Monday, June 20, 2011

As the professor had explained, Darwin was going to be a genetically engineered supersoldier when he woke up. If we couldn’t keep up, that might cause... problems. We would be first response in any emergency, responsible for getting him away from danger, or neutralising any danger he might represent. Therefore, we would get simple training in the use of weapons and, more importantly, we would be given a few unconventional advantages, through the miracle of retroviral engineering.

A retrovirus is a type of virus that inserts its DNA directly into the genome of its victim, using the victim’s transcription mechanisms to make more copies of itself. HIV is a retrovirus. Some of the human genome, in fact the genomes of all animals, are made up of endogenous retroviruses, that got stuck in the genome and are now too damaged to escape. Without one of them, we wouldn’t even be able to breed; the gene the virus used to escape destruction by the immune system is used by babies for the same purpose, preventing the mother’s immune response from attacking her child. The professor reasoned that if one gene can get in that way, and be used by the body, why not more? Genes for more efficient and faster muscle proteins, regulatory modifications for more bulk and tone, changes to the type and density of nasal, auditory and optical receptors, changes to brain chemistry for faster learning, better concentration and stronger memory, all inserted into our cells by noncontagious retroviruses... physically, it would make us the equal of Charles’ engineered body, and with our extra knowledge we’d be able to control any situation.

I realised at the time that there had to be a reason why they didn’t just use this on American soldiers, and I came up with a couple of conclusions. One, it was probably new and untested; it wouldn’t have surprised me if we were the first human subjects. Secondly, it was probably a lot more risky than the professor made it out to be. He always was overconfident.

In any case, that was why we needed to be unconscious, with our bowels empty. For two weeks, our bodies wouldn’t recognise themselves, and what happened then... well, it wasn’t lupus.1 But it was close. Our immune system wouldn’t recognise half the body as what it was supposed to be protecting, we’d have organ rejection across our entire system. So we were to be packed full of immune suppressants and kept unconscious until it was safe for us to leave a sterile area again.

Hell of a way to spend your summer.


It’s never lupus.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

James and I were in the men’s toilets together, his cubicle next to mine so that he could shout out a score after each episode. After a while I loosened up a little1 and started giving scores for his, on what I called the Nesse-Williams scale. It was kind of historic, really. I know for a fact that we never had diarrhoea again.

About 10pm that night, when we were both wishing for swift and not-too-painful death, I gave up trying to figure a way to beat the bugs Crenshaw had almost certainly planted here, and just asked it straight out.

Do you think there’s something a little... weird... about all this?”

Oh, yeah. I definitely don’t think my Drake Passage is supposed to feel like that ever.

...I don’t want to know, dude. I do, but I don’t want to. Anyway, I was talking about the situation as a whole.”

You mean how in three weeks we’re bringing Charles Darwin back from the dead? Or how in two weeks we’re going to be genetically engineered super soldiers? You’re going to have to be a little more specific, bro.”

Uh, you don’t think it’s weird that we got hired for a top-secret program?”

Of course not. They obviously heard how cool I am.” His joke was only bolstered by the splooshing sound that followed it. “OK, yeah, we’re not exactly the people I’d trust with something this important. But maybe it’s, you know, believable dismissability.”

Plausible deniability.”

Yeah, that. It’s like the professor said, we’re just about the most unlikely employees of the CIA ever. I guess if they want to keep this as secret as possible, they hire people like us to do it.”

Finally, on the evening of the next day, the burning spasms ceased, and we walked through to the room we hadn’t been in yet, on the left at the back of the warehouse. In there were three hospital beds, with everything needed to keep us alive for two weeks. IV lines were put in place, pillows adjusted, and light floaty dreamy drugs pumped into our systems. I don’t actually remember dozing off.


OK, I’m sorry. Bad choice of words.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sweet irony, how do ye mock me,” James intoned, looking at the little plastic bottle resting in the palm of his hand.

What do you mean?” Alex asked, glancing at hers with an expression of determination and distaste.

Long story,” James and I muttered. He was so distraught he didn’t even say ‘jinx’.

Resting on the table in front of us were three pitchers of apple juice. We were to mix the liquid in the bottles with the juice, drink the whole pitcher over fifteen minutes, then casually saunter in the direction of the water closets and stay there for a while. We wouldn’t be getting any sleep that night, but that was ok because once the draught had done its work, we were going to be put in an induced coma for two weeks.

None of us especially wanted to do it, but for James and me at least, I guess it was just karma. I ripped the plastic tab off the top and squeezed all the contents into the jug, mixing it with the spoon provided before pouring out a glass. James and Alex watched me as I lifted it to my lips. I took a sip.

It’s... drinkable. Like apple juice made from concentrate that’s been left in a can too long, with a weird sort of aftertaste... but we should be able to get it down.” I finished the glass and poured another. There was a second dose in a few hours, and I wanted to get this one done as quickly as possible.

We all knocked it back, identical expressions of distaste on our faces, then wished one another farewell and headed for the torture chambers.

You ever had really bad diarrhoea? I mean, writing-your-will-with-shaking-hands, last-words-a-wish-to-have-never-drunk-the-water bad?

This was worse.

Basically, the whole contents of my bowel found the drink even more distasteful than I did, and rushed to escape it, with burning speed.

I think that’s enough said about that. The next thirty hours weren’t pleasant. We drank a lot of liquids, avoided all food, and stayed close to the toilets whenever we got a break to stretch our legs.