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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Stem Cell Starlet: A Science Fiction Story

The Stem Cell Starlet: A Science Fiction Story

The filming of Scene 53 of Gina Tyler's latest movie went horribly wrong: instead of seeing her narrowly passing through a burning hall, the director saw the lovely star catch on fire.

Using cheap plywood, the special effects crew had rigged up a hallway to catch on fire. The shot on the Hollywood sound stage was supposed to show the actress running through the burning hall, and escaping to safety. But somehow the burning hall collapsed while they were filming the scene. The burning plywood fell on Gina's body, knocking her out. By the time the movie crew had removed the plywood, they found Gina's body horribly burned.

Gina was rushed to the hospital, and her husband Alan got there as fast as he could. When Alan went into Gina's hospital room, he found her body wrapped in bandages. She was connected to various medical machines. Alan cringed when he saw this depressing sight.

“Does she have a chance?” Alan asked Dr. Coe.

“She's in a coma, hanging by a thread,” explained Dr. Coe. “I'm afraid her chances are very slim at this point.”

Alan sat in Gina's hospital room staring into space. Eventually a visitor came in, a young man named Richard Crick.

Crick introduced himself and expressed his sympathies. “Wouldn't it be great if you could have your wife back just as she was before?” he asked.

Alan stared coldly at Crick.

“Believe it or not, it's possible,” said Crick. “There's a way to do it. I work for a group that specializes in complete recovery from accidents such as this. We use stem cells.”

“So let's get started,” said Alan.

“There's a catch,” said Crick. “The work of our research group isn't just cutting edge – it's bleeding edge. We haven't got FDA approval yet for our techniques. So the only way we can start our work is if your wife dies first. Then we're free to try anything we wish.”

Alan was repulsed by this talk, and asked the man to leave.

Later the doctors had a talk with Alan. They told him his wife would probably never come out of her coma, and that if she did she would have a painful life with a very disfigured appearance. Alan was asked whether he wanted the doctors to unplug the heart and lung machines that were keeping his wife alive in her coma. Alan sadly agreed.

The machines were unplugged, and Alan watched as his wife's vital signs ended. A few minutes later someone from the hospital pronounced Gina dead.

Then Richard Crick entered the hospital room. He came with seven other people dressed in white lab coats.

“Alan, remember what we were talking about?” asked Crick. “The stem cell therapy? We can do it now. We have complete freedom of action now that your wife has been pronounced dead. We can bring her back from death, and make her body as good as new. Just give us permission, and we'll get started right now.”

Alan stood for a few seconds with a bewildered expression on his face.

“Alan, you have to decide right now,” said Crick. “We have to act before your wife loses more of her brain cells. It's now or never.”

“Okay, do it,” said Alan.

The men in white coats rushed Gina's body on to a stretcher, and wheeled her to another room in the hospital. Alan tried to follow them into the room, but was told to stay out.

Alan waited in the hospital's waiting room for fourteen hours. Finally Crick came to see him.

“We've done it,” he said. “The stem cell therapy worked. We brought your wife back from death. And she's as beautiful as ever.”

Alan was taken to a hospital room where his wife was recovering. When he came into the room, he couldn't believe what he saw. There was his wife, with the same beauty that had made her a movie star.

Alan began talking to his wife, and found that even though her memory and speech were damaged, they still functioned fairly well. Alan thought to himself: she may never be able to memorize a movie script, but at least I have her back.

A few hours later Crick entered the hospital room, and Alan thanked him tearfully.

“Alan, there's one little issue you should be aware of,” said Crick. “We had to break a whole lot of rules to do what we did, and we did quite a bit of jamming round pegs into square holes. Your wife's recovery from death is a kind of scientific miracle, but it doesn't come with any lifetime guarantees. We used some highly experimental tissue replacement, and we don't know how long it will last. Maybe it will last a lifetime, or it could fall apart at any time.”

Alan thanked Crick again, and tried not to think much about his warning. After a few weeks he brought his wife Gina back to their Malibu mansion. Gina began a slow program of recovering her motor skills and language skills.

Four months later Alan came over to Gina with a smile on his face.

“Great news, darling!” he said. “You've been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.” It was for a film she had finished before the accident.

“The Oscar?” Gina said. “But do you think I could handle getting up on that stage and giving a speech, if I won?”

“You can do it,” said Alan.

The big night of the Academy Awards ceremony finally arrived. The reporter's cameras flashed as Alan and Gina entered the huge theater crowded with movie stars, directors, and producers.

A famous actor opened the white envelope and read the Oscar result.

“The winner for Best Performance by an Actress in a motion picture is... Gina Tyler, for The Shining Dream.”

Gina kissed her husband's cheek, and he helped her rise from her seat. She slowly walked up to the podium on the stage of the theater. There was a huge round of applause. Gina knew she was being watched by hundreds of millions on television.

At the podium Gina held the Oscar statue in her hands and looked out at the crowd in the theater. Then she felt a horrible sensation. It was like nothing she had ever felt before, a feeling that her flesh was dissolving. 

sagging starlet

The horrified crowd watched as the left half of Gina's face sagged down and then fell on her left breast, like a marshmallow on a stick melting when the stick is inserted into the flames of a campfire. The same thing then happened to the right half of Gina's face. Finally all that was left of her face was a bony fleshless skull.

After standing there on the podium for several seconds without any face, Gina fell to the ground. Medical personnel rushed her body to the hospital.

Everyone at the Academy Awards ceremony was distraught, except for the show's producer. “Do you know how many Twitter tweets this has produced?” he said excitedly. “Our ratings will go through the roof.”

At the hospital Alan was told his wife was dead. He was approached again by Richard Crick.

“Sorry about the glitch,” said Crick. “I gave you fair warning. But we can do again what we did before. We can bring her back. We'll just try a slightly different stem cell therapy.”

“No dice,” said Alan. “Get me the number of the Hollywood Cemetery.”

When the coroner came to examine the body, Alan spoke philosophically.

“We tried to cheat Death itself, and for a while it worked,” said Alan. “But it looks like Death, as always, had the last laugh.”