The assistant inspector’s tone grew terse, cleary insulted at the thought that the professor’s wife, Kelly, was to blame. Indeed, the woman’s sorrowful alibi had already been affirmed by the police.
“Please do acknowledge my condolences,” Serph began, “but if one were to be were to be personally acquainted with the professor and be familiar with the behavior of his wife, then maybe their motive may manifest a little clearer.”
“Cheating, huh? So, you’re saying that the professor got stabbed by the person his wife was having an affair with? That’s certainly a new one,” the inspector snarled. He turned over to glance the black policeman, who shook his head back and forth in confoundment.
According to Serph, an affair had taken place behind the scenes. Despite how he’d been ignored earlier, it was finally beginning to seem as though he was earning his place back in the spotlight.
“Say, kid… If you were watching, then what do you know about the professor’s wife?” Investigator Harvey interrupted, covering a wry grin behind his hand.
Serph, too, felt a smile creep across his lips. He responded without sharing another glance with the investigator.
“Haven’t we already discussed the possibilities?”
“Tch, cut it out with the cheekiness. There’s already evidence against this.”
“This is exactly how you treated Heat!” Serph abruptly raised his voice, taking everyone in the room by surprise.
Even after knowing him so briefly, Heat knew that he wasn’t the type to express such passion without a cause. For a moment he questioned whether this was part of his power play tactic, then quickly kicked the possibility out of his head. By some means, Serph was outraged in his stead. Nobody was quite sure why, no less Heat, who hung his head in shame for what what his colleague was contributing for him. Throughout the period in which they’d known each other, everything about Serph had only seemed to grow uncannier and uncannier. Perhaps he still had something up at his sleeve—Heat quickly crossed this from his mind, remembering how Serph had explained his tactics at the dining hall earlier. More than anything else, though, what lingered in his mind the most was that in this institution of 20,000 people, this was the first time Heat had met anyone who was willing to fight for him.
“Okay, then. Let’s go back to what we were talking about with the disc,” Serph offered. “The disc was not the only thing that ended up damaged or removed from the scene. There are other details that we should consider—his desk and attache case are damaged and his notebook and wallet are lost, in addition to his computer and lighter. Don’t you think these hold significance as well?”
Mrs. Harris didn’t seem like the type to track her husband’s belongings in detail, even those that were vital to his obligation as a medical professor. Even last week, when she had stated having met during office hours with the professor, it seemed much unlikely that such a sweet woman would ever take her husband by such surprise. Her alibi seemed certain.
From the looks of it, it had seemed like the professor frequently requested that she pack and bring him his attache case. Additionally, the current model of his desktop computer that was contained inside had a far more fluid design than the older models did one decade ago. The hard disc could easily be removed from its front slot.
It seemed that there were few things that these lost items had to tell. The disc must’ve been easily removed, were it inside the computer. And even if the culprit had tried to leave the scene and attempt to align their actions with that of a thief’s, it was obviously strange that they had taken the notebook and the lighter. Perhaps the criminal had purposely made their actions suspicious.
Heat spoke up from the back of the room. “If I’m the criminal, then why would I have removed superficial belongings that have nothing in accordance with my identity?” Serph nodded in acknowledgement.
Someone who was confident in their abilities had came to the professor’s office last night. And then, things went horribly awry. The visitor must’ve taken the scalpel from the reception table while they had met up with the professor. But the professor was strong—hence why his body was covered with numerous wounds evident of a lengthy struggle. And then, an unfortunate accident had happened. They had happened to pierce the professor’s chest with the scalpel in their hand. In a panic, the criminal removed everything that could trace back to their identity. Moreover, they must’ve believed that the disc contained recordings, audio, or photographs of them of some sort, thus explaining why they had also removed it. This was the outcome that Heat believed was the truth. Serph looked around to survey the adults.
“There’s no going back to fix what happened here yesterday. Instead, we must focus on the present. Rather than doubting my friend here, officers, I think we should instead continue to investigate the victim’s body.”
The inspector sounded like he was trying his best to contain a wheezing cough. Serph turned over to Investigator Harvey, eager to know what thoughts he had on the matter.
“Are you an aspiring lawyer?” Harvey asked, intrigued by Serph’s tactics.
“No, actually. I’d like to become a counselor.”
“Then you’d better think twice about getting any further involved,” Harvey snapped. “I’d imagine you don’t intend to go prison, do you?”
“My, what insightful advice,” Serph mocked. “Thanks, Mr. Investigator.” Serph chuckled to himself as Harvey picked up his belongings, then waved dismissively from his spot beside the wall.
Heat bent down to reach a stack of books set next to his study desk, placing them on his bookshelf in precise, organized order. Faintly from behind he heard Serph’s voice back in the kitchen.
“You can’t keep dodging the law if they’ve found your fingerprints, Heat.”
“I’m not the only one whose prints they’ve found, relax.” He called over his shoulder, hunched over and rifling through his documents. He tossed a used biochemical textbook he’d purchased from the university bookstore on the desk, then turned back on his heel.
Back in the small, narrow apartment kitchenette, Serph sat slumped over the back of a dining chair, nibbling away at a slice of pizza. After a day spent bickering with the FBI, both the pair’s appetites and wherewithal had been worn down, and as all budding college students knew, the former could easily be solved with a couple dollars spent in the frozen food isle.
Watching Serph reach for the last slice from the corner of his eye, Heat sighed in exasperation, rubbing his temples. Serph returned the look, licking the basil off his fingertips the moment they made eye contact. As soon as Heat looked away, he took a swig from the can of root beer he had sitting on the counter. The food tasted sweet, savory—there was nothing it could do, though, to obscure the sour mood that hung in the air.
“I don’t get it,” Heat groaned. “Why do I have to step on eggshells to appease the police?”
