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POISONED CHALICE

Copyright © Ian Irvine, 2000.

by

Ian Irvine

February 1999

 

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4:
The Holy Grail

 

It took a month to get an appointment
with Dr Crandy, who turned out to be a senior advisor in the Medical
Inspector’s Office. He also had a practice doing reconstructive
surgery for people mutilated in accidents.

His consulting room was in a dingy
building in the western suburbs. That didn’t surprise me. All doctors
seemed to have dingy offices. He had no receptionist. That did
surprise me. He didn’t ask to see my Citizen’s Card. I felt a trickle
of hope.

‘What can I do for you .?’

I had no energy to approach the matter
obliquely. ‘Fix my foot!’ I took off my boot and sock, and held
my breath.

He felt my thickened ankle and the
twisted bones of my foot. It took less than a minute. His fingers
were extremely cold. He took off the other boot.

‘Hmn! Quite attractive, as feet go!’
His fingers lingered on my toes. ‘You have a genetic deformity
which has been further mutilated.’

‘My mother tried to make it better.’

‘You realise that you are asking
me to commit an illegal act, for which the penalty is termination?’

‘I do,’ I said. ‘Can you repair it?’

‘Of course.’ His black eyes probed
me. ‘As long as you’re prepared to pay my price.’

‘I don’t have a lot of money.’

‘I wasn’t thinking of money.’

 

The first part was not painful. He
scanned both feet in a body imager and made 3-D computer models
of their anatomy. Then he reversed the model of the good foot and
superimposed it on the other. That showed him where to cut, where
to build, where to manipulate and restructure.

The second part was very painful.
I won’t go into the details. He took my crippled foot apart, dissected
it into its components of bone, muscle, tendon, sinew, blood vessel,
nerve network and skin. He reshaped the bones and the joints using
laser ablation, regrew the bone and joint surfaces, then put down
formwork of an internally dissolving plastic to which the individual
components of my foot were attached. The different tissues grew
in their proper positions on the formwork. It took quite a while.
Many weeks.

The price I paid I shall also draw
a veil over. Suffice it to say that the man was a deviant and a
pervert, though a harmless one. I was glad to pay what he wanted
to save my life and Kirrily’s. It was a contract freely entered
into. I liked him, in spite of . all that.

Six weeks later I stood up on a new
foot that was the mirror image of the good one. It didn’t hurt
at all, though it felt a little strange to walk on. He’d told me
to expect that, at first. I also had a Citizen’s Card in my pocket,
which meant he’d faked my gene test results. I don’t know how.
I didn’t ask.

‘Why do you risk your position and
your life for people like me?’ I wondered. ‘Apart from .?’

‘Because I hate the whole rotten
system!’ he said vehemently. ‘The Genes
Act
must be undone. It’s what people are that
matters, not what they look like.’

I was shocked. It was the first time
I’d ever heard someone speak openly against the system. My mother
never had, nor Jeffie. Not even Ben.

‘Oh!’ I said.

He took me by the shoulders. His
grip was painful. ‘Now you listen to me, little Aislyn. I know
who you are!’

‘What do you want?’ I stammered,
thinking that he intended to blackmail me.

‘Aislyn Athanor, daughter of the
brilliant Cyssa Athanor! You’re smart, Aislyn. We need people like
you.’

‘I didn’t even finish high school,’
I said weakly.

‘I’ve seen your test results. You
could be anything you wanted.’

For a moment I saw the University
on the hill, the lovely old sandstone buildings, the jacaranda
tree. Perhaps it was possible. The baby whimpered and reality intervened.
‘I don’t have the money.’

‘What about your mother’s estate?’

‘I
wasn’t aware that there was one. I was afraid to ask.’

‘I checked your file last night.
She wasn’t poor. There’s an apartment in the city and an old house
up the north coast. Money has accumulated from rent since she died,
and dividends from a portfolio of shares. It’s no fortune, but
enough to keep you while you study. Go off and learn, and when
you’re ready, contact us.’

With a full Citizen’s Card, and money
in the bank, my life was transformed. I set out to take up the
opportunities I’d never had. Yet I could not stop thinking about
what he’d said. Using the PocketBook, I visited several of those
subversive sites on the net, and for the first time I began to
question the fundamentals of the society I lived in.

But my own holy grail always came
first – to complete my mother’s work. It was hard, with Kirrily
completely dependent on me, though I never thought of it that way.
It was what I’d always wanted. In a year I had finished high school.
Four years later I had a combined degree in Ethics, Socio-Biology,
Database Mining and Genetic Engineering, with the highest honours.
Three years after that I was awarded a doctorate in Cultural Bio-Engineering
from my mother’s Centre.

A week later I was hand-delivered
a letter from the Centre.

 

Dear
Dr Athanor

I
have great pleasure in offering you the position of Researcher
in Cultural Bio-Engineering at the Centre. We have watched your
career, and reviewed your research, very carefully, and the Committee
was unanimous in selecting you.

As
you know, the University is going through a period of great financial
stringency. Nonetheless, we are able to make substantial research
funds available, should you wish to complete the work your mother
began so long ago. Be assured that this research is considered
to be of national importance and has support at
the highest level
.

