By: Jacob B. Hansen, Associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Photo by Jacob Trbovich
The following takes place in 2685, nearly five centuries after the Third Great War. Terms that may not be familiar to all readers are set in bold the first time they appear and are annotated in the Glossary which follows the story.
“Do I hear three-million? Three-million to number 63, do I hear three point five? Three point five to 86, do I hear four-million? Four-million to our man on the phone, do I hear four point five?”
“Eight-million,” says number 63, a stocky black man with a wispy mustache and graying hair.
“Eight-million, do I hear eight point five? Gentlemen, this is our final lot of the day, an excellent specimen of NIES-reserve stock with a certificate verifying intelligence and genetic purity. Our experts anticipate that she should be capable of yielding at least a dozen viable offspring if you should so ch- eight point five, from number 76; do I hear nine-million?”
The haggling continues for another fifteen minutes, the prize eventually going to Harlan McKetchen, the call-in bidder from Australia, for the sum of thirty-six million dollars. Though this is less than I had anticipated (my internal projections called for a selling price of around fifty million), the day wasn’t a complete bust. Lot 8, an auburn haired seventeen year old of Mediterranean lineage, sold for five million more than my internal projections, and lot 12, a gorgeous South American with cream-colored skin and charcoal-black hair, sold for almost twice what I’d anticipated. These unexpected gains cover lot 23’s under-performance, and suggest a shift in demand towards more exotic stock. I tally the day’s final numbers before locking up, and make a note to wholesale or trade away some inventory to stay ahead of this exotic trend. My current stores are predominantly classic bloodlines, which remain strong in Europe and Oceania– despite their recently poor domestic showings–so I should receive good value for them in return.
As I lock the exterior door of the building, my eyes drift towards the bronze nameplate affixed beside it–Gotyze International, Michel Gotyze, Principal–and I begin to steel myself for tonight’s banquet before entering my idling car. My name, as reflected on the plaque, is Michel Gotyze, and I make my living transferring women from a government breeding program to the handful of wealthy men who can afford to buy them. I’ve been working professionally in the trades for thirty-five years, and like all purveyors of heavily-regulated human flesh, mine has been an arduous journey.
I was born in 2615 from the line of Ricard Wentz and Henry Gotyze, pharmaceutical merchants of Austrian blood living in Pennsylvania. As a youth I excelled in science, and would probably have become a full-time genetic researcher had I not been influenced by my parents’ strongly capitalist leanings. After attending college in the Midwest, I was recruited by the National Institute of Eugenic Studies (NIES) but deferred employment to begin a four-year apprenticeship with Stephen Subhner (who would become my mentor), the renowned Reproduction Auctioneer whose work with genetic trending revolutionized the flesh trade business (and made him a small fortune) during the early 2530s. Following my apprenticeship, and at Stephen’s insistence, I attended the Sloan School of Management at MIT, where I received a Master’s in Business Logistics (to this point my terminal degree). I worked for three additional years at the Sumtner Institute before Stephen’s untimely death at the age of one hundred and fifty-six. Though his death devastated me, Stephen’s will devised me a significant sum of money, the townhouse that we shared, and the Institute (which I reorganized as Gotzye International three years later).
The car crawls uptown, traffic slow despite the city’s sparse population, and my valet adjusts the rear-view mirror to ask whether I’m nervous about the speech I’m about to give. I thank him for asking and say that I’m not (reminding myself that it shouldn’t be hard to give a talk to a room full of friends and colleagues), even though the butterflies in my stomach have begun to take flight. Even after a hundred public engagements, talks, and interviews, there is something about speaking in public that still makes me nervous–a condition that germinal choice wasn’t able to erase.
My valet is handsome and young looking, with pale, lightly freckled skin, gray-green eyes, and a lean, athletic body. He is clean-shaven and wears his dark hair cropped close to the scalp (as is the current style). Though he and I are physically dissimilar–I have light-brown skin, coarse reddish hair, and a heavily muscled frame–we share the same glow of “healthiness” that all members of our society are marked with. Today, aided as we are by germinal choice technologies, nutritional advancements, depopulation, and synthetic implantation genetics, none of this is surprising. At seventy I’m still approaching my physical prime, a phase of my life that should last at least one hundred and fifty years. If recent estimates hold, and assuming that no tragedy befalls me, I can expect to live as long as five or six hundred years in all–a finish-line which will likely inch even further away before I’m even ready to consider it.
The fact of extended life, particularly in light of my intelligence and relative affluence, heavily influenced my decision to abandon NIES in favor of a career in the trades. Thanks to strict reproduction quotas, the supply of human capital is extremely limited; in a world where your professional life may span four centuries, and where every worker is valuable, taking employment for any reason other than passion is almost unheard of. I could have been a serviceable genetics researcher, but I’m a damned good flesh trader, able to earn a handsome living while slowly repopulating the world’s female population. To do what I love and be paid well for it–it’s no wonder I look forward to waking up each morning.
My valet–Christian Hempstead, who has worked in that capacity for seventeen years– grew up in Oregon and studied engineering at the University of California Berkeley before moving east. Years ago I asked him why he chose to pursue work as a valet (Christian, like most “valets,” acts as my driver, chef, private secretary, and confidante), and he replied that he had the intellect–but not the drive–to pursue greatness. Rather than choosing to work in a field where his intellect would be stifled, or where his lack of determination would frustrate his professional advancement, Christian took a path that would allow him to engage with great minds on more relaxed terms. He came to me through my mentor Stephen’s former valet–a man two hundred years my senior at the time of Stephen’s death–who had himself chosen to work as a valet for similar reasons.
