The Mekhanozoic Era
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I returned to my alma mater inexplicably.

As I walked along the road leading to the biology department building, looking at the students coming and going around me, I couldn't help but wonder what was waiting for me ahead.

A week ago, while still on a business trip in Alaska, I received an email from Patrick C. Wallace. Except for a simple beginning and signature, there were only a few sentences in the email:

"Long time no see. I have met some problems that can only be solved with your assistance. Next Thursday, please definitely come to the Structural Biology Laboratory. I'll be here waiting for you."

Professor Patrick C. Wallace was my doctoral mentor. For the general public, he was a world-renowned leader in the realm of protein structure resolution. But he actually had another lesser-known role as a Level 5 Researcher in the Department of Sciences (DoS) of the Foundation. He and his group completed the protein structure analysis of several anomalous viruses, such as SCP-217 and SCP-5365. As his favorite protégé, I was also recommended by him to work in the Foundation after getting my Ph.D. degree.

As I walked down the stairs of the biology building, I started to wonder what problem it could be that even a great scholar like Wallace could not solve, but I could help with. After all, I was no longer working on protein structure analysis since my graduation - Working on this pipelined research for my whole Ph.D. career made me really exhausted, and thus after joining the DoS, I switched to studies such as gene editing and biomodification, and have never manipulated cryo-electron microscopes1 again.

It was said that Wallace received a request of identifying a mysterious sample from a site in Greenland one year ago. He fell ill seriously for a month after that, and when he came back, he submitted the retirement application to both the University and the Foundation. He even disbanded his research group. He had only one request, which is to keep this laboratory and the best cryo-electron microscope in it. I didn't know whether it was due to his past contributions or some secret transaction he reached with the Overseer Council - beyond everyone's expectations, his application was approved.

From that day on, he began to become elusive. Sometimes others could see him working alone in the lab for days without a break, and sometimes he might vanish for months. At the annual meeting of the DoS two months ago, several Greenland geologists even complained that this eccentric old man with a white beard pushed them to dig for frozen soil and rock samples every day.

No one had any idea what he was doing. Occasionally a few people would ask him about his research program, and he was always impatient and drove those people away. Perhaps the reason I was here had something to do with this?

When I came back to my senses, I had already reached the laboratory door. I rang the doorbell.

As the access control indicator flashed green, the heavy steel door of the Structural Biology Laboratory slowly opened in front of me. A figure was sitting behind the door, staring at something on the computer screen carefully.

I walked cautiously into the laboratory, fearing that even a little noise would disturb his work. Even so, the figure in front of the computer noticed me.

"Just wait there for a second, Young." He said without looking back.

"Ah… OK, Professor."

I leaned against the wall next to the door and looked around, remembering the days and nights I spent here during my five-year Ph.D. career.

Minutes later, Wallace finally got up slowly from his seat, walked towards me, and stretched out his right hand.

"Long time no see, Young."

"Glad to meet you again, Professor." I held his right hand. "Long time no see."

Just at this moment, I came to realize that he has indeed changed a lot during the past year: his originally round and flushed face had shrunken, showing a strange grayish-white hue, dotted with large and small age spots. A strange ticking noise faintly sounded when he approached me, but the sound was so subtle that it was easily overshadowed by the roar of the liquid nitrogen pump. I thought it was just a hallucination.

After a simple greeting, Wallace cut directly to the chase. "There is no time left for us to talk nonsense… I want to discuss some important topics with you, come with me."

I walked to his computer screen and saw the 3D model shown on the screen. It was a virus - sorts of similar to a bacteriophage, but with some strange additional structures and details.

"Is this all that you were working on during the past year, Professor?" I was a little bit confused.

Wallace stared at me. "Have a guess, what is this?"

I had definitely seen it somewhere. I tried to search for it in my brain, and suddenly an answer emerged in my mind.

"Is it… SCP-217?"

Wallace nodded.

"If my memory is correct, the electron micrographs of SCP-217 should have been available as early as… in the 1990s. One of the first virus-type items being structurally resolved. And the structures of its capsid proteins have also already been analyzed, don't they? I remember that this work was even Jack’s doctoral thesis topic." I added.

"Exactly, but this sample is somewhat different."

Wallace motioned to me to follow him. He put on anti-frostbite gloves, carefully took out a small sample bag from an ultra-low temperature fridge, and showed it to me. The bag contained some brown-black powder, and the label on the back said something in Danish.

I was reminded of the rumors that he had dug frozen soil samples in Greenland previously, this must be the result of his exploration. "Are these samples of frozen soil taken from Greenland?" I asked.

