Liam, on the other hand, looked like he had just stepped off a thundercloud. I felt his eyes on me the entire time, and wasn’t brave enough to try to meet his gaze.
“So as you can see, we have a new guest with us on this fine evening,” Cole began, arms crossed, stance strong. “She’s the scientist who conducted the research about the cure, and she’s here to explain to you the cause of IAAN, as well as what the cure exactly is.”
The whispers died out so quickly, I was sure we could have heard a car backfire from a hundred miles away.
Lillian brushed out invisible wrinkles in her sweatpants and started to rise from her chair, only to change her mind and sit back down. Some of the older kids must have recognized her from old news reports, but most...they were just looking at her in awe, totally oblivious to her last name. Alice, on the other hand, was a different story. I saw the exact moment her mind made the connection.
“Hello.” With a deep breath, she turned to Cole and asked, “Where should I begin?”
“Start with the cause, end with the cure,” he said.
“Ah. All right. Initially...when Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration—IAAN—was first recognized, the common assumption was that it was some kind of virus whose manifestation was more pronounced and deadly in children than in adults. This quickly was proven to be false by the scientific community, as cases outside of the United States proved to be fairly rare or mild in comparison. After several years of research...Leda Corp concluded its experiments and has confirmed what some, myself included, had privately believed to be the cause.”
I leaned forward in my seat, heart hammering in my chest. I bit my lip.
“Almost thirty years ago, there were attempts...several, actually...on the security of the nation. These bioterrorism attacks were launched by enemies of the United States, all involving tampering with our crops and our water supply.”
Liam stood at the periphery of the group, next to Alice. He’d been watching Dr. Gray through the digital screen on the back of her camera but looked up at that, startled. I shifted impatiently, waiting for her to continue. There had been theories for years that IAAN was the result of a terrorist attack, this wasn’t new information—
“The president at the time, not my—not President Gray—signed off on a confidential order to begin development on a chemical agent to counteract and nullify a number of poisons, bacteria, and drugs that could be added to a population’s water supply with us none the wiser. Leda Corp developed and distributed the chemical, called Agent Ambrosia, to our country’s water treatment facilities.”
I rubbed a hand against my forehead, fighting the way my vision seemed to blur.
“Did they test this agent in conjunction with the usual minerals and compounds added to our water?” Senator Cruz asked, white with anger.
Dr. Gray nodded. “Yes, there was routine testing. The participants signed ironclad confidentiality agreements and were generously reimbursed for their time. They studied children, adults, animals. Even pregnant mothers, who all safely delivered their babies without complications and no defects. In truth, these researchers received so much pressure from the government to quickly implement the program that they weren’t able to study the long-term effects of the agent.”
They poisoned us. My lip curled back in disgust and I had to grip the sides of my chair to keep myself in it. They poisoned us and kept us locked up for their mistake.
Cole swung up out of his seat and began pacing, his head bowed, listening.
“Leda’s recent study concluded that Agent Ambrosia is what we call a teratogen, meaning...meaning that women who drank the treated water unknowingly took the chemical into their bodies and it affected the brain cells of their children in vitro. My understanding of their report is that these mutations remained dormant in the children’s...in your minds until you reached the age of puberty—around eight, nine, ten, eleven years old. The change in your hormone levels and brain chemistry triggered the mutation.”
“Why did so many die?” At Cole’s side, his hand gave a sharp twitch.
“Those mothers ingested higher quantities of the chemical, or there was a third, unspecified environmental factor.” She said all of this so coldly and clinically, with such professional detachment, that it made me angry all over again.
This happened to you, too. Why aren’t you furious? Why aren’t you upset?
Olivia climbed to her feet; the sight of her scarred face made Dr. Gray flinch before she could catch herself. “How do you explain our different abilities? Why can we each do certain things?”
“The common hypothesis is that it has everything to do with genetics—individual brain chemistry, and which neural pathways are affected at the moment you transition.”
“Is the chemical still in our water supply?”
Dr. Gray hesitated long enough for us to know the answer before she so much as opened her mouth. “Yes. Though now that Leda has confirmed that Agent Ambrosia is to blame, I would say it’s fair to assume they’re most likely planning to introduce a neutralizing chemical into the water supply, beginning with the larger cities. But seeing how many women and young children have ingested the tainted water, it may be a full generation or two before we start seeing children without this mutation.”
Generation. Not just months or years. Generation. I pressed my face into my hands, took a deep breath.
“So if that explains what happened,” Cole said, “what’s your method for curing it?”
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