Thursday, November 5, 2015

Inhibitory Neurons

"Allegra, wake up."
It always takes me some time to get going after I wake up. "What," I asked, not opening my eyes.
"Gabe. He's gone."
I shot out of bed. Or. more accurately, out of couch. "I assume he didn't leave a note or any indication of where he is." I took my dad's half second of silence as confirmation. "Well, the way I see it, the three possibilities, in decreasing order of likelihood, are running away, kidnapping, and out with friends."
My parents looked confused. "You're right. Out with friends seems improbable on a Thursday morning. Nobody has impromptu Wednesday night sleepovers."
I rushed up the stairs, my mind racing. Running away seemed entirely plausible. I really should have told him about his M.A.D.N.E.S.S. more carefully. I this was my fault...
I burst into his room. It looked roughly as it should. About three days worth of clothing were on the floor, two both computers were on, and his bed was disheveled. It was just missing an occupant.
"Gabe only owns one pair of shoes, right?"
"I think so," mom asked. "Why-"
"Because I see a show sticking out from out of his bed. Unlikely he would have run away without it. That means we are looking at a kidnapping."
"I don't understand," my mom said. "Why would someone kidnap out Gabriel."
"Gabe is MAD."
My parents didn't understand.
"A MAD is worth tens of millions of dollars to the right buyer. Tech companies. Banks. Rogue states."
"Does that actually happen?"
"Of course it happens." I heard stories about it all the time in J.S. Greenberg.
 "Presumably they found out last night. Which means that they were listening in on our conversation."
"You think our house is bugged?"
I sighed. "Really? Someone breaks into our house and implants an invisibly small transmitting audio and video recorder with a battery life of weeks or months? No," I said, as I sat down in front of Gabe's laptop. "Probably some sort of spyware."
Anyone looking for MADs in the Boston area would have identified Gabe. He was a former C student whose grades and test scores had gone through the roof. He read about MAD-related topics online. And, most importantly, he was my brother. Although nobody could predict the onset of M.A.D.N.E.S.S, there was undoubtedly a genetic component.
I checked his internet usage over the past twenty-four hours. Online tests for M.A.D.N.E.S.S, forums for the recently diagnosed, and hundreds upon hundreds of Wikipedia articles, mostly on neurology. I looked at the timestamps. He wasn't spending more than forty or fifty seconds on any article. Typical for a MAD.
"Presumably, our kidnapper placed the spyware on the computer itself. At least, that's the most likely option. Let's see what we can see."
I cracked open the computer's anti-virus software. It was primitive, but a start. I began modifying it, specializing it. I into some issues. Some of the components of the program were unfamiliar to me. Likely innovations made in the last two years. Some quick perusing of the internet elucidated their purpose.
"Allegra," my mom cautioned. "Should you be doing this?"
"Is that what your worried about," I asked, not losing focus.
"Maybe you should be letting the police find Gabriel."
"You can call them if you like. But if the kidnapper left a residue on this computer, I want to know about it. Speaking of residue, does either of you know how to extract fingerprints?"
I walked my parents through the process, still focusing on the computer. "More importantly, see if you can get a DNA sample." If the computer thing failed, I could use the DNA to figure out the kidnapper's probably eye color, hair color, age, gender, ethnicity, and blood type. Looking at other parts of the cell, I could probably learn other things as well. There were only about four million people in the Boston area. I could probably write a program to read through their Facebook pages, eliminate most of them. Then, we look at hospital records and bank statements. Eh, those might be difficult to get.
"Alright," I directed. "We aren't going to able to sequence this fellow's genome with what we have on hand." I explained to my father how he should go about procuring what I needed. "But, that will cost hundreds of dollars."
A trifling amount. "If it really matters, I can get you as much money as you need with online gambling." No, diary, I'm not some sort of card sharp. But Gabe had written a poker AI. Based on his notes, he hadn't tested it very much, but a quick mental t-test showed that it was significantly better than its human opponents. "But, honestly, who cares about money. In twenty-four hours, Gabe might be in Iran. So if you could go out and get me some DNA polymerase, it would be most appreciated." I didn't mean to snap at my father. I considered apologizing, but he had already left the room.
"Bingo." I had it. Not bingo, I mean. I had identified what piece of software was sending out reports every time Gabe looked at a new webpage. Or every time I looked at a new webpage on his computer. I took four minutes to read through the code. It was elegant, a clever architecture. I suspected it was the work of another MAD,  one with much more computer experience than myself. Another past victim of our kidnapper, I suspected.
I didn't disable the program. On the contrary, I opened new tabs, raced across the web, giving the snitch program more to report. I chased down the little packets of data. It wasn't especially difficult. Whoever had written this bug clearly hadn't tried to cover their tracks. If they had, I doubt the likes of me could have uncovered them.
The packets were being sent to a rather large house in the suburbs. Large enough to contain one or possibly several captives, as well as at least one rather well-to-do human trafficker? Absolutely.
On a hunch, I opened up the program this kidnapper had used to spy on Gabe. Perhaps I could use it to spy on him. Of course, the kidnapper likely had some sort of artificial intelligence reading through the results, but I could monitor this guy by hand.
I walked over to my parents. They were botching the DNA sequencing. "Come on," I said. "It isn't that hard." I took over the operation, occasionally checking Gabe's laptop for news about his captors.

