Thursday, July 16, 2009

Read the first chapter of The Y Factor by Liam Roberts

The Y FactorA great way to sample books is by reading the first chapter...helps you decide if you like the writing style! Check out the first chapter of The Y Factor by Liam Roberts below!


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

7 Jumādā 'l-Ūlā, 1426 AH

Atlanta, Georgia

Eric Colburn stared at the subject line in disbelief:
“IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO ME . . . ” How did this e-mail from Hamdi get in the junk folder? As he double-clicked the entry, he noticed the date. He couldn't believe he'd overlooked it for a month, and he chided himself for not checking his junk folder more regularly.

From: Hamdi Tantawi

Sent: Tue 5/13/2005 1:02 PM

To: Eric Colburn




I mailed you a DVD yesterday. It is important that you watch it . . . 

Eric remembered receiving a DVD from Hamdi, but he had set it aside. Where did I put it? He rummaged through his desk drawers but came up empty. It wasn't in his CD rack or in his desktop in-basket. Then he remembered laying it on his entertainment center so he could watch it with Alana. He ran to the living room and rifled through the DVDs. No luck. Craning his head forward, he saw the edge of a DVD case in the dim shadows between the stereo equipment and the wall. He leaned forward, stretching his arm and probing with his fingertips until he pinched the case between two fingers. As he gently guided it upward, it caught in the wiring and dropped further into the recess.

Ignoring the precaution of unplugging something, he slid the stack of equipment forward, extracted the case, and held it up to the light. “Mapping Human Genetics.” No wonder he'd forgotten about it. He'd assumed Hamdi was still trying to convince him that macroevolution was a superior theory to intelligent design.

Eric slipped the DVD into the player. A lecturer began a presentation with a superimposed title bar, identifying the speaker as Steve Olson. “The DNA codebook for our species consists of literally billions of nucleotide bonds--these are the rungs on the ladder discussed in the last tutorial--and the whole thing is made up of only four different molecules. The elegance is in its simplicity! Here's an analogy that will put the design into perspective.”

Eric sighed. He wanted to understand all this, especially since Alana loved it so much, but it could be so boring.

The lecture continued. “Imagine that you place a one-inch black cube in an empty field. Suddenly the cube begins to make copies of itself. Two, four, eight, sixteen. The proliferating cubes begin to form structures--enclosures, arches, walls, tubes. Some of the tubes turn into wires, pipes, structural steel, wooden studs. Sheets of cubes become wallboard and wood paneling, carpet and plate-glass windows. The wires begin to differentiate, connecting themselves into parallel but independent networks of immense complexity. Cranes are erected that are not part of the structure but are necessary to deliver the flow of materials throughout the complex entity. These cranes are then disassembled when their task is completed. Eventually, a one-hundred-story skyscraper stands in the field. It is unique from all others that have ever been assembled.”

Why did Hamdi make a big deal out of this? And what did he mean by “If anything happens to me”?

“That's basically the process a fertilized cell undergoes, beginning with the moment of conception. How did that cube know how to make a skyscraper? How does a cell know how to make a human? Biologists used to think that the cellular proteins carried the instructions. But now proteins look more like pieces of brick and stone--useless without a building plan and mason. The instructions for how to build an organism must be written in a cell's DNA, but no one has figured out exactly how to read the complex message.”

What is the point of all this? Eric lifted the remote but restrained himself.

“Each one of you started as a single cell. Billions of nucleotides were stored in the DNA that identifies you as unique from all humans who have ever lived. In one nucleus. In one cell. At the moment of conception. I call it the bar code of life.”

Eric's patience finally wore thin. He pressed the fast-forward button, hoping something would look obvious. If not, he'd have to rewind and suffer through the lecture in order to figure out what Hamdi meant. Ten minutes into the lecture, the screen distorted into a series of horizontal bands, then rolled vertically. Eric hit the play button as the image slowly morphed into Hamdi sitting in front of a bare concrete wall in a dimly lit room.

Hamdi's appearance was alarming. He sat with slumped shoulders, his sunken cheeks lean and hungry. The poor lighting accentuated the haunted look of his eyes, clouding them in deep shadow, a stark contrast to the gleaming beads of sweat on his forehead.

