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Archive for February 10th, 2017

You must be a lost angel
Dressed in your silk lace
Born somewhere between heaven
And hell, I don’t know what place.
  –  Don Felder, “All of You”

“So, how close are you to the end?”  Abe was so startled he almost fell out of his chair; he had been so intent on his work he hadn’t heard Doris come in.  “Oh, shit, Abe, I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to scare you!”

“It’s all right,” he lied, badly.  “Close to the end of what?”

“It was meant to be a joke; you’ve been staring at that computer screen for so long, I was implying you must be binge-watching a show or playing a video game.  Sorry about that.”  Doris now regretted the inappropriate attempt at levity; Dr. Steiner was a hell of an astronomer and had the most amazing visual memory she’d ever encountered, but he wasn’t much of a “people person” and had very little ability to hide his emotions.  And that included his intense annoyance right now, and something else she couldn’t quite identify. hubble-deep-sky-image

“Since when are you in charge of monitoring productivity?”

“Hey, calm down Abe, I really was just joking.  It hardly matters what you do while that deep-sky program is running; Dr. Wilbur usually just sleeps.”

“Sorry,” he said sharply, then more gently: “I am, honestly.  I’m just trying to solve a problem and I don’t really like what I’m finding.”

“Would another pair of eyes help?”

Steiner looked up at the PhD student; since she arrived at the Urania Project six months ago, she had proven herself both friendly and trustworthy.  And maybe a fresh perspective could make sense out of what he’d discovered; his own conjectures occupied the zone between “disturbing” and “impossible”.  He decided to risk it.  “Can I trust your discretion?”

Doris suppressed the urge to answer with a joke.  “Of course.”

“You have to promise not to tell anyone.”

“You have my word.”

He turned the monitor slightly so she could see it dead-on; it contained a badly-composed picture of this room with Dr. Wilbur and a woman she didn’t recognize.  No, wait…”Isn’t that the representative from the Foundation who was here last week?”

“Yes.”

“Why is this picture so crooked?”

“Because I didn’t want her to see me taking it, so I had to hide the phone and limit myself to a few shots.  This was the best one.”

Doris thought it prudent to let the Director explain things at his own pace; it was clear this picture was somehow very upsetting to him.  So she just remained quiet while he fiddled with the keyboard and mouse, bringing up another image which looked like the same scene from a different angle.  “Do you see what I did here?”

“It looks like you ran it through our image rotation software.”

“Right.  Then I cropped it down and sent it to a friend of mine who works with reconstructing faces from skulls, and he sent me back this.”  The next image was the same woman, but full-face; it was clearly a constructed image rather than a purely photographic one, but a very good one.  “Does that fit your memory of what she looked like?”

Abe didn’t need to ask that; he could sketch objects from memory after seeing them once.  But he clearly wanted her reassurance, so: “Yes.”

A few more clicks, and he removed her glasses, changed the image to black and white and then moved it to the left side of the screen, bringing up another photo on the right; it was an antique photo of a woman dressed in the fashion of over a century ago, and had clearly been run through a program to clean it up and artificially sharpen the resolution.  The two women were both stunningly beautiful and looked virtually identical.  “Well?” he asked, impatiently.

“The resemblance is certainly striking, but both of these images have been considerably enhanced.  We can’t be sure the original subjects bore more than a passing resemblance to one another.”

“Absolutely true.  But I can tell you that this one” – he pointed to the modern woman on the left – “is an exact resemblance of Gabrielle Ealing, whom I spent considerable time with on her visit here last week.  I never forget a face, especially one like hers.  And every biometric measurement I can apply to the older photo matches up with Ealing’s.”

“Who is the woman in the other photo?”

“Don’t you recognize her?”

“I’m afraid not.”

He looked irritated for a second, then softened.  “I forget others don’t have my memory.  Wait here for a minute.”  After he left the room, Doris continued to stare at the two images; they certainly looked a lot alike.  Allowing for the differences in grooming, they even appeared to be about the same age.  A few minutes later Abe returned with a large framed photo which Doris recognized as one of those hanging in the lobby; it had been taken at the dedication of the original observatory out in New Mexico, in 1910.  Abe tapped on one of the figures in the image:  “There.”

It was clearly the photo from which the image on the right had been scanned.  “Who is she?”

“Angela Ealing, wife of Charles Ealing, who made an obscene fortune in mining and banking and was apparently uninterested in women until he met her sometime after he turned 50.  She was the one who convinced him to establish the Foundation, and after he died in 1919 she ran it until her own death in 1980.”

Doris squinted at the picture.  “She looks young enough to be his granddaughter.”

Abe chuckled.  “Now, now, my dear, that was considered far more acceptable in those days.  According to her official biography, she was born in 1888, which makes her 22 in that photo.  He was about 60 then.”

“Still young enough to father heirs, apparently.”

“One, a posthumous son named Michael, a hellion who lived just long enough to beget a son of his own before getting himself killed in some foolishness on V-J Day.  The mother was apparently uninterested in that role, so the boy was raised by Angela.  Gabrielle is supposed to be his granddaughter, thus Angela’s great-great-granddaughter.”

“That’s quite a resemblance for sharing only one-sixteenth of a genome.”

“Indeed.”

“So what, exactly, are you suggesting?”

He sighed deeply.  “I’m a scientist, not a science-fiction writer.”

“Abe, this is just silly.  You’re an extremely rational man; surely you don’t think a remarkable resemblance is anything like evidence that Angela Ealing is still spry, hot as hell and supervising her foundation at the age of 134?”

“Have you ever read the mission statement of the Ealing Foundation?”

“Well, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but no.”

“Its official purpose is to prepare the most comprehensive map and catalog of the universe possible; to that end it has funded telescopes in every part of the electromagnetic spectrum, given scholarships to promising astrophysics students like you, provided grants to develop better imaging software, and awarded prizes to scientists who think up new ways to observe, as the statement puts it, ‘the full extent of Creation, both visible and hidden‘.  For the past 20 years its’ been heavily investing in dark matter research.”deep-sky-dark-matter

“Well, yeah, I knew all that.”

“But do you know who wrote that policy?”

“Angela?”

“Yep.  At the ripe old age of 19.”

“But…she died 42 years ago.”

“As a recluse.  This is the only existing photo of her.  Would you like to see photos of Gabrielle’s mother, who incidentally was an Ealing too?  She was a single mother and supposedly moved to Sydney four years ago.”

“Do I really need to?”

Abe answered with a few mouse clicks, bringing up another enhanced image of what at first glance was exactly the same woman.  “She didn’t like pictures, but this was manipulated from a shot taken at a reception in 1999, the year Gabrielle was supposed to have been born.”

“OK, just for the sake of argument, let’s say I buy all this.  If it’s true, what’s she after?”

Abe pondered for a few minutes, trying to find the right way to express his idea.  “Imagine you’re a traveler; not an explorer or a scientist, just an ordinary tourist.  And let’s say some kind of accident happens, and your pilot or guide or whatever is killed, stranding you in some strange place far from home.  What do you do?”

“Well, obviously try to get home in any way I can.”

“And what if you don’t really know where home is, and neither does anyone in the country where you find yourself?”

Doris looked at the three images on the screen and felt the gooseflesh rise on her arms.  “I’d try to collect as many maps as I could until I saw something I recognized.”

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