Stark looked across the lab and saw Sanders waving for him to join Stafford and him in his office. Stark smiled and waved back. Sanders scowled and his mouth slowly and clearly formed the words: Come. Here. Now. Stark pulled off his gloves and tossed them into the biohazard bin. He jogged over to Sanders’ office. Sanders was standing in the doorway with his arms crossed. A frown covered his face.
Stark smiled and asked, “What’s up, Boss?”
Sanders pointed at a laptop on his desk. The screen displayed a spreadsheet listing lab tests and results. “These reports are ready. Why aren’t these lab results released?”
“I was double checking the data. There were some anomalies. I wanted to make sure that all the lab work was done properly.”
“That’s why I was talking with Blake.”
Both of Sander’s hands went up. He shook his head. “No, no, no, no. Stark. You’re not back to those military cloning conspiracies again.”
“It’s not a conspiracy. It’s real. Don’t you remember what happened last year? Remember, that dead professor with Neanderthal DNA?”
Stafford looked at Stark, then back at Sanders. “What the hell are you two talking about? Military conspiracy? Neanderthal DNA? What’s that got to do with my patient?”
Stark bit his lip. “The baby is a Neanderthal,” he blurted.
Stafford blinked and stared at Stark. “What?”
“The genetics, the genome, its DNA. It’s Neanderthal, not Homo sapiens.”
“OK, now you’re being an idiot,” Stafford snapped. “I know you have a thing for me, Stark. You’re always making up some excuse to get me down here. Cut the crap and tell me the truth.”
“I am telling the truth.”
Sanders grabbed Stark by the arm and pulled him away from Stafford and toward a corner of his office. “Stark, we’re not going to do this all over again, are we?”
Stafford followed them. “Do what all over again?”
Sanders took a breath, swallowed, then said, “Last year, he got this crazy idea that a body that came through the morgue had Neanderthal DNA. He got involved with some rich playboy with nothing better to do but play espionage games.”
“It wasn’t a game! Do you remember the news last year about the law firm that was secretly impregnating prostitutes?”
Sanders scratched his forehead. “How could they secretly impregnate prostitutes? Wouldn’t the women notice that they were pregnant?”
Stafford looked at Stark and rolled her eyes. “Now I understand why you still have your job.” She took a breath and turned back to Sanders. “Yes, I remember the story. The news reports said they were hiring the prostitutes to be surrogates and then were selling the babies on the black market.”
“Oh. That still sounds illegal,” Sanders replied.
Stafford turned away from Sanders and mouthed the word ‘moron’. Stark smiled and shrugged back at her. She turned back to Sanders, let out a sigh and said, “Yes, that’s why the government shut them down. Arrested all the high level officers; the board of directors. Closed down the company.” She turned to Stark. “You know more about what happened?”
“Um, yeah,” Stark replied. “There was some experimentation that was going on. Cloning.”
“Cloning babies?” Stafford asked.
“No, cloning Neanderthals.”
Sanders jumped back into the conversation. “There you go again with the Neanderthal thing.”
“It’s true!” Stark exclaimed. “The company was working with the military to clone Neanderthals.”
Sanders moved to usher Stark out of his office, but Stafford put up her hand and asked, “Why would they want to do that?”
“As soldiers,” Stark replied. “Untraceable soldiers that no one would miss when they were killed in battle.”
“But why Neanderthals? Why not humans?”
“Apparently there were other characteristics of Neanderthals that made them superior soldiers,” Stark responded. Then he added, “Plus, they were cannibals.”
Both Sanders and Stafford gasped. “What?”
Stark tried to look as serious as possible. “Cannibals. Once deployed, the ‘Thals, as they called them, would not need to be supplied. That was their motivation for the mission. They would hunt down and eat the enemy.”
Stafford looked right at him. “You’re nuttier than I thought.”
He raised his right hand. “It’s true. I swear.”
“So, you’re telling me that the army was planning to clone a bunch of Neanderthals, and then drop them behind enemy lines where they would feast on the enemy?”
Stark nodded. “Yeah, that’s essentially it.”
Stafford looked at him sideways. “I think I saw that movie.”
“Those weren’t Neanderthals, they were….”
Stafford nearly bit off Stark’s head. “Oh, shut up, Stark! Can I get my lab reports? Now!”
“Yes, Stark, you’re wasting the good doctor’s time,” Sanders added.
“Fine. I’ll release the reports,” Stark huffed. “You can believe what you want but the science doesn’t lie.” He pointed toward the ceiling, looked directly at both of them and said, “That baby is a Neanderthal.”
“Yeah, and I’m a Kardashian,” Stafford remarked as she walked out the office door. She called over her shoulder, “Just send me the reports.”
Stark called after her, “Doctor Stafford. What color are the baby’s eyes?”
Stafford stopped in her tracks. She spun around. “How did you know the infant’s sclera had pigment?”
“I told you, I did a DNA analysis.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s Neanderthal,” Stafford scoffed. “It’s more likely melanosis. Geez, Stark, don’t you ever give up?” She looked at Sanders. “How do you put up with him?”
“He can be a pain, but he’s a damn fine pathologist,” Sanders fired back. He crossed his arms, pursed his lips and, despite the height difference, stared silently at Stafford.
“Just get me my lab reports,” she huffed as she turned on her heel and strutted back down the hallway toward the elevator.