James Emerson Cameron was a geneticist straight out of Harvard Medical School and not likely to get a job in any hospital. In fact, he was lucky to graduate, his ethics questionable, his methods illegal and his research beyond the morals of his times. Yet, he was unquestionably brilliant. Tall slender with good shoulders and trim waist from his sculling days, he put the stereotype of an egg-head nerd to shame. With clear blue eyes, black hair so dark it shone blue and a dimpled chin, he presented a Calvin Klein face to the world. He simply could not understand the ethics prohibiting genetic modification on humans.
Why, he argued, not correct the faults in a deformed, retarded or diseased fetus before it was born and became a drain on society’s declining resources?
His views were not only unpopular, radical and unethical but illegal. Still, he persisted getting kicked out of one research lab after another until in desperation he went to the black market underground. There, he was approached by some dark secret organization that promised him the world - his own lab, his choice of assistants, equipment up to and including a Cray super-computer and all the time and money he needed.
One catch, he had to live at the lab and it was in a desolate, unpopular location. He asked where and was told the west. Somewhere between the Dakotas and the Four Corners area. He said he didn’t care as long as it wasn’t at Area 51. They did not find that amusing.
He supervised the building of the facility and was given state-of-the-art everything. The only thing they demanded was that it had to be built on government land – hidden in the black budget but officially known as the Wind River Indian Health Clinic/Hospital on BLM land. He smiled when he heard that, thoughts and ideas swirling through his head on fetal alcohol syndrome and Indian babies. A population no one would care about or miss.
“Perfect,” he told the shadowy people who accommodated him. When told what modifications they wanted him to try, he was delighted that they were on the same page. He left for his new home on a private jet some three days after meeting with his new bosses.
The clinic they built was beautiful but the real prize were the labs and complex underground. There, he had his apartments and everything a single man could want yet he was more into the research than Xbox, movies, surround-sound and chicks. His bosses offered to fly in a $1000 hooker when he wanted one but he shrugged that off in favor of the eagerness to get to work.
The natives were suspicious because he was white, rich and from the government even when they were offered free healthcare. The population on the reservation was small, insular and poverty-stricken. There were no casinos nearby and the only jobs available was a three-hour trek to the pine forest where the giant Weyerhaeuser logged and reforested.
There were a few abandoned gold and turquoise mines but none had yielded more than a few hundred dollars in the last 25 years. Set in a deep ravine at the foot of the Snoqualmie Hills was such a turquoise mine. Near it was a neat doublewide set on cinder blocks dug into a hole in the ground. The house had a basement/storm shelter and was the home of the old man who still worked in the shallow caves prospecting.
He had raised 10 children and five grandchildren – only one of which was still alive. A granddaughter who had migrated east to attend a prestigious school of Law just outside Washington to become a lawyer. She went to work for the government – the FBI. A stunning redhead with dark brown eyes, no one knew she was three-quarters Sioux or that she had been born and raised on the tiny reservation. Her hair was not the true red of a Celt but a deep mahogany that the Indians called oxblood. She was tall too, coming in at nearly 5’10”.
The day she returned home to her grandfather’s was a day of joy. She drove her old Jeep up the horse track, tooted her horn and waited patiently for her Abuelo to come to the door. Instead, he approached silently from the mine carrying his backpack and pickax.
“I’ll make coffee,” was all he said as he took her bags into her protests. She looked tired but then, she would be. The nearest airport was 200 miles away and she must have driven her car in from Washington. He brought her things into her old bedroom, untouched but clean since the day she had left six years earlier. She flopped on the double bed and he quietly closed the door behind him.
In the morning over the simple breakfast of fried dough, eggs, and coffee, she told him why she was there. She was, she said, two months pregnant by an important and wealthy married man. He wanted her to have an abortion and she did not. She knew he was capable of forcing her so she ran to the one place she knew she would be safe.
“Will he come after you, Rachel?” Her grandfather asked calling her by her white name.
“No one knows I came from here, Grandfather. I started fresh from college. All my records start there, not from back here. If he wants to, though he could track me down but he doesn’t care that much as long as I disappear.”
“A new clinic opened out by the town. Free healthcare,” he said.
