Thursday, September 14, 2006

Me and My X Part 2 - Chuy on Mt. Olympus

Chuy and I walked briskly to the building. We sweated, even in the cooler midnight air. Five minutes of silence later we arrived at the research center. Chuy pulled the keycard from his pocket and set down the carrying-cage. He swiped the card. Nothing happened. I was almost relieved.

Then a green light appeared and the door unlatched. Chuy swung open the door and motioned me to follow him in. We went to the elevator. Only one thing could stop us. The security cameras weren’t a problem. We weren’t stealing any equipment, so nobody would even bother to check them. As long as nobody robbed the lab we were in the clear.

The only problem was if a professor was working late. We could try to pose as grad students doing late-night research, if only we weren’t carrying a cat around. We had no cover. We risked expulsion and worse. Neither of us cared about the cat.

The elevator doors opened. An empty elevator greeted us. We had five floors to make it to the lab. Chuy hopped inside, I stepped in after him.

“khoin hupp!”

I watched the digital floor readout tick off the floors.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

The elevator opened to an open hallway. We actually ran to the lab. The poor cat jostled and jarred, made screechy little mewls as we ran. Finally we reached the door. Another swipe, another anxious moment, then a green light and the door unlatched.

We were in. The re-genesis labs are never as impressive as in the movies. The equipment doesn’t have the brand-new, freshly-cleaned sterility. The monitors don’t have convenient three-dimensional graphical readouts. There’s no crew of twelve scrubbed-out engineers doing busy work. All it takes is a piece of hair, some patience, some timing, and a competent genetecist. That was Chuy.

Chuy and I set on the room in a flurry, flicking switches and checking readouts. We needed at least 2 hours for the incubation, we wanted to be out of the lab by 4:00.

The process of making a cat goes like this: a lab tech takes a hair sample.

I plucked a hair from Whiskey with some tweezers.

The lab tech takes the hair to a genetic parser unit. It has to be a hair because the parser is designed to read hairs. In the early days they read blood, but it got messy sometimes. And it didn’t look good on commercials.

I fed the hair to the parser. Chuy and I waited a few minutes for the machine to read the genome.

Now, the hard part: an expertly-trained geneticist checks the growth genes. The genes are sometimes subtly dissonant in different cells. When the first animals were re-made they called it cloning. The assumption was that every cell carries a perfect copy of your genome. They do, almost. But infinitesimal differences in certain regions, especially the growth regions, made the so-called clones imperfect. They died young. A tiny change in the cellular environment, something as mundane as a .01% change in Ph, can make the whole animal unstable.

So a geneticist who knows his animals, his genetic profiles, has to run statistical analyses. He has to know how to interpret them. Especially, he has to know how to fix them. It’s not as passive as cloning; it’s an act of creation.

Chuy pored over the results. Without looking at me, he said, “scheg da ghalfay.”

“Chuy, if anybody’s out there that’s just going to make it more obvious we’re in here.”

“scheg foa hoppish lights.”

Lights, Chuy can pronounce. Chuy seemed insistent, and I knew he wasn’t going to let it go. I opened the door and peeked around both corners.

“There’s no office lights, Chuy.”

“scheg hall huf zem.”

“Fine, I’ll check the rest of the hallways. Listen for 'shave and a haircut'. That’ll be me.”

I stepped outside. The door shut behind me. If anyone saw me they didn’t have to know Chuy was in the lab. If anyone saw me - I followed the janitor in, got lost, that's all.

I walked to the end of the hallway and looked around the corner. Nothing but the auxiliary lights from overhead. I checked the other end. Nothing there, either. I started to walk to the other side of the building, but stopped short. I could hear a soft su-surring, like someone whispering. I froze.

I walked backwards quietly, towards the stairwell. I realized suddenly how careless we had been taking the elevator. The whispering got louder. I reached for the door handle behind me. Just then I felt a cool draft on my neck. The air-conditioner.

I stood there and I chortled to myself. I listened and I heard the same whispering sound. Air rushing through the vents. I walked back to the lab and rapped sharply.

Shave-and-a-haircut. Knock-knock. Maybe they should call it “shave and a haircut, thank you.”

