Updated: 3 days ago
Q: What if every sexual partner leaves a genetic imprint on your future child?
Trigger warning: sexual threat, Content warning: sex
Chapter one: Chemistry, Biology and Physics
I could feel it stumbling. Missing a step, then rushing ahead. My heartbeat raced as if afraid of being caught as I first locked eyes with him.
I’d read about this moment in romance books and seen it in cheesy Netflix movies but I’d never experienced it before. The tightness in your throat; the sudden need to breathe deeply, gasp as if all the oxygen in the world was running out and you had to garner as much as you could before the end came.
And the end would come. The petit mort. The dance between awakening desire and the weakening of consciousness. The inevitable demise of the relationship. Why? In this moment of longing did I always draw myself back to the adverse? What was wrong with me?
He held my gaze and smiled. The confidence! The self-assurance! My heart scrambled up into my throat and clung on to the sides, triple-beating. I had to look away. Pretend that I hadn’t seen him. The cool, aloof route was the only one left for me.
Hi, he said, brazenly. Even his voice was irritatingly handsome. You must be Alanna.
The moment popped like a bubble. I shook my head. You must be referring to my friend, I said, gesturing my head towards the raven haired head-turner walking into the bar, who at that moment I was wishing wasn’t my wing-girl. Or incredibly kind. Or funny. Or out-of-this-world clever. Woe was me.
I guess you must be Dylan, I mumbled back. He flicked open UCAG, the genetic dating App and showed me the ‘match’. Dylan x Alanna. He wasn’t mine. I should’ve known.
Eighteen months ago, geneticists discovered that every sperm that touches your egg left a genetic imprint, even without conception. It was Nature’s cunning way to promote greater genetic diversity. This changed everything. Your sexual activity now had the power to impact your future baby’s genetic makeup, from hair colour to hereditary diseases. No one wanted to play Russian roulette with their future and one night stands disappeared overnight. Well, in polite society, any way. Condom companies tried their best to assure us but the medical world quashed their claims that genetic markers couldn’t get through their impermeable polyurethanes.
Overnight, the business of sexual selection grew exponentially. UCAG became the dominant App, backed by the Tech Three. You logged every sexual partner within 24 hours of ejaculation so that every genetic imprint was marked on your records. Too much of one genetic strand or a harmful cocktail of certain genes could be detrimental to a future son or daughter’s wellbeing. UCAG promised state of the art genetic engineering and pledged to ‘match’ you with suitable sexual partners in a Tinder-like format. For an exorbitant fee, of course. Tonight, that was what Alanna and I were doing. Finding sex before our numbers became too complicated and made us ‘unsuitable’ for forever relationships.
Our end. Once again, negative thoughts washed over me. I tried my best to direct the mind elsewhere. Thoughts of a happy future, maybe with a family…
I wished I didn’t want a family. Of course I was in no way near ready for it right now. I just wanted to have fun but the constant messaging from UCAG and actual thoughts of the future prevented me from fully letting go. Those who had already decided on a childless life were having the best time. They could sleep with whoever or as many people as they wanted. The only down-side was that there was no turning back. Once you committed to a single life, that was it. For many, no penetration became the way forward. Of course this only applied to us girls. The male species could fire off their load without consequence or fear of affecting their genetic score. Mother Nature was definitely a patriarchal construct.
I looked over at Dylan’s friend. Assigned to me. Penetration was definitely not on the cards. I felt sorry for myself. There was nothing wrong with him per se but at the same time, there was nothing right. If only I could have Dylan’s body, heavy, on top of mine, his breath, heavy, panting, on, me.
My reverie was interrupted by someone grabbing my hand and leading me through the crowd. I pulled back at first but gave in as I saw who it was. Dylan.
Outside, in the cold air, my heart started racing again. I had to pretend I didn’t want to be there, that somehow he had dragged me out like a Neanderthal but inside I was screaming, dang!
Let me see your UCAG, he said, motioning for my phone. I opened up the App and clicked on to my profile. I watched as his eyes oscillated between my screen and his, his brain ticking, as if weighing up the info. Are you pretending to know what it all means? I flirted, trying to come across as light-hearted. Yes, is it working? he laughed back. It was then that I knew. We were perfect for each other.
