The Quill is excited to be publishing a serial novel written by senior Gillian Burnham. The story, titled An Anthem for Samantha, explores the lost city of Atlantis. The Atlantean society in Gillian’s world has a genetic testing and breeding program designed to create the perfect human, and so the novel explores the ethical questions behind genetic testing, the subjective nature of perfection, and a proposed origin story for the Lost City of Atlantis. Following a potentially “perfect” human, Samantha, Gillian’s story is a fascinating original concept that we hope you enjoy!

-Annie Hess ’17

An Anthem for Samantha

By Gillian Burnham ’17

Prologue

He stood with his face pressed up against the glass, watching the graceful movements of the people inside the viewing pit. With few exceptions, they were all beautiful- tall and willowy, with large sparkling eyes and intelligent faces. The women who caught his eye smiled sweetly at him, while the men smirked and flexed their muscles. They were, without a doubt, some of the finest examples of the Atlantean breeding program he had seen. But, he was looking for one in particular. Female, he had been told, with long black hair and a smaller frame than most. He wondered if he could drive a harder bargain because of that small flaw. He sighed. It was unlikely that Dr. Myndr would be willing to sell any of his specimens, and certainly not to a tiny facility on the south side of the island. He had needed to pull enough strings just to gain entrance to this facility

He felt a pair of eyes watching him, and turned around to see Medling Khel watching him. “Beautiful, aren’t they?” the young man asked. “Dr. Myndr is very proud of the work that has been done here. You know, his family has owned this facility for almost ten generations.”

The older man smiled graciously.“Yes, they are quite impressive. Tell me- which one has the most potential?”

“Well-“ and here Khel’s chest swelled, “- we are in possession of no less than seven Fives here.”

“Seven? How impressive,” the older man said. He added carefully, “Of course, if I do remember correctly, in Facility 9 on Saphi, they have no less than nine Fives.”

The younger man sniffed.

“Saphi. I wouldn’t breed pigs with what their facility produces.”

“Hm. The Royal Academy doesn’t share your opinion. There are rumors that they want to institute the Saphi model in every facility.”

Medling Khel smirked. “It may have been a while since you went to the academy, Deimos, but I was always taught that: ‘fast breeding is sloppy breeding’. Saphi has barely been around for two hundred years. Have you checked on the number of malignant mutations-mal mutes- their specimens have?”

“And yours have…?”

“The majority of flaws can be eliminated over ten generations. Most of our specimens have six mal mutes… or less.” He gestured over to the pit. “Take a look at that female in the corner.” Deimos studied the woman. She seemed to be in her late teens or early twenties, with dark hair and a thin build. Unlike the others around her, her face was unremarkable, not ugly, but not particularly striking either. She seemed to feel his stare and looked up. Piercing green eyes met his grey ones, and he suddenly felt as if he was the one behind the glass. Uncomfortable, he turned back to Khel.

“So… what are her traits?”

“She tested positive for five- intelligence, charisma, health, athleticism, and artistic ability. Despite her rather lackluster appearance we believe the beauty trait will be fully apparent in about two generations.” The medling glanced away from Deimos for a moment, then looked him straight in the eye. “And she has no mal mutes.”

Deimos felt his jaw go slack. So this was why his director had wanted this specimen so badly.

“So, how’s the Saphi model looking for your facility now?” Khel crowed.

“In light of…recent information, I may have to persuade our director to pursue an alternative method.” Deimos murmured. He was thinking hard. He realized now that there was no way he would be able to buy the dark- haired female, as he had been commanded. But as every good breeder knew, there was more than one way to get what you needed. “Tell me- is there a way I could meet with that specimen?”

————————————————————————–

A few hours later, Deimos found himself in a dark room, somewhere beneath the floodgates of the Myndr facility. He had had to work fast- calling in favors from a few of the locals he knew, hiring a boat captain, and of course, wiring in the money needed to keep Khel’s mouth shut. None of it would matter if the woman didn’t go for his plan.

The sole door in the room suddenly swung open, and in walked Khel, gripping the dark-haired female’s arm tightly. “Behave yourself,” he grunted into the woman’s ear, then turned to Deimos. “My payment?”

“Is being deposited into your account as we speak. Now, please unhand the specimen and leave us alone.”

Khel shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m already risking enough, letting you talk to her. Do you know what Myndr would do to me if anything happened to this one?”

Deimos looked at him coldly. “That is exactly why we are paying you, medling. If you wish, you may wait outside the door. I assure you, nothing will happen to your precious specimen.” Not yet, he added mentally.

Khel groaned. “Fine. But you owe me, Deimos.” He released his grip, and shoved the woman towards one of the chairs in the room. She regained her balance quickly and sat down with grace, glaring at the man who pushed her. Khel stood looking at the strange scene for a moment- a freeborn man and a breeding specimen, in a cavernous room deep within the bowels of a facility, about to have a conversation. Then he walked out and slammed the door.

