Carrie Maldonado – Writer

Freelance writer, wordsmith, and novelist

“No way. No way, no way, no way.” Chavah Harrison repeated the mantra even as the papers spewing out of the printer said otherwise. “Adam, get over here! Big Louie’s finished with the data and you’re not gonna believe this!”

Her lab partner and lover sighed audibly from the other room, where he was still attempting to splice the latest gene samples. “You said that last time. And quit calling it that. It makes you sound deranged to refer to a twenty million dollar computer as Big Louie.”

“It’s not like our illustrious board of directors are around to get offended. Come on, Adam, lighten up.”

“Lighten up? Chavah, it may have escaped your notice, but we are on a very short deadline. If we can’t find the altruism gene, our jobs are shot, not to mention our reputations.”

Even though he couldn’t see her, she stuck out her tongue. “Our jobs? Baby, once our results get published, we are going to be world famous. We’ve finally done it!”

“Are you sure? You said that last time and – “

“Geez, Adam, are you listening? I’ve finally learned the truth about the altruism gene. This is going to change everything!”

There was a small clatter from the other room and a muttered curse and then Adam appeared in the doorway. His hair was rumpled and there were deep pockets under his eyes. “Tell me. What’s so important that you made me waste about $10,000 of raw material?”

She smiled. This was what she loved about Adam; his ability to understand her life’s work and share in it. They had started off as fierce rivals when they began their internships at GeneCom. The privately held corporation was sponsoring an initiative to rival the Human Genome project, only with greater funding and less restrictions.

“Trust me, no one will mind. You know how we keep running into brick walls trying to isolate any kind of genetic marker for altruism? I was about ready to quit after failing again yesterday.”

“As I recall, your last words before you fell asleep last night were that you didn’t think altruism even existed, so how could we find a gene for it? And you left before I woke up this morning. What happened?”

“I had this dream,” she looked him dead in the eye as she said it, daring him to challenge her, but they’d been together long enough, and enough of her intuitions and dreams had panned out, that he now took them as seriously as she did. He often joked that her subconscious processor made Big Louie look like a five-dollar calculator and even though she laughed too, she tended to agree. “It was set back in World War Two, and I was a little Jewish boy being hidden from the Nazis.”

“That’s kind of weird,” Adam said. “When was the last time you even went to synagogue?” A complete lack of interest in practicing their shared Judaic heritage was yet another thing they had in common.

“Grandma’s funeral, ten years ago. That’s what made this dream so weird. I was a little boy and my papa was a rabbi. I was in a cellar with other Jews and the Nazis were hunting for us every day. In the dream, this German family was taking care of us.”

“Like Anne Frank?”

“Yeah, I guess. In the dream, I asked my papa why these people would be willing to risk their lives to help perfect strangers. He looked me straight in the eye and said, in Hebrew, ‘The virus has been neutralized in some. They’re able to be truly human.’ And then I woke up and I knew.”

“Hold on. You don’t know Hebrew.”

“That’s not really the important part, Adam. It was a dream. When I woke up I realized that we’ve been looking at this all wrong! We’ve been looking for a gene that causes people to act unselfishly – the altruism gene. What if it’s the other way around? What if there’s a selfish gene, instead?”

“A selfish gene?” Adam squinted his eyes as he pondered. “But-”

“I know what you’re going to say,” Chavah interrupted. “I thought the same thing. How could a selfish gene survive millions of years?”

“I hate it when you read my mind,” Adam grumbled, with a smile that belied his words. “Makes me redundant.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Anyway, I started reprogramming the basic assumptions in Big Louie and voila!” She waved the papers again.

He snatched them away from her and scanned them. She watched his face and waited for the impact to hit him. “Oh my G-“

“I know!”

“But Chavah, this means…”

“I know!”

“The implications-“

“Are mind-blowing. Just think, Adam! Selfishness is a virus, and pretty much the entire human race is infected. I’ve run and rerun the samples and I know I’m right. There is no gene for altruism because there doesn’t need to be. Without this virus, it’d be like Mayberry all over the place.”


“You know what I mean. Kindness, tolerance and brotherly love. All the things that all the major religions teach, we’d all be doing if it weren’t for this virus. Can you imagine if we could figure out a way to cure it, Adam?”

“Unbelievable. World peace could actually be achievable. Have you been able to isolate the virus?”

“No, I’ve got Big Louie working on it. But look at this, Adam. Once I program in the parameters and revised assumptions, it’s weird. I’ve never seen a virus like this. It looks like it was artificially introduced, but once the host is infected it can pass the virus genetically.”


“Yeah, it’s incredibly virulent. The weird thing is that there are pockets of people who seem to be immune. They’re pretty rare, and I’m not sure how it happens. The data Big Louie’s crunched so far show a pretty low correlation genetically. Something else appears to be overriding the virus but I have no idea what.”

“This is awesome, Chavah! Wait ‘til we report into GeneCom.” They both smiled, thinking of the kudos they’d receive. The mandate of the project was to improve the quality of life for mankind. Every inroad that had ever been made to achieving peace or improved quality of life had been thwarted, throughout history by individuals who valued their own profit or comfort over their fellow humans.

“This is going to change everything,” Chavah said again. “At least, once we figure out how to kill the virus.”

When she saw Adam slip to the floor, she didn’t immediately connect it to the loud cracking noise or the tinkle of glass. Then her brain caught up to the sight of the neat red hole in Adam’s forehead and the blood pooling underneath him. Her scream died in the air as the door to the lab swung open.

“Good work, Ms. Harrison,” said a tall, tanned and smiling man. She immediately recognized him as Ethan Masters, CEO of GeneCom. “I wasn’t sure if humankind had acquired the ability to learn the truth or not. I had rather hoped not, but no matter. Thanks to you I can control the spin and probably even make a few more billions in the process.”

“But why?” she asked, even as the gun in his hand turned toward her. “This could change everything.”

“And ruin all my hard work? Tsk-tsk, Chavah. Do you know how difficult it was to engineer this virus? And look how effective it is. It’s brilliant. There’s only one cure for this virus and the fact is, you people don’t want it. But thanks for the fun.” He raised the gun, but lowered it as she starting laughing.

“You lose,” she said between hiccups of laughter.

“I never lose,” Masters said. “Your lover is dead and your secret dies with you.”

“Not this time, Ethan. Adam and I figured this out twelve days ago. This whole last week we’ve been play-acting for your benefit. Adam figured out you were spying on us months ago and once we realized what we’d discovered, we knew why. We never dreamed our research would provide a scientific basis for the story of the fall in Genesis. Once we realized that, we knew who needed this information. The world is going to change, Ethan, and not in your favor. Because the world already has the information on how to beat the virus, now that they know it’s real.”

The irony was more delicious than any forbidden fruit. Chavah – the Hebrew word for Eve – and Adam, had provided the world proof of the cure to the sin problem. She was laughing even as he pulled the trigger.

One thought on “The Selfish Gene

  1. Mary Rowen says:

    Wow, Carrie! This is such a cool and original story! I’m sorry it didn’t win the contest, but I hope you’ll continue to submit it elsewhere. It deserves to be published for sure!

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