their bottoms. The next week, they had fingernails, and their faces were undeniably human. Nerve cells known in adults to be necessary for consciousness now resided in their brains. Excluding their legs, they were two-and-a-half inches long. On achieving three months of age, both were somewhat responsive, possibly conscious, and very much what those of common sense called babies, regardless of medical definition.
From this point forward, each baby would continue to grow and develop. Separately, they floated together, each a diminutive astronaut tethered to an umbilical cord within the fluid-filled capsule of its womb. At approximately nine months, they were born at exactly the same time on the same day in their respective cities. The baby boy weighed eight pounds and measured twenty-two inches from head to heel, and the girl came out at seven pounds, two ounces, and twenty inches.
A distraught mother in Kansas City screamed, and subsequent genetic testing would reveal the cause of the problem. After a few days of uncertainty, the boy was essentially treated as a foundling. He was given a name by an otherwise uninvolved bureaucrat, sent to an orphanage, and put up for adoption. More time elapsed, during which extensive checks of the clinical records enabled the identification of the other couple involved, but they also were unwilling to burden themselves with the results of the mistake. On the advice of their attorneys, both sets of half-parents sued the fertility clinic in which he had been conceived. His appearance made him virtually unadoptable. Somewhere on the face of this planet, there existed at least one exceptional couple willing to raise such a son, but they could not be identified or located in this instance. From the orphanage he would enter into foster care.
With governmental assistance, the young mother in Saint Louis had received pre-natal care and, after ignoring most of her obstetrician’s advice, had delivered in the assigned hospital. Understanding that having a child would bring eligibility for increased benefits from the state, she had no definite plans other than keeping her baby and continuing to receive checks from the government. Chemically embattled in the womb, the baby girl would continue to face hardship and neglect outside of it. As she matured, her state of affairs would deteriorate into one of deliberate abuse.
Two lives, resonating with all the excitement and potential of uncertainty, were newly underway. The milestones of early childhood – smiles, first steps and words, the recognition of familiar faces – would go largely unnoticed and unencouraged by adults responsible for the care of these little ones. But someone removed from the cities in which they were born was paying attention. Asleep in an armchair after a hard day of work, a man of forty-three saw each of them in a dream. Disturbed by a sense of dread, he shook himself awake. He tried to convince himself that the source of his agitation was not real, but their faces remained in his conscience. They were to appear to him repeatedly.
From then on, there was no real rest for the dreamer. His dreams continued, often several times a week. In alternating sequence, serial flashes displayed the progress of two tragic plots, the characters being rendered more familiar with each round of unconscious vision. Every unsettling reverie left the impression that it had immediately followed the previous episode, and in this way the conscious periods of his life seemed to shrink. The effect worsened until he was reluctant to go to bed at night, and he had trouble concentrating when at work.
Such were the intellectual demands and abstract nature of his career that the incidents, however mystifying, did not strike him as unusual. That which was undesirable was not incomprehensible as to its occurrence, but this understanding did not lessen the difficulty. The unwanted revelations were acutely unpleasant, and they awakened in him a sense of responsibility which he did not know how to fulfill. Somehow, he knew that what he was seeing was actually happening to real people. He was an unwilling witness who could not intervene, and so the unsettling consequences of these revelations persisted throughout his waking moments.
“Make it stop,” he would often whisper when rising after yet another night of troubled sleep.
His supplications were without apparent effect. The dreams were unrelenting, and they grew progressively more terrible. Finally, they ceased as abruptly as they had begun. There was no gradual lessening of their frequency, no easing of their intensity. After roughly twenty-two years, they were simply gone, leaving a sort of vacuum in the mental space once occupied by their oppressive companionship. For the next three years, the memory of them would linger in the midst of an eerie calm without peace.