It’s one of the many things I notice immediately, but haven’t really thought about, till now: The lack of families; the lack of children.
Given my rebirth, I figure the fundamentals of family life have changed substantially—dramatically even in fifteen hundred years. The heteronormative family from my time began to change gradually many years before—like for example, two mothers or two fathers, etcetera. The intrinsic core of human procreation, whereby female gestation is the key to human reproduction, is no longer how humans reproduce in the fourth millennium. This evolved from strict population controls (controls doing a lot of heavy, arbitrary lifting here) and genome requirements, equality regulations or civil rights per se, medical and performance standards, and quality of life and continuity for all humans.
I am curious so I search, I read, I ponder—I attempt to understand. I’m hesitant, once again, to delve deeper, but fascinated and horrified, so I keep reading. Some of this, I’ve read before since it started long before even my time. The history—the ideas are certainly not originals and something discussed and deliberated, although not widely.
The Reproductive Emancipation Movement—REM, not to be confused with Rapid Eye Movement or the alternative rock band of the late 20th century, of which, I was a fan—began on Earth with the advent of population controls (again with that word; they couldn’t bother to name it something less authoritarian?) in the twenty-first century. Overcrowding in some areas and insufficient amounts of people in others along with the lack of food and fresh water due to climate change was the catalyst (historically we know what really was, don’t we?); rising fetal and maternal mortality rates; aggressive diseases and unknown incurable viruses; antimicrobial-resistant bacteria and genome mutations were contributing to global population complications. The onset of genetic technology arrived to reduce so-called actual pollutants—not to be confused with the pejorative term white nationalists use for non-white races—to the gene pool. This tech began shaping the evolution of the human race to live in the world we desecrated, mostly available to the privileged to assimilate into a new way of life; one in which we would need to be designed for survival of our species.
This is what it was sold as.
In the public sector, the ethics of designer genes gave way to eradicate genetic diseases, then to editing genes for survival in the ongoing climate change; and, when it appeared that the violence we perpetrated on Earth would have long-lasting effects on our ability to live there, we started devising plans to live elsewhere. Naturally, the dogmatic extreme religious right fought any genetic technology and changes that they felt were unnatural, which was pretty much everything beyond regular old fashioned sexual breeding. They forever resisted relinquishing control (THAT WORD) of reproductive rights and dismissing and removing dissenters without deliberation; relinquishing was an affront not only to their pride, but to their religion and humanity in general.
Led by hoards of white men in power, they began to turn their backs on already established assisted reproductive technologies—like in vitro fertilization—targeting medical professionals like obstetricians and gynecologists, patients, and their families in that field with coercive, oppressive, and strict legislative controls by denying funding and freedoms like birth control, abortion, and healthcare in general. Acts of terrorism began to distort and shape communities like attacks on abortion and women’s clinics: bombings, assassinations, and mass shootings—even running them down with cars. They continued using the law and capitalism as tools of oppression denying marginalized the right to vote, removing funding from women’s and children’s clinics, and keeping the poor powerless, uneducated, and fed on subversive propaganda and fake news with technology leading the way at first unknowingly then willingly. This prolonged the fight surrounding reproductive rights significantly warping the line between population and freedom as climate change advanced.
That is, until the white privileged few imagined their race dwindling as other races grew to overtake them in numbers—when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. They began to grow more comfortable with reproductive technologies when their white supremacy and racism stoked their insecurities and self-preservation instincts.
The private sector had no such qualms and neither did the military. Under the guise of research and development misappropriated for capitalism and other dubious and nefarious purposes, the ethics were a bit greyer. This, of course, was undocumented in most history books besides the few independent investigations that refused to whitewash the factual details that were categorized by the right as bunk and conspiratorial. Alas, the facts are revealed here in the archives in subsequent footnotes, supplements upon supplements filled with concrete data. There is neither nuance nor allegorical or subjective interpretations. The words fly past my eyes flushed in a blur of pale blues and pinks continuing to emerge. The mystery builds as evidence exposed. Before long, the adrenaline fades, curiosity loses ground, and my eyes become heavy from the burden of an ugly grey, unreliable history.
Or, is it?
Thanks to the bugs, I wake refreshed and recovered via a kind of mild zap to my system. The nanites continuously make medical adjustments to correct any neurological or hormonal imbalances and to also supply any needed adrenaline when they seem to think it’s necessary. Nice, I suppose—a bit scary too. Regardless, I miss the old-fashioned taste of java and that caffeine kick in the a.m. The food and drink here are synthetic proteins and algae and funky smoothies that are more nutrients and less taste. I miss food—its taste, texture, smells. There’s a gadget called a metamess that I’m experimenting with algae recipes and the manipulations of neurons make for some interesting creations. I should have some bacon and coffee in no time without the sacrifice of a pig or the growing of coffee beans—that is if I don’t die from food poisoning and the foulness of my edible creations.
I’ve been told that is not plausible.
