The lobotomies worked out so well that everyone wanted one. And the whole world changed.
The first beneficiary was Milo Arthur French, a multiple murderer residing at the California Correctional Institution near Corcoran. This large vulgar man who bore a permanent sneer on his face agreed to submit to the latest of Dr. Marls Krieger’s radical surgical experiments. The partial lobotomy performed with laser surgery and a supplemental pharmacological therapy would, in theory, abate the patient’s atavistic impulses. After twenty years of disappointment Dr. Krieger had little hopes that this time would be any different. French was prone to extreme violence and seemed the perfect candidate for yet another failure.
But when Milo French recovered from the anaesthesia something had changed. He looked around the recovery room with a newfound intelligence in his clear blue eyes. The sneer was gone. He saw the white-bearded man standing near the bed and said in a hoarse voice, “Thank you, Dr. Krieger. Thank you.”
Dr. Krieger was stunned. “How do you feel?”
The doctor glanced at the straps fastened around the patient’s bulging arms and inquired in a quiet voice, “You know where you are? Do you remember?” Before the operation French’s dislike for the restraints had produced a string of profanity.
“I remember it all.” French sounded very sad. “I’m so sorry.”
Dr. Krieger cleaned his glasses, unable to speak. Only time would tell whether the subject’s condition would remain permanent. But at this moment, Marls Krieger’s life’s work was justified. He patted French’s big hand and nodded.
“All those people,” French said. “I can’t believe I did those terrible things.”
“That’s all behind you. Try not to think about it. It’s going to take some time for you to adjust.” Dr. Krieger eyed the restraints. “Tomorrow, if you seem stable, we’ll see about doing away with those.”
“Dr. Krieger, I don’t deserve to be trusted. That thing that killed those people is buried somewhere inside me. I don’t ever want to take a chance that it could come out again.”
“That isn’t possible. We have surgically removed the portion of your medulla oblongata responsible for your negative impulses. I can’t predict what type of person you’ll become. But that personality that did those terrible things is gone forever. The slate’s been wiped clean. Now, the ancillary use of Matratirine will augment your recovery. It’s a natural stimulant which will provide a basis for positive feedback with your environment. You quite literally will have to learn elementary social skills all over again. But I’ll be with you every step of the way. Trust me, you will be fine, Mr. French.”
“I appreciate all you’ve done. I feel like a new man, doctor. And I can see things I couldn’t see before. It’s like a veil’s been lifted and I can understand the whole world better. I can’t explain it better than that.”
Dr. Krieger was quite pleased. “Your natural intellect is the result of certain synaptic combinations superseding your basic instinctual drives. Those primitive drives are always present and powerful impulses like fear, suspicion, and anger overwhelm the brain’s function, thereby limiting intelligence. The procedure eradicated these improper impulses. It is like a veil has been lifted.”
“Are you saying I’m smarter?”
It turned out that Milo French wasn’t just smarter, his IQ was nearly off the scale. The other twenty-nine inmates who received the operation in the next week showed equal improvement. And all were fully rehabilitated, according to every psychological test the Department of Corrections could muster. Dr. Krieger convinced the warden to allow them full access to computers and some very odd things began to happen.
At sixty plus years, Andrew Barnes was the eldest of the test subjects. This did not alter the effects of the procedure. His intellect increased exponentially overnight. He developed an interest in engineering, and then aquatics. Within a month Barnes invented a pump that used water pressure to strengthen the structure of a deep sea diving vessel. The unique triple hull system redirected the pressure against itself.
Andrew Barnes achieved a certain brief notoriety, as did Dr. Krieger’s experiments. And when inmate 63248 Dennis Green postulated that a number of mini black holes resided at the Earth’s core and the scientific community agreed this unknown amateur physicist was probably right, Dr. Marls Krieger became a talk show guest. Then a dozen new groundbreaking discoveries emerged from the prison think tank, everything from flexible steel to uranium-eating bacteria that eliminated nuclear waste.
Thousands of inmates in the California penal system volunteered for the wonder cure. Dr. Krieger administered a medical program from his little office in the prison. His assistants trained teams to go out and perform the medical procedure. The results were astounding. Without exception, every recipient of the procedure was transformed into a stable individual with astounding intellectual prowess.
Dr. Krieger received a visit from an aging actor suffering from Alzheimer’s. The old man begged to receive the procedure. He told Dr. Krieger, “Every day I lose more of my identity. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, it’s my only chance. Please, let me have the operation, doctor.”
Dr. Krieger knew there was a good chance that the procedure would work for an Alzheimer’s patient. The increased intelligence would certainly enable an individual to function at a normal state. But still he hesitated. “It wouldn’t be strictly legal. And I cannot justify putting my program at risk. In the future, yes, there are many possible medical applications. I’d like to help you, but at this point I’m afraid I can’t.”
