Late into the night, back at the main Charlotte facility in Grace’s lavish office, we sit speechless and exhausted. The air hangs as a crypt around us. Dandria arrives after forwarding Mary’s and the other remains to the main facility for their teams to study—something highly illegal and uncommon, considered unethical and immoral; science abandoned to elevate myth while women die around us in favor of a patriarchal misogynistic control fetish that reduces women and people with uteri to wombs and objects owned with little to no regard. We sit and stew as we ponder what next. Alison and I, still in a daze from the impact of death on our already raw psyches, struggle to pay attention. There is a discussion about the other children—all the little girls—thirty-five in the latest haul. Grace and Dandria go on for several minutes before Ali apparently realizes what they’re talking about while I’m slow to catch on.
“What little girls?” Ali asks.
An awkward silence settles on the group—one filled with all types of subtext I’m unaware. I feel the implications widen as the stillness grows. Grace and Dandria exchange glances. Ali gives one of her angry micro-smiles and all-knowing head tilts that tells me something nefarious thrives and she’s gearing up for a confrontation. “You’re taking them from the camps, aren’t you?” She scoffs and rolls her eyes.
“What do you mean,” I ask concerned.
“They’re taking immigrant girls from the internment—the United States government’s immigrant concentration camps on the border, and what?” Her voice escalates with each word. “What are you doing with them?”
A storm circles the room. I feel ice start to pit in my hands and at my center. As I begin to comprehend Ali’s accusations, neither Grace nor Dandria display compunction or shame.
“Would you rather we leave them in the cages? To die?” Dandria asks offended.
“I’d rather you set them free to make their own goddamn choices.” Ali stands at this point, arms crossed, pacing back and forth between us. I sit up straighter and watch what unfolds in another of the unfathomable that has taken shape in this long line of a hellish unending nightmare; the incomprehensible microcosm that has spread like a plague literally and figuratively.
“Then they’d be scooped up again by ICE and we know what ICE is, don’t we?” Grace wears that rich white woman condescension and voice that produces an automatic snarl from me and Ali.
I lean forward. “Answer her question: What are you doing with them? Because if you say you’re experimenting on them…” my hands grip the arms of the chair, knuckles white.
Ali stops pacing looking between us waiting for an explanation.
“Good god, no!” and a “Never!” from both as they stand affronted in indignation; all three start shouting while I sit shrinking into the corner of my chair.
After a beat, Ali backs off. Both Grace and Dandria continue to talk over top the other. Ali and I glare at them in silence. Exhausting their denials, they sit back down.
“We’re giving them an education and a home. An opportunity at a future.”
Ali scoffs again; I try not to grind teeth, but fail: “How is this any different than what the government is doing? How is this any different from what the United fucking States government has done to indigenous or black or brown folk or any goddamn person of color and their fucking children ever? You’re taking them away from their families, their culture, and indoctrinating them into a white colonialist mindset. Hello, imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy!” She spits the last.
“These schools are all girl STEM boarding schools,” Dandria says.
Ali throws her hands in the air smiling and clapping: “Oh wonderful! Excellent! That industry is known for their history of inclusivity, especially for women and queer folks” she says this blatantly sarcastic. “Oh yes, wonderful, next you’ll be telling me that you’re also educating them in the humanities because we all know how the current industry has failed incredibly at that, yes? I’m waiting?” She looks at them expecting no response.
They glance at one another then back at her saying nothing. Ali sits down crossing her arms and legs giving them her likewise condescension look. I feel the exhaustion hit me anew as I ungrip from the chair and allow myself to reappear hoping—wanting to disappear, ashamed to once again face yet another ugliness of being totally and completely fucking unaware.
“Well, let’s talk about the humanities. It’s not like that has been wholly and completely dominated by white Christian heteronormative maleness. Oh wait,” she laughs and claps again.
“We’re trying to escape that,” Grace says. “We’re trying to build a better community collectively. That’s why we want you both to help.”
“You think you can do better, do it. Devise a curriculum that gives the girls the knowledge they’ll need. First though, they’ll need to survive. If they don’t have science then…” Dandria trails off. She shrugs, crosses her arms, leaning back into her chair mimicking Ali. “I challenge you to do better.”
“Challenge fucking accepted,” Ali says.
The fatigue sets in. Questions still remain.
“I thought this virus had abated?” I ask. “There have been no indications it was ever this bad.”
“The info is there. You’re just not seeing it,” and that’s all I get from Dandria who now seems distant and exhausted. She gets up pacing the room stretching without further comment leaving both of us eyeing Grace for answers.
“It was…an accident,” Grace says coolly.
“No, it wasn’t,” Dandria asserts.
The look between them says so much, but they move on without voicing the words.
“We—the scientific community—stumbled upon a Wolbachia strain that when…tweaked would result in inducing oocyte stasis in women.” Grace leans back in her chair while Dandria paces the room.
“Stasis?” Ali asks.
“Ova stasis incubating until oocyte retrieval. This would be a revolutionary new form of birth control and one under the radar of the patriarchy.”
“Retrieval?” Ali continues probing.
“Holding eggs in stasis incubating them in a female body until they’re ready to retrieve them to fertilize or even incubate a fertilized embryo for several years until a medical professional releases it.”
“We had some unexpected results. A new virus strain was created. When it was released, along with the influx of damaged silent sperm and aberrant microbiomes, a mutation aided by nature and economic conditions…with the help of some genetic engineering, it evolved into something uglier and deadlier.”
“And there’s no …cure?”
“No,” says Grace.
“Not yet,” says Dandria.
“But you’re working on it?”
“Yes. We’ve also had some remarkable results in IPSCs.”
“I don’t know what that means,” I say.
“Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells,” Dandria says. “And embryonic stem cells.”
Ali and I glance at one another. Using stem cells is a capital offense nowadays; combined with Grace’s other so-called reproductive justice anarchy? Nik’s murder takes on an entirely new context.
We move along without comment.
“How did the original virus get out? And spread?” Ali asks.
Grace and Dandria glance at one another. “We believe it was a group of radicalized fed employees in correlation with a white supremacist group that thought they were stealing a biological eugenics virus,” Grace says.
“Why in the world would they think that?” Ali asks.
“With a skillful geneticist, the genome sequence can easily be manipulated and exploited.”
“Skillful? Easily? Willfully?” I swallow hard.
“Yes,” Grace says, her voice soft and cool in contrast to her charges and something else she isn’t saying. “Never underestimate the power of hate.”
Dandria glances at her rolling her eyes. “White supremacy doesn’t need hate.”
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins