Eugenia was inspired by my cousin, Lisa Brannon, who responded to my call for a writing prompt so I could exercise my writing muscles. Her idea was to write a story about genetics. I have to admit, this was very challenging because all of the stories from the writing prompts are stream of consciousness just to get me writing. No research, no outlines — just pantsing. Here’s the story.
I wanted to stop them. I should have stopped them. But who am I fooling? I couldn’t have stopped them. Not without dying. I wasn’t ready to die. Too much was at stake. My life. My research. My name. And the fame… I could have lived without that, too. My four beach houses, two estates, and real estate in three countries — nice perks but I didn’t need all of that either.
I’ll never forget the moment my life changed, that fateful November morning when I stumbled upon the ‘off’ switch. I’d been up all night studying Dr. Khan’s notebooks, the ones he’d left with me before his car tragically plummeted into the Chicago river. No one knew I had them… at first. He’d given them to me in private when he asked me to meet him in his office. He had seemed a nervous wreck but I didn’t think much of it since he always appeared to be a bit jittery and anxious.
He had said, “I need you to hold on to these for me. Keep them safe. Study them if you desire. Just don’t let anybody know you have them.”
I felt honored at the time. I was a recent graduate and had been doing a fellowship with him. It was a privilege that most fellows would kill for. I managed to land that fellowship with mediocre grades. Dr. Khan said he had chosen me because my grades were mediocre. He said, “You haven’t developed an ego too large to make room for true learning and experimentation. In other words, you can be taught.”
I admired Dr. Khan. And that is precisely what I had told the police when they were investigating his accident. They thought he had deliberately driven his car into the river. His wife had said he’d been depressed, that his life’s work was a fraud. I couldn’t speak to that. All that I could tell the cops was that I admired Dr. Khan as a scientist and as one of the great thinkers of our time.
I’d discovered the ‘off’ switch by accident, like I said. I was having a cup of coffee, trying to stay awake while awaiting the results from an experiment. I’d had Mitchell Horowitz from the physics department come over and run a few equations. Mitch was a physics genius. As I sipped my coffee, Mitch burst into the lab startling me. My coffee spilled onto the notebook that I had laying open in front of me. And as I dabbed and blotted the coffee from the pages of the notebook, I saw something I hadn’t seen before.
Dr. Khan had encoded within the text of his notes the genome sequence which could turn off the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome. It had been in front of me the whole time. I quickly gathered all the notebooks scattered around the lab and rushed to my car, begging Mitch not to tell anyone what I had discovered. But Mitch disappeared a few days later. I didn’t know he had disappeared until I saw on the news that his body had been discovered by his landlord. He had accidentally asphyxiated himself in some sort of autoerotic act.
A knock at my door made me shudder. I had a feeling that things were about change in my life but I had no idea how. I just knew it would. I’d been bound and gagged and tortured until I finally admitted where I’d hidden those notebooks. I was forced to run the experiments over and over again, testing the results on real fetuses. The pregnant women, all over 40, had signed up for the experimental treatment. All of whom signed nondisclosure agreements. Some women died during the course of our experiments. Some of the babies were stillborn.
Then Benzyme, backed by the government, learned of our experiments. Let’s just say that a number of our elected officials pushed through legislation that allowed Benzyme to legally mutilate human beings for the sake of experimentation. Many of the heads of Benzyme were also with the FDA. And I was in the middle, appointed head researcher with a staff of thirty-five. Big budgets, big risks — all of which paid off.
Now my name is stamped on every vial of Kohlezyme, the synthetic enzyme that works as a catalyst to turn off the extra Chromosome 21 in Down Syndrome. My name, Eugenia Kohl, has headlined every major newspaper and news magazine worldwide. I’ve been interviewed by every network. I’m a Nobel Laureate. Outsiders think that my life couldn’t be better. What they don’t know is I bear on my shoulders hundreds of lives I could have prevented being lost if I had only had the courage to step forward and say something.
I never married or had children because I didn’t want their lives to be threatened, too. If I had been married and if I had children, I’d be a grandmother by now. Instead, I remain single, attempting to live a private life. With the exception of a few speaking engagements and lectures here and there, I live pretty much in obscurity now. There’s only one person still alive who poses a threat to me. And, Benzyme has been dismantled. Kohlezyme is manufactured by one of the big pharmaceutical companies from which I still receive royalties.
You must understand that I am only sitting here in this space with this gun in my hand only because I’ve lived under tyranny for far too long. The richness of life — the true riches of life — have passed me by because I was complicit in murder and greed and obstruction. This man — the only threat still alive — must die like all the rest of them. One by one, I’ve found them. One by one, I’ve killed them. And when this last one is gone, I might be able to rest in peace.
[(c) 2016 Michele Kimbrough]