Friday, November 24, 2017

11/3/17 Friday Challenge: Entry #5

Fiction: “iGene,” by Chris Bailey Pearce

“Ow!” Ben rubbed the red spot on his wrist.

Mike raised one dark, bushy eyebrow, but said nothing.

“I swear, the thing bit me. See?” He shoved his hand in Mike’s direction.

“Well, what did you expect?” Mike glanced at the green and silver Individualized Genetic Event Normalization Educer on Ben’s wrist and took another sip of his mocha latte. “You muted it and dimmed the display. Turn it back on and see what it’s telling you.”

Ben downed half of his remaining chocolate bear claw pastry and several gulps of his double-dark, double-mocha drink before jabbing at the iGene’s touch screen. Bright red stop signs swelled into the air from its 3D projector, overlaid by yellow words stylized like a Batman comic, only instead of “KAPOW!!!” or “BAM!!!” they said, “STOP!!!”

“Too much caffeine,” the iGene said. “Too much chocolate. Too much sugar. Stop now.”

“I hate that voice,” Ben said. “There has to be one that doesn’t sound like a nagging wife.”

The man sitting at the next table snickered. Ben glared in his direction, then bent over his wrist gadget again. He displayed the list of voices to choose from, and selected one called Lola.

“Ben, I’m so, so sorry, but you know how you will feel later with all that awful caffeine, chocolate, and sugar. Please, please stop. I want you to be happy and comfortable.” Lola’s words dripped so much honey, his mouth watered.

Mike laughed. “You look totally stupefied.”

“Nah. She’s ...” He shook it off. “It’s supposed to tell me what to take to get back in balance after I overdo on stuff that’s not good for me. Come on, Lola, tell me what to take. Some methylfolate maybe?”

“Oh Ben, you know you can’t out-supplement six coffees and three chocolate bear claws. Just please, please don’t make it any worse.”

Mike roared in laughter, and the man at the neighboring table joined in. Even the baristas, splendid in their sleek orange and brown aprons, were grinning and chuckling behind the counter. Ben looked down at the half-eaten bear claw. He couldn’t decide if it would be worse to finish it or leave it. His wrist stung, and he turned off the iGene and picked up the coffee, but the sight of it made him feel a little sick, so he put it down again.

“Hey, you okay?” Mike wasn’t laughing any more.

“Yeah, I guess. I gotta go, I’ll be late to work. See you tomorrow.” His brain felt sludgy, but he managed to stand up, gather his food scraps, and throw them in the trash can on the way out.

¤    ¤    ¤

The next morning, Ben got to the coffee shop late. Mike was already halfway through his usual mocha latte.

“No bear claws today? What happened? Lola chew you out already?”

“Nah, I don’t have time this morning. Besides, I’m not really hungry.” Ben took a sip of his black coffee. “I feel like I have a hangover or something. And I found a much better voice for the iGene. Jeanie. She’s cool.”

“Yeah?” Mike looked skeptical. “What does she have to say?”

Ben touched the wrist device. “Jeanie, how am I doing?”

“You are gradually recovering from yesterday’s overdoses of caffeine, chocolate, and sugar. It would be best if you continue to limit these today, and eat a salad with leafy greens for lunch. A spinach salad would be ideal. Drink plenty of filtered water. This will help you reach optimum health sooner.”

“Huh,” said Mike. “She sounds sensible.”

“And she only offers advice when I ask. I like her. She’s respectful.”

“No biting?” Mike grinned. “Are you really going to have a spinach salad for lunch?”

“Actually, that sounds pretty good.” Ben shrugged. “Must be the hangover or whatever.”

¤    ¤    ¤

Coffee didn’t appeal to Ben the next day. Jeanie suggested a kale smoothie, and that sounded great. But he still wanted to chat with Mike, so after stopping off at the Smooth Y’r Day shop, he arrived at their table just as Mike sat down.

“Again no bear claws?” Mike saw the cup in his hand. A greenish-white sludge with a few dark green bits showed through the clear plastic. “What in the world is that?”

“It’s a green smoothie. It’s really good. Want a taste?”

