I’m well along on my sequel to April. I have not named it yet and no, May will not do. It has some necessary lead in material that any sequel needs to catch the reader up to date. It may be a spoiler if you have not read “April” so be warned if you don’t want to see spoilers.
The first chapter is a set up for further action in the book and not very interesting standing alone. That’s why I went on to the second chapter. As always any insights and comments are very welcome as long as they are slavishly positive fan boy raves.
April carefully appraised the gentleman across from her. He looked older to her in the way she was coming to associate with Earthies. However she knew from her research yesterday he was only forty-two. On Home now the norm was to have life extension therapy or LET and start it as early as possible. That meant as soon as a person was firmly into adolescence for most doctors.
When it was new many people delayed for years because of the expense and fear of leading edge treatments, waiting to see how others fared before they committed themselves. But now it was cheap enough if you could afford to live above the atmosphere you should be able to buy life extension, and a whole generation of pioneers had grown from adolescence to adulthood carrying the basic elements of LET. There wasn’t enough data yet to show getting an early start had any great advantage, but that was the common assumption. There was enough data to show all the dire warnings about sudden gross mutation and raving madness were nonsense, mostly.
April’s parents first bought it for themselves. Obviously they needed it more, and still managed to afford it for her and her brother later. Only her grandfather was still visibly lacking the treatment and April was afraid to ask him why. She knew he had the money to buy it.
Below on Earth it was still priced beyond most of the middle class unless they devoted their whole means of living toward it. It was controversial and even outlawed some places. Oh, in absolute numbers there were a whole lot more North Americans with life extension treatments done on them than the whole population of Home, but they were a tiny fraction of the population down below, wealthy, and already keeping out of the public eye. The smart ones kept their status secret for their own safety, some politicians and media stars adding gray to their hair now instead of color.
Once looking older might have built confidence in a person because their face to the world declared this was a person with some experience in life. Now, on Home it was more likely to say – Here is someone that is poor and can’t afford to take care of himself or worst here is a religious nut who feels life extension is profane, a presumption to medically turn aside the stroke of heaven. Such a religious stand on LET was not exclusive to such groups as the Amish, but common to many who otherwise embraced a modern society.
Her breakfast companion was bald on top with a wreath of short gray hair reaching in a band around the back of his head from temple to temple. That was unusual because there were cheap treatments to fix that problem which didn’t involve LET at all. But it was a sure sign he had not started any life extension therapies or that little matter would have been cleared up and other small changes would have had him looking closer to thirty. She’d seen that happen with her father when he lost his little crow’s feet around his eyes and his skin smoothed out. Otherwise he seemed fit enough for someone who was in his forties, but not vain. He didn’t have on any makeup or tattoos either, and a simple bracelet was his only jewelry.
April had seen him a number of times in recent months having breakfast alone in the cafeteria. She made a habit of observing people here, and his behavior was consistently different than others. For one thing he always looked happy. Not the mindless happiness which some simple folk have or the false mask some devious people put on to beguile the unwary. He seemed to be genuinely satisfied with life every morning, poised and relaxed not rushing through his breakfast and jumping up to hurry off like some driven working people but savoring his food, reading the news off his pad or doing the same thing April did, watching the crowd and enjoying seeing the variety of people interacting. She was predisposed to like him before ever speaking with the man.
She’d been behind him in line before and heard him charming and chatting with her friend and favorite cook Ruby. He’d complimented her skill and gently flirted with her without being vulgar. She trusted Ruby as a judge of character and knew if Ruby had doubted the man’s sincerity she would have cut his banter right off.
Yesterday, the last time she saw him in line however something remarkable had happened which had taken all the casual out of her interest in him and sent her home to research his history as a priority over her planned business for the day.
It was a remarkable coincidence that she sat down and glanced up in time the witness the scene. The time window was literally seconds. There was a couple at the front and a secretary she knew worked in one of the offices here on the full gravity corridor next in line and the doctor at the end behind her. The woman had on Earth style business dress with those silly hard sole shoes they wear.
As they moved up someone had spilled something on the floor and as the woman stepped forward on it her heel slid forward, knee locked straight, going out from under her uncontrollably and she struggled to regain her balance long after the point recovery was hopeless. She jerked her tray back and up as she fell, and her silverware and full mug of coffee went sailing over her shoulder straight for the doctor.
April just happened to look up at that instant to see clearly what happened. His left hand shot out like a snake striking and gathered the tumbling utensils into his hand. Then, after they were snug in his palm he snagged the mug with an index finger through the handle. The coffee was a long brown splash still climbing in the air when he stepped out from under it like it was falling at lunar gravity instead of standard and reached out with his free right hand and cradled the falling woman’s head to soften her fall. He succeeded enough to keep her from sharply cracking the back of her head on the hard floor. Likely he saved her from serious injury.
April had been working out with Jon’s exercise group every Wednesday doing Tai Chi both unarmed and sword, and watched people of other disciplines working out. She knew the normal limits of reflex and training. She was certain the doctor had moved with greater speed than any normal human was capable of doing. He had not just swatted the items away but gathered them in a controlled manner that spoke of being so fast he had time to carefully observe the action and grasp all four objects with thought as to what he was doing. It had looked more like rehearsed stage magic than a spontaneous save. She replayed and replayed what she had seen in her mind again and still had a sense of awe.
Yesterday she found Dr. Ames had moved here soon after the hostilities ended with North America last year. He had gone on vacation to Hawaii and then just never returned to his tenured, secure position at the University of California Riverside. Instead he had lifted with a very small shipment of his most important belongings on a supply shuttle from Tonga. It was as slick a carefully planned defection as she had ever heard of anyone doing successfully from North America, and it was done with no public fuss.
She had no doubt if he could slip away that smoothly he probably got all his money out too. Financial restrictions were the biggest handle the USNA had on defectors. In fact the terms of surrender Home had imposed on North America last year addressed freedom to travel to Home but made no provision to force them to allow the transfer of assets for emigrants. It was up to people to be smart enough to do so themselves. That was a sort of unofficial intelligence test that kept the flood gates from opening for just anyone who wanted to emigrate.
She also was able to document online that the man was associated with the U of C Davis Veterinary program. That would have been regarded with suspicion down below. The inclusion of animal genome in humans was perhaps the touchiest legal aspect of genetic engineering in North America. If you tested for non-human code in your genome it was enough in North America to have your citizenship revoked and either be deported if you were naturalized or imprisoned if you were native born. So to even have a human geneticist associated with a veterinary school in North America was to invite an uncomfortable level of scrutiny from the government and religious groups. The slightest rumor or accusation invited the modern equivalent of a mob of villagers with torches and pitchforks storming the castle.
The name of the Agency regulating gene mods in North America said it all. The religious forces which had demanded its creation named it The Genetic Hygiene and Heritage Board. So you knew from the start promoting change was not what it was all about. Most USNA students insisting on a Genetics career track were in foreign schools by the time they were in graduate work and never returned to America to seek employment.
Italy was the country of choice for careers or treatment involving human gene mods, because China was still a strange and difficult place for a foreigner to live and work. China’s anything goes attitude was hard for even the most liberal genetic modification proponents to swallow. China didn’t even have an authority which considered the ethics of genetic manipulation so the only limit was each researcher’s conscience. At least Italy, having gone through one cycle of banning and then a moderate relaxation, had some concept of ethics. You might easily get your eye color altered in Italy but in China they wouldn’t balk if you wanted webbed fingers and toes.
Dr. Ames was named Gerald, and she had no idea what he went by or if he liked to be formal or casual. But the fact he had accepted her invitation to breakfast without insisting on knowing what she wanted to talk about or how she was acquainted with him was a good start. He was not an M.D. She thought – hoped – the company he had formed was aimed at offering genetic modifications if the title was any indication. After a year of independence the making of new law and custom was still proceeding with slow caution on Home. There was no legal basis for incorporation yet in Home law. There might not ever be as some were arguing for personal responsibility being more important than promoting a uniform environment to attract business to the habitat. Certainly there was no shortage of business coming to Home on their terms so far. So his business had to be a DBA unless he had some silent partners.
