600 SECOND SAGA S2.40 The Perfect Gene
“Line up right here. Right here, sir. Ma’am? Am I now being clear?” The SPA (Space Program Alliance) administrator, Dr. Tom English, pushed his way through a crowded hallway. Thousands turned up for the public call to recruit the new deep space program of astronauts. Thousands showed up, but no one actually read the qualifications that SPA required from its potential pool of recruits… That or no one believed the brochure. Tom silently cursed again — no one read anymore. He advocated for a video explanation, but did the higher-ups listened? No. SPA was a deeply conservative organization. And now it was his job to deal with these people.
“Max Smith? Is Max Smith here?” Tom called, trying to get his voice to carry over the crowd’s hum. “Max Smith?” He looked around. He was surrounded by a sea of tall, buff, daredevils — didn’t anyone read the call? Anyone?
“Sir?” One of the I-go-to-the-gym-at-least-twice-a-day dudes tugged on Tom’s lab coat. That white coat was the only thing that was keeping Tom from being crushed by the muscle tissue and drowned in testosterone. White lab coats worked better than safety gear in these environments, in Tom’s opinion.
Tom looked up — the guy trying to get his attention was looking down at him from all of his eighty-six inches of height. “Yes?” Tom asked. His neck hurt from looking up all morning. The call clearly stated no one over five feet five would even be considered. Did anyone read anymore?
“Dr. English…” The giant of a man hesitated, thought better of something, and then continued. “Max Smith was shown the door,” he finally said.
“What?” Tom looked at his digital pad showing Max Smith’s application. 5’4″, 180 pounds — perfect so far. “Why’s that?” he asked.
“Well, sir, it just seemed that the…person was completely inappropriate for the American space program. I mean Max was fat! We pushed all of those folks to the back of the line — no point in wasting your time, sir.” He continued talking, but Tom turned and made his way to the building entrance. Apparently, his ideal candidates have been sorted for him and pushed out to an easy-to-find location, the lobby. Perfect.
The crowd parted before the white lab coat, and Tom was there in just a few heart beats. There they were! The lobby of SPA space flight research center held four people — squat, obese, homunculi standing as far apart from each other as possible. One man and three women. Tom wondered if some already left…or were pushed out before he found them. He made a mental note to check and bring back any that drifted off. These were the people that actually read the briefing, the ones that Tom was hunting for these last few years.
“Thank you very much for coming, everyone,” Tom addressed the small flock of social misfits.
“This is not a joke?” the short man with a big beer belly and massive “love handles” called out. The giant that followed Tom out here into the lobby let out a chuckle. “This is not just SPA stunt for political correctness, is it? Just for the journalists out there?” There were reports milling outside the front doors. The deep space program was big news.
There were a few more outbursts and Tom waited for the group to settle down again. Tom understood their reservations. He too was a perfect specimen of a present day human — six foot three, endurance runner, not a pound of extra fat anywhere on his body. Tom used to be proud of his body, but now he understood its liability. This body anchored him to Earth. He would never go out there into the stars. This perfect body was his prison. These people — these ugly, fat slobs were the pinnacle of evolution.
“No joke,” he said. “I’m Dr. Tom English. My job is to find the next generation of astronauts to join our deep space program.”
“You have your pick back there!” a woman with too many curves pointed behind Tom. Through the double doors, Tom could still feel the vibrations from the movement and conversations of a few hundred other perfect human specimens.
“I’m sure you all are here because you read that SPA is looking for specific genetic traits,” he addressed the small group.
“Fat jokes are not appreciated–”
“Some people are born to eat all they want, and yet their bodies stay fit,” Tom launched into his prepared speech. “That’s not who you are.” There were murmurs of anger and agreement. The designer babies of the past several decades all but ensured that the perfect metabolic genes were almost extinguished among the population of modern day humans. Who wants to have a fat baby midget?
After a dramatic pose, Tom spoke again — he had their attention now. “You, my friends, look at ice cream, and you put on pounds. Isn’t that right?” Cheers and jeers propagated like waves across the lobby. Tom waited. When there was a lull again, he continued. “The environment of unlimited rich food that reigned supreme for the last two centuries depleted the human genetic stock of variation. It left few who had the necessary traits to go into space for extended periods of time, who would be able to survive the restricted calorie diet and even famine of interstellar space flight. Those who don’t require extra large space habitat capsules.” This time, there were no additional interruptions. “SPA is looking for the Slow Metabolism genes, for those who can squeeze the goodness out of each and every calorie.”
Tom looked around, making sure to catch the eyes of all four potential candidates. These were the discarded humans — individuals deemed unfit to reproduce or even be seen out among the neo-Gods of the present day homo sapiens. That was going to change. The genes of these four people were about to become the most desirable on the planet. If he was lucky, Tom’s lab would be able to guide a selective breeding program for the next generation of astronauts. These four could be his starter stock.
“Max Smith?” Tom asked. An older woman stepped forward. She showed the obvious genetic trait marks of mixed Polynesian and African decent — dark skin tones, black curly hair, big bones carrying pounds of extra fat. That was a rarity. With luck, she was still capable of having children; the state-mandated sterilization could be easily reversed. Tom had all of the paperwork for that procedure with him.
“I’m Max,” she said. She had a deep velvety voice.
“I hope you’d consider joining the SPA program, Ms. Smith,” Tom said and stepped forward with an extended hand. The first contact was the most important. The astrobiology team drilled Tom on that.