Chapter 24- The Healers Letters
Late summer, 2025
The royal naming ceremony was over and the king was the first to leave the balcony over the main plaza. Joining the streaming exodus of crowds, Manny Garcia hurried back to Ramses’ hospital complex. Now the sun was rising fast in the sky.
He chose a narrow alley shortcut between tall walls with small windows. Interconnecting arches and awnings over doorways threw shadows and shade on a path not wide enough even for a small car. Scorching heat vaporized the hint of moisture on the paving stones.
Except for stray dogs and cats, he was alone until he turned a bend and saw a Saburian man, sitting on the steps of a clothing shop. Passing by, he nodded at the man who smiled back. From behind him, strong hands then closed around his throat, and he blacked out.
He awoke in a dungeon with a steel grate door. He was sitting against a sloped wall. Bright fluorescent lights illuminated brown stains on the cracked plaster along with rusted hooks and loops . A tin bucket stood under a faucet. The stink of stagnant water rose from a drain in the middle of the stone floor. Furnishings were sparse: a wooden table with a steel mug and a bench next to it.
Aside from a bruised throat and a dull headache, he also noticed a bandage in the crook of his elbow. He removed it and saw a red mark where someone had injected something. Otherwise, he was unharmed.
His clothes were unfamiliar, traditional soft cotton Saburian garments. His phone, fully charged, showed that an hour had passed since he was knocked out. Otherwise, it had no signal.
He heard beeping. A small boy was tapping a code onto the door. He brought Garcia a traditional lunch and laid it on the table.
“Eat,” the boy said.
The child spoke minimal English and could not understand Garcia’s weak Saburian.
Unsteadily, he moved to the bench. They must have drugged him. After drinking chilled sugarcane juice, he ate a few bites of flatbread. A vegetarian, he set aside the filling of chicken kabob.
His headache was unabated. He felt a swimming sensation whenever he moved. He pushed the tray away.
“Come,” the child said.
Stumbling behind the boy, he wondered about how to escape? But where am I? Where to go? Like that ICE center, best to wait-and-see.
After a quick trip to a closet-sized toilet, the boy took him into a dark room with no window and guided him to a chair.
Small hands gently handcuffed Garcia to the arms.
Leaving, the child shut the door on the dim light from the corridor.
Now in total darkness, Garcia heard a rattle.
“Hello, Dr. Garcia,” said a voice, formal American English.
“Hello,” Garcia said groggily. “May I ask who you are, why am I here?”
“Of course you may,” the man replied, a humorous edge to his voice. “But I have questions for you first. You must answer them truthfully. Or you might not leave this place alive.
“That cell you were in is an old torture chamber. Here in Saburia, we have traditional ways of coercion and many styles of execution. We are losing those skills in modern times. Drugs like the one we gave you are an artless — but effective — scientific advancement that I prefer.”
“I appreciate that.”
Brusquely, his interrogator said, “When Queen Noru went to India to become pregnant, she took a Drukker computer drive and amber beads. Tell me what you know about them. I already have some information. If you lie to me, then things for you and your son may not go well.”
Garcia hesitated. “My work involved a project for the king,”
Drugged, he heard himself go on. His interrogator interrupted often for clarification.
“The royal family has inherited genetic defects,” Garcia explained, “from inbreeding over generations: your king’s disabled daughter, his queens’ pregnancy losses and he feels shame about any royal that is not a perfect human specimen.
“Your king wanted to have a child with Queen Noru whose chromosomes had been repaired. I modified the Drukker AI computer and 3-D printer for gene-editing. Then I repaired the king’s abnormal chromosomes for injection in a lab to fertilize Queen Noru’s egg. That embryo was transferred into the queen in India last year.”
He could not stop talking. “But that’s not everything. That was just the first embryo of two. You see, the Chinese gave the king a gift for his coronation: a relic of Genghis Khan.
“He wanted another son with Queen Noru — the second would not be her biological child. It would carry the Khan genetic material along with his own, like two men making a baby.”
“How’s that possible?” the Saburian asked. “Isn’t her X chromosome needed there somewhere?”
“No,” Garcia explained. “In natural biology, only 23 chromosomes in the sperm are needed to fertilize the 23 chromosomes of the woman’s egg. Since a man is XY, the sperm can carry one X chromosome or one Y chromosome. The sperm that fertilizes his partner’s egg determines the biological sex of the embryo, XX for a girl, and XY for a boy.
