Franchesca had just arrived at work and was sitting at her desk when the message on her phone alerted her that the embryo was ready.
The message read: “Congratulations! Your conception has been confirmed! An appointment for genotyping and in utero modification surgery has been scheduled with your physician today at 3:00 PM. If you need to reschedule, reply to this message. An appointment must be made within the next 36 hours or gestation will need to be terminated.”
Franchesca let out a short squeal and started dialing as she leapt up from her chair and walked to the break room.
“Franchesca! How are–”
Franchesca’s mother screamed with excitement on the other end of the line.
“My appointment is not until three. How am I supposed to get any work done before then? Okay, I should get back to work, now, but I just had to tell you!”
Her mother thanked her for calling to tell her before they hung up. Franchesca knew her mother was probably pressing the “purchase and send” button on some shopping app at that second. She had no doubt already gone shopping for a baby gift when Franchesca told her she and her husband had passed all the exams and had earned the Child License last week.
Franchesca looked at the medical bracelet monitor on her wrist. The little plus sign that had been there that morning–and which she had obsessively glanced at every second in the last two hours since she had woken up and seen it–was now replaced with a check mark. She was beaming.
Her phone rang, and when she looked down at the screen, she saw that her husband was calling.
“Did you get the message?” he asked with excitement when she answered.
“Yes!” she exclaimed.
“The appointment is six hours away! How are we supposed to get any work done?”
“I know, right?” Franchesca was laughing as she said it. She was positively elated.
It wasn’t that surprising that she was pregnant, and she felt like she should not have felt this giddy. Over the past two months, since she and her husband had met and married, they had filled out the application, gone through the interview process, and taken the exams to get approved for the Child License. And once they had been approved, they had been assigned a physician and had gone to two appointments to go over all the genetic modifications that would be applied to their child, both the mandatory health modifications and the optional cosmetic modifications. With everything that was involved, she thought she would have been more prepared for this moment. But this was it. She and her husband were having a baby.
“Should we reschedule the appointment so it’s sooner?” he asked.
His suggestion was tempting, but she said, “No. This way we can just take the rest of the day off and go celebrate afterward.”
“Good point,” he said, and she could tell by the tone of his voice that he was even more excited than she was.
After they hung up, she went to her boss’s office and told her about the appointment. Upon hearing the news, her boss sprang to her feet and immediately gave her a hug to congratulate her. Then, she looked at the clock on the wall and said, “Six hours. How will you get any work done?” And they both laughed.
– – –
The six hours did pass, and Franchesca’s husband was already in the waiting room when she arrived.
She checked in with the front desk, and a nurse removed the medical health monitor from her wrist, which had been placed there when they had received the Child License.
When the nurse took the bracelet off, the scar from the vaccine–the seven little bumps–was apparent on her wrist. It had been ten years since the end of The War, the mandatory vaccinations, and the formation of The Sectors, but the scar was still there. She glanced at the wrist of the nurse and saw that he had the scar, too.
At twenty, Franchesca was old enough to remember what life had been like before the end of The War. Before, pregnancies just happened without warning or preparation. At sixteen and unmarried, her mother had been completely unprepared for her. But now there was no more chaos.
A nurse escorted her and her husband to an examination room, and after taking some additional vital signs, a technician entered to perform the reading. Franchesca lifted her shirt and tried not to giggle as the ultrasound probe glided in the cool gel along her belly. Once the exact location of the embryo was detected, the technician clicked a few buttons on the keyboard to activate the uber-ultra-super-high resolution ultrasound sensor.
“Breathe all the way out, and then hold your breath,” the technician instructed.
Franchesca did as she was told, and as she held her breath, the machine recorded.
According to what she had read in the pamphlet, the sensors were able to read the physical structure of the chromosomes and from that physical structure reconstruct the genome.
The machine beeped, and the technician said, “Okay, you can breathe in.”
Franchesca inhaled sharply. She had never been good at holding her breath, but for her baby she would do the best she could to hold it for as long as she could and to stay as still as she could.
She felt the probe move ever so slightly as the technician altered the angle and said, “Okay, breathe all the way out and hold your breath again.”
This–exhaling completely and holding her breath, machine beeping, inhaling while the technician adjusted the probe, and then repeating the procedure–went on for nearly thirty minutes.
“Okay,” the technician finally said as he removed the probe and wiped the gel off with a towel. As he escorted them back to the waiting room, he said, “We’ll check the genetics and call you back in an hour or so.”
Franchesca and her husband sat down and held hands while they waited. They did not talk; there was not much else to say since they had already talked about this so much.
Since their appointments with their physician, both of their genetics had been tested for all possible inheritances, and from that the labs had already configured the sequences for inserting the mandatory health and cosmetic edits they had ordered for any given inherited genes.
So now the geneticist would just have to check and see what genes had actually been inherited and what mutations may have happened, and then the geneticist would have to make sure that all the correct edits would be inserted in the correct way.
Franchesca thought about the modifications that the geneticist was going over at that moment, comparing the current genome to the desired genome. She’d had plenty of time to think of it over the last two months, this hybrid child she would give birth to.
The editing of embryonic genomes was not new; it had been going on long before The War, even. But it wasn’t until after The War that they were mandatory and were done in such a drastic way.
