The Gradfeld couple was sitting in the waiting room of Ars Genetica, mesmerised by the colourful CG video playing on the TV in front of them. On screen was a human ovum being fertilised by a wriggling spermatozoon. Virginia Milton Gradfeld was clasping her husband Wilhelm Gradfeld's hand, feeling an underwhelming satisfaction that she could now brag to the members of her monthly painter's group that she knew "spermatozoon" was the complete name for a sperm cell. It was nothing close to her excitement about finally birthing her perfect creation: a daughter, completely codified by the time she reached the embryonic stage. Virginia and Helm would be able to dictate how little Virginia the Third (Ginny, they planned to call her) would look, move, and think—up to a point. Her eyes would be hazel, her hair chestnut, and her skin a rosy caramel. She would be mostly right-brained so they could influence her into the arts when she got older.
Virginia was a jack of all sculptors. She made a modest but steady income from her work with wood, clay, glass, and metal. The home she shared with Helm had a small crafts room in the back, which she'd now expanded into a cavernous workspace as large as a tennis court, housing all her works in progress.
A wood carving area was stationed at the far right corner of the space. Across from it, in the left corner, was where Virginia sculpted with clay, bits of which had embedded so deeply into the floor that it gave the wooden slats a dusting of rust-coloured residue. Nearer to the doorway were the last two stations, one on each side of the entrance: a blacksmithing station and, across from it, a glass blowing area. Heat emanated from both sides whenever someone entered the room, which is why Helm liked to avoid visiting Virginia when she was working. He instead waited for her, sweaty yet radiant when she emerged from her creative den. The couple had recently had large, floor-to-ceiling windows installed. Virginia left them gaping open on some nights to air out her art studio.
Virginia's specialty was carving dainty female children out of wood. Her weekly profits had doubled when she released her first collection of My Girls dolls. The first series consisted of five school girls attending the My Girls Dollhouse Academy boarding school. She dressed each one in a brown and yellow plaid school uniform with a minimalist silhouette of a girl in a dress embroidered onto the left side of the chest. The logos were sewn over with each My Girl's name: Kimberly, Suzanne, Alicia, Sally, and Beatrice. So far, she had sold 56 Kimberlys, 32 Suzannes, 21 Alicias, and 19 Sallys.
Virginia had brought one of her unique and most favorite dolls along with her to the clinic so she could show the doctors how exactly she and Helm wanted Ginny to look. Ginny the Doll shared a few of the same features as the My Girls dolls: her face rounded out as she smiled her permanent smile, cheeks bunching over high cheekbones; her lips were painted over with bright red lipstick; and a dimple stood out at the right corner of her mouth. These similarities were all distinguishing features of Virginia herself, and of her mother before her. The original Virginia Paige Milton was the daughter of wealthy Savannah Paige who, when she was alive, graced the covers of cheap to decent tabloids after being photographed ordering tea at the local café, or waiting in line at the drug store. Savannah's fame was entirely dependent on her father's last name and bank account.
All the Paige women had the dimple and the high cheekbones of the My Girls dolls, and all of them seemed to have naturally favoured bright red lipstick when given the choice. Today, Virginia was biting her lip, staining her teeth with Christian Dior Rouge No. 999, one of her favorite hues. A woman in lilac scrubs approached them, clipboard in hand. "Gradfeld. Please come with me. Dr. Elizabeth is ready for you."
Walking down the hallway, Virginia and Helm were blasted with the antiseptic nature of the place: the walls were painted a plain bright white, the foul scent of ammonia wafted from one of the closed doors, and bulky bottles of hand sanitiser topped with pristine white hand pumps could be found outside every door. Virginia stopped at one and rubbed a palmful of the lemon-scented liquid over her hands and up her arms.
"You can never be too clean," she stated pointedly.
Once they reached the end of the hallway, the woman in scrubs turned left at the corner and opened the first door on the right. The sign on the door read:
Dr. Elizabeth Gordon, MD
Department of Modification
"I'll leave you to it," the woman said with a smile. She left down the same hallway.
The doctor's office was immaculately designed in light pastel colors of pink, orange, and white. Her desk was a semi-circle of creamy white wood fibreboard, occupied by a lone computer. The machine's jet-black color made it stand out from the brightness of the rest of the room, an upset of the soothing blandness of Ars Genetica's clinical atmosphere. The doctor herself was standing tall behind her desk, a wide smile curling the corners of her mouth dramatically.
"Good morning!" she chirped. "Ready to design your baby?" She gestured to the two stools flanking the high-backed chair behind the desk. "You can sit here beside me so we can work on the genetic make-up together."
Virginia and Helm glanced sideways at each other, not knowing whether they still had to introduce themselves at this point or if the moment had passed completely. Dr. Elizabeth didn't seem to care about their names or who they were.
"Let me just bring up the Sculpting program and we can get started with the physical features." Virginia and Helm took the two unoccupied seats beside the doctor. "You can call just call me Elle."
"Thank you for meeting with us, Elle," Helm finally said. "We're Virginia and Helm. Gradfeld."
When Elle pressed one of the buttons on the elaborate computer keyboard in front of her, a 3D image displayed itself in front of them, projected from a lens at the back of the computer monitor. It was a life-sized translucent silhouette of a grey human infant. It stood upright, its arms and legs spread-eagled so each part of the body was visible. The features were dulled out: there was no hint of genitalia; its eyes were open, but blank and completely grey; its tiny hands were loosely unfurled. The body spun languidly in front of them, as if waiting for them to make a move.
"Now," Elle began, "We'll begin with body build, then move on to skin and hair color, then facial features and fine-tuning of the extremities and genitals. The internal physiology will be last since it involves more delicate programming." She gestured towards the hologram. "Please step closer to the image. You'll need a good reach."
"A good reach?" Helm repeated, standing and approaching the spinning infant. Virginia took his hand and joined him, her eyes glowing with wonder as they reflected the illuminated form of the baby that would soon be incubating inside her.
"Yes." Elle's fingers hovered over the keyboard. "Let me know when you're ready."
"I guess…" Virginia hesitated, glancing at Helm for assurance. He nodded. "Yeah. We're ready. Let's do it."
Elle's fingers danced across the colourful keyboard and the image of the baby in front of them began to fill out and thicken. It now looked like a solid sculpture floating in mid-air