The name on his corridor door, and his business cards, one of which she had acquired, was Custom Tailored Genes. The name alone would get his office burned out in California. If he had sold genetic services here yet he was still keeping a low profile because nobody had bragged or complained about him yet on the business rating boards. That raised the interesting question of how he was supporting himself if he hadn’t sold any of his services. Home was an expensive place to live.
Dr. Ames had carefully inspected his silverware by eye and passed a small pad over the utensils and breakfast. She assumed he had a pad plug in which looked for pathogens, but he wasn’t as fussy as some Earthies who wore gloves or even masks in public. Of course some of the recent epidemics gave them cause to be cautious. Her own mom could be a bit of a clean freak when they went Earthside.
He had a substantial breakfast of waffles carefully brushed with butter and piled with fresh strawberries and blueberries and covered to excess with whipped cream, and an eggs and bacon plate to the side with orange juice, but paid attention to the waffles first. He wasn’t in any hurry to talk either, patiently waiting on April after a brief greeting.
“I do the same thing,” April told him nodding at the waffles. “If you don’t eat them fairly quickly they get all soggy and aren’t very good.”
“Yes the butter slows it down but you really have just a few minutes before they are all limp. When I came up here I wondered what the food would be like because I do enjoy eating so much. I was really getting tired of the pressure at the University to put on a public display of limiting consumption. Skipping a decent meal doesn’t really mean anything if there is no mechanism in place to let a starving person buy the food I just skipped. I knew having all the equipment and space to cook myself would probably not be practical. I have to say, I am very pleased with the service available on the standard monthly contract. Do you have a private kitchen available to use Miss Lewis?”
“Yes, not what an Earthie would consider a real kitchen but we have a two burner stove top and a small combination oven, as well as a coffee maker.”
“Then your family must have been fairly well to do to have room for that even before you gained notoriety last year for your part in the revolution.”
April blushed because she was already uncommonly conscious of the fact her family had a much bigger apartment than usual even before the war and the hostilities over the Rock had improved the family fortunes. Since then she had become much more publicly visible as a crew member of the Happy Lewis. Now there was no way to conceal her interest in Lewis Couriers and Singh Technologies. Her family’s partnership in the captured asteroid trailing Home in orbit, the Rock, hidden behind a corporate name before, was too well known now. It had been easy to turn such comments aside before by saying everybody on Mitsubishi 3 was relatively wealthy because it is so expensive to live here you have to be well off. But now her finances were so public it was impossible to shrug them off.
“My grandfather was among the riggers and beam dogs who constructed the station and he came from a family of working people who were all shrewd investors and savers. He put all his money in buying cubic here when it was speculative and undervalued. If he hadn’t acted boldly the family wouldn’t have had the financial base to buy into the Rock. We still own cubic outspin on the North end and we were one of only two families that didn’t throw their zero G cubic away cheap when the South hub cubic opened to the public for dockage. Everyone said, ‘Who is going to dock up North where there are no facilities?’ They didn’t see the industrial value.”
“And unlike some Earth families I’ve observed where the family fortune creates conservative caution in the second or third generation yours seems bold still, Miss Lewis.”
“Thank you, I hope so,” she agreed. “I haven’t seen the world carefully taking care of the shy and tentative I’m sorry to say. But if it doesn’t offend I wish you’d call me April. I’ve never felt like a Miss Lewis.”
“Well, I appreciate the offer. It sets my mind at ease.” He heaved a big sigh of relief from a tension she wasn’t aware was there. “It would please me to call you April, and honored if you would call me Jerry. Although if you eventually count me a friend you’ll find most call me Jelly.”
“How did you get such a name? You seem nicely trim and not Jelly-like at all.”
“Perhaps now, but when I was in school they didn’t have the meds they have now and I constantly struggled to keep an acceptable weight. I’m one of those unfortunate people who when they carry extra weight wear it as a soft disgusting spare tire right around the middle were it squishes over the belt. Not one of those flat sided solid fellows who look like a fireplug,” he illustrated with his hands, “On top of which I had a reputation for always having a pocket full of jelly beans and when I met friends I’d offer them a few so the name was an easy choice.”
