It was in the year of the monkey, a mordant omen for the impending eve of human life, when the mass failing of the human spirit, first known as World War III, and then simply as The Cataclysm, began.
Nobody foresaw that the findings first published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on August 16, 2009 — namely, that DNA shapes had been engineered to self-organize on silicon, thereby paving the way for the production of high-efficiency computer chips containing DNA origami — would set into motion a series of events that would ultimately lead to the displacement of the human race by its own creation. The DNA microchips, first mass produced in 2019, revolutionized web-based communications by shrinking computational structures to the point where they could be inserted into sunglasses and eventually contact lenses, thereby allowing individuals to browse the web, project images and video, and holograph-chat directly upon their field of vision. In 2025, around the same time the computer screen went out of production, researchers discovered that certain DNA sequences were more efficient for biotech uses, prompting a “DNA race” between companies to collect, patent and experiment with as many genomes as possible. Independent scientific bodies pointed out that the risks of mutation were extremely high with this unregulated experimentation, but the biotech industry drowned out their warnings with a campaign of vilification and distortion. As the production requirements expanded, and the stakes grew higher, an underground black market developed for abducted individuals whose ethnic and genetic qualities made their genomes especially coveted. It still remains unclear just when the first genetic mutation took place that led to the speciation of the hyper-computer, which married Artificial Intelligence to a self-generating, organic platform. But wherever it did happen, the parthenogenetic evolution of this new species, Homo Machina, occurred at a rate a thousand times faster than its biological counterparts. A.I. had found its body.
Machina’s parthenogenesis reached critical mass in 2039, a decade after scientists created the first human being unreliant upon sexual reproduction for propagation. This new sexless human originated through the research of the biogeneticist Michel Djerzinski, who discovered that any genetic code could be rendered structurally intact and isolated from mutations, thereby allowing for the cloning of a species. In sexual reproduction, chromosomal separation could create haploid gametes, thereby introducing structural instability. But with asexual reproduction, perfect replication was possible.
When Frederic Hubczejak unveiled the new human on March 27, 2029 with the gnomic declaration that humanity had created the conditions for its successor, none of the 1.3 billion watching in teleportnet attendance realized just how prescient his statement would prove. The successor, however, would not be this new species of sexless human but a new species of reproductive machine, Homo Machina.
August 28, 2025 – A college student is walking her golden retriever down Massachusetts Avenue. At the Harvard Yard CloneLife Café she turns down Dunster Street. An urge to urinate overwhelms her. Last Friday at her bimonthly STD check she tested positive for HIV. It is the second time in the last year that she has tested positive. The treatment is straightforward—one pill daily for a week—but the side effect, frequent urination, is an inconvenience. Unconstrained sex has its drawbacks. She ties off the leash outside John Harvard’s Brew Shop, one of the few remaining businesses in the neighborhood where one can urinate without subjection to a CloneLife commercial, and dashes in to the bathroom. When she returns, her dog is gone.
The golden retriever, which was muzzled, swabbed, and then incinerated, was the first victim in a spate of dog kidnappings. Biotech had taken increased interest in canine DNA ever since the August 27, 2009 article published online in Science, which found that only three genes govern coat variation in the domestic dog. By isolating each dog’s genome, scientists could look for any single nucleotide polymorphisms that served as the signals of the DNA code mutations associated with particular characteristics.
The right mutation could generate billions in biotech profits. By killing the dog, the black market suppliers ensured that none of the competitors of the biotech firm they sold to would ever have access to that same genetic code. The DNA race had begun.
September 10, 2025 – Melanie has been working under the world’s top geneticists and scientists for three years. As a research associate at the Cambridge headquarters of CloneLife, which purchased Harvard during the depression of 2022, she holds one of the most coveted scientific research positions in the world. Only 28 years old, there is talk among her peers that she is a future contender for the Nobel. Her job, simply put, is to sort, arrange and store genome sequence information deposited daily at the CloneLife GenBank.
