11 May Graeme
Another sneak preview from Cyberpink 5:
“You should go to bed, Dad.”
Infiniti stood in the doorway of their home laboratory, wearing her footie pajamas with moons and stars.
Dr. Lachlan looked up, eyes hooded with exhaustion, as though barely seeing her there.
Her father’s auburn hair, delicate features — even the lines around his intense eyes — were the same she’d always known, but his face was empty, as though all the life had been drained out of it.
In front of him, a hologram of her brother’s brain rotated, lit by real-time constellations of synapses like lightning storms.
Nearby, a stack of windows with colored blocks — gene sequences — floated beside another of individual double helixes.
Beneath these, a field of numbers continually updated, as an algorithm raced through an endless search.
Across the room, behind a one-way bioplastic window, Graeme lay in a special room that had at first been decorated to look like his bedroom downstairs, before gradually becoming his bedroom.
Tucked under a blanket, he was unconscious, a tube in his nose. His dark hair was plastered to his forehead, and his mouth was partially open.
An orb hovered around his bed with helpless energy, occasionally floating over to look at a wall of vitals.
“This is why you made Doug,” she added.
Her father focused on the holo windows.
“Doug’s there to provide palliative care as necessary, and tweak the nanobots trying to clear away the misfolded protein clumps.”
He placed two windows side-by-side, looked them over, then swiped them away, before moving to the next.
“Doug’s not going to solve the root cause,” he said.
“This is taking longer than you thought,” she said, instantly regretting the comment.
Her father continued working.
“That’s the problem with Nix-Stilner, Veronica. No one knows which of Graeme’s genetic sequences are causing the prions. NS isn’t a genetic disease per se; it’s a … synergistic effect. Like an incompatibility between otherwise normal systems.”
He’d explained it many times before, but she let him continue.
“Some gene sequence, somewhere, is … allergic to some other sequence. If you account for the first three-sequence combinations alone, that’s several billion —”
“I understand, Dad.”
“Normally treatment is fast,” he continued. There was no defensiveness in his tone; he was simply thinking aloud now. “But in this case, we need to compare every part of his genetic code to every other part, to try and find the source of the problem.” He rubbed his eyes. “The best solution would be a complete genetic rewrite. But we would still need to know which systems are incompatible. Maybe if I rework the allele algorithm …”
She stood there watching as he opened another window and starting typing code.
The fear was like a sickness. These days it filled every corner of the house; every waking moment. It permeated her entire body down to the bones.
She wondered if this is what Graeme was feeling. Something was wrong with Graeme on a genetic level, down to what made him him. The fear of losing him was like that, too. It struck to the core of her.
Their charming Belmont house, with its high gables, sunny exposures, and leafy drive to MIT — the one she’d known her entire life — was no longer their home. Like her father’s face, everything on the surface looked the same, but beneath was a horrible rot, as surely as if Graeme’s illness had infected everything and everyone.
She’d gotten in the habit of straightening up around the house, as if a solution might somehow be hidden in the superficial arrangement of things. Maybe if she found the right drinking glass that needed cleaning, or the piece of furniture that was crooked, it would pop the world back into place, and everything would return to normal.
She knew what no one would ever say: if Graeme died, they would all die, in a way. The truth of it made it hard to breathe.
She looked at the time again.
It was way past her bedtime, but these days no one noticed.
She’d come to her father’s lab to ask him to tuck her in, but suddenly realized how selfish it would be.
“I’ll let you work, Dad,” she said at last.
Her father tapped through calculations on a holographic keypad.
She stood for a minute more, watching him, then left.