It felt so natural kissing him right then, right there. No thoughts for rules, for girl code (eeek! I shouldn’t really be with Alanna’s man!) and for that split second I really didn’t give a damn. About anything. I felt free. It was meant to be. We were meant to be.
As the amalgamation of our faces and bodies became more intense, Dylan pulled back. We shouldn’t, he panted. Yes we should, I replied, pulling him back.
No, he spoke forcefully, dropping his hands off me. We can’t, he said. There was a heaviness in his voice that made me stop. Our connection results in a category four, he said. Can’t be, I responded. What are the chances? In fact, I think it’s an urban myth. It’s forbidden for us to interact, he continued. Forbidden? I laughed. Like in the Garden of Eden? Yes, like in the Garden of Eden. Are you serious? No.
But I am serious about category four, he said. That’s why we weren’t matched together. Even though, we would be so good together…He lent in and started kissing me again.
The chemistry was there. The biology might not be but the chemistry definitely was. And oh, the physics…that was beyond. I knew exactly what to do to keep him going. My head was telling me to stop but my body was telling me to go, go, go. I was in control. I was in the driving seat. What did a little genetic misalignment matter, I said to myself. It didn’t necessarily mean that it would end badly, would it? The chances were miniscule. UCAG were just being legally over-protective. But what if they weren’t? What if the worst did happen? And what if it didn’t? I couldn’t live life cautiously the whole time, could I? The angel and devil on each of my shoulders were battling for supremacy.
I paused and looked at him. He was divine but forbidden. What was I to do?
Chapter two - The petit mort
I watched him sleeping. Peaceful yet uneasy. He looked so different in his serene slumber. The self-confidence that shined from him earlier had now metamorphosed into vulnerability. His breathing was deep, yet uneven. Tripping over itself like my heartbeat on our first meeting.
Moments earlier he had been panting on top of me. A different kind of vulnerability then written on his face. Raw and involuntary. Like our attraction for one another.
My mind had tried to warn me off him but my body had yielded. No fear of the consequences of a category four could deter us from exploring each other. This was meant to be. We were meant to be.
In his sleep, his breathing changed. Turned shallow. So shallow that for a moment, I thought he was dead. Of course he wasn’t. It was just my morbid imagination playing tricks again. I stroked his cheek to make sure, causing him to stir and open his eyes.
Hi, he whispered. Hi, I whispered back. Did I fall asleep, he asked? Only for a moment. I leant in to kiss him, to prove that it wasn’t all a dream.
A notification from my UCAG App interrupted us. Log sperm sample. Our eyes locked. Shit, how did it know? Usually I charted my sexual activity immediately after ejaculation and had never been chased like this before. Sex was so transactional now that it was rare to fall half-asleep together. I looked down at my hand. My Panoptes ring. Of course, the Smart health tracker must have monitored my heart rate. Dylan’s phone buzzed too. Second warning. Log sperm sample. Our eyes locked again. How did it know we were involved? Then it dawned on us. Bluetooth, CCTV; there was so much around us tracking our every move. We were naive not to realise.
Could we log someone else’s sperm, I asked? Like your friend from last night, I suggested. The one assigned to me. Call him.
But it was too late. My UCAG started flashing and activated a two minute countdown. Panicking, I felt my whole body flush and sweat. What are we going to do, what are we going to do? I felt myself hyperventilating. Dylan grabbed my wrists and his eyes zeroed into mine. Calm down, he said. Take a deep breath. Breathe. It’s ok. It’s going to be ok.
But was it? As we smeared the remnants of our used condom onto my phone screen and logged the sample as directed, I felt a rush of blood to my head. We had truly fucked up. We really had. UCAG confirmed it. Category four flashed on my screen.
Within minutes, they were at our door. Banging fists on engineered wood. Dylan opened it. Two figures stood there, dressed in iridescent, flowing robes with Smart Glasses hiding their eyes. Obviously they were capturing every moment. Condemning us to whatever punishment our crimes deserved.
