Ezmeralda's Birthday

Ezmeralda resented her birthday. It irritated her the same way the hole in her shoe did, reminding her every step that good soles were a luxury she couldn't afford.

Her birthday did the same, reminding her that she should be throwing a party, receiving presents, taking a day off. All the advertisements and shows said so.

She didn't take the day off. Ezmeralda spent it wriggling into her waders the way she always did, settling into her water-bike, and working the kelp fields. "Combing," they called it, because the kelp strands grew better if they weren't all tangled up.

At the end of the day, her muscles ached, her skin itched, salt caked her hair, and she still had a three-mile walk home. Despite the ordeal, thinking of the walk made her smile. It had been on her walk home a couple months ago that she found something buried in the salty mud beside the road. A two thousand-dollar bill. Enough to pay her rent for a month. Enough to buy new shoes. Enough to buy fish. Her mouth had watered at the thought. 

Ezmeralda had done none of these things. She saved it, put the bill under the loose cap of a metal fencepost out front of her building. She was sure no one else knew about the spot. That bill had kept her going. Changed her. She saved more, saved everything she could. She studied textbooks she rescued from the recycling yards, learning about business and economics. More than a month's rent, the money was a symbol of her opportunity to change.

The windows to her room were dark as she approached from the back. Strange,   roommates always got back before she did. Had the power company cut them off again? But she didn't see candlelight either.She approached the door slowly, unlocked it as quietly as she could, and—"SURPRISE!"

Her roommates Ikuyo, Urbek, and Murray flipped on the lights and cheered her return. Ezmeralda forced herself to smile and accept their cheer. They'd meant well, and—was that grilled salmon they were herding her toward? 

"But, no! We can't afford this!"

"We can today," cried Urbek. "Urbek got lucky," Murray said.

Ikuyo chimed in. "Someone crashed into the fence out front." 

"Real hit and run," Urbek said. "Fence's mangled. I'm sure the landlord won't bother fixing it."

"But in all that mess," Ikuyo continued, "Urbek found a two thousand-dollar bill! We all agreed to use it for your birthday."

"We know how much you miss fish," Murray said. "Of course, we each get a bite, too.

"Tears of anguish mingled with her broad smile, which wasn't feigned as she'd expected. Her friends loved her. She really wanted the money, but they loved her.

She could keep saving. Losing the money didn't end her ambitions. It just made her want to lift her friends up with her.


Link to the science article that inspired this story: Ants, Seaweed, Chocolate Beer And (Maybe) Less Meat: The Future Of Food

A Park Full of Sun

The day began flawlessly in Walt Disney, Florida—formerly Bay Lake, Florida.

It boasted the clear sky and sunshine that appeared on all the advertisements. Dan Bacall stepped into Epcot the moment it opened. Standing where they could take in the grand view, he lifted his two children into his arms and hugged them. "Smell that? That's the smell of joy."

Eugene and Haley didn't even complain about how corny he was, they were that excited.

Their first destination was the newest attraction: The reopened Mission: Space claimed to be the most realistic space travel on the planet Earth. The kids were frantic over it, and though Dan hid it well, he was just as excited.

They joined the short line and bubbled with anticipation as the line grew long behind them. They couldn't even see the end. They were about to enter when a Disney-branded employee appeared beside him. "Dan Bacall? A word."

"Uh, hold our place in line, kids. I'll be right back." He joined the employee a few steps away. "Yes?"

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to bar you from this attraction."

Dan's heart fell into his stomach. "What? Why?"

"You have several markers in your genetic code for myocardial infarction, particularly in response to high-stress situations such as that produced by Mission: Space, especially its g-force simulator. It's for your own safety."

"How—my genome's supposed to be private! Encrypted! I... I was sure I saw something like that at the clinic." Anger, confusion, and gut-wrenching anxiety about missing the ride warred for primacy.

"You granted us access to your encrypted medical files as a precondition of entering the park, Mr Bacall."

"It's my choice!" Dan couldn't help raising his voice. He looked back at his children, standing beside the line, looking uncomfortable and a little scared.

"We can't open ourselves to the liability." The employee remain unperturbed. "We can't knowingly admit someone with your condition to the ride."

"But why even look? You didn't have to know." Dan tried to keep his voice from cracking.

"I don't control policy, sir."

Dan turned to his kids slumped in defeat. "They say I can't go on this ride." He was too stunned to even make up a palatable lie, despite feeling like he should shelter them from this manufactured injustice. "I'll meet you at the exit."

"Uh, actually." The employee admitting people to Mission: Space spoke up. "They're too young to go in without a guardian." She didn't have the confidence of the other employee. Maybe she didn't have to say this as often.

Standing to the side, watching others take their place, the Bacall family stood in the only shadow in a park full of sun.

Inspired the story To Protect Genetic Privacy Encrypt Your DNA on Wired.com


Kevin Crosby