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Mon, 28 Sep 2009

Evil is Born Again

The last evil man wasn't conceived evil; yet he was born evil. He became evil several years before he was born -- in some senses centuries before; yet it wasn't till his fourteenth birthday that he knew himself as evil.

Let's start at the beginning.

His existence came about in much the same way other children in the twenty-sixth century were conceived. It began when his parents met and fell in love. As representatives of the human race, his parents were excellently unremarkable. Both were of handsome appearance. They were well liked by their peers. They were hard working, kind, and generous. They were good people. All this was the result of their, high quality, neo-European corrected genetic mix combined with a high quality twenty-sixth century socio-educational upbringing. They certainly weren't evil. No one was evil any more. Pathological mental illness that led to evil (either in the child or the parent) had been eradicated by genetic corrections.

When the two men decided to seriously consider mating, they had their DNA checked for compatibility. As there were no show stoppers in their relative genetic mix, they eventually registered their marriage, and one fateful day decided to consummate their union with a child.

The conception of the last evil man was a blissful memory for his parents, but in a larger sense was fairly routine as a social practice in that era. On a cool afternoon in late October, his athletically oriented parents were hiking along a scenic section of the Appalachian trail near Delaware Water Gap. The tall trees on the mountain were pillars of fire in the Autumn sun. The spectacular scenery filled them with love for each other and hope for the future. Sitting close on a rocky pinnacle, overlooking the iridescent valley, the pair of lovers chose that romantic moment to authorize their network terminals to upload a random haploid copy of their genetic sequences to the holy conception computer in Rome (they were both devoutly Catholic men). They supplied the essential entropy for the random genetic selection by together speaking a phrase that was digitized by the terminal and used as a seed for the random number generation process that would shuffle their chromosomes into their child. They chose their favorite words of Longfellow:

And, following thee, in thy ovation splendid, Thine almoner, the wind, scatters the golden leaves!

Once the two sequences were so chosen and uploaded, by law, the results of the in virtual fertilization were irrevocable. The mystical moment of conception had passed and deleting the result was considered murder. Officially, conception was defined by their Catholic Church as the exact moment when the holy conception computer in Rome, having verified the sequences as individually complete and registered to certified Catholic parents, stored the last bit of both sequences together in the same file. The machine immediately totaled a joint check-sum of the conjoined sequences. The sacred act of calculating this sum resulted in the hash of a new soul database key that was, through the mystery of the Holy Spirit, the creation of a unique, new human soul.

Unique, except occasionally, when the joint check-sum was identical with that of a previous conception record. This accidental "twinning" was rare, but not unanticipated by the designers of the holy conception software who decided to allow this hack for obscure theological reasons developed in the findings of the Vatican Computerized Conception Council in 2424 that first declared the fruit of in virtual fertilization between any two Catholics to be sacred. An "if" statement branched to a subroutine that acquired additional randomness derived from a photonic sensor mounted in St. Peter's Basilica. This added the extra individual spark of life needed to give such twins unique souls.

But there was no such check-sum collision in the case of the last evil man. His new genome was unique from the beginning. His unique key was indelibly recorded, without modification, in the Great Book of Souls in Rome, with off site backup in Jerusalem. Milliseconds later his parents were informed by their terminals that they were now pregnant with a child.

Although his conception took less than a minute, over a decade passed before the last evil man's parents actually got around to carrying through the rest of the pregnancy. The romance of the moment had inspired them to father a child, but practical matters prevented them from bringing that child into the world right away. They saw themselves as wanting to become responsible parents, so they felt morally obliged to settle down before the child's birth. A good home to raise a child had to be established. But the primary practical reason for delaying the pregnancy was simply that they couldn't immediately afford to fund the necessary new-child endowment required by the Social Security trust fund. They needed time to work and save up enough money. It took them ten years.

Shortly after their tenth anniversary, the couple decided the time was right to attempt the complete physical hardware process of childbirth. They filed the Social Security paperwork and deposited the required (and non-refundable) lump-sum contribution for new-child endowment. Shortly thereafter they received authorization for pre-natal testing on their child.

