Aldo is a mystery/thriller/love story in which a brilliant and dangerous ideologue attempts to eliminate a university’s genetics institute by holding the university’s president hostage.
On the same day that Isabel Canto, associate director of Pembrook Atlantic University’s Institute for Genome Modification, discovers she is pregnant with IGM post-doc Frank Marks’s baby, Pembrook Atlantic University’s president Mary Ellen Mackin receives a letter from “Aldo” threatening harm if she does not dissolve the institute and fire its director. Isabel recommends that Mackin refuse and not allow a terrorist to dictate what her faculty and students can research and discover, but this advice unwittingly sets off a chain of events that will change many lives forever—including hers.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Aldo by Betty Jean Craige, Isabel Canto, a genetic researcher at Pembrook Atlantic University discovers that she is pregnant. But marring her joy of the occasion is the threatening letter the president of the university gets that same day demanding that she shut down Isabel’s genetic research institute and fire its director, a Dr. Linus Winter. Isabel is horrified at this threat to freedom of discovery, research, and education and urges the president not to give into the terrorist. But she doesn’t realize that by giving this advice, she is starting a chain of events that will change a lot of lives, including hers.
Craige tells a fascinating tale in Aldo—an intriguing and complex mystery, marvelous characters, some futuristic science, and a good deal of suspense make this a page turner you won’t want to put down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Aldo by Betty Jean Craige is the story of a domestic terrorist who believes that violence and threats are the best way to settle ideological differences. The story begins in 2035, with a mother’s letter to her son, Lino. In the letter, she explains that she has written a novel that will tell her son the truth about his parentage and the events surrounding his birth. As we read the novel along with Lino, we are taken back to 2018 and the day that the mother Isabel discovers that she is pregnant with Lino, whose father is Isabel’s current boyfriend and lover, Frank, a post-doctorate researcher at the genome research institute where Isabel is an associate director. That same day, the president of the university where Isabel and Frank work receives a letter from a terrorist named Aldo. Aldo says that unless the president of the university shuts down the genome research institute and fires the director, Dr. Winter, Aldo will cause the president harm. She refuses to comply, mainly based on Isabel’s advice, and Aldo kidnaps her. But neither the faculty at the university or the terrorist are prepared for the reaction that this act of violence causes, and things quickly spiral out of control. Not only do copycats spring up, causing violence and destruction, but nothing goes according to plan for Aldo. Being a terrorist is a lot more complicated than Aldo realized.
Aldo is both unique and refreshing, in both its voice and in the creative way Craige has structured the story in the form of a novel in a novel, so to speak. Blending mystery and intrigue with superb character development, action, suspense, and a hint of romance, Aldo will keep you on your toes all the way through. I couldn’t put it down.
May 30, 2035
To my dear son Lino:
You are sixteen years old now, querido Lino. I am so sorry we could not celebrate your birthday. You will forever remember May 30, 2035, as the day you delivered Papa’s eulogy. You were eloquent. You conveyed your deep love for him, your admiration for him, and your desire to continue his work. You must know that he was as proud of you as you were of him.
Hijo mío, I too loved Papa very much, but I cannot continue to keep the secret he and I kept for sixteen years. You are a man now, and you deserve to know who you are. During the last months of Papa’s illness, unbeknownst to him, I reconstructed the story as best I could from what I remembered, what I found in our files, and what I imagine to be the truth. I wrote the story as a novel, but you may read it as history.
Here is my manuscript. Please understand that I have no regrets. I am fortunate to have you and your darling sister Emilia.
With all my love,
08-15-2018, 8:02 a.m.:
Good morning. I have been invited to join this Night Watch Facebook page. As instructed, I am accessing Night Watch on a used iPad mini 4 I found on craigslist for which I paid cash. I realize the importance of security and secrecy.
I too am concerned with what you call “runaway technology.” I am concerned about human germline genetic modification, that is, the “editing” of genes passed on to descendants. To modify the germline is to affect the nature of human beings for all the generations to come. It is to create a new species that will control the human species we know now.
