*This material is the sole intellectual property of Marcia Young. Any use of it in part or in whole without prior written permission is illegal*
Finding a pay phone to call New Horizons was easy enough. Vella was easily scheduled an interview for the same week, which she nervously awaited. Three days had been enough time for her to fluctuate between relieved and stomach churning nervousness. Finding a means to get out to their facility beyond the Savannah city limits was a bit harder. Several of the cab companies refused point blank to send cabs anywhere. After a brief lull in fighting the riots had sparked again. Vella had to resort to begging and had to agree to the company’s rules before they’d agree to send a cab to her.
Thankful that it was fall Vella nervously tugged her beanie further down her head making sure it covered from the base of her skull to the tips of her eyebrows. The cleft dividing her head was completely concealed. Her long black hair shown in the bright midday sun and overall she felt that she blended in nicely. Her clothes were as nice as they were going to get under the circumstances and she was well groomed. Her deformities were completely covered by her hat and gloves. That didn’t stop her, however, from worrying.
This venture could be the opportunity she needed to back on her feet.
The taxi slowed to a stop outside what looked like a large house. It was a massive thing of brick, two stories tall and spread out farther than she thought necessary. Paying the man she eased out of the car hesitant to actually go inside of the house. A four foot high wooden sign, painted a bright white, off to the side of the walkway was the only indication that she was in the right place. The sign proudly proclaimed in clean blue lettering “New Horizons”. Beneath that was the slightly smaller “Tomorrow’s Solutions Today”.
The house was set off from the road and quite frankly in the middle of nowhere. It was over an hour off the interstate and down a few state highways. The land around the house was well maintained but surrounded by trees and more than a little marsh. Over all the building was dazzling and clean and she felt like she was tainting it by just being there.
Tugging her hat down again and pulling her gloves tighter she steeled herself. She really needed this job it could change everything. She’d have enough money to pay off her bills and maybe, just maybe, enough to start her own business as a website designer. Walking up the steps to the porch she refused to let herself turn around and chase down the taxi. Entering what should have been the foyer she found the reception desk. The entire place was floored with white tiles, gleaming in the midday sun. The walls were a pale tan accented by dark colorful paintings in sunset colors and deep purples.
Swallowing thickly Vella approached the receptionist. “I have an appointment,” she said softly cursing her nervousness.
Smiling at her the blond woman asked, “Vella Treanor?”
“Have a seat Mr. Olliver will be right with you.”
Vella settled herself on a pale tan couch up against a wall. Before she knew it she was twisting her fingers around each other. Her gloves scrunched up around her fingers uncomfortably before she twisted her fingers another way repeating the process.
“Ms. Treanor!” a man’s voice nearly startled her as it echoed around the waiting room cheerfully. Standing Vella forced herself not to flinch as the man grasped her hand tightly in greeting. “It’s a pleasure to meet you if you’d just follow me.” Mr. Olliver’s voice was deep and he had a distinctive southern accent making it pleasant for Vella to listen to. The man was tall and slender, and well dressed in his casual work clothes. Roughly Vella’s age she had to repress the envy she felt whenever she met a peer untainted by scleroderma. Slowly she had begun to accept that life didn’t discriminate where health and beauty were concerned.
Following Mr. Olliver she had to repeatedly swallow her fear. This could make or break her future. What the company was asking was long term to the extreme; she wasn’t even sure if she agreed with the ethics of it.
“Tell me, Ms. Treanor, how did you hear of our program?” asked Mr. Olliver as he settled behind his desk waving her to take her own seat.
“There was an ad in the paper,” she replied trying her best not to look as nervous as she felt.
Mr. Olliver smiled apparently delighted. “We’ve gotten several inquiries from that. Now, the ad didn’t go into detail any so let me elucidate a bit.”
Vella worried slightly as Mr. Olliver leaned back into his chair and got comfortable. She knew there had to be more than the ad said. No one gave away that much money without a few catches. No to mention the nature of the job covered years of commitment.
