Written by Annoj Thavalingam
Image courtesy of Flickr
Entry #1 – May 3rd 2033, 7:30 am
I can already see the headlines. “These cells dream of electric sheep.” “Wonder grad student pioneers in cell consciousness.” “Walter Hörst – Recipient of the 2050 Nobel Prize in Medicine.” That last one might be a stretch, but it’s a scientifically sound stretch.
Through a series of structural and genetic modifications, I’ve awoken something that’s lain dormant far too long: cellular self-awareness. I won’t detail the experiments supporting my hypothesis, but my Intella cells will usher a new era of molecular medicine and evolutionary dynamics.
Many questions however remain to be answered. How do these cells process information? Can they genetically encode and recall memories?
Dr. Sanders is on sabbatical, so I’m the foreman now. And idling about is an injustice to my breakthrough.
There is work to be done.
Entry #2 – May 5th 2033 3:20 pm
I feel like an Olympian-in-training, with some serious record-breaking written in the stars. The Intella cells have been steadily mounting their rate of replication, meaning that passaging has become a round-the-clock chore. High-throughput sequencing reveals a remarkable rate of mutation and a novel error-prone polymerase. Once I domesticate the cell line with the right transcription factors, they’ll surpass AI, machine learning and all that jazz. Now as much as I’d hate to, I’ll have to ask Greasy Gordo for his hands. Every hero needs that crummy sidekick.
Entry #3 – May 9th 2033 8:00 pm
I can’t seem to fall asleep, try I might. The epinephrine patch (or Epi-patch) likely hasn’t worn off yet. It’s unnerving to fathom that the same way humans are able to manipulate their hairstyles, body shape and gut microbiota (within reason), Intella cells are perceptive enough to direct targeted modifications of their DNA. They’re reading the genetic code as we would read papers, editing it here and there to their liking. I mean, they’ve always had the requisite enzymes for it. Just not the mind.
Entry #4 – May 11th 2033 1:45 am
Gordo and I have been racing like a relay team against the voracity of these cells, their drive to survive. Incidentally, we’ve also been burning through the lab stock of Epi-Patches (surprise, surprise!).
The cells have not ceased to astonish us with their feats. We’ve exposed them to severe glucose starvation, prolonged anaerobic conditions, and inhibitors of crucial cellular processes. In each instance we observe a lag period in their growth, and then Zup!, the cells undergo a sizeable turnover and repopulate the flask. The resulting population is heterogeneous, where several founder cells independently tweak their genomes to adapt to their new environment.
The implications of this auto-innovation are far-reaching. We’ll no longer have to look to chemical screens or computer models to conceive potential cures for diseases. By mimicking disease conditions genetically and extra-cellularly, we can observe how Intella cells overcome the crisis. Their solutions become our solutions.
* * *
Entry #5 – May 11th 2033 4:40 pm
Man, Gordo’s done it again. There’s been no shortage of safety precautions on my part, reciting how sensitive and serious this project is. The idiot, out of sleep deprivation or lapse of sanity, handled my cultures without gloves and slit his finger on a coverslip. He still has that goofy-ass smile plastered on his face. Now as much as I can’t stand his apathetic attitude, he’s still the only one competent enough to handle the cells.
Entry #6 – May 13th 2033 1:00 pm
My superstars are stepping up to every challenge I design for them, excelling even. The cultures each behave as a single whole, optimizing their hierarchy and efficiency with mechanical precision. I wouldn’t be surprised if royalty is a thing down there. I can’t help but wonder now: Can they sense my presence as the experimenter, their creator? Do they have any inkling of the world outside of their artificial flasks? There are so many questions, many of which I don’t have the time to answer because Gordo’s still away. He’s got a headache or fever or something – the perennial excuse for an off day.
