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In bygone days, before Strain Three had forced the people of this place to flee across the water, the lab had not been a lab. As Dobe and I passed beneath the great steel shutters, I considered that we would once have been able to wander in and out without the need for scans or keycards. As we passed the clicking banks of pipetting systems and their stacks of microplates, I wondered at how vacant this space must once have seemed. And as we descended the series of ramps leading to our living quarters, I savoured this one and only reminder that we were walking through a multi-storey car park.

The vehicles sat rusting on the sealed upper floors. A year or so ago, I had made trips up the outside of the building. Had seen them there. There was nothing special about those cars—I personally had siphoned the fuel from every last one to feed our generators—but there was something uncanny about the way they rested just above our home, waiting for the drivers who had left them one day, twenty years ago, and never returned. The evacuation had been sudden.

Kevin as always was at the desk, illuminated by a single LCD screen which outshone the room's low-energy lighting. Hearing us come in, he cast a rare glance away from the computer. "Hey," he said. "Find anything useful?"
He addressed this question to me, but I let Dobe speak first. "We saw another employee," she said bluntly. "She's with the Purists now."
"Oh." I don't think any of us were sure how to react to the situation.
"She's still alive."
"Well, that's good."
"Really?" Though Dobe couldn't really do expressions, her relief was obvious.
"Yeah." Kevin cast a questioning glance at me. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"I was supposed to...won't she tell them about us?"
"She doesn't know where we are personally. The Purists are already perfectly aware of what the company's doing in general. What is there to tell?"
I could see Dobe thinking this over. "Surely it's still a risk?"
Kevin shook his head, his shock of greasy hair waving pathetically. "I don't think so. And even if it was, we can't really do anything. The Staedtler Corporation may be our best chance of eradicating Strain Three, but they can't force people to stay with them."

Dobe dropped her heavy body armour in the usual corner and set the pistol down on a rickety table nearby. The same table held a long gun safe which contained her corporate-issue assault rifle: auto-calibrated, jam-resistant and motor-fed, complete with biometric safety. However, without bullets, the state of the art weapon was little more than a sub-standard club. The two clips of caseless ammunition that had come with it had apparently been among the last in existence. Dobe stared at the safe for a moment. "That employee," she said, eventually. "She has an engineered immunity to Strain Three, doesn't she? You all do."
"Couldn't do the job otherwise."
"Then how can she quit? There aren't many people who can work here. We need all the ones who can."
Kevin slid the keyboard tray back under the desk. "This employee...Grey, what's her name?"
"Emma Chilcott," I said, simply. I wasn't sure I wanted to get involved in this conversation.
Kevin turned back to Dobe. "Emma didn't get a say in whether or not she was given her immunity any more than I did. Her parents made that decision for her, and there were a lot of people who didn't want to give them that option. You can give someone the genes to do a job, but you can't force them to work for you."
"Can't you?" I asked. The room might have been big, but it still had its elephants.
Kevin stopped and stared at me. "You shouldn't," he said eventually.

If it had turned into an argument, I wouldn't have regretted getting involved, but the way it just ended was a little unsettling. Then again, since the afternoon's events had clearly shaken Dobe's trust in me, it might have been for the best that it didn't go any further. For something to do, I went to the old computer at the back of the room and started transferring the files I had found in the derelict office. Once the computer was plugged in—we couldn't afford to waste a single watt—there was no need to be anywhere near it. My biological dynamo gave my implant a significantly better range than a human or unmodified AI could hope for. Having started the upload, I tried not to think about it: conscious effort on my part was, if anything, more likely to cause interruptions than to speed things up. Instead, I wandered over to the boards.

