bill prime and the zero ring men – chapter seven

SERIES OVERVIEW and PREVIOUS CHAPTERS

-7-

You Don’t Breathe Because the Air is On Fire

Bill and Lucy sat on the floor in the living room, their backs against the wall, as the heavyset man limped in, helped by Lepere and the wound-mouth man (who looked worse than he did ten minutes before).  Mancini came next, through the wide door into the living room, examining himself.  His suit was torn and there was a scrape on his cheek.  The Icelander stood with his sunglasses on in front of the fireplace, holding Bill’s pistol down at his side.  Even in his working man’s coat, he looked like a Secret Service agent, stone-faced and statue-still.  Yet, to Bill Prime, he looked like a man pantomiming a Secret Service agent, being still because something had instructed him to, standing upright on two legs because this was how you did it here in this particular realm of being.

Where he comes from, Bill thought, unable to keep his reeling mind in check, you don’t even breathe.  You don’t breathe because the air is on fire. 

The idea struck another chord in him, resonating with a part of him that wasn’t preoccupied by his terrible pains, his draining blood, or the fact that Lucy was now sharing his plight.  The idea of fire made him glance down at Lucy’s hand, the one with the burn between the fingers.  He saw that the blemishes were still there.  Bill closed his eyes.

He opened them.

The Icelander had taken the maul from Lepere at some point.  He swung it in an arc now, first with his hands choked up toward the iron, then, as he swung it, letting his grip slide over the wood toward the end.  The maul came smashing down, splitting-end first, biting into the wet, stained, threadbare carpet and the wooden floor beneath.  The Icelander continued to hack away in this fashion, splinters and chunks of floor flying, hitting Bill and Lucy, and raining down throughout the room.  Whack.  Crack.  Whack.  Crack.  The heavyset man, Bill noticed, was gone.

“Big business in C-sections,” said Lucy next to Bill.  “It’s a whole c-section generation.  Designer births.  Women used to squat down along the trail, now they’re making appointments and checking into hotel hospitale.”

Bill looked at her.  “Luce?”  Sometimes Lucy babbled like this, non sequiturs, tangents from nowhere.  Sometimes it was just because Lucy was someone who talked about random things.  Sometimes it was her way of concentrating on something else entirely.  She glanced at him.  “I’m fine,” she said.

They watched the Icelander tear up the floor with the maul, Bill and Lucy flinching from darts of wood, the man protected by his sunglasses.  There’s a reason for everything, he thought.

He said to Lucy, “Why the note and tape if they just want us gone?”

Lucy shook her head, No.  She squinted as some detritus flew her way, and spit out a piece of curly carpet fiber.  “No, no,” she said, “that’s not entirely true.”

“What do you mean?”  They spoke in practiced whispers, but Bill could have sworn the Icelander was listening in as the maul rose and fell, rose and fell.  Was he going to hack up the entire living room floor?

“I mean, not everybody is coordinated, not everybody is on the same page all the time, even in business.  Someone wants us here, Billy, and you know it.”

He did know it.  She didn’t even have to call him Billy.  He had been wondering, he had to admit, what sense it made, what with Lepere dropping him the tape – and then it struck him, sure as the maul struck more of the ancient floorboards:  He’d been the one to discover the sphere.  He’d been following directions, sure enough, but there was a vast difference between the person who gave the directions and the one that actually followed the route.  And the witch, too.  Bill realized he’d become expendable only after these two things – these ‘elements’ – had been witnessed by the rest of the men.  Then, it was out the front door with him.

In the back, in the kitchen, someone had come through the mudroom door.  There was a loud clatter; what sounded like lumber, like boards, knocking and vibrating as they landed in a heap.

“What about the fourth?”  Bill was looking at the Icelander, who had hacked up nearly a third of the living room floor and had stopped now, wiping sweat like a road construction worker standing in the hot day.  “There’s one more element,” said Bill, not liking the pleading he heard creep into his voice.  “It’s not finished yet.  You need us for that.”

He felt Lucy put a hand on his forearm, and at the same time, the Icelander looked over at him.  Bill felt the dark, rectangled lenses on him, and the distinct sensation that there probably wasn’t, after all, anything beneath the glass aimed at him, nothing but mush in the sockets hidden behind them.  Then, again like a man who’d learned American culture from watching Clint Eastwood movies in a faraway land, the Icelander turned his head to the side and spat into the floor, littered with floor bits around the ragged hole, covered in a patina of wood bits and skindust.

