The Prodigy

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Chapter 4

Perhaps it is the heat of the summer, but there is an undercurrent of tension among those getting on the train at 168th Street. Almost all of them have Lucas Institute identification badges. Mom gives me a warning look as we board the train as if to say, “Don’t talk here.” It is unnecessary. The first day at the Institute has already indoctrinated both fear and suspicion into me. I play along with the charade and keep up a light and easy banter on the subway. We stop off at the hardware store on the way home from the subway.

Mom always loves to visit hardware stores. Since the time I was a small child, I have accompanied her on forays into hardware stores. Mom has always told me that women had a bias against power tools, automobile repairs and mathematics, despite statistical proof that women were just as competent as men. It is her belief that mothers, especially single mothers, have to reinforce competency in their daughters. Over the years she has taught me how to perform general plumbing repairs, carpentry and general house repairs. Now that we are living in an apartment, our home repairs will be much less. At least I hope so.

Mom hands the apartment keys to the salesperson and asks for three sets of keys. She asks the clerk where the paint is located and then heads to the area where the clerk

I follow her. “Are we already starting a home improvement project? We just moved in.”

“Not yet. I am just getting ideas. ”As she says this, mom puts her hand on my mouth and opens her bag. She points to a miniscule listening device attached to the inside flap. “There is so much blue and grey in both the apartment and the office and I am craving warmer colors. The apartment is beautifully appointed, but I need a contrast in the color scheme.” Mom rolls her eyes as she says this.

“Can I repaint my bedroom? I think I would like buttercup yellow and white?” I ask. All I want to do is find a way to talk to my mother. If this keeps up, I might as well board the train to crazy town now.

“I have no problem with you repainting your bedroom. Here, take some swatches and we will make our decision over the weekend. I think the keys are ready.” Mom walks to the front of the store and pays the clerk for the keys.

“Hey Mom. It is such a nice night. Want to go to the park and run? Or in my case, attempt to run?” Now I roll my eyes as I say it. Desperation is forcing me to exercise but I’ll do anything to talk to my mother unencumbered.

“I think that would be great. Let’s go change and we will grab dinner after the run,” Mom responds.

We walk to the apartment and change quickly into our running clothes. George is still at the front desk. To save time, we take the subway to 110th street. The park is littered with people playing Frisbee, riding their bicycles and running the path. A few of the men stare at us as we walk to the loop track.

“Mom, how long is the loop?” I ask with some skepticism.

“It is almost 5 miles. We should do a shorter run on your first day. We will run down to the Met on the East side, run around the reservoir and then come back. Did you bring your phone with you?” Mom asks as she scans the park.

“No, why?” I am perplexed by the question. Is mom suspicious that I’ve been bugged as well? My phone was with me the entire day. Everything is now under suspicion apparently.

“Let’s walk and then stretch, first. As to your phone, it could have been bugged. I think we can talk here, safely. How did your first day go?” Mom asks.

“It was dull in the morning. We filled out reams of paperwork. Most of the wording was in legal terms. I think the point was to inundate each of us with a massive amount of legal terminology so that you become so frustrated with reading the material you miss the one salient point that should be negotiated. I really needed a lawyer to make sense of it for me, but who is going to show up with a lawyer on their first day?”

“I am sure the Lucas Institute had a team of lawyers draw up those papers. They have to earn their salaries.” Mom snickers. “Anything else happen?”

“Dr. Lucas made a big deal out of seating me up front next to her son, Josh. At first I thought his mother was using him to keep tabs on me. But then, Josh seemed annoyed later in the afternoon when I implied that, since his last name is Lucas, he is out to protect the interests of the Institute. I got the impression that there is tension between his mother and him. What do you think?”

“I couldn’t say right now. I only met him briefly and he’s quite charming. I would be careful with whom you confide in, no matter what. You’re in a competitive business.”

“I realize that. There is another guy in my working group whose name is Kevin. He was so antagonistic today. I suspect it is more than plain jealousy. I have never spoken to him before except to say “Hello” at a conference. I also met Marcus who seems like a player and Jackie who I really like. Another scientist is joining our group shortly. How was your day?”

“It was similar to yours. I filled out paperwork as well. Non-disclosure agreements. The members of the public relations office all appear friendly so far. The office functions as a machine. It generates a lot of positive press digitally and has an extensive network of contacts within the government. Time will tell who will be a real friend in the office. What did you think of the cafeteria?”

I laugh and try to imitate the automated voice in the cafeteria. “Precisely-prepared food especially designed to promote maximum critical thinking. That was a trip. Mom, I got a strange request from the chairwoman’s assistant this afternoon. That’s what led to Josh saying not to assume he agrees with his mother’s policies. Jenny Whitcombe told me that I would be going to Rosewood next week for the opening ceremony. Josh explained that it is a detention center for anyone charged or convicted of a white-collar crime. They are testing all the detainees for the PPZ gene. Do you know anything about this and is there any possibility Dad might be there?” I ask.

“There was a small blip in the paper a few months ago about Rosewood. I read it about a month after I lost contact with your dad. I’ll admit that I have been worried about this. I can also tell you that more detention centers are being planned. I am hoping that rosters of the detainees will come through my office eventually. But I suspect that information will not be made available to me.” Mom stops walking and intimates to me to start stretching.