Mike stared at him. “Hell, no. What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I feel great. Got lots of energy, can hardly wait to get to work. I’m gonna get a lot done today.” Ben finished off the smoothie in big gulps. “I’ve got plans for the weekend, too. Hiking and later some dancing or maybe karaoke.”

“Really?” Mike leaned toward him. “I see you’re still wearing the iGene. Ask it how you are.”

“Sure,” Ben said. “Jeanie, how am I doing?”

“You are in excellent health and feeling full of energy.”

“There, satisfied?” Ben felt antsy. His fingers drummed on the table. He stood up. “I got a lot to do today. See you Monday.”

¤    ¤    ¤

Monday morning was awful. Ben felt weird, fragmented. He paced and watched the clock until it was time to meet Mike. He wanted – no, he needed to talk to Mike. He got to the coffee shop twenty minutes early and paced in the store until people started staring at him, then he paced outside. Finally, Mike showed up.

“I need to talk to you.” Ben shoved his hands in his pockets to keep them from grabbing Mike’s shirt.

“Okay, let’s go in and get our coffee,” Mike said.

“I don’t want any coffee. I just want to talk to you.” Ben looked down at his feet. One shoe was black and the other was brown.

“About what?”

“I don’t know.” Ben bit his lip. “I’m wearing two different shoes.”

Mike looked at Ben’s shoes, then up at Ben’s face. “Ask Jeanie how you are.”

“Jeanie, how am I doing?” Ben’s heart beat faster.

“You are dying.” Jeanie beeped loudly. “Warning. A recall has been issued for this iGene model. A potentially fatal software error has occurred. Please report to the nearest iGene repair facility immediately.” The device beeped again. “It has been two days since you have consumed any water or other beverage. You must drink now. You will feel better soon.”

“I forgot to drink?” Ben’s laugh bordered on shrill. “Hey, I’m dying of thirst.”

Mike pulled Ben into the coffee shop and got him a large cup of water. Ben’s thirst took over, and he drank the whole thing without pausing for breath. Mike refilled the cup and led him half a block down to an iGene store. As they entered, an alarm went off, sounding like Jeanie on steroids. Several staff members flocked around them. They quickly removed the offending unit and guided Ben to a reclining diagnostic chair that looked both comfortable and intimidating. They attached the chair’s wrist-band interface to his arm, and wrapped his old iGene around an appendage sticking out of the chair near his other arm.

Diagrams and color-coded names of genes, co-factors, and inhibitors filled the air around Ben, accompanied by abominably cheerful music. He caught himself tapping his feet and bouncing his head with the rhythm. Then he saw the red dotted-line around the MTHFR and forgot about dancing. MAO-A appeared, circled in green. His eyes followed the arrows backwards past 5-HTP and Tryptophan to flashing orange INF-g, LPS, Stress, and TNF-a.

“Is this my DNA?” Ben asked.

“Sort of,” the store manager replied. “You are seeing the state of your genes right now, not the way they were when you were born. That’s how your iGene knows what you need. Or at least, it’s supposed to.

“The problem is your iGene has been inserting micro drugs into you which were supposed to optimize your health, but it has given you the wrong drugs. Some of them altered your hormones, some made changes to your brain or other organs, and some have affected your perception of reality. There may have been permanent damage to your liver. And we’re not sure we have identified everything it did. The quickest way to put you back on the road to recovery is to give you our newest model of the iGene. It will be able to...”

Ben interrupted. “I don’t think so.” He stood up. “Mike, let’s go get our coffee. And I think I must be really hungry. I’ve forgotten to eat for two days. I might get six chocolate bear claws today. If I still like them. You never know.”



Chris Bailey Pearce is an officially retired computer programmer who divides her newfound leisure time between writing speculative fiction and studying various facets of health. She finds genes, SNPs, and biochemistry to be fascinating.


Editor’s Note: This story was written in response to the 11/3/17 Friday Challenge. We received so many good stories in response to this challenge that we’re running new stories daily all this week. We encourage you to comment on the stories and to vote for your favorite as soon as the polling widget goes live, as the author of the winning story will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Thanks for participating!

Another Note: We’ve learned that the polling widget is not accessible in some web browsers, particularly those found on smart phones. If you can’t see the polling widget in the upper right corner, here’s a direct link to it: