Challenge Eleven: Christian Aeriel Maximillian
**For the record, Christian Aeriel Maximillian was my classmate and friend in secondary school. Back then, he was still the writer, and I was his illustrator. He would craft tales about the gods, and I would bring them to life with my sketches. Sweet times. JS3. What? I can famz… okay, I am gone***
Mastermind: Christian Aeriel Maximillian
Disclaimer: It is not the intention of the writer to spark a religious war with this write-up. The writer will take no responsibility for anything, code or slang which might be misunderstood in this write-up.
What if cancer was not meant to be an illness, just a failed evolutionary step?
What would happen if we fixed it?
What would we become?
Would we embrace it?
Or would we fight it – all over again?
‘Approximately 12.7 million cancer cases and 7.6 million cancer deaths were estimated to have occurred in 2008.’ (2008, GLOBOCAN)
There are over 100 different types of cancer that we know of; the more common of these being lung cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Current thinking accepts that as longevity increases so does the risk of cancer, which is why cancer in the majority of the animal kingdom is only common in those that live for extended periods; the short lifecycle of most insects, for instance, precludes them from this ‘illness’.
Of the 50-70 trillion cells in the human body some, over time, will naturally go wrong, creating tumours – abnormal and unregulated growths through rapid cell division. Many genetic markers have been found to suggest a greater or lesser likelihood of an individual ‘contracting’ any one particular cancer.
The term we use for the process of tumour occurrence and growth is tumorigenesis , the literal meaning of which is the ‘coming into being’ of a tumour, an apt name as we will discover.
But what if it were discovered that cancer was in fact a failed evolutionary process? Evolution as we understand is a change in the gene pool of a population over time. A gene being a hereditary unit that can be passed on unaltered for many generations. Populations evolve by the often subtle changes experienced within these gene pools. Thus, a single person within a population of say, 7 billion, is never typical of that entire population and will never evolve during their lifespan because they will always retain the same genes – at least that is what happens now, but is this what evolution intended?
David Fortune sat at his mother’s bedside gazing out of the nearby window. A light breeze was evident outside as it subtly moved the branches of a nearby tree. With his gaze transfixed outside, but his thoughts still firmly in the small room he watched as a squirrel scrabbled up the tree trunk and disappeared into the foliage. How simple a life it would be as a squirrel he thought. A sudden pang of guilt came over him – how could he have become distracted by something so, so ordinary when next to him his mother lay dying, the aggressive cancer eating away at her as every second ticked by.
He shifted uneasily in his chair and settled back; looking up he counted the ceiling tiles once more – confirming that there were still forty nine (if he included the half tiles and where one would have been if not for the light fitting) he turned his head towards the bed and rested his cheek on the chair back. Taking a deep breath through his nostrils he was able (if only temporarily) to replace the smell of hospital antiseptic with leather.
His eyes shifted focus on to his father who sat on the opposite side to him, sleeping now – at long last; it had only been a matter of time, after all the human body can only go so long before the craving, that desperate need to sleep and recharge takes control – however much you wanted to stay awake.
Time moved on, the only noticeable distraction being the occasional ‘intrusion ’ by a nurse who kept on offering tea, coffee, a blanket? His father had a blanket, but somehow, deep down he didn’t feel worthy, no, not worthy, just not right – to seek comfort while his mother… (he forced himself to think it)… was dying , just didn’t seem right. It was ok for his dad he needed the rest, deserved the rest. He had nursed her at home until, until now.
His watch chimed, signally the start of a new day. Standing and stretching his legs after the long night he stood there watching his mother, she remained unmoving other than the shallow rise and fall of her chest, her gaunt features displaying deep shadows around her eyes and in the centres of her cheeks.
He began counting breaths, watching, listening… waiting. Her breathing was definitely slowing now, the gaps in between lengthening; her diaphragm expanding with ever growing effort, although each breath was expelled in a rapid contraction each time more readily as the weakened muscles could not hold on to the vital gases so desperately needed.
David wasn’t sure when she took her last breath. The pauses had grown so long in between that when one didn’t come he just waited, so desperately he waited, until untold minutes had passed. Minutes that had been filled not with sorrow, but of relief – relief that her suffering had ended. He held her hand only then realising that his father too had been watching, listening quietly. How long had he been awake? David did not know. All that mattered was that they had shared her last moments together.
He awoke in a pool of sweat – even after 30 years the memories of his mother’s death were so clear in his mind, tormenting his dreams, creating the ‘oh so frequent’ nightmares that still made him weep. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, rubbing his eyes and face with both hands, the cold of the bare wooden floor beneath helping to heighten his senses.
