“Take care,” I bid farewell to the couple with a firm handshake. Before they left, they returned a tender gesture. I could feel their gratitude, although I refrained from reveling in it; I was just doing my job. When the door closed, I let out a deep sigh and looked at the clock. The workday was nearing its end. On my office desk, a photograph of my wife and two children reminded me of how fortunate I was. When we were young, we were never certain if we would become parents, but one day they came into the world. At first, it was tough until we were able to regain control of our lives.
The phone in my office rang, and I quickly answered it, as if ending the day depended on how quickly I did my job.
“Doctor Gabriel, the Lopez Garcia's just arrived,” said Amalia's voice, the receptionist.
“Is there no one else?” I asked, puzzled, as I checked my schedule on the computer.
After a brief silence, Amalia replied, “No, it seems not.”
“Alright, show them in,” I said, hanging up. I cleared my throat nervously and settled into my seat. I opened the file of this couple, and although I didn't need to review their history, I checked that it was their third visit to my clinic.
“May we come in?” Mr. Lopez's discreet voice came through the door, along with his face.
“Of course, please come in,” I stood up and invited them to take a seat with a cordial bow.
Both he and his wife, Mrs. Garcia, entered my small office, decorated with multiple childlike ornaments that inspired and filled with hope those couples who made the firm decision to entrust the future of their offspring to our hands. Behind me, a vinyl rocket-shaped figure pointed towards something that looked like a moon, reminiscent of an egg about to be fertilized, a subtle yet crude metaphor that gave our company its name: Tomorrow.
We didn't need to introduce ourselves again, after exchanging polite greetings before sitting down. A brief dialogue helped break the ice, until the three of us sensed that the pleasantries were becoming irrelevant, so I cut to the chase to discuss the reason for their visit.
“Lopez Garcia, let's see…” I searched through the folder on my computer as they watched.
“We'll make it this time, you'll see,” Mr. Lopez said, squeezing his wife's hand.
One of the many absurd rules of the company was not being able to know the first names of the prospective parents. They came here so that we could help them have the offspring of their dreams, so their surnames and a few numbers were more than enough to name and label each of our projects. Once I read the identification of their latest sample, I got up and walked towards the small hatch behind me to enter the unlock code. As if by magic, the machinery behind the wall started its work and seconds later, the hatch opened, offering me the test tube of project number 03 for this couple. I grabbed it with utmost care; it was quite cold to the touch, enough to keep the zygote alive, dormant, awaiting judgment.
“What awaits us this time?” she asked.
“We'll find out right now, just stay calm,” he responded, composed.
In the center of the table, a half-sphere with a hole awaited for the tube with the sample to land on it. It fit perfectly. The same excitement as always showed on the faces of the couple, as if they didn't lose hope with every failed attempt. I pressed the switch and a screen lit up on the side of the table.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
With a simple nod, they gave their consent to activate the cutting-edge technology that set us apart from other assisted fertility industries. On the screen, a detailed 3D ultrasound image appeared.
“There he is,” the woman said.
They were eager to know the gender of their possible child, and I couldn't blame them, as the device served to anticipate the future of their offspring through videos generated by artificial intelligence. After analyzing millions of patterns and variables, the resulting video had a margin of error of less than one hundredth of one percent.
“No malformations, no risk of trisomy, the cranial circumference looks normal. The size and weight,” I paused briefly while measuring viability parameters and adopted a doubtful expression, “a cesarean section may be necessary during delivery.”
“We don't mind,” he responded hastily while looking at his wife.
I continued analyzing the most relevant patterns of the future pregnancy, but there was nothing else worth mentioning. I pressed the button to advance to the next scene.
“There he is! Look!” they exclaimed in unison.
I showed them their newborn child, lying on his mother's chest, skin-to-skin. His color was good, his breathing was normal. It would be an uncomplicated, though not natural, but successful delivery.
“Remember: what you see on the screen is a representation. There's nothing like experiencing it live,” I encouraged them to move forward. “With this image, most parents usually give their consent to proceed with the project.”
“We want to see more, if you don't mind,” she requested.
“Of course, that's what we're here for.”
The Lopez Garcia couple were planners, I knew them well enough to know that they didn't like leaving anything to chance, and our machine was like a crystal ball that anticipated any possible surprises.
