Author note: I have to say I am a little bit disappointed how much the readership has fallen off with each subsequent part of the book. I know this isn't uncommon as it happened with The Sidereus Prophecy, but not to such a significant degree. Is it the horror aspect? Are these types of stories not usually well received or as popular here? I will, of course, continue to post the story here, but I can't hide my disappointment that people aren't actually reading it.
If you would like to contact me, you can do so at [email protected]
“Okay, so let me get this straight. We’re pawns within a massive conspiracy involving a television network, the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the country and…if I understand it correctly- the federal government. Or at least people in the government.”
I nodded my head in rapid agreement. Ashley looked at me the same way I had looked at Ms. Daniels when she chose the frilliest and pinkest dress in the closet, and then proceeded to parade me in front of the mirror, telling me how pretty I looked. I looked at her like she was a fucking lunatic. It was a momentary break in character.
We were in our pajamas, engaging in our nightly talk, when we re-established our adult selves, except tonight was different. I had an extremely juicy piece of gossip. To anyone else, the whispering we did underneath the sheets of Ashley’s bed sounded like girl talk, but it was nothing like that.
Ashley said, “If Ryan Sullivan wasn’t in the same bed as me, I never would have believed it. I mean not that it would have taken a nation-wide conspiracy for me to sleep with you.” Even in the darkness, I knew she was smiling, likely grinning. She added, “Well maybe it would have taken that.”
I replied, half-serious and half-joking, “You were into me. Just admit it. You’ll sleep better.”
My words were greeted with a pillow planted directly in my face. Ashley said, “It sucks that you couldn’t get a signal at all with your phone, but you know at this point, I’m not sure calling the police will do much, especially since we don’t know how long this ‘malleable’ period lasts. From what you say, we need to convince Dr. Travers that what he’s doing is wrong and hope he’ll change us back.”
I shook my head fiercely, “No way. As soon as he brings us to his lab or whatever, we steal the serum and use it. I’m not getting stuck this way, Ashley. I’m not.”
Ashley sighed, “And that approach could regress you to a point where you might not even exist. We can’t just randomly start picking ourselves with needles. We have to see if we can reason with Dr. Travers. The way you explained it, it doesn’t sound like this is as easy as just taking a serum. It has to be prepared. That’s the dataset he’s talking about. The serum we were given is probably specific to each of us.”
I took Ashley by the shoulders and gently shook her, “Ashley, the people who have done this to us are fucking crazy. There’s no reasoning with them. We need to steal the serum and either threaten to use it on one of them or escape from here and give it to someone who can help us.”
Ashley didn’t seem fazed by my shaking, “I want out of here as much as you do, Ryan. But your plan is flawed. I’m really glad you were able to see the advantage of being Kaylee, at least for a moment, but do you think that a bunch of kids can overpower five adults? One or two yes, but five? So we get the needles from Dr. Travers, and we threaten to use them. What then?”
There was a brief pause, “I could see stealing them, but we need to know how to escape. You need to use that access card to explore more. If we have the needles and we are trapped here, they are useless. Here’s the problem. None of us have the dexterity to pull the plunger and actually hold it steady enough to reach a vein. And they know that. All we are going to do is piss them off.”
Ashley added delicately, “You said that Daniels was questioning the loyalty of Travers. Maybe there’s a chance we can talk to him. Explain that what he is doing is…well monstrous. If that doesn’t work, well then we can re-evaluate our options. Are you OK with that?”
I glared at Ashley, “You don’t have to talk to me like a fucking kid, Ashley. Your plan is better- it makes more sense. Do you want a fucking medal?”
Ashley sighed lightly, “It’s not about who came up with the best idea, Ryan. We’re not in competition. I’m not trying to match you squat for squat or anything.”
I replied caustically, “Is that what you think of me? Just some brainless dead lifter? Let me tell you something though, the way you were headed- well let’s just say there were a lot of cats in your future. Guys don’t like girls like you Ashley. Know-it-all, ball busters who think they are better than everyone else. Not to mention you were a goddamn femi-nazi man hater.”
Ashley said firmly, “Let’s get one thing straight, little sister. I do not hate nor did I ever hate men. I just have trust issues with them. Which is why when you pull stuff like this, and go against what we agreed before, I get mad.”