“In Soria’s lab, we extracted Queen Noru’s DNA from her egg and replaced it with the 23 Khan chromosomes, including his single X . That modified egg was then fertilized with the king’s repaired chromosomes including his Y, so making it the second boy, XY.”
The man whistled. “Does the Chinese government know what the king did with their relic?”
“Not that I know,” Garcia replied. “So two embryos were transferred into the queen. Twin A was the king’s repaired chromosomes injected into one of Queen Noru’s eggs. That’s simple in-vitro fertilization.
“But Twin B is the combination of the king’s edited genes with 23 artificial Genghis Khan chromosomes, the biological son of your king and Genghis Khan, if that’s truly a relic from his tomb.”
“I had regular access to my son when he was living in Chicago. I used his blood and tissue to create a human DNA library, a father-son project you could say. Later, I used George’s sequences to fill in the blanks between the Khan DNA fragments. The result was complete DNA chains to coil into chromosomes.
“So Queen Noru went to India, where Soria clinics transferred the two embryos into her womb. The beads she took were a biomatrix disguised as amber resin, used to transport DNA material at room temperature. Disguised as inexpensive costume jewelry, it doesn’t attract thieves and can be handled roughly. It easily passes through customs inspections and security checks.”
“Which of those two embryos became our Prince Ahmat Ali, Twin A or B?” the voice asked.
“I don’t know. Your king did not want to test.”
“What does Queen Noru know?”
“I don’t know.”
“Dr. Garcia, don’t you worry,” the voice asked, “ about the consequences of making these designer babies? I hear that in the West, it would be illegal. You would be banned from future scientific work.”
“I was fired already from Pandolf,” Garcia said. “I’m no longer even able to travel back to the US to see my only child.
“Sir, I stopped following religions, ancient or modern conventions — like that of my former bosses — some time ago. I don’t believe in anything that is not logical, including the varying principles of right and wrong that guide different cultures, just more man-made ethical systems that contradict each other. I live my own truth. My conscience alone guides me.”
Heat flushing his face, Garcia raised his voice. “Given that I’m healingyour diseased royal line, I believe that I’m doing the right thing.”
Eyes adjusting to the darkness, he still saw nothing. The other man said, “So you’re like Galileo telling his church that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around, risking his life.”
“Sir,” Garcia said, “Galileo is a hero of mine. I agree with that great scientist when he said, ‘I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect, has intended us to forgo their use.’
“Galileo was simply describing his rational conclusions about existing phenomena. I’m a healer. I disrupt nature and its processes when they are cruel and cause suffering.”
“Fair enough,” the voice said. “But tell me more about the Khan designer baby. If that is who the boy is, he is not pure Saburian noble blood and cannot ascend our throne. Is our king deceiving us?”
“I don’t know your laws,” Garcia said into the darkness. “For me, sir, the creation of the embryos was Michael Kochanski’s deal with the king. Michael saw the Purple project as a way for us to get seed funding for my AI cancer vaccine ideas.”
“Eh,” the man said, “So you worked for our king to get the funds for your ideas to cure cancer? Save more people on a planet already suffering from too many of them? Now you’re part of Soria’s scheme to make money from people with terminal cancer?”
“Sir, I’m sorry that I disagree. I believe that Soria has noble motives.
“But please let me start from the beginning. Do you know Michael Kochanski? He is a businessman.”
“I know a bit,” his interrogator said.
“How about David Campbell?” Garcia asked.
“Again, I know a bit. He visited our military base a couple of times.”
“Michael bought equity in a tiny AI startup in Chicago. David is a scientist. He helped Michael to grow and sell the start-up to Drukker.
“David also recruited me after he read my proposal for a cancer vaccine protocol. But we needed money to advance my project before Soria Clinics would invest. The king agreed to help us.
“Our research would have been impossible in the United States. It was experimental, unproven, even in animals. We would have had to break the law even more than I already had before I was fired.
“In return, I agreed to try to implement the king’s ideas for Queen Noru’s pregnancy. David doesn’t know. Michael and I figured he would not go along with something so radical. So we gave it a code name and color, the Purple project.
