Instructions: Read or watch Silk-Jazmyne Hindus's story, "Build-a-Baby" then VOTE on the ending using the online poll below!
Our incubator installer was an attractive woman. Incredibly tall, over two meters high, with skin so smooth it looked spread on. Slanted hazel eyes. Buzzed sides of her head and underneath with just a chunk of hair held in a high ponytail. Green uniform and white soft soled sneakers.
Installers are revered. Good Installers ensure a fast growing, healthy baby. They offer no guarantee but miscarriages are almost a thing of the past. The first and last reported case was due to a power failure during the third war which destroyed the power grid. Ever since, expectant parents are requested to be either off the grid or lease a backup generator during incubation.
I extended my hand as she stepped in. "Alexis," I told her. "You can call me Alex." She shook my hand.
"Marjorie," she told us while shaking my wife's hand.
"I go by Nora."
"Nice to meet you," I said. "Marjorie...isn't that the Scottish name for pearl?" She raised an eyebrow at me.
"Search engine buff," I replied. "I work nights so sometimes when I need a break, I look up different things. It keeps me connected to the outside world when I spend most of my time in the house."
"Oh wow," she said. Then she glanced at my wife.
"I'm a civil designer," Nora said. "I design mostly municipal buildings, roadways, and such. I love patterns and making things seamless."
"My kind of woman," she said with a smile. "That's totally what I'm here for, to make sure your experience goes seamlessly."
"Would you like something to drink?" I asked.
"I'm okay, thank you," Marjorie replied.
"Right to work. I understand that." I turned and lead her up the stairs to the nursery.
"You used one of your eggs?" she asked opening up the blue leather book bag. It looked like a jetpack with two large tubular shapes next to each other with the compartment on the bottom and silver tracks for the zippers. She lifted the left canister that was held inside and placed it into an opening at the bottom of the incubator. She pressed a button that closed the bottom with a slurp. She did the same for the second canister. I nodded. "The supplements you took prior to the procedure gave you the strongest eggs possible," she added. "Your application wouldn't have been approved if there were any abnormalities in the genetic code."
"I remember reading that in the pamphlet. Didn't know how true it was."
She toggled a few nobs, checked the wires in the back of the machine. "Incredibly true," she said. "People able to emotionally and monetarily care for children should have all the help they can get to reproduce."
"What about people who can't?"
"Afford to emotionally and monetarily?"
"Then they shouldn't," she shrugged while standing up with her tablet in hand. There were levels on the screen. Columns in different colors.
"What are those?"
"Your embryo's vitals," she turned the screen towards me. "You'll get the updates of each stage that'll automatically be transmitted to our servers as well. The incubator will constantly vary the environment as necessary, completely mimicking what used to occur in the mother's womb. At the points were certain genetic displays are determined, I'll be telecommunicating with you and your wife on choices."
"Eye color, hair color, hair type, body shape, etc," she answered. "All within reason of course unless you choose to upgrade your services package. Typically, there's two options per feature based on dominant and recessive genes but if you want something that's not already included, we'll have to add in genetic links to get your desired result."
"So if I wanted my child to have curly hair but it wasn't in my code, I could pay for it?"
"Exactly," she smiled sweetly. "We at Build a Baby believe that every parent should get the child they want. We also include behavioral modifications as well."
"That's a lot to take it," Nora said. "I don't remember reading it in the manual."
"We choose not to advertise options as a means of discretion for past clients," she told us. "See, some people could give grief to new parents about their choices or family members would want to weigh in on the choices."
"What about word of mouth?" I asked.
"Remember the paperwork we had you read, review and sign before today's appointment?" Nora and I nodded. "There was the NDA portion which legally requests for your own discretion. But let's not focus on that legal jibber jab. Let's get this baby ready to go!"
The incubator was just a little more than half my height. Shiny metallic material with a glass top. Marjorie pressed on her tablet, moving levels up, down, evening them out. Nora and I were quiet as she finished her work. "All done."
"So, what do we do now?" I asked.
"Honestly? Wait." she said. "Your egg has been impregnated so you'll be getting a notification of pregnancy confirmation. I've made sure the incubator is synced to your home system. I'll be back in two weeks to check on things."
It took two days for the pregnancy confirmation to chime through the house. Sansa, the virtual home assistant announced it at dinner with a purple hue. Nora immediately stopped eating and grabbed the wine she'd bought the afternoon the installer arrived. We laughed. We cried. We kissed. We drank. We made love. We were going to have a family.
"Congratulations!" Marjorie told us via telecom. "Welcome to parenthood."
"Well I mean, not technically," I said.
"Did you apply for a permit?" Marjorie asked.
"Purchase the incubator, provide your egg, hire us?"
"Then you're a parent. Both of you," she said. "You're taking steps to bring life into the world." She smiled. "Whether or not you carry the child or even share genetic code with them is neither here nor there. You're going to love and provide for this child. That's what makes a parent."
"Wow," Nora said. "That's beautiful."
"It's from our handbook but it's true," she laughed.
"So how does this work?"
"It's super simple. Our engineers are some of the best in the world and it shows in the technology," Marjorie flashed us her tablet. "For the next nine months, I will have this with me at all times. At each genetic marker, I'll send a notification that'll inform you of the window. The window is a 24 hour period in which you can make genetic alterations. We keep it short as to not stunt the growth of the fetus. You don't want to plan a birthing party and your baby comes days late right." she was standing in front of an incubator. "When you receive the notification, you come and turn the knobs to get your desired result. The variance will change with each feature. So if it's time to pick eye color, one knob will control color while the other will control brightness." An image appeared on the wall. "This is just a template offspring but watch." Marjorie used one knob to select a blue green hue and the other to make it dark. "And you can change as many times as you want prior to the closing of the window. But be aware that whatever is selected upon closing is what you're going to get."
