Luke drove into what appeared to be a decrepit government building. He looked into the rearview mirror and dragged his hand down both cheeks. His unshaven face resembled that of his recently deceased father. He had been by Natalie’s side in the hospital all night. Watching, waiting for his older sister to come back from a coma caused by Tay-Sachs, a rare disorder in adults that destroys the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Even though his work challenged his morals, he loved his sister and needed this job to support the only family he had left.
The memories from his childhood conjured mixed emotions. After his mom passed away, his father’s drug and alcohol abuse left a tattoo on him that only he could see. The mental and verbal abuse was constant and forced him to join the military right out of high school. The army transformed his 6’2” boyish frame into a man with broad shoulders and a ripped physique. Along with his curly auburn hair and chiseled brown face, he could have been a professional model, but he opted for the medical profession. He stepped out of his charcoal Audi R8, tucked his shirt into his pants, and adjusted his belt above his waist.
The guards let him scan his access card and iris without a word. Then he emptied his pockets and walked thru the scanner. The Kairo Labs employee entrance opened into a 70s-esque atrium with blue patterned wallpaper and tan linoleum floors. The security domes on the ceiling followed his every move. Approaching a row of elevators, he quickly pressed B on the touchscreen.
“Good morning,” Luke said in monotone.
“Hey.” Lisa waved her hand dismissively.
“OK. I love you too.”
Luke put on a white lab coat, inserted a communication earpiece and sat down in front of his laptop. There had been a sudden surge of clients in the last couple weeks; the FDA released a report supporting the safety of cryogenic banks. Even though they were not regulated. Kairo Labs didn’t do traditional advertising. New clients were either referred by old ones or by direct invitation from Dr. Copen.
The steel door, with a silver glass rectangle, became bright white when Dr. Copen came close. First scanning his full face, tongue, then eyes. The door suctioned closed behind him while the magnetic deadbolt sealed the entrance. Dr. Copen grabbed a pair of gloves and stretched them out. He was systematic and regimented to a fault. His strict religious upbringing brought him to be an ordained priest then pushed him to science as a doctor. He walked over to a large desk and connected his tablet to a workstation. The information was uploaded and stored on the company network drive. After a few clicks of the mouse, he looked through a list of potential clients. More specifically, young women, desperate for a child but not having much success with traditional ways. Older white women, lesbian couples, couples who had been married for 5 to 7 years. No history of mental health issues, upstanding citizens. They would be perfect candidates for his research. These couples were getting exactly what they wanted, but a little extra unbeknownst to them. He needed hard evidence that he found the crazy gene. It was his life’s work, God’s work to cleanse the world of evil.
“Luke could you come to station five please.” After working at Kairo for two years this was unusual for Dr. Copen to talk to him thru the earpiece. Most conversations were face to face. Luke walked towards Dr. Copen with hesitation.
“Have a seat.” Dr. Copen pressed a button on the screen which brought up a live video of a couple. “Watch.” he said without looking at Luke.
“Hello and welcome.” The counselor dressed in all black guided them to a separate section of the room. A barrier came up from the floor. “Nice to finally meet you. You’ve already completed our preliminary health, consent, and privacy forms, so that’s good. So, let’s run through the basics of our process. Is the recipient correct?”
“Yes, ” they both said in unison with a smile.
The counselor put a tablet in front of the couple.
“Does all the information look current?”
They nodded their head in sync.
“OK, good. We’re going to go thru your options for your baby; sex, intelligence, race, and so on. The options you select will affect the price for our services.”
They gave each other a nervous smile.
“We want a caucasian boy with blond hair, high IQ, blue eyes, sensitive, artistic.”
“OK, hold on, hold on,” the counselor entered the info while smiling. “The look on your faces never gets old. I’m so excited for you…OK, continue.” The women went on to list physical, emotional, and even spiritual traits that they wanted.
Dr. Copen muted the sound; paying close attention to the voice in his ear.
“I thought I was in trouble when.” Luke said but Dr. Copen’s hands interrupted him.
“Luke, I need to go to the B atrium. Let me see what’s going on, we’ll talk later.”
“No problem, I have plenty work to do.”