“Humbly and objectively, you should know that I am brilliant…sir,” Garcia added. “Give me an idea. I will make it happen 105%.
“After our first cancer patient showed no signs of the disease, Soria Clinics now finances my cancer research. We no longer need the king’s financial support.”
The voice asked, “Are you concerned about Queen Noru, what she knows or not?”
Garcia admitted, “I am now. At the time, it did not occur to me.”
The voice said, “As the sun shines equally on all and doesn’t judge good from evil, you apply your intellect to bring illumination wherever you are. In Saburia, we have a saying that when the Sun is too close, the truth also kills.
The man continued, “But as for the moral issues with you resurrecting the Genghis Khan line, that conqueror already has millions of descendants the natural way. Why would one more be a problem?
“You mentioned Dr. Campbell. He seems to be doing well for himself, ignorant of these killing truths, no longer working as an independent contractor but a rising star as Zoser’s CTO.”
“You know a lot about us sir.”
Then Garcia heard a metallic rustle. “What’s that? It sounds like a spider.”
“Hello?” he asked.
“Has the king mentioned spiders to you?” the voice asked.
“Yes,” Garcia admitted, “that he belongs to a secretive Sun order that uses spider symbols. Rationally, spiders make no sound…except an imaginary spider I once saw in a movie I watched with my son. But fantasy and superstition still fester in the dark corners of my brain. I’m sorry.”
The other man laughed. “No apology needed, I’m sure your fine intellect feels like it is walking on the edge of a precipice, trying not to fall off, between the drug we gave you and this dark room that must feel like the final stop in life’s journey.
“It’s not. Thank you, Dr. Garcia, for your honesty. Building trust with me is wise of you because I don’t hesitate to do the distasteful — torture and execution — when necessary. That’s all for now. The boy will take you to a more comfortable room.”
“When will I be released?” Garcia asked, his chest relaxing.
“You’ll see,” the voice said. “It depends. Either way, the Sun Order believes in giving our prisoners time to prepare for death and to say goodbye when possible.”
“What does the Sun Order want from me?” Garcia asked, fearful again. “I don’t think I understand the nature of your organization. How could you and your king both belong to it?”
“I don’t know everything, I only serve after giving up other loyalties. Still, I can give you a general answer. We expect an apocalypse within the century, Dr. Garcia.
“We hear the hoofbeats of your four horsemen, just as those old towns in Asia felt the ground vibrate before they saw Genghis Khan’s conquering hordes.
“We know you speculated that the apocalypse might be environmental. Maybe. Maybe not. We don’t fight the end, for only out of death and destruction can there be a rebirth.
“Goodbye for now, Dr. Garcia,” the other man finished, followed by scraping sounds in the dark corner and then silence.
Bright lights turned on. The boy returned and led him through a maze of identical hallways — unmarked blank walls and cement floors — to a steel door, locking him into a hotel-style room with no windows, only a skylight.
A different Saburian man visited Garcia in his room the next day. He was a scientist. He grilled Garcia about the laboratory details of the Purple project. He was knowledgeable about Queen Noru’s fertility treatments. If it weren’t for the circumstances of fearing for his life, Garcia might have enjoyed their technical back-and-forth.
Mindful about his and George’s safety, Garcia disclosed the whereabouts of the Purple project’s blood and tissue samples, as well as the Genghis Khan relic DNA, stored in the freezers of the Pierre Building in Chicago.
Garcia counted two days after his kidnapping until his release in the early morning. The Saburian scientist gave him simple instructions. “Please tell your employer and friends you were kidnapped in that alley. You don’t know where we kept you or who we are.
“Realizing that you had no money to give us and no family to ransom you, your kidnappers kindly returned you to the alley. Under no circumstances, on penalty of a painful death for you and your son, will you disclose that you discussed the king’s designer baby with us.”
“Why would they believe my story?” Garcia asked incredulously.
The Saburian smiled. “Dr. Garcia, you and I come from different cultures. So let me explain it in a way you understand. In the West, your police arrest ‘the usual suspects’ but not the real culprits. We can make that happen in our country, too. People won’t ask you for information that they don’t want to know.”
“But the king?” Garcia asked. “That’s his wife’s pregnancy, I mean, won’t he suspect something?”
“If people don’t ask, they don’t have anything to tell the king,” the man said.