The mandatory modifications were for health so that a pandemic could never happen again–they were paid for by the government and required by law. New edits were prescribed all the time, being added to the list of mandatory edits as new research revealed better genetic sequences. Her child would have the most up-to-date genetics that science could offer. Her child would be the healthiest human in the world at the time of its birth.
The cosmetic modifications were optional and pricey. Franchesca and her husband had only purchased a few–it was a little out of their price range to do so many. Her boss had ordered so many modifications for her kids that they did not resemble each other or either of their parents; they didn’t have the same skin colors, body types, or really any similar features. But of course they were all perfectly beautiful and glamorous. It was becoming the true Coastal look.
When her boss had offered to help her get an advance on her stipend, Franchesca turned it down, telling her boss that ordering so few cosmetic modifications was actually a choice she and her husband had made on their own, irrespective of cost. But she had really wanted to do more.
Even though it was out of their price range, Franchca and her husband had to order at least some cosmetic modifications to show that they had not just thrown caution to the wind. They had to show they cared at least a little bit, right? And what kind of Coastals would they be if they hadn’t ordered any cosmetic modifications at all? They didn’t want to look like Inlanders.
Inlanders were notorious for having children who looked like themselves because they couldn’t afford to do any optional modifications at all. Franchesca and her husband couldn’t afford the extravagant ones, like creating features that they could patent and own the rights to. They definitely couldn’t afford to modify skin color or have a guaranteed sex, like her boss had.
Ensuring a specific sex was a gamble because it was outrageously expensive, but if they ended up not using the edits because the correct sex chromosomes had been naturally inherited, then part of the cost would be refunded. It didn’t matter because Franchesca and her husband could not afford those edits, anyway, even if they got a refund. And they knew they would be happy with either sex, anyway. But it would have been nice to at least be able to tell people the sex had been their decision.
But they sprang for the most important cosmetics, in their minds: height, cheekbones, chin, and distance between the eyes. They would have done the nose, too (they both hated their noses), but they figured that was one they could get surgically changed later in life, if need be. Hair color and some other features could be changed later, too.
She knew she was still a little scared about having modifications done, but more than anything she was excited. After all, the oldest child with the mass modifications was nine, and he was still alive and healthy. Plus, they modified embryos all the time now. There was no reason to worry.
And, anyway, even if she wanted to give in to fear and opt out of doing the modifications, it wouldn’t have mattered; they couldn’t afford to not have the modifications done. Though Coastal, they’re stipends would not be enough to pay for all the additional expenses that came with having a child: the extra food, clothing, toys, school supplies, and whatever else was required.
All child expenses were paid for by the government until the citizen was eighteen, unless their parents did not get the modifications. Who could afford that?
If a Sector citizen opted out and therefore did not get the modifications for their children, then they did not get the increased stipend that would cover additional costs that were not paid for directly by the government, nor would they be assigned new living quarters with extra space. When those citizens who opted went to restaurants or went shopping for clothes or school supplies, they were charged and expected to pay for the children, rather than the clerk charging the government.
Franchesca had heard of some people going that route. The children who did not have the mandatory health modifications were called Purebreds. It was still a relatively new term, since opting out of the modifications had only become a barely-legal option five years ago.
Though she did not know any personally, from what she had heard the Sector citizens who did not have Modified children were either ridiculously wealthy or too poor to cover the costs and therefore had to turn their Purebred children over to the Purebred Community System.
So, even though she technically had a choice, she didn’t really. There was no way she could have ever risked having to give up her child to the System. But she was sure she would have chosen to have the modifications done, even if she could afford not to. She wanted what was best for her child.
– – –
After nearly an hour, a nurse called them back; the physician was ready to perform the procedure.
The technician placed a curtain in front of Franchesca, just above her belly button. She had requested it. Needles made her nervous, so she had told her physician she did not want to see anything. Her husband stayed on her side of the curtain with her. She felt the cool gel being applied and the ultrasound probe being pressed against her skin to be used as a guide, and then she felt the sensation of a long needle penetrating her skin.
Her husband held her hand. It did not take long for them to insert the solution that would somehow remove the undesired genes and insert both the compulsory and cosmetic genes. It felt weird, but it was not necessarily painful, just the uncomfortable sensation of a foreign object being where it should not be.
A minute later, as the technician removed the curtain the physician was wiping away the gel and putting a bandaid on her stomach where the large needle had gone in.
Her physician gave her a topical solution to apply to where the needle had been and told her it should all be healed by the following day.
Franchesca lifted her shirt to look at where the bandaid was and thought about how there was a baby growing somewhere in there. She put her shirt back down and looked up. Her physician was smiling at her and said “Congratulations” to them both. “It’s a girl.”
By then it was almost time for all their friends–all of whom they had already called and invited out for a celebration dinner–to be dismissed from work. Franchesca and her husband went to their favorite restaurant, just in time for their reservation.
Throughout dinner and the rest of the evening, Franchesca found herself touching her stomach to feel the bandage beneath her shirt every so often. Her child would grow up in such a different world than she had. Her child would have a father, the unlimited resources of a Coastal upbringing, complete care provided by the government, and a genome that would make her completely resistant to disease, viral and bacterial infection, and all the genetic disorders that had been prevalent in the world when Franchesca was growing up.
Franchesca involuntarily touched her stomach again. And as their friends talked and laughed around them, her husband caught her eye, and there was a familiar, knowing look shared between them. He smiled as he grabbed her hand under the table and gave it a squeeze.
The Unexpected Inlander is available at Amazon.
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