My memory’s slightly fuzzy. It was twenty – no, twenty-five, more like it – years ago, just following Temple.
Mara was cooking, so I let Elder Thorpe in to my house. I smiled, ushered him to the couch in the living room where my youngest and his fiance – now wife – waited. “Elder Thorpe! Come in, make yourself comfortable.” His wife led in a six year old, a four year old, and a two year old.
Elder Thorpe was younger than me, which made his title awkward but not unexpected. About thirty, his hair still brilliantly blonde, his body still in good shape, Thorpe eased himself into his chair. He removed a pair of those black sneakers fashionable in the 60’s, then asked, “How are things, Dallin?”
I poured a glass of water from a carafe and handed it to Thorpe, then poured a glass for his wife. “I can’t complain. I have four beautiful kids and three grandkids, blessings all. Wonderful temple service today, too.” Then I opened it – a box of cookies. “Snickerdoodle? Real cinammon. We grow a few trees at the lab. Hopefully one of them will be drought resistant.”
Elder Thorpe took a cookie while his wife split a cookie into pieces for their children. Didn’t want to ruin their dinner, I suppose.
We chatted a bit, just small talk, a few deep things of God and a few things about my youngest son’s recent return from mission and imminent marriage. Things that are old news, now.
Eventually, my son began playing with Elder Thorpe’s young children. Thorpe’s wife left his side in a manner I found suspicious. She was quiet, gave him a stare when she got up.
When she was gone, I asked, “Is something wrong, Thorpe?”
“You heard about congress’s decisions last week?” he asked. “Do you believe what happened? Can you believe the stringency of the sterilization tests?”
I shook my head. “No. I was shocked.”
“I believe we should expect the Second Coming at any moment.” He grunted and gestured to the children playing on the floor. “Their freedom is going to be limited. Your grandchildren’s, too, if we don’t take things into our own hands.”
“Oh, I don’t think secession’s a good idea.”
“Some people like the thought.”
“Not me,” I said. “Nope. We’re doing fine where we are.”
“But will our children?” Elder Thorpe asked. “The phenotypic test hasn’t been made yet, but some automatic no-go disease states have been established. Family history of cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, early onset high blood pressure, diabetes – the list goes on – puts one on the list for required sterilization.”
I remember wishing I could run away.
“I was thinking,” Elder Thorpe leaned closer to me, “You work for the NIH, don’t you?”
I gulped. Even then, I knew I worked for the CIA, but I couldn’t say that openly. So I choked and answered, “Yes. I work for the NIH.”
“And you’re a geneticist?”
“Yes.” I couldn’t deny that – it was common knowledge in the Temple.
“An approved geneticist?”
I remained silent. Of course I was an approved geneticist.
“You may be the savior of our temple.”
I shook my head. “I’m afraid that’s not how it works-”
“Then how does it work?” Elder Thorpe asked. “You just sign the papers and everyone in our temple can be exempt from the rules-”
“Listen,” I said. I’m afraid I raised my voice more than I should have, but I was getting worried. “First, no matter what papers I sign, I can only get up to three approved children. Anything more than that, and you’re in deep doo doo.” I held up two fingers. “Second, I can’t just sign papers. I have to have official genetic readouts of an entire genome. No matter how good the rest of the genes are, I have to ensure a supply of genetically cleansed gamete stocks are available. I need to prove this stock is viable, and I need to show which genes need to be passed on to the next generation. It’s not a cheap process for me to conduct, even if you entirely discount paying me.”
“How much would it cost, then?” Elder Thorpe asked. He pointed to his grandchildren. “One child. How much would genetic testing and gamete cleansing cost for one child?”
I stammered and hugged my knees. “I…I couldn’t see less than $50,000, and that’s assuming I never see a penny for myself and can use the equipment at the government lab without getting caught.” I swallowed. I needed to use that equipment for my own children, not for Thorpe’s or some other higher up.
“I’m afraid I can’t do it for less.” I bit my lip. He might see through me, know I was using most of my good graces and – please, please don’t tell anyone – borrowed government equipment for my own use.
At last he groaned. “How much for doing it legally?”
I sighed. “I can buy enough equipment with 175 grand. I could do all four children for that about as easily as I could do one child.”
“If you don’t already have one in the oven, I can’t believe you aren’t planning to before the December cutoff.”
The elder swallowed. “She doesn’t want another.”
“I can’t do it for less.”
“This feels like a scam.”
“Trust me,” I said, “This will be the cheapest deal you’ll ever see. Ever. No one else in their right mind would even offer it.”
He held a cookie in his hand. “What if I just told everyone you had cinnamon at your lab?”
I shrugged. “What about it?”
“Protestors would come. They’d insist your lab be burned down and the water redistributed to the poor. They don’t even take showers in L.A. anymore, and you’re growing cinnamon trees?” Thorpe squinted his eyes. “You’d lose your job.”
It was at this point I realized he could be right. Protestors would show up at what they thought was an NIH lab in the middle of nowhere. Best case scenario, they’d just be arrested and thrown to rot in prison. Worst case? Well, you work for them. You know the worst case.
“How much do you have to pay for it?” I asked.
“I can’t even do my own kids for that much,” I said. “There’s no way, no way.”
Thorpe sighed. “That’s too bad, Dallin.”
“It’s the way it is. I’m sorry.”
He stood. “Honey!” he shouted. “Honey, I’m not feeling well. Let’s go home.”
“But the children are-”
“The children aren’t feeling well either.” He picked up another cookie. “Come along. Don’t be contrary.”
Mara walked in as Thorpe and his brood walked out. She lifted an eyebrow, noted the half-full can of cookies, and asked, “What happened? I had a good dinner cooking. We’ll have altogether too much leftovers.”
My heart sank. “It’s nothing. Elder Thorpe just got a little sick, is all.” I patted her on the back. “I better call that in to work. Need to keep that sort of thing recorded just in case.”
She let me go, and I opened my computer to look for some phone numbers.