I need to be ready and I haven’t been sure of my decision. “Until now,” I tell myself firmly sitting up just a little straighter to feel the surety I need. So much money is involved, or just possibly some hope for humanity. “This is long overdue.” I speak the words out loud to the empty office as I put away the remains of my leftover lunch, the bits I saved for this dinner that I knew I’d be eating at my desk, too stressed to eat much anyways as I prepared for tonight’s Board Meeting.
Then that other voice creeps in. “Why am I kidding myself? Everything pinned on the lives of single children. How can I let that happen?”
I shrug it off. “The school needs the money, it’s ethical now at least and well-supervised. Not like before.” My confident Director voice has reasserted itself. I’m ready. Certain.
I glance at my watch relieved to see I have five minutes to myself. I lean back. I’ll do a few deep breaths reminding myself as I take the first one that the stressful part is done. In less than an hour this will all be in the past. Sure, I’m uncomfortable knowing that the deciding vote will fall on my shoulders, but the debating is done. My decision is made.
I breathe again, in and out, and as I do the memories from years before, memories of Chloe flood my mind.
Chloe. None of us knew at the time that she was just a failed experiment.
I see her, the little girl, normal in so many ways. Middle class, living on a quiet street, in an urban neighbourhood right here in our city. This is no extreme, far out, wacky place. The parents, just regular Mr and Mrs Anybody, or so I had been told. That the child was extremely bright wasn’t even irregular given that she had been identified for this special school for highly gifted learners where, back then, I had only recently started to teach. Even today each of the students stands out in one way or another, whether an uncanny ability in math, an extreme curiosity, perhaps a photographic memory for facts, eerily quick retorts, fantastical questions or sometimes understandings well beyond their young years. With Chloe I hadn’t yet had a student quite like her, one who presented with it all.
The first time I had met Chloe she was only seven years old. Long brown hair, big eyes, a shy smile. Her solemn, quiet grandfather, whom I only met the once, brought her to the classroom and, unlike some of the other parents, seemed to have no issue dropping the girl off with hardly a word exchanged. That first encounter, I remember, was for a special writing group with the older primary grade students, those already advanced in writing. Chloe had been younger than the rest but her classroom teacher had assured me that age wouldn’t be a barrier, and so it wasn’t. Not only did Chloe excel at writing, her poems and short stories had such insight and depth. Any one sample could have been held up as an example in a first year university creative writing course.
One lesson that comes to mind in that fleeting reminiscence is the day I introduced metaphors. After a few minutes of writing time for the students to find one or two simple metaphors for describing the quiet of the room, the group shared their examples. Sensing the concept was perhaps a little too complex for the youngest who had yet to contribute, I had gently invited Chloe to participate only to have the words flow off her tongue, a waterfall of inspiration. And so it went.
I shake my head and bring myself back to my breathing. Where had all that come from?
I breath again, in and out. And there she is again. Chloe. I had worked with Chloe over the next five years. Thinking back now perhaps it should have been a red flag that I rarely saw either parent, only an occasional new aunt or uncle for whom Chloe showed little affection. Nevertheless over the years I had watched her intellect blossom. She had excelled at mathematics, enrolling in a university level class with special permission from the Dean of the prestigious local university before she was finished fifth grade. Though she could have also participated in any other subject college course that year, time had become the limiting factor. Chloe and her science partner had won first place in the district science fair with their project on fractals but had turned down the trip to the provincial fair because it conflicted with preparation for her grade ten Royal Conservatory Music exam. She played so beautifully back then. Like an angel. I can almost hear her now. That same year she so quickly learned French without much help from the adults around her, read books on Art History, participated in the Future Problem Solving Challenges that the more focused, older students in the classes liked to play at and spent hours working on her own special novel project. She had honestly been doing it all.
I involuntarily shake my head as I’m reminded of all the critics of our gifted education programs who challenge the lack of social skills and abilities, believing that pulling these so called misfits out of the regular stream of schooling only exacerbates the alien-like behaviours common to some. In retrospect, I might have paid more attention too to the notion of alien beings, but the thought in relation to Chloe, if I ever had it, had definitely passed over me. Even today as Director in the program I am more than familiar with all of the arguments and the rebuttals. Chloe had not escaped such criticism. She was indeed an odd duck but at least the program had managed to offer some friendships; she had found others who wanted to enter imaginary worlds and spend hours creating a working language the adults had no chance of comprehending. These peers had been close enough. Intellectual peers. Similar aged children who could keep up with her rapidly developing vocabulary and didn’t have to bully her to keep her in place in some arbitrary school pecking order. Instead they had sought her out. This confident, thoughtful, intelligent child had quietly steered any partnership or group to success and they all had gravitated to her with some unspoken awe that should have spooked me more than it did.