To an extent, I envy Christian; due to my influence, he does interact with some of the great minds of our time, receives a generous income, and in exchange performs his job exceptionally well (a task that does not require him to innovate or to make deep personal sacrifices). Yet despite these benefits, and the happiness that the work brings to Christian, I know that the lack of risk and creative necessity involved in being a valet would leave me unfulfilled and stifled (the same considerations that caused me to eschew NIES). That I know this and am instead able to pursue the path that is most right for me is one of the most exciting things about 27th century America.
I shuffle through my speech one last time, pretending not to notice that we’ve arrived at the venue, and when I finally look up and nod to him, Christian steps out of the car and opens my door. I hand him my attaché, and we walk together up the building’s stairs, scan our thumbprints at the door, and enter the opulently decorated space. Moqueca, the hall where this evening’s banquet is being held, was built during the robber baron era of the 1880s and remains one of the most breathtaking event spaces in the city, with one-hundred-foot-high ceilings and ornate velvet tapestries.
Christian and I make our way through the crowd and towards the stage, shaking hands and exchanging the usual niceties with this evening’s guests. Behind the small dais, in the middle of the stage, the words “McKenzie-Forester Genetic Institute” and an intricate crest that serves as the company’s logo are projected. McKenzie-Forester, the government-funded gene-bank that supplies most of the product that eventually enters my auction house, is responsible for tonight’s banquet and the award that I am here to accept. Founded by Alfred McKenzie in 2136 as a local gene-bank, McKenzie-Forester is now under the purview of NIES and boasts the most robust library of biological data on earth. Maintaining strong relationships with the company (and in particular with Wilson Forester III, its president and chief geneticist) is essential in my line of work and is the reason I’ve agreed to speak tonight. Despite my success as a flesh trader, and my immense affection for the business, I remain a scientist at heart and don’t enjoy the pomp connected with public events such as this (to say nothing of the public speaking); were it not for Wilson’s insistence, Christian and I would instead be spending a quiet evening at home.
We step onto the stage and are ushered to our seats by a gray-bearded Sikh wearing a well-tailored suit the same shade as his facial hair. I recognize him as Lokesh Rao, one member of Wilson’s cadre of valets, and we exchange pleasantries before taking our seats. Wilson is distracted and shouting into his telephone, barking orders in Mandarin (one of only four languages in current use) to what I gather is a quality-control inspector at NIES. A server approaches, and Christian orders us each a glass of Vincenhno and sparkling water, which is the cocktail du jour.
Christian and I speak idly amongst ourselves as Wilson concludes his business dealings, orders a glass of Vincenhno, and stands to formally greet us. Wilson, who has just celebrated his four hundred and fifty-eighth birthday, is slightly taller than I am and wears his thick black hair in the Roman tradition. He greets me warmly, congratulating me on tonight’s honor, and for a few minutes we fall into a discussion about genetic trends and projected inventory levels for the coming year. I lament the mediocre price I received for lot 23, telling him of my desire to wholesale out similar stock to get ahead of the curve, and (as I had hoped) Wilson responds that he knows a vendor in the Pacific who would be willing to make such a deal.
As his name suggests, Wilson Forester III did not take employment at McKenzie-Forester on a lark. Wilson, like his grandfather before him (though not his father, who died from a brain aneurysm at twenty-six; his genetic matter was extracted postmortem and used to birth Wilson), went to work for McKenzie-Forester immediately after receiving his PhD and quickly ascended through the ranks. Treated with almost anti-nepotistic disdain by Forester Senior, Wilson progressed in spite of his name, working circles around his contemporaries and combining tireless stamina with an almost staggering intellect. It was Wilson who developed the world’s first fully functional artificial womb, and Wilson who approached NIES about acquiring McKenzie-Forester (correctly predicting that the government would never allow a wholly private company to wield control over womb technology). Before NIES’s acquisition, McKenzie-Forester was a boutique gene-bank, a mere blip on the radar screen of such giants as Galton-Lynn and Mendel Genomics; afterwards it was the only lab left in America. Later whispers suggested that it was Wilson who gave NIES the idea of nationalizing genomics in the first place.
All of this is to reiterate that Wilson, a very dear friend, is a powerful and helpful (some might say essential) ally to have in the flesh trade business. We finish our conversation, Wilson promising to have Christian and me out for dinner the following week, and before I can finish my second glass of Vincenhno the lights are dimmed for the evening’s presentations. In addition to the award I’m being honored with, several scientists and NIES bureaucrats are presenting papers as well. Most of the papers detail esoteric concerns, but a few touch on matters that will directly affect my business (such as a proposal to decrease population growth by another 3% in light of revised life expectancy figures).
By the time dinner (Galiform confit served alongside parsnip puree and kumquat) has been consumed, and my third glass of Vincenhno imbibed, Wilson steps to the dais and introduces me to the audience. He mentions most of my educational and career highlights, giving me more credit than I probably deserve for Gotzye International’s success, and like ‘that’ I’m walking towards the microphone to begin my remarks:
“Gentlemen, I thank you, both for your applause, and for the contributions that you’ve each made to our industry over the past year. As Wilson said, I have worked in the trades for forty years–a mere blink of the eye to many of you but fully half of my life. I admit that even reading from this page has left me sweaty palmed; I’ve never enjoyed speaking before a crowd, finding it hard to escape the fear that my modest words and achievements may be found wanting of an audience–particularly one as grand as this… But for tonight, I will stand on each of your shoulders and hope that my words find their mark. Please indulge this small burden as I reminisce about the history of genetic modification, its present, and my vision for its future.