Eric rewound the segment to be sure he didn't miss anything important.

Hamdi cleared his throat and reached forward, his hand disappearing at the edge of the screen. The image jerked, coming to rest at a slight angle with Hamdi's head and shoulders in the lower-right portion of the screen. Hamdi began whispering, his voice too low to be heard.

Eric adjusted the volume and leaned forward, huddling with the monitor as if it were a coconspirator.

“Sorry for the intrigue, Eric. I had to anticipate this might be intercepted. I inserted the lecture so it would be dismissed as merely an educational DVD. But I know you well enough that I'm sure you will find this.

“Things have not gone well here, Eric. Cairo is not the same as when I left twelve years ago. I do not hear laughter any longer. Children no longer play outdoors with the same abandon.” Hamdi shook his head slowly, and then his stare intensified. “At first, I enjoyed my work in the Genographic Project, but soon I began to feel out of place there too. My co-workers are very devout, but they express extreme views. Most of them despise America and have been suspicious of me because of the time I spent there. I now realize that I will never earn their trust.

“Eric, bizarre things are happening in the lab, and there is no one to confide in. I brought my concerns to the lab director, but he rebuked me for being an informer. Then my co-workers began to utter threats. I tried to ignore them, but they have recently become more strident. I believe I have been followed and am starting to fear for my safety.

“I do not want to be melodramatic, but I wanted you to know what is happening in case anything happens to me. I have recorded my observations in my lab book and will read them to you in another DVD, when I am able to be alone in the lab--hopefully tomorrow. Perhaps you can help me get the information to our headquarters in Atlanta.

“Please give my regards to Alana--” Hamdi paused as his voice betrayed him. Eric detected a glimmer in the shadows and looked closer. Hamdi was crying.

“I wish I had not graduated early. I would give anything to be there and graduating with the two of--” A loud noise startled Hamdi and drowned out his comment. A look of fear swept over his features as he once again reached for the camera. “I must go now! Watch for the next DVD, and promise me you will get it to my headquarters!” The image faded to black.

Eric sat in stunned silence. He pressed the stop button and dropped the remote. “I promise, Hamdi,” he whispered to the darkened screen. Eric returned to his computer, where a quick check confirmed there had been no further messages from Hamdi. He typed out a quick reply and apologized for not having written sooner. He ended the e-mail by assuring Hamdi he would personally intercede with Hamdi's employer but was concerned that he hadn't yet received the second DVD Hamdi had promised.

Before shutting down his laptop, Eric needed to find the employer's address. A Google search responded to his query before he could lift his finger from the enter key:

Your Genetic Journey - The Genographic Project - The

National Geographic Society

A 5-year study by the National Geographic Society, IBM, geneticist Dr. Miles Larson, and the Saud Family Foundation to compile a genetic atlas. Project . . . - 34k -
Cached - Similar pages

Participate Globe of Human History
Your Genetic Journey Public Participation Kit
Atlas of Human Journey Genetics Overview

Eric had known the National Geographic Society was behind the project but was interested that IBM was also involved, since it was one of the firms he was pursuing. The Saud Foundation was meaningless, but Miles Larson was a name Eric recognized from somewhere. He sat back in his chair and clicked the various links below the introductory description. In a few minutes, he learned quite a bit about the firm Hamdi worked for. The headquarters of the Genographic Project were on the outskirts of Atlanta, not far from where he lived.

Another e-mail arrived. The subject noted “Delivery Failure.” With a sinking feeling, Eric opened the e-mail.

Your message has encountered delivery problems to the following recipient(s):

Delivery failed

Error Code: 550;; User account is unknown

No recipients were successfully delivered to.

Eric stood in front of the massive Genographic Project headquarters, steeling himself for the expected confrontation. To bolster his courage, he flipped his cell open and called Alana at her summer job.

“This is Alana McKinsey.”

“We need to meet,” Eric blurted.

“Hi to you too!”

“I'm sorry. I have a lot on my mind. Have you had lunch yet?” Eric asked.

“No. Being the new girl means I get the worst time slot for lunch. I can't go for another hour and a half.”