“And why,” she asked genuinely puzzled, “would it be such a relief to be on a first name basis with me? A lot of people are very uncomfortable with such informality. I met a very nice Frenchman, a Msr. Broutin last year and he would agree to call me April, but he was more comfortable to be addressed formally himself. Using his given name made him feel as funny as Miss Lewis did me. But usually older people like formality and the younger ones don’t.”
“I was relieved because I was concerned perhaps you or your family disapproved of my business and this meeting was to tell me so. When I saw you were gene mod yourself I thought surely that couldn’t be, but then when you asked to be on a first name basis I know you wouldn’t extend that courtesy to someone you’re going to ask to leave.”
“Leave? Jerry, I have no authority at all to ask anyone to leave anything. Not even this table, certainly not Home if that’s what you meant. Banishment is the worst possible criminal punishment the people voted for so far. It’s reserved for those who we don’t want to live with anymore.”
He took the chance while she was talking to polish off the waffles and placed the platter of eggs and bacon on top of the empty dish.
“Well you may have no official authority,” he agreed, dusting the eggs heavily with black pepper. “But I’ve been generally informed that what the Lewis or Singh families want to happen generally does. When I came up here a few months ago everybody from the agent who rented me my cubic to the fellow who fibered up my data net said what a great place the habitat was, how the future was here and a man could do anything he could dream, and don’t piss the Lewis or the Singh clans off or they will flush you out the airlock in your boxer shorts and teach you to whistle without air,” he said, and went calmly back to his breakfast.
“Why would anyone think such a thing?” she argued indignantly. “I can’t think of one person these people have ever actually seen me harm. I mean, we did run down those troopers that invaded us from the Cincinnati, but they were invaders after all. Margaret had already blown half of them to hell and gone at the dock. She blew their shuttle folded over double. Now there’s a lady with whom to be very polite,” she advised him. “I helped Easy fry one outside the Holiday Inn, but Neil was the one who nailed the rest of them in the lobby with a homemade Claymore when we chased them in there. Jon’s crew and the Prentice family wiped out so many of them in the corridors I don’t even know if I ever did get a decent hit on anyone out there blasting away in the smoke and confusion. North corridor was just horrible – bullet holes and fires half way across the station and a trail of dead Earthies in breached armor. And it’s true Easy and I toasted the Pretty As Jade when we ambushed those two ships but I was sitting laser weapons board and had hardly even got a start on burning the James Kelly, just took their laser mast out, when Eddie put a missile in them and made ‘em confetti – made my contribution kinda moot.”
She stopped suddenly, stricken, realizing how counterproductive her testimony was, and sank her face in her hands in understanding for the first time. “Oh crap, I never stopped and really thought out what it all looked like before,” she admitted.
“Indeed, by the most amazing coincidence there does seem to be a history of expensive damage, death and destruction strewn closely behind when you get rolling. If it isn’t by your own hand you can’t blame people if they think you must at least be an inspiration to this crew who seem to run with you. I might point out, when your people got through with North America the best they could come up with for the Presidential succession was the Postmaster General. Most of us assumed the rest of them hadn’t gone into hiding to avoid taking the office. That took what? About a week? Speaking as one who has just recently come up, and I still maintain contacts below, they are still trying to hide from the public just how badly you pounded them. In military circles I believe the term is decapitation.”
“Yeah, well, I heard they stopped trying to dig into the bunker at Cheyenne Mountain and the Deepwell bunker they’re calling the Charleston bunker now on the news. The mountains are so broken up inside they shift and are too dangerous to open up. They’d have to work down from the top like a strip mine, and what’s the point anyway? Nobody is alive in there.”
“Hey,” she said, thinking back on what he said. “Who says I’m gene mode anyway?” She managed to sound a little indignant for the privacy issue, but her heart really wasn’t in it.
Jerry just lifted his chin and looked down his nose at her basic four thousand calorie breakfast with an expression that invited her to deny it.
“Well, yeah,” she admitted, defeated, and changed the subject quickly. “So, I have a couple questions for you but I really don’t mean to coerce you to answer them because I’m a Lewis. Just for me, not anything to do with Home or the militia. If you want to tell me it’s none of my business and to butt out it’s fine,” she assured him.
