We've been hinting at this for a long time now, but tonight we've decided to sit down together and have a serious conversation about children. Irene is 32 this year, getting near the high end of her peak fertility years, and safety regulations say it'll be at least three years before I leave Earth's protective atmosphere again. It's a good time for us to start thinking about a family.
"First things first," I say. "Do you want to be a mother?"
She smiles fondly at me. "Do you really need to ask?"
"Just wanted to make sure we were agreed."
"The next obvious question is, how shall we do it?"
I toy with the idea of answering 'The way God intended' just to see her reaction. Irene has become a great deal more open minded since we first met, but I suspect a faith birth would be pushing her anti-genoist sensibilities a bit too far.
To tell the truth, even I'm not that open-minded. This is an issue I've wrestled with over the years, and though I despise myself for it a little, I want my children to have the advantages I didn't. I spent my life resenting Anton for his fortunate birth and our parents for valuing it so much, and my wife and alter ego stand as proof that Validity is no guarantee of happiness. But at the end of the day, I was a janitor doomed to an early death as Vincent Freeman, while as Jerome Morrow I've touched the stars. Having his helix tucked under my arm opened more doors for me than I can list. If I have my way, any kids of mine will be born with that.
"I've heard good things about Cutag," I offer.
"Maybe your friend could recommend someone … discreet."
German would curse me for an idiot and firmly request that I never contact him again if I asked him about anything of the sort. Not out of malice, just self-preservation. It's an insanely risky idea. But I'm deeply touched that Irene, the woman who told me on our third date that she was willing to use a donated ovum, would volunteer to bear children with my disease ridden genes.
"That won't be necessary. Jerome left me samples of everything. Enough for us to have a whole tribe of Morrow children."
Irene presses a hand gently to my cheek. "But they wouldn't have your eyes."
"I don't have my eyes when I'm out in public. They're not pretty enough to be worth passing on to the next generation."
"You saw his profile when you had me sectioned. You couldn't ask for a better sperm donor."
Irene is visibly distressed. When you love someone, it's natural to want your children to carry their genes. "I don't want a sperm donor," she says. "I want to have your children. Can't you understand that?"
"Irene." I take her hands and look deeply into her eyes. "I'll go over the specifications with you and the doctor. I'll hold your hand during the birth. I'll love them and read to them and take the to the beach and help with their homework. The system will acknowledge us as a family. They'll be mine in every way that matters."
But that isn't true. In one very important way, they'd be Jerome's. When you love someone, it's natural to want your children to carry their genes.
It's been years since the last time I saw him. Sometimes I think of him travelling the world, exploring all the beauty and diversity it holds, maybe managing to find a little bit of happiness that has nothing to do with winning. Most of the time, however, I know he's dead. The lack of a body only means he didn't want me to find one. I've grieved, and gone on with my life. But never forgotten him.
Irene wouldn't understand, if I told her, why it's so important to me to keep some part of Jerome alive. (Besides me, I mean.) She only met him once, and he didn't make a particularly good first impression. I'm not sure if I'd dare even try to explain how natural and perfect I find the idea of the second great love in my life carrying the child of the first, a genetic amalgamation of her and Jerome to complete our family. Maybe it's perverse. But it feels as right as the stars to me.
After what seems like hours, Irene sighs and flings her arms around me. "All right," she says as she nestles into my shoulder. "A child without a Morrow profile would raise all kinds of suspicions. And it's not as if genetics are the sum total of who we are. A child with your crazy dreams in his eyes will be yours no matter what's written in his cells."
"We're in luck, then," I say, kissing her hair. "There were times when I could swear Jerome was more determined than I was to get me into space."
She laughs softly. "I find that very hard to believe … but God help us if it's true. He'll have cured the common cold and discovered alien life by his twelfth birthday."
We rest there in comfortable silence for a few minutes.
"What do you think of names for a boy?" she asks finally.
Eugene. It means well born – fitting, don't you think?
That's what I want to say. I stop myself in time. Eugene is dead. This won't be him – it'll be his son. Our son. All three of ours. And after my father and Anton, I dislike the idea of giving children their parents' names.
Irene lifts her head up to look sceptically at me. "It's a little grandiose, don't you think?"
"It's spelt C-E-S-A-R. It was the name of a good friend of mine."
She continues to look at me, and I raise my hands in surrender.
"We'll keep thinking."