It is to open Pandora’s box with no idea of what may fly out. No act in human history is more reckless.
I ask: How can we halt research and clinical trials in human germline genetic engineering before humans seize from nature the character of Homo sapiens?
I am looking for people who share my views.
~ AZA USA
08-15-2018, 5:08 p.m.:
Welcome to Night Watch, AZA USA. Night Watch is an underground organization of forty-to-fifty individuals in nineteen countries (so far) opposed to de-personalizing scientific advances. We do not know each other, we would not recognize each other on the street, and we do not meet.
Yet we consider ourselves the engine of a movement to preserve the God-given character of humankind.
As individuals, we disrupt runaway technology quietly and secretly. We work locally. We risk arrest to do what we consider right and just. Several of our members have been imprisoned for doing what is right and just.
I too am troubled by the recent advances in germline genetic modification. It is not possible to restrict gene editing to “responsible” scientists. CRISPR-Cas9 technology makes gene editing so cheap and easy that smart college kids can do it.
Please remember to preserve your anonymity. The personal initials you use need not be your own. However, the three-letter country code you use does need to be your own.
Finally, do not reveal to anybody the existence of this Facebook page. Do not post pictures on this Facebook page. Do not establish any other Facebook account, and do not use this Facebook account for any purpose other than Night Watch. Do not reveal to anybody that you have joined this movement.
I hope you comprehend the importance of your anonymity to all of us.
~ DRC DEU
08-16-2018, 6:40 p.m.:
I comprehend, DRC DEU.
08-16-2018, 9:51 a.m.:
Hello, AZA USA! I’d say the members of Night Watch all have different concerns. I joined because the government has invaded my privacy. People I don’t know are scrutinizing my blood, my DNA, my medical history, my web browsing, and my shopping habits. They are occupying my brain!
God save us from gene editing. Before long the government will dictate what my descendants look like and act like!
08-15-2018, 11:37 p.m.:
Three years ago Chinese scientists used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to modify the genome of human embryos. And now in the United States RIM Reproductive Technologies is doing it. It’s twenty-first century eugenics.
~ PTN USA
08-16-2018, 1:19 a.m.:
CRISPR-Cas9 technology enables scientists to modify the DNA in every living thing. Permanently. Imagine genetically modified wheat–well, that’s not hard to do since we already have GMO wheat–but also GMO grass, GMO bees, GMO fish, GMO cattle. The consequences? New GMO food chains.
Problem is: The substitution of one gene in a genome can trigger the expression of other genes in the genome. We humans don’t know all that we are doing when we modify food chains that have evolved over millennia. With genetic engineering we are destabilizing the planetary ecosystem.
~ TRT CAN
08-16-2018, 7:58 a.m.:
I imagine a time when the United States gives foreign aid only to countries that accept their GMO crops.
~ IBE MEX
08-16-2018, 10:03 p.m.:
What happens if an enemy modifies the DNA of a major food source for a large population and disrupts the food chain irreversibly?
~ RXP ESP
08-16-2018, 11:51 p.m.:
Three years ago in the USA, genome editing was listed in the annual worldwide threat assessment report as a potential weapon of mass destruction.
~ FMD USA
08-17-2018, 11:43 a.m.:
We are at a turning point in humanity’s history as consequential as the development of the atomic bomb. Was the development of the atomic bomb an act of scientific immorality? Yes, it was. The use of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 120,000 people instantly. Is the creation of Genetically Modified Humans an act of scientific immorality? Yes, it is. So we must act to stop it.
~ GLB ITA
08-17-2018, 7:48 p.m.:
Here is a scenario from the near future: Gene editing for diseases is commonplace. A United Nations Committee on Human Population Health decides to eliminate certain hereditary disorders by germline genetic therapy. The committee requires every government in the world to genetically test all its citizens and identify the carriers of those hereditary disorders. The carriers must undergo gene editing or be prohibited from procreation. Unmodified carriers must be policed.