Chuy didn’t come. I knocked again, quieter this time. Chuy still didn’t answer. I saw Chuy through the window. He had finished with the parser. He was coding the template tissue. I knocked again, but he didn’t answer. He didn’t even turn around. He couldn’t hear me. I knocked again. Now he turned around. He smiled at me and he waved me off. He wasn’t going to let me in.

I tried to understand, and I failed, so I got angry. It was our project. Whether he could use me or not, I wanted to be a part of it. I knocked again. He waved absently. The template tissue was done. He took the tissue and put it in the growth chamber.

The growth chamber is just slurry, like amniotic fluid but regulated with hormones. With the right mix of hormones you can grow the tissue to two years, but nobody ever goes past six months. Any longer and the probability of an error increases exponentially. It’s a very small probability, but still too risky. If it comes out screwed-up, you have to kill it.

It would take two hours, and it would take constant monitoring. Every growth profile is a little different. Chuy would have to watch the levels. Cats have pretty well-known profiles. They’re easy to grow. Some animals are harder.

If you’re curious, there’s no profile for humans. There is one, in theory, but it’s illegal to even research it. The sentence for human cloning is execution, every time. It's never happened, though. Every genetecist spends a few hours every semester watching video of the early experiments. The ones that didn't come out right. You watch the videos strapped to an emotional bio-meter. If you register any emotion other than shock, disgust, or sadness, you're gone. If you don't register at least sadness, you're gone.

I decided to wait downstairs. I checked my watch. 2:15. We were late. He was late, I was sitting on a bench in front of the building thinking of the perfect way to tell him how much I truly despised him. It was a long two hours. Chuy was upstairs, a god. I was the gatekeeper. The chauffeur of the god.

I could have left, but my sense of curiosity barely overwhelmed my sense of betrayal.
Finally, Chuey emerged from the lab carrying two cases, now. One case had a towel over it.

“What the hell was that, Chuy?”

Not the speech I had rehearsed, but I was tired. Chuy handed me a note. He had obviously been thinking, too:

I’m sorry. You would have stopped me.

“We were supposed to do this together.”

My anger froze. A high-pitched squeal came from the carrying case, the other carrying case. Not how a cat should sound.

“It didn’t come out right. Chuy, I should’ve been there. Oh God. We can’t let it live.”

Chuy seemed exultant. He shook his head slowly. He tried to hand me the case, but I recoiled from it.

“Whatever’s in there, I don’t want to know. We shouldn’t have done this. Chuy, I’m sorry, we have to kill it.”

The sound coming from it was awful. It was screeching now. Chuy pulled back the towel. As bad as I knew it would be, I wanted to look.

I truly wish it had been some hideously deformed kitten. More than anything I have ever wanted since then, I wished it was some two-headed, inside-out, pus-oozing, circus-freak of a kitten.

It was a baby. A little baby.

“Jesus Christ! Chuy! What the fuck did you do? What did you do? This is a capital offense! You’re going to get us killed.”

He smiled, full of grace. I was as astonished as I was appalled. I don’t know how he did it. He shouldn’t have been able to. There aren’t any texts, not even black market ones. He had figured it out himself.

Then it got worse. I noticed something about the baby. It was pink. As in Caucasian. And it was a girl. I mustered all the eloquence I could.

“What the fuck! What the fuck! What the fuck!”

Chuy handed me another note.

I used your X twice. I had to make some adjustments, of course. It was easier than I thought it would be.

Chuy patted me on the shoulder. I looked at my shoulder. A few stray hairs clung to my shirt. I walked to my car. Chuy didn’t follow me. I wouldn’t have let him if he tried. We were both dead men if anyone caught us.

“Don’t come near me, Chuy, ever again.”

I thought I could hear him crying. Joy, sadness, I don’t know.

I went home. I sat on the bed. Amelia stirred, feeling the pressure.

“Hey, babe. How’d it go?”

I collapsed. I put my head on her breast and squeezed her arms until I could feel the bone underneath and I cried.

Things didn’t work out for me and Amelia after that. Chuy disappeared. His parents called me a few weeks later, asked if I knew where he was. They said he called them, and told them not to worry about him, but they knew we were friends. I told them we weren’t friends, and not to call back. And that’s where it stood for sixteen years.

He had become a god. I would become a god, too, but my place on Olympus comes a little later.

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