He got to work immediately on the most important problem — whatever it was that was allowing people to live forever. To feel more at ease, he set his old console’s glowscreen to “The Empire Strikes Back”. It would be a long night and if he died trying, he’d want the last thing he heard to be the greatest movie of all time.
He first split the lock of hair into ten samples, Saran-wrapped nine and put them in the freezer. He also divvied the stock of crisper enzyme into two aliquots, using provided tubes, to lower the chance of contaminating a single stock, and placed them in the freezer. The enzyme wouldn’t be needed until he was printing the final synthetic malaria, anyway.
The church was the size of a deck of cards, with multiple inlets leading into an acrylic microfluidic chamber and a USB connection, which he quickly plugged into his old console. For sequencing, he only needed to inject the RNA extracts from Kaylee’s hair and his own hair. The machine would read the sequences and compare them, pointing out any differences.
With an easy two-step extraction, Matteo had RNA isolated in high purity within an hour, his hands cramping up from using the tiny pipettors.
One microliter dispensed into the inlet and a hit dinged the console on his glowscreen, a clear difference between his and Concha’s RNAs. And then another and another ding until 1,406 hits had chimed.
“Hija de puta, either this little machine is broke or this will be a hell of a hunt,” he said to an empty room. As if on cue, Harrison Ford said to Anthony Daniels, “Never tell me the odds.”
::Well, a one in 1,406 chance of living is better than zero. Pero,there must be a way to narrow it down.
“Yes, you are right. You are very right, as always. Speaking of always, I need a drink,” he said. He walked outside to the vending machine hub and charged a bottle of mezcal.
Inside, he maximized his glowscreen’s home image, which his mom had changed while he was in jail. There was his eight year old smiling face, holding a blue balloon at Sea World looking back at him. Even then, he was doomed. A little genetic freak show. One freak in a billion normals. Several billion normals, actually. And right there, he realized that what was staring back at him was an alternative interpretation of the data. He had 1,406 different RNAs because he was a mutant!
What he really needed was hair from healthy individuals to make a better comparison to Concha.
He slipped into a hoodie in haste, stuffed a box of plastic baggies left by the last tenant in the pouch, and the magic fuel — the mezcal safe in a flask in his back pocket. For the next few hours, he rode the Alamo City streets and lurked the Alamo City corner military bars, picking up discarded eyelashes and strands of hair. Plenty of hair, no sign of Concha, though…
He wobbled his bike home with sixty two samples in hand and a buzz in head. Sixty-whatever samples could wait to be extracted in the morning.
The samples glistened in the white morning light on the kitchen table. Wearing a hairnet from one of the vending machines, he learned intimately the back and forth spring of the pipette. He felt exactly how to secure each pipette tip onto the pipette, with a quick, almost bouncing motion. Push the air down and out, draw up the sample — at a slightly different rate depending on the viscosity of the liquid, making sure to keep the tip away from the edges of the tube and not probing too deeply into the sample, for cleanliness. His wrist ached after fifteen minutes, his shoulders after twenty. The power of a million small movements was formidable.
Once he was comfortable with the fine motor movements of science and he was plowing through samples, his mind wandered and the doubts crept.
What if he needed a slightly different RNA than what Concha had? Certainly, his dud biology worked a little differently than hers if 1,406 RNAs were wreaking havoc. Or maybe the vast majority of these had little effects if at all.
Still, what if the “immortality RNA” wasn’t even produced by the cells attached to strands of hair? Maybe it isn’t constantly pumped into every cell type but needs to be in only some cells for some part of the time.
Taken to the extreme, what if the RNA was needed in childhood and wouldn’t work no matter how many milligrams he took of the stuff now that he was an adult? Worse, it could become toxic later in life, and immortal people had a way to counteract it.
Maybe even if he got the sequence, it would be worse than taking no action at all, maybe it would kill him faster.
::Todo para ganar.
“I guess you are right, computer.” He didn’t wonder for a second how she was in his thoughts.
The Church operated with little aquatic glug-glug sounds. Three samples were identified as originating from cats, one from a mutant similar to himself, and one hair was actually a nylon thread very much not alive. If he looked at any one head-to-head comparison, he saw anywhere from a few hundred to a few dozen thousand differences in RNA between individuals. It dawned on him that Concha was likely to have as many differences in RNA with him as any random, normal person. It wasn’t so much the number of RNAs as the identity of the RNAs.
He didn’t need Kaylee. He could’ve done this all himself.
The program winnowed the 1,406 figure down to 24 unique RNAs in Kaylee’s hair. Another sample, number 15, had a curiously low set of unique RNAs when compared to Kaylee, 17 in total. Could this possibly be another immortal?
He cross analyzed those, and four hits popped out as 99% identical in both Concha and sample 15. Four RNAs was all it took. He was willing to bet his life on it. Astounding. It was nearly midnight.
He loaded the four RNA sequences into a simulation program. It would check the safety of adding the RNAs to thousands of human cell types, and if it did change some cellular activity, whether those cells might affect other cells.
It was a massively limited safeguard, since the programs were modeling average human cells, behaviors taken from the human population at large, and not Matteo’s own unique dud biology. Which as far as anyone knew would turn him into a monster if it didn’t kill him first.
It would take at least two days to run.
Too jarred by the possibility of dying suddenly in his sleep, he switched on the holograph again. Cracking immortality was less exciting without Concha around to share the moment with. Or even two rotten friends. Nah, fuck them, he thought.
::Browse by mood, mijo?
::No recommendations for “tents.” The computer’s voice morphed into that of a vanilla male for the last word.
“I am so tired. And so close to not having to die…”
::Mi amor, watch something calming.
“Hmm…I’ll go for something nostalgic, then. Just pick whatever fits that… that I left off on the last time… before Basura Barcaza happened,” he said.
The trailer’s single free standing, shadeless lamp dimmed and “Gattaca” resumed from where he had left the movie over a year ago. Jude Law’s chiseled brow stared down his deep-eyed muse, Ethan Hawke, at a dark, sophisticated table. Sensual jazz drowned the world outside.
“What’s Titan like this time of year?” said Jude. Ethan coolly blew smoke from a coolly inhaled cigarette into a snifter. Matteo imagined the smell of the brandy, the tobacco, the thermal scratch of a tailored suit.
::Your drink is getting warm.
“Oh? Forgot all about it. Mezcal’s better warm… you get the smokiness boiling out.” He took a sip. “Oh, god. No, it isn’t. Remember to remind me of that in the future.” Drinking alone was sad, but better than with fake friends.
Matteo wondered about what was hidden under Titan’s mysterious clouds along with Jude. He realized there were parallels in Uma Thurman’s character and Concha. Both were elusive and composed and achingly intelligent. Concha was much shorter, though.
How could he find her? Save her from the Rangers who — no doubt, would be ready to take her away to the Barcaza. Rough her up good, maybe in his cell, just to drive him mad with jealousy.
They all better hope he died sooner rather than later.
::I’ll remind you to look for it in the morning. Your BAC is approaching half the legal limit. Rest now, I’ll alert you at the optimum time to rehydrate con agua y Gatorade.
He’d almost forgotten the .butt file. He opened it and felt nearly at peace watching the hologram of Concha, naked and wonderful.
He stretched his hand out like a space probe and met the smooth plane of cool, fuzzy couch. In one motion, he collapsed into a laying position. Heat of his circulating blood warmed the spare cushions. It was probably more comfortable than his actual bed.
Tomorrow he’d find Concha and they’d figure out what he would have to do to make immortality work for him. And then probably get married.