Biological reproduction was passé.
Elma, a wide-eyed brunette, and June, a knockout blonde, waited for their little package. Their surroundings were white and clinical, conveying a sense of purity. Beyond the glass was a sea of cots, each with a blue or pink pupa tucked inside. It was the age of human synthesis, but the imitation of cultural conventions — the gendered colours of the blankets and the hospital aesthetic — were designed to provide comfort for visitors.
“Do you think we will be assigned a boy or a girl?” asked Elma.
June smiled and gripped her partner’s hand; just as humans no longer inhabited messy natural bodies, love was genderless. “I don’t know.”
“I hope it’s a girl,” said Elma. She was glowing. She burned for this; it was part of her programme.
A mechanical claw on the other side of the window, like an appendage in an antiquated arcade machine, zipped along runners until it stopped above one of the cots at the rear of the hall. It gripped the tiny body and zipped towards the viewing window where it dropped the package into a slot. The blanket was pink.
“It’s a girl!” June squealed. She pulled the drawer open.
The pair gazed into the slot. An inanimate little face, button nose, closed eyes, lay there.
“Isn’t she supposed to cry?” asked Elma, perplexed.
June reached down and scooped up the infant. “Amazing, isn’t it?” she whispered. “She’s so cute, a blend of you and me. Perfect. No excretions, only that clean baby smell. No emissions either, and I opted for the triple-speed babyhood package, so she’ll be done with depending on us in six years.”
“No ageing beyond 50, no disease, just a consciousness in a clean biosynthetic body,” added Elma.
“A century ago, getting one of these involved physical copulation and birthing.”
Elma grimaced. She was glad that computers handled all their needs.
“And they used to poop! Can you imagine diapers with human excrement inside?” June laughed.
Elma felt ill at the idea of biological babies. She changed the subject, “Shouldn’t she be more — I don’t know — lively?”
June had been enjoying winding Elma up, but her smile faded. “I guess so.” She unravelled the pink blanket, her perfect acrylic nails scratching the material. Both women gasped.
“W-w-what is that?” stuttered Elma.
There was a plastic clamp on the baby’s belly button. The girl-child finally stirred with a little sigh. She opened and closed her tiny mouth like a fish.
“There’s something wrong with it,” said Elma. “It’s faulty merchandise. Put it back in the drawer and we’ll get help.”
June didn’t look happy, but returned it, re-swaddled, to the hatch from which it came. She stepped back and pulled out her LifeDevice to call the doctor.
The two women huddled together in the furthest corner from the baby-dispensing hatch and awaited help. For all their synthetic beauty, they still possessed intractable human traits including a fear of things different or ambiguous.
A statuesque man with dark immaculate hair and eyes like sapphires entered through the double doors. “What seems to be the trouble ladies?” he asked. A pearly smile bloomed below his chiselled cheekbones.
“Our baby. She’s not perfect,” said Elma. She pointed at the hatch accusingly.
The doctor frowned. He went over to the drawer next to the viewing window where he plucked out the baby. He examined her carefully.
Elma and June clung to each other in the far corner.
“Oh, I see what the problem is. This one has broken her mould and the biomaterial used for her skin has leaked around the midriff. There’s no need to be frightened,” the doctor assured them in dulcet tones.
“Will we get another?” asked Elma.
“Of course. Let me nip upstairs and replace your order. The S.T.O.R.K. machine will place a new bundle of joy in the hatch in a few minutes. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” He smiled concernedly and left, still clutching the redundant baby girl.
June watched the double doors close before she spoke. “I had such a fright,” she admitted. “I thought that thing was real for a second. It had a” —she faltered— “a smell, like sour milk or something. And its skin was mottled, instead of the alabaster finish we requested.”
“I know,” said Elma, relieved to share in the aftermath of their scare. “And that’s not even mentioning that gross clamp-thing on its stomach. Eww.”
“Thank the stars it was just a faulty unit. Imagine, some primitives still choose to procreate physically and birth live young. It’s disgusting.”
“Yah,” piped up Elma, emboldened by her partner’s show of disdain. “That’s why they live like cockroaches in the under city. Humans are animals. They breed like rats and murder living creatures for meat, which people actually put in their mouths and eat.”
“It’s gross.” June nodded in agreement. Her perfect red bow lips formed an impeccable smile.
June kissed Elma, lips only, no tongue.