I shook my head, “So? I have trust issues with girls. Because of what Hannah did. I mean, you know, she was…”
Ashley interjected, “Special? You can’t blame your ex-girlfriend for wanting to leave. She wanted to go to school, and you didn’t. Relationships break up for less than that. You don’t exactly help those issues by sleeping around either. Or the unresolved issues with your mother. You really don’t think she would want to know where you are, Ryan? I mean she’s your mother. You talk about her like she abused you. I mean you don’t have to tell me-”
I shrugged, “It’s fine. No, she didn’t. When I was younger she was better though. She just worried about me, tried to turn me into this little momma’s boy. After Hannah though, the night I stole her car, she just ignored me a lot. Just like I did her when she was crying. And I never trusted her because she would always tell my dad about the stuff I was doing. He never thought it was a big deal.”
Ashley said softly, “It sounds like you didn’t communicate well.”
I nodded, “Like I said, it got worse as I got older, and especially after she sent me to that stupid private school. Goddamn that sucked. It was like we only did things together when my dad was there. By the time I was thirteen she was just letting me do my own thing. And she just cried. And cried. It was so annoying.”
Ashley replied, “I still think it’s really sad.”
There was something about Ashley’s voice, and despite its youthful timbre, it reminded me of Hannah’s on the day her cat died. It was a bizarre connection, but I realized that Hannah actually wanted to talk about it, without specifically telling me. To talk about our lives, our love, and our future. It was more than her cat. I had completely misread her emotions and her intentions. God, girls could be so emotional and cryptic! Why couldn’t they just punch something? Or have crazy sex?
Why couldn’t they be more like Monique? Still, I had to admit, Ashley's warmth and caring voice was something hard to ignore. I realized I kind of liked it. She was a lot like Hannah in that respect.
“I-I was wondering, you know- if you want. You said you don’t trust guys. Was it your boyfriend or something? I mean if you’re ready to tell me.”
There was a pause, and then a heavy sigh from the girl across from me. She reached out and clasped my hand, our tiny hands (Ashley’s with slightly longer fingers) seemingly merging together, as if establishing a powerful, unspoken bond. “It wasn’t an old boyfriend or anything like that. I know this is going to sound like some kind of stupid after-school special. But all the shit about trusting people no matter what, the dark and these bodies- it makes me remember too much what happened to me when I was first this age.”
She continued solemnly, “My Uncle Robert was a really nice guy…fuck this is stupid. I really thought I was over this.” I gently squeezed Ashley’s hand. It wasn’t something that came into my head as an idea, it was subconscious, however; the action surprised me. It was unlike me to show such emotion, even trapped within the emotional powder keg that was Kaylee. My simple gesture seemed to urge Ashley to continue. Was Ashley actually having a positive influence on me?
“So he was incredible. He’d take me out all the time. To museums and shopping. My parents loved it because it’d give them a break. I used to love it on Sunday mornings when he’d bring me to the science museum, and I’d get to see all the animal displays. Then we’d go for pancakes. I think I was about five at the time.”
Ashley squeezed my hand tightly, “Well this continued for probably two months, and I remember telling my mom I wanted to marry Uncle Robert- a lot of times. But then- then it got a bit weird. He wanted to pick me up from school this one time. And he got angry when I said I wanted to take the bus with my friends. “
She sighed heavily, “So I’m really sad. And I tell him that I don’t want him to be mad at me and I’ll do anything. I hate that feeling. He was the person I trusted most. I could tell him anything- even more than my mom. My parents were already fighting a bit, but it wasn’t really bad, so they went to the ‘doctor’ as they told me. I thought maybe I was getting a baby sister. But I found out much later that they were in counselling. So Uncle Robert, he becomes the de facto babysitter, right? My mom trusted her brother probably as much as I trusted him so it was a no brainer.”
The grip on my hand grew tighter, “I remember, it was after supper, and my mom and dad were at the ‘doctor’. Uncle Robert came over, and we coloured. It was a Little Mermaid colouring book. I can still see it. So he’s helping me get ready for bed, brushing my teeth and all that. And he asks me if I keep my promises. I say yes- of course. And he tells me that that he’s still sad about not getting to pick me up. And he wants to play this game-…he’s- he’s pulling down his pants. And he tells me. This is playing doctor. Like mommy and daddy.”
