Jim Kennedy rubbed his hands together nervously as he scanned the room. He just got new glasses and they were pinching his nose. He stroked his bald head. A nervous tick left over from adolescence. The people that walked by were dressed in electronic clothing that had come out in 2170. The fabric was solar powered and automatically charged any electronic items on person. The only problem was that the public thought it was too gaudy in the 70s, but in the last ten years, they had slowly become more popular. Jim Kennedy was dressed in a black suit; something that never went out of style. Jim was a lanky man. His hair had started falling out when he was thirty. He always joked that he was lucky he had met his wife, Carol before all his hair fell out. That is, until she died. He sighed. The world was about to enter the twenty-third century and they still hadn’t cured cancer.
They can put a colony on Mars, but they can’t cure cancer. They can make a space elevator, but they can’t cure cancer. They can engineer genetically optimal offspring for close to no cost, but they can’t cure cancer.
He supposed that getting rid of the genetic disposition for cancer could be argued to be a cure, but that didn’t help people like him and Carol, the last generation of which the majority was born naturally. Now close to ninety-eight per cent of all babies born this year were genetically engineered.
There was a little ding from the receptionist’s scanner as she scanned in a new patient, another pregnant woman and her husband. Jim couldn’t stand waiting rooms for exactly that reason. Everything has to ding nowadays. The pregnant woman had blonde hair and blue eyes, just like the receptionist, the husband and the majority of the younger people in the waiting room. No one was bald like Jim. Jim sighed; he and Carol had always joked about his baldness, as she would pat his head and say he was not bald, but merely streamlined. The jokes became less frequent during Carol’s chemotherapy of course. Jim actually thought baldness quite suited her; she bore it with a grace and indifference which he quite admired.
He sighed again and stroked his head. Another ding sounded and a synthetic voice came across the tannoy: ‘Mr Kennedy’s appointment is now ready. Gene Therapy Technician, Doctor Savery is waiting in room M15’. Jim’s watch told him the appointment was exactly on time. It irritated him.
Smoothing down his suit, he left the ding-filled waiting room and walked down an extraordinarily clean corridor to the door marked M15, G.T.T Savery M.D. He knocked and a voice told him to enter with rehearsed tranquility.
He pushed open the door made of minimalist frosted glass. On the other side was a simple office. A desk with its back to an open window sat on a grey shag carpet. London sat in the background. A goldfish swam in a gigantic tank all by itself on the right. The tank was a part of the wall. Behind the desk sat a fat man with a red face: the presumed Dr. Savery. His grotesque mustache sat like a brown caterpillar under his button nose.
He looked like a character out of a fairy tale. The type of character that deceives the naïve protagonist into mistrusting him.
Fortunately, Jim was no protagonist in any story. And even if he were to be, he would be far from the naïve type.
“I want a baby. My wife is dead. I want a son.”
The cheerfulness drained from Savery’s face. This gave Jim a little bit of satisfaction. “I see. I’m sorry for your loss. Do you have a sample of her DNA that we may use?”
“I do. I have a bit of her hair. And I want it to be genetically paired with mine.”
“Naturally. What sort of package shall we give you? The standard? This includes the best resilience against disease, best possible physical specimen given the gene pool, and opting out of unsightly or undesirable characteristics. Choice of eye color and hair color. It’s possible to give you some additional depth if we add a third party of DNA. We have some choice specimens to sample. They’re a little on the pricey side, because of limited supply and high demand, but I think for a customer such as yourself, we can give you a special discount. Five per cent? Seven?”
“No. I don’t want any of that. My wife and me only. And I want the characteristics to be randomized.”
“Yes, I don’t want any say in the matter.”
“Sir, I don’t understand. Your son could turn out to have a predisposition to heart disease or alcoholism that could be avoided. Or worse, he could turn out to be mentally handicapped.”
“When you put it that way, there are some things I would like to have control over.”
“There, I knew you were a reasonable man.”
“I want him to be predisposed to male pattern baldness. I, my father, my grandfather, and my great grandfather all had male pattern baldness. I want my son to have male pattern baldness.”
Savery’s face contorted. “Are you joking? Is this a joke?”
Jim didn’t say anything.
“I don’t understand. Why would you refuse to give your child every advantage? It’s just cruelty to withhold the best chance from them.”
“Their best chance? I’m sorry, now I’m the one who is confused. I am giving my son the chance to understand what it means to be human. To find wonder and beauty in imperfection. When my wife died, she was bald. She was the most beautiful person I knew. Nobody comes close to her equal. She was not born with these so-called ‘advantages’. This is what she would want. That his humanity and random roll of the dice fall where they may lie. And that the roll be viewed without the rose-colored lenses of ‘fortune’ against ‘misfortune’. ‘Advantage’ against ‘disadvantage’. ‘Desirable’ against ‘undesirable’. What a juvenile way to look at things. What are we? Are we worshipers of the physical and appearance of youth and health? No. Death is inescapable. Bald or not, it’s how we live life. Not how we look while we live it.”
Savery was sitting back in his chair. It strained in the effort to hold him up. His floppy chin hung over his collar and rested on the knot of his tie. His eyes bugged out of his head. He looked like he was about to suffocate.
Jim rose from his chair. He put the vial with the DNA samples on the desk.
“Now do your job. Call me when you have our son. And keep your third party samples away from him.”
With that, Jim walked out of that place, with no intention of returning to such a shrine of the vessel and not its contents.
If he had the choice, he would have walked out of that place with Carol and they would have made a child on their own.
He stopped and looked up at the overcast sky. “A promise is a promise, huh? I hope you think it’s worth it.”
And with the crack of sunshine through the clouds, he knew it was a resounding “Of course it is.”
A collaboration with the highly talented Matt of http://tooflytorecognize.tumblr.com/ It was his idea to this sci-fi collaboration and it was an honour to be asked to do it with him and share a part of his vision. Please do enjoy :)