The setting sun poured in through the westmost window, washing the slim dwelling in a radiant scarlet hue. The city police had ravaged Heat’s apartment earlier during their premise search, in the end leaving empty-handed. Yet even more valuable time had been taken from him.
Naively, Heat hadn’t expected the investigation to extend any further past yesterday’s interrogation. Earlier that morning, as he was preparing for his classes, a group of officers operating under the assistant inspector had came along with a warrant. A lab analysis had revealed the presence of Heat’s fingerprints on the supposed murder weapon, spurring further suspicion on his behalf. Following in tow was a stiff, fox-eyed man whom Heat could recognize anywhere—Inspector Harvey.
The knife that was tested had been found marked with several different fingerprints, including those that were unable to be properly identified. Given the location of the knife, the presence of fingerprints was all but expected; the clearest ones, however, had been shown to belong to Heat himself. The coincidence was foolish for any responsible investigator to ignore, as the assistant inspector had claimed. And, with a warrant in the equation, there was nothing Heat could do to resist the search.
After the two were dismissed that afternoon, the two had promised to meet up that evening, having exchanged numbers with one another. However, Heat had neither responded to Serph’s call nor had arrived. Serph decided to make use of his time by tailing and eavesdropping on the police.
“Are you still stressed?” Serph piped up. “The police are just bluffing you.”
Heat knew that he couldn’t have put it any more truthfully, but his words still didn’t succeed to lighten the mood. He knew that he and Serph’s testification earlier that day had done little more than pose questionable hypotheses to the police. Essentially, whatever they had claimed was more likely than not useless. Regardless, the case was still under investigation—no matter which position the proven findings would end up supporting, the fact of the matter remained that Heat’s intent would be found to be ambiguous at best.
“There’s no reason for you to keep worrying about it. Try not to dwell on what they may conclude from your physical evidence, for I guarantee that, with my help, everything will end up playing out in our favor,” Serph continued.
He struggled to remember the exact details from when he had walked in on the professor, though Heat was sure that he grabbed the weapon with his left hand. If that was so, then perhaps given his right-hand dominance, that minor detail would clear some of the doubt from him. At least Serph’s case analysis seemed promising. And soon, the police would be proceeding with their own review of the case possibilities. However, the authorities made it clear that they would not compensate for the temporal loss incurred during this time.
Midterms were approaching faster than ever. In the unlikely event that the police inspections would extend into the testing period, Heat would be lucky if he’d manage to not be held back from completing his pre-med course. He couldn’t risk facing such a hindrance to his medical degree.
Not only that, but he was obligated to hurry through his education due to his family’s financial problems. It takes a vast sum of money to graduate from both college and medical school. And, of course, having no reliable source of income makes relying on scholarships and student loans a necessity. He was fairly prepared to face a post-graduation debt at no lower than $120,000. Thus, Heat knew it would be best to make his time in school as brief as possible.
Above all else, he didn’t want to have to rely on funds from his mother, who lived alone in his hometown. When Heat’s acceptance to Yale had been confirmed, his mother had taken out a massive deposit from the bank, leaving no spare funds behind. It was what she had saved since her divorce with his father. Even now, he still vividly remembered her solemn expression that day, her fingers quivering as she presented the savings. Heat had only accepted them stubbornly—anything to steady his mother’s labored hands. Ever since then, he’d promised to graduate as soon as possible so that he could ensure that her income would be steady, that her life could be spent without worry.
Even now, Heat remembered that fateful day he’d spent before his little sister’s coffin, tears brimming in his eyes—it was then, by his mother’s side, that he’d learned the meaning of his life.
As they bid their final goodbyes, his mother put her hand on his shoulder and told him, “Everyone deserves to live a happy life, to be treated with kindness, and with sympathy. I know that you understand this. Your sister is now resting in God’s arms, for He knows that if anything else, she would only live to suffer.” It was those few words that had saved him, for they were what brought new purpose to his livelihood.
Serph looked up at Heat, a look of thoughtfulness on his face. “You don’t seem like you’ve had the most fortunate past, have you?” Heat didn’t reply.
“I believe I can piece together some of what else you’ve been through,” he sighed. “There’s a term I’m familiar with that sums it up quite well, if I’m correct in my assumptions—and that is Catch-22.”
No sooner than when Serph’s words had registered, Heat lurched across the table and grabbed him by the collar.
“Serph, I don’t ever want to hear you use that goddamned word in front of me again. Got it?” The younger man looked dumbstruck, sputtering beneath Heat’s hold. He nodded several times.
“What the hell’s the matter with you—?” Serph forced out.
“I’m—I’m sorry.” Heat released his grip.
He took a moment to readjust from the shock, then Serph brushed off his chest and cleared his throat. “You’re acting guilty. If there’s something you want to come forward about, then by all means, you should tell me if you really claim to trust me.”
After all this time, perhaps Heat had merely wanted to confess his feelings to someone. Still, though he ardently vowed to never again relinquish himself at church before the altar, he felt that he now could sympathize with those who went to the confession room.
Slowly, with every passing moment, he knew his composure was slipping—and just like that, with a little coaxing, the words tumbled out of his mouth, his lifelong secret unraveling itself as he bared his raw inner feelings to Serph.
There is a disease called 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. It’s a multiple congenital morphological abnormality caused by the deletion of the long arms of the 22nd chromosome.
This is the genetic disease known more commonly as CATCH-22.
Chromosomes are substances that carry genetic information formed by DNA and proteins. These genes themselves are commonly recognized as the foundation of life as we know it. There are 46 of these contained in the nucleus of every human cell—22 of these are autosomal pairs, the remaining pair left to determine sexual characteristics. Genetic diseases are structural abnormalities due to loss or excess of these chromosomes, caused by gene mutation or similar factors. These illnesses largely occur when genetic information is transferred incorrectly from parent to child.