He added, “Someday, if you can, please ask the rocket star CTO, Dr. Campbell, about one of his airplane rides to Saburia. Don’t mention me, of course. We’re curious to know if he remembers that three minutes skipped by his watch and if he thinks he is now just a little younger than he used to be.”
Rocket star CTO, where had this man learned his English?
“One more piece of good news, Dr. Garcia,” the Saburian said. “Significant efforts are being made to allow you to travel regularly to the United States, to see your son and sister, and also to France to visit your mother. Please don’t jeopardize people trying to help you by not following our instructions.”
“How?” Garcia asked, his voice breaking. “ICE arrested me and my former employer fired me for doing unauthorized work?”
“Your arrest was only a case of mistaken identity. A criminal stole your identity. The illegal things he did in Chicago while pretending to be you are not your responsibility. The American government should compensate you for damages from their egregious error.
“The fact is that your legal record is clean, Dr. Garcia. Our government is actively pleading your case to get you a tourist visa.”
The Saburian checked his phone. “Dr. Garcia, the last thing, what social media accounts are you on?”
“Could you sign up for one or two? Ask your son to help you. That way, if you ever need to reach out to the Sun Order for help, you can change your profile picture to that of a Saburian lyuma. We’ll then contact you.
“OK, my list is done. Good luck, Dr. Garcia. It’s been a pleasure speaking with someone as brilliant as you.”
Blindfolded, Garcia was returned to the alley where he had been kidnapped. He was dressed in his own freshly laundered clothes. He began his walk back to the hospital complex.
He had kept one item secret from his interrogators. The Saburian scientist was skeptical when Garcia had said all the files for the Purple project had been destroyed.
“Why would you destroy all records of your hard work for the designer twins?” the Saburian scientist had asked him.
“I have no ego. I need no place in history,” Garcia lied.
“I like to think it was to protect your son,” the man said. “Dr. Garcia, it may be possible that because there is no backup copy of your work for the Purple project, you have power. Because only you know exactly what you did. Important people might want to keep you around.”
With Elise, he thought, that record was safely on its way to the Missouri Ozarks and then to Campbell. Who could possibly ever recover them from the Drukker? Even knowing what to look for, it would be like trying to find a needle in the haystack of the computer’s universe of garbage data.
Relieved about his release, grateful for his life, he felt hungry for the first time since his capture and stopped at a shop. Its sign showed a classic Turkish coffee cup with a picture of Turkish delight candy. The Saburian script looked like gibberish.
He remembered a merry madcap song that he had composed while working at Pandolf. The lyrics strung together the letters G, C, A, and T, the nucleotide bases in DNA, into long strings of nonsense rhyme to memorize useful patches of the code that he had discovered.
Like the sign’s cup and candy pictures among unintelligible Saburian script, his rhymes had helped the Drukker AI to navigate the foreign language of the human genome.
Three categories of rhymes, Hop, Skip and Jump, went into the computer file that he had labeled “Healer’s Letters.” When David Campbell began his new role as Drukker CTO, Garcia had sent him that file, observing that the Drukker computer had used these critical patterns of DNA sequences for genetic repair, modification and reconstruction for the cancer vaccines.
“But your computer hasn’t found any key codes to rhyme yet,” Garcia had said in his email.
Campbell’s response was, “Manny, you found those codes through many cycles of trial and error. We are constantly looking for ways to advance the Drukker AI from the analytic, derivative and imitative to be more creative. We give our AI artificial worlds to practice in but that’s not enough.
“The problem is that creativity requires mistakes and then their real-world consequences. But our clients allow little forgiveness for error in their computers because it’s they, not the computer, that experience the painful consequences of mistakes. Computers still lack awareness of any suffering they cause in our world as we experience it.”
Campbell had then inserted a clown meme into his email. “Still, I’m going to send you some of our error-prone prototype Drukker updates, hardware and software, and their game files to get your feedback. In their mistakes and what they learn from them, you may find echoes of a kindred human soul.
“Do you think that our creators – if they exist — are doing that to us in this world? And human history is learning from the mistakes of other bots like us? That’s why history is written by its winners? What’s there to learn from the losers? Except when the losers become winners again and rewrite history?”