Bill looked down at Lucy’s hand, the one with the burn marks between the fingers.  He looked up and saw something in Lucy for the first time – Lucy looked afraid.

“When the New Native American discovers himself,” she said, “the Earth will begin to renew itself.”

“Luce,” said Bill.  His voice cracked on her name.

“Get in.”  It was Mancini, standing in the doorway between the kitchen and living rooms.  Behind him, Lepere and the wound-mouth man were carrying boards.  Bill wondered for a second where they’d gotten them from.  Lepere had said something before about the foaling shed, that there might have once been other hardware inside.  Why did Margaret Stender still have lumber and any sort of tools lying around the place?  Bill supposed it wasn’t uncommon.  Perhaps there had been plans to fix up the large shed.  Or form an addition on the house.  Before the economy’s traffic signal had turned from yellow to red.

Lucy asked, “Beg pardon?”

“Get in the hole,” said Mancini.  His voice was toneless.  His eyes – it could have been a trick of the light, but Bill didn’t think so – were lightening from their muddled brown and turning a yellow-grey.  Behind him, in the doorway, the heavyset man reappeared once more, limping his way in, carrying a battery-powered screwgun.

In Bill’s mind a song began to play.  He must’ve heard it on the radio sometime over the last couple of days.  Neil Young was singing Comes a Time.

The wound-mouth man (looking worse for the wear than ever, Bill noticed, an infection of some kind in one of the man’s swollen, red ears) hooked a hand under Lucy’s armpit and hoisted her up.  He grunted with the effort.  “Jesus, lady,” he gurgled, “have a salad.”

“Get up,” Mancini said to Bill.

Bill pressed against the wall and slid himself upwards.  His mind raced, trying to come up with something, some reasoning, some plea.  How had it come to this?  Who were these men – if they were men?  They acted like the preparatory crew before a presidential rally, cordoning off an area, checking for assassins.  Only these men seemed more like the assassins themselves.

Oh-ho, sang Neil in Bill’s chattering mind, this ol’ world keeps spinnin’ round…

“Move it,” said Mancini, indicating the ragged hole in the living room floor.  Carpet tatters lay around it, jagged and splintered chunks of wood.

Bill stepped forward, toeing the edge.  It was perhaps two and a half feet deep.  The bottom of the hole was concrete slab.  There was no basement foundation to the rambling country home, only slab.  An air gap to accommodate the slope of the earth (in the kitchen, Bill figured, there would be maybe six inches at best, as the land’s declivity was towards the front of the house, the backyard four or five feet elevated over the front).

Bill stepped in.

“Lay down,” said Mancini, and at the same time the wound-mouth man ushered Lucy into the excavation next to Bill.  She moved willingly enough.

Bill sat, then reclined, the back of his head touching down on the concrete.  Lucy did the same.  They were side by side, and the impromptu construction crew of eyeless men started laying the lumber down on top of them.  Heavyset appeared, and pressed the trigger on the screwgun.  It whined to life, the chuck spinning the Phillips head bit into a blurring whirl.

It’s a wonder tall trees ain’t layin’ down, sang Neil, and the darkness formed around Bill and Lucy as the boards were lain.

**

Stay tuned! –Next week– Chapter Eight: Buried Alive and The Demon Comes (10.19.11)

CHAPTER ONE: Lucy’s Perfect Pitch

CHAPTER TWO:  The Audio Tape

CHAPTER THREE:  Up The Stairs

CHAPTER FOUR:  The Tall Man and the Four Elements

CHAPTER FIVE:  The Zero Ring Men

CHAPTER SIX:  Unbound

CHAPTER SEVEN:  You Don’t Breathe Because The Air is On Fire

CHAPTER EIGHT:  Buried Alive and The Demon Comes

CHAPTER NINE:  The Dream

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bill prime and the zero ring men – chapter six

SERIES OVERVIEW and PREVIOUS CHAPTERS

-6-

Unbound

“Are you gonna wear your sunglasses in the house?”  Bill didn’t want to sound peevish – he hated the question seconds after he said it, but they’d seen through his thin scrim of authority and come barging in, and he was feeling underminded.

The man who was a little heavy, maybe 200, maybe 210 pounds, turned around and tipped his sunglasses up for Bill’s viewing, exposing the corneas hidden beneath them.  The man’s eyes were yellow.  Bill took a step back.

