The Cure by Stephanie Erickson
The disease has claimed countless lives in the last hundred years, and the government is working hard to find a cure through human testing. Testing that has killed nearly as many people as the disease.
At sixteen, Macey has better things to think about than saving lives and submitting to any rule other than her parents’. As a budding artist, she has her whole life ahead of her, at least until she faces her own testing.
Questions plague Macey. Questions that make everyone else nervous. How can death be justified with more death? What’s the point of all this?
Answers evade her until she’s left with only one question: How much will she sacrifice in the name of the cure?
“Hey, Macey, so what time do you get your date?” Ariel asked me.
I was trying not to think about it. I glanced at my watch. “8:23.”
She looked at one of the other girls. “When I got my date I was a wreck. But the message is actually pretty cool. Once it was over, I wondered what I was so worked up about.”
I knew she was trying to reassure me, but it wasn’t helping. One of the other girls, Hannidy, piped up. “What was the message like?” she asked. She was still a few months away from getting her date and clearly wasn’t comforted by Ariel’s sentiment either.
“Oh, it was neat. One of those immersion holograms, ya know? The speaker was in the mountains, and I swear I could smell the cool, crisp air when the breeze blew across this field of wild flowers and over a glacial pond. I don’t even know if places like that still exist, but it was exactly where I wanted to be.”
“And what did the speaker say?” Hannidy persisted.
“Well, not much to be honest. Just congratulating me on reaching an age where I could contribute to the greater good, announced my date, and that was it. All told, I think it was only about two minutes long.”
I turned to one of the girls, who was nodding. She’d already gotten her date as well. “Was it the same for you, Charlotte?”
“Yup. Pretty much. Mine wasn’t in the mountains though. Mine was in the most luxurious lobby I’d ever seen. Crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, giant marble columns, it was gorgeous. It looked like some place that demanded grand dresses and dancing.” She smiled as she recalled the image. I hoped I could look back on my message with such fondness, and not as the death sentence it might turn out to be.
At 8:23 p.m., Rosie interrupted the party. The music went quiet, and all games paused. “An incoming message from the Facility for Macey.”
My parents gathered around me, and Alex appeared out of nowhere. “Would you like to see it down here or upstairs?”
I looked at all my friends. Some of them looked nervous, but most of them nodded encouragement at me. “I guess we can watch it down here. Rosie, go ahead with it.”
I was surrounded by an image of the beach. Ariel was right. I could just about smell the salt air. Sea gulls screeched and swooped low over the waves, and sand pipers darted in and out of the surf. I turned around and dunes stretched for miles in either direction. The hologram was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was so real, and slightly unnerving.
Although I knew my parents and Alex were there watching it with me, I was alone on the beach, save for a woman standing a short distance from me. The hologram was made to be a complete experience for each person, so everyone watching had the same experience. I was the only one that was alone, though. Everyone else could see me and the woman but no one else at the party.
“Hello, Macey.” she said. She was dressed in a dark suit, her bobbed brown hair blowing in the ocean breeze. She looked weird in the surroundings. Out of place. I didn’t want her here, spoiling it.
I didn’t respond to her. It was just a hologram, not meant to be interactive. She continued without noticing. “As you know, I’m here to deliver your date. First of all, we at the Facility would like to congratulate you on reaching an age where you can fulfill the vows you’ve been making since you were five years old and become a vital part of finding a cure to the disease.”
She paused and looked sympathetically at me. It was odd. How did they know where I’d be standing, and how could they program her to do that? I glanced left and right but couldn’t see my parents. I felt someone grab my hand, but when I looked down, no one was there. It squeezed, and I squeezed back.
“Now, your date is very special.” Was this normal? Why was my date special? “It’s the first of its kind.” I narrowed my eyes and watched the hologram skeptically. It didn’t sound good. “Due to an overwhelming need, the Facility has had to change its experimentation policies and date assignments moving forward. Macey, you are the first to receive a date that precedes your twentieth birthday.”
I gasped in horror. “Your date is June 30, 2115.”
She let it hang there for a second. “The Facility thanks you for your contribution, and we look forward to meeting you in person.”
The image dissolved, and I was left in the basement with the shock of knowing I had only two years until my date.
A low murmur passed over my group of friends. I frantically looked from face to face, looking for conformation that I’d simply misheard. Pleading silently with someone to tell me she’d said 2117 and not 2115, they all stared back at me with the same shock I imagined was on my face, and a few of them had sympathetic, “better you than me” expressions.
My legs started to tremble. Alex reached out for me and guided me to the nearest couch. My parents followed, my mom leaning heavily on Dad. The guests parted for us and went back to the party, trying to give us our moment.
I looked over at Alex, who’d settled next to me on the couch. “Well, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to watch the message down here.” I smiled weakly, trying to lighten the mood. Two years. That was only a few months after Alex’s date and would be right after I graduated from school. If I died during the experiments, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to get rejected by art schools because I was too much of a loose cannon.
“It’s a mistake, right? A glitch in the message? Who can we contact at the Facility to get her actual date?” My mom asked, grasping at even the tiniest hope.
My dad sprang into action. “Rosie, can you please display the latest headlines?”
There on the glass coffee table in front of us were all the headlines of the day. At the top, was the most damning one of all, time stamped from thirty seconds ago.
FACILITY CHANGES DATING POLICY.
Dad tapped that headline, and the article opened.
Citing overwhelming need for more volunteers, the Facility has altered its dating policy moving forward. All new dates will be assigned after the receiver’s eighteenth birthday, not their twentieth. The first to receive their new date was Macey Holsinger, who was assigned June 30, 2115. The teen will be eighteen years and three months old for her first experiment.
A Facility representative issued this statement:
“We want to thank all new volunteers. We hope the young blood will be the key to finding the cure that much faster.”
Dad closed the article before the rest of us could finish reading it. “My baby,” Mom whispered. Dad turned and held her in his arms. She looked at me over his shoulder, too horrified to summon even a single tear.