London, England - 2032
So, this is freedom. No sirens pierce the air. Buildings in the distance are whole. Yet the ground beneath his feet feels no different. Dr. Cole Fitzgerald glances past their docked cruise ship, to the horizon. The sky blends into the ocean, a monochromatic swatch of gray. A chill in the air penetrates him, dampens his coat and makes all the layers underneath heavy. When they left Boston, pink-tinged magnolia petals blanketed the sidewalks, blew across overgrown parks and the burnt remains of brownstones. He’d reached up and touched a blossom, still hanging on a limb. It’s remarkable to see beauty amid war.
The din of discontent is constant. On the vast dock of England’s Southampton Cruise Port, a few thousand passengers stand in line, all on the same quest to flee the United States. He’s heard that three million citizens emigrate annually. But no one documents whether those people are more afraid of the lone wolves and militias, or of their government bent on regaining control. Cole isn’t sure which is worse. But London is a safe place to start again. They have family here, built-in support. No point in dwelling.
Beside him, Lily’s usual grace and composure are visibly in decline. He reaches out and gently strokes the nape of his wife’s neck, where pieces of her dark hair have strayed from her ponytail. The coat she wears can’t hide her belly, now twenty-nine weeks swollen with a baby girl. Cole wishes he could offer her a chair. Instead she rests on one of their enormous suitcases.
Their son Ian sits cross-legged on the asphalt and reads a paperback. Throughout the journey, he’s gone along with few complaints. Ten years ago he was born the night The Planes Fell, the night that changed everything. Living in a constant state of fear is all he’s ever known. The joy and devastation of that night was so complete. To become parents at the same time terrorists took down fifty passenger planes…there were no words. It was impossible to celebrate while so many were mourning.
The mist turns to rain as night comes. Every fifty feet or so, instructions are posted: Prepare left arm for MRS scan; Citizenship Applications must be completed; Use of electronic devices prohibited. Finally they cross the threshold of the Southampton Port Customs and Immigration building. The air is sour with sickness and stress and filth. Dingy subway tiles cover the walls of the enormous hall. Ahead, above dozens of immigration officer booths, a one-way mirror spans the width of the wall. Cameras, security officers, judgment. Cole’s skin prickles.
In one of numerous queues, they finally near the end. Lily elbows him and juts her chin toward the front of the line. People are scanned and then directed to one of three signs: “Processing,” “Return to Country of Origin” or “Hearings.” Bile stings Cole’s throat. He calculated the risk of this trip, turned the possible outcomes in his mind endlessly. But thanks to Senator Richard Hensley and the biochip he legislated, it’s all about genetics, DNA. Black and white.
The immigration officer at desk number 26 does not smile. The man’s shorn, square head sits atop a barely discernible neck. Without glancing up he shouts, “Next.”
Cole hands him their citizenship applications.
“Prepare for scanning,” the officer says. Wearing latex gloves, he holds the MedID scanner aloft, as Cole lifts his left arm. The officer scans the biochip, barely discernable under the forearm skin. The process repeats with Lily and Ian.
“Mrs. Fitzgerald, please come forward again,” the officer orders.
She trades concerned looks with Cole. “Yes?”
The officer rifles for something under the desktop and his hands return with some kind of an apparatus. “What is that?” Cole asks.
“IUMS,” the man says. “In-Utero MedID Scanner. It’s just another version of the MRS.”
“What are you going to do with it?” Lily asks.
“Ma’am I need you to lean forward.” He gestures with the scanner in his hand.
Cole’s mind spins. They opted out of prenatal testing, wanted to enjoy their baby girl before knowing what her genetic future might hold. Despite his research, he’s never read about this technology.
“New protocol.” The man smirks. He aims the scanner at Lily’s belly.
“You don’t need a MedID? A blood test?” Cole presses.
The officer shakes his head. “It’s an estimation but it’s good enough for our purposes.” He swipes the wand across her sweater-covered belly and once again regards the small screen.
With wet eyes, Lily wraps the coat tightly around her. Ian leans into them and the three meld in anticipation. They watch as he stamps each application. From this angle, Cole can’t read it, but he knows. Lily’s MedID number of 67 is eight points from the clean benchmark of 75. There’s a thirty-percent chance she’ll develop leukemia. A fifty-percent chance depression will strike. And a ten-percent chance she’ll be diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, both Cole and Ian are in the clear with MedID scores of 84 and 78 respectively. They have virtually no markers for disease. In the eyes of England’s society, Lily will be a drain on public resources. But what about the baby?
Wearing the same bored expression, the officer says, “Cole and Ian Fitzgerald you’ve been approved and may proceed to the Processing line. Lily Fitzgerald, you and your unborn child have been denied and will immediately return to the United States. Do you wish to make a plea?”
“We do.” A wave of nausea hits Cole. “What’s the baby’s number?”
