Chapter no 12

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

We drove toward the university and the lab. e Father Project would soon be over. e weather was warm, though there were dark clouds on the horizon, and Rosie lowered the convertible roof. I was mulling over the theft.

“You still obsessing about the bill, Don?” Rosie shouted over the wind noise. “You’re hilarious. We’re stealing DNA, and you’re worried about a cup of coee.”

“It’s not illegal to take DNA samples,” I shouted back. is was true, although in the UK we would have been in violation of the Human Tissue Act of 2004. “We should go back.”

“Highly inecient use of time,” said Rosie in a strange voice, as we pulled up at trac lights and were briefly able to communicate properly. She laughed and I realized she had been imitating me. Her statement was correct, but there was a moral question involved, and acting morally should override other issues.

“Relax,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day, we’re going to find out who my father is, and I’ll put a check in the mail for the coee. Promise.” She looked at me. “Do you know how to relax? How to just have fun?”

It was too complex a question to answer over the wind noise as we pulled away from the lights. And the pursuit of fun does not lead to overall contentment. Studies have shown this consistently.

“You missed the exit,” I said.

“Correct,” she replied, in the joke voice. “We’re going to the beach.” She spoke right over the top of my protests. “Can’t hear you, can’t hear you.”

en she put on some music—very loud rock music. Now she really couldn’t hear me. I was being kidnapped! We drove for ninety-four minutes.

I could not see the speedometer and was not accustomed to traveling in an open vehicle, but I estimated that we were consistently exceeding the speed limit.

Discordant sound, wind, risk of death—I tried to assume the mental state that I used at the dentist.

Finally, we stopped in a beachside parking lot. It was almost empty on a weekday afternoon.

Rosie looked at me. “Smile. We’re going for a walk, then we’re going to the lab, and then I’m going to take you home. And you’ll never see me again.”

“Can’t we just go home now?” I said, and realized that I sounded like a child. I reminded myself that I was an adult male, ten years older and more experienced than the person with me, and that there must be a purpose for what she was doing. I asked what it was.

“I’m about to find out who my dad is. I need to clear my head. So can we walk for half an hour or so, and can you just pretend to be a regular human being and listen to me?”

I was not sure how well I could imitate a regular human being, but I agreed to the walk. It was obvious that Rosie was confused by emotions, and I respected her attempt to overcome them. As it turned out, she hardly spoke at all. is made the walk quite pleasant: it was virtually the same as walking alone.

As we approached the car on our return, Rosie asked, “What music do you like?”


“You didn’t like what I was playing on the drive down, did you?” “Correct.”

“So, your turn going back. But I don’t have any Bach.”

“I don’t really listen to music,” I said. “e Bach was an experiment that didn’t work.”

“You can’t go through life not listening to music.”

“I just don’t pay it any attention. I prefer to listen to information.”

ere was a long silence. We had reached the car.

“Did your parents listen to music? Brothers and sisters?”

“My parents listened to rock music. Primarily my father. From the era in which he was young.”

We got in the car and Rosie lowered the roof again. She played with her iPhone, which she was using as the music source.

“Blast from the past,” she said, and activated the music.

I was just settling into the dentist’s chair again when I realized the accuracy of Rosie’s words. I knew this music. It had been in the background when I was growing up. I was suddenly taken back to my room, door closed, writing in BASIC on my early-generation computer, the song in the background.

“I know this song!”

Rosie laughed. “If you didn’t, that’d be the final proof that you’re from Mars.”

Hurtling back to town, in a red Porsche driven by a beautiful woman, with the song playing, I had the sense of standing on the brink of another world. I recognized the feeling, which, if anything, became stronger as the rain started falling and the convertible roof malfunctioned so we were unable to raise it. It was the same feeling that I had experienced looking over the city after the Balcony Meal, and again after Rosie had written down her phone number. Another world, another life, proximate but inaccessible.

e elusive . . . Sat-is-fac-tion.

• • •

It was dark when we arrived back at the university. We were both wet. With the aid of the instruction manual, I was able to close the car roof manually.

In the lab, I opened two beers (no cough signal required) and Rosie tapped her bottle against mine.

