William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Forty-Seven

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Carson offered to watch the girl while Alice got some sleep, and was relieved when she declined.  Instead, he drove back to the lab to continue the testing sequence.  He found it intensely uncomfortable being in Karen’s presence.  The erections aside, it was the thoughts that came dripping down like warm syrup poured on the top of your head that disturbed him the most.  She’s communicating with me, Carson said aloud as he drove into the garage and flashed his ID at the scanner.

He had been working fairly steadily and without interruption except for the Karen Sorrows kidnapping and critical care, and the meeting with the mouse guy who was scheduled to be brewing some psychic concoction back at Julia’s house tonight.  With the exception of these events, the work was progressing steadily.

“Hey there, big guy,” he said, taking Prometheus off power-saver mode and bringing the control console back on line.  Carson had brought most of his essential healthcare equipment to the lab so he could work around the clock.  He was sleeping on the couch in Julia’s office when he slept at all.

Even with the interruptions, he had finished the first set of 16 sheets and the first seven of the second set.  That left only 965 sheets left before he could consider the X chromosome history.  Prometheus had turned up only four reactions that meet the control parameters, and all four had failed the secondary test parameters.  That was OK; he had forever to figure this out.  But that was assuming he would live forever, and to do that, he had to figure out the X chromosome.

He set up the next plate, keyed in the operating sequence, and watched as the robot began moving.  Somewhere on the X chromosome, somewhere buried in a long sequence of bases, was the gene for dystrophin, a simple rod-shaped protein found on the inner surface of muscle fibers of 3,499 of every 3,500 male children born into the world.  That last boy, and every boy like him, suffered from muscular dystrophy.  Their muscle cells had no internal support, no structural integrity, and would become misshapen.

Over time, the cells would become polluted, would be unable to expel waste and would eventually explode.  One less muscle cell, and sooner or later you can’t move your toes at all, and then a few months later, it’s your whole foot, your leg.  Sometime in your twenties, you have lost so many cells in your diaphragm that you can no longer breathe and then you die or get hooked up to a respirator, whichever comes first.

Carson had no illusions, no anticipation that a cure for muscular dystrophy was just around the next medical corner.  At the age of twenty-nine, he had far exceeded his life expectancy.  He had full use of his arms and could breathe perfectly.  He could feel it getting worse, but no one would know from listening to him talk.

There would be a cure; that much was certain.  But it would be a cure for new boys.  He watched as the robotic arm moved back and forth.

“It’s hypnotizing, isn’t it?” came the voice from behind him.

Carson shook his head.  “I think we need some security measures in this facility.”  He turned his chair around to find Millicent Sorrows leaning against the door.

“This is one of those computers, isn’t it?”

Carson stared at her.

“I have been hearing a lot about them.”  She moved closer.  “I have heard it said that the newer ones can tell you even what temperature it is anywhere in the world.  Do you know if that is true?”

“It’s true,” Carson said softly.

Millicent Sorrows pressed her hand against the glass wall that protected Prometheus from dust and temperature variation.  “I suspect that they are overrated,” she said, “these computers.  People believe that they will change their lives for the better, but they don’t.  Mind you, I felt the same way about the railroad.  It could be I’m mistaken.”

Carson felt his heart pounding.  “What do you want?”

She reached into her bag, pulled out a cigarette case, and opened it.  “Why don’t you take a goddamn guess,” she said.  She put the cigarette between her lips and leaned toward him.

Carson looked closely.  It didn’t look exactly like a cigarette.

She blew gently and the light powder hit him full in the face.

He gasped, involuntarily inhaling.  He wiped his face on his sleeve and grabbed the joystick, backing the wheelchair away from her, bumping into a lab table. “What was that?”

“Just a little something to make you more cooperative.  It is quite temporary, I assure you.  You will be paralyzed for a short while.”

“Goody,” Carson said.  “That will be a new experience for me.”

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Written by williamdoonan

July 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

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