The lights in the auditorium began to dim. Startled from his reverie, Kevin looked around as the lights faded out. Most of the other seats had been filled by this point, and the hundreds of conversations were beginning to die down. Two seats down from Kevin, a not-unattractive woman in what looked like her late thirties made eye contact with him briefly before glancing away.
Over the next few weeks, other representatives from Hi Jump had come by the office, had praised Kevin for his “touching and innovative take on the heart behind gene modifications.” Despite the praise, however, that offer of the advance copy of Hi Jump had eaten away at Kevin.
His entire ad campaign was based on the idea that this genemod could offer everyone a chance to succeed, that this could be a ticket for an underprivileged kid to improve his status. But the cost of Hi Jump would ensure that it would be a perk solely for the rich.
On the stage, the lights had risen, focusing on a single microphone stand at the front of the stage. From the flap in the curtain, a man emerged. He was in his late twenties, younger than Kevin, and he looked . . . healthy.
Kevin wasn’t sure how to classify this man. Most of his clients, the designers and consultants for genemods, were more than wealthy enough to afford all the latest enhancements, wearing movie-star beauty like a carnival mask. He was used to seeing engineered attractiveness. But this man had something different. He was handsome, striking, but his face was weathered and creased with light wrinkles. He looked like he had experienced life, hardships, good and bad times, not like he was molded from plastic or porcelain.
The man began to speak, and to his surprise, Kevin found himself pulled in by the flow of words. The man had spoken of fairness, of equality, of times when there was not such a divide between the rich and poor. His words turned dark, warning of growing differences, of class discrimination, of a whole separate species, made different by genemods that were beyond the reach of any normal working citizen. Kevin nodded. He had seen the price tags, experienced the sticker shock. Many others around him were nodding as well.
The man’s words were like matches, starting new fires of thought. Genemods were incredible scientific breakthroughs. They saved lives, cured diseases, kept people healthy, active, safe. But they were nothing more than a tool, and they were being misused by the rich, by the privileged, by those who currently wielded the tool. It was not right, and it had to change. Kevin was entranced.
By the end of the man’s speech, Kevin was on his feet, as was nearly everyone else in the auditorium. A low roar lay beneath the words, the physical sound of anger, frustration, impotent fury rising from the hundreds of people inside the room. The man now spoke in ringing tones, spoke of taking back the system, of setting the genes free, of opening genemods to all who needed them, of the new utopia that would arise.
As he reached his climax, now shouting, no longer needing the microphone, the lights went out. For a moment, the auditorium was total darkness. When the lights returned, a moment later, the man was gone from the stage.
Kevin filed out, his thoughts scattered, feeling in a daze. As he was making his way out of the auditorium, half-listening to the murmured comments and conversations around him as he headed up an aisle, he realized that he was walking next to the woman he had seen earlier. Their eyes briefly met again.
The woman moved closer, quickening her steps to catch up. “Hi,” she said, as she drew alongside him. “My name’s Stacy.” She held out a hand to him; he noticed that her fingers were shaking slightly.
He took the proffered hand, shook it gently. “I’m Kevin. Nice to meet you.”