Heat’s sister had been born with one of these, none other than 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. It was said to have an onset frequency of precisely one in five thousand individuals. This disease became known colloquially within the medical community as CATCH-22, an acronym named of its representative symptoms: cardiac effects, abnormal facial characteristics, thymic hypoplasia, cleft palate, and hypocalcemia. But this name had been established in contemporary English an an idiomatic expression, long before being coined as medical terminology. It was indicative of awkward circumstances, dilemmas, contradictions, a binding rule preventing escape… As such, reviews have been called for a name so unscrupulous. It was natural for Heat to feel alienated as a result of his family having been affected by the disease, though even by these terms, he reacted much too violently to what Serph had said earlier.
Nine years ago, before he had any knowledge of genetic diseases, Heat had gravely misunderstood his sister’s illness. He was frightened of the blood that flowed inside his veins, fearing that one day it would cause him to fall sick, too. Despite his mother’s reassurance, guaranteeing him that he would never end up like his sister, Heat couldn’t ignore the rumors spread by his peers. As a result, still believing that she was contagious, Heat stayed away from her.
One day, much to his chagrin, his mother had asked him to bring his sister milk. When he entered her room, he fought against breathing, struggling to hold his breath. Even so, his sister never stopped smiling when he came, even when it was hard to; she always forced herself to say thank-you, even as her body began to fail.
That year during the holiday season, the East Coast was stricken with an influenza epidemic. Heat, who was late to receive the vaccine, was strictly forbidden to leave the house by his mother. One of the identifying symptoms of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome is the lack of immunocompetence due to congenital heart disease. Children with this condition are less resistant to viral and bacterial infections. If one happens to be infected with this strain of influenza without vaccination, there is a high risk of accruing severe to fatal symptoms. Heat’s mother was afraid of him contracting influenza and transferring it to his sister. Once, during his mother’s absence, he had went to play outside after getting invited by a friend. Looking back towards the house, he noticed that his sister was watching from the window. He decided that he could explain his decision to she and his mother later. When he came back home, his sister smiled, promising not to tell their mother of his defiance.
That night, Heat developed a fever. His sister was laid to rest in a coffin only a week after.
“—I… I killed her.”
Serph said nothing. He could neither blame him nor sympathize; all he was left to do was continue gazing into Heat’s eyes.
It was around that time that Heat understood there was no such thing as a “God”. If there was, he knew that he would’ve died in his sister’s place to atone for how he had sinned. Gods knew no error; therefore, his sister’s ill fate had only served to prove that the teachings of a higher power above were merely fallacies.
The younger Heat wiped tears from his eyes, his body wracked with sobs. Why did his sister have to be born so ill? Why couldn’t it have been him instead?
Many newborns are burdened with the fate of death as early as upon birth, most often due to crippling health complications and disabilities. God gives people advantages over their fellows, pits people against people, forces people beneath other people, and doesn’t so much as allow some people the pleasure of a carefree early life. What has God ever done for families torn apart by disease? It was this reasoning that allowed Heat to conclude that his “God” was full of hubris.
He remembered staring down at the ground, chewing on his lips. He’d never get to hold his sister’s hand again, but he vowed that if God ever allowed her to pay visit from Heaven, he’d hold on to her forever and never let go. He recalled his friends’ childish, whimsical voices, free of worry and burden—how he longed to protect their innocence and joy. From that moment on, this disease became Heat’s sworn enemy, one that he vowed to battle with for all of his life if it meant avenging his sister.
He began studying desperately. And then, he learned that ignorance is the greatest sin. Genetic diseases aren’t limited to being caused by abnormal gene transferral from parent to child. They can happen to anyone, should mutation occur. There were no issues or damages in Heat’s parents’ genes; it was his by his best guess that he was born with no abnormalities. Nevertheless, his paternal grandparents claimed that his sister’s illness was due to his mother’s “dirty blood”, and forced the parents to divorce.
Truly, ignorance is an unacceptable sin.
Only then did the low hum of the refrigerator bring Heat back to focus. It was twilight already, and dusk was quickly approaching. Serph continued listening, resting his chin in his hands, eyes closed, then spoke.
“You’re an idiot, Heat.”
He looked shocked for a moment, then laughed. “I don’t blame you for thinking that.”
Without Serph there, Heat couldn’t even stand up for himself. He owed everything he had to him—if it weren’t for Serph, then surely, he’d be locked up, imprisoned, subject to the whims of the authorities… Or worse. He didn’t want to dwell on the possibilities. With Serph in his life, he felt that he was finally able to let go of the regrets he’d held since nine years ago.
“—Not to say that I dislike it, of course. When you and I are alone together, we’re equals. I’d prefer it if things could stay like this forever, if they possibly could.” Serph opened his eyes, then gazed up into Heat’s. There was a faint glimmer in them, one that Heat had never seen before.
“But time won’t stop for anyone, Heat. Not even us. We need to act fast to make up for the time you’ve been robbed of, lest you willfully submit to those who’ve wronged you… From this moment on, I’d like for you to join me on the same path of life. Will you come with me?”
For some reason, Heat could only nod.
“Good.” Serph sat up. “I’ll fight for you, Heat. I’ll see to it that we’ll overlook the world together, soon to be seated atop the hallowed thrones built for the Gods… I promise you I’ll remain by your side to the bitter end.”
With that said, he rose to his feet, and kicked his chair over with one fluid sweep.
The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is home to prized texts and historical records written in all languages across the world, dating back to every time and age. It sits side by side with the Sterling Memorial Library, right across the street from the Berkeley institution. Famous not only across the nation but abroad, it is known as a prominent symbol of Yale’s; the university itself houses fourteen other libraries, amassing to a collective million volumes within the school’s possession.
“So, what are we doing here?” Heat asked Serph, who had already reached the library’s entrance, from the sidewalk as he parked his mountain bike. They’d rode over together after leaving Heat’s apartment.
