They sat stiffly on his antique Eames chairs, two people who didn’t want to be here, or one person who didn’t want to and one who resented the other’s reluctance. Dr. Ong had seen this before. Within two minutes he was sure: the woman was the silently furious resister. She would lose. The man would pay for it later, in little ways, for a long time.
“I presume you’ve performed the necessary credit checks already,” Roger Camden said pleasantly, “so let’s get right on to details, shall we, Doctor?”
“Certainly,” Ong said. “Why don’t we start by your telling me all the genetic modifications you’re interested in for the baby.”
The woman shifted suddenly on her chair. She was in her late twenties—clearly a second wife—but already had a faded look, as if keeping up with Roger Camden was wearing her out. Ong could easily believe that. Mrs. Camden’s hair was brown, her eyes were brown, her skin had a brown tinge that might have been pretty if her cheeks had had any color. She wore a brown coat, neither fashionable nor cheap, and shoes that looked vaguely orthopedic. Ong glanced at his records for her name: Elizabeth. He would bet people forgot it often.
Next to her, Roger Camden radiated nervous vitality, a man in late middle age whose bullet-shaped head did not match his careful haircut and Italian-silk business suit. Ong did not need to consult his file to recall anything about Camden. A caricature of the bullet-shaped head had been the leading graphic for yesterday’s online edition of the Wall Street Journal: Camden had led a major coup in cross-border data-atoll investment. Ong was not sure what cross-border data-atoll investment was.
“A girl,” Elizabeth Camden said. Ong hadn’t expected her to speak first. Her voice was another surprise: upper-class British. “Blonde. Green eyes. Tall. Slender.”
Ong smiled. “Appearance factors are the easiest to achieve, as I’m sure you already know. But all we can do about slenderness is give her a genetic disposition in that direction. How you feed the child will naturally—”
“Yes, yes,” Roger Camden said, “that’s obvious. Now: intelligence. High intelligence. And a sense of daring.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Camden, personality factors are not yet understood well enough to allow genet—”
“Just testing,” Camden said, with a smile that Ong thought was probably supposed to be lighthearted.
Elizabeth Camden said, “Musical ability.”
“Again, Mrs. Camden, a disposition to be musical is all we can guarantee.”
“Good enough,” Camden said. “The full array of corrections for any potential gene-linked health problem, of course.”
“Of course,” Dr. Ong said. Neither client spoke. So far theirs was a fairly modest list, given Camden’s money; most clients had to be argued out of contradictory genetic tendencies, alteration overload, or unrealistic expectations. Ong waited. Tension prickled in the room like heat.
“And,” Camden said, “no need to sleep.”
Elizabeth Camden jerked her head sideways to look out the window.
Ong picked up a paper magnet from his desk. He made his voice pleasant. “May I ask how you learned whether that genetic-modification program exists?”
Camden grinned. “You’re not denying it exists. I give you full credit for that, Doctor.”
Ong held his temper. “May I ask how you learned whether the program exists?”
Camden reached into an inner pocket of his suit. The silk crinkled and pulled; body and suit came from different classes. Camden was, Ong remembered, a Yagaiist, a personal friend of Kenzo Yagai himself. Camden handed Ong hard copy: program specifications.
“Don’t bother hunting down the security leak in your data banks, Doctor. You won’t find it. But if it’s any consolation, neither will anybody else. Now.” He leaned forward suddenly. His tone changed. “I know that you’ve created twenty children who don’t need to sleep at all, that so far nineteen are healthy, intelligent, and psychologically normal. In fact, they’re better than normal; they’re all unusually precocious. The oldest is already four years old and can read in two languages. I know you’re thinking of offering this genetic modification on the open market in a few years. All I want is a chance to buy it for my daughter now. At whatever price you name.”
Ong stood. “I can’t possibly discuss this with you unilaterally, Mr. Camden. Neither the theft of our data—”
“Which wasn’t a theft—your system developed a spontaneous bubble regurgitation into a public gate. You’d have a hell of a time proving otherwise—”
“—nor the offer to purchase this particular genetic modification lie in my sole area of authority. Both have to be discussed with the Institute’s board of directors.”
