Editor’s Note: With this story, we are pleased to continue with the third story in our Young Authors series, a collection of six pieces of short fiction written by pairs of American eighth-graders as part of a special English class devoted to laboratory literature. You can read all about this interesting project in the accompanying Editorial.
He sat, slumped, on the flimsy cot of his cell. Surrounded by cold concrete walls, he was a prisoner of the government. It was dark and cold; he was depressed and confused. Mind wandering, he began to reflect on what led to his demise. How did this go so wrong so quickly? If only his curiosity hadn’t gotten the best of him. If only he could’ve stayed ignorant. If only he hadn’t gotten caught.
Fabio Palza was a calm type of man. He usually kept to himself, didn’t go too far into anyone’s business. That was just how he was raised. His parents brought him into the United States when he was just a little kid, and he’d grown up in the city of Chicago in the shelter of a loving family. Growing up, Fabio was always aware that he was different, but he could never quite put his finger on what made him that way.
Fabio’s parents had always told him that he was just the same as all the other kids, but Fabio could always tell something was off. Was it where he came from, or maybe his unusual intelligence? Another thing that always bothered him was how he looked so different from his parents. While his mother and father had dark, chocolate-brown eyes, Fabio was born with bright blue ones. His parents swore to him that he wasn’t adopted, and even had the baby pictures to prove it. He could never understand what set him so far apart from everyone, but he learned to live with it over the years. Now, as a high-ranking civil rights analyst living in Washington, D.C., Fabio finally felt like he fit in with the crowd.
The day that Fabio’s life changed started like any other. He was working in his office, as he usually did, analyzing a government proposal. Suddenly, a white lab coat flashed past Fabio’s open door. Fabio caught a glimpse of the man he hated: Tom Molinski, known to Fabio as “Sketchy Tom”.
Fabio had a deep hatred of Sketchy Tom. Sketchy Tom would always spill his food on Fabio, saying it was an accident, and when he had no food to spill, he would even go so far as to take some of Fabio’s lunch from the office fridge. The audacity of that greasy boy! From then on, Fabio never liked Sketchy Tom, and now he had the strange feeling that Sketchy Tom was up to no good. Instinct got the better of him, so Fabio decided to follow his nemesis.
Fabio crept down the hall after Sketchy Tom, shoes softly squeaking on the freshly mopped floor. As Sketchy Tom walked, he looked at his watch and his pace suddenly quickened. Fabio became even more suspicious and speeded up as well. Sketchy Tom turned sharply into a room and slammed the door behind him, Fabio pulled on the handle, but it was locked. The window was covered with a “Certified Employees Only” sign on the inside. Since Fabio was feeling a little extra adventurous, he decided to walk further through the unfamiliar corridor for a while. He didn’t realize it then, but Fabio had opened a can of worms that would change the rest of his life.
To his surprise, a few doors away, he found himself walking past a lab. Fabio looked in the window and saw it was full of tables, racks of bottled chemicals, bright lights, and a team of people. They must be scientists, Fabio thought to himself, standing a few feet in front of the door, taking it all in. Fabio knew if he stayed there any longer, he would look too suspicious, so he left.
He walked briskly back upstairs to his boring little office where he fell into his seat and thought about what he had seen. He remembered seeing carts with many microscopes, Petri dishes, and models of embryos everywhere. Fabio was no dummy, but even if he was, he would have known that the lab was working on embryos. He could only hope the government’s intentions were good.
Fabio arrived at work earlier than usual the next day so he could get another look at the lab. He went down and hid around a corner.
“Alright everyone,” a woman yelled from inside the lab the next day, “Listen up! We’ve had a change of plans.” Change of plans? What plans? Fabio thought.
“Our buyer has requested an earlier arrival for his purchase, so the product needs to go out tonight!”
