Being a prophet really sucked.
Not being a prophet of God, Randall amended to himself, although that probably wasn't much fun either; in that case people would either be making fun of you or trying to worship you as if you were some kind of god yourself. Yuck!
No, he wasn't a prophet of God. His kind of prophecy was based on observing and analyzing population groups, charting meta-trends in sociological data, then extrapolating where it was headed from there. In his mind it was akin to “predicting” an egg will break when you see it already dropping toward the floor. There was no prophecy to it at all to his way of thinking.
He was busy arranging his things on the podium in the too-cool conference room when the door opened and the suits began filtering in. That's how he privately referred to them; they were the political appointees and suck-ups who ran the Department. He already knew most of them from the last meeting and could tell from the looks they gave him they hadn't changed their opinion of his research.
Alice, the head of his office, walked in with them speaking in low tones to three suits. She waved briefly at him then continued chatting with the suits until they found their seats. A grandmotherly figure of a woman, her eyes were steely hard behind her horn rimmed glances when she was unhappy, which right now was with him. She patted one of the suits on the shoulder then hurried over to him.
“After I introduce you, you can start your presentation,” she began without preamble, “but I don't think Secretary Arktos is going to be any more sympathetic to your findings than the rest of them were.” She pronounced the Secretary's name ä'rk-tos. “'Gimme' is way too popular to put a stop to it. It's already regulated up to the hilt as it is so you're not going to get anywhere with that either.”
Randall towered over Alice's diminutive 5'3" frame but there was no doubt who was in charge. “I know,” he nodded, “but when it falls apart on us I want to be able to say, 'I told you so' to everyone who didn't believe me.”
Her eyes flashed. “That stubborn pride is going to ruin your career, Randall,” she told him.
“It's not pride,” he argued resentfully. Why couldn't anyone else see the danger? Why was he the only one? He ran a nervous hand through his shock of unruly black hair as she took a breath to deliver what was sure to be a stinging rebuke.
But her reply was cut short as a Marine guard pulled the door wide open for a large, big-boned woman. She was meaty and heavy, ambling through the door with a slow, forceful gait, her sensible tweed skirt moving with metronomic regularity just below her knees.
“Secretary of Homeland Security Ursa Arktos,” one of her many aides announced in ringing tones as if the assembled suits didn't already know who she was. Another one held the chair for her at the far end of the conference table, giving her an unrestricted view of the podium. She sat down with a grunt.
Alice shot a hard look at Randall and he stepped aside to let her take the podium. She waited for the room to quiet down before starting. “I'm Doctor Alice Stultus, Second Assistant Director of the Office of Genetic Research for the Department of Homeland Security. Doctor Argo is ill this morning and couldn't be here.” Hungover was more accurate but since he was the Secretary's favorite cousin, bringing it up would put a quick end to her career.
“Quite alright, Doctor Stultus,” the Secretary told her in a ponderous voice. “Proceed.”
Alice nodded quickly. “Doctor Randall Mensch, one of our chief researchers, has uncovered what he believes is an unhealthy element in the GSM movement.” Randall clenched his jaw at the weasel words she used to describe his work. She went on, “I'll let him explain it to you. Doctor Mensch?” she said, waving him forward as she left the podium.
He gave her the minimum perfunctory nod civility required of him then turned to his audience. “As you all know, Genetic Image Manipulation, GIM, or 'Gimme' as it's called in the popular vernacular, is the science and art of using modern DNA techniques to resculpt the human body into the image each person thinks best. This has resulted in an explosion of body modifications beyond anyone's wildest dreams.”
He swiped a finger over the holo screen on the podium; a collage of images appeared overhead, flickering through the thousands of body modifications people had demanded since Gimme hit the market 13 years ago. Some were beautiful and graceful, if somewhat bizarre, while others were truly monstrous.
The display didn't show the countdown timer that had been running on his computer for the last six months. They didn't need to see that.
“To each his own,” one of the suits muttered disdainfully. Subdued laughter ran around the room.
Randall felt his jaw muscles jump but kept himself under control. Horace Askimi was a royal pain the neck; the ugly old man had been one of the ring leaders attacking him at last week's presentation. He couldn't afford to let him goad him again. He forced himself to smile. “And if it stopped there I would agree with you, but as Gimme has grown and changed, the modifications people have asked for has changed too, becoming progressively more radical.” He swiped another finger over his holo screen. A multicolored chart appeared overhead.
“New sensory perceptions, animal senses and abilities, experimental combinations, memory enhancements, cognitive improvements, adaptations for non-normative environments, extra appendages . . .”
“Wait, wait a minute,” one of the suits objected. “What the devil is a non-normative environment supposed to be?” she asked, heckling him like the lawyer she was.
