February 11, 2020

“Designer Baby” by Joann Mead

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“Designer Baby” by Joann Mead

Designer Baby: Underlying Crimes 

Chapter 1  My Mai   

“You are mine. You are my Mai.” He chuckled. “Mai, Mai.” Repeating over and over, he laughed at his alliteration as he clapped his short, thick hands in time with his rhythmic chant. 

“Only tonight. No rough stuff. Just what we agreed, Vlad. Promise?” For Mai Tran, this business has rules that must be followed. Her patrons were usually compliant. Most were lonely businessmen with too much money and time on their hands. Most had pedestrian tastes. But this client was not typical—more brutish and less refined than the Scandinavian men, and with none of the sophistication of western Europeans.  

Mai keenly observed the differences in her clients. She was a quick study. This patron was decidedly coarse with his disheveled hair and beefy body. She comically thought the size of his head must be inversely proportional to his intellect. He didn’t strike Mai as a man who got by on his wits.  

Yet, his piercing blue eyes seemed to soften when he stared into her eyes. Perhaps Vlad was more docile, less threatening than he appeared. She wouldn’t otherwise have gone with him to his hotel room. She decided this hulking beast was most probably harmless. 

Quick to satisfy him, Mai was thankful it was over. When she sat upright at the edge of the bed, he grabbed her arm forcing her to lie down. His greasy hair, a dirty hay-yellow, fell on her face and with one foul-smelling breath he demanded, “Mai, Mai, I give you money for one week.” 

“No! One night.” Mai would never let any man own her for that length of time. And she could make more money with brief encounters. She had her method. 

Again, she rose from the bed to gather her clothes. But without warning, Vladimir pinned her face down on the bed and straddled himself across her thighs. He pulled her hands behind her back and tied her wrists with a loose luggage strap. Struggling to no avail she tried to yell. But before she could project beyond a weak gurgle, he squeezed her throat and growled, “No loud mouth.”  

Mai froze. She feared things would not end well.  

“Vlad, you did not pay me. Pay now and untie me.” Mai tried to project calm.  

Vlad pulled a bundle of euros from his jacket that lay on the bed. Unrolling the bills, he counted out ten large euro denominations and tossed them on the nightstand. “For one week, you are mine.” He slapped her bottom, much too hard to be playful.  

Mai grimaced with pain. “Stop! I did not agree to this.” Appealing to his inner angel—should there be one—she praised him. “Vlad, you are a good man. You would never hurt a woman.” For a few moments, Vlad seemed to listen but his penetrating blue eyes and playful smile deceived her. She had almost believed he was a decent person. 

But instead Vlad grabbed her neck as if to strangle, threatening what might come later. He laughed as he smacked her harder, leaving red welts. “You take what I give you.” 

Mai recalled the beating her mother took from an abusive client years ago in Shenzhen—her blackened eye, the circular bruising on her arms, the raw red streaks down her back. Mai knew she should have listened to Mother’s warning, “Sometimes you get more than what you are paid for.” 

Mai mumbled to herself, “I have become Mother.” She painfully remembered the day she explored the contents of Mother’s knapsack: the lingerie, the jewelry, the cosmetics, and other exotic tools of the trade. When Mother woke to find Mai fondling the lingerie, she flew into a rage and beat her. She slapped her face and whipped her legs with a bamboo rod.  

But now, Vlad’s abuse made her regret the turn her life had taken. Mai thought that things like this couldn’t happen here. Not in this beautiful, safe country. After all, this is Sweden.  

Mai pleaded in vain for Vlad to stop. She hoped he wouldn’t go too far. But it seemed her worst fears might become a reality. The choking abuse intensified until she passed out from the near strangulation. Vlad took a break and swigged cognac directly from the bottle. 

When she came to, Mai wondered if she could take one day of this, let alone one week. Vlad was probably the vilest man she ever encountered, and she’d come across quite a few other bad men. She’d kill him if she could. But she had no weapon.  

Vlad told Mai, “I trap you, then release. I pay you money.”  

He picked up Mai’s purse and rummaged through it. He plucked out a wrapped sweet and inspected a golden-yellow hard candy. 

Mai couldn’t believe her luck. She tempted him, “Would you like a ‘Honey Sweetie’? It’s very tasty. Suck it slow, it will ooze honey in your mouth.”  

He placed the sweet on the nightstand. “But first, we have more fun.” 

Mai hoped he would tire of his frightening play, but he punctuated his sadistic fun with a blow that split her lip. Blood trickled on to the sheets. Vlad ignored her whimpers and picked up the yellow-gold candy. 

