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Kurt Giambastiani's fiction has been published in Dragon Magazine, Tomorrow SF and in Year 2000. This story previously appeared in Science Fiction Review.


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Supplanter

by Kurt Giambastiani


     Autumn had finally come to the Berkeley Highlands, bringing a cooling touch to the end of a hot and particularly busy summer. Jacob was glad to see the colors begin to change. Reaching back into his car, he grabbed the clipboard and his black PTR satchel. He placed the satchel on the hood of the car, opened it and produced the small vial of serum that would erase the child's personality, replacing it with a new one. He checked the silver encryptions against the order on the clipboard, making sure that all factors matched. Reassured, Jacob tossed the clipboard back onto the front seat and locked the car.
     Walking up the quiet street, he admired the houses of the new well-to-do. The scars of the Drug Wars had faded. The neighborhood had been reclaimed after six years of guerrilla warfare and South American occupation. Life had returned to a more normal regime. Warm light cast soft shadows through the twilight, scenes of home and hearth behind plasteel panes.
     The only thing missing is the squeals of playing children, he thought. He looked once more at the vial before tossing it roughly into the satchel. And that may never change .
     Jacob strolled up the brick walkway, taking enjoyment in the tangy aroma of its precisely manicured junipers. At the door he ignored the doorbell and knocked instead. Reaching inside his coat, he pulled out his wallet, smiled up at the camera and showed it his ID and D.H.G. Practitioner's cards. He heard the muffled clack of locks opening and took a step back, wallet still in hand.
     "Good evening, Ms. Erland," he said to the woman behind the screen. She was a pretty woman with dark, shoulder-length hair; not beautiful, but certainly pretty. "I'm Doctor Jacob McDougal from the Federal Department of Health and Genetics," he continued, showing her the cards. "May I come in?"
     "Oh! Certainly, please do," she said.
     Jacob pulled the screen door open and stepped inside. The aroma of dinner still lingered in the air, something Italian, he guessed. The clatter of dishes being washed drifted down the hall. She asked for his coat and he glanced around while she put it away. The decor was simple in the Neo-Nippon style that was quite popular: white walls with dark wooden posts and mouldings. It provided an aesthetic atmosphere for the sparseness of furnishings that was common in these economically hard-hit regions.
     Still , Jacob thought. You'd think a couple of brains like these two could do better than this.
     "Harold," the woman called down the hall. "The doctor's here. Can I get you something to drink?" she asked, turning again to Jacob.
     "No, thank you. I'm fine."
     A man appeared in the hallway, drying his hands with a dishtowel. Dark, like his wife and good-looking, Jacob was surprised to see he was wearing glasses. Most people opted for the surgical re-curving of their myopic vision.
     "Harold Erland," the man said, introducing himself with extended hand. "Thanks for coming on such short notice."
     "No problem, Mr. Erland. I'm Jacob McDougal. How long have you two been in the Berkeley area?" Jacob knew their history -- they were new to the Bay Area. Estrellita, having become sick of designing autos for a Japanese firm in the Midwest, now taught Fluid Dynamics at the university while her husband, an architect by trade, worked on community rebuilding out of his office here at the house. But Jacob had found that his usually uncomfortable clients quickly relaxed when they began talking about themselves. Estrellita was relating the tale of their trip to the coast when suddenly she stopped.
     "Doctor McDougal," she said in a serious tone, "I'm still apprehensive about this procedure. Could we discuss things a bit, first?" Her husband glared at her sharply.
     "Certainly," Jacob said. She showed him into the living area and Jacob chose the chair, leaving the small sofa for the couple to share. "What concerns you?"
     Harold entered last and picked up where his wife left off. "She's not sure that all this is really necessary," he said in a patronizing tone. "She thinks the child is fine the way she is."
     The child, Jacob thought. Almost every father called their baby the child, afraid to get too attached to the native personality before the procedure wiped it clean.
     "That's correct," his wife said, standing up for herself. "Why does the government suddenly feel it so necessary to disturb a normal, healthy child like this?"
     Jacob sighed to himself. He had heard this all before. The mothers always balked at the federal PTR requirements, usually at the last minute.
     "This questioning is normal," he began. "Naturally, you want to protect your child from any unneeded discomfort or shock. But Ms. Erland, are you prepared for the risks that go along with raising a non-PTR'ed child?"
     Jacob hated having to do this, having to persuade this intelligent and obviously caring woman to authorize a procedure she didn't want. Inwardly cursing the D.H.G. and their regulations, he continued with the prescribed lecture.
