I thought going directly to the HOO, Christen Goldwater, would be a rewarding experience. He would congratulate me on a job well done, perhaps bestow some public accolades that would mark the beginning of our partnership fighting the extraterrestrial virus plaguing our planet. But I had misread the situation. Again.
You’re probably confused. Let me start from the beginning.
When I was born, I cried. Which isn’t unusual for an infant freshly pushed out of the womb. As they wiped the blood from my skin, I’m told they injected me, as they do all babies, with a syringe of governmental protective soup called The Vaccine. The Vaccine is designed to guide us all towards the safest decisions. Usually, babies stop crying at this point. I kept up the habit until I was four. It was a unique experience for my parents; I’m told they scoured nannying books from the Archives to figure out how to deal with me.
I like to think my unconventional upbringing has crafted me with a special edge, a secret weapon of sorts. My government sanctioned bodyguards don’t agree with me. We often disagree, but I value their honesty. Plus, they’re the only ones who’ve been around long enough to build a real rapport with. The past twenty-one years have created a bond akin to family between us. But I digress.
I didn’t realize something was different with me until I went to school. My mother kneeled in front of me, tucked my hair behind my ear. “Andi,” she said. “Listen to your teacher. Behave like the other students. When they’re quiet, you be quiet. When they’re playing, you play.”
My five-year-old self thought that was pretty doable. Then again, I’d never met a child my age. When they were quiet, I was quiet, and when they played, I played, but our actions rarely took the same shape. A glorious side effect of The Vaccine is the extra abilities it gives you. It’s a bit of a roulette game, at least for everybody else. Later, I would learn the magic was a reward for following The Vaccine’s guidance. But in my kindergarten class, I realized I could be quiet while levitating crayons into my nostrils. Nobody else thought it was as funny as I did. Well, maybe my bodyguards did. I’ve learned since then they’re contractually obligated to remain unresponsive.
I grew up and didn’t make any friends. I think they were afraid of my black-clad entourage. I asked my parents if they could make the bodyguards leave, but they didn’t really respond. They just looked scared. I understand now that they could never do what I asked. But it would have been nice if they pretended.
My year ten History class began the chain reaction leading me to the HOO. I could blame Mrs. Ritten for my misdeeds, but I’m too selfish; I’d rather keep them for myself. I can still hear her tinny voice in my ears. Maybe crystal-clear memory is a side effect of The Vaccine. I like to think it’s just a side effect of being me.
“Half a century ago,” she said, scratching the side of her nose, “An extraterrestrial force jettisoned infectious material into the core of our planet. The impact decimated all of Japan and the shoreline of China.” I remember her pointing at the hologram of Earth she’d projected, as if trying to convince us it really happened. We’d all seen that map before. We all sort of knew the sequence of events. My teachers were inefficient in many ways, but I’d stopped pointing it out a few years ago. It wasn’t worth the trip to the principal’s office.
“The virus spread, contaminating the water supply and the Earth in unpredictable ways. Its effects mutated so much that regular news broadcasting couldn’t alert the general population quick enough, and more extensive measures had to be taken. A year later, Christen Goldwater created The Vaccine, a microscopic device coded to promote the safest decisions within humans; a helpful guide in the unpredictable post-virus world.” Mrs. Ritten flicked her hand, showing The Vaccine’s insignia, which was even more redundant than showing the map. We all had a small insignia tattooed on our butts as a form of verification at the injection sight. The double-helix behind a shield was an economical design, but beyond that I always thought it was a little unnecessary.
“Christen Goldwater knew the population would not initially receive this solution well. So, he designed The Vaccine with perks. All who take it receive extra abilities—telepathy, super strength, super speed—in regulation, of course. It is a simple but effective strategy—Goldwater’s choices were the carrot or the stick, and he chose the carrot. That is why when you listen to the guidance of The Vaccine, you gain special abilities. Staying healthy, making the right choices, is always the best course of action for longevity of life.”
I found this extremely strange. The Vaccine didn’t guide me, and I was still alive. Albeit, I was only sixteen, but my parents always viewed my birthdays as more of an accomplishment than a celebration. Naturally, I raised my hand, but Mrs. Ritten didn’t see me. She was staring intently at the back of the room—Niku had probably fallen asleep again. To help her out, I stood up, stepping out from behind the small desk. I cleared my throat.
“Mrs. Ritten?” She finally noticed me, so I sat back down. “Is having The Vaccine the only way to make good choices? I mean, I’ve made many choices without The Vaccine’s help, and I’m still here.”
