ENTRY 152: Mitochondria 2.0
In the orbital habitats above Mercury and Venus, in the nursery edu-creches on Luna and the kindertainment pods of Mars, the kids aren’t alright. Oh, they’re mostly healthy enough, displaying the usual signs one would expect for biomorphs conceived, carried, born, and raised in different gravities, but even accounting for expected morphological differences, something strange is going on.
The first red flag was eight years ago on Mars, an outbreak of mitochondrial diseases in newborns. Initially the suspect was environmental factors, increased radiation or maybe a toxic leak causing random mutations, but close typing of the mDNA showed very consistent, nearly identical mitochondria—as if all the kids had come from the same mother, even though their non-mitochondrial DNA matched their expected parents. After two years of research, no causal finding could be produced, and the investigation was cold-cased.
Six years ago on Locus a few weird health spikes showed a group of eight-year-olds were found to have increased brown adipose tissue, up to 15% by body weight. The culprit was believed to be the presence of mutated mitochondria, which were identical in all of the children—again, as if they had the same mitochondrial parent, even though the children were conceived from different female donors. The reproductive health center which had performed the fertilization and egg implantation procedures was investigated, but aside from typical gene selectivity treatments, nothing unusual had occurred.
Four years ago, investigators finally got a suspect. Four adults on Aphrodite Prime started suffering liver failure, their mitochondria failing to produce the enzymes necessary to detoxify the ammonia produced from protein metabolism. One of the station personnel had been present on Mars and Locus during the past outbreaks, but managed to avoid both investigations: a nomadic lab assistant and amateur genehacker named Hamish Haal. When the Venusian security moved in, they found someone had beaten them to the punch: Haal had died under torture in his quarters. His personal dataspace was empty, wiped clean. Examination of his mitochondria found the same mDNA sequence as in the victims.
For the last four years, new reports have been sporadic, and various groups have taken it on themselves to attempt to track down and identify Haal’s victims, who could number in the hundreds or low thousands. The mechanism he used to alter or replace the mitochondria is still not fully understood; current theories lean toward a retrovirus. The reasons for Haal’s crime apparently died with him, and the identity of his killers and the state of his research remains unknown. There are many that question whether he was even working alone, or was killed as part of a conspiracy. All that is clear is that the damage is done. A new source of mDNA is out there, somewhere, quietly proliferating through transhumanity.
- Haal’s mother died on Luna, and a portion of her genetic material was kept in a genebank while the rest was destroyed. The M2.0 Victims Network approaches the PCs and asks them to “liberate” the sample, to see if the mDNA Haal used is derived from his mother or another source. If the PCs are successful, they discover that not only is the mDNA not the source, the sample they liberated has no close kinship to Haal himself—the woman everyone thought was his genetic parent was just a surrogate. This raises even more questions about Haal’s identity, but the victims’ representative thanks the PCs for their aid, as every piece of the puzzle helps.