Hollis (of Hollis, Yolander and Kervetch) was late. He took the steps out of the maglev station two at a time – his expensive Duragrip loafers thumping against the frosty treads – before striding into a grey mid-winter morning. Crisp air chilled the naked skin of his well-defined jaw, and a sharp breeze failed to shift his course black hair. He was already perspiring beneath the weight of his knee-length coat, but he still, reflexively, put a hand up to his icy face. At least, he mused, he’d had the time to shave.

      Piles of cleared snow to his left and right blurred past like miniature mountain ranges, and the small distance between the metro station and his office was quickly eaten away.

      Storey, the practice’s doorman, gave his customary smile, nod and “Morning Mr Hollis,” as the lawyer powered into the atrium of the aerogel fronted building. Retaining momentum, he glided purposefully among the scattered groups of visitors and subordinates, casting curt, but not unfriendly, salutations to anyone who caught his eye.

      By the time he had reached the brushed aluminium lifts, one – as if bending to the lawyer’s will to make time – opened and, without breaking stride, he was in, security swiped and away.

      The lift itself was empty, which was only further evidence of his lateness, and it sped without interruption to the 40th floor.

      The haste of the assent caused a half excited, half queasy feeling to flop about inside Hollis’ empty stomach, and he suddenly recalled a similar sensation he had felt as a child. He’d been reading an edulink about alien abductions, and one of the visual references had struck a deep and unsettling chord with him. It depicted a UFO suspending an unfortunate man in some kind of tractor beam. Then, in the next very basic animation, it proceeded to suck him into its metallic underbelly. He’d imagined what that journey must have felt like, and the sensation he’d come up with was now approximated by the rise of the lift.

      “Going up to meet the aliens,” he muttered beneath a half disguised smirk, but his words were suddenly given a new found resonance the minute the lift doors opened.

      There, sitting in the oversized sofa that fronted his PA’s office, were two of the strangest perspective clients Mr Hollis had ever seen. One began the protracted process of unfolding his vast, but gaunt, figure, while his much shorter companion seemed in dire need of a barber.

      His PA, Miss Luvibund, popped from her perch next to the two and hastily advanced on her boss. Hollis was vaguely aware that there was something wrong with her – there was an odd, agitated scuttle about her gait – but he couldn’t concern himself with such trivialities now. He was late, and the client always came first.

      “Morning, morning, morning,” Hollis said, dodging Miss Luvibund’s insistent gaze and placing a child-like hand in the shovel palm of the giant. A huge, hollow face loomed down from above and a pair of deep-set eyes fixed him with an emotionless stare.

      “So sorry I’m late. The metro… Well…” Hollis shot a glance at the heavy black ringlets of the giant’s companion, and briefly registered a lengthy, oriental-styled beard. “Come in. Do come in,” He indicated the open door to his office and tried not to stare as the giant bent to avoid the frame. “Coffee? Of course you’d like coffee. Miss Luvibund, a fresh pot of coffee if you’d be so kind.”

      By this point Hollis had already half removed his overcoat, and it only took him a further few seconds to hang the garment on a peg and slot himself behind his crystal topped desk. He then paused briefly to compose himself, mustered a broad, reassuring smile and said, “So what can I do for you two gentlemen this morning?”

      Time caught in suspension.

      Miss Luvibund was half through the doorway with a face that looked like someone bathing a cut in disinfectant, while the giant’s emotionless eyes had taken on a hard, penetrating quality.

      “My wife and I,” said the giant with a voice that sounded like boulders being rolled under water, “would like to try for a baby.”

      Hollis now openly stared at the bearded figure in front of him, saw the delicateness of the features beneath the hair, the ruby red lips meticulously applied, the dress that he’d assumed was a thwarb… He uttered a pathetic, “Errrrr,” and sent a pleading look towards Miss
Luvibund.

      “Mr and Mrs Chippermead. I sent through an appointment update to your PDA at the end of play yesterday. They’re here about possible gene tailoring issues.”

      Hollis looked blankly across to the bearded lady who smiled sweetly back at him.

      “I’m sorry…?” he began.