“By all means, by all means. When can I talk to them, too?”
Camden, still seated, looked up at him. It occurred to Ong that there were few men who could look so confident eighteen inches below eye level. “Certainly. I’d like the chance to present my offer to whoever has the actual authority to accept it. That’s only good business.”
“This isn’t solely a business transaction, Mr. Camden.”
“It isn’t solely pure scientific research, either,” Camden retorted. “You’re a for-profit corporation here. With certain tax breaks available only to firms meeting certain fair-practice laws.”
For a minute Ong couldn’t think what Camden meant. “Fair-practice laws…”
“…are designed to protect minorities who are suppliers. I know it hasn’t ever been tested in the case of customers, except for redlining in Y-energy installations. But it could be tested, Dr. Ong. Minorities are entitled to the same product offerings as nonminorities. I know the Institute would not welcome a court case, Doctor. None of your twenty genetic beta-test families is either Black or Jewish.”
“A court…but you’re not Black or Jewish!”
“I’m a different minority. Polish-American. The name was Kaminsky.” Camden finally stood. And smiled warmly. “Look, it is preposterous. You know that, and I know that, and we both know what a grand time journalists would have with it anyway. And you know that I don’t want to sue you with a preposterous case just to use the threat of premature and adverse publicity to get what I want. I don’t want to make threats at all, believe me I don’t. I just want this marvelous advancement you’ve come up with for my daughter.” His face changed, to an expression Ong wouldn’t have believed possible on those particular features: wistfulness. “Doctor, do you know how much more I could have accomplished if I hadn’t had to sleep all my life?”
Elizabeth Camden said harshly, “You hardly sleep now.”
Camden looked down at her as if he had forgotten she was there. “Well, no, my dear, not now. But when I was young…college, I might have been able to finish college and still support…Well. None of that matters now. What matters, Doctor, is that you and I and your board come to an agreement.”
“Mr. Camden, please leave my office now.”
“You mean before you lose your temper at my presumptuousness? You wouldn’t be the first. I’ll expect to have a meeting set up by the end of next week, whenever and wherever you say, of course. Just let my personal secretary, Diane Clavers, know the details. Anytime that’s best for you.”
Ong did not accompany them to the door. Pressure throbbed behind his temples. In the doorway Elizabeth Camden turned. “What happened to the twentieth one?”
“The twentieth baby. My husband said nineteen of them are healthy and normal. What happened to the twentieth?”
The pressure grew stronger, hotter. Ong knew that he should not answer; that Camden probably already knew the answer even if his wife didn’t; that he, Ong, was going to answer anyway; that he would regret the lack of self-control, bitterly, later.
“The twentieth baby is dead. His parents turned out to be unstable. They separated during the pregnancy, and his mother could not bear the twenty-four-hour crying of a baby who never sleeps.”
Elizabeth Camden’s eyes widened. “She killed it?”
“By mistake,” Camden said shortly. “Shook the little thing too hard.” He frowned at Ong. “Nurses, Doctor. In shifts. You should have picked only parents wealthy enough to afford nurses in shifts.”
“That’s horrible!” Mrs. Camden burst out, and Ong could not tell if she meant the child’s death, the lack of nurses, or the Institute’s carelessness. Ong closed his eyes.
When they had gone, he took ten milligrams of cyclobenzaprine-III. For his back—it was solely for his back. The old injury was hurting again. Afterward he stood for a long time at the window, still holding the paper magnet, feeling the pressure recede from his temples, feeling himself calm down. Below him Lake Michigan lapped peacefully at the shore; the police had driven away the homeless in another raid just last night, and they hadn’t yet had time to return. Only their debris remained, thrown into the bushes of the lakeshore park: tattered blankets, newspapers, plastic bags like pathetic trampled standards. It was illegal to sleep in the park, illegal to enter it without a resident’s permit, illegal to be homeless and without a residence. As Ong watched, uniformed park attendants began methodically spearing newspapers and shoving them into clean self-propelled receptacles.
