“The Child”

Yes, that’s me in the picture below. Circa 1970. How I envy that young lad’s hair . . .

“The Child”

laddy as a boy 2You’ve all heard stories. Jump into the air when a d-mat booth switches on and you’ll arrive taller–or shorter, depending on if you’re going up or coming down at the other end. Spin clockwise and you’ll be flipped left to right. Hold hands with a friend tightly enough and you’ll swap fingerprints.

That last one genuinely bothers me, since it’s not clear exactly how a booth tells one person from another if they’re standing really, really close. There are algorithms, sure–but what about a pregnant woman and her child? How does a booth tell people apart when one is inside the other? Why don’t they arrive all mooshed up together?

They say a pregnant woman shouldn’t d-mat after eight months. Well, a friend of mine has an aunt who lived in one of those self-contained cities in the Mediterranean, where she was a marine biologist. One day there was a fire–which doesn’t sound like it would be a problem underwater, but in fact it’s just about the worst thing ever. They also say that you’re not supposed to use d-mat in a building that’s on fire, but my friend’s Aunt Breeon was eight and a half months gone, and she couldn’t handle the run to the sealed areas. She collapsed halfway there and couldn’t go another step.

One of her colleagues–her husband’s best friend, as it happens–literally picked her up and carried her to the nearest booth. Ignoring all the rules, he jumped them both out of there, saving my friend’s Aunt Breeon and his unborn cousin from being burnt alive or drowned, or both. Minutes later the city was totally destroyed. Everyone outside the sealed areas died. The best friend–what a hero, right?

Except a couple of days later Aunt Breeon went into premature labor. The shock of their home being destroyed, the doctors said. She was rushed to hospital–the long way around, this time, not via d-mat–and after a dangerous labor the child was born.

Now, my friend is black and so’s his aunt. I should mention that because if I don’t, what I’m about to tell you will have no impact.

The boy was white. As white as a snowflake. He had red hair too.

The husband’s best friend is also a white man with red hair.

You can imagine what came next.

It was ugly.

The weird thing was, even with genetic testing proving that the white guy was the father, both he and the mother swore they had never so much as looked at each other. Good friends, but no benefits. Not ever. Honest to God.

Who would you believe in that situation? Your wife and best friend, both toeing the same line . . . or the facts?

I’ve gotta give it to the father. He didn’t do the obvious thing, which was to blow off in a high and mighty cloud of dust. He still loved Aunt Breeon and he had been anticipating the baby right along with her. So what if she and his friend had had a fling? These things happen. What came next was what really mattered–and what mattered most to him was giving the child a loving family.

So that’s what he did.

For all his goodwill, though, things remained tense between him and his best friend, and not without reason. The friend had gone from hero to villain literally overnight. Who wouldn’t struggle with that?

It took another emergency to bring them all back together.

Another addition to the family, you might say.

Cancer, doctors said. A tumor so fast it made the best friend swell up like a balloon and sent his immune system haywire. By the time he checked himself into hospital, he was practically dead. They opened him up right away, expecting to find a tumor spreading voraciously through his gut. Which they did. But it wasn’t just any tumor.

This tumor had hair, fingernails and bone–and skin. Black skin.

Its genes were a match for Aunt Breeon’s husband.

The d-mat people swooped in. Genetic templates had clearly been switched in error, they said, but it was an isolated error, one compounded by the proximity between Aunt Breeon and her rescuer, and the lateness of her term. They offered to put everyone back the way they were supposed to be, and the d-mat people were reasonably confident they could do it, too. A fifty/fifty shot, no worse.

Of course the parents told them to stay the hell away from their son. Since the mother and the best friend had been vindicated, everything could go back the way it was supposed to be. What did it matter if the kid was white? They’d gained something just as long-lasting as a child: a great story.

If only the d-mat people would let them talk about it . . .

Just remember this next time you’re tempted to jump, spin around, hold hands, or–God help your sick minds–French kiss in a d-mat booth.

It might actually work.

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