I arrive only a few minutes late at the terminal, and already the clients I’ve been sent to pick up have managed to get themselves into trouble. Typical tourists. I climb atop the information desk to get a better view, and compare the faces of the cowering countrymen to the file I was sent yesterday. I got a bonus with my last upgrade, and so the computer runs facial recognition for me. Same bone structure, behavior fitting with their profiles, and a transport canister whose faulty levitators belay its borrowed state. It’s going to be a long day. I jump down from my vantage point, and plunge into the fray. It hasn’t gotten physical yet, but its about to.
“People, people, lets all move back for a moment. Settle down, please.” I have an authoritative voice, and one by one hackles are lowered and most of the bystanders abandon their approach and shuffle off. As the riffraff clears, I can once again see the two I’ve been sent to collect, standing with their backs against the wall, still shaking as they stare at their original antagonist.
“Patrick Breukner, M.D., I believe these are my charges,” I say to the lingering crowd. Before I can finish, the trembling man interrupts me. He’s got watery blue eyes that are a bit too small and far apart to look attractive, and his wife’s got flyaway haystack hair that makes up for his baldness. I’m informed that his name is Peter Wallace, and hers is Bethesda. He grabs my arm, and shakes it incessantly.
“This man,” he says to me, jabbing a finger threateningly in the direction of his former adversary, face as serious as if conveying some sort of secret revelation, “has three eyes.” He stares at me, hoping for confirmation. I swear someone in admin must hate me. I always get the bumpkins. Turning to the man, I apologize on behalf of the Wallaces, explaining out of their earshot that they’re from some rural part of Old Maine. He nods understandingly, winks jokingly at them, and leaves.
“I saw them too!” insists Bethesda. “All three, and they weren’t natural-looking either!”
“Your point being?” I respond, slightly irked. “He must’ve been born with two that weren’t fully developed. So his parents got him an implant, and now he can see as well as anyone. I know, I know, why’d he leave the other two there if they didn’t work, that’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?” I figure that I can turn this into some sort of lesson. After all, they’re about to have to make a similar decision for their kid.
“Some like to keep it natural, you know, not be ashamed of the way they were born. So you’ll see plenty of people with the odd vestigial arm or two, or, as is becoming quite fashionable nowadays, people missing some of their skull-bones will use bioglass instead of synthetic bone to patch the hole. Just as much protection as bone, melds on quite nicely, but you can still see in. Honor the mistake as a hidden intention, and all that.” I re-access the Wallace file, looking for the name of their child. I search for patient name, but nothing turns up. Assuming the file hasn’t been corrupted, the Wallaces have yet to name their kid. It’s a bit odd, but dissociative parental disorder is not terribly uncommon.
“You should start thinking about what you want for your child. Style matters.” The Wallaces look at me with stupefied faces, despite assuredly having prior knowledge of what the New York City med centers specialized in. Everyone knows that New York’s the best place to get birth defects dealt with, whether it’s the normal kind, such as under-grown appendages and faulty skulls, or the more serious ones in which children can be born lacking a contained spinal cord or certain brain sections. Sure, there are some who insist on going to Boston, but its just brand loyalty. Nowhere beats New York.
“Come on,” I say, gesturing in the direction of the subway, and the Wallaces dutifully scramble to their feet and start walking in the direction I’ve pointed them to, pulling their transport canister behind them. I take advantage of this opportunity to examine their kid, hooked into the canister’s life support system. The sheer redness of the liquid in which he floats does not bode well. The highly oxygenated substance is a poor substitute for functioning lungs, something this kid clearly lacks. I urge the Wallaces to greater speeds. We’ve got plenty of pre-made respiratory devices in the hospital complex, and I tell the computer to put in a request. The canister liquid is specifically designed to bring oxygen to cells in those lacking pulmonary capabilities, but it’s not magic. Brain damage is easily fixable, I assure the Wallaces as we board the train, but it is rather time consuming.
