Abby was summoned by Mrs. Wimble, the director of the Merryville Children’s Home, who smilingly told her it was to be Abby’s very own Transformation Day. “Off with you now,” Mrs. Wimble trilled. “Put on your best dress and look smart!”
Looking smart was not a concern of Abby’s; she had been set to to be valedictorian at her high school. Success waited in her future like a purring kitten, something she only had to pick up and stroke a bit. Physical appearance, in her mind, had little to do with that.
Of course, this was all before. Before wave after wave of pandemics rolled over the country. Before she lost her grandparents, then her aunt and uncle, and finally, her parents to the various mutations of the virus. Before being intelligent was a curse.
Mrs. Wimble’s voice painted Transformation Day as a celebration, but unbeknownst to the optimistic director, Abby knew something of what the day entailed, only because she had broken the rules to see Theo when he returned from his “special” day.
Theo was her more-than-friend in this time when people, including Abby and Theo, had learned to be cautious, to not look too far past tomorrow. Every now and then, though, she allowed her feelings for Theo to bubble over and he wasn’t quick to slap a lid on her conjectures. It wouldn’t be too much longer! They could go out on their own, find a safe place in the country, find some small drop of happiness in the tsunami of sorrow that had marred their early lives.
Abby was understandably nervous then, when Theo was whisked away one morning for what he only in passing was able to whisper-- “Transformation Day”. He was only gone for a few hours, but when Abby saw his return through the window and raced downstairs to meet him, she was stopped abruptly by Mrs. Wimble. “Theo has had a very long day, Abby. He needs to rest. Please leave him be.” Theo, in the meantime, maneuvered himself around the two women and headed straight for his room without even a cursory glance in Abby’s direction.
One thought was clear in the eye of the storm that spun Abby’s mind: she had to get to Theo. He needed her help. When she was sure Mrs. Wimble would be fully engrossed in her dreams--what such a pinched face spinster would dream of was beyond Abby’s imagination--Abby tapped softly on Theo’s door with just her fingers. “It’s me,” she whispered.
But Theo didn’t come. Abby tried the door, which she was almost certain would be locked, but it gave easily as her hand turned the knob. She expected to see an empty room, but there was Theo, sitting cramped at the desk that had always been too small for him, staring intently at a small laptop and occasionally tapping the keys.
Abby moved toward Theo quietly, not wanting to startle him. The room was frigid as were all the rooms at night in the home, but Theo paid it no mind. Abby uncrossed her arms and rested her hand gently on Theo’s shoulder. “Hey,” she spoke softly.
Theo jumped slightly and turned to look blankly at Abby. “Oh, hello there Abby,” he said. Abby breathed a sigh of relief. He knew her name. That had to count for something. But her heart sank when he quickly turned back to the computer.
“What’s going on, Theo?”
“I’m very busy right now, Abby. I’ve been given an enormous task. A beautiful, fulfilling, monumental task on this, my Transformation Day. Just the amount of medical journals I have to catch up on alone will take all night. Then my transport leaves first thing in the morning.”
“Your transport? Theo, I don’t understand. Can you please just close that for a minute and talk?”
“A minute, Abby, could mean the difference between life and death. Therefore, no, I cannot spare a minute; I cannot spare a millisecond.”
“But how will I know how to find you? For. . .after. Remember our plans?”
“There is only one plan for me now, Abby, and it can’t include anyone else. I need to ask you to leave now, please. I’ve already lost precious moments I can never retrieve again. This very conversation could result in death for thousands.”
Abby could barely bring herself to try to comprehend Theo’s words. She had been summarily dismissed. There was one thing left, however. One phrase that pounded in her brain as if it must escape. “I love you,” she breathed.
Theo turned to regard her quietly. “I love you, Abby.” Abby shivered as the relief flooded her body. Theo was not lost to her! “Just as I love all of humanity. I can never love one individual more than another. Love for all guides my work. Thank you for stopping in to say good-bye.”
