P53

Author : Alex Skryl

Jack Thompson carefully placed Roger into his cage as Patrick Hughes entered the lab.

“Hey Jack. Yuri missed our weekly. Any idea where he is?” asked the Director, looking concerned.

“What?! He didn’t tell you?” replied Thompson, grinning.

“Tell me what?” inquired Hughes, reaching for a chair.

“P53! It worked! It … more than worked!” said Thompson in an excited whisper. He pulled up a chair next to Hughes, taking his time to contrive an explanation.

“Pat, do you know why most living things don’t live forever?” Thompson asked.

Hughes pondered the question for a second. “Well Jack, assuming they don’t die of disease or some unfortunate accident, it’s because they get old. Their cells become less efficient with age, having to work just as hard only to get less done. Current science blames it on DNA degradation, isn’t that right?”

“Yes! It’s a fidelity problem!” exclaimed Thompson, his eyes widening with excitement. “With every copy, our genome’s signal to noise ratio decreases, causing the cellular machinery to alter its behavior slightly. Over time, these small errors accumulate, usually leading to what we perceive as aging, and on rare occasion causing disease, such as cancer. Now, let me ask you this,” Thompson continued, “considering how universal senescence is, why do you think that nature hasn’t come up with a fix?”

Hughes sighed, getting impatient. “It’s a diminishing returns problem if I remember correctly. Complex organisms die from predation, disease, hunger, and a myriad of other causes, making their chances of living to old age slim to none. There is no evolutionary pressure to extend lifespan because animals don’t die of old age, my friend. They die from being eaten by other animals.” Hughes reached for a pen and a piece of paper. “Look here. If the probability of some creature dying in the span of a single day is 1/1000, then the probability of them surviving for 20 years is (999/1000)^(365*20)=0.067%, which is negligible. So, as long as they reach maturity and reproduce well before then, evolution will consider them fit. No reason to fix what’s not broken. Right?”

“I’m very impressed Dr. Hughes!” said Thompson smiling. “Anyhow, this is where P53 comes in. It is a retroviral gene therapy that was intended to be a cancer vaccine. It improves transcription fidelity and adds new mutation-triggered apoptosis pathways. A few things that nature overlooked. Here’s the kicker though, after vaccination, our simulations show no sign of DNA degradation over millennia. That’s thousands of years, Pat!”

“Wait!” Hughes interrupted. “Am I to understand that the two of you inadvertently created an immortality drug?”

“Roger is our first living test subject,” Thompson replied, glancing at the white mouse on the other side of the room. “But if the simulations are accurate, then he will outlive us all.”

“Who else knows about this?” Hughes asked, reaching for his phone.

“Olovnikov, myself, and now you,” said Thompson. “Why?”

“Brian?” Hughes spoke into the handset, “Code 42, lock us down plea…” before he finished his sentence, Yuri Olovnikov walked into the room. There was fear in the man’s eyes but it was overshadowed by righteous determination.

“King of kings, Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto…” Olovnikov mumbled, his voice trembling. “Forgive me.” His fingers tensed into a fist and the lab was suddenly awash in a brilliant white light.

As the dust from the explosion settled, a small white mouse ran out of the rubble into the grassy underbrush nearby. He had a long life ahead of him.

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Migrations

Author : Gray Blix

“Whoa, what’s that approaching Mars, a comet breaking apart?” he said as he excitedly examined the images. He realized it would be quite a find for an amateur astronomer — another Shoemaker-Levy 9 magnitude event. But to make sure it wasn’t just hot pixels or other phantom artifacts, he returned to his backyard telescope and took another hundred exposures with a different camera and filter. Satisfied, he submitted coordinates and photos for others to confirm his discovery. But what they confirmed was that the objects streaming toward the red planet were not cometary fragments.

“They are alien spaceships, Mr. President, hundreds of them, a fleet orbiting the planet, and several already on the surface.” NASA’s Administrator offered several photos, “These were taken by our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. All the ships are outwardly identical, over a mile long and about a third of a mile wide.”

“How far are they from Mars Colony?”

“Thousands of miles. And that may be deliberate. The Colony revealed itself by trying to contact them during their approach. The aliens could have landed near it, or on it, if they’d wanted to.”

