February 12, 2017

SUN STORY SUNDAY | 2099

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This week we have a sobering bit of dystopian fiction that reflects, quite conspicuously, on our modern day. The audio component can be found here. Enjoy, but don’t take for granted.
Send submissions for Sun Story Sunday to Andres Vaamonde, alv49@cornell.edu.
2099

25 January 2099

Ramona is getting an infant.

She told Mother, Father, Alexander and I tonight at dinner, as we sat around our dining room table, eating our meal of chicken breast and brown rice and broccoli florets.

We’d been discussing our days, and Xander–who was visiting from Subdivison Nineteen on a business trip from the Technology Sector–was asking Mother objectively uninteresting questions about the new bot system that they’d implemented at her job in the Government Sector.

Mother was saying, “they’re just so quick and reliable, and they get more work done in an hour than most human employees can get done in two weeks.”

I’d zoned out at this point, but I remember thinking that Ramona hadn’t even really waited for a lull in the conversation before blurting out her news: “Grady and I are getting an infant,” she’d said, her eyes glued to her plate, but her food still untouched. Her voice was awkwardly loud and I noticed that it wavered ever so slightly.

The four of us just looked at her.

G25, our kitchen bot, came out from the kitchen then and refilled all of our water glasses, making sure to add a spritz of lemon to Mother’s cup.

“What?” Father asked.

We watched as Ramona chewed on her lower lip, a habit that I’d picked up from her over the years, and one that Mother hated more than anything. “We’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” Ramona said, “and I’m almost in my Twenty-Second Year. We just think that it’s time.”

“But, Ramona, you know what this means,” Mother said. As always, I had no idea what she was feeling in response to the big announcement.

Either way, what she’d said was pointless because of course, we all knew what it meant: Ramona wanted to get an infant. She wanted to visit the Lab with her fiancé Grady and sit down with a Pre-Infant Counselor, who would guide them through the entire process: the Gene Selection, the Infant Designing, the In Vitro fertilization, the parenting therapy, and the nine months of Ramona’s pregnancy.

“Of course I do,” my older sister had replied, interrupting my thoughts. She’d finally looked up to meet our parents’ gazes. “But I’m ready. We’re ready.”

“Oh, Ramona.” Mother reached out and touched Ramona’s hand. There was a smile in her eyes. “Congratulations! Really.” Finally, her older daughter was making something of herself by settling down and starting a family–something Mother always said Ramona was made to do. “I’m so proud of you,” my mom continued. She reached for her glass of water and took a sip, but not before adding, “I’ll be even prouder when you stop chewing on that lip of yours.”
17 February 2099

It’s been a few weeks since Ramona’s big announcement, but it was still all my family seemed able to talk about; “How do you like your Counselor?” Xander asked from his seat across the table this morning. He blew air onto a steaming spoonful of oats.

We were all seated around the breakfast table — Xander still with us as he continued his work for his Sector project — and Ramona had just mentioned something about an appointment the week before.

She smiled now. “We like him a lot. Grady and I were so nervous going into the Lab, but Dr. Carter was so empathetic and easy to talk to and gave us a ton of information.” Her smile looked like it was going to crack her face in half; I tried not to roll my eyes.

“Yeah?” Xander prompted. “Information like what?”

“A lot of background information, mostly stuff that we already knew, but we just needed to hear again. Then we scheduled our Gene Selection appointment for next Monday.”

Mother chimed in. “Tell Alexander what kind of infant you two are thinking of,” she pushed.

This time, my self-control wavered and I allowed myself a quick eye-roll; if I had to hear about Ramona’s baby any more than I already had during the past few weeks, I was going to implode.

“Well, Grady wants a Male, and I think he’s succeeded in convincing me.” Ramona’s grin was still plastered to her pale white face, and I looked at the food I was shoveling into my mouth so that I didn’t have to see the disgustingly sweet smile any longer than I needed to. “We both want him to be at least a Level 8 Intellect with Musical Inclinations, and probably Predisposition to end up in the Entertainment Sector. Tall — he has to be tall — and blonde hair is preferable since he’ll be a performer. We’re stuck between brown and green eyes, but I think I can convince Grady to let him have brown eyes, since that’s such a stark look, you know?”

