Five friends go on a quest for a revolutionary procedure
"So … we right direction?"
Jerald's statement was more accusation than question. The woman he was addressing it to watched him with eyes like black ice. The other three circled them, still a loose-knit group after six days in close company. The women were Nye and Kismet. The men: Jerald, Thomas, and Olain.
In the murderous Fahrenheit of an endless summer, it was Kismet who stood toe to toe, if not eye to eye, with Jerald. Nye stepped in between the pair, cooing mediation. "Please. Our quest is almost over."
They were five strangers whose paths had crossed on the way to Syti, the place where Earth's population converged as one corporate laboratory. All had left their villages to travel. Four had left behind the braying scorn of their people.
One had left a pile of unbleached bones.
"You all sure? We close?"
Jerald was a pedantic nit-picker. Once, he'd had a brilliant mind, back in the days when he was a top biophysicist. Unfortunately, his preoccupation with medical ethics had irritated those colleagues who had little time for clinical validations. After having illegally captured and confined him, they’d carried out months of secret experiments, following which they’d released him into the one of the village clusters of 'unaceptable outcomes'.
Those experiments had taken much of his brilliance away, and any physical resemblance to his human form was long gone. But this was a world of survival not lawsuits; a world of power and control and revenge. This was not a world of idealism and exposes on torture and corruption.
This was a world in which mutated humans were the norm.
As they travelled, Jerald's bovine features hung large and looming as he spoke of better days. "Big fuss 'bout oil once, three hundred years ago. 'Til one company found ways to make hydrocarbons. Used corn starch, sugar cane … even grasses. All happy-happy. Couldn't save 'zone layer though. We overheated. The UVs came. Rogues took over. Stole those catalytic conversion techniques and put melanin in the mix for the staying-alive market. Not like the polka-dots from chemo, but all over smooth-smooth."
They all knew the history. The increasing climate changes of the previous two centuries meant that oil had long dried up as a fuel resource. Nuclear energy, though cleaner and cheaper, had been shut down for the heavy environmental health invoice it had handed the human race. Hydrocarbon energy had saved the planet. But the ozone layer was too damaged. That invoice had come in the form of cancers that spread, as of course did the criminals who used desperation for a quick fix to profit.
However, one group of humans had remained protected from it all.
Overnight, the Blackbody scramble turned pariah-paupers into the Untouchable Dalit Gods of Afrik-Syti, protected day and night from contact with desperadoes seeking skin-scrapes. When wealthy clients demanded more customised physiques to cope with the ultra violet, biochemists had simply added another transhuman DNA string. The procedure, a powerful injection known as "The Mosquito", was aggressively promoted; until a glitch began to throw up terrifying foetal deformities.
"Mosquito wiped out billions. Made billionaires. Many more in Syti, waiting to become."
Not everyone cared for Jerald's protocols. In a private moment, the ultra-slender Olain expressed concerns. "He's completely paranoid."
"Should we eat him?" This was twelve-year-old Thomas, who had been alone a year. Like many who had faced starvation, Thomas had learned pragmatism at the dinner table.
Kismet grinned toothily at him and winked her agreement. "Why not?"
Nye's dark eyes flashed at Kismet's shark-like instinct for the kill. "We just can't eat Jerald. We need his stronger moral discipline."
But her words fell away into empty air.
* * *
Early dawn, the group awoke, ate, and left camp. Already Kismet's moonlit glow was shifting towards its midday onyx. Emerald hair the colour of the ocean fell towards child-bearing hips, cloaking breasts from which no infant could ever safely suckle. At six-foot-five, with a land-and-water speed that blurred the vision, Kismet embodied that supreme throw of the DNA dice. A playful Fate had granted her, at conception, an almost perfect Mosquito.
Her glance at the discarded hump of fur was simply now practical. "Should we bury it?"
"Kismet, for the love of Dalit, it's Jerald!" Beneath Olain's hissed anger lay a good deal of satiated guilt.
"Didn't you enjoy eating Jerald, Olain?" Kismet watched Olain, her eyes speculating. What they speculated was something that no-one there could decipher. Or would ever want to.
Thomas jumped in quickly. "He was delicious."
Thomas's elongated and serrated limbs were equally useful for killing, eating, or running. He would apply all six, he decided, if Kismet ever came for him. Easing closer to Nye, he asked, "Do you think we'll become human again? In Syti?"
Nye smiled reassuringly. "Of course. The Afrik-Gods are kind. They will let us touch them.” Nye was an exceptional liar. “And they have a faster, stronger Mosquito now."
All ethics had been left behind with Jerald's carcass. But Nye could still honour his memory. Turning to Kismet, she asked Jerald's earlier question, using his fractured speech. "How you know, we right direction?"
Kismet gave her salutary wink. as she too responded using Jerald's fractured speech."Smell blood."
She gave them a wide open-mouthed grin. And each companion silently counted the endless, endless rows of teeth. Thomas fought down the urge to seek shelter under Nye. He wished her great wings held the power of flight. Then she could carry Olain and himself, coiled on her back, safely to Syti. Or to anywhere that would be far, far away from Kismet.