Post by Misha Burnett
In some ways my short story “mDNA” in the recently published Mercury anthology by Superversive Press is about as far from that cover image as one could imagine.
It doesn’t take place on Mercury, or even on space heading to or from Mercury. It takes place on Earth and while there is a significant voyage as part of the plot, it’s a voyage in a cargo van with a beefed up suspension down a decaying interstate highway across the overgrown ruins of dying Middle America.
Spiritually, though, I think that my heroine, Topaz, would relate to figure on the cover. Topaz is a courier for genetic material. In a world where the majority of the human race has been rendered sterile by a carcinogenic plague, fertile humans are kept in carefully guarded enclaves and breeding is conducted by artificial insemination carefully calculated to insure humanity’s best chance at survival.
The premise for the story grew out of wanting to explore the “messenger” aspect of Mercury. (The title means “messengerDNA”, which is how the main character sees herself, as a method by which DNA is transferred from donor to recipient.)
I was trying to envision a character who had something truly vital to deliver–the whole “future of the human race depends on this” kind of important. Obviously, if there are no little human beings, there is no future for the human race. I worked backwards to build a world in which fertile humans were so rare that it required extreme measures just to stave off extinction.
That’s where I started. Topaz, naturally, would be one of the sterile humans, genetically female but biologically androgynous, not able to appreciate or even understand sex beyond her professional involvement in the process.
And then, of course, I had to come up with the endpoints of her journey, the man and the woman who could never meet in person, but only through a surrogate. That’s when the story really came together. I found that I had written about Topaz coming to understand that there is more to sex than just biology, and that something else was a thing that she could carry with her and, in some ways, experience by transmitting it.
It’s a good story. It makes me cry a little bit at the end. I hope it makes you cry, too.