Surrender the tainted womb, the Left one announced. The Right one retrieved stainless instruments from a metal box and placed them on an iridescent square on the floor. Lie down, he instructed. Are you kidding me, I blurted out. What are you going to do? Pull down my pants and yank it out?
You have committed a Category four, declared Right. His monotonous tone chilled my heart. Dylan grabbed and squeezed my hand. There must be another way, he said. I stared up at him, stunned and pulled my hand away. There is no way they are taking anything out of me, I snapped. It’s my womb, it’s my choice. My future child from this moment, of this union will not be taken from me. It was meant to be. You said it yourself, Dylan. I will not let her uniqueness be expunged.
Her. I pictured a little girl, with cute, chubby hands reaching out for mine. She had Dylan’s gorgeous smile, along with the mannerisms and traits of previous lovers. She was perfect. She was the reason. I felt myself visibly shaking. I didn’t realise how passionate I felt about this until the words had come out of my mouth. Floating around in the ether like an uncaged butterfly. Forever escaped.
There must be another way, repeated Dylan. I could feel his eyes on me, asking for his intentions to be understood. I ignored them. What did he know? He was a man.
There is, said Right, but no one chooses it. You may take on the risk of your actions and forgo responsibility until the time comes. When you become pregnant in the future, you will go into confinement. If the birth is normal, you may return back to society. If problematic, you and your child will be banished to the Commune, designated for other category four families, never to return.
I couldn’t breathe. It was as if a heavy stone was resting on my diaphragm. My life was just starting but I had ended it with one foolish move. Just like that. Thoughts raced through my mind. What if I refused, I asked?
We have our ways, said Left. We will ensure you become an Undesirable within society. We have all your data, all your family’s data and we will use them to make you do what we require of you. Even if you have nothing to hide, we can manipulate the data to our advantage. There is no point in resistance.
I could feel Dylan’s eyes on me but his lips remained firmly shut. What could he say? It’s not as if he had any real obligation to me. Until last night, we were strangers.
Death was finally staring down at me. The grand mort. I wanted my mother. To be a child again. Have her arms around me, telling me what to do. Telling me it was going to be all right. That mistakes were there to be made, weren’t they? We just had to learn from them. But this interaction was not a mistake. I could feel it in my heart. It was meant to be and now I was faced with the consequences. Was I to give up on that special, young girl in my imagination or was I to take the risk and wait it out? What was I to do?
Chapter three - Challenge, question, speak out
I felt so helpless. Out of control. It was as if life was happening to me, not for me like all the positive mantras of the moment would have me believe. I had no choice. In fact, I hadn’t for a while. An uncomfortable ache in my heart had been rising for some time and even though I had been relentlessly pushing it down, I knew that I couldn’t ignore it for much longer.
How had this happened? This oppression. We had somehow slept walked in to it. Blindly handing over our private data to the Tech Three because of our human need to belong. We had let them into our most personal sanctuaries, given them 24/7 access and sanctioned the voyeuristic gaze without realising it.
The authorities had abused our other human needs too. Our need to feel safe. They hunter gathered our civil rights at key moments of vulnerability and we were easy prey. It had always been in our nature to be deferential to authority. We had no chance.
I couldn’t ignore this ache any longer. I had reached my tipping point. Perhaps the tipping point of our generation. I had to take a risk. I had to take a chance on my future child.
As soon as I had uttered my decision, the iridescent robed figures glided out as swiftly as they had come in. They would be back in time. Any fear I had felt turned into anger. Who were they to dictate what I could and couldn’t do? What right did they have to determine my and my child’s future? It was time for a change.
How, asked Dylan? How are you going to do that? His lack of fighting spirit irritated me. I had stared death in the face and was no longer afraid. We need to challenge the status quo, question everything, speak out, I responded. Was that a sardonic smile I just saw flash on his face? An alarm bell rang inside my head. What was happening here? It’s pointless, he said. They have every angle covered, they’ve infiltrated every connected device, manipulated every algorithm…they control everything, everyone. You have no chance.
