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Authors: Taiyo Fujii

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Gene Mapper

BOOK: Gene Mapper
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Gene Mapper
Copyright © 2013 Taiyo Fujii
Originally published in Japan by Hayakawa Publishing, Inc.

English translation © 2015 VIZ Media, LLC
All rights reserved.

Cover and interior design by Shawn Carrico

No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the copyright holders.

HAIKASORU
Published by VIZ Media, LLC
P.O. Box 77010
San Francisco, CA 94107

www.haikasoru.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Fujii, Taiyo, 1971–

[Gene mapper. English]

Gene mapper / Taiyo Fujii ; translated by Jim Hubbert.

pages cm.

ISBN 978-1-4215-8027-2 (paperback)
1. Genetically modified foods—Fiction. I. Hubbert, Jim, translator. II. Title.
PL870.J54G4713 2015
895.63'6—dc23

2015008033

Haikasoru eBook edition
ISBN: 978-1-4215-8452-2

1    Offer

The alert tone hummed deep in my ear.

I extended my right arm—already on the sheet out of habit—and cut the sound with a wave of my doubled index and middle fingers.

Rub face. Thumb eyelids open.

Two straight weeks of sweltering nights. Tropical Nights, in Meteorological Agency–speak. I felt the building’s steel bones channeling the heat into the darkness of my loft in Worker’s Heights.

Why was it dark? Did I input the wrong wake-up setting? What time was it?

Mamoru, you have one priority message. Shall I play it for you?

Message Manager was inside my ear, like the alarm. I rose up on an elbow and pushed away the hair plastered to my forehead. I always set messaging to Do Not Disturb/Discretionary Override. This was the first time the system had ever woken me up.

Still fuzzy. I nodded. Message Manager suspended my workspace where I could see it without getting up. Centered in the space was a thumbnail of a man with a ruler-straight part and thick-framed glasses.

TAKASHI KUROKAWA :: TIMESTAMP 04:32

FROM: MEGURO, TOKYO @ RESIDENCE

MM CONFIRMS THIS MESSAGE PRIORITY/URGENT

“Hello, Mamoru. Sorry to ring you this early.”

The familiar, gentle voice flowed from the workstation. With his twentieth century manners, Kurokawa would never have voiced me in the middle of the night unless it was a real emergency.

“There’s something you need to hear about Mother Mekong. You worked on it last year. SR06 is mutating. They say it’s gene collapse.”

My right arm, outside the sheet, prickled with shock.

There were cases—in the lab—of distilled plants developing outside the design envelope, but they were vanishingly rare. L&B Corporation was synonymous with Super Rice, and SR06 was their most advanced formulation yet. Could it actually crash? I couldn’t imagine it.

“I’m waiting for details. What I can tell you is that the logos and cert marks you mapped are disintegrating on the north edge of the site. L&B wants a report right away, with or without a verified cause.”

Shit
. What about all the other people who helped launch Mother Mekong? My intro to the project came from Kurokawa, my agent. He was just the conduit for L&B’s developer kit. I doubted he’d had anything to do with site design. That would have been handled by a specialized construction outfit. Mapping the logos across the site was my job. I was certain this was Mother Mekong’s screwup, but naturally L&B had Kurokawa and me in its sights before anyone else.

“I’m heading into a crisis meeting,” said Kurokawa. “I’ll confirm the report format and what they want from us, and collect any information I can from the Cambodians. Sorry, but I’ll need to glass you tomorrow at the usual time.”

“Glass” meaning an augmented reality meeting. Typical Takashi Kurokawa, as if we were back in the Internet era. Businesspeople—and freelancers like me—use contact lenses with embedded LEDs for image projection. Kurokawa had his glasses, but I always thought they were part of his salaryman look.

I checked the clock. A meeting at this hour? His plate was full. It was midday in San Francisco. That meant brand management would probably be in the meeting. It was only two a.m. at L&B’s Central Research Lab in KL and Mother Mekong’s headquarters in Phnom Penh. TrueNet just gets better and better, but though it can erase distance it can’t do much about time zones. I wondered what time they’d be holding the meetings between Tokyo, San Francisco, and Phnom Penh once they had more information about Mother’s “mutation.”

I was happy to leave L&B to Kurokawa, but what time were we supposed to meet exactly? Did “tomorrow” mean tomorrow or today? Nine a.m. was the usual time. Or was it ten?

Whatever. Make it a morning—breakfast, coffee, mail. Was there time for a run? No, didn’t look like it.