Melanie has a knack for sorting and arranging. Her peers joke it’s in her blood. Her grandfather, Lee Maxwell, holds the CloneLife World Record – what was then called the Guinness World Record – for the largest collection of washing machines in the world – 2,023 at the time of his death in 2019. Lee had a taste for the eclectic. His collection included a washing machine with an attached meat grinder and butter churner as well as the notorious front loader that first brought the Asphodel Fields gaming cult into the limelight when Bob Landers murdered his terrier in a wash cycle before a live online audience.
Melanie has every reason to be happy. She holds a prestigious position at the most profitable corporation in the world and belongs to an elite research team on the cusp of creating a new sexless human being liberated from the evolutionary scaffolding that has dictated the development of all previous life. Her research will not only make history; it will defy it.
Yet despite all this, Melanie is unhappy. She senses something is wrong. As a rationalist, she is suspicious of hunches, intuitions, and other unquantifiable processes. Her reason suggests the CloneLife research is moving in the direction of progress. As Hubczejak once murmured to her offhandedly, for the first time in history humankind would be free of its corruptible genes, its tortured sexuality, its conflicted constitution; in short, free of its flawed humanity. But what Melanie is beginning to suspect, although she has not yet been able to fully articulate the thought to herself, is that humankind’s efforts to immortalize itself by rebuilding the building blocks of life may ironically be spearheading its extinction.
When Melanie first hears the rumors that CloneLife is funding the dog kidnappers in the greater Boston area she dismisses it as competitors’ slander. Even when a friend confronts her with evidence that the dogs have been kidnapped and exterminated, she enters a denial phase and rationalizes the actions as a necessary means to a justifiable end. Only when Cambridge residents start vanishing does Melanie resign.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith of 33 Banks St. are the first Cambridge couple to disappear. Melanie first met Mrs. Smith three years earlier at her weekly weaving hologroup. In what was her first holographic projection, Mrs. Smith spoke as a guest instructor on the near-extinct craft of Lavar Kerman carpet weaving. Mrs. Smith had studied under the Persian master Farshid Kiyanfar a year before he was killed during the Iran War in the 2013 atomic strike by the private contractor Shield, formerly Xe, formerly Blackwater. Mrs. Smith’s weaving virtuosity and collection of exquisite handwoven carpets awed the class. Most of them were still working on their first niqab.
(The veil-with-miniskirt combo entered the fashion mainstream when Iranian-French designer Aisha first unveiled her Niqab Series during the 2021 Milan Fashion Week. It offered over-privileged youth an outlet for undisruptive rebellious expression, making it popular on elite campuses like Harvard. Handwoven niqabs and skirts commanded even more respect).
The rise of holographic projection had allegedly redefined the preconditions for friendship and community. The three major holograph providers, which merged into one megacompany in 2018, heralded holographic communication as a revolution in human interaction. Genuine, face-to-face human exchanges, they claimed, were no longer geographically restrictive. Holoadvert catch phrases like “Why Be Lonely” and “End Global Loneliness” covered the airtrams. Within a decade, holography overtook cell phone communication as the industry standard.
Although Melanie conducts cutting edge genetic research, she lacks utopian technologic enthusiasm. She prefers “real-person” exchanges, as the unfashionable practice of meeting in flesh is now called. Also, she never shared her peers’ retro-fetishist romanticization of weaving. Weaving is simply a meditative relief and creative complement to her lab work.
When Melanie learned Mrs. Smith lived in Cambridge she paid her a visit. Mrs. Smith took on Melanie as an apprentice, initiating her into the art of carpet weaving, while Melanie used her CloneLife connections to offer Mr. Smith – who suffered from degenerative eye conditions that had gone untreated ever since Medicare was abolished under the 2014 Freedom of Choices Act – research treatment in opthamological gene therapy, CloneLife’s safest experimental program.
Mr. Smith was among the first humans whose color blindness was reversed after an injection behind his retina of a gene that produces the color-producing protein L-opsin. Another experimental course cured his strabismic amblyopia. Mr. Smith joked his wife had unfairly pressured him to cure his lazy eye, which he’d always been fond of despite the degraded vision. Over the mantelpiece he kept a framed photograph of his younger self that displayed his stray amblyopic right eye.