Ashley’s voice grew strained “I-I don’t need to tell you what he did. He turned the lights off, and I never wanted them off again. I didn’t tell my parents at first because I still wanted him to be my friend. Even though what he did made…me- it made me feel- just wrong. Bad. That’s why this is bullshit that this show is making us say, that parents, friends, relatives, that we can trust them no matter what. It’s garbage. You have no idea how hard it was for me to do those scenes.”
I asked in a tiny voice, “W-What happened to your uncle?”
Ashley’s voice firmed, “He went to jail. Got counselling. He apologized when I was an adult, but the damage was done. I put up walls that reached the sky after that. Even when I’m in a good relationship, a guy I really like- I think he’s going to cheat on me. I get super paranoid and sometimes I just break it off because I can’t take it. I hate to think that this one person who I trusted more than anyone could fuck me up so bad. I hate it. You have no idea, Ryan. It’s not fair…I-I”
The raven-haired little girl once again threw her arms around me, practically squeezing the life out of me. I felt a wetness on my shoulder. The girl buried her head into my chest, which sufficiently muffled her crying.
The outburst of emotion was contagious as memories of my own fractured childhood flooded back. For the first time in probably a year, I seriously thought about my mom. Goddamn Ashley, why did she have to bring up my mom? I thought about her potentially missing me, and feeling sad because of it. Feelings I had long since buried, trapped by adolescent angst and a life full of constant distractions, were allowed to escape. As my own tears started to gently fall, I hoped for an instant that she actually missed me.
It was three days later, and we still hadn’t established contact with Dr. Travers. I even managed to sneak into the storage room again, but I didn’t overhear anything. Plus, it was pitch black in the room, meaning the adjoining room was likely empty. I’ll admit, I didn’t get very far. Primal fear gripped me, the same way it had when I looked into the great beyond that stretched past the vent in the studio. The strange thing was, I knew what was there. In fact, I knew exactly what was there- filing cabinets, a key on the lowest one, some shelves and a vent leading to the room where I overhead Dr. Travers and Ms. Daniels divulge their plan like clueless super villains.
My mind, however, freely created a host of creatures that might be waiting, maws dripping with fresh blood from the last child that ventured into the dark. I stood paralyzed by fear, my bravery fleeing as easily as dry sand displaced by a gentle wind. I didn’t even fumble for a light switch, instead- I fled back to the bedroom. I didn’t tell Ashley about it. I was too embarrassed.
Once the third day had arrived, as some sort of potential reaper for our formal selves, we grew anxious. If Dr. Travers was telling the truth then this supposed malleable period might soon be ending and with it, any hope of turning back. Shooting had continued, and our existence had been reduced to long, tedious hours spouting nonsense. Ms. Daniels tried to get us to shoot even longer, but we were all too tired. At the end of that third day, eager for our beds and thankful for the end of our forced play acting, Ashley and I noticed something extremely unusual.
The third door in the corridor, the one with the key marks, was wide open.
Ashley and I shared surprised looks. In those three days, Ashley and I had grown closer. I couldn’t exactly tell her to stop being a pussy or to grow up. She had experienced real childhood trauma, and as shitty as my life had been, I had never gone through what she had. Her fear of men made perfect sense. I hadn’t teased her about the night light since the first time I flicked it on for her. Why was she willing to trust Travers though, was he really our only option?
I peered in the doorway and saw steps. I reached out and Ashley’s hand was already there. We really had formed an important bond. Plus, she kind of kept me from doing anything really stupid. Like trying to take down five adults and stab them with needles. I hadn’t been close to a girl like that since Hannah. Instead of a sexual feeling, when we touched hands, I had a sense of warmth, a pleasant buzzing in my head and a shiver up my spine. It was a comfort- a trust.
The doorway led to metal steps down a darkened stairwell. Again, the monsters appeared, this time I imagined zombies below, waiting to tear into our necks, turning us into the living dead. I took a deep breath and told myself zombies weren’t real, and if they were- I’d blow their brain out. The humour and the imagery worked and the fears thankfully fled.