Fabio stood as flat as he could against the wall outside the lab. Product? Buyer? What is going on here? Aren’t they just supposed to be doing scientific experiments? He slid closer and closer to the door, catching a short glimpse of the woman speaking. Suddenly, the door opened and a man walked out. Fabio was beyond terrified that he would be caught, but to his surprise, the man gave him a wave and went on his way. Fabio turned quickly and slid through the door before it closed with a slam. He stood to the side hoping no one would notice him. Luckily, since he was only 5’ 1”, it was quite easy to miss him. If I’m caught, something seriously bad will happen to me. What will it be? I don’t know, but it will be bad! he was thinking, and he was right.
Fabio couldn’t believe what he had seen. The woman giving the orders was none other than Lumina Crosby, la jefa grande (the big boss)! His boss! So many thoughts raced through Fabio’s head – what was she up to?
Fabio walked into the building once again the next day and saw a cart of cannisters getting pushed into the elevator, the sort that might be filled with…frozen embryos. He had no choice but to follow and find out where they were going. In a quick motion, he threw on his lucky sombrero, grabbed a lab coat from a nearby coat rack and ran into the elevator.
“Good morning,” Fabio greeted the person in the elevator. “Where are these heading?”
“You know, out to the loading dock,” the worker said. “You’re not from here, are you?”
“What do you mean? I’m…I’m just an engineer, I don’t ship them out,” Fabio replied sassily. At that moment Fabio glanced down and noticed that the cases had prices stamped on them. They were going to be sold! But where, when, and how?
As soon as the elevator arrived at the next floor, he went out to the dock and saw Lumina. He went to speak with her about what was going on but thought better and quickly turned around, thinking she would get him arrested for knowing their plans. Fabio, still wearing his stolen lab coat, walked up to another scientist with a name tag reading, Carlos.
“Carlos, amigo,” Fabio called to him, “long time no see, man! How have you been?”
“I’m sorry, I….” he looked at Fabio’s name tag, “Marion?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you would remember me.” Fabio looked down slyly at his nametag. “We were in the same fraternity?”
“Oh, I guess I might remember you,” Carlos replied. Yes! He’s going for it. Fabio thought. His plan was working out perfectly.
“I’m going out to lunch today, care to join me and catch up?” Fabio asked.
“Sure, it’s better than eating a ham and cheese sandwich at my desk.” Both men went their separate ways. But little did Carlos know that Fabio wasn’t going back to the lab: he was going back to his cubicle to analyze some civil rights.
Time flew by, and before he knew it Fabio was headed to El Frijole Picante, a small place that served killer Mexican food. Their famous spicy bean burrito was one of Fabio’s personal favorites. Fabio sat down at a table in the corner, and soon after Carlos arrived.
“Hello, Marion. Have you already ordered?” Carlos asked as he sat down.
“No,” Fabio replied, “I was just about to.”
The two men ordered their food: Fabio ordered his signature burrito while Carlos went with a taco salad. They started into small talk about the “good old days back in college” (Fabio was a crafty liar). It wasn’t long before Fabio brought up the subject of the embryos he had found in the lab.
“So, Carlos, I’m new here at this lab, obviously. I just got hired a few days ago. I was just wondering if maybe you knew what was going on in that lab, because when they hired me they gave me almost no description as to what I would specifically be working on,” Fabio asked Carlos.
“Well,” Carlos began, taking a sip of his strawberry Jarritos, “the big thing that we do here at the lab is we work on embryos, human embryos. We modify their DNA using CRISPR.”
“CRISPR? What’s that?” Fabio asked.
“It’s a genetic editing tool that we use to edit individual genes in a subject’s DNA.”
“Why do you change them? For immunity purposes?”
“That among other things,” Carlos replied. “While some embryos tare engineered to be resistant against certain diseases we once thought were incurable, there are also some that are modified for more…uh…cosmetic purposes.”
“Cosmetic?” Fabio asked, slightly confused.
“Yes, cosmetic. Using CRISPR, we are able to change the DNA of a human embryo so that we receive our desired cosmetic outcome. For example, some are engineered to excel at certain activities, such as sports or academics, while others are modified to have certain physical traits, such as being tall or having blonde hair.”
“What are the modifications for though?” Fabio asked, now even more curious.
