Adam stared across the table and tried to remind himself that when he looked at Eric, he was seeing the future of humanity. Or at least that’s what the paperwork said. The dossier listed Eric’s qualifications including strength, resilience, and a rare pre-adaptation to low oxygen environments. Adam’s supervisors dubbed that the ‘perfect genetic mix’, a mix the company needed to have.
Adam thought that ‘perfect’ mix should include street smarts, but in that respect Eric had proven disappointing. They’d been playing cards for hours and Eric’s money was almost gone. The boy should have learned to control his reactions by now. Instead, the future of humanity drew another card and his breathing quickened.
“I’m guessing you have a good hand, my friend.”
“I’m not your friend,” Eric snapped back.
Adam was surprised. By this point in the evening, most targets believed that Adam was their best bud. Perhaps Eric’s genetic legacy included a fast metabolism? Adam pushed his untouched beer across the table to join the three empties near Eric’s elbow.
The boy ignored the fresh bottle and glared at Adam. It wasn’t much of a glare. Eric’s brown eyes were large and innocent. Adam had to look away to hide his envy.
“Well, friend,” Eric said, “I need to fold.”
“There’s no sport in folding. Wager something. It doesn’t have to be money.”
“You’re looking at all I got.”
Adam turned back to consider Eric’s olive skin, curly black hair and lean compact body, a body that made Adam’s heart race. “You look healthy,” Adam murmured.
Eric scowled, pushed back from the table and stood up. “That’s sick. No.”
Apparently, the future of humanity was homophobic so Adam went for the straight approach. “Relax. My business is clinical, not carnal.”
“Uh? You want me to wager a kidney?” Eric looked completely flustered now.
“There’s no money in black market organs when people can just grow what they need in a dish. All the money’s in off-world operations.”
“What does that mean?” Eric asked.
That was an excellent question, a question Adam asked his own company nine months ago when they yanked funding for his neural imaging project and funneled it all into research they claimed would ‘save humanity’, or at least a select few, the ones with the genes required to change, to hide.
Adam had thought the project crazy and he’d hated the company’s new name. “New Year’s Dive? You mean those idiots who jump into the water in January looking for a fresh start?” He’d headed for the door, but his boss took him aside and showed him a video assembled by the company’s astrophysics wing. That video still made him wake up screaming. Now, here he was, discreetly saving the race, one moron at a time.
Eric cleared his throat. “So what does it mean?”
“It means you can pick up your cards and I’ll tell you what to wager.” Adam picked up his own hand. A pair of eights. He could work with that.
“These are the people that I represent.” Adam passed a business card across the table. The company’s ridiculous new name “Nieuwjaarsduik” was printed on the card in iridescent letters. “You wager yourself as a volunteer in one of their projects.”
Eric glanced at the card, but didn’t pick it up. Either the guy was smarter than Adam thought or just lucky. It was time to deploy the bling. Adam reached across the table and flipped his business card over. Letters strobed across the back of the card casting a violet light onto the table.
“Don’t change the world. Change yourself.” Eric read the company motto out loud and reached a hand towards the pretty lights. He tapped the back of the card and then turned it over. “It’s blank.” Eric sounded disappointed. “What good is a blank business card?”
“It just transferred our contact information to your cell phone,” Adam said. Adam also knew that it had transferred a neural susceptibility vector to Eric’s finger tips. Adam picked up the blank card and tucked it into a pocket. “So are you playing?”
“I think I need to know more about the project? What exactly will they do to me?”
Adam mentally listed the modifications. They’ll rip out your lungs, replacing them with an organ that can split oxygen from water. They’ll pump your blood full of antifreeze, modify your gut to digest hydrocarbons, tweak your eyes to see in almost total darkness and then dump you into a methane ocean and call you a colonist.
Adam said, “Do the details really matter? You’re going to win, right?” He smiled but had to force his mouth into the right position.
Eric looked at the money on the table and licked his lips. “Okay. I lose, I’m your lab rat.” Then he slapped his cards down face-up. “Beat that!”
Adam did. He closed his eyes, flicked the transmitter in his pocket and lowered his cards. He’d already built the mental image he planned to send.
Eric’s jaw dropped. “That’s impossible! Two four of a kinds in one game? You had four eights?”
Adam opened his eyes and gathered up the cards. The transmitter worked by synchronizing the firing pattern of a host and target’s sensory neurons. It was tricky to maintain a false image for very long.
“How. How did you—” Eric didn’t finish that thought. “You cheated!” Eric grabbed at Adam’s sleeve, but only succeeded in knocking the beer bottles off the table. “Where were you hiding the cards?”
Adam stuffed the cash into his coat and started for the door. “My company will be in touch with you about your debt.”
Eric gaped. “I won’t pay it. You cheated! Get back here and tell me how!”
Adam kept walking. He had other volunteers to collect. No doubt they were all fascinating and worthy people. No doubt he would find some way to use them to get off this rock before the world burned.
Kathleen Molyneaux is a recovering academic living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She has a Ph.D. in Cell Biology. Her work experience includes the care and feeding of yeast, HeLa cells, frogs, mice, whooping cranes, cats, and humans (a.k.a high schoolers, undergrads, graduate students and medical students). She is currently working as an Ultrasound Technician. She writes science fiction and mysteries in her spare time.