The Edge - 1990/91
Galapagos Isle - Ben Pickard
(page 8/9)

Galapagos Isle

"Quite an evening," said the well-groomed young clerk to the woman standing next to him. Receiving no acknowledgement he coughed and turned away. She suddenly became aware of the comment within her reverie.

"....Oh yes," she said quickly, and then silence returned as the lift continued its rapid ascent up the side of the Park Tower. The golden rays of dusk were reflecting off the Serpentine and the glass-encased high-risers all the way to the horizon. At the top she got out at the observation level and walked round to the south-west side as she had been instructed.

The chair at the desk was too comfortable to encourage work so she contented herself with staring out of the window alternately focussing on the activity in the street and on the berry stained bird muck on the pane. "Only the phone can ruin moments like this," she thought, and so when it did ring she smiled.

"Mary Collins here."

"Good-morning Miss Collins. I have just been reading your article in yesterday's paper. I believe that now would be an opportune moment for us to discuss some of the points arising from it.'

"I'm sorry... do I know you'?"

He seemed amused by this; 'I do not think we have met but suffice it to say that we share a common interest, a common aim, that would benefit from my knowledge and your presentation."

"May I have your name?"

"You may have a name. Let us say 'Gabriel' for our mutual convenience."

"Where can we meet?"

The poignancy of the rendezvous was acute - looking down she could see the obelisk that was the memorial to those that died as a result of the rogue virus of '98. The list was long, consisting entirely of infants and that was why her 25th anniversary article had caused such a stir yesterday. Subjects like that should maybe have been remembered quietly in other circumstances, but in the light of new facts, a resurrection of grief was necessary, if only to find the truth behind the confusion. She wondered if the desire for a story had suppressed her humane side but decided not to probe her motives too deeply.

"Miss Collins?"

"Yes..." she turned round to face the voice and instinctively took a step back, hitting the window as her mind took in the figure before her. He appeared to be in the process of a huge shrug - his shoulders (or maybe shoulder blades) were grossly extended over head height and his back forced a weighty carapace that made his coat billow out.

"Don't worry, I won't bite. And anyway, your name isn't Esmerelda, is it?" he said with a smile. "I enjoy watching people's mutual reaction to me."

She tried to compose herself. "I'm sorry to be so rude - please excuse me."

"Horror is the common response, I believe this is because deformity is viewed upon as a desecration of the temple which is our body."

Not knowing what to say in reply to such a comment, she motioned to a free table. "Please, Mr Gabriel, shall we sit down?" She fixed her gaze into his eyes to avoid looking at the rest of him.

"Miss Collins, I must thank you for meeting me at such short notice - I don't think you will regret this as I have some rather revealing information about the virus epidemic you have been researching."

Mary took the tape-recorder out of her bag and pressed the record button. He continued.

"Maybe you could tell me a brief resume of what you know just so I know where to come in."

"Yes, of course." she paused to form the story. "From September 1998 a dramatic increase in spontaneous abortions and births involving deformed children was reported all over Britain and subsequently the world. An immediate government inquiry was ordered which came up with a number of findings and recommendations. Firstly, a mutagenic virus was responsible for these effects. Secondly, this virus was sexually transmitted and thus was in a position to alter the genetic make-up of future gametes of a parent. Thirdly, the virus was non-pathogenic to the human host(and thus asymptotic for the first nine months after the epidemic begin). Fourthly, the virus was traced to an English genetic engineering company which was, quite rightly bankrupted and key employees tried and found guilty of violating every genetic engineering regulation in the book. Lastly, the long term effects were a halting of all genetic research in Britain due to the Public outcry and the setting up of sheltered institutions for the worst victims of the virus. There was also a vaccine developed which brought about an end to the virus within one year of its initial appearance, such was the scale of medical funding that took place."

"Very good, indeed, except for the fourth point, but I can help you there." He pulled a scrap of newspaper out of an inside pocket of his coat and spread it flat on the table. "This article printed yesterday - where did you get the information from?"

"I can't name the individual involved but a memo was leaked from the government intimating official funding for illegal genetic research in violation of their own legislation."

"I'm sorry you can't name him or her - I would guess it was one of the hateful secretaries that we have to put up with at the research institute." he smiled again at her stunned reaction. "Perhaps this meeting was not a good idea for your heart... Yes, I work on genetic engineering research."

"But you should be totally against this research, being a mutant yourself' she interjected.

Looking slightly uncomfortable, he replied softly, "I prefer 'Person of Altered Genotype' to... to mutant." using vocal forceps to hold the final word at a distance. "It is not as simple as you make out, I'm afraid. The work has revealed a story behind the story in the last few months. Do you want to hear what I know, if I tell you that it will affect your view on life forever?" he threw this melodramatic gauntlet at her feet knowing the answer already. She looked at his expectant face, with it's aquiline nose and thick, black hair swept backwards. An irony that such humanity could be framed by such a body.

"How can I refuse, and I will accept whatever consequences come my way." she replied with matching gusto.

"A true journalist!" I shall try to reduce my part in this tale to the necessary skeletal points so as not to cloud the main thrust of the Plan.

"I was brought into this world in December 1998 and, in common with countless other babies, was reckoned to be too much of an emotional burden upon my parents so I was taken into care in one of the newly created sheltered institutions. This was intended to be of emotional benefit for us also - to prevent hatred and prejudice being directed against us from normal people. We were cared for by proficient, if somewhat dour, staff and those of us that were mentally capable, were educated. This well-meaning, but short-sighted policy has had, and will have many repercussions some of which I can only guess at..."