“The light hurts my eyes.”

Bill backed to the point where his rear thighs bumped into the edge of the bay window, almost sitting himself on the bench seat there, with its molding, faded cushions.  He didn’t know what to say, but Bill, foolishly, felt he had to say something.  Talking sometimes was a way of dispelling nervousness, though it often seemed to get him into hot water.  Like with Gary, Francine’s man cock of the house, the guy who’d slugged him in the face after Bill laid into Francine about her smoking around Troy, the son they shared.

Bill remained silent, taking heed – hadn’t Lucy let him know a time or two, too?  It didn’t matter.  Bill asked, “You got some problem with your eyes?”

The man dropped his sunglasses back in place and turned and followed the other men, who were heading into the back kitchen.  “Yeah,” he said.  “They’re falling out.”

**

She was there, Bill figured, as if she’d been waiting for their arrival before appearing.  The third element.  The hetch.

Off the kitchen was the back door into the mudroom and tool shed attached to the rear of the house.  They’d first stood around under the hood over the kitchen stove, Lepere explaining to them about the leftover, about the bird, smiling and looking at Bill as he relayed to the men how Bill and Lucy had handled the extraction with salad tongs and a canvas potato sack.  Bill expected next that they would go up the stairs and likewise stand around and discuss the sphere, like doctors doing rounds, making notes on clipboards and nodding solemnly.  They didn’t.  What happened instead was Jean Lepere had looked out of the kitchen window and into the backyard and said, “She’s here.”

Bill followed the men out into the backyard.  His blood was thrumming in his ears.

They formed ranks in front of him, and rather than take a position at either end, Bill stood behind the short Mancini and could see over the man’s head.  It was clear this was something these men were accustomed to, to some extent, and he wasn’t prepared to join their phalanx.  Call it professional courtesy, lack of proper sleep – call it brimming terror, Bill was happy at their backs.

She stood in the spring-like morning, barefoot in the melting snow.  Behind her, water dripped from the branches of birch and hemlock.  Droplets sparkled like jewels.  The backwoods was south of the house, and the sun was low there as it started its mellow arc over the treetops, backlighting the forest, backlighting and partially obscuring the woman standing there naked.

“Jesus,” said Bill.  He hadn’t meant to speak, and put a hand over his mouth.  Now was the time not to worry about their special little group, of showing them courtesy, of touring their strange little world of curiously robotic moves and disintegrating eyes.  All of that vanished for Bill and he started around Mancini.  This was a naked girl in the backyard of an old country house.

Bill’s cop-self kicked in.  She was someone in trouble.  He’d seen kids on heroin, in these very parts, using their naked chests as surfboards in the snow, numb to everything, cracking into the ice of frozen ponds to join the scag-network’s version of the polar bear club.  Kids that’d freezer-burned their nipples off.  Kids that’d drowned in the icy shallows after their legs had ceased to hold them up in the gelid water.  Babysitters high out of their gourds who don’t see trucks coming at them, don’t realize what’s in the backseat of the family’s car they’re driving, behind the little baby’s head…

Bill pushed the thought away as he walked around Mancini, headed for the girl, mouth opened to call out.

A hand hit his chest and Mancini, short but fiercely powerful said, “Don’t.”

Bill looked briefly at the hairy hand holding him back and then at the naked girl again.  Though her features were hard to make out with the corona of rising sun sparkling almost exactly behind her, he put her age at about eighteen.  Prime dope-using age, he thought, realizing dimly the pun made from his own name.  It’d happened before, indeed.

He said to Mancini, in not quite a speaking voice, but not entirely a whisper, “She’s in trouble.  It’s not that cold, but she could have been out all night.”

“She hasn’t,” he said.  “She just got here.”

“How do you know?”

Kimblak,” one of the other men called out so suddenly it made Bill jump around the shoulders, wincing as if about to be hit by a falling object. “ZeemenKimblak.”  The way this one of the men spoke it sounded as though he had sinus congestion.  Bill looked and saw that it was the heavyset man who’d revealed his yellow eyes.  Quite an infection, Bill thought.  He quickly returned his attention to the naked girl to see what, if any, reaction she had.

He couldn’t have been prepared for it.

