It’s Eleven O’Clock…

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It’s Eleven O’Clock…Do You Know What _Your_ Children Are?

A Short Story in the Genome Wars World
By Storm Weaver“I am pleased to announce that my laboratory has completed its initial in-vitro and animal studies on the new, high-adaptability genetic modifications we have been working on. We’ve worked out as many of the issues as we can in the lab and in animals and we are ready to start the clinical trials that will, we hope, result in a human capable of withstanding a multitude of environmental, mental and physiological variations. I know that our corporate sponsors in the aerospace and aquatic environments fields will be pleased with what we have achieved thus far.”

Dr. Morgan stood facing the GenomCo President, Sondra Raines, M.B.A.,  and the eight other staff scientists who ran labs for the small, elite, privately owned genetics research company. There was a slight smirk to his mouth and his voice was, if not condescending, certainly also not humble.

“We have gone as far as we can go, however, in the labs, Ms. Raines. We are at the point in our research where we must provide results for our corporate sponsors, and in order to do so, we must proceed with a full clinical trial without further delay.”

Ms. Raines steepled her fingers, letting them tap, manicured nail-tip against manicured nail-tip, in a disconcerting pattern as she spoke.

“I would need assurances that the experimental subjects would not be as …blatant… as your alpha subjects. We have 300 neo-humans in that compound in Jerhattan that we don’t dare let the public find out about. All we need is another batch of those and we’ll go broke.”

“Assuredly, Ms. Raines. The alpha group was a valuable experiment in the most extreme adaptations. The neo-human subjects from our clinical trials on that project succeeded _much_ better than we had any reason to expect, and their continued health and vigor is a testament to the broadest applications of my research. We did not expect to have so many live past puberty, much less find that their traits were, indeed, reproducible in future generations. Admittedly, they are far too exotic to be released into society, but I have my hopes that our corporate sponsors, who have been negotiating on several key projects, will find them suitable for acquisition on at least one of those projects.

“At the same time, Ms. Raines, I certainly concede the expense issues. Having refined our procedures considerably, we are planning on working with a _much_ smaller sample this time. In addition, the last experimental batch of animal subjects in the delta series was normal to all outward appearances at termination. Potentially visible mutations appeared in less than 2% of the total subjects. The remainders were developing adaptations that would be essentially unnoticed, even with careful scrutiny. Most changes were simple matters of eye color, muscle mass…places where we expect to see diversity. Some might be considered unusual, but there is virtually no chance that anyone could pick out one of our  delta group subjects as being genetically altered. Even under dissection, less than 10% of the delta group subjects displayed notable anomalies. We have also corrected the life-expectancy problems discovered in the beta and gamma groups.”

“How old were the subjects at termination, Doctor?”

“They ranged from 22 weeks gestation to four years of age, Ms. Raines, with the last group of mammalian adolescents–rhesus monkeys–showing no significant abnormalities at all at termination.”

Ms. Raines nodded and scanned the sheet of colorful charts in the binder before her.

“So you wish to begin tests with human genotypes again, Doctor?”

“Yes. In order to proceed, we are planning to implant, gestate and follow 35 genetically altered prototype fetuses. We will be using a much smaller sample than the alpha genotypes, and will be introducing these specimens into the community from birth.”

“Where are you planning on getting host mothers for these creations of yours, Morgan?”

Mousy, shifty-eyed Dr. Hazen didn’t bother to ask for the floor, confrontation and hostility radiating tangibly from her slight, stoop-shouldered form.

“That has all been taken care of, _Doctor_ Hazen. We have a comprehensive program and surrogates of our own creation. These creatures have been bred to breed, so to speak. They are unambitious, not particularly greedy, except for food and a healthy measure of ‘strokes’ from their nurses, are nearly imbecilic and unable to speak or reason.”

Dr. Hazen’s brow went up and she sat back in her chair with a curt nod.

From the furthest end of the table, one of the more meek scientists raised a hand tentatively. At a nod from Ms. Raines, he looked at Dr. Morgan.

“Dr. Morgan, how are you planning on integrating these experimental subjects into society? Surely their surrogate hosts can’t raise them. You’ve said yourself that the hosts are essentially mindless.”

Dr. Morgan smiled. The smile had an eerie tinge to it, as if a cloud of yellow, sulphurous smoke had suddenly risen in front of the Doctor’s sharply chiseled features.