Ramona continued to babble on about the different traits that she wanted her infant to posses when he was born, but I tuned her out and pushed my spinach salad aside, serving myself another slice of cake–

But as soon as I did, my Watch began beeping wildly: a warning that I was reaching my Calorie Limit for the day. With the cake knife still in hand, I glanced up from the platter to see Mother glaring at me, daring me to take a bite.

I didn’t.

Instead, I joined Father on his nightly four-mile run that evening, while Mother, Father, Ramona, and Xander drank hot tea in the living room and finished their conversation about the dream baby that my sister and Grady were designing.
9 May 2099

At school today, students in their Seventeenth Year took the Projective Sector Qualification Tests. Marshall, my neighbor and best friend of several years caught the Grav-Train back to our Subdivision, Marshall talking about the exam the whole time..

“I think I only missed one or two questions,” He was saying. His almond-shaped, honey-colored eyes were bright with excitement.

I’d always been attracted to Marshall and as we’d gotten older, the feelings had only blossomed as he’d shot up in height, his voice had plummeted in depth, and he’d slowly filled out his form with rippling, brown muscles. Sometimes, I even found myself fantasizing about him, even though I knew that even thinking about such a thing was heavily discourage because of Color Rules that were in place, but at times like these, I couldn’t seem to help myself—

Marshall’s voice cut into my reverie: “I’m almost positive I’ll get matched with the Government Sector,” he said.

I blinked a few times in response, nodded, and turned to look outside the Train’s window. Trees whizzed by, and — as if in response to my less-than-appropriate musings — as the train came to a stop somewhere near Subdivision One, my gaze fell on the holo-message being projected onto the side of a building nearby. The picture was of a Latina woman and a South Asian man holding hands and looking at each other longingly — with a giant, red X through the image. Below the picture was a caption that read, “Stick to Your Own Kind — Keep Society Perfect.”

“How do you think you did?” Marshall asked, once again interrupting my thoughts. I turned to look at him.

Shrugging, I looked back outside at the landscape speeding past us. “I don’t know,” I finally said, answering Marshall’s question. “I guess I’ll find out in June.”

“I’m sure you’ll end up in Government Sector, too,” he said in a kind voice.

I knew that Marshall was only trying to be reassuring, but the truth was I didn’t want to be assigned to the Government Sector. I didn’t want to work under President Don Trump IV to ensure that all members of the Community were doing their part to “Keep Society Perfect.” I didn’t want to enforce the Calorie Limit and send people to the Weight Rehab Center on an eight-week “getaway vacation”, which was actually nothing more than a glorified Fat Camp. I didn’t want to force those Citizens who were in their Sixtieth Year to move out of their houses and live out the rest of their days in the Gray Department on the outskirts of the Community. I didn’t want to banish Rule-Breakers to live forever outside the Boundaries. I didn’t want to do any of these things or justify my actions by insisting that heavier people, the elderly, and interracial couples are imperfect, a blind and ignorant claim that Government Sector employees very often used to condone their actions. I didn’t want to do any of this.

Marshall and I rode the rest of the way home in silence.
6 July 2099

Ramona is losing her infant.

We found out today when she came home in tears, Grady right on her heels, and crumpled into a ball on the couch. She wouldn’t talk to anyone, not even Mother, who tried consoling her by rubbing her back and telling her everything was going to be okay.

I didn’t understand what was going on, and when I attempted to ask Ramona what had happened, she snapped at me and told me to leave her the hell alone, so I asked Grady instead.

“He has a defect,” Grady explained from his seat at the kitchen table. His face was long and somber, and he had worry lines creasing his forehead. “We found out at our Counseling appointment today. Something’s wrong with his twenty-first chromosome or something like that.”

“But the Gene Selection–you picked his genes; how can they have a defect—?”

“The process isn’t perfect, Colette.”

“So, what, you guys just have to give him up?”

“We don’t have much of a choice,” he answered sadly. “The Termination Appointment is tomorrow at noon.”

I wanted to argue with him, insist that there had to be a way that they could keep their unborn baby, but I knew that there was no use. I knew the Rules when it came to this, just as I knew that I was supposed to stop eating once I hit my Calorie Limit or that Marshall and I could never be together, no matter how much I wanted us to be, because he’s Dark and I’m Light. I knew that Rules were Rules, and I knew that Ramona and Grady (and Mother, Father, Xander and I, as well as every other individual living within the Community) had to abide by these Rules in order to “Keep Society Perfect.”

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