The sun had already set, leaving an afterthought of a red streak in the sky. Now, even the strictest compliers to the government-sanctioned UV safety regulations had deemed it safe to take off their glasses for the day.
Serph said nothing in response. Heat headed up the walkway to where he stood, politely holding the door open. As they passed through the library entrance, Heat’s nostrils were assailed by the pungent, mildewy-earthy scent of books left to age. It was the smell of accumulated wisdom and knowledge, left behind by humans long ago. It sat pleasantly on his mind.
The building was fashioned of marble and granite, framing a pillared structure in the center extending five levels up from the ground floor to its atrium. The pillar was flanked by shelves upon shelves of one-of-a-kind books, stacked to the ceiling and illuminated by thin lights.
After presenting his student ID card to the receptionist at the front desk, Serph requested permission from the archive librarian to view a document unfamiliar to Heat—the Voynich Manuscript.
He looked over his shoulder at Heat, eliciting from him a look of surprise. “This is the book that the professor was reading.”
Briefly, Heat wondered—how did Serph know anything about that? He had little time to dwell, however, as the librarian promptly lead the two away to a designated reading room.
The reading room was small and isolated; desolate, too, for apart from containing four tables and a chair, it was barren. It had no windows, either, thus completely isolating it from the outside world. Old, rare books were forbidden to leave the premises, so they were required to either be viewed in these designated rooms or otherwise copied. Library visitors are seated in these rooms, and must wait for a brief period as the librarian brings out the desired texts.
After the two were left alone in the room, Heat tapped Serph on the shoulder. “What on earth was that book you just mentioned?”
“Do you know about the Skull & Bones society?” Serph asked in response. He didn’t skip a beat, even with mentioning such an obscure title.
Heat was vaguely familiar with that name, having heard it before from other students. The Skull & Bones society was a cryptic secret assembly, often embodying the subject of idle campus tall-tales and rumors. As a matter of fact, it had even spurred public outcry in the election last decade, as both the Republican and Democrat candidates were alumni of this group. It has been made a subject of interest by the press several times in the past, as its existence itself is an open secret.
The history of the Skull & Bones society dates back centuries in the past. It was said to have been established in 1832 at the latest. Every year, only fifteen new recruits are selected from the fourth year students who have decided to graduate. All activities are kept in the dark from the public. Its members are undisclosed, for it is a strict rule of the group to keep their identities confidential. Those with outstanding academic and athletic achievements who have made achievements in both of these categories are eligible for selection. Rumor has it that the United States government is dominated, too, by Bonesmen—the graduates of this society. These Bonesmen’s personal connections are deeply rooted in not only political and business affairs, but in academic societies as well. As far as Heat had heard, the alumni supposedly run a series of academic organizations from the shadows, such as the American Chemical Society and the Psychology Association. Not only that, but some rumors had even claimed that the CIA was under their influence. To be chosen a member of the Skull & Bones would entail a guaranteed lifetime of privilege and fame. Thus, many students can’t help but express their interest.
Heat squirmed in his seat. Could this have been what Serph had meant when he has monologuing last night? Just as he prepared himself to ask, he was interrupted by a knocking sound at the door. Serph pointed his forefinger to his lips, then signaled to the door with his upturned jaw.
There was a different librarian standing there when Heat opened the door. Her hands were clad in white gloves, holding a leather-bound volume of parchment. It was sized slightly larger than an A5 publication. This seemed to be the Voynich Manuscript.
Giving Serph a quick glance, Heat slid on a similar pair of gloves that the librarian had placed on the table. Then, the librarian carefully placed the book in his hands. Serph gave her an acknowledging smile, which she returned with a polite beam. She exited the room thereafter, disappearing behind a shelf obscuring the doorway before she closed the door.
“Apparently, Mr. Harris was a member of the ‘Bones. I happened to come across his transcript files,” Serph explained. “I believe that this document may be connected to the secrets of that group.”
Heat set the manuscript on the table, idly flipping the pages. It was certainly one of the strangest things he had ever seen.
The book seemed to be about two hundred pages in total. In the first hundred pages, there were full-color illustrations of whimsical flora, unrecognizable to the eye; the margins and gaps were peppered with a foreign text, bearing no resemblance to any existing alphabet. Many of the illustrations were accompanied by detailed cross-sections. Some plants resembled specimens of the asteraceae family, though apart from that, none of the illustrated plants seemed to actually exist.
The next fifteen pages suggested astronomy or cosmological findings. They were lined with bizarre geometric patterns that mimicked star charts, similar to Hindu Yantras. The first page was occupied by a full-page drawing of the sun, a face drawn in the middle. Heat flipped to the next section.
“Is this supposed to be an anatomical chart?”
True enough, the next group of pages seemed to be about biology. There were cross-sections of what seemed to be blood vessels and nerve cells, mixed in with nude, childish figures of dwarf-like women. The text there was still unreadable, particularly more crowded than that of the previous sections. There were noticeable abbreviations and shorthand terms throughout the margins, though, leading many under the assumption that this was an early scientific encyclopedia.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before… I wonder what they say,” Heat mumbled under his breath.
“So far, nobody’s been able to crack this code. Up until now, there’s been linguists, anthropologists, even mathematicians and experts on military cryptanalysis who’ve lent their help and tried to attempt it, but no one has succeeded in deciphering it,” Serph began. “Surprisingly, those illustrations of the Alpha Tauri and Pleiades clusters have stumped the professionals the most.”
According to Serph, the manuscript was written sometime around the fifteenth century. It was then purchased from an Italian university by Polish merchant Wilfrid Voynich in 1921. However, evidence suggests that it is not an original publication; rather, a duplicate plagiarized from multiple other sources. Additionally, neither microscopes nor telescopes had been invented yet in the fifteenth century. In fact, neither prefixes of those terms had been coined then, either.