And that was that. Abby never closed her eyes that night after she solemnly found her way back to her bed. She saw Theo, still dressed in the same clothes from the day before, still reading from the laptop, make his way onto the bus that pulled up in front of the home in the early morning hours.
Now she was going where Theo had gone and the only viable conclusion she could reach was that she would come back much the same way he had.
The van Mrs. Wimble had hurried her into contained only Abby and the driver, who hadn’t spoken a word to her. As she felt the van make a swift right, Abby noticed they were pulling into the parking lot of a local physician’s office. A nurse with light red hair and electric blue scrubs opened the door and stuck her head in. “Another delivery?” she asked cheerily, as the driver simply grunted. “Come along, dear. It’s a big day!” Abby pressed her lips together and climbed out of the van, which sped away as soon as the door was closed, presumably on its way to pick up another “delivery”.
The nurse, who introduced herself as Ms. Gloria, gently took Abby’s arm and led her into the building. “I just want to thank you, dear, for all you’re doing. You certainly must be special.”
Abby’s smile was non-committal. Surely there would be someone to talk to when she entered the building, and Abby would be released to return to the small life she had. Why Theo had gone along with this was a mystery to her, but it would not remain one for Abby. Her questions would be answered.
“Now, dear, if you’ll just join that line there, everything will be taken care of soon. Thank you again for your amazing bravery.” Ms. Gloria tottered away, hand to her heart, the word “heroes” emanating from her mouth as she passed each young person entering the building.
Abby took her place in line directly behind a smallish girl with ice blonde hair, who spoke immediately, the words tumbling from her mouth like a bag of marbles tipped by a child’s clumsy hands. “Are you as excited as I am? I’ve been waiting and waiting to see if I’d be picked, and then I was! I mean, obviously, since I’m standing here. My heart is absolutely pounding! I’m Alicia, by the way. And you are?” Alicia paused to take in a ragged breath.
“Oh, Abby. That was my best friend’s name. I say ‘was’ because, well you know, like so many others, she was lost in P Wave 3--one of the first children to be affected actually. Her death is one of the reasons I longed to be chosen, but I didn’t know for sure if I was smart enough, in the sciences at least. But it looks like I am! Can you imagine, Abby, we are about to become some of the most intelligent individuals on Earth?”
“It sounds like you know a lot about this, Alicia. I, on the other hand, don’t know anything other than that my best friend came back with a totally different personality after his visit.”
“Ah, so you actually talked to him afterwards? They usually don’t recommend that. It’s painful for those left behind, but it doesn’t affect the Transformed at all. Their work--what will soon be our work--is the only focus.” Alicia nodded wisely.
“And you’re okay with that? With only caring about. . .the work?”
“Absolutely! We’re going to be heroes, celebrities all because of a simple little operation.”
Abby raised her eyebrows.
“Wow,” Alicia continued. “You really don’t know anything about this, do you? I’ve been waiting for weeks. My parents were on pins and needles hoping I would get in. So, about the operation. Don’t be afraid. Those of us who are chosen are already intellectually gifted in math and science. All the doctors do is a little surgery that boosts that part of our brain a bit more. We are the nation’s, no, we are the world’s hope for a pandemic cure.”
“But what about everything we have to give up?” Abby shook her head in disbelief.
“Small potatoes, Abby! We’re going to be rich, we’re going to be famous. My gosh! Parades will be held in our honor and we’ll be invited to be guest speakers on every major network. Our social media accounts will be infinitely epic!”
Abby clutched at her stomach, which turned a sick flip with each word Alicia uttered. This was not what she wanted! Worst of all, it seemed as if Alicia had a choice in the matter, where it looked as if Abby had none. “Do you know where. . .?”
“Everything okay here?” Abby turned her head to see who had spoken and was greeted with the sight of a young man around her own age, with jet black hair, deep brown eyes, and a pleasant, inquiring smile. Even in her present state, Abby’s first thought was, I could love you. An image of Theo flitted into her mind, and she felt a pang of guilt.
“Oh! Hi there! I’m Alicia, and I was just explaining to my new friend Abby what a fabulous opportunity this is for us.” She turned her head and cocked out her hip, in what was Abby’s opinion, a bit too flirtatiously.