You can guess the consequences. The committee decides what constitutes a hereditary disorder. First, it targets Cystic Fibrosis, Hemophilia, and Huntington’s Disease. Then, in an effort to perfect the human species, it targets Sickle Cell Anemia and the genetic predisposition to different cancers. Then it targets what the committee considers imperfections, such as color-blindness, dwarfism, and gigantism.
Before long the committee is declaring what constitutes a perfect human being and outlawing the genetic transmission of imperfections.
Do you think I’m paranoid?
~ MON USA
08-18-2018, 5:59 a.m.:
I don’t think you’re paranoid, MON USA.
~ LWG NLD
08-18-2018, 11:59 a.m.:
I was arrested in the 2015 March against Monsanto in Sydney for supposedly being aggressive with my sign “GMOs are killing our children.”
~ PLC AUS
08-18-2018, 3:39 p.m.:
I’ve been arrested twice. The first time for throwing a rock through a window of a Planned Parenthood office during a demonstration. I got ten days in jail. The second time for leaving a goat fetus on the steps of an abortion clinic. I was fined. After that I got an anonymous invitation to join Night Watch.
~ PAC USA
08-19-2018, 9:55 p.m.:
The LeClair Foundation has just issued a Request for Proposals to study the genetic causes of dwarfism. Research into the dwarf gene will lead straight to elimination of the gene, and then its replacement with a gene for tallness. Just watch.
The LeClair Foundation sponsors science that affects humankind’s entire future. If genetic engineers change one gene in an individual’s reproductive cells, then they change the genome of all the individual’s descendants. Do genetic engineers envision no side effects of their therapy? If they make a mistake, do they simply apologize to the unborn before they die?
I thought of Nietzsche’s “Parable of the Madman” today: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” The LeClair Foundation has killed God. It has assumed responsibility for the future.
~ DRC DEU
08-23-2018, 7:59 p.m.:
Bon soir, DRC–et mes amis du Night Watch.
You think of Nietzsche. I think of Hitler. What would Hitler and his Nazi scientists have done with germline gene engineering? They would have engineered a superior race of humans with boldness, drive, high intelligence, and lack of empathy. They would have used gene engineering to control the rest of the world’s populations.
To give any one scientist the power to control the traits of yet-to-be-born humans is to give all scientists that power.
I tell you, Night Watchmen, the genie is about to escape from the bottle. We must act.
~ JFC FRA
08-30-2018, 7:10 a.m.:
We must act, but thoughtfully and non-violently.
~ LJT CAN
09-04-2018, 9:00 p.m.:
Fellow Night Watchmen: Medical scientists are deactivating the genes in pigs that make their organs unsuitable for transplantation into humans. Now we almighty humans can harvest the organs of pigs and other non-human animals to keep our precious selves alive. I find this immoral. Will scientists feel free to edit the genomes of any living thing for humans’ immediate benefit?
We humans are converting the whole biosphere into stuff that benefits us.
~ ALM IND
09-05-2018, 7:31 a.m.:
We as individuals should obtain power within the system. We can then advance our cause with the power we’ve acquired. Without power we are just annoyances to those with power.
~ PTN USA
09-07-2018, 1:48 p.m.:
See James 4:17: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Consider sabotage, fellow Night Watchers, sabotage of the laboratories that engineer fetuses.
~ PAC USA
09-08-2018, 12:01 p.m.:
Yes to sabotage.
~ SMH EGY
09-09-2018, 4:14 p.m.:
To PTN USA: You are right. We must act locally, but in ways we can be heard globally. Let us call the world’s attention to germline gene engineering, wherever we are, wherever we find it. That is how we build a movement, a movement that cannot be stopped.
I am eighty-two years old. My father, who was Jewish (married to my mother who was Christian), was transported to Treblinka in Poland in 1943 when I was seven years old. He was one of 72,500 Jews killed in the death camps.
Hitler advocated: “Keep your blood pure and your honor holy.” Gene engineering is a form of keeping a race’s blood “pure.”
That’s why I think of Hitler. That’s why I advocate action.
My mother took me to France, where she raised me with a hatred of the Nazis.
~ JFC FRA
09-10-2018, 2:15 p.m.:
Are we simply leaves that float down the river of history? That’s what we are if we recognize a hazard and do not act.