Some might begin this history in the book of Genesis with Adam and Eve, who could be said to have taken the first steps towards selective reproduction. Adam saw something in Eve that he wished to duplicate, to pass on to future generations. Should this starting point seem too arcane–I promised Wilson to keep my remarks brief–we might instead look to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 treatise Emile, which posited that human nature–and indeed the human species itself–was perfectible. This work, a masterpiece of the first age of Enlightenment, made no mention of ‘genes,’ but instead imagined that a carefully conceived pedagogy was the key to exalting the human condition. August Weismann, the Austrian theorist, came closer to our current understanding during the 1890s when he suggested that determinants–which we now understand as genes–were responsible for evolution and natural selection, a concept which proved invaluable to later scientific advances.
Less romantically, and perhaps even further from our modern scientific underpinnings, we might instead begin with the Aktion T4 program employed by Nazi Germany, which euthanized 300,000 physically and mentally handicapped individuals during its six years of operation. Or we might point to the 65,000 who were subject to compulsive sterilization in our own country during the 20th century. Though both of these programs utilized what I might call scattershot eugenics, blindly hacking away at genetically undesirable results without making a thorough investigation of their cause, it would be revisionist to deny their inclusion in our scientific family tree.
As you will no doubt agree, each of these starting points–whether compelled by theology, Enlightenment ideals, or misplaced notions of discrimination and pseudo-science–did in their own way influence, however peripherally, the history that has brought us together this evening. Although modern eugenic practices are not concerned with aesthetic norms like blond hair and blue eyes, our work does focus on improving the genetic qualities of our species for the betterment of mankind. Long life, resistance to illness, eradication of hereditary diseases, increased intelligence–I am proud to say that during my short lifetime we have continued to make advances in these realms and others, while at the same time preserving our diverse heritage and individuality.
Whether we choose to credit Friedrich Miescher, Nikolai Koltsov, or the Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase, any discussion of our science must trace its origins to the building blocks of life–DNA. Identification of this molecule, research into its replication and relationship with RNA, and the subsequent mapping of the human genome, is the literal foundation upon which our current science was built. Just as clearly, the false starts that the double-helix inspired–the theories and misapplications which nearly crippled our civilization–are the unlikely pillars which today keep the roof from caving in and crushing us all.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, or PGD, is a term that 20th century eugenicists used to describe the process of screening embryos and oocytes prior to in vitro fertilization. Despite its beneficent aims PGD–which fell out of use by the late 21st century–was functionally hamstrung by many of the same deficiencies that plagued the eugenic and sterilization programs of Nazi Germany. For example, because PGD was not used to engineer genes or improve them through gene targeting, progress was limited to picking and choosing among the ‘best’ embryos provided by particular individuals. Though less macabre than euthanizing or sterilizing individuals deemed unworthy to reproduce, the prospects for human advancement were similarly limited. Instead of removing so-called ‘undesirables’ from the wider gene pool, PGD removed undesirable embryos from individuals wishing to reproduce, without attempting to maximize the long-term gains to society. Moreover, PGD could be utilized only by individuals conceiving through in vitro fertilization, a severe limitation in a world where most people continued to procreate “naturally” through sexual intercourse. Finally, while PGD was useful for flagging structural abnormalities within chromosomes, and alerting doctors to the presence of monogenetic disorders, it was woefully inadequate with regards to multifactorial and polygenic disorders such as cancer and diabetes.
Beyond its functional shortfalls, many critics sounded the alarm that PGD would result in the shallowing of our gene pool, reducing genetic diversity and eventually leading to the ruin of our species. This argument described a slippery slope that began at disease eradication and sex selection–which by the 21st century was gaining popularity–and would end with selecting for purely cosmetic concerns like height, hair color, and skin tone. Raising the specter of Aktion T4 and its ilk, some argued that when the process of breeding undesired traits away became too slow, a system of genocide would be implemented to expedite the process.
These were uncertain times for genetics, yet despite PGD’s flaws, and the critics who vocally opposed it, scientists soldiered on through the human genome, conducting research and taking the uncertain steps that would eventually lead to the technologies we utilize today. PGD and other germinal choice technologies were combined with advances in gene therapy, biological engineering, gene adaptive imaging, zygote implantation, and reprogenetic testing, to create novel techniques that allowed individuals to do much more than simply choose amongst embryos. By 2176, when Marshall Roth published his treatise on procreative beneficence, no fewer than a hundred engineering and screening techniques had gained and lost popularity, with eight dominant programs being utilized among all social strata in the United States, and throughout most of Europe and parts of Asia.
As described by Dr. Roth, the paths taken by geneticists between the 20th and 22nd centuries were meandering and filled with stops and starts. Concerns about genetic discrimination, antiquated and contradictory laws, and a lack of government subsidization all served to retard the development of germinal choice technologies. As a student of the modern school of eugenics–a school that has been celebrated and nurtured in equal parts–it’s difficult to imagine the challenges that these men and women must have fought to overcome in reaching the heights they did. After all, while the fully artificial womb had not yet been developed or utilized– as it is in Synthetic Implantation Genetics–the pervasive technologies of 2176 were not so different from our own.
In an average late 22nd century procedure, genetic material from each parent–ordinarily a female ovum and male sperm–was collected and sequenced to create a single set of combined physical, emotional, and intellectual traits. In cases where unsolvable genetic defects were discovered in both parents, material from the lab’s gene-bank was scrubbed and substituted to provide clean data to fill the gap. The resulting zygote, based on the ideal combination of its parents’ genetics, was then re-implanted in the lining of the uterus and carried to term.