“The age-old question: is it written in cipher, or a foreign language? Some say it’s just a hoax. Others believe that it contains the greatest secrets of modern science and philosophy—and then, some assert that ‘aliens’ wrote it. Regardless, nobody can tell whether its text can be deciphered; whether it’s genuine or fake. It’s a bit like your situation,” said Serph.
“Professor Harris specialized in Genetics… Wait, no way! The pattern of these words mimics the base nucleotide sequence!”
It was then that Heat noticed the strange regularity of the code. The script is composed of a series of phrases that are written in such a way that several varieties of similar syllables are repeated alternately in order. The composition of protein—the basic molecule of every living organism—and the genetic code of DNA both follow the same combination of only four substances: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. However, there’s no telling whether or not the Voynich manuscript was purposefully written in this syntax, because nobody can read it. Touting the unconfirmed as fact is blasphemy against science itself. Still, Heat couldn’t shake the feeling of unease.
Serph rested his hand on his chin in thought. “Genes are also natural encryptors, so to speak. Somehow, whoever wrote this book must’ve attained some sort of knowledge explaining these diagrams. Not only that, but they wrote this in a cipher that nobody could read. Perhaps… No, that can’t be it.”
“Go on,” Heat urged.
“Perhaps like you, the professor had insight into the patterns in the text. He could’ve been assassinated for possessing that knowledge.”
There was no possibility. How could the author have modeled their writing after genetic patterns if they hadn’t yet been discovered in the first place? It was like something out of a science fiction movie—something that one would imagine could only have been accomplished by a time-traveling human from the future, or by a god.
“…Now, then. On the other hand, why in the would would something so inconsequential as that qualify as a threat to our national security?” Serph pondered to himself aloud.
Neither of the two understood what Investigator Harvey had meant by that earlier today. Perhaps such a breakthrough could have the capability to overturn history, which the police would want to prevent by monopolizing that knowledge. As far as Heat knew, there was little to be found dangerous about those vivid illustrations. Moreover, he wondered, was it the text that was hazardous, or was it the demand that the book would spur? Or was the biggest problem that the knowledge had existed so early in itself?
“Maybe this clues in to the professor’s trip he’d planned for Alaska,” Serph suggested.
“To Alaska? How would you know about that?” Heat cocked his brow.
“Apparently, he’s already made four trips in the last half year. I found that suspicious, so I did a little bit of eavesdropping on my own time. And during then, he’s visited this shady facility that I believe may be connected to the Bonesmen.”
That facility was the HAARP—the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. Serph had described it as an ionospheric research project facility spearheaded by the US Department of Defense.
According to officials, the establishment was intended to conduct research towards an effective communication system by utilizing the ionosphere, though many are doubtful of that claim. The facility’s use of military equipment has spawned many conspiracy theories, such as the development of a mind control weapon or weather control weapon being housed there. Its property spans four acres across the forest, far away from civilization, housing 360 identical sensory antennas, each rising 72 feet high. The total electric output of all of the implements amasses to 1.7 billion watts. The digit was difficult for Heat himself to grasp, but he knew there was no mistake about it. If a human were to be exposed to the electromagnetic activity at the plant, they would instantly faint.
“Did Professor Harris really go to the HAARP facility?” Heat asked.
“I haven’t been completely sure of it until recently,” Serph answered.
“I wonder why he was so interested in it… Knowing him, he was probably traveling there to research the effects of ELFs on genes.”
ELFs, shorthand for extremely low frequency magnetic fields, are known to impact the magnetite content of the bodies of living organisms. It has been found that biological magnetite content possess its own bacteria, alike to five million individual bacilli per gram of cells in the human brain. Apparently, these living organisms have a tendency to follow the paths of the magnetic fields emanating from this substance. This phenomenon, dubbed Schumann Resonance, measures identically to the alpha wave resonance of the human body.
It’s said that these magnetic fields may disrupt this resonance, thus having potentially adverse effects on the human body. Such effects include negatively altered hormone secretion and poor physical shape on account of disturbed protein content. Aside from these, animal experimentation suggests that this disruption may cause genetic mutation and a decrease in immune function.
Heat went on. “Nobody knows for sure what kinds of electromagnetic frequencies are being sent from the facility, though I’ve read up on some of the rumors… Supposedly, they’re conducting magnetic ELF emissions in conjunction with auroral observation there. I wouldn’t be surprised if Professor Harris had shown interest in that while he was still alive.”
Surely, the Voynich manuscript couldn’t possibly be connected to the activities at the HAARP. It would make more sense for it to simply be a common research topic at the medical school. The idea that the manuscript contained knowledge of genetic studies was largely idyllic, for it was considered impossible from a scientific point of view.
“How interesting. In that case, I’m glad that I brought you along,” Serph mused, content.
“You think so? I don’t really agree with this theory you’ve thought up, but I’m glad I could be of some use,” Heat replied. As Heat knew, he and Serph are students, and for students a reasonable train of thought is most preferable. Thus, he began to admonish.
“You can’t ever be sure, Heat. You don’t know everything,” Serph said, a more terse tone gathering in his voice. “Personally, I believe that the contents of that stolen disc, this book, and the facility in Alaska are related. Make of that what you will.”
Heat was at the end of his nerve. What right did Serph have, not only belittling him with every word, but insulting him in his own home? He could tell that Serph knew that he was overstepping his boundaries, too, for his tone and temper were measuredly mounting.
“Might I add that the professor has not shown any of these documents to the school? If you want to plug your ears and keep telling yourself that he’s innocent, then go right ahead. Besides, wasting my effort helping one criminal is more than enough for me,” Serph sneered.
“How the hell could you…!” He dropped the book down on the table.
