UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION 08/2011
BARBARA DONNELLY LANE
COLOR CODED BABIES
Isolating genes, cloning sheep, and determining gender were ancient history in Alistair’s textbook, copyright 3010. Still, he liked to read about the evolution of science.
Of all the silly ideas perpetuated in the Dark Ages, this one took the cake. They’d been color-coding babies for more than a century now, and, as far as Alistair knew, no one had showered the world with divine retribution. Mankind had even learned how to influence the climate, to strike the perfect balance of sun and rain, calm and storm. There was one world order. The human race was master of its own destiny, and no God was displeased.
Besides, all the churches were already falling down in that intriguing time in history: that period on the edge of enlightenment when science finally turned the corner and wiped aside all thoughts of the unknown. Now those ancient buildings had been either completely demolished or turned into museums where you had to buy a ticket to sit in a pew and see stained glass windows. Old-timers said cathedrals like Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame with their Gothic ceilings were the pyramids of the day since the actual pyramids had been blown off the face of the Earth back when nations still used nuclear weapons. So God was only good as a tourist attraction… a draw for travelers with disposable income. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost were splashed across endless brochures designed to make entry into the houses they haunted sound alluring. And with particle travel so cheap across Old Europe, it was easy to see a string of the most famous cathedrals as part of a “theme vacation” in just one afternoon.
In fact, Alistair’s mother dragged him to three of the most famous when she was studying Myths for the Masses, a subject that intrigued her to no end. The candle attraction in St. Peter’s Basilica excited her most. She’d put a gold coin in a box, place her knees on a cushion, and light a candle with an old-fashioned match, shadows dancing across her flushed cheeks while Alistair watched her. Nothing happened, but she was beaming when they left that hollow place; it was like she thought the wheels of the cosmos had been put into motion.
As far as Alistair was concerned, the candle thing was a rip-off, a throwback to those mystical rituals that had kept the world basking in superstition for centuries. But when he tried to tell his mother this--to start a simple conversation--she said he couldn’t understand some things, so he shouldn’t expose his ignorance.
Though stung by her vehemence, Alistair forgave his mother the outburst. She was color-coded pink, an Emotional. It was stamped right there like a brand in her skin for everyone to see. She felt things differently than non-pinks felt things. She could be empathetic to people in other roles. It was her talent. That’s why it had been determined that she would be an actress as soon as the doctor cut the umbilical cord and slapped her pink bottom in the hospital room. She was brilliant at what she did, too.
Alistair wondered sometimes about the theatre before the color-coding, about the actors who took the stage and weren’t… good. He knew his mother was exceptional, even for a pink person. She was always cast the leading lady. That’s why the powers-that-be allowed her to indulge in further study, to pursue dead subjects like religion as a hobby. Not everyone could get access to the ancient books long locked up, but she told Alistair it didn’t matter how advanced a society became, there were always certain privileges for celebrities.
Alistair was not like his mother.
He was born as green as a potion. Doctors knew from his first breath that he would be a whiz with chemistry and physics, an Einstein in the making. So he was not put in literature classes in school. He was not allowed to audition for plays. It was all science and math for him. He had never been given any choice in the matter. His color was a proclamation of who he was, what he’d become. His talents were in his skin.
Of course, this was a massive benefit to society. Talents were capitalized upon at the earliest of moments. No one wasted time with pursuits in which they could never excel.
If one were born purple, he would be given piano lessons from the age of two because purples could practically see music as good as Mozart’s floating through their minds.
If one were born blue, she would be put in line for a chance to work in Climate Affairs because she would have the inborn ability needed to predict precipitation, to master the natural world. If one were born the orange color of iodine, he would become a surgeon. The dingy oranges—the almost rusts--would go into nursing. Each baby turned into an adult who knew his or her place in life.
There was no gamble.
There was no guesswork.
There was no need for prayers.
Alistair’s methodical brain was happy with this level of determinism. He was a green. He liked the role he played, his place in society’s hierarchy. He understood the benefit of no loose ends in the world, of a people who knew what was expected of them, and who had the talents to deliver. It was comforting.
“Of course,” his pink mother scolded, “that’s because you weren’t born a striped or a gray.”
Striped babies had always been a conundrum. They had multiple talents, which meant a split focus. As a result, they had the ability to be decent athletes. They might hold a tune and sing okay. But they would never be exceptional at anything. Stripes were not even as good as the bright white babies who would become the world’s master maids. Stripes ended up as alcoholics in middle management.
Alistair closed his textbook when his mother called him for tea. His father was still at work for the evening. (His father was a chameleon, a rare state of color shared by all politicians.) When he got to the table, he noticed a newspaper was opened next to his mother’s plate… a newspaper and one of those dusty old Holy books she liked to read. He glanced at the newspaper with a thought about how different it was from the picture of the GENERATION D paper in his textbook. He knew newspaper was really a term used by journalists because of tradition. What his mother was reading was a tablet that streamed digital images, up-to-the-second updates of current events.
“What’s the story, Mum?” Alistair asked, shaking out his napkin. She’d prepared roast beef, a special favorite, but when she looked up at him, her eyes were raw. “Is something wrong?”
“No, no,” she said, a tinge of anger in her voice, a wave of remorse, her nose running. “At least you won’t think so.” She slid the newspaper across the table at him, almost knocking over his water glass.
He glanced at the flashing caption: “THIRTY GRAYS DROWNED IN RIVER: Picnic goers complained of the crying. Officials consider muzzles to hamper noise annoyance in future.”
Gray babies were those born with no talents, no hopes, no prospects. They were burdens on the rest of them: the greens and purples and blues and pinks… even the stripes. The useful people.
“And?” he asked raising an eyebrow. His was an analytical mind. This was natural selection, the world had to be run. Only the fittest should survive. What was her problem?
“Do you know what a pink’s real purpose in life is, Alistair?” she asked him.
“To entertain,” he answered. His father had told him that societal amusement would always be important because people needed a way to unwind after work.
“No,” she refuted, lips pursed. “It’s to remind people of their humanity.”
He shrugged and cut his roast beef. “What’s that have to do with anything?”
“Nothing,” she mumbled, looking down at her plate. Her skin was so bright it looked red instead of pink. Red like an open wound. For a moment he thought he could feel the pain radiating off of her, and not for the first time, he thanked fate for not making him an Emotional.
No, it was better to be a Green. To be immersed in science.
Still, he patted his mother’s hand as he thought a son ought to do.
It wasn’t her fault she was so weak.
It was all in her skin, like a stain.
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