15 August 2010
16 Nov 2009. In my road atlas, Montana, our fourth largest state, takes up two pages. But so does Connecticut, our third smallest. So while the page of Bozeman to the border may take most of a day, blazing through the Connecticut centerfold barely takes two hours. Two hours, ideally. If only the state weren't chock full of universities, including the alma mater of George Bush I, Jodie Foster, George Bush II, and Joe College.
"What do you think it was like to lick a dinosaur?"
Otter again resists turning his head. "...What?"
"I think it would be like licking a damp radial tire."
"Let's get back on track here, please."
"It is not so off track if you think about it. Examining our handsome bulldog's throat, mouth, and tongue, I can't even begin to imagine the people and things he has licked through his years. And they are all gone! He may have even licked the dodo! So that got me thinking about other extinct animals."
"If we succeed here, he will be able to lick all the dodos he wants."
"That is if somebody, somewhere, has a dodo reasonably intact."
A steady rain fell outside, though Otter and Dr. Li wouldn't know. They were holed up in the sanitized fluorescent basement of West Campus Hall, wiring up a recently-thawed bulldog. Yale's Life Science department had this particular animal on indefinite loan from the Smithsonian Institution. It was rumored to be the 'Vocal Specimen' that dusty old fables had described as capable of primitive speech. The Smithsonian had no more room for a dead dog when Jerry Seinfeld donated various artifacts from his '90s sitcom. It proved to be a coup for the foot-traffic-starved tourist attraction.
Otter had choked, "They can't decide whether to be Ripley's or Access Hollywood. Idiotic museum is no longer an oxymoron; it's the sad reality."
Back in New Haven, Dr. Li studied an MRI scan of the canine's skull.
"It really does have a highly-developed Broca, responsible for..." Li trailed off. His gut suddenly tightened. He felt nauseous. A sudden emotional urge flew up from his stomach, up his torso, and out his mouth. He had to introduce the gorilla in the room.
"Otter, this is playing God. I cannot attempt this. I am sorry."
Otter put down the mini-electrodes and stood straight. "You say that like it is completely horrible. Your friend Professor Lee - the other Professor Lee - didn't have a problem with it. We're just playing God. We're not actually being God. I agree no human could handle that. If there is a God, he gave us these gifts, this opportunity, this mummified bulldog. We are this close! It might not even work."
"But if it does work..."
"If it does work? Longevity treatments, medical breakthroughs, threatened species no longer threatened, not to mention massive academic endowments and the most luxurious tenure ever. Let's make this specimen vocal again."
"But - "
Otter dropped the lighthearted tone. "No more buts."
He made a quick injection into the dog's sternum, re-aligned the electrodes on its chest, and tapped out a few commands on the nearby workstation's inlaid keyboard. The generator beneath the stainless steel dissection table hummed to life. Four small lights on the generator lit up in succession.
Red. Red. Red. Green.
The hum crescendoed into a harsh buzz. The generator emitted a frightening pop. Otter and Li jumped back. The dog had been shocked onto its side. Its cute squat legs dangled over the edge. They began to twitch.
Li whispered, "The specimen is moving!"
Otter whispered back, "I see. Watch."
Li and Otter were facing the dog's golden hindquarters. They could not witness the blinking eyelids or the emerging tongue.
But they heard the cough.
The revived dog coughed weakly at first, then with more vigor. The last cough definitely had an unsettling human quality to it. Otter and Li exchanged looks, each with the same question on their faces. They clearly had spent too much time discussing the urban legends of the Vocal Specimen. The stories had finally got to them.
Dogs cannot speak.
Dogs cannot speak English.
And most certainly, dogs cannot speak English with a New Jersey accent.
Yet here was Jethro.
"PLAAAAGKH! I'm gettin' reeeal sick of the taste of formaldehyde."