Aphelion Issue 255, Volume 24
October 2020
 
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FaceGene

by Barry Yedvobnick




He was a singularly vicious and beautiful primate.

The alpha stood over the outsider, who lay shredded and lifeless.

His physical abilities were extraordinary. They derived from a rare combination of genes, some ancient and a few new mutations that only he possessed. These genes provided unmatched strength and speed, along with an innate hostility towards strangers. He considered them competition for mates and resources, so the fewer the better.

The exceptional genetics also provided attractive facial symmetry. His beauty contributed to his reproductive success, and to that of his male and female offspring. These characteristics would be passed on for countless generations, persisting in a tiny fraction of men and women millions of years later. Although his descendants once possessed an evolutionary advantage, they became a dangerous and poor fit today.

#

“If I have a daughter it’s going to be different,” said Callie. “It’s really scary how some women are so clueless. I know it’s not their fault, they’re raised that way. Some parents can’t see what they’re doing. They don’t think about what a daughter will face when she’s on her own. How someone could take advantage.”

Callie stopped talking as Jen finished feeding Lexie and placed her in the crib.

“You’ve never seen it from the other side,” said Jen. “There’s not a red line that tells you this is overprotective and that isn’t? I’m sure lots of parents wish they’d paid more attention and stepped in before it was too late. You don’t always get a second chance.”

“I agree, but my parents tried to totally control me and I fought like hell,” said Callie. “It was pretty ugly, but if I let them have their way I’d be different now. A lot weaker. I wouldn’t have learned to take chances.”
Jen shook her head in disagreement.


“Callie, that’s just not true. I’ve always admired you, especially how you and Josh handled things senior year after your parents died. I’ve envied you too. How confident and popular you were. There’s no way you would’ve ended up in a bad place.”

“Okay, it’s true that things have come easy for me. When I was 15 I already knew that I could handle a lot more than my parents thought. I had to show them and everyone else.”

“Maybe that’s why we became such good friends,” said Jen, laughing. “I’ve always known you were the best, so I never tried to compete with you. But just be careful, Callie. It’s not high school anymore. Nobody gets to win all the time.”

#

Callie’s brother, Josh, thought of the FaceGene app while brainstorming at a bar with his friend, Karim. Josh was an evolutionary biologist who studied the association of facial symmetry with beauty and sexual attraction.

“A symmetrical face was a strong signal for mating prospects during human evolution,” he told Karim. “The idea is that facial symmetry displays overall genetic quality. Good genes produce a good face. So it’s a safe bet that if someone is beautiful, a lot of their genes and body parts are also first-rate. That’s a person you want to have kids with, or at least sex.”

“Makes sense to me,” said Karim with a laugh. “But sounds like old news. Why are you so excited about it now? You’ve probably known about this for years.”

“Because now there’s tons of genetic information being deposited online every day,” replied Josh. “Thousands of people are having their DNA sequenced for just a few bucks, and many are posting facial images along with the sequence.”

“Okay, lots of selfies and lots of sequence. So what?” asked Karim.

“I think there’s a market for an app,” said Josh. “I already use software that quantifies facial symmetry. So I can start correlating people’s symmetry to their DNA sequences. I should be able to find the genes that associate with the best symmetry.”

"Good idea, but how does an app fit in?” asked Karim.

“I need you to incorporate the symmetry program into a phone app. Then, anybody can snap a picture and the app will convert the symmetry into a genetic quality score. We’ll pitch it as a quick measure for good genes based on a snapshot. How about FaceGene for a name?”

“Damn, I like this,” said Karim excitedly. “Teens and twenty-somethings will love it. An app that lets them brag about how hot they and their genes are. This could make money. I can definitely move your symmetry program into an app. Then we just have to work in the genetic data you get.”

#

A few months later they had a pilot version. Josh told Karim he asked his sister, Callie, to try it since “I’m between relationships”, as she liked to say.

“And why is she still available?” asked Karim.

“I don’t know, the ones she shows interest in just seem to disappear after a while,” said Josh. “I think she can be intimidating.”

