My parents and I huddled together in the crowded Hillcrest Amphitheater while our town anxiously awaited further instructions from the CDC’s Experimental Research Director. Dr. Thorpe was late and the people were getting restless. I saw more than one argument erupt between tired moms and their mouthy offspring. Only the families with grown children, teens or childless couples were called to the amphitheater. No one knew why, but the National Guard had rounded us all up, so here we were. I caught sight of my friends when we first arrived, but I was grounded, so I had to content myself with making faces at them from afar.
“Can I go down and sit with Ash?” I pleaded to my mother for the hundredth time. “You can see me from here.”
Mom gave me a knowing look. I rolled my eyes and sank lower in my seat. Ash was sitting with Will, the real reason I wanted to go down there so badly. I had been working up to asking Will out for the last few weeks and now all the subtle hints I’d been dropping would be for naught if I couldn’t get down there. I loved Ash, don’t get me wrong, but I hadn’t exactly told her that I was crushing on her twin, and if she revealed anything embarrassing about me, I’d die right here in this cheap plastic red chair.
A hush fell over the crowd and I sat up straight, looking around for the source of the sudden silence. The man of the hour was striding down the path that wove through the shrubbery. Dr. Thorpe’s signature white coat flapped behind him, revealing a rumpled blue shirt, half untucked, tie askew. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days and hadn’t bothered to shower either.
I leaned forward in my seat to get a better look at the infamous mad scientist. He certainly looked mad from my vantage point near the top of the amphitheater.
“Thank you all for coming,” Dr. Thorpe said distractedly. He fidgeted with the papers in his hands, looked around for something, then appeared to give up with an audible sigh. “I’ll keep this short. We needed volunteers. You’ve been chosen because you all possess the desired traits for success.”
I looked around at everyone around me. We were all from Hillcrest, but there were old couples, young couples, quite a few different nationalities, the rich people from the top of the hill, and the factory workers who lived in the valley. The only quality we seemed to share was that we were all older than 17 and lived in Hillcrest. Those were hardly enviable traits.
Dr. Thorpe looked around again, then gave another great sigh and allowed his papers to flutter to the ground.
“I guess it’s a good thing it’s a calm morning,” I muttered, but my dad silenced me with a hand on my arm and a small shake of his head. I frowned at him. He looked worried, like he didn’t want to be here any longer, but didn’t know how to excuse himself.
I looked back at Thorpe just in time to see him pull a small black device from inside his coat. I couldn’t see what it was from this high up.
“What is that?” Mom asked Dad in a small worried voice.
I was supremely tempted to give my mom another dirty look for not letting me go down to the bottom with Ash and Will.
My dad shook his head at her as he had with me. He swallowed and grabbed hold of Mom’s hand, gripping it tightly.
I wanted to ask him what he knew because so far, nothing Thorpe had said or done was cause for such concern on my father’s face. I knew Dad worked for the CDC as well, but he worked in Outreach and Recruiting, nowhere near Dr. Thorpe’s strange department. But still, Dad knew something that we didn’t and he wasn’t sharing.
Thorpe cleared his throat, drawing all of our attention back to him. “I, um, I have been working on this for, um, for quite some time,” he said nervously. “Well, um, it’s time to test it out, and, uh, you all have been chosen. I already said that. Well, without further ado…” he trailed off, fiddling with the device in his hands.
“What is it? What have we been chosen for?” someone shouted from the other side of the amphitheater. I craned my neck trying to see who it was that had shouted the question that was on all of our minds.
“Oh, right,” Thorpe said, his face reddening in embarrassment. “This is a phaser. Excuse the term. We couldn’t think of a better name for it. I believe I have developed a way to improve your genetic makeup; enhance it, if you will. A simple press of this button and you will all be free of disease, able to fight infections, and heal faster.” He waved a hand like it was no big deal. “I needed a large testing pool and I was told that I wasn’t allowed to test on children, so those families had to be excluded from the trial, but you all are fortunate enough to have been chosen-”
“Do we get a choice? What if we don’t want any part in this experiment of yours?” a man called out from directly below me. There was a smattering of agreement throughout the crowd.
Thorpe smiled a smile that creeped me out and shrugged. “Why would you refuse?” he said with utter conviction.
The sound of many booted feet made me look behind me, away from where Thorpe was standing at the bottom of the amphitheater. Dozens of men in the familiar fatigues of the National Guard approached the amphitheater and surrounded us, cutting off our exits. I sat frozen in my seat, unable to understand what was happening. Did he mean to force us to take part in his experiment? I had to admit that I didn’t care about having my genes enhanced. Being free of disease sounded fine to me, but I seemed to be one of the few who was unconcerned about that. The appearance of the National Guard, however, had me very concerned.
People started to panic, rising from their seats and yelling at our new guards, others sat huddled together heads down. I grabbed my mom’s hand and looked down at Thorpe just in time to see him fumble with the device and press the button.