Parents always felt considerable anxiety running pre-natal quality assurance tests as there was a significant possibility they might lose their child (not to mention substantial Social Security deposit) to a catastrophic genetic defect. In many cases, couples were reluctant to tell their friends that they were pregnant till after this critical hurdle was overcome.

Everyone hoped for a genetically correctable child. Still, the random selection and pairing process inevitably resulted in some conception database entries that fell too far short of this mark. The religious would sometimes quote: And some [seeds] fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth. These unfortunate pairings were so incompatible that they had unfixable genetic problems and, by law, had to be deleted. These "natural" miscarriages and stillbirths, as they were considered, were detected in a preliminary pattern scan and structural analysis by the legally required pre-natal tests.

But there was no such catastrophic genetic defect in the case of the last evil man. When they received the happy test results, his parents were relieved to learn that their anticipated child was almost perfectly healthy. No Down syndrome, Edward syndrome, or Turner syndrome. No schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or autism. These were among the many curable, albeit disturbing, problems that sometimes made it past the natural miscarriage stage. No parent liked to hear that their uncorrected child was seriously ill with, say, a propensity for diabetes, regardless of how effective the cures were.

In the case of the last evil man, preliminary analysis predicted only a small set of minor defects and viruses, easily correctable by the usual algorithms. The correction software was already running and a final, full description of their fully healthy baby, including its sex, hair and eye color, etc..., would be available (if they wanted to see it) when the software completed its correction work in a few hours.

The last evil man's parents were overjoyed by the good news and immediately invited their friends over for an impromptu celebration as they waited for the full description of their child to emerge from the correction process. Everyone was itching to know if it would be a boy or a girl. Would it have its parent's remarkable blue eyes? What sports would it be best at? What arts? What sciences? They itched to know the answers to a thousand other questions that soon would be answered.

For some reason, the correction process took far longer than normal. The parents, naturally somewhat panic stricken, made several calls to their OB/GYN demanding an explanation. The delay was unusual, they were told, but not any cause for alarm. The city hospital ran the very best correction software and its thoroughness could not be rushed. Their nervous vigil lasted nearly till sunrise when, finally, the correction was complete and the full description was released to them. All questions asked were now answered. The child would be a strapping boy, tall, strong, and intelligent.

The unasked question, would this child be evil, had not been asked, nor did the report answer it. Yet this answer, now, was yes.

It had taken two centuries for researchers to disentangle the intricate interdependencies of the genetic code, and another century for doctors to gain enough confidence and experience to safely cure physical diseases prior to birth. The final breakthrough, curing mental illness with genetic corrections, took another hundred years. This was the ultimate capstone of what was universally recognized as the most beneficial achievement in all the history of science. Disease had been conquered -- and now, so had evil itself.

Despite the nearly universal success of these techniques, genetic correction remained a complex, difficult business and failures in the correction process still did, sometimes, occur. As it wasn't a simple matter of excising bad genes and replacing them with good genes, interactions unanticipated by the correction software designers could result in some spurious genetic anomalies emerging post-correction.

Needless to say, the results of the correction were subjected to myriad checks and cross checks designed to detect such problems. Sadly, it was sometimes the case that despite the initial scan predicting a healthy child, serious problem could still arise because of a failed correction. Post correction checks still could indicate a legally mandated miscarriage.

But there was no such catastrophic, post-correction genetic defect detected in the case of the last evil man.

None was detected; yet, one was introduced.

As part of its final check on the results of genetic correction, the final quality assurance algorithm had access to an immense database of pernicious genomes that it exhaustively compared with the proposed child's genome. Although the more sophisticated quality assurance metrics applied first were almost completely effective in detecting post-correction flaws, a final brute force comparison against known bad sequence database had been incorporated since the virtual genetic technology was first permitted to be used to fertilize humans. There was a time when this was the only technique available, but no one had ever suggested this harmless check be removed now that better methods existed.