“Now as you know New Horizons is a genetic company. We focus on things like cancer, infertility, and even super foods; crops for instance resistant to drought and unpalatable to bugs. Recently our research into cancer has taken a new turn; into hybrids. Our research has a two prong approach; find out how hybrids are possible and find out why not a single hybrid recorded has developed cancer.”
Vella was captivated. She knew they were researching hybrids but she never realized that they didn’t get cancer… at least they didn’t appear to.
“Is it possible that it’s just their small numbers?” she asked. “I mean they’re not a lot of them and isn’t it possible that it just hasn’t happened yet or that it has but it hasn’t been recorded.”
Instead of being offended Mr. Olliver smiled at her. “We’ve considered that, however, if one in three human women are getting breast cancer and one in five verian woman are getting kidney cancer, then hybrid women should be at least getting breast cancer every one in six or even one in ten. We have no reported cases of any cancer ever being reported in a hybrid. Now we have some powerful backers into our research. Mr. Edelweiss has been down here from New York to let us run some tests and even take a few samples. Well, even Mrs. Cularia has been in! Nice woman, as docile as a lamb that one,” he laughed softly to himself. “It was Mr. Cularia that had everyone nervous. Wouldn’t let her out of his sight no matter how many times she reassured him.
“Now the other thing we’re looking into is how a hybrid is created. That’s where we’ll need volunteers.”
“Um, what do you mean by how hybrids are created?” Vella blushed suddenly realizing how it sounded. “I mean well, wouldn’t they be created the normal way?”
Mr. Olliver’s smile was all white teeth and mirth. “Well yes, there is that. What we’re looking into however is the genetics of it. On one hand you have humans a mammals as you can get,” he held out a hand in demonstration. “Now on the other hand you have verians, people as plant like as the ones in the back yard,” he said holding out his other hand.
“What we’re interested in is a long-term study of how two vastly different species can procreate, even with all the right bits and pieces,” he said with a laugh. “What is it that allows some humans and verian to create children but not others?”
“Oh, I see what you mean.” She had never thought of it that way. Frowning she wondered at the implications. Were hybrids the result of genetic abnormalities of the parents? Would they carry those mutated genes onto their children if so?
“Now the study we’re doing involves, as I’m sure you’re aware from our ad, the need for hybrid children. If you qualify for our program you’ll be artificially inseminated with verian semen in the hopes of you conceiving. Before you can become part of the program you’ll need a full workup by one of our doctors to make sure your chances of conceiving are within normal perimeters,” he explained sitting up again and leaning partially on his desk, suddenly more serious than he had been a minute ago. “You have to understand, Ms. Treanor, that we insist that the women who participate and successfully conceive take an active role in the raising of the child. We have no interest assisting in producing a slew of children who will only be neglected. As such we’ll be forced to require that you see a therapist who will assess not only your intentions toward the child but your projected capability to raise a child.”
“I understand,” she said. And she did. She wouldn’t want to be in essence a test-tube baby who was then abandoned or worse by its mother. “What exactly are you hoping to learn from these children?”
Mr. Olliver smiled again becoming laidback once more. “Oh, a ton, Ms. Treanor! We’re hoping to learn what is it genetically that allows some couples to produce children and others not. Of course finding a viable cure for cancer would always be nice but just understanding what makes humans, human and verians, verian would help tremendously. Now one last thing before we send you off to for a few physicals, assuming you’re still interested,” he paused until Vella nodded. “now you can back out of the program at any time, with one exception. Once you conceive your health and the health of the child become our primary concern as does the reason for this venture, our research. You’ll sign forms stating you’ll allow us access to the child at any time we see fit unless you feel our representative is endangering the child. You’ll be able to petition against the tests or treatment if that’s the case.”
Vella felt a bit nauseous from the interview. Nodding that she understood she tried to steel herself to the fact that she still needed to get through the physical. She hoped she was doing the right thing. She needed the money desperately but could she really get it by bringing a child into the world? Birth a hybrid at that during a time where riots between the species were at an all-time high?
She pushed down the bile climbing her throat and barely took anything in as Mr. Olliver led her upstairs to see the in house doctor.
Part of her wished that the doctor would turn her away, even as she assured Mr. Olliver that she didn’t want to remove her hat and gloves despite how warm the house was.