The tone of Dr. Roth’s book, and the similarity between the prevailing processes and our own, suggests that eugenics was prepared to enter its golden age some 500 years ago. And then… all hell broke loose. Civil unrest–fueled by the chasm between rich and poor nations, and fanned by increased competition for natural resources–gripped most of Africa and parts of Asia; a population boom aided by the eradication of several major diseases and the near doubling of worldwide life expectancy crippled the infrastructure of several South American countries; unexpected flooding of the Nile, which destroyed crops and homes, incited end of the world panic. Evidence of previously unfathomable military developments was also made public, causing renewed military fervor and inciting an arms race. In addition to biological and genetic warfare, proof that several countries–including our own–had succeeded in creating real-life chimeras was leaked to the press and popularly condemned. The critique that scientists were playing God was both deafening and well founded, causing religious groups to stage protests and lobby for the immediate suspension of genetic research.
In America, Congress imposed a blanket moratorium on genetic investment and research, and overnight one of our most lucrative industries vanished. Between 2176 and 2180 our GDP dropped by 23%; research centers and hospitals closed, pharmaceutical companies relocated or went out of business, and the nation was thrown into financial chaos. Similar measures were enacted throughout Europe, parts of Asia, and even Brazil. Although military research secretly continued during the moratorium, several unintended consequences followed the civilian ban. First, birthrates in the developed world dropped precipitously, as those who could not afford to travel abroad for implantation deferred having children in hopes that the ban would soon lift. Second, suddenly unemployed medical professionals and researchers defected to nations without regulation, accepting work as scientific mercenaries. Countries like Venezuela, Nigeria, Turkey, Honduras, and Vietnam, which had lagged behind in germinal choice technology, suddenly became hotbeds of research and development. Because these nations lacked the resources to support the population boom that traditionally accompanied this technology, many scientists were compelled to instead pursue military applications.
Most of these countries–and there were dozens with verified weapons development programs–focused their research on gene-warfare, producing compounds capable of deconstructing human DNA in a variety of ways. Some weapons attacked the frontal lobe of the brain, creating rage-filled men and women capable of incredible feats of blind, brute strength; others caused rapid DNA mutations that overwhelmed victims with tumors that would multiply and cause death within a programmed amount of time. Although these experiments were defended as furthering knowledge about human physiology, their true purposes were hard to overlook.
Although scattered rumors of genetic terror attacks began earlier–outlying towns where communication with the outside world stopped entirely, reports of isolated outbreaks of violence within city populations–it was in March of 2204 when the first ‘shot’ of the Third Great War was fired. Venezuela, which had warred on-and-off with its neighbors since the mid-21st century, fired six missiles across the border at targets in Brazil. These missiles–only one of which penetrated Brazilian air defenses–were equipped with ZE6 warheads designed to detonate in the lower atmosphere and to disperse contaminants across a six-square mile area. The missile that penetrated Brazilian airspace exploded over the capital of Brasilia, taking the lives of over four million citizens. ZE6, perhaps the most insidious compound ever developed, would prove to be the deadliest weapon in history by the time the Third Great War ended. Initial effects of ZE6 exposure were not felt for several weeks, at which time victims developed symptoms mirroring those of advanced-stage uterine and ovarian cancer; rapidly spreading tumors, severe pain, and sterility. Women who had been pregnant miscarried, and the compound–which impacted only women–attacked without regard to age; once exposed, not even newborns were spared. Death came slowly to those affected, often taking as long as a year and making ZE6 more a weapon of terror than of warfare; the physical pain of its female victims was matched only by the psychological pain of the survivors who watched their loved ones die knowing that the hope for future generations went with them.
Brazilian response to the attack was immediate, and within days fighting–with both traditional and genetic weaponry–had erupted throughout South and Central America. The war disabled South American energy exports, stoking worldwide demand for ethanol, oil, and natural gas, and leading to skirmishes in Northern Africa, Eastern Europe, and between several islands in the South Pacific. Western Europe, the United States, China, and Asiatic Russia swore to remain neutral, but by early 2206 more than one-third of the world’s nations were at active war, making isolation difficult. The side effects of the fighting–shattered supply lines for food and energy, genetically altered refugees seeking asylum, rampant destruction of the environment, and airspace contamination by compounds like ZE6–were so prevalent that even “neutral” nations were soon experiencing significant losses of life.
As 2206 dragged on, and developed nations slowly entered the fray, a strategy which called for coordinated strikes against genetic weapons factories was developed. Military leaders correctly predicted that nations using genetic weapons lacked the organization and manpower to successfully wage a traditional war, and believed that destroying these weapon systems would bring an end to the fighting. Over a two-month period, thousands of weapons facilities were destroyed across the globe, an initiative that obliterated many smaller rogue states in Africa and South America. Though the strategy was effective at crippling these nations’ offensive capabilities, the side effects which followed were catastrophic.
Whether neutral or not, ‘developed’ nations–like Brazil, Japan, the United States, and much of Western Europe–refused even to experiment with weapons like ZE6, and as a result they remained woefully uninformed about the compounds’ intricacies. ZE6 for example was designed to remain inert until it was exposed to extreme heat and moisture–the very combination that made atmospheric release so ideal. As a result of these characteristics, the coordinated attacks–which occurred during the Southern Hemisphere’s wet season and used traditional incendiary devices–served both to destroy manufacturing capabilities and to release tens of thousands of tons worth of ZE6 and other compounds into the atmosphere. Carried by prevailing winds, these compounds spread throughout the world in a matter of months in slightly less concentrated–yet equally deadly–form. Lower concentrations resulted in longer incubation periods and even slower deaths; by the time the first victims of the worldwide contamination began to show symptoms several weeks after the strikes ended, the damage had already been done.
