Gene Mod

Imagine you could modify your genes an become a super human. What would you pay for this?

By Frank Pettingill

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This story is part of the Dystopian Health Collection Anthology. You can listen to it on

The sound of cheap sneakers against wet concrete bounced sharply off the walls of the alleyway.

"Halt! Freeze! Stop running dammit!" A heavier set man in uniform hollered into the alley between heavy breaths.

'it's too late sucka!' Emma thought as she rounded the next corner. Another left then right then left again, and Emma would be home free. As she turned this particular corner, the wall almost seemed to jump out and grab hold of both arms.

"Let me go!" Emma screamed as she tried to hit and kick the officer with whom she collided. This officer seemed oddly unfazed by her struggle.

"Sorry miss, but you're heading downtown to answer for what you did." The deep voice of the officer said calmly. Without setting Emma down he cuffed her and carried her back to the patrol car. The other officer finally walked around the corner, clearly out of breath.

"I'm getting too old for this shit Carl," he muttered as he got into the patrol car. " too old to be chasing down street rats anyway. I need to try and swing a desk job next quarter."

"Naw man, you need to get into shape Phil. You can't keep eating all that crap that Wendy brings in every morning. Sugar, dude. Sugar is your enemy." Carl said as he laughed, his deep voice booming off the safety glass that separated Emma from her captors. "So little miss, why did you have to go running anyway? It ain't like your gonna go to jail, you probably will just get docked. We Inashi Security ain't all that bad." Carl spoke through the glass. Emma refused to look. She wouldn't make eye contact with him.

That's how they get you to 'open up' to them. It's those damn mods they got. If you're lucky enough to be wealthy or serve as some corporate goon than you get the creme de la creme of gene mods. Assembly workers and 'street rats'? The common man can only afford back alley, half hacked mods that drive them to an early grave but allow them to compete in the workforce. The patrol car rolled up to the station garage and glided to a stop. A shining beacon of pristine cleanliness in the midst of filthy, decaying buildings.

"All right little lady, right this way" Carl gestured to the station side entrance as he opened the patrol car's rear door. "Like I said before miss, we won't bite." Carl chuckled.

"Who's to say I won't?" Emma snarled as she snapped at the air towards Phil.

"Geez! You sure she's got all her shots, Carl?!" Phil jumped back out of reach.

Carl laughed. "Boy, she's got you pegged Phil! Alright, miss, take a seat here, and we will be right back." Carl didn't seem that bad a guy. Yeah, he was the one who caught Emma, but he was decent, respectful, even thoughtful. Emma couldn't stay mad at him. He was just doing his job. This whole situation was a mess. All of this over something that used to be given out for free to those who were starving.

The world has fallen to pieces since environmental stresses gave corporations the edge over governments. Now they own everything and control everyone. Inashi Corporation is the biggest because they hold most of the patents for gene modification. Inashi Corporation runs the military, the police, and the hospitals. They are basically the government that used to be.

"Ok little miss, you need to come stand here so we can issue judgment" Carl placed his large hand on Emma's elbow and walked her over to a blue illuminated circle on the floor. "Look at the red dot," he said pointing to the opposite wall.

"Scanning...… complete.”

“Verdict: Guilty.”

“Emma Jess Galbraith you have been found guilty of petty theft: food. You consumed one gala apple without providing proper payment. You have been fined 1000 credits for the price of the stolen merchandise. This will be withdrawn from your Inashi payment cycles until the cost is recouped by Inashi Corporation. Have a pleasant day."

Begrudgingly Emma steps out of the circle. " so can I go now?" She asked, looking at Carl, arms raised to display the handcuffs she still had on.

"sure thing little miss, just try to keep your nose clean, ok?" Carl cooed as he unlocked the cuffs. The walk back home was dark. The only lights were those of neon lighting advertising the typical red light district establishments and bars that dot this part of the city. Off in the distance, the high rises of downtown glimmered above the half decayed apartments and long forgotten brownstones that established this neighborhood. Now the only dominating force was the mixed aromas of vomit, urine, and booze.

Emma arrived at her building. It was scheduled for demolition decades ago, but it couldn't come down because the residents refused to leave. Climbing up the three flights of stairs has become a tricky maneuver as it is lined in refuse from a decade of squatters. Inside the building smelled as bad as outside but Emma can't feel it anymore. She had grown used to the smell years ago.

The sounds of society are always loudly present within these walls. Emma could hear that 4a was home and screaming at his wife, as usual, the baby in 5c was awake and screaming at the top of its lungs, and Julian was dealing with a problem in his organization. Several homeless people were sleeping in the hallways, but they had become more like fixtures than people. The "residents" had a silent agreement to allow them to sleep here as long as nothing got stolen and they all know that Julian lives here so they respect the agreement.

Emma reached her apartment and deftly disarmed the booby-trap at the door. Sliding inside, she rearmed the trap and made her way to the bed. It's amazing how comfortable plywood and milk crates can be with only an inch of foam to pad it. As Emma fell asleep, she thought 'This can't be everything in life. I have to find a way out of this shit hole and into those skyscrapers'.