“Oh, now, don’t tell me you didn’t know! I had a word with some lady in the medical ward. Supposedly, he was arranging to leave for a fishing trip. But when the detectives called his wife, she said that he was planning to work abroad… Tell me, Heat, can you explain that?”
“Hold on a minute,” Heat started. “How are so familiar with him in the first place?”
Apparently, Serph had spoken regularly with Harris’ family for quite some time, and had not only known about the whereabouts of the professor. There were a number of things Heat had not been informed of thus far, many of which were made even more strange due to his timing. Moreover, what explained Serph’s definite insight into Heat’s actions when the incident had just begun? What nerve did he have to involve himself in the incident without having any connection to it in the first place? Why did he mislead everyone, Heat thought—was this all just a game to him?
“Serph,” Heat felt his blood pressure rise, his heart pounding in his chest. “There’s no way, you didn’t—!”
“Tell me what you promised me.” Serph’s expression went blank, a cold glare settling on his face. He didn’t seem to realize that his right hand had inched its way into his breast pocket. “You promised to walk the same path as me. Don’t tell me you’re changing your mind so soon.”
“What are you doing with your hand? What the hell are you hiding in your pocket?”
If you can’t hide a handgun on your person, you can surely find a way to conceal a knife. The exit was right behind Heat, but he’d need to pull it towards himself to open it. If he were to escape the room, then that would give Serph enough time to strike him on his back.
“What do you mean, Heat?”
Heat felt his back become damp with sweat. Serph remained still. First he mentioned the Skull & Bones, then the indecipherable Voynich Manuscript, then a mind control experiment by the Department of Defense—what else? All of these scatterbrained conspiracies made Heat’s head burn. He felt as if he were in a B-rate sci-fi novel, or some tasteless suspense flick.
If Serph was the one who had shot the professor and stole the disc, then was his eyewitness testimony merely a recount of what had truly happened? It was an unthinkable turn of events—the criminal himself who had planned the crime ended up pretending to be a witness had ended up testifying to distort the truth and save his own skin. Perhaps he hadn’t expected Heat to visit the professor that night. Thus, Heat had unknowingly played an instrumental role in reconstructing Serph’s ruined alibi. And originally, Serph might not have planned to appear before the police in the first place. Therefore, he fabricated an ambiguous eyewitness testimony, in the case that he were to be dragged into the investigation himself..
Or maybe Serph was just insane.
College life is a significant stage of one’s postadolescent life that leaves its roots behind in grown adults. It’s difficult enough as it is, no less for a sixteen year old. Heat has heard that every year, many individuals suffer nervous breakdowns. Perhaps Serph‘s actions were incited by delusions of grandeur, continually leading him in search of someone to sympathize with his impulses. Heat knew that this was not something he could allow to go unnoticed. He’d received Serph’s innermost thoughts and feelings, too; one phrase that he told him at cross campus yesterday crossed his mind. He felt that the feelings of panic had subsided.
“Oh, I’ll walk the same path as you, alright.” Heat stood up to his feet and thrust his arm out at Serph. If he were to get stabbed, then his palm would take the blow rather than the rest of his arm. He knew that he wouldn’t die, lest his artery were to be severed. Betraying his dear friend was the least of Heat’s worries, for as far as he knew, the murderer was a twisted psychopath lying in plain sight.
He felt puzzled, faced with a myriad of possibilities and choices. Serph met his sight with a skeptical frown. It was the first time Heat had seen that expression on his face since they’d met. For the first time, Serph couldn’t seem to tell what he was feeling.
Serph cleared his throat, looking slightly hurt. He took something out of the pocket of his blazer, then slid it next to the Voynich manuscript. A white plastic plate larger than a credit card scraped against the table. It was an outlet cover for the indoor power supply.
“Why didn’t you tell me any sooner!?” Heat shouted at Serph over the furious peddling of his mountain bike. The wind roared past their ears as they sped at full power towards Edgewood Park.
“You still haven’t apologized to me.You’re carelessly persistent, aren’t you?” Serph answered from behind, his voice faint in Heat’s ear.
After scrambling out of the library, the two had already lost count of how much they’d been bickering. They’d narrowly dodged passerby students on the sidewalk, darted between cars waiting for their signal at the roadway, and pushed west at night into the heart of the city of New Haven.
The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library spans only about 1.5 miles from the edge of cross campus to the bounds of Edgewood park, though the obstacles encountered in that range were still quite frustrating.
A horn rang from behind Heat as he crossed another roadway. The two had first attempted to travel by sidewalk, but Serph, who had fallen over once and lost his balance many times, began to complain.
“It’s your fault we’re getting stuck in this traffic,” Heat yelled.
“Keep it to yourself, you criminal,” Serph retorted.
The outlet he had showed Heat in the reading room earlier was a wiretap. Much to Heat’s dismay, Serph had been eavesdropping on Professor Harris from before the incident, motivated by his desire to learn about the recruitment criteria for the Skull & Bones society. It seemed largely motivated by grades, and the professor had responded in a surprisingly defensive manner when Serph had inquired further. Serph’s approach had grown rather intrusive, as Heat had learned.
The Bonesmen continue to maintain relationships with one another even after graduation. Thus, Serph had assumed that he could obtain information on them if he had gotten to know the professor. He’d learned of his membership as an alumnus when he had found Harris’ name in a membership list leaked to the press. From then on, he had quickly managed to talk his way into volunteering for the campus delivery center, by which he had finally succeeded in planting an eavesdropping device in the professor’s office.
Serph was investigating the professor’s whereabouts from the Cushing-Whitney medical library, opposite the professor’s office on the evening of the incident. This was the first time that Heat had learned of this. When Serph was listening in to Heat’s interrogation before he arrived, he knew that he had volunteered at pediatrics that day and wanted to head home early.
When he appeared amongst the discussion, Serph had managed to acquire the upper hand in the interrogation thanks to the evidence he had gathered with the wiretap. Of course, he had no idea that the professor would be murdered, so he didn’t think to wipe his fingerprints off the wiretap.