My morning ritual consists of what I amusingly thought of as a mist and blow. This is brief.
As I got older, I never was one for spending enormous amounts of time on my appearance and no one seems to make this a priority here as they did in ye old time of which I’m grateful. What little I’ve observed, I don’t see makeup or glamour or fashion; I see uniforms and utilitarian, ordinary and simple. It’d be kinda dull if we weren’t rotating Saturn and fifteen hundred years into the future.
Fashion and makeup seem superficial when I think about it amongst all the other uniformity; alas, the concern for my outward appearance has unfortunately been ingrained in me since birth as much as I’ve fought against it. My shallow interpretations notwithstanding, the Anderans do have a lovely countenance that seems both ordinary and uncommon.
No scheduled trips today as they’re still recuperating and dealing with the data from the pilot. I message Wynne to meet at our usual place. I’m interested in questioning her about what I’ve read. Much later, we sit on a bench engaged in deep conversation.
“The ova are stored in stasis in the female body until oocyte retrieval.”
“Like an incubator?”
“Can you not artificially create and incubate them?”
“Yes, and we do. We have multiple systems.”
“Alternative sources for…”
“Backup. Yes, I get it. In case one method fails, you have many others and if all those fail, there’s always old-fashioned breeding.” I note an infinitesimal grimace on her face and laugh. Vivid thoughts of vaginal deliveries and tearing of vaginas pop into my head and I visibly shudder thinking about it, twisting my face into a more pronounced revulsion. “I get it. I didn’t want kids. I didn’t wanna do that to my body or to my life. That was an unacceptable attitude from a person in my time. I was slut-shamed, called selfish and got ridiculed more than once for stating my obvious dislike of human breeding, mistaking the fact that just because I didn’t want to do it, didn’t mean I wanted to stop everyone else from doing it.” I shake off the feelings of shame and ostracism. “Do you use human surrogates for gestation?”
“No, not for a millennia. Gestation nanopods are used with nanomatter and biocode delivered during the incubation. Biocode is generated randomly for a diversified mix to reflect the Saturnian paradigm.”
I refuse to contain the look of alarm that hits my face. “Paradigm? Are you talking about eugenics? I mean … isn’t that what all this has evolved from and into?”
Wynne deduced my negative connotations. “A modern concept of genetic engineering.”
I take a deep breath and calm myself. I’m unfamiliar with their ethics of modern genetics and how they compare to eugenics so I don’t want to unfairly jump to conclusions and judge them harshly without knowing more about the history and practice. I only know the negative history inflicted on the marginalized in the past of my past … by white people via white supremacy. From the evidence I’ve witnessed, Anderans, in appearance, are bioethnically diverse and there doesn’t seem to be any systemic racism here—so far. Although, their cultural, language, and religious traditions seem to have evolved into a kind of … flatness … empty … like, for example, white people. Whether it be because of technology, environmental needs, cultural differences … racism? I have yet to figure this out. My limited knowledge of history says racism, but is it still racism when they are so…bioethnically diverse? My first thought is no, but then again, the answer, to me, would be it’s complicated and that everything is confusing and grey here, literally and figuratively. The United States was bioethnically diverse, but racism and whiteness still existed insufferably and exhaustively so. It’s almost like the place is a colonized western outpost made to look diverse, but…not. I don’t wanna jump to conclusions, but the more I learn, the more concerned I become.
Wynne seems to understand the path of my thoughts and walks it with me. “Ethnic genome diversity is intrinsic to the Saturnians. This is codified into our existence.”
“Well, I did notice that. I mean, and I apologize for my ignorance if I get this wrong, but you’re a black African—I mean, like, Lupita-black not Beyoncé-black—with those brilliantly odd crystalline green eyes and an Irish name with a kind of American accent I can’t quite get a fix on. I had black friends with green eyes, but yours are…new. I figured something…different happened, but I’m 900 million miles away from Earth and it’s fifteen hundred years later so …” No matter how many times I say or think that, it never gets old. It probably will eventually. “Still, some people during my time would say a dark black person with those odd green eyes sounds more along the lines of … eugenics especially if you throw around the word paradigm. Without context, it’s … questionable … problematic…and frightening. But, like I said, it could be my own ignorance too. I mean this isn’t Kanye and grey contacts at the Met Gala—it’s Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Isn’t it?” I flounce around in my cultural ignorance knowingly pursuing knowledge like an ant at a barbecue.
Q audibles and flashes a flat NO? And I’m not sure what to think or where to go with this conversation. I wondered if I crossed the rubicon of ignorant white woman status. Totally immersing myself in knowledge I should already know but don’t thanks to my woefully undereducated whitewashed upbringing.
How am I supposed to learn if I don’t engage and ask these questions though? Could all my questions be categorized as stupid? It sure feels like it.
“Human reproduction changed dramatically in the years following your … exit,” she says ignoring my Kanye-Toni references.
