art by Jeffrey Redmond
We Planted The Sad Child, And Watched
by Rahul Kanakia
Though he would stand on overpasses and watch the sleek inhuman cars whirring past on the interstate underneath and wonder if there was a place on this earth more alone than surrounded by the tens of millions, the billions, of us, I was always with him.
Long before he was born, I was with him.
I'd waited for his birth. Our genetics were not perfect. Such imperfections were expected: they were neither a cause for dismay, nor for greater efforts. He was the decimal point we had rounded off long ago. Thirty years ago, my predecessor had encountered much resistance to his proclamation that the era of genetic strengthening was over. The thousands of years, the trillions of dollars, the lives destroyed and redirected, in order to reach this point, and now he wanted to stop?
But the cost/benefit analysis was clear. No matter how satisfying it would be to fully eliminate those pernicious genes, their presence was unlikely to cause enough sadness to outweigh the cost of eliminating them.
So I knew he would come into existence. And I knew that, somehow, he would come to our attention.
"There's nothing wrong with him," I said, when his parents came to our institute all-unknowing, dragging him sullen, quiet, through the doors.
"But his tests," they said. "He's underperforming."
I looked at the two of them and tried to perceive the strains of melancholy with which they'd impregnated their child. Did his father stare too long at the walls, thinking the same thoughts again and again? Did his mother stay late at her work, not knowing she was trying to muster the energy to come home? But no, the recessive poison was too well-veiled to manifest in them. They were over thirty years old. If the program had taken notice of them, suggestions would have been embedded. It would simply never have occurred to these two to reproduce.
I was curious about the boy. There will be too many of him, infinitely many, over the coming millions of years. Only a few thousand years ago, the world was bursting with him. And our descendents won't have even our limited resistance to his type. Would he twitch and wriggle along our social-semantic networks? Would his city depopulate, its people driven out of their homes by the seemingly sourceless gloom that spread outwards from him?
I felt that gloom, even after just a few minutes in the same room with him. It felt as if the sunlight streaming through the windows catching the swirling motes of dust was not so bright. In his slumped shoulders all I could see was the sun setting and the ending of another ceaseless day. I pitied his parents. He'd brought a hell to their home that they were not born for.
"There is nothing wrong with him," I said. "Our testing has revealed certain rare genetic tendencies. But they were once quite common. And those who had them were well able to lead nations, compose symphonies, and reach high levels of achievement in all the fields of human endeavor."
"But he doesn't talk," his mother said. "He won't get out of bed in the mornings. He's not acting right."
"What do you think?" I said to the child.
"I feel fine," he said. "I don't know what everyone is so worried about. Can't we go home now?"
I was charmed. Fine, just fine.
"But maybe, isn't he… depressed?" his mother said. She had whispered the last, dreaded word. Her husband backed away a step, withdrawing from our circle of consultation. She continued. "I heard there is a factory. I heard it still makes the medicines."
"Not depressed," I said. "Simply… less joyful. He sees life differently. It's all very normal. Every human being has a genetically-determined baseline emotional level that remains relatively constant throughout their life. It is only very loosely correlated with achievement. On average, rich people are no happier than poor people. Successful people are no happier than failures. Your son just falls on one end of the curve." A curve we'd spent millennia compressing...