Ever since a hijacked airliner flew into the World Trade Center Building in New York on September 11, 2001, even domestic flights had begun to require passenger fingerprints prior to boarding. Serph’s fingerprint, after having came to New Haven by air from Portland, Oregon, is also securely registered. In the unlikely event that his wiretap were to be found, then he, too, would have fallen under the same suspicion as had Heat. Even if he’d been proved innocent, the act of wiretapping itself would still be considered a crime. Crimes such as eavesdropping aren’t at all easy to walk away from. If he were to be found out, then he may be forced to drop out if he can’t defend himself in court. And then, even if he managed to avoid incarceration, then his future reputation would be inevitably damaged. Thus, it was a priority for Serph to reclaim the outlet cover. The rest of the plan seemed to fall into place—he’d tailored his persona into that of a trustworthy witness, thereby allowing his admittance to the site and later for him to retrieve the tap.
After explaining the reasons behind his actions, Serph had agreed to continue helping Heat. Despite what he’d said earlier, he knew better than anyone else that Heat was innocent, and was only trying to help the professor. Heat still condemned Serph’s wiretapping tactic, though forgave it as it lead to Serph’s intrusion and defense. However, with that physical evidence, he cursed himself for wasting so much energy testifying on his own.
But then, Serph went on to tell even more extraordinary things about what he had seen that night, for he was the only witness to the professor’s murder.
That night, as he was studying the manuscript and listening in on the receiver, a visitor had visited the professor’s office. He had heard a knock, then the sound of the opening door, then the professor’s hushed reproach to the impolite visitor. The audio cut out as the professor invited the figure into his room. It was only the secretary’s office that Serph had wiretapped. Once the door was closed, it was impossible to hear any sound from within the other office. Subsequently, Serph had given up on relying on the wiretap, deciding to instead spy from the ground outside the window.
The window of the professor’s office was curtained by thin lace drapes, allowing Serph to hear traces of conversation from within. The visitor was a young lady, an acquaintance of Serph’s—Stella Parker. She was a third-year medical doctorate who would be 25 years old that year. She had a private room on the same floor as the professor, and had passed Serph by face to face many times during his deliveries. She and Harris seemed to be quarreling beside the reception desk. After a few minutes, Stella had began to cry, going so far as to attempt to cut her own carotid artery with the scalpel on the table. It was just as Serph had described to the police. Though indeed, Heat supposed it was natural that there were no other witnesses other than he and Serph. The criminal really hadn’t managed to escape from the Boyer Center. Serph had also noticed that when Heat had came up the stairs, Stella escaped into her own private room, hyperventilating.
After all, Serph had been there watching everything from the beginning. As he had explained from the start, Heat wasn’t responsible for the struggle, as he had learned by eavesdropping. Thus, Serph had taken on the true detective role for himself, and had tried his hardest to expose Stella without blowing his own cover. He had also paid Stella’s apartment a visit yesterday. Knowing her face and name made it easy enough for a child to find.
Once Heat had listened to the wiretap recording, he immediately rushed Serph and himself out of the library to locate Stella and force her to confess. However, his cautious impulses still weighed heavy on the back of his mind, fearing that she would press charges on him as a result. From the way Serph described it, she didn’t seem to possess murderous intent. This didn’t change that Heat still felt angry that she had escaped the scene undetected, though as he had learned that the professor’s death was an accident, he forced himself to forgive her. It was like how he had killed his sister.
He continued to pedal ahead with all his might, resolve burning in his heart, still swearing at Serph all the while. It was the most they could do to rid their anger before arriving at Stella’s residence. Serph’s tips had ended up fueling Heat’s spirit, leaving him red-faced and baring his teeth in his self-induced fury. Heat himself had found something almost relieving about taking his anger out on Serph.
Perhaps getting involved in the incident wasn’t so bad after all—Heat knew that he wasn’t in the wrong and that Serph was duly innocent, for as long as he was by his side in his defense, there was little chance of things going awry. He still lost some faith in Serph after learning of his eavesdropping, but then again, it was better that than him being the murderer. Paradoxically, Serph’s crime had turned out to prove Heat’s innocence. He reckoned he might as well pledge his obedience for what Serph had gone through to save him.
“We’re almost there,” Serph called from behind. “Turn right.” He could see the greenery of Edgewood Park appearing ahead over Heat’s shoulders. Heat then maneuvered as instructed, entering a narrow path amongst the trees.
Stella Parker lived on the third floor of an old three-storey apartment complex. Heat tried knocking one, two, three times on her door—and still, nobody answered. He wondered if she was out for an errand.
“Should we wait out here for a while?” Serph asked, quickly to be interrupted. Heat gave him a questioning look as what seemed to be a cat cried and scratched from inside beyond the door. Heat questioned whether it was worth it, but the scratching seemed to beckon him.
He placed his hand on the doorknob, as if tempted by the sound. Even the slightest turn revealed that it was unlocked. He cracked the door slightly, then looked inside through the gap.
An overturned desk lamp illuminated the space inside before fizzling out, briefly revealing the shape of a black cat fading into the corridor past the entrance. Perhaps it was a trick of a light, but for a moment, Heat had seen that its ear was marked by a taglike patch of silvery-grey fur. It seemed to invite the pair past the door to what sounded like the bubbling rush of water behind.
A sickeningly sweet odor emanated from inside, a scent Heat knew all too well—the scent of fruity-floral perfume. On the night of the incident, he had smelled it in the corridors amidst the crowds of gawking passerby. Stella Parker must’ve been there. Heat recalled seeing the back of a thin, blonde figure rushing away from the rest of the crowd. He hadn’t dwelled on why that smell had caught him there in the first place, but now he understood exactly what he had been smelling. When he discovered the collapsed professor in his office, that residual scent clung to him even after leaving the scene. He knew he had to venture past the door.
