The Reversal Effect – Short Story – Inspired by Almost Martyrs
Even in the dim light, Oscar’s aged and tired eyes were still so captivating that Salvador overlooked the pistol aimed at him.
“Oscar, there’s no need for this, put the gun down. It is me, Salvador.”
Outside the small apartment, the still humid night had been disturbed when the Army of the Righteous Way stormed in and raided the apartment blocks where Salvador and others had been hiding for the last few months.
“As an agent of TRRI I have to notify you that in accordance with Article 8, Paragraph H of the Righteous Way Code if you are found outside any of the areas approved by TRRI to inhabit, you will have to be tested for the AT-5632 gene. If proven that you have a mutation in the aforementioned gene, you must receive the adequate treatment and subsequent rehabilitation.” Oscar recited mechanically. It was the script that all of The Righteous Reparative Initiative enforcers had to memorise.
The discovery of the AT-5632, commonly referred as the “Gay Gene”, was among the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the turn of the century. It had been determined that a series of combinations in the DNA sequence of humans was responsible for creating the genetic tags that determined an individual’s sexual orientation. Although epigenetics had already established that a few homosexual genetic trait variations were the product of environmental factors, the discovery that only a particular combination, which occurred in the AT-5632 gene, spawned such tags, had once and for all proved the undisputable role of nature when it came to sexual orientation in human beings. There was no more doubt about it. For the first time in years, the entire scientific community had come to a general consensus. However, Doctor Alan Martin, the scientist who made the connection, never imagined that his ground-breaking discovery would eventually be used against homosexuals.
Salvador’s heartbeat raced fast, not for the pistol aimed at him, but for the stream of emotions flowing through his body after seeing Oscar again. For years, he had dreamed of this moment. He knew Oscar had to be alive, the Initiative doesn’t get rid of people fitting his profile. Although Oscar didn’t seem to recognise him, Salvador was still content, and somehow thankful that they had been reunited again, even under those conditions.
“Look at me, Oscar. Can’t you remember me?” Salvador tactfully asked; he didn’t have any clue as what Oscar’s reaction would be.
“Consequentially, you will be now taken, voluntarily or by force, to a facility where your DNA will be run through a series of tests.” Oscar continued with the rehearsed script.
“The children are here,” Salvador interjected, although still cautious.
“A positive result indicating the presence of homosexual DNA tags on your AT-5632 gene will earmark you for immediate vaccination to remedy your condition.”
“We used to be a family, Oscar,” Salvador interrupted while still looking at Oscar’s penetrating blue eyes.
“You will then, attend a Reparative Training Program to facilitate your re-introduction into a new and rightful society.”
“Do you remember Mateo?” Salvador grabbed a young man by his arm and drew him closer.
“A negative result will send you to a holding facility where you’ll be tried in front of a jury for high treason.”
“Our son is 17 now. Look, he’s got your eyes.”
Oscar softened the hold on his pistol and while still reciting his lines, looked into Mateo’s blue eyes. The tall, slim and longhaired young man smiled and let out a soundless “Hi.” Mateo was old enough to have a few fond memories of his other father.
“Romana,” Salvador grabbed a girl’s hand and pulled her into the light. “This is your dad, dear,” he whispered in her ear. Romana was nervous. She didn’t recognise the man standing in front of her. Even though she had heard many stories about Oscar, she didn’t think she’d ever meet him.
“Romana …?” Oscar’s voice broke. His eyes lighted up. He looked at her. “How old are you?”
“Eleven,” The brown skin girl susurrated and held on tight to Salvador’s hand.
While the world celebrated the findings of Doctor Alan Martin, a group of ultra-nationalists and conservatives known as The Righteous Way Party came into power. If homosexuality was caused by a malfunction in the AT-5632 gene, generating the wrong DNA tags, surely there had to exist a way to correct the condition. Thus, the Ministry of Righteous Health funded the research that produced the cure for the so-called genetic error. In a matter of months, The Righteous Reparative Initiative (TRRI) had come up with a plan of action.