What looked like smoke, sulfuric in its yellow hue, started to coalesce around her and rise, coming from out of thin air.  Her arms drifted up to her sides.

A voice filled Bill Prime’s head.  It was a soft, sensual voice, without echo, as if recorded in a sound-proof room and then rebroadcast to him over a headset.  “Emblak,” said the voice, said the naked girl, if it was her.  “Emblak care-wapon. Care-inseeya.

Bill had only that moment to wonder if she was speaking some sort of Native American language when it changed to English, as if being translated for him – the tonality of the voice changed with the translation.  It sounded, come to think of it, like the voice on the tape.

“I’m unbound,” said the soft, luminous voice.  “I’m free and unbound.  You could be, too.”

The heavyset man spoke again, this time sounding more like a normal man, one without a bad cold, and this time in English as well.   “We thank you,” he said, “we have great plans for you, and bid that you stay around a little while longer.”

With that, the heavyset man with the yellow eyes hidden beneath his sunglasses (the same color yellow, Bill realized, as that smoke curling around her, lifting her up off of the ground, rising with her) stepped out of the group and took a few steps toward her.  He had a hand in his pants pocket.  He pulled his hand out in a fist and stopped only a few feet from her.  Bill strained to see what he carried in that fist, but Mancini held him back with an arm like a two-by-four.  Bill couldn’t see, but then the heavyset man in what might have been a Pierre Cardin suit (something you bought at Simms or K-mart, and not had tailor-made on Wall Street) reached into his open hand, and with the fingers of the other, lifted a coin from his palm.  It was the color of pewter – or maybe it was silver and the backlight darkened it.

The heavyset man in the suit bent to one knee and placed the coin in the snow, and then another, and then another.  Three coins in the snow.  Each about the size of a fifty-cent piece.  To Bill, it felt like watching something from a forgotten dream. 

He turned his attention from this action to the end of the line of men, where the one in the Carhartt coat stood, the Icelander.  Bill was compelled to see what he was doing, how he was reacting to all of this.  As he looked over, Bill felt his cell phone vibrating from his inner breast pocket, and ignored it.

The Icelander was watching the rising girl, expressionless.

**

Back in the house, Bill noticed something about the man that’d first gotten out of the pick-up truck’s passenger side who had been previously unremarkable.  Up close, in the kitchen, the four men standing in formation again, like a group of gunfighters instead of businessmen, this man had a distinct feature.  His mouth was like a wound, festered and scabbed.  The lips were beyond dry – they were nearly puckered.  The man’s eyes too had yellowed around the irises, the kind of tint a lifetime smoker might develop.  The irises were a colorless grey.  He snuffed, like he had a bad cold.  When the heavyset man had spoken to the girl in the backyard (the witch, Bill, the witch, for chrissakes she was floating) using that other language, he’d sounded congested too.  They’ve all got the fucking flu, Bill thought. I’m going to get sick.  Part of him knew he was focusing on these things because he couldn’t – or didn’t want to – see the whole picture.  The real deal.

“Okay, Mr. Prime,” said Mancini.

Lepere had taken a different position now that these men were here – he sat on the kitchen counter where his legs dangled like a child.

“Okay, what?”

“We thank you for your all your help.  Now we ask you to leave.”

“I can’t leave,” said Bill.  “I told you, this-”

He heard the cock of the firearm and wasn’t surprised when the heavyset man with the hidden yellow eyes leveled a pistol at him.

“We’re telling you,” the heavyset man said.

The girl, the hetch, was still in the backyard, hovering.  The backyard was visible from the road that passed out in front, but only for a short distance. Once a car cleared the trees aligning the road and drove along side the beginning of Margaret Stender’s land, the tramped-down grass, bunched and knotted beneath the melting snow, there was a period of perhaps three seconds, driving at sixty (which most people did, though the posted limit was 40 through Ridgeview), when most of the yard behind the country house was visible.

It was a Sunday, the first of March, and there would be few travelers.  Still, wouldn’t a driver be drawn to that ethereal light in the back of the house – more, the girl who was floating in its protean smoke?

“You won’t be left alone here,” Bill said, “whatever you’re doing.  Whatever séance or ritual you think you’re going to hold.  It’s quiet out here, but people see and hear everything.  You’ll draw attention before long.”

“Walk out the front door, Primofski,” said Lepere from the counter.  “We’ll take care of the house.”

