In 1992 Hannah MacKay was a student at Scotland's Edinburgh University. For her thesis she was studying DNA and in particular trying to find how DNA itself determines the behaviour of the child. The main methods used for DNA testing are the mitochrondrial, which the mother passes down to the child, boy or girl and is only continued by the female. It is this test which is most often used when testing paternity. The other common test is Y chromosone, which is passed from father to son and hence is the usual test for the relationship on the male side. Hannah was attempting to develop a computer program that she could used to model the effects of combining these particular DNA markers. Because the whole field of DNA is extremely complex, it suited her immediate needs to focus one just this one area. The internet was in its early dawn in 1992 and nobody really imagined what would happen over the next decade, but many institutions were progressive and forward looking, eager to see this communications highway develop. Corporations, Universities, Hospitals and many private companies were building vast stores of information and making this data available through what was, the embryonic internet.
Hannah wanted a source of raw data that she could use to test her software, and her search led her to the data banks of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Here she found exactly what she was looking for; a huge database of whole family DNA samples that the hospital had been collecting for its own research projects. To ensure that all the data was anonymous, no family names or personal details of any kind were available, just raw data. The indexing of the data was very simple: each sample had a four figure number appended with a F M D or S, for Father, Mother, Son or Daughter. All Hannah had to do was to write a simple program to extract sets of data that she could use for her thesis. This all worked fine for her until she selected a range of subjects that included #7128. At first, when she ran her program and it crashed, she assumed that there was some nasty bug, but try as she might she could not find one. Eventually, by conducting test runs with lots of other subjects, she isolated the problem to one particular subject, #7128. The set comprised of a father, mother and son. She was fascinated by her discovery and sought out her professor for guidance with this strange anomaly. After many long evenings of study at her tutor's behest, Hannah reached the conclusion that the hospital had made a mistake, but she was puzzled how this could be. Considering the very large number of people that had been screened, if they made a mistake then statistically speaking, in data of that size there should be another. Just one anomaly in so much data suggested something much more interesting than human error. In the end she dug around to find a Doctor at the hospital who might be connected with the DNA library, waited until evening to allow for the time difference, and dialled the telephone number she had found.
"Good Morning, Massachusetts General. How may I direct your call ?", said the bright New England voice.
"Hello. Could I please talk to Doctor Lawrence ?"
"We have three Doctor Lawrences caller. Do you want to speak to A, N, or W Lawrence ?"
"Sorry, Doctor William Lawrence please".
"I love your accent, are you calling from Scotland ?"
"Yes, I am actually."
"I will be sure to connect you. Have a nice day", she said. The line went silent with no annoying background music and for a moment Hannah thought that the connection had been lost, but then a rich deep voice said, "Good morning. Doctor Lawrence. How may I help you?"
"Doctor Lawrence, its very good of you to talk to me", Hannah began.
"Not at all. Its not often I get a phone call from Scotland."
"I am hoping that I have the right man. Am I right in thinking that you are involved with the DNA database your hospital is building ?"
"Was that a guess or did you do some fishing ?", he sounded amused or flattered or maybe both.
"I researched as much as I could and I came across some papers you wrote about DNA testing, so I hoped it was you."
"Well you were right. So what can I do for you ? Are you working in the same field ?"
"In a way. I am doing my PhD thesis at Edinburgh University, and I used your database as raw data."
"Okay. Well I am very pleased it is being found useful."
"I ran into a problem with one data set, and no matter how I look at it, it doesn't make sense. I checked with my professor her and he agrees with me, so I was calling to ask if there is any possibility of an error in the collection process ?"
"I very much doubt it. You can cross reference the DNA types to the blood groups you know, if we took a sample. The index numbers will be the same. If you find the same subjects there, then I doubt there is an error. It only takes a second for me to do here, why don't you tell me the subject reference ?"
"Okay, thank you. I have 7128F, 7126M and 7128S"
"I'll run that right now.....there we go....yep, we took blood too. Ah, I see it is a very rare group we have here, very rare indeed. Miss MacKay ?"
"Your subjects have an extremely rare blood group, and I see we took blood from the mother and the father too."
"Can you tell me who they are ?"
"I am sorry, we are into patient confidentiality there. If you are ever in Boston though I hope you will call by and see me. I would like to talk to you further about your work. You've got me interested now so I am going to dig around a bit."
"Well thank you Doctor, you have been a great help", said Hannah.
"Not at all. Goodbye", said Doctor Lawrence ending the conversation.
