A Future Where Gene Editing Is A Federal Crime
From this SciFri Book Club pick, a peek into a world where gene editing is a crime—or, as some believe, the only way to save humanity.
The following is an excerpt from Upgrade: A Novel by Blake Crouch.
Upgrade: A Novel by Blake Crouch
We found Henrik Soren at a wine bar in the international terminal, thirty minutes from boarding a hyperjet to Tokyo.
Before tonight, I had only seen him in INTERPOL photographs and CCTV footage. In the flesh, he was less impressive—five and a half feet in his artificially distressed Saint Laurent sneakers with a designer hoodie hiding most of his face. He was sitting at the end of the bar with a book and a bottle of Krug.
I commandeered the stool beside him and set my badge between us. It bore the insignia of a bald eagle whose wings enveloped the double helix of a DNA molecule. For a long moment, nothing happened. I wasn’t even sure he’d seen it gleaming under the hanging globe lights, but then he turned his head and looked at me.
I flashed a smile.
He closed his book. If he was nervous, he didn’t show it. Just stared at me through Scandinavian blue eyes.
“Hi, Henrik,” I said. “I’m Agent Ramsay. I work for the GPA.”
“What am I supposed to have done?”
He was born thirty-three years ago in Oslo but had been educated in London, where his mother was a diplomat. I could hear that city around the edges of his voice.
“Why don’t we talk about that somewhere else?”
The bartender was watching us now, having clocked my badge. Probably worried about getting the bill paid.
“My flight’s about to board,” Soren said.
“You aren’t going to Tokyo. Not tonight.”
The muscles in his jaw tightened and something flickered in his eyes. He tucked his chin-length blond hair behind his ears and glanced around the wine bar. And then beyond it, at the travelers moving through the concourse.
“See the woman sitting at the high-top behind us?” I asked. “Long blond hair. Navy windbreaker. That’s my partner, Agent Nettmann. Airport police are waiting in the wings. Look, I can drag you out of here or you can walk out under your own steam. It’s your call, but you have to decide right now.”
I didn’t think he’d run. Soren had to know the impossible odds of eluding capture in an airport crawling with security and surveillance. But desperate people do desperate things.
He looked around once more, then back at me. With a sigh, he polished off his glass of champagne and lifted his satchel from the floor.
We drove back into the city, with Nadine Nettmann behind the wheel of the modified company Edison and I-70 virtually empty at this hour of the night.
Soren had been installed behind the passenger seat with his wrists zip-tied behind his back. I’d searched his carry-on—a Gucci messenger bag—but the only item of interest was a laptop, which we’d need a federal warrant to break into.
“You’re Logan Ramsay, right?” Soren asked, his first words spoken since we’d escorted him out of the airport.
“Son of Miriam Ramsay?”
“Yes.” I tried to keep my tone neutral. It wasn’t the first time a suspect had made that connection. He said nothing else. I could feel Nadine looking at me.
I stared out the window. We were on the outskirts of the city center, doing 120 mph. The dual electric motors were almost silent. Through the wraparound NightShade glass, I saw one of the GPA’s new billboards shoot past—part of the latest public awareness campaign.
In black letters against a white background:
GENE EDITING IS A FEDERAL CRIME
Downtown Denver loomed in the distance.
The megatall Half-Mile Tower soared into the sky—an arrow of light.
It was one a.m. here, which meant it was three back in D.C.
I thought of my family, sleeping peacefully in our home in Arlington.
My wife, Beth.
Our teenage daughter, Ava.
If all went smoothly tonight, I’d be back in time for dinner tomorrow evening. We were planning a weekend trip to the Shenandoah Valley to see the fall colors from the Skyline Drive.
We passed another billboard:
ONE MISTAKE CAUSED
THE GREAT STARVATION
I’d seen that one before, and the pain hit—an ache in the back of my throat. The guilt of what we’d done never failed to hit its mark.
I didn’t deny it or try to push it away.
Just let it be until it passed.
The Denver field office of the Gene Protection Agency was located in an unremarkable office park in Lakewood, and to call it a field office was generous.
It was one floor of a building with light admin support, a holding cell, an interview room, a mol-bio lab, and an armory. The GPA didn’t have field offices in most major cities, but since Denver was the main hyperloop hub of the West, it made sense to have a dedicated base of operations here.
We were a young but quickly growing agency, with five hundred employees compared to the FBI’s forty thousand. There were only fifty special agents like me and Nadine, and we were all based in the D.C. area, ready to parachute in to wherever our Intelligence Division suspected the existence of a dark gene lab.
Nadine drove around the back of the low-rise building and pulled through the service entrance to the elevators. She parked behind an armored vehicle, where four bio-SWAT officers had their gear spread out on the concrete, making last-minute weapons checks for what would hopefully be a predawn raid based on the intel we were about to extract from Soren.
I helped our suspect out of the back of the car, and the three of us rode up to the third floor.
Once inside the interview room, I cut off the zip ties and sat Soren down at a metal table with a D-bolt welded into the surface for less compliant suspects.
Nadine went for coffee.
I took a seat across from him.
“Aren’t you supposed to read me my rights or something?” he asked.
“Under the Gene Protection Act, we can hold you for seventy-two hours just because.”
I shrugged. He wasn’t exactly wrong.
I placed Soren’s book on the table, hoping for a reaction.
“Big Camus fan?” I asked.
“Yeah. I collect rare editions of his work.”
It was an old hardback copy of The Stranger. I thumbed carefully through the pages.
“It’s clean,” Soren said.
Want to keep reading? Thanks to our friends at Ballantine Books, SciFri fans can download the rest of Chapter 1 from Blake Crouch’s Upgrade.
Excerpted from Upgrade by Blake Crouch Copyright © 2022 by Blake Crouch. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.