Ong picked up the phone to call the chairman of Biotech Institute’s board of directors.
* * *
Four men and three women sat around the polished mahogany table of the conference room. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, thought Susan Melling, looking from Ong to Sullivan to Camden. She smiled. Ong caught the smile and looked frosty. Pompous ass. Judy Sullivan, the Institute lawyer, turned to speak in low voice to Camden’s lawyer, a thin nervous man with the look of being owned. The owner, Roger Camden, the Indian chief himself, was the happiest-looking person in the room. The lethal little man—what did it take to become that rich, starting from nothing? She, Susan, would certainly never know—radiated excitement. He beamed, he glowed, so unlike the usual parents-to-be that Susan was intrigued. Usually the prospective daddies and mommies—especially the daddies—sat there looking as if they were at a corporate merger. Camden looked as if he were at a birthday party.
Which, of course, he was. Susan grinned at him, and was pleased when he grinned back. Wolfish, but with a sort of delight that could only be called innocent—what would he be like in bed? Ong frowned majestically and rose to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re ready to start. Perhaps introductions are in order. Mr. Roger Camden, Mrs. Camden, are of course our clients. Mr. John Jaworski, Mr. Camden’s lawyer. Mr. Camden, this is Judith Sullivan, the Institute’s head of Legal; Samuel Krenshaw, representing Institute Director Dr. Brad Marsteiner, who unfortunately couldn’t be here today; and Dr. Susan Melling, who developed the genetic modification affecting sleep. A few legal points of interest to both parties—”
“Forget the contracts for a minute,” Camden interrupted. “Let’s talk about the sleep thing. I’d like to ask a few questions.”
Susan said, “What would you like to know?” Camden’s eyes were very blue in his blunt-featured face; he wasn’t what she had expected. Mrs. Camden, who apparently lacked both a first name and a lawyer, since Jaworski had been introduced as her husband’s but not hers, looked either sullen or scared, it was difficult to tell which.
Ong said sourly, “Then perhaps we should start with a short presentation by Dr. Melling.”
Susan would have preferred a Q&A, to see what Camden would ask. But she had annoyed Ong enough for one session. Obediently she rose.
“Let me start with a brief description of sleep. Researchers have known for a long time that there are actually three kinds of sleep. One is ‘slow-wave sleep,’ characterized on an EEG by delta waves. One is ‘rapid-eye-movement sleep,’ or REM sleep, which is much lighter sleep and contains most dreaming. Together these two make up ‘core sleep.’ The third type of sleep is ‘optional sleep,’ so-called because people seem to get along without it with no ill effects, and some short sleepers don’t do it at all, sleeping naturally only three or four hours a night.”
“That’s me,” Camden said. “I trained myself into it. Couldn’t everybody do that?”
Apparently they were going to have a Q&A after all. “No. The actual sleep mechanism has some flexibility, but not the same amount for every person. The raphe nuclei on the brain stem—”
Ong said, “I don’t think we need that level of detail, Susan. Let’s stick to basics.”
Camden said, “The raphe nuclei regulate the balance among neurotransmitters and peptides that leads to a pressure to sleep, don’t they?”
Susan couldn’t help it; she grinned. Camden, the laser-sharp ruthless financier, sat trying to look solemn, a third-grader waiting to have his homework praised. Ong looked sour. Mrs. Camden looked away, out the window.
“Yes, that’s correct, Mr. Camden. You’ve done your research.”
Camden said, “This is my daughter,” and Susan caught her breath. When was the last time she had heard that note of reverence in anyone’s voice? But no one in the room seemed to notice.
“Well, then,” Susan said, “you already know that the reason people sleep is because a pressure to sleep builds up in the brain. Over the past twenty years, research has determined that’s the only reason. Neither slow-wave sleep nor REM sleep serve functions that can’t be carried on while the body and brain are awake. A lot goes on during sleep, but it can go on during wakefulness just as well, if other hormonal adjustments are made.