     "Are you willing to chance the presence of the erratic behaviours and emotionalism that often lead to addictivism, or worse? Even two wonderful people like you and your husband can produce the most sociopathic result. Do you remember David Malliard, that serial killer they caught a few years ago?"
     "Yes, of course, Doctor," she replied, dismissing the governmental reasoning with a wave of her hand. "But with proper rearing in a good home, I just don't see how a child could turn out so badly."
     "This might answer some of those questions," he said. Leaning over, Jacob opened his satchel and pulled out a leaflet. It's glossy cover showed happy, smiling couples, each with their happy, smiling child. Cheerful lettering across the middle read: PTR, The Sensible Choice. He handed it to Estrellita.
     "This details the findings of Langston and Goodman, whose rearing studies with twins back in '09 found that nurturing only influences the personality. It's genetics that determines it." Her husband had assumed an I-told-you-so look, just like so many other fathers had when Jacob had tried to persuade their wives. Eventually they had all acquiesced.
     Just like she will, Jacob thought.
     "With the Personality Termination and Replacement," he went on, "you know where your starting point lies. For instance, you two have chosen a particularly good set of factors: strong motivational forces, a great deal of intuitive reasoning and a steady, mainstream moralism.
     "Without PTR, you don't know what you're getting. That's the purpose behind the registration and monitoring of non-PTR'ed children."
     "That's right!" Harold blurted. He stood up and began pacing in front of the pellet-burning woodstove. "For Chrissakes, Honey! Do you want the feds tracking us for the next twenty or thirty years? Besides, Bob and Ladania PTR'ed Denise and you've seen her. She's a great kid! Two years old and as normal as the next child."
     Estrellita remained unconvinced. "But won't she turn out just like any child who has the same coding?" she asked Jacob, squirming a bit in her seat.
     "Every child is raised differently; this molds the implanted code uniquely, creating an individual, not a clone." Estrellita relaxed visibly, her last fear removed, and leaned back into the cushions. Harold came around behind the couch and quietly patted her on the shoulder. Jacob felt a sadness creep over him as the lapse in the conversation lengthened.
     "Well," he said, wanting to move things along, "I'll need to see the birth record if I'm to continue." Harold offered to retrieve the disk and left the room as Jacob pulled the compcon from within his satchel and opened it up on his lap.
     "Is it possible," the woman asked hesitantly. "I mean, can you find out what implants I was given?" Jacob looked up, startled by the question, and found she had moved to the edge of the sofa and was peering over at the console.
     A memory welled up suddenly from the far reaches of his youth. For a moment, Estrellita's face was replaced by that of his mother. The night he remembered was wintry, stormy, with the sound of wind and rain overshadowed by the squall of his new brother's temper. Jacob recalled his mother putting the same question to the drenched young medico who was preparing to PTR the baby.
     Jacob blinked once, and the memory faded. The cycle is repeating , he thought, wondering at the depth and detailing of the implants, wondering if the success of the PTR Program was due to the logic upon which it was based, or because of some hidden, self-perpetuating design.
     He blinked again, and saw Ms. Erland's puzzlement. He laughed kindly to hide his discomfiture.
     "No, I'm sorry," he said in answer to her question. "We don't keep records of implantation specifics. Privacy, you know. I'm afraid I'm not even allowed to tell you if you had an implant." She smiled, somewhat embarrassed, and moved back on the sofa as her husband returned, carrying a small laminated laser-disk. Jacob placed the disk into the console's port and information began streaming down the small greenish screen.
     "Hmm, 'Donata.' Pretty name," he said, just as he always did. He had once told a family that "Cadwaller" was a fine, strong name for a boy. "We seem to be cutting it pretty fine, though." They looked at him, puzzled. "The date, I mean. She's almost three months old. After three months the risks of implant rejection rise dramatically." Estrellita got another fierce look from her husband and the tension in the room jumped perceptibly. Jacob realized that he had said precisely the wrong thing.
     "But I can assure you that there's nothing to worry about in your daughter's case," he said, trying to mollify the husband's temper.
     A paper appeared from the top of the console. Jacob reached up and tore it off, handing it and a pen from his pocket to the Erlands.
     "Just sign at the bottom and we'll get this done," he said, a touch of anxiety creeping into his voice. They took the paper and each signed it in turn. He took the form back, gave them their copy and closed up the console.
     "Now, where's Donata?"