“That's perfect. I have something I need to talk to you about,” Eric said.

“Sounds ominous. How about the sub shop down the street?”

“I'll be there.”

Eric couldn't get Hamdi off his mind. There's no way Hamdi would cancel his e-mail account without sending out a new one to his friends. The ominous tone of the DVD had been alarming, and Eric had resolved what he needed to do. He had to tell Alana about this but wasn't sure how it would be received.

If only Hamdi had not rushed to graduate early. He'd doubled up for a couple of semesters and got his degree from Georgia Tech a semester ahead of Eric and Alana. Then the job with the Genographic Project gave him the chance to return to his home country. When Hamdi left during the Christmas break, Eric was still fumbling for direction. He hadn't had a clue what he would do after graduation, except he hoped it would involve Alana. As things stood right now, Alana was scheduled to begin the graduate program at Harvard in a couple of months. As unappealing as the idea of moving to Boston was, it seemed to be his only choice to be near her.

Suddenly, he'd decided to change direction and struggled with the best way to tell her.

He was certain she wouldn't alter her plans without the assurance provided by a ring, but he wasn't ready to produce such assurance. We're just starting our careers, he told himself. There's plenty of time to figure out our future.

Eric strode down the street to the sandwich shop and scanned the small seating area. Alana was in a booth by the window and glanced up as he approached. She beamed, her opaline green eyes flashing recognition. His breath caught, and he savored the moment. He was distracted by an alluring silhouette accentuated by the light that backlit her sheer blouse. His eyes dropped for the briefest flicker, and then he composed himself.

“Hi,” he said as he bent to kiss her. “You know, you take my breath away.” Alana blushed, her complexion infused in a warm roselike glow. Characteristically, she deftly turned the subject from herself.

“So, what did you want to tell me?” she asked. “I have to be back in forty-five minutes.”

“Sorry I'm late. Things took an unexpected turn.” Eric paused. “Alana, I have bad news.”

Alana looked at him warily. “OK . . . ”

“I think Hamdi's disappeared.” Eric quickly told Alana about Hamdi's cryptic message, the DVD he'd overlooked, and the rejected e-mail to Hamdi.

Tears filled Alana's eyes. “Oh, Eric! I can't believe this. What could have happened to him? Who can we report this to?”

“I don't know what could have happened, but I'm going to find out.”


“I took a job with Hamdi's company.”

Alana stared at him with a dumbfounded expression. “You lost me. What do you mean you took a job?”

“My first impulse was to go to the police, but that wouldn't work. Hamdi's out of the country. The State Department can't help because he isn't a U.S. citizen. So I drove to the company headquarters, thinking I would barge in and raise the red flag. But then I realized--I don't have any evidence that anything has happened to Hamdi. And I started wondering how seriously they would take his unemployed former roommate.

“When I approached the guard desk at the headquarters, they asked me what I wanted. For a minute, I was speechless, trying to conjure up a believable story. I glanced down at the desk and noticed a brochure announcing job openings. The first one listed was in the IT department. Then the idea came to me. If I could get a job with the company, I might be able to get to the bottom of it.”

“Eric--that's pretty impulsive,” Alana said.

“I know it seems that way, but there were so many coincidences that it seemed like the right thing to do.”

“What do you mean?”

“First, they were looking for someone with an IT degree, and my specialty fit their requirements exactly. Then, I just happened to have my résumé folder in my backpack with my transcript and letters of recommendation. It's like a path was laid out in front of me. The next thing I knew, I was sailing through the interview, and they offered me the job--pending a background check.”

“What do you hope to accomplish by that?”

“I don't know, but I figured they would blow me off if I rushed in there to tell them my friend is missing. Besides, something happened right before the interview that convinced me this is the right approach to take.”


“A lady in the HR department was making sure I'd filled everything out correctly before my interview. She noticed that I'd made an entry in the spot where they ask if you know anyone currently employed by the NGS. She looked up and told me I should erase Hamdi's name. I asked her why, and she said that he'd been a big disappointment--that he'd abandoned his job a month ago.”

“So, how did that convince you to go to work for them?”

