Author’s Note: We all have to start somewhere, and this is where I did. The year is 1993 and this is the first story I ever wrote.
So, I came back into town and headed up to the Department of Social etceteras for credit renewal. Everyone knows the rules are always changing, but this time I get the full medical; heart, eyes, blood, spit in this bowl, piss in that bottle. The man in the white coat came back and said, “Msr. Greensmith?”
“That’s me,” I put up my hand and earned an interview in a windowless room.
“You’ve been out of town a while.” He told me.
I shrugged, “Couple of years.”
“Things have changed.” He seemed bored. “I am required to inform you that the results of the tests show you have an infection of MDR Tuberculosis. Under the powers devolved to me through section eleven of the Health Act, 2007 I am ordering you confined to the secure unit of the hospital until completing a course of medication.”
Oh, great, I thought. Sectioned for sixteen weeks in a crumbly state
ward and ‘take your pills or we’ll help you swallow them’. I spent my first day
on the secure ward sulking about who had coughed in my face in which out of
town dive. Thanks for nothing Msr. Nobody. Then I decided Multiple Drug
Resistant TB wasn’t so bad. Some of the other losers in here were dying from
Yellow Fever or Malaria.
I read a lot, one benefit of compulsory degree level education. Not everyone passes, but you need your degree to get a decent enough job to pay back the fees. It’s just the latest way of loading sixteen tonnes and selling your soul to the company store. Hospitals are still stuffed with useless, helpful literature. This one had pamphlets about how routine gene therapy fixed Cystic Fibrosis, Alzheimer’s, MS and the other inheriteds. We all live longer, stay healthy and damn the employment prospects of the young. There’s just one problem: Yellow fever, Malaria and my friend TB are on a relentless upsurge. Someone thought we had them beat a few decades ago and cancelled the research funding to save some money. Now there are no new drugs and the diseases are getting immune to the old ones. God bless the accountant’s little cotton socks.
People who don’t finish the medicine – call them wanderers (let’s be polite seeing as I’m one), make it worse. Waving an old drug under the bugs noses, then stopping before it kills the beasts, selects the MDR strains.
All this genetic stuff got me thinking about Zube. I had plenty of time. Every patient in the section eleven ward had their own room to prevent cross infection, the same reason the nurses wore barrier suites. On discharge day, my doctor’s note declaring me free of notifiable infections tucked in my back pocket, I started looking for Zube’s place. Some old Chromer told me where. I gave him respect, not knowing what ordnance might be up his prosthetic sleeve.
I would have transferred some credit if I had any, I felt sorry for the
loser. Trashed at how young? Thirty five
I guessed. Now he’s allergen hypersensitive, with joint inflammation, lymph
failure and immune system shutdown.
“Bad timing Msr. Chromer.” I thought. He must have missed the ban on computer enhanced body parts by a year or two and now couldn’t afford downgrade surgery. All that silicon, software and direct nerve implants mess you up and go obsolete in six months.
Who needs Kevlar bones, or spider silk sub-dermal bul-jacks anyway. Macho creep probably deserved it. Profit for someone though.
“Hi Zube.” I said, looking at her eyes.
“Hey, how are you doing? This is great. Come on up.”
I follow her in, watching her walk. She was a pretty woman and once we had this thing, so she must have liked me. The last colour-blind adult I know. Girls can’t be you say? Wrong, just very rare. Her ante-natal therapy missed it. Zube’s mother sued the Health Centre because she was signed on to the ‘Abort on Any Defects’ program, but Zube never got any of it.
Maybe being colour blind made electronics hard, maybe the stigma (not that we jived) made her a gene baby. Zube replicated the classic transgenics at school; luminous tobacco plants, flies with wings where their legs should be, the mouse with the human ear.
“Gross!” the rest of us said, checking out the silicon and the
nanos. I never did upgrade surgery myself – never try non-doctor techniques ok!
I’m still 100% manflesh.
When we were into chrome and silicon Zube had her first splicing kit, studying the data from the Human Genome project until she knew it back to front. She put it all together in her pocket alpha-comp; human, dog, nematode and bacteria, DNA sequences, maps and markers. She’d made the right career decision, the bottom fell out of Chrome technology when the implant side effects hit the media and engineered bacteria proved cheaper and better than nanobots. I gave up on Chrome and went into agriculture. Zube finished her degree, completed her apprenticeship and changed her name the day she became fully qualified: Zube Naismith.
I knew she would do some originals one day, but didn’t realise how good she was until she showed me her fingers. No nails on the tips, just soft pads, then – twitch – and sickle claws slid out from a pouch underneath.
“Lord, Zube, what are they?” I knew she did no chrome.
She hooked her fingers. “Like them boy? Miaow.”
Puma. Turns out she has friends at the zoo. The easy bit was finding the organiser genes for nail growth; just scan and match the Puma genome against known human and dog sequences. The clever bit, the painful bit, is to cut your finger tips off behind the nail and infect the stumps with a retro-virus carrying the new genes. Tip regrowth is S.O.P. provided the end joint is present, using techniques pioneered in old Russia five decades ago. Three months later you join the cat people.
Illegal? Not a chance, unlike mech implants. Its a-legal, not
legislated. Too far, too fast and the law can’t keep up. No rejection problems either because it’s all
you, just different.
“How about it?” she says, scratching my stomach. “Want some?”
Zube’s got plans. Migrating birds detect magnetic fields, snakes have heat sensitive pits under their eyes, bees see polarised sunlight. No reason why we can’t have them too. There’s a deep sea fish that generates photoluminescent light in a wavelength only it can see, a dark searchlight. Then there are cosmetics. How about tattoos from glow worms or chameleon skin. Become a real vampire: Zube will disable your haemoglobin cycle. Forget photosynthetic skin, it needs four hours sunshine a day. Me? I fancy bat sonar. For defence – electric eel muscles.
Zube says it’s war. Bacteria and viruses pick up foreign genes, splice them into themselves and infect new hosts. The ocean shallows are a thin soup of naked DNA. Now we have started to modify organisms, species change and evolution speeds up. The more you fiddle the more you fix. The Government is splicing general fixes into the common cold virus to release into the atmosphere. We are at the bottom of the slope and it’s going to be exponential so hold tight.
It appears I’ve found a place to hang out for a while, and it feels good. Zube seems happy to have me around. I’ll help out, maybe even pick up a few techniques.
And those claws? Well why not. After all it’s a jungle out there.
 By the year 2020 the honorifics Mr, Ms and Mrs have been replaced by Msr, pronounced ‘Emser’. The official pronunciation ‘Merser’ is generally considered incoherent.
 Genetic Engineer. ‘Naismith’ = DNA Smith.