It was always a stretch to call the half-buried habitat and the dozen scientists within a “colony.” It was more like an antarctic research station, whose nine surviving staff members were hunkered down against an environment hostile to life.

“Why aren’t they responding to our attempts at communication?”

“They may not communicate by radio or any other means we’re familiar with. Or they may not want to communicate.”

“So, what do you recommend that we do?”

“Nothing. The Colony can ration supplies to last two years. I urge you to put a hold on upcoming Mars missions and ask other nations to do likewise. The aliens are far ahead of us technologically and until we have established communication we should not do anything they might misinterpret as a threat. Meanwhile, we’ll keep an eye on them from our MRO.”

And that’s exactly what the president and his counterparts worldwide did for the next astonishing 16 months. Nothing. Nothing while the aliens somehow gave Mars a magnetic field and a breathable atmosphere. Nothing while they created oceans and fresh water lakes. Nothing while prairies of grass and forests of trees sprouted and grew remarkably fast.

Mars Colony survived the planetary transformation — the aliens apparently having taken pains to protect its inhabitants — and the day finally came when humans first braved the Martian atmosphere without pressure suits and oxygen supplies. Later that day, they transplanted vegetable seedlings to an outside garden and were seen by the MRO sunbathing in the nude.

But the aliens had not traveled across the galaxy to create an eden for nine humans. Scientists had concluded that the fleet was comprised of generation ships transporting lifeforms from their home planet to another suitable for colonization. Thankfully, the planet they chose was Mars, not Earth. It was expected that their ships would soon land en masse and disembark passengers. Mars Colony erected a welcome banner and waited anxiously — only to see the fleet depart shortly thereafter.

From their new position at Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2, the aliens transmitted their first message to Earth. It was to be the only one. Over every radio station, television channel, and internet website on the planet, in the six official languages of the United Nations, the following words were repeated for 24 hours:

WE HAVE PREPARED MARS TO YOUR SPECIFICATIONS. YOU WILL TRANSPORT YOURSELVES AND ANYTHING ELSE YOU REQUIRE FROM EARTH TO MARS. EXACTLY ONE YEAR FROM NOW, WE WILL BEGIN PREPARING EARTH TO OUR SPECIFICATIONS.

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Last Man

Author : George R. Shirer

Adam woke, as usual, with a headache and a weird taste in his mouth. There was a woman by his bed, wearing a prim white nurse’s uniform.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning.”

His eyes rolled past her, taking in the familiar institutional green walls of the room. This time, there was no window. The door behind her was open, revealing a green-walled hallway.

“How do you feel?” asked the nurse.

“Fine. Considering.”

Adam sat up, swung his legs over the bedside. Too late, he realized he was naked. Blushing, he grabbed the blanket and pulled it over him.

The nurse was looking away.

“Sorry about that.”

“It’s all right,” she said.

“Why did you wake me?”

“The usual reason.”

“Oh.”

She gave him a gray boilersuit and some boots to wear. He pulled them on, while she stood with her back to him, humming a funny melody.

“I’m dressed,” he said. “You can turn around.”

She did and presented him with a rolled up sheaf of pages.

“Where?” he asked.

“The bath at the end of the hall,” said the nurse.

He nodded and set out to perform his duty, the duty womenkind brought him out of cryo at least once every five years to perform.

The spider was about the size of a kitten, an ugly purple thing with a luminous red hourglass on its back. It hissed at him when he approached. He didn’t use the paper, just kicked it to death with his boots.

Adam remained awake for about a day. It took them that long to get the cryo-machine ready. Meanwhile, he discovered womankind had moved underground because of some sort of war. When the machine was ready, Adam stripped down and slid into the tube, grateful to sink back into dreamless, dark sleep.

The nurse was the last to leave the chamber. She locked the heavy doors herself and pocketed the key, grateful that the Spider Killer would sleep until they needed him again.

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Too Many Coppers

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

She’s screaming like her life is being dragged from her using blunt instruments. Occasionally she’ll stop, but after a series of ominous ‘thuds’, she’ll start again.

“We ‘ave control of zis street.” This from the blue-uniformed Avantacop.