We crept down the stairwell slowly, Ashley squeezing my hand firmly at times. Emergency lights flicked on, as they sensed our presence. Just as we reached the end, we heard a voice.
“Fascinating. I never would have expected this. The two of you act like sisters. When you arrived here, you were bitter enemies. Although I suppose you have a common goal. Escape. Comfort in the knowledge that you are experiencing a similar event. Even lacking the controls I instituted, the two of you have really become close. See, this is the sort of important data I am missing with all of you working on that show.”
There wasn’t a modicum of emotion to his voice which matched an equally blank expression when we finally saw his face. I pulled my hand away from Ashley’s, and while this would have amused Ms. Daniels, Dr. Travers remained stone faced. He was dishevelled, even more so than before with a thick beard and a heavy, acrid sweat smell. His lab coat was stained, and so were his shoes- a grimy pair of sneakers. Still, his eyes were vibrant, and within them, I saw a man who was calculating and focused. Just a brief glance showed the intelligence residing there, but there was something else too. The way he looked at us made me think of how my science teacher peered at the foetal pig before it was dissected. It was morbid curiosity.
“Ms. Daniels doesn’t understand how important it is. She’s lost within that puerile television show. Now Mr. Sullivan and Miss Perkins, I’m pleased to see you. Or do you prefer Kaylee and Madison now?” His question wasn’t asked with a hint of malice or teasing. It seemed legitimate.
I replied quickly, “Ryan is fine. And she likes Ashley- I’m sure.” I needed that sliver of power because the only advantage I had over Ashley was in my bravery. She never would have been able to crawl through the vent in the dark. Only holding my hand was she able to descend the stairwell.
Ashley nodded, and Dr. Travers said, “I must say how disappointed I am that I haven’t really been able to study your transition. Especially you, Ryan.” He said my name as if it was a hard to pronounce foreign word.
I clenched what muscles I had, my soft and slender frame practically pulsating in anger. Ashley put a hand on my shoulder and then turned to Dr. Travers, “Is that why you’ve brought us here, to study us? Our reactions to this? You should know that we know what’s going on here. The show, the drugs, and the government. We know everything. But we don’t think you are like Daniels. We know about the malleable period too.”
The man’s face, hidden behind a busy unkempt beard, did not move a muscle. “Oh? And how am I not like her?”
I said, “Well for one- you seemed to have an issue with the plan. The pharmaceutical companies and drugging children. And Ms. Daniels said you had morals.”
Dr. Travers replied with an eerie evenness, “Ms. Daniels is actually the one guided by morals or a lack of them. A code. I do not see the world that way. All creatures, be they animal, insect and even human have a purpose. Within them, the physical- bone and tissue and to most the intangible- a series of wonderful formulae, a path to an enlightened state. The essence of perfection. You may not realize it now, but you have received a wonderful boon.”
Ashley said firmly, “Don’t help her erase our memories. How can you study our reactions if we have no memories? Then we would be like real children. What would be the purpose of that?”
Dr. Travers intoned, “To play god? To actually surpass this false creation that preys on the vulnerable and the weak, lining pockets and filling minds with ideology that guides, shapes and in the end controls their existence. Chattel- this is what they are. In you, I’ve actually bettered the formula that created humanity.”
I turned to Ashley and said, “OK. This isn’t going to work. This guy is as crazy as fuck.”
Dr. Travers stepped in front of the stairwell, effectively blocking our exit. “Don’t you want to know what all of this was for though? The television show was only about confirming that you could actually be taken seriously as real children. That the entire world will actually see you as what you will, in time, eventually become. This was never about reducing the homeless population or the prison population. Or even drugging future generations of children. All of it an ends to a means to improve the divine ambrosia I’ve given you. I don’t particularly agree with this ultimate end, but it is of little concern to me.”
He added, “As long as I can continue to receive the funds and the subjects required to further the perfection of it.” I heard the distinct sound of heels making contact with metal stairs.