We had a large corkboard each, salvaged from a stationery shop just outside the lab. We pinned to these any interesting things that turned up: keyrings, postcards, bits of old magazines. In the office, I had noticed something shiny crumpled up in a wastepaper basket. "Cash your gold!" it said in golden letters. Below this there was a smiling woman with a bunch of gold chains in one hand and a wad of twenty pound notes in the other. Next to the wad of cash somebody had applied a wad of gum, which had long ago acquired the texture of porcelain.
"You're not pinning that up there too, are you?" asked Dobe, eyeing my overfull corkboard. "It's junk."
"I like it," I said. "It's nice to think that the people who used to live here had loads of gold just lying around. It must have been nice before the outbreak." I spent a moment looking for a place to put it, but it was useless. The push-pins had spilled off the cork and onto the wooden frame. In order to display this, I would have to discard something else. I selected one of my earlier acquisitions, an image from the back cover of a magazine. It was A4, put up before I realised how carefully I would have to use the space. Until I found some more things and filled in the gaps, the woman with the gold would be set off wonderfully by a frame of pristine cork, too small for the space she occupied. I went to add the magazine page to the pile of much-needed fuel for the furnace.

"What is that, anyway?" Dobe asked.
"This?" I held up the page from the magazine: Paris from £499. "It's the Eiffel Tower. It's a thing in France, the country across the water."
"What does it do?"
"Do?" I took another look at the picture. "I don't think it really does anything. It's just something to look at. Or you can go up to the top and look at other things."
"It sounds stupid," said Dobe.
"I guess it is." I made another move towards the fuel pile.
"Can I have it, though?" Dobe suddenly blurted out. "I mean, if you're just going to throw it away. It is kind of nice."
"Sure," I said. I handed over the magazine page and Dobe pinned it to her board where it hung awkward and alone. In three years, it was the only thing to have ever been displayed there. I didn't know whether to be pleased because she had started collecting too, or worried because the change was almost certainly due to the bullet that had torn through her brain two months ago.

My latest find now on display, I took a step back to appreciate the board. After twenty years, it was surprising what treasures still littered this city. I also took a look at Kevin's board, sparsely populated and neatly organised, featuring mostly things from before he had taken on the job. In the top left corner, first in importance if not in time, was a flyer.

Technicians wanted!

Applicants should be able to work well alone and as part of a team. Familiarity with electrical systems is an asset, particularly well-suited candidates will also have a good to excellent understanding of modular genetics. Applicants should be willing to work outdoors in all weathers and in potentially hostile situations. Immunity to Staedtler strain three is essential: susceptible persons need not apply.

Conditional to your acceptance into our business community, you will be allocated a spacious reclaimed facility in an inner-city location from which to conduct your research: progress reports will be collected by satellite. You will also be provided with one pre-trained biological AI. Use of company facilities to manufacture further team members is permitted, and you are encouraged to produce at least one backup, but we regret that wetware fabricated outside company HQ is not covered by your insurance.

Payment details will be decided pending re-establishment of a national government.

I had never been sure how old that flyer was. The plasticky paper was yellowing, but not crumpled. Some elements—the reclaimed facility, the one pre-trained AI—certainly seemed to match our situation, but others stuck out as being unusual. Very few people still in the country were susceptible to Strain Three, and still fewer, I think, expected there to be another government. Kevin often joked about whether or not he would ever get paid. It didn't really seem to matter.

Tapping a familiar keyboard shortcut, Kevin opened up a window that would show the percentage complete of each of the dozen or so genomes being assembled upstairs. Most would become viral vectors, intended to insert genes coding for Strain Three resistance into their hosts. Others coded for variations on Strain Three for vaccines. We had even worked on a handful of plasmids destined to be inserted into bacteria for the manufacture of antiviral drugs. So far, however, despite some partial successes, none had proven suitable. Still, when the overview was on the screen—a dozen tiny progress bars all filling up with healthy green pixels—there was a sense that any one of these projects could be the one we were all waiting for. Kevin watched it for a while before turning away.
"It's probably about time for dinner," he said. "How about we treat ourselves to a couple of cans?"
"Are you sure?" I asked. "We haven't found any new ones for quite a while."
"It sounds like it's been a difficult day. We may as well open up something good."
"Ok." Dobe started up the ramp that led to the next floor. "I'll pick something out."
I began to follow—the canned food left over from before the evacuation was, embarrassingly, much better than anything we knew how to cook for ourselves—but Kevin waved for me to stop. He waited until Dobe's footsteps had vanished into the noise of the pipetting machines, then spoke.