“That is an excellent question, Dr. Windham. I propose that we take advantage of an… unfortunate situation that has developed.”

He paused, scanning the length of the boardroom table, his gaze finally stopping at the Chairman’s seat.

“As you know, our pharmaceutical division has been promoting a drug for men, Invigra, that would increase their sexual potency, providing longer, stronger erections and more…shall we say.. satisfying orgasms, as well as ‘improving’ their general interest and stamina. All of the results to date have been impressive. Even men with perfectly normal sexual capacity have been contacting their physicians to acquire this ‘wonder drug’ for better sex.

“All of you are aware of an additional effect of this medication–one that was never discussed with the FDA or the general public. This drug was, in fact, more than it seemed. It was marketed to improve sexual function, but our researchers discovered a side-effect that was unanticipated. It seems that while the drug has, indeed, improved many mens’ sex lives, it has provided some measure of disappointment in other areas for young professionals planning on starting a family. It seems that Invigra  acts as a male contraceptive. The follow-ups after six months of use confirm permanent or near permanent sterility in males who take Invigra in a manner consistent with packaging recommendations. The result is that a number of couples find that they are unable to conceive a child, despite consistent…umm… effort.

“We are working on R&D to provide significant formulary changes without changing the nature of the drug itself, in order to convince the FDA that this is a new product. We do not want to lose the large market that we have for Invigra. At the same time, the particular side effect that we hope to exploit for these trials is too valuable to pass up. Our researchers in the pharmaceutical division are working to create a completely new drug, using Invigra as a model and hope to obtain FDA approval to market our discovery  to take financial advantage of this side effect. But forgive me, I have strayed off topic.”

He scanned the table, ignoring Dr. Hazen’s cold glare from the seat across from his own.

“Our pharmaceutical researchers discovered this side effect and are working on new research concerning Invigra. In the meantime, we have been monitoring every individual who has taken the drug. While there is no way of connecting this failure to conceive to our pharmaceutical, I feel it is in our corporate and scientific best interests to develop the means to help these infertile couples to have the child of their dreams.

“It is my contention that GenomCo, thorough one of its dummy corporations,  should make an ‘adoption agency’ available, discretely of course, to those couples who have made use of Invigra. They will actually be given the opportunity to provide genetic material from which a child may be developed in vitro, in our laboratories. They can be offered a chance to have a ‘designer baby’–selecting for certain characteristics. Of course, we will not offer guarantees on those ‘selections’. This is an ‘experimental’ technique, and we can only do the best we can, yes?”

Morgan schooled is face into a look of solemn pity and deep integrity, then quickly became all business again as he continued.

“The parents can be given the option of signing paperwork at the development stage and having the fetus implanted in the mother at 14 weeks, provided that the mother-to-be passes a stringent physical, or having the child brought to term by one of our…specially developed birth-surrogates.”

A hand went up across the table. Dr. Morgan nodded to his colleague with a smile.

“Ah, yes. Dr. Morgan, do you really think that people will go for this? I don’t know how many people are going to want genetically altered kids.”

“Of course, we will not tell them about the specific genomic alterations we are making, Dr. Hayes. These couples are, in many cases, desperate for a child. It is my contention that they will not only accept the opportunity to use newly discovered ‘experimental’ techniques to have a child, I believe that they will be willing to _pay_ for the privilege. Further, by making this an exclusive offer to those who have had dealings with GenPharm Bioceuticals via Invigra, we will confirm that division’s dedication to ‘caring’ for our customers and achieve a level of loyalty that is difficult to reach in pharmaceutical customers. I believe that we will find that the customers will select our company’s brands more often, and will be less willing to incite lawsuits that might jeopardize their chance to have their ‘ideal’ family. Our ‘counselors’ would be sure to remind them that the usual surrogate parenting model results in a 40% loss to legal issues including a surrogate mother who demands and receives custody for ‘bearing’ the child and a 12% loss to undiagnosed health-related issues. Our parents will be given a ‘safe’ surrogate structure with no chance that the surrogate mother will try to claim custody later. At the same time, any relationship to GenomCo would be played down into non-existence. The parents would know nothing about the genetic alterations. This is the only way to gather effective data on this project.”

Another hand was raised at the table and a young woman spoke up.

“Doctor, what if one of these kids gets sick or has some kind of meltdown? How are we going to keep track of them? What if one of them runs away from home? How are we going to make sure we know what they’re turning in to and stop a problem if the alterations cause complications in a child?”

“Well, Dr. Maylan, on the issue of monitoring the research subjects, I believe that we would be easily able to continue in the same ‘family support’ model, offering the parents ‘routine’ well-child checkups as part of our ongoing commitment to support. By using staff physicians, the costs to GenomCo and GenPharm would be minimal. Any data that we require could be accumulated by superimposing specialized tests over the routine exams. This would, I believe, raise few eyebrows, because of the experimental nature of the conception process. By this same measure, we would have the ability to hospitalize and potentially selectively terminate any child who could become a hazard to the project or who becomes genetically unstable. As part of the contract, we would, in essence, provide ‘guarantees’ that if a child were to become ‘defective’, we would provide a ‘replacement’, and require that the parents immediately report any unusual behavior or physical deviation. This would also resolve the issue of resources for ongoing research, as we could provide later research subjects to parents who might have to have one of our subjects terminated.”

The woman nodded, and raised her finger before she spoke again.

“One more question, Doctor. How would these parents explain their ‘babies’–a genetically similar child who was not legally adopted and who was not, in at least a few cases, carried by the biological mother? I see potential legal problems down the road.”

“I have considered that, Doctor. We have a comprehensive program in place. We would provide all ‘prenatal’ care for the mother, and provide her with the means to make the ruse believable, even to her closest friends and family, if she should choose the surrogate model. In fact, using pharmaceuticals created by our own pharmaceutical division, we can even make it possible for the mother  who chooses a surrogate birth to breastfeed her new child.”

Dr. Morgan looked around the room, clearly pleased with himself .

Dr. Hazen was more than happy to burst his bubble. She tilted her head with a poorly masked sneer.

“I find your choice of surrogate hosts interesting, Morgan. You _have_ heard about the significant indirect data supporting maternal genetic influence on the nursing cell of the placenta. I _assume_ you have some way of preventing either a statistically significant increase in anomalies from your imbecile hosts or accidental correction of the implanted alterations in your healthy mothers. You would have thought of all of that, wouldn’t you, Doctor.?”

“As a matter of fact, we have. In our animal studies, we have virtually eliminated the chance of maternal degradation or alteration of the blastocyst and zygote. We have even managed to host higher-order simians in lower order mammals, including kangaroos–which, as you know, are essentially rodents. We have solved the problem by no longer implanting blastocysts, as was the common practice. The embryos now grow in vitro until reaching 14 weeks gestation, then are implanted as embryos.”

Dr. Morgan looked decidedly smug.

Dr. Hazen nodded.

“Impressive. What percentage do you lose with this new process. I assume there must be some level of attrition. After all, that’s very late for a human-genome placenta to re-implant. That’s why it’s always been standard practice to implant a blastocyst, before placental development.”

Dr. Morgan drew himself up straight as if his shirt had just become a starched board. Ms. Raines watched the interchange with some interest.

“We lose less than 30%, with no chance of accidental genomic deviation after implantation. I doubt that you could give the same success figures on your side of the complex, Doctor”

The smug condescension in his tone as he glanced at the company president, then back across the table at Dr. Hazen was unmistakable.
Ms. Raines dropped her manicured hand flat to the table. There was a sound like a thunder report as her hand slapped on the slick, varnished tabletop. The sound reverberated off the walls for a moment. The two scientists glared at each other from across the table, but neither spoke.

“Does anyone else have further questions for Dr. Morgan?”

Ms. Raines glared at Dr. Hazen and the scientist dropped her chin slightly, though she maintained her antagonistic posture, not bothering to hide her high level of disdain and outright dislike for Morgan, Raines and this whole proceeding.
Ms. Raines stood, with a look of chill derision for Hazen. She proffered a hand to Morgan, bestowing a smile that was nearly genuine.

“Congratulations, Dr. Morgan. It seems to me that you are now more than ready to ‘field-test’ your high-adaptability genotypes. Come by my office in the morning and I will have the appropriate individuals present to begin implementation of your concept.”

“Thank you, Ms. Raines. You will not be displeased with the results, I am sure.