“Ms. Daniels was quite right in her response to you, Ryan, when she said you would be going home to your mother and father. You see the final step in Ms. Daniels mad scheme is adoption. More than this though- this is adoption specializing in designer children. I’m looking forward to the challenge.” He motioned to me, “You were a particular challenge, and it took nearly a month, but I found the perfect combination. I will continue to enjoy these challenges.”
The heels were descending quickly. Dr. Travers said, “So, with the data I will collect from the two of you and your companions, I will determine how to wipe your memories clean, reduce you to toddlers, or even infants and fund my research with your sale.”
Ashley shouted, “Why tell us all of this? Y-You are giving us no hope, w-we’ll fight you! I won’t let you do this to us!”
I was surprised by Ashley’s candour, and even more shocked that I hadn’t blurted it out. It just seemed too hard to believe, like something you’d read in the most outlandish story. I hadn’t come to grips that it was actually happening to me.
“That’s an excellent question, Reginald. Why would you tell them this? This will affect how cooperative they are. In fact, I don’t doubt now that they will fight us, as Madison suggests. Even though it would be silly, considering how weak they are.” Ms. Daniels shook her head and adopted her usual posture, hands on hips, while grinding her heel into the floor.
I blinked, “You’ve basically told us that you are going to use us and then kill us. I mean who we are now. She’s right- it makes no sense.”
Dr. Travers replied, as he stared into Ms. Daniels’ eyes, “It makes perfect sense. I wasn’t receiving the time I need to study their transition nor the proper uncontrolled environment to acquire the dataset required to perfect my formula. Now you will have no choice but to give it to me if you want your television filming to continue. I will have to determine how to wipe their memories, but for that, I require the proper datasets.”
He said matter-of-factly, “I’ve exposed your hand to all the players, Ms. Daniels. They will never agree to work like this, knowing their final fate. Now, will you give me the time I require to conduct a proper study and introduce them into the uncontrolled environment?”
Ms. Daniels said brusquely, “You haven’t given me much of a choice. But you risk your funding being pulled, Reginald. The only reason I’m agreeing is-”
The man neither smiled nor grimaced, and I questioned if he even blinked. His voice equally without emotion never sounded unpleasant or joyful, each word was said with robotic cadence, “There are two obvious reasons. The first is that yes, you risk your funding being pulled. And the second, you may lose access to the fountain of youth.”
Ms. Daniels nodded, “I really think we’ve said enough. The children don’t need to know anything more about this. I’d like to speak to you upstairs, Reginald. Girls, it’s late- I want you to go right to bed.”
“But don’t you want to know what is coursing through your veins, Ms. Daniels? What has literally turned back the clock?”
There was still an absence of emotion in the man’s voice, but his body language spoke of a near bursting excitement. Uncharacteristically, the man’s hands twitched, his fingers wiggling in constant motion. He looked like a child who had the world’s largest secret, and would burst without spilling the beans.
Ms. Daniels sighed heavily, “You’ve already said enough. As it is, our stars are not going to be very useful over the next few days. I suggest we go forward with my initial plan. Now girls, it is really time for bed.”
I stood there unmoving. The doctor still blocked our path. I had thought about grabbing one of the needles, but I realized the folly in that action. It was probably more complex than just poking someone with a needle. I knew that jabbing someone with a needle could kill them.
I used to have discussions with Eve about her job, but it mostly involved me asking her questions about different scenes from movies where the killer used medical equipment to murder their victims (I really watched too many movies). Eve was like my very own myth-buster, but one myth turned out to be true. I thought of this as I looked at a series of needles. Eve explained to me that needles filled with air could potentially stop the victim’s heart. I couldn’t remember what she called it, but somehow I doubted killing one of our captors would help our situation.
Still, knowing how we changed could be lifesaving. I wasn’t ready to give up, even though we were basically facing a gang-land style execution of our very selves. They had us lined up against the wall, and the Tommy gun was primed- they only had to squeeze the trigger to let the bullets fly.
“Dr. Travers, I want to know how you did it. Please tell us.”
I glared at Ashley without even knowing why. Was it because she asked first? She was like that kid in class who got their hand up just before you. Or worse, the one who just blurts out the answers. I didn’t always hate school, and I did drift in and out- but when my attention was caught, and I wanted to share my opinion or give an answer to show I could be smart- those kids just ruined everything.
“Ms. Perkins, I’m not surprised you were the one who asked. You’ve demonstrated a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to improve yourself. And you’ve imparted this to Mr. Sullivan. It’s an incredible contrast to what you see in the boys’ room. The girls practicing their cutting, their numbers and their letters, while the boys sit entranced by the television and their games.”
I said, “They have video games in there? You gave us an old Gameboy. How is that fair?” Ashley gave me a dirty look and cleared her throat, motioning to Dr. Travers.
I shook my head, “I get a bunch of stupid dolls. A pink corvette and some princess dresses. I want an Xbox or something.”
Ashley elbowed me sharply in the ribs, “Uh, Kaylee- let’s listen to what the doctor has to say before we have to go to bed, remember how important it is?”
Ms. Daniels smiled as Ashley fell back into character. I sighed heavily, again realizing that Ashley was right- we did need that information. My having an Xbox shouldn’t have been high on my priority list. Still, I worried we were falling too easily into our roles, especially mine as the meek and mostly obedient younger sister.
Dr. Travers continued to wring his hands excitedly. Once he spoke, his voice actually carried with it a measure of emotion, although it had the same level of excitement as a bland instructional video, it was better than the test pattern voice he usually had. “I was one of the biologists who worked on the original Human Genome Project. We worked to map the genome, which in essence, would enable us to understand the exact formulation of a human being. While doing this, I discovered a regenerative gene. At the time, I was comparing the genetic structure of a child, probably about Kaylee’s age and an elderly man. I noticed that the gene was dormant in the man.”
“In tests on lab mice, we discovered that when engaged the gene could actually heal damaged tissue, but it was limited. It couldn’t heal lost limbs or damaged heart tissue. But after conducting some secret experimentation, I discovered that infusing the aged blood stem cells with the regenerative gene it actually rejuvenated the cells. The results were incredible. The mice became physically younger. This is when I branched off from the project and sought out human subjects. Many others on the project said that the treatment wasn’t ready for human testing, but I disagreed. So a small number of us left.”
Ashley asked, “Don’t they usually try and perfect something like that before using it on human subjects?”
Dr. Travers nodded, “Usually, but I prefer not to be bound by such limitations. I wanted to be the first to develop an anti-aging treatment. But it went beyond that. After seeing thousands of different combinations that make up a human being, and the god given mistakes, I became fascinated with creating the absolute perfect human being and removing those deficiencies. I sought out government grants to continue my research, but I was initially denied. Still, there were those with ties to the government who had the means to get my research approved. I had my first test subjects within a month.”
Ashley said, “The homeless and the convicts. Did any of them die?”
Dr. Travers shook his head, “No, but some were rendered into a vegetative state. I was still perfecting the dosage required. Most of them became children with the same disorders that plagued them as adults. The convicts given to me were those with degenerative diseases. Essentially, they were costing the prison system millions. They couldn’t be killed because they weren’t on death row. While the gene couldn’t cure cancer or heart disease, it could remove degenerative diseases associated with ageing, like Alzheimer’s. Not only could it stimulate the body’s natural defences making them virtually immune to childhood disease, and remove unfortunate allergies, but it could also create the most physically attractive specimens.”
It all made sense now, our completely symmetrical features, the shape of our eyes, the glistening golden hair and the shining raven hair, but even more than that it explained Ashley’s peanut allergy, or lack thereof, and my ability to sing.
Ashley said, her eyes opening in shock, “But those poor people had families, people who loved them. Just like us. You basically killed them.”
Ms. Daniels interjected, “They were criminals and transients. They offered nothing to society. Why keep individuals on the public dime rotting in prison? These were people who had life sentences. The worst that society had to offer. The homeless take up space. Shelters take up precious government resources. Dr. Travers gave them a new lease on life and a new purpose. Just as he has done for you. And once the method is perfected and the specialized adoption agency functions as it should, this country’s homeless problem will be solved.”
Dr. Travers nodded, “As will the issue of prison overcrowding.”
Ashley asked, “What about the ones who are falsely convicted? What about them? It’s too late for them.”
Dr. Travers replied, “They are unfortunate victims, but in the end, they have served their purpose. Like cadavers for medical students. They have furthered the experiment with their unique datasets.”
