Weekend Fiction: Fucking Queers

The police vans had left for HM Prison Harrow. The BBC and Fox News would not report it. And those few independent outlets who did would find themselves subject to Public Interest Violation Orders that blocked UK visitors to their site. The three dozen or so protestors would be in their cells by midday: their summary detention was not subject to appeal and the next of kin would find out only by application to the Ministry of Justice under the latest Freedom of Information Act. The cost was £155.

Ever reluctant to be tied down by a lengthy Office for a Fair Press investigation, most of the old ‘print’ media would avoid the topic. The BBC’s breakfast bulletin had mentioned that gun shots had been reported on Victoria Street but under pressure from Downing Street had taken the item down from their ticker tape and edited the programme so that it did not appear on iPlayer.

The editor had been furious until he was offered an exclusive with the foreign secretary about the Russian president’s new loan to Catalonia, announced on the eve of his state visit to Britain.

So when Frankson got out of the ministerial car, there were only a few cameras waiting outside the department. A smile then the minister strode purposefully towards the entrance where the Permanent Secretary stood patiently. They shook hands for the cameras before the older stood back to allow his political master to enter a whole new dominion.

Once inside the civil servant caught up with Frankson and, as they walked to the office of the Secretary of State, went through what should be a smooth first day: a short address to staff at 11 o’clock, meetings with section heads until lunch, a statement to the House in the afternoon.

As the permanent secretary shut the door, Frankson barked:

“Where is it?”

“On your desk, Secretary of State.”

Frankson walked across the office.

There it was.

“Thank you, Peter.”

*  *  *

Darren switched off the monitor and programmed the coffee machine to make him a latte. He had given up watching the news when, a few years back under the last government, they had reported that 70% of food banks had run out of supplies, even bread. He was not political but his Twitter feed had been overrun with furious supporters crying ‘fake news’. Later, a smiling prime minister toured one of London’s most used facilities to confront the story’s inaccuracies.

“Change is coming,” he said to loud cheers.

Darren selected a bit of toast and watched as the machine spread Nutella thickly on it before looking out of the window: where the fuck was he?

He  played back the last fifteen years in his mind to try to remember the last time Andrew had been late. The man practically went into palpitations if they were due somewhere and Darren was delaying them. A row would inevitably begin until Andrew drew back, recognising that the row itself was further holding them up. Instead, Darren would have to put up with pursed lips and silence as they travelled wherever they were going.

Lateness, he would say, was a sign a discourtesy: a sign that you valued yourself, and your own time, more than whomever you were meeting. It was inherently selfish.

Was he making some kind of statement now then?

After all, Andrew would take great delight in booking a taxi to the airport that would arrive three hours before their flight took off; he would make sure he was standing next to the right platform, everything purchased for the journey, half an hour before his train was to leave. And so on. Darren wondered what they could have done with all the time spent waiting because of someone’s paranoia about tardiness. Except that, of course, they would have spent the time getting ready or procrastinating about getting ready.

All that energy wasted though.

Even when they had bought the house on the Avenue, the move had been dichotomous: Andrew’s stuff has been neatly packed and arranged, while the majority of Darren’s was quickly thrown in black plastic bags. Luckily, the neighbours had seen the former: they knew that the right kind of gays had moved in. Ironically, that meant more to Darren than Andrew who really could not give a flying monkey’s fuck what a bunch of net curtain-twitching straights thought of him. Suburbia was something to be endured not embraced.        

For five years (or three riots, as Andrew liked to joke), each had lived in Camden where they had never spoken to their neighbours nor cared about the less salubrious activities of the apartment block.  So outwardly they had both embraced the change with its dinner parties and family parties, afternoon clubs and weekend get-togethers.

Flynn was now starting primary school proper after a year of kindergarten. With Andrew out of the house by seven most mornings, Darren took him to school, picked him up and did most of the host of duties of a parent, from sewing costumes for Nativity Plays to buying his British League uniform for Monday afternoons.

“Why isn’t he here?” Darren muttered to himself, looking at the clock again.