I felt my father's hand on my shoulder. "Allegra. You need to slow down."
"Slow down? It has been fourteen hours. The police aren't willing to help because they don't think MAD traffickers exist. So, why, exactly, should I not be using every resource at my disposal to get Gabe back as quickly as possible?"
"Look around you. The last time you got yourself into this much of a frenzy, six people died."
I looked around the room. It was littered with lab equipment. I had started scavenging one of the computers for parts. To my father, it must have looked like a scene from two years ago. But it was completely different.
Two years ago, I had been holding myself back. I was my absolute hardest to be normal, easy-going, doesn't-do-dangerous-science-experiments Allegra. Today, I had no such inhibitions. I had embraced my M.A.D.N.E.S.S. I had used my mentally ill brain to its fullest extent. Oberon would be proud. And he would have understood. This is what I'm supposed to be. This is what I'm supposed to do. Create everything I can, and use it for genuine good. Create everything I can, as fast as I can. No room for 'slowing down.'
"I will do this," I said. "I can do this. I know how. I know where he is located. 11236 Amsbury Way. It will take me twenty-four minutes to get there. There is only one conspirator, with eighty-five percent confidence, and I have his DNA. So I simply transmit the virus, and-"
"Did you say virus?"
"Yes. A specific one. Only capable of bonding to his genome. Well, possibly if he has some brothers-"You engineered another supervirus! Allegra, you realize that is the exact thing that you did last time."
Honestly, I don't know whether I had realized that. If I had, it was only briefly. I hadn't been focused on the past. I hadn't been focused on the future. I don't know if I had even been focused on finding Gabe. I had been focusing on the science. On how good it felt to finalize use what I had been given without fear of consequences. But the consequences exist, whether I fear them or not.
"I- I..."
"Allegra, put down the vial. Clean up this lab. You haven't eaten all day. When don't we all calm down, you'll take some time to make sure you haven't made anything dangerous, and we can think about it in the morning."
Delaying difficult actions until the following morning. It was becoming a bit of a theme with my parents. But, for the first time today, I didn't have a better idea.

For the rest of the day, I was drained. More exhausted than I had been in my entire life. My mind was numb, to the point where I could walk right past the impromptu laboratory I had set up in Gabe's room without thinking about science. I barely spoke, I just stared straight ahead. All the nagging voices in my head, constantly drawing up blueprint and forcing me to think and make and design, they are quiet as I write this. My mind hasn't been this clear in years. But I'm writing this as a reminder that it wasn't worth it. That I am still dangerous. A reminder to never again let my mind roam free. Some day in the future I may think it necessary. But it isn't. M.A.D.N.E.S.S. is a curse, and I need to keep it buried, if not for my sake, then for the sake of every other human on Earth.      

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