The wake-up icon pulsed silently. Good. I lay back and traced the outline of my arm under the sheet, feeling the goose bumps subside, and sleep came again.

*   *   *

“I voiced you at an ungodly hour. Did I end up waking you?”

It was nine after all. The meeting started with Kurokawa, hands flat on the conference room table, bowing deeply.

The room was mine. The wind from the fan on the high ceiling rippled the blinds, throwing fractal slats of morning sunshine onto the white stucco walls. The light scattered and glowed. A Kandinsky lithograph hung on the wall behind Kurokawa. The arrowlike object in the frame pointed at his bowed head. All in all, the room was probably a bit much for a two-person meeting, but then again, it wasn’t real.

The room, the artwork, Kurokawa bathed in light—everything was projected on my retinas by my contact lenses. The fan moved the blinds, but the only thing striking my skin was the thready stream of damp air from the cooling unit. If I slid my fingers across the “table” they would hit the urethane wallpaper. I left the detail settings at medium to save money. No footprints on the carpet, no fingerprints on the table, not a mark on the stucco.

Against this pristine backdrop, Kurokawa—his hands on the table that wasn’t a table—looked uncannily real. His fingers were slightly bent, the tips bloodless from the pressure. Was he using an avatar today? He usually went with RealVu for augmented reality. With RealVu, you have to use multiple cams, but to get the fingertip effect, his own table would have to be the same height as the “table” on my AR stage.

“Yeah, I was dead to the world. Message Manager flagged it priority. Not your fault.”

“Well, I’m sorry anyway.” Kurokawa’s face had a healthy sheen. The corners of his mouth were turned down apologetically. I realized that the subtle shifts in his expression were too good for an avatar. This was 3D RealVu.

Glasses with thick black frames perched on his baby-smooth face. His build was on the chubby side. The dark blue single-breasted summer suit was half unbuttoned, and the crimson knit tie was impeccably knotted against an expanse of white shirt. If he ever needed an avatar to wear this retro getup with as much aplomb—and a hairstyle so carefully arranged that it looked fake—he could’ve picked out something from LusionTek’s Salaryman Series, but somehow he’d always preferred RealVu.

RealVu is a pain in the ass, frankly. You have to dress just right if you want to actually look “real,” and multiple lighting sources are necessary to reduce inappropriate shadows on the real-time image. After an all-nighter, an avatar is just the thing to project the energy you wish you had. Yet here was the real Kurokawa looking fresh and rested after a night without sleep. It was vaguely irritating.

“Takashi, you must be tired yourself. I thought we’d be meeting tomorrow. I didn’t think you meant in a few hours.”

I knew he wouldn’t catch the sarcasm, but I also knew why Message Manager had marked his voice mail priority. I decided to change the settings. This would be the last time anyone ever woke
me
up.

“Sorry to put you out. I hope you have time to walk through a few things with me right now.”

The man was relentless. I sighed and rolled my eyes, but my avatar spread its arms in friendly accommodation. Behavior Correction is very handy at moments like this.

“Thank you, Mamoru. I’d just gotten the news myself. I’m not up to speed, but I thought I’d take the liberty of alerting you right away. I apologize for the absurd timing.”

He bowed again and put a beige envelope on the desk. “These are aerial photos from the site.”

He untied the flap, extracted a “contact sheet” and tossed it over with a practiced gesture. I heard the whisper of paper on the table and noticed that his movements were not FileShare animation. Even with an avatar, extracting something from an envelope with a physical operator tag and tossing it onto the right spot would be tricky without lots of practice. A sudden vision of Kurokawa alone in his room, practicing photo-tossing with a frown of concentration on his round face, cheered me up a bit.

He must have put in the time, because the sheet slid to a stop right in front of me.
ACCEPT SHARED IMAGES?
popped up, followed after a second or two by the security scan stamp. Even with the low-res thumbnails, the terraced fields were clearly visible, spread like fans over the site. The year before, I’d spent days and nights staring at photos of the same landscape until I was blue in the face. The file name was 070939-mekong-photos, which meant they were taken the day before.

“Three-D? Very nice. You came prepared.”

The only reaction to this new stab at sarcasm was a puzzled blink and a “Yes, of course” nod. Time to pack it in. The war of nerves wasn’t working.

