“I’ve made you an appointment at The Clinic,” her mother announced as they finished luncheon on their private terrace– the one that overlooked the south pond. “With Dr. Gabedian. He’ll see you this afternoon.”
Gabedian. Thayta’s hand nervously drifted to her stomach. Her mother saw and pointedly averted her eyes. Thayta pretended she meant to remove her napkin from her lap. “I have a doctor, Mother. The one who–”
“Gabedian has agreed. He says it can only help his reputation. Lord knows what it will do to ours.” Her mother rose, signaling that the conversation was over.
“Would you like to come?” Thayta called after her.
Regal as ever, her mother turned, hands lightly clasped under her bosom. “Why,” she said in glacial tones, “don’t you ask Finchly’s mother to join you?” She didn’t wait for an answer but disappeared into the house.
Thayta had known her mother was embarrassed by her, maybe even ashamed; still, she’d hoped the high-handed appointment-making meant a thaw in the permafrost. Her hand drifted back to rest on her belly. Oh, Finchly!
The Clinic was a charming antebellum mansion engulfed by a mirrored-glass skyscraper. It seemed incongruous yet apropos, considering what went on inside. Thayta watched a woman waddle like a penguin up the ramp and lean against a white Doric column before continuing through the pneumatic doors. Thayta herself wasn’t showing, but once she walked inside everyone would know she was pregnant. Worse, they would ask questions. About the father. About the baby. She wasn’t prepared for more censure.
The baby fluttered like a trio of dancing butterflies and resolve settled her. Finchly had been a fighter. She could be one, too. She hurried inside.
A white-clothed attendant escorted her to Dr. Gabedian’s waiting room. Thayta wished Finchly were here with her. She sat in the only available chair and pulled out a print-zine to hide in.
“Do you know what you’re having?” The lady seated next to her nudged Thayta’s womb with her eyes.
“A boy,” Thayta said.
“How nice!” Envy tinged the lady’s countenance. “A boy what?”
“Just a boy.” Thayta’s smile stretched tight.
“Oh! A human.” The lady’s smile faltered and her eyes scanned the waiting room for an empty seat next to a more suitable patient. Not finding one, she offered, “I’m hoping for a minotaur. Davinder, my husband, wants a cherub. We don’t care, really. As long as it’s healthy.”
Healthy. The word was bright and brittle. Enhancements were the done thing, but not so long ago recombinant gestation mishaps abounded and enhanced babies rarely made it past their fifth birthday. Still, everyone wanted one.
It had been the same with multiples, then clones and designer babies. Finchly had been a designer baby, called himself a New Darwinian. Survival of the richest, he joked even as his organs failed one by one.
In those early days, parents thought only of picking desirable physical attributes–gender, eye and hair color, bone structure–and avoiding genetic diseases. Finchly’s parents had chosen well; he was breathtaking. Unfortunately, his bodily processes weren’t as carefully planned and in human beings function did not follow form. Finchly hadn’t been expected to live past ten. He’d made twenty-two. A success story.
People told Thayta she was lucky–her parents had opted for gene expressionism. As her mother said, “Life is longevity. Cosmetic surgery can make anyone beautiful, but not everyone can choose to live past one hundred.” That meant Thayta now had eighty years without Finchly, give or take. But she’d have his child. If all went well.
Never, she recalled Finchly saying, let the parents chose. Genes aren’t light switches to be turned on and off at whim. Babies are like caterpillars, the womb a cocoon. To survive, a child should emerge on his or her own. Promise, Thayta, promise me, you won’t interfere.
“Promise, cross my heart. I’ll even make him chew through his own umbilical cord,” she teased and hit him with a pillow, lightly though, so nothing ruptured. “I won’t lift a hand to help.”
The memory seized her heart, clenched it tight. Blinking hard to forestall tears, Thayta told the woman, “My sister has a cherub. She’s learning to fly.” She and the lady chatted a bit more. Still, Thayta was relieved when the nurse called her name and led her to an exam room. She changed into a blue polka dotted hospital gown and matching slippers, then waited for the doctor.
She overheard low voices from the room next door.
“Do you want to know what it is? Or be surprised?” a man’s voice rumbled pleasantly.
“I want to know.” The woman’s voice shook. Thayta’s had done the same at her first ultrasound.
“Congratulations!” the doctor said. “You’re having a griffin.”
“A griffin. We were hoping for one.” Snuffling sounds and low murmuring. Louder, the doctor said, “Now. I’d like to see you back here in four weeks. Gotta keep an eye on those hooves.”
Thayta’s mother would be thrilled if she came home with griffin. Thayta imagined what Finchley would have said about a child with hooves, then wondered what he’d have said if he’d known it worked and she was pregnant. If only she’d–
A perfunctory knock on her door. “Thayta? I’m Dr. Gabedian.” The man with the rumbly voice entered, flipping through her chart. “No hooves, good.” He shook his head. “Everyone wants an ungulate. There isn’t anything worse for a uterus than hooves. Maybe beaks, and griffins have both. But that is why they come see me. To deal with such things. You are here for a different reason, yes?”
He grinned widely. “My first natural in years. Don’t worry, everything will go like clockwork. Not to say humans can’t be as tricky as imps. So, what procedure did you use? Splice and dice?
In uteru implant? Embryonic transplant?”
“Come,” Dr. Gabedian said. “I am a professional. I assure you I can’t be shocked.”
Sex, she whispered and he threw back his head, laughed. “This is the only designer I know that’s been fertile. Any enhancements I should know about?” he asked.
“No.” She took a steadying breath. “I thought I’d let the baby decide what to be.”
“I’m sure he’ll do splendid, but we’ll keep a close eye on him just to be sure. DNA can be very enterprising.” He scribbled on her, no, the baby’s, chart. “Have you picked his name?”
“Yes.” She smiled, the one that had captured Finchly’s broken heart. “Darwin Butterfly.”