American Chimera – 20.5

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My mind flashed to images of ape men ripping people apart. I remembered grabbing my boyfriend and pulling him back, then suddenly hearing Stacy’s voice, “Stop! You’re hurting me!”

My therapist says the PTSD hadn’t fully sunk into me at that point, that I hadn’t been away from battle long enough to truly show symptoms – but I had been scared.

I shook my head and let Stacy go. “What is that thing?!”

“Dani! My friend. She’s a spider girl, and like really good at basketball.”

I rubbed my eyes. The spider waved a small American flag. Stacy admitted that this was a monster, a real monster. “What…does it talk?”

The spider’s lips upturned, its fangs and feelers wiggling in a strange, happy manner. “Of course I do! I’m a spider girl, duh.” She stood up on her rear sets of legs and waved her arms. “Thank you for your service!”

I knew what she was. I didn’t have to wait any longer to understand what I was seeing. An American Chimera, something even more frightening and advanced than the ape men unleashed by the North Koreans. I laughed – couldn’t control myself, couldn’t stop – and dropped the duffle I carried. Everything I fought for, suffered for, wished I had died for, was useless. They’d made me fight to destroy an army that lived and died entirely in pain, made me fight so a treaty would be signed.

And they’d already broken the treaty.

Fuck them. Fuck them to death.

Dani and Stacy ran up to me and held me from the ground as I laughed. “Antigen, what’s wrong?” Stacy asked. It wasn’t long before Victoria tried picking me up, but I didn’t stop laughing.

“I can’t believe it,” I said, “It was all for nothing. I accomplished nothing.”

Victoria grabbed my upper arm more tightly. “What? You kept us safe. You are a hero, Jen.” She ushered me towards the car, away from the fragile ears of the children. “Those two girls are very proud of you and your accomplishments.”

“One of them is a chimera,” I said. “The world can’t take another war like that, especially not with the US as the defenders.”

“How do you know she’s a chimera, hm? You fought nothing like her, and she’s a sweet girl, anyway.”

“Chinese won’t care. Russians won’t care. Hell, even the goddamn Limeys won’t care. We’re dead, just fucking dead!”

“Jen, please! The children!”

I pushed her off me. “WIll it matter if they’re all just destined to die?” I huffed, breath heaving up and down in my chest. “I fought against an atrocity in a foreign war only to come back and find out that we did the same damn thing I fought to stop.” I opened the car door and got in. “Nothing matters, Vic.”

Victoria’s brows furrowed, and she formed tight fists. “I understand things have been hard for you, so I’m going to just let that go and tell you to get in the car. Mom and Dad will want to talk with you, and I’ll bring Dani and Stacy along with me and Jim.” She opened the door and showed me a hand in. “Get in. I expected more of you – I expected someone who’s been to war to appreciate being greeted by her fellow Americans, even if they do look like spiders.”

“You speak as if she’s human.”

“She’s Stacy’s friend. And I’m sorry if she’s bringing up memories of the war, or if she’s making your sacrifice feel empty, but Jen – oh, Jen, she’s a little girl, and she just wanted to welcome you home.”

“Tch,” I snarled. “Kids get whatever they want because their useless parents defend them. I hate that about children.”

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American Chimera – 20.4

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When the war was over and I was sent back home, I was on all sorts of watch lists. Likely to go full-on PTSD nutjob, likely to be suicidal. They didn’t think I’d ask to be sterilized, but they should have expected something like that out of us. They should have known we’d be crazy in ways no one else had been before.

Anyway, I came back home. I was dischaged honorably at the base in Fayetteville, my duty fulfilled. I didn’t want them to watch me so closely, didn’t want them to take me away when I was so close to regaining my freedom. I sucked it up, held in the flashes of gore and terror, and just hoped to get home. I didn’t know, didn’t care, what I would do after. My body was intact, so there was at least that.

I saw Mom, Dad, and Victoria waiting for me when I came out. There was a whole slew of people, waiting for beloved family members to come back, waving American flags in celebration of victory and the terms of the convention. The flags reminded me of the cookies in our MREs, of the choking levels of patriotism I’d had to endure while simultaneously watching my friends get brutally slaughtered. I just cried, hugged my parents, and told them how much I loved them. I remember the scent of lavendar on mom’s hair, the musk of dad’s cologne. Victoria was fresh as a daisy. “Take me home,” I asked.

“Oh, yes, sweetie. You want to stop at Mickey D’s? Get a burger?” Mom asked. Something about her cheerful tone made me cringe – she didn’t understand what I needed.