“Don't you see? If they thought Hamdi quit his job, they couldn't care less whether something happened to him. And I'd sound like a conspiracy nut if I pressed the issue. This way, I might have a chance to figure out what happened and maybe even clear his name.”

“Well, that's all well and good, but what about Boston? I thought you wanted to be near me.”

“I do!” he said. “I can't tell you how much I want that. But I had another idea.” Eric passed a brochure to her. “Here's the job listing sheet I picked up. The job right below the IT listing is for a research assistant to the director of the whole project--a job that's a perfect fit for you.”

“I don't think so, Eric,” Alana said, shaking her head for emphasis.

“Alana, don't dismiss the idea until you hear me out.” He reached out and clasped her hands in his. “Alana, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. I want the chance to take us to the next level, and working together will let us see what that means.”

“You don't know what you're asking of me, Eric.”

“You're right; I don't know. But what I do know is that you are the most intelligent and talented woman I've ever known.” He squeezed her hands tighter. “And you are the loveliest woman I've ever known.” He held up a finger to silence the anticipated protest. “It's no secret that I've played the field, but I don't want that anymore, Alana. I want you.”

They sat holding hands for quite a few minutes. He couldn't tear himself away from her penetrating stare, nor did he want to.

“Are you really willing to do that for me, Eric?”

“Yes.” He desperately hoped his sincerity was convincing. He couldn't bear the thought of being separated from her.

“You don't know how much I've wanted to hear that. It changes so much.”

His hopes buoyed. “Alana, all I'm asking is that you at least interview for the job. I recommended you to the HR department, and they were impressed with your credentials. I remember how excited you were for Hamdi when he got his job, and I think you were just a little envious of his chance to pursue genetic research, weren't you?”

Alana shrugged her shoulders. “Just a little.”

“Well, this is a chance to get in on the ground floor of an exciting research project. And they don't come any more prestigious than the National Geographic Society. Besides, with that caliber of real-world training, you could always go to Harvard later. They'd still jump at the chance to have you.”

Alana hung her head, and her long golden hair swept forward, partially obscuring her face. She gently pulled her hand from his grasp and with a graceful motion tucked her hair behind her ear. It was a simple gesture but one of his favorites. He loved the tilt of her wrist, the long slender fingers.

Eric sat in the car and eyed the front door of the Genographic Project headquarters nervously. He glanced at his watch. The music on the radio began to grate on his nerves, so he reached out and stabbed the power button. What's taking her so long?

This had been the most incredible day in his life. He woke up unemployed, received a devastating e-mail from his best friend, landed an awesome job, and had just about convinced his girlfriend to abandon her academic dream in favor of a relationship with him. A day for the record books.

Alana had agreed to the employment interview, and now she'd been inside for over two hours. He didn't know if it was a good sign or not.

The front door opened, and Eric sat up in anticipation. False alarm. A couple of young women exited and walked toward the parking lot, deep in conversation.

He reclined his seat and thought again about Hamdi. If only he could find his friend. Hamdi had left some of his things at the apartment, but there was no clue that would help Eric find Hamdi's family. How difficult would it be to locate the right Tantawi family? How would he get past the language barrier? He had no idea where to start, but somehow he knew this job with the Genographic Project was key.

The passenger door opened abruptly, startling him. Alana dropped into the passenger seat. “Sorry to scare you, big guy.”

“I wasn't scared, just startled to see such a beautiful woman trying to pick me up.” He leaned over and kissed her. “So, how did it go?”

“You didn't tell me that Dr. Larson would be my boss.”

“I confess I couldn't quite remember where I'd heard the name,” he said.

“Are you kidding me? Hamdi used to talk about him. He's one of the chief scientists in the Human Genome Project.”

“Sounds impressive.”

“Impressive? They completely mapped the human DNA in ten years and finished years before they were expected to!”

“What d'ya know about that?” Eric tried to conjure up enthusiasm, but he wasn't sure what she was talking about. “So did they offer you the job?”

“Of course they did,” she said with mock arrogance.

He searched her face anxiously but could not read her expression. “And what did you say?”

Alana shook her head slowly. “I told him I need a few days to think about it.”


Avatar said...

Quite okay... I'm not much into fiction books. Thanks for sharing the chapter. :)

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