Not that the database itself was harmless. Entries in this pernicious DNA database dated back to the dawn of DNA sequencing. The oldest entries were derived from law enforcement DNA records. When the police caught a bad guy -- back when bad guys existed -- they kept a sample of the criminal's DNA so as to be able to more easily tie them to other crimes. Later on, as scientific advances made crude genetic profiling against a criminal database possible, the bad-guy database was proposed as a way to identify and target those with a genetic inclination toward crime, even before they had committed a crime. Of course, such an morally abhorrent application of sensitive genetic technology was quickly denounced for ethical reasons and totally abandoned. Yet, a century later the same crude genetic profiling technology was revived and applied in the morally acceptable niche as one of the simplest "sanity checks" on post-corrected embryonic DNA.

Patterns and sequences from most of the infamous sociopaths, terrorists, and criminals of the late 20th and early 21st centuries were represented in the database. Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, and R. Siegfried Boudrie had entries, as did a million other loathsome murderers, rapists, bank robbers, kidnappers, and extortionists. Although there was no known case in the last 50 years of any post-corrected sequence matching more than a fragment of one of these grossly iniquitous entries, the comparison was still performed. What could it hurt to run both the old and the new checks?

When the human mind compares two things, it must hold both things in conscious thought at the same time. It's impossible for us to know if two things are the same without first knowing them individually, then bringing them together. For us to recognize something, we must first create a copy of it in our minds to serve as a model for comparison.

Computers are no different in this regard. In fact, the process of copying data in a computer, and the process of comparing data, are often symbolized identically -- with the "=" equals sign. The similarity of comparison and copying has long been the source of confusion and error. And indeed, it was the case that deep within the genetic profiling software that did the final sanity check on the genome of the last evil man, there was a subtle undetected error of this nature. This otherwise innocuous bug would only manifest itself once in a billion trials. When it did occur, it caused certain comparison processes to be confused with copying processes. The database of pernicious DNA was not compared with the new child's genome -- it was copied into it.

Thus, as a result of the random appearance of this glitch, innumerable historic DNA sequences of the vile and wicked were accidentally incorporated into the previously pristine genome of the innocent child that would now become the last evil man.

Normally, overwriting hunks of human DNA willy-nilly with foreign hunks would result in a completely non-viable monster genome; however, after the copy-compare glitch completed its Frankenstein surgery, the program abnormally exited, resulting in a restart of the main process. Some cryptic warnings appeared in the processing log and the whole genetic correction process took roughly twice as long as usual, but otherwise there was no indication of a problem.

The second pass through the correction smoothed over the scars where the nefarious hunks of genome had been spliced. The correction work by the refined correction algorithms was so thorough that the final re-check against the pernicious DNA database (a process that would now be glitch-free for the next billion trials) could not recognize those hateful sequences that had been so recently copied from its very own database. Indeed many of the pathological aspects of those sequences had been eradicated: many, but not all. There was simply too much evil to completely erase. The evil was in there -- deeply hidden, disguised, suppressed, buried -- but still in there.

The nine month gestation period passed quickly as the happy parents, oblivious to the sinister event that had transpired, busied themselves in preparation for their beloved new arrival. A spare room in their house was converted into a nursery. Work schedules were juggled. Training classes on child rearing were attended.

On the scheduled birthday of their child, tears ran down both their faces when the doctor opened the incubator and handed them their 8 lb, 4 oz baby son. To all outward appearances he was a happy and healthy newborn boy. They named their new son Jaryn.

His development then progressed in much the same way as all the other perfect babies in the twenty-sixth century. Jaryn was just as lovable a baby as any, not in any way poorly tempered. He would cry when hungry, tired, or soiled as any baby will, but otherwise was a joy to be around, offering a big smile of reward to anyone who gave him attention, melting their heart. Yet he did not selfishly demand attention. Left alone, Jaryn was capable of amusing himself for long periods in contemplation of a favorite toy or stuffed animal.