      “No offence taken Mr Hollis,” she replied in a lilting tone that stood at odds with her hirsute exterior. “In my profession, being mistaken for the opposite sex is a regular occurrence.” She smiled again, the light from the vast windows making her eyes glitter obliquely. “Anyway, to business.”

      “Business. Yes.” Hollis could do nothing but fill the blankness he felt with her words.

      “As my husband and Miss Luvibund mentioned, we’d like to try for a baby but there are some genetic issues that need to be addressed. You have some considerable experience in this field, do you not Mr Hollis?”

      Hollis nodded dumbly and looked again to Miss Luvibund, only to find her shapely figure retreating in search of coffee.

      “You were successful,” Mrs Chippermead continued, “in the case of Linquist versus Beckman were you not?”

      Hollis found his voice again.

      “I was. But I hardly see how that relates to your circumstances. I’m sure that any gene tailor would be more than happy to customise your collective genome to counter the…” Here Hollis waved an arm vaguely toward Mr Chippermead as a means of indicating his height, “and the…” his fingers hesitantly brushed the underside of his jaw.

      “We do wish to alter our child’s genetic make up, Mr Hollis, you are correct in that assumption. And we do wish to avoid Malcolm’s gigantism if at all possible. However, we plan to have a little boy, so facial hair will not really be an issue – as long as its manifestation is not overly premature. But we also want to give him the best possible start in life. Which is why we’d like him to be blue.”

      “With a prehensile tail,” Mr Chippermead added.

      “What?” Once again, Hollis found himself completely adrift.

      The time for pleasantries was over. As far as he was now concerned there were two ‘weirdos’ in his office asking if they could have their unconceived offspring tailored to be something freakish. It was all too much.

      “Correct me if I’m wrong,” he continued hoping that he’d somehow misheard them. “But you’d like, ‘like’ your son to be a blue monkey boy hybrid?”

      “Not a hybrid Mr Hollis,” Mrs Chippermead sustained her tolerant smile. “We’d just like to activate certain areas of his genome to ensure a blue pigmentation and a regrowth of his dormant tail.”

      “But that’s completely immoral. You can’t inflict such deformities on a newborn. The government’s genetic watchdog simply won’t allow it.”

      “What you term an infliction, may well be the best possible thing that could ever happen to him. And as for the watchdog, it’s changing policy on a daily basis and there’s an increasingly grey area about what does and does not constitute cosmetic alteration.”

      “Your coffee.” Miss Luvibund returned with a steaming pot that readily leaked mouth-watering aroma. Hollis resisted his immediate thirst and pressed on.

      “Regardless of the increasing slackness in the law, they still won’t budge on a watershed case like this.”

      “That’s where you come in Mr Hollis,” again the giant’s voice rolled like distant thunder across the desk. “If there’s anyone skilled and informed enough to alter government policy on this, it’s you.”

      Hollis looked up at both of them. Their strange but open and warm faces, those eyes that must have witnessed a million distasteful stares. Mr Chippermead’s flattery had caught him off guard, but it served to shift Hollis’ outlook from open hostility to one of growing curiosity.

      “Mrs Chippermead…”

      “Roberta.” Again the disarming smile caused Hollis to momentarily lose his train of thought.

      “Roberta then. You said that these alterations could well mean the best possible start for your boy. How exactly?”

      “Have you ever visited the freak shows Mr Hollis?”

      “No,” he considered such spectacles rather crude and vulgar affairs, although he was aware of the popular following for them.

      “If you had, you would have seen just how successful we have become. In a world of homogenised beauty and uniform ‘normality’ we’re the hottest thing in town. But our business, our way of life even, is currently under threat. It’s a non sustainable model, you see, undermined by one simple fact.”

      “Which is?”

      “We’re running out of fresh blood.”

      Mr Chippermead’s huge head nodded solemnly at his wife’s words and the weight of the situation seemed to press in upon Hollis.

      “You could view it,” Mrs Chippermead continued, “as eugenics in its most subtle – some would say insidious – form. No one would rightly chose their children to be deformed in any way, but those that are different can now lead highly lucrative lives filled with opportunity. That said, when two members from our community do decide to try for children, the choices they face are horrendous. Do you see our dilemma Mr Hollis?”