Ashley shouted, “That’s monstrous! I-I can’t believe either of you could be so heartless. These are human beings. There’s laws against this! I remember from my psych classes that there are rules for experimenting on humans.”
I had to this point remained an angry observer in the dialogue, yet I had also fallen easily into the role of Kaylee, the younger sister who allows the older to do her talking. When I did speak, it was in a squeak, “W-Why was I turned into Kaylee? I don’t get it either. How could something that makes us younger change our gender too?”
Dr. Travers nodded, “An excellent question, Mr. Sullivan. While mapping the genome, I also determined the distinct differences between males and females. There is a gene that when engaged tells the body to become male or female. It was actually surprisingly simple once discovered. The gene is particularly active during puberty. It is actually like a light switch. If it is on, the body is female. If it is turned off, however, the body gradually takes on more male characteristics. In testing, female mice actually developed testes. Of course this would result in less than spectacular results in adult humans, men with female characteristics and vice versa, but when combined with the regression therapy and returning the body to a pre-puberty state, it allows not only a complete reshaping into a younger form, but it also allows the body to change gender. By regressing the body the switch resets, and with that switch now engaged in Mr. Sullivan, he will develop as normally as you, Ms. Perkins.”
Ashley said firmly, “That still doesn’t answer Ryan’s question.”
Ms. Daniels said, “In order to know whether the kinks in the formula have been worked out, we had to see if others, i.e. the people who would be adopting you, would believe you were real children. So, the perfect proving ground for that was television. I was aware of his research, and I had the backing of the network.”
I blinked, “Wait…other people know this is happening? And they aren’t doing anything?”
The world where the United States as the protector, a place to follow dreams, but most importantly a place where freedom was paramount, was crumbling. My dad had served his country, and in the end, given his life, for this?
Ms. Daniels replied, “All those who need to know are aware of this. Within both main political parties. As for why they aren’t doing anything? Because all of them are making money or receiving something beneficial from the arrangement. Broadcasting companies own media conglomerates, so the stories are quickly killed. There’s little reason but to accept this, children. It will make it easier on you in the end.”
Dr. Travers said, “I believe you still haven’t answered the original question, Ms. Daniels. Simply put, Mr. Sullivan was chosen because there are far more male prisons facing overcrowding and more male homeless. Ms. Daniels’ adoption agency will cater to the upper crust of society, those willing to buy perfect children at the right price. Many of them will want little girls. To meet this demand, Mr. Sullivan became the first test subject.”
Ms. Daniels smiled, “And he is the perfect test subject because he was as they say a ‘red-blooded male’. An alpha male. In the website survey, we asked prospective parents to describe their perfect child. Most of them indicated they wanted sweet, timid and feminine girls. After all, if they are paying a million dollars per child…we want to give them what they want. He was chosen because we wanted to see if it was possible to take someone who you called “King of the Assholes” and turn him into Kaylee, the quintessential little girl.” As much as Ms. Daniels said she didn’t want to talk about her plan previously, she was definitely enjoying watching my shocked look.
Ashley asked, “Why do I still look like myself, just younger? And Ryan- well he looks like a completely different person. His hair colour is different.”
Ms. Daniels responded matter-of-factly, “An easy one. The survey revealed the most desired hair colour for girls was blonde. With blue eyes. While I am sure he would have made a pretty little red-headed girl, only a very small percentage of our clientele actually wanted that. We have to give our customers what they want.”
Dr. Travers added, “It should be noted that many sperm banks here and in the United Kingdom have refused to accept donations from those with predominantly red-haired genes. So, do not think of this operation as prejudice. Look at society itself, and how it treats these individuals. We cannot change that, so as Ms. Daniels stated, we must give them what they want.”
I remembered back in 2008, National Kick-a-ginger-day. Since I had brown hair mixed with red, I wasn’t really a part of it, but I used to get the odd “Day-walker” reference thanks to an old episode of South Park. My fists usually met insults like that.
Ashley sighed deeply, “So you are going to wipe our memories now. What about our families and our friends? You know you are basically killing us, right? You don’t have any problem with that?”