In the next chapter, the child was celebrating his birthday. The cake was shaped like a race car, a suggestion of presentation generated randomly. The little one was smiling as he grabbed a piece with his hand. Some people couldn't stand these scenes, but this couple laughed as they saw their future child enjoying that calorie bomb. When the child looked to the side, he made a funny face before being caught by the flash of a photograph.
“Can I record it with my phone?” he asked.
“I'm sorry, but it's not possible. Company rules,” I responded. “At first, I thought it was unfair too, but the revelation of the future must not be shared publicly, there's a law about it that is stated in the contract.”
“Not even for a few seconds? A photograph?” he pleaded.
They grew serious, but quickly regained their composure after a few seconds. She started talking:
“It doesn't matter, can we see more?” I pressed the button. Now, the little one, dressed as Santa Claus, was shaking a box wrapped in paper decorated with colorful figures and a blue ribbon. He was sitting under a tree illuminated by a string of colorful lights. There was no need to introduce or describe the scene. The timer marked sixteen months of life: it was his first Christmas present. He began to tear the paper, mimicking the gestures that, one could infer, his parents made.
“Every life is a box of surprises,” I said, “and don't get me wrong, I love this technology, but don't you think it's better not to peek too much into the precipice of the future?”
Both of them stared at me intensely. She replied sharply, “We paid a good sum to make sure everything is feasible, that everything is perfect,” she declared. “I don't want to regret anything.”
Her husband, somewhat annoyed by my observation, simply nodded at every word that came out of his wife's mouth.
I cleared my throat before pressing the button to move on to the next scene. The presence of this couple filled me with a strange anguish.
Now, the child posed in front of the school gate. Between the child and the camera, the legs of other parents could be seen passing by, accompanying their little ones for a morning session of separation anxiety. Despite everything, the child looked happy. Who knows what might have happened in a previous scene! A hand appeared to guide him to the entrance door of the school, and as he entered, he turned to wave goodbye to his parents with a smile and a wave.
The emotional couple had their gaze fixed on the screen. To give them some joy, I fast-forwarded the scene a few days.
This time, the child was playing in the playground with his classmates. Sitting in a sandbox, he held a toy doll and a shovel, pretending to feed it. Many parents would pay to witness such a scene in reality, but this time, everything was virtual and hypothetical, though no less accurate.
“Well, I think we can take the next step, right?” he interrupted.
“Are you going to go ahead this time?” I asked.
“I mean,” he swallowed hard, “we can cut to the chase: see if there's any of those scenes.”
I knew this moment would come, not everything was going to be rosy. After taking a deep breath, I fast-forwarded one year on the timeline and searched for a scene from everyday life, one marked in orange.
The new chapter showed the child screaming in a supermarket. He had just thrown several rice packages on the floor. People around were watching and whispering. With veins bulging on his forehead, he was kicking the floor forcefully.
Mrs. Lopez Garcia clenched her teeth and shook her head. I understood the gesture as a request to continue advancing, so I obliged and moved on to the next scene:
The family was having dinner on the terrace of an Italian restaurant by the beach. It seemed like the parents had finished their meal a while ago, but the little one was adamantly refusing to finish his dinner.
“No! No! No!” the child yelled, pushing the plate away with his arm, causing it to fall to the floor.
The waiter came over quickly and the parents apologized for the child's behavior. The mother got up from the table and left, while the father pulled out his card to pay.
I paused to observe the terrified faces of the Lopez Garcia's in front of me. Had they seen enough?
“Please continue,” said the man without taking his eyes off the screen.
Now, on the screen, the father was standing, pointing his finger and instructing the child to go to his room. The child ignored him and kept watching TV. Impatiently, the father tried to grab his arm, but the child pulled away and looked at him defiantly. After saying something unintelligible, the father turned off the TV; at that moment, the child flew into a rage and started screaming violently. I moved on to the next scene without even asking.
They were at the park, and the child was clinging tightly to a post. From the context of the situation and the behavior of some people, I would say they were trying to go home because it was getting late, but the child was resisting and struggling with his mother. The other children and parents at the park were discreetly observing the scene out of the corner of their eyes. Mother and son were trying to come to some sort of agreement, but only some of the gestures she made were understandable.
