Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VIII: Staring Down the Barrel of a Microscope

13 Autumn, 1927

Lyta paused as the door clicked shut behind her and the slight green glow illuminated from the bulb above it. Doc Chambers looked up from his desk.

“Hi,” Lyta said tentatively. “You got a minute?”

The Doc put down his pen. “Just. I’m planning some new investments, but it can wait a little.”

Lyta did not sit down. With one hand, she held the top of the guest chair and traced the seams with her fingertips. “Okay. I won’t take long. I just…” She cleared her throat. “I wanted to apologize. I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you the other day. I was just surprised.”

The Doc’s expression softened a degree. “Surprise was a natural reaction. So was anger.”

Lyta shook her head. She wasn’t looking for pity. “Anyway, I thought about it. And Ti's alive. I know you didn’t tell me because you were keeping a promise to him. I get that. I don't want that to make me angry. I should be happy that Ti’s alive.” Indeed, the idea to choose to be happy was only something she had discovered after Ti’s death, and it had taken three separate people to force it through her thick skull that emotions could be selected, not just endured. She wondered whether Ti would appreciate how far she’d come along that path.

“So I'm choosing to be happy about it. Sorry I yelled at you.”

The Doc cocked his head slightly. “I deserved it and I accept it as the cost of being both your friend and Ti's.”

Somehow, it felt too easy. “So... no hard feelings?”

“No. No hard feelings.”

Lyta nodded. Normally this would be the time where she went to the door and let the Doc get back to his work. Instead, she hesitated, trying to decide whether she cared more about looking foolish in front of the Doc or in front of Lukas.

“Was there something else?”

The Doc’s voice cut through her internal struggle. Lyta looked down at her hands, and finally realized that if she was wrong, the Doc might think she was a fool, but Lukas would lord it over her for seasons. And she’d be around him more. She looked back up. “I have a question for you. A favor, actually. It’s really stupid.”

The Doc watched her and waited with an attentive expression.

Lyta took a deep breath. “Okay, Todd got this crazy idea in his head, and I'm still not quite sure who put it there, that the Lassanders are part Koreshi. Sand Rider. At least genetically. And I thought, since you had the Borodin Package, that maybe you had enough data to check out whether that was true or not. I could give you a blood sample or something.”

The whole thing was ridiculous. How she had even allowed Todd’s idea to get this far into her head, she wasn’t sure. Real life wasn’t like one of his spy novels. Sure, they’d been adopted into the Bathani Ratir, but adoption didn’t confer DNA. And it wasn’t like the Lassanders had that interesting of a history, that she knew of.

The Doc paused, considering. The corners of his mouth turned down. “It’s true. You have a number of DNA markers which you share with Sand Riders.”

Lyta blinked a few times. “You… don’t want a blood sample or something to actually check first? Or can you read DNA on my face now?” She flashed a hesitant smile.

The Doc’s expression did not change. “Lyta, you’ve been in my care before, you and Lukas. Testing blood is a hobby of mine.”

Implications of his answer starting occurring to her. She was not happy with where her thoughts were going. “And you do this for all your patients? Or only the ones that annoy you so much?”

For the first time, the Doc cracked a smile. “You are special. But as a matter of course, I do check everyone.”

“For Koreshi DNA?”

“Lyta. What is it you want to know? Why I checked or if I'm certain? Or do you want to know something else?”

Lyta shook her head. Not knowing what else to do, she sat down in the guest chair. “No, no. I just didn't expect that to be your answer. So what does it actually mean to have DNA markers?”

“In your case, it means you have above average abilities. The Sand Riders are... different.”

Lyta shook her head. Obviously the Koreshi had an entirely different culture from the rest of Terra Nova, but she was fairly certain that had nothing to do with genetics. “Different how?”

The Doc settled his chair, a position Lyta had come to associate with the beginning of a lecture or a science lesson. “I haven't met as many as you, but there appear to be tendencies towards increased physical and mental acuities. I will spare you the biochemistry, largely because I'm not an expert myself, but Sand Riders are stronger, on average. Faster, on average. And most likely smarter, on average, than most Terra Novans. Moreover, they appear to possess genetic facilitators for improvements.”

Lyta’s brow furrowed. “What does that mean? 'Facilitators for improvements?'”

The Doc’s eyes unfocused slightly, as though reading a textbook that only he could see. “The human race, any species really, relies on Darwinian factors to change and evolve. Evolution is not a melioristic process. It sometimes hits dead ends or regresses. What increases survivability of a species is the effect of natural selection on these permutations. Basically there is a complex and largely random series of events over extremely long periods of time that determine how a species evolves. What it evolves into is only seen in retrospect as an ‘improvement.’ Not so with Sand Riders.”

Lyta was having trouble following the Doc’s lecture. Too many “five dinar words,” as Pinky might have said. She latched on to the last sentence, which seemed to be the crux of the matter. “No?”

“Key genetic sequences in their DNA are made to selectively pick certain traits and add them to their own. When a Sand Rider's DNA blends with another source of DNA, the blend of the two is not… natural. It doesn't follow the standard blend that occurs in Homo sapiens.”

Lyta shook her head. She knew almost nothing about genetics, but even she could see the flaws in what the Doc was saying. “Why not? It's half and half, right? Even I know that.”

The Doc pursed his lips. “No. Koreshi evolution is, for lack of a better word, engineered.”

“What do you mean, 'engineered'? By who?”

The Doc waved a hand vaguely over the room and beyond it, an almost dismissive gesture. “I mean it is beyond the realm of statistical probability that these traits are random occurrences. They were put there. Artificially. As to who did it? I haven't a clue.”

“And that sort of selection, it couldn't come from normal evolution?”

“As I’ve said, this level of linkage disequilibrium is not statistically likely. Besides, I have it on good authority that it is a design feature.”

The whole thing was baffling. Talk of the Koreshi being engineered somewhere in the distant past, designed to be better and stronger and smarter, it all made no sense to her. She tried, once more, to bring things back to a level she could understand. “So... a Koreshi who mates with someone who's not a Sand Rider… what happens?”

“The best of the new material is kept. Not half, only the best is kept. Sadly, this leads to the problem of autosomal recessive disorders. If the same genetic material is used over and over again, it breaks down. Degenerates. Because Koreshi don't blend fully with new DNA, they only pick what is considered ‘best,’ there is an uneven blend. It’s like inbreeding in slow motion.”

Lyta leaned forward. “So, how can that be stopped? Or can it?” If the Doc actually had an answer, she could take it back to the Thrals. She could give them something they could use. Maybe that was why Janus Kerasi like her existed in the first place.

“It is considerably offset by the selective way the alleles are chosen, but it is a diminishing return. It can only go on so long until the laws of genetics win out and the result is weaker and eventually....”

Lyta found herself holding her breath. “And eventually what? They all die?”

The Doc let out a sigh. “Sterility. Biology's answer to a false path of evolution. Extinction.”

Lyta deflated. Part of her mind tried to come up with other angles. She felt her chance slipping away from her. “And there's no way to change that, because of the way the Koreshi genetics have been engineered?”

“I don't know, Lyta. I'm not a geneticist. But it has been engineered this way. Usually nature corrects itself, but in this case… I simply don't know.”

The Doc didn’t have the answers. All he had were more questions. She sighed. She wondered if there was anyone else who knew what the Doc knew. Or could come up with a solution the Doc couldn’t. A geneticist, maybe? Todd knew some geneticists, didn’t he? When he went to that big conference in Oxford? She pushed herself to her feet. “Okay. Thanks. I'll see myself out.”

The Doc’s voice cut through her distracted thoughts. “Lyta?”

Lyta turned before she reached the door. “Yeah?”

“Do you understand now why the Borodin package is so important?”

She blinked. It was unfair that everyone always seemed to make the connections she didn’t, like she was always a step behind. She held back her annoyance. “No.”

“Remember what I told you about Virgil after his autopsy?”

Lyta thought a moment. “That he had Koreshi DNA spliced into him, and he was webbled. Right?”

The Doc nodded. “Correct. Koreshi DNA is designed to facilitate engineering. It’s like a glue. It was there to help mate his DNA with another source. A potent source.”

Lyta hesitated. “What source?”


Now that he said it, Lyta vaguely remembered Todd saying something about the webbled subjects having both GREL and Koreshi DNA spliced into them. She wished she could remember the whole thing. “Okay. And that's what they're doing with the Koreshi in the Borodin Package? Using them as test cases for stuff like this?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe simply farming them, for their glue. So to speak.”

It had been several seasons since she’d thought about the Borodin Package. It was an oversight. She was suddenly annoyed at herself, and ashamed that she’d let the matter drop from her mind. “We still don't know where they are, right?”

“Not entirely.”

Her ears perked. “'Not entirely'? I thought we didn't know at all.”

The Doc waved a hand. “Ti has a lead. He wouldn't tell me more.”

Lyta breathed out slowly. Something else she’d have to talk about with Ti. She would have to add it to the ever-increasing list. “Okay. Thanks. I think I should go now.”

She turned and put her hand firmly on the door handle. With a click, the green light above the door extinguished, and Lyta slipped out into the hallway, leaving Doc Chambers behind her.

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