Deimos sighed and turned to the woman. She didn’t look nervous, just annoyed at having been drug down into a dark, tiny room to meet with a stranger. She was looking at him with her jade eyes again, appraising him cooly. This time, he stared back. Neither of them spoke for a long while.

Finally, the woman cocked her head and raised her eyebrows. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Oh come on. There must be some reason I am now sitting in a damp room being stared at by a complete stranger.”

“Not a complete stranger. I thought we had a moment earlier.”

“Yes, the viewing pit.” She spat the words out. “Tell me- what’s a third-rate doctor like you doing at the lovely Myndr facility? Checking out the competition? Or-” her eyes narrowed, “looking into getting some new blood for your half-baked gene pool?”

Update on September 27, 2016: 

It was Deimos’s turn to raise an eyebrow.“They said you were a handful. And how did you know my facility is in such dire straights?”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Please. You put up with Khel’s chattering for nearly half an hour. You must be really desperate.”

Deimos grimaced, then held out his hand. “If you’ll accept the acquaintanceship of a ‘third-rate doctor’, I’m Deimos.”

She shook it warily. “Merlelle 7.”

“That’s an unusual name, even for a specimen.”

Merlelle 7 shrugged. “My four-times great-grandmother, Merlelle 1, was the first person in the entire breeding program to have no mal mutes. She passed this down to me- as I’m sure you know.”

Deimos smiled. “My dear Miss Merlelle, you are remarkably astute for one so cut off from the freeborn world.”

She smiled sweetly. “Smart gene is working hard today.” Her face became serious. “What is it that you want, Dr. Deimos?”

“Just like you said earlier- ‘to get some new blood for my facility’s half-baked gene pool’. You are one of the most extraordinary specimens I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m one of the most extraordinary specimens anyone has ever seen- which is exactly why you won’t be able to purchase me. Do you really think Myndr would sell his precious little 5 traited- 0 mal muted to some no-account facility in- where did you say you were based again?”

“I didn’t, and I don’t intend to just yet. I will tell you, however, that it is a quiet, private sort of place, with no medlings and no viewing pit. Our specimens- our people- report a high level of satisfaction with their living quarters, their diet, and their amount of personal freedom. We have also completely ceased the culling process, and instead our fully bred specimens are released back into the freeborn Atlantean population.”

“Why are you telling me this, Doctor?” Merlelle 7 asked quietly.

Deimos leaned over. “Oh, I think you know. Miss Merlelle, I am offering you a rare opportunity here. Our facility wants you, needs you. And in return for your willingness to experience, ah, an unsanctioned transfer, we will give you privileges you could never have dreamed of here. Like the ability to see the outside world. I travel to facilities all over the island, and believe me, I know people like you who would give their right arm to do that. Hell, I may even be able to broker a deal to our director, make it so after you’ve been bred, say, five times, you’re released. Just like that. No strings attached.”

Merlelle 7 was quiet for a long time. “Come on, Miss Merlelle,” Deimos said desperately. “I feel your anger with this place. Come with me.  I can give you what you want.”

Just when he thought he had lost her, she looked at him. He saw green fire blaze in her eyes. She stood up, her chin held high, her back ramrod straight. She was no longer “the dark-haired specimen,”  the 5-0, someone to be appraised and haggled over. She looked as proud and as powerful as any freeborn he had ever seen.

“Did you know, Deimos, I am an anomaly in this facility. Not only am I the most ‘genetically perfect’ specimen anyone has ever seen, I actually knew my parents. Personally, not from breeding records. It was the director’s son’s idea, see? He was an interesting fellow, fresh out of the academy, when he found out that the historic Merlelle line was going to get a new member. He convinced his father, somehow, that my traits would more quickly develop in a ‘nurturing environment.’ And so, my father actually got to live with my mother…and me, when I arrived a little later. We were a family- the only damn family this place had ever seen.  

And guess what? The son’s experiment worked. I was born- and I was so amazingly wonderful, being a 5-0 and all, and my traits manifested at such a fast rate that the director allowed my parents to breed again, hoping to duplicate my success. Only when my baby brother was born, there was something badly wrong.”

Her eyes took on a glazed, stony look. “The poor little thing- he looked so beautiful when I first saw him. It wasn’t until a little later that we noticed something wasn’t right. He bruised at the slightest touch, and when the doctors stuck needles in him, he wouldn’t stop bleeding. The director was frantic. Somehow, the pristine Merlelle line had failed him, and he wanted to know why. So he ordered blood tests for everyone in my family. Turns out, Merlelle 5 had manifested a hemophilia mal mute. My mother was a carrier. My brother bore the brunt of the disease.”

She looked at Deimos, and while her voice was rough with tears, her words were clear. “They were both culled, of course. My father was shipped off to another facility for a good price, considering how many breeding years he had left. The son’s great experiment was halted indefinitely. But at least it wasn’t a complete waste. l was still there- and still untainted by any mal mutes. The 5-0.”

She spoke again and her voice was filled with fury and determination. “I will do anything you ask to get out of this place.”

Go to Part 2.