Print me a creature for the night (hybrids allowed)



By Russell Hemmell




 


Caitlin McDonald

Moon Village, Unit 3-C

FarSide, Moon

Multiple log entries, 2047



When the corporation asked me to "cook up a creature" – those were the exact words Karl used - I thought I was still asleep and dreaming. Morning hours were for me the worst possible for anything, let alone working. But no, it turned out it was for real. They wanted me, Caitlin McDonald, to use my knowledge in the rather exotic discipline of exobiology to simulate the primordial soup with 100% lunar-sourced elements and see if I could come up with a live specimen.


And there my problems started. Anything was going to meet the target, theoretically speaking, but my brother was an optimist by design (how else could he run ExoBionic S.A. HQ office in NearSide?), and assigned me a target more complex than a parvovirus. Shoot for something bigger than 90 nm, Caitlin.


Like what? I snickered. I’ve almost forgotten how living things look like since I’ve been locked up in this place.


I prepared a shopping list of components, musing. It’d be nice, after all. I don’t miss company, to be true, but something I could touch and smell - something alive, and not invisible bacteria - would be awesome. I’m more an expert in RNA-base compounds, and Earth-born on top of that, but I can probably manufacture something using the ingredients I have on hand here, right?


I scratched my head.


Carbon-based life is made by precious few essential components, which, in the case of creatures, translates in lipids, DNA, soluble proteins, sugars, collagen, structural proteins and an extracellular matrix that holds every single organ together.


The following days saw the habitually dead-quiet Moon Village on the far side of the Moon buzzing with activity, with all my electronic units gleaming over the clock.


DNA… I can modify the ones already sequenced I have in storage. And I synthesised a new set of proteins just last month.


To make it happen, I’d also need:

-  a sterile environment (check)

-  a Petri dish where the compounds can happily mushroom (check)

-  a sheltered scaffold to allow the cells set themselves up in three dimensions (missing)


I ordered biomaterials straight from the Moon Village’s bio-processing unit, which ran both the creation end (greenhouse and underground farms) and the disposal stuff (the closest thing to a graveyard, except for the lack of bodies: nothing can be wasted in space). I 3D-printed the scaffold in the lab.


The only thing I had still to do was choosing the creature. I decided to go for something simpler to manufacture than a hamster, albeit not that cute: a fruit fly with an enhanced DNA, drone structure and super-imposed exoskeleton, longer than the usual 1/8 inches and with eyes blue instead of red, courtesy of the radio-receptor I’d put on her.


Full-face transparent visor and gloved hands, I got started.


*


D: 7. All compounds assembled and ready. DNA transfer completed. Larva creation initiated.


*


D: 10. There’s no egg for my larva to hatch, but only a polymeric case on the Petri dish, where she’s going to pupate in her own time.


*


D: 13. 72 hours have passed and she’s no longer in the larval state. Probably the DNA-enhancement has speeded up the process. The pupa is translucent like a lacquered Chinese artefact, and on the left side I see a red spot blinking, like a tiny heart pulsing out of a shell.


*


D: 20. After a pupal phase rather uneventful, she comes out, fluttering her milky, blue-spotted wings and an elongated abdomen that keeps bumping on her wiry legs. She looks around, puzzled, making friends with her new home. And when she turns her strange eyes on me for the first time, I can’t but wonder if any of the DNA upgrades have actually worked.


*


D: 27. Everything comes to those who learn the waiting game. Now, I’m no longer alone in the station. There’s somebody else for me to care about and take care of. First thing I do when I wake up is go to check on my baby. Strange how I’ve become anxious about her well-being. I’ve given her a name, too - you can’t pet anything if you don’t humanise it first - so the experiment has become Cherry-Ying. Karl said we’re going to win prizes for it (not that I care. Ego is an unnecessary luxury as a Moonwalker).


Cherry-Ying is a little more than a baby-bot-fly, but a fully functional one. She flaps her wings and lands on my shoulder, delicate and respectful.


*


D: 50. Cherry-Ying completed her first cycle. She’s an adult, buzzing around the station and searching for fruits to colonise and pluck their seeds out. Karl is busy making applications for the Nobel Prize and preparing his statements; he’s sure we’re going to score, and he’s ready to bask in the well-deserved glory (and collect the money).


Me, I don’t pay attention. Cherry-Ying uses up all my time, and not just when I test her. I have the weird, but persistent impression she’s trying to interact with me in a meaningful way. She also keeps resting on my shoulder while I go around. Watching.

Like tonight.


We look outside our oval titanium-panelled window, my creature and I, admiring the stars and the nebulas looming far away in the black space in front of us. There’s no atmosphere or artificial lights here, and we can sit staring at those pale blue shimmering clouds for hours. I can almost hear the sound of celestial spheres in my plasma radio tuned on the Solar System’s space objects and I bet she can, too.


*


D: 115. I’ve found Cherry-Ying’s seed storage just nearby my computing station, coloured tiny granules stashed under a black wire. I tread carefully around the heap, to avoid upsetting her. Is she trying to build a safe environment for her eggs?

At this time, she should’ve already reproduced a few times and been gone. Both things didn’t happen, as a matter of fact. I’ve decided to make her unable to breed, out of safety. Even Karl agreed on that.


But I’ve done also something else: I’ve altered her duration. She won’t grow old either, not in this existence of mine. Or in a few others after that. Maybe, just maybe, an extended lifetime will allow her to develop some sort of instrumental intelligence. Or even awareness, enough to wonder about a maker instead of a making, and curse that entity for all things she won’t have.


It doesn’t matter. If that’s the case, she will have the dark void space to glimpse at from her graphene kingdom’s vantage point, already knowing this universe is neither dark nor void, but full of eerie mystery and perfect in beauty.


***






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