Again, Mai tempted him, “Honey Sweetie? You will love it.” This time it was Vlad who complied. He unwrapped it and popped it in his mouth. His blue eyes rolled with pleasure. Indulgence was just one of his vices. Whether sweet, savory, or savage, he loved it all. But little did Vlad know, that Mai’s honey candy was laced with a bioweapon, the Tiger Flu. 

“Mai, Mai. Honey Sweetie. Do you have more?” Vlad dumped the contents of Mai’s purse, disappointed at not finding more candies. 

“No, it’s the only one,” Mai said and smiled. She knew he wouldn’t last the week. 

“For now, my honey pot, you make Vlad very happy. Little Mai, Mai.”  

— 

Three days passed. Mai couldn’t escape Vlad’s cruel tastes. His vicious routine of partial strangulation, poking, thumping, and battering was unrelenting. He controlled her. He kept her tied, tethered to the bed. He escorted her when needed. Showered with her on occasion.  

He asked not to be disturbed. Vlad’s large meals were left in a hallway by hotel staff. Mai fed on what he gave her. “Keep up your strength.” He insisted she eat. 

He chided her if she dared complain of anything. Telling her how lucky she was. “You are trapped. But you are alive, little butterfly. You are not so fragile, are you Mai, Mai?” 

That evening, Vlad complained he felt hot. Was he was coming down with something? A cold perhaps? 

On the fourth day, Vlad was congested. Feverish. Mai promised she’d nurse him back to health. “It’s only a cold or the flu. After all Vlad, you paid me for one week.” Mai feigned affection and obedience. He untied her tether. 

Room service left what Vlad asked for in the hallway—strong cold and flu medicines. Mai dosed him with a codeine cough mixture. The staff avoided their sick guest. 

Mai reassured Vlad that he was getting better. No need for a doctor.  

She mumbled words too cryptic for Vlad to understand, “Tiger, tiger burning bright,” the words from William Blake’s poem.  

“Turn off the bright lights. My eyes, my eyes. I’m too hot. My chest burns.” Vlad labored over every breath. 

“In the forests of the night,” Mai recited. 

“What are you saying, Mai?”  

“What immortal hand or eye. Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” Mai continued her recitation of the poem. 

“My throat is sore. Give me more medicine.” Vlad drank entire bottles of the codeine cough syrup. He swooned, dizzy and delirious. 

Mai teased the nearly incoherent Vlad. “By my hand, by my eye, I framed thy fearful symmetry. I turned the little birds into tigers.” 

Confused by Mai’s simple words, let alone decipher any obscure meaning, Vlad swiped his hand in the air just missing Mai’s face. “Shut up about tigers and birds. My head hurts.”  

“Vlad, you have a slight fever.” Mai could almost not contain her glee.  

Diarrhea kept Vlad on the toilet. His strength sapped, he crawled slowly back and forth to bed.  

Mai dabbed Vlad’s runny nose with a tissue. She commended herself, knowing she’d been wise to inject the honey candy with the deadly flu strain. But not a contagious variety. She’d forgotten that a lone “Honey Sweetie” lay at the bottom of her handbag. How lucky that Vlad found it. 

The malaise soon set in. So lethargic, Vlad couldn’t even think of food, let alone sex. 

His breathing labored, Vlad lapsed in and out of consciousness. Mai knew he wouldn’t last long. Maybe another day or two, but he’d be dead by the end of the week. Mai mused with hateful glee, “Let him suffer as he slowly descends into a dreaded coma.” 

Mai took a long relaxing shower. Hairbrush in hand, she rearranged her blond wig that Vlad carelessly tossed on the bathroom floor. She gathered her belongings—the euro bills on the nightstand and what was left of Vlad’s money roll—and stashed everything in her large purse along with her lace top and skirt. She dressed in jeans, a sweatshirt, and running shoes.  

“You fool, Vladimir. I turned the little bird flu into a lethal weapon, the Tiger Flu. You don’t stand a chance. My Honey Sweetie released the tigers,” Mai said to the comatose Vlad. She relished the power she exerted over him and control over his very existence. 

“You deserve what you get!” she punctuated, deriving as much sadistic pleasure as Vlad did with her.  

“In what furnace is thy brain?” Mai recited, asking Vlad to answer to his fate. 

Oblivious to everything around him, Vlad was delirious with fever. Brain death was imminent.  

Do svidaniya, Vladimir.” Mai wouldn’t wait around for his last dying breath.  

Vlad would certainly not be flying home to Moscow. He would soon be arriving in hell. 

