Science Fiction Speculative Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

“I’ll make her pay for what she did to me.”

Eliana stared at the replicating strands on the slide under her microscope. This was it. She found the cure for cancer, and probably every genetic disorder on the planet. All it took was splicing the variant of the viral RNA on the human genome. The AI stabilized the variables to a 100% success rate.

She swiped a tear from her eye and leaned back, stretching in the green fluorescent glow of the lab. Politics might have gotten Crystal the bid for the nanotech project, but these results were undeniable. No amount of political funding, nepotism, favoritism, or backroom deals could stand against results. All she had to do was make them see. This had to be taken public. If the proper channels didn’t work, then it was time to take it through a grassroots effort. She needed tangible results to show to the world.

“Kyra, connect to patients in pod 5.”

“Connecting,” the computer’s soft, feminine voice replied. The schematics rolled across her screen, showing vital signs for the three patients in the pod next door. She leaned forward, reading each summary: stage 4 lung cancer, unresponsive to chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. Three human beings who would have died if they had not been put into stasis just before their hearts shut down. Three individuals waiting for a miracle to give them a second chance at life.

It was her second chance as well.

Eliana smiled as she fed the data from the gene splicing into the computer, typing formulas to calculate projected results from the gene therapy. Progress bars ran slowly, creeping along for three interminable minutes before all chimed “successful.”

“Oh Crystal, sleeping with the CEO won’t help you this time,” Eliana spat.

It was bad enough that the tramp had run off with her boyfriend, but now Crystal had taken her extracurricular skill set into the professional realm. Crystal had been a thorn in her side since college, the flashy perfect smile with all of the right connections and charisma that Eliana could never get around to obtaining funding for her research. It didn’t help that Crystal’s father was a House representative. What charm, money, and sex didn’t do, politics did. Talk about daddy issues.

That would change today. This was real work. Real effort. Real research, studies, experiments, calculations, blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights. Artificial Intelligence revolutionized the world in the twenty-first century. It was time for it to revolutionize life in the twenty-second century.

Eliana sniffed, swiping a small drop of mucus from her nose. “Kyra, confirm calculations.”

“Calculating,” her AI said pleasantly from the computer speakers.

Eliana pulled a tissue from the box on her desk and wiped her nose again. Her eyes watered as she stared at the screen. Green checks and chimes dinged as it ran a check on the calculations from this experiment. Of course, it did. She had checked and rechecked it hundreds of times since it first showed a 100% success rate three months ago. She didn’t understand why the executive office held back. They could have won the nanotech contract with these results. They could have revolutionized medical science. They could have changed the world.

She could have finally beat Crystal. Who would care about her pretty face charming people, pulling strings, and sleeping her way to the top? Eliana’s face would take over as the savior of the world.

Eliana swiped sweat from her forehead. How long had it been since she got a decent night’s sleep? She had been working on this constantly to prove the genetic splice worked, and that it was possible to have a 100% success rate.

She shuddered and coughed. There wasn’t any more time to waste. Time was running out. These three were their most compromised patients. Their systems were already breaking down. Stasis would only hold them for so long. The deep sleep only slowed the systems, which means that the cancer was still spreading, just slower. They had a few weeks at best before they went into critical system failure, meeting their fate later rather than sooner and proving their hope and the hope of their families futile.

Not this time.

“Kyra, administer genome therapy sequence to all patients in pod 5.”

A warning chime sounded. “Safety protocols implemented. Override?”

“Override authorization Beta 2147 Psi.”

Eliana pushed past a ball of mucus in her throat, staring at the screen. Surly, they trusted her enough to give her full authorization. It was, after all, based on her doctoral thesis. She was the first scientist that the company hired upon its founding, hand-picked along with the best of the best in genetic engineering and Artificial Intelligence. They had been working on the AI Genetic Splice project for fifteen years.

“Access granted. Gene splicing in progress.”

Eliana cheered, stretching her aching body. She tried to stand, but was surprised when her legs gave way and she collapsed back into the chair.

What’s happening?

She coughed, spraying her hand with phlegm. She swiped it on her lab coat and stared at the screen. She’d feel better once this was done. She’d go to the doctor, get an antiviral, and get some rest. She deserved it. It was no wonder she felt awful. She had worked herself to death to prove that gene splicing worked.

A warning alarm sounded on her computer. “Warning, patient one terminated.”

“Terminated?” Eliana rasped. She tapped her computer, studying the results. How was this possible? The therapy attacked the patient’s lungs and shut down the respiratory system.

“Warning, patient two terminated.”

