By Erik Johnson
I have started to turn.
The others haven’t noticed. The rot, the size of a cigar burn, is on my right wrist. I’m wearing short sleeves, so I can’t hide it. I keep my arm turned over and favor my left, flipping switches, preparing for take-off. It won’t do to have a pilot who’s infected.
The damning spot is gray and cracked, like the ashes of burned paper. It doesn’t hurt yet. I’m tempted to let the nav computer handle everything, but that’s against procedures. Always keep a human in the loop. So I’m in the cockpit pressing buttons like some kind of trained ape in case the machines become aware that they exist. What a joke. Our own bodies are going to kill us long before any computer uprising. I tap a button and call Launch Control, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
“Launch Control, this is Pandora. How long until we’re green?””
A voice comes back, some Texas good-old-boy drawl. “Now darlin’, just keep your shirt on. We’ll get to you ASAP. We got the delegation from Mars colony coming in. It’s a class-A crap storm right now. Shouldn’t be more than thirty minutes.”
I cut the link. His tone suggests he’s not taking me seriously. Happens a lot. Even though I’m 16 and have a freighter license, I still have this ridiculous little girl voice. I need to make my rendezvous with Wod before my arm falls off and before the rest of the crew figures out that I have illicit mods.
Wod’s a genius crafter. When I was younger, I’d bring him injured animals I found in the forest and he’d fix them right up. Now I’m the one that needs fixing. Then it’s home to Momma’s cooking and Daddy’s sermons about how Eve was Adam’s clone. I’ll endure one to get the other, I guess.
I don’t know what’s happening with my arm. Mods are done a lot of different ways; nanos, gene splicing, viruses. No way of telling if my condition is contagious. Either way, the crew will put me in quarantine and call a sanitation team. When they see what I’ve got, they’ll hack off my arm to study it and probably shove the rest of me out an airlock for violating GP.
GP, Genetic Protocols. Very strict rules about what you can and can’t do to your own DNA. Once scientists cracked the genome, they eliminated hereditary illnesses—for the rich, of course. They also made super-soldiers for the army, enhanced athletes for the leagues, that kind of thing.
Eventually, watered-down and flawed mods made their way down to the masses. You can grow a second head and shock your parents, or more arms to work your McJob more efficiently. The black market mods are what everybody wants. You can do the superhero stuff, but the patches sometimes hurt you and others around you in really horrific ways.
I hate mods in fact. They aren’t natural. The ones I have now I got because I had to carry out my plan. I haven’t got thirty minutes. The bombs will go off in about twenty and they’ll shut all the space ports down and I’ll be trapped.
My arm tingles. I look down to see that my fingers have elongated. I’ve always wanted longer fingers, but not like this. These are six or seven inches long and drooping at the knuckles. Nerve blockers are keeping the pain at bay. I will my hand back into a normal shape and put it in my lap.
What would you say, Daddy, if you found out what I’ve done? I had to kill a man. A security guard who found me when I was planting the bombs. He had a family, probably. I broke his neck with my thighs. That’s what mods can do. Are you still in favor of them? “Go forth and multiply,” that’s what God said. He didn’t say, “Go forth and hack the genetic code.” It isn’t right, and I am doing something about it.
I feel bad for all of the people who are going to die. But then I remind myself that they gave up being people a long time ago.
I glance at the clock. It won’t be long now.