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)”.
The Discovery lays dormant, waiting to reach its rightful place in the world; to perhaps be known as a Law. It waits patiently, for not many humans seek it. But there is one young graduate student, and hope kindles.Will it be today?
The seeker runs the gel and stares at the bands. The glow of cosmos permeates through the image of those perfectly aligned small horizontal bars on Kodak paper. Jubilant, the seeker runs to the senior post-doc, an ex-seeker who had led many dashing expeditions for the Discovery when blood still ran through his veins, but whose heart had since been turned to ice by numerous crushing disappointments.
The Discovery waits with canine expectancy. It’s cousin, Relativity, adds dramatic effect by seeming to pause Time. The ex-seeker stares long and hard at the picture. Slowly, his callused hands begin to tremble and something stirs inside his flotsam mind. Could it be…now?
The seeker bristles with energy only a sophomore scientist can muster. The Discovery fights back emotions it had long forgotten or perhaps didn’t know existed.
Just then, the ex-seeker’s observation skills, long unused, kick in to spot a fatal anomaly. The results are too perfect; young seeker has mislabeled the samples. His cynicism intact, the post-doc burrows back into his hole. The Discovery sighs, folds its arms and slinks out of the room. It awaits another day.