The app produced symmetry scores up to 100 points, though it was calibrated so that breaking 90 would be rare.

“I’ll tell you right now, I’m going to aim high,” Callie told Josh.

“That’s the point,” he replied. “But I want you to be careful.”

Callie promised Josh that she would try the app at her favorite bars with friends around, but she became impatient. So she obtained facial images from online dating sites. In a few weeks she tested thousands, but just a handful broke a score of 90. Then she saw Jarred and his 97.

“Jarred, you’re perfect,” she thought, as the number appeared on screen next to his face. They met the next day, instantly hit it off, and spent time together the following two weeks.
Callie texted Josh with the news.

“Met a 97! The app is awesome. At his place for a few days. Phone off til Monday.”

After Josh read her text out loud, Karim appeared disturbed.

“What’s wrong?” asked Josh.

“I never thought she’d find a score that high,” said Karim.

“So what? That’s good news, isn’t it?” asked Josh.

“Actually there’s something I need to tell you. Last month I got access to another set of facial images and their DNA sequences. They’re from criminal databases.”

“What!” said Josh. “You hacked into those?”

“Let’s argue later, there’s something really weird going on,” said Karim. “The highest scores I’ve seen yet are in these databases, but only in a subset of inmates, the criminally insane. Josh, the top scores are psychopaths. You may not buy this, but I’m sure. Symmetry is linked to some good genes, but it’s also linked to violent behavior. Somehow they evolved together.”

“Shit!” yelled Josh as he picked up his phone.

“Hold on, there’s more,” said Karim. “I only found two scores that were 97 or higher. They’re both convicted serial killers.” 

“Oh my God,” said Josh, as he tried to call Callie. “Her damn phone is off!”

#

Callie was excited about the weekend with Jarred. She loved the remoteness of his cabin, but knew nothing of his plans. He poured a drink and touched her cheek gently before sitting next to her. 

“So were you really a decathlete or is that just BS?” she asked.


“I played a lot of sports too,” she said. “Looks like we’re a match. Though you only scored a 97 on the app. Far from perfect, you lose.”

“That remains to be seen,” said Jarred, with an odd look to Callie.

“Sounds like you still miss the competition,” she said, laughing.

Callie sipped her drink and looked around the room. She noticed a picture of a man and woman on the fireplace mantle. She walked over for a closer look and saw something splattered on the frame.

“Your family?” she asked. As she turned towards Jarred she saw more splatters, maroon-colored, on a lampshade. “Looks like blood,” she thought.

“Yes, my parents,” he said.

“Not those folks,” he said, glancing towards the basement door with a bizarre smile. The smile reminded Callie of her brother, Josh, who as a boy teased her cruelly.

She looked at the basement door and noticed a broken picture on the floor nearby. An empty hook remained on the wall above.

“Something bumped the picture off the wall,” she thought. Then she spotted a bloody handprint on the door. “Trying to scare me, Jarred? What’s in the basement?”

“Let’s go see,” he said, walking towards her.

“This isn’t your place, is it?” she asked, noticing a small knife in his hand.

“Just borrowing it for a while,” he replied.

Callie’s heart began to race, but not due to fear. It was anticipation.

As Jarred got close and reached for her, she twirled around and crushed his windpipe with a blindingly-fast punch. He grasped his throat and fell to the floor. Stunned and struggling to breathe, Jarred couldn’t move.

“Took a while to learn that, Jarred, but it works every time,” said Callie.

She removed a razor from her pocket and knelt beside him.

“I scored 99 on the app, you lose,” said Callie, as Jarred lost consciousness.

A minute later she stood over him.

He lay shredded and lifeless.  

THE END


2017 Barry Yedvobnick

Bio: Barry Yedvobnick is a recently retired biology researcher and instructor, relatively new to SciFi writing. His stories have appeared in Tales to Terrify, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Kzine and Night to Dawn Magazine. His nonfiction writing experience includes 35 scientific research publications and currently a newspaper health column.

Some of his previous work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Tales To Terrify, and Brilliant Flash Fiction.

E-mail: Barry Yedvobnick

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