Ms. Daniels said, “Yes, but you’ll have an upbringing vastly superior to your previous one. These are individuals who can afford to pay one million dollars for you. Think of it like a wonderful new opportunity.”
Ashley said, “We’ll probably be adopted by some celebrity who wants to use us as accessories. Some Megan Fox wannabe socialite who doesn’t want to ruin her perfect body by getting pregnant. And have you thought about the possibility of human trafficking? Especially little girls. Are you screening these people?”
I thought too that maybe people who couldn’t have children would be interested too, but I didn’t want to put a positive spin on what was really identity death and potential slavery.
Ms. Daniels nodded, “The agency will screen the parents as rigorously as any other adoption agency. Now, it is really time for bed. I want you to think about this as a wonderful new opportunity. If you agree to continue filming the show, you might avoid being regressed further and having your memories wiped. I was serious about the show potentially being your avenue to stardom, but in order for that to happen- you need to forget everything you heard tonight.”
She added finally, “And I don’t want to see either of you out of character ever again. You will become Kaylee and Madison. One way or another.”
“I don’t trust them. Either way we lose. You become Kaylee, and I become Madison. I think they are going to wipe our memories.”
I nodded. Ashley and I had returned to our bedroom after the lengthy conversation with Dr. Travers and Ms. Daniels. I was still in a state of shock, that the country I loved actually functioned this way. Who knew exactly? And why hadn’t they done something to stop it? I understood that it was all capitalism, the desire to make as much money as possible, but on the backs, and the very minds of others? This shocked me to my core.
Even more than that, it was not lost on me that my quest, or as Greg would put it my shallow expedition, to find the perfect girl, with the perfect body and face, and yes, mind, had led me down a path where I would actually grow into her. Based on what Dr. Travers said, I was genetically flawless, the best genes possible. I would become the very object of my desire. If I hadn’t exhibited the qualities Travers and Daniels sought to remove from me, the so-called alpha male tendencies, I likely never would have been chosen to lose my gender.
I expected for Ashley it was easier. She had already been a girl, and for her to grow up again would be less of a strain. For me, my entire identity would be overwritten.
I said, “Maybe it will just be easier. You know if they wipe our memories.” I regretted the words as soon as they left my lips, but the part of me that wanted to give up, to avoid the unpleasantness of watching Kaylee take precedence, was powerful.
I added, “Then you won’t ever remember what happened to you with your uncle. I mean isn’t there a part of you that just thinks? OK. We are fucked. What’s the point?”
Ashley said, “Ryan, this isn’t a game where you can just take your ball and go home. We can’t let them get away with this. We just can’t. I don’t believe that people, once they found out about this, would turn a blind eye. There are people in this world who care about us. My dad, even though I don’t get along with him, and we haven’t spoken in like a year, he would want to know where his daughter is. And your mom would want to know the same about you.”
It all made sense now, Ms. Daniels had chosen individuals with few friends and few family connections. Still, weren’t Eve and Greg looking for me? Had they filed a missing persons report?
She continued, “It’s not only that. But you need to prove to yourself that you can succeed in something. Do this. If you can escape from this elaborate, and frankly insane trap we are in, you’ll have proved to yourself, to me, to anyone who ever called you a quitter that you aren’t like that. Yeah, maybe you’ll be stuck as Kaylee, but at least it will be on your terms. As simple as Travers makes it sound, I’m not a biologist, and I don’t know the first thing about the human genome. But doesn’t it bother you that they are doing this to us? Is this really how Ryan Sullivan would act?”
I sighed heavily, “Yeah. It is.” I felt a heavy weight in my shoulders, as if the entire world were trying to pull me toward the floor. I sagged down.
Ashley said, “I’m doing this with or without you. Tomorrow I’ll take your key card and go exploring myself. I’m going to find a way out of here.”
I shook my head in disbelief, “The rooms I was in, they were almost pitch black. H-How can you do that?” Oh god, I really sounded like Kaylee.
Ashley replied, “Because it’s our only choice. I’m not going to let them get away with this. Are you with me?”
I said unsteadily, “Yeah.”
I climbed down to my bunk, closed my eyes and fell asleep. The next morning when I woke up, Ashley was gone.
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