Short story for my zine
|Greyson walked through a set of dimly-lit steel hallways. His fingers tightly wrapped around the handle of his black, worn leather bag; his eyes cast down to avoid any unnecessary eye contact. Another day, another presentation, but he wasn’t complaining. He could really use the money right about now. Graduating from MIT had its perks though. Whenever anyone needed a geneticist, he was practically the first one on a short list of names that anyone called. This was exactly why he had made the 835-mile trip from his hometown to Washington D.C.
He waited at the elevator for a few moments before the doors finally slid open. Two men dressed in the usual camo army uniform walked out and shuffled by him with a sharp nod of their heads. Greyson gave them an uneasy look in return as he stepped into the elevator before pushing the ‘2’ button. Soon the doors closed and he leaned himself up against the wall, letting his head rest uncomfortably against the cold metal. He ran a hand through his blonde locks in exhaustion. His body was now working overtime to try and keep his eyes open. The journey from St. Louis to D.C. had been anything but relaxing, so sleep had eluded him. Then again, he hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep during his college years either, so he had become accustomed to the notion of working with little to no sleep.
Finally, the elevator doors clicked open and he stepped into a room with a few people scurrying around looking for seats that had been set up in the middle of the room. A projector lit up the small space with a blue light. He quickly made his way up to the podium and set his bag down on the floor before pulling out his laptop. He drew the top open and the white light of his home screen blinded him for a few seconds before his eyes finally adjusted. He blinked a few times before hastily typing in his password and bringing his homemade PowerPoint to life.
The title was fairly simple, to say the least. “One-Step Generation of Mice and Other Mammals Carrying Mutations in Multiple Genes by CRISPR/Cas-Mediated Genome Engineering”. Nothing too complicated. Or at least that’s what he thought before he saw the puzzled look on people’s faces as their eyes skimmed the lengthy title. He cleared his throat before starting the presentation that he had given about a million times before.
“Hello, everyone. My name is Greyson Williams. I graduated from MIT 2 years ago. Before 5.20, I worked at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri as the head researcher of the genetics department. My group and I were working on a method which I’m sure many of you have heard of before. CRISPR has been in the making for many years now and we are starting to discover new and more convenient ways to genetically enhance mice and many other genetically-complex animals. For instance, with a simple procedure, we can now grow a human heart inside a pig’s body and use it for a successful transplant. The key is the Cas9 protein that works as an endonuclease. We noticed a procedure in bacteria in which when we look at their DNA, we see short palindromic repeats that house unique spacers. These spacers are remnants of viral DNA that have tried to infect the bacteria. Spacers and repeats are transcribed and combine with the Cas9 protein and…”
“Son, I need you to start speaking English for us,” a man in an army uniform said in a gruff voice.
Greyson paused as a few snickers filled the air and he let out a sigh. “The enzyme can cut out DNA that we don’t want and replace it with whatever we do want,” he muttered simply.
“Well…we could mix and match our DNA with other animals, get rid of genetic diseases, and I guess even introduce traits to humans that don’t occur naturally in our own genome. For example, I could take the gene that gives a tiger its teeth and put it into a rat.”
That caught everyone’s attention. Of course, no one cared about the process. They only worried about the end result. A few hands began to go up with questions as murmurs began to emanate from around the room. Greyson started looking about the room and began selecting people to speak. Were there any limitations? How long has this been possible? But one questions stuck out to him.
“Has this ever been successfully done on humans?” a woman in the back asked.
“No ma’am,” he replied with a shake of his head, “It has been perfected with other animals but we’ve never done a human trial. I believe that’s still a decade or so out of reach to ensure the safety of the patient.”
There was a disappointed sigh that came from the mass of people. He pushed his glasses up his nose as a few more questions were thrown his way. He managed to answer all of them, and after about 30 minutes or so, the meeting was adjourned. As he began to pack up his things, he saw a pair of feet walk up to him. He paused and looked up before seeing the man who had gone ahead and rudely interrupted his presentation. Greyson’s face went a little sour as the man held out his hand and started to introduce himself.
“Dr. Williams, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. My name is Commander Jacob Cameron. Your presentation was interesting.”
“It may have been more interesting if you would have actually let me finish it,” he replied in a monotoned voice.
The man chuckled slightly before shaking his head. “I just needed you to cut to the chase, son,” he continued, “You’re not talking with your science buddies. You’re talking to the United States military.”
Greyson rolled his eyes before pulling his bag over his shoulder. He didn’t need to be talked down to, especially not by this guy. “I’ve got a car to catch,” he said simply as he started to walk around the man.
“Now woah there,” the Commander said as he followed alongside Greyson, “I’ve got a job opportunity for you.”
The young man stopped in his tracks. A job? He desperately needed one of those. Ever since the economy went under, he had been out of work. It was going on close to 7 months. He turned on his heels to face the man and crossed his arms, trying to hide the desperation on his face. “I’m listening,” he answered.
“I think we could use your help. This technology that you’ve got going could work to our advantage. What if I could help move your process along a little? Arrange a few tests for you on a human subject? I got a work space for you and everything.”
Greyson rose a brow before he shook his head without a second thought. “This isn’t ready to be taken to that stage. There are still some kinks that need to be worked out.”
“Kid, North Korea just took out Japan, and then when we threatened to take action, they go and take out Hawaii. No one forgets where they were on that day. No will ever forget what happened on 5.20. Now you’ve got something that we could use to beat these bastards and you’re telling me that you don’t want to because you don’t think it’s ‘ready’? We’re trying to prevent a nuclear war here.”
Greyson tore his brown eyes away from the man. “If we take this to the next step prematurely, we could kill a lot of people. Not just with testing but with whatever the hell we create. You’re talking about creating something that may decide that it doesn’t need to listen to you anymore. What happens when you create something you can’t destroy?”
“Then you get one of the other ones to go against it and take it out. I’m not talking just one, kid. I’m talking about every man and woman that is signed up for the United States military.”
Greyson really couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could someone be this naïve? “That doesn’t interest me,” he replied with a shake of his head before starting towards the door.
He could practically feel the Commander’s disappoint and anger clawing at his back, but he didn’t care. No one deserved the power to alter a person for their own personal gain. He didn’t care what someone else had done to deserve it.
Jacob watched as Greyson disappeared out the door before cursing the idiot under his breath. He turned and headed to speak with his commanding officers before informing them what Greyson’s response to the job offer had been.
“Shame,” one of them said as he scratched Greyson’s name off a lengthy list, “Send a letter to Richard Crumb. He’s a Harvard graduate and he’s done a few tests of his own with that CRISPR thing. Try him next.”