Luke stepped into an adjoined room, washing up to his elbows with antimicrobial soap. He put on a full body suit then walked into a specimen room. The accepted samples were labeled with a red tag. The other set of containers housed the donors that didn’t meet Kairo’s standards. He placed a green tag on those and put them in the larger fridge. This sequence would go on for most of the day; separating the healthy from the unwanted. From the corner of his eyes Luke could see a group of men walking with a sense of urgency. The formation of the armed men reminded him of a military operation. He finished labeling the container in front of him and stepped into the connecting room.
“What’s going on?” he asked Lisa.
“Don’t you see those guys in all black; they look like the FEDS. You know this wouldn’t last forever.” Lisa collected her personal items anticipating she would be called on.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t play dumb; you work close with Dr. Copen for years. You know what the fuck we’re doing here.”
Luke stood there, attempting to shut Lisa up with his stare. He walked closer to the glass partition to get a better view. Dr. Copen motioned for him to come into the room. He removed the white suit slowly, buying time to script his emotions.
He sized the men up, approaching with suspicion. “Good morning.”
“Let’s go to this office.” Dr. Copen led them to a small room adjacent to the elevator.
“Guys, we’ve been following this 12 year old suspect. Last week he was spotted across from St. Jerome’s Catholic school offering girls pot and alcohol. We followed him to a warehouse to find dozens of naked women, young and old; stuffed like taxidermic animals.” The agent paused for a second, noticeable disgusted from what he was reliving in his mind. “We’ve identified a link between this suspect and Kairo Labs. I can’t say anymore at this time, but we need you to cooperate.”
Dr. Copen stood up, he paced back and forth without saying a word.
“We need you to get your lab team together and come with us for processing.”
“Anything you need, just let me or Luke know.” Dr. Copen took off his white coverall and slipped into a lab coat.
“Is it OK if I get my personal belongings?”
“Let me get someone to escort you.”
Dr. Copen walked hastily; his steps choppy. He looked over at Luke, then the escort. They walked down a long hallway with several doors. The door at the end of the hallway opened to the supercomputer lab. Luke grabbed his arm and pushed him into the wall. He put the agent in a chokehold, suffocating him until his limp body fell to the floor. Dr. Copen ran to his computer and started backing up everything he could, all his research for the last decade.
“Fuck.” He looked at his watch, realizing he didn’t have enough time, reluctantly he pressed a button underneath the desks. Steel canisters came up from the floor in the center of the room. Smoke clouds formed then exploded, creating flames to the ceiling. Dr. Copen grabbed the smart chip and inserted it into his arm; running to the stairway going up. Luke closed the door behind them. The ear numbing fire alarm blared through the entire building.
They ran back thru the hallway to a stairway door. Luke went first, but was stopped abruptly. “Sir, hold on.” A guard hammered Luke against the wall. “Don’t move.” He put his hands on Luke’s chest staring with intimidation.
A group of men poured into the hallway.
“Yes, him. Detain him.”
The guard grabbed Luke’s wrist, twisting his arm into the wall.
“Get the fuck off. What did I do?”
“Luke, I told you guys to cooperate. Bring him here.”
Luke was led back to a side room full of coworkers, ziptied and thrown to the floor. He looked around at the scared faces. Luke came to his feet and put his ear to the door clearly hearing Dr. Copen pleading for them to let him go. The door slammed opened, right into Luke’s ear, drawing blood, knocking him to the ground.
“You can’t cage us in here, this is illegal, we’re not wild beasts. You guys support us on this hand, but then fuck us with the other hand.” Dr. Copen spat in the man’s face. The agent approached him to return the favor, but was distracted when Luke ran towards him. Then the entire group saw opportunity to do the same; they bumrushed the agent. Luke tackled thru the bodies and ran to the stairway, up to the parking garage. Five successive gunshots faded into the background noise.
Slowly cracking the door, he peeked his head to see if anybody was there. He ran into the parking garage with his chest parallel to the ground. Sweat dripping down his face; burning his eyes and blurring his vision. He cut the corner and got low to the ground behind a parked car. Luke ran like a crazy man. His legs and arms were moving sporadically. He crouched under the gate, running down the street hailing a taxi at the end of the block. “BWI. “ The taxi seemed like it was moving in slow motion. “Go, go, go.” Luke screamed. He slumped into the backseat, sporadically looking up to see if anyone was following him.
