to archives in Mandela, Stockholm, and Toronto. Every editing decision that followed was just a rearrangement of references to the untouchable original. I could quote from the raw footage (and footage it was—only dilettantes used pretentious neologisms like ‘byteage') as selectively as I wished. I could paraphrase, substitute, and improvise. But not one frame of the original could ever be damaged or misplaced, beyond repair, beyond recovery.

I didn’t really envy my analog-era counterparts, though; the painstaking mechanics of their craft would have driven me mad. The slowest step in digital editing was human decision-making, and I’d learned to get most judgments right by the tenth or twelfth attempt. Software could tweak the rhythms of a scene, fine-tune every cut, finesse the sound, remove unwanted passersby; even shift whole buildings, if necessary. The mechanics was all taken care of; there was nothing to distract from the content.

So all I had to do with Junk DNA was transform one hundred and eighty hours of real-time into fifty minutes of sense.

I’d filmed four stories, and I already knew how I’d order them: a gradual progression from gray to black. Ned Landers the walking biosphere. The HealthGuard actuarial implant. The Voluntary Autists lobby group. And Daniel Cavolini’s revival. SeeNet had asked for excess, for transgressions, for frankenscience. I’d have no trouble giving them exactly what they wanted.

Landers had made his money in dry computers, not biotech, but he’d gone on to buy several R&D- intensive molecular genetics corporations to help him achieve his personal transformation. He’d begged me to film him in a sealed geodesic dome full of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and benzyl compounds—me in a pressure suit, himself in swimming trunks. We’d tried it, but my face plate kept fogging up on the outside with oily carcinogenic residues, so we’d had to meet again in downtown Portland. Promising as the noxious dome had seemed, the immaculate blue skies of the state which was racing California to zero-emission laws for every known pollutant had turned out to be a more surreal backdrop by far.

“I don’t need to breathe at all if I don’t want to,” Landers had confided, surrounded by a visible abundance of clean, fresh air. This time, I’d persuaded him to do the interview in a small, grassy park opposite the NL Group’s modest headquarters. (There were children playing soccer in the background—but the console would keep track of any continuity problems, and offer solutions to most of them with a single keystroke.) Landers was in his late forties, but he could have passed for twenty-five. With a robust build, golden hair, blue eyes, and glowing pink skin, he looked more like a Hollywood version of a Kansas farm worker (in good times) than a rich eccentric whose body was swarming with engineered algae and alien genes. I watched him on the console’s flatscreen, and listened through simple stereo speakers. I could have fed the playback straight into my optic and auditory nerves, but most viewers would be using a screen or a headset—and I needed to be sure that the software really had constructed a steady, plausible, rectilinear grid of pixels out of my own retinas’ highly compressed visual shorthand.

“The symbionts living in my bloodstream can turn carbon dioxide back into oxygen, indefinitely. They get some energy through my skin, from sunlight, and they release any glucose they can spare—but that’s not nearly enough for me to live on, and they need an alternative energy source when they’re in darkness. That’s where the symbionts in my stomach and intestines come in; I have thirty-seven different types, and between them, they can handle anything. I can eat grass. I can eat paper. I could live off old tires, if I had a way of cutting them into pieces small enough to swallow. If all plant and animal life vanished from the face of the Earth tomorrow, I could survive off tires for a thousand years. I have a map showing all the tire dumps in the continental USA. The majority are scheduled for biological remediation, but I have court actions in progress to see that a number of them survive. Apart from my own personal reasons, I think they’re a part of our heritage which we owe to future generations to leave untouched.”

I went back and intercut some microscope footage of the tailored algae and bacteria inhabiting his blood and digestive tract, then a shot of the tire dump map, which he’d displayed for me on his notepad. I played with an animation I’d been preparing, a schematic of his personal carbon, oxygen, and energy cycles, but I wasn’t yet sure where it belonged.