“Well, to tell the truth…” Carlos answered, “we sell them. But if you tell anyone, you die…I’m just joking, but still, my boss is pretty scary and you could possibly be thrown in prison. She has quite a bit of power.”
Fabio’s eyebrows raised nearly to his hairline. “Ok, wow. But you sell them?” he asked in disbelief. “How does that work?”
“Well…” Carlos said uncomfortably, “we start by receiving a notice from a client. We get the occasional person who wants their child to be immune to genetic diseases that sometimes run in the family, but usually, it’s just some rich people asking us if they can essentially create their ideal child, and give them all of their desired traits while filtering out the bad ones. After we have processed their request and do a few background checks, we will fulfill their order. Depending on the length and complexity of their request, this can take days or even weeks. After that, we implant the embryo into the host and monitor it until the reproduction process is complete.”
Fabio was stunned. “And how much do they usually sell for?”
“Let’s just say it’s no small amount of money,” Carlos replied. “The government makes a pretty penny off of their little underground operation. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Fabio looked at Carlos. “You don’t? Why not?”
“Well, I’ve just thought of reproduction as the way nature intended it to be, not to be meddled with using science,” Carlos explained. “It just doesn’t seem ethical. Just because we have figured out how to use this new technology doesn’t mean that we should necessarily use it.”
“Then why do you still work for them, Carlos?” Fabio asked, “Surely there are other job opportunities out there.”
“If they find out that anyone is against them, as I said, my boss will make sure they’re arrested and she’ll make sure they keep their noses out of her business.” He paused for a moment. “Also, the money is good, and I haven’t been able to find another job that pays as high as this one does.”
Fabio took a long sip of his drink. He could tell that Carlos was a trustworthy guy, the sort who wouldn’t ever stab him in the back. He knew he would have to tell him the truth at some point if they were going to be a team.
“Carlos,” Fabio started, nervous about what he was going to say, “I’m going to be honest with you: I’m not actually a scientist on your lab team. And my real name is Fabio.”
Carlos’ eyes widened.
“You’re not? But I thought…” Carlos stuttered.
“Let me explain,” Fabio began. “It all started when I was born in Chicago…”
Fabio told Carlos the whole story, from beginning to end. Many emotions flashed across Carlos’ face as Fabio told his tale of woe.
When Fabio finished speaking, Carlos was silent for a while. He stood up, threw some bills on the table and left the restaurant.**********
Fabio didn’t see Carlos again in the week that followed, and he decided to steer well clear from the lab for a while, as to not make anyone suspicious. To his surprise, on his way out from work one night a few weeks later, two government agents confronted him.
“Fabio Palza, you’re under arrest.”**********
Now Fabio returned to the present day, where he sat in his cell awaiting punishment for his crime. Suddenly Fabio heard a tapping at the bars of his cell. He looked up, and to his astonishment saw Carlos and a woman standing there.
“Fabio!” Carlos hissed through the door.
Fabio stood up and Carlos unlocked the door. They all ran out to the getaway car on the street and sped away.
“Who’s this and how did you get me out?” Fabio asked the woman in the front seat.
“I’m Maria Uzumaki, I got you out with some…government connections,” the woman replied. “I’m sorry to say, but I’m the one who put you in there in the first place.”
Fabio was so shocked he almost fell out of his seat. “What?
Maria went on to explain how Lumina Crosby had seen Fabio sneaking around the lab, and had threatened Maria’s job if she didn’t tell her who he was. How Maria knew, Fabio didn’t ask.
“Carlos explained everything to me,” Maria said. “He and I have been friends for years.”
“And? Are you with us or against us?” Fabio demanded.
“I’m with you all the way,” Maria assured him.
For the next month, the trio stuck together and made a plan of action. They decided to tell the public about what they had witnessed. Fabio thought it would help if they mentioned what would go wrong with having special humans; a new form of discrimination would be created.
The plan was they would go to local pubs and bars where they would actually get quite a crowd. Everything was going well for the three of them, and they had what they needed to put their plans in action: a large following who listened to and agreed with what they were preaching. But good things don’t always last forever.