As I rethink it all I wonder why I never really questioned the regular week-long absences each quarter; how I hadn’t seen the sudden leaps in her development that followed each time away. Nor had I queried more seriously the sudden change in demeanour that other teachers brushed off as an early onset of puberty after that fifth grade spring, more of an emotional change I rationalized at the time. I remember the elevated sense of empathy and compassion which we all noticed, her sudden interest in humanitarian causes and save the world campaigns. How smug we were to think it was our doing, our teaching and guidance.
For the most part school in this program had been a success for Chloe until seventh grade. That was when she had disappeared into herself. She had been late returning from her fall ‘tune up’ as we teachers had secretly labelled them. How shocked we had been to learn how accurate we were. Her expressions were flat, her exuberance gone as if suddenly it was all too much to carry. Then, her body had failed. Her eyes grew vacant. She arrived back again after another, unscheduled prolonged absence, that time in a wheel chair. Truth be told, she may as well not have attended at all. The doctors and psychiatrist couldn’t agree on a diagnosis to satisfy us until they finally had settled on a form of juvenile chronic fatigue. She’d outgrow it, we were told. It had sounded appropriate given how intense this child had always been. The diagnosis had fit well until Chloe suddenly died of heart failure, or ‘passed’ as we are now taught to say; the euphemism wildly out of place in this context of complete failure.
I feel a wave of anger wash over me. We had all felt so much grief. Grief, I remember, grief that turned to shock and then to anger as we learned the truth. Anger that we hadn’t been informed at first. But that replaced with this deeper anger I still can’t shake as we learned the whole truth.
Chloe wasn’t the only experimental child. Others too had Genteq BioAI™ chips implanted: Michael, Sam, Isabel, sweet little Isabel. I wonder momentarily where she is now? A fleeting curiosity. Some of the children had the chips implanted at an earlier age than others, but Chloe was the first neonatal experiment with the BioAIGen2™ chip. Chloe too was the first to receive the quarterly software updates, not unlike the Tesla car updates, meant to fine tune what the developing child could handle. The developing child, the real human child, I remind myself as the outrage rises in me again. That they hadn’t yet developed systems to manage the rapid onset of puberty and all that comes with the natural release of hormones had been a concern of Dr and Dr Anybody who had headed up the surreptitious project. They had ben so certain it would be resolved before it was an issue for Chloe. How wrong they had been. Worse yet, ahead of acquiring proper ethical approval and clearance they’d quite literally used their own child as their lab rat; they were so intent on being the first to create a new kind of humanity capable of leading us to a better, more humane world. Genteq responded to the disclosures by replacing them immediately but, of course, still all hell had broken loose.
In the wider media the debate between honourable, humanitarian intentions and the potential of this yet to be fulfilled promise versus the selfish, greedy, deplorable methods still continues. Even now, I’m still unsure about so much of where this is going. But then, in Chloe, I’ve seen the potential. We need good, smart, strong, moral people to lead the world.
I catch my thoughts again. Off track. It’s time to head to the board room and be ready. It’s been more than a year of debates and finagling to get us to tonight’s final vote. We’ll take the money and the students but only under proper government ethical approval with the caveat that the Genteq® Institute agrees to let them be flagged, or tagged as we like to call it. The image of ear tags in heads of cattle flits through my mind but I catch myself again, frowning at my own inner smile. The parents are insisting the experimental children be identified but we can live with that. As Chair I’ll make the deciding, tie-breaking vote.
I close the only folder left on my desk, tonight’s agenda, though why we bothered writing it up for this one item of business eludes me now. I stand and step across to close the blinds, glancing first to the sun setting behind the playground. Then I turn back to my desk startled to look into a younger Chloe’s eyes, like those I had met in that first class. I shake my head, dismissing the image but not before I hear her clearly implore “Please, don’t do it.”