Herbert paced outside the delivery suite. There had been complications, and he had been ejected from the room. He could barely control his anxiety, unable to help his wife despite weeks of birthing training and practice. As he paced, he thought back to how adorable Marylou had looked when they first made the decision to buy into the Designer Genes Geneshare at the beginning of her pregnancy.
“Look, Honey. This one seems nice. ‘Sven,’” Marylou had said, peeking over the rim of her thick glasses at her husband. Her one eye wandered to the left a bit. So cute. Herbert had perched at the edge of the plush leather couch, clicking his way through photos and profiles. He leaned over to peer at her screen.
“Yes, Sven seems promising,” he had replied. “But what about Lars or Bruno? Look at this one. I kind of like Rocky.” Herbert scratched at his almost non-existent chin, poorly concealed behind a feathery pretense of a beard as he considered the possibilities.
“They all have excellent health profiles. But how can you be sure they’ll have. . .you know.” She trailed off looking hopefully at Herbert.
A handsome man behind a faux walnut desk beamed at the indecisive couple. His title placard declared, Phenotype Allocation Liaison. (“I’m your best P.A.L. for optimized parenting!” the advertisement had read). “Don’t you two worry. Any of the genome packages you’re considering will fulfill your requirements for. . .” he rapidly rearranged the wall full of data with a flick of his finger. “Ah, here it is!” The screen settled on a forest of charts that seemed to please their “pal.” “Each of these profiles shows at least a 95% match for will power, confidence, and self-esteem.” He waved his arm across the display of statistics. “Through the diligent work of our research team, we discovered and copyrighted a unique gene group from select northern European populations that links square jaw and strength of character.”
Herbert tucked his head self-consciously.
“These gene clusters,” the PAL pointed at an array of DNA linkages, “are harvested and enhanced to be mutation-free.” He leaned in. “And you are in luck. We’re having a sale on the Eurasian IQ Fusion Genome Package this month. The Sven, Lars, and Bruno profiles are included, and we are throwing in an IQ boost at no extra cost.”
“Wh-what about Rocky?” Herbert asked hesitantly. “The Rocky profile has such nice. . .” He raked his fingers through his thinning hair. Like his father before him, he’d started losing his hair in his twenties.
“Follicular longevity quotient!” their PAL responded enthusiastically. “I assure you that the first three are 99% reliable for hair retention. Alas, Rocky is not in the sale package.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially, “The Rocky phenotype—waste of your IQ boost.” He shook his head and the Rocky profile disappeared.
For even trivial decisions, Herbert would always agonize before making up his mind. A decision of this import seemed overwhelming. “Marylou, which one do you like?”
Marylou blinked, owl-like. “Lars. I like Lars.” Her excited grin had sealed the deal.
“Excellent choice, Mr. and Mrs. Entwhistle! You will be very pleased, and your son will grow up grateful that you added Lars Designer Genes to ensure his mental and physical health.”
The treatment seemed so long ago. Now their baby was struggling to be born. He was short on oxygen, and Marylou was at risk. Herbert could not stand feeling so helpless. When he was sure he could contain his anxiety no longer, the door from the delivery suite burst open. The doctor strode into the room, his mask dangling from its strings to reveal a strong jaw below a stern expression. Herbert ran up to him, “Is she okay?”
The doctor clapped Herbert on the shoulder. “Your wife is fine, and the baby is healthy and happy. They had a rough go for a little while there, but they came through just …” Herbert burst past the doctor and flew down to the recovery room.
Marylou lay on the bed, spent. She mustered a wan smile. “It’s never like this on T.V.,” she tried to joke.
“No, it’s not, Honey,” he replied, encircling her as best as he could past the rails of the hospital bed. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
She nodded. “We did it!” she giggled. Herbert felt his whole body unclench as a grin crept across her face.
The doctor appeared in the doorway. “When can we see our baby?” they asked in unison.
“In just a few minutes. But first, Scheherazade Hart, from Designer Genes, would like to speak to you.” A striking woman in a blue business suit and white lab coat appeared behind the doctor. She shook Herbert’s and Marylou’s hands. She paused as she locked eyes with each of them, as if emphasizing how serious she was. “I’m afraid there was a glitch with your treatment. You’ll get a full refund, of course.”
She saw the shock in their eyes and hurried on. “Your baby is healthy; he will just be . . .unmodified.” Shock faded to puzzlement. “The gene enhancement didn’t work; the Lars package was rejected by the germ plasm,” Scheherazade continued. “He has only your genes. I am truly sorry. This happens very rarely.” Marylou’s lip trembled.
“We want to see him. Bring him here now!” Herbert demanded.
The mobile creche must have been just outside the door; a nurse wheeled it in within seconds and placed the baby in his mother’s arms. He opened his tiny eyes. The left one tipped to one side slightly. A nubbin of a jaw was lost under a pouting lip that turned Herbert’s heart to marshmallow goo.
“He’s perfect!” blurted Herbert.
Marylou’s smile lit up the recovery room. “Oh, Herbert, Rocky looks just like you.”
“Special Delivery” was originally written in response to a contest prompt at A Word with You Press that requested a short story based on the truism, “A square jaw denotes a strong will.”