©Neville Goedhals 2007. Visit my site at: www.NevilleGoedhals.com

 

GERMLINE INC.

By

Neville Goedhals

 

Bob’s not really sure about this at all ... I mean having our daughter genetically engineered.” Gail von Slater sat across from me, giving her husband a vindictive glare. Her Bostonian accent was too natural to be faked, and her clothes too elegantly casual to be cheap. Both she and her husband, Bob, reeked of old money. Hell, they needed to have spare credits to be sitting on the other side of my desk--Germline Incorporated was probably the most expensive gene therapy clinic in the world. We made no excuses for our exorbitant charges. If you wanted to pay less, then you went elsewhere ... and accepted the risks.

“You mean our daughter or son,” said Bob correcting his wife.

“Yes Dear.” Gail von Slater gave me an apologetic look. “You see Doctor Hawk? He’s very concerned that things happen naturally. It’s not that he’s religious or anything, he--”

“I just believe that nature should make the decisions,” finished her husband sternly.

I leaned back in my chair giving my brain an imaginative flex. This was my forte--difficult clients. It’s why I have an office at the front of the clinic and my partner, Theo, has his at the rear. According to him I could sell cookies to a Girl Scout ... Possibly, but there was one thing I was certain about--letting Theo deal with people was like mixing plastique with glowing embers.

Sure I had my PhD, not to mention twenty-five years of genome research for the SCI, but what really counted was far more basic. In essence, I’m the respectable, well-groomed, presentable type, with a natural aptitude for putting people’s fears to rest. Clients tend to trust me, and being one of the two senior partners in Germline Inc didn’t hurt.

I slid two bound reports across the desk. “Then let me not waste any of your time, Mr. von Slater. You’ll remember when you made your appointment that we requested DNA samples in advance.” I pointed at the neat folders. “Let’s go over the results, shall we?”

“Doctor Hawk, I don’t want to waste your time,” said Bob with a look that implied his mind was already made up. It was a fair bet that he’d made the trip to my clinic in Florida only to stop his wife’s incessant badgering.

“Oh, not a waste of time at all.” I opened a folder, similar to theirs, and ran a finger down the results. Providing the results in a folder was one of my ideas--a fancy holo-screen presentation would have been technically more impressive, but it would make the data seem more vulnerable; more accessible to others. “Let’s see what decisions nature has already made ... Ah, I see that you must have been bald at some stage Mr. von Slater.” I glanced at his full head of hair. “Somatic gene therapy or pharmaceuticals?”

“It’s a hairpiece actually. I don’t hold with throwing chemistry at every ailment.”

“Well, if you have a son, with your combined genes he’ll be bald by thirty.” I continued going through the test results. “And you’ve had cardiovascular complications; an extremely high cholesterol count, aggravated by a defective valve.”

Mr. von Slater shot upright in his chair. “How did you get my medical history? There are strict laws prohibiting that! I never signed any release!”

“I don’t need your medical records, Mr. von Slater. I’m merely reading the results of your DNA test, and by the way ... your son has a high probability of inheriting your cholesterol problem. The heart defect will hopefully be corrected by your wife’s genome. There’s also a low propensity for schizophrenia, and a susceptibility to asthma; however, with Mrs. von Salter’s genome added to the mix, asthma in your offspring is a certainty.”

Bob von Slater’s jaw was almost bumping on the desk. He nervously wiped away the beads of sweat collecting on his forehead, managing to skew his hairpiece. “A-are you s-sure?” he spluttered. “Genetic therapy hasn’t been around for very long.”

“I completed my PhD in 2146,” I said indicating the fancy certificate hanging behind me, “and it was a proven science long before that. In fact, the genome was mapped almost a hundred and fifty years prior to that.”

“See Dear, I told you so,” accused his wife.

I turned my attention to Gail von Slater. I had to keep her quiet before either her husband or I throttled her. “Mrs. von Slater, the mix of both your genes and your husband’s will result in your offspring producing excessive TNF protein, or Tumor Necrosis Factor. It means that your child will develop rheumatoid arthritis.” I flipped to the following page, trying not to smile at the next test result.

“I note that you’re lactose intolerant, and a child would have a 50-50 chance of being the same.” I didn’t mention that her intolerance to milk, combined with a number of other genetic clues, was a sure indication that Native American blood ran in her veins. Although the Gang Riots of 2140 had heralded the end of racial discrimination in the North American Democracy, some people were still touchy about their heritage--pretty stupid when considering the few genetic differences it entailed.

“Ah!” The next flagged result would be the clincher, if ... “Mrs. von Slater, have you had treatment for breast cancer?”

“No!” she retorted somewhat angrily. “I’ve been tested, and Doctor Jako assures me that I have no genetic propensity for it.”

