A new dawn rose up from the sullied Earth and nuclear devastation twelve years ago today. In the year 2036, Dr. Izek Usil and his team at the Transcontinental Coalition of Scientific Advancement discovered the elixir to life–a process that has accelerated the evolution of the human species through the mass distribution of Auxostheno supplements and the technological augmentation of human form. This process, called Neodesis…
Izek stared into the retina reader on the wall and blinked. The oversized projection screen went blank. He leaned back in his high-back leather chair, with his feet propped up on the 30-foot long conference room table. His associates had long ago left the laboratory sector of the TCSA building, with a quarter attending their weekly physical inspection and the rest divided amongst the entertainment center and the bunks. With the stress and demands of their work, Izek could not blame them for taking such periods of rest.
In 2029, the planet Earth was overwhelmed by a viral infection carried by genetically modified mosquitos. Originally designed to mate with and fatally poison the unadulterated version of the insect, the lab-created mosquitoes mutated in such ways that their bite proved fatal to humans. 3.4 billion deaths resulted from the 3C279 Virus within two years of the first outbreak, occurring primarily due to blood poisoning and related complications. Conspiracist group Aethon has claimed all along that the mass annihilation was a silent act of war against humanity, propagated by the international elite, collectively called Nexus, as part of the 2012 Initiative 42 plan for depopulation and New World Order.
Aethon once numbered at over 600,000, with hubs across the globe. However, since the viral outbreak and subsequent devastation, nearly all surviving members have retreated to the northwestern corner of a land formerly called Arizona. These remaining 34,000 individuals supposedly live 150 miles inland from the ever-rising Pacific Ocean, occupying a series of fenced-in communes along the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, away from society and out of the public eye. Their exact whereabouts and means of survival remain a mystery, as the Aethons have elected not to utilize the social management technologies that allow for modern day convenience and international surveillance.
Research and testing of vaccinations could not keep up with the spread of the insect-borne virus. In 2031, after two years and several billion deaths, the Transcontinental Union declared martial law over the entire American Continent. Those individuals who were deemed “assets to the furtherment of humanity” were taken from their apartment homes by tall soldiers, heavily armored in tactical assault suits with every inch of flesh hidden by the sleek, metallic curves of carbyne and shatterproof blackout glass. The soldiers had orders: those who resist are to be killed.
The kidnapped included construction managers, prominent scientists, psychological well-being personnel, robotic engineers, biological engineers, surgeons and children ages 14 to 18 who had scored exceptionally high on their latest bi-annual intelligence test. The chosen–and, in special cases, their families–were taken to elaborate military bunkers across the American Corridor and the European Union. Upon arrival at their final destination, the chosen all hushed their whispers and held back tears as a powerful voice blasted through the surround sound speakers and ricocheted off fluorescent-lit concrete walls: “Welcome to the New World Order. You have been chosen. To build. To save. To propagate. In six hours, a series of nuclear detonations will destroy the world you once knew. You represent hope. You represent a future untainted by societal blemishes.”
On June 17, 2031 at precisely 0200, Nexus simultaneously detonated 13 nuclear warheads across the globe, effectively wiping out all that they deemed wrong with the world–disease, poverty and dissonance. And, theoretically, crushing the destructive powers of man’s own once-brilliant creation, the 3C279 Virus.
Izek leaned further back in his chair, reading the scattered notes projected on the adjacent wall. Despite recognizing the scribbles as his own, the final solution to his latest challenge eluded him. As Izek scanned the walls, one phrase appeared again and again amongst the letters, numbers and images:
Izek was a young man when the 3C279 Virus stuck, three years into his professional establishment and two years shy of receiving his reproductive assignment. Deemed a genius in the broad field of science, Izek was immediately appointed to join the research team at University of the Americas, which was studying the origination of 3C279 viral mutation, possible vaccinations and the reengineering of the human biochemical system in preemptive response to the virus. The UA made monumental strides in their area of study, though the final solution could not arrive quickly enough.
Without spousal unit or offspring, Izek sometimes envied the men who could visit their kin on Sunday afternoons, in the adjacent building where valuable civilians were secured. Had the devastating outbreak been delayed by just seven months, he would have met his partner and learned their joint reproductive assignment. He had always dreamt of a male child who, when of age, could perform work in support of the greater good of society. Izek would tell the child stories of the Aethon dissonants, the tragic outbreak that wiped out most of the world and his own contributions to the Transcontinental Coalition of Scientific Advancement.
In his seventeen years working at TCSA, Dr. Izek Usil had furthered his understanding of homo sapiens capabilities and revolutionized the application of medical and mechanical advancements to the enhancement of the human form and function. His team broke down the previously defined barriers between the sciences by encouraging doctors, epidemiologists and robotic engineers to work side-by-side in the same labs. Through his brilliant insights and long hours, Izek earned widespread admiration amongst his colleagues and respect from the leaders of Nexus. After fifteen years at TCSA, Dr. Usil was awarded the title, Director of Assisted Evolution.
