It was no surprise that by the age of nine Robert Lindell Seuthers had a large menagerie rivaling the best zoos. It functioned as a sanctuary on his mother’s sprawling almost 700-acre Maine estate—a veritable landlocked Noah’s Ark. There were videos online of the young boy overseeing the building of the facilities that would be home to over a hundred animals. There were dozens of clips of him giving tours to children from nearby hospitals. He’d established a love of nature at an early age. It wasn’t just a study to him; it was a part of his everyday life. By the time the mini-zoo was completed, Seuthers was thirteen.
In his restlessness, Geoff pulled up several web links on his phone to study his newfound hero. He lingered over the face of the fragile-looking nine-year-old boy with the highly inquisitive eyes. He wondered what it felt like to live inside the head of someone so brilliant. Was there ever a time when he had the real innocence of a child, or did his strange wisdom rob him of the simple joys in his formative years? Was he always a small body waiting to catch up with an adult mind?
Whatever the differences there may have been, it didn’t show on the young countenance surrounded by his animals. He not only delighted in their presence, he loved them all, and it showed. Thinking him someone who would have a zoo/sanctuary solely for entertainment was an underestimation of his intelligence. Seuthers studied everything.
Analyzing him was like following a trail of video breadcrumbs. His entire life: thoughts, accomplishments, amusements, and beliefs were a matter of public record. Video record. If Geoff had a question about him, it was simply a matter of finding the video that held the answer. There were hundreds of them. His fans had tried to organize and archive them by subject matter or age. But the undertaking wasn’t yet complete. His following was immense, comparable to that of a rock star. All one had to do to learn how people of all ages revered him was to scroll through the endless comments beneath each video. Geoff had never seen a genius fan club, but he could understand it with this particular man. He was fascinating.
He was intrigued by the sanctuary and began clicking through the videos archived under that label. He stumbled on one that didn’t just chronicle the animals or new building additions. It was the eighteen-year-old Seuthers conducting a tour of college-age biology students through the facility. They followed him with the starry-eyed look of true admirers. Here was one of their own —already a billionaire inventor. To broke, Ramen-eating college students, he was their rock star.
“It’s an absurd vanity for man to believe he is the capstone of evolution. We live in mere increments of some eighty years and assume that our vision encompasses the dead end of a process of adaptation that takes hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of years. Evolution is a slow and microscopic tinkerer. It’s not something we can witness in a short spectrum of observation. It’s pure, unadulterated arrogance to think that we’ve stopped evolving, that we cannot become something different or greater than what we are at present. We are constantly adapting.” He turned to look at the small gathering of students. “Does anyone know how we can prove that to be true on a small scale which we can see right this very instant?”
Heads turned, eyes all looking at each other, but no raise of hands.
He took a lip balm from his pocket, uncapped it, and smoothed it over his lips. “Chapped lips. We discovered that if we continually use a lip balm, our lips begin assuming they have enough moisture and thus, stop manufacturing it. We get addicted to lip balm because our lips have adapted to our use of it. The only way we can actually un-chap our lips is to quit using it.” He capped it and returned the lip balm to his pocket. “The same can be said of eye drops and nasal spray. The body is continuously in various stages of adaptation to our environment. We discovered that truth years ago with antibiotic use. If we take one particular antibiotic too often, our body acclimates itself to it and it is no longer effective. That’s how we learned to rotate antibiotics in serious illnesses. The truth is, in evolutionary terms, we’re an unfinished blueprint. We still have no idea where our DNA will take us over time, but this—” He made an exaggerated gesture encompassing his whole torso, “is not a finished product by any means.”
He walked them to the small wooded area where two gray wolves slept. “This is Romy and Abe. They are gray wolves. Most of you know wolves have a sense of smell one hundred times more sensitive than humans do. They can sniff out another animal from almost two miles away. It’s not only the way they locate prey, but their highly developed defense mechanism to detect predators.” He turned back to his audience. “Let’s just suppose some things for a moment, because I’m one of those weirdoes who likes to ponder the ‘what if’s in life. Let’s cast an eye on one of the rules of natural selection. The very heart of it, in fact: the survival of the species. Competition for survival is the same with all life in that the creatures with the most advantageous traits are more likely to survive. Each species, like our gray wolves with their highly evolved sense of smell, have their own unique defense mechanisms because of their position in the food chain. The species above and below them on this chain of dominance would all possess their own brand of defense, whether sight, claws, teeth, or size. These traits maintain what we know as a natural balance.” He held up a finger. “Now, we know our position in this food chain and why we’re there. Intelligence. We’ve been able to out-think and out-smart to secure our dominance by creating external defenses: guns, bows and arrows, traps, et cetera. But,” he smiled coyly. “What would happen if that balance were upset? What if there was a failure of technology and man was thrown back into the wild without his weapons and forced to rely on nothing but his wiles? Would evolution change the way we continued to develop? Give us the same mechanisms as other species to allow us to compete with nature and maintain our dominance? Could we possibly acquire the same sense of smell as these wolves? If so, how would that change us? A human with the capability to smell both predator and prey from two miles away?”
“It’d definitely be hard to sneak up on someone,” one of the students offered.
“Practically impossible,” Seuthers agreed. “Boggles the imagination to consider what mankind could be and do because of one sense evolving to a higher state. It changes almost everything. But let us take this game of evolutionary what if a few steps further. Each creature, as I said, has its own brand of defense mechanism: for example, the gazelle has its speed, the armadillo, its armor, the snake its venomous fangs, the chameleon can blend into its background, the seemingly innocuous opossum: the ability to see in the dark.” He walked them to a nearby gulley where two porcupines were munching on a discarded pumpkin. “The quills of the porcupine. Harmless little creature until you try to grab or bite the thing.”
The video panned the faces of the students. They were entranced by the young, now handsome genius and his mental challenges.
“What if man were in a position where he needed these protective devices? A skin like armor, immense speed, the ability to make ourselves unseen to the enemy, the ability to see in the dark? How different would our society be if man had any or all of these?”
“He’d be Batman!” one young man shouted out jokingly.
Seuthers smiled. “Batman is a human who uses weapons. That makes him ordinary. We’re talking Superman territory. Built-in or innate traits that elevate man to a higher degree of invincibility than the ordinary flesh and blood human.”
“A superhero!” “A superhuman. A hero is made so by his or her deeds. Humans are made by genes. The possibilities are infinite. The underlying question is this: if technology were to fail us, say an enormous sunspot were to erupt and EMP us into the dark ages, how would you fend for yourself? How would you shelter and protect yourself? How would you safeguard yourself when the civilized part of civilization was lost? That is a frightening question because mankind as a whole has become dependent on external means to maintain his superiority. We’re no longer creatures savvy to the wild. We’re weak and lazy, and for the most part very unintelligent in spite of ourselves. We have no survival skills. We depend on others to bring our food to us and put it in stores for us to buy and cook. We depend on automobiles and planes and trains to get us to our destinations. How many of us could walk on foot across the city we live in?”
“I don’t even like walking up the stairs to the museum,” a young female voice piped in. “Exactly,” Seuthers said. “The possibility that there could come a time when man would need to continue his evolutionary adaptation may be more real than any of us think. It’s time for us to quit believing that we are the crowning achievement of evolution and realize it would only take one cataclysmic disaster to throw us back onto the bottom rung in nature to start all over again. It wouldn’t take long for us to discover who could survive by adapting.”
At the end of the video, Geoff sat silently, contemplating what he’d just heard. He touched the hairs on his arm thoughtfully. Two words remained with him: “Unfinished blueprint.”
an excerpt from the novel XPERIMENT by Dan Skinner: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019UUUTY2