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Genes of the Father by Josh Frede (Prologue)

The opening chapter of Josh Frede’s Genes of the Father

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The doors parted as David approached them and he was filled with an unfamiliar sense of relief.  It wasn’t because he would never return to the lab – though he hadn’t announced his retirement to GeneCo – but rather that he could walk away with hope.  It had been two days since the disappearance of David’s most trusted colleagues, and co-conspirators.  He sighed.  Even after all the planning it was still hard to let them go, why wouldn’t it be?
As he made his way towards the dome lift, GeneCo’s head of research and development stopped to observe a hologram advertisement that came to life as he walked by.
“You look like smart guy,” the astoundingly lifelike apparition began with its typical flattering, “and what could be smarter than paying a small price for the security of your child’s future?  Right now and for a limited time only, GeneCo wants to help you make that vital investment by offering a special deal on all pre-birth gene modifications, starting as low as six Monthly Credits*!  As always, GeneCo wants to make sure that everyone is able to take advantage of this great deal, so for the rest of the week, schedule your pre-birth modification and pay as low as 10% MC per month!  This message has been brought to you by GeneCo.  GeneCo: Building a better future.”
David suppressed a snort of disbelief and continued on his way.  Only GeneCo would have the nerve to advertise to its own employees as they leave work.  Alongside dozens of gene therapists, researchers, extractors, and inserters, David walked between seamless grey walls as scanners, cameras, and hologram projectors went about their business silently overhead.  GeneCo was only one of many illustrious companies that called the Integral Space Station home.  Gene research had been confined to sealed systems since the time of the great corruption, and space was one of the best places to conduct the research that had turned GeneCo into arguably the most powerful corporation of the twenty-fifth century.
David stepped into the dome lift line and observed the people around him.  Most had a type of glazed look in their eye that suggested their mind was elsewhere.  It didn’t surprise him.  Most ‘connected*’ humans preferred the convenience of the auto-travel function, as it allowed them to multi-task in unprecedented ways.  Had it been any other day, David might have joined them in the virtual world for a casual pub chat between colleagues, a stunning tour of the extinct coral reefs, or maybe even a few hands of poker.  Had there been anyone left in his circle that shared his point of view, he might’ve called an emergency meeting – but there wasn’t.  If he could have drawn comfort from the tours of the old world, he might’ve tried.  Had he not already risked it all, he might’ve gambled.  But in fact it wasn’t any of these reasons.  It was just that much easier for David to see the insignificance of it all: being so close to the end.  He wanted one last tangible experience.  Shuffling towards the bubble lift, looking around at all their empty stares, he realized that wasn’t the only thing he wanted.  He wanted someone to share it with.
The woman in front of him entered the lift and disappeared with a flash.  A second clear platform appeared, replacing the previous lift and David stepped inside.
“Welcome Doctor Paul,” a woman’s voice annunciated in crystalline fashion.  As a black dome enclosed the lift, David was distracted by the absent associates in front of him.
“Goodbye,” he whispered in vain.
“Destination unclear; please repeat desired destination,” the voice prompted.
“Home.”  The scientist spoke the words with a tinge of pride, and the platform immediately began to fly along its course.
“Music?  Perhaps some Bach?  Cello Suite 1 – Prelude?”
“No,” David mused, “something sullen – Mozart’s Requiem.”  The flurry of melancholy keys began and Dr. Paul took his seat.
“Would you like an accompanying scene,” the voice offered.
“No – in fact – remove the blinders, please.”
“I am obligated to remind you that the blinders exist for your own comfort and –”
“Please lower them.”  As the music played the shaded dome slowly faded into transparency and David wondered why he had never requested this particular view before.  The occasional structural beam slightly nauseated the doctor as it shot through his field of vision, his lift racing to its destination on the vast space station.  But beyond the structural beams, the blue planet floated against an endless, glittering background of stars.  The view was so familiar to him that he had forgotten how beautiful it really was.  As the choir joined the orchestra, David was rocked by the sudden realization that he would never set foot on the Earth again.  His heart fluttered and his vision began to blur.
“Doctor Paul, you’re currently experiencing vertigo, I’m going to replace the blinders now.”
“No!”  David insisted, bringing a hand to his head.
“I must insist.”
“No, I’m fine; leave the blinders down.”  Gritting his teeth, he sat up and opened his eyes fully, each breath growing steadily sharper until the music, the earth, the nausea, and each breath slowly merged into one.  Suddenly the lift stopped and the blinders covered the scene once more.
“Get some rest Doctor Paul.  You’re blood pressure is quite high today.”
David stood slowly and stepped out of the lift trembling, but content.  His residence capsule was one of the closest to the lifts in the district he had chosen.  After a short walk, he stood in front of his door, unsure of what lay in store for him on the other side.  With a deep breath, he mentally tapped into the receptor embedded his cerebral cortex and in an instant willed the door to open.
Even though David’s security system reported that there were no life forms awaiting him inside, he was on edge.  He had learned a long time ago that any electronic system could be hacked.  Stepping inside, he saw his capsule just the way he had left it: dimly lit and sparsely furnished.  The researcher walked across the open room as a spout poured a drink into the glass upon his desk.  Grabbing the honey-colored beverage, David looked out his gallery windows at the massive blue planet once more.  Although white swirls of cloud concealed most of the land features, he still managed to locate south-east Asia.  Closing his eyes, he prayed to no one in particular for the safety of another.