Creating a vaccine was the easy part. It was reasonably uncomplicated for the TRRI researchers and scientists to isolate the AT-5632 gene and remove the undesirable DNA tags. The three-course vaccine was administered orally over eight days. In most cases, the side effects would kick in after the last dosage. Most subjects would go through a period of complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy, becoming delirious and developing temporary amnesia. In extreme cases, some individuals would end up with Lacunar Amnesia, the inability to remember a particular event or period of their lives. At the end of the treatment, it was expected that all desire or inkling towards same-sex intimacy would be eradicated.
Vaccination was followed by RTP or Reparative Training Program, which didn’t prove to be either as easy to implement, or as effective as the actual vaccine had turned out to be.
“You don’t have to do this.” Salvador softly pleaded with Oscar as the stomp of boots and loud voices from the Army got closer to their apartment on the third floor of block B.
For a few months, the semi-abandon apartment blocks had been used as a hideaway for dissidents, mostly gays and lesbians, and a few straight allies. However, someone had tipped the Army of the Righteous Way about subversive activities in the area and the Army had decided to ransack the place.
“Oscar, we’ve known each other for over 20 years.” Salvador kept looking directly into Oscar’s eyes. “We were both 18 when we met.” He hoped to find signs or vestiges of the man whom he had loved for years.
“I can’t remember any of you.” Oscar’s strict manner softened. Something felt familiar. “I only carry a feeling, a sentiment, but I don’t know where it comes from.” Oscar lowered his pistol.
“They can purge your habits and even your memories, but they haven’t succeeded in removing your feelings.” A slightly older man with an authority tone in his voice said from the back of the room.
Oscar reacted, tightened the grip on his pistol and pointed at the man. “Do not move! Hands up! Stay where you are!”
At first, a handful of people volunteered for treatment, mostly men, and women who were never content with their own sexual orientation. However, it wasn’t long before members of The Righteous Way Party, which also dominated Parliament, passed a bill to make it compulsory for every citizen to be tested for the AT-5632 gene. Those who refused were incarcerated, tested, taken to reconditioning camps, vaccinated, and released once the Reparative Training Program was deemed successful.
Success was measured by the ability of the subject to engage in heterosexual activities, including intercourse. However, while the subjects had stopped exhibiting homosexual tendencies after receiving the vaccine, most individuals failed to develop any heterosexual traits after reparative training. Most of them had turned asexual.
From the get go, Salvador and Oscar, who had been married for a few years, started to fight the new regime initiative. Many people, straight, bisexual, transgender, and gay joined their crusade. Among them, Doctor Alan Martin.
“The vaccine and program only affect cognitive and behavioural patterns.” The man continued with tact, but also with resolution. “Feelings and emotions seemed to be immune to it.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Alan. Doctor Alan Martin…” He waited to see if Oscar recognised the name. “Both Salvador and you were at my lab when the TRRI Enforcers raided the place and arrested you almost ten years ago.”
“I don’t understand.” Oscar lowered his pistol.
“Alan was the one who discovered the AT-5632 gene. He joined our campaign early on and he’s been working on the cure to revert the effects of the vaccine.” Salvador explained.
When Alan learned the government was using his research findings to promote their oppressive agenda, he contacted Salvador and Oscar to offer his scientific expertise in their campaign of resistance.
The Army of the Righteous Way, following the orders of General Schlesinger, went out to crush the activities and initiatives of the subversive groups who were operating throughout the nation. Salvador and Oscar, the most prominent and vocal dissidents of The Righteous Reparative Initiative, were their first target. Theirs was the largest underground insurgent network, and their association with Alan had made them a dominant group. One day, during a large national clandestine assembly of resistance leaders at Alan’s lab, The Army of the Righteous Way stormed the place. Salvador, Alan and a few were able to escape; however, Oscar and others were caught, incarcerated, vaccinated, and reprogrammed. Oscar, who developed Lacunar Amnesia as a result of the treatment, was trained to be a TRRI Enforcer. It was a common practice for TRRI to take the most physically energetic and resourceful people and train them to be part of the Army.
Salvador, Alan, and the few dissidents, who were able to flee, went off the grid and for ten years they have been fighting the system. They have helped lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and their families flee the nation. It hasn’t been an easy campaign, but there have been a few small victories along the way.
“We don’t have much time. Please, let us go.” Salvador begged as the voices and steps from the Army became closer and louder.