He took a sip of coffee and nodded his agreement for her to continue on those terms.
“You’re in the gene business but I notice you don’t try to pretty yourself up so the customers are impressed with how you look. I mean, for most people it’s a huge part of it. Maybe the most important part for some. They may want to live longer but if you gave them the choice between living longer and looking good I bet not a few would take the looks. So I’m wondering why? I saw you catch the lady’s stuff off her tray yesterday morning and I know you have to have some alterations to be so fast. It has to be a real advantage to be that quick. Is that something you’d sell?”
“Well, yes. I intend to offer a number of mods eventually but I’m rather cautious, waiting to see how the political landscape settles out here before I make myself too conspicuous. Eventually I’d like to attract business from off station, but if there is a sudden movement to restrict such things I’ll be in a very bad situation. I’ve cut myself off from North America and I’m not sure where else I’d be welcome. I’ll do some gene business eventually, but I’m not so broke I will worry about buying lunch for some time. I have some other small sources of income. You however make two who’ve noticed this mod,” he said with a grimace that briefly replaced his happy face.
“After I made the mistake of moving too quickly I went back up to get my bowl of oatmeal from your friend Ruby. She didn’t say anything to me, but when she turned around she held it and the little pitcher of cream on a saucer well up off of the counter and just let go of both of both and turned away. I have to say she is very fast herself for an unmodified person. She was turned fully, back to me before they had fallen very far. By the time I caught it without spilling anything she wasn’t even watching. I thought at first she was testing me, but on thinking it over she would have watched if it was a test. She was just telling me that she had noticed. I think that’s just how her sense of humor works.”
“Not much gets past Ruby. Her husband was our primary command pilot on the Happy when we rescued the Singhs. Among other things she is a Doctor and professor of Medieval European Music and has military experience.”
“She makes a wonderful Western omelet too,” he added.
“Sometime have her make you an asparagus and mushroom omelet with Monterey Jack
cheese,” she suggested.
Abruptly her expression altered and she changed the subject as a thought hit her. “I bet you would be one tough sucker to shoot wouldn’t you?” she asked, looking at him real hard. “You’d see the person reach their aim point and start to squeeze the trigger and – zip – you’d not be there to be drilled. It would actually be harder to shoot you up close. Better to stand off down a corridor and hose the whole hall down with a continuous beam.” She illustrated with a sweeping index finger.
He looked down at the finger of death sweeping over his breakfast with considerable apprehension. “April, believe me I understand and appreciate the survival traits you have. The same as you can appreciate a leopard in a nature video. But it’s harder to look up in a tree and admire one hanging off a branch looking down on you like it’s reading the luncheon menu. You are a lovely young woman and so dangerous you don’t look at someone and say ‘Can I take him?’ You progress directly to ‘How?’ But when you think about it you unconsciously shift your weight to the left and cup your hand, poised like you are thinking through the motions to draw and burn the life out of me. I really think you need to learn not to telegraph these things so I can enjoy my breakfast and not be sitting here considering ‘Could I possibly reach the door if I jump up to run, and zig – zag fast enough?’ it does not aid one’s digestion.”
“I’d think it would be more effective as fast as you are to close on me instead of run.”
“You flatter me,” he assured her, looked pointedly at the pebble textured handle sticking forward from her wide belt. “Whatever the handle is connected to I don’t want a close up experience with it.”
“The aikuchi? It’s a present from Genji Akira,” April said, touching the hilt lightly. “He sent it as a gift after he won the Publishers and Editors award with a piece which used some material about me. I suppose he was apologizing in a roundabout way that he didn’t ask permission to use his stringer’s pix of me. He indicated this was a proper mate to a couple pieces my grandfather gave me. He thought it a bit easier to carry than a tanto.”
“The Japanese writer? I didn’t even know he’d won something. Would you care for some more coffee?” he offered, getting up with his own empty cup.
When he returned he commented on the coffee, “Smells good.” He took the small pad he favored and passed it over the cups as he had done when he sat down. You couldn’t see the laser.
“You are checking for bacteria?” April inquired.
“Actually this one checks now for bacteria, viruses, drugs, poisons and pollutants.”