From the security system at Doctor Paul’s front door, the message he had been awaiting was transmitted into his brain: they’re here.  Delicately, he removed the bulky silver glove from his left hand, revealing several metallic contact nodes* embedded in his flesh.  The repeating transmission immediately faded and David sat down at his desk, finishing the drink with a suppressed cough, followed by a satisfied smile.  Across the room, a door opened, and his smile faded.
The intruder entered slowly, but seemed to exercise no caution.  He swayed slightly from side to side, sauntering carelessly about the dwelling for a few moments before stopping in front of one of the wall screens.
“Satisfied,” David asked from his desk after a minute of silence.
“Hardly,” the intruder began, pausing to examine the layout of the capsule.  “You know Doctor, being a member of the most affluent tax class, you could afford a much nicer dwelling Topside*.”
“That all depends on one’s definition of nice,” the scientist responded coolly.
“Luxurious heat moderated fabrics, rotating view optimization capsules, twenty-four hour robotics service, self-cleaning environment systems…”
“Unauthorized neural surveillance, remote chemical kill switches,” the seated man continued in anger.  The other laughed mirthfully.
“Doctor Paul you surprise me!  I didn’t think a man of you’re intelligence would stoop to such insidious superstition.”
“Do your most trusted employees know about the termination package they’ll one day receive, or are they as blind as the rest of humanity?”
“Such flawed assumptions,” the intruder scolded, “It’s a wonder you’ve lasted this long at all.”
“What assumptions?”
“Firstly, that I would ever trust something as completely fickle as human loyalty, and secondly that the human race is blind to its condition.  You and I know full well David: humans aren’t ignorant of their shortcomings, some just get distracted and come to accept them.”
“Yet another ruthlessly calculated position of innocence and infallibility: something I have come to expect from you,” David remarked, looking at his superior through hard eyes.
“Yes, well, we all do what we must to push forward.”
“Some wish to push forward too quickly.”
“And some are too afraid to progress at all.”
“Fear is the elder brother of reason.”  The man marveled at Doctor Paul for a brief moment.
“Such wit and knowledge, and even without the assistance of your upgrades,” the intruder said, gesturing at the discarded glove on the desk.
“There are those of us yet who prefer to use our own minds, Donnelly.”
“And there are those of you who have been a thorn in my side for quite some time.”
“No.”
“Oh?”
“I believe I am the last thorn you have yet to – remove.”  The standing man smiled.
“Furthermore,” David continued, “I never said that you trust anyone; I simply implied that there are those whom you trust more.  Finally, the human race is distracted, yes, but when doors are closed to us, secrets are hidden from view, and blinders are intentionally placed over our eyes, can you say that we are not blind?”
“You, Doctor Paul, are certainly not blind: stupid – but not blind.”
“It’s not hard to see when you remove the blinder.”
“Enough!”  The man named Donnelly slammed a gloved fist into the wall.  “Where is the device?”
“Did you honestly think you would find it here?”
“Of course not,” Donnelly smirked.  “I’d siphon the information I need out of you right now if I didn’t know you’d already had it wiped from your brain.”
“Then you only have one move left to make,” Doctor Paul concluded.
“As I said: stupid, but not blind.”  From the darkened entrance of the capsule four pairs of glowing emerald eyes appeared, each creeping its way to a different corner of the room, sniffing and hissing at the doctor from the shadows.  Turning to leave, the intruder taunted his former employee.  “I’ll find your son.”
David’s eyes widened and the creatures took a step towards him.  “Even if I have to process every last cell in your body, I’ll find him.”
Jumping up from his chair, David put all his weight on the foot pedals below him.  Donnelly stopped at the door, frustrated by an unseen mechanism.
“Mechanical locks,” he remarked as a grenade rolled into the center of the room, “and weapons!  I was wise not to underestimate you, David.”  Donnelly’s image shimmered slightly before disappearing entirely, leaving the doctor to stare at the holo-projectors in the ceiling in utter perplexity.  The reptilian creatures leapt into the light, screeching and waving barbed tails as the doctor’s modified grenade incinerated the dwelling and everything in it.  It was reported as a terrible accident.

Appendix

* Monthly Credit
In this time, currency is a Monthly Credit (MC) of no numerical value, rather consumers pay a percentage of that whole for any given item, whether it’s 0.1% for a week’s supply of water or 25% for a complete medical scan.  Every member of society receives an MC from the government, but everyone is susceptible to reductions, such as standard income tax, disconnected tax (for those without the brain implant), contamination tax (for humans born after 2397 that have not been genetically improved), or the class tax.  Transactions are monitored electronically.

* ‘Connected’
This term refers to a person that has purchased the brain implant upgrade, which can wirelessly transmit and receive electronic signals, including – but not limited to – those generated in the brain by thoughts.  With this technology, humans are potentially connected to everyone else with the upgrade and can wirelessly and instantaneously send and receive messages (thoughts), use command signals to operate compatible software and devices, such as doors, computers, and vehicles, or access and partake in any number of activities in the dream-like network known as the virtual world.

* Contact Nodes
Metallic dots embedded in the wrists of ‘connected’ humans.  A solar powered glove is worn over top and transfers electricity to the nodes which power the brain implant.

* Topside
The most luxurious and expensive residential district aboard the Integral space station.

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