The New Millennials: Running the Gauntlet
Wayne Purdy
Six teens answer a casting call to star in a new reality television series produced by the ... Show More
Adventure, Sci Fi, Superhero, Thriller, Young Adult
serial fiction, serial, novel, the ink-stained wretch


     Once a week, the kids were given the opportunity to call home via a videolink that Mr. Loggia had graciously set up in all their homes. Mr. Loggia designed a communications room that ran adjacent to the lounge, providing some privacy from the rest of the group. It was a false privacy, of course, since the iSpys hovered around recording it for the television audience. The personal stories are what the audiences loved most. It gave the fans something to compare themselves too.

     Victoria sat on the chesterfield reading a book while waiting her turn. There was a baseball game on the big screen TV and the boys were standing around it, cheering on the Yankees. She couldn’t help but notice Brock cheering loudest, and she thinks she knows why. Of all the kids, he was the only one to never call home. He was unusually guarded in that one aspect of his life. He never shared any stories from home. She didn’t know if he had any brothers or sisters, she didn’t know what his parent’s did for a living or if they were even still married. She doubted it. He had the sad eyes of a child from a broken home. She knew the look well. She saw it every time she looked in a mirror.

     Victoria was raised by a single mom and she was the middle of five children. Their father left the family after a torrid affair with a co-worker. Now, he had another family, and other financial obligations. He rarely saw his first family, and Victoria preferred it that way. She held onto that anger. She channeled it whenever she competed and it gave her an edge. Her mother struggled to support her kids on the meagre stipend provided by welfare and decided that athletics would be their ticket out. She pushed her kids to succeed. They trained when they weren’t in school. She signed them up for every sport she could. And it was working. Her older brother was offered a scholarship to play football. Already agents were sniffing around her.

     Elisabeth came out of the communications room, her eyes were red and puffy, she had obviously been crying. Not that it was a surprise, Victoria thought. Elisabeth always cried when she called her mother. There was so much love there that Victoria felt a momentary pang of jealousy. She was sure her mother loved her too, and not just because she was her meal ticket. She was sure of it and yet…
     “Who’s next,” Elisabeth said, trying to hide the tremor in her voice.

     “I am,” Victoria said, and walked into the comm room. She closed the door behind her and took a seat at the desk with a big monitor mounted on the wall behind it. The comm room wasn’t much more than a closet. It had a simple white desk with matching chair. The set looked like it came from Ikea. The screen, which served the dual purpose of camera and monitor had no wires visible, presumably they were hidden in the wall. The back wall had a photorealistic mural of a bookshelf, giving the false impression that the call was being recorded in a library of some sort. Not for the first time, Victoria wondered why these calls weren’t done in the actual library.
The screen flickered to life as she took her seat and her mom’s image came into view.

     “There’s my baby,” her mother said. “We all miss you here. Your brother is going to take that scholarship, so we’re all excited about that.”

     “That’s great, Mom. “Tell him I’m proud of him for me?”

     “We are all proud of him,” her mother said. “How are you getting along, Victoria?”

     “I’m doing well, Mom,” she replied. “I’m having fun with my friends. We can’t wait for the competition to start. The treatment will happen today. I had an appointment with DR. Pauer yesterday,” she said, an involuntary shudder rippled down her body at the mere mention of the creepy doctor’s name. She pushed that thought aside.

     “You know what you have to do,” her mother said. “Stay focused. Remember, those aren’t your friends. They are your opponents. This competition is yours for the taking and then we can all be proud of you too.”

     “I know mom. I have to go. I’ll talk to you next week. Love you.”

     “Love you too,” her mom replied and the screen winked off. Victoria’s elbows rested on the desk while her hands supported her head. She tried to forget her mother’s words, tried to forget the insinuation that pride only came after achievements. A tear welled at the corner of her eye and she wiped it away defiantly. Tears were weakness, she knew that.

     After taking a couple minutes to compose herself, she joined her friends, her rivals, in the lounge. They were already deep into conversation and she took a seat without interrupting them.

     “…but who is he?” Wiggles asked.

     “His name is Sturm,” Brock replied. “At least that’s what Dr. Pauer called him."

     “Why is he here? Is he a security guard, or something?”

     “Dunno,” said Brock. “He looks a little rough to be a security guard though.”

     “I didn’t like when he said he’d have his chance soon,” Manny said. “What could that mean? It sounded like a threat to me.”

     “I’m not afraid of him,” Brock said. “I’ve been threatened by bigger men than him.”

Victoria noted an extra tone of bravado in that statement. Brock was a big guy; there weren’t many people bigger than him.

     “Well, I’m scared of him,” Elisabeth said. Victoria hadn’t noticed her still in the lounge. She assumed she’d gone back to her room after her video chat home.

     “You and me both,” Carter piped up.

     “Maybe I am too,” Brock said, holding his thumb and index finger apart nearly microscopically, “just a little bit.” The kids laughed, breaking the nervous tension that had slowly built up in the lounge.

