The investigator sat supernaturally still, and it wasn’t just because of the high resolution scanners tied to the high security video conferencing system. The five senior administrators in the call were older, and they were barely able to be composed if they cared to be at all.

“Tell me, again, what they died of,” the one with the strongest medical background stated.

The investigator repeated the bacteria’s full scientific name.

“Was the determination that it is genetically engineered?” the former doctor asked.

“Yes and no.”

“That is a yes or no question.”

“The ancient strain would cause illness in the average population but have a low mortality rate. The pathogen appears to be that ancient strain tweaked to use the same vector the modern version of the bacteria exploits, though the modern strain is an inconvenience for most people.”

“Most of the people who were exposed died,” the admin with a DoD badge said.

The investigator added, “And almost all of those that died were genetically engineered.”

“Are all of those who survived not genies?” the doctor asked.

“Of the exposed, yes. A few of the targets didn’t die because they apparently weren’t within envelope of the exposure event.”

One of the administrators whose accent and demeanor suggested a pure Ivy League pedigree asked, “Were genies the target?”

“It was a party attended almost exclusively by them. No one present was specifically a target of terrorism or of intelligence. That’s the most likely answer,” the investigator said. “We can’t find any other reason.”

“Trying to kill the children of the elite as a strike against the elite would be a fitting measure for someone fighting the 1%”, the Ivy Leaguer said.

“Then you attack an event that hosts the elite and their children, not something that was more than 80% genie and nearly 100% if you exclude servers, security and a few non-genie spouses.”

“It’s Katyn Forest,” the DoD rep said. The others turned, confused, though the investigator knew the historical reference. The old man’s career spanned part of the Cold War through to the modern era, though the investigator knew he wasn’t old enough to have been a contemporary to the event. “The Soviet Union, the Russian Communists, during World War 2 marched the top twenty thousand elites in Poland into the forests and murdered them. The top playwrights, scientists, academics in that country. They were intentionally decapitating society, rounding up and killing its best and brightest to cripple it. Make them more compliant.”

“And you think they intentionally targeted an event populated by genies to murder them?” one of the other administrators asked.

“Yes,” the old general stated.

“Other people were injured.”

The investigator interjected, “The fact that the pathogen is essentially only lethal to genies and doesn’t harm mu – most people is evidence that they were targeting the genetically enhanced. If they wanted the maximum death toll, it would have been something that would kill as many as possible. Sir, I agree with your assessment that this is intended to be an American Katyn Forest equivalent.”

The administrators argued among themselves, while the investigator berated himself for nearly saying mundane. He was upset at the deaths, frustrated by the lack of information, and horrified at the implications. He wasn’t used to feeling this level of emotion, much less the conflicting and compounding effect of them.

The medical expert finally overrode their discussion, though the investigator had been able to follow along with all of it. “It is most closely related to a very old strain. Probably something dug up by archeologists.”

“What? The Black Death?”

“No. The Black Death was a stomach bug of the time that mutated into something lethal. This strain is almost the opposite, at least the current version. The modern version is mundane and mostly harmless while the ancient strain is deadly.”

“Nearly 200 people died,” Ivy League stated.

“All of them genies,” a different admin said.  The investigator noted the tone of voice and decided to put her on the list.

“And why just the genies?” the investigator asked.

“Genetic resistance, I think,” the medical expert stated.

“Quite the opposite,” the investigator said.

“I think it is like leprosy. Well, obviously not leprosy.” Everyone around her was thoroughly confused. “Hansen’s disease, leprosy, is horrifying, but it turns out that more than ninety percent of the population is immune. If you’re vulnerable to it because you lack the genes for immunity, you still don’t get it unless exposed. The randomness of the recessives showing up combined with exposure made it seem random.”

The old general said, “Genies were explicitly engineered to be immune or resistant to everything we could identify a gene for disease resistance to.”

The medical expert nodded. “And we removed all known genetic disease traits. Sickle cell trait makes you immune to malaria if you have one copy. There’s evidence that Tay Sachs and a number of other genetic defects provide the same resistance to tuberculosis if you carry one copy, but two copies kills you.” She paused, gauging everyone’s understanding. “This pathogen apparently exploits a gene and related chemical pathway for one of the genetic defects or slightly detrimental genes we edited out of genies.”

“Making them perfect, apparently, introduced this weakness,” the Ivy Leaguer said. The doctor, to the investigator’s horror, shrugged. The Ivy Leaguer asked, “Can we fix it?”

“We can try to add the trait back in the next generation.”

