The Gift of Creation
This is it. I squeeze Valen’s hand. We are finally going to have a child. He squeezes back and gives me a beaming smile. The opaque glass double doors before us slide open with a perky brunette behind ready to greet us. She is dressed in a white lab coat with a broad yellow stripe at the bottom, white slacks, and impossibly white sneakers.
“Valen! Trish! Welcome to Reminisce Engineering Corporation. My name is Kayley. I will be your assistant during this grand journey you are about to embark on. Would you like a tour?”
“I think we would rather jump straight into creating. Unless…?” my husband looks to me for confirmation.
“We are very excited.” I blush.
“Absolutely understood. Follow me.”
Kayley’s ponytail swishes back and forth as she bounces down the hall. We follow behind, passing several workers who greet us with the same enthusiasm as Kayley. All of their uniforms are alike aside from the single stripe’s color on their coats. We reach a three-way intersection and enter the right hallway upon which the sign, “Children’s Wing” hangs. Our hallway adventure ends at a rainbow painted door labeled “Construction Room.” A single promotional poster taped to the door reads “RE Corp: Life As You Imagine It.” I stare at the happy families in the background of the poster for some time before realizing Kayley has been keeping the door open for me. I quickly apologize and enter the room. When we are all sitting on either side of the large desk, Kayley pulls out a wide yellow binder and a single black pen.
“Okay guys I am going to ask you a couple questions so we can ensure your satisfaction with the end result. If you are undecided or confused about anything I ask just let me know. Are you ready?”
“Yes.” We answer together.
“Excellent! Do you prefer synthetic or organic? Organic is significantly more expensive and your child will be more prone to harm, but it allows for a fuller experience. Synthetic locks in their age at conception while also keeping them safe.”
“Synthetic.” We decide after some contemplation.
“Noted. Are we thinking boy, girl, or non-binary?”
“Girl.” I answer immediately then add bashfully, “We are pretty traditional.”
“Nothing wrong with that.” She assures me. “What age? We usually recommend between four and twelve. Teens if you are adventurous but they are usually better suited with experienced parents.”
“What about babies or toddlers?” I ask.
“I’m not supposed to say this but,” she leans in for a conspiratorial whisper. “We have an eighty-six percent return rate on those models. Most parents grow tired of the level of neediness within the first two months.”
“Oh.” I gasp.
“We’ll go with six.” Valen refocuses the discussion.
“Next is aesthetics. Do we want a more biological feel or adopted? Any specific hereditary traits? Unique features?”
“Biological for sure. Maybe my eyes and nose. Valen’s hair and lips.”
“Great choice! Just one last little note before we start crafting. What name and memories do you want to install?”
We tell her all about Dahlia and her life. Holiday vacations, favorite toy, bedtime stories. All happy, simple memories. Valen and I had talked this step over for hours at a time in the past as we waited for our application to be pulled from the extensive waiting list. Ever since the Great Collapse the child creation industry skyrocketed with RE Corp nearly monopolizing the scene.
“Alrighty. I will put everything in the system. Your darling daughter will be ready for you next week. What day works best for you?”
“Thursdays. We’re both off.” I inform her.
“Thursday it is.” Kayley smiles while jotting it down.
“Kayley, I do have one question.”
“Do they know… The truth? The children I mean.”
“No and I highly recommend you never let them.”
For the first time her disposition changes to more serious. The change is brief, however, as an entering technician breaks the tension. They take our pictures and DNA samples for reference in the crafting stage. With that done, Kayley happily escorts us outside.
On the way home I intend to analyze the assistance’s sharp response to my question. I get as far as sighing thoughtfully before Valen begins gushing about everything finally coming together. His excitement is contagious and I forget everything but my impatience for Thursday.
Thursday arrives after an excruciatingly slow week. With our appointment only an hour away I almost run outside without grabbing my rebreather. Thankfully, Valen catches my arm just as my hand grabs the doorknob.
“Honey. You can’t keep forgetting this.” He hands me the item before putting on his own.
“Sorry. I’m just so excited.”
“I am too. But we can’t teach dangerous habits to Dahlia.”
“It won’t happen again.” I assure him with a hopeful smile.
We arrive at RE Corp to find Kayley waiting for us. She leads us back through the Children’s wing. This time our destination is the delivery room. A simple yellow door separates us from the newest member of our family. I eagerly throw open the door and rush inside. My breath leaves me. The room is cold and barren except a single cot in the middle. Upon the cot is our daughter, small and naked with an imbedded silver heart locket inside her chest. It seems more a morgue than a delivery room. I don’t hear Kayley speaking as I reach out to touch the locket.
“As I said, I’d wait until you’re home to activate her. It’s less confusing that way. Don’t you think?” she places her hand on mine effectively stopping me mid-action.
“Great idea. Do we have any more paperwork to sign?” Valen asks after glancing at me.
“Yes. If you can please confirm your satisfaction with Dahlia.” Kayley points at the end of the document. “Do we need to provide you with clothing?”