“Brain damage?” The bald Wallace asks me in a slightly too-loud voice. A few of our car’s other passengers glance in our direction. I sigh. Out-of-towners.
“It’s a non-issue,” I respond, “we’ll simply remove the damaged parts of your child’s brain.” I take a closer look at his exposed cerebellum. The red liquid distorts my vision, but rampant tissue damage is still visible. “And it looks like that’s a lot of it, sowe’ll replace those regions with parts from healthy brains. He’ll be fine in no time.” The Wallaces look at me as if I’ve threatened to kill their sole offspring. Bethesda faints, and there are a few blessedly quiet moments as Peter struggles to revive her. The silence can only last so long, however, and before I can lose myself in one of the holographic vacation ads for a trip to The Spas of Europa, the Wallaces regain their strength.
“To save our…son, you’re saying we’d have to take out his brain and what, stick in someone else’s ? He’d be what, some dead guy? That’s not saving our son, if he ever was alive to save at all.” How uneducated can these people be? Do they have any idea how offensive what they’re saying is to at least half of the people on this train? It takes all my patience to refrain from screaming at their ignorance. I have, however, had practice dealing with their ilk.
“A baby, someone as young as your son, doesn’t have a distinct self at all. Nothing would be lost, as what your talking of hasn’t developed. It’s just new. He’s still your biological son, with all your genes, including the ones you gave him that lead to his current predicament.” The train spirals tightly as it rises above ground, curling around skyscrapers as it gains altitude. The Wallaces are the first tourists I’ve seen who don’t gasp at the sight. Once the train steadies, I continue.
“Besides, it’s not like the brain segments are really a person, in most senses. They’re clones of one, and they’ve been wiped and made as close to new as technology can make them. Courtesy of our sponsors.” I nod my head up at the sky. A shadow passes through the clear roof of the train as a ship soars over our heads. The rumbling causes the glass of the windows and roof to vibrate. I prepare myself for questions about the cost and the sponsors, but even they are not that cut off from the world.
“What did you mean?” asks Bethesda, who has been, thankfully, mostly quiet since her recovery.
“About what?” I respond, preparing myself for a further onslaught of offensive queries.
“About us being responsible for the boy’s problems.” I groan inwardly. Do they not teach the rudimentary basics of biology up north? With education like this, it’s no wonder we’re falling behind.
“It’s like this. You two were born with deformations. I can tell, you’ve both got signs of cranial restructuring. Your deformations got fixed, physically, but the tendency for them is still there, in your DNA. You both passed on the mutated traits that had caused your defects, and when your son inherited both sets of deformed genes, he got those same problems, only worse.” I finish speaking, and the shocked looking Wallaces turn on each other.
“You said you were clean!”
“You told me you didn’t have any of those mutations!”
These people are monstrous. Their disrespect clearly knows no bounds. At the next stop, our train car empties. The offended passengers leave, with pointed humphs sent in our direction. The Wallaces, still accusing each other, don’t seem to notice, but I can feel myself turning red. Bethesda speaks:
“Look, Peter, it was both our faults. We both created this.” This? I start to have doubts about this child’s welfare.
“You’re right, you’re right,” says Peter. Bethesda’s clearly managed to calm both of them down, but what she says next disturbs me deeply.
“If we could create this…monstrosity, think about what it could make. We can’t let that happen, we just can’t.” She stands up and looks at me.
“We thank you kindly for your offer, but we’re going to be declining. We’re taking our things.” She wraps one hand tightly around the canister handle, and knots the fingers of her other with those of her husband. “a\And going back home.” I nod stiffly.
“Fine, fine. We just need you to come down, fill out some requisite paperwork. Formalities, you know the drill. We’ll have you back in no time.” They nod somberly, as I silently alert the police.
Sonya Sternlieb, Age 16, Grade 11, Saint Ann’s School, Silver Key