A submission to NPR’s Three Minute Fiction Contest. Immense fun.
“But it was more than just a trick”, the old man muttered to nobody in particular. He had been at it since he’d entered the vestibule and planted himself on my berth.
“You see, young Harry Wiggins used the transcoder rays on the metabolic enzymes of mice and just like that they…they could live for days without food. Moreover, they seemed to hate eating!”
I nodded vaguely. I tried to keep up with his long sentences, but my AVpad informed me they were at Flesch grade level of five. Way above the recommended casual conversation levels. Instead of correcting his level however (as I was clearly within my rights to do), I just phased him out. He did look like a quaint professor, just like from the old visuals. Only two more stops till Manhattan…
“The transcoder was a radical technology for those times. It used frequencies that could shift the chemical bonds on DNA molecules that were exposed to the rays. We could rewire any organism to modify their proteins….oh, such wonders ensued! Anorexic mice, fluorescent worms, flowers with synthetic essences, bacteria that made tobacco”.
I phased off.
“But then shit really hit the fan”, he startled me back into the current reality by grabbing my shoulder. Vofga, my virtual social interpreter, rolled her eyes and feinted puking on the AVpad. I LOLLed internally. I suppose he wasn’t actually referring to human excrement being hurled at wind simulators. I set her involvement level to minimum to avoid embarrassing the professor.
“One day, Wiggins walks in and announces that he could transcode the telomerase and other maintenance enzymes to protect DNA for longer number of replications. Much longer. Before we could utter a word, he produces a small vial and says ‘Meet Tiresias, my friend, born this day exactly two months ago’. Inside the small glass bottle, a fruit fly buzzed about. No one needed to be told the math. If a fly could live that long, and if we can build a big enough scanner…”
I wondered how it would be like to work with non-humanisms in the old days. Most of my acquaints would be repulsed by the thought, but I’d seen a few uncontrolled canines and marsupials in the woods where I grew up.
“Soon enough we had a unit large enough to scan cats and foxes. Not the best choices, mind you, back then no one scanned these animals for rabies. But big units need larger power grids, and soon enough, there were rumors and loose talk in the town. Though things would’ve been alright if not for that damn accident. One kid gets some leaked radiation from the prototype model and all hell breaks loose. The big boys in Washington became decidedly curious about our work. We could see what was coming a mile away”
The train rumbled; a voice blared “We are now approaching the final stretch to the Manhattan. Please prepare for arrival by pressing the green button on your armrest”.
“…guess we all did what we had to. The prototype was sitting right there, all ready and the plug was about to be pulled”
The engine roar drowned him out. This part of the journey is not my favorite.
“Soon after that, I enlisted for my first tour to Samarra in the war”
Something prompted me to scan the Ubinet. As we jumped into the Atlantic airspace towards New York, I imapaged to my acquaints: “Met a woozy on aerotrain; thinks he is over three hundred years old. Hoping dementia is not contagious. Haha (Laughicon)”.
‘It could be my troubl’d digestion,
But forgive my reluctance to grasp the situation
You inform me, Barrister Jones,
Without a shadow of a doubt, and making no bones
That Mr. Smith here, an accountant by heart
Who just does’nt look the criminal part
Should be lock’d away, and throw ‘way the key
When he’s innocent, such a mystery!’
Sir Jones rose, wiping his brow;
held back a frown, did a kowtow:
‘Your estimable Lordship, tis’ true and a safe bet
That no crimes have been committed yet
But upon this, I stake my career
That we shall sleep at nights, without fear
Only if this freak of genetics is incarcerated
For his DNA, his fate is predated’
‘Mendel told us, and so it seems
We are a bit more than a bundle of genes
This cavernous nose, bequeath’d from my father
These jowls from a neighbor, or so I gather
We are hence but insufferable pawns
At the mercy of those transcribed exons
But Mr. Smith’s legacy’s of the unenviable sort
A menagerie of bandits, ruffians and villians (what not!)
Let’s start with those hands, shapely and hooved
And so were Reaper Jack’s: third great-uncle, once removed
The allele that shapes his sense of humor
from Attila the Hun; (he didn’t have any, so goes the rumor)
His constitution, sturdy as we can gauge
matches Genghis Khan’s, given his age
And as a final point, to make evidence fitter
These generous contributions from Stalin and Hitler!
So you see, Mi lord,its not his demeanor
Its history that will guide his future behavior
As sure as we are of the genetic code
Large tracks of his DNA are steeped in blood
For carnage to occur, in case we are forgettin’
Awaits only the unfolding of his heterochromatin
And hence the right decision, in all propriety
To the gallows for him, save the society!’
The Lordship wiped his prominent crown,
As with the Barrister, he fought back a frown
For Mr. Smith was no mere clerk,
He kept the Judge’s books, and knew all his ‘work’
Jail for the defendant would be unmitigated disaster
Both Judge and Smith would be on the prison roster
So the Judge, in all his wisdom, decried:
‘This might well be the day Justice died
This man’s got all the makings of a crook
But also the victim of a path his genes took
And so I pass judgment in the prism of science
And in this, I will brook no defiance
One’s mind and brain controls our modus operandi
The former, he’s got from Einstein, the latter from Gandhi
The court rules the man to be set free
My son, may the best human specimen you live to be’
It has been brought to our attention that an entire population of RNA (ray-bo-nukleaic-acid) from the bacterium Escherichia coli (Eee-colai) was discovered wiped out earlier this morning. There were no survivors or trace of their destruction except for ugly smears on agarose gels. Investigations into this appalling gene-ocide have so far proven inconclusive, though forensic experts say that all the circumstantial evidence points to the usual suspect: Mr. Ribonuclease A (other members of the family could be likely). The killer is known to be extremely catalytically active and its victims consist of nubile RNA’s of all lengths and ages.
The central regulatory machinery that governs the life of all RNA’s released a translated message today, stating that this scourge of community RNA’s is uncalled for, and has promised to deal with the situation expediently by releasing a host of RNAse inhibitors. These have worked well in the past to deal with the menace.
“We wish that RNAses could stay be as co-operative and compliant as their cousins, DNAses”, said the spokesperson in her primary message that included a generous amount of cysteine and proline to wrap up the context. “DNAses show the discipline and sensitivity to the task” she continued, “…whereas RNAses act like perverts, feasting on any single stranded nucleic acid. Its shameful”.
RNAse P, the member with the most Potential in the family, was quick to defend his cousins from any guilt. In a short transcript, R.P. stated that the role of RNAses in cytoplasmic society is a vital one; that of maintaining a balance between supply and demand. “We are the unheralded workers, who work their C-terminals off to prevent the excesses from burdening the society.” He further added that if RNAse A did indeed cause mayhem then “he was just doing the job he was assembled for”. “Just because the cell no longer lives, one cannot expect any member of RNAse to stop working, that just aint happening”. R.P. signed off on his message warning that “We decide how RNA’s die in prokaryotes, and we will brook no interference”.
Meanwhile, efforts are on to obtain expensive solutions (in kits) to expedite the safe extraction of intact RNA from their dissipatory fate.