Legs extended and crossed, resting on the solid table, Izek clicked his heel rhythmically against the dense wood, offering his thoughts the smallest amount of structure through which to travel. He saw his reflection in the glass projection screen, an unkempt forest emerging from his pale chin and an uncanny sheen streaking the top of his head. He had aged since his arrival seventeen year before. He had aged, yet he was certain that the process would be reversed in due time. He would be young again, with spouse, child, health and life everlasting.
Prior to his assignment with University of the Americas, Izek Usil had been fascinated by Transhumanist ideals, though the practice of genetic enhancement was widely banned between the years 2010 and 2017 due to ethical concerns. After losing his mother at the age of eleven, Izek began voraciously reading materials on life extension, genetic engineering and other emerging technologies. By the age of twelve, Izek’s life purpose had been set: develop an elixir for eternal life, and make it accessible to everyone.
Despite the horrendous events that led to his current position, Izek was grateful to be performing what he knew to be his life’s work. After over 50,000 hours logged researching, Izek was able to finally apply his knowledge and lead the TCSA team in advancements toward physical, intellectual and psychological capabilities beyond what humans are naturally capable of, and beyond what has ever been dreamt.
Izek swung his legs off of the conference table and walked over to the dense glass window–a solid cake dome over the large room, preserving its contents until the outside air would inevitably begin to seep in. Izek was separated from the world outside by a thin, transparent wall. Beyond the glass lay a dying xeriscape–tiny cracks spread across the dry clay and it was impossible to tell whether roots of the remaining brush were grasping for sustenance or already fossilized in the earth below. Science fiction authors had predicted 2050 to be the zenith of human success–these creatives had eliminated the need for food and water, purified polluted air, resisted disease, developed semi-regenerative organs, and colonized Mars. If only it were that easy.
In 2034, Dr. Izek Usil had achieved his dream. With a team of 126 scientists from a diversity of backgrounds and specialties, the TCSA laboratory responsible for Assisted Evolution achieved their first major milestone:
After two years of human studies, the genetic enhancement drug was released to the public. Within six months, Nexus had sponsored mass distribution of Auxostheno to all those selected as “assets to the furtherment of humanity.” The number of reproductive projects was limited during this time due to the immense amount of work necessary to ensure human survival. Thus, promoting the longevity of those already living became the top priority.
Izek paced back and forth across the oblong room, occasionally pausing his legs to stare intently into his scribbled notes, as well as the new reports cascading down the right side of the screen. For the last six months, physicians conducting weekly physical inspection had noticed an unsettling trend, which they unabashedly attribute to Auxostheno. The physicians demanded the immediate recall and discontinuation of the drug due to abnormally low white blood count, elevated hematologic platelet count and elevations of transaminases, bilirubin, and serum proteins in their patients.
When Dr. Usil read through the papers, he immediately recognized the symptoms as autoimmune disease. Something was causing the human immune system to attack and destroy healthy tissues. But Auxostheno was created with the intent of strengthening and enhancing immunity to disease and promoting regeneration of damaged cells. Could the body have developed a resistance in just twelve years? “No,” Izek told himself, “impossible.”
Since the widespread release of Auxostheno in 2036–and due to Dr. Izek Usil’s research-backed passion—Transhumanism ideals had forcefully reemerged in the culture. Along with drugs to support genetic enhancement and longevity, mechanical augmentations became the norm–a combination labeled Neodesis, a new binding. Though prosthetic devices were originally limited to the disabled, mechanical sheaths became widely distributed to support researchers in their specialties. Those in mechanical development often wore highly integrated back braces and arm sheaths increase strength, whereas most chemists swore by the meticulous precision of their steadying gloves and magnifying eyewear. Over the last eighteen months, trials have begun to test the feasibility of surgical integration of mechanical components to the human body.
Izek felt a crushing pressure across his chest. Assisted Evolution was his brainchild and his livelihood. Izek sung down to the floor and pressed his palms over his eyes. If the physician’s accusations were presented to Nexus, it could ruin him.
Izek retreated to his bunk, a small metallic shell containing two bunk beds, a toilet, a sink and a few shelves for consumables. He stripped down into his plaid boxers, clanked up the ladder to his bed with a yellowed book he had pulled from his bunkmate’s shelf. Unevolved was the fictional story of the Aristodemos, an indiginous people who refused vaccinations against disease and slowly died away. However, after hours of reading, Izek sat up intently as the plot twisted and suddenly the unevolved people were equipped with antigens that the vaccination had destroyed.
Izek inhaled deeply and sighed even more deeply. He had to visit the Aethon people. What if they held the key to human survival?
