Author : Edward D. Thompson

Salome slumped glumly in a corner of the locker room. Her corner. Where she usually savored the sweet taste of victory for a moment, alone, before the crowd of the press and the press of the crowds engulfed her.

Victory seemed hollow today.

She didn’t look up as the door groaned open. Not until the shadow of her coach blocked the glow of the lamps did she risk glancing at his face. The pain there. She couldn’t look him in the eye.

“I thought you didn’t care about wins.”

For five years she’d been the world’s top swimmer.

“I don’t. I do. Just not the … I don’t care if I beat anybody but me.”

And now she’d failed even that.

“Even if you’re just trying to beat your own record it’s gotta be a fair fight.”

She couldn’t look him in the eye. He was the one who’d always believed in her.

“The tests came back.”

“And what?”

He was silent. She already knew what.

“Come on. We gotta go see the committee.”

She’d failed Coach. She could smell his shame, his disappointment. Was that a side effect?

He had to help her to her feet; dry land was awkward. They made their way silently to the committee chambers. Walking disoriented her. She could feel it in her ears. That was a side effect for sure.

The committee: seven women, four men. Most of them athletes she’d admired growing up. A couple of them world class swimmers with records that had stood for decades. Till she’d come along anyway. Had all of them always played by the rules?

There was another man at the table. He smelled … dangerous.

“Miss Argent … Salome,” the committee head was not unkind, she seemed about to cry actually. She composed herself and went on. “All of us want to do better. To be better. To achieve more. And we’ve all had modifications, but …”

Salome swallowed and tried to still her shaking.

“Salome, the restrictions are there for a reason. It’s not just that it’s not fair. Ah, hell with fair. We all know you just want to go faster and stay under longer. It’s not fairness. The stuff you took is dangerous.”

Salome wanted to speak. She couldn’t find the words.

“You are barred from competition for life.” The head’s eyes teared up in sympathy, disappointment.

“But there’s a more serious matter. The DNA you stole. Mammal DNA mods have been around a long time. We all have some. Celeste, “she nodded towards a sleek swimmer at the table, “is about 5% seal and some dolphin. I have some cheetah.” The head had been a runner. “But amphibians, fish … they aren’t safe, aren’t tested. The side effects aren’t known. And …” she glanced towards the dangerous man, “they’re not public domain.”

The dangerous man stood.

“I’m afraid you will have to go with this man.”

Salome’s fear rose, but she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t breathe. A side effect?

Coach could speak though. He reeked of rage.

“Who is this? The military? I won’t let her be a lab rat or spy for these bastards …”

The head silenced him with a gesture.

“This man represents Unified Genetics. They own the patent on the genes Salome ingested. And, as those are an integral part of her DNA now, they own her as well. I’m sorry.”

Coach tried to fight, but the man was strong. Part bear; Salome could smell it. After, she just went along quietly as he led. Perhaps that was a side effect too.

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