Sheila Jensen’s heart jumps when the gavel is struck, and it feels as
if the solid ground beneath her has suddenly fallen away. She is
thirty-three and stunning in her pale-gray business suit and slick,
blonde ponytail. Sitting amid an impressive rank of lawyers with equally
impressive peers from her elite research unit behind her, she looks
invincible. But the sink of her shoulders, like a slowly deflating
balloon, indicates otherwise. The imposing female judge with a grating
voice that irritates Sheila departs abruptly, and suddenly everyone
around Sheila is getting up. She briskly wipes a tear from her right
eye. Sheila never cries. She is a scientist who is brilliant, practical,
and rational. Crying is not part of her tool kit, and the lone tear that
has snuck by her emotional guard profoundly embarrasses her. One of her
lawyers clumsily grabs her arm in a consoling gesture. Startled, Sheila
winces and pulls away. Touching is another unnatural thing for her, and
right now she feels particularly raw. She looks at the lawyer and tries
to force a thin smile; then she stands up with difficulty.
Sheila can’t wait to get out of this building. Even though she is
tired and struggles to move gracefully with her delicate cane, she
possesses a vital energy. She is swept along in a crowd of winners and
losers still arguing bitterly for both sides of the issue. Her work put
her here right in the center of the fray. She need say nothing. She has
nothing to say. She said it all inside, and clearly the ears of the
court are deaf. Sheila gasps as she squeezes through the angry press of
people and out onto the sunlit platform above the steps of the federal
courthouse. She stumbles at the precipice of the steeply descending
stairs, and someone grabs her arm. It’s Dr. Philip Ohl, her boss, who
is only a few years older than her and is a great administrator as well
as a scientist. He looks handsome in his steel-colored suit—much
better than the lab coat and jeans she is used to seeing him in. Her
heart pounds. Hurt and betrayal well up and almost swallow her whole
being. She is terrified that he will see her cry. She shakes him off,
determined to retain her dignity and sovereignty if she can, and tries
to steady herself on her slender cane.
“That’s her!” someone shouts.
A crowd rushes up the imposing steps toward her, and Sheila teeters back
and falls unwillingly into Philip’s arms. Police wearing imposing riot
gear swarm out of the courthouse behind them. They jostle Sheila and
Philip on their way past and clear a path through the riotous crowd down
the steps of the court.
Sheila notices a man with absurd donkey ears brandishing a banner that
reads, “HUMANIMAL.” A red circle with a slash through it is
superimposed over the word. He pushes against the protective police wall
and screams unintelligible slurs at her. Farther down, a woman made up
to look like a cat waves a sign that says, “NO GENE HUMANipulation.”
The tall, official buildings surrounding the square that Sheila looks
out on create an echo chamber. The noise escalates as more and more
people enter from the five streets converging here and flock toward them
at the main courthouse steps. Sheila’s heart pounds in her chest. No
one has ever seen anything like this, and she is the target of the
Philip whispers in her ear, “Look forward. Don’t listen to them. We
know they’ve got it all wrong.”
Sheila takes a last look out at the whole mad scene and quakes at the
thought of walking down into it. So she breathes in deeply and wills
herself to dispel the feeling of shock; then she steels herself and
steps down the first step.
As they descend, Sheila loses sight of the TV support crews and
high-tech media vans that surround the five-sided plaza. Every national
channel is represented and even several foreign outlets. This is big
news. The myriad of smartly dressed correspondents form a stark contrast
to the unruly and angry crowd. She saw eager TV crews push toward them,
grabbing startling footage and provoking protesters to further outrage.
Soon enough, she will be trying to navigate through them.
“What do you think the verdict should be?” a crisp-looking reporter
on the step nearby asks.
“She’s a witch!” a man yells. “She should be burned like in the
old days.” Sheila flinches, suddenly looking worn out. Philip is still
holding her elbow. She and Philip, surrounded by their entourage of
lawyers and other handlers, are swept farther down the vast, imposing
Blazing ahead of them both, wearing anger on his sleeve, is Dr. Gerald
Spiner, a wiry man in his sixties. He exudes the energy of a
bureaucratic boss and waves his fleet of lawyers onward. He practically
spits at a grasping TV correspondent, shoving him out of the way.
Sheila looks around. “Cynthia? Where is she?”
Philip doesn’t respond but forcefully guides Sheila down, clearing her
path as they go. Somewhere behind them in the midst of the throng still
struggling to get out of the courthouse is Sheila’s younger sister,
Cynthia Clark. Cynthia is a softer, rounder version of her sister. She
moves with a happier bounce and a sparkle in her eye.
“Sheila, wait for me!” Cynthia yells, but her voice is lost in the
A young male reporter slips through the handlers and practically punches
Philip with his mic. “Dr. Ohl, you must have known about the
“Will you fire Ms. Jensen?” another reporter yells from farther
Philip scowls at the second reporter. “That’s Doctor Jensen!”
Loraine Hampshire, PR director of the research facility, pulls Philip
away and whispers in his ear. She’s a smart African-American woman
with a neat, retro Afro. She stands out in her bright suit with its
pencil skirt. She steps efficiently between Philip and the reporter.
“Dr. Ohl has no comment.”
Sheila tries to keep her head high and exude confidence, but the stress
she feels shows in her tight, quivering lips.
They are near the bottom of the stairs, and the police phalanx has
spread thin trying to contain the raucous crowd. The crowd surges again,
and Sheila, flanked by her coworkers and their vast legal team, retreats
back up a couple of steps. Philip steadies her when she wavers on her
cane as a woman in a furry hat spits on Sheila’s lapel.
“Only God creates!”
Before Sheila can turn fully to see her attacker, the woman is gone.
A man in a devil costume steps in and pushes Sheila roughly. “Go to
hell, Dr. Frankenstein!”
He viciously kicks her cane out from under her. Too late, Philip reaches
for her as she trips down the last few steps and lands on her knees in
Sheila looks up a bit stunned. The crowd backs up. Bizarre faces leer at
her and shout, but she can’t hear what they say. The throng shifts and
spooks a flock of pigeons that flap en masse into the air, creating a
murmur of wings.
From Sheila’s humiliating position splayed on the plaza, it seems as
if time has stopped. She spaces out. The racket whirls around her, and
she just wistfully watches the birds. How great it would be to fly away.
A shaft of blinding sunshine bursts through the high buildings lining
the city streets, carving deep, black shadows below. The silhouetted
birds flicker light and dark, one moment sparkling and another invisible
as their wings turn toward and away from the sharp light. Sheila’s
brain clicks into work mode, watching in an imagined construct the
mysterious phenomenon of DNA clicking on and off like a binary computer
code. She’s so close to answers that she can taste the victory of
discovery, but she can’t quite see the actual shape that it takes or
how to get there. But here she is, derailed from her projects, shamed,
trapped, and crippled, unable even to stand up without help.
Suddenly, Cynthia is bending over her. She lifts her sister up. Philip,
who has been distracted by a particularly aggressive and vociferous
protestor, extricates himself and closes in on the other side, taking
“Sheila, I’m so sorry,” he says as he leans in. He feels like
he’s losing her. This might be his last chance to try to mitigate the
damage of this groundbreaking legal ruling that affects them both but is
worse for Sheila. “I had to, or we would both be out. I promise
we’ll get through this.”
“We? We? You blamed me and saved your career,” Sheila says through
clenched teeth. It is getting harder for her to keep her cool. “We did
this together, for good, for all kinds of good. For …” She stands up
and faces him.
“To cure disease. I know,” he says softly.
Tears well in her eyes. “You knew my work was my last hope.”
Cynthia tugs at Sheila’s other arm. “Come on. Let’s get out of
here. It doesn’t feel safe.”
Sheila turns to look at Cynthia and notices another face in the
crowd—an overly made-up TV reporter framed in artificial light
chattering into a camera. Cynthia ushers Sheila past the reporter and
almost forces her into a nearby limousine. She slams the door and then
works her way through the irate, pressing crowd to the other side of the
Inside the limo, Sheila fidgets behind the tinted glass. Her eyes wander
to the TV monitor inside the car, and there she is, that same TV
reporter already meting out her judgment. Everyone’s judgment.
“Dr. Sheila Jensen received judgment today in the most critical trial
of the millennium. The Harold Bowman Research Facility of New Empire
University’s La Salle Medical Center received no more than a slap on
the wrist. However, they must pay fines of up to seventy million dollars
for supporting Dr. Jensen’s illegal genome experiments, and Dr. Jensen
is no longer permitted to run any such experiments involving human DNA
Cynthia opens the back door on the driver’s side and starts to climb
in, but suddenly Philip is there. He gives her an appealing look. She
backs off to give him space, and he jumps in beside Sheila. He taps on
the glass divider to indicate that the driver should get going and then
leans in to take Sheila’s hand. She pulls away
“Don’t. In fact, here.” She rips his engagement ring off her
finger and stuffs it into his jacket breast pocket.
His eyes beg her to listen, but she turns away. They drive off in
Excerpted from "Gabriel Born" by Muriel Stockdale. Copyright © 2016 by Muriel Stockdale. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.