“Nice. I didn’t know they had gotten so much coverage in a pad plug-in. The coffee here is OK, but my friend Heather’s mom Sylvia Anderson has me to dinner now and then and she has me appreciating a much better sort of coffee. She serves a very mild roast which isn’t as bitter, and it’s the sort we buy now for our shipboard use. She’s one of the few people here who really get serious about cooking. I’ll introduce you if we get a chance. Now they have a real kitchen.”
“April. You mentioned a Msr. Broutin. You don’t seem the sort to drop names, but I have to ask, are you speaking of the Foreign Minister of France?”
“I don’t think so. I thought he was some sort of art broker. I meet him at the lady’s house I was speaking about, Sylvia, just before the war. From what he said over breakfast he was there to speak with my friend on behalf of the Treasurer of Lebanon. Nice middle aged fellow – spoke English with almost no accent, just sort of softly inflected. A handsome fellow with a bit of a pointy nose and a little patch of gray at each temple, and dressed like a million Euro. He had on one of those expensive handmade suits which hang just perfect around the collar,” she demonstrated stroking both hand like she was smoothing lapels down, “even when he sat, and the cuffs actually unbuttoned to fold back to wash. He had cuff links on I asked about and he made a present of them to me. I wear them all the time now. I should really get some more.”
“For the Treasurer of Lebanon? He seemed perplexed, tapping his pad. “Is this him?” he turned the little pad around and she had to look close to see the small screen.
“Well! I’ll be,” she was genuinely surprised, “it is him. He never mentioned he did any government work. But then why would he?” she shrugged. “He wasn’t here for them; he was doing his friend a favor.”
Jerry refrained from explaining how much some people delight in flaunting their position and power at every turn. He suspected she would be disdainful of such pettiness.
Jerry stopped talking for a bit to do a search and kept pecking at the pad while stuffing his face. After a bit he admitted, “Ah – my mistake really. He was appointed after he was up here, but quite soon after the whole mess last year, when the previous Minister was sacked.” His eyes narrowed slightly, and he looked at her. “You wouldn’t have had anything to do with that though would you?” he asked suspiciously.
“No not, uh, explicitly,” she denied automatically, and could see Jerry purse his lips at the qualifier. She wondered now if Broutin had turned the knowledge his visit gave him to some advantage. “He was nice. He warned me the North Americans would blockade us.” She wanted desperately to get away from discussing politics, and grasped for anything.
“The French have this cute custom of kissing,” she started to relate with a smile, remembering how he took her hand and brushed her knuckles with his lips, but when she looked at the expression on his face, she cut it off and said, “No, never mind. I can tell you think I’m making things up.”
“On the contrary I don’t think I’ve heard the half of it. How many other famous people do you know?” he asked directly.
“The most famous person I will ever know is Jeff Singh,” she said without hesitation.
He carefully considered how she phrased that and marked it as important to remember.
“A lot people have been trying to figure out if it is Heather Anderson, or if you are Jeff’s girl friend. Care to let me in on it so I have the straight stuff instead of rumor and gossip?”
“People shouldn’t worry about such things. I’m surprised they’re even interested. We’re all three business associates. Jeff and Heather worked together before me. But I know for a fact they both take anti-bonding medication so they don’t get distracted with romantic complications. But we’re all three bound together in a lot deeper way anyway.”
Our lives, our treasure, our honor, in friendship and loyalty, April thought silently with an inner surge of pride, remembering a toast, a solemn oath and an earnest hope for a nation that had come wonderfully true, but said nothing aloud. That story was way too private to share with anyone, even her grandpa. “If you look at the question, well, why shouldn’t we both be his friend?”
He wanted to say people don’t do that, but they do he knew, if not easily or often, and he’d feel stupid to say otherwise. Still, he thought it would be a rarity if they were close without conflict or deception. Anti-bonding meds or no he had seen even chaste same sex friendships destroyed over refusing to share a friend. The very expression best-friend was singular. Not best friends. Maybe a mate and a best friend? But he had also seen people drive away a spouse’s friends from before their marriage… He realized he had stopped chewing and frozen up all conflicted unable to answer her.