“And whoever comes knocking,” said the heavyset man.  The other man, the one with the wound-mouth, smiled.  His teeth were the color of ash – and there were, Bill observed, far too many of them.

**

They paraded Bill through the house and out onto the front porch.  As they walked, Bill pulled his cell phone out of his inner pocket.  From behind him, the wound-mouth man grabbed Bill by the shoulder and jerked him around.  Bill held up his hands, the cell phone in one.  “Just a phone, just a phone.  These things tend to go haywire at a time like this and not work.”  The wound-mouth man let him go.  In fact, the cell had been working.  Sort of.  There was a text from Lucy.

Round 2 @ ten?

It was their follow up.  24 hours after the gig, Lucy and Bill would return to the site, no crews this time.  Another part of the tradition.  Bill looked at the time on the face of the phone.  It was 9:52.  Having not gotten a response from him, Lucy was likely to come anyway.  She was like that.  Bill snapped the cell phone shut as they walked out the front door.

“I can’t let you guys stay here,” Bill tried again.

“Snuff it, Primofski,” said Lepere from somewhere toward the back of their line.

Bill thought of Lucy arriving and, tenacious like she was, giving these boys what for.  He imagined they would make quick work of her, and pudgy, short-haired little Lucy would become another upstate statistic, one more domestic mishap in a century of domestic mishaps.  Maybe they would take her upstairs, where the sphere hung in the air, immovable, and make her look like a suicide.  Dress her up like a crazy lady who’d done herself in – with Lucy, it wouldn’t take much.  And with these men, as Bill’s feeling went, they wouldn’t give doing her a second thought.  Like they were probably going to do him, right here in broad daylight.  Bill could sometimes be slow to catch on, but he wasn’t stupid.  He wasn’t being led to his car to go peacefully on his way.  This little caravan of men marching in their Pierre Cardin suits – half of them wearing sunglasses to conceal their yellow eyes – this was a march to his execution.  They would put him in his car and kill him there.  Less work – no need to drag the body out to the Subaru when they could kill him inside of it, easy-peasy, and have one of them drive it off somewhere, maybe into the woods.

The man leading the parade was the heavyset one, the one who’d spoken to the witch in that guttural language.  (Guttural coming from him – sonorous and hypnotic from her.)  He stepped down from the lip of the porch and onto the first step and Bill’s heart was beating now, his mind drawing a blank.  Wasn’t a person supposed to enter into a kind of mental hyperspeed in times of survival?  Shouldn’t he be rifling through various plans of escape?  Nothing was coming to him, nothing at all.  Only the dim sense that he was out-of-body, that he was helplessly watching this march unfold, floating above and beyond it, hovering like the naked girl in the backyard, aloft in a sour yellow light that had made Bill think of vicious perspiration.

There was a cracking noise, and a shout, and Bill watched as the heavyset man lurched forward with one leg, the other splayed back and straight.  Not so deft after all, Bill thought.  The heavy man’s foot had gone through the hole in the porch stairtread, and was caught there.

The man directly in front of Bill, between him and the heavyset, was Mancini, and Bill wasted no time.  Bill shoved Mancini forward, and the short boss-man tumbled into him.  Heavyset howled as Mancini hit him and bounced away, falling the rest of the distance to the slimy-iced front walk where he landed, instantly soaked.  At the same time, Bill darted left, running the length of the porch in the direction and vaulting over the railing.  At least, this last was part of the plan that’d finally formed at last.  The wooden railing, weakened by years of weather and disrepair, gave way beneath his weight, splintering and dropping out beneath his arms.  He fell the rest of the way to the ground at the end of the porch and landed in a heap.

Luckily, nothing felt broken or sprained.  He was up a half a second later, mind finally sprinting ahead, having already determined that he was going to run to the back of the house, floating naked girl or not, and disappear into the woods.  As he rose he heard the first shot crack off, and felt a burst of wind as the bullet slapped a groove by his ear.

He ducked and ran, like a man from a helicopter, waving his hands over his head as if to warn off a swarm of black flies.

The Icelander will double-back through the house, came the lightning thought.  Lepere too, probably.  Wound-mouth man will follow me around the house.  I’ll be trapped in the middle.  Still, he sprinted, hoping to outrun Workcoat and Lepere as they clamored back through the house.  They had doorways to go through, after all, corners to turn – Bill had a straight shot to the woods, and had the jump start on them.  But, then, there was the naked girl to consider, after all.

