Chaney was one of those people who preferred actual books to handheld computer screens for reading. That made her an exception in her literature class. She’d ordered a paper bound volume of the literature to read along with the teacher.
Chaney found the title of the classic fiction story intriguing. “Dune”, by Frank Herbert. The teacher wanted to discuss the ideas of wild-eyed religion competing with science-induced prophecy, with a naturally bred Messiah as the central character.
Chaney was most fascinated by the concept of both the Bene Gesserit. Here was an organization that had existed for thousands of years. It was capable of projects that lasted many human lifetimes. That was something sorely lacking in her own society. The Bene Gesserit was also breeding toward the superhuman character. Their god-like creation that was the main character in the story. The main character and his descendants were beyond human in ability, but they were naturally bred and made children the old fashioned way. They also fell victim to human attachments like love despite better breeding and fantastic training. If better DNA didn’t result in perfection, or even the expected, what good was the improvement if it wasn’t really an improvement? Chaney wondered if the teacher chose this novel because that paralleled the current debate on genetic engineering.
Chaney knew that literature was supposed to be selected to foster debate on the subject while couching it in a fantastic futuristic situation. However, as the lectures began, she found herself torn to both extremes of the debate. She personally was not in favor of extreme genetic manipulation. Fixing defects was wonderful. Making ones children beautiful was vanity. In that, she was an agreement with the teacher and most of the class.
However, her parents had decided before her conception that they wanted what was now called “a golden child”. Those who denounced genetic engineering hated it in all forms – and sometimes those who had been shaped by it. Chaney found it difficult to join the class discussions knowing full well that either side she took would be used against her if anyone found out. That it had been done by her parents was irrelevant. She was guilty of the crime for merely existing. No one talked about the freaks born by genetic accidents; the novel mentioned the Bene Theilax, who represented that disaster in full detail. The argument today was about enhancements alone, and whether they should be allowed.
One class member was openly discussing his parent’s decision to cure their cancer tendencies. He’d had two grandparents die of cancer, and his parents wanted to ensure he was spared that pain. He said genetic engineering was medically necessary in some cases – like his. He was the only person who openly favored genetic engineering in the class of over a hundred students.
Mid-semester, Chaney spoke up. “What about antibiotics?”
“Excuse me?” the professor asked.
“Antibiotics are a form of interference in natural processes.” The professor looked perplexed. “By your logic, are they not an example of meddling in biology?”
“The first antibiotics were sulfa series and penicillin. They were naturally derived, and thus natural. Just as the honey based antibiotics we now rely upon are naturally derived. The completely artificial antibiotics of the late twentieth century and the evolution of multi-drug resistant strains that followed are proof of the failure of artifice in the face natural evolution. Good example.” The professor glanced at the class display and her name. “Good example, Chaney.”
The one lone voice pinged. “What about chemotherapy drugs? How many tens of millions of lives have those supposedly toxic chemicals saved?”
Someone was prepared for that example. He was shot down by posted statistics others called up on how many Baby Boomers were dying now because of cancer therapies they’d taken two and three decades prior. That they had lived long enough to suffer the after effects was ignored. As was the lone dissenter. Seeing his classmates call out against him was far greater censorship than the professor would have dared do. Political correctness and the censorship it wrought had been fought against in their lifetime, and further acts to force PC on students weren’t tolerated by those paying the bills. But peer pressure was still completely acceptable in quieting an opinion. And the lone dissenter fell silent.
Chaney also found out he was also the only person to fail the course later that semester.
Chaney had noticed those who remained silent in agreement as she did. Who only spoke when spoken to. She wondered how many were in the same situation she was in, modified or enhanced or corrected, but not advertising that fact. And she wondered how many of them simply were friends and family of “the others”, as the teacher called those who were created unnaturally? Other than natural, other than normal … other than human?
Or did they secretly with their parents had added a few IQ points or fixed that god-awful axe of a nose on their face that could only be fixed now with surgery or nano-implants?
Chaney wrote a neutral review of the teacher on the last day, just as she wrote waffling essays on the biological modification controversies the teacher kept bringing up. “Frankenstein”. “Brave New World”. “Alien”. Different stories, but all the same lesson. Any changes of the natural state of the universe were bad.
At the end of the semester, she walked up to the listing of the grades. Under “Chaney Lewis” was the "A" she expected. She considered it the hardest one she had ever earned.
But because of what her parents did before she was conceived to make it easier for her, she couldn’t help wonder if life was only going to get harder from here.
To read the rest of the story, visit "Human Engineering Project".