This is chapter 1 and I still do not have a name for it.
It had been five nightmarish years since the last recorded pregnancy. At least that is what the blogs and papers echoed across the world. Women were undergoing clinical trials which often seemed like various forms of torture. These exams were taking place all over the globe from the rural cities of America to the economic strongholds of Tokyo, Japan. There were reports of countries hiring women as young as eighteen years old and rumors of girls, just hitting puberty. This was an effort to help boost the dwindling populations, at least that is what the politicians insisted daily. Some of the hardest-hit countries were already dealing with problematic birth rates. Due to the hysteria, some countries ended up on the predator list and to many people’s disbelief, America was public enemy number one. A country that was once seen as the epicenter for values and a stark defender of human rights, was now fighting to recover their most coveted title. In many ways the virus changed the face of right and wrong. It opened the door to crimes against humanity and ushered in a new breed of people.
Questionable drugs now flooded the market with various side effects. The very latest was a drug called Napzelin. It was hailed as the drug of the century. Napzelin was a stand-alone treatment with minimal side effects. Unlike former medications, Napzelin was no longer in the experimental phase. It was supposed to treat the entire system from the NORIF virus as well as the attack on the reproductive system from previous medications. The NORIF virus was a hard-hitting virus that sported a R naught at 4.5 with a higher than normal fatality rate. It was airborne, but that little fact did not come out until millions of people had died across the world.
After a popular drug was introduced into the mainstream about two years ago; people started growing hopeful. Nearly 18 months after the treatments were underway problems popped up from country to country. The number one side effect found in women was a systematic attack on the reproductive system. The government didn’t tell citizens about the threat because it was the only way to treat the pandemic. To prevent millions more from dying across the globe, governments took drastic actions. Still, it did not stop the decline, nations continued to see their pregnancy rates vanish. Governments banded together with the intent of correcting the problem before it was too late. Countries that hated each other for generations, became co-authors of treatments. There was one goal and that goal was finding future treatments which was now a reality by way of Napzelin.
The makers of the medicine just asked for one small thing in return from the recipients who were lucky enough to get the first dosage. They wanted to see if Napzelin was the answer to pregnancy in women of childbearing ages. So, each injection came with the chance of getting artificially inseminated if the participant was lucky enough to be chosen. Italy was now seeing their birthrate rise due to the same program that the founders of Napzelin offered months ago. The alternative inserted itself as the new natural design for infertility issues while treating future and current cases of NORIF. The news of the new practice gained international attention with the first live births televised on TV in more than three years.
On the eve of one of the most important events in America, thousands of women flocked to their clinics. In a matter of hours, lives would be forever changed for better or for worse. Before slipping the small bottle under her seat, Sloan swallowed her last sip of water. She looked across the room and counted two thin women seated across from her. Sloan leaned out a little further in her chair. Struggling to get a better gauge on the women in the glass offices, she faked a semi stretch. With pessimism starting to show its ugly head, Sloan reached down and took hold of a folded piece of paper. She repeated her favorite quote and leaned her head against her chair.
“Please, make sure you have your banking information ready for verification and employer’s number. We also need a NORIF diagnosis past or present signed by your doctor.” A steely female tried to clear her throat before it cracked over the intercom.
Sloan reached down into her purse and pulled out her last two pay stubs with her latest medical checkup checking her blood for NORIF enzymes. She then grabbed her cell phone with her banking information saved by a simple screenshot. Trying not to appear on the nosy side, Sloan pulled her dark hair over her shoulder and tried to casually look at the other women seated in the clinic. Both women took their brown leather folders out of their expensive looking purses; with papers stacking at least half an inch high.
“Mrs. Katherine Mitchell, can you please approach the desk?” A small lady beckoned in the direction of a glass window with two chairs centered in the middle of the room. “I need your address, a letter from your landlord, and other vital information. If you cannot produce a current or former diagnosis for NORIF, you cannot be accepted for this treatment.” The lady insisted as she tapped her finger against the table at the end of each syllable.
Mrs. Mitchell opened her folder and pulled out a stack of documents. “This is all I have. My doctor said this note should suffice.”
The clerk shrugged her shoulders to the side and picked up the red phone. Minutes later she looked across the room and ushered Mrs. Michell into the back. After some time had passed by Mrs. Michell walked back into the waiting room. Her red hair was no longer fastened in a neat little braid cascading down the side of her shoulder. She walked towards the door with her crushed wad of tissue sticking out of her side pocket.
Sloan looked in Mrs. Michell’s direction then looked back at the desk. “Are you okay, I have some water.”
“No, I am okay. I’m just getting some air; I will be back. I don’t want to take your water.”
Sloan reached down into her purse. “Oh goodness no! I have drunk like five bottles of water from this morning until now. I’m surprised I’ve been able to go this long without using the bathroom.” Sloan laughed out loud.
Mrs. Michell leaned her hand against the door. “Yeah, I know what you mean. This process is intense.”
The lady behind the glass door stepped into the doorway. “Ladies, you must have your medical information with you. We are not accepting letters as confirmation due to the letters not being able to show us the information we need. Also, please keep the talking to a minimal.”
“Sorry.” Sloan looked down at the floor with embarrassment. A strange stillness seemed to fill the air. “I was just…”
The lady turned to walk away before Sloan could finish her sentence. “Consider yourself warned, make sure your papers are in order.”
“By the way, my name is Katherine.” Mrs. Michell whispered as she exited the clinic.
Twenty minutes later, the same woman who called Katherine into her office, stepped into the lobby. Her glasses were now dangling from a string draped across her neck. “Sloan Viessman, we are now ready to assess your file.”