I’d prompted him: “So you’re immune to famine and mass extinctions—but what about viruses? What about biological warfare or some accidental plague?” I cut my words out; they were redundant, and I preferred to intrude as little as possible. The change of topic was a bit of a non sequitur as things stood, though, so I synthesized a shot of Landers saying, “As well as using symbionts,” computed to merge seamlessly with his actual words, “I'm gradually replacing those cell lines in my body which have the greatest potential for viral infection. Viruses are made of DNA or RNA; they share the same basic chemistry as every other organism on the planet. That’s why they can hijack human cells in order to reproduce. But DNA and RNA can be manufactured with totally novel chemistry—with non-standard base pairs to take the place of the normal ones. A new alphabet for the genetic code: instead of guanine with cytosine, adenine with thymine—instead of G with C, A with Т—you can have X with Y,W with Z.”

I changed his words after “thymine” to: “—you can use four alternative molecules which don’t occur in nature at all.” The sense was the same, and it made the point more clearly. But when I replayed the scene, it didn’t ring true, so I reverted to the original.

Every journalist paraphrased his subjects; if I’d flatly refused to employ the technique, I wouldn’t be working. The trick was to do it honestly—which was about as difficult as imposing the same criterion on the editing process as a whole.

I cut in some stock molecular graphics of ordinary DNA, showing every atom in the paired bases which bridged the strands of the helix, and I color-coded and labeled one example of each base. Landers had refused to specify exactly which non-standard bases he was using, but I’d found plenty of possibilities in the literature. I had the graphics software substitute four plausible new bases for the old ones in the helix, and repeated the slow zoom-in and rotation of the first shot with this hypothetical stretch of Landers-DNA. Then I cut back to his talking head.

“A simple base-for-base substitution in the DNA isn’t enough, of course. Cells need some brand new enzymes to synthesize the new bases—and most of the proteins which interact with DNA and RNA need to be adapted to the change, so the genes for those proteins need to be translated, not just rewritten in the new alphabet.” I improvised some graphics illustrating the point, stealing an example of a certain nuclear binding protein from one of the journal articles I’d read—but redrawing the molecules in a different style, to avoid copyright violation. “We haven’t yet been able to deal with every single human gene which needs translation, but we’ve made some specific cell lines which work fine with mini-chromosomes containing only the genes they need.

“Sixty percent of the stem cells in my bone marrow and thymus have been replaced with versions using neo-DNA. Stem cells give rise to blood cells, including the cells of the immune system. I had to switch my immune system back into an immature state, temporarily, to make the transition work smoothly—I had to go through some of the childhood clonal deletion phases all over again, to weed out anything which might have caused an autoimmune response—but basically, I'm now able to shoot up pure HIV, and laugh about it.”

“But there’s a perfectly good vaccine—”

“Of course.” I cut my own words out, and made Landers say: “Of course, there’s a vaccine for that.” Then: “And I have symbionts providing a second, independent immune system, anyway. But who knows what’s coming along next? I’ll be prepared, whatever it is. Not by anticipating the specifics—which no one could ever do—but by making sure that no vulnerable cell in my body still speaks the same biochemical language as any virus on Earth.”

“And in the long term? It’s taken a lot of expensive infrastructure to provide you with all of these safeguards. What if that technology doesn’t survive long enough for your children and grandchildren?” This was all redundant, so I ditched it.

“In the long term, of course, I'm aiming to modify the stem cells which produce my sperm. My wife Carol has already begun a program of ova collection. And once we’ve translated the entire human genome, and replaced all twenty-three chromosomes in sperm and ova… everything we’ve done will be heritable. Any child of ours will use pure neo-DNA—and all the symbionts will pass from mother to child in the womb.

“We’ll translate the genomes of the symbionts as well—into a third genetic alphabet—to protect them from viruses, and to eliminate any risk of accidental gene exchange. They’ll be our crops and our herds, our birthright, our inalienable dominion, living in our blood forever.

“And our children will be a new species of life. More than a new species—a whole new kingdom.”

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