Saturday, July 25, 2015

Crossed Off: Someone Else’s Goat Tails (Part III)

Though Starla felt awkward, Magnus Shapiro and Denton stared at each other like they were in the middle of an intense game of Polygon. She had checked in with their minds briefly while reading the menu; only long enough to find that they had all decided to order soup because it was the quickest thing to swallow, allowing a more fluid conversation. Shapiro could somehow feel her inside his head, so she was forced to leave quickly. “You’re a telepath.”
“Not in so few words,” Starla answered, trying her best to reach their intellectual levels.
After the waitress left, Magnus Shapiro placed his elbows on the table and pursued a line of question. “Tell me. Can you control my actions?”
“I can control your movements.”
“The difference?”
“I can possess your body and make people think I’m you. And when I’m there, I can either give you my body, force you to be a passenger, or put your mind to sleep. But, I can’t change your thoughts, so you’ll notice a time shift if I take full control. My ability to read minds is just a required secondary power, and I don’t use it that often. People have messed up thoughts.”
“Fascinating. And you, Mister Wescott?”
“I can learn what others know just by being around them. I can’t read their minds, but I absorb their knowledge after I’ve been around them for long enough. There are downsides to this. I crave the knowledge to a greater level than you crave tomato soup, and everyone has to be conscious for it, which means that I don’t get a lot of sleep. I was hoping you could somehow teach me self-restraint and discipline.”
Magnus Shapiro, who insisted they call him Dathan from then on, nodded his head and processed the information. “Due to my—honestly, there is no subtler way to put this—superior intelligence, I intuited that there were others, but what you’re implying is not what I predicted.”
“What did you expect?” Denton asked.
Dathan went on, “I assumed that others like me would simply be either more or less intelligent than I. My theory was that, if we could harness our brain power more effectively, we could do anything within the laws of physics; but all laws would remain at a constant. If Subject A is telepathic, and Subject B is empathic, it simply means that Subject B has not yet learned telepathy, and also that Subject A must necessarily be empathic as well. But you two have latched on to niches. I have no reason to believe that you, Starla could one day absorb knowledge passively. Likewise, I can’t imagine that Denton would ever be capable transferring his consciousness to others.”
“Because we’re too dumb for it?” Starla asked.
Denton laughed. “No. He’s saying that it’s not about how smart we are. The fact that the three of us present completely different abilities suggests that something else is the cause. We’re not dumb, but we aren’t this way because we’re smarter. We’re this way because our genetic code is different than that of normal people.”
“Yes,” Dathan responded, this time not concerned that the waitress could hear them. “What I want to know is why. The only reason organisms evolve is because certain individuals in a generation possess a random mutation that turns out to be beneficial to their survival. They pass on these genes either because they live long enough to propagate their species—to the disappointment of those without the mutation—or because potential mates find the mutation in question to be desirable, to the frustration of less desirable rivals.”
“And is that not what’s happening here?” Starla was more lost than ever.
“Well, we’re human. We aren’t born with a fur coat, because we kill animals and take their coats. We don’t have large sharp teeth to build shelters with trees because we’re smart enough to develop sophisticated tools that do that for us. Do not misunderstand me, evolution is still going strong for the human race. You can’t stop mutations, despite what eugenicists might love to believe...” Dathan trailed off and stopped himself. He had just discovered a truth. “That’s it.”
Denton leaned forward. “What’s it?”
“Eugenicists. That’s the only explanation.”
“I don’t follow,” Dathan said. “I mean, I do follow. I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I don’t quite know how you came to the conclusion that you could rule out all possibilities besides eugenics.”
Starla adjusted herself in her chair. “I just plain don’t follow.”
Denton explained it to her while Dathan remained in his trance. “Eugenics is built on the idea that we can pick and choose desirable mutations purposely. Instead of a fish being able to survive better than its brothers because it has larger fins and is thusly a little faster, a person protects that fish and forces it to mate with others it has chosen, sometimes killing fish they don’t like. It’s basically breeding. We’ve seen it with the kaidas. Someone liked goats, but they didn’t like how bad goats were with the indoors, so they only kept the baby goats that could be better trained. Only those goats were allowed to make more babies, and eventually you have a completely docile and obedient kaidas who would have a hard time surviving in the wild, and even looks noticeably different than a wild goat. And some of them were bred for their milk, meat, and fur, so you have farm goats which are neither docile nor wild. That doesn’t sound like much of a problem until you apply these same principles to humans, and try to decide who is allowed to live and procreate, and who is of no use and needs to be discarded.”
“That’s awful.”
Denton shrugged, clearly used to being the smartest one in the room. “It’s what the War of 1899 was about. A disgraced lawyer who lives on the other side of the world reads articles about eugenics from our scientists and becomes responsible for the killing of thousands of people because they weren’t good enough for him and his followers. We blame his country, and bomb the hell out of it.”
“I guess I should pay better attention in history class.”
Denton looked down at his soup, first realizing that he had yet to try it. “I cannot relate to that. I often wish I could.”
Dathan finally came back to the discussion. “I as well.”
Starla laughed. “Oh, you’re still here? Have you figured out what’s wrong with us?”
“Absolutely nothing, of course. I haven’t really figured out anything. Mister Wescott was right. There are other possibilities that I cannot yet rule out, but my instinct is that this was done to us intentionally.”
“But the timeline doesn’t work out,” Denton countered. “Not with how slow evolution is, and how recently scientists would have needed to have so much as attempted this.”
Dathan scratched his hair vigorously. “No, you’re right; it doesn’t. For our abilities to be so ingrained in us that we use them without thinking, experiments would have to have been done to our ancestors many generations back. But for the necessary technology to exist, it couldn’t have happened more than a century ago, even assuming the rogue scientists were twenty years ahead of the standard.”
“Sounds like we’re in a pickle.” Starla took a bite out of her pickle.
“If our crazy theory about ancient rogue scientists is true, you know what else this means, right?” Denton asked of Dathan who nodded in agreement.
“That they probably didn’t limit themselves to neurological enhancements, and that if we’re not alone, other people could have drastically different abilities that have barely anything to do with the brain?” Starla slurped up the remaining pickle seeds and prepared to go back to her soup. When they looked at her funny, she simply said, “what? Is that wrong?”

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