Campbell’s email ended in a string of emojis, his other favorite language like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Garcia discovered that his phone now had a wireless signal. He emailed Campbell about having breakfast at the cafe: “If someone standing on this street in Ramses did not know Saburian, or what a Turkish cup of coffee or sweet looked like, he would not understand what this shop sold. If a Drukker robot entered this cafe, that coffee and candy might be nothing but damaging to its mechanics.”
Inside the cafe, Garcia ate a lavish meal of falafel and bread that would have even satisfied his teenage son.
He had never told Campbell about the Purple project. Still, his fellow scientist had made a good point. Whatever the origin of the DNA code for the living world, there was plenty of room in it for consequential and serious mistakes, from disabilities concentrated in the inbred Saburian royal family to cancer, and then also the creation, evolution and destruction of a vast array of species over time.
When Garcia had not returned to the hospital on the day of the naming ceremony, a full-court press search had begun.
Dr. B. urgently messaged Campbell. “David, Manny had planned to start several cell cultures today for a new patient. I’m in Ramses now,”
Seema Sharma — leaving for India — contacted Elise in the United States, who then called Kochanski in Chicago. But he already knew from Campbell.
“Michael,” Campbell had said, “I’m going to San Francisco in a few days. If Manny hasn’t turned up by then, I’ll tell George that his dad is missing. What is this with Manny’s disappearances, going down some new rabbit hole every year?”
“David, rabbits always pop back out of holes. I’ve spoken to the Saburian embassy in Chicago and also to Soria. Manny has a sister here in Chicago. But I really don’t know her. I want to wait a few days before talking to his family, no point in alarming a lot of people yet.”
After leaving the cafe, Garcia hurried his step as the sun grew hotter. On his return to the hospital complex, he was surprised to learn about the alarm that his disappearance had generated.
There was a message from Campbell on his phone with angry emojis. “Manny, you’ve been gone for two days and then I get an email about Drukker bots drinking coffee and eating candy in a Ramses coffee shop. Did it not cross your mind to use your phone and tell someone you’re safe?”
Then a burst of fireworks on the screen: “Glad you are safe.”
As instructed by Garcia on his return, Liang told everyone the story Garcia’s kidnappers had told him to give. Earnestly, he explained that Garcia was too busy to talk after falling two days behind in his work.
Garcia was pleased with the progress that Liang had already made in his absence. The cancer vaccine preparation now resumed for next month’s patient.
Only the Saburian police insisted on a brief interview about his kidnapping and then concluded that “no charges would be filed.”
Whispering as they left, one said to the other, “The clinic makes Dr. Garcia work too hard. That’s a new way to take a couple of days off.”
Then one August morning while dressing, Garcia turned on his satellite radio for English language news.
With her trademark accent, the BBC announcer said, “In other news, the king of Saburia was killed when his private airplane crashed over a wildlife preserve. The transition to power is smooth so far. The king’s oldest son, the young Crown Prince Syed Malik, is returning to his country.”
Online news sources explained that the king had been flying his private plane over the vast wildlife reserve near the Saburian coast accompanied by a highly trained copilot. The smoking remains of the accident had been found several hours later.
“Saburian sources say that no foul play is suspected,” BBC said.
Garcia sat down in shock. He recalled his kidnapping by the Sun Order a month ago. Would they have a motive to assassinate the king after everything he had told them?
His captor had said: “Please do know that if death comes at our hands, the Sun Order believes — if possible — in giving the condemned time to prepare and say goodbye.”
At the lab, no one could focus on their work. The satellite radio continued to announce the news — in Chinese on the radio next to Liang’s Mooncake mug. Mourning events and funeral arrangements were announced on Saburian media.
The king is dead, long live the king. Relieved that no political crisis threatened to boil over, the researchers returned to their work. Only a few days remained before their trial’s new patient would arrive. Dr. B. was very busy preparing the medical treatment rooms.
Palace complex, Ramses, Saburia
In her quarters of the royal compound, Queen Noru and Aisha heard about King Mohammed’s sudden death. Then she was unable to reach her family in her hometown.
The wetnurse came to get the baby. Noru made her stay in her room. “My baby needs to be here with me at all times where I can see him.”
Aisha sat beside the dazed young woman with her arm around her. As the gloomy afternoon slipped into evening, Noru took the medication the royal doctor had just prescribed and went to bed.