“You OK buddy?”
“I’m good, keep driving, faster.”
An unmarked black car pulled behind the taxi, flashing blue and red lights. The taxi moved to the shoulder.
“Sir, put your hands out the window.” the gun lead the command coming from the agent.
“Step out of the vehicle.”
“What the fuck is this? I haven’t done anything. You guys are always harassing innocent people. I work hard and make an honest living. Get the fuk out of here.”
The agent was noticeably pissed off.
A second agent came to the passenger side tapping on the car window motioning with his gun for Luke to get out. Luke stepped out the taxi with his hands up.
“Turn around, and interlock your hands behind your back.”
Luke did as the agent asked. Dropping down to one knee. In one movement he turned around, pushing the gun into the air whilst turning it to face the agent. The gun went off, burning a hole thru his neck. The blood splattered on his face. Luke crouched in front of the taxi, unloading a series of shots thru the windshield. The driver fell out of the cab stumbling into the street, shielding his face from shattered glass. Everything went silent. The second agent laid on the ground, blood flowing from his ears. Luke put the vehicle in drive, swerving down the street, the momentum forcing the doors closed. He drove for 10 minutes in a daze, parking the car on the gate curb. His walked briskly into a bathroom stall to calm his nerves. Trails of blood colored his face. He approached a ticketing agent. “I need the first flight out to Mexico.”
“Listen, I’m going away. I’ll be in touch. I love you and always will.” He left the voicemail for Natalie knowing she would eventually come back from the coma. He took the phone apart, removing the batteries, SIM card, and cracking the screen. Placing each piece in a different trash can on the way to his terminal.
It had been 10 years since he fled the States. It didn’t feel like it, as his old life decisions sculpted a new found purpose. Working at Kairo Labs had been a gift and curse. Dr. Copen’s research had been used to identify adverse criminal behavior from DNA. As a result, DNA testing for parents prior to conception became mandatory. If the child wasn’t acceptable by law, then the parents would be sterilized. Or they would have to accept the modifications for the good of humanity, which strived for a perfect society free of what they deemed undesirable traits. This became known as the Copen Mandate. It was as crazy as it sounded.
Maintaining a self sufficient community had taken its toll on Luke; being completely off the grid and under the radar of the government was difficult. In his wildest dream he wanted to change the world, but his contributions to Kairo Labs wasn’t what he had in mind. As an ambitious young graduate student, he remembers meeting Dr. Copen on the bus. The lure of a respected scientist offering him a position clouded his better judgement. He shook his head as he recalled his younger self, touching the opened letters from his old colleague stacked up on his desk. They communicated for years following the investigation and subsequent 25 year sentence. Dr. Copen’s new home in prison was short lived; 4 years 8 days to be exact. He wasn’t built to be a prisoner, even after he adjusted, he was still out of place. The inhumane community consumed him to the point where he took his own life.
Luke sacrificed a normal life trying to fix the mistakes of his past. He had created his own paradise albeit underneath the jail that the world had become.
“Luke, everything is ready. We got our people setup at the posts.”
“Any issues with the guerrillas?”
“Nothing more than usual. They’re getting weaker everyday since the famine.”
“Yeah we need to be on high alert. The few that are still active are desperate. Thanks for your help on this. Let me know when they get here.”
“Come,” he whispered for his wife and child to follow him into the darkness. They had been running for days, on foot, by car, and train across the country trying to reach Matamoros. They ran across the train tracks, in the shadows of the tall downtown buildings. The streets were empty at 3am; so it was unlikely they would be spotted.
“Don’t move, stop.” The police car’s flood lights blinded them. Serge slowly put his hands in the air. The officer struggled to get his obese ass out of the car. “Come here, against the wall. Sir, stick your tongue out.” Serge’s heart was pounding in his throat. His tongue shaking from the adrenaline. The officer used his extractor to get a sample. “OK, you’re good. Miss.” He took a sample from Natalie with no issues.
