Death takes a whiz

There was nowhere to go. We had stopped at some sandwich cart with a few rickety tables on the sidewalk. I like to linger over lunch, but that day my co-worker had an errand to run, so I was left with an extra half a beer to drink in addition to my cup of tea. That’s where my problems started.

Every time I thought I had found a good place, someone would happen along, laughing and pointing at my evident discomfort. A pair of young women walked by speaking what I took to be a South Asian language, judging from their appearance, and one of them actually reached out and pinched my arm, as if testing for spoilage. I was momentarily distracted from my quest by the flash of white teeth in a dark face. Perhaps they had mistaken the urgency in my body language for something else?

But no – they had come looking for me. New trainees, told to find the skinny American. Or so I gathered from their replies, which were delivered amid much nervous giggling. We walked back together.

Our factory may not look like much from the outside, but it’s full of the most advanced instruments ever assembled in one place. Over here, for example, is a cross between a radial arm saw and an electron microscope: watch. The women had donned facemasks and gloves and, regrettably, pulled borrowed lab coats around their form-fitting jeans. Part of the reason for the uniform, I knew, was to discourage human contact between workers on the job. They needed total concentration for the delicate piecework involved in the engineering of new life.

I showed them the series of permutations necessary to turn stem cells into plant or animal tissue. One of them drew my attention to an odd pattern of molecules on the screen: Is that the logo? she asked in her lilting English. I stared at it. Believe it or not, I’d never noticed it before. I guess that’s why we like to hire women for this sort of work. Look, it’s on everything!

I walked over to a terminal, typed in molecular logo and pulled up a dozen papers on the subject. I skimmed through the abstracts, reading the good parts out loud. Somehow, the company had stumbled on a virus-like, self-replicating compound that had the power to persist outside its host indefinitely, even after the last bit of tissue had decayed. It could survive in the vacuum of space, at temperatures a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. In the fullness of time, it would be omnipresent. The God logo, they dubbed it.

At last, the women had stopped their nervous giggling. The taller one shivered, and they did that sideways-embrace thing that marked them as sisters. Excuse me, I said, and ducked into the only modern bathroom for miles around.

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