Vignette inspired by: Can a DNA Test Really Predict Opiate Addiction?, The Daily Beast, October, 16, 2016
The woman in the lab coat scrolled her eyes across the tablet screen, pausing on a string of words.
“Are you sure, Dr. Cain?” The young girl sitting on the other side of the mostly bare desk leaned forward a bit as she asked her question.
Dr. Cain lifted her gaze from the tablet. “We’ve checked the results at least seven different times.” She set the device down on the desk. “We like to be thorough about this. There have been mistakes in the past that were…well, a lot of people died and a lot of resources were lost, both unnecessarily so.”
“So my body has the potential to act as an incubator for a virus that can give birth to the next stage of human evolution?”
Dr. Cain nodded. “Kendra, if you agree to act as a host, the New Horizon virus will prolong your natural life for at least a hundred years while it…I guess gestate is the best word to use here. While it’s inside you, it will continue its mutation based on the information it receives from the unique blend of ancestries encoded in your DNA. Once that gestation period is complete, it will release itself into the world and infect everyone it comes into contact with. Only instead of making them sick, the infection will make them better, much better.” She lowered her eyes, blinked.
The massive grin on Kendra’s face curdled a bit at the edges. “Dr. Cain, this is good news, isn’t it?”
The doctor swallowed and looked back up at the potential savior of the human race. “It is, but we noticed something else in your DNA.”
The older woman’s concern trickled across the desk and began to soak its way into Kendra’s expression. “Oh, God, do I have cancer or something?”
Dr. Cain lifted a hand. “No, no, it’s not that, nothing at all like that.”
She paused, looked back at her tablet. “Kendra, is there a history of addiction in your family?”
Kendra’s brow knitted together. “I don’t–Wait, I think I had an uncle who died of a heroin overdose.” Her eyes went distant as her mind plunged into itself for the right information. “And I…I think I remember my mom telling me about a cousin or something who had a problem with codeine.”
“Anything with your parents, siblings?”
Kendra started to shake her head, dissected the unwilling thought blipping in her brain. “My dad was injured at work about five years ago. I think he still takes pills for it. He tries to hide it, but sometimes I can hear him tap a couple out of the bottle.” She glanced up at the older woman. “Is that a problem?”
Dr. Cain said nothing for a moment. She gave a slow blink as she interlaced her fingers in front of her. “There’s a strong chance that you’re at a high risk for addiction.”
Kendra squirmed in her seat. “But I’m not–I mean, I don’t do drugs, legal or illegal. I don’t even drink.”
The other woman nodded. “We could see that from your test results too. In order for us to successfully incubate you with the virus, we will have to administer a cocktail of drugs, some of which can be habit forming.”
“And you’re afraid that might, what, like trigger my addiction gene or something?”
Eyes flicked to the side. “Well, I most certainly wouldn’t put it in those terms, but, yes, essentially.”
“So what are my options? I mean, you just told me that my genes can either activate the next stage in human evolution or turn me into a strung out junkie.”
“Not all addicts fit the stereotype of a filthy homeless person lighting up crackpipe.”
“Does it really matter what brand of addict I might be?” Kendra slumped in her chair.
Dr. Cain opened her mouth, swallowed whatever it was she was about to say, started on something else. “Fair enough. At this juncture, our options are to start you off with a small dosage of the cocktail and monitor you.”
“I don’t have your education or experience, but I’m guessing that going at half speed won’t give you the results you’re hoping for.”
The doctor’s eyebrows shrugged upward, searching for an answer that would satisfy more than terrify. “Honestly, there’s no way to tell.”
Kendra mulled over the implications. “Are there any other candidates?”
“The Progress Principle is scattered all over the world in search of people whose DNA is compatible with the New Horizon virus. We’ve had several near hits, even a few cases where we thought we’d found the perfect host, but time had a different ending in mind.”
“So I might not even be who you think I am?”
“That’s a possibility.”
“And if you administer the cocktail and it turns out I’m not what you’re looking for…” She let her words drift off, form a hole for the other woman to fill with a shovelful of the truth.
“Then we run the risk of putting you through several decades of a needless struggle.”
Kendra rolled her lips over and under her teeth, letting the words work their way deep into her reality. “But if you don’t administer the proper dosage you also run the risk of the virus not…taking hold?”
Dr. Cain nodded, the motion heavy.
The young woman let her head rest on the back of the chair, allowed a sigh to barrel past her lips. “This is…I mean, damn.”
Dr. Cain leaned forward, interlaced her fingers. “The decision is entirely yours, Kendra.”
A brown-eyed gaze collided with a green-eyed gaze. “You’re seriously telling me that if I refuse I can just walk out of here? You aren’t going to hit me with a tranquilizer or anything and force me to accept the cocktail and the virus?”
The doctor rubbed one thumb over the other. “While I do think the survival of the human race is essential, I have thought about the fact that it wouldn’t do us much good to evolve and continue on if we don’t address the ways in which we’re hastening our own demise.”
“So what you’re saying is that you might feel more strongly about hitting me with a tranquilizer and forcing me to accept the cocktail and virus if we did a better job of recycling, reducing CO2 levels and using more efficient forms of transportation?”
Dr. Cain allowed herself a smile. “I’m saying that there’s no need to open the curtain if the actors aren’t ready for showtime.”
Kendra rolled her head to the side to look out of the window. “Am I to understand that there’s just as much of a chance of me not becoming an addict as there is of me actually being an addict?”
Dr. Cain leaned back in her seat, draped her wrists over the arms. “Yes.”
“Just like there’s just as much of a chance of me being the perfect incubator for the New Horizon virus as there is of me not being the perfect incubator.”
The younger woman pulled her gaze away from blue skies, towering buildings, and the majestic sprawl of mountains in the distance. “What would you do?”
The doctor looked down at the unadorned surface of her desk. She inhaled…exhaled. “I would risk it.”
“I can’t be sure you aren’t just saying that.”
She lifted her eyes. “Just like I can’t be sure you haven’t already made up your mind about your decision and are just prolonging what might be the last few moments of a normal life.”
Kendra’s lips tugged a bit at the edges. “There’s a chance the human race might evolve without the virus. There’s also a chance the virus will corrode our evolution’s…natural programming.”
Dr. Cain became a statue for a handful of seconds.
“I’m sure that little thought pitter-pattered its way across the marble floors of your massive brain.”
The older woman opened her mouth, mulled over what she was about to say. “Kendra, how much do you know about human cloning?”