“Sleep served an important evolutionary function. Once Clem PreMammal was done filling his stomach and squirting his sperm around, sleep kept him immobile and away from predators. Sleep was an aid to survival. But now it’s a left-over mechanism, a vestige like the appendix. It switches on every night, but the need is gone. So we turn off the switch at its source, in the genes.”
Ong winced. He hated it when she oversimplified like that. Or maybe it was the lightheartedness he hated. If Marsteiner were making this presentation, there’d be no Clem Pre-Mammal.
Camden said, “What about the need to dream?”
“Not necessary. A left-over bombardment of the cortex to keep it on semialert in case a predator attacked during sleep. Wakefulness does that better.”
“Why not have wakefulness instead then? From the start of the evolution?”
He was testing her. Susan gave him a full, lavish smile, enjoying his brass. “I told you. Safety from predators. But when a modern predator attacks—say, a cross-border data-atoll investor—it’s safer to be awake.”
Camden shot at her, “What about the high percentage of REM sleep in fetuses and babies?”
“Still an evolutionary hangover. Cerebrum develops perfectly well without it.”
“What about neural repair during slow-wave sleep?”
“That does go on. But it can go on during wakefulness, if the DNA is programmed to do so. No loss of neural efficiency, as far as we know.”
“What about the release of human growth enzyme in such large concentrations during slow-wave sleep?”
Susan looked at him admiringly. “Goes on without the sleep. Genetic adjustments tie it to other changes in the pineal gland.”
“What about the—”
“The side effects?” Mrs. Camden said. Her mouth turned down. “What about the bloody side effects?”
Susan turned to Elizabeth Camden. She had forgotten she was there. The younger woman stared at Susan, mouth turned down at the corners.
“I’m glad you asked that, Mrs. Camden. Because there are side effects.” Susan paused; she was enjoying herself. “Compared to their age mates, the nonsleep children—who have not had IQ genetic manipulation—are more intelligent, better at problem-solving, and more joyous.”
Camden took out a cigarette. The archaic, filthy habit surprised Susan. Then she saw that it was deliberate: Roger Camden was drawing attention to an ostentatious display to draw attention away from what he was feeling. His cigarette lighter was gold, monogrammed, innocently gaudy.
“Let me explain,” Susan said. “REM sleep bombards the cerebral cortex with random neural firings from the brain stem; dreaming occurs because the poor besieged cortex tries so hard to make sense of the activated images and memories. It spends a lot of energy doing that. Without that energy expenditure, nonsleep cerebrums save the wear-and-tear and do better at coordinating real-life input. Thus, greater intelligence and problem-solving.
“Also, doctors have known for sixty years that antidepressants, which lift the mood of depressed patients, also suppress REM sleep entirely. What they have proved in the past ten years is that the reverse is equally true: suppress REM sleep and people don’t get depressed. The nonsleep kids are cheerful, outgoing…joyous. There’s no other word for it.”
“At what cost?” Mrs. Camden said. She held her neck rigid, but the corners of her jaw worked.
“No cost. No negative side effects at all.”
“So far,” Mrs. Camden shot back.
Susan shrugged. “So far.”
“They’re only four years old! At the most!”
Ong and Krenshaw were studying her closely. Susan saw the moment the Camden woman realized it; she sank back into her chair, drawing her fur coat around her, her face blank.
Camden did not look at his wife. He blew a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Everything has costs, Dr. Melling.”
She liked the way he said her name. “Ordinarily, yes. Especially in genetic modification. But we honestly have not been able to find any here, despite looking.” She smiled directly into Camden’s eyes. “Is it too much to believe that just once the universe has given us something wholly good, wholly a step forward, wholly beneficial? Without hidden penalties?”
“Not the universe. The intelligence of people like you,” Camden said, surprising Susan more than anything else that had gone before. His eyes held hers. She felt her chest tighten.