"Excuse me for interrupting you, but I honestly can't believe that you can sit here showing no outward sign of any emotional response, no feeling towards - at the risk of sounding patronising - your tragic past." Mary sat back, arms folded, awaiting a reply.

Gabriel frowned and opened his mouth in readiness to put complicated thoughts into words. "It was difficult for most of my life to carry this burden upon my shoulders - to understand why I had been 'afflicted' and that every day in the institution meant another day of a happy, normal life lost forever. However, when I understood the Plan and the part I ... we were to play in it that a sense of calm and satisfied resignation took over - a man who knows his destiny is the only man who can be truly happy." He stopped and looked at her face as she tried to digest this. "The rest of the story will clarify matters, don't worry."

"One day, I learnt that a genetics research unit had been set up to study us and I boldly asked to join, in the hope of finding out more about the virus. They dared not refuse me for fear of my divulging the presence of such research to the press. It amuses me that I am doing so now. Anyway, within a few years they let me loose on a small project - to try to find a purpose for a protein that was only found in persons of altered genotype. A real dead-end research line, so they thought, just to keep him happy. To cut a long story short, it had no physiological purpose whatsoever, it was intended as a message to the world. You see, each amino acid in the protein could be assigned a letter which spelt a message." Gabriel chuckled. "Very clever and very amusing. It said 'Malachi 3:3' and the name of a well-known '90s genetic scientist."

"Malachi 3:3?"

"Yes. Do you know your bible well?"

Mary shook her head so Gabriel continued "'He will sit as a refiner a purifier of silver, he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.' The Levites here mean all humanity As you will appreciate I had to speak to this scientist - he surely, would have answers for me. Venturing into the outside world for the first time was an education in itself, but that's another story. Eventually, I traced him to his home. He greeted me like the Grim-Reaper, he knew at once why I had come and made no attempt to conceal his past actions or motives..."

"Please, go on," Mary said a little too loudly and poorly concealing her anticipation.

"Do you mind if we get some fresh air up on the roof, if there is some servicing stairway leading up?"

Together they climbed the iron stairs. She noticed the way in which his pacing and swinging of his arms compensated for the raised centre of gravity. It was dark and the condensation from their breath was only illuminated intermittently by the red aircraft warning light on the radio mast above their heads Gabriel looked around at the city lights and then back at Mary. The scientist and some of his colleagues realised that the future of Mankind was in serious peril from an unexpected quarter - not nuclear war, pollution or overpopulation but what can be trivially described as too much good-living. One of Darwin's tenets is that only the fittest survive. Natural Selection ensures that genes are constantly changing for the better with respect to the environment and with respect to the species environmental competitors. Man, however, developed 'intelligence' and so proceeded to make his environment like a giant padded cell and worst of all created medicines that cured in the short term but in the long-term would mean disaster."

"In what way? Surely man has been the triumph of evolution?"

"Maybe now, but the scientists are talking on the biological time-scale; hundreds of thousands of years. Do you understand? Man is now breeding out survivability and breeding in susceptibility - whilst nature is continuing its uphill path, we are regressing in evolutionary terms. Our intelligence will outwit us lead to our extinction - a paradox for you."

"Assuming this theory is correct, which seems a matter for debate, what could the scientist do?"

"He got hold of a virus, by dubious means, from the company you mentioned earlier. Then he prepared large amounts of human DNA by mutating parts by small degrees. Short segments of this modified human DNA were inserted into the virus, and then the virus was released into the environment. It could now act as a multiplying army of mutagenic particles."

"But that is biological warfare! Mass Murder."

"Or mass preservation. It depends on which side of the fence you position yourself. His Plane was one of genius - he could not change the environment so that it would 'shape' man for the better, so he decided to act directly on man; altering him to make evolutionary more advanced humans. Of course there were a few humans who mutated fatally or non-profitably such as most of the inhabitants of the institutions but it was a small price to pay for the continuation of human existence."

"I can't believe what I'm hearing." Mary was dazed. The structure of the building she stood upon became super-real, the lights of the city so clear about her. Here I am. Now Feeling this one scientist's distant, yet firm, touch upon me. The knowledge was too long to fit inside her mind all at once - she could only scan short parts of it - that was what made her afraid.

"There is a substantial number of normal looking 25-year-olds alive today who are slightly different from their peers - they are mutants who possess a variant gene pool which will allow them to perform better in whatever situations the next few millennia throw upon mankind.

"This sounds like Aryan eugenics to me."

"No. That is the attempt to attain a uniform species, whereas this is the creation of variability - genes for any occasion. Eggs in different baskets, so to speak."

Something in Mary's mind demanded her attention. "You said you and some others had a specific role to play in this Plan."

"Well remembered. This scientist also created some trangenics via the mutagenic viruses"

"Transgenics?"

"You may know them better as chimeras - species mixtures; part human, part animal." Gabriel climbed onto the low wall that surrounded the roof area. Mary laughed, yet another believable thread!" and then she noticed his position. Gabriel looked down upon her. "These people are to be the proof that the mutations were not some simple accident from a sloppy lab - they are the signal that humanity's future has been assured. There is a purpose behind what has happened" Gabriel removed his coat and shirt. Mary looked up in curious horror. She could see his normal torso but the projections that she thought were shoulders seemed to come from his back. They looked like folded parchments in the half-light.

Gabriel extended his wings and they caught the wind. "We are to be the heralds of the birth of the new Mankind." He turned away from her and dived into the void.

Mortified at what she had seen, she found her body folded on the concrete floor. Stumbling over to the edge, she looked down into the Park. A shimmer of movement flitted across the Serpentine.

Ben Pickard