Herbert paced outside the delivery room. There had been complications. 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 and excited Marylou had been when they first made the decision at the beginning of her pregnancy.
“Look, Honey. This one seems nice. ‘Sven,’” said Marylou, 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. But look at these. What about Lars or Bruno? Or Rocky?” Herbert scratched at his almost non-existent chin, poorly concealed behind a feathery pretense of a beard.
“They all look so handsome. Such strong, square jaws. But how can you be sure they will. . .” She trailed off.
The handsome man behind the faux walnut desk beamed at the indecisive couple. “I am confident any of these genome suites 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 the Phenotype Allocation Liaison (“I’m your best P.A.L.!” the advertisement had read.) “All the profiles you chose show at least a 90% match for will power, confidence, and self-esteem. Through the diligent work of our researchers as early as 2015, we discovered and copyrighted a unique gene group from select northern European populations that links square jaw and strength of character. These gene clusters are harvested and enhanced to be mutation-free. And you are in luck–we’re having a sale on the Eurasian IQ Fusion genome this month. Sven, Lars, or Bruno 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 self-consciously 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 P.A.L. responded enthusiastically. “I assure you that the first three are 99% reliable for hair retention. Alas, Rocky is not in the sale package.” He leaned closer, whispering conspiratorially, “The Rocky phenotype—waste of your IQ boost.”
Herbert had so much trouble making up his mind for even little things. A decision of this import seemed overwhelming. “Marylou, which one do you like?”
Marylou blinked, owl-like. “Lars.”
“Excellent choice, Mr. and Mrs. Entwhistle! You will be very pleased, and your son will be happy 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’s life was at risk. Herbert could not stand feeling so helpless. When he thought he could contain his anxiety no longer, the door from the delivery area burst open. The doctor strode triumphantly into the room, his mask dangling from its strings. Herbert ran up to him, “Is she okay?”
“Your wife is fine,” he beamed. “The baby is healthy and happy.” Herbert burst past the doctor. “Down the hall to the right,” the doctor called after him.
Marylou lay on the bed, spent, and smiled weakly at him. “It’s never like this on T.V.,” she tried to joke.
“No, it’s not, Honey.”
The doctor followed Herbert into the recovery room.
“When can we see our baby?” they asked in unison.
“In just a few minutes. But first, Scheherazade Hart, from Designer Genes, Inc., 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 hand and looked at them both, pausing 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. He has only your genes–the package did not.”
“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. His little jaw was lost under a pouting lip that made Herbert’s heart swell with tenderness. He was perfect.
Marylou sighed and smiled. “Herbie, honey, 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.”