“I gather that he’s your General Practitioner?”

She nodded.

“Well, most GP’s use the standard wet-ware test which only covers thirty out of seventy-two types of breast cancer. You see, the wet-ware tests only find simple genetic miscoding--exons that differ from a given norm; they don’t test for how those genes are regulated. Unfortunately I must inform you that you will develop breast cancer in the near-term, and I strongly recommend you have somatic gene therapy now, before the cancer begins.

“You’re trying to scare us!” barked Mr. von Slater rising from his chair.

I put on my most sympathetic smile. “Sir, I’m trying to help you. That report you hold in your hand is for you ... Please take it to another genetic specialist for a second opinion. But, bear in mind that when it is confirmed, that it probably represents the best advice you will ever receive for no fee and without any strings attached.”

“If I had a daughter ...” Gail von Slater couldn’t complete the question.

“Yes, she’d have the same problem. But remember that although you will need somatic cell therapy--where we introduce corrected genes into billions of cells, and there are inherent risks, your daughter need only have germ-line therapy, where one single cell needs to be changed ... at conception.”

My wrist comp sent small shocks down my arm, signaling that someone was trying to contact me. I tried ignoring it. Reception knew better than to disturb me when I was meeting with prospective clients. “Mr. von Slater, your offspring would have normal intelligence; however, I should point out that nature does not make all children equal. Now I’m sure that you’ll be sending your child to the best of schools, to compete against others who may have a better capability for learning. It’s a simple matter to enhance memory--”

The shocks from my wrist comp were more powerful now, impossible to ignore. Something was seriously wrong. “Excuse me for a second,” I muttered, glancing down at my comp. Fortunately I’d angled the screen away from my clients before accepting the call. Theo’s worried face appeared. Now don’t get me wrong--I love my partner like a brother ... but he’s bald, looks his age, and a genetic skin disease has left him with a pox-marked face. As if that wasn’t enough, an inherited thyroid problem made him portly--something which he believed a small white goatee would camouflage.

What sort of advertisement was that for our clients? Nobody had gray hair anymore ... You could get an over-the-counter somatic-patch for that! And likewise for baldness! His aging, thyroid and skin problems were more serious, but even that meant simply booking into a gene-therapy clinic for a couple of weeks--and we owned the best private clinic in the North American Democracy. Go figure ...

His voice sounded stilted over my ear implant, as if there was someone listening in. “I need you here. Right now!” he insisted. “Otherwise I’ll come join your meeting.”

It was all the persuasion I needed. “I’ll be right there,” I sub-vocalized.

I made my apologies to the von Slaters, and after introducing them to an Account Representative who would close the deal, made tracks for the far end of the clinic.

 

Whereas my office boasted a neatly kept mahogany desk--obviously the wood was fake, what with mahogany being extinct--Theo’s office boasted a plastic composite desk, patterned to look like zebra-skin, covered with reams of papers, do-dads, and assorted coffee mugs with supplier logos. The rest of my partner’s office followed a similar pattern, making it look like the aftermath of a hurricane.

“Doctor Hawk, how lovely to see you,” greeted a feminine voice that I recognized all too well.

I sighed inwardly. “Miss Pondergrass, wonderful to see you too.”

She batted her sea-green eyes at me, then nervously pulled at her ponytail. Her hair was a natural red, as evidenced by the freckles standing out against her pale skin--although ‘natural’ was a difficult term to define, what with somatic-patch cosmetics.

Nancy Pondergrass looked your stereotypical girl-next-door, and tended to dress and act the part. However, she was a high-ranking government representative from the Biotech Regulatory Commission, or ‘Bar Research Commission’ as the industry called it. The BRC didn’t hire fools, and if Nancy was here it meant we had a problem on our hands.

I looked to Theo to fill me in. He wore a dreamy look and his mouth was stuck in a ridiculous half-smile as he stared at the woman of his dreams--Nancy Pondergrass.

Theo!” I barked.

“Eh?” Theo’s eyes unglazed as he returned to reality. “Oh ... Emerson. Nancy received a complaint from one of our DNA donors. Apparently--”

“They’re clients, Theo. Try to remember that.” I was once more reminded why he was unsuited for a public relations role. Nevertheless, he was essential to the clinic--a double PhD and absolute brilliance in his chosen field gave Germline Inc the edge. If pushed I would be forced to admit that not only was Theo brighter than me, he was likely the world’s leading geneticist.

“Apparently they’re threatening us with a tort,” continued Theo. “One of our germ-line products, a nineteen year-old male, severely beat up a citizen for being agnostic.”

“You mean their child beat up someone for ... Wait. For being agnostic?” Our clinic had been accused of some pretty odd things in the past, but this would take the cake.