William Doonan

I write books and stories.

MedicineLand: Chapter Sixty-Four

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“I feel empty,” Alice said.

“He’ll call.”  Julia leaned against the glass enclosure where Prometheus used to sit, empty now save for a few cables that managed to tangle themselves on their own, at night perhaps, as cables do.

“I was talking about the program,” she said.  “About the robot, about our protocol.  It’s over now, right?”

Julia nodded.  “For now.  It’s a setback.  That’s how a scientist refers to utter defeat.  We call it a setback.  We’ll be back on our feet in no time, Alice.”

The lab door swung open and Gloria Beltran came in with a pizza.  “Hot, hot, hot,” she said.  “I figured you were going to be hungry as well as mad.”

“When did they take him?” Julia asked.

“Who?” she asked.

“Prometheus?”

Gloria nodded.  “Your robot, yes.  Just after midnight, I think.  I asked the desk clerk.  By order of the governor.  It was a health risk.”

“Was it now?” Julia asked, reaching for a slice.

“Did you get the sausage one?” Alice asked.

Gloria Beltran nodded.  “I did.  Have you heard from your boyfriend?”

Alice looked down, concentrated on her pizza.

“I’m worried about him, Mama,” Julia said.  “I have calls in to all of the dialysis units in the neighboring counties.  But so far nothing and it’s been ten days.  We’ve gone to his apartment too and he hasn’t been there.”

Gloria Beltran took her time selecting a pizza slice before handing Julia an envelope.  “The desk clerk gave me this for you.”

“It’s from him.” Alice snatched the letter from her hand.  “That room is still airtight,” she said, pointing to Prometheus’s vacant cell.  “If you’re concerned, we can put on masks and go inside.”

Julia nodded, and they did just that.  They closed the glass door behind them and sat against the Plexiglas wall, watching intently for a moment as an unexpected moth made a quick flight path across the small room.  They fitted the airmasks over their faces, and opened the envelope.

Dear Professor and Dear Alice,

They’d come after us if I were to tell you where we are.  Not the priestesses or their Bizango chemists, because there are no others left.  But the people who want what we know, they’d come.  Some California Corrections officer, somebody who owed Schwarzenegger a favor, they’d come for us.  So I can’t tell you where we are, but I can say that we’re safe.  We rented a little house here and Karen will be starting school next month.  Folks around here understand me to be her uncle, and I guess that’s what I am.

OK, so here’s the thing, if you want it.   I kind of figured it out and I kind of intuited it, which means I’m interpreting some of Karen’s thoughts, and framing them against the backdrop of the work we’ve been doing.  So here goes, here’s your timing gene: it’s a 2800 base pair CTG stutter at 23Xp7-p11 and at 23Xq5-q7.  I wrote out the mutation on the back, but basically its a C to G substitution.  Feed it to Prometheus if you can, but I’m thinking the fuckers might have taken him by now.  So plug it in to any sequencer running on Linux, download the seventy-two or seventy-three shotgun sequences that begin with the markers I indicated and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The zombie powder breaks down the protein so the control gene cannot direct cellular aging, but the gene also interacts with four stutters on the ninth chromosome to direct synthesis of an enzyme that draws waste from neurons.  This means that you need a mutation to live forever, but you still need the gene intact so that your brain doesn’t fill up with shit and stop working.  That’s why it doesn’t work on men, Julia.  The neurons in their brain stem become polluted and can no longer maintain basic bodily functions like heartbeat and temperature.  Generally, the damage is restricted to the cerebrum and they keep breathing and pumping blood, but they’re somewhat mindless.  That’s how our zombies are made.  That’s how women can live forever.

And in rare instances, a woman who has one functioning gene and one modified gene will produce a non-disjoined ovum, an egg with 46 chromosomes that understands itself to be fertilized, even though it is not, and that egg will implant in her uterus and develop into an embryo and eventually a child.

But it’s a secret, Julia.  It’s a secret, Alice.  And it should stay as much.  The priestesses kept it from the chiefs, kept it from the French, kept it from everyone.  Now you make sure you keep it from Schwarzenegger.

As for me, I don’t know why it worked like it did on me.  I’d love to have my single ravaged X chromosome sequenced, find out why I’m still alive, but I don’t have  the patience.  This is a strange place for me.  All my life I’ve hated this disease, yet it’s the muscular dystrophy that saved me.  Funny thing, no?

Alice, you have to know that I love you.  You should also know that I’m coming back for you before long, like Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman, and I know you’re laughing right now because I’m being saucy and because you see me wheeling you out of that factory, but it wouldn’t be like that because I’m walking now, baby.

Not that much, a few steps here and there, but we were on the streetcar the other day and it was crowded and guess what, I had to stand.  Loved it, I tell you.  Nothing in my life has ever pleased me more.  I’d like for you to examine me one day (we’d be playing doctor!) because I expect you’d find that I am producing dystrophin.  The chemistry, that powder Millicent Sorrows blew at me did not produce her desired effect, but it produced an effect nonetheless.

Both of you should know that I’ve never been as happy as I have been with you, and that these past few months have been the best of my life.  When things cool down, when I’ve learned more, I’ll be back like I said.  Until then, know that you are in my thoughts.

Karen is of course the last of the line, and I will become in time, her chemist.  She she is teaching me some incredible things.  It’s slow going and I have to develop entire new skill sets for interpreting multilayered data and contradictory phenomena, but we have the coming centuries to get this right, Karen and I.  I hope we have your blessing, at least until we can talk again, which I hope can be soon, but not too soon.

– Carson

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Written by williamdoonan

September 5, 2013 at 9:23 am

Posted in Fiction, MedicineLand

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