"Do you think you could check on that employee you saw today?"
"What?" I asked. "Why?"
"Don't tell Dobe," he said, "but I am worried. If she just got fed up with the lab work, it's fine. I doubt we'll hear any more about it. Most likely, there's no point worrying, but...if she's really sided with them, if she really shares their goals, it could be dangerous for us."
"She lost her bodyguard," I said. "I'm sure she just couldn't carry on alone."
"Is that it? Then I'm sure too. It's probably nothing to worry about. Could you still check, though?"
I wasn't exactly looking forward to the prospect of sneaking into the Purists' camp, but it wasn't the first time and, truth be told, I was curious myself. "Should be able to," I said.

Dobe came back with two cans. One was ravioli, the other had been in water at some point and had lost its label. With some ceremony, I applied the tin opener and revealed its ancient secrets.
"Dog food," I announced.
"There were eleven more of those," added Dobe.
Kevin sighed. "Looks like we're going to be having a lot of cottage pie."
Chapter 1, Cloud Computing: [link]
Chapter 3, Caninae: [link]

This second chapter has already been revised a couple of times, but naturally I'm still looking to improve it however possible.

I'm trying to keep this scientifically plausible, basing what I can on a genetics module I took in college, but for an awful lot of it I've had to rely on Professor Google. If anyone can spot inaccuracies in my biology, please do let me know.

I'm also likely to make mistakes with the setting. I'm not sure, for example, what chewing gum would really look like after twenty years in an abandoned city. I'm not even sure how I'd go about finding out.
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ElegantFaith Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2012   Writer
I'm not sure how I missed the chapter. Doesn't matter- I found it. :)

I just want to say how much I loved this line: Payment details will be decided pending re-establishment of a national government. It gives us a lot of history; plus it made me laugh. You've got a really good grip on technical writing (like writing fliers, lingo for advanced computers, guns, robots) and creative writing alike.

I also want to compliment you on your ability to reveal history without doing a history dump. You cleverly intertwine characters comments, old newspaper clippings, evacuation food, etc, to give us a scene of where we are. You've mastered the "show don't tell" technique.

I'm really curious to find out what happened to Dobe.

This story has an underlying feel of tension, but it's just the right amount. You interject dry humor in the story too, which I love. The dog food, the bit about people having "gold laying around" all that stuff is great.

I'm falling in love with your writing. :) I can't wait to read more.
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 22, 2012  Student Writer
Assuming you ended up reading Three before this, I'm glad it didn't spoil it for you. ^^;

And thank you so much. :-) I'm afraid I've had a lot of experience reading that sort of thing, so it comes fairly easily. Certain sorts of people/companies never seem to want to say things in plain English, and I suspect it's because what they're saying would sound dodgy if they did.

I can't stand info/history dumps when I'm reading. There's something nice about piecing together a setting, but reading an entire paragraph of history (even if it's really just a summary) feels like homework to me. :shrug:
arganthone Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2012  Student General Artist
gah - this is really cool so far. maybe i'm a little dumb, but i feel like a for-dummies explanation might be useful for the members of the audience who don't yet understand completely.
eagerly awaiting the next chapter!
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2012  Student Writer
Glad you like it. :-) I'm afraid I'm not sure what to do about explaining it: it's important that people understand the situation, but too much exposition would make it boring to read. What is it in particular you're unsure of? I could have a look back over this and see if it's something I never covered in the first place.