Patience, Randall reminded himself, patience. He managed to smile at her. “Any environment that isn't normal for human beings, such as living underwater or flying through the air.”
“Mermaids,” the suit next to her whispered. “Topless chicks.” He glanced guiltily at Secretary Arktos. “Sorry,” he muttered.
She shrugged massively. “Please continue, Doctor Mensch.”
He nodded. “As these modifications have increasingly departed from human norms so have the people receiving them. To put it bluntly, they're not really human any more.” A stir swept the room. They'd been expecting this but it was still a shock to hear it said out loud. “And no,” he added quickly before anyone could interrupt, “I'm not saying they don't have human rights or we should round them up like cattle or anything, but I am saying they've turned themselves into something that not only looks different than humans, they've become something that is different than humans.”
Secretary Arktos leaned forward intently. “Different in what way?”
He licked his lips nervously. “This is going to sound trivial at first but I assure you it's not.”
She nodded. “I'm listening.”
He took a deep breath. “They've changed the way they think, they've changed how they think, how they view things. The biological changes in their brains, along with the introduction of animal DNA, has given them a radical new way of looking at the world, new ideas of right and wrong, or no right and wrong at all, a whole new philosophy of living you might say.”
Someone snickered and he flushed hotly.
“Philosophy?” Askimi snorted dismissively. “Young man, I have an extremely busy schedule and you called us here to talk about philosophy?” He looked down the table at Arktos. “Please tell me this is a joke.”
She waved him to silence. “Philosophy dictates who wins elections, Horace. I wouldn't call that a joke. Let's hear him out.” He subsided with a scowl.
For the first time Randall felt a tingle of hope. Maybe someone would believe him after all, not that it made any difference considering the countdown. He didn't even know why he was trying to so hard. He swiped his holo screen again. A series of screen captures from social media appeared.
“Over the last 24 months I've been tracking these modified people on social media, lurking online to learn what they think, what they talk about, what they're interested in, and the one thing that keeps popping up over and over again, the one constant in all of it is; they don't consider themselves human any more.”
The lawyer who'd asked him about environments lifted one eyebrow. “So what do they consider themselves to be then?” she quizzed him.
Randall paused. This was where it was going to get tricky. “They have a variety of names for themselves,” he temporized, running his hand through his hair.
“Give us some examples,” she pressed him. “Start with the most popular and work your way down the list.”
He cursed under his breath, but there no escaping her cross examination. “The number one most popular name they use for themselves is Nephilim, the second most popular is faerie, then after that is . . .”
“Nephilim?” a slender aide with graying hair beside Arktos interjected. He glanced at his boss. “If I remember correctly that's an old word from the Bible. Some kind of evil hybrid or something.”
The Secretary tilted her shaggy head at him. “Is that right?”
“Yes, Ma'am,” Randall nodded reluctantly, “but we didn't call them that. They came up with that name on their own.” From the corner of his eye he saw Alice leaning away from him in her chair as if he had a contagious disease.
“They came up with a Bible name for themselves all on their own?” Arktos replied incredulously. “I find that hard to believe.”
Randall shook his head. “Most people are smarter than you give them credit for,” he answered defensively.
“Ha!” the lawyer interjected dismissively, her cropped blond hair swaying with her jerky movements. “Most people are dumber than rocks. That's why we're rich and in charge and they're not.” General laughter ran lightly around the table in response to her remark. Arktos was smiling in undisguised amusement as well.
Randall shifted from one foot to another. Arrogant idiots like these were why the world was about to go to Hell in a hand basket. He ran his hand through his hair again and took a deep breath to steady his nerves. “Even if that's true they're modifying themselves to be smarter than they were,” he countered adamantly.
Arktos squinted her small eyes. “That's against the law,” she said flatly.
He couldn't help himself; harsh laughter burst from his lips. “Miss Tvist over there,” he gestured at his blond interrogator, “should be able to tell you how easy it is to evade the letter of the law,” he snorted. “They don't ask for mods that make them smarter, I already told you they want cognitive improvements which is lawyer talk for smarter, but they don't ask for it directly. Instead they ask for a better memory, or a faster reaction time, or increased right brain-left brain communication, or any one of a hundred different euphemisms that add up to the same thing.”
Arktos glanced at the skinny blond. “Susan?”
Tvist squirmed under her weighty stare. “The wording of the relevant statute lends itself to a certain degree of ambiguity,” she admitted reluctantly, parsing her words carefully.
Askimi leaned forward to stare down the table at him. “So they're making themselves smarter? Smarter than us?” Sudden silence engulfed the room. No one liked the implications of his question.