The claw on the other side of the glass began to move and the two women skipped to the window like children anticipating sugary sweets. The claw scooped up a second bundle and dropped it into the hatch.
This time Elma retrieved their baby from the drawer. It fussed in her arms and made cute sounds. “Here she is,” said Elma. She did a rudimentary inspection of their new baby girl and seemed satisfied. “She’s a perfect specimen — made by science.”
June peered over Elma’s shoulder at the faultless little acorn face. The baby had a perfect tiny torso with an outie belly button, smooth white skin, ten fingers and ten toes.
“What shall we call her?” asked Elma. Excitement had returned to her voice. “She really is perfect.” Elma managed to squeeze out a single teardrop of joy from her manufactured tear duct.
“Bijou,” said June. “It means small and perfect.”
“It’s so exotic. I love it!”
They hugged and four silicone breasts squeezed their new dolly. The new family unit departed from the waiting room. In the reception area, they placed Bijou in the vintage four-wheeled pram with a white lace canopy that they had agonised over buying. They used their LifeDevices to take holograms to be dispersed with friends, and friends of friends. Hand-in-hand they paraded their motherhood from the building and into the street.
The doctor entered the dim nursery in the attic and placed the rejected baby into an old crib. Light flooded in as a nurse entered behind him. The door clicked shut behind her.
“It didn’t work?” she asked.
The cinnamon-skinned nurse walked to the doctor, her heels gently clicking on the wooden boards. She smoothed down her body-tight uniform and the make-up she wore felt heavy. She peered at the child they had made together and placed a hand on the doctor’s hunched shoulder as he remained staring at the rejected baby girl.
“It didn’t work,” said the doctor. He straightened and looked into the nurse’s mocha eyes. His hands gripped her shoulders. “This was a mistake. This girl was born out of our love, and we’ve doomed her to live in the underclass, masquerading as a synthetic, like we do every day. How long can we continue to pretend? Neither of us is getting any younger and we’re a dying breed—”
The nurse placed a manicured finger to his lips. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I know, William,” she said. His tears were knives to her heart. She couldn’t even look at the baby girl she had birthed seven days earlier. “Every day I have to put on more and more make-up just to blend in with the synthetics. My corset is so tight I have bruised ribs and breasts ache. But, if we don’t do this then she will be condemned to a life of subservience. We owe our kind, humankind, an opportunity to be let into the champagne days and velvet nights of the synthetics, instead of the squalor of the PauCity.”
“Our only opportunity is that some naive synthetic couple will take her home and once they realise they are complicit in hiding a human baby, they will bring her up as their own.”
“We’ve become like cuckoos,” added the nurse.
The doctor nodded. “I wish we could do more. Fight back.” He let the nurse go and rubbed his eyes. Wrinkles appeared and disappeared — something that didn’t happen on biosynthetic skin.
A hiccup of sorrow escaped from the nurse’s throat and her features crumpled. The doctor grabbed her and held her in his arms.
“What have we done?” she cried. “It was selfish. I didn’t think ahead. This is their world now.”
Without warning, the attic door opened. A silver fox of a man stood against the light.
“As I thought,” he said. “They’re in here.”
William and Carmine clung to one another in front of their baby. Both of them knew their time was up. Most likely it was another human, a porter or cleaner, who had suspected their humanity and dobbed them in. The benefits for betraying a fellow human were high and well-advertised. The slogans read: Flesh and Bone is the Cancer.
Two female policewomen, with figures so exaggerated that they could have walked straight out of a cartoon, entered the room. Carmine screamed and William clung onto her as the bullet ripped through her flesh. The baby wailed at the thunderous crack.
A second shot exploded through William’s brain.
“I’ll take the child,” said the doctor at the door. “We always need test subjects for improving the lives of our older, transitional synthetics.”
Carmine had refused to name her baby because the act would make her little bundle of genes too real. Besides, biological reproduction was passé. More than that, society considered it disgusting and illegal.
In 2019 Darcy was long-listed for the flash fiction competition, A Twist of Reality, held by Shoreline of Infinity SF & Fantasy Magazine. Darcy’s short stories have appeared in The Dawntreader, Every Day Fiction and Idle Ink. Darcy was born in Scotland, is half-Russian and lives with a Swede in Oxfordshire. For more find Darcy on Twitter (@DarcyLinWood) or at darcylinwood.wixsite.com/darcylinwood1.