“Look, I’ll pay you. Whatever you want. A million? Two?” The actor undid the blue sash from his neck and mopped the perspiration from his face. “All right. I can go five. But you have to do it today.”
“It’s not a matter of money. I cannot legally do it here at this facility. It is out of the question.”
“Can you do it someplace else? At a hospital?”
Dr. Krieger smiled. “I’d only feel comfortable performing the operation at a private clinic. A state of the art facility equipped to my specifications. I think five million should do nicely.”
“We have a deal.”
The actor’s spectacular comeback was attributed to a regime of diet and exercise, but people knew. People with money knew and it wasn’t long before Dr. Krieger was a very rich man. The clinic grossed over one hundred million dollars in only one year.
A doctor in China and then one in France successfully duplicated the surgery. The origin of Matratirine and the necessary pharmacologic protocol were discovered. The mood elevator was derived from a woody plant called mierta which grew high in the mountains of Columbia. Soon, tons of the proliferate weed were being shipped to Asia and Europe for processing. The secret was out. Thousands, then millions of people began undergoing the operation. The rest of the world got on board. Those who weren’t enhanced found it impossible to compete in a world where everyone was exceptionally intelligent.
A cultural renascence sprang up overnight. The procedure eliminated the impulses that fueled mankind’s darker side and people just weren’t interested in conflict anymore. Petty territorial disputes and ethnic differences were dismissed as inconsequential. Crime disappeared. The whole world was at peace.
Dr. Krieger retired to an estate just north of San Francisco. He was able to arrange a limited parole for Milo French and several other inmates. They resided in a comfortable dormitory he built on the property.
Milo took to tending the flower garden behind the house. One morning Dr. Krieger found him out there with his digger and that yellow straw hat. Milo was down on one knee between the circlets of feathery cerulean and violet azaleas. He looked up at the cloudless sky.
Dr. Krieger said, “You don’t have to do that. Technically I should be out here puttering away.”
Milo didn’t move.
“You’re thinking about the Andromeda?” Dr. Krieger asked. He himself was enthusiastic about the launch the next day. The starship was headed to a green planet thousands of light years from Earth. Thanks to a revolutionary space flight technology the trip would take only a few weeks.
“And all the other changes.”
“It’s hard keeping up with all that’s going on in the world these days. They will soon have a time machine at MIT. You probably heard that.”
“And in Sweden they isolated many of the gene sequences that retard ageing.”
Milo scraped at the flower bed with his digger. “We’re all going to live to be five hundred they say.”
“It’s amazing. Global warming is a thing of the past. Food production is higher than it has ever been in history. There’s nothing that we can’t do now. And to think the increase in intelligence was merely a byproduct of my experiments.”
Milo rose and dusted off his trousers.
“This is a new age for mankind, Milo. The stockpiles of nuclear bombs are being dismantled all around the world. No more war. Just think of it!”
“Things are changing fast.”
Dr. Krieger noticed a reserve in his friend. “You think that’s wrong somehow?”
“No, not wrong.”
“Maybe it’s just—all happening too quickly.”
“People seem to be adjusting well.”
“Not that.” Milo could not offer a specific criticism. It was more of a feeling than anything else. A feeling of dread. Somehow, he was sure things couldn’t be this easy. “For people like me, yes, your procedure is a miracle. But for the whole world to solve all of its problems by getting a simple operation, is it right?”
“What do you mean? Is it moral?”
“Not moral, but the right way. I didn’t turn out as intelligent as some of your patients and maybe I’m not the one to be speculating on this. But I can’t help but wonder if nature will allow it.”
“You’ve removed the evil side of mankind. Does that take away our equilibrium somehow? Can we, as a people, exist this way? Or will nature fight back to restore the balance of things?”
“Actually, that’s not quite accurate. The medical procedure eliminates all our natural impulses, not only the negative urges. It was these negative urges which stifled our potential for intelligence, albeit, but all our predispositions, good and bad, have been eliminated. The Matratirine supplants the instincts that remain with constructive desires. So you see, we’re not really unbalanced. We’ve simply been given a choice. And we’ve chosen peace and prosperity.”
Milo considered this. He had no logical response to counter Dr. Krieger’s argument. “I suppose you must be right. Maybe I should apologize,” he said.
“Not at all. I had my own doubts. I’ll be honest with you, Milo. Immediately after your operation I knew you were cured. But would it last? I had absolutely no idea.”
Milo smiled and said, “The patient seems to be doing fine.”
“Yes, your recovery is complete. But I didn’t know that when you first underwent the procedure. The use of mierta to synthesize Matratirine was new. No other drug has been found to sustain the change. Its alkali base is unique in the botanical world. I have no doubt that someday we’ll be able to produce it in the laboratory, but without seeing it first we would never know what molecular combination would be effective.”