“I think,” Dr. Ong said dryly, “that the philosophy of the universe may be beyond our concerns here. Mr. Camden, if you have no further medical questions, perhaps we can return to the legal points Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Jaworski have raised. Thank you, Dr. Melling.”
Susan nodded. She didn’t look again at Camden. But she knew what he said, how he looked, that he was there.
* * *
The house was about what she had expected, a huge mock-Tudor on Lake Michigan north of Chicago. The land was heavily wooded between the gate and the house, open between the house and the surging water. Patches of snow dotted the dormant grass. Biotech had been working with the Camdens for four months, but this was the first time Susan had driven to their home.
As she walked toward the house another car drove up behind her. No, a truck, continuing around the curved driveway to a service entry at the side of the house. One man rang the service bell; a second began to unload a plastic-wrapped playpen from the back of the truck. White, with pink and yellow bunnies. Susan briefly closed her eyes.
Camden opened the door himself. She could see his effort not to look worried. “You didn’t have to drive out, Susan; I’d have come into the city!”
“No, I didn’t want you to do that, Roger. Mrs. Camden is here?”
“In the living room.” Camden led her into a large room with a stone fireplace, English country-house furniture, and prints of dogs or boats, all hung eighteen inches too high; Elizabeth Camden must have done the decorating. She did not rise from her wing chair as Susan entered.
“Let me be concise and fast,” Susan said, “I don’t want to make this any more drawn-out for you than I have to. We have all the amniocentesis, ultrasound, and Langston test results. The fetus is fine, developing normally for two weeks, no problems with the implant on the uterine wall. But a complication has developed.”
“What?” Camden said. He took out a cigarette, looked at his wife, and put it back unlit.
Susan said quietly, “Mrs. Camden, by sheer chance both your ovaries released eggs last month. We removed one for the gene surgery. By more sheer chance the second was fertilized and implanted. You’re carrying two fetuses.”
Elizabeth Camden grew still. “Twins?”
“No,” Susan said. Then she realized what she had said. “I mean, yes. They’re twins, but nonidentical. Only one has been genetically altered. The other will be no more similar to her than any two siblings. It’s a so-called normal baby. And I know you didn’t want a so-called normal baby.”
Camden said, “No. I didn’t.”
Elizabeth Camden said, “I did.”
Camden shot her a fierce look that Susan couldn’t read. He took out the cigarette again, and lit it. His face was in profile to Susan, and he was thinking intently; she doubted he knew the cigarette was there, or that he was lighting it. “Is the baby being affected by the other one’s being there?”
“No,” Susan said. “No, of course not. They’re just…coexisting.”
“Can you abort it?”
“Not without aborting both of them. Removing the unaltered fetus would cause changes in the uterine lining that would probably lead to a spontaneous miscarriage of the other.” She drew a deep breath. “There’s that option, of course. We can start the whole process over again. But as I told you at the time, you were very lucky to have the in vitro fertilization take on only the second try. Some couples take eight or ten tries. If we started all over, the process could be a lengthy one.”
Camden said, “Is the presence of this second fetus harming my daughter? Taking away nutrients or anything? Or will it change anything for her later on in the pregnancy?”
“No. Except that there is a chance of premature birth. Two fetuses take up a lot more room in the womb, and if it gets too crowded, birth can be premature. But the—”
“How premature? Enough to threaten survival?”
“Most probably not.”
Camden went on smoking. A man appeared at the door. “Sir, London calling. James Kendall for Mr. Yagai.”
“I’ll take it.” Camden rose. Susan watched him study his wife’s face. When he spoke, it was to her. “All right, Elizabeth. All right.” He left the room.
For a long moment the two women sat in silence. Susan was aware of the disappointment; this was not the Camden she had expected to see. She became aware of Elizabeth Camden watching her with amusement.
“Oh, yes, Doctor. He’s like that.”
Susan said nothing.