“Smarter, stronger, faster, tougher, more resilient, with powers and abilities we can't match,” Randall agreed, watching the shock on their faces.
“Is that why you named your paper The Frankenstein Factor?” There was a nervous titter of laughter. “You think we're creating our own monsters?”
“I originally called it Pyscho-Social Evolutionary Pressures Arising from Genetic Image Manipulation in the General Populace,” Randall countered. “Perhaps they're a new breed of homo sapiens, call them 'homo superior' if you like, but yes, I do think we're creating monsters. The danger is very real and . . . very close to exploding out of control.”
“Now we get to the crux of it,” Arktos exclaimed heavily. “This is why Doctor Stultus looks like she wishes she was anywhere else than beside you.” It was true. Alice had scooted her chair as far away from Randall as she could get without sitting in the next person's lap. She jerked upright guiltily at suddenly being the center of attention.
The Secret Service agent standing behind Arktos, unnoticed and unimportant until then, put a hand to his ear. He nodded at something then leaned over to whisper in the Secretary's ear. A start of surprise, quickly suppressed was all that gave away her reaction to whatever he said. “What exactly does 'exploding out of control' mean to you, Doctor Mensch?” she asked as if nothing was wrong.
Behind her the agent was whispering to the Marine guard, who nodded grimly in response. He turned and hurried out.
“People who are smarter, stronger, and, well, better than other people, don't feel like they have to take orders from them,” he began. “So they start ignoring them, stealthily at first then more openly as their numbers grow. Laws that, they feel, were created for lesser people don't apply to them, so they ignore them too. Of course we gave them a good example to follow in that regard, didn't we?” he added sarcastically.
That created another stir in the room. Most of those here considered themselves better than the common folk, as witnessed by their earlier laughter at Tvist's “dumber than rocks” comment. Consequently they often held themselves above the laws they insisted normal people follow. To be told there might be another group above them with that same attitude toward them was disturbing – to say the least.
Five new Secret Service agents came in, openly carrying their weapons. They took up defensive positions around the room. They were followed a moment later by Marines in full combat gear. The suits muttered among themselves in confusion.
“Quiet, quiet,” Arktos commanded them. They settled down, eyeing her expectantly. “I've been informed there are some disturbances outside the building but it's nothing for us to be concerned about. All this,” she gestured at the guards, “is simply an abundance of caution, nothing more. We're perfectly safe. Please, Doctor Mensch, continue.”
He glanced at the timer counting down to the explosion that would tear their world apart. It was dangerously close to zero. His nervousness suddenly evaporated. Knowing what was about to happen unaccountably put him at ease, even though he knew he wouldn't survive it. It didn't make sense but it was such a relief he didn't care.
He smiled expansively at her. “The first indications are sudden and extremely rapid increases in property crimes; theft, burglaries, break-ins, shop lifting, car jacking, and so forth.”
“You're just parroting what's been on the news lately,” Askimi accused him angrily.
Randall chuckled, no longer intimidated by the hatch-faced old man. He felt so care free it was almost like being drunk. “Not at all. My paper was published over a year ago, as you well know. It's taken this long to get anyone to pay attention to it. The news,” he waved a hand at the world outside, “is just catching up to what I've been saying all along.”
Askimi did indeed know what the paper said because he'd been loudly arguing against its conclusions ever since to anyone who would listen. His false accusation rang hollow and everyone knew it.
“Be quiet Horace,” Secretary Arktos ordered him. Naturally assuming he'd obey she turned her attention back to Randall. “If the first indications are property crimes, what comes next?”
“Personal crimes,” he responded promptly. “Assault, rape, muggings, batteries, murder; all-out violence against anyone they see as inferior, which, I have to say, includes all of us in this room.”
The Secret Service agent whispered urgently in Arktos' ear, trying to get her out of her chair. She waved him away irritably. “And after that?” she pressed.
Randall smiled as the timer hit zero with a musical ding!
“Riots, genocide, and war,” he replied easily. “And since they have enhancements and body modifications we can't compete with, the results are a foregone conclusion: we lose. We made our own monsters and now they're going to kill us.”
In the distance he could hear what sounded like muffled explosions. In the hallway outside came the noise of running feet and men shouting. Some of the suits were on their feet in alarm, staring at the door.
“There must be some way for us to win,” Arktos said loudly over the growing tumult outside.
Randall sat down and propped his feet up on the expensive table, determined to enjoy his last moments on earth. “Not a chance. The monster killed Doctor Frankenstein and now our monsters are going to kill us.”
The door burst open, flying off it's hinges as a horde of once-human creatures poured into the room. He had just enough time to look over at Alice before being buried under a wave of flesh.
“I told you so.”