As he entered childhood, his pleasant demeanor continued. He started walking, then talking, right on schedule. Soon he was ready for pre-school and his nursery teachers returned glowing reports. By five years old his musical talent was recognized in his evaluation tests and Jaryn's parents enrolled him in a choir and began piano lessons. At eight, he began to stand out as gifted in science and loved working on the computer. By ten, he was a graceful athlete who was proficient at every exercise in the gym. At twelve years of age, Jaryn was acknowledged as one of the best and most talented children of his generation, winning numerous academic and athletic awards. His parents were very proud.

But when Jaryn entered adolescence, he began to know himself as evil. It was a change beyond those usual physical manifestations that accompany the transformation of a boy into a man. The unexpected change was, as yet, totally invisible to his peers, to his teachers, and even to his parents. But Jaryn sensed something was different. It was as if his persona, his being, the Jaryn that everyone had known the last thirteen years -- even the soul that Jaryn himself, saw when reflecting inwardly -- was merely a container of something far deeper within. Jaryn was no baby caterpillar within the chrysalis of childhood expectantly awaiting his natural transformation into an adult butterfly; rather, the Jaryn child that had existed thus far was the chrysalis, a container now bulging and squirming with its malevolent inner inhabitant desperate to be released. At the merest pinprick it would rip open and the vile contents would burst forth from the tatters of its former shell. The innocent boy despaired in his suspicion that this fateful emergence could only destroy him.

The unavoidable event occurred soon after his fourteenth birthday. It was on a bright summer day. Jaryn was running along the beach with several other boys his age. His parents had enrolled him in a summer camp and youth academy located on the shore of the Chesapeake. They routinely jogged a couple miles barefoot on the beach as a warm-up before their daily gymnastic exercises. Jaryn was running comfortably with the pack of boys, their lithe young bodies glistening with sweat in the warm sun.

The boy running next to Jaryn was a new student at the camp. He was named William. A year younger than Jaryn, William quickly was recognized as a better gymnast than any other boy there. Although competitive sports activities and academic grades had been eliminated from education centuries before, students and teachers did still develop a sense of which students were the best. There was no concrete reward for being the best, yet Jaryn remembered feeling a strange inner satisfaction the previous year when he had executed a triple somersault with one and a half twists. No one else at the camp could do that move. But this summer, the thirteen year old William had done a quadruple with one and a half twists. Then he did a quad with two full twists, nailing the landing in stunning style. Jaryn felt something sick twist more than twice inside his chest when he thought about the way the school had cheered William's accomplishment.

The wet sand of the beach was smooth and hard near the waterline. The only obstacle was an occasional piece of driftwood. Jaryn noticed a large clump of sodden branches partially buried in the sand. They lay directly in William's path and the handsome and gifted boy would reach them in a few seconds. Left alone, William would easily avoid the hazard. He would dodge to his left, thought Jaryn, closer to me.

With no more premeditation than this, the last evil man began his emergence. At the exact moment he estimated William would veer around the driftwood, Jaryn veered momentarily to his right. It was the tiniest of actions. He didn't forcibly shove William into the wood, He merely limited William's dodge left. No one detected his move, not even William, but it had its calculated effect. William caught a toe on one of the branches and fell face first onto the sand at the edge of the water.

The group of boys slowed, looked back, and were about to stop, concerned for their peer, but Jaryn had already stopped and was kneeling over William's prone figure. Jaryn twisted his head to look over his shoulder at the other boys. He bid them continue with a broad smile on his face.

"He's OK. He's just a little stunned. He says he'll be up in a second," Jaryn shouted. "Finish your run. I'll stay with him till he's ready to get back up. We'll run in together. See you in the gym."

The boys smiled back then resumed their run down the beach. Jaryn looked down at William. One of Jaryn's knees was planted squarely on the back of William's neck. The surf swirled and bubbled around the drowning boy's head.

Posted Sep 28, 2009 at 20:53 UTC, 3406 words,  [/danPermalink