He suddenly wondered if that was why he hadn’t married, because he assumed it would limit whom he could have as friends. How could such a young girl make him ask such disturbing questions about himself? April saved him from answering that he had no idea by going on.
“So, how about your modification to reflexes, is it something I could buy?
“You know I’m not a Medical Doctor don’t you?” he asked carefully. “It’s one of the big reasons I’m here, because I can pursue what I’m interested in without being hampered by studies and regulations which would slow me down. Back on Earth I’d be old and dead before I could accomplish anything. So everything I do will be experimental and there will be risks which are unacceptable to North American law and regulation.”
“We’re results oriented here. You can’t be licensed because we don’t have such a thing yet. Don’t know if we ever will. You must feel this mod is safe or you wouldn’t be carrying it in your own body.”
“More than you can know,” he said, surprised at her perception. “The reason I don’t have many modifications is two-fold. One,” he said lifting a thumb in the European manner, “it was safer in North America to be visibly lacking in any life extension when my work was already suspect, and two,” he said lifting the index finger, “I plan to live a long time so I don’t want any modification done I am not sure I can undo later if something better came along. I’m in good shape and there’s no reason I can’t wait and let the technology mature another twenty years or so before I commit to any significant therapy. Since I’m not living down there I can be a little more liberal with minor treatments which show. When I knew I was defecting it was easy to convince myself to do this treatment because I reasoned it could help me if I were on the run. I’d be harder to capture, and much harder to shoot as you pointed out.”
“I researched you a bit. You were involved with veterinary. Does your treatment use animal genes? I don’t know how I’d feel about that, but I know a lot of people are squeamish about using them.”
“The reason behind the prejudice is people imagined because we don’t know what all the genes express, if we added cat genes say, which altered the eye, we might be adding an unknown change. We might change personality for example, and become a killer lacking in compassion like a cat with a mouse, and far less human. It’s sort of a modern version of the animist belief that you take on some of the qualities of the animal when you eat it. And it has its basis in the same error – not understanding in detail how the process works at a molecular level,”
“Now it is true, in the early days of gene mods, when we just looked for a marker, entire blocks of genes were moved to create a change when it was not understood how all the instructions in the block were expressed. That fear might have had some basis in reality then. But it would be a far greater risk something far less subtle would be expressed wrong, like a change in an enzyme or hormone which would cause the person to be sick or die. Especially when they could not control the insertion point with any accuracy. They created quite a few problems with that crude method including inducing cancers.”
“Now what I do is quite different. I find a model for faster reflexes and then create an entirely artificial gene with that information which causes your body to create the same sort of mechanisms but without ever taking an actual physical piece of genetic material from an animal and inserting it. There is no opportunity for extraneous instructions to be dragged along.”
“But doesn’t that accomplish the same thing?” April protested.
“Let me illustrate. Say your ship built here has a motor in the back with a stainless steel valve and you find out the Chinese have a valve made of titanium and it works a little better than yours. Now if you capture a Chinese ship and yank a valve out of it and adapt it to substitute for your original it’s fair to say your ship is part Chinese now isn’t it?”
April nodded in agreement.
“But if I hear that report and go back to the shop and tell them, ‘Make up some new valves to connect to our pipes, but make them out of titanium now. Change the dimensions or whatever you need to do in our design to take advantage of the new material so it works better but start from scratch with new materials.” Now, is the ship still part Chinese, or is it all Home?”
“It’s all Home but you aren’t as sure you are going to get what you want from the change if you didn’t understand why their valve is better. You may think it’s the material and it turns out it’s the shape of the innards or it how bolts on the pipe or something.”
“Right you are. And so you better have the guy doing it be someone who knows all about the different kinds of valves and why they work. If you don’t have someone like that better leave well enough alone. And there are still lots of poorly understood processes in the human body which we would be wiser to leave alone right now.” He looked in regret that all his plates were empty and salvaged one little fleck of whipped cream that had escaped on his finger and stuck it in his mouth.
“So, is there any down side to being faster?” she pressed to know.
“Oh yes, you are more likely to hurt yourself. It becomes much more important to stay in good shape with training. You might tear tissues or even break a bone if you act rashly without being conditioned. And as I found with Ruby if people become aware of your edge they tend to play tricks on you.”