We
await your decision with the keenest anticipation

Prof. Eolie Chalmys

Head,
Centre for Advanced Bio-Engineering

 

Words can’t describe how I felt when
I opened the door of the room that had been my mother’s office
twenty eight years ago, and sat down at her desk.

I had read her scientific papers
a hundred times, and now set out to complete my mother’s dream,
to design the perfect society. It was exciting work, but before
I had gone very far I began to encounter mysterious gaps in her
research. It was as if vital studies had been lost. I searched
every library in the country but couldn’t find anything.

Obsessed with my research, and spending
what little free time I had with Kirrily, I had hardly noticed
what was going on in the world. Oh, there were occasional disappearances
from the University, but none that affected me. I kept to myself
– a hangover from my previous existence, I suppose.

A few months after my graduation
I was sitting with Kirrily watching the NetNews. In my eight years
of study I’d not allowed myself the luxury of idly watching the
net.

The President, a big, strikingly
good looking man, came on the news. He was always there these days,
dispensing paternalistic pap. NetNews was a more important forum
than Parliament had ever been. His fashion-model wife stood beside
him, as always. They personified the cult of beauty that dominated
our times.

I vaguely recalled a long struggle
between an incompetent Prime Minister and the elected President,
a charismatic former footballer. The President won and his puppet
government rubber-stamped changes to the Constitution. The President
was speaking now. I turned up the volume.

‘This recession, or should I say
depression, has not come about by accident, or even through the
incompetent policies of the previous government. There is a secret
force operating in Australia, one that has set out to pull our
great country down. A coalition of failures who cannot bear the
success of others, and prefer to drag everyone into their gutter.
They are born to failure. The nation must be rid of these parasites!’

He might have been talking about
the opposition, though I had a feeling he wasn’t. I felt that there
was something hidden in his words. I flicked to another channel,
where a panel of economists were disagreeing about the recession.

‘They took my teacher today,’ said
my daughter. I thought of Kirrily as my daughter. She was just
nine, a slender, pixie-like girl with silvery blond, wavy hair.

‘Who took your teacher?’ I asked
idly, my mind still on the news.

‘The Board took her. She was too
fat!’

I shot up in my chair. ‘What do you
mean, too fat?’

Kirrily was quite matter of fact,
the way kids that age are. ‘You know how they take people who’ve
got something wrong with them?’

‘I know,’ I said.

‘Fat people are bad. They dirty our
genes! So the Board takes them away.’ She changed to a wildlife
channel.

I couldn’t concentrate now. I went
out into the kitchen and opened up Ben’s battered old PocketBook.
I’d not used it in months and the batteries were flat, but the
overhead light brought a trickle of current from the solar cells.

Opening a file, I began tabulating
population statistics for a paper I was writing. As I did so, I
noticed significant falls in the population of certain age groups
since the previous census ten years earlier.

It had to be a mistake. But it wasn’t.
The population of over-65’s had dropped, when it should have risen
significantly. There were smaller declines in younger age groups.
Overall, the loss represented nearly two
hundred thousand people!

‘GoverNet, Medical Inspector’s Office,
genetic crimes list,’ I said urgently to the PocketBook. Being
a secure site, it asked for a password. I gave it, twice, but it
wouldn’t let me in. I was so furious that I did something really
stupid. I called up one of Ben’s mole programs and set it to work.
The site opened. Under Termination
Categories
, which had once only been for “irretrievable genetic
degradation,” the list now stretched off the bottom of the screen.

Other crimes included obesity, ugliness
(as defined), IQ below 70 points, dementia and a dozen other ailments,
incurable stammering . I flicked to the Termination List on NetNews.
I hadn’t looked at it in years, at which time it had only contained
a few names per day. There were dozens on today’s list.

I closed the lid. It was as if the
lights had gone on after 28 years of darkness. I remembered my
first year Ethics classes. I had to do something. What had my doctor’s
name been? Rogerio Crandy. I opened the Directory and was about
to speak his name into the Searcher when a lifelong habit of caution
prevailed. Instead I chose List-Alphabetical,
and scrolled through the CRA’s to Crandy.

Two names were listed but neither
was his. He was not on the doctor’s or the specialists’s lists
either. Well, I’d last seen him more than eight years ago. He could
have died. He might have gone overseas, though few did in these
days of isolationism and world recession.

A few days later I turned on the
news and there was his face, heading the bulletin.

 

‘In a special edition tonight, we
report on the suicide in custody of notorious pervert and gene
criminal Dr Rogerio Crandy. Dr Crandy was to face trial charged
with illegal surgery, falsification of computer records, issuance
of false identities, tampering with scientific samples and concealing
genetic degradation. Due to the destruction of both his offices
by fire the full extent of his perfidy may never be known .’

 

I
fumbled out my Citizen’s Card to see if his signature was anywhere
on it, but it wasn’t. It did not make me feel much better. I am
by no means ugly, certainly not fat, but I stand five feet nothing
in my bare feet (fifty years after metrication and we still measure
height in feet). Maybe short people would be next.

Surely
not me! I thought. My research has support at
the highest level
. It occurred to me to wonder what that meant.
My very tangential inquiries elicited that it meant exactly what
it said.

 

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