"Exactly, it seems that you have already known something about this." he answered immediately. "We found some… very ancient virus samples from this soil, which contributed to the model you just saw. The dating experiments have revealed that these viruses were presumably from…3 billion years ago."

This conclusion is somewhat ridiculous. Organic substances are quite fragile and will almost definitely be completely destroyed by various factors such as oxygen and radiation in tens of thousands of years. Even in the oldest stratum in the world, even under low temperature just as in the Arctic cycle, it is still very unlikely to have any complete virus sample preserved.

Maybe my frowned brow reminded him. "I also didn't believe this before." He added. "Actually, almost all stuff we found were just fragments of the viruses - but after a whole year of sample collection, the evidence in our hands is still sufficient to reconstruct the complete structure of this virus."

He put the sample back into the fridge and walked back to the front of the computer. "This virus only has some minor changes in its structure during the past billions of years. We can even say that - it seems that it will no longer be SCP-217, the virus that turns organisms into machine-like things, if its structure changed a lot."

"So…? Is there anything I can help with?"

"What kind of virus do you think SCP-217 is?" Wallace didn't respond to me, but instead raised a question.

"…Bacteriophage?" This was indeed the closest answer I could come up with.

"Indeed… SCP-217 is very much like a phage." He affirmed my answer. "But, why can a phage-like virus infest the cells of eukaryotes?"

I shook my head. "Well, I don't know. I'm not a virologist and don't really know about their habits. It may just be that the corresponding protein structures have changed or something."

Instead of continuing the conversation, Wallace pulled a stack of paper information out from the drawer under the mainframe and handed it to me. I heard the sound similar to a moving clock hand ringing again imperceptibly.

"Huh… Actually, I shouldn't have shown you these materials. Your clearance is far from being high enough to see this stuff - but it doesn't really matter now."

Under the huge "Top Secret Level 5 Information" warning on the front cover was the title of this file - "Broken God Engineering Drawings". The complex drawings on the back and the familiar huge mechanical figure proved it even further.

Although I had heard some gossip about "the Foundation is holding the drawings of the Broken God", no one would take it seriously. All of us knew that we did not have enough authority to check it, and no one wanted to confirm such frivolous rumors while risking being killed by the Mobile Task Forces.

Nevertheless, I was still really shocked at the moment that the document was actually in front of me.

However, I had not really learned anything related to engineering seriously. Even if I was shown such a document, I wouldn't be able to offer any help. "Why are you showing me this, Professor? Although SCP-217 can turn people into machinery, there doesn't seem to be solid evidence that it's actually related to the Broken God - "

Wait a minute. I looked back at the 3D model of SCP-217 on the screen. I felt drops of sweat trickling down my forehead. It was as if the ticking sound from the collision of mechanical gears was becoming more and more pronounced.

"Although it is theoretically believed that the most powerful 'Broken God' entity can only be constructed using the so-called 'real' parts of the Broken God, even a complete fake can actually mimic at least some of the functions of the Broken God, as long as the structure is correct." Wallace stared at me, with his face expressionless. "That is to say, the divinity of the Broken God comes from its structure, from the union of the parts constituting it, and not from the parts themselves."

I had realized what he was going to say. I was really having a bad feeling about this.

"Therefore, the Broken God does not necessarily need to be built with those crunching metallic gears. If you have found the right direction, it will definitely be possible to build the Broken God using wood, or even flesh and blood. So… molecules would also be available choices."

I started to pretend as if I didn't know anything. "I …… I don't really know. Molecules?"

"You should have known about molecular machines. Many proteins are classic molecular machines. ATP synthase, the flagellum of bacteria, ion channels, receptors on the cell membranes. You could say that every life is a combination of several complex molecular machines that have been exquisitely designed. These proteins, these molecular machines, are like the parts of …… life. Since they are parts, they can of course be reassembled according to certain laws."

At this point, Wallace stood up and gave me a deadly stare. I could see the zooming lens in his dark red pupils. I finally understood the source of that ticking sound - under his skin.

"Professor, you…"

"Let's take a look at this 3D model." His tone was as calm as an electronically synthesized voice. "This virus has evolved so conservatively over the past few billion years, all thanks to one thing - only this particular structure could make it the Broken God. SCP-217, this virus, is the world's smallest, most finely structured, replica of the Broken God. "

I shiveringly looked at the screen. Wallace skillfully manipulated the software, zooming in, zooming out, and dragging the model of the virus. I could see every residue, every helix, and every fold of the proteins constituting the virus. I finally understood what I had seen before were, those "superfluous structures compared with the common bacteriophage".