“Human reproduction has always been an undue burden for women. As shocking as someone from my time would find it, personally, I’ve got no problem how human reproductive technology has evolved here barring it’s not used unethically…or cruelly to further extreme fascist ideologies. I researched and weighed the pros and cons of pregnancy on my own when I considered it. I know what having a child does to the body and that’s not including all the socio-economic and civil rights disadvantages.” What are their genetic ethics, I wonder. “Regardless, I fought for reproductive, abortion, and civil rights my entire life, so, to see that they’ve advanced into this—I’ll have to think about it. This is … huge.” I reflect on this realizing something: “Do people still have periods? Or menopause?”
I digress. It may be trivial and self-serving to some, but not to me.
“Are you referring to menstruation?”
“Menstruation is no longer a biological necessity. Menopause is an archaic affliction.”
I throw my head back in laughter and clap maniacally, which earns me a quizzical look from her. It disappears quickly. “Bravo. A biotechnological miracle. The pain and the amount of money I spent on tampons and Aleve? The sick days I took? I started experiencing perimenopausal symptoms five years before I left and they were a bitch.” Attempting to wrap my head around the thirty-sixth century body and human reproduction, I proceed with my questions: “There are no families here?”
“Families are obsolete. Developmental nurturing is specialized and communal.”
“And not left to the whims of a couple of fucked up humans? So, it really does take a village. Applause and credit to Hillary for that.” I raise my fist in salute, which gets me another blank look.
“Uncontrolled, unregulated breeding had destructive effects on humanity eventually leading towards its deterioration.”
“Uncontrolled and unregulated?” I question the choice of her words. “Reeks of totalitarianism to me to take that choice away from people. We could philosophically debate whether or not it was a false choice for the majority, especially the poor and oppressed. I knew parents, mothers, that said that being a parent was the most rewarding experience of their lives. They swore by it and would’ve never given it up, which is why I’m confused on the hows and whys. I did read that having a baby physically alters the brain—I’m not sure of the veracity of that.”
“That choice, as you say, became null to billions when virus and disease and white terrorism began to shape the human race and the lack thereof. Allowing something as essential as the cultivation of humanity’s most significant contribution to the universe to worsen and eventually end was not a choice scientists were willing to make.”
“‘Humanity’s most significant contribution?’ Totalitarianism and hubris. What a lovely combination and here I thought at the time of my exit we were at the onset of authoritarianism. I see we went straight past that to totalitarianism.” She, once again, ignores my sarcasm. “That you actually label it white terrorism is honestly a refreshing change from when you extracted me. White people didn’t like being labeled white anything—definitely not white people. The term white terrorism would’ve made them stroke out.” I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. “Viruses, global pandemics, etcetera affecting fetuses and maternal mortality and deformed and diseased sperm, right? I kind of glanced over that part because it was exhausting and depressing, but even before that, we had very few reproductive freedoms and options. False choices. Always with the false choices.”
“Yes, authoritarianism came first.” She continues while I express horror at this statement. “The Reproductive Emancipation Movement spawned from that.”
It takes a moment before my horror gives way to dark amusement. I laugh out loud and full, turning heads as Anderans pass, jarred by the otherwise loud-mouthed alien in their midst. I shift towards Wynne and see a glint of pleasure dancing in the depth of her green eyes on her otherwise stationary face. The joke isn’t that funny, but I can’t help to laugh at her attempt. I intuit that my amusement seems to delight her. After a few, I gather myself and continue our conversation away from the autocratic alarms of the past to focus on the ones of the future. “You don’t have brothers or sisters or mothers or fathers here?” Another thought occurs to me. “How do you know if you’re having sex with a relative? Siblings? Parents?”
Are these more utterly absurd questions? Probably, but whatever.
This gives her pause. “Since we do not practice sexual relations for procreation, your question is immaterial. Technically, we are all genetically related. Everyone here is a mother and a sister.”
“Common ancestry. Yes, I’ve heard of it. We’re all inbreds. Some of us more so than others. Us being relative—not me personally.” I laugh at my own joke and pun and she looks at me with a blank stare. I sober and continue. “You’re saying that if you have sex with your brother or sister, as long as you don’t procreate, it’s fine? I make no judgments. Just asking. And no, not every person is a mother.” I roll my eyes. “Do you realize how ridiculously paternalistic that sounds? It has been my experience that sometimes parents aren’t even parents. I get the we are all sisters, me being a feminist and all, but the we are all mothers? No, no, not really.”
“Our data archive contains quadrillions of biocode. Any of the scenarios you have implied are statistically unlikely. However, if an Anderan were to have sexual relations with her sibling or relation—speaking personally and hypothetically—lineage would be irrelevant.”
I chuckle. “Oh, the fanfiction I could write.”
“Do you not think that humans are the most significant contribution to the universe?”
“Most significantly destructive maybe, but I’ve been told mine is a cynical opinion.”
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins