By society’s standards, the couple sitting across from me is perfect. Gracefully crossing her long legs, Mrs. Garner is a picture of generous curves and blond hair, her exactly symmetrical brow implants accentuating her sparkling purple eyes. Mr. Garner’s just as impressive, all muscle and jaw, subdermals accentuating his broad shoulders, his pants bulging where they should. The file on my desk says they’re richer than sin, he a big shot in sales and she a fashion consultant. In short, they’re everything most people want to be. They’re perfect.
Except they’re in my office. Customers only come see me when there’s a problem.
“The situation is entirely unacceptable and we want to know what your company is going to do about it.” Mrs. Garner starts.
I open the file and make a show of flipping through the pages I memorized before they came in. My parents opted for cognitive enhancement rather than physical.
“Mrs. Garner, it says here you only gave birth two weeks ago. It’s awfully early to be dissatisfied, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t give birth and no it isn’t too early. Clearly there’s been a mistake.”
I knew they’d used a surrogate but I didn’t expect her to be so open about it. It takes serious money to look like she does and it’s not surprising she’d want to protect her investment. Personally, I see nothing wrong with cosmetic surrogacy. The practice of paying a woman to carry your child simply to avoid the more unpleasant physical side effects of motherhood has been used by the affluent for decades. But since the recent string of celebrity confessions, backlash from the public has been severe.
I pull a page from the file and set it in front of her. “You and your husband chose the Hercules package, correct?”
“With the athletic upgrades,” Mr. Garner adds.
“Well, your child’s only two weeks old. The first signs of increased size and muscle development won’t be visible for at least a year, probably longer.”
Mrs. Garner shakes her head. “That’s not the problem.”
“Well then, what is?”
She shifts in her chair. “Is there someone else we can talk to about this?”
I force a smile. Her nervousness explains everything. Even in this day and age most white people don’t want to have this conversation with a black man.
“I’m the Director of Customer Satisfaction, Mrs. Garner. There’s nobody more qualified to address your concerns than me. Please, what exactly is the problem?”
“Our son, he’s…” she leans toward me and lowers her voice, “he’s the wrong color.”
I leave my expression blank. “The wrong color?”
Her eyes widen. “I don’t mean the wrong color. I mean a different color. I mean he doesn’t look like us. We’re both fair skinned. I burn if I’m out in the sun more than ten minutes. But our son, he’s, well-“
“He’s black.” Mr. Garner finishes for her.
“He’s not very black,” Mrs. Garner continues hurriedly. “He’s actually a lovely caramel tone. Really, he’s a beautiful baby. And we’re not saying there’s anything wrong with being…his being…darker skinned. We just don’t understand…”
“Listen,” Mr. Garner interrupts, “My family’s been up my ass as it is. For months all it’s been is ‘When’s the baby due?’ and ‘How’s the nursery coming?’ She hasn’t left the house for three months to keep the surrogate a secret from the neighbors. How’m I gonna explain a kid that doesn’t look like us? You know how people feel about genetic enhancement. We’ll be driven out of the neighborhood!”
“And how did this happen in the first place?” Mrs. Garner squawked.
“Well, some of the enhancements you wanted couldn’t be derived from either of your DNA sequences. Some of your son’s DNA came from a donor, a professional athlete of considerable skill, you’ll be happy to know. Of course, I’m not allowed to say who. You understand.”
“Donor DNA?” Mr. Garner asks.
I nod. “You can only build a machine if you have all the parts. Sometimes the parents’ DNA doesn’t give us all the raw material we need to get the results they want. When that’s the case we supplement their DNA with a donor’s.”
“So our son isn’t all ours?” Mrs. Garner looks on the edge of tears. It strikes me as an odd reaction from a woman who chose not to carry her child in order to avoid stretch marks.
“The supplemental DNA makes up only a fraction of your son’s genome, less than ten percent.” I try to reassure her. “And it’s necessary to get the results you want.”
Mr. Garner stands up and leans threateningly over the desk. “You’re saying my DNA isn’t good enough?”
“Not your DNA dear, our DNA.” Mrs. Garner lays a calming hand on her husband’s arm.
He shrugs it off. “No, you heard him. Considerable skill or not, I’m raising ten percent of some other guy’s kid!”
“Actually, Mr. Garner, the deficiencies we encountered weren’t from your genome.”
They pause and look at each other, obviously confused. “What do you mean?” Mrs. Garner asks.
“I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but the professional athlete that served as your son’s donor was female.”
Comprehension dawned on Mr. Garner’s face. “So it wasn’t my DNA that was the problem.”
“What?” Mrs. Garner shrieks as she stands.
“Now dear,” Mr. Garner sits, taking her hand and pulling her back into her seat, “your side of the family is all short. Your mom’s shorter than your dad and he’s four inches shorter than you are.”
“Which probably explains the donor DNA we found in your genome.” I interject.
Mrs. Garner pales, her eyes wide. “What?” she asks in a whisper.
“Supplementing genomes with donor DNA has been around for decades.” I pull a brightly colored diagram out of the file and point to a portion of Mrs. Garner’s DNA map. “This portion of your genome is from a donor of Scandinavian decent, probably to supplement your height.”
Mrs. Garner pales further.
“And Mr. Garner,” I reach for the file but before I can open it his hand slams it back down to the desk.
“Don’t,” he says, his eyes unfocused. “I don’t want to know.”
For a moment everything is quiet.
Finally Mrs. Garner speaks, her voice cracking slightly. “We didn’t agree to this.”
“Actually-” I try to pick up the file but Mr. Garner still has it pinned to the desk. I give a firm tug and he reluctantly lets go. “Actually, it’s all in the contract.” I flip to the paragraph disclosing the use of donor DNA. “You did read the contract?”
Mrs. Garner looks to her husband and then down at her hands.
“I had my lawyer read it,” Mr. Garner says, picking up the thick stack of papers and flipping through a few pages before settling back into his chair.
The office is silent.
After a few moments he leans forward again, “It’ll work, right? He’ll be strong and fast?”
“Our success rate for babies carried to term is over ninety percent. He’ll have a biological edge. The rest is up to training and motivation, just like everyone else.”
Mr. Garner leans back with a thoughtful expression.
“People are so against genetic enhancement.” Mrs. Garner still hasn’t looked up. “I just hope we’ve made the right decision.”
Mr. Garner scoffs, “They’re only against it because they can’t afford it.”
“It’s true,” I nod. “Almost everyone with access to GE is taking advantage of it. It’s become a necessity. You’re putting your child at a disadvantage if you don’t use it.”
“I suppose that’s true.” Mrs. Garner looks up and pats her husband’s arm. Their eyes meet, he nods, and they both stand.
I do the same, shaking their hands before escorting them out of my office. Before returning to my desk I survey the reception area.
There are three more couples waiting to see me.
They’re all perfect.