Chapter 1: And You Call *THAT* Simple?!
I can tell that Carter is excited about something as soon as she and Janet walk into the briefing room. In fact --knowing her as I do-- I'd say that, even though it is not really apparent, she is almost bouncing with excitement and that's never a good thing, at least not for me. I don't know what this is about, all I know is that she requested this meeting with me, Janet and the general... and the fact that she didn't request either Daniel's or Teal'c's presence is enough for me to know that chances are this is not mission related. The problem is that, if the look on Carter's face is anything to go by, then she's found something. That's great, I have the utmost confidence in her and whatever it is that she's come up with, but at the same time I know I have no choice but to prepare myself to be techno-babbled to death and that is not something I'm looking forward to.
"Sir, we need to contact the Asgard," she says, almost without preamble.
"Any particular reason, major?" asks General Hammond, in a valiant attempt to take control of this meeting, though somehow I don't think that's going to work... in fact I suspect this is one of those instances in which both the general and I will have to play catch up to Carter's runaway theories.
"Thor's got it wrong, sir," she blurts out, not that that explains anything.
"What do you mean, Carter? What did he get wrong?" I ask, hoping for an explanation that actually makes sense.
"Do you remember what he and Loki said about you being the next step in human evolution, about the fact that you have the Ancients' gene, sir?" she asks, turning to me.
"Well, I was thinking and I realized that that doesnt make much sense, not really," she explains. "You see, it's the Ancients' gene. That means it should be either a gene --or rather a mutation-- that had disappeared from the human genome or a gene that had once been found in a similar looking species. The thing is that the odds of a specific DNA sequence re-evolving to be an exact match of another one, base for base, are basically nil. Take wings, for instance. They are one of the best known examples of parallel evolution. Insects, bats and birds, they all have evolved the ability to fly but they are not related species."
"So?" I ask, still not knowing what shes trying to say.
"So, if you look carefully you'll notice that an insect has two pairs of wings rather than one --not to mention that insects are invertebrates-- and that the differences between a bird's wing and a bat's goes a lot deeper than the presence or absence of feathers. A bird's wing is supported mostly by a modified arm anatomy whereas a bat's relies just as heavily on the hand's anatomy. The point is that while birds and bats wings fulfill similar functions they have evolved differently and I couldn't really see how nature could have violated some of the most fundamental principles of evolution to cause an exact copy of the Ancients' gene to appear out of nowhere --and all of a sudden-- in your genetic make-up, sir. Thats why Janet and I went looking for a different explanation and I think we may have found it."
"What did you find, major?" asks the general, focusing on the only part of that whole explanation that actually makes some sort of sense.
"We suspect that what Thor is looking for is not a new gene at all, sir. I suspect it may have been there all along," she says, toning her enthusiasm down a little as she explains things to the general. "If our theory is correct what we are dealing with here is a fairly rare mutation, so rare that it may well have gone unnoticed in virtually any randomly conducted genetic study, but it's not a new one... and I think we may have found the answer to the Asgard's problems."
"But Thor said that we were still far removed from it!" I exclaim.
"And, as I said, I suspect he was wrong about that, sir," she says, turning to me. "You see, he used you as a reference of 'how far we've come' and he was operating under the assumption that that gene hadn't been there all along. You were his only example in terms of the presence of a gene, or rather a mutation, he believed to be either new or previously lost... and while there's no way the gene can really be recessive in your case, if my suspicions are correct, it can't be fully active either. In a way you could say that you are stuck in a sort of evolutionary limbo. That would explain why you can use the Ancients' technology to a certain degree but you are not the answer to the Asgard's problem. If our theory is correct it could be said that you have only half the sequence."
"Are you saying that you believe there may be someone out there who has a full sequence, major?" jumps in the general.
"I'm almost positive about that, sir," she says.
"And you've found him?" he asks, sounding hopeful.
"Actually sir, it's not a 'he' we are after. That's the key... that's what told us that Colonel O'Neill couldn't have more than half the sequence in the first place. It's basic genetics."
"In English, Carter," I say, seeing the confused look on the general's face and knowing that that confusion mirrors my own.
"Well, sir, without going into too much detail --at least not before Thor gets here and confirms that our theory is not entirely outrageous-- if what we've found is correct then the specific gene the Asgard are looking for is to be found within the X chromosome. That would mean that it probably won't fully manifest itself unless the person has two copies of it," she explains, though Im still not quite sure of what she means. "In other words, you carry that mutation --that has enabled you to operate the Ancients' technology to a certain extent and you could potentially have a daughter with the gene-- but that gene itself can only fully exist in a woman."
"Great, so how do we track her down?" asks the general.
"I'm not sure we can, sir. I mean, if my estimates are correct there may be two or three hundred girls and women out there who will actually have the gene we are looking for."
"That's great, right?" I say, sounding hopeful, after all, we've suddenly gone from 'none' to 'hundreds'.
"Actually, sir, it's not. When I say two or three hundred I mean that chances are there are literally two or three hundred women out there who may actually have the mutation we are looking for. The problem is that while that may sound like a fairly sizable number, the truth is that --considering the world's population-- we are still talking one in twenty to thirty million people... one in ten to fifteen million women. Those are our odds and --to make matters worse-- given that what we are looking for is probably an invisible trait because this particular genetic mutation has no real use in our own world, that means that there is no way to screen for certain related features. In other words, our only hope would be to somehow get lucky but even there the odds are anything but good."