Chapter 2  Mai’s Lies 

The next day, Mai took a train from Stockholm to Gothenburg. A few days later, she read a news article about the mysterious death of a Russian tourist found comatose in a Stockholm hotel room. 

“Uh, oh.” Mai cringed at the thought of what peril she might now be in. She read that his post mortem diagnosis was pneumonia. Although foul play was not suspected, an investigation was ongoing. 

Mai recalled with shades of regret her first victim, Lian, the Chinese-American woman who succumbed to a mysterious flu after returning to Seattle from Hong Kong.  

“A woman like myself,” she said with a sigh, feeling a kinship with her. 

During Mai’s previous life as Mei Wong, a lab scientist, she infected the unsuspecting Lian with Tiger Flu. World Genomics was the gargantuan lab in Shenzhen where she concocted her “Honey Sweeties.” She remembered watching Lian’s orgasmic expression as the honey center burst in her mouth, unaware of the sweet sorrow and agony that lie ahead.  

She soon left China for a fellowship in Denmark. It was in Copenhagen that she seduced her second victim, Albert. She thought him a typical American research scientist. Like so many men, so easy to manipulate.  

“Have a Honey Sweetie? Suck it slow. It will melt in your mouth.” She lured him into her tiger trap.   

Mai recollected how he drooled over her legs and that leopard-print skirt she wore so tight. She smiled at the nerd-like image she conjured up, his box-like jacket, pocket protector, and Khaki trousers. Her smile soured at the thought of what she did to him. Albert died days later after returning home to Boston.  

Both Lian and Al suffered the same fevered delirium and dreaded fire to the brain. Brain death was inevitable. She’d given her two test subjects a lab-created strain of Tiger Flu—not a contagious variety that could spread to others, but very deadly never-the-less. After all, she thought, “I needed to prove it could be done.” Mai told herself to assuage her guilt that it was “all in the interest of science.” She never once drew a connection to the Nuremburg Trials on human medical experimentation. Her diabolic experiments were no different. 

It was not surprising that Mai had absolutely no qualms about Vladimir’s demise. She felt he more than deserved what he got. Mai reckoned she saved other women from his abuse and she felt vindicated for administering her own form of justice. His execution. 

Mai breathed only a partial sigh of relief, for now she was not implicated. Or was she? 

Mai knew things had to change. She told herself, “No more gold stiletto heels. And no more Russians!”  

— 

Now draped across the bed in a cheap boarding room in Gothenburg, Mai’s new life in the West was not what she’d planned on. Back in China, the one million euros for her Tiger Flu creation seemed like a fortune that would support her for years in a life style of luxury. But her naiveté and her euros quickly disappeared, not just on pricey hotels and fashionable attire, but the biggest expense came with her transformation. The surgeries, the private hospital, the fake passports, and all the incidentals, like the cash bribes she doled out for the surgeons’ discretion. Those big expenses sucked cash from the private stash she’d secreted away in her knapsack.  

Mai’s mind chatter was incessant. “At least I found the Tong in Paris,” she thought. They forged a new passport, Mai Tran, a French-Vietnamese reincarnate. She was no longer the wanted bioterrorist, Mei Wong. But she worried, “What if I need to shift, to change, to morph again? There is no one to help me. I have no protection, only abusers.”  

“At least Kahliy looked after me.” Mai smiled at her memories. “Ah, Kahliy.” Her thoughts then shifted, “But it was your plot. Your students. They would carry the highly contagious Tiger flu. They would fly on planes to US cities. Infected human time bombs!” Mai’s eyes widened, as if in horror. Millions of people would die. Or so she promised. She smirked and sighed, not from guilt, but from the relief that she didn’t do her part in carrying out his plan.  

She mocked Kahliy as she mumbled her thoughts, “Oh, Kahliy, you silly man. I never loved you. I used you. You satisfied my urges. You were a tool for me to make money.” Mai paused to audibly reflect, “I could never destroy what I love. Life in the West.”  

Mai pondered the question of what the future might hold. And at that moment, Mai had a glimmer of her next big idea. She thought that if we truly love ourselves, as most of us do, then we would relish the idea of creating a perfected image of our self. We want perfection in ourselves, but no matter how much money we have, perfection is unattainable…unless….  

“Ah, yes, I understand what men want most.” Mai’s eureka moment arrived, she laughed out loud at her audacious tagline: I want a more perfect me, just as you want a more perfect you.

A more perfect me. And what would that be? Mai’s mind, enthralled by her fantasy, swirled in a sea of ideas. A flawless reflection, a perfected replicant…in our children.

