continued from previous
Olivia had strategically placed her chair opposite the entrance to the lab, pretending to read a scientific paper. She was of course waiting for John, ready to ambush him with the news as soon as he got in. Over the past hour and a half she had been browsing the data that her bioinformatician had prepared. There were too many hypotheses to explore, and Olivia needed John’s insight. He was the only one she knew who could think outside the limits of mainstream science – who was not afraid to challenge, to deviate, to think not only as a scientist, but also as an actual component of the very ecosystem he was studying: as one of the 8 million species on the planet that humans were still trying to understand, even as they were entering the final stages of destroying it.
“We have the first results! She yelled with excitement as John walked in, barely awake and fashionably late. He had spent the night doodling away on his wall well into the early morning hours, trying to complete the mural in his apartment.
“Do we?” he said, pretending to be interested, as he put his coffee down. He was still too asleep to see the “ask me” face that Olivia had put on, like a child desperate to give away a secret they couldn’t hold any longer. John was struggling to match her energy. The mural on his wall had affected him. It had soaked deep into his existence and taken control of his spirit. He would wake up to it every day, and stare at the flooded, destroyed, chaotic world that humans had created. He was beginning to drown in this world, in his own painting, and worst of all, he didn’t care anymore. He didn’t want anyone to save him, or even notice him struggling in the waves. He just wanted to disappear. He didn’t want to fight or resist, adding even more ripples to the ocean, adding to the chaos. He just wanted everything to end. He was exhausted.
“Look at this” Olivia said, placing her tablet in front of him. She had already noticed that he was not up for a chat and had selected the most compelling piece of data to excite him: the sequence matches of the Apocalypse Gene among the sample of Minimalists who had so far submitted blood samples.
“They’re all expressing the sequence John” she said, scrolling through anonymized profile after anonymized profile of each Minimalist. “And not only that. They’re not just simply expressing it. These are very unusual individuals. Their level of expression is only found in less than 0.7% of the wild-type human population. Yet somehow these individuals, from completely different backgrounds, have managed to find each other in society and form a group, their own society. The only way to explain this is if the Apocalypse Gene in humans is responsible for a major behavioral trait. This finding could shake the foundations of socio-biology.”
“Have you looked at the psychometric data?” John fired his question before Olivia could even finish her sentence. He was back in the game.
“No, it has literally just come in, let me download it” – she pressed a button and then handed the tablet back to John.
“Looks like quite a broad distribution across personality types, with a couple of exceptions: lots of INFJs, and the score on empathy is really high on a consistent basis ” John said.
“Are we talking about a gene for empathy?” Olivia asked, half-joking, half-serious. These were risky words for any scientist to utter, but she knew she could think freely in front of John. He looked at her without uttering a word. His eyes were already answering her question.
“There is something else I want you to see John. There is this one peculiar sample where we had to do follow-up testing, as we thought we had made a mistake. The first run showed a huge over-expression, literally 100-fold above all other over-expressors. My assistant ran the test over and over, and cross-checked the DNA results with Advanced Next Generation Sequencing. We think this is a real result”
“Can we ask individuals to disclose their identity?” John said
“Well, I can tell you who it is, on this occasion” Olivia replied
“I know this person?!”
“Yes, you do. It is Aspen. She had submitted a blood sample along with the other Minimalists.”
John’s heart skipped a beat as he stared at the result in disbelief. Aspen’s figures were all 2 or 3 digits longer than all the other samples. His vision became blurry as he began to feel nauseous. Aspen was his closest living relative. She was his flesh and blood.
“She’s a one-of-a-kind expressor, John. She’s literally off the fucking scale”, Olivia said with both admiration and trepidation. “And as her next-of-kin, it is possible you could be very similar to her”
Without saying a word, John stormed out of the lab. He had to find Aspen. Now.
(from the upcoming novel A New Earth)
to read from the beginning, go here
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books