“Nora, there has to be another way…”
“I’m just not sure this is the best idea…”
“Mom! Listen for a second…”
“The chances my DNA will match some random alien are astronomically low.”
“Well, I know, but…”
“And, even if I do match, we’ll split the money. Half-a-million dollars will set me up for the rest of my schooling and you can’t tell me half-a-million wouldn’t help you and Dad.”
Mom fell silent. I held my breath, waiting for her to process the idea.
“But…Nora, what if you don’t come back?”
“Mom, nothing, and I mean nothing, will keep me away from you and Dad for long. I’ve never even heard of a DNA-matched human woman complaining. Everything I have managed to research says the DNA-matched women are happy. And it will look great on my resume! Galactic experience, are you kidding me? Everyone in polisci would kill to get galactic experience on their resume, especially at this point in their career…”
Mom sighed. “Are you certain, Nora? This is a huge decision.”
“Mom, I’m sure. I’ve thought it all through. It’s not that much different than when I left for college…”
“Nora! This is, literally, millions of miles away from leaving home for college.”
“Ok, well, one weak analogy doesn’t change the fact that I feel this is an acceptable risk.”
Mom chuckled. “You always were hard-headed.”
“I prefer to think of it as confidence in my life choices.”
“I know you do.”
“Mom. You know I love you and Dad. You aren’t losing me.”
“I believe you, I just never really thought about you coming back from college with a half-alien child.”
I laughed long and deep.
“Well, that’s one way to look at the bright side. Would that really be so terrible?”
“Ask me next week, when I’ve had time to think about it.”
I laughed. “Mom, I love you.”
“We love you, too, Nora. What are you going to do about your things?”
“Well, I don’t have much. I mean, I’m living in the dorm. But I spoke to student services. Apparently, Earth Authorities have worked out a deal for students who DNA match. The testing center notifies the school, the school packs your things, and sends them to the student’s permanent address. Unless you don’t want to store my stuff…”
“Don’t be ridiculous, of course we will. Just…Nora, just call me immediately as soon as possible, okay? I’m not going to stop worrying until I know you’re alright.”
I hung up before Mom could cry. I wasn’t certain I could walk through the doors of the university’s testing center if Mom started crying. For all my big talk to Mom, my stomach fluttered. I took a deep breath and stepped inside.
I walked up to the counter. The receptionist looked about my age. She smiled.
“Hi. How can I help you? Are you here to be tested?”
I took a deep breath.
“Excellent. Just step this way, please.”
She rose and led me past the counter and down a hallway. We passed several doors before she opened one. She waved me inside.
“Here you go. A technician will be with you shortly.”
She smiled and left, closing me into the small room. I picked up a random magazine, prepared to wait patiently. I looked at it, but my mind saw nothing on the page. I fidgeted. A few minutes later, a technician opened the door and I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“Hello, my name is Darriel and I’ll be your technician today. We just need a small blood sample.”
He reached for my hand, pricked my finger, and collected a drop of my blood with a pipette. He squeezed the drop into the collection well of a complicated-looking device built into one wall. On the device’s screen, a circular loading message flashed.
Darriel and I watched the loading symbol circle long enough for my mind to wander. The screen flashed, “CODE 459”.
“What does Code 459 mean?”
“Uhhhhh…give me one second to find out. I’ve never seen that before. I’ll be right back…”
Darriel rose, exiting the room. My nerves jangled, and my knee danced.
What could that mean? Is there something wrong? Am I dying or do I have some terrible gene hiding in my DNA? Am I about to find out I have some horrible genetic disease? Maybe it’s just the machine…maybe it just needs servicing…
The door to the testing room opened and a uniformed man entered.
Earth Authorities? Why would…
A strained smile spread across the man’s face.
“Hello, Nora. I have some awkward news. First, you have matched to a Mahdfel. Unfortunately, that Mahdfel is a wanted terrorist.”
“What? What do you mean, terrorist?”
“Have you been following the news feeds?”
“I’m a polisci major, I eat news feeds like candy.”
“So, you are aware of The Golden Meridian?”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, ma’am, I am dead serious.”
“But…but I can’t match with a terrorist!”
“And, for that, we are very sorry. This has never happened before, to be honest.”
The man sat in the chair opposite me.
“That would be a terrible blow to your political career, certainly. We have an offer, though, which may turn this lemon of a match into lemonade.”
“How? This is the most bonkers thing I’ve ever heard of…”
“It is certainly a first for us, as well. Obviously, on the surface this must look like a nightmare for you. But we are hoping we can all turn this to our mutual advantage.”
“Earth Authorities would like you to choose to participate anyway. We want you to be our spy and help us bring those terrorists to justice. That would look good on your resume.”
“Wouldn’t that be dangerous, though?”
“Possibly. Which is why we are offering you twice the usual bounty.”
“Two million? I’m not sure I’m willing to take this risk for two million…”
“Is there a way we can come to an agreement?”
I blew out a long breath, my mind calculating faster than I even thought I could think.
“I’ll do it for four million.”
The man seemed to choke for a moment. He began to sweat.
“That’s pretty steep…”
I shrugged. “What options do you have? And I want half upfront, sent to my parents.”
He leaned back, whistling. He tapped onto his comms bracelet.
I blinked. Things were moving really fast. My comms bracelet dinged. I looked down. The text message read, “Holy shit, Nora, why is there two million in my account? I thought it took a year to get one…”
I typed in my response. “Trust me. I matched. I’ll explain later. Love u.”
I looked up at the man who’d just sent my parents two million dollars.
“Okay. What do I need to do?”
He pulled a necklace from his pocket, a locket hanging on an eighteen-inch box chain.
“Just wear this. It will record everything you hear. It has a locator so we can find you and will transmit all collected data anytime you get close enough to a communications network.”
“So…I just wear this, and that’s it?”
“And don’t get caught.”
“Are you ready?”
I nodded, drawing in a deep, fortifying breath.