Hannah was like a dog with a bone when things didn't fit neatly into place. She was not well off by any measure and neither were her parents. She was only able to complete her studies because of a grant from The Ashwood Foundation, a philanthropic body of businessmen that also ran a school for gifted children in England. From time to time the foundation backed students that it selected, often all the way through their education as with Hannah who was nearing the end of hers. She could not afford to fly off the Boston to chase up her lead, but she could afford a coach ride from Scotland to Berkshire to ask the foundation directly for an ‘exceptional circumstances grant'.
Never one to stay idle, Hannah believed in action. Once she set herself a plan there was no point in doing anything other than the very thing she had decided, and so the very next day she was waiting underneath a windy bus shelter for the Edinburgh to London Express Bus. The journey south was long and miserable. The bus left Scotland in the rain and it seemed to Hannah that the rain was following the bus as it wove its way down the length of England. It was stuffy and steamy inside the Bus and the small slide window by her seat was stuck closed. There was already a collection of discarded food wrappers on the floor which kept growing as the hours dragged by. The only thing in its favour for Hannah was that it was a lot cheaper than flying. She tried to sleep but only managed to catnap, and was very relieved when she at last saw the sign for ‘Berkshire' flash by the coach. At the next scheduled stop, she got off the coach and despite the fact that it was still raining, she was not sorry to see it go. The cheap and cheerful ‘motor lodge' that she had booked into was also the coach stop, which at least made it convenient. Cheap and cheerful was all that it was, there was no bar, no restaurant, in fact no extras at all. She got a clean room with a bed and a TV set, but by then she was so tired she didn't care. Hannah washed, lay on the bed to read, and fell fast asleep.
The next morning she was woken up by the discordant roar of traffic. A never ending stream of commuters pouring past her window heading to work, to school and to god know's where. She washed again and straightened her clothes as best she could. Next to the motel there was a Burger King, so she went inside and tried to eat their version of a hearty breakfast, but enjoyed the big cup of coffee. Once finished she had to allow herself the one luxury of the journey, because there was no other way, and she called a taxi to take her to Ashwood School, where the Foundation had its headquarters.
She had never actually been to the school. When she was completing her A level studies, and hoping for the grades that would get her into the University of her choice, she had received a letter from The Ashdown Foundation, that invited her to apply for a grant to fund her degree. Her examination results arrived the next day and she had scored straight A's all the way. It seemed to her that The Foundation already knew that and had singled her out for their attentions. To be able to attend the University that she wanted and an offer to fund her through to her PhD was almost surreal - a dream come true. She had filled in the very brief form and returned it, and received confirmation a week later. Every month without fail, monies were transferred to her bank account, and all she needed to worry about, was her work. Travelling up the long and twisting drive, Hannah could see that the grounds alone were extensive. The drive opened out to the school and as she saw the building for the first time, she had no idea on its extent. The fire damage of ten years before was completely merged into the building now, and unless told, nobody could guess that once, a whole wing was a smoking ruin. The taxi tyres crunched across the shingle that fronted the Manor House, and came to a stop.
"You know, you really should have called ahead to make an appointment", said the man who sat across a desk from Hannah. He spoke in a friendly manner, his tone held no rebuke and he was simply advising her that a more formal arrangement might have been better for both of them.
"I know I should and I am sorry, but I tend to be very decisive, so here I am", she replied.
"Yes indeed, here you are, and it is very nice to meet you. We sponsor a lot of students and so often all we know of them are their examination results - and yours are excellent by the way. It is really a pleasure to meet one of our students face to face, Hannah.. I may call you Hannah?"
"Yes, that's fine, and thank you for seeing me."
"After coming all the way from Scotland, the least I could do is to hear why you have come. So, how can we help you today ?"
"My research has thrown up a strange situation, you know I am looking at DNA ?"
"Oh yes, we take an active interest in all our students, please go on."
"Well I have stumbled upon a family that I am assured are a family, but from the data, the son cannot possibly be related."
"Then surely there has been a mistake."
"I called the Doctor in Boston who collected the data. He assures me that the data is correct."
"Am I correct in assuming you mean Boston USA ?"
"Yes, the Massachusetts General Hospital."
"Ah yes, MGH, so you spoke with William Lawrence then ?"
Hannah looked surprised, "why yes, that's right."
"No need to look so surprised Hannah. We really do select our students and follow their work. You were selected for your earlier genetic studies so of course we know how the leading lights are. William Lawrence is very respected in his field and if he says there was no error, then you can take it that there really was none."