The next chapter is already available. ^^; I submitted it yesterday but forgot to add the link here.
aquaTICKworld Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2012
The description of the chewing gum was a very nice detail. I love the novel so far, but it sucks that it's not finished and I want to read it all now. :)
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2012  Student Writer
It may not be the whole thing, but the next chapter is already on dA. ^^; I just forgot to add the link to this one. Whoops!
aquaTICKworld Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2012
Thank you for letting me know! I'll let you know how I like it! *swirling drums*
MillenniumFalsehood Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
I like where this is headed! I'm majoring in mechanical engineering, so I know precious little about genetic research and the like. But what you've got seems plausible given today's technology.

The description of their home is deep enough to know what's going on, but there could be a bit more descriptive texts.

I'm looking forward to reading the next chapter!
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2012  Student Writer
Haha- "plausible" is probably the best I can hope for. I had a chance to try genetic engineering first hand at college, but past A-level I was focusing solely on English. I haven't really had any kind of higher education when it comes to any science. The library had a fantastic range of books, though, and I heard about some amazing things going on in other departments.

I think you're probably right about the description. Some of it works its way in later, but I'll see if I can give a better picture of the place here. It would be nice to flesh out the characters' appearances a little, too.

The next chapter is already available. ^^; I submitted it but forgot to add the link in the description of this one!
MillenniumFalsehood Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Ah, thanks! I'll read it ASAP! :D
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Oooooh, more setting. Definitely a good place for it--I think you could flesh out the home a little more even. Some idea of the tones this scene should be painted in (okay, okay, colors) might be interesting.

There isn't that much regular-science biology in this so not too much need for nitpicking :B However, I can't imagine the cure to the strain of a virus being worth an entire extra chromosome. Check out retroviruses for an idea of how this might actually work (and some strains of lab animals are made by using a viral vector to insert a plasmid into the genome. So the chromosome is a bit longer than normal, but it's not a whole extra one).

Considering the crap on the streets everywhere I've been...hard as hell and completely covered in dirt?
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2012  Student Writer
More description in general sounds like it might be an idea: this might even be a good place to add some detail about the characters.

:D Viral vectors do actually get a mention a few chapters in: I'm quite pleased that you mentioned them as I wasn't sure how well-known they were and they're somewhat plot significant. I'm assuming you got the "extra chromosome" thing from the previous chapter: I'll have a check back and make sure I didn't say something I didn't mean to.

Resistance to the virus (in the case of these characters) is actually the result of a single gene coding for a new/modified protein in the cell membrane that prevents the virus from binding to it. I'm assuming that if that were possible they would be safe from the virus themselves and wouldn't be likely to pass it on to anyone else (since it couldn't use their cells to multiply). This is the sort of area where I'm guessing a lot. I'm aiming for something that could easily be done to an embryo today, but which would be enormously difficult to do to anyone who's already been born (or is already a foetus, for that matter).
neurotype Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I majored in neuroscience, took immunology, and worked in a genetics lab...I'm a really bad litmus for how common that term is. :B

You mean it stops the virus from entering the cell? I like it. So aren't they still carriers? Or does the virus die (insofar as that's possible...which, hmm, I didn't think it was...although I guess if it can't replicate the viral load would be very low. Caution, I am not a microbiologist.)

I'm super not the expert on gene therapy, but I can tell you that the system for breeding a new strain of mice is you infect the parents and genotype the hell out of their offspring. The offspring really have the gene expression because their entire system is growing up with it. I'm guessing an adult would need a shitload of injections to keep that resistance because most of their cells won't have had it already.
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2012  Student Writer
Ah. I can see how that might not be entirely representative. :XD: I did sort of wonder if your username might be significant somehow.

I'm not positive, but I was under the impression that people carrying an infectious disease were still infected but just didn't suffer the usual ill-effects. If the virus could be prevented from ever getting into a person's cells to reproduce, I imagine the only way they could infect someone else would be to pass the virus on directly. For example, a person with the resistance gene could touch a door handle that an infected person sneezed on and then infect someone else through a handshake if they hadn't washed their hands in the meantime. They couldn't, however, come into contact with an infected person and then give the virus to someone else three weeks later. At least, that's my guess. I'm hoping there's some opportunity for artistic license since the virus itself was designed to be a weapon: ideally it should be as deadly as possible but not last too long or spread too far.