“I can't quite see it,” Mrs. Lopez Garcia said.
“I don't think we're going to continue,” added her husband.
Without paying much attention, I gave them one last chance and jumped to a random scene.
In the new chapter, the lights were off. Everything remained dark and calm until suddenly the light turned on. The child had peeked into his parents' room. It was evident that he was trying to tell them something, but he reacted as if the responses he received were not what he expected. At that moment, he headed to the door and started kicking it while screaming.
The Lopez Garcia's looked at me. He made a scissor gesture with his fingers.
“Enough, that's it,” the woman said.
After pressing the stop button, the screen went dark. She kept talking.
“I'm sorry, but we don't want to go through with this, either.”
“I understand, and I respect that,” I responded.
“You have to put yourself in our shoes,” she continued, gesturing with her hands to emphasize her point. “Would you want to have a child like this?”
“Well, I don't know if my opinion will make a difference…”
“Answer honestly,” she interrupted, “would you? My sister is going through something similar and relies on antianxiety medication to get by. Believe me, I wouldn't wish it on anyone.”
“Maybe it's the genetic background…”
“Answer my question, please. What would you do in my position?”
I didn't know what to say. My children were not like that, and I couldn't imagine what it would be like to raise such a complicated child, but I tried to be truthful.
“I think I wouldn't have gone to Tomorrow and would have let things be as they were meant to be.”
“You clearly have no idea,” he replied. “Let's go, dear.”
“I'm sorry you wasted your time with us, Doctor,” she apologized as she stood up.
“You don't have to apologize. I'm just doing my job and trying to advise based on each case. I'm sorry it didn't turn out as you hoped.”
I walked them to the door and said goodbye politely. Furthermore, I wasn't convinced if they would come back to my clinic or turn to any of Tomorrow's services, but I had a feeling that I wouldn't forget them easily.
I closed the door and returned to my seat. I took a deep breath, feeling guilty. The test tube was still inserted in the device, although the verdict had already been given. Why were they having such bad luck with their future children?
They had already rejected three options, and I felt responsible for it. Did the fate of that child rest in my hands?
An idea crossed my mind, one as foolish as risking my job. Nevertheless, I turned on the screen again and fast-forwarded the timer a couple of decades. My heart begged for one last chance, to say a proper goodbye to that stubborn child, showing him all my respects, even if it went against the rules.
In the new scene, a somewhat unkempt young man shook hands with the dean of a university. He had just graduated with honors thanks to his project to reverse the effects of climate change. He bowed to the people present, followed by a gesture of appreciation to his family for allowing him to come this far.
I found myself so surprised that I struggled to comprehend that it was the same person rejected by the Lopez Garcia family. The margin of error was minimal. Next scene, a decade later.
Our boy, now grown into a successful businessman, shook hands with what appeared to be a future president. In his hands, he held a silver plaque that revealed the reason for such a noteworthy event. He had donated a large portion of his renewable energy company's profits to an organization for rare disease research. He posed for a photo with a group of people before descending to embrace someone.
I stopped my finger just before pressing the next scene button. I wasn't entirely convinced that I was doing the right thing. Once again, I remembered the rules of Tomorrow: “We cannot play God, we do not own any future.” I slammed my hand on the table and turned off the device. I took the test tube from the center of the table with less care than when I inserted it and stood up with it in my hand. Slowly, as I read the project label again, I took several steps towards a corner of the office, behind my chair.
“Why couldn't you have been a more normal child?” I asked the test tube with a tone that seemed to expect an answer from it.
As parents, we want our children to be an improved version of ourselves, to be one step ahead, to abandon the chaotic nature that makes us resemble any other living being on Earth. Embracing artificiality and perfection, distancing ourselves from vulgarity and ordinariness, standing out; a trajectory that humanity has been plotting for decades. This clinic bet on the winning sperm. This specimen from the Lopez Garcia family stood out, yes, among many others; undoubtedly, a brilliant destiny awaited him. However, according to his parents, those who had to decide, he was not perfect.
I turned my gaze back to my family posing in that endearing portrait. I caressed the test tube with my fingers before dropping it into the organic waste bin, alongside the rest of the unviable or unwanted projects.
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