Pensive again, Milo lowered his gaze. “I’m supposed to go off the Matratirine. Dr. Krieger, what if I don’t want to stop taking it?”
“You’re worried that your behavior will change.”
“It’s a very mild stimulant and I assure you, you no longer need it. The drug enabled you to learn new cultural skills by catalyzing positive feedback to your experiences. But it’s no longer necessary.”
“I’ll be the first one to stop taking it. That’s what worries me, I suppose.”
Placing his hand on Milo’s shoulder, Dr. Krieger offered his reassurance. “If there is any problem whatsoever we’ll get you right back on the Matratirine. And figure out what went wrong.”
“I don’t mean to doubt you.”
“Perfectly natural after all you’ve been through. Perhaps I can allay your trepidations. Several weeks ago something came up. I never told you.” Dr. Krieger stroked his beard. “You see, we had a bad batch of the drug. You were taking it for several days. We realized it during our purity testing. It seems that the mierta plant grows in two varieties. We can synthesize Matratirine from the blue mierta but the red version is useless. The bad batch was made from the red. So you see, you were off the drug.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Of course it is remotely possible that the drug hadn’t left your system yet, but I feel the Matratirine is so weak that it only takes one or two days for the body to eliminate. Frankly, it’s extremely difficult to detect in the body and we can’t say for certain how long it takes. We know very little about it beyond that it works.”
“I should have more faith in you, Dr. Krieger. You’ve gotten me here.”
“Faith in the results. There has not been one incidence of recidivism or a negative reaction of any kind. And the entire world has increased its intelligence by magnitudes. Have faith in the results, Milo. I’m just the man lucky enough to have stumbled upon the right combination.”
“Lucky or persistent?”
“Well, a bit of both I like to think.” Dr. Krieger was delighted with the compliment. “But frankly, it was the discovery of the mierta that made all the difference. A doctor from Philadelphia, Crutchins, he derived a mild stimulant from the plant, oh, back in the eighties. It was used as part of a study on beta enhancers at Tulane and that’s how I learned of it. No one had any idea that mierta, a common weed growing in the mountains, was good for anything. No one knew anything about it. The inertness of the red plant, for example. The people who are cultivating it are eradicating the red variety because now we know.”
“It’s strange that it only grows in Columbia.”
“Apparently it won’t take root in any other soil.”
Milo’s blue eyes twinkled with mischief. “And now we’ve gone full circle.”
“What do you mean?”
He handed Dr. Krieger the digging tool. “You said you should be puttering yourself and now here you are talking about gardening. You’ve convinced me.”
“It’s too bad I didn’t do something about that sense of humor of yours while I had you under. It could stand a good tweaking.”
Milo strolled off through the garden. “I happen to think I’m very funny.”
“I think that may be the problem,” countered Dr. Krieger.
As he watched the young man disappear behind a hedge, Dr. Krieger reflected how pleased he was that he’d taken Milo and the others in. It wouldn’t have been right for them to remain cooped up in prison now that they were rehabilitated. Having them there reminded him every day how much his work had changed things.
But only a few days later Dr. Krieger had a disturbing phone call which forced him to reevaluate the entire program. A shipment of Matratirine had been destroyed in a truck accident. A small town in Montana had experienced several shocking episodes. The inhabitants of Oxten had apparently been fine for a few days without the drug. But then the violence started.
Milo and another man named Leo Peck were relaxing in the living room when Dr. Krieger received the call in the den from the Surgeon General. When he got off the phone Dr. Krieger dragged himself through the hall. He could barely speak. “Something terrible has happened.” He quickly explained the situation. “A man was shot by a policeman. A schoolteacher brutally beat a tardy child. A woman was killed. There’s more.”
Milo and Leo were in shock at the news. Pale and shaken, Milo said, “This means we’ll revert to our old behavior without the drug.”
“Not necessarily. It doesn’t really work that way.”
Leo had been assisting Dr. Krieger in his research and he said, “Milo, the physical portion of the brain responsible for primal impulse is gone. This is an endemic reaction. You or I are in no more danger of becoming violent than anyone else. But our natural control mechanisms are also gone.”
“And that’s what is happening in Oxten,” Dr. Krieger said, “These people are responding to external stimuli quite normally but their modifying inhibitors are absent. They no longer have a moral compass. The Matratirine suppresses our natural reactions to the environment. But it’s a very weak stimulant. I assumed people would quite easily learn to control themselves without it. But that’s not so. What have I done?” He slumped into a chair.
Milo too was upset. “Oh god.”
Leo whipped off his glasses. “This is an isolated incident. Think of all the good you’ve done, Dr. Krieger.”
“But people are dying.”
“They will fix it. The government probably has the drug there right now.”