In January of 2207, when a final round of bombing destroyed a weapons factory in Kazakhstan, spreading a cloud of contaminant across Russia, China, and as far south as India, the final dominoes of neutrality fell. Traditional fighting spread throughout the rest of Europe and Asia, and by March the United States had dispatched troops into Mexico to stem the armies marching through Central America. Seizing on the Mexican distraction, as well as that caused by the panic of ZE6 contamination, Russia launched a surprise attack against the United States, pummeling both coasts with a barrage of traditional and genetic missiles. Now understanding that traditional weapons would only cause further genetic contamination, the United States dispatched nuclear weapons against Russia’s weapons factories, and mounted a massive ground assault to prevent their rebuilding. Those other nations with nuclear capabilities followed suit deploying their weapons–the only ones guaranteed not to spread genetic compounds into the atmosphere–against the world’s remaining manufacturing facilities, and precipitating the end of the war.
The Third Great War–which through direct casualties reduced the world’s population from over 17 billion in 2204 to 900 million in 2210–taught us that for all of our science and progress, we remained backwards in many ways. ZE6, the compound that started the fighting, was released extensively during the war and affected all corners of the globe–even those nations whose ethical objections had precluded their experimenting with it. With women rendered infertile by radiation, and others afflicted by indeterminable maladies, the Third Great War eradicated the world’s female population, leaving humanity sterile. After peace was brokered, and the new world governance structure installed, it was in the name of unity that reconstruction began.
Weapons programs, from genetic and nuclear to traditional munitions, were completely dismantled, and scientific mercenaries returned to the task of improving the human condition. It took scientists until 2293 to successfully regain the genetic data and research that had been lost during the war, and to succeed in completing the first human birth in nearly a century. Although the creation of a female who would be capable of ‘natural’ reproduction was a dream still decades from realization, the birth of this first child–which scientists named Adam–was a rare glimpse of light during the 23rd century… Exacerbated by lingering nuclear fallout, and the fact that the elderly and infirm were the largest group to survive the fighting, the human population continued to plummet following the war’s end. By 2298, when McKenzie-Forester renewed full-scale operations, the world population had dipped to 350 million, its lowest number since the Black Death decimated Europe almost a thousand years earlier.
The lone benefit to humanity’s dwindling numbers was a concomitant reduction–indeed elimination–of competition over natural resources, a development which stimulated increased socialization and nurtured the unity of purpose that we share today. Although cultural changes and continuing genetic refinement have played a large role in the past two centuries’ harmony, one need only look at the Third Great War’s escalation to understand the chaos that unbridled competition can cause. In a world of 17 billion people, basic survival dictated that the brightest and most driven devote their days to toil in the most financially lucrative field available in order to fight, claw, and muscle their way ahead of their neighbors for a share of these resources. Those men who in generations past would have been sculptors became ballistics engineers; those who could have written great dramas became propagandists. On my drive here this evening, I was struck by how miraculous it is that my valet Christian should be able to pursue a career that satisfies him completely, without fear that he might go hungry as a result. The 23rd century would have forced him to climb over 17 billion others just to clothe himself, yet today no such compulsion exists. In a world of 350 million–in a world of fabulous bounty, where our engineers design water purification systems and sustainable foodstuffs instead of bombs, and where architects build energy-efficient homes instead of detention facilities–the coercive nature of survival has been lifted and we are finally free to pursue our dreams.
700 years after our for-bearers began to unlock DNA’s sequence, and many generations after PGD emerged as an ethical quagmire, we now live in a world which seems at once both predictable and disarmingly stable. Yet it is clear that the greatest challenges to our civilization– eradication of 98% of the world’s population, loss of the female gender, sterility which will take a thousand years to fully reverse–continue to be those of which we have never even dreamed… So while I’m not a soothsayer, I would like to close the evening with a few thoughts about our future.
It is a cruel fact that like Odysseus we must sometimes strap ourselves to the mast–to bind our hands in order to keep our own worst selves from prevailing. We have made strides to prevent another great war–strict limits on human births, compulsory education through the university level, and genetic inhibition of aggression to name but a few. While these programs have been celebrated, and have served to anchor us away from the abyss, I fear that once the memories of war fade, voices may begin to whisper that our hands should again be untied; to whisper that the freedom of choice is more valuable than peace. As a species we might have one more great war in us, but I am not certain that we have one more great recovery… We have destroyed our technologies of destruction, but we must continue to ensure that the lessons those technologies taught are not forgotten.
Within the next three centuries–perhaps fewer as the remaining survivors of the Third Great War begin to fade, allowing us to increase human reproduction–I believe that flesh traders like myself will find ourselves out of business. We are already allowing women to be birthed at twice the rate of men, and once they reach a critical mass they will be returned to their place as equals in society–a renewed world that our education system is already socializing our youth to accept. The reality of our current plight is that following their disappearance women became our rarest and most valuable commodity. If we do not carefully safeguard them in the interim, through careful placement and monitoring, they might be lost forever, a harbinger of our own demise.