The investigator had to fight to suppress a shudder, outright horrified now. After all that work to create perfect people, the concept of downgrading them for their survival was abominable. Progress should only go one way. “Do you have antibiotics to cure it if someone is exposed?” he asked.

The doctor reviewed files that the investigator didn’t have clearance to access. “We’d have to develop something.”

“So right now, we’re still vulnerable to attacks like this?” the investigator asked. One of the administrators agreed, while another said no. That first admin corrected, “You would be, but most are not.”

The old general asked, “Were you screened for exposure?” There was a measure of concern in his voice.

“Yes, Sir. I wouldn’t be allowed in here if I posed any contamination risk.” It felt good for at least one of them to indicate concern.

The administrators continued debating for a while. Someone muting their side of the conversation, but the investigator could read lips and reflections off the surrounding screens perfectly well. They didn’t have antibiotics for it. They couldn’t control where it came from, because it was clearly archeological and could have multiple uncontrolled sources. Grave diggers, soil tests of permitted archeological sites, samples of the dead in museums, the list they generated together was literally only the start.

“Sirs, ma’am, can we prioritize any lines of investigation that could identify the perpetrators? We need to wipe this out before more die.” The investigator had felt this passionate before, but it had been years since he’d been so desperately pleading toward mundanes. Begging his parents and teachers for something, yes, that’s what this felt like. He hated the feeling. He hated them for making him feel like this.

“That won’t be enough,” the general said.

“Whether domestic terrorists who hate the elites or hate genies or a foreign government trying to hurt our society by taking out our best and brightest, we have to dedicate everything we can to such an investigation –“

“I think this attack was proof of concept, unless we find some unusual one-off deaths that were the precursors to it. By publicly showing that genies can be killed by old diseases brought back to life, it revealed a flaw. They all have the same flaw, well, flaws, and while we have one strain here, the knowledge of what it was can be replicated. Next time, it may be a different disease with a different vector. Or it could even be a disease from the wild that truly goes viral within that demographic. You’re all vulnerable to what the general population is immune to.”

“What’s the solution?” the investigator asked. He didn’t say ‘aside from letting the genies die’.

“Re-engineering, perhaps, adding back old traits.” The investigator almost involuntarily dropped his jaw agape, horrified at the thought that any children he might have would be inferior by design. They’d been told their whole lives they were the future of humanity, that they were better, that there was only better and better ahead of faster, smarter, greater endurance, better emotional control … progress could not be defined as back …

There was another silent conference among the administrators before he was cut off. They wouldn’t include him in the discussion, though it might be touching on old biowarfare data or genie development files that were off-limits to someone like him. The thought that he was immune to new biowarfare unless developed within his lifetime used to be reassuring. That there was a whole world and deep history that could kill him was now terrifying.

He waited silently in the room, anyone monitoring assuming he was hoping to be called back in. In reality, he was analyzing everything, desperately trying not to fall into a PTSD cycle. You’re better than that, you won’t fall into that trap. The dead, the dying, the server huddled in the corner, terrified, throwing up but only because of the terror and reflexive disgust of the dead bodies. The investigator hadn’t known that at the time, just assumed they were all sick and took appropriate precautions. Now, there wouldn’t be, couldn’t be, enough precautions.

The investigator rose to walk out the door, mindful of the security cameras and the need to hide the internal turmoil. He’d try to find the perpetrators of the attack. That was his job. That his people needed him to do, and it was his supervisors expected him to do. In this regard, there was no conflict between lines of command.  There was nothing else he could do until he had answers.

He briefly wondered if his own government would have done this, but he eventually dismissed the idea. That was a conspiracy theory. They wouldn’t do that to their own people, not in a democracy. There would be too much outrage, too many lawsuits. It’d ensure violent change, and that they were desperately trying to avoid. They didn’t do it. They might let a terrorist group do it and study the results, or they might have let foreign nationals do it to track down a whole network, but they wouldn’t have done it themselves.

Yet the niggling worry sat in the back of his mind as he worked. Suppose they didn’t do it and weren’t involved in anyway. Now, the administration had that information, the ability to replicate it with anything they did have in bio-warfare or just disease research labs intended for vaccination development … if it was some other government that did this, his own government now knew how to do it, too. And if anyone in power now decided to replicate that same concept to control genies, culling them or killing specific ones, that now couldn’t really be stopped.

He’d have to tell his friends, because they hadn’t thought anyone could stop them.



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Photo by PublicDomainPictures (Pixabay)

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