Boundaries Of Reproduction

Entry by: quietmandave

5th December 2017
Julie paused at the door and turned fleetingly to Hugh. 'Remember when you could have as many as you wanted?'
The uniformed man stared into the retina identification device and the door clicked. 'Twenty minutes'. He held the door open just long enough for Julie and Hugh to enter, then slammed it behind them. The light was low but the door's absorbed echo told them that the room was neither large nor small, and full of liquid. Their eyes accustomed to the light.
'No neglect,' said Hugh.
'I'm just saying when you only get one child you look after them.'
'Why would anyone neglect a child?' replied Julie.
'Heir and a spare.' Hugh laughed. 'That's what kings used to say. Just saying, if something happened to one, you had another.'
'And now?'
'Now we look after the one.'
Julie held his hand and they walked into the centre of the room. A room thinly lit and filled with vertical cylinders of thin purple liquid, in the corner of each a small pink baby.
'Thirty seven weeks,' mused Julie. 'They're all beautiful.'
'I preferred it when they stayed inside you,' replied Hugh. 'I think they're really ugly. My dad said I was ugly until I was two years old. I don't think he even picked me up before that. certainly I know he never changed a nappy.'
'You will though.'
'Yes, I will.'
'I'd report you-'
'I know. I will. I want to. You don't need to invoke the law on me.' Julie saw the look of hurt on Hugh's face but said nothing. Better to keep him on his toes. She prodded further. 'You've agreed to take time off. The full six months.'
'Yes.' Hugh was irritated.
Julie smiled.
Hugh snapped. 'I'll take six months, but don't expect them to give me an easy ride when I go back. I'll need help. They let you have six months but the hard bit is getting back onto the career escalator after that. Probably a good thing we can only have one. Never let me back on if I did it twice.'
'At least this way it's the same for both of us. The same experience. We can both be there at the birth, we can both feel the same emotions. Not like the old days when I would have been too tired to make a connection. I've not heard anyone say that they miss twelve hour labour. Or stretch marks. Or complain about how good their sex life still is after a child.'
'There's a tiny chance-'
But Julie broke Hugh off mid sentence. 'It's just a tiny chance. What do they say? Two percent of women can still conceive. One and a half percent of men aren't sterile. The chance is tiny. This is the one baby we're going to have. Don't even think about anything else.'
Hugh chewed his lip. 'What if we get it wrong?'
'They're all perfect.'
'But what if we're not compatible?'
'That's why we're here.'
'It's a bit touchy feely.'
'It's science.'
Hugh couldn't get used to the way Julie said 'it's science'. She said it with a conviction that he didn't subscribe to. Science could make mistakes, he knew that. She didn't.
'What?' asked Julie playfully. 'We need to start. We don't have long.'
They walked past each of the glass cylinders. Julie willed each near fully formed baby to raise its head, to somehow acknowledge a connection. They all contained an element of her DNA and Hugh's DNA. Their body shapes were all familiar, yet different. Screened to perfection. Guaranteed. What did that mean? What happened if something went wrong? No, it never did. Nothing ever went wrong. Nobody had ever said anything had gone wrong with any baby from this facility.
'We'll walk round again,' suggested Hugh.
Julie wasn't sure. One of the babies was meant to make a connection. They had first choice of the entire batch. It was a privilege. Perhaps that was better than three or even four connections and having to make a difficult choice. After all, if you chose your favourite and then there's a problem, what might the others have been like? No, it was better this way. It sometimes happened. It wasn't how anyone wanted it to be, but sometimes it happened on the second rotation.
'We're making too much noise,' concluded Hugh. 'We need silence. Then we need to walk slowly.'
Julie didn't agree, she wanted the babies to feel her and Hugh, wanted the baby to be comfortable with their words and their footsteps. She wanted to walk round in as natural a way as possible.
'It's like Brave New World,' she said.
'It is.'
Julie knew he had never read the book. 'Sex for pleasure. And now babies grown outside any woman's womb. I know we had to work out how to do this to ensure we survived, but isn't this a miracle?'
'We,' laughed Hugh.
'The scientists.'
'Ah, science.' Hugh could never resist a barb, it ate him up until he released it. Hugh started his second circuit of the cylinders. Julie caught up immediately. At each cylinder they paused, willing the baby to acknowledge their presence. Time and again nothing.
But on the very last cylinder the baby raised its head and - Julie was sure of it - he smiled. She was so sure that it became a permanent fixture of her dinner party conversation. She reached out her hand but Hugh slapped it down and pulled her towards the door. It opened.
'Eight seconds left. You cut it fine,' said the uniformed man. 'We'll prepare him now.' He handed them a card with a time two weeks ahead. 'You're invited to the birth of your child,' he said, as if this was the first time he had said the words to anyone. 'Of course you know it's a boy. Have you selected a name yet?'