She floated higher than before, two man-lengths in the air, her arms straight out at her sides, her toes pointed down and feet overlapping.  Bill could run right beneath her, there was plenty of room, but he opted to jag right, to go around her.  As he did he heard a bang from the kitchen, as a cabinet or counter edge was slammed into by an overextended pursuer.  Good, he thought.  Bastards.

He neared the levitating witch-girl at his top speed, thankful to not have twisted anything in his fall from the porch, mindful of the odor of old cinnamon – like moldering leaves in October – as he approached her.  He looked straight into the woods but could see, helpless, peripherally, as the floating woman looked down at his approach, her head tilting to the side, her chin dropping to her shoulder.  Kimblak, he thought, Kimblak. 

Something glimmered beneath her feet, resting in the snow.  Her oblation; a trio of jewels sparkling.  The coins.

He passed by them, passed by her.  Nothing shot from her eyes.  Nothing snaked out from her and coiled around him.  No spell froze him in his run.  He was beyond her and nearing the woods when the next bullet bit hot into the back of his leg, just above the knee, causing him to cry out, to stumble, to fall.

On the ground, he watched as Lucy approached in her silver Chevy Caprice.  He didn’t know why, but Bill found himself noting the brown clumps of road gunk clinging to the underside of the chassis – he could see Lucy’s cat in the passenger seat, stretched up to see out the window.  Bill felt the vibration of footfalls coming fast toward him over the backyard, the crunch of wingtips in crystalline, melting snow.

Get up, Primofski.

He pushed himself up with his arms, fingers digging into wet snow and hard long grass beneath.  He shoved and got to his knees, and groaned and brought his unshod leg up under him, and was about to stand when he was punched in the shoulder – that was how it felt – by the next bullet, knocking him down onto his side.

He was a couple of yards from the woods.  From the safety of the trees, the bracken of the forest floor, the sanctity of the bluish-grey erratic rocks.  He could have run.  He could have run to Canada, for that matter.  But, Lucy.

Bill bent his neck to look at the driveway just as she pulled in and the first man to reach him – Lepere, not the workcoat man; Bill didn’t see him – dove on top of him.  The blow of the man’s weight knocked the air out of Bill.  Awwwufff he wheezed, and Lepere started hitting him, hitting him in the head and shoulder, punching the gunshot wound.

As Bill began to blackout from the pain he imagined the floating girl, the witch hovering amid those laces of turgid smoke, her head still tilted to look down at him, a look of sorrow on her face, like Christ on the cross.

**

Stay tuned! –Next week– Chapter Seven: You Don’t Breathe Because The Air is On Fire (10.12.11)

CHAPTER ONE: Lucy’s Perfect Pitch

CHAPTER TWO:  The Audio Tape

CHAPTER THREE:  Up The Stairs

CHAPTER FOUR:  The Tall Man and the Four Elements

CHAPTER FIVE:  The Zero Ring Men

CHAPTER SIX:  Unbound

CHAPTER SEVEN:  You Don’t Breathe Because The Air is On Fire

CHAPTER EIGHT:  Buried Alive and The Demon Comes

CHAPTER NINE:  The Dream

the struggle for the perfect human

How we grow up stays with us for the rest of our lives.  It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst uncovering deep-seated issues with your mother, father, or childhood to shine the light on some simple, basic causalities for who you are.  Genes don’t create determination; genes evoke predisposition and proclivity.  Environment, activity – these things form habits.  And habits, by and large, make up much of what we are.

Being around people sometimes makes me feel lonely.  This is probably because when I was growing up, my stepfather’s family was very different from me.  I liked to write and draw while they liked to make haybale forts and ride ATVs.  At gatherings, I preferred to stay by myself; interaction always just seemed to reinforce my difference from them, and made me feel alone.

We are always struggling against some habit or another.  It doesn’t take intense behavioral analysis to understand when someone is trying to break a pattern, or establish a new and healthy routine.  We think habitually as well as act habitually, because our thoughts precede our actions, even when we are conditioned.  We may do something more and more automatically, but our brain is still emitting the electronic and chemical signals to get us to do what we do.  So we’re always in a process of re-training our minds.  Recent studies have shown the brain to retain more plasticity throughout aging than was the previous understanding, and so there’s hope for an older dog learning new tricks after all.