“Cheers,” she said. “Well done.”

“You promise to send a check to the café?” “Whatever. Promise.” Good.

“You were brilliant,” I said. I had been meaning to convey this for some time. Rosie’s performance as an aspiring medical student had been very impressive. “But why did you claim such a high score on the medical admission test?”

“Why do you think?”

I explained that if I could have deduced the answer, I would not have asked.

“Because I didn’t want to look stupid.”

“To your potential father?”

“Yeah. To him. To anybody. I’m getting a bit sick of certain people thinking I’m stupid.”

“I consider you remarkably intelligent—” “Don’t say it.”

“Say what?”

“‘For a barmaid.’ You were going to say that, weren’t you?” Rosie had predicted correctly.

“My mother was a doctor. So is my father, if you’re talking about genes. And you don’t have to be a professor to be smart. I saw your face when I said I got seventy-four on the GAMSAT. You were thinking, He won’t believe this woman is that smart. But he did. So, put your prejudices away.”

It was a reasonable criticism. I had little contact with people outside academia and had formed my assumptions about the rest of the world primarily from watching films and television as a child. I recognized that the characters in Lost in Space and Star Trek were probably not representative of humans in general. Certainly, Rosie did not conform to my barmaid stereotype. It was quite likely that many of my other assumptions about people were wrong. is was no surprise.

e DNA analyzer was ready.

“Do you have a preference?” I asked. “Whichever. I don’t want to make any decisions.”

I realized that she was referring to the sequence of testing rather than the choice of father. I clarified the question.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon. Alan’s dead, which would suck. And Natalie would be my sister, which I’ve got to tell you is pretty weird. But it’s a sort of closure, if that makes sense. I like Peter, but I don’t really know anything about him. He’s probably got a family.”

It struck me once again that this Father Project had not been well thought through. Rosie had spent the afternoon trying to subdue unwanted emotions, yet the motivation for the project seemed to be entirely emotional.

I tested Peter Enticott first, as the hair from Natalie’s brush required more time for preprocessing. No match.

I had found several roots in the wad of hair, so there was no need to have stolen the toothbrush. As I processed them, I reflected that Rosie’s first two

candidates, including the one she had felt was a high probability, Eamonn Hughes, had not matched. It was my prediction that Alan’s daughter would not match either.

I was right. I remembered to look at Rosie for her reaction. She looked very sad. It seemed we would have to get drunk again.

“Remember,” she said, “the sample’s not from him; it’s his daughter’s.” “I’ve already factored it in.”

“Naturally. So that’s it.”

“But we haven’t solved the problem.” As a scientist I am not accustomed to abandoning dicult problems.

“We’re not going to,” said Rosie. “We’ve tested everyone I ever heard of.” “Diculties are inevitable,” I said. “Major projects require persistence.” “Save it for something that matters to you.”

• • •

Why do we focus on certain things at the expense of others? We will risk our lives to save a person from drowning, yet not make a donation that could save dozens of children from starvation. We install solar panels when their impact on COemissions is minimal—and indeed may have a net negative eect if manufacturing and installation are taken into account— rather than contributing to more ecient infrastructure projects.

I consider my own decision making in these areas to be more rational than that of most people, but I also make errors of the same kind. We are genetically programmed to react to stimuli in our immediate vicinity. Responding to complex issues that we cannot perceive directly requires the application of reasoning, which is less powerful than instinct.

is seemed to be the most likely explanation for my continued interest in the Father Project. Rationally, there were more important uses for my research capabilities, but instinctively I was driven to assist Rosie with her more immediate problem. As we drank a glass of Muddy Water pinot noir at Jimmy Watson’s before Rosie had to go to work, I tried to persuade her to continue with the project, but she argued, rationally enough, that there was now no reason to consider any member of her mother’s graduation class more likely than any other. She guessed that there would be a hundred or more students and pointed out that thirty years ago, as a result of entrenched gender bias, the majority would be male. e logistics of finding

and testing fifty doctors, many of whom would be living in other cities or countries, would be prohibitive. Rosie said she didn’t care that much.

Rosie oered me a lift home, but I decided to stay and drink.

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