Prelude (from A Comfortable Old Pair of Genes)
(Excerpt from A Comfortable Old Pair of Genes, a forthcoming story by Jafar)
Chapter 1, Death Tolls His Bell
We’re the same, you and I.
More than we have any right to be.
The entire human race has less genetic variability than a single tribe of chimpanzees. Using mitochondrial DNA, we know we’re all descended from one woman that lived 200,000 years ago. Our genetic homology tells us that 70,000 years ago, after a hundred thousand years of going forth and multiplying, our numbers were cut to less than a thousand.
Think about that: less than a thousand people left on the face of the planet. That’s pretty damn close to extinction.
What unthinkable catastrophe could have killed all those millions of primitive peoples, could have brought our race to within a tender whisper of total extermination?
My name is Richard Perry. I am a biochemist.
And I know what happened.
Imagine the world as it was 70,000 years ago. Mammals rule the earth, the dinosaurs long since gone. In Africa or Asia—I really don’t care to get into that debate—early humans live the way that nature intended. They are tool-users and have a complex system of verbal signs, perhaps even a grammar. For these early humans, it is the Age of Lilith. Human females, like the females of all mammalian species, experience estrus, periodically going into heat, their hormones demanding that they mate with men, their pheromones insuring that men will mate with them.
Suddenly, however, into this idyllic world are thrown two serpents.
One serpent is named Eve. She is a human mutation, a freak, that never enters heat. All her sexual machinery is intact—intercourse and pregnancy are both possible—it just never gets turned on. Eve allows herself to be mated, so as not to be ostracized and shunned by others in her tribe for being barren, but it is not pleasurable for her. It is like pushing a car uphill because the engine won’t start.
The daughters among her offspring inherit her genetic defect. Normally, mutations such as this are deleterious to the species and are excised within a couple generations.
There come times, however, when a species must have dealings with the devil ....
The other serpent is named Death. It is a virus a few microns long, transmitted during sexual intercourse. Like AIDS, it has a 100% fatality rate. Unlike AIDS, it does not take decades to kill; it takes one year. These primitive people have no defense against this plague. As a tribe’s women enter heat, sex happens; and a year later ... death follows. It is biochemically inevitable.
Except for Eve.
Eve’s great granddaughters, frigid women all, watch as others rut, but they refuse to be mounted themselves. Six months later, Death rings His bell, and those that belong to Him no longer heal as they should. Five months after that, He rings His bell again, and they begin to hemorrhage. And a month later, He walks among them to claim those that are His.
With the tribes’ hunters dead, the descendants of Eve must compromise themselves. In exchange for food and furs with which to keep warm, they grudgingly trade sex with boys that were too young to be infected. Some of them still die when the next wave of the virus passes through; a few survive.
Death gives us His worst. And we meet it with a solution equally disturbing: the life-negating daughters of Eve, dealing in the economics of sex.
The species does survive.
But the devil always exacts a terrible cost for his deals.
For 70,000 years, the daughters of Eve have compromised themselves, despising the acts they must perform to feed and clothe themselves, despising their protectors and providers that request this debasement that is called sex. When a good man dies, they are filled with mixed emotions: sorrow that a provider’s gifts have been lost, relief that he will not degrade them anymore with his filthy requests.
Yet ... there is hope.
God—or Nature, if you prefer—realized this too, and He—or She if you prefer—did not remove the switch that puts a female into heat. That would guarantee the end of a species. Rather, a plastic cover was fastened over it, figuratively speaking, so that you could only trigger the switch with a special key that would unlock that extra cover.
My name if Richard Perry. I am a biochemist. And I have constructed that special key. I can unlock that plastic cover and flip that switch and put any woman back into heat.
Any woman that I want.