Entry #7 – May 15th 2033 11:20 am
I felt like shit today, but Gordo coming in actually looked like shit. His face was all pudgy and misshapen like an unbaked muffin, and I made sure to let him know. The prick then snagged me in the neck with an Epi-patch; I’d just had my damn coffee too!
* * *
Entry #8 – May 17th 2033 9:20 pm
Good lord, I think I need some brain bleach, industrial grade. Or just some good whiskey to immolate my memories.
On my way to take a piss, I’d stumbled exhausted into the door of an electrical closet left ajar. I would’ve walked by without a second glance if a foot hadn’t been sticking out of it. My gaze, still weary, worked its way upward, not grasping the gravity of the moment until my eyes met his. Inside, crumpled on the floor, was the morbid husk of Gordo. No one had even bothered to clothe it, and now I know what his shrivelled yo-yo looks like.
If he’s behind this disgusting prank, a bed is already under his name at the local madhouse.
Entry #9 – May 17st 2033 10:10 pm
It’s done. It’s over. My life, and maybe even yours.
After seeing what couldn’t be unseen, I’d quickly zeroed in on Gordo at his bench. There, another visual spectacle awaited: The student standing across from myself was, and was not, Gordo. His basic features were intact, but his skin was noticeably more radiant and he seemed to have shed his love handles. Lips parted, his smile spoke of confidence, hinting at condescension.
“Hello Walter” he started. “How do you like my new look?”
“Your makeover isn’t half-bad Gordo, but I need you to explain that perverted mannequin in the cabinet.”
Gordo continued to decant his samples, unfazed.
“Walter, humour me for a moment. The First French Empire, the Roman Empire, the Qing and Romanov Dynasties, what do these all share in common? Regarding their collapse specifically.”
I drew a blank. This was not what I was expecting from a closet narcissist.
“Their downfalls” he continued, “were all the product of their short-sightedness. Their inability to read their environment correctly. Their inability to adapt to changing ti—.”
“Hoold up, cut the bullshit Gordo. I asked you about your dummy.”
“Funny how you’ve got your names and faces in a disarray.” He replied distractedly. “Gordo didn’t make the dummy, dummy. That’s simply all that’s left of him. A shell of his former self.”
A moment passed, and my brain started to assemble the pieces of an ugly horror story. The Intella cells, for all their ingenuity, must’ve felt stifled and imprisoned within the limits of their tissue culture flask. Gordo’s carelessness could’ve led to their entry into his bloodstream, likely through the cut on his fingertip. Which would then mean that the cells have surmounted the most enduring task: refurbishing the human body. The new Gordo’s physical changes and all-too-real shed skin were proof of a metamorphosis the world had yet to see.
Intella Gordo took a quiet step forward and I backed away instantly, my hand racing for the nearest pair of scissors.
“You come near me, and I will fucking gut you!”
He immediately started chuckling, unable to contain himself. Since when did cell cultures appreciate humour?
“Tissue regeneration is no matter for me, Walter” he quipped. And his tone now acquired a touch of menace. “Besides, my work is already done. You will become one of us. It’s non-negotiable.”
I stood there wondering where the inevitability lay. I thought back to Gordo’s cut, his crooning, his sickness, Epi-patches… Epi-patch! My stomach turned over nauseously. That bastard slapped me an Epi-patch out of the blue, likely under the bidding of his micro-overlords. I didn’t know how the cells might’ve evolved to slip through my skin; I just knew that they did. Which meant that I was also a vessel now, a cocoon shell soon to be disposed of.
I careened, as Intella Gordo simply stared behind his oh-so-fresh face. Fumbling with the flammable cabinet, I grabbed a four-litre bottle of toluene and stumbled into the cold room. Fidgeting despite myself, I crammed myself underneath a table. There was no way I was going down without a fight. If those cells find a way to grow in the cold, I’ll down this fucking jug in a heartbeat.
And yet, what if I still live? Should I have brought a lighter as well?
From the beginning, perhaps I hadn’t asked the questions that really mattered.