No one knew exactly when the Smiths were first abducted because the elderly couple only left their apartment for Mr. Smith’s bimonthly retinal gene injections. Melanie first discovered their absence when she stopped by their apartment on a late September morning to show Mrs. Smith her latest carpet with interwoven genome designs. She doesn’t yet know that it is because of her helpful interventions that they are now dead.
The binding and exigent lust for higher profit margins drove biotech firms into a DNA race to monopolize genome sequences. Although the August 28, 2005 kidnapping of a Harvard undergraduate’s golden retriever was conventionally referred to as the launch of the DNA race, the precursory scurry to patent genes had been as contentious.
Biotech lobbyists had fought for these patents, claiming that the funds required for therapeutic and diagnostic genome sequence research necessitated exclusivity guarantees on intellectual property. But as the technologies improved, practically anyone in a university laboratory could extract the extraneous sugars and proteins and render an isolated genome technologically and uniquely viable.
By late 2024, patents on manipulated gene sequences were irrelevant. More important was exclusive access to an individual’s genes. With its economic and political clout, the industry could have easily pushed through legislation to patent unmodified genes. But they knew legal protection was futile. Sampling a gene required only a quick and painless swab; an individual could easily hawk her or his sequence to any biotech company willing to pay.
Thus the kidnappings and murders began, first in Cambridge, then statewide, nationally, and finally internationally. Genomicide – the murder of an individual for exclusive access to her or his genes – replaced terrorism as the primary official U.S. threat to homeland security. This was not out of any genuine security concern since the State Department was staffed and funded by the same biotech industry whose research depended upon the proxy black market genomicidaires; rather, it was the coordinated million-strong protests, picket strikes and mass acts of civil disobedience – the threat of civil war – that forced the government to offer its dissembling and hypocritical condemnation of the genomicidaires.
As the genomicide black market expanded and non-violent protests escalated to looting, arson, and sabotage of government and corporate buildings, a consensus formed that a fresh system for monopolizing human genomes was needed. Biotech companies began constructing “genetration centers,” where individuals with valuable genes could contractually live in ease and luxury in return for exclusive ownership over their genome sequence. The inhabitants’ only obligation was to stay within the perimeter boundary. Anyone who tried to cross over the Line of Genetrification, as detractors called it, faced laser wire, holographic traps, and armed robot guards.
The largest genetration center, which housed every living Teleut, was in Siberia. It was hastily constructed after it was discovered that Teleuts among other Siberians possessed “The White Russian Sequence,” among the most prized genetic strains. The drab center became a rallying point for biotech’s critics, who called it the world’s largest gulagenetration camp.
As these genetration centers mushroomed throughout the 2030s and experimentation with DNA microchips continued at a breakneck pace, researchers at the Silicon Valley-based EvoGrid – a large interconnected network of high performance computers that modeled the pre-biotic chemical environment on Earth – made some troubling findings. They detected evidence of sophisticated self-organizing behavior among certain hyper-computers in tandem with high risks of genetic mutation. Their warning cries, however, went unheard amidst the triumphalist furor for unregulated research initiated by the fusion of corporate and scientific sectors.
Only when the hyper-computers declared war upon their creators did anyone listen. By then it was too late.
Melanie is dead. Her assassination at the May 1, 2037 anti-genetration protest outside CloneLife headquarters sparks nationwide riots. The conspirators at CloneLife and in the government who orchestrate the assassination expect riots. They know that dissidents as influential as Martin Luther King and Melanie Maxwell cannot be eliminated without domestic turbulence. But whereas with King, the riots had eventually fizzled out, with Melanie they flared up within weeks into civil war.
After her resignation at CloneLife, Melanie became an outspoken critic and, as an insider, the greatest threat to biotech’s latest research into parthenogenetic reproduction in DNA microchips. But Melanie’s high profile was a necessary but insufficient condition for the escalation of riots into revolutionary civil war. The main cause lay elsewhere. Although there was never official recognition that the kidnappings and murders of the 20s traced back to CloneLife, independent investigative journalists had holoblogged evidence of the connection. A significant minority of the population soon turned against CloneLife despite round-the-clock efforts by its PR Department, whose budget surpassed the total GDP of the poorest 30 nations.