     Estrellita opened the door to the nursery and Jacob walked in, satchel in hand and console under one arm. The room had a "baby smell" like all nurseries - a mixture of baby powder, clean sheets, sour milk and diapers. The wallpaper had rabbits, deer and other cute woodland animals gamboling around the letters of the alphabet. From the crib Jacob could hear an infant education cassette, soothing music and softly-recited facts. He walked over to the crib. Donata Erland lay on her stomach, sleeping with one thumb planted firmly in her mouth. He looked up toward the door.
     "Thanks," he whispered. "I'll call if I need anything." The mother smiled sheepishly and closed the door. Jacob moved to a bureau near the bed, set up the console, and began taking out the few things he would need. He double-checked the label on the vial containing the PTR serum. Once introduced into the skull's cephalic fluid, the new code would attack those parts of the resident DNA pertaining to personality and intellect, replacing them with the new factors. Affected cells would pass the code on like a virus and, within a year, only the new version would remain.
     Donata stirred at the movement outside her crib, stretched and rubbed her eyes on the sheet below her. Pushing herself up with her arms, she looked around for the source of the noise. She saw the console with its lighted display, the strange instruments and bottles, and then Jacob. She became fearful and started to fret.
     "Hush, Sweetheart," he said with his winningest smile. "It's going to be okay." But Donata didn't hush. Looking at him, she began pushing herself backward with her arms and proceeded to wail in earnest. Wonderful, they'll think I'm traumatizing her.
     "Donata," he cajoled, taking out the sedative. "I don't want your mother in here, so hush, Dear. It'll all be over in a minute. There's nothing you can do."
     To his surprise, the child stopped her furor. He looked up from his work to find Donata wedged in the corner of her crib, lower lip stuck out and trembling, brows furrowed, eyes riveted on him and tears streaming down her cheeks. Jacob returned to filling the syringe. Done with that, he checked his watch, put down the vial and moved over to the crib.
     Carefully, he moved her out into the middle of the crib and she rolled onto her back. Jacob reached for her arm to roll her back onto her stomach, but she pulled her arm away from him. Again he noticed her face, tear-filled eyes locked on his.
     "I'm sorry, Pumpkin, but your parents ordered me to do this," he said softly. "I could lose my license if I don't. Besides, we don't know what you might turn out to be." Donata closed her eyes then, and turned her head away from him. Slowly, the infant released her arm to the physician.
     Jacob held the arm with trembling fingers, quickly swabbed it and injected the sedative. Donata turned back to him without a whimper and focussed on his face until the drug took effect, putting her back to sleep. Jacob reached out and touched the fine, soft hair that curled about the child's face.
     "We don't know what you might be," he whispered.



     Jacob stood once more on the porch of the Erland's house. Donata, sleeping a heavily-sedated slumber, lay cradled in her mother's arms, bandages on her temples. Her father reached out silently and touched the child's hand, finally allowing himself to open up to her. Estrellita smiled a sad but unburdened smile.
     "She'll sleep about three hours and the wake up cranky," Jacob informed them. "Just give her a spoonful of the syrup I left every four to five hours for the next two days."
     "Okay," they said. "Thanks."
     Jacob waved and walked down the pathway, the smell of juniper strong after the enclosed air of the nursery. He reached the street and turned towards his car. Stopping near the curb, he looked back at the Erland's house. So quiet, so proper, so safe. How could she not turn out all right? he asked himself. His hand fumbled in his coat pocket for the unused vial of PTR serum.
     Jacob looked at the vial in the streetlight, and read the silver code. Quickly, he uncapped the vial, emptied the serum out into the gutter and tossed the container down the sewer grate. Taking a deep breath of the clear, offshore air, Jacob looked up at the rising moon and continued on towards his car.


THE END