A science fiction short story by Thomas Richardson
The heart monitor beeped in a corner of the dimly lit room. A nearly depleted saline bag hung by the monitor. A wristband labeled ‘934TXS’ quivered on a hairy wrist. 934TXS laid on his back clutching a blanket. The hands, though large and strong, shook violently. Biceps, pectorals, quadriceps, hamstrings and other muscles bulged across his body, but were of no functional use. Bouts of tension and electric shocks surged in waves, causing him to flail without warning.
Another subject across the room also clutched his blanket, but in quiet stillness. Instead of bulging muscles, an EEG connected wires running from the machine to electric nodes covering his head. Gamma and Beta wave measurements were off the chart. An adjoining clipboard read: ESTIMATED IQ EXCEEDS 99TH PERCENTILE, SUBJECT 737MX8 EXCEEDS STANDARD IQ RATINGS. Despite this intelligence, he never flinched. He had succumbed to a catatonic state. Immeasurable brain power, but unable to voice it aloud.
A nurse in faded scrubs sauntered into the room with a clipboard. She stood in front of the EEG taking notes. 934TXS looked at her intently.
‘Why are you monitoring him, but not me? I need a new IV bag.’
‘Your condition is being monitored. I have instructions to care for you both.’
‘Care? This pain is like getting shocked with a cattle prod.’
‘I’m sorry. Pain medications would interfere with the data.’
‘Forget your sorry. This experiment is a farce. Pills to trigger genetic mutations? Make us stronger, faster, smarter? Sounds like something out of a comic book.’
‘I cannot discuss the procedures of a clinical trial.’
‘You think I’m naïve? They explained the purpose of this study and anyone could see through the doctor’s veneer. Non-steroid muscular enhancement? Modification of the human genome? I only studied medicine for a year, but I remember enough medical jargon.’
‘Unfortunately, I can’t discuss it any further sir.’
‘So, the fact that my pectoralis major, biceps brachii, rectus abdominis, deltoid, trapezius, and other major muscle groups have increased in mass size 416%, but my peripheral nervous system is degrading means nothing?’
‘All pertinent medical data is important.’
‘Is it pertinent though?’
‘Stop lying. I’ve been through enough. I’m a mutant, but that’s a far as evolution will go in this room.’
‘We’re not discussing evolution sir.’
‘Pills to trigger genetic mutations. That is evolution, only on pre-determined schedule.’
‘Sir, the results of the trial will be discussed with you once results have been analyzed.’
‘Or your bosses can walk down here and see for themselves. It’s not like either he or I are going somewhere soon.’
An espresso machine vibrated as the coffee grinder worked through another filling of beans. Dark liquid poured from the spout into two white demitasse cups. Thick foam bubbled from the milk frother and was gently poured. The cups and accompanying saucers were carried to a beautifully lacquered pink ivory wood conference table. Men and women in stark white lab coats with a red identification badge were seated in front of their leather binders. Stacks of cardboard boxes filled with paper sat on handcarts, each with different labels reading ‘Orthopedic Labs’, ‘Neurology Reports’, and ‘Chemical Enhancements’. All of them sported large red letters: ‘PROPERTY OF LAMBDA CORP.’ A silver haired man wearing a bold Prussian blue tie with a matching pocket square and cufflinks flipped open his binder and began thumbing through the documents.
‘…Research showed that subjects who received dose AL9 experienced heightened auditory capacities; some capable of hearing sounds over 150 decibels in a restrictive environment. However, the same subjects also suffered from acute muscular dystrophy. Recommended drug treatment is golodirsen to counteract side effects…’
The room filled with murmurs while one slammed her binder shut.
‘This is the twelfth incident of malformations following administration of AL9. Shouldn’t this signal that we need to revert the formula back to R&D?’
‘AL9 underwent R&D for five years. We have acceptable levels of risk with each participant and identified genetic markers that could potentially interfere with the product.’
‘FLT3, NPM1, and PTPN11.’
‘Acute myeloid leukemia? Did we intentionally choose those with a history of cancers?’
‘Absolutely not. We are trying to establish a correlation though.’
‘What about S0D1? Do those with genetic markers for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis experience drawbacks?’
‘We are still acquiring data.’
‘Nine years of data isn’t enough?’
‘The Lambda Corporation invested significantly in AL9 and is ensuring that it goes through intensive scientific review. Their board believes that with any drug, accompanying side effects are expected and will not submit for a peer review.’
‘This isn’t a headache or nausea. These are lethal consequences that outweigh any benefit of AL9. Do you also expect people to research their own genome to ensure they aren’t at risk of dying?’
‘Again, the Lambda Corporation believes that when properly managed, AL9 can rapidly improve the quality of life and potential of the human body and mind.’
The murmurs subsided, but many appeared apprehensive.
‘No one here is willing to disagree with the board? The scientific evidence this committee has obtained should demonstrate the fact that AL9 is too dangerous to be made publicly available in its current form.’
‘The Lambda Corporation wants a return on investment. Potential sales have estimated to range between $570 to $900 million in the first year.’
‘I want it on record that I formally disagree with the board’s decision to continue with AL9’s development.’
The meeting concluded two hours later. She moved nonchalantly towards the espresso machine in the now empty room. She reached behind the machine and dislodged a small plastic item. The bright red ‘Record’ light was still shining. She was worried that the batteries might die during the meeting. She hit ‘Stop’ on the recorder and slid it into a manila envelope marked ‘To the Financial Times.’