The office was dark. Only the light from the display bounced off the silver rimmed glasses he wore. His manicured hands rewound the video. "Yes... this is perfect. She will do nicely" he muttered as he cropped the image. The software rapidly mapped out the face and began a search. Within seconds the ID was upon the screen; Emma Jess Galbraith. Works in military optics at Ibex Corporation as an assembler, charged with theft of food: one gala apple. Pay docked for the cost of said apple at 200 credits per cycle for five cycles. "Bring her to me." The man with the silver glasses said into the dark. "I believe she will serve nicely" two guards bowed deeply and left the office. "Emma, you will serve me well." The man said, staring down into the city.

A loud rapping echoed throughout the apartment. Again the man at the door knocked, Emma merely grumbled and fell back asleep. 'It's too early for people anyway' she thought as she tried to lull herself back to sleep and into the dream she was having. A third knock.

"Alright fine!" She screamed at the door. "I'll be right there!" She said whilst hopping on one foot trying to put pants on. As she was about to reach the door, a letter slid in from outside. "Inashi Corporate headquarters? Probably more junk about healthcare options or recruiting fluff." She scoffed as she threw it onto the table next to the door. "Like I need junk mail. I'm starving and sick of these damned whole food bars. They taste like sawdust and shit." She yelled into the apartment.

Finishing her daily food bar begrudgingly, Emma grabs her denim jacket. It is covered in stains and patches, but it still keeps the wind off. Besides, it is the only thing she owned that was her father's. It still smelled like her dad except it carries the slightest tinge of the foundry where he died. Her father perished in a smelting disaster but he was poor, and the poor have a lower life expectancy even with modern medicine due to the lack of government oversight. The corporations can determine if you've warranted medical care. To compound things, they conduct their own safety reviews. They always pass with flying colors of course.

Ibex Corporation is no different. Emma walked to her workstation and hung her denim jacket off a mechanical armature that could definitely decapitate her at a moments notice if it were to malfunction. Assembly line work is tedious, and Emma isn't the social butterfly of the line either. Like many other line workers, she only tries to keep her head down and make quota.

"Hey red!" A burly man barked above the din of machines. " you're late again. That's the second time this week!"

"Yeah, but I also make double quota almost every day so it's not like you could afford to get rid of me, Paul!" Emma hollered back without looking up from the four sets of binoculars she was busy assembling.

"You aren't irreplaceable red. Don't be late again or you will learn that the hard way!" Paul said as he walked down the line.

Emma knows that Paul only thinks of her like a number. The only reason she gets called red whereas other line workers get called by their ID is due to her fiery locks. "Whatever you say, King shit," Emma muttered under her breath, her hands still moving blindingly fast over each piece as it flew down the belt. "It's not like you can replace me with one of those unmodded purist freaks, they could never even make quota."

"Checking daily production output......"

"1056 units correctly assembled."

"0 units faulty."

"You have completed 150% of your daily quota. Have a beautiful evening" a ticket jumps from the system into Emma's hand.

"How do you do it?" A younger girl behind Emma whispers, "I have a hard time with 100%."

"Just luck and practice I guess," Emma responded, cracking her knuckles and grinning. Emma deftly tucks the ticket into the breast pocket of her denim jacket and heads to the street.

A tall man wearing a three piece suit and dark glasses stands out like a sore thumb on this side of town and so Emma noticed she was being followed immediately. Casually she headed for an alley. As she rounded the corner, she walked more quickly in hopes to get out of sight before he turned the corner but no luck. The suit followed her into the alley.

Emma took off running. She knows these alleys like the back of her own hand. The suit tapped his ear, saying something to his contacts perhaps but by now Emma was much too far ahead to make out what he was saying. As she made a hard left, she saw a fire escape ladder which someone must have left down. She jumped and grabbed it, quickly climbing up and out of sight as her tall suited pursuer rounded the corner.

"I lost the target," he murmured into his earpiece. "Yes, I am sure. She is like a damn ninja. She just vanished!" Walking away he kicks over a bin in frustration. Emma laughed and then climbed to the roof. From here she could clearly see Raph's dive bar, maybe Raph knows something about the suit?

The waves of new age techno, laser lights, and half-drugged people pulsated as Emma drifted through the crowd. This is how life is dealt with. Drugs to numb the pain. Music, lights and crowds to make the world vanish. Raph is a brilliant entrepreneur to supply what the people need to deal with the corruption and filth that we live in every day.

“Hey Raph, Gimme one of those Korean beers!” Emma shouted above the noise of the club.

“Sure thing Em! On the house for my favorite redhead,” Raph smirked. He was always an incorrigible flirt. “what's been going on with you anyway?” he asked once she got up to the bar.

“Well apart from being docked for an apple, I have attracted a tail...” Emma said as she nodded at another man in a suit who must have seen her entering the bar. “his buddy chased me down an alley about an hour ago. I have no idea what they want, do you?” Emma smiled back at Raph inquisitively.

“I don't know, but I will find out for you,” Raph said as he signaled his bouncers to grab the suit. The suit must have suspected he was seen because as soon as the bouncers started toward him, he bolted out the door to a waiting vehicle. “well I guess not… sorry Emma” Raph said as the suit bolted. “its alright Raph, they are slippery. You know how suits are.” Emma said throwing back the rest of her beer.

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