The Confession of Lily Brandt
I’ve never written anything like this before. In fact, I don’t write much of anything, unless it’s a research paper. I don’t really know how something like this should go, so I’m going to begin, as I would a scientific paper, with the objectives of the following narrative, of which there are two.
First and foremost, this is my confession. As part of an agreement between my legal counsel, the District Attorney’s office, and Judge Emile Spicer of the First District Federal Court of Boston, I’ve been ordered to render a full confession in writing, describing the nature and extent of my crimes.
The second objective of the narrative goes beyond the purpose outlined by Judge Spicer. My hope is that it serves as both a warning to future scientists and as a historical account of this exciting time in science. I cannot give a full confession without conveying the following truth: I remain ambivalent about the things we’ve done.
Though we broke rules and did others harm, our work has moved neurology and bio-interfacing far ahead of where it would be otherwise. If we’d worked within the framework of Harvard or MIT, Erik Hu would be celebrating a Nobel Prize in the near future. I’m certain of it.
From an ethical standpoint though, no institution would have touched the project, and this is the delicate moral dilemma of modern scientific research. We hurt people, yes. But how many more will benefit from the knowledge we’ve gained while walking in uncharted grounds?
Also, it cannot be forgotten that the science was not our only motivation. We benefited financially, much to the detriment of our clients. That is my greatest regret.
I was never supposed to end up in jail. The idea of it was so far from my mind that it wasn’t even a consideration. I was, and remain, a top student, a great mathematician, and one of my generation’s best programmers. I’ve won awards, competitions, and scholarships at every level in my education. The proudest day of my life was when I received notice of my acceptance to MIT. This is not the path of the average felon.
In high school I was routed toward a specialized curriculum for ‘gifted students,’ and though it was great to be challenged academically, in essence, I was ostracized. By junior year, I was in the virtual classroom the entirety of most days; it was the only way the school could offer the courses I wanted to take. But apart from one senior, Ahmed Russad, who was in my advanced computer science course, I was the only person in the room.
By senior year, I only left for lunch, AP English, PE, and Civics. So I wasn’t exactly the most popular girl in school. Mercifully, bullies left me alone, probably because I wasn’t even high enough on the social ladder to bother harassing.
When I arrived in Cambridge the following year, things were very different. MIT boys were different too. They noticed skinny little hacker girls with loose jeans and a sideways hat. They talked to me, and they thought it was cool that I got their nerdy math jokes and knew more about particle physics than sports or pop music. It was like a homecoming of sorts. MIT was the happiest time of my life.
I’d never even kissed a guy before I got to MIT. By the end of my Freshman year, I’d gone through six different boyfriends, and it wasn’t that I had bad taste. They were all great guys. I just knew I had my pick, so I got picky.
The last guy I was with was a senior named Warren, who was working on his AI thesis paper, helping to advance development of the Norris system with Professor Dodds. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he’d won two of the six hacking contests my first semester.
In February, a local startup sponsored a contest of their own, offering a very generous cash prize and a paid summer internship. Because of the lure of such a great prize, I figured enough people would enter that I wouldn’t feel humiliated when the older, better programmers bested me. So I entered, figuring I had nothing to lose.
Only seven of the school’s best hackers entered, and as soon as I saw my competition, I wanted to run back to my dorm room and hide in the closet. It was rare for a freshman to win, and even rarer for a girl. But I stayed nonetheless, and to everyone’s shock, including my own, I won. And not only did I win the cash and the job, but also the attention of Warren, who asked me out on the spot.
Things were so great socially that I began to relax in my classes a little. I got the first B of my life that spring. I was going to parties with an older crowd, and I continued to see Warren all the way through the following summer.
That fall, Warren stayed in Boston. He found work as a systems engineer with a medical research firm affiliated with Mass General. We were growing apart as he started to hang out with his work friends and I was still in school. He invited me to this house party in Somerville; I suppose it was one of those last-ditch efforts to see if there was anything left in our relationship.
There wasn’t. If not for Warren, I’d have been the youngest person at this party by seven years, and I was horribly underdressed. I could tell right away that he felt awkward about having me there, and I felt awkward being there. It was so embarrassing. I ran off to the bathroom right away to take off my hat and see if anything could be done about my hair.
It was like high school all over again, but instead of cheerleaders and football players, this time the cool people were doctors, lawyers, and young professionals. There was even a professor from Harvard. I felt like a fool, and Warren was no help at all. He just left me to fend for myself.
We’d been there about an hour, and every minute of it was torture. I asked Warren to take me back to Cambridge three times to no avail. Finally, I decided that I wanted a bit of fresh air, so I retreated through the kitchen to this tiny porch in the back. As I stepped out onto the old wooden balcony, I noticed I wasn’t alone. There was this Asian guy sitting in one of the two plastic chairs smoking a cigarette, looking out into the cool evening as though he didn’t have a care in the world—relaxed in a way that very few people travelling in such circles ever touch.
“I’m Hu,” he said, looking up at me and inviting me to sit.
I didn’t know it at the time, but he liked to do that—to introduce himself by his last name, which almost always turned into a ridiculous, impromptu comedy skit as the person tried to figure out that Hu was his name.
“You’re Who?” I answered, shrugging my shoulders as I sat beside him. “Okay, I guess that makes me Betty Lou, Who.”
“That’s funny,” he said, squinting a bit as he looked out into the Cambridge night. He took a drag from the cigarette and turned his head to blow the smoke away from me. “You don’t want to be at this party with all these smug assholes, do you, Betty Lou?”
“I don’t think I’d have worded it that way.”
“But, yes,” he said, nodding as he asked, “Where do you go to school? Harvard?”
“MIT,” I answered.
He smiled at me and was half laughing. “You don’t just go to MIT—a girl like you? Are you kidding? You own the place.”
I should have known then and there that Hu was trouble. It wasn’t love at first sight, but he was so confident, so charismatic, and so funny that by the time we got up to go back to the party an hour later, I was madly in love with Erik Hu. And he did that to everyone in almost every room he entered.