Each swallow I took tasted of coffee grounds and cigarettes as we waited for the deal to go down. Benjamin, the agent in command was old enough to remember when it was warehouses and parking lots for these deals.
Swollen bundles of cash and cases of oiled and packed weapons.
A perfect example of free market economics, Benjamin would mutter, as we watched the scarred exterior of the clinic. The game had changed, and in response, I was along for the ride, loading the gun with care as I thumbed custom rounds into the chamber.
A revolver was archaic compared to a standard loadout but our department had gotten a lot of fuck you money when it was formed, so we got access to weapons like this. It was centrifugal, firing .45 rounds without recoil or muzzle flash and a pulse detonation option which released a high velocity shockwave when I pressed a stud on the side.
The rounds had liquid computer tracking systems which was useful when you had a subject try and evade capture.
Especially when they could punch through walls or grew teeth and claws that tore through kevlar.
My department was officially part of the ATF especially since they passed the Biological Enhancement Act, which classified the possession of certain technologies under firearms legislation. My paper at M.I.T. drew the attention of a state department official and she came to see me at college.
‘The issue was not censorship of a useful technology,’ she said over coffee,
A hammer can build a house or cave in a child’s skull. We don’t ban hammers, but we look the person in the eye when they buy one, she said. I waved her off and laughed.
‘You can’t stop this from happening. Celebrities are wearing them to awards shows, so the genie is out of the bottle.’ I said.
She picked out a tablet from her bag and passed it over to me. I swept my fingers across the screen and she gave a warning cough.
‘You may want to put on earphones.’ she said.
The rumours of the baby farms were dismissed as luddite fake news.
Endless halls of cribs, streaming cables with foetuses floating in nutrient baths and infants being lifted into the gloved hands of third world workers then put on operating tables to have custom organs cut from them.
Glistening strings of nervous systems which made you capable of ducking bullets.
Myco-skeletal overlays which made your bones impossible to break.
Hearts woven with kinetic fibres and piezo-electric charges to bring you around after too much cocaine.
It was horrific propaganda and I shoved the earphones out as I pushed the tablet across the table and glared at her.
‘Where do I sign up?’ I said.
They paid for the rest of my tuition, ran me through a modified training program which left me lean, bruised and reinvented and then we were following data and coordinating raids on clinics. It felt like we were doing something important, policing a technology which was changing the species.
If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.
The market had moved onto tailored infections. Laboratories clean as forests and vials of divine diseases which went into your junk DNA and grew traits into your body. Eighteen hours as a scab, fighting your own immune system and if you lived, you were a God.
We had been making a case against Donovan Keller, a political activist who had been advocating for a more militaristic approach to his cause. He was looking for traits, and had the money to buy them. Benjamin was not impressed by his passion or intelligence, and judged him as wanting in compared to biker gangs and South Americans.He was making the buy in a sexual health clinic, and judging by our surveillance of his private life, a test was well overdue. We had wired the place for video and audio, watching him sit there, thumbing messages into his phone as he waited for his contact.
grimaced at the screen.
‘You’re good to go.’ he said.
We moved out of the van and through the clinic doors.
Donovan sat there and grinned as we told him to get on the floor. People got up and ran in all directions as he stood up with his hands raised in surrender. He looked unsurprised by our presence.
He took a deep breath as his eyes gleamed with power.
Bending forward at the waist, he belched a plume of green fire, engulfing Benjamin as I threw myself out of the way, bringing the gun up as I fired at him.
The fire slid over his skin, from it as his clothes dissipated into shreds of black smoke. He laughed as he stepped forwards, watching the bullets melt where they hit him.
I shoved myself backwards as I fired. The bullets kept him busy but I was looking for anything I could use.
A fire extinguisher bumped against my shoulder. I wrenched it off the wall, and tossed it at him then squeezed the stud on the right to activate the shockwave. .
He staggered backwards, still aflame but coughing as he turned his head. I aimed for his centre mass and squeezed the trigger. He bent forwards at the waist as his knees buckled and he collapsed back into the chair, which began to smoke and melt beneath him.
His flames fluttered and waned, then dissipated, filling the clinic with thick, black smoke.
I felt hands pulling me from the scene. Apparently I was screaming as they took me outside.
There was enough left of him to autopsy.
The trait had installed two interdependent systems inside him. His respiratory system was coated with custom cells which fed on carbon and generated constant amounts of a gelling agent spliced with a biological variant of petroleum. Each breath was a pull on the trigger.
His skin grew a layer of epithelial cells which made him inflammable and also fed trace amounts of the gel/petroleum in a substance similar to sebum.
In the enquiry board, our work was autopsied with as much care as Donovan had been. There had been no observed amount of time where he could have experienced the standard invasion/rejection scenario without our knowledge. My lawyer made me repeat the statement until it tasted like a stone in my mouth.
I went to Benjamin’s funeral, and met his wife for the first time. She took my hands in both of hers.
‘He spoke well of you. He said he didn’t understand you, but he trusted you.’ she said.
I managed to walk away before I broke out into harsh sobs.
A week later, I was cleared and three days later, I was back in another van, watching a crew of bikers buying a virus which would give them kevlar skin.
I thought of Benjamin as I left the van, wondering what he would have made of it.
Whether he would have been disappointed.