~ PKO SWE
09-18-2018, 8:09 p.m.:
Hello, Night Watchmen. I am with you. I agree that we must act, but non-violently.
In the internet age we can distribute information instantaneously. We need not destroy laboratories or kill researchers. We need only frighten the public. Let’s draw attention to the activities of genetic engineers and use public outrage to stop this hazardous science. The public will then force our legislators to pass laws prohibiting germline gene therapy.
Our weapon will be publicity.
~ AZA USA
10-20-2018, 4:56 a.m.:
To AZA USA: Publicity is entertainment. It won’t disrupt lives. If we are to change the direction of history, we need to disrupt lives.
~ SMH EGY
10-20-2018, 6:39 p.m.
To all Night Watchmen: Let us put this conversation on hold for a few days. It is getting risky. The function of the Night Watch Facebook group is to encourage individual action. We do not want any of us to identify anybody else by our comments here.
So I sign off.
~ DRC DEU
10-20-2018, 7:15 a.m.:
I agree. Goodbye.
~ PTN USA
Monday, September 24, 2018
I’m pregnant. Por Dios! I’m pregnant. I’m pregnant! I’m going to have a baby.
Dr. Isabel Canto flushed the toilet, threw the home pregnancy test kit in the trash, and poured the rest of her morning coffee down the bathroom sink. She stood before the full-length mirror naked. Did she look pregnant? Her face was full, but her body seemed unchanged. She was short and plump, so she might not show for months. She donned a pair of jeans and a red scoop-neck sweater, which she thought complemented her brown skin, and brushed her long black hair, which today she would wear down.
Will Frank believe me when I say this was an accident? How will he react? We’ve never talked about pregnancy. We’ve never talked about a future together. I will keep this baby. Whatever he says I will keep this baby. My baby. My baby who is growing inside me.
Isabel put on the silver bracelet and earrings that her father, Dr. Leandro Canto, had given her when she had gotten into graduate school in the United States. “You are my only child,” he had told her. “I will miss you, but I want you to have the best education you can get.” He was already ill with the cancer that killed him.
Papi would have been happy for me. He would not have cared that I’m not married, or not yet married.
Isabel approached the mirror again.
That’s the best I can do. Will Frank notice how pretty I look today? I will tell him tonight. I hope he will ask me to marry him, right away. He has to. I know he will. And I know what I will say. Yes, of course, yes! We will get married here on the river bank, maybe in a couple of weeks. My family will come. Mami, Tía Elena, Tío Paco, mis primos, mis sobrinos, my whole huge Mexican family.
Isabel picked up the photograph of Frank she had framed for her bedside table. She had taken it one day when he was in the lab.
How handsome he is. And how happy I am. Thank you, God, for making me happy. I am really happy for the first time in years. I really am. Because this time I will keep my baby. I will have a family. A husband and a child, maybe children.
She fed Chula, her fifteen-pound Ragdoll cat, and filled the bird-feeder on the back deck. After a long look at the river she grabbed her purse and her briefcase and drove the five miles to Pembrook Atlantic University.
As she unlocked the door of the Institute for Genome Modification Isabel found two sealed manila envelopes lying on the floor, one of them addressed to her and the other addressed to her colleague Linus Winter, their names hand-printed with a black felt-tip pen. She opened hers.
Monday, September 24, 2018
Dear President Mackin:
Call me Aldo. I represent ethical people across the world concerned with the detrimental consequences of germline genetic modification in humans. As president of Pembrook Atlantic University you have the power to stop this practice on your campus. If you do not, someone else will.
The modification of genes in the individual’s sex cells alters the entire “germline” of the individual. The modified genes are passed down from one generation to the next ad infinitum. Scientists performing the procedure on humans are engineering future humans–with the arrogance to assume they are astute enough to take charge of mankind for all time henceforth.
Dr. Linus Winter, Director of Pembrook Atlantic’s Institute for Genome Modification (IGM), is such an engineer. He is substituting evolution by genetic engineering for evolution by natural selection. He is modifying humans forever. He cannot know what all he is doing.