The apartment’s bedroom was a small, one-bed design. Even as he advanced further into the dwelling, Heat still couldn’t make out any visible figure from the range he could see from the living room. On his left was a kitchenette; the bedroom and a bathroom flanked him on the right. The furniture in the living room seemed to be the standard set that had came with the pre-furnished apartment, matching the solemn atmosphere of the room and the rest of the building. Aside from that, the only other noticeable features were a brand-new computer and PC desk.
“Is that water I hear?” Serph’s voice drifted from behind the door. Even without being reminded, Heat was cognizant of it before he had even opened the door.
Heat squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to speak. “Look for her phone.”
With no light to guide him he steadied himself by feeling around a hung-up pashmina scarf, then pressed toward the bedroom at his right. It stunk with the overwhelming scent of perfume.
When Heat entered the bedroom, he was greeted by an open bottle of pills rolling across the floor at his feet. A handful of pale blue elliptical tablets were scattered across the bare wooden boards. Any aspiring medical student was expected to identify them on sight, even without a label present—they were Triazolam pills, commonly known as Halcion.
Not only had the rushing sound grown louder, but now its source had become clear. The bathtub past the bedroom was overflowing. Just past the bathroom door, Heat could make out the shapes of an empty vodka bottle and the bare feet of a woman. Even in the darkness it was evident that the water had been stained a hauntingly elegant ruby hue.
Everything was repeating itself.
Heat drew back into the living room to where Serph waited, then choked out his last coherent thought:
“Please… Call an ambulance.”
Drenched with sweat, Heat sat feebly on the the staircase entrance of the apartment and watched as Stella was brought out on a stretcher. Several police cars lined the streets accompanied by an ambulance, shining over onlookers and casting their swaying shadows over the buildings in dizzying red-blue hues. It looked as if a flock of the dead had came to welcome their new company.
A white-clad Serph stood aside from the crowd, speaking with an officer and Investigator Harvey beside a black sedan. From time to time their eyes darted towards and then back away from the scene. Serph’s blazer was draped over Heat’s shoulders, keeping him warm in the brisk autumn night. Faint hints of summer still remained in the day, but the winds of the night were beginning to cool.
Heat had clearly witnessed Serph hand the disc off to Harvey. After all this time, he still wondered what could’ve made its contents so valuable, though he had long since resigned his hopes of any chance of acquiring that knowledge. He debated whether Serph had seen what it held. His head spun from what he’d seen earlier—not only what had become of Stella, but the medical certificate at her bedside. It had confirmed her consent to an abortion procedure. Her mother’s signature was present, but her father’s was not there. There was no good way that Heat could interpret that blank field.
Stella Parker was pregnant. There was little more to it than that. Through this, the conception of a new life had ended up taking another. It was inevitable knowing what would happen to that child, one way or another. In a panicked rage, Stella had killed Henry Harris—her very own father—then laid her own body to waste with copious amounts of alcohol and medication before splitting her ulnar artery. The ruby-colored waters of the bathtub were stained by her blood.
Although he couldn’t think clearly, Heat believed that on that night, he did the most that he was able to do. He remembered he had shouted something. But what he had said was so foolish—it was so foolish, such an insultingly ignorant thing to say. He still didn’t know who it was meant for, though he had no other choice but to pray. It didn’t matter whether it was to a god or a devil.
How would a child in utero feel if it knew it was unwanted? All life is worth the same. If that’s the case, then what’s to be given equally? What must be given?
Deep in his heart, Heat felt that there was something he had terribly misunderstood. His hazy thoughts weighed hard on him, heavier than any weight he had ever known before.
There was nothing he could do but pray.
With that, he curled up on the cold concrete and waited for his thoughts to ebb away.
Off in the distance, a lonely cat cried.
Thirteen fourth-year students, lead by their two youngest colleagues, descended down the stairs to the basement of what was colloquially deemed “the Tomb”.
A year has passed. Heat and Serph had, too, grown older; next year, the students have decided to attend medical school and graduate school respectively. Although they were only nineteen and seventeen years old, they were both equivalent to the the seniors at the university.
Stella Parker had narrowly clung to life. However, the child inside her could not be saved. Heat had learned of this from a letter she’d sent from prison. In it, penned in pristine letters befitting of her disposition, she expressed her acknowledgement and an apology to the two young men. She confessed that, if God had so given her another chance, she would like to be a decent mother next time after atoning for her sins. Heat had reached for his pen numerous times, but he was lost on how to respond. Someday, now matter how long it would take for him to put his thoughts into words, he vowed to reply.
Now was the time for Heat to face life head-on.
His relationship with Serph remained as usual, though as they’d promised, they truly had came to walk the same path. Both of them had been recruited by the Skull & Bones. Today, they came to attend their initiation ceremony.
After all that had happened, the authorities ended up letting go of their desire to seize the disc. Since Serph hadn’t seen the contents, Heat had also given up on pursuing any further. The only thing they knew was that there was no investigator named Allen Harvey in the FBI. In the past, an investigator of the same name had been logged in the bureau’s membership, though he had died decades ago. Soon after the incident, Serph had inquired of this to the FBI headquarters. It was the only matter they had agreed to answer to.
When the fifteen new members arrived at the underground meeting hall, they were greeted by tens of alumni dressed in black ties with white suits. Heat was greeted by a familiar pair of fox-eyes from among their ranks. He looked to Serph at his side, wondering if he had also noticed.
Serph only continued to stare at the abstract geometric pattern on the floor. It looked like a something out of an astrology book, namely due to the giant sun that was drawn in the center. It didn’t take long for him to notice Heat’s incessant stare.
The ends of his lips pulled up into a precarious curl, and then quietly, he spoke.
“May God be with us.”