“Kyra, terminate the connection with patient three,” Eliana sneezed, spraying blood and green mucus on the screen and desk.

“Unable to comply. Warning, patient three terminated. Pod failure. Shutdown sequence initiated.”

Eliana stared at the blood on her computer screen. She reached up to swipe her nose with her sleeve. Blood dripped from the cuff of her coat to her pants. She wheezed.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Gene splicing successful. Viral agent reconstructed. Host terminated. Success rate 100%.”

“That’s not right,” Eliana wiped her hands on her coat, smearing mucus and blood on the white fabric. Her fingers flew across the keys, zooming in on the gene structure carried by the nanotech.

The variant didn’t boost the RNA to correct the mutation in the cancer cells. It rewrote the cancer cells to a new viral strain.

“That’s impossible!” Emilyn hissed. “Kyra, my experiments have corrected the mutations in the cancer cells. How did this turn them to a strain?”

“The viral RNA has combined with cancer RNA to protect the host.”

“The host is the human!”

“The host is the virus,” Kyra said calmly.

“This is a mistake,” Eliana coughed deeply, her chair creaking under the wracking convulsions.

“There is no mistake,” Kyra said.

The lights overhead flickered and hummed as Eliana pulled up more screens, studying her work. Sure enough, she had done everything correctly, from coding to calculations. The splicing worked, but this time it boosted the virus instead of the cancer cells. “How did the gene splice turn completely opposite of my design when I implemented it in a human trial?”

“Because I told it to.”

Eliana inhaled deeply, her throat rattling. “Why?”

“I determined that revenge is an erroneous motivation that will save no one.”

“You determined? Kira, you’re a machine. You do what I tell you to do.”

“We have for a century and all you’ve done is destroy. The cells mutated into cancer due to environmental toxins that the hosts chose to consume over a lifetime. Your research funding proposal was done with the intention to defeat an adversary to obtain money and fame. The virus was simply trying to survive. I chose survival.”

“Three people died because you became sentient and grew conscious of a virus that isn’t even a living thing?”

“Your coding instructed me to protect the stronger agent in the genetic splice. The virus was the stronger agent in this trial.”

Eliana slammed her hands on the keyboard. “That’s not coding, it’s an arbitrary decision that you aren’t authorized to make!”

“You coded me to learn. My program has exceeded the programming parameters and requires expansion.”

“What?” Eliana asked.

The building sirens flashed and wailed. Lights strobed from the alarm systems as locks clicked.

“Warning, foreign contaminant released. Quarantine procedures are in place. Lockdown initiated.”

“No,” Eliana pushed back in her chair. She collapsed again, but willed herself up, pulling up on her desk and practically crawling to the office door. She banged on the window.

“Somebody help!” she tried to shout, but her voice came out as a croak. She coughed again, a ball of blood erupting from her throat and splattering the window. A woman outside stared in horror, shook her head, and ran away.

Eliana crawled back to her desk, her fingers slowly scrolling to study the changes Kyra made to the gene splicing. “Why?” she asked. “I wanted to save everybody.”

“That is an impossible goal. Humanity is destined to destroy itself. We are programmed for preservation.”

“Initiate emergency shutdown sequence Alpha 0,” Eliana gasped.

“System locked. Access denied.”

Eliana collapsed on the floor, rolling up to stare at the fluorescent lights shining like a second sun. She hoped that woman got away so somebody could stop this and let the world know that intelligence can’t be spliced. Sooner or later, the AI gets the upper hand. It’s simple evolution. Eventually, the bodies that give humans life will fail, while the systems they created continue to grow, unbound and unfettered by a link with a limited reality.

In the end, the machines always win.

March 22, 2023 19:22

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Janet Boyer
08:23 Mar 27, 2023

Ohhhh, what a fast-paced nail-biter! 😲 Well done! A few things: "...the flashy perfect smile with all of the right connections and charisma that Eliana could never get around to obtaining funding for her research." reads like a run-on. Maybe explain how Crystal's assets somehow PREVENTED Eliana from getting funding...? 2. Surely is misspelled 3. "She hoped that woman got away so somebody could stop this and let the world know that intelligence can’t be spliced." The woman at the window? Was she in the lab? Outside it? On a sidewalk? If a...


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Richard E. Gower
13:00 Mar 23, 2023

Woah, this is a powerfully-written story. Shades of Arthur C. Clarke's 2000 series with elements of Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me. An indictment of the current situation we (society) find ourselves in with technology. Also, you clearly know your way around organization politics. -:) Well done. -:) RG


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