“Young man, open up.” Serge stood there for a second signaling his wife with widened eyes. He grabbed the officer into a headlock, leveraging his 250 pound frame, dragging him to the ground, choking him until unconscious. Natalie unlocked his gun as Isiah dismantled the body camera. “Hurry up grab his legs.” Natalie lifted his legs as they placed the dead weight into the back seat. Isiah went to the car and turned the lights off whilst taking apart the GPS inside. They scurried into the car, throwing the couple of bags they had into the back seat. The car tires squealed toward the highway. They drove for an hour. “Here, get off this exit. We’ll have to walk the rest of the way.” Serge pulled into a strip mall parking lot. Abandoning the car with the unconscious cop in the back seat. “How far?” he asked.
“20 miles to the next post. Then 50 miles to the pickup.” She looked back at Isiah, reassuring they would be OK. Everything would be fine. It had been almost 4 months, since Isiah was discovered to be generic, born without DNA manipulation. They managed to stay under the shadows for years, but they knew this day would come. The world had become DNA obsessed, driven by the Copen Mandate. They walked in the shadows for hours. The sun came over the horizon as they stepped into a warehouse, straight into a back room. A hidden door revealed a passage underground.
With their hands in the air feeling for something in the pitch blackness, they walked thru the tunnel. “Use the wall.” Serge whispered. Two hours had passed since they started walking in the dank space.
“Hold on dad, can we take a break?” Isiah was noticeably winded in his request.
“Run. Run!” Serge screamed as the bullets ricocheted off the metal walls, illuminating the darkness. Serge caught a frame of the light reflecting off the metal ladder. He ran as fast as he could to the hatch and pushed it open to let the light in. He looked back to see Isiah’s face exhausted, his blood stained shirt made the shape of Africa. Natalie let out heavy gusts of air as they made it to Serge and onto the upper level. Isiah laid on the floor next to the ladder in a daze.
“Relax.” Serge picked up his son and ran with several bags strapped to his back and side. They came to another room and closed the door. “Hold still.” Serge cut open Isiah’s shirt exposing a flesh wound, putting pressure on it with the torn part of the shirt. “Thanks.” Serge said as Natalie handed him a syringe filled with a green gel. Within minutes the bleeding stopped and the green goo turned into a natural band aid, mimicking Isiah’s skin.
“Come on, stand up. We're almost there.” Another door led into a long hallway. A figure stood at the end of the hallway.
“Hey, follow me.” The man led them to a truck where they laid face down underneath a tarp. Beads of sweat covered Serge’s face. The heat was stifling but they remained motionless in the steam.
The truck stopped abruptly. They could hear pieces of a conversation. The footsteps became distinct. Then the tarp was lifted to unveil the sun, blinding their eyes. Men with weapons stared down at them. “Who the fuck?” Before he could finish his thought Serge’s hand was in his backpack, finger on the trigger of a gun. Two rounds ripped thru the canvas and entered the man’s chest. The other man jumped to the side on his knees. He wouldn’t get back up from the bullet lodged in his forehead. The driver came from the front and spread the tarp over his human cargo.
They continued to drive for another 30 minutes. The driver tapped twice on the side of the car. “Follow me.” The man held his hand out to assist Natalie. The street was dusty and old, liken to a ghost town. The group walked into a field; the sound of a latch opening cut the sounds of the wind dancing around the corn stalks.
An elevator came up from the ground. They looked at each other in disbelief and went down into the Earth once again. After a few minutes, the doors opened to an underground world they could have never imagined. The golden walls, and iridescent colors were spell binding. They were led to a room that appeared to be a place of worship. A tall man walked towards them. His freckles were prominent on his brown skin, contrasted by auburn and white hair. “Welcome.” Natalie froze as she saw a ghost from her past. Luke opened his arms to welcome his sister. She ran to him disappearing into his chest. With years of pain and longing streaming down her face, the hug lasted for what seemed eternity. Serge grabbed Isiah and held him close, realizing in that moment that everything would be fine. They were home.
“It’s been a while huh?” Natalie grabbed her brother’s face with both hands. He was the spitting image of their dad.
“I know, I know. I look just like him.”
He caught a glimpse of Isiah, forcing him to leave his sister’s embrace. “Isiah! How are you?” Luke stuck his hand out. Both Isiah and Serge surprised him with a group hug. All he could do is smile and embrace his family.