Part 1

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Ero ducked against a filthy alley wall and slid under the slow pan of a Department of Destiny camera. He'd left a dark shadow in his bed at home with Dario. If they found him now, if they scanned him here, there wouldn't even be a trial. Ero ran down the alley as the camera looked away. He slid on slime around the corner and tried not to wonder what illegal substance it was.

Sick, green light waned overhead, casting the street and its doors in odd shadows. Ero paused at the third unmarked door and second-guessed himself. Was it the second? He'd only been here once before, for the consultation Dario had tried to talk him out of, and the experience hadn't been one he was particularly eager to revisit.

Third door. He was sure. Ero turned the handle and walked in.

It had probably been a beautiful waiting room at some point. Now the carpet folded under Ero's sneaker and the shredded remains of magazines were clustered in corners like nests. There was no-one behind the reception counter. Ero shouldered the heavy door to the back offices open and cleared his throat. Calling out didn't seem like the best idea. He hadn't seen any Department cameras last time, but there were a dozen other destiny decrees he was violating just by being here. He couldn't believe he was going through with this. Dario was going to kill him.

A hacking cough announced Ero was not alone. It came ratcheting down the hall, reminding him this was a place he could end his life just as quickly as begin a new one. Ero found the doctor--a questionable title--beyond a stained door formerly marked two. The untanned wood where the number used to be marked it just as well. He cleared his throat again.

Doctor Maras looked up from her tablet; the screen bathed her entire office in electronic white. "Right on time, Mister Levak--" she waved him forward into the room and gestured to a mouse-eaten chair on the other side of her desk "--I wasn't sure you'd show."

Ero reluctantly submitted his weight to the seat. It held. Doctor Maras called a new page up on her tablet and handed it over. Ero found himself with an array of sliders and checkboxes.

"Fiddle with those," Doctor Maras said. "Let me know if you have any questions." She eased back in her chair--the spring whined--and retrieved her phone with the kind of casual habit that told Ero she was uncomfortable without a screen in her hand. She unlocked it without looking. Ero focused on the task at hand.

The options on the screen before him were legion. Love, heartbreak, agility, charisma, tragedy--let's avoid that one, shall we? Ero touched love. As he pulled the slider heartbreak moved with it. As if one couldn't be chosen without the other. Ero slid love back down and tried charisma instead. That was tied with offensive. Kind moved with antisocial. Popular with unrealistic. Ero pressed his lips together.

The checkboxes were just as fraught. If he checked resourceful he had to take self-critical. Wise came with untrusting. Confidence came with shrewd and while a certain level of of shrewdness was good, Ero had the feeling this wasn't the touch-of-shrewdness that would do his future child any favors.

"Doctor Maras, I don't quite understand. Most of these traits are tied together with ones no one would pick. I just want my kid to be kind. Fall in love. Maybe have kids of their own. I'm not trying to create the next Mozart."

The doctor clicked her phone off and leaned forward. "This is the Destiny system. Granted you're accessing the first generation, future models have additional refinements--"

"But I need to traumatise them in order to get anything good out of it. This can't be right. There are kids on the news all the time born with maximum scores in intelligence, optimism, and an array of beneficial traits with no downside." Ero shook his head.

Doctor Maras clicked her phone on and tapped a few things. "Mister and Misses Vitez welcome twins this morning with maximum scores in neatness, health, independence, and graciousness. They've given them both a touch of aloofness in the hope it will--etcetera." Ero recognized her quoting from the front page of the local news station. She clicked her phone off. "Mister Levak, why are you here instead of at a registered Destiny Co-op?"

He shied away from her, leaning back in the chair. He looked down at the tablet. Why did anyone come here? He and Dario had been passed over in the lottery time and again. No couple wanted to pick them as a surrogate and they'd been denied fostering rights--on frankly stupid technicalities--twice. They both wanted kids but two men on hourly wages could hardly afford the cost of a Co-op.

The doctor continued, her voice a bit softer. "You get what you pay for, Mister Levak. Buy into a Co-op and you get a better gene pool. Pay to decouple love from heartbreak. Pay more to take independence without the mid-life crisis. The kids get better, technology gets better, and the one percent are only a few million away from buying immortality for the next generation." She tapped the screen in his hand, touching the edge. "This is how the Destiny system is supposed to run. You get the bad with the good. No one is a genius without suffering for it. And most people don't want to put their kids through massive trauma just to give them a chance at enlightenment."

Ero touched the slider for ideology. Argumentative moved with it. "Give your kid strengths and you have to take the weaknesses with them."

"Better than not having a kid at all." Doctor Maras leaned back in her chair again. The spring squeaked.

Ero pressed his lips together. She was right, after all. This was his only option--their only option. Dario would support him after he got over the initial shock. Ero touched love and creativity andarticulate. He tried not to look at the downsides too closely. He checked the boxes on confidence anddedication.

A submit button glowed at the bottom of the list. He pressed it before fiddling with the exact balance of traits kept him here for another three days. The sliders faded away. The tablet glowed: thank you. He handed it back to the doctor.

"Alright, we can schedule this as soon as you want. Who will be gestating?"

Ero twisted his fingers together. He couldn't bring himself to look up at her. "I will. I'm trans. I can carry to term. My partner is--" Ero rubbed his nose and turned away. Sterile. Impotant. We're sorry Mister and Mister Levak but the odds are not favorable. I recommend you both look into registering for surrogacy. Ero shook his head. "I'm ready when you are."

"Very well." Doctor Maras stood and Ero got to his feet like an echo. "Come with me and we'll get started."

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