"So when's the first selection?" I asked.
"Now," she smiled. "Today is body type." she pressed the tablet. "So it looks like our base code is giving us a max of six feet and minimum of five foot seven."
"We requested a tall donor," Nora said. She was no means short at five foot four but it was rare. The average person was at least five foot six so she often was teased as a child and even picked at a bit as an adult.
"Understandable," Marjorie said. "So step up to the incubator," she told us. I extended my hand to Nora, waving her on. Nora placed one hand on the left knob. The template baby was gone, replaced by an adult outline. "Turn it," Nora did so which stretched the outline up. "Try the right one," which pushed the outline horizontally. "See how it varies." she said. "I'll check it when it's time for the next window."
Each day, I checked my wristlet, waiting for word from Marjorie. The chime and purple hue of her call. Even in the middle of the night while I was working. Letters. Numbers. Grammatical marks to instruct programs how to move. Where to go.
The first modification after height and body shape was hair color and type.
"Curly," Nora said.
"So predictable," I replied.
"You have curly hair."
"And it's boring."
"I love your hair."
"So about 3c"
"Too typical. I say 4b."
Nora turned the left dial and a baby face with hair appeared. Thick tight curls appeared.
"Ooooh, I want blonde!"
"Like a gold blonde."
"That's going to look crazy."
"No it's not. We just have to keep it in mind when the window comes for eye color. I wonder if we can get swatches?"
"Swatches, for our future child's hair?"
"Doesn't hurt to try."
Marjorie assured us there weren't any swatches, but she'd see if we could download the color to keep in mind.
Next was fingers and toe types.
"What does that even mean?" I asked Nora.
"I guess long versus short."
"Then long cause we chose it to be tall."
"Well I mean we didn't pick the sex yet."
"Do we get to choose the sex?"
"Why wouldn't we?"
"That seems like a fifty fifty either way."
"Point taken, long fingers and toes?"
"Works for me."
"You have a non-existent eyebrow and almost beady eyes."
"Sheesh, tell me how you really feel," she kissed me. "I'm still mad at you."
"No you're not, not in your nature."
Then it was personality type.
"This seems silly," I told Nora. "I mean who wouldn't pick an obedient, quiet child."
"Quiet obedient children can easily become adults who get walked all over."
"So you want a strong willed toddler running around tearing down everything."
"I didn't say that," Nora said. "Let's just consider the positive attributes of someone strong willed. We can't just think about what we want as parents but how this will affect her down the line?"
"Her?" I asked. "You want a girl?"
She smiled and shrugged, "I wouldn't mind a little you running around," she said kissing my nose. "I happen to enjoy your stubbornness."
I had just began a shift when my wristlet went off. The house was quiet, Nora already fast asleep in our bed. Lightly snoring. I walked into the nursery to find Marjorie in a crumpled t-shirt. Hair tousled. Eyes unfocused behind thick lenses.
"Glasses?" I asked. "Your parents didn't modify you?"
She yawned, shook her head. "Couldn't afford to," she replied. "Where's your wife?"
"I think this is something to wake her up for."
Nora hurriedly jumped out of the bed when I told her who telecommed in.
"I apologize for the late hour but I have pressing news that I didn't want to wait on."
"It's time for the window for the sexes," she told us.
"Sexes?" I asked. "What do you mean?"
Nora covered her mouth. I could see the smile through her hands.
"What am I missing?"
"We're having multiples," Nora belted. She looked at Marjorie for confirmation.
"H-how can that happen?" I asked. "I mean we didn't request twins."
"Every so often, it happens too quickly for us to catch. It's actually the only modification we haven't patented yet. All the features you've chosen so far will apply to both fetuses. Any features chosen from here on out will be by each child." She smiled wide. "So what do you say? What are you having?"
We decided on a boy and girl just to be fair. We painted the nursery forest green. The color of earthly leaves. What I imagined Ireland looked like. Rolling hills of trees and shrubs. We decided on one crib with a divider. Our research informed us that modified twins needed each other even more than unmodified ones. Something about the genetic code almost missing one another after leaving the incubator.
At first, we waited for Marjorie's calls with suggestions and desires and selections. Then we began to call her. Filling her in on little tweaks we'd like done. We had the money and figured why spare any expense. We worked hard and were having two after all.
Then the time came when we began reaching out separately, each picking a child to craft to our liking. I with my notes of voice patterns and accent cadences. Nora with learning styles and love languages. We were mad women. Wielders of science and genius when standing at the two knobs on top of a silver drum in a nursery room.
We should have known our tickering would have more consequence then we initial thought.
But instead we had to learn by pain and misfortune.
We held each other like we knew bad news was coming. "We need to talk" has ever been a great phrase to hear. But was even scarier coming from our installer. Marjorie wasn't in a command room like the majority of telecoms before. She stood in a purple hued room. Headset off. Sitting down instead of her usual standing. She offered us to sit so we did on the loveseat of the nursery. Marjorie told us that there was a pressing issue. That either only one or none of the children could proceed during the process. That our multiple modifications weakened them.
"Wait a second," I said. "You want us to chose one?" she nodded. "Why didn't you tell us about this risk before?"
"It was all in the paperwork," Marjorie said.
"But our physician said the labs came back great that a successful birth was imminent."
"Yes, for an unaltered child," she replied. "You have not only one, but two incredibly altered fetuses."
"Then why the hell offer someone when-"
"You seem distressed," she cut me off. "Let's reconvene at a later date."
The call ended. The room silent. Just my wife and I in silence. It wasn't until Nora touched my hand that I realized I'd been shaking. That my anger was rumbling just beneath my skin. IT was true. Two babies were in the device next to us but we'd only get to meet one.
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