Yet even in acknowledging the immense value that women hold for our civilization’s future, I cannot help but wonder whether the commodification that we have effected can quickly be undone. Is our mode of reintegrating women a form of slavery, of paternalism, or of beneficence? Has our–has my–manufacture and sale of women stripped them of their humanity? Of their inherent sovereignty? Does it satisfactorily answer the question to say that everything we have done is to ensure the survival of the human race? From the inside looking out I confess that this question cannot easily be answered; women do have less autonomy than we as men, and women are transferred to buyers in the same way as chattel. Yet women cannot be resold any more than you or I, and cannot legally be harmed or discarded. Women are subject to the same educational obligations as men, are encouraged to pursue employment that interests them, and are legally free to choose whether or not to procreate (though societal pressures may admittedly manipulate this choice). In this sense women are not precisely commodities, yet neither are they wholly autonomous; though in today’s world are any of us? I believe that, while men remain sovereign in their right to choose who and what to love and do, we all remain tethered together through an inviolable pact. We have seen where unfettered autonomy leads, and we have witnessed the havoc that a world populated with ‘me’s rather than ‘us’s can wreak. Neither man nor woman can ignore the debt that each of us owes to this new society and to the technology that made it possible. In 2292, the year before McKenzie-Forester created the first new human, men were destined to follow women towards extinction; yet four centuries later, here we are. To borrow a concept from 20th century author George Orwell, perhaps all I can offer that all humans are autonomous–some are just more autonomous than others. We may never again be as free as our forbearers, but in my lifetime I believe women will be as free as each of us.
Finally, although 20th century fears about an aesthetically homogenized world have not yet come to pass–indeed as I look around this room I imagine that each of us dreams that his child will be created in his own image as opposed to some manufactured ideal–I can proudly say that we are more alike than at any time in our history. We are each healthy, and educated, and intelligent, but our similarities run much deeper than this. We are each driven by the desire to see our world rebuilt, to treat our neighbors with the same respect and generosity that we demand for ourselves, to pursue employment that challenges and fulfills us, and to ensure that the mistakes of yesterday are not repeated tomorrow. We are the same in these ways, yet this does not make us any less individual or any less human. I dream of a world where my job no longer exists, but until we reach that peak I will continue to pursue it tirelessly. That this strengthens my similarity to each of you is worth celebrating. And so I thank you again for this wonderful honor, and good night.”
As the crowd applauds–grateful for my words, and perhaps as well for the reprieve which follows them–Christian, Lokesh, and finally Wilson come to shake my hands and clap me on the shoulder. I remind Wilson that I’ll be contacting him about his Pacific contact and about dinner, and after standing for a few photographs Christian and I file out with the rest of the crowd. The evening is crisp, and after repeating how wonderful my speech was Christian poses a question that makes me shudder slightly beneath my overcoat.
“Michel,” he asks. “Do you really think the trades will close?”
Do I think that the trades will close…? That the powerful will willingly forfeit half of their power and wealth in the name of equality? That today’s chattel will be accepted open armed as a citizen of the world? Do I think that the lessons of the Third Great War have taken, and that our genetic modifications and cross-cultural socialization has truly made us better men?
“I don’t know Christian,” I reply. “But I hope so.”
Glossary of Terms
Aktion T4–the German eugenics program during the Nazi regime, Aktion T4 took the lives of several hundred thousand people between 1939 and 1945. In addition to those euthanized, around 360,000 people were sterilized between 1933 and 1939; this escalation (from sterilization to euthanasia) is reflected in the concurrent murder of 6 million Jews, 3 million Soviets, 2 million Poles, 1 million Romani, and several hundred thousand members of other “undesirable” groups. The Aktion T4 program was justified by several means including humanitarian grounds (the program targeted those burdened with “lives not worth living” such as the mentally ill and those with severe disabilities) and the desire to “cleanse” the German bloodline.
Artificial chromosomes–an additional chromosome artificially introduced to human DNA and capable of providing new genes to the recipient. Though 21st century applications were limited, military use prior to the Third Great War involved the introduction of extraordinary abilities and human-animal hybridization experiments.
Beneficence–an ethical concept focused on “doing good” for an individual, whether it comports with that individual’s wishes or not. Beneficence is often contrasted with autonomy, which is an individual’s right to do as he wishes. The current governmental regime focuses on the betterment of society as a whole, and as a result many aspects of individual autonomy have been curtailed.
Black Death–a pandemic that killed upwards of 200 million people during the 14th century, reducing the worldwide population to around 350 million.
Chimera–a mythological creature described most famously in The Illiad; “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.” In modern days the term has come to broadly denote any beast that is comprised of many different animals (for example Minotaurs, Centaurs, and the Sphynx). Prior to the Third Great War several governments experimented with chimera programs in an attempt to create “super soldiers,” capable of incredible feats of strength, breathing underwater, great foot speeds, and so-forth.
Cross-cultural education–an educational technique pioneered in the late 23rd century, during the second age of Enlightenment. In addition to traditional studies of mathematics and science, this educational model focuses on the histories, languages, and social sciences of a number of cultures. Under the current system, education (up through the secondary level) is standardized across all nations to allow students an equal and comprehensive understanding of competing cultures and past events. The worldwide curriculum is drafted by a single panel representing each of the remaining world cultures, and draws on ancient as well as contemporary disciplines (including sociology, philosophy, history, and political science). All instructors are required to complete a three-year certification program at the World Education College (in addition to their traditional university studies), and are rotated between nations every four years to ensure enhanced standardization. The purpose of this educational movement is to celebrate cultural differences while at the same time fostering an understanding and tolerance of others.
Designer babies–a term used in the 20th and 21st century to refer to children conceived through the use of germinal choice technologies, and intended to disparage such children as being purchased as commodities rather than birthed as human beings. Use of this term denotes a preoccupation with physical attributes such as hair, skin, and eye color.
Eugenics–a broad term applied to sciences which focus on improving the genetic attributes of a population. Though it can literally be understood as meaning “good genes,” the term took on a pejorative meaning following the Nazi eugenics movement of the 20th century. Following the Third Great War all negative connotations were stripped from the word, and it was again used in its broadest sense.
