Baby Blues

October 11, 2007
Baby blues

“You think your baby is cute? Was she done by the masters?
If not, you’ve been tricked.
To stay clear of underachievers, delinquents and colicky youngsters, come to BundleOfJoy today! Anything else is a compromise…don’t compromise on your baby!”

What a horrible, weak advert, I think, sprawling on my overstuffed office chair. Some dimwitted decorator’s tweaked the Atmosystem to emanate heat from the walls-to stimulate brain activity- one of the daft ideas Personnel churns out with monotonic regularity to ‘motivate’ employees.

I toss the proofs aside, thinking, the best Child Effectiveness company can do much better than this. I mean, if you haven’t heard of BOJ, you must live on Mars-everyone knows we’re the best, if only by virtue of being the earliest. And people trust their precious ‘bundles of joy’ only to the best. We’re the oldest in this new business, the most prestigious. We started shop just after the GEC (Genetic Engineering Controversy) cleared up, and from that day 30 years ago, we’ve been ‘Raising the Bar for Young Achievers’. (That’s our company motto, by the way. You know, the heavily underlined attention-grabbing line beneath the giant logo.) So these dumb morons down in advert should find it easy as pie to write a proper ad. But instead, they send up such boring drivel…I put a huge cross on the page, which makes me feel pretty good, and send it down to advert after wrestling a bit with the Transferrer.

The swoosh of the sender having confirmed the transfer, I shift my attention to a more pressing task-the memo concerning the new incubator’s design problems.

To: Ms. A. Leeman, CEO 08.11.2067
BOJ Design Labs
Sub: Incubatron-004

Fault 302 noted in 33 cases out of 100.

Seemingly innocuous, this makes me sit up in consternation and almost slip off the glossy chair. Fault 302 is one of the more serious defects-and this particular message means that 33 out of 100 embryos tested negative on the Leeman-Harper Test for Exceptional Intelligence. As the test was designed by me, and so was the new incubator, this gives me an instant ulcer. Higher Management could have my head on a charger for this. The LHET test’s based on ‘average child mental ability’; and as more and more kids are designed to be cleverer, the standard keeps on increasing. That’s why we have to keep on building these new incubators each time. The normal IQ nowadays is around 212 (actually 212.0788 this instant), so it’s getting really difficult.

And now this. I suddenly feel so deflated I could cry. First the ad, now this Incubatron fault. Why can’t I just have a respite from the endless rush to keep up, why can’t the dratted parents be content for a day? All the time, they want more brains, more beauty, more grace, more everything; all the seven virtues in our catalogue, all at once! I make a note on my electronic Post It machine, which malfunctions as usual (why did they do away with office stationery?), and move to the next matter, a simple business of an E&E (egg and embryo) import bill from Africa, when the intercom rings. It’s Assia, my method analyst (secretary actually, but unions these days...) who tells me sympathetically, in hushed tones, “It’s a Blessed couple to see you, Ms.Leeman-Harper”.

This is bad. As per our code, Assia calls me ‘Ms. Leeman-Harper’ only when it’s a bad case, and before I can say I’m busy, the door’s jerked open and the Blessed couple comes in. The ‘Blessed couple’ is what we call devout parents who own one of our kids. Higher Management realized we had to woo the god-fearing parents somehow, so after the Pope endorsed our company, they came up with ‘Blessed’ to reassure the mothers and fathers. (As if they needed to-we’d have them beating a path to our door anyway). And the non-believers we call ‘NeoPragmatic’. Which means-nothing. But that’s management for you. (I have no idea why they’re so lame-I mean, Mr.Stark up in Higher Management was a BOJ baby himself….)

My musing are interrupted by the father, potbellied and balding, pulling out a chair with a jarring squeak. The exquisitely beautiful mother sits down softly and starts crying. The exaggerated cupid’s bow of her lips reminds me of something…she has the exact minor problem we had with the earliest models. The contrast between the two becomes even more striking as I realize that she must be a BOJ baby too. Encouraged, I ask the father, “What’s wrong, Sir? Is your child…?”

The man splutters,”The boy had a cricket match today, and let me tell you, if the press were to know of the poor showing he made, I’m sure it wouldn’t go down too well with your superiors! We didn’t get him done here to be humiliated in front of all my friends and neighbours, when it really counted!”
The mother burst into tears with renewed vigour and I handed her a self drying tissue. ”Won’t he be normal? Won’t he be a Superkid Grade Two like you promised?”

Wordlessly I take the boy’s birthsheet from the father and scan it. They had only 3 of the seven virtues- Beauty030, Brains034 and Health, the compulsory one. Definitely not a Grade Two. Not even a Superkid. We’re always getting these problems-parents who don’t read their birthsheets carefully and expect more than the kids are equipped for. I knew something like this was in the air when I saw the mom was one of the early models-we hadn’t introduced PhotoMemory then and anyway she was probably only a Beauty candidate.

I break the news as gently as possible and sweep the uncontrollably sobbing mother and the raging father out the door, muttering about suing us. He can’t, as he’s signed a No-Responsibility Certificate, but as I’ve said before, they aren’t very strong on memory. But for some reason, I feel pretty bad myself.

I step onto the Autoconveyor and it carries me to the design wing- I need to look into the problems with the new incubator. It’s revolutionary really-we’ve introduced emotional manipulating as well, so we’ll have Superattitude, Taste, Assertiveness, etc. etc. to put in the brochure as well……..but I suddenly feel so miserable and disheartened that instead of going on to the main unit, I step off near the ‘Higher Management Only’ sign and get in the electronically locked door. There’s a coffee machine in an alcove and I desperately need coffee. With a steaming cup in my hand I step to the switchboard containing the controls of the new incubator, installed for Management. Screwing off the top, I can see the bare innards of the machine, gleaming like the shark’s teeth in that vintage film ‘Jaws’ I watched a few days ago.

The simile arrests my mind. I look through the viewing module at the rows and rows of identical baby housing cells, hooked up to the huge gleaming machine in one corner, that’s filled with superior genes ready to be injected into the embryos-to-be. The cells are empty now, production paused, but soon they’ll be filled with our future ‘achievers’. Parents will be standing outside, wondering anxiously whether the new baby they ordered will be ‘better’ than the new baby the Joneses ordered. Smarter, cleverer, prettier, sportier, better adjusted…and they’ll be disappointed. Oh, won’t they! Not once, but throughout the little kid’s life at what he can’t do, not grateful for what he can. That’s the way parents are, at least the ones who come to us.

And that’s how we-and I-thrive. Feeding on their too-high aspirations, their grasping dreams. I have a great job, definitely not a noble one as they tell the bright-eyed graduates in our orientation meetings, but a good one. I’m never sick, if you discount the periodical ulcers everyone has.
I don’t have kids, of course…

In one fluid motion I hurl the steaming coffee onto the gleaming console of the Incubatron and watch the delicate circuitry vaporize in seconds. Then I walk out the ‘Higher Management Only’ door, out the design wing’s businesslike arch, out the lobby doors, grinning like a fool, into the street outside, teeming with imperfect people, real people. I jump onto the nearest UniTaxi and program it to the Bahamas.

Maybe they won’t find me. After all, I’m not a BOJ baby, with a built in tracking chip…….

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