She didn’t answer me. From how she acted, I wasn’t sure she’d even heard me. I was about to repeat my question when my dear bodyguards filed through the tight aisles and pantomimed I get up. It usually didn’t bother me when they escorted me out of a room; in a lot of instances, I admit, I exploited my deviancy to get out of a boring class. But as I walked out of Mrs. Ritten’s class, my unanswered question tugged at the back of my mind like a hangnail snagged in a sweater sleeve.
I asked the same question to my parents that night, but they didn’t have a satisfying answer. I asked my bodyguards through my bedroom window before going to bed, but they rarely responded to anything I said. I didn’t take their silence personally.
The next five years I spent trying to find an answer to my moral dilemma. I didn’t know how to research; I never had the chance to become a good student at school. And although I could make myself compute information at god-like speeds, I couldn’t force the information I needed to reveal itself. My studies took many detours, into ancient civilizations, contemporary religion, interspecies breeding, and interior spaceship design, among many other things. The more I researched, the more another question pushed its way to the surface: why create The Vaccine when it would make more sense to decontaminate Earth itself? It would be a tricky process, but it had been fifty years. Surely somebody could create a way by now.
No matter how deep into the ether my tangents took me, one person kept resurfacing. He was a popular man; his fame reached levels uncontainable by Earth alone. The person was Head of Operations, creator of The Vaccine, Christen Goldwater. From the files I’d read, I thought we would probably be friends if we met in real life. After all, we were both outcasts in our own way, and both looked at the world in ways the rest of the population didn’t understand yet.
The more I thought about it, the more it was obvious that only Christen Goldwater could answer my questions. I knew my parents wouldn’t take me to him, so I asked my bodyguards instead. I realize now if I didn’t, the day would have ended differently. Maybe if The Vaccine functioned correctly within me, it would’ve been able to guide me in the right direction. But I was too distracted by the fact that they’d responded to think about the effect of my actions.
“No.” They never were eloquent. And their voices always sounded like the first sputter of a water spigot. I was just surprised they had said no. They usually preferred nonverbal communication; a shake, or a nod of the head was their usual M.O.
When the whimsy of a response wore off, I realized I didn’t need their help going anywhere. I was twenty-one, plenty old enough to travel on my own. Christen Goldwater’s address and pictures of his office had popped up countless times in my research. With this in mind, I teleported straight to where I thought he would be. I was right. Maybe I was a good student after all.
The most disappointing aspect of meeting Christen Goldwater was finding out he was a bad conversationalist. That was the main clue in figuring out he was the one who sent the bodyguards; their semi-muteness was just a byproduct of a poor role model. He told me too, of course, but I was starting to put the pieces together even before he said anything.
I waved. “Hi. Christen Goldwater, right?” You could never be too sure with these things, I’ve found. “I’m Andi Grekas. Huge fan. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions I had about The Vaccine.”
“How did you get in here?” he asked. His eyes darted around the room, inspecting the space between the floorboards and the corners of the walls, as if I’d somehow become liquid and seeped through the cracks. “This room is secured against magic.”
I shrugged. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with you; I’m just a little different.” I sat down on one of the leather-upholstered seats set up opposite his desk. “Comfy,” I said, giving a little bounce.
Christen looked at me like I was an alien. Maybe I am. I’m not well-versed in my own genealogy, and a good researcher never assumes. “You were a mistake. I should’ve listened to my personal advisor.”
“A mistake?” Maybe we weren’t destined to be friends. “Wait, you know me?”
“Of course I know you. I’ve had my operatives monitoring you since birth.” He shifted in his chair uneasily. “I can’t tell you about The Vaccine. It’s classified information.”
“Wow. You sent my bodyguards? What an honor.” I was geeking out. I mean, it was Christen Goldwater. Even if we couldn’t be friends, he was still the most well-known man on Earth. It took me a moment to process the second half of his sentence. “Wait, what do you mean “classified?” I was thinking,” I leaned into the arm of the chair, “Why don’t you just find a way to decontaminate Earth? You cared so much about humanity that you created The Vaccine, but wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t even need it?”
My news was not met with the single-man applause I was expecting. Instead, he leaned towards his communication device, let it read his face to unlock the screen, and mumbled two words into the microphone. “Exterminate him.”
My very own bodyguards, once steadfast companions, burst through the office’s wooden double doors. I jumped up instinctually, covering my face. They fired rounds into me, but I had become invincible as an unconscious action of self-defense. “Why are you doing this?” I called out. “I thought we were friends!” Eventually I thought of teleporting away, and I did, far, far away.
Christen was an exemplary man on paper. He’d done a whole lot of good, technically. But after he order my own bodyguards to shoot me, I knew the man was cold-blooded. And ever since teleporting across the Atlantic, I realize just how awful my little patch of the world was. In the U.S., Christen Goldwater lives in fame. Outside it, it’s clear he’ll go down in infamy.