THE TRAITOR GENE • by Nicholas Stillman

The flasks and beakers looked boring now, even though they had fixed most of mankind’s problems. The glassware and cheap centrifuges looked as unremarkable as they did on the day they arrived by mail. Spencer paced in vague celebration among the clutter in his moldy basement laboratory. Today marked his eighth week of living between the makeshift lab benches and the closet-sized bathroom. Even his mattress in the corner had a layer of dust.

Spencer peered once more through the microscope at his own blood samples. His back hurt again from hunching over so many glass slides. As with every previous needle poke and cell culture, the final one confirmed his immunity. The airborne virus he had engineered would not kill him.

The pathogen targeted anyone with the traitor gene. Although Spencer likely had it in all his chromosomes, he also had the world’s only cure.

Some people, however, would need no cure. Spencer went to his wall of women’s faces and unpinned the graduation photo of Carolyn Wells. She had never talked to him before in their high school years, nor had she later achieved anything beyond simple innocence. Smiling meekly with her then-new braces, the 18-year-old seemed so plain — yet so pure. Spencer pocketed her picture without having to stare a second longer. She didn’t belong with the others who had all expressed the traitor gene.

Spencer finally pulled open his apartment door, tearing away the duct tape along its edges. It made a sucking sound, similar to the sound made when opening the door of his aging mini refrigerator. Yesterday the power had shut off, and he ran out of nutritional shakes anyway.

Before leaving his squalid apartment, he opened the duct-taped window as well. A breeze eagerly rushed in and knocked over a stack of bills on the windowsill. Spencer had two empty bank accounts after his efforts to fix the dysgenic world. The vampiric elders had taken too much tax again. His parents had surely died from the virus, having also drained the youth to fund seniors’ entitlements. His folks had the traitor gene, and Spencer didn’t mind mowing them down with the rest. After all, financial policy hadn’t changed much from the medieval era. It seemed people still had kids mainly to work the fields in their place.

Spencer gazed out the high basement window but couldn’t see past the tussocks and weeds, his own petty field of sorts. People like Carolyn, at least, would inherit it all. She waited out there, in this very city, bunkered at home for now and safe from all the traitors forever. All observations of her, whether lustful or scientific, from windows afar or from Windows 10, proved she had never turned traitorous–not even on social media. Statistically, every city could have such a biblical Eve. Spencer went out to find his.

He shuffled down the narrow hall of the semi-basement floor. He felt cramped as always, like a rat traversing inside the walls. He passed the big hot-water radiator and sighed. Both the radiator and the oil tank remained empty of water and oil respectively. Every autumn, the immoral and sneaky landlord let his tenants suffer for weeks until enough of them complained of the cold. It saved him some cash, as heat came included with rent.

The landlord, of course, had certainly died by having the traitor gene. No more would he or other landlords cram 24 tenants into one house by adding more walls.

Spencer climbed the steep stairs which the landlord had squeezed into the century-old house. The stench of decay wafted from under one of the apartment doors on the ground level. The party animals must have expressed the traitor gene too. The virus left a putrid mess, but it had cleansed the apartment of all traitorous life.

Spencer held his breath until he reached the entryway. The rows of tiny mailboxes filled an entire wall. A big plate ran between two eye-level rows of them. It stated NO JUNK MAIL in stern serif letters. Despite this message engraved in steel, the mailman had always packed wads of flyers into every box on his route.

Now, however, that mailman probably lay facedown in a driveway. He probably attracted housecats and rodents who, side by side, nibbled his dead flesh. Some mail carriers expressed the dominant traitor gene, and others expressed a recessive pair. Either way, they died most deservingly.

Standing at his mailbox, Spencer inhaled as deeply as he dared. He had emailed Carolyn Wells four days ago with answers for her — all the answers — and she had replied. She promised to drop off a note here if she remained uninfected. When Spencer touched the cold metal, however, he thought of her braces — and he froze.

He had horribly overlooked that one thing. No dental payment on Earth involved an honest exchange anymore. Rather, people paid with health insurance schemes and entitlement plans that leeched money from a thousand someones, somewhere. And Carolyn, at 18, had taken that traitorous deal.

A tiny sting landed in Spencer’s heart. After so many stings that faded before, how could one miscalculation matter so much? He wondered if her likely death, and his total loneliness forever, would drive him mad. How could it, though, when the world had already driven him furious?

Spencer took his keys from his pocket and opened his mailbox. For once he found it empty. He smiled for the first time in years. The plate stated NO JUNK MAIL so sternly, yet it reflected the craziest smile on Earth. He had killed all of the traitors, even the Eves. Not one would ever escape justice again. They finally paid for all their exploitation, whether they had stolen their smiles or put serfs into pens much like these mailboxes. Smiling triumphantly, Spencer walked outside and into the sunlight of a purified Earth. He entered a world as empty as his mailbox, because everyone had the traitor gene.

Nicholas Stillman writes science fiction with medical themes. His work has appeared in Total Quality Reading, Not One of Us, The Colored Lens, Bards and Sages Quarterly, The Martian Wave, and Polar Borealis.

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