“Welcome to GENEsis Incorporated. My name is Darwin Oswald, and I am the lead geneticist here. How can I help you?” The man was tall and lanky, with unruly brown hair. His half-rimmed glasses threatened to slip off his nose. He was standing in front of Mr. and Mrs. Seabrook, a couple in their early thirties. Marcus Seabrook was a successful lawyer who partnered with his older brother to create their own firm. He was sporting his usual casual suit, today with a bright blue tie. His wife Eileen fed his obsession with ties by giving him a new one for every holiday the two celebrated. She stood at least half a foot shorter than the two men, who were similar in size. Her pale white hands constantly fluttered into her thin blonde hair. She had on a simple dress that exactly matched the color of Marcus’s tie. She stopped running her fingers through her hair to grab Marcus’s hand. He squeezed hers reassuringly and turned to the doctor.
“We’re interested in having a child.” Eileen nodded her agreement, perfect white teeth gleaming when she brought her painted red lips into a smile.
“Perfect! That’s what I’m here for,” Dr. Oswald beamed back at the couple and gestured to a pair of swinging doors behind him. “If you would follow me this way.”
The Seabrooks followed Oswald through the doors and down a sterile white hallway. They passed a few closed doors with curtains pulled across the windows before coming to a stop in front of a door that said Conferences. It was open, leading to a small lobby. A small, plump woman sat behind a counter on one end of the lobby. Oswald waved at her before leading the couple into a room to the left of the counter. His name was displayed on a plaque sitting on the edge of the large mahogany desk. Two deep blue armchairs sat facing the desk, in which Oswald instructed the Seabrooks to sit. He sat comfortably in a high-back chair of the same blue color.
“We’re usually much busier than this, but you two came on an off-season.” Oswald slid a sleek black tablet onto his desk, waving his hand in front of it to unlock it.
“What exactly do you mean by ‘off-season’?” Eileen asked.
“Well, you see, since the creation of the Initium Novum technology, there has been a trend of babies being born every couple years or so. A great majority of people had their first child with this technology and then had another child two or three years later. People also have calculated the timing to be sure that they would have their child in the summer months, thus they would start the process between September and November. It has been proven that it is easier to care for a child in the summer when most professions offer vacation time, so it is different to see someone in this institution in January.” Oswald rubbed his chin where he had forgotten to shave his stubble.
“I see,” Eileen said quietly.
“It isn’t any problem for us to start this process now, right?” Marcus crossed and uncrossed his ankles.
Oswald shook his head. “Not a problem at all. In fact, you could potentially have more visitation rights than other couples do as your child is developing.”
Eileen looked at Marcus, relief evident on her face. Oswald’s eyes flicked between the two for a moment, and then he opened a link on his tablet.
“Here are the default choices for a child,” he made a motion toward his tablet that expanded the screen onto the surface of his desk. He set the tablet out of the way and pointed at the images before them. Marcus and Eileen leaned forward to see their options. Twenty squares displayed children with varying appearances, from light to dark skin, hair, and eye color. One specific option showed a girl with brown hair, light skin, and green eyes.
“You can always pick a default and then edit the characteristics to your heart’s desire.” Oswald watched Eileen’s eyes hover over the different options, stopping to rest on the ones that showed girl babies. Marcus, however, was more focused on the squares displaying boys. The couple looked unsure, so Oswald cleared his throat.
“If you would like to discuss your options privately, I can give you a Bit that has all the characteristics mapped out. You can take this with you, create the exact design you want, and then return here in a couple of days. Would Thursday morning work?” He opened a calendar that superimposed itself on top of the squares. He selected Thursday, which expanded to show times. Marcus opened his phone to see his schedule, Eileen following suit.
“I am free right before lunch, how about you?” Marcus looked at his wife, who nodded, quickly typing a memo into her phone.
“Eleven thirty?” Oswald selected the time and spoke a quick sentence, which the holographic screen converted to text and saved as an event. He opened a drawer, pulled out a Bit, and inserted the small piece of plastic into an opening on the tablet. After a minute or so, he handed the Bit to Marcus. The Seabrooks thanked him and stood to leave. Oswald led them back to the main lobby of GENEsis, Inc. and watched them walk out the frosted glass doors before returning to his office.
- ● ●
“Dr. Oswald?” A voice rang from the ceiling above him. Oswald glanced up from his tablet at the small speaker set into the tile.
“Your interview is in five minutes.” Oswald jumped up from his chair and gathered his things into his briefcase. He glanced at the projection of his calendar on the left wall of his office, kicking himself inside for not remembering to put the interview on it. At least he had Patricia, one of the only reminders that people were just as beneficial as technology. He walked down the white hallway, his shoes making a soft thud with each step. Entering the main lobby of GENEsis, he saw a young woman followed by a short robot. The bot looked much like a hovering box, and it appeared to have a camera as well as a storage compartment. The soft tinkling of an unrecognizable tune emitted from a set of speakers placed strategically around the large, sparsely decorated room.
“Hello, my name is Dr. Darwin Oswald.” Oswald held his hand out to the woman. Her slender hand was warm despite the bitter cold outside.
