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Cursed Lineage by Michael BishopThe figure on top of the pile of billets watched in silence as a man at arms stepped forward and lit the pyre under its feet. Then, slowly the flames licked nearer and nearer to it. Only when they were lapping at its feet did it speak.
"I curse thou Sir William," it cried. "I curse thou from this side of the grave, and from the other. May thee and thy line never bear sons."
The knight in the crowd flinched at his name. Then, he bellowed out loud
"Is all ye has to say, you old hag? Let's hear some more threats before ye roast."
The figure did not reply though. In fact it did not make another sound, not even when it's shift and hair flared up bathing it in a sheet of flame.
I looked at the couple in front of me; their eyes were filled with expectant hope with the miracle that they expected me to perform. It is not necessary in this job to meet the clients, but I always do. It turns the procedure from a cold and clinical act to something more intimate and meaningful.
"We have four girls and really want a boy to make our family complete," the man explained. His wife squeezed his hand in support.
"To date," I replied "Our clinic has performed one thousand two hundred and sixty two gender selections out of one thousand two hundred and sixty two attempts. From your medical records, I can see there is no reason why you should not be one thousand two hundred and sixty three."
"We know your success rate, Doctor Denham," the woman said. "That is why we had to come to you. My family runs to daughters and after two tries at a boy, we decided to seek professional help."
That and the fact that you could afford to pay my fees, I thought.
"Well, you already know the procedure, but I will outline it anyway. We will take some of your sperm, Martin, and select those with Y-chromosomes. These will be used to fertilise some of your eggs, Barbara. When we are happy that the embryos are healthy, we will implant two of them in your womb. If one or both take then in nine months, you will have your son. If not, we will repeat the procedure until you do. To date, we have needed to do it this more than three times.
The couple looked at each other and glowed with happiness.
"To think next Christmas we could have our very own son!" Barbara whispered. "We have so waited for that day. Thank you, Doctor!"
The report landed on my desk and I stared at it in disbelief. Four eggs fertilised and all were female! Our sperm selection system is not a hundred per cent reliable so occasionally a batch of embryos will contain one of the wrong gender. But never two. As for four, well the odds of that were astronomical.
I called the lab.
"Jill, I want you to personally do the fertilisation of the next batch of McDonald eggs. Do them one at a time and watch the process.
Half an hour later, she rang back.
"Mike, you had better come down here."
Fortunately, it was only routine paperwork that I was doing. Thus I was in the lab in five minutes.
"What is it, Jill?"
"It will be easier to explain if you watch."
I keyed a screen so I could observe the image in her microscope.