I nodded anyway. “Sure.”

She held me at arm’s length. “You ok, sweetie? Did you get opportunity to say goodbye to your friends in the army?”

I forced myself to smile, then picked up my bag. “I’m fine. Just happy tears.” I marched toward Stacy and the exit, hoping not to get sent back. I marched fast enough that Mom, Dad, and Victoria couldn’t catch up. I bent down and picked up my favorite little girl, then twirled her in a circle while she waved her sickeningly red, white, and blue flag.

“Antigen!” she cried out, her child-voice so high pitched and deafening.

’Auntie Jen,’ she was trying to say, but I felt worse. It made me feel like a disease to hear that. I heard the screams of my friends. I saw the ape men in my mind.

“Antigen, welcome home!” She pulled back from my face after giving me a kiss on the cheek.

“You going to take me to McDonald’s? Eat some nice black beans?” I asked. I focused on good, American food, hoping to get the thoughts of the war away from me.

She nodded. “Yeah. Black bean pattie and fries.” She scrambled down, getting out of my grasp and back on the ground. “I brought my friend, too!”

“You did?”

“Uh-huh.” She held my wrist with one hand and pointed with the end of the flag in her other hand. “This is Dani, my friend from basketball. Oh, and school.”

At the other side of her flag was a monster.

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American Chimera – 20.3

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The interrogator cleared her throat. “I understand. You don’t have to go any further into it if you don’t want – I was there. I know why it was so awful.”

“You?” Jen scoffed. “I have a hard time believing that. You’ve got to be 15, 20 years older than me.”

“I was there.” The interrogator put her hand to the back of her neck and lifted up the mounds of curls that covered her skin. A square of skin was bare, no follicles for hair. Deep, old scars wound their way around a few places near her neckbones.

Jen stood from her chair to get a better look. “Shit. Shit, that’s the Mel76 model, if I’m right.”

“The reason you can’t tell for sure is because they had to remove the old M3 first. With all the scar tissue from that upgrade, I was unable to move up to the new Mel83 model when they changed all the interfaces again. So here I am, out of rotation.”

Jen looked the interrogator up and down. “What branch did you serve with? Unit?”

The interrogator said nothing.

Jen’s eyes widened. “You’re still serving.”

“I just don’t need the whole damn war recapped. I saw plenty of death, and the fact that I’m still living indicates I dealt my fair share of it too.” She bit her lip, then divulged, “I was at the Pyongyang gulag. The one where they kept the mothers of the monkey men.”

“Holy shit,” Jen responded. “You made it out of that mess? I don’t know anyone else who lived through that. It was supposed to be the biggest bloodbath-”

“I don’t want to talk about it. I did my duty, and I’m done with that now.” The interrogator cleared her throat and returned her attention to her tablet. “Please, proceed. Tell me about when you returned, how you know Dani. Don’t talk about the ape men, please.”

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American Chimera – 20.2

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Let’s get this straight: war is hell. I’m convinced that when all us shitty people die, we’re going to be thrown into Verdun or Stalingrad or My Lai or Pyongyang as punishment.

I can tell you, without doubt, that Pyongyang was the worst place anyone could have been at the time of the battle. I was there, in three different places – where my body was, and where each of my two drones were. If I wasn’t fighting, my drones were. My cranial implant fed into information from all over the battlefield and couldn’t be turned off by anyone but my superior. It was bloodbath and artillery fire at all times. The tactics at the time weren’t prepared to fight monsters that wouldn’t die from a few shots. We weren’t ready to deal with soldiers who had to watch their siblings in arms ripped apart, raped, and eaten in front of broken down drone cameras.

I watched an ape-man literally fuck my boyfriend’s throat after beheading him. I couldn’t turn my drone’s eyes away. It was broken…I couldn’t move.

Combined arms could do nothing against the cyber-psychological shithole.

It was hell.

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American Chimera – 20.1

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The woman in the interrogation chair leaned forward a little bit. She cleared her throat. “Ma’am? Everything ok, ma’am?”

The interrogator swallowed, nodded, and wiped her nose. “Yes. Yes, I’m fine. I just…let’s get started.” She cleared her throat and adjusted the way she sat. “I am here to interview people who may have been involved with Daenerys Huffman, determine how much they know about her, and fill out release paperwork with appropriate clients. Do you understand?”

The woman nodded. “The giant spider? The one that’s friends with my niece?”

“Your niece?”

“Yeah. Stacy Ellington. She’s my sister’s kid.”