Looking at his unshaven features in the bathroom mirror, the bloodshot eyes from the half bottle of single malt whisky consumed the night before; he leaned on the sink and composed himself. Clearing his throat he said to his reflection: “Ladies, gentlemen, fellow scientists , I am Dr David Fortune and as of today no one need die of cancer…”
A low murmur crossed the conference room floor, increasing in intensity as it spread like a ripple on a pond, finally becoming a crescendo of shouted questions and raised hands. Perhaps in hindsight, David considered , he should have built up to this revelation as opposed to using it as his opening line?
Calming his audience with his own raised hands and ignoring the many questions he continued. “For many years the war to eradicate cancer from our lives has taken place in laboratories and hospitals across the world. We have used skilled surgery, aggressive drug regimes and radiation in our ‘arsenal’. More recently many have looked at gene therapy and targeting cancers with ‘magic bullets’ riding on the backs of viruses. We have even been able to devise vaccines for certain cancers. However, one of the goals that has eluded many here today has been to develop a way of stopping the spread – the metastasis that so frequently creates secondary tumours.
Halting the process of metastasis was the aim of my team and in so doing we stumbled across a revelation ; a revelation so profound that we could not, would not, believe it ourselves at first.” The buzz of excitement across the room was such that David paused once more to allow a level of calmness to descend. Pointing to the screen behind him he activated a video sequence. “As many here know, during the process of metastasis millions of malignant cells from a tumour are released into the bloodstream. Most are killed by the trauma of travelling through blood vessels; others are attacked by our immune systems, whether by T-lymphocytes, macrophages or lymphokines. But others make the journey unscathed, creating new tumours; some of these cells remain in our bloodstream undetected for years only to resurface after what appears to be a period of remission. The question my team and I asked first was why do some of these malignant cells survive while others do not? But more importantly, the other question we often asked ourselves was if the propensity of cancer is on the increase because we are living longer, then, conversely as our immune systems have evolved should there not have been more cancers in early bilaterians whose immune systems were not as developed? ” Pausing for affect, he took a sip of water and gazed at the front 3 rows over the top of his glasses.
Continuing he said, “It is commonly accepted that our adaptive immune systems appeared quite suddenly, around 450 million years ago with the emergence of jawed vertebrates. But because of its complexity , the mammalian immune system is described as ‘irreducibly complex’, and thus its evolution and origin through ‘Darwinian ’ mechanisms is frequently challenged . How then do we reconcile this?” he let his hypothetical question hang for a second. “Our breakthrough occurred when studying tumours taken from AIDS patients,” more video sequences appeared as he continued… “As you will see here, HIV is a unique human RNA virus, capable of infecting cells of the immune system. In particular , HIV targets and eventually kills T cells that have a crucial role in the regulation of immune responses against invading microorgan isms. In an untreated HIV patient, 10 billion to 100 billion new viruses are produced daily which progressiv ely destroy the T cells over a period of several years. This gradual erosion eventually renders the patient vulnerable to unusual and opportunis tic infections rarely seen in healthy people. Most patients who die from AIDS succumb to one or more of these opportunistic infections – interestingly of the 40% of AIDS patients who develop cancers, the cancers they develop are ones that occur infrequently in the normal ‘healthy population ’. So we started afresh with a new hypothesis : What if cancer was part of evolution? Designed to take Homo-sapiens to the next stage of their natural development, a stage corrupted by an irreducibly complex immune system that defies evolutionary understanding? Armed with this hypothesis and the genetic codes from numerous tumours of differing types we developed a virus of our own to carry the instructions to ‘repair’ what we believed to be the corrupted coding. We call this viral agent ‘f66’, after the gene location. We then injected our test animals with a drug we call Genesis-T, designed to protect the cancer cells during metastasis . We then sat back and waited.”
The audience was visibly agitated at this point; many were in heated discussions in small groups others sat transfixed , waiting for the speaker to continue.
“What we discovered over a period of 6 weeks was a gradual change in the tumours – the tumours shrank and became small nodules at each of the metastasised sites throughout the test subjects. Those subjects who had not yet metastasised also developed these nodules across all major organs, blood compositio n subtly changed too – immune systems became stronger yet they did not stop the nodule appearance s; in fact quite the opposite. Each nodule had multiple layers of lymphocyte s clustered around them – not consuming but creating a protective layer. Of the one hundred laboratory rats treated in this way, every single one, at each stage of dissection , we recorded identical observations. By week 2 no sign of malignancy existed, by week 4 the remaining rats were healthier, stronger and exhibiting structural changes to existing organs – heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and skin all performing at greater efficiency – in affect transformed, an evolutionary step completed in less than one month. When we breed the final test subjects, with ones taken from our control group, the offspring shared the full benefit of the enhanced evolutiona ry changes. The full paper and press release will be available at the end of this seminar and will detail all our findings – including the human trials. Now I open the floor to questions. ”
Multiple hands shot up. Pointing to the front row he said, “My estemed colleague, Professor Wilson.”