“Mom, what will I do if I see my dad there? What if he recognizes me?”

“They may be doing this to gauge your reaction and see how much you know. You haven’t seen your father since the age of four. I know it is hard, but try to mask your emotions. If you show a flicker of recognition, that would be normal. I am so sorry this is happening to you.” Mom looks troubled and keeps scanning the park as we talk. I have a sense that my mother has maintained a level of vigilance for years that she has never been able to shake off. I wonder how I missed the signs.

“I still can’t understand why they recruited me. If they wanted to protect their secrets, they could have just undermined my career, or at least just not hired me. I get the feeling there is something else bothering you, Mom?”

“To your first conjecture, Dr. Lucas has an ego and she has a reputation for playing with fire. She is used to getting her way and thinks she is invincible. As to why I look worried, I have been hearing rumors that they are fudging data and recording some of these detainees as having the PPZ gene when, in fact, they do not. They then have the justification, although dubious as it is, to keep political dissidents sequestered. I am also worried about what they really want with you,” Mom replies. “ Analia, you could just leave. I have enough money to set you up somewhere with a new identity. You wouldn’t have to deal with this mess.”

“You think I would leave you and Dad? No way. I want to see him. Besides, what would they do to either of you if I just left? From everything you have told me so far, they would likely retaliate against you.”

“You don’t have to worry about me, Analia. I would go into hiding and find your father.”

“If he is at Rosewood, what could you do? Break him out? This is some conspiracy. I am not leaving. Our best chance for determining if dad is there is for me to go there next week. What do I do if I find him?”

“For the time being, just observe, and circumstances permitting, try to gather as much information as possible. Don’t write it down or put it in your phone, unless you put it in code. I have friends in the underground here. They can help us.”

I stop with the stretching. My head is spinning at this point. “What underground?”

“I wasn’t the only physician who questioned what was happening with the unexplained neonatal deaths fifteen years ago. Those of us with children were the most vulnerable to intimidation. However, there were some of us who could easily disappear and did. I have kept in contact with them. They were able to communicate messages to your father.”

“This whole scenario is insane. It is all smoke and mirrors and no one can be trusted. Previously, I always felt like I was waiting for my life to start and now it is exploding around me. The thing I resent the most is having to be so careful when I speak to you in our own home. The loss of privacy is gnawing at me. I guess that I always assumed we had privacy when we actually didn’t.” I’m relieved I can finally voice my feelings.

“Analia, it sounds cliché, but I know exactly how you feel. This situation must seem so surreal to you. When they first threatened me fourteen years ago, I didn’t believe they could get away with it in this country. I fought at first, but then the threat became too real. The disillusionment I felt with our government almost broke me.” Mom catches herself. “It took me a long time to get over it. You were the only bright spot in my world. Since then, I’ve come to believe there are many in the government who are decent human beings and that we can return to our true democratic core at some point. Everyone is just very scared right now.”

“Mom, you are losing me. You know I never paid much attention to politics, “ I reply in a tone of exasperation.

“I know, honey. That was my fault. I tabled any political discussions at the house, to protect me as much as you. I couldn’t acknowledge even to myself what was happening. More than a few people became greedy and used their money to gain power. They think they are masters of the universe. It has happened repeatedly throughout history. Fifty years ago, the big banks took us to the precipice of financial disaster. Now the owners of Big Tech think their view is the only view.” Mom shakes her head as she speaks. “Unfortunately, I was so naïve back then and thought if I spoke up I could make a difference. Your father paid the price for my mistake.”

“So, what you are saying is that if we exposed what they were doing, nothing would be done, right?”

“No. I don’t think so. I still have hope. It has kept me going all these years. I think people would protest, particularly in this country. It’s just a matter of how we go about effecting change. My sources tell me that quite a number of politicians who tried to combat the corruption were either jailed or exiled. They are likely sitting in Rosewood. Possibly worse. There are too many families affected by this corruption to keep the story contained. In the meantime, you will have to find a way to decompress. I gardened and exercised when we were in California. I also wrote and slowly made arrangements for our departure if we needed to run. Whether exercise helps you stay balanced, well, you we are about to find out. If it doesn’t, you will figure out how to handle the stress. You are terribly bright,” Mom says with smile. “The other option is that I pack you up your things and send you away, now. This can be a tricky situation. Possibly even dangerous. I don’t want you to feel obligated or cornered into doing anything. You were manipulated enough by Lucas.” She starts jogging and motions for me to follow her.

“No again, Mom. There is no way I would leave you or Dad. I just hope I am up to the challenge.”

“I have no doubt about your abilities. I am only working at the Lucas Institute to keep an eye on you.” Mom’s words stop me mid-run. I just realize that my mother is making a huge sacrifice. Thinking about it, Mom would never work for Katharine Lucas after everything the chairman did to our family if it wasn’t for me.

“Mom, what do we do if we discover Dad is at Rosewood?” “

“Well, then, we get him out.” Mom then starts sprinting and I have no choice but to sprint after her.

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