The interrogator flipped through some files on her tablet. “You are Addison Wells? My notes indicate that you had no relationship with the subject.”

She nodded. “Yeah, that’s me. Victoria Ellington’s maiden name was Wells. Most people call me by my middle name, Jennifer. Or sometimes Jen. Or, if you’re Stacy and Dani, Antigen.” She chuckled. “You know? Like ‘Auntie Jen’? It’s clever. Classy.”

The interrogator sighed. “Well…fine. Tell me what you know about Dani, how often you saw her. Tell me how you met.”

Auntie Jen smiled. “Sure thing.”

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American Chimera – 19.3

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The interrogator swallowed a lump in her throat. “That was…that was a sweet story, but about as relevant as some of the stuff Brad Roten told me.”

“I told Dani to be calm, to keep her mind soothed.” Janie’s brows folded once more. “But I swear upon all that is holy, I will cut your fucking head off if I got out of these chains! She’s my daughter! You, out of all people, orta know what that means! You orta understand what it means to have the option of children wrenched from you.”

The interrogator scoffed. “I’m not sure I catch your drift.”

“You think I deserved to be sterilized?” He breath huffed in and out angrily. “You one of those high-falutin’ coloreds think I must be absolute trash to be white and sterile? That you didn’t deserve it when they cut you open, but I did deserve it?”

The interrogator lifted her chin. She laughed nervously. “I’m a high ranking investigator in the CIA. Why would you think that I’m sterilized?”

“’Cause you’re black. Blacks ain’t good at passin’ the test.” Janie looked up at the interrogator with an innocent face.

The interrogator stood from her chair and formed fists. She pointed at Janie with an accusatory finger. “That was out of line.”

Janie’s muscles tensed back up. “I just stated facts!”

“Facts? Saying that people of color aren’t as smart? As beautiful? As athletic? Somehow phenotypically inferior?” The interrogator shoved the tablet away and folded it into her pen. “I’ve had enough of you hillbillies and your racism. I’ve been called everything from ‘colored’ to ‘negro’ and way, way worse. You and your own damn husband had a rebel flag in your front window! And you expect me to help you and your monster pet?” She put her hands over Janie’s wrists and leaned close to her face. “Not on your life, you miserable, childless waste of air.”

Janie bit at the interrogator’s face but was too slow to meet her flesh. “I used to feel sorry for you people. I mean, you’re uglier than spiders, by the rubric. And you ain’t nice atall, you evil fucking bitch! No wonder coloreds get cut up just as much as us ‘white trash’!”

“I have only done my duty!”

“Yeah, to the damn Yanks that cut out your ovaries!”

“You idiot, I passed the test!” the interrogator screamed. Her chest rose and fell in rapid succession as she waited for a rebuttal that never came. “I passed the test. You can’t tell me I didn’t deserve to pass, especially not when you failed so badly.”

Janie scowled. “Doesn’t mean you ain’t sterile. Blackies go under the knife.”

“No.” The interrogator shook her head. “No, I don’t have to deal with this…this outright racism. This hate speech.” She clapped her hands. “Guards! Guards!”

“Go rot in hell, you childless, sterilized negro! You goddamn Yank!”

“If you expected Hinkley to be arrested, you can consider your testimony proof of his innocence. You blew it, Janie Huffman. You should have just remained a useless pothead – you would have at least been successful at that! The tests proved you weren’t fit to be a mother!”

As the guards stormed in and roughly accosted Janie from her chair, the interrogator left the room. Janie’s screams and flailing couldn’t stop her.

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American Chimera – 14.2

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Janie pointed to the holographic note. “Now, you know what we said earlier. Not gettin’ the score you want don’t mean you’re bad.”

“Yeah,” Dani said. She rubbed her claws in excitement then reared back onto four legs. I remember her cute little pink dress, the one my mother had made special for the summer. It had white polka dots and Minnie Mouse on the print.

Janie gave me our secret look. We’d been married long ’nuff that I could ’bout read her mind. She was worried.

Hell, I was ’bout to piss myself I was so worried. Janie couldn’tve been much better off.

The end of year tests. When I was in school, leastwise up ’till it mattered, the tests just determined if you passed to the next grade. I’d scoot by on the minimum and look for’ard to fishin’ in the summers. There weren’t no fat-measurin’ contests nor beauty pageants nor physical fitness tests. Janie might’ve failed the phenotypic tests just ’cause she ain’t never learned to swim. The tests were real hard back when they was first cuttin’ out people’s testicles and ovaries. Had to get rid of a slew of undesirables, ya know.

