I put the Peace Corp brochures with my other paperwork and promptly forgot about it.
"Dani," Dr. Epstein said, slowly pulling the door open just as I was about to knock. It creaked ominously. "Do come in."
"Dr. Epstein." I jumped back, clutching my chest, and tried to re-swallow my heart. You scared the poo outta me."
"Too bad," he sighed. A mercurial smile played on his lips. "Joo may be called on to give a stool e-sample later."
I snickered, and he held up his hand.
"Chust my leetle choke."
He stepped aside and held the door for me.
"Do come in."
I entered and looked around. I've seen shell middens more organized that his office. It wasn't dirty—just cluttered and packed like a phone booth on campus corner.
There were filing cabinets along both side walls, all stacked with papers and books all the way to the panels of the drop ceiling. Behind his desk, the wall was full of diplomas and certificates. A 'love me wall', as my dad would say. From the look of it, he had more degrees than a basal body thermometer.
Papers and files were literally everywhere—in stacks against the wall, in piles on his desk, even stacked on top of chairs set against the wall behind the door. He might have an actual ton of paper here.
The place smelled like smoke.
He walked behind his desk and filled his pipe. The corner that held his ashtray and desk lighter was the only clear vertical surface in the room, save a walkway in the high-traffic areas of the floor.
"Have a seat," he said, gesturing with his elbow as he lit his pipe and puffed deeply. He closed his eyes as he drew in the smoke, and I wondered if he always did that.
"Where," I asked without turning around.
"Behind joo," he said and sat in his own chair.
I turned around and saw that the forth chair in the row wasn't stacked six feet with paperwork; it was merely covered in lab coats and sweaters.
"Just dump those," he said in Spanish. I did and sat down.
"Do you mind if we speak Spanish? Yours is pretty good, and it will be easier for me."
"Yes, you mind, or yes, you don't mind?"
"I don't mind."
"Excellent." He put his pipe down and picked up what I presume was my chart. It was thicker than it had been before, and stained yellow with nicotine fingerprints.
"Do you have any questions before we begin?"
"Lots," I admitted, "but I don't know where to start."
"Fair enough. You understand about the Rarin babies?"
"Yes, I think so." I thought about it and decided better. "No, not really. I mean, I get that you think I might be one, but I don't know anything about it. I'd never heard of Rarin until today."
"Well, the case is pretty strong that you are. Both of your parents had the drug when they were in puberty, and in your mother's case, while she was pregnant with you.
"We're still unsure if that is necessary, but in a surprising number of the known cases it is true."
"How many rarebits are there?"
"We know of thirty-two...worldwide. You would make thirty-three, and there are five other cases which may be also. There are other causes of deformed or missing sex organs, so we have to review each case very carefully. We have been able to rule out all other causes in your case, except random mutation or a mutagen we've not discovered."
"Mutagen?" It sounded like a scary word.
"Yes," he explained. "A chemical that causes systematic birth defects."
"Ah. Like Rarin?"
"Rarin may be one...but again, we can't be certain. There is at least a 96% correlation between known cases of this condition and administration of the drug in both parents while they were in their early- or mid-teens."
I tried to take it all in. I was a defective was what I was hearing.
"So are there any other problems? I mean, obviously I can't have kids, but I don't think I want them anyway. I've always thought of myself as a spinster."
"That's too bad. No real side effects that we've seen."
"Okay. Tell me straight Doc, am I going to die?"
"Everyone's going to die, dear one, but no, you will not die from this, at least we don't think so. Again, it's hard to say without more data."
"What about disease? Am I going to get sick when I'm older? How long will I live?"
"Unfortunately, we don't know about that. The oldest Rarin Baby we know of is twenty-four, so we don't have mortality statistics. You don't have a life expectancy yet, except to say that you're a Caucasian, in good health and born in the USA in 1960; which could mean 73.1 years for females, or 69.7 on the average.
"You may take either of those figures, but I prescribe a grain of salt whichever you choose; life expectancy is a very rough number."
"So how does it work?"
"The mechamism? We don't know. But it seems to be simple inheritance. We may have answers tomorrow, or it could be ten years, or twenty."
