“Paul’s incremental samples have been fascinating,” Jenkins said. “We’ve been able to compare his, well, we’re still arguing over the best terminology, but I favor the word mutation-”
“But symbiosis is more technically accurate-” Bronson bellowed.
“Which we’re not going to argue over at the moment,” Jenkins said firmly, “but his mutation has followed a linear assimilation pattern- that is it was methodical- though atypically fast.”
“We were able to isolate some of patient zero’s pristine DNA and inject that into a stem cell colony. Then we took a scraping of this new, clean colony and reintroduced it to the pathogen. It colonized zero’s cells at a logarithmic rate- slightly slower than Paul’s.”
“But Paul’s samples from Rica and Alisa are even more intriguing in that light. Because they show even faster colonization than in Paul. Specifically, Alisa’s samples show polynomial growth. And by the time Rica was infected, it was spreading at an exponential rate.”
“It was learning how to adapt to human DNA,” Paul muttered.
But it was lost, in that Mai, much closer to the Earth than Paul, started transmitting a question first. “One variable that has seemed to result in extra aggression on the lunar surface was presence of a pregnancy in the person of our primary carrier.” Mai’s eyes got wide as she realized what she’d said. “Um, whoops.”
The moment Paul heard that, and then saw her reaction, he knew. “Oh my God. Am I the dad?”
“Uh, in a way you’re kind of all of our sires, at this point,” Mai said. “But technically, uh, procreatively, yuppers.”
“Healthy?” he asked.
“Big for the second trimester, but yeah.”
“Is the baby a carrier?”
“Like a pigeon. He’ll have his mother’s big eyes, or she’ll her father’s big teeth… you get the idea.”
“Goddamnit,” Ken broke in. “Can you damned nerds stop talking long enough for us to get a word in edgewise? If we don’t establish some rules of order this is just going to proceed into chaos.”
“We’ve done some experimenting with various hormonal cultures,” Jenkins said. “Particularly the presence of reproductive mixes of hormones led to cultures with increased levels of norepinephrine, GABA, vasopressin and even oxytocin. So, in a nutshell, yeah, pregnancy hormones make this thing go bonkers. There’s really any number of explanations for it. It could be that it’s trying to protect the child, and so turns the mother hyperaggressive. It could also be that that particular mix messes with its internal chemistry, making it bonkers.”
“One more rub,” Mai said, “our ‘pack’ followed the primary carrier. But it was… I did things I don’t think I ever would have thought about doing, and not because she asked, but just because I thought it was what she wanted.”
“It’s not…” Jenkins furrowed his brow, “it isn’t surprising that these things could follow matriarchal leadership. There’s certainly precedents in the animal kingdom. Elephants, lions,” he swallowed, “sometimes wolves.”
“Sometimes?” Ken asked.
“Wolves tend to be… variable. Packs follow an alpha male and an alpha female. They each keep their own gender in check. Who ultimately leads depends on personality as much as anything, so female leadership happens quite frequently among wolves. But it’s also usually a partnership.”
“What happens when the female loses her alpha male?” Paul asked after a long delay.
“She finds another one.”
Mai turned red.
“Oh,” Paul said, and smiled. His wife had always had a type, and Mai definitely fit it.
“One thing we're still trying to figure out was why the Moon was so much bloodier. From what you've told us, the wolves there were more aggressive in aggregate, as well as more active.”
“I have had a thought,” Dr. Pierce said.
“Not this crap again,” muttered Bronson.
“It's not necessarily crap,” he said. “Myths often have some basis in real phenomenon. Early people who observed these wolf hybrids probably observed cycles that had to do with the moon. It may not be related to the lunar cycle, but say proximity. The moon is responsible for the tides. What if a similar phenomenon, on a cellular level, affects the change?”
“That... it's possible. If retarded.”
“But if all that's true, gravity would always be a factor on the moon. That could explain it.”
“But not the secession of hostilities.”
“There are a couple of possibilities, there. One, everyone being of the same, uh, for lack of a better word, species, might be enough. Alternately, the organisms are adaptive. It's possible they acclimated to the constant binary gravity.”
“What does that say about us?” Paul asked.
“I don’t follow,” said Bronson.
“They’re sufficiently far enough from the Earth and her moon that Perseus isn’t feeling significant effects from their dual gravity. But soon enough they’ll be entering into Martian space, and they’ll have Phobos and Deimos pulling on their heartstrings.”
“Shit,” Jenkins said.
“We’ll work the problem on our end,” Ken said, “but we’re open to suggestions.”
“Roger,” Paul said. “But if that’s it, I’d like a moment to consult with my lunar colleague. A personal matter.”
“Personal as in medically sensitive?” Ken asked, and raised an eyebrow. “Because if he’s developing a bulbus glandis I think it would be interesting to share with the whole class.”
“Personal as in personal,” Paul said.
“Okay, but if he’s developing a dog cock, I want to know about it,” Ken said, and hung up.
“You know, spending more than a year away from Earth, you start to… I guess you just forget what an incredible Ken can be,” Mai said.
Paul sighed. “Yeah. He means well. Sometimes. How’s Maria?” he asked, his voice was quieter, softer.
“Oh, she’s… good,” Mai said. “She’s been through a lot. Holds herself responsible for a lot.”
“No, I meant… well, I meant that, too. But I did the math and it’s been… she’s got to be close.”
Mai smiled. “About to burst,” she said.
“Kicks like a mule with grasshopper genes; and all of our tests have come up normal. Optimal, largely.”
“Damn,” Paul said.
“Isn’t that good news?” Mai asked.
“It is, and it isn’t. Optimal means, it means he’s probably going to turn out like us. And I just hope it doesn’t screw him up.”
“His mom’s got a good head on her shoulders. And genetically… this is probably the most perfect symbiotic relationship I’ve ever seen. I think it wants us to be healthy. I’m sure your son’s going to be fine.”
“My son…” he said, and swallowed.
“Just, not a phrase I’d thought about. But is your conviction a medical opinion?”
She shook her head. “He’s going to be healthy. I know he will.”