“Colonel Anderson,” a voice came on Oscar’s radio. “This is General Schlesinger. Over.”
“General Schlesinger, come in. Over.” Oscar signalled Salvador and the others to stay quiet. Salvador, Alan, and the children knew that voice very well. They had heard many of his hateful speeches on the Internet, and they were very well aware of Schlesinger plans to basically decimate the nation’s homosexual population.
“Have you found them yet? Over.”
Salvador and Alan looked at each other.
“Negative, General.” Oscar promptly responded. “The place is clear! I’m coming back now. Over.”
Salvador waited for a second to make sure that Oscar’s radio was off.
“Are they looking specifically for us?”
“You can go now,” Oscar didn’t answer. “Avoid the western roads.”
Alan stomped his foot twice on the floor. A wood panel slid on the back wall and a group of men, women and children came out of a hiding place. These were mostly families trying to escape to the safe heaven that southern nations offered. They left through the apartment’s back door carrying a few of their belongings.
Both Salvador and Oscar were quietly staring at each other. Oscar was trying to remember, Salvador was trying to find any signs of Oscar’s old self.
“The labour camps…” Alan interrupted the moment. “Are they for real or just a myth? Do they send their “fails” over there?”
For years, there had been rumours that “fails”, or subjects who had shown resistance to the vaccine were sent to labour camps, but nobody could give faith of where they were located.
“Please Oscar, we need to know.” Salvador pleaded. “The people in those camps can hold the key to revert the effects of The Righteous Reparative Initiative vaccine.”
“I need to find out what it is that make them resistance to treatment in the first place,” Alan added.
“This could even affect you,” Salvador interpolated. “You can be again the man you used to be.”
“The man I used to be …” The idea of having been something else than an enforcer hit Oscar for the first time.
“Yes. The husband and parent you used to be.” Salvador replied. “Wouldn’t that be something?”
“I’ve never been to those camps, but they’re on the northern shore,” Oscar told them.
“Where exactly?” Alan asked.
“They’re spread through a few cities near the lakes. That’s all I know.”
“Thanks.” Alan sincerely said. “We should go now, Salvador.”
“Come on, Daddy.” Romana softly said, but Salvador didn’t answer, he kept gazing into Oscar’s blue eyes. Could this man ever be again the man he used to be? He wondered. The last time he had seen him, Salvador didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. He was finding hard to part ways again.
Oscar tried to reach out to Romana, but she held on tight to Alan’s hand, the only other father she had known.
“Come on Dad, let’s go!” Mateo tried to pull Salvador away.
The screams of people being drag down the stairways and push into buses with their engines already running waiting to fill all the seats to start a journey to an unknown destination were getting too close for comfort. Outside the flat’s back door, the families that had been hiding inside waited for their leaders, Salvador, and Alan, to guide them through their escape.
“Come with us,” Salvador asked Oscar.
“I can’t. You know that.”
Before leaving, Salvador looked one more time into Oscar’s eyes and stole a kiss. Alan looked away. Oscar shivered and ran his hand through Salvador’s black thick curls. It was a familiar feeling.
“Salvador…” His voice trembled.
“We’ll come back for you.” Salvador kissed him again on the mouth.
“You don’t have to. I’ll come find you.”
“Salvador…” Alan carefully pulled him away.
“You should go now.” Oscar pushed him away.
Salvador grabbed his backpack and fled through the back door with his family.
Once outside, Salvador tried to explain his actions to Alan.
“Stop. Don’t say a word yet.” Alan took a swab and wiped Salvador’s lips and tongue. “I need to collect samples before Oscar’s DNA mixes with yours.” Perhaps he could find something in Oscar’s DNA, he thought.
“I had to do it. I just had to kiss him … He is … was… I’m sorry Alan.”
“I know … I know.” Alan downplayed it. He came into the relationship knowing that Salvador’s heart would always belong to Oscar.
They joined their children, Mateo and Romana, and the other families to start their journey.
Ahead, a treacherous passage through a mountain range awaited them. Beyond the hills, they were sure they would find a new place where they could establish a new base, help families escape south, and devise a plan to go to the northern shore in search of the reversal effect.