Anyway, the scores came in the mail. “Open the letter, Mama.” She hopped up and down, just shy of bein’ able to touch the hologram.

So Janie tapped the note, and the airy envelope opened. On the inside of the envelope was the scoring rubric and what the state had given for each category.

Dani tugged a claw at the bottom of the letter and pulled it to her height so she could see it. “2!” she cried out. “I got a 2!”

I looked at Janie. A two? Our daughter?

A tear came to my eyes. I couldn’t be more proud of her, couldn’t wish greater success. At the same time, my heart sank – how would getting a tentative two-child rating help a creature so clearly inhuman?

We knew she was a Chimera. The news had broke just a couple weeks afore her first exam results came in. So who was she going to breed with? How would we break her heart?

Well, of course we decided not to break her heart right then.

Janie pointed to a number. “Dani, look at this! You did so well on your physical aptitude test – that’s a very high score!”

I looked over her shoulder. “Wow…holy mackeral, sweetie, that’s perfect in every subcategory. When’d you learn to swim?”

“Basketball camp,” she answered, “And the internet.”

I whistled. “Lord have mercy, child. I’m gonna have to see that. You teach me how to swim?”

She nodded. “Yeah!”

Just so it’s clear, the swimmin’ lessons didn’t go too well. Ain’t gonna suggest learnin’ to swim from an 8-legged person to no one.

Janie shook her head incredulously. “It’s…this is amazing. Reading, writing, math, science, history are all very good! You’ve done so well, Dani!”

“I think this calls for ice cream!” I decided.

“Yes! Absolutely. You want ice cream, Dani?”

The little girl pulled the paper down and kept perusing it. Her ecstatic demeanor crashed when she pointed out a single number. “I got a zero in this one.”

I blinked and looked at what she pointed out. “Aw, that one ain’t worth jack diddly.”

She dropped the hologram and left it floating in midair.

Janie offered her a hand. “The rubric ain’t fair for you on that one, sweetie.”

Dani clutched her claw tight. “Am I ugly, Mama?”

“No!” Janie denied. “Look at this sub-rubric – ear size. Sweetcakes, your ears don’t look nothin’ like Mama’s or Daddy’s. They’re on your face, kinda like dolphin ears ’cept tuned to work in air rather than water.”

“And nose,” I said. “You say you smell with your legs. How they gonna compare your legs with my nose?”

Dani’s legs curled in. “How do I get a nose like yours? Ears?” She reached up and caressed my legs, then held tight to the pants on my outer thigh. “Do I get to grow up to be human, eventually? Is that going to happen?”

I shook my head. “No. You’re a chimera, and we love you for who you are.”

“But that makes me ugly.”

“Swetheart, no,” Janie insisted. “This is a stupid paper. See this bit?”

Dani nodded, saying that yes, she understood that Janie’s finger pointed to ‘Morality.’

Janie ran her finger down the list. “You are just. You are kind. You are smart. You are way ahead of the curve on altruism, which means niceness. This section right here says you’re gorgeous.”

“Then why is this section called ‘beauty’?”

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American Chimera – 14.1

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“What in tarnation?!”

The interrogator unfolded a canvas and aluminum chair then plopped it next to the cell door. She sat down and unfolded her tablet from its stylus. “I need information. Information I don’t have time to ready the interrogation chamber for.”

Brett hurriedly stepped into his trousers and hopped around. “Well, you could’a tole a man you were comin’ to visit afore you caught ’im with his pants down!”

“You could wear clothing instead.”

“I ain’t gonna wear pants in my own room.”

“Fine.” She cleared her throat. “I’ve seen Dani’s grades. I know she’s somehow rated for a two child future despite being a chimera. How did you swing that?”

He tightened the drawstring at the top of his jumpsuit and sat to pulling the overshirt around his shoulders. “I reckon she’s got more brains than me. Maybe more than her mama – er, Janie, you know – but I’m a bit too dull to tell. She passed them tests, all I can tell yeh.”

“You didn’t rig them?”

“No. Wouldn’t know how anyway.”

“Her teachers could have cheated for her.”

“I don’t reckon that’s what happened.”

“Then prove it. Tell me something that will assure me Dani’s…safe. Prove to me that she’s both intelligent and moral.”

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American Chimera – 13.4

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“So when you go to see Dani, you’ll notice her cephalothorax is a bit distended on one end. That’s from the injections and the extra growth of her exoskeleton.”

The interrogator chuckled. “I’d say it’s more an ‘if’ than a ‘when.'”