      Hollis bit his lower lip, now deep in thought, his mind chasing a trail of possabilities.

      “Yes, I’m beginning to see.”

      “What we’re after isn’t the lottery of nature, nor is it the accepted aesthetics of the masses. What we want to do here is retain the traditions of our unconventional society, but also to revitalise it.”

      “Have you considered the health risks?”

      “We’ve consulted a number of specialists and have their reports here.” Mrs Chippermead reached into a pocket of her dress, and Hoillis caught a flash of her catwalk boots through the transparent desk. The Chippermeads were certainly doing well for themselves.

      She delicately pushed a memory stick towards him and said, “The risks are minimal, and are no higher than a background probability of our boy contracting the sleeping sickness.”

      Hollis shuddered internally at the mere mention of the disease. It was the latest escapee from the Pandora ’s Box of genetic research, and thousands had already been struck down.

      “You realise that this will be a tough and costly affair, even to get this up to a national level – let alone the probability of having to go to the international courts,” he said.

      Mrs Chippermead leant forward in her chair, “We told you we have ample funds, and the community will back us all the way regardless.”

      “You’ll have to travel and focus on nothing else, possibly for years,” As the words left his mouth Hollis realised that he was actually considering taking the case.

      “We’re prepared for that. I’m 31 years old now Mr Hollis, we still have time.”

      “What would your outside age be for this Roberta? If that’s not too personal a question.”

      The giant and the bearded lady took a moment to look into each other’s eyes, before she replied, “I wouldn’t want to go past 34 if at all possible.

*****

      Roberta Chippermead was actually only 33 when she had her firstborn.

      Hollis was there, pacing up and down outside the security door that led to the ward, his arms aching beneath the burden of a bottle of good champagne and a bundle of assorted gifts.

      The case had been everything he’d hoped and dreaded it would be and more. At least they were in the closing stages now, and at least Roberta and the baby – after some initial complications – were okay.

      A trim looking nurse appeared at the door, popped the lock and asked, “Have you sterilised your hands?”

      He nodded mutely, his voice had all but given out during the last press conference. She beckoned him forward and he followed her creaking while clogs into the delivery suite.

      There Malcolm stood like some watchful sentinel clad in white. The vast gown and mask that covered him had to be designed especially but, in relation to everything else that had occurred, the trouble of getting it made seemed like a trifle now. And there was Roberta, looking tired and drawn but radiant all the same, a cup and saucer clasped in her pale hands.

      Hollis quickly laid his gifts on the bed and bent to kiss her lightly on the cheek. Rough stubble grazed his lips.

      “It’s growing back,” he said.

      “Well,” she replied through a smile, “you can’t exactly have a bearded lady without a beard, now can you?”

      Hollis smiled back broadly, recalling how she had shaved to help drive home his argument regarding perceived difference. It had been a stroke of genius that had led to a huge swing in popular support for her, especially when Roberta’s conventional beauty had been revealed in the women’s press.

      “Where…?” He looked about the room and saw a midwife carefully wrapping up a bundle next to a set of scales. She turned and approached the bed, a small, wrinkled blue face peeping from among the swaddling.

      “You’ll have to buy him a little trumpet,” Hollis said.

      “And why’s that?” Roberta handed her cup to her husband and lightly took the child.

      “He’s a little boy blue. He’ll need a horn to blow at some point.”

      Roberta looked at him with a bemused expression and Hollis felt himself blush.

      “It… It was a nursery rhyme my mother used to sing to me.”

      “We’ll make sure we look out for one. Won’t we Malcolm?” The giant blinked slowly in agreement while Roberta looked down into the bundle and placed a finger gently on the cheek of her son. His small, pale blue lips began to work in search of sustenance.

      “Do you think they’ll ever relent on the tail Mr Hollis?” She asked.

      “Well,” Hollis said winking slyly at Malcolm, “There’s only one way to find out.” Then he reached for the champagne and began to peel the foil away from its pristine cork.

— THE END —

(Copyright © 2006 by J. E. Bryant. All Rights Reserved.)