“Tara Bates,” she replied. Her brown hair was pulled back into a bun, but loose strands framed her petite face. She had a small spattering of freckles across her cheeks that matched the speckles in her hazel eyes. The robot introduced itself as VRD-2350, a video recording prototype. The camera peeked at Oswald from a small hatch on top of the orange and white cube. Miss Bates explained that her fiancé worked for an advanced robotics company.
“Shall we take a tour of the facility?” Oswald looked at Miss Bates before addressing the robot, “I do ask that you refrain from recording the labs, as they contain confidential information about our clients.” The robot consented with a small beep, and Miss Bates pulled out a notepad. Oswald could not help but stare as she scribbled something down with a pen. He was so used to seeing tablets that paper had become a rarity to him.
Oswald led Miss Bates through the same hallway he had taken the Seabrooks through. He pointed out the offices of his coworkers, all of whom worked behind heavy closed curtains and thick wooden doors. When Miss Bates inquired, he explained that the other researchers, doctors, and geneticists preferred to be free from distractions while working. He, however, enjoyed and welcomed distractions from his work. He claimed they helped him think.
“So here we have our Stage One Lab,” Oswald gestured down a hallway to their right almost immediately after the mini-lobby that led to his office. Miss Bates tapped VRD-2350 and the robot made a barely audible click as the camera turned off.
“Is it all right for me to continue recording our conversation? I like to go back and be able to know exactly what was said during my interviews.”
“That’s perfectly fine. I will make sure I do not reveal any confidential information.” Oswald placed his right forefinger on a touchpad next to the door, allowing it to open. A small hiss of cool air came through the opening, along with nearly complete silence. Small clinks of metal on glass could be heard.
“So, what exactly is meant by Stage One?” Miss Bates spoke loudly enough for VRD-2350 to pick up her voice but softly enough not to disturb the silence of the lab.
“Stage One is where we take samples from both partners and fertilize the egg. Stage One also involves the monitoring of the egg as it becomes a blastocyst and attaches itself to our artificial uterus. We also use the laboratory of Stage One to house frozen samples of eggs and sperm for future use. Everything is extensively labelled, of course.” Oswald gestured to a metal air locked door that read Samples.
“May I have a look around?” Miss Bates was still scribbling furiously on her notepad, and Oswald was momentarily mesmerized by the scratching sound before he answered.
“Oh, yes, certainly.” Miss Bates motioned for VRD-2350 to stay and walked carefully around the lab. It was mostly empty, but there were two doctors bending over a tall table on one end of the room. Oswald followed closely behind Miss Bates to explain whatever she asked. After a few moments of inspecting the machinery and multiple monitors along the dark walls of the room, Miss Bates came back to the doorway.
“How many labs are there?” She asked.
“Three. We have Stage One, which is mainly focused on developing the embryo, which is then moved to Stage Two, where it remains until full term. After the fetus is at full term, it is removed to Stage Three until the parents come.”
“How many fetuses do you currently have developing?”
“Oh, far too many to estimate.”
“If you had to guess?”
Oswald thought for a moment before he responded. Miss Bates said nothing, only raised her eyebrows slightly and wrote some more on her notepad. VRD-2350 followed close behind them as they made their way back to the main hallway.
“Would you like to see either of the other labs?” Oswald gestured further down the hallway.
“Yes; I would like to see Stage Two. If you wouldn’t mind, that is.” Miss Bates requested, her eyes shining with something Oswald couldn’t quite identify. He smiled, nodded, and led her down the hallway until they reached the side hall marked Stage Two. He again had to offer his fingerprint, and also a voice command. The doors slid open, this time revealing a waft of warm, slightly humid air. Miss Bates craned her neck to see past the darkened entry.
“I would ask that you remain outside again,” Oswald said to VRD-2350. The machine beeped once and clicked its camera off. Oswald hit a pad on the wall, turning on soft circles of light that glowed on the floor.
“We try to imitate the sense of the womb as much as possible,” he explained when Miss Bates gave him a questioning look. She nodded and took a few steps in the room. The whine of the fluorescent lights in the hallway faded in the darkened room; the air seemed muffled.
“Oh my,” she whispered, her jaw dropping a bit as she took in the sight before her. Rows upon rows of tubes rose to about six feet, each one containing a fetus ranging in development.
“Here you have it, Miss. Welcome to Initium Novum.”
- ● ●
When Marcus and Eileen Seabrook left GENEsis, their car was waiting by the curb. As they approached, the doors opened with a soft tick. Marcus sat where the driver’s side of a car would be and Eileen sat on the passenger side. The doors closed slowly, sensors making sure that nothing was in the way.
“Where would you like to go, Sir and Madam?” A gentle male voice with a slight British accent issued from the speaker on the interface where the steering wheel would have been.
“Back home please, Stanley,” Marcus replied. The car began to take the usual route back to the Seabrooks’ two-story house just outside the city. While the couple reclined in the silent vehicle—they had not made a music selection, despite Stanley’s inquiry—Marcus detached his travel tablet from the dashboard and inserted the Bit from Oswald into one of the USB ports. The same twenty images appeared.
“What are you thinking?” Marcus looked at Eileen, his dark eyes concerned as he gauged her reaction. She was quiet for a second, her hair slipping to partially cover her face. Marcus brushed it back behind her ears and kissed her cheek.