To his knowledge, no one had left the TCSA buildings for any reason. Yet, with bunkers spanning the American Corridor and the European Union, Izek was convinced that the mission was possible. He would obtain explicit permission from Nexus to leave the colony, likely under a false premise, and pursue the Aethon people–the unevolved.
Izek quietly slipped his beige khakis and white button-up shirt back on and left his bunk. He entered his office space in the laboratory and began furiously scribbling down his plan.
Dr. Usil would enter the daily meeting the next day, September 13th, 2048, at exactly 0800. He would detail the findings, developments and products of the prior day. Before closing, Dr. Usil would implore for help from Nexus. “It is time,” he would begin, trying to mask his anxiety, “for the Aethons to join us. Whomever remain shall be subject to Assisted Evolution, or subject to elimination. It is time.” He would request resources and tools–a vehicle, weapons and a trustworthy companion. He would reassign a colleague to manage dissent among the physicians until his return. He needed to study the Aethons. He needed to recapture when he had unintentionally wiped from the human genome, what Assisted Evolution had failure to carry forth.
To Izek’s great surprise, the Nexus representative asked only one question: “Dr. Usil, will this journey further the greatness of our species?” Without hesitation, Izek answered, “Yes, this mission is more integral than you know.” With a nod, Izek was sent from the room to meet with a small planning committee to secure all resources necessary for his journey. He would leave the next morning.
In September of 2048, Izek packed a rugged black SUV with rations, weapons and miscellaneous trading goods. A young assistant named Wight sat next to him, orange-brown curls framing a round, freckled face, and three additional SUVs trailed behind, filled with a dozen members of the Transcontinental Union Special Forces team. The group traveled 543 miles west toward the rumored home of the primitive dissonants.
The Aethon people have ruthlessly fought to evade Assisted Evolution and other amenities of modern day life for nearly five decades. Their reasons differ–religious belief, uncertainty about the long-term effects of genetic enhancement or to evade surveillance by Nexus–but they have nonetheless joined together to fend off change and delay an uncertain future.
After several days of travel, Dr. Usil’s group identified their target. The Grand Canyon looked like the splitting crust of a freshly baked pie under a microscope, and the fenced off area along the northern rim looked like a prison yard in summer. A porous container of scorched earth and arid, congealing gases.
They drove closer, and saw disheveled shacks and rags worn thin. Too late. It has been seventeen years since Nexus released nuclear warfare on a tumultuous earth. Perhaps this location had been struck but a nuclear bomb, or perhaps the radioactive breeze had filled the lungs of passionately dissident youth and sucked final breath from their collective lung. Their journey, it seemed to Izek, had been futile.
Wight continued driving toward the camp, stubborn and insistent, dressed in the same brown khakis and white button-down shirt as Izek. Wight looked like a novice on the verge of breakthrough, with round spectacles resting on the bridge of his nose, as he mumbled under his breath, “Just trust me, Dr. Usil. Just trust me.”
Wight led the way, rambling about books and theories. Izek captured words and phrases floating through the arid breeze.
The young scientist began patting the earth, as if searching carpet for his puppy’s latest accident. Izek stood back and observed, feeling defeated. When Nexus learned of Auxostheno’s fatal flaw, Dr. Usil’s career would be over. He considered sparing himself the shame of homecoming, and imagined staying–fighting for sustenance in the unlivable desert and becoming a forgotten relic, as the previous inhabitants of the desolate land.
As he imagined the extinction of the human race–white blood cells taking axes to their sacred temple, and surgical augmentations weighing down their no-longer-invincible hosts–Izek heard something from across the dusty courtyard. He saw Wight frantically waving arms like twigs, knees stained red with dry clay. Izek inhaled deeply and began running toward his assistant. “Dr. Usil,” called the young man, “It’s a hatch!”
Wight had dropped back down to the earth and continued his mumbled ramblings, with increased intensity. Izek peered down at the metallic square, both curious and inexplicitly frightened. He wondered out loud whether the location was previously a military site, abandoned over two decades before. Wight snapped his neck and glared up at Izek, asking, with clear annoyance, “Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve said?”
“The Aethons…,” whispered the wide-eyed redhead, “They’re down there.”
Wight looked like a child–young and naive, yet eager to venture past the locked door at the end of the hallway in search of adventure. Izek stood over the young man, surrounded by twelve armed men in all black, everyone asking himself the same question.
To Wight’s dismay, the team set up camp just inside the barbed wire fencing, putting the impossible decision off for as long as they could. Either the underground bunker had been long abandoned, or there was a colony of people living directly below the ground on which they slept. Despite their reduced need for sleep since beginning their prescribed dose of Auxostheno several years before, the fourteen men were exhausted and struggled through the night to find rest.
At 0500 the next morning, an anonymous poll pitted the six men who wanted to return home against the eight who demanded to know what lay beyond the mysterious hatch. After a quick meal of field rations, the Special Forces team distributed packs and weapons amongst the team and explained protocol. The tallest carbyne-clad man spoke in a thundering voice, “Pair off in groups of two and look out for one another. Be resourceful and do not give up. Your radio and GPS devices may work in the bunkers at home, but there are no guarantees here.” The same soldier knelt down above the hatch, using his arm sheaths to bolster his strength as he rotated the rusted steering wheel.
Until is clicked.
And the hydraulic lid slowly lifted.
The men stared down the dark hole for a brief moment before filing down the steel ladder, one by one, each end of the procession capped by faceless tactical assault suits. There was only one direction in which they could walk. Izek followed behind the soldiers, his fingers tracing their cold encasement. The group looked ahead through lit magnification lens, but saw nothing. They continued walking, the thump of each step bouncing off the walls of the massive tube.
Wight continually trying pushing past the lead, excitedly whispering, “The lost people. We’ve found them. We’ve found them…” Dr. Usil scrunched his already-wrinkled forehead and glanced around the space. “Wight,” he began, “I don’t see them.” Without looking back, Wight retorted with a line from An Argument for the Retention of the Arts, “Sight goes beyond one’s eyes, optical augmentations and digital renderings of life. Before the arts were replaced by hard sciences, humans had the ability to sense kinsmanship without quantitative data. Unadulterated cells could recognize and empathize with other pre-evolved human.” Wight glanced back at his leader with intensity, “They’re here Dr. Usil. I can feel them.”
A chill ran up Izek’s spine. “But… I can’t feel them.”
As predicted, radios and GPS did not work. Nexus had surely lost contact. The group marched down the long corridor, and Izek felt the silence slowly seeping in through his pores, like a handyman scoping out the scientist’s bunk in preparation for the his eventual crime. The men in tactical assault uniforms were unmoved by Wight’s speech, and even less so by the complete absence of sound.
The silence stretched for miles, or so it seemed. Eventually, the tension lifted. The vault was surely unoccupied.
“Let’s turn back,” announced Dr. Usil, “There is nothing to be found here.”
Wight was the only one to object. The young man roared with madness, “They’re here, Dr. Usil! We are so close! I can feel them! Please…”
Izek nodded and two soldiers took the lanky young man with plump baby checks by the arms. A third injected Wight with a sedative, and then gingerly sat the placid redhead up against an empty wooden crate, labeled “BEANS.”
The remaining thirteen formed a loose circle and began to discuss their plan of retreat. They would follow the same straight path they had to arrive at their current location. Dr. Usil stumbled through his thoughts, unsure how to explain to Nexus the gravity of his failure.
Izek snapped out of his trace at the sound of his name. But it wasn’t coming from his men. It was the voice of a woman, strong and sultry.
“Dr. Usil, I have been following you through these tubes. I can help you, but you must help us.”
“Who are you?” asked Izek, trying to mask his fear with a professional facade, “and why have you been following us?”
“My name is Isidora Vega and I am the leader of the Aethon.” Her torn beige cargo pants, black boots and faded black tank complemented the confidence in her voice, as well as the defeat. “My people have passed–most of them–first from mosquitos and bombs, and then from starvation and internal conflicts. Only two remain. Me, and my partner, Attis. We left on a journey to find help for two years. When we returned, all others were gone.” She paused as the men gawked at her prominent breasts and the large tear exposing a glimpse of the woman’s upper thigh. “I help you, you help me.”
Hope poured into Izek’s chest, like a scorching cup of coffee on a frightfully cold day. “Isidora,” Dr. Usil began, “it is a pleasure to meet you. I am sorry to hear of your loss, yet eager to work together toward the furtherment of humanity.”
Isidora quickly retorted, her long, dark hair swinging over her breasts, “Why have you come here?! Why now after all these years? You are so late for saving us. Too late!” The team of men exchanged glances, unsure of how to respond. “Attis!” the woman shouted, “Attis Azden! Come to me now!”
Dr. Usil bowed his head. He had to gain the trust of his valuable new asset. “Dear Isidora, we have heard radio signals coming from this location. For three whole years, I have been begging my superiors to come investigate. I knew that you were here, Isidora, and I knew that your people needed help. You must have such a strong immune system to have survived here for this long. Isidora, my dear, I have come to save you.”
Dr. Usil had given the signal. Four armored soldiers swarmed around the unevolved woman, stabbing her with the same chemical substance that had been used on the redheaded ragdoll in the corner. Isidora collapsed to the ground, where her wrists and ankles were secured with zip ties. The remaining soldiers split up and stormed down opposite ends of the corridor, intent on capturing the woman’s unevolved partner.
Izek looked down at the beautiful form lying on the ground, pure and unadulterated, as if staring up into the heavens at God.
“I have found Aristodemos…
I have found the elusive antigen…
I have finally discovered the elixir of eternal life.”