There was no EULA. I tapped a thumbnail to extract the HD aerial photo. The contours of the site rose up from the table. I could see the orange L&B and Mother Mekong logos shimmering against the fluorescent green rice plants. Between the two giant corporate logos lay a row of star-shaped certification marks:
full organic, water cycling, active ground cover, zero emissions, fair trade.
SR06 was the first five-star distilled crop project. L&B wanted the world to know it.

Even the cert marks, which were far smaller than the logos, were several hundred meters across. Everything on the undulating, terraced terrain had to be visible from the air at any angle without distortion. That required a precise gene-mapping program.

My program.

“Look at the north side.”

I flicked the top of the photo. At the higher resolution, I could see smearing in the logos across the terraces on the edge of the site. The blurred markings were flecked with patches of matte green, the color of powdered tea. Clearly the genes for color expression I had programmed into SR06 were not doing their job. Or were those patches of green something else? I couldn’t remember seeing that weedy hue on the SR06 color chart.

“These green patches. Do you know what they are?”

“All we know is that they appear to be rice plants. As you can see, the color is distinctive. No distilled plant has that color.”

“Are you sure?”

“That’s not all. Mother Mekong found insect damage, probably because the site is Full Organic.”

“Insects? Then it’s some kind of wild grass. It has to be. Even if it’s a mutation, it wasn’t from my code. The zero-six style sheet won’t let me alter traits for pest resistance even if I wanted to. Those sequences are all sequestered. Check my code. You’ll see I didn’t go anywhere near that stuff. Mother’s crew have contaminated their own site, that’s all.”

“I certainly hope so.” Kurokawa sat back and folded his arms. “But we still have to investigate. Don’t worry, L&B’s footing the bill. I’m sure it wasn’t your hamartia, and as long as I’m right, I’ll send them a big invoice for our services. In the meantime, I need you to start right away.”

Hamartia?
Almost before I had a chance to be puzzled, a subtitle appeared below Kurokawa’s face.

Hamartia: 1. A mistake or error. 2. A sin for which one is responsible. 3. a tragic flaw.

Not a common word. I had to keep AutoGlossary running when I talked to Kurokawa.

Our agreement with L&B specified As Is delivery, same as for software programming and similar work. If a problem shows up after your code passes inspection and third-party verification, you’re still good.

“Takashi, I need you to define ‘right away.’ ”

“I’ll be sending you DNA data from samples of that unidentified vegetation. First you need to figure out what we’re dealing with.”

“Come on. It’s an indigenous weed. When are they going to collect the samples? I need to know when the DNA data will be here.”

“I told them to upload it to your public folder just before we got on. As long as the bandwidth out of Cambodia is no worse than usual, you should have it before noon.”

At least he could have asked me if I was willing to handle it. “Really on the ball there, Takashi.”

“I always try to be of service.” He bowed again. His natural, real-time embarrassment made me regret the sarcasm. Oh, well. I never could wriggle away from such a tenacious negotiator, especially with a vanilla avatar. I promised myself that one day I’d use something more full-featured for meetings like this.

“I’ll leave you to it then. As soon as you find something, let me know, no matter what time it is.” Kurokawa smiled. He put his hands on the table, stood up and made a perfect, formal bow, and vanished.

The conference room vanished too. The room was replaced by the drab walls of my loft. My clothes went from semi-custom business casual to T-shirt and jeans, beat-up but comfortable.

The alert light strobed.
SAVE VIDEO?

“New project. Mother Mekong Investigation. Register video and photos to this project.”

New project created. Name: Mother Mekong Investigation. I have registered the aerial photo file 070939-mekong-photo and the meeting video to this project.

I had to say, Kurokawa looked good. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should get RealVu too … but no, avatars were more my speed.

Avatars gave you an edge: Behavior Correction. If you lost your temper in a meeting, your avatar wouldn’t show it. That wasn’t all. With an avatar, your feet were on the floor no matter who was running the stage. You looked where you were supposed to be looking, and your words were timed to compensate for transmission delay. With RealVu, I’d end up doing a new variation on the trending meme of that Japanese CEO who finished a press conference by bowing until his face was buried in the table.

I checked to make sure the video was registered to the project and adjusted my butt in the chair. I had to get some work done before I went off on a tangent.

“Show new upload in shared folder.”

One file found. File name: 070939-collapsed-SR06. Registered by [email protected]_Mekong.

“Open file.”

The upload is in progress.

“What?”

Confirming … The upload is in progress.

I checked the folder. The progress bar wasn’t even up yet, just the revolving wheel and
PREPARING UPLOAD
.

“Okay then, tell me when it’s done.”

BOOK: Gene Mapper
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