13

THE PAST

"Why? Good question. If I say 'Because I was curious,' is that insufficient? If I say 'I was goofing around,' does that make it worse? Research, to a researcher, is its own justification. Unlike the University that pretends their projects have politically correct applications, I am a purist. I did it because I could. I did it because the party at issue was functionally brain-dead and the likelihood of her ever staging a comeback was absolutely nil. Or maybe I did it to flummox the ICU staff, whose vanity turns their unit into God Almighty’s antechamber, specialists who believe they can raise the doornail dead."

"You don’t much like doctors, do you, Stuy?"

Juliana’s tone makes Stuyvesant cringe, her bleeding-heart compassion the antithesis of all he venerates, her touchy-feely empathy an insult to cutting-edge analyses. Working with the preemies (he conjectures) must make people saps.

"Hardly."

"Why are you, like, practicing medicine, then, if…?"

"I’m not "like" practicing medicine; I'm practicing medicine to treat people, to make them better, and ultimately to alter them."

"Stuy, that sounds Mephistophelian! Alter them, like how?"

"Oh, tweak a chromosome here, splice a gene in there, mess around with germ line therapies."

"And risk producing another tragic mistake like the one they just delivered from that comatose girl?"

"'Mistake?' That so-called 'mistake' is a once-in-a-lifetime breakthrough."

"Ambiguous genitalia can, like, hardly be considered 'a breakthrough'... Wait a minute. You tampered with that child’s genes before you implanted whatever—him, her, it? Stuy! I thought you were saving a baby, not, like, making one up!"

"Will you pipe down?!"

Stuyvesant looks around at the coffeehouse denizens, most of whom are busy with their laptops (while slurping frothy lattés), idlers, he considers them; most are students; none, he hopes, is eavesdropping.

"At least you have enough conscience to feel a bit, like, embarrassed. If you weren’t, like, my fiancé, I’d like, you know, turn you in."

Stuyvesant has, indeed, proposed to Juliana. Motivated by money? Juliana is rich. Motivated by passion? Juliana is female—though the void he seeks to fill has little to do with conventional mating; she, if right, is merely half right. Which is not to say a male would more fully serve. Unless that male was Rockefeller Fink, Stuyvesant’s phantom brother.

Juliana shuts her eyes to conceal a secret rapture. Even so, her lashes subtly quiver with incriminating zeal. How to describe these overwhelming rushes? In out-take form, she tries:

 

It’s like, you know, like my whole body kind of buzzes, like hums almost, vibrates, that’s what it does, like everywhere, head to foot, just because he’s, I don’t know, exciting or something, like dangerous, like unpredictable, and so, so smart, he makes me feel like privileged, well, you know, like why would someone like him choose someone like me, not that I’m stupid or anything, but he’s like super, super intelligent and not at all like most men that only want, well, you know, s, e, x, I mean he’s normal, like heterosexual, not that being gay is bad or anything but, you know, what they do when they’re together is a bit, well, over the top, but Stuyvesant’s real respectful, and doesn’t mind at all that I’m like flat-chested, and even said I should stop getting waxed, if you can imagine a man that doesn’t mind body hair, and believe you me I’m like Fuzzy Wuzzy before he lost his hair, and maybe that’s like why I get this buzz, like hair standing up all over, up and down my arms, my legs, and even in between, which sounds kind of kinky, I admit, but this sensation does, well, you know, like get me a little wet, but it really isn’t sexual so much as psychological, like my mind is what is responding and my body’s just doing what bodies do, you know, like being nasty, making all those clammy drools and smells, I mean, like once you’ve seen a birth, and I’ve seen dozens, sex and what it leads to loses most of its appeal, which is one more thing I absolutely love about a future life with Stuyvesant, like if we want to have children we don’t have to go about it by fuddy-duddy means, like why not use in vitro so we can like choose our baby’s attributes, maybe even grow it in an artificial womb, or at least outside of mine; birth’s yucky, I mean, why bear all that horrible blood and pain, not to mention wear and tear on the female's private parts; no thank you, and Stuyvesant agrees it's like unfair; men and women are very different genetically but ought to have like equal rights, like equal opportunities, too, which is tough when only girls get pregnant, well, you know, whatever.

 

Stuyvesant downs the last of his black no-nonsense coffee, second thoughts eroding his tenuous peace of mind. Taking Juliana for his confidante might "like" prove imprudent. Taking Juliana for his wife might "like" prove chronically annoying. And boasting about his laboratory prowess certainly was ill-advised... if understandable; breakthroughs, such as his in creating the implant, warrant recognition—laurels even—but that route might prove ruinous; humans experimenting on humans incur more censure than hard-earned praise... not that Stuyvesant subscribes to the prevailing ethnocentric ethics, reasoning that those who benefit from research ought to be recruited as research's guinea pigs—knock-out mice, for example, are made susceptible to all sorts of diseases afflicting humans not fellow rodents; from monkeys to bacteria, species other-than-human are 'justifiably' sacrificed, most dying painful, protracted, and unacknowledged deaths, while ethicists absolve themselves of cruelty and callousness by exalting their God-like status—tantamount to a double standard in Stuyvesant’s post-grad mind: one set of rules for the chosen and another for those deemed subordinate, all God's children, in other words, duly sanctioned to reign supreme, a brand of ethnocentricity to which he cannot subscribe... when thinking clearly, that is... when able to peel his ego from his reason and view things objectively... a mental, almost surgical separation dividing psyche from psyche, self from self-love—the blinding sort that pledges allegiance to its own imperfections... hailing them as distinguishing features hence disinclined to change... or to initiate improvements, permanent improvements, passed on through ones genes...

"Excuse me, Juliana. I’m off to work."

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