She laughed shakily. “Good. My healthcare stopped when I resigned from the FBI.” She hated lying to her grandfather yet he knew she was holding something back.
On Monday morning, two weeks after the clinic opened, she was there for her first prenatal checkup. She liked the nurses but the tall handsome doctor gave her an unsettled feeling. He was surprised when he read her medical history, commenting that she did not look Native American with her auburn hair and brown eyes.
“My parents were Renée and Jason Strongbow,” she returned. “They died in a multicar pileup on the Delaware Watershed Turnpike.”
“Do you have a high school diploma?”
“I went to college,” she returned dryly.
“Ever have your IQ taken?”
“Yes. It was 156.” He was not surprised, she seemed bright, intelligent and healthy. Just tired. He prescribed prenatal vitamins and a high-protein diet. No alcohol.
“I don’t drink,” she returned flatly, remembering the fetal alcohol syndrome children on the Res.
“Good. There are too many children here that their mothers should have heeded that warning,” he returned.
“Poverty, booze make common bedfellows,” she said putting her clothes back on. “Are you married?”
“No.” He was amused at her brashness.
“What brings a good-looking doctor like you out to the back-ass of nowhere?”
“You always so blunt?”
“I find anything else a waste of time,” she shrugged.
“No. Haven’t time for relationships. You have a job?”
“No. Why would I come for free health care if I had money?”
“Can you type?”
Now it was her turn to be amused. “Not on a typewriter. I can pound the keyboard of a computer 100+ words a minute. You offering me a job?”
“Yes. Doesn’t pay much but the healthcare is great. And cheap.”
“Will the father be paying his share?”
“Bastard,” she spat. “Not likely. He’s married and wanted me to abort him.”
“Him? You know the sex already?”
“My spirit ancestor told me,” she grinned and left him standing there nonplussed.
She told her grandfather she was hired and would pay half the expenses. He laughed saying that the air and water were free but if she wanted to waste her money on gas for the generator and hot water to go ahead. The house was sans electricity, water was spring fed by gravity to the house and he used coal lanterns at night, battery-operated radio. No Wi-Fi, no TV no electric lights.
“I forgot how close and clear the stars are,” she marveled sitting on the porch with him and staring at the vast expanse of celestial sky. “In Washington, you hardly ever get to see the sky.”
He took her hand. “It is good you have come home, redheaded child. Orrin has spoken of you.”
“Yeah? What did the Great Spirit say? I’m an idiot?” She stood up and strode off down the drive that was little more than a horse trail. The old man watched as her body began the subtle changes that marked the beginnings of her pregnancy.
They settled into a routine, she worked five days a week at the clinic and was an efficient and perfect employee. She was amazed at the amount of work the physician did and eventually because she was there, others began to use the clinic. Her baby bump grew until it began to interfere when she drove or bent over. That was when she started her once weekly trips off the res to the largest town staying away for one day before returning home to no comments or explanations.
She received regular care from the doctors including vitamin injections that left her tired and achy for a day afterward but the fetus continued his growth on schedule, was healthy and happy.
Her baby was born, a beautiful boy with crystal-clear ice blue eyes with black centers, dark bronze skin and mahogany hair even deeper than her own. She called him her Firebird, after the Native American legend. When he opened his eyes to stare at the new world, the doctor who delivered him, his mother and great-grandfather, it was as if an adult looked out of those eyes. She named him Lakan which meant nothing in the Lakota language but she liked the sound of it. Her grandfather gave him his spirit name which he would keep hidden until he was old enough to be initiated into it.
The clinic prospered and Cameron treated his patients. If the incidence of fetal miscarriages and birth defects went down, the committee that oversaw such things did not notice but put it down to better healthcare.
Children began to disappear when the boy Lakan turned three. He was a quiet child, always at his great-grandfather’s side or underfoot with his mother at the clinic.
It wasn’t until she saw him reading the computer files over the edge of her desk that she realized the boy was…gifted.
“Laky,” she said. “What are you doing?”
“Mama, these numbers are wrong,” he spoke with a lisp, his two front teeth just coming in. He was going to be tall like her and his father had been 6’2” yet he gave the impression of a small child.