“And does your friend,” here he paused to study Abby, “feel as confident about this, um, opportunity as you do, Alicia?”
“I’m working on building her confidence as we speak!” Alicia leaned her head the opposite way and flashed a winning smile.
“I see. My name is Jake, and I just noticed you, Abby, looking a bit distressed. Can I help in some way? I’ve been here quite a while and I know this can be very intimidating.”
Now Abby’s heart was flipping along with her stomach. If I let them go through with this, I’ll never have these emotions again, she thought. Her stomach churned. “Would it be possible to use the restroom?”
“Of course! I’m happy to escort you.” Much to Abby’s surprise, Jake took her by the hand and led her away from Alicia. “Be back soon!” he said over his shoulder. Then quietly to Abby, “You’re thinking of running aren’t you?”
Abby said nothing. She had no idea if this person could be trusted, even if she did feel as if a day staring into his eyes would be a day well spent.
“Finding a window in the bathroom? Knocking out a security guard with your bare hands? Whatever it takes to get out of here?”
Abby’s eyes widened, and she caved. “How do you know? I mean, not the security guard part, but the rest of it is pretty accurate.”
“I’ll help you,” he said quickly. “Go to the bathroom, and then get back in line.”
“Why would I get back in line? That’s headed straight for the operating room I bet.”
“You’re right, but I’ll be in the operating room. And it’s really not an operation, per se. They don’t want to waste time with recuperation of the Transformed. It’s just an injection. I’ll fill the syringe with water beforehand. There’s nothing that will go in you but water.”
“And then what?”
“When you’re finished, I’ll show you a way out different from where the transport will be located. It’ll at least give you a chance to escape. Maybe I’ll even join you. Decide quickly. If we talk too long, someone might get suspicious.”
“I’m going to the bathroom and then getting back in line.”
“I’ll see you in just a bit then. Don’t worry.” Jake gave her hand a brief squeeze and flashed her one more smile before heading back toward the operating room.
Abby finished quickly in the restroom and headed back to her place in line, which had moved significantly closer to their destination during her absence, with Alicia.
“I am. Thank you for explaining things to me, Alicia. I really hope you get everything you want from this.”
Alicia looked at Abby as if she still didn’t quite understand. “Of course I will. We both will.” She smiled meaningfully at Abby and then her name was called. Alicia waved and disappeared behind a door that slammed shut, as if sealing her fate.
It was only a couple of minutes later that Abby heard her own summons. There must be more than one room, she thought, at the same moment she saw Jake. “I’ll take her in here, Kathy,” Jake said. “Just finished up with my last patient.” He waved Abby into the room.
“If you’ll just lie on the table there, we’ll get started. So you do understand what’s happening to you today, right?”
Abby felt her heart gain speed and she struggled to pull in enough air to answer. But then Jake leaned closer and winked. Kathy’s still in the room, Abby thought. He has to keep up an act. Hold it together, Abby.
“Yes, I understand.”
“Good, good. We’ll just do a quick injection here, right around the crook of the elbow. If you feel a bit dizzy when we’re finished, I’ll be happy to walk you out. Make sure you make it to the transport safely. Ready?”
Abby nodded. She relaxed in knowing this part would all be over soon, and then she could concentrate on her escape. She’d have to leave everything behind at the home. Too risky to go back there. The thought that Jake might join her--it was too much to take in right at the moment.
“Thank you,” she said to Jake and closed her eyes. The needle prick felt no different than the others she had experienced throughout her life. She thought briefly of the last injection she had, what was meant to be a cure for the most recent pandemic but had failed miserably. Maybe I’m just too selfish to give up everything to help save the world, she thought.
Following on the heels of that thought, Abby felt what she could only describe as a tingling in her brain and everything around her became excessively bright. She could barely make out Jake’s smiling face above her.
“What did you do?” she murmured.
“I'm just helping you help all of us.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead softly. “Happy Transformation Day, Abby.”