Flesh Trader–a colloquial term for Reproduction Auctioneer (see also Reproduction Auctioneer).
Galiform–a recently developed species of fowl similar to quail, the bird is very high in protein and certain amino acids and is promoted as supporting a healthy lifestyle.
Galton-Lynn–a gene-bank founded in England during the late 21st century, and named for Francis Galton (who coined the term eugenics) and Richard Lynn (who studied the connection between race and intelligence). Following the Third Great War, Galton-Lynn reincorporated in the United States and remained the world’s second largest research center until it was absorbed by McKenzie-Forester as part of the genetic nationalization plan.
Gene adaptive imaging–a tool developed in the early 22nd century to predict genetic mutations in an organism over the course of its life. The tool was initially used to expand the usefulness of PGD from static determinations of genetic health, to accurate predictions about future wellbeing. As more sophisticated genetic engineering techniques emerged, Gene Adaptive Imaging was similarly employed to test the health of embryo or oocyte DNA.
Gene engineering–a broad term used to describe the intentional alteration of DNA through artificial means. As it relates to current germinal choice technology, gene engineering is the process whereby genes from two donors (parents) are combined, ideal combinations chosen, and flawed genes are replaced with matter from the centralized genebank.
Gene targeting–a technique used to add, delete, or substitute specific genes in an organism. As currently applied, gene targeting is a subset of gene engineering.
Gene therapy–a tool used to repair DNA after it has been damaged. During the Third Great War, the concept of gene therapy was reversed and weaponized, allowing DNA to be targeted and destroyed.
Gene-bank–a “bank” or collection of biological matter, including individual genes and full genomes, used in the study and creation of human life. The genome of every child born since the end of the Third Great War has been stored in a centralized gene-bank for purposes of study and genetic improvement.
Genetic discrimination–in its simplest iteration, genetic discrimination occurs when individuals are treated differently because of their genes (ordinarily because they have an undesirable mutation or are carriers for a genetic disease). An early concern with PGD was that by allowing their embryos to be tested, parents might discover that they themselves suffered from genetic mutations and that this information would be included in their medical records. Because certain employers and insurance carriers could access this information, the fear was that these individuals would be treated differently (or excluded entirely). A further concern, popularized in the 1997 film Gattaca, was that as the study of human genetics became more sophisticated it would allow the wealthy to purchase “designer babies” who would be physically and intellectually superior to those birthed through traditional means. As in that film, “natural” humans would be treated as inferior, creating (in effect) a caste system based purely on genetics.
Genetic trending–a technology first developed in the 22nd century and still used by scientists and flesh traders to predict which genes will be most desirable in the future. In its crudest form– that used by flesh traders–this prediction focuses on desirable aesthetic characteristics like hair, eye, and skin color. In its more scientific form, genetic trending is a form of participant evolution; geneticists study and make predictions about social and environmental changes in an attempt to maximize humanity’s ability to thrive in future conditions. For example, if trending suggested that another ice age were approaching, scientists would adapt subsequent generations to tolerate these colder temperatures.
Gene-warfare–a type of warfare utilized during the Third Great War, which caused specific types of mutations in a population. The purpose of this subset of weapons was not simple destruction (which traditional and nuclear technologies accomplished more efficiently) but rather the breaking of an enemy’s spirit. Most genetic weapons caused death over a prolonged period of time, which tended to sap both the victim-nation’s spirits (owing to families and friends watching their loved ones die slow and painful deaths) and its resources (caring for victims was costly, and because death often took several months or longer to arrive, time consuming). The most well-known gene-warfare compound is ZE6, which caused the extinction of human women.
Germinal choice technology–one of several terms used to describe the general process of influencing the genetic makeup of humans. It can be used to generically describe concepts as broad as PGD, participant evolution, genetic trending, and Synthetic Implantation Genetics.
Heterozygote advantage–when a genotype consists of two different alleles at its locus, it is considered heterozygous. In some cases, where a trait is incompletely recessive, a person carrying the heterozygous genotype will not experience the negative effects of the trait yet will still receive the ancillary benefits of the trait. For example, prior to worldwide eradication of malaria, outbreaks of the disease were common and deadly in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia; individuals afflicted with sickle-cell anemia (which itself reduced life expectancy) were found to be resistant to the illness. As a result, an individual who carried only one sickle-cell allele (i.e., who carried the heterozygous genotype for the disease) would not suffer the negative effects of the disease, but would be resistant to malaria. Early critics of germinal choice technologies worried that eradicating certain negative traits could eliminate as yet undiscovered heterozygote advantages.
In vitro fertilization–a process by which an egg is fertilized with sperm outside of the body. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, this process remained rare (most eggs were fertilized as a result of sexual intercourse). However, as PGD and other germinal choice technologies gained popularity, it became more common. Synthetic Implantation Genetics (the means of conception in use as of this writing) utilizes a similar process wherein a wholly artificial egg is created, injected with genetic material from two donors (parents), and placed inside a fully artificial womb for incubation.
McKenzie-Forester Genetic Institute–founded in 2136 by Wilson Forester and Alfred McKenzie, McKenzie-Forester is the United States’ exclusive gene-bank (and the largest facility of this type in the world). The Institute is partially funded by, and under the purview of, NIES.
Mendel Genomics–founded in the Czech Republic by Gregor Johann Mendel VI in 2041 as a bio-bank, the center was the largest in the world prior to being nationalized by the European Union following the Third Great War.
Monogenetic disorder–a trait in which mutation of a single gene is sufficient to cause the trait to appear. Because only a single gene mutation is required, these diseases are simple to predict; when PGD was initially developed, it was only effective at identifying monogenetic disorders.