Sloan took out her information and then pushed her chair against the wall. Last year she was fighting for her life after contracting NORIF from a party and now she was slowly picking up the pieces. After nearing the office Sloan paused just inches from the doorknob. Her legs seemed weighted or glued in place. Small tickles moved up the back of her neck, as a strange wind grazed across the back of her hair.
“Nice to meet you, I am Carmella Night. I will ask you a few questions and this will help us decide on your participation. What makes you think you are a good candidate for this medical trial?” Carmella placed her long fingers around her pen and gazed at Sloan.
“Well, first, I was sick for a while. The only thing I could think about as I melted away in isolation was the things, I would never be able to do. I would never be able to hug my mother again because she died a few weeks prior to me getting sick, I would never be able to see my best friend Liam because he died a few days before I went into isolation. I then started thinking about the children I would never be able to have.” Sloan looked down and rubbed her wet hands on her thighs. “I prayed that if I were given a chance to get well that I would not be the same Sloan as before.”
Carmella looked confused. “What do you mean?”
Sloan paused briefly. “I mean my life was my job. I worked with children, but I never really saw the need for children in my life on a full-time basis. I had my mom and friends until I didn’t.”
“And you want children now? What about your finances?”
Sloan pulled out her phone and held it towards Carmella’s face. “I have five thousand dollars saved up. I keep an emergency fund. I have an extra thing of food in a storage building in case something happens. When my mom died, I inherited her house which is currently being rented out. It brings another 1200 a month.”
Carmella placed her pen down and tapped her index finger on the table. “Why do you keep extra food in a storage container? Are you a doomsday person?”
“No. A few years ago, a tornado hit my area. Our electricity was off for about a week. At the time, we could not cook anything. Later, I went on this website selling crates of food for emergencies and purchased one. I am a planner.”
“Okay, that makes sense. Look, I am not going to lie to you.” Carmella got up and walked around the room. “There are some benefits to being the first patients in America. However, there are some drawbacks. I have noticed a lot of you are coming in here thinking this is just a drug for pregnancy. While we would be delighted to see a positive pregnancy at the end of our trials, that is not what we are primarily treating. We have learned that the NORIF virus returns in about 40 percent of the people who contract the virus.”
“I heard that.”
Carmella paused behind Sloan’s chair. “We are trying to prevent future outbreaks and see if a body that’s undergoing the treatment can conceive and maintain a pregnancy. However, if you can conceive after undergoing treatment, we do require certain things. Some would call it a quid pro quo.”
“What is a quid pro quo?”
“It’s simple, say you get pregnant, this pregnancy belongs to the company. We are under contract to meet certain obligations. Those obligations are orders placed before our arrival in America. Meaning, you would be a surrogate for this pregnancy. After the baby arrives, you would then have time to heal and we would study the enzymes for a few months. This would give us answers about how your body reacts to the medicine and other things. You would also be well compensated for your time.”
“I thought the add said this treatment was supposed to be groundbreaking in terms of reproduction.”
“It is, but it is only being used on people with the virus or who have had the virus. As a woman I get the whole notion of wanting a child, but not every treatment will end in pregnancy. Some of you will be lucky if you are able to starve off another round of NORIF. We are trying to see how we can safely prevent the virus from coming back while helping to boost your estrogen levels. There has never been a drug like this, some would say it is a hybrid.”
“So, what happens to people who have successful pregnancies? You are saying we get money?”
“Correct. You must understand, the process of getting pregnant with our technology and the treatment for NORIF run hand in hand. It runs 20,000 for initial testing of the NORIF enzymes and then an extra 20 for current cases. In all honesty, we all understand the drain pregnancy puts on the body and adding that with the side effects of the drug is what we are trying to understand. In previous cases resulting in pregnancies, we have found some successes. We want to show our appreciation, so after giving birth our women get a lump sum payment of 140,000 after pregnancy. We are the only company backed by the government to treat both NORIF and infertility. If you agree, I need you to sign on each line and agree to our confidentiality clause.”
“Does this mean, I have been accepted into the process?”
“No. It only means we will start background paperwork. We will get in touch with you in two weeks. If you are picked, you will be taken to our clinic and then the process begins. Meanwhile, keep the rules and no talking about anything we discussed outside of this office.”
Sloan nodded and headed for the door. “Thank you.” Sloan closed the door behind her and walked to the exit.
“Are you finished?” A quiet voice neared from the side of the building.
“Aye, yes. Who are you?”
“I saw you come in as I was leaving the clinic. Do you think the process really works or are they just trying to get us involved in sex trafficking?”
Sloan glanced around nervously. “I don’t know.”
“I just don’t want to get my hopes up, you know. I’m Norma.”
“Nice to meet you, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to be talking about the process in eyesight of the clinic.”
Norma looked at her bright color tennis shoes and frowned. “I know, but we should at least be able to talk about it together. I mean we know what we’re going through. Here, I work at the social service building downtown. It has my office number and my cell number.”
“Okay.” Sloan looked around to see if anyone was noticing the conversation. “I have to get back to my apartment. Please, don’t take this the wrong way, but don’t talk about what we are doing so freely. What if they decide to not pick any of us because they fear we can’t be trusted? I don’t want to mess things up because of a misconception. Be careful.”
Norma smiled uncomfortably. “I know. I promise, I will be careful. I told my coworkers I was going to the dentist today.”
“Well that’s a start. I really have to go; I will talk to you later.” Sloan looked behind her once more before she reached the car.