"And I could live seventy-odd years, or I could keel over tomorrow?"
"In a nutshell, yes. But tomorrow is more unlikely than seventy-three years, I think."
He put the folder down next to a battered paperback and re-loaded his pipe.
"That is all we know, between those four covers."
He lit up and puffed smoke out of his nose like a charging bull in a cartoon. He'd closed his eyes again.
"Have you read the Rarin report?"
"No, what's that?"
"A study, started after the Moreno-Gonzales wedding scandal. She was a Rarin Baby, you know."
"No, I didn't." I'd heard, about five or six years ago, about the couple that went to their wedding bed and found that wife had no lady parts. It was big hype but not much news. The story died after three months.
"Yes. They're still married, you know? It is amazing, the human capacity to find a solution to life's little problems."
He offered me the dog-eared book, and I took it. Like nearly every other surface in the room, the cover was stained with smudgy yellow fingerprints.
"Thanks," I said with a solemn air I didn't really feel, "I will read it tonight and give it back in the morning."
"No need. You may have it; I have read it to death."
"Thank you," I said quietly, wondering if we were done.
He looked at his watch and set his pipe carefully in the ashtray. There was a rack behind it, filled with other pipes. Most were wood, but three of them were of different materials. I looked at the glass one. It was mostly clear, shaped like a sausage, with a hole in each end and a bowl sinking into the side. There were red and blue spirals around the outside, their color distorted by the light of his dying cherry, smoldering in the ashtray.
"Do you know," his pleasant baritone played on my ears, "why they call them Rarebits?"
"Because the drug is called Rarin?"
"You would think that, yes, but it's not the only reason. They tested it first on rats, and they didn't have any problems..."
He reached for the pipe again and started cleaning it, but he kept on talking.
"...then they tried rabbits; the bunny type. For almost five years, they tested rabbits. At first, nothing was wrong, or so it seemed."
I'd never heard any of this, but I wanted to hear more. He continued loading his pipe and lit a taper from his desk lighter.
"But, alas, there was something wrong. After the first generation, about one percent of the females were sterile, and the ratio of males to females was not very stable."
He sucked on his pipe and applied the taper. The glow of the ember lit him up and he closed his eyes. He looked at perfect peace at that moment.
He exhaled and slowly opened his eyes. I think his eyelashes fluttered.
"However, by this time, they were testing on humans, and there were no problems there. Rarin was pending approval by the FDA and Martin Pharmaceuticals was certainly not going to rock the boat. They ignored the warning signs, and released the drug in 1952."
He lit the pipe again, and again he died a little death when he inhaled and came back to life when he exhaled. It was like a ritual.
"One of life's few pleasures," he said. "But the story gets better...or worse. By 1955 there were at least a few Rarin Babies; we're not sure exactly how many. Rarin was used all over the world, especially the third world.
"Sales have dropped dramatically since the Rarebit Wedding Scandal."
He said it like it was a proper noun.
"But they have sold over forty-five-million lots of the drug. We don't know how many people have taken it, but estimates say ten to twenty million. Of those, five out of every seventy or so, that being the ratio of the number of years in puberty to the average lifespan, may have been affected by the drug.
"That's one in fourteen! Seven percent of ten to twenty million is seventy to a hundred and forty thousand. That's how many people may be carriers of Rarin Baby Syndrome, I suppose we could call it.
"But the numbers don't seem to be that high. The Rarin Report gives an estimate of three to five thousand carrier females and two to four thousand male carriers; note the difference in the numbers."
He tried his pipe a third time, but it wouldn't light. He shrugged and set it aside.
"Earlier estimates, from 1971, were much higher, and based on the rabbit test statistics had even higher male to female ratios—ten to twelve thousand female and three to five thousand males."
He looked at his watch.
"But it is time for you to go. Here are your files, I'm sure you'd like a copy. The Peace Corps will want to look at them."
"How did you know about that?"
"You seem like a likely candidate." He lifted himself up on the arm of his swivel chair and stood. "It is a good book, and informative. Read it. Dani, I see a hard life ahead of anyone in your position, and I want to point out that knowledge is your best weapon with which to fight prejudice.