"But if that is so, then we have an impossible DNA pattern which is why I am asking for a small grant to allow me to go to Boston to do more research, for say three days."
"It is an odd situation, I will grant you. As you say, if you have a family member whose DNA has no match at all with his parents, then logic says they are NOT the parents. Hmm."
"Another thing. This particular family share a very rare blood group, less than five percent in the whole of the USA, so that would seem to suggest that he is of the same family."
"As you know, blood alone is no guide, but I take your point. I'll tell you what we will do then. I will put forward your case at our next funding meeting in two weeks time. As far as I am concerned, you have my vote. I hope you do not feel you came all this way for nothing ?"
"No, not at all. Thank you for your time."
"I only wish the weather had been better for you. The grounds are quite magnificent".
"I am sure they are, and thank you", said Hannah, rising and leaving the room.
Hannah caught the coach back to Scotland that same day. The journey back was every bit as grim as the one she had made the day before. At least on the way south she had had the seat to herself. On the return trip she had a heavy snorer sleeping next to her and no matter how often she ‘accidentally' nudged him, he just kept on snoring. By the time the coach reached her stop she was ready to sleep anywhere and blew the last of the money she had saved for emergencies on another taxi to take her back to the small flat that she was renting. When she finally closed her door and took her coat off she was too tired to even wash the grime of travel from her face. She had been asleep for two hours when her telephone awoke her.
"Hello ?", she said half asleep. The clock on her table said nine pm.
"Hi there. Is this Hannah MacKay", said the American voice.
"Doctor Lawrence ?", said Hannah in surprise, suddenly wide awake.
"Yes, I hope you don't mind. I got your number from the faculty. "
"Mind? No not at all. I am very flattered that you have troubled to call me. Do you have some more information."
"Yes, yes I do as a matter of fact. I told you I would dig around some. Well that fact is that the family those samples came from are all deceased now. Quite a well known family over here. I wonder of the story every made your newspapers ?"
"Story ?", she said, puzzled.
"Yes, last year ? A very rich family. Tyler and Caroline King and their son Nathan. Terrible tragedy. They were all murdered on their own private island somewhere in the Pacific, and then the whole island was set on fire. Took a year to identify the bodies and they used this database to do it. Very sad."
"I remember that story, yes it made our headlines too."
"Well that's why I can tell you who the donors were. Mind you, they never did find enough of Nathan to identify. The blaze was pretty fierce you know."
Her ears pricked up at that, "what did you just say, about the son ?"
"I said that they never found enough to positively identify".
"So the son might not have been there at all then ?"
"Well no, that's true, but he hasn't been seen since. Now I ask you, if you were sole heir to one of the biggest fortunes in the world, don't you think you might want to show up and claim it by now ?"
"I suppose I would", she agreed.
"The family owned Crown Incorporated, but since their death it has been slowly imploding. Still, that is of no use to you. Guess you will have to just leave that data set out of your tests".
"Yes, for now, and thanks so much for letting me know. I have just been trying to raise funds to come and see you."
"Do that sometime, I'd de delighted to meet you Miss MacKay".
"At least I can save my money for now, so thanks again and bye", said Hannah replacing her receiver.
Hannah completed her PhD the following year and accepted a job with The Roslin Institute in the UK who were researching DNA manipulation and cloning. Three years later ‘Dolly the sheep' became the first mammal in the world to be cloned, the work being done at that institute. Her thesis was published in an obscure scientific journal. A short article that she wrote, based on her thesis, was also published in ‘Scientific American', in the Autumn of 1992. The article summed up her computer modelling work, highlighting the most curious case of Nathan King, as she now knew her problem subject to be.
It is common practice in many large corporations to employ professional researchers whose sole function is media research. These highly skilled people spend their working hours wading through as much printed word, videotapes, radio and TV broadcasts as they can. Quite often a researcher is focused upon one specific area such as a key competitor or some particular technology that may be of corporate interest. Day after day it can become boring and monotonous which is why those who are best at it demand the highest salaries. Gunther Lecke knew this and he made sure that he employed only the best at his Frankfurt HQ. Rather grandly, he had moved out of the city and into an old Schloss that he had discovered in the nearby mountains. It was a very grand castle in which he played the part of the jovial Burgermeister, but many under their breath felt he acted more like the Fuhrer in the Berghof (the Bavarian mountain retreat where Hitler spent so much of his time). It was thanks to his team of dedicated researchers that in December of 1992, a copy of ‘Scientific American' landed on Gunther's desk, with a page number written on the cover and the name ‘Nathan King' highlighted in the text.