April 3, 2075 7:13 p.m. GST
Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean
Evan Feldman glanced out the window of the Gulfstream G1450, a twin of the one Aubrey had planned to make her escape in, as it roared west across the Pacific Ocean at almost twice the speed of sound. It was after seven p.m. in Zurich, the home of the global standard time system, but here the morning sun was still rising in the sky behind them. They were barely 100 meters above the water and, to Evan, it seemed like a tall wave might sweep over the jet’s wings at any minute. Looking out the window for too long made him nauseous, so he closed the shade and turned his attention back to the holoterminal mounted on his armrest.
He worried about Aubrey. Dr. Hao had tried to reassure him, but their departure from Telogene’s research facility had been unplanned and somewhat chaotic.
Evan had just sat down for dinner when Drs. Berkovic and Walker burst into his apartment. They pulled Dr. Hao out into the hallway for several minutes before returning with worried looks on their faces. The Chief Cryonicist told the other two to go on without them, and they would catch up. He asked Evan to change into a blue jumpsuit while he worked on Evan’s holoterminal. It looked to Evan like he was locking the terminal down or deleting files—or both. After changing clothes, Dr. Hao led Evan down the hallway to a bank of elevators that took them to the ground floor lobby.
Once outside, they had hurried across the parking lot to the doctor’s car. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes filled the parking lot. Chen’s hovercar was a silver, minivan-sized, tube-shaped vehicle with turbofans instead of wheels. The front and rear doors slid open to reveal a luxuriously appointed cabin equipped with a black leather sofa and four black leather captain's chairs. Each seat had its own flip-up, mahogany drink table and holodisplay. Evan found the whole idea of a car without wheels somewhat disconcerting, but he got in anyway.
The entrance to the expressway was just a few minutes from Telogene’s headquarters, and from there it had taken them only another ten minutes to the airport. When they arrived, Dr. Hao drove through a private security gate and into a large hangar. They parked next to the hoverjet, and the doctor told Evan to get on board. Dr. Hao boarded a few minutes later and surprised Evan by sitting in the pilot’s seat. He reassured Evan that he had been a Chinese Airforce pilot during the last war and had been an avid private pilot ever since.
They taxied quickly to the runway and, less than thirty minutes after leaving Telogene, they were airborne and flying west across Wyoming. Thirty minutes later, they were just south of Seattle and starting their five and a half-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean to China. They flew close to the ground the entire time, dropping even lower after they crossed the coastline. Dr. Hao said something about flying “nap of the Earth” and “avoiding being tracked by ground sensors”.
Evan used the flight time to catch up on world events. Dr. Hao had just given him access to another set of historical archives before their unexpected departure, and he was curious to see what new information they might contain. He activated the holodisplay, and a 20” wide by 16” tall virtual display screen appeared in the air two feet in front of him. He selected the first archive and told the holoterminal to display all content. A video documentary titled Long Term Impact of the 2027 Famine started to play.
The first of several global famines began two years after the 2025 financial crisis. The proliferation of genetically modified seed had caused farmers to become dependent on the large, multinational agribusiness that produced the seed stock—Telogene among them. The seeds wouldn’t reproduce on their own and farmers had to buy new seed every year—a very profitable arrangement for the seed producers. Eventually, hyperinflation caused the genetically modified seed to become so expensive that nobody could afford to buy it. Millions of acres went unplanted.
Five years into the crisis, global food production dropped by over fifty percent, and within ten years it was down over eighty percent. The world’s inability to produce adequate grain supplies led to massive shortages of livestock feed, which resulted in the loss of billions of pigs, goats, sheep, cows, and chickens. The situation got so bad that incidents of human cannibalism became too many to count, and more than a billion people died of starvation and disease.
Thankfully, a few enterprising governments and individuals had the foresight to stockpile large caches of unmodified seeds. The largest of these was the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.
The Norwegian government created the seed stockpile in 2008, and accumulated over two billion unique seed samples from around the world in the subsequent decades. Although the Svalbard facility was the world’s largest seed repository, it had nowhere near enough to supply global demand—but that’s where Telogene came in.
