In a moment everything changed. In a moment everything was new, unexpected, disorganized and…frightening.
Amanda Burns watched through the thick plate glass as her patient was injected with lethal chemicals. God, she hadn't had a patient over eighteen years of age since she started in the business seventy years ago. She watched as Richard Gibbons' eyes slowly fell shut, and left the observation room.
The sequencing of the human genome, completed finally in the year 2016 changed everything. New fields of science burst up to analyze, in detail, exactly what made human beings tick. Were we nothing more than a composite of our genetic information? Or was there something extra, something added, with that indefinable spark of life? The old argument…nature or nurture?
Amanda shuffled down the corridor, her sensible shoes squeaking softly along the smooth tile. The spark of life, she thought, and closed her eyes tightly. The spark of life that was now gone from Richard Gibbons.
She entered her office and set down the armload of files on her erstwhile patient. She sat down in her comfortable leather chair and started organizing them. Every scribbled note. Every doodle. Every thought, both hers and his, set down on paper or electronics since their odd relationship had begun. They would be coming for them soon, the higher-ups in the Psych-Eval field, and she wanted them to be in good order.
As her computer hummed, saving files to the data key with lightning rapidity, Amanda sifted through the massive amount of papers, filing them slowly into chronological order and putting them into new folders, dated by the month.
Of course, millions of wrong assumptions had been made, at first. There had been the inevitable brush with genetic engineering, creating a generation of super-beings, inevitably discontented with life and forced almost suicidal by their imperfect perfection.
Amanda's mother had been one of those. She had only vague recollections of Eva…nothing more than a cloud of dark hair, dark eyes always sad, always…bored. Thankfully she had not been present when her mother and father had driven their car off the edge of the cliff, but she had been one of the poster children for the SAGE (Society Against Genetic Engineering) program.
The growing number of orphaned children and the massively increasing suicide rates across the countries rich enough to afford treating their populations to the expensive procedures needed to assure intellectual and physical perfection convinced the governments responsible for sequencing the genome to enforce stringent restrictive measures against genetic tampering.
After the Vienna Accords, genetic interference was limited to correction of serious birth defects or propensities for debilitating or fatal disease, and these measures were made available to the entire population. Further tampering was punishable by severe measures, and gradually, the unrest caused by the first misuse of the genome smoothed over.
Amanda set down the first month's folder and marked a second one. The computer chimed softly, and she removed the data key and set it next to the completed folder. The clock on her desk chirped. Nine o'clock in the morning. Amanda ran her hands over her wrinkled face. She felt as though she'd been working all day, and her hands shook slightly when she held them up to her eyes.
She thought of him, eyes blank, shaking like a dog inside the cell, the cell that had never been used inside of anyone's conscious memory.
Also part of the Vienna Accords was the devotion to a new branch of psychiatry. Called Psychological Evaluation, this new field would start isolating the sections of the genome that produced personality, genetic predisposition to societal faults. Lying was found to be a genetic trait, as was a propensity for stealing or violence. All these areas in the genome were carefully marked, recorded, compared, and tested. Amanda had started her work in this field, at the unheard-of age of seventeen.
She was both a test subject and a laboratory assistant, and as such, had been present at nearly every breakthrough in isolation of character traits.
When her group had been able to offer the American government and the scientific community such hard data, such research evidence of correlation between parts of the genome and previous analyses of psychiatric specialists, their request to isolate one of the Burroughs, one small part of the city of New York to really see how well they could foretell the behavior of those who inhabited it, seemed reasonable. Their theory was, if you could define the nature, and then provide the nurture accordingly, wouldn't that be the way to combat crime once and for all?
The whole world contributed to this, one of the largest experiments ever attempted. Every single person who lived in Queens had to have their property purchased if they didn't wish to be part of the experiment. After this, buildings had to be renovated, and new ones had to be built. Queens was made into a self-sufficient hamlet, with employment opportunities, independent power sources, and roads that would only be available to those who had access cards to them.
After years of work and billions of dollars in investments, research subjects were found. They were artists, writers, craftsmen, performers, scientists…people from nearly every walk of life, lured to this new utopia by the promises of fair rent and safe living. All that was required was a preliminary sequencing of their genome, and afterwards, attendance to whatever classes or seminars ordered by their doctors.
Amanda was one of those first trained psych-eval doctors, one of the ones who, in those early days, worked tirelessly, staring at computer screens and setting up new files for every single inhabitant, marking what classes they should take, whether they showed predispositions for violence, theft, cheating, infidelity…
This team, made up of thousands of doctors and scientists, was perfectly convinced that the experiment would not be too successful within its early years. After all, nearly all of their test subjects were mature, and nurture added flaws to their personality, even if nature helped them along. All they needed was to wait until children started coming in to the equation…
Months two, three, and four followed the first, and Amanda started filing them away into a hard-sided carrying case. The notes inside were following a disturbing pattern of questions without answers, analyses without solutions, experimentation with no repeatable results. A record of her failures. A record of imperfection. Amanda caught her reflection in the wall mirror. God, she looked tired. She'd take a leave of absence, after all this was over, and sleep for a week.
Although she knew that wouldn't stop her from wondering.
All children who lived in Queens were sequenced at birth. Even before they were really capable of cognizant thought, they were put into special classes, educated separately to avoid contact with their genetic weaknesses. Once capable of speech and understanding, they worked with doctors for the first eighteen years of their lives. After that, a final report was made on their psychological profile, and then these records were placed into cold storage, accessible only upon the subject's committing some infraction against the law, and then, only then, were they unearthed.
Until six and a half months ago, after fifty years, not a single child, raised in Queens and monitored carefully by their evaluators, had ever committed a crime. Not a single one cheated on examinations. Not one lied on their tax forms. None of them sped, fought, or killed.
Amanda stopped with the final file, month six of her interaction with Richard Gibbons, and stared at the last thing he'd written. She'd assigned him a journal, early on in their relationship, and his last entry stared up at her now.
You asked me again, and I still don't know. I can see it, over and over again, in my head. What I thought, what I did. The look on his face as she fell. The color of the blood. And after that, I felt excited. I felt like I'd woken up in a new place…woken up, for the first time in my life. Fuck it. They're going to kill me anyway.
Richard Gibbons' profile, completed when he was eighteen and reopened only recently, seventeen years later, showed no predisposition for violence. Or theft. And yet, he had stolen a can of soda, and smashed it into the face of the shop clerk who tried to stop him. The girl died of blood loss before reaching the hospital, and Richard had not made it out of the store before the local police caught him, and he'd surrendered without any struggle at all.
As one of the oldest surviving members of the original team, Amanda had been assigned to figure him out. At eighty-seven, she'd jumped at the chance to evaluate the first flaw in her system. Her beloved system. She'd been confident, she'd been secure. Something had been overlooked, and she would find it.
But in his own words, he didn't know why. And neither did she.
A knock on the door. Younger doctors, members of the local and federal government. Amanda stood and gave them all the information she had. They took it, in silence, and left.
When they had gone, Amanda sat and thought, waiting, in the silence, for an epiphany. An answer. A moment that would change everything.
And obviously, none came.