She wondered how much people would pay for their dream child. Just how much is a perfect child worth? And it was there in that grungy bed, in a marginal boarding house, that the inception of Mai’s next business venture was conceived. “No longer will I be the slave of men, when I can offer them their own perfected child. They won’t buy me. They’ll buy a perfect baby!” 

Mai drifted off again with visions of “designer babies” created in the perfected likeness of their father. She would offer men a custom-made child; they’d choose from a list of enhanced traits. She’d offer a perfected prodigy, “a more perfect me”, as the answer to the age-old question: What do you really want in life? It could be the answer to their quest for eternal life.

Mai needed a better plan, or a better scam to sustain the lifestyle to which she’d grown accustomed. With her money running critically low, she knew she had some thinking to do. She would visit coffee houses, not bars. She could wear new clothes—business professional. Find new clients. And something else, she could use her skills in editing genes.

Mai mused some more, “Editing genes in microbes is child’s play. But it’s too risky. And dangerous for me. No more death and destruction. No more Tiger Flu!

Mai asked herself, “Why create death when you can create life?” Mai’s mantras and personalized aphorisms drove her desires. 

Mai thought of her pitch, “Design your own super-baby. A perfectly edited version of you!” Chuffed with her brilliant self, she fed her oversized ego. 

With Mai’s scientific methods perfected at World Genomics labs, she knew she was more than primed—she was credible and experienced. With gene-edited babies now a reality, disease-free embryos were created with “gene surgery.” Babies immune to HIV now lived in China, made possible with a simple CRISPR tool, DNA scissors that clip out the bad genes.  

Mai wrote down her sales and marketing ideas: Your babies will be free of disease, no HIV, no cholera, no smallpox, or other diseases. Your children will grow up immune. Inherited diseases will be nipped in the bud. But that’s not all. Besides removing bad DNA, we can insert new and improved DNA! 

At World Genomics, Mai learned about gene editing, its unlimited potential for designing DNA in humans. For babies, their traits could be changed, fixed, or exquisitely embellished before being born. Super-humans were the next big thing of the future. A total redesign.  

“Why be a lowly ‘natural’ when you can be an ‘enhanced’ elite?” Mai asked, knowing the answer. 

No longer limited to fantastical science fiction movies, beyond those imaginary super-heroes, these super-intelligent, strikingly handsome, beautifully athletic human-gods would be real. But perfection would be limited to the wealthiest among us. Financial eugenics. Survival of the “fittest” would be those with the most money. Those with foresight into a utopian future. Those who could see the promise of a phenomenal family with perfected offspring.  

Mai dreamed about a new successful business. She would try out her selling points on desperate men with deep pockets that would empty into hers. 

Mai thought some more. “I don’t want to kill any more people. And I love little babies, when they belong to someone else. Perhaps there is something auspicious in that? And my services will bring in huge amounts of money.” 

A feeling of euphoria enveloped Mai’s very being. She knew she could capably pull it off. She never doubted her powers of manipulation and ability to con people. She could convince any man that she held the key that would unlock the door to his innermost desires. “I could give men what they really want, although sex might be part of the bargain,” she thought. “After all, I might need to collect semen samples.” 

It was in Gothenburg that Mai began her tour of upscale coffee houses and tea rooms. She toyed with new business slogans and taglines. She rejected “Mai’s Babies”. No identifiers. More generic. “Designer Babies”? No, too generic. “A more perfect you?” or “A more perfect me?” Better. “Buy a Baby.” Maybe. Or simply, “Buy Baby.” After all, it was all about selling a dream baby.  

***

I’m a writer, educator, researcher and have lived in four countries ranging from A to Z: America (USA), London, England (UK), Moscow, Russia (back in the USSR), and Zimbabwe (Africa). 

In addition to my thrillers and bio-crime novels, I’ve written screenplays, short stories, magazine articles, and publications on disasters and weapons of mass destruction. 

My husband calls it ”doom and gloom” but my novels are, at times, hilariously funny. Really! My bioterror thrillers are full of quirky characters who will astound and enthrall you. The stories and settings come from real life experiences, people I’ve met, and places I’ve traveled along the way. 

With news of the first gene-edited designer babies born in China last year, my new release “Designer Baby: Underlying Crimes” is very timely. It’s a story about a most wanted bioterrorist who creates deadly bioweapons and designs super-human babies. In a world under threat by genetic attack, everyone wants to find her. 

You can find “Designer Baby” on Amazon. My website is: http://www.joannmead.com. On twitter:  @JoannJMead 

This is Joann’s first feature on The Fictional Café.

Fictional Cafe
#baby#dna#short story#thriller

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