They were the head, feet, body, two wings, and scepter of the Broken God. My mind felt feverish and blank, as if a loud buzzing sound was going on all around me.

"The oldest virus sample in the world. Existed three billion years ago." Wallace didn't turn around, speaking to himself. "Let's put aside for a moment the fact that we've found direct evidence that viruses existed billions of years ago itself - It shouldn't be a difficult thing to initiate a revolution in the academic community of biology if this file can be made public. I'm more concerned with another question. Why did this thing exist three billion years ago? Was it created by someone? Or… was its formation originally the will of the laws of nature?"

He walked up to me and patted my shoulder. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the scars on his hands, which were filled with hundreds of gears and levers in constant motion.

"Young, There is only one thing that I want to ask you for."

I held my breath.

"You're a chemical biologist, right? You should be familiar with how to modify living things."

Wallace's pupils narrowed mechanically, making the crunching noise of a lens rubbing against the slide as it moved back and forth.

"The function of this virus - it seems that it's turning people into a disgusting pile of fleshy cogs and levers - but in reality, The real power of the virus would be promoting life to instantly arrive at its ultimate form of evolution, completing the most extreme orderliness and accessing to the power of the Broken God. "

"Unfortunately, it has some unpleasant side effects that make it impossible to do this right now, and will still cause people to feel pain. As a patient, I am well aware of this."

No, that's not right. I slowly came back to my senses. "Have you been infected with SCP-217?!"

"Correct. About a year ago. I gave myself a shot of this virus, since I received a sample from Greenland, and then the side effects forced me to stay in bed for a month." Wallace's face was completely devoid of any emotional turmoil. "Let's not talk about that - Young, you're a chemical biologist, you know very well how to modify the virus. I'd like to ask you a favor - modify this virus. Remove its side effects, while retaining its structure. Make it available for us to reach our goal of becoming a god. Modifying the incarnation of a god requires great skill, and those mediocre and stupid chemical biologists can't do that, but I know a genius like you can."

"Why are you doing this?" I instinctively took a few steps back.

"Young, countless Broken God believers have tried to use crude surgery to transform themselves to gain the power of the Broken God. We don't need to. With a slight modification of the virus to remove the lethal, painful side effects, we, ourselves, will become one with the Broken God. We will then have access to the power of one of the creator gods. We ourselves will become gods. We will recover the Broken God. We will be able to dominate everything. All this can be done by simply engineering this tiny virus."

I realized that the person in front of me was no longer my mentor - if it could still be called a person.

"That… is not very realistic, I'm afraid, Professor, that I… I'm not familiar with the genome of SCP-217…"

I began trying to stabilize its emotion while constantly backing up, trying to find an opportunity to escape from the lab. Just outside this lab was the stationing point for a Mobile Task Force disguised as campus security.

But I forgot one thing. It didn't have emotions at that moment.

"You want to escape, don't you? Give it up, Young. Try pushing that button that opens the gate of the room if you don't believe me." It sat back in its seat and made an expressionless sound.

I turned and ran towards the exit, trying my best to tap on the exit button. There was no response. It slowly stood up from its seat, clipped a syringe filled with a dark red liquid from the pocket of its lab coat, and slowly moved towards where I was.

I tried to make a last-ditch effort.

"Professor …… No, Wallace, think about it! 3 billion years! What organic substance can be preserved for 3 billion years! Do you have any proof that it was really a virus from 3 billion years ago and was not a fake created by some guy?!"

"The formation of SCP-217 is the will of nature, Young. This is the shadow of the Broken God. The evolution of life itself is a process of ordering, and is the path of the Broken God coming back to wholeness. SCP-217 has existed since the origin of life. It IS the Broken God, which has been watching life emerging from a primordial soup of disorder, just as watching its own children growing. All we are trying to do is simply following the laws of nature and the will of the God to make ourselves stronger." Wallace's tone didn’t have any fluctuations.

I took a few more steps back. "Just give it up. I will NEVER choose to become a bunch of emotionless gears, even if I can get the whole universe after that."

"Emotions are useless things. Superfluous part for our survival. That kind of stuff only detracts from our development and stops us from the great work of becoming one with the Broken God. Come to grips with the reality, Young. You are a wise man."

The talking paused. It suddenly stopped in its tracks. I held my breath and saw it abruptly raising its right arm, pointing at me with the tip of the syringe, and then lunged at me like a hungry wolf -

In a panic, I reached for the pistol I had been carrying with me for protection.

Bang.