“Wrong how?” She was curious, most children that age could just begin to pick up words like ‘read’, ‘cat and dog’.
“There are more account numbers than patient numbers,” he answered. “For services these other accounts provided but are not listed under the appropriate names.”
She gasped to hear such words coming from her three-year-old. “Lakan, can you read this?” She scrolled the site to Wikipedia on law cases picking a particularly convoluted case. He read it with ease and further astonished her with its simple meaning that the litigant had violated his own nondisclosure contract and therefore voided the buyout offer.
He looked at his mom. “Are you afraid of what he did to me?”
“He? Who is he? What did he do?” She snapped, horrified. He told her, showed her the secret files in the lab and the basement.
Row after row of children hooked up to artificial wombs and kept in coma-like conditions while the doctor and his assistants performed genetic manipulation on them only to have the children die or suffer irreversible brain damage. Those fetuses he experimented on pre-birth survived but damage from the alcohol their mothers had ingested and twisted their brains too much to be useful.
“Is that what he did to you? All those vitamin injections he gave me?” She was aghast. “We have to get out of here!”
She scooped up the three-year-old and ran for her grandfather’s not listening as the boy tried to tell her that there were cameras recording them and he did not yet know how to wipe them clean. On the long drive home, she met a car on the lonely road and knew instinctively that the black Hummer with tinted windows meant them harm. She began a desperate race across the Badlands of ravines, rocky paths and trails craning her neck behind to watch as the Hummer followed.
The boy was strapped into a car seat and keening with fright, his hands holding his bottle with his favorite drink. Cherry Kool-Aid. After all, he was only three years old.
She knew how to drive, she had taken the defensive driving course at the FBI Academy and still had both the skills and her issued Glock. Locked in the glove box and inaccessible.
Hitting a pothole, she felt the steering rod go and suddenly the car bucked like an unruly horse. In slow motion, she felt the whole 2000 pounds of steel go over and over on a roll. Too many times to count banging her head on the crushed roof, slamming her head into the side wall as glass broke, and then back onto the roof. It was the pointed rock through the open window slamming into her head that killed her.
When the Jeep came to a rest a hundred feet down the ravine of the dirt road, it resembled a piece of modern art and not a four-wheel-drive vehicle. No airbags had deployed on the driver’s or passenger’s side but had in the rear cushioning the side doors. The tough little child’s car seat had maintained its integrity and protected the child from most of the damage. It did not prevent whiplash or the violent shaking of his head from side to side causing his brain to jam forward and back. Swelling was immediate and catastrophic. Vital functions begin to shut down and the boy began to die.
The watchers from the road waited and when no one exited the vehicle, they carefully descended the slope to peer inside. They saw the former FBI agent, her head a battered mass of flesh, bone, and blood. Nothing was recognizable, her eyes, her entire face was gone.
“Looks bad.” The second man dressed in black jeans, dark shirt and jacket reached in and plucked the kid out. “His pulse is barely there. Eyes pinpoint and nonreactive.”
“Bring him anyway. The doctor wants him regardless. Dead or alive.”
They cradled the boy and carried him back up the traverse, laying him on the back seat. One held him on the chest with a huge hand while the other drove. On the way back, the driver radioed in an accident report with fatalities to the nearest police station – the Tribal Police in nearby Trigger’s Bay.
When they reached the clinic, Cameron met them at the entrance to the lab. “Kid’s dead or near,” they reported. “The woman died on impact.”
“Give him to me,” he ordered and they handed over the gravely injured child. “Go back on patrol. No sense you not being there to do your jobs.”
The two BLM agents left without another word. He brought the boy into the lab and treated him noting the dismal vitals and decreasing signs of brain function. Pouring massive steroids into the child’s IV, he dropped the temp in the room and placed the boy in a sterile ice-filled container in the surgery.
Scrubbing up, he entered the surgery room to perform a craniotomy to relieve the pressure on the boy’s brain. Then, he waited.
One day turned into a week. The boy despite the odds and the medical impossibility began to live. First, the EEG blinked and showed that indeed his brain was no longer flat line but dreaming. In six months, he opened his eyes.