The wetnurse looked over at the sleeping queen. “Before I go, I hope Queen Noru and her baby are safe?”
“Of course,” Aisha said, raising her voice. “She is a Saburian royal as is her child, and she is a king’s widow.”
Aisha looked around now talking to anyone who may be listening in the walls. “I think they will be well taken care of. That is their right.”
After the funeral ceremonies and rituals were completed, Noru stayed confined to her palace quarters. Communication outside Ramses remained blocked for its residents despite Noru’s entreaties to the chief minister to make an exception for her to reach her family.
“No one comes to visit me,” Noru sobbed to Aisha. “Only doctors. Maybe the new king will come to see me and his baby brother.”
Finally, the royal visit was announced. Even if the new king was not Noru’s biological son and although older than Noru, King Malik was still her son. She would not have to cloak her dress with long black robes or cover her head.
“I’m going to ask him for permission to talk to my family and to travel to see them,” she told Aisha, no longer gloomy for the first time since her husband’s death.
Aisha warned her. “I hear there is trouble in our part of the country. That’s why we can’t contact them. That’s why your family could not attend the funeral. Why don’t you wait until King Malik has established peace?”
“I haven’t heard about any trouble in our town.”
“Dear Queen, just because no one talks about it…no, it is when no one talks about something, that one really needs to worry,” Aisha said.
The new king’s visit was brief. He came with his uncle, Prince Abdul, Queen Salma’s brother. They met in the sitting room. Aisha and the wetnurse stood against the wall.
King Malik touched the baby’s round cheek. “I now have a little brother.”
Noru looked at the young man’s face only a few years older than her. Soft, unlined, patient and alert, he bore a handsome resemblance to his father and mother.
King Malik gave her the same advice as Aisha. “Mother,” he told Noru, referring to her by her honorary relationship as his stepmother. “I’m sorry you haven’t been able to talk to your family. We have blocked most outside communication from Ramses until the political situation stabilizes. Please wait for a few weeks before you try to visit your family. There has been some trouble in your hometown. I need a little time to establish peace.”
Prince Abdul agreed. “My dear sister, our king gives wise advice.”
“Thank you, honorable brother,” Noru said to Prince Abdul. “But I insist. Having lost our dear king, and my husband, I must see my family.”
And so a few days later, she, Aisha, the baby and the wetnurse, drove in an armored Humvee along with two other military vehicles to her hometown. After a few hours, they stopped at the top of a hill.
In the distance, Noru could see the familiar low buildings and surrounding shrubby woods of her town. A thick plume of smoke rose on the northeastern edge from which came the distant hammer of occasional gunfire.
Their driver turned around. “Active fighting is happening right now, Queen Noru. It would be safest to just turn around and go home.”
Noru futilely tried to reach her family again on the phone. Aisha squeezed her hand painfully to stop her sobs. “Dear queen, do not embarrass yourself, your son, your family, or our community. You must show strength.”
A week later, back in the palace, Queen Noru received more news. After the fighting in her hometown, her immediate family, including her widowed mother, were missing.
King Malik returned to Queen Noru’s apartment, alone this time, to express his sympathy because one of Noru’s brothers had been found dead in the fighting. Then came an unexpected suggestion.
“It may not be safe for you, honorable mother, to stay in Saburia right now. We are hoping to find the remains of your brother and your missing family. Just as urgently, I want to protect you and my little brother. That would be easier if you left Saburia temporarily.
“My father’s death has unfortunately brought instability to our country. That is now my responsibility to fix. I have spoken to the American embassy. They are willing to give you and your son a temporary visa.
“An Argentinian scientist, a Dr. Manny Garcia who works at Ramses Hospital, wishes to visit his son in the United States. We have been able to negotiate a temporary visa for him. He’ll accompany you and my baby brother.”
Noru kept her face impassive.
The king continued, “You’ll have servants who’ll travel with you, useful because they also speak English and have spent time in the United States.”
“My Aisha?” Noru asked.
“No,” the king said firmly. “She speaks no English, knows no Western customs and won’t be useful to you in your travels. With her nursing skills, the court doctor thinks she can work in Ramses Hospital until your return.”
He gently added, “She will update you regularly about any news here, including about your family. She’ll be safe here.”