The humanoid entity that had once been Professor Wallace fell to the ground on its back, the structures that had once been eyes did not close, but merely glowed an eerie red before dimming completely. Black and yellow liquid flowed all over the floor from the bullet hole on its forehead, smelling like burnt gasoline.

I felt like the world was spinning, my legs went limp, and then I sat down on the floor, looking at the syringe that had rolled off from its hands. Luckily, it didn't break.

I could hear screams coming from outside and the sound of a group of people running through the hallway. A few seconds later, the long-lost fresh air rushed into the lab as the heavy steel doors fell down. When I turned around, I was greeted only by a row of black muzzles of guns belonging to the Mobile Task Force.






As ordered, I took over the lab temporarily until the next structural biologist arrived. I inherited Wallace's Level 5 researcher privileges and all the information and equipment he had left behind.

Except for me and a few high clearance researchers, all members who stayed in the building received Class-B amnestics that day. Wallace was publicly declared dead in a campus shooting. The remaining samples of SCP-217 were sealed, many materials that the Overseer Council believed should not exist in the world were destroyed. And the research projects he left were then postponed indefinitely, becoming a secret known only by me and the Overseers.

I set out to sort through the frightening information he had left behind. Although the chaotic events that happened on that day were unforgettable, I still didn't believe what he said about the virus.

In any case, it is too absurd to believe that any of the complex biomolecules could be preserved for up to three billion years, and it could not be really regarded as evidence that the virus had been existing since then. What he said was probably just some nonsense after listening to the heresy of the Broken God stuff. After all, once a person has fallen into his false thoughts, it is really difficult to get out.

I just thought about it, and it slowly faded into oblivion. In the meantime, I was asked to suspend my previous work and resume my old job of protein structure determination. I recruited a few temporary students to do the protein analysis that was supposed to be done by Wallace's group. However, with a mountain of samples that had not been tested for almost a year, the work that needed to be done kept the entire lab quite busy, even when I myself joined the work.

I don't know if it was because I was tired or what, but I had been feeling somewhat unwell since that day, like having insomnia at night, and feeling as if I was caught in the thickness of brain fog.

A few hours ago, having been working intensively for three days with less than ten hours of sleep in total, I decided to give myself a break. I handed off the task to my deputy and ducked into my office. Sleepiness came over me like a tidal wave as I sat in my seat, and I fell asleep quickly. I had a dream.

The dream took place in the primordial ocean billions of years ago, small organic molecules polymerized and grew on the surface of minerals at the bottom of the sea, forming nucleic acids, sugars, peptides, and fats. They gradually gathered together and a prokaryotic cell was born, floating lonely in the dark and cold seawater.

A virion of SCP-217 suddenly emerged from the darkness. It rested on the surface of the cell and injected its genetic material into the prokaryotic cell. Fragments of the genetic material were integrated into the cell's DNA, which was then transcribed and translated into a large number of proteins.

Those newly formed proteins created by the gene of SCP-217 bound to other peptide chains in the cell just like prions, changing their conformation, twisting, modifying, and refolding them into completely different shapes. The modified proteins come together to form a molecular motor. I realized that I had seen it before; it was the ATP synthase that could be found in almost all living things. Then came the bacterial flagellum, the ion pump… More proteins were turned into structures similar to mechanical parts.

My vision gradually pulled away. Behind this cell were millions of similar cells, the interiors of which were filled with precisely functioning mechanical structures. Some were even stuffed with exaggerated, gears-like organelles that look as comical as children's illustrations.

As the evolution process continued, I saw something that was not prokaryotic emerge from a disordered mass of polypeptide aggregates. Myosins, cytoskeletons, kinesins that walk on microtubules. They are all molecular machines, constructed by the precise meshing of molecular gears and levers.

Cell nuclei were forming. Those cells were evolving, completing the metamorphosis from prokaryotic cells to eukaryotic cells.

I awoke suddenly. The familiar ticking sound occurred in my head again. I rubbed my eyes and felt as if my vision wasn't as good as it had been - it took me a while to see clearly what was in front of me, along with a strange scraping sound.

Just an nonsensical dream, I thought. The evolution of life had its own path, how could SCP-217 be the shaper of life forms?

In a trance, I suddenly noticed a wooden photo frame on my desk, probably left by Wallace. Inside the frame was a small, well-protected rock sample. The label underneath reads "Prokaryotic fossil, Greenland, 3.2 billion years old."

Driven by my curiosity, I opened the frame and cautiously took the fossil out, and then placed it under the light microscope, looking at it carefully.

Finally, I found a dark, round spot. As I looked closely at it, the situation in front of me made my mind go blank.

That was a prokaryotic cell, filled with gears and levers.

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