“You’re the only person I know of that can travel from our prisons to hers. You have to make sure it’s a when. I don’t know your Dr. Smith, but he has to be cruel if he’s used biosafety and science as an excuse to keep Dani from her friends and parents. Even if it’s only a few times, I need you to assure Dani that we’re all thinking about her.”

The interrogator let go of Dr. Worthington’s hand. “You think she’s Brett and Janie’s actual child, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“That’s ludicrous. And why would you support that? You know what they were. You knew they were poor lunatics, the exact kind of people the government wouldn’t want raising a child.”

Dr. Worthington leaned in close to the interrogator. “I had two children. They each had two children. All of it with no oversight, no chance of involuntary sterilization. I lived a life you can’t even imagine, a life filled with sugar and beef and butter and wine.” She pointed to the door. “But I know what votes I had to cast. My generation knew that sterilization would be unpopular, but it had to happen or none of us would be here now. So hate us and hate our hypocrisy for as long as you want, but none of that will change my past. None of that will change the fact that you are suffering for choices you couldn’t have made. None of that will change the fact that Dani exists and is here now, imprisoned.”

The interrogator stood, her face dour. “I do what I have to do. If I were to treat this specimen like an accident child as you do, this country would be lost.” She crossed her arms. “So I’ll do what I have to. I’ll deal with the mess your generation left this world in.”

“Help me back down?”

The interrogator turned away from Dr. Worthington and left.

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American Chimera – 13.3

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“I told you before that I don’t know what she is, but…you’re right, in a way. I think her mind is human, or at least human enough. Her cranial cavity isn’t growing correctly given her brain size.”

“Can we…is there anything we can do?”

I nodded. “Yeah. There are things we can try.”

I actually didn’t have a clue. It was at this point, when I realized I was trying not to let them know I couldn’t save their daughter, that I stopped being jealous of doctors that worked on humans. Oh, hell, that would be the worst.

Brett nodded. “What we gonna do?”

“I have to do a couple more studies,” I said. “We’re going to need to run some metabolic and hormonal tests, and it’s…it’s going to be a lot of them. We don’t know what she is, so I’m going to have to run the gamut. After we figure out what growth hormones she produces, I should be able to order a cocktail to inject near her brain immediately after she sheds her next exoskeleton. It’ll force the soft, new flesh to grow more than normal. If we do this every time she molts, we should be able to control it.”

Brett held his little spider close. “Any side effects?”

“I don’t know.” I leaned forward, putting a lot more weight on my arms than I can manage now. “Everything we do with Dani is uncharted territory. The only way I could make better decisions is if we knew what she was – but that would require me asking for help from an agency. Is that what you want?”

He shook his head. “No. Keep this quiet. I git the sneakin’ spicion that Uncle Sam won’t take kindly to us raisin’ this little girl. Not that I think the gov’ment’s involved or anythin,’ since we definitely didn’t just steal her. Nothin’ classified or anything, not that we know of.”

I moved some of the images into Dani’s electronic folders. This was the first time I knew for sure that Dani was supposed to be government property. I looked at some of the wrinkles and liver spots on my hands. I didn’t have that long left to live, not the way the environment was falling apart and disposable plastics were disappearing. A lifetime of excess and luxury was catching up to me.

And to Dani.

My wrinkles and spots and failing health made me part of the generation that had made Janie and Brett sterile, that had failed to stop the temperatures from rising. I can blame my parents and grandparents as much as I want, but they’re long dead now and there’s no point. Assuming time goes on, you’ll understand one day. Your generation will do things to irrepably change the lives of those younger than you, and they won’t like your decisions no matter what they are, no matter if they’re all that stands between the planet and total destruction.

“I’ll help you. It’s going to be expensive, but I’ll put you on a payment plan. There’s no point in making you pay for a child’s medical care when no one else on the planet has to.” I typed into the records system a few notes and made another appointment. “Bring her back in a couple weeks and we’ll do the complete workup. I’ll formulate the first therapy, and we’ll try it. If we don’t, well…I fear the alternative is worse than the possible side effects from the treatments.”

Brett nodded. “How can I thank you, Dr. Worthington?”

“Keep your job. Do right by this girl you’ve adopted. No one else with kids is going to slack off.”

“I’m not sure I wanna go to college.”

I let my shoulders down. “That’s up to you. But one of you should try – they have scholarships just for sterilized people.”

He wrinkled his nose. “Yeah.” Dani wrapped a few legs around his neck. “I’ll see you in a couple weeks then, Doc.”

I nodded and saw him off.

He paid his bill in full.

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