“Rubbiz. The rezonink places this addrez within oor control perimeter.” Response from the black-and-orange uniformed Fourgeecop.

“City statutes give prioridee response t’us.” A riposte from a grey-uniformed Spartacop.

“How about we co-operate to cover the premises from all sides, achieve entry with precision and numbers, then use superior force to area-neutralise whatever threat is inside?” The suggestion comes from my partner, in Carabinieri black – just like me.

We’re one of the six official police forces that could be here, were it not for the mandated EU ‘open-market’ rulings on civil policing. Now, in addition to the five ‘resident’ national police forces and regional police forces, there are twenty-eight ‘guardian’ (corporate) police forces and countless franchise mobs. It used to be a nightmare with just five or six of us versus the Cosa Nostra and friends. This? This is a new ring of Dante’s hell in the guise of policing, and criminals rarely enter the equation – or get caught, for that matter.

The screams escalate again and Armand looks at me, his brows creasing. We both think back to the meeting we attended four days ago. This is it. The moment that was discussed and everyone agreed to.

He nods at me and we both cross-draw paired Webley & Scott Suppressors. Armand takes both of the Avantacops and I drop the standing Fourgee and Sparta. Their companions show their uselessness by trying to exit their cars and join the firefight, instead of securing their positions and calling for assistance.

Ignoring the downed pseudocops for a while, we retool with compressor-pulse shotguns and storm the building where screams continue. It seems that sudden, decisive action involving the direct application of violence was something that our little gang of drug-crazed torturers were not expecting. They were waiting for hostage negotiators and news crews. They continue waiting until their bodies hit the ground from three floors up. Some people are a waste of the judicial system’s time.

By the time the ambulances pull away and the coroner’s van is loading, the pseudocops are reclining in their neatly parked vehicles, in the car park of a local convenience store four blocks away.

Four days ago we agreed that we would be police, and any jurisdictional arguments from competing forces would be treated as interference with the execution of our duties, if co-operation was refused or ignored. The people deserve to be protected when the threat is nigh, not to wait until the bureaucracy is done.

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Coal Miners

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The cure for the plague that killed half of the planet’s population forced mankind’s biology to outgrow what was previously defined as human.

We skipped ahead six chapters in our evolution, overachieving little tryhards that we are. Those scientists were savants without the idiot. The vaccines were rushed to the city centers. Riots followed. Governments were reinstated. It was a long ten years. Giant ‘dead pits’ burned at the centers of most cities for years.

Half of the planet was suddenly vacant. Room for everyone now. It was a new dawn.

Korgath Bigbones looked at the black stripes and zigzags on his thick, pale hand. He stopped thinking about the past and starting thinking about the present.

Coal tattoos. That’s what it was called when coal dust got into a miner’s wound. The cut darkened and it became a permanent black line.

He ate his sandwiches daintily, pinching one corner between each thumb and forefinger, the rest of his black-encrusted fingers raised far away from the sandwich. The dark poisons on his fingertips stained the small corner he was pinching. The ground was littered with tiny black triangles of bread after lunch.

The vaccine let humans be groomed for their jobs. If a job was dangerous, the body could be adapted to endure and even thrive in hazardous environments. No longer did we have to destroy the environment around us to suit our needs. We could, when the occasion called for it, become different to suit where we were.

The coal miners were a pale breed. Their lungs were changed to gain nutrients from the coal dust as well as the oxygen and gasses miles down beneath the earth. Their nostrils were very wide. They had small, greenish white, night-vision eyes that glinted in the darkness like sharks in an ocean at evening.

Korgath realized that there were no mirrors down here except in the tattoo/cutter’s caves.

These were bodies that could take punishment. Bodies with solid fat on them coating muscles borne of pure endurance.

The ones that had been there the longest had the most detailed coal tattoos on their broad backs and huge arms. The workers looked like pot-bellied, hairless, albino, subterranean gorillas wrapped in the black-ridged whorls, initials, and high-contrast designs of their tattoos. Memorials for those crushed in cave-ins, crude portraits of departed friend’s faces, and cultural swirls from the ancient Celts, Maoris, Africa and the Orient.

It took seventeen elevators and nearly a day to get down this low.