“It’s on its way.”
“There, you see? Tomorrow this will all blow over.”
“You’re not looking at the big picture, Leo. For all practical purposes we are dependent on Matratirine from this time forward. Obviously our society can’t function without it now. I did this to us.”
Milo’s voice trembled. “I was always afraid of something like this. I knew it was just too easy.”
“The big picture is this,” Leo said. “Dependence on Matratirine is a small price to pay for what we’ve gained. We have people flying to the stars and very soon we will be traveling through time. We have peace in the world for the first time in history. Your work has resulted in the next step of man’s evolution, Dr. Krieger. Don’t ever forget that.”
“I don’t see it that way,” Dr. Krieger said. “Remember, the supply of mierta is limited to what’s grown in Columbia. We can produce enough to supply Matratirine for everyone with some measure of comfort, for now. But what if that changes?”
“We’re close to producing the drug in the lab. In another month we’ll be able to make it.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
Milo brightened a bit. “Is that true?”
“We have isolated the molecular sequences, which is the hardest part. Another month to come up with a method to produce it in sufficient quantities. Maybe two.”
“He’s right,” Dr. Krieger agreed. “At least that’s what we think.”
“I hope so,” Milo said.
A man came to visit the next day. He was tall, with swarthy skin and a flowing black moustache. Dr. Krieger addressed him as Senor Hernando and ushered him into the den. Senor Hernando removed his brimmed hat and took a seat. “I am aware of the problem in Oxten, Montana. This is why I come to see you today. But perhaps I should have come sooner,” he said gravely.
Dr. Krieger blanched. Hernando controlled the consortium that cultivated the mierta plant. “What do you mean?”
“There have been problems recently, with the mierta. Maybe about two weeks.”
“What sort of problems?”
Senor Hernando looked away. “We think it was a mistake. Now we do.”
“What was a mistake?”
“The red mierta. It is gone.”
Dr. Krieger didn’t see what the problem was. “That’s good. We can’t use it to make Matratirine so that’s good.”
Senor Hernando toyed with his hat. “It was a mistake.”
“The red mierta. We believe it was the female part of the plant.”
“How much of it is left?”
“It is gone.” Senor Hernando bowed his head. “What of the testing? Can you create the drug in your laboratory?”
“Not yet. It will be at least another month.”
“But the crop has failed. There will be no more mierta.”
“We are doomed, senor.”
The random violence began later that same week. As the supplies of Matratirine dwindled, incidents like what happened at Oxten, Montana became common. It spread like a virus spread. until the whole world was engulfed by violence.
Dr. Krieger hid away in the big house, appalled by what had happened. Like everyone else he had received the operation and he himself was dependent on Matratirine. Each day he took one of his last pills, terrified of what would happen when his supply ran out.
He barricaded himself in his bedroom when the men living on the estate began rioting. For two days he was tormented by their screams. Then it was quiet. He listened at the windows. Everyone had gone.
He began skipping days to make the pills last as long as possible. He could feel the effect. Very slowly, the irrational rage crept into him. He had tantrums and broke things for no reason at all. He was slipping into the madness. Soon he would be like all the rest.
When he was down to the very last pill Dr. Krieger abandoned his refuge. The house was in shambles. He waded through the disorder. He found himself sitting on the wrecked desk in the den. There had been a small cache of Matratirine in one of the drawers but now it was gone.
There was also something else in the desk. Somehow the scavengers had missed it. A friend had given him the revolver for protection when Milo and the others first came to stay at the estate. Dr. Krieger loaded the gun and placed it on the gouged desktop.
He heard a squeak somewhere in the house. Heart racing, Dr. Krieger picked up the gun. He stalked through the dark hallway. One hand holding the revolver and the other clutching his last pill, he stumbled through the wreckage and made it to the kitchen safely.
There was no one there at all. He was alone in the house and his mind was playing tricks. Relieved, he left the revolver on a counter. It was just too heavy to lug around like that. He could retrieve it quickly enough if need be. He pulled a chair upright and sat. He opened his hand and stared at the last pill.
“I was wondering if you were ever going to come down.” Milo, exhausted and disheveled, pushed open the pantry door.
“Milo?” Dr. Krieger was suspicious and afraid. The younger man had probably been without the drug for some time. How bad off was he? “Do you feel—?”
“Do I feel like killing you?”
“Milo, I’m sorry for all that’s happened. Please believe me.”
Milo banged a metal pipe on the door. “Sorry? You thought you could save the world and you couldn’t even save me. It’s too late for sorry.”
Dr. Krieger pleaded in terror, “You don’t have to do this. Milo, I have one left. Take it!” He held out the pill.
Milo smiled. “You take it.”
Stumbling off the chair, Dr. Krieger raced screaming for the gun.
by Chris Dean