One night Fabio was speaking to a crowd of around 200 people. In the middle of his speech, police burst in, telling everyone they needed to leave immediately. Carlos, Maria, and Fabio all stayed on stage wondering what it was all about.
“Fabio Palza!” the police officer yelled, “Show us your hands. You need to come with us immediately.” Fabio looked at Maria and then Carlos, very afraid. The officers handcuffed them all and took them into custody.
The officers took the trio back to the building where it all started, where Lumina was waiting to see Fabio personally. Soon Fabio stood outside her office, preparing what he would say to her. He walked in trying to look as confident as possible.
“What do you want, Crosby?” Fabio asked aggressively. “I know what you are up to!”
“Mr. Palza,” she said calmly, “let’s cut to the chase. I know you won’t stop even if I press charges, so I have…other plans for you.”
“Nothing will stop me! Maria, Carlos, and I are going to make sure you are exposed and your reign is over.”
Lumina started to laugh at Fabio’s response.
“What’s so funny? Tell me!”
“Do you really want to know?” she asked him. Fabio nodded. “Carlos, why don’t you come on in here?” Carlos walked in, looking at the floor. “Why don’t you tell Mr. Palza who you really are?”
“Fabio, I’m really sorry,” Carlos confessed.
“For what? You’ve stood by my side this whole time,” Fabio replied.
“No, he hasn’t,” Lumina cackled. “He’s been reporting all of your plans right back to me.”
Fabio gave Carlos a furious and disappointed glare.
“How do you feel now, Fabio? Feel like you want to give up? Feel like it’s all a lie?” Lumina asked. Fabio stood up to leave, but she stopped him. “No! Sit down, I have something else that you should see. I’ve heard what you have been saying to the people, but you don’t want to sound like a hypocrite, do you?”
“What could you possibly mean?” Fabio spat, “I stand by everything I have ever said.”
“Come with me to the lab. You need to see something,” Lumina commanded. Fabio followed. Whatever she was going to show him couldn’t be worse than everything that already happened. Little did he know that he had no idea what she had in store for him.
When they walked in the lab, Lumina started yelling at the various scientists in front of her.
“Someone get me the ‘0-Files’!” she screeched. Scientists started running, and in uner a minute she had the so-called “0-Files” in her hands.
“Ah, yes,” she said with a smirk, shaking a folder with a stack of papers inside. “This is just what I wanted. Now read it!”
She slammed it into Fabio’s hands and just waited.
Fabio opened up the packet and saw that it was names of previously treated embryos. While he was flipping through he saw something that shocked him: his own name.
“What…what is the meaning of this?” Fabio asked. “This…this can’t be real!”
“Oh it’s real, alright,” Lumina assured. Fabio threw down the papers in disgust.
“Was I…was I one of them? Was I sold?” Fabio questioned. Lumina went on to explain everything; Fabio and Lumina were both some of the very first embryos to be tested. Lumina was modified because her parents ran the whole operation. Fabio was a whole different story though. The only reason he had such a delightful childhood was because the government paid his parents to have a genetically modified child. Fabio couldn’t believe that they basically sold him just to live in the United States. Lumina told him he could leave, and he stormed out of the lab. In his rage, he ran into Maria.
“What’s wrong?” Maria asked, concerned for Fabio. “Let’s go get a bite and we can talk, okay?” Reluctantly Fabio agreed. The pair walked to the El Frijole Picante, the place where it all began, but this time without the backstabbing Carlos.
“I see why you’re angry, Fabio, but we need to look on the bright side,” Maria explained.
“What bright side? I have been preaching to the people that I’m a bad idea. I’m basically just against myself,” Fabio seethed, still angry.
“Fabio, don’t think like that. First of all, you are very intelligent because of the operation.” Fabio thought about this. “And…now we can get people on our side. Let them know that the plan is a bad one because our society can’t accept people for who they are now, so with ‘special’ people being created, a large group of people will be discriminated against.”