They didn’t need many lights to work in the depths and they didn’t need to come for fresh air. The cooling flanges on their back dissipated the constant heat. They’d do six-month stretches down there. They don’t call it the bowels of the earth for nothing. They’d come up stinking.

Korgath was six days away from the end of this contract. The end of half a decade in blackness.

He’d need respirators filled with coal dust and special sunglasses when he was above ground for six months until the vaccines returned him to what was considered normal baseline human. Even tropical temperatures would feel chilly to him until he acclimatized.

Some miners kept their appearance. That level of intensity was hard to shake off no matter what the topside mirrors said.

Korgath was considering keeping the tattoos. But he still wasn’t sure.

The lunch bell rang and he went back to work. Six more days.

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All Right, Have It Your Way – You Heard a Seal Bark

Author : Theric Jepson

“Did you hear that?” Dave fiddled with these and those switches and dials and flung his hands across a dozen touchscreens. “Huh.”

Liz swallowed her water and let the bottle float across the cockpit. “Hear what?”

“I don’t know. Like a barking sound.”

“Like a dog.”

“No . . .” Dave frowned. “More like . . . a seal?”

“A seal.”

“Yeah. Kinda like a seal.”

Liz nodded. “Nope. No seals around here.”

Dave rolled his eyes and returned to the dash. “No kidding?” No seals in the asteroid belt? That’s why I love you.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. The bots are almost done with the extraction, then we’ll be full and we can detach and head home. Keep your seals till then.”

Dave flipped his visor and muttered, “I never said it was a seal.”

“And stop muttering.”

Dave exhaled and unlatched from his seat. He pushed himself through the cockpit locker and floated face up through the kitchen and into their sleeping quarters. He raised his head so his shoulders hit the padding, then pushed up into the machine room. From here he could pick up vibrations from the excavators. He listened carefully. Nothing. He opened the display to the molter—seemed to be running correctly—then shut it down again. He drummed his fingers on the wall and slipped back down and shot towards the cockpit.

“Any seals?”

“Hardy har.” Dave latched back in and, just following the click, there it was again. “There! There! You can’t tell me you didn’t hear that?”

“C’mon, Dave. You can’t gaslight me.”

“Can’t—what’s that?”

“Never mind.”

“There! Again!”

“Are you bored? Is that it? Should we break out the backgammon? Have some sex? Try to catch a signal?”

Dave paused and took a long look at Liz’s face. It showed mostly impatience. He strained for signs of amusement or even worry, but nothing. “You—you really think I’m messing with you?”

She rolled her eyes and scrolled up a book on her sleeve.

* * * * *

Five days later. Dave has held his ear to every surface of their ship. He’s floated absolutely still for ninety minutes at a time. Liz has ignored him.

He’d still only heard the sound in the cockpit, but Liz never gave any sign of hearing. Not that he’d ever been actually looking at her when the seal barked—because that’s exactly what it sounded like—but of course it wasn’t that—but nothing else made sense either. Nothing was coming from inside the ship and nothing could come from outside the ship. So why the hell not a seal?

* * * * *

Liz scrolled through the redundancy list. “You sure you checked all of these intentionally?”

“What kind of question is that? Of course I am!”

“Okay. Initializing countdown. Detach at eight minutes, launch at ten.”

“Sounds goo—” Dave felt the blood fall from his face. He couldn’t speak, but he shakily lifted a finger to the display. “S-s-s—”

Liz didn’t look up from the controls. “Okay. We’re set.”

Dave slammed a hand down, pausing the countdown. “Be right back. I’m going out for a sec.”

“What? Out? Dave! You can’t take our suits outside the ship! They’re barely rated for ten minutes! And were leaving! We’re leaving.”

“So five minutes won’t matter.”

“David! Gaaah!”

But he was gone. She heard him fumbling with the lock and closing it behind him. She waited until he’d closed the outer lock then restarted the countdown, bumping it up—detach in one, launch in two. She took the speaker from her hair and stashed it in a cubby, then attached her shoulder restraints. She glanced at the display to see David going over the edge, chasing nothing more than a carefully engineered trick of the light. She queued up his cord then popped it off.

“Hope I don’t get lonely,” she said to herself. “Too long alone in empty space can drive you mad.”

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