“We brought our own.”
Valen dresses our daughter before carrying her to the car. She never stirs. Lifeless. The word seeps into my mind.
“Trish, are you okay? You haven’t said a word.”
“I’m okay.” I answer absentmindedly as I stare at the slumped over passenger in the backseat.
“It’s not like you to be nervous. You’re going to be the best mother.” He tries to assure me. I fake a smile. We drive home in silence.
Valen gingerly carries her through our apartment and tucks her into bed. He looks to me. I manage a nod. He places a hand on the locket through the shirt. A brief blue and red light shines through the shirt. The locket seeps deeper into the chest as a layer of skin forms over it. Minutes later her chest begins to rise and deflate. Her mouth, small but puffy, like her father’s begins twitching lightly. Sleeping, or a great imitation of it.
We watch silently. Nearly an hour later, a small noise comes out. A yawn. A little hand rubs the right eyelid. A few flutters and I find myself looking into my lightly creamed coffee eyes inside the little creature.
“Mommy?” Dahlia mumbles.
I choke down a scream. This is wrong. This isn’t my daughter. The words ricochet at a deafening level in my mind.
“Nothing’s wrong, sweet pea.” Valen sits down on her bed and ruffles her platinum hair. “Mommy is just waking up too.”
“Oh. Can I have some cereal?”
Just like a child, her worries are fleeting at best. She hops from the bed and follows my husband into the kitchen. I trail behind at a distance eventually sitting at the farthest end of the table. Dahlia hums while eating her colorful food. Seeing me staring at her, she scoops up a big pile and offers it to me. Milk dribbles on the table. I fight the urge to leave.
“No thank you. You can have it.”
The girl shrugs and goes back to happily munching on her breakfast. Valen pulls me into the bedroom down the hall.
“What’s gotten into you?”
“I think we made a mistake.” I start chewing at my lip.
“Mistake? Trish, we’ve waited ten years for this! Hell, if you hadn’t pushed for me to take the lead artificial landscaper position a few years back who knows if this would have even been an option for us. And now you don’t want it?”
“It feels wrong.” I whisper.
“It feels wrong?” he repeats. “Why? Because we made her in a lab? It’s not like we can physically have kids anymore. The United Nations made sure of that.”
“I know. It’s just… give me some time. Okay?”
Valen’s dark blue eyes pierce mine before briefly closing. He sighs.
“Okay. I’ll give you some time. Just don’t forget at the end of the day, she’s just a kid. She’ll look to you for support and comfort. I hope she’ll find it.”
The rest of the day I make strained attempts at connecting with the girl. She’s eager to do activities with me. Dressing her dolls, coloring, playing hide and seek. I will myself to engage but can’t stop the wave of repulsion when she’s clinging onto me. Valen does his best to intervene and distract her, but Dahlia seems insistent on being close to me. I’m relieved when she’s tired enough to ask for story-time.
Valen reads to her. The farther he gets into the story, the more her eyes droop. Right as he gets to the last page, she is asleep.
“Not bad for a first day, huh?” he asks me.
“Not bad.” I try to sound confident in my words but he seems unconvinced.
We stay up for a few more hours, watching television wordlessly. I’m the first to bed. It seems only minutes before I hear the door creak open. I sit up and see the tiny figure clutching her patchwork teddy bear.
“I had a bad dream.” Her voice is soft and sad. “Can I stay with you tonight?”
Suddenly, she is no longer an imposter skulking around. She is a scared child. I lift the blanket and she snuggles in beside me. Within minutes, she is asleep. My mind rejects sleep. It races as I look down at her.
Is it really her that I fear? I wonder. This helpless creature who thinks she is a human? No. That can’t be it. I wouldn’t have let her in the bed if I was scared of her. So, what is it that unsettles me? The answer arrives hours later. She presents the big if. If she can be fake, what else can be? All of the plants and trees are fake. The last plant, a member of the cacti family, died five years ago. Pets are fake. Every non-human animal mutated or went extinct during the Great Collapse. That doesn’t bother me. Humans. Other humans. You. You can be fake and you wouldn’t even know.
The last thought breaks me out into a sweat. A movie reel of my life flashes in my mind. They aren’t real. My consciousness hisses. I toss and turn as if moving will shake the thought from my mind. Valen, who had gone to bed after Dahlia entered, groans and turns with me. His closeness provides no comfort.
Days go by as I fight to maintain a grip on reality. Every bite of food is bland. Every kiss from my husband passionless. Dahlia’s constant presence. It all seems to reaffirm my thoughts. You are not real. During the night of the fourth day, I cannot take it anymore. I need to know. With a mad conviction I toss off my shirt and begin to dig at my chest with my nails. The pain rushes forth followed by trickles of blood. I keep digging and digging. Tears race out of my eyes and I whimper in pain. Sanity starts to come forth urging me to stop. It tells me I need help. But then I feel it. A locket of my own.
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