Friday, December 14, 2012

FFF: Phenotype

Every Friday Kurt posts a new flash fiction story. This week...

Word Count: 598

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” said the stranger, wheeling in a machine. The lab techs looked at each other to see if anyone knew who he was.

Lt. Rogers followed the stranger into the lab. “Listen up,” she said. “This is Dr. Price. He’s gonna help us with the Uptown Strangler case.”

“I understand you’ve struck out with DNA matching,” said Dr. Price.

“That’s right,” said Charlie, from the back. He’d been handling most of the DNA work on these crime scenes. “Nothing in the database. Can’t match what isn’t there.”

“Well, I think I’m going to be able to help,” said Dr. Price. “This machine will read DNA samples and generate an approximate phenotype based on markers that we’ve established.”

“Phenotype?” asked Charlie.

“The physical traits associated with genes—”

“I know what a phenotype is,” said Charlie.

“Well, I’ve procured a DNA sample,” said Price. “This should help point the investigation in the right direction.”

“Due respect,” said Charlie, “but why are you showing us this?”

“I wanted you all to see the future of police work,” said Rogers. “This is going to replace you, someday.”

“Bullshit,” said Charlie.

“Language, Chuck,” said Lt. Rogers. “Do your thing, doctor.”

Price fed his sample into the machine and watched the readout. “Male, caucasian.”

“That narrows it down,” Charlie said sarcastically.

“Those are the easiest ones,” said Dr. Price. “It’ll get more detailed. Now, it’s worth noting that these aren’t exact matches. The traits are associated with markers, not with genes. So we’ll be talking about percentages. Here’s the next data point: there’s an 87% chance of male pattern baldness.”

“Impressive,” said one of the techs.

“Lord knows there aren’t that many bald white men in the world,” said Charlie, patting his own bare scalp.

“Give it a minute,” said Price. “Another shortcoming of the machine is that it won’t be able to identify age or any distinguishing marks like scars or tattoos. Next data point: probably has astigmatism. That means he probably wears glasses.”

“Again, half the people in this room wear glasses, and the other half wear contacts,” said Charlie.

“Astigmatism is harder to correct with contacts, so most people would wear glasses,” said Price. “Anglo-slavic background. Between 5’8 and 5’11. Probably not a smoker or heavy drinker. Intellectual. Strong acumen in math and science.”

“Heavy drinking is genetic?” asked Charlie.

“The tendency is,” said Price.

“It’s not much to go on,” said Charlie.

“Tell ‘em about the faces,” said Rogers.

“Faces?” asked Charlie.

“We’ve mapped a lot of markers for facial features. The last thing the machine does is a printout of possible faces. It will generate faces over a range of ages and hairstyles.”

“How good is it?” asked Charlie.

“Oh, it’s good,” said Rogers. “It drew us a picture of Captain Hart that could have been his driver’s license photo.”

“Brown hair, thin facial hair. Weak joints,” said Price. “Okay, it’s working on the faces now. Small nose, eyes close together. Square jaw. There’s the chin. Coming together nicely now. Won’t be another minute.”

The techs had huddled around the screen at this point, entranced by the fancy new toy. Finally it printed out a couple of pages.

“Start with this page,” said Price, “assuming the killer is thirty-to-forty.”

Rogers looked at the printout and folded her. “You know, this one with the mustache looks an awful lot like you, Charlie.”

There was no answer.


The back of the room was empty, and the door was ajar. While they’d been gathered around the machine, Charlie had quietly slipped outside and vanished.

Edited by Carolyn Abram.

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