"Could I ask how did you come up with that figure of a couple of hundred, major?" asks the general and I cringe dreading the explanation that is to come... honestly, you'd think General Hammond would know better than to ask Carter those questions by now.
"Yes, sir. I admit that that particular figure is iffy at best but it was the most accurate one I could come up with using what little information I had available to me. I'm basing that assumption on the fact that if the gene were to be found in any of the Asgard's own protected colonies they would almost certainly have spotted it by now. That is my basic assumption. That means that this particular mutation has to be rare enough not to have been accidentally included in the original gene pool of any of those planets, explains Carter before going on.
Now, based on the current demographics of those colonies and on the knowledge that those people were taken from our world thousands of years ago --and assuming that each planet was originally populated by a group of a few hundred individuals-- I can guess what the odds of this specific mutation occurring must be to make it unlikely that it would have been accidentally included in any of those populations. From there on I can make an educated guess in terms of what percentage of the general population here on earth is likely to carry this gene in the first place --and the answer to that would be one in several thousand. From there on things get much easier. Based on that I can easily estimate the likelihood of two people with that gene producing a child in the first place... and in turn a fourth of those children would have the genetic sequence we are looking for. That's how I came to the figure of one in twenty to thirty million, though I admit that that is a rough estimate at best."
"So, any ideas as to how we could possibly hope to narrow down that humongous haystack?" I ask, assuming that Carter's numbers are correct... and hoping that Thor will set her straight if they are not.
"Not really, sir. I mean, Ive considered the possibility of running a search through the armed forces DNA databases --that would seem to be the most logical course of action-- but I don't think that would help."
"Why not, major?" asks the general.
"Two reasons, sir. First because those databases --at least in their current form-- feature only the information that can be used for DNA identification rather than a full genetic profile of each individual and the information we are looking for is not to be found in any of the sequences that are used for that particular purpose. The second reason has to do with the fact that since we are looking for a woman, and women are a small minority within the armed forces to begin with, that means that even if the information were available in those databases, our chances of finding someone with the DNA sequence we are looking for there would be even lower than in the general population."
"Are there any other options?" I ask.
"Well, sir, I've considered the possibility of resorting to other databases dealing with genetic information, such as the ones that feature potential bone-marrow donors and so on. Such a database would at least have a higher percentage of women in it so that would probably improve the odds, but even though those databases solve one problem --namely the shortage of women-- the other one persists: the information stored in those databases is too specific and it would almost certainly be insufficient for what we need to begin with. Besides, even though those databases have a higher percentage of women, the number of people included would still be too small for us to have a good chance at finding what we are looking for. In other words, sir, I'm afraid I'm stumped here."
"Just one question though, how come Thor missed all of this? I mean, it sounds pretty obvious --in other words I can actually sort of follow what you are saying here-- and compared to what the Asgard know about genetics we are still basically in the dark, aren't we?" I ask.
"Yes, sir, but at the same time this wouldn't be the first time the Asgard have needed someone with a dumber outlook to point them in a different direction. The same thing happened with the Replicators," she reminds me before going on. "In this particular case I suspect the problem may also have something to do with how the Asgard see the world. You see, sir, they are asexual so for them gender is not really a big issue. That means that they may not have considered the possibility that the Ancients' gene they are so desperately looking for could be gender related... and, to tell you the truth, that may not have always been the case. The Y chromosome..."
"I believe you, Carter," I say before she can even get started on that one, especially because I know she will go over this whole thing in painful detail once Thor gets here and I'd rather endure the explanation only once. No matter how many times she explains it to me, I suspect this one is still going to be way over my head.
"Anyway, sir, the point is that it was a pretty big coincidence that someone here at the SGC turned out to have that gene in the first place and you are the only person carrying it that they have encountered so far. If your DNA is the only one in which they have found it, then it wouldn't be unthinkable for them to overlook the fact that the specific mutation they were looking for is gender related and that you are in fact the wrong gender to begin with. Let's face it, the whole idea that the only person they have encountered so far exhibiting some of the traits they are looking for is of the wrong gender seems fairly counterintuitive, even though the fact is that --if our theory is correct-- only a man would exhibit some traits of that particular gene."
"That doesn't make sense, Carter!" I say.
"As I said, it may sound counterintuitive at first but it's not. From a genetic perspective it actually does make sense," she insists.
I nod at her, pretending to understand, even though I'm not even going to try to figure that one out. For the time being I think I'll just take her word for it and hope that --with a little luck-- maybe Thor will know what she means.
Authors notes: Okay, sorry about the fact that this chapter is so science heavy, please bear with me for a little bit longer, I promise the science talk is mostly in the first two/three chapters. Also, my apologies for oversimplifying some concepts, for not making this as accurate as it should have been and for bending the science a little to suit my needs.
I am aware of those irregularities but still I think its not so bad compared to the show itself (where Sam and the Asgard cant tell the difference between radius and diameter and where an ancient alien device includes constellations that didnt really exist before the XX century).