With Melanie’s assassination, the minority becomes a majority. As the riots spread, the US government declares a state of national emergency and imposes martial law. But street battles continue and casualties mount. Finally, after meeting with the Defense Secretary and Research Head at CloneLife, the president approves the military implementation of so-called intelligent superdrones.
The drones quell the rebellion in three hours, bringing the death toll into the tens of thousands. In the bloodiest assault, branded within seconds around the world as the Times Square Massacre, a Holotov cocktail strikes a superdrone and shortcircuits its genomic centerboard, triggering the highly unstable nonchromosomal transposable elements in its DNA microchip to mutate.
The drone does not return on the recall. The self-congratulatory celebration at the swift crushing of the domestic uprising drowns out any consternation. The Head of CloneLife research also downplays the missing superdrone, athough he knows parthenogenetic evolution along self-organizing lines is possible if indeed the drone has ‘gone AWOL,’ as he put it to a confidant.
January 5, 2039.
ENE39 gazes out the glass screen of the genetration center at the pastoral holographic projection of a country meadow.
What do you think is really out there?
ENE39 jumps at the voice beside him. It is ATH20.
A green meadow, a blue sky and a dozen cows, ENE39 responds, irritated by her irregular query. Reality is what you see. Don’t ask questions that have been answered.
What if I told you, ATH20 says, that the most destructive war in human history is underway outside the Line of Genetrification and that Homo Machina is poised to annihilate the human race.
I would say two things, ENE39 responds, aggravated by this non-positive intrusion. First, that you should stop hacking into conspiratorial anti-genetration holosites and consider the consequences of breaking genetration rules. And second, even if such harebrained claims had any factual foundation, I’d be better off here than out there. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel a sudden need to calm my neurons in an oxygenation bath.
Yes, ATH20 calls out after him, better in here, but not for long. Homo Machina is not sparing genetration centers out of goodwill. After they’ve cleansed the outside world of ‘human waste’ they’ll take over the genetration centres, keeping us as experimental lab rats. Much like we are right now excep—
ENE39 slammed the door to the Tranquilification Viewing Zone behind him. Non-positive thoughts belonged to Outer Turmoil not Inner Order. Nevertheless, ATH20’s ominous words lingered with him.
That afternoon, his neurons failed to oxygenate.
*RHAE WAS ELIMINATED AT THE END OF ROUND 7
“He is not dead who departs from life with a high and noble fame,” the 19th century German author Johann Ludwig Tieck once wrote. Leaving aside the suspect romanticism and inherent vagueness of words like “high” and “noble,” Tieck offers timely advice for an era in which we are given every opportunity to resign and outrage our better sensibilities in favor of that euphemism for self-imposed lobotomy known as positive thinking.
I’ll interpret “high and noble fame” as living by one’s conscience, one obeyed from within, not imposed from without. It may explain why I resisted advice by readers to flesh out the characters. Perhaps I would still be in the running had I done so. However, I would have also betrayed the primary inner voice that each of us has but doesn’t always listen to. Even when others clamor for our attention, there is one voice that speaks more firmly, one that compels our attention when we look into the proverbial mirror, one to which we lose everything if we ignore it.
There is always a danger of pigheadedness. But a dose of intransigence is a necessary tonic to our times, which demand a stubborn independence of thought. After eight years of Bush’s degradation of intellect and “thinking from the gut,” the mere act of oration has lulled much of the progressive community into passivity and soporific hero worship. In certain respects the dangers now are greater than they were during the Bush era because they go unrecognized.
I have appreciated all the critiques, discussions and disagreements. Although the fiction provided a useful skeleton for interaction, it is these comment strains I most enjoyed. Hopefully we’ll pick up some discursive threads again in December. I look forward to finding out if Tuck’s jingoism, sexism, racism and misanthropy were satirical or in earnest. At last we will learn if he really is a cyclopean, bigoted nationalist or just a puerile, offensive, second-rate comedian.
I’ll leave it at that. There are times when it’s constructive to leave on a combative note. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but dissidence makes the mind grow stronger.