Thousands of researchers had requested samples from Svalbard, hoping to discover a means of mass-producing economically viable seeds for the world’s farmers. But Telogene’s scientists perfected a method of cloning seeds that didn’t require the comparatively long germination times of other methods.
Rather than seeking a patent for its seed cloning process, Telogene gave it away for free. Within two years, global seed production surpassed one trillion seeds a day, and Telogene went from being hated and despised for its role in helping create the famine to revered as the planet’s savior. Three years later, the world was once again producing adequate supplies of food for its diminished population, and the famine was over.
One year after later, the nations of the world set aside their differences and formed the Global Federation of Nations. Since the end of the twentieth century, the world had endured extreme climate change, devasting financial crises, and conflict. It couldn’t withstand the global outbreak of famine and disease that swept across the planet. It took over three billion deaths and a mass extinction on a scale not seen since the Cretaceous period, but the nations of the world finally realized that humanity’s survival depended on their ability to work together.
The GFN’s first official act was to ban the creation of genetically modified plants and animals. Although popular at first, it soon became clear that the conditions that encouraged genetic manipulation, like drought, blight, and insects, were still problems. After just two years, the GFN revised the law to allow for “minor” genetic enhancements of seed and livestock. This opened the door for companies to create genetically modified seed stock again, but the law still prohibited them from creating crops that could reproduce on their own. That prohibition would have dire consequences later.
The problem with allowing genetically modified crops to reproduce is that they can cross-pollinate with compatible species—both domesticated and wild. Cross-pollination was mostly a good thing (like rice that required less water and yielded two to three times more grains per acre than any previous breed), but there were also occasions when certain undesirable traits would appear (like unusual smell, color or taste or lower than expected crop yield). When that happened, the only option was to destroy those crops to prevent them from spreading. Unfortunately, that didn’t always work to prevent the spread of undesirable strains and, by 2050, it had become clear that preventing unwanted hybridization would be an ongoing challenge.
It was these consequences and the fear of what might come next that prompted Lily Harris to give her speech against cloning and genetic manipulation of the food supply to the Global Federation of Nations in 2052. Given her role as Telogene’s CEO, it was a brave (although some would say stupid) thing for her to do. Her company’s stock had taken decades to return to its previous highs from before the famine, and Lily’s speech slashed it in half almost overnight. It would take another decade for it to recover once again.
Lily’s warning went largely unheeded, and the GFN did not ban cloning or genetic manipulation of the world’s agricultural food sources and livestock. It did, however, place limits on genetic manipulation and cloning of humans—including an outright ban on full-body replacements—when it passed the Human Dignity and Decency Act of 2055.
But the famine and its aftermath were not the worst plagues to affect humanity. A new, even more devastating crisis began on January 4, 2063, when scientists discovered that a significant portion of the population could not conceive children by any known means—including in-vitro fertilization. Although birthrates in some regions had increased slightly since the famine, the global birthrate was nowhere near high enough to offset the rate at which people were dying.
Many people viewed cloning as the only way to save humanity, and protests against the HDDA erupted all over the world. In response, the GFN considered amending the HDDA to allow cloning for reproductive purposes, but the sudden appearance of random genetic mutations caused it to abandon that effort.
The first case of genetic mutation occurred in Rio de Janeiro in June 2064. A girl of Portuguese decent had been born with mottled green skin and golden eyes with vertical slits for pupils—similar to those of alligators and other reptiles. Shortly thereafter, the number of random genetic mutations in newborns spiked worldwide. It was almost as if all of humanity had become infected by some unknown, highly virulent virus.
At first, the scientific community thought fertility treatments or genetic enhancement therapies were to blame. But, although they had likely played a role, the real culprit turned out to be the food supply. Humans had been consuming genetically modified crops and meat products for over six decades, and many scientists believed that long-term exposure to GMOs had activated otherwise dormant genes. The recent outbreak of mutations was the result.
The situation grew progressively worse after that first case in Rio. People were afraid to have children, and birthrates declined rapidly. Even more devastating, scientists discovered that most of the people born in the last thirty years were sterile. Of the few children born, six in ten had some kind of a genetic defect, and the rest died within their first year. The last normal, healthy child was born in August 2069 to a couple in Japan.
Evan turned off the holodisplay; he’d seen enough.
My God, what have we done?
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