So, Fabio and Maria devised a plan that was sure to take Lumina down. A plan that would get the people on their side, and against Lumina.
For a few more months, Fabio went out and spoke publicly. His speeches were powerful, emotional, and moving. By telling his own story, and by showing people what would happen if children were edited before birth, Fabio stole the hearts of the citizens of the United States. They soon understood that making ‘special’ children would tear the world apart more than it already was.
Pretty soon, even congresspeople were on Fabio’s side. He had a massive following that was hopefully enough to get cosmetic genetic modification shut down. Fabio’s fans/followers even started rallies. Signs like ‘Keep The Peace’ and ‘We Are All Perfect the Way We Are’ could be seen all around the city.
Everything was going smoothly and Fabio was sure the program would be shut down. There was still one thing in Fabio’s way, though, and that was Lumina Crosby.
“Fabio, we have a problem,” Maria whispered to Fabio during one of his many speeches. “Look who’s here.”
Fabio turned and saw none other than Lumina approaching the stage, with Carlos following close behind her. Fabio and Maria didn’t have security, so they had to face Lumina themselves.
“Ladies and gentleman,” Fabio announced to the crowd, “this is the very woman who’s ruining our future.” He gestured to Lumina.
“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Lumina replied innocently. “I actually need you to come to my office, Mr. Palza.”
“Oh, Lumina,” Maria piped in, “you have no idea what you’re in for. We have proof!”
The crowd gasped, just like an audience getting hit with the exciting part in a movie, as Maria started projecting incriminating pictures onto the large screen behind Fabio. Pictures of Lumina’s desk, the lab, her office – and especially the labels on the embryo containers. With every new picture shown, the audience became more and more shocked and angry. Finally, Lumina and Carlos ran off the stage and Fabio felt like he had just won the battle.
Later that night, Fabio and Maria went to El Frijole Picante to celebrate their victory. While eating, the restaurant owners changed the channel to the local news. To their surprise, Lumina’s face was plastered across the screen, with the words Wanted For Interrogation on a red banner.
“Fabio! Look at this!” Maria yelled, pointing at the TV. “Turn it up!” she yelled at the waiter. The man was just the slightest bit afraid of Maria, so he turned it up as loud as possible.
“They’re talking about me!” Fabio exclaimed in excitement. The reporter was reporting how the crowds at Fabio’s speeches were always quite large, but the federal authorities had never been paid too much attention before Lumina was exposed. But knowing that there was an actual mastermind behind the evil plot had definitely got their attention. Fabio was beyond excited that the government was finally on his side.
Since Fabio actually worked for the government, it was quite easy for him to find someone who could help. He wanted to reach out to Congress specifically and try to get an act passed about editing genes for cosmetic reasons. Did he think he could get it passed? Honestly Fabio didn’t think so. Fabio thought if his act was ever even close to getting approved, it would take many years and a lot of hard work, but only time would tell.
2 years later
Fabio looked up from his computer screen. A woman stood in front of him holding a notepad. “Can I ask you some questions?”
“Yes, of course,” Fabio replied.
Now that he had the PR half of Lumina’s job, Fabio was in charge of representing the genetics sector of the government publicly. After he put together enough evidence to have Lumina put away for a long time, the government made sure that she couldn’t get anywhere near a high-ranking government position ever again, even when she would be eventually let out of prison. Her position was handed over to Fabio, who decided that it would be best to share it with Maria (since she knew more about the actual science of it than Fabio), and together the two reformed the genetics area so that no more cosmetic embryos could be made, despite the fact that the act was never passed. In the interest of science and that of the people, he didn’t put a full end to the company, because he thought that Lumina’s technology could actually be used for good – performing scientific research into eliminating certain genetic diseases.
Long story short, the government realized that Carlos was also involved with the whole scandal and with Lumina, so he was fired from his position as well. Thankfully neither Fabio nor Maria ever saw him again. Maria and Fabio grew closer than ever before, and their business was thriving. With their team keeping future generations safe from disease and discrimination, they were saving the world one step at a time…but first, a lunch stop at El Frijole Picante.