Another alarm bell went off. What do you mean, I have no chance? What about you? Why do you have a chance, I asked? Is it because you’re a man? Dylan remained silent. No, that wasn’t it. There was something else. I could feel it. Challenge, question, speak out. My new mantra repeated itself over and over again in my mind.
It then hit me. How did you know when we first met that we would be a category four, I asked? I felt sick. There’s no way you could have known by just looking at my UCAG profile, I persisted. Dylan avoided my gaze. He couldn’t look at me. It was then that I knew.
Are you involved with them? With UCAG? Is that how you knew? My mind was exploding. Why would you do this? I trusted you. Thoughts flashed back to the night before when he had been hungry for me as I had been for him. Had it all been a lie?
Why? The question kept repeating itself. Why would you do this? Dylan remained silent. It couldn’t be to get me into bed, I spluttered. He shrugged. He looked pale and uneasy. I let my mind explore down darker alleys. Then it came to me. Is this all some game to you? A way of seeing if you can manipulate us into bed and then in some God-awful fucked up way, see if we would give in and get our wombs cleaned for you? My stomach churned as I whispered, oh my God, are you one of those? Those perverts who get off on demeaning women? Is that it? Jeez, that’s it, isn’t it? Like a cat toying with its prey. Going too far. Maiming us in the process. Never thinking how it would affect us. Just blinded by the ‘game’ of it all. Oh my God, you are sick. You are one sick fucker. Did you hear me? Sick F-U-C-K-E-R. Dylan’s shoulders rounded and I thought I heard him sob.
Anger and revulsion consumed me. UCAG had been one big game of institutional misogyny. He was openly crying now. Disgusting, depraved little man that he was. No longer handsome. Reduced to a snivelling mess. Crumpled to the floor, on his knees. I felt hate. I felt repulsion. I felt sadness.
My morbid imagination had been right after all. Bad things did happen. How could I even contemplate one day bringing another person into this world the way things were? My little girl with the cute, chubby hands.
He made me sick. Was there even a category four at all, I hissed? Dylan shook his head. I’m sorry, he whispered.
Waves of contempt washed over me. Then a new feeling that I hadn’t felt in a while took over. A sad ache. What was this? I recognised it but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I took a deep breath and let it course through my veins. Then it came to me. It was pity.
I lowered myself down to his eye level. I touched his shoulder, motioning him to look at me, to give me the courtesy of eye contact. I took a deep breath. I pity you, I said. A product of this misogynistic world. Where a man’s emotional development is suppressed by hubris and pride. Where empathy is seen as weakness. Where fear causes you to bully others. Where sexual discrimination, harassment and violence are normalised.
But it doesn’t mean that you aren’t culpable. No. We’re all responsible for our actions, individually and collectively. We all need to change.
I then kicked him where it would hurt the most. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Seven years later
Her gorgeous, little brown eyes stared up at me. My little girl with the cute, chubby hands. I had met her father at a therapy group and she had entered our lives three months ago and changed it completely. Sleep was a fleeting memory but our lives were now filled with bliss.
Before she had even been conceived, she had been my motivation when I had handed Dylan over, along with his UCAG scum to the media. They did their job and the institution collapsed within a year. No more obsessing about genetic imprints and finding the right sexual partner. We were all now free to choose whoever we wanted.
I went a little further than that. Not everyone in UCAG were ‘bad apples’. My start-up recruited those who weren’t complicit in the grand plan and had gone on to seek support and community. Together, we developed UCAN. A decentralised App where people were genetically and psychologically matched with those they were most likely to have an emotional connection with. Through it, we have managed to promote more empathy and understanding of each other; educating boys from an early age about respect and helping men who might harm others to safely seek help. Maybe if we all worked on that side of our development, we might still have a chance.
I smiled down at my little girl. My heart warmed in the comfort of knowing that we were heading in the right direction, of leaving a positive genetic imprint on our future children. It was good to know that it was never too late. We could always work to make things right.
Challenge, question, speak out.
📷: Stéphan Valentin