It was time to introduce 3-year old Jackson to a Campbell family tradition. Nicolas readied the fishing equipment and took the family to the banks of the River Potomac. Megan and Jackson got onto the fishing boat and set off.
After spending an entire afternoon on the river, Nicolas reeled in a large black bass. It was almost as big as Jackson. The dying fish flapped around helplessly.
“Fishie!” Jackson screamed with joy and ran towards the fish. The parents were distracted in orienting the boat. And before they turned around, Jackson had ripped the fins apart, gutted the fish, plucked its eyes out and broke its head off— all with his bare hands.
“Jackson!” yelled Megan, concerned.
Nicolas looked at the bloody mess that his son had made on the deck of the boat.
“That’s one strong boy!” he laughed nervously.
The parents couldn’t quite understand what had happened. They settled that such enthusiasm was normal for a three-year-old. The question they both wondered, however, but never said aloud scared them. Was their son the CRISPR Cas-9’s 3%?
“It’s a simple procedure, Mr. Campbell. We’ve had a 97% success rate, with babies being exactly to the specifications of their parents. We just edit out the unwanted genes from the genome of the embryo and include desirable genes that could make the child taller, stronger, and smarter, or, in your child’s case, all of the above.
You see, the CRISPR-Cas9 process has come a long way from curing cancer. We now have the power to birth completely customized babies!” Dr. Cohen exclaimed.
2050 was the start of a new era of science. Today, however, was the day Nicolas and Megan were taking their first steps towards parenthood. “What if our child falls into the 3%?” asked Mr Campbell, with genuine concern.
“As the statistics show, such cases are sporadic, and as far as we’ve seen, the babies have turned out just fine. Moreover, Mr Bundy, the donor you’ve chosen comes from an honourable lineage.”
Megan and Nicholas Campbell were an ideal couple. Both educated at Harvard, they had fallen in love while pursuing degrees in Law and Business, respectively. They then went on to conquer the corporate world, then got married and now have their dream home. There was just one missing piece to make this a perfect life—a child.
Nicholas was unable to father Megan’s child. So he promised her that he was willing to go to any lengths to give her the perfect child. After intense probing, they concluded that they needed to find a suitable donor that could provide Megan what Nicholas couldn’t.
This wasn’t going to be easy on them, but they decided that this was the best option for them. So the couple began their exhaustive search for donors – the quest to find the ideal man for their future flawless child. And after a painfully consuming search, they finally found the right donor and were both quite happy about it.
Mr Bundy, 6ft 3″, was an athlete, complete with broad shoulders and a muscular chest. He too, (as expected), was from an Ivy League school. Graduating top of his class, he was said to have started his own company. Intelligent, charming and athletic—what more did they need? The Campbells could picture their child with the world’s greats. With the CRISPR Cas-9 technology, it was impossible to have a child better than theirs.
The birth of Jackson Campbell was everything the parents imagined it to be. The baby was a healthy eight pounds and looked angelic. Nicolas and Megan were thrilled. For a moment, Nicolas forgot that this baby was someone else’s. In them, Jackson found loving parents. He grew up to be a well-behaved boy.
Jackson was a promising child, with stellar performances in class as well as on the field. Nicolas and Megan, along with Jackson, were the team known for perfection—perfect in career and school, in parenting and upbringing, and in denial and unacceptance.
Right from the day three year old Jackson tore apart a fish, Nicolas and Megan have always refused to accept this side of their son’s temperament. Their annual fishing trip is now synonymous with Jackson’s shredding their biggest catch with his bare hands.
Ripped apart cushions, shattered windows, fish bowls with squished goldfish—all this is normal in the house of a growing child, right? Time and again, they replayed Mr Cohen’s reassuring voice in their minds. The 3% does not exist—this was accepted and the slightest possibility that it might, was denied. Life was to go on as is, smooth sailing and fairytale-like.
Of the many things Jackson was, his passion and vehemence for things stood out. Volunteering was second nature. One day, his school was holding a fundraiser for helping out the homeless. What they didn’t realize was that the school across the street was having a fundraiser to help out abandoned animals. So both schools started a friendly competition to see who could make more money. Jackson put his heart and soul into it, but at the end of the week, his school couldn’t make as much money as the other, although it was a considerably large sum.
The next day, there was a putrid smell emanating from across the street. On investigation, local police found that the banner that said, “Treat your pups right!”, had been ripped to “eat your pups” and two dead dogs lay on the ground, dismembered. Nobody knew who was responsible for this, but a young Jackson watched on from the sidelines, feeling more invincible than ever.
14 Years Later
Jackson had now become a personable young man. He had everything a high-schooler could hope for. Brilliant test scores, the captaincy of the football team, and an irresistible charm about him. With his credentials, he was all set to get into an Ivy League school. The only obstacle before him and his scholarship was the playoff between his school and Montgomery High, a derby that has been played every year for the last 60 years. A lot was riding on this one for Jackson.
“You’ll be sitting this one out, Campbell”. Said Coach O’Donnell.
“You’re kidding, right? How can the captain sit out for the biggest match of the season? My university admit rides on this one!”
“Son, you’ve got a wrecked hamstring. It would be irresponsible of me to let you play. As far as your admission is concerned, you could apply in fall as well.”
“End of discussion. Go get some rest.”
Mrs Campbell stormed into Coach O’Donnell’s office the next week to reprimand him for dropping her son from the team.
“Coach, you have no right to drop my son from the team. You know about his condition, after all.”
“Mrs Campbell, your son is injured. My hands are tied here.”
“My son is sensitive. The doctors say it’s schizophrenia, but we’d like a second opinion. Your decision has crushed him. Please, you’ve got to do something.”
“I’ve said what I had to say. I’m sorry.”
Lincoln High won against their bitter rivals that day, with a score of 45 to 33, the highest winning margin in the history of the match. Jackson was enraged. This victory was not under his captaincy, and they played better than ever.
That evening, the coach took the team out to celebrate their victory. It was a night to remember. Later that night, the doorbell rang at the Coach’s residence. Coach O’Donnell, visibly stunned, opened the door.
By now, Jackson was fuelled by anger and dejection. There were many questions he wanted to ask Coach, but right now, it was time for dues to be paid. This night took him back to the fundraiser—when things had not panned his way. Only this time, he was seething.
“I just wanted to say congratulations for today’s game. Here’s a little gift.”
“A 2002 vintage Dom Perignon? This costs a fortune! I couldn’t possibly accept this! Come in, you missed a good party today! I’ll put on the game, we’ll make up for it!” said the Coach.
Jackson stepped inside the house. He’d been here countless times before, but today felt different. Today, everything looked unfamiliar. Was it the bone china vase he’d never noticed? Or the fact that the beige carpet had started losing colour? Perhaps it was the newly upholstered couch in the living room, where Jackson and the Coach were seated.
The noise of the football game droned on in the background as the two watched intently. It was the 4th quarter, the Dolphins were 6 points down, and their Quarter-back just made a 90-yard dash to touchdown.
The living room echoed the stadium in its screams of joy. Jackson loved this game with all his heart and was livid at his coach’s snubbing of him. He didn’t let it show today. Today was for Coach O’Donnell. He deserved this win.
“Son, I hope there are no hard feelings between us. I had to do what I did after Mr Campbell too expressed his reservations about you playing today. You’re a great player, perhaps one of the greatest this team has seen. I couldn’t risk your career for a High School game.”
Time stood still for Jackson. Sure, things not going his way was something he could deal with in his own way, but betrayal? He did not know which is worse—his dad not being able to tell him upfront, or the fact that he went behind his son’s back? Who was he to make such a call? The hurt, anger and delusion clouded his judgement. Trying not to let this get to him, he returned to the game. But one can only think so much, before acting on what they think is right—hasn’t that always been the norm?
The game ended with a win for the Dolphins. The coach turned the TV off, and Jackson got up to leave. Everything started to look familiar again. The carpet, the vase, the house itself.
As Jackson got ready to leave, tears welled up in his eyes. He turned around to thank his Coach.
“Goodbye, Coach. Thanks for everything.”
Next morning, one could hear the sobs of a new widow. She clung onto her son for support as police and paramedics surrounded the Campbells’ residence where lay the remains of a middle-aged man, cut up like bass from the river Potomac.
Perhaps Dr Cohen should have told the Campbells that the 3% doesn’t always turn out ‘just fine’.
Written by Avaneesh Damaraju and Sanjana Bharadwaj for MTTN