Professor Wilson was Dean of Medicine at King’s College London, as he stood the light above him glistened off his receding brow, “Dr Fortune, thank you, an elightening, and I must say ground breaking research study. Perhaps you could give us your views on the long term effects of this ‘evolutionary’ step, as you call it?”
“Yes, thank you, of the rat test subjects all were dissected over a period of 3 years, with the excepetion of one who remained healthy until dying of natural causes, recently, after 6 years following initial treatment. As I am sure most here are aware the average life expectancy for the white rat is 2½ to 3½ years. Upon dissection no adverse side effects were observed. Of our human trials, 50 volunteers were found all sufferring from end stage terminal cancers, 10 were AIDS patients. All 50 volunteers were randomly chosen, blind, as per usual protocol: twenty five received the correct treatment and twenty five received a placebo treatment. Of the twenty five that received the placebo – all were dead of their respective cancers within 6 months. Of the the twenty five that received the viral gene therapy and Metastasis T treatment, all are alive and well and symptom free.”
“What of the nodules? “Where these observed too in the surviving volunteers ?” David looked around, locating the questioner in the press enclosure. Using his hand to help shield his eyes from the lights pointing directly at him, he replied “Nodules appeared in all the treated volunteers . Although these too have reduced over time, their work seemingly done.”
The same member of the press continued, “Do you not think that announcing a cure-all for cancer by modifying it to a design ‘you believe’ to be correct is not playing at God? The research direction you took was completley against current thinking – current thinking that I hasten to add has produced significan t results. My question to you is this: Using your treatment will it not, in effect, create a sub species of Homo Sapien – an evolutiona ry superior race?”
David, stared down the reporter, sensationalist reactions like this could only be expected. “Perhaps the gentleman from the press would care to actual read the press release or even the full paper before likening my team and I to God. As far as a sub species is concerned this is not the case. All we have done is trigger a dormant, albeit corrupted, biological process. A process that Homo sapien was obviously meant to have – to be physically stronger, less likely to contract diesease, more resilient in every way! If this is a bad thing then I apologies. The evidence is in the detail.”
“The Devil is in the detail, Dr Fortune, I only hope you make a good God!”
In 2012, Dr David Fortune, driven by the loss of his mother from cancer and the desire for no child to ever experience a similar lose, announced his revolution airy cancer treatment. In 2013, the United Kingdom Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (NHRA) approved the use of Virus f66 and Genesis-T, shortly followed by both the American FDA and European EMA. In 2014 Dr David Fortune and his team received the Nobel Prize in Medicine. By 2025 ‘Fortune’s Treatment’ as it became popularly known, was being widly used across the world. The human race had embraced an evolutionary change that had been halted by it’s own immune system, some 450 millon years before man had first walked the Earth. One hundered thousand years of self determination had given man time to become clever enough, to ‘fix’ this irreducibl y complex immune system that defied logical evolution. Not all people embraced the treatment, many religions openly condemned it, but faced with death from cancer or life – most chose life.
As the f66 virus crossed between parent and child the subtle changes of a halted evolution began. First noted in 2035, children born with the f66 heritage were on average taller, stronger, and more able to shake off illnesses. Skin pigmentati ons were noticeably more ‘olive’ coloured, not unusual in a diverse modern population . But as time progressed the skin was not the only change that was noticed and embraced as ‘good’. Lungs were more efficient, able to sustain life with no visible side effects in low oxygen content areas, whether high altitude or polluted cities. The human liver was more efficient in detoxifica tion and regulating biochemica l reactions. Kidneys homeostasi s function increased removing impurities from the blood that would have killed past generation s. Skin continued to change, becoming more leathery, redder in colour and able to withstand extremes of heat and radiation.
The lesser talked about traits of f66 began 3 generations later. Tails were common place in many newborns; initially, the small extensions to the vestigial structure all Homo sapiens had shared were removed at birth, but they soon became common place. Eventually public displays of tails became a teenage fad and thus became accepted overtime. It wasn’t until the horns began developing after puberty that the Vatican expressed its public concern of this ‘new’ breed. By the time 100 years had passed from the drugs approval, 75% of man stood 7 foot tall, had red skin, horns and a tail. The ‘pure’ Homo sapiens were few and hid mostly from public view.
When the missiles rained down, no one knew why or who? The scorched Earth that remained was no place for pure Homo sapiens who either died in the initial blasts or from radiation sickness weeks later.
Hell on Earth had arrived.
On a huge slab of granite, that rose one mile out of the ground where once stood the Vatican City, there was inscribed:
“So God created man in his own image” Genesis 1(27)
“But the Devil is in the detail