It’s funny how things connect. Looking back and seeing the progressions is easy, it is what I do. But looking forward is impossible.
Take me as an example: I was born a poor African in the old Portuguese colony of Sao Tome & Principe – a dot of a state off the coast of Africa. Today, I am the world’s highest paid policemen. I live in a mansion on Park Avenue in New York. And at this moment, I am about to give testimony in a murder case – one of the few in recent years to actually go to trial.
Why? I couldn’t tell you why.
But I can tell you how.
In 2001, some exploratory drilling indicated that there were substantial oil deposits off the coast of my country. Billions of dollars worth of oil for a country of only 200,000 people.
For the first time in any of our lives, prosperity beckoned. Unimaginably prosperity.
But we’d seen what such prosperity had done to other countries and we were determined to follow another path. And so, with our first signing bonus of $20 million dollars, the government decided to send the best and brightest of our students overseas for college. A national exam was held for all high school seniors and the top five were chosen. One of them was Luis Oliviera. Nobody knew it at the time, but sending Luis Oliviera to college would change the world.
Despite his Portuguese name, Luis was actually descended from Angolan and Jewish slaves who had been imported to the islands hundreds of years earlier. With backing from our government, he was admitted to MIT. By all accounts, he was a mediocre student. After four years, and after demonstrating the basic competence needed to complete an education at that esteemed institution, Luis returned home. People expected him to run for government, or set up some kind of business involving cocoa farming or even get down to work as a fisherman as his parents had.
But he did none of that.
He shut himself into his old house and literally disappeared for 3 months. Nobody knew what was happening. And then, one day, the Presidential Guard showed up, picked him up and drove him to the Presidential Palace.
Nobody knew what he’d been doing for three months, but we found out soon enough.
While an undergrad at MIT, Luis Oliviera had worked out how to breed animals for desired characteristics. But unlike others who took generations to tease out the attributes they desired, Luis Oliviera could do it within a single generation. He could take an individual mouse and have it grow a leg, acquire greater intelligence or glow in the dark – without needing to take generations to guide the animal’s genealogy in that direction. He was a man who understood – no, who could feel – how living systems worked. To him, biology was nothing more than a blank canvas awaiting his magic touch.
Luis Oliviera, realizing the importance of what he’d done, wisely chose to keep it to himself. After four years of practicing and perfecting his method, he returned home. And then he tried it on himself. In his home, on the dirt poor island of Sao Tome, he transformed himself. It was a simple trick, a proof-of-concept. He dramatically increased his range of hearing.
And then, he called the President.
In the Presidential Palace, on that day, a scheme was launched. Luis Oliviera would transform others. And Sao Tome would stop exporting coffee, or even oil. And it would start to export people.
Those people would be gifted, as if by birth, with certain traits and abilities: Hearing, mathematical ability, improved sight, strong reasoning, physical strength and so on. However, he wouldn’t stop with physical traits. He would also integrate our bodies with technology: Mass spectrometers, Geiger counters, night-vision, infra-red readers and so on. We would be humans, but redesigned for specific jobs. We would be called Specialists. And we would be leased to the world.
I was one of the first – a crime scene analyst. At first, I did what other crime scene analysts do. Using my natural abilities and the technical tools within my own body, I applied reason and logic to determine what the crime scene was telling me. But then, with time, something shifted. It was like learning a foreign language. You start off translating to your native speech – and then the language itself begins to speak to you. In my case, crime scenes – the objects themselves – started to communicate with me. I could look at them, take them in, and it was like they were a voice inside my head. They’d explain what they’d seen, they’d talk to me.
I could no longer explain my methods. But by that point, it was no longer necessary. There were Specialist Judges, blessed with infrared readers, powerfully logical minds, and a host of other traits which gave them a unique ability to separate truth from falsehood. They could not explain how they did what they did. But the world trusted us – and hired us. And believed us when we changed and convicted criminals.
Luis Oliviera continued to grow our empire. We leased engineers and soldiers, nurses and financial wizards. People relied on us. They trusted us. We started off well-paid – and we ended up administrators of the world’s societies. We ended up as kings.
And now, I find myself sitting in court, preparing to testify in the trial of a young murderer. Trials are rare. I don’t arrest and charge people unless the crime scene itself has already convicted them. For that matter, murders are rare – because we find those who dare to kill.
Naturally, the television crews are out in force, curious about the strange young man who murdered knowing he would be caught, and who now fights conviction, knowing he can not win.
His name is Robert Barnes. He is 27 years old. And in a fit of rage, he picked up a vase in his father’s house and broke it over the man’s head. The old man bled to death on his floor. The son fled. I know this, because the vase and the blood and the body and the floor told it to me.
In due course, I am called to testify. I share what the crime scene has told me – trying to break down the evidence – from fingerprints to blood patterns – wherever I am able. The judge watches carefully. We will not tolerate Specialists who lie. He vets my testimony and then I sit – satisfied that I have secured another conviction.
And then, the defense rises. And they upon a Specialist Detective. I don’t even hear the name – but I know it isn’t mine.
The judge is confused, I am confused, but then another of my countrymen steps to the witness box. I know him. He is a Specialist Detective from Los Angeles.
He testifies that Robert Barnes’ mother was killed in Los Angeles at exactly the same time as his father. And that the evidence there spoke to him. And that Robert Barnes was guilty of the murder in that case – at exactly the same time.
The judge has also watched him carefully. And with a nod, his testimony is vetted.
He is not lying. I am not lying. We contradict each other.
And the defense rests.
The court is calm, but when I exit, there is pandemonium.
For the first time, two Specialists Detectives have presented contrary evidence.
Our wealth, our power and our reputations are suddenly very much at risk.
For the first time, people question whether we can be trusted.
Dodging the cameras, I head home through the grey Manhattan winter.
I review it again and again in my head, but I can’t shake the truth. The evidence spoke for itself.
I come to the door to my Park Avenue mansion – my entire life in flux.
There is a note waiting for me.
Before I read it, it tells me it was left by Robert Barnes – and man who is still in custody.
I can not believe what I am being told. The note reinforces that.
“Specialist Detective Branco,” it reads, “Your people may have learned to teach objects to speak, but I have taught them to lie.”
My head swimming, I search for a signature.
There is none.