“Completely overbearing. But not this time.” She laughed softly, with excitement. “Two. Do you…do you know what sex the other one is?”
“Both fetuses are female.”
“I wanted a girl, you know. And now I’ll have one.”
“Then you’ll go ahead with the pregnancy.”
“Oh, yes. Thank you for coming, Doctor.”
She was dismissed. No one saw her out. But as she was getting into her car, Camden rushed out of the house, coatless. “Susan! I wanted to thank you. For coming all the way out here to tell us yourself.”
“You already thanked me.”
“Yes. Well. You’re sure the second fetus is no threat to my daughter?”
Susan said deliberately, “Nor is the genetically altered fetus a threat to the naturally conceived one.”
He smiled. His voice was low and wistful. “And you think that should matter to me just as much. But it doesn’t. And why should I fake what I feel? Especially to you?”
Susan opened her car door. She wasn’t ready for this, or she had changed her mind, or something. But then Camden leaned over to close the door, and his manner held no trace of flirtatiousness, no smarmy ingratiation. “I better order a second playpen.”
“And a second car seat.”
“But not a second night-shift nurse.”
“That’s up to you.”
“And you.” Abruptly he leaned over and kissed her, a kiss so polite and respectful that Susan was shocked. Neither lust nor conquest would have shocked her; this did. Camden didn’t give her a chance to react; he closed the car door and turned back toward the house. Susan drove toward the gate, her hands shaky on the wheel until amusement replaced shock: It had been a deliberate, blatant, respectful kiss, an engineered enigma. And nothing else could have guaranteed so well that there would have to be another.
She wondered what the Camdens would name their daughters.
* * *
Dr. Ong strode the hospital corridor, which had been dimmed to halflight From the nurse’s station in Maternity a nurse stepped forward as if to stop him—it was the middle of the night, long past visiting hours-got a good look at his face, and faded back into her station. Around a corner was the viewing glass to the nursery. To Ong’s annoyance, Susan Melling stood pressed against the glass. To his further annoyance, she was crying.
Ong realized that he had never liked the woman. Maybe not any women. Even those with superior minds could not seem to refrain from being made damn fools by their emotions.
“Look,” Susan said, laughing a little, swiping at her face. “Doctor—look.”
Behind the glass Roger Camden, gowned and masked, was holding up a baby in a white undershirt and pink blanket. Camden’s blue eyes—theatrically blue—a man really should not have such garish eyes—glowed. The baby’s head was covered with blond fuzz; it had wide eyes and pink skin. Camden’s eyes above the mask said that no other child had ever had these attributes.
Ong said, “An uncomplicated birth?”
“Yes,” Susan Melling sobbed. “Perfectly straightforward. Elizabeth is fine. She’s asleep. Isn’t she beautiful? He had the most adventurous spirit I’ve ever known.” She wiped her nose on her sleeve; Ong realized that she was drunk. “Did I ever tell you that I was engaged once? Fifteen years ago, in med school? I broke it off because he grew to seem so ordinary, so boring. Oh, God, I shouldn’t be telling you all this. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Ong moved away from her. Behind the glass Roger Camden laid the baby in a small wheeled crib. The nameplate said BABY GIRL CAMDEN #1 5.9 POUNDS. A night nurse watched indulgently.
Ong did not wait to see Camden emerge from the nursery or to hear Susan Melling say to him whatever she was going to say. Ong went to have the OB paged. Melling’s report was not, under the circumstances, to be trusted. A perfect, unprecedented chance to record every detail of gene alteration with a nonaltered control, and Melling was more interested in her own sloppy emotions. Ong would obviously have to do the report himself, after talking to the OB. He was hungry for every detail. And not just about the pink-cheeked baby in Camden’s arms. He wanted to know everything about the birth of the child in the other glass-sided crib: BABY GIRL CAMDEN #2. 5.1 POUNDS. The dark-haired baby with the mottled red features, lying scrunched down in her pink blanket, asleep.
Copyright © 1998 by Nancy Kress