That was a lot to absorb. Marcus had Abominator DNA? If it was from his dad’s side of the family (and it almost certainly was) then Haley and Travis did as well. And what he’d said about me needed a lot more detail. I could guess at it, but—
Marcus talked over my thoughts, holding up his right hand and waving it a little. “Whoa, whoa, whoa… Wait a second. Abominator DNA? What’s going on there?”
Iolan shrugged. “It shouldn’t be a surprise. You’re a shapeshifter. They were shapeshifters. They knew where to get that characteristic. They put it into several different lines. The gene lines they optimized for repairing machinery had it. So did several soldier lines that they didn’t want to look like soldiers.”
Nodding toward Cassie, he added, “It’s interesting that you’ve got the Abominator Citizen’s Mark, but none of the mental characteristics that are supposed to go with it. Motivator abilities are generally in there too.”
Cassie shrugged. “I’ve never been much into telling people what to do.”
As he finished his sentence, I asked, “What exactly did you mean that not all of my DNA is human?”
Iolan’s face tightened and he glanced out the windows before catching himself and turning back to look at me. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m both a doctor and genetic counselor by training and there are certain things we weren’t allowed to discuss. I’m going to tell you this one, but be aware, it’s a secret and I’m only telling you because you, more than most, need to know. The Abominators came to know that they weren’t the first intelligent life after they made it to the stars. It wasn’t because they found other races, but because they found ruins, whole star systems where some civilization expanded and then ultimately destroyed itself.
“At first, they didn’t know what had happened, but after a time they studied these civilizations, finding that they’d often discovered some artifact, reverse-engineered it, and that the changes it brought about destroyed their civilization. Worse, they came to realize that all the artifacts had been designed to encourage exactly that outcome. Eventually, it struck them that the ancient artifacts had been designed by the same civilization even though they looked different.”
He paused, looking at each of us, probably looking for a reaction. Whatever he wanted, he started talking again.
“They became paranoid that whatever affected those other civilizations would affect them as well, and they were right. It did. Over time their society changed. They became power hungry, more cruel, and used other sentient life as toys but somehow they kept it in check. They discovered the worst of the traps in the artifacts and removed them. Their civilization lasted one hundred thousand years. As horrible as the Abominators were, they were great scientists, and over time they managed to find and then capture one of the ancients that created the artifacts and get a sample of its DNA. Soon after that, the creature escaped, destroying the team that had done it and their world.”
Cassie sent a message over to me with her implant. “That sounds like Lee.”
I sent back, “Except I don’t think he’d get caught long enough for a DNA sample.”
She didn’t respond beyond shaking her head, and Iolan went on.
“But not all the knowledge had been destroyed. They were able to use it in their designs. Their strongest creations included sections of that DNA. The problem is that after that, they began to recognize that the ones with the ancients’ DNA were unreliable and were more likely to turn on them—with disastrous results. The Abominators found themselves warring with their own creations as well as the Cosmic Ghosts, the Xiniti, and many of the alien races that they’d conquered. You know the end. They were destroyed.”
I glanced over at Katuk. He had no reaction at all, watching without moving.
“Your DNA contains more traces of the ancients than any I’ve seen that wasn’t deliberately planned. You also contain traces of the Cosmic Ghosts’ DNA. I’ve always suspected that the Ghosts were related to the ancients, so that’s no surprise, it’s no great thing for you considering that in humans the Ghosts powers only manifest in women. Still, there are those who dream of interstellar flight without needing a starship, and the secret of how to do it is in your DNA.
“You should know that the Human Ascendancy will want it just like they’ll want the ancients’ DNA within you. Nevermind that you can’t do much with it. The ancients appear to have practically been gods. The Ascendancy won’t be able to leave that alone. Watch out if you travel to any of their worlds. If they get a sample of your DNA, they’ll want more.”
The doctor shook his head. “That’s why, as much as I want to, I can’t use your DNA to fix the colony’s problems. I might be able to use your friends’, but yours is too dangerous.”
Marcus glanced over at me. “Seriously? Nick doesn’t have any powers.”
Iolan frowned. “He may not be able to do anything, but his DNA is a library for those who want to. Now, as for you, I would like you to leave a sperm sample, preferably several. I don’t have the equipment necessary to do genetic engineering, but if I could arrange a few births with your sperm, I think I could save us.”
Marcus stared at him for a second. “Okay, I guess.”
Iolan smiled. “That’s absolutely wonderful.” He looked over at Cassie and Jaclyn. “I’d take your DNA as well, but eggs are harder to extract.”
I looked at him. “How would I get ancient DNA?”
Cocking his head, Iolan didn’t say anything for a moment. “Humans made with ancient DNA might have escaped to your world. That’s one possibility. Here’s another. The ancients appear to have had the ability to effortlessly become any race that intrigued them—not just appear to be them, but actually be them. If your world is like most others, you have myths about humans mating with gods. In this case, that may well have been true.”