I've heard of methods that involve injecting the new DNA directly into a single embryo cell, but even making the initial modification to the parents seems as though it could work for this (as long as it's not 100% effective): essentially, the plot relies on there being only a limited number of people who can come into contact with the virus and not be at risk of infecting anyone else afterwards. With the current explanation, the only people with the resistance necessary to do that sort of job would have been born a few years before the outbreak. The technique would still be possible afterwards, but near-worldwide restrictions on genetic engineering would severely limit the number of embryos being modified after that point.
neurotype Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, it is ;p

Depends on how the virus transmits...yeah, you could totally have carriers and you could even have it so that over time their immune system will destroy all the virus, giving it a small window of opportunity. As you mentioned, artistic license also says that's okay!

Oh man that sounds pretty dangerous. I could see it being possible, though, especially with Future Technology.
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2012  Student Writer
Before I left university, I made sure to have a skim through any relevant books. I found one, Genethics (I think), that went into some detail about the characteristics that people would look for in a biological weapon. Not all of them are possible now, but in theory you could do things like design one to target a specific racial group: really scary stuff. And this book was from 1990. Twenty years later, you can buy genes on the internet.
neurotype Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Oooooh. You could read into potential bioterror scenarios, too :O I dunno, we learned that bioterror was basically what countries too poor to have real weapons did.

Well, you'd need a place to put the genes. Not useful without. :B
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2012  Student Writer
:-( Without access to the university library, it's not quite as easy to get good books. Still, that's actually kind of what I was going for: I sort of wonder if they might become an attractive alternative to the expensive Trident programme (though I imagine most of the costs are associated with the submarines/missiles themselves rather than what's on them).

:XD: That's true. I would hope that you can't produce biological weapons just by shoving genes into a plasmid and heat shocking bacteria, but to be honest I'm not totally sure.
(1 Reply)
iThemba Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2012
As far as I can tell (as a lay person with an interest in microbiology) you seem to be on the right track. I'd think that maybe the immune people had been fertilized in vitro, then immunized via viral vector in the one-cell stadium (when it wouldn't have been too much of a problem) and then grown up normally in the mother's uterus. The way we already do with in vitro fertilization for infertile couples or for sperm donations, but with the added genetic engineering.

Genetically engineering an adut would be a major pain in the ass, and I'm not sure if it would work dependably and sustainably.

Whether immune persons can transmit the virus depends on how it is transmitted, but you're right, if it cannot reproduce, you can only pass on exactly as many viruses as you have been infected with, and they wouldn't be able to travel very far within the host body, so your handshake example should work the way you describe it.

P.S. Before I forget in my love for sciency details: I really like the story and the characters so far; the setting is intriguing, the plot promising, and I'm looking forward to reading more :-)
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2012  Student Writer
"As far as I can tell (as a lay person with an interest in microbiology)..." :slow: Glad to see I'm not the only lay person interested in this sort of thing. I'll still keep an eye out for mistakes, but it's good to know the general idea doesn't sound horrendously implausible: Genetics seems particularly prone to being completely misrepresented in fiction.

By the way, I submitted Chapter 3 a while ago, but forgot to add the link in the description of this one. ^^; I'm guessing a lot of people never knew it was there.
iThemba Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2012
I found Chapter 3 when I looked at your gallery ;-)

...and one of these days I hope I'll find the time to read your other stuff... It looks tremendously interesting, but damn, there's so much lit and so little time :-(
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2012  Student Writer
Phew- that's good. :-)

I know the feeling about having so much stuff to read: it's like YouTube. Since there are several minutes' worth of video uploaded every minute, it would be physically impossible to watch all of it. :shrug: I've been trying to work through the deviations in my messages, but still the total number has been creeping up rather than down.
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