“The estimate is 74.” The officer taps his device and reaches below his desk to retrieve a piece of paper from a printer, the medical summary for their family. He hands the paperwork back to Cole and directs them to the “HEARINGS” line.
"Seventy-four,” Lily whispers. Her skin is ashen.
One number away from being a clean, cherished 75. It might as well be twenty. Denied is denied. Still, they’re prepared to fight. The rumor is that immigration judges rarely turn away individuals with specialized degrees.
Down the corridor, they enter another section of Immigration as Cole rehearses his speech silently. They join one of the lines, each ending at a glass-encased booth. A digital monitor hangs atop each one with the name of a judge.
“How do you feel?” Lily asks.
“Like I’m about to kill someone on the operating table.” Cole reads the name on the booth ahead. “Let’s hope Judge Alistair Cornwall is having a good day.”
They will have five minutes to make their plea. Gavel-like sounds punctuate the hearings as the lines move ahead simultaneously. Cole’s heart pounds as he clings to his CV, Harvard and Yale doctoral certificates. Sell, sell, sell. I’m a commodity. My family is worth more than numbers.
The gavel sounds. It’s their turn. Cole slides the stack of papers through an opening to Judge Cornwall. Wiry gray eyebrows fan out over the judge’s dark eyes. He glances briefly at Cole, then turns his attention to the documents.
“Proceed,” says the judge.
“Your honor, I’m Doctor Cole Fitzgerald, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. For the past six years I’ve been on the Bioscience Board there, which has lead the world in testing protein-based drugs targeting cancerous cells.” Cole coughs, glances at Lily. “For five years my wife, Lily, has been on a prophylactic course of medication used to delay or completely stop the onset of Alzheimer’s. Your new scanning system has just informed us that Lily’s carrying a baby girl with an approximate MedID number of 74. But with eleven weeks left in the pregnancy, there are still opportunities to gain that one point needed to give this child a clean number. We’ll make it our priority. I realize the immigration safeguards are in place to insure England’s physical and economic health. And I assure you that the four of us will contribute to the well-being of this country.”
The timer sounds. The judge peers over Cole’s shoulder at Lily.
“Mrs. Fitzgerald,” Judge Cornwall says. “You’ve brought quite the trifecta with you.”
“Excuse me, sir?” Lily slides beside Cole.
“Cancer. Alzheimer’s. Depression.”
Her mouth opens, closes.
The judge continues. “Fortunately, cures seem to be on the horizon. But they’re not here yet.” He flips through the paperwork. “After reviewing your case and considering your statement, my decision is to grant you, Dr. Fitzgerald, and your son Ian, temporary visas. However, I am unable to grant both Lily Fitzgerald and the unborn child the same. Mrs. Fitzgerald, your health is cost-prohibitive and as for your fetus, there is already an endless line of children in our medical system.”
The timer sounds. Thirty seconds to argue.
“Please, sir.” Cole’s chest tightens. “My son needs his mother, and I need my wife. Our new child needs a chance. My services to your healthcare system will be of great benefit and I’ll work tirelessly to make sure your investment in me is a wise one. Ian will thrive in your schools. And we’ll treat our daughter in-utero, as I mentioned. She’ll grow up and contribute to your society. I swear she will. Please.”
The final timer goes off.
“But you can’t guarantee it, can you?” Judge Cornwall slides the papers back through the slot. “No one can predict the future and many a parent has been disappointed in the outcome of children. One never knows. I regret to tell you that my decisions are final.”
The gavel sounds. People behind them in line push past to get in front of the judge. In silence, the Fitzgeralds gather their things and move along the white tile floor, marred by a continuous gray smudge. At the entrance to the two final corridors, Lily moves toward the “Return to Country of Origin” sign. She says, “I want you and Ian to stay.”
“No,” Cole says. “We tried. We did our best. It didn’t work.”
“It worked for the two of you. You can be safe here.”
“It’s not an option, Lily.”
“I’ll go back. Have the baby. Maybe Kate or Sebastian can help us get visas.”
Cole shakes his head. “You can’t ask an FBI agent to help you do something illegal.”
Ian watches them wordlessly.
“This isn’t forever.” Lily reaches for his hand and presses it between hers.
“What if Ian stayed here with your cousins?” Cole suggests. “He’d be safe while we work things out at home.”
“No way,” Ian interjects. “What if you don’t come back?”
A river of people flows around them, arms and suitcases jostling them. The faces around them display raw emotion, nothing hidden: joy, angst, fear, relief. A security officer stationed a few feet ahead of them signals people forward with a waving hand.
Finally Lily nods. Defeat burns in Cole’s gut. The three of them wrap arms, touch hair, kiss cheeks, and hold on as they savor the one moment they have left in this safe haven. And then it’s time to go. Once again they pick up their belongings and head in the direction they no longer want to go. Back home.