Family Planning

Robot head looking front on camera isolated on a black background

Note: this story is for prompt #2 of “Covid Metamorphosis,” in which we were asked to begin and end with provided quotations from Ovid.

“I want to speak about bodies changed into new forms.”

I looked up at my partner, who was hovering in the door of the workroom while I was slicing tomatoes for a salad. “Basil?”

He held up the head – or ‘cranial unit’ as he preferred to call it – “as you know, my first attempt at creating a child did not go well.”

I remembered. We’d become friends not long after his first child – Noelle – had died after a series of cascade failures caused her neural net to disintegrate.  “And you’re concerned it will happen again?”

“I am, but only in the sense that any parent is worried about the survival of their children. I worry about Elizabeth injuring herself while snorkeling with you, or climbing trees with her friends or…”

“Okay, I get the point. So… what’s this about bodies and changing forms… and why are you quoting Ovid, anyway?”

“Ovid’s line seemed an appropriate entrée into this conversation.”

“Oh.” I rinsed tomato guts off my hands and dried them on the towel near the sink. Turning around and leaning against the sink, I gave my husband my full attention. “So, which bodies are we changing?”

“This one. I believe… I believe it would help me to move past the loss of Noelle if, rather than allowing this child to choose their gender and appearance, we select it for him.”

“Him?”

“You lost a son.”

We lost a son,” I corrected. And we had, two years before Elizabeth was born. Our son, Jake, had been stillborn. There had been no discernible cause. Sometimes, even with all the technology of many, many worlds, horrible things just… happened. “We are not building a replacement.”

“No, we are not. But, we have a living, thriving, daughter. I believe this child should be a son. For balance.”

“Balance, hmm?” I sensed there was more to it than that. “Not because a son would likely be a lot like you?”

“Perhaps, partially, but, by choosing his gender and appearance, we could blend our features to create a child that truly represented both of us.”

“My skin, your eyes?” I asked, with only a hint of a teasing lilt in my tone.

“Precisely.”

“Your hair, my nose?” It was bad enough Elizabeth had inherited my wild, unruly hair. We would not curse a synthetic child with the same.”

“If you wish.”

“You feel really strongly about this, don’t you, love?”

“I… Yes, Zoe, I do.”

“Alright.”

“All-right?”

“Alright,” I repeated. “Congratulations, Dad, it’s a boy.”

Basil turned back to the workroom, but I called his name, and he paused. “Dearest?”

“What’s the other reason – the true reason – you want a son?”

“Elizabeth is our daughter, but she is your child. Blood of your blood. I wish… I wish to have a similar child, to follow after me.”

“A legacy.”

“In a sense. Many poets have written of immortality via offspring, as well as great works….”

“And that’s why you want a son?”

But Basil didn’t give me a simple affirmative. Rather, he quoted Ovid again,  From anyone else it would have seemed pompous. From my husband, it made perfect sense:

“If there is truth in poet’s prophecies, I shall live.”

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Family Planning by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.