The idea that we will control ourselves genetically as we head into the future is probably an inevitability.  The potential problem is that while we may preempt congenital maladies or even be able to retrofit ourselves with better, or “therapized” genes to correct some problem within us, we must remember that the nurture is as important – if not more important in terms of development – than the nature.

If a would-be child born with a heart defect in today’s world is born with no such congenital anomaly in the future world, either because that gene is selected out (which means killing off the early versions of that person as he / she develops in the womb, for one thing) or that gene is, perhaps more humanely, therapized out sometime later by technology allowing us to reconfigure the very way genetic molecules arrange information, there is still the all-important issue of how that child is raised.  No matter how smart, how strong, how fast, how pretty we may pre-select or rearrange our offspring to be, we still have the monumental task of raising them right.  And, if you look at it in a certain way, there may be even more responsibility involved when raising a genetically superior child.

Think of it this way.  I began by talking about how, as an adult, I still struggle with social situations and sometimes feel lonely around people because, very likely, of how I grew up with a father who was not my genetic progenitor.  Yet, my early coping skills developed into expressions of artwork, poetry, prose, and other creative outlets.  I’m not always the most extroverted person at the party, but I have a body of work which has grown over the years that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  In other words, the imperfection of my being – genetically prepossessed to be a bit of a loner, coupled with the environment of non-biological relatives – were the ingredients which have helped to create the happy, ambitious person I am today.

What of a child born “perfect?”  What challenges will they face?  Will they be groomed to be a sort of super person, or will a fairly “normal” family raise them under benign circumstances?  What might they struggle against that forges the character and strength they will rely on in their adulthood?  Will things come too easy?  Will there be extra expectation and an overbearingness that leads to avoidant behavior, issue with authority and general rebelliousness and irresponsibility?

It’s at least an interesting idea, maybe one that will find its way into numerous books and movies, how these “perfect” beings born in our potential future face as many challenges as the “imperfect” ones of today.  They may be guaranteed a greater chance at longevity based on more reliable organs and blood cells, but they are given no such guarantee for the quality of their lives.

It’s true (statistically, anyway) that better-looking people get lighter sentences when facing the judge, or that star athletes are often able to parlay their careers into public speaking or write a best-selling memoir.  But we’re not talking about getting out of traffic tickets or spending a life built out of a great sports moment as the mark of success and health.  Challenge and adversity are the most fertile grounds to spring success and health.  It is an age-old aphorism that talent and genius are more often squandered, and that persistence and diligence are the hallmarks of success.  Will that change when we have a world of genetically flawless beings?  Can we breed in a sort of “persistence” gene that guarantees to bear good fruit, or will our abrogations remove the very stuff of greatness?

Historically, it is the underdog who builds an empire.  Whether you endorse that empire or not, most mega-success stories begin with humble beginnings, tales of school drop-outs and working class kids like Ray Kroc or Carl Karcher who build fortunes.  Or, if it’s not the underdog story, it’s one of early advantages, like Bill Gates proximity to MIT labs or Oppenheimer’s political connections.  Similarly, early negative experiences can greatly influence a life, such as the case of Chris Langan, a man with a 150 IQ who, after growing up with an abusive father, lacked the people skills to complete college and now runs a farm in the Midwest.  Early environment is everything, laying the foundation which we build our lives upon, positive or negative childhood experiences weaving their way into our thought processes, our unconscious self, from where much of our behavior springs.

So, let’s say we wind up with this sort of genetic engineering in the next thirty or forty years – where will it take us?  Will we be duped into thinking that genes are the primary precursors to a healthy, happy life and so de-emphasize the importance of nurturing, environment and spirituality?

The questions I pose have little to do with religious implication, but are from a behavioral, sociological point of view.  It simply remains unanswered in my mind: Will these kind of bio-technical “advances” in human life actually advance us at all?  Or should we look to time-tested wisdom, that the source of happiness and health comes from a reconciled spirit, a good home life, and plenty of love?  Because I know it can induce a gag-reflex, this thing called love, especially where it seems to have no place in science but perhaps an electrochemical phenomenon, one has to admit, when we talk about things like artificial intelligence, about a thinking universe, where is it?  When we go on about knowledge knowledge knowledge and information information information, when we talk about biotechnology and better living through chemistry, one only has to look around, flip to the next page, the one before it, or listen to the dissertations and wonder – where is love ever mentioned?