“If you would consider treating me what do you need?”
“I’d need permission from your guardians,” he said, but stopped because she was shaking her head emphatically no.
“I’m a legal adult. You can check the public record. I have the honor of being the first person on Home voted their majority instead of attaining it at an arbitrary age.”
“I’d heard about that but I didn’t know anyone who had done it. When I meet someone how am I to know if they are a minor or an adult?”
“For business I’d check the public records. Really, even with a set age of majority we still needed documentation before because it was becoming difficult to judge a person’s age with LET. But most of the people here are adapting the social convention that adults wear weapons even if just symbolic ones like a Sikh’s sword might be a pin on his turban. So if you meet a young boy in the corridors and he has a knife on his belt chances are he’s an adult. You might think about doing it yourself. It’s getting to be people think you’re an Earthie if you aren’t carrying,” she teased.
“Then all I really need is a copy of your genome and a history of your in vitro modifications and your usual medical history. I’d still encourage you to discuss the change with a trusted mature friend. Do you have somebody who you’d trust their wisdom in the matter?”
“My grandfather will do fine. He’s extremely safety conscious.”
“You should also not take any anti-viral medications. I’m afraid you are going to have a mild cold for about three days and you’ll have to isolate yourself to avoid passing it to others. I have a counter infection but you’d put us in an awkward legal situation if you were negligent and carelessly changed someone’s genome who might nor welcome it. You also can’t take anything which compromises the immune system, and you must be absolutely sure not to get pregnant. I’m happy actually to have a famous client from an important family. So let’s keep my fee reasonable. Is fifty thousand EuroMarks good for you?”
“Sounds fine. I’m concerned though. Is the infection tailored to me? Is there any danger the infection would be fatal or damaging if someone got it off my laundry or by coming in my room?”
“No the carrier is a really mild corona virus which produces such mild symptoms many people aren’t even sure they have a cold. They may get a bit sniffly or feel tired. But people can get very upset if something is forced on them against their will, even through carelessness. And an accidental transmission might be to someone pregnant or immune deficient.
Are you developing other treatments?
“I will be continuing some studies with that goal. The delay right now is I have to buy lab services somewhere to have them run tests on mice. I’ll supervise remotely and send samples back and forth, but I’m already living in the back of my office cubic and I doubt that housekeeping would like me sharing it with twenty thousand white mice even if I could afford them here.”
“Any chance you could make a mod to help a person take higher acceleration?”
He didn’t hesitate long before shaking his head no. “You better look to an engineering solution on that. It’s way too complex for me to tackle at this stage.”
“Since you’ve had your treatment do you feel any faster? I mean does it alter your time sense? I’d hate to feel like everything around me was in slow motion and it would take forever to get through the day.”
“Funny you should ask that. I never thought of that possibility before I did this. It would have been a big shock if I’d felt such an effect. I feel like I always did but when I move I’m able to get there a little faster. It may look fast to you but it just feels natural to me. Slowed time sense is one of the unpleasant withdrawal effects of a number of addictions. So I do know it’s possible to induce it. In studying the matter I found out a few athletes are capable of basically the same level of performance I’ve induced but I could never get one to agree to allow me to take samples and do biopsies. I’d really like to have access to such a person someday.”
“I’ll mail you what you need. And the fee. Say, half now and the remainder on success?”
“Works for me,” he agreed. “Shake on it?” he offered across the table relaxed.
She grasped his hand firmly and smiled at him. There was just a moment’s awkward hesitation where she delayed letting go of his hand. Looking him eyeball to eyeball. He thought how she could have stopped him from pulling away if she wished, better reflexes or no. He could picture the dagger coming out in the other hand while the right held him trapped. It was a chilling thought which flashed on him unexpected.
As if to underscore it was a lesson she told him, “If you are going to be a spacer now we don’t shake. It doesn’t work in zero G so it’s better unlearned. Just touch your finger tips in the palm of my hand.” This time he reached up and her finger lightly brushed his palm at the same time he touched hers. It was a gentler custom, and so much safer too, he thought.