Multifactorial and polygenic disorder–a trait caused by the interaction of several genes as well as environmental and lifestyle factors. The need to control for environmental and lifestyle factors has resulted in the ban of many activities and substances in years following the Third Great War. For example, although the genetic factors that cause heart disease have been eliminated, a healthy diet and exercise is (as of this writing) still an integral component in the eradication of this disease.
National Institute of Eugenic Studies (NIES) –prior to the Third Great War, the United States lacked a single national agency devoted to the research and study of genetic matter; the Center for Disease Control’s Office of Genomics & Disease Prevention and the National Institute of Health’s Genetic Modification Clinical Research Information System were but two of the many competing organizations that touched on the subject. After the Third Great War, the United States formed NIES as a central repository for genetic research. Following Wilson Forester III’s development of the fully artificial human womb, the world governance structure ordered all nations to nationalize their genetics research and development; in the United States the NIES assumed this role.
Oocyte–an immature egg cell.
Participant evolution–a process of modifying genes to meet certain criteria; in addition to the common modifications used today (resistance to disease, increased intelligence, decreased aggression, increased susceptibility to socialization), genetic trending is also used to project which traits might be most desirable in the future.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) –a blanket term applied in the late 20th and early 21st century when speaking about screening procedures performed on embryos prior to in vitro fertilization, and on oocytes prior to fertilization. PGD is a type of germinal choice technology.
Procreative beneficence–the theory that a parent should take all steps possible–whether natural or artificial–to ensure that his child is ideally situated (physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially) to succeed in life.
Reproduction auctioneer–after the fully artificial womb was perfected in 2292, a novel means of reintroducing women (who had been rendered extinct during the Third Great War) to the population was developed. Prior to maturity, girls attend to their education just as boys do, albeit under NIES supervision. Upon reaching sexual maturity, these women are placed with a flesh trader who facilitates their transfer to a suitable home. Owing to safety concerns, potential mates are screened for financial, social, and emotional suitability, and required to bid in order to receive a placement. After placement, if the couple should choose to reproduce, then the woman’s natural eggs are used in the process of Synthetic Implantation, reducing human reliance on artificial implements. Scientists estimate that by the 30th century women will have regained sufficient numbers to discontinue the current method of compulsory placement and usher in the demise of the flesh trades.
Reprogenetic testing–coined by molecular biologist Lee Silver in 1997, the term was popularly applied to a combination of advanced PGD techniques capable of identifying multifactorial disorders during the 22nd century.
Scientific mercenary–following the suspension of genetic research in 2176, many scientists were left unemployed and chose to take work in underdeveloped nations. Choosing work based on the size of the payment, these scientists often became involved in the weapons development that precipitated the Third Great War.
Single-class system–a system wherein each member of society is given the same social, financial, and educational opportunities to advance in life.
Synthetic implantation genetics–the current method of conception. Genetic material from both donors (parents) is taken, matched to reflect ideal traits of health, intelligence, socialization, etc., augmented with material from the central genebank, and implanted within an artificial womb. The artificial womb, which will supply the resulting fetus with an ideal combination of nutrients, will then carry the child to term. Although in most cases the donors are both men, requiring the use of an artificial egg, female donors (and natural eggs) are becoming more common.
Third Great War–fought between 2204 and 2210, the Third Great War involved combat between almost all nations and among numerous shifting alliances. Around 98% of the world’s population was decimated by this war (which involved the widespread use of traditional, genetic, and nuclear weapons), which also resulted in the extinction of the human female population.
Transhumanism–another term applied to technologies that attempt to “artificially” elevate human intellect, health, and socialization through the use of technology.
Valet–beginning in the early 23rd century, “valets” became common as the task of rebuilding society neared completion and the need for companionship became more pronounced. A valet will often serve as his employer’s friend, confidante, driver, chef, and personal secretary, running his home as a spouse may have done in the early 20th century. Though the valet relationship may include a sexual component, it is not necessary. Like all members of society valets are well-educated and are not viewed as servants or as socially inferior. Although some valets leave the profession to pursue other endeavors, this generally only occurs following the death of the employer.
Vincenhno–an opaque beverage consumed for recreation and comprised of various herbs, amino acids, proteins, and vitamins. Following the Third Great War, inebriating substances (including caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol) were outlawed for health reasons, and new means were developed to enhance social interactions. Vincenhno gained popularity during the mid-27th century and remains (as of this writing) a preferred beverage in the United States. The high levels of B-12 in Vincenhno produce a euphoric effect, which writers favorably compare to that of 21st century wine (and without the accompanying health risks).
ZE6–a female sterilization agent that altered the DNA of those exposed causing the rapid growth of tumors on the uterus and ovaries within a few months of exposure and death within a year. Extensive use of the compound, and early attempts to destroy ZE6 production facilities with traditional weapons (which dispersed huge amounts of ZE6 into the lower atmosphere, where it was carried around the world), caused the extinction of human women.
Zygote implantation–historically a zygote was naturally implanted into the uterus wall after around two weeks, at which point it became an embryo. In the 22nd century, the phrase was used to describe early attempts at Synthetic Implantation Genetics; an egg was fertilized using a selection of ideal genes from both donors (parents), and was then artificially implanted into the uterus wall. The procedure differed from traditional in vitro fertilization in several ways. First, the fertilized egg was itself screened and in some case genetically altered. Second a zygote- not an embryo- was the desired outcome (scientists believed that this earlier stage of implantation resulted in fewer complications). Finally, this procedure was (at the time of its introduction) utilized as the normal means of conception as opposed to a minority option.