The Rapid Adaptation Mutagen
RAM, or the Rapid Adaptation Mutagen, is considered by some to be the pinnacle of human achievement. None would deny it is, at the very least, the greatest biotechnological advancement Arcatia has ever known, and a rival to nuclear fusion and fission in its implications for the future.
At its heart, the Mutagen is an infectious agent very similar to a prion. When it enters a host cell, however, the misfolded protein chain at its heart does not simply propogate its own flawed blueprint, but rather ‘unfolds’ into two main components: a structure similar to the nucleic acids of the cell itself (Intracell Component) and a microcosm of the original agent (Intercell Component) which leaves the cell to spread. The mutagen is unique in that its particles never reproduce in significant enough quantity to damage the host cell, merely in great enough number to ensure the swift spread of the infection.
The Intracell Component is where the Mutagen’s true potential comes to light. The newly minted nucleic acid both accelerates cell division and alters its characteristics with each split, pushing the cell further and further from its original form, each new ‘evolution’ significantly more suited to its environment than the last. In multicelled organisms, this change seems coordinated across entire tissues, organs, and eventually organ systems, allowing for the repurposing of biological material at an unprecedented rate. This is what lends the Mutagen its title.
The Mutagen comes in many forms, from very rudimentary infections which cease production of Intercell Components once all of a host organism is infected to highly advanced forms that never stop, ensuring the organism remains highly contagious to other potential hosts.
Nearly all Mutagen research was conducted by The Rastakgan Hierarchy, and so nearly all of the technical specifications, exact procedures for eliciting different results, and experimental conditions were lost as a result of the War. What is known are the upper limits of some of the mutagen’s most common forms, as interpreted by observation of their hosts:
-A sufficiently advanced form can infect all cells in a human-sized host in less than one hour.
-Cell division has been observed to accelerate as much as 120x, allowing for nerve cells to be regenerated over a 20-hour period and more basic tissues within seconds.
-A sufficiently advanced form can cause visible physical change and measurable psychological transformation in under one hour.
-A sufficiently advanced form is capable of multiple re-adaptions; a single host can have every cell repurposed for existence in a radically different environment, and then undergo a change of equal scale again in response to a new, radically different environment. This has been observed enough to be proven but is notoriously difficult to reproduce; only the most sophisticated forms may be capable of this and only then in certain circumstances.
-Mutagenic Infection is extremely difficult to make directly lethal to the host, but it does appear to be consistently possible based on observation of Lithis Chemical weapons during the war. Outside of these incidents no such cases have been documented.
-The Mutagen’s main limitation seems to be the quantity and variety of tissue available; infections have been observed to repurpose nearly all available tissue of a single type before attempting to create more or convert other cells. A proportionate amount of chemical, thermal, or radiological energy is required to fuel change, although the mutagen has been known to make its hosts more efficient consumers or adapt them to take advantage of alternative sources of energy.
Most supercorporations and governments prohibit mutagen-related experimentation for security reasons. Despite the mutagen’s enormous medical promise, the stigma of the war has been slow to fade, even in the most scientifically enlightened communities. Mutants are something of a rarity, but can be found in large numbers in northern Serica, Rastakgan, and eastern Jah. Most are criminals or at the very least unregistered citizens, and face an unwelcoming environment as a result of their perceived connection to the war. It is worth noting that the vast majority or mutants alive today are (or at least were) Rastakgic civilians, and that some Northern Containment Pact soldiers and citizens have also been infected. Although the Equilibrium has taken some measures to support and aid the mutagen’s victims, most seem to consider them an unfortunate side effect that will hopefully disappear with time. One notable exception is the radical organization known only as the Rebirth, which bears a message of mutant supremacy and appeals to the oppression and hatred suffered by most living mutants, frequently channeling this antipathy into violence against Serica and others.