     Mr. Loggia and Sinclair entered the lounge, two iSpys orbiting them. “Are we interrupting?” Mr. Loggia asked.

     “Come on in,” Victoria said. “We were just talking about the man from yesterday. Sturm? What’s he doing here?”

     Mr. Loggia grinned. Far from friendly, it was menacing. “You will find out all in good time.” Then, for the cameras, he added, “You will all find out! Today, however, is a big day. Today is the day you all go for the Treatment!” He let that sentence sink in for dramatic purposes. “Who’s first?”

     The kids all looked from one to the next, no one wanting to volunteer. Finally, Victoria raised her hand. “Let’s do this.”

     Victoria changed into a stark white bodysuit and was led to Dr. Pauer’s operating theatre. It was set up very much like the old Victorian style hospitals, with stadium seating arranged in a circle. In the center, a tube-like chamber sat on a raised platform and a scary ceiling mounted canon pointed downwards. Surprisingly, there were spectators seated in the rows of seats. They broke out into applause when Victoria entered the room.

     “Ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. Loggia crooned. “Our first contestant; Victoria Williams.” They cheered raucously for her. One girl held a sign made from cardboard that read; we love you Victoria! Victoria was astonished. No one told her that the procedure would be live. Mr. Loggia raised his arms, beckoning the audience to silence. “As you all know, Dr. Pauer has made it his life’s work to untap the human potential. He believes that he has accomplished just that. It’s not without its risks, though. It has never been tested on humans.” He paused for effect. “Victoria? Do you wish to continue?”

     Victoria gulped hard. She thought of her mother and how much she was relying on her. She thought about how badly she wanted her to be proud of her. “Yes,” she said as confidently as she could.

     “Excellent,” Mr. Loggia said. “You are contractually obligated anyway!” The crowd laughed at his joke. “What exactly is going to happen, Dr. Pauer?”

     Pauer stepped into the limelight, clearly uncomfortable with all the attention. “I have isolated the gene that is responsible for human evolution. We all possess it and it lays dormant within our unique DNA. I am attempting to jolt it awake, if you will. My patient will be placed in this cryochamber, where her body will be subjected to a deep freeze, -180 degrees Celsius. Once she has been suitably cryonically preserved I will bombard her body with ionic radiation. The gene, which I have dubbed the Pauer Gene, will be tricked into activating, and we will all witness the first, next step in the evolution of humanity!”

     “Sounds exciting!” Mr. Loggia exclaimed. “I didn’t understand a word of it. It sounds like mad science to me!” The audience laughed nervously.

     Dr. Pauer frowned. “I am not a mad scientist,” he grumbled. He took Victoria roughly by the arm and led her to the stage. She lay down on metallic bed and Pauer strapped her arms and feet down.

     “The initial moments are quite painful,” Mr. Loggia explained. “The straps are to keep her from injuring herself.” And to keep me from running away, Victoria thought grimly. Dr. Pauer then pressed a button and the bed slid inside the chamber. A blue light illuminated the tube as it sealed. Victoria felt panicky now. This was a horrible mistake. The chamber hissed and she could feel the temperature drop. The cold burned. She saw ice crystals form on the top of her skin, like frost across a window pane on a wintry morning. She screamed in agony, but still the coldness grew. Finally she blacked out. She never felt the contradictory blast of heat as her body was drenched in controlled doses of radiation. Nor did she feel her body convulse in pain as it protested the cruelty done to it.

     When she woke up, she was lying in her bed. She tried to sit up but a wave of nausea overcame her. She emptied her stomach into a wastebasket that someone had conveniently left at the floor beside her bed. She looked up to see Dr. Pauer standing at the door. He looked giddy, like a child on Christmas morning.

     “I believe it was a success,” he told her.

     “So much for bedside manner,” she said.

     He ignored her. “The Treatment is only Phase One. Phase Two requires a stressor to trigger the gene. You won’t like Phase two, it’s far worse than Phase One.” He could barely contain his excitement, the sadistic monster, Victoria thought. She swallowed a sob. She wasn’t looking forward to Phase Two at all.
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 12/20/2015 1:47:47 AM
  • Andre Clemons commented on :
    12/23/2015 11:24:48 PM
    Wow, Victoria's upbringing is very...tough, and I totally agree with Ryan about her mother being a real piece of work. It's great that we finally got to see a contestant ... Show More
    • Wayne Purdy I always liked my heroes to be flawed. It made them human and relatable. I really hope I'm instilling those qualities in these six kids too. As far as phase 2 goes, it's a safe bet that it will be brutal.
      1/1/2016 4:01:03 AM
  • Ryan Watt commented on :
    12/20/2015 3:35:21 PM
    So the more cliche villain is creating his own heroes. That is a nice touch. The other nice touch is that, while there are more stereotypical comic book-esque villains in ... Show More