I ask that you immediately shut down the Institute for Genome Modification, dismiss Dr. Winter from the university, and return the $5 million grant to IGM from the LeClair Foundation.
If you refuse to comply with this request by Friday, you will do so at your peril. I will act to ensure that Pembrook takes the moral position.
Cc: Dr. Linus Winter, Director of IGM
Dr. Isabel Canto, Associate Director of IGM
Terri Marrow, Reporter for the Banner-News
Isabel called Linus and read him the letter over the phone.
“Who is Aldo?” she asked him. “And what does he know about you?”
Isabel knew much about her friend. She knew that Linus had gotten a bachelor’s degree from Stockholm University in molecular biology and a PhD from Duke in genomics and that he had written his dissertation on Huntington’s Disease, also known as Huntington’s Chorea. She found the word chorea, which meant uncontrollable jerky movements, horrifyingly ironic, since it was related etymologically to the word choreography. Linus’s father had died from the neurological disease.
Linus established the Institute for Genetic Modification at Pembrook with a grant from the Luxembourg-based LeClair Foundation in 2013 and a year later designated her his associate director.
In April of 2015, after learning he had inherited the HTT gene mutation that caused Huntington’s, Linus had performed germline gene therapy on himself. He did not want to pass on the disorder to his offspring, each of whom would have a fifty percent chance of inheriting it.
“I doubt I will ever have children,” Linus had said to Isabel later. “It would be unfair of me to enter another marriage when Huntington’s Disease is in my future.”
Linus was thirty-six years old now. He could become afflicted at any time. Isabel found herself watching him for signs of the disease’s inevitable onset, twitching, clumsiness, stiffness, abnormal eye movements, loss of balance, but she had seen nothing out of the ordinary. Linus had hired her, inspired her, and guided her.
He was brilliant, thoughtful, and kind. She loved his Swedish accent. He said he loved her Mexican accent. If he had not been her boss she would have sought a romantic relationship, despite his genetic inheritance.
“He may not know much about me, Isabel, but he may know a lot about our research here. He may have read the paper Eve, Franklin, and I just published, the one you proofread about our germline therapy on patients M-Two and L-One.”
Eve Huerta was a twenty-seven-year old African-American PhD student at the institute. She had gotten her undergraduate degree with a double major in biology and voice at Spelman College and her master’s degree in genetics at the University of Georgia, where she wrote a thesis on the inheritance of sickle cell anemia. She was a soloist in her church choir. She had recently married Enrique Huerta, an obstetrician of Cuban heritage who played the guitar and the drums in a local band. Eve was Isabel’s cute, funny, irreverent best friend.
Franklin Marks was a new postdoctoral fellow with a PhD in developmental genetics from the University of California at Berkeley. Isabel had been going out with Frank since his arrival in early July. Frank was good-looking. He was tall and muscular, blond and blue-eyed, and well-groomed. He competed in international chess tournaments and collected chess sets from around the world. He played the violin. He hunted with a bow. He was, as she had said to her mother, muy sofisticado. Soon he would leave for a faculty position at Swan Valley College in Idaho. When he accepted the offer in mid-September, he did not know he would be the father of her child, but neither did she.
Both Eve and Frank were supported by Linus’s grant from the LeClair Foundation.
At eight o’clock Isabel called the office of President Mary Ellen Mackin and reached her directly.
“President Mackin, this is Isabel Canto, associate director of the Institute for Genome Modification. Have you read the letter somebody named Aldo sent you?”
“I’m reading it, Dr. Canto,” the president said. “A student just delivered it. Can you and Dr. Winter come to my conference room at ten? I will also invite Provost Wayne Peyton, Vice President Ferris Whitehall, and Dr. Carolyn Hooper, who chairs the Faculty Council.”
“Yes, of course.”
Isabel knew Ferris Whitehall well, since he had chaired the genetics department before becoming vice president for research. She did not know either Carolyn Hooper or Wayne Peyton personally. Wayne Peyton had been provost for little more than two months.
© 2017 by Betty Jean Craige