As if in answer his mobile rang. He snatched it and answered it without looking. But it was just one of the mothers. Yes. Yes. Just about to leave. Not here. No, He’d tried Facebook Live but it was turned off. But yes. Of course, he’d be there. He quickly thought through his diary in his head, mentally moving clients and meetings. He put the phone down.

“Fucking arsehole!”

It was a cue: as he finished the words, Darren heard the latch on the door turn. Then the door open.

“Fuck. I’m so sorry.” A voice shouted.

“You have precisely five minutes. Well six.”

“Babe, I’m sorry. The traffic was hell. They’ve taken down the signal again at Croydon. I don’t know what the fuck is going on.” The voice dashed into the room, and the man at the end of it leaned across the breakfast table and kissed Darren on the forehead. “You’ve got Nutella on your shirt.”

He looked at Darren.

“I’m sorry.”

Darren gave a fleeting, and grudging smile of forgiveness.

“Look, we’ll still be there on time. They told us to turn up an hour before. I’m sorry. I promise it wasn’t intentional.”

Darren continued to sulk but said, “It’s ok. You do want this don’t you?”

“Yes, you stupid wanker. It was just - fuck, you know what it's like right now. I promise I do.”

“OK. It’s ok.” Darren began to smile properly again.

“Look. I’m gonna get upstairs, throw some water over my face, change and then we’re ready to go. Five minutes. Max.”

“Just hurry.”

“And change your shirt, you fucking twat.”

Darren looked at the shirt and muttered:

“Bastard.”

He smiled, jumped to his feet and followed Andrew upstairs.

*  *  *

The body on the bed was near perfect. The skin was a rich chocolate, the muscles taut but the frame thin. The body was asleep but barely moved nor made a sound. It could have been dead. Or the subject of a artist’s portrait.

It was midday but the thick curtains banished the day. The sound of central London traffic did not wake it.

Although, with its thin edge of masculinity, it lay in somnolent purity, around the scene was a mess. A dress lay half on the bed, half off; the blonde wig sprawled on the pillow next to the shaved head with makeup smeared over the white linen. A half-drunk bottle of vodka stood atop two laptops, with a glass nearly empty beside it and two half-opened packets of Ritalin. On the other bedside table, six or seven phones were thrown down in a nest of leads and colourful wires. Beyond, the apartment looked both as if someone had lived there for a while but also recently inhabited: breeze blocks acted as legs for tables and the support for shelves on which lay more laptops and technical books; the floor was a mess of magazines, papers and clothes, the walls were bare and cream.

One of the phones on the bed  beeped and lit up to show an incoming message.

The sound was not loud, but the body moved. The back arched as she stretched her arms and moaned slightly before relaxing her body back into slumber. A few moments later, she rolled over towards the bedside table and started rifling through the phones, putting each to her face before sleepily dropping them.

Having picked up a fifth phone, she then looked at it more seriously. The message was on the encrypted chat; the number unknown. She looked again at the message.

“Package delivered. Drop as usual. Immediate attention required.”

Dane sat up. She let the phone drop onto the mattress and rubbed her eyes. Suddenly, she was focused. Last night was a thing of the past.

She picked up a red dressing gown from the floor and wrapped it around her body. She took one of the laptops from the floor and found the leads; plugged them in and turned the server in the corner of the room on. As the computer booted, she went to the kitchen next door to make some coffee. On her return, mug in hand, she typed in her password and logged onto the server.

While she waited, she put on a pair of jeans, and the wig before finishing the coffee. She quickly went over the night before at what had been the Vauxhall Tavern. Now it was just a squat venue for occasional illegal gigs. Last night, there had been no raid but it would be a while before it was safe to return.  

She then found the secure internet browser and logged into her email. Seventy-two unread messages since yesterday. Eventually she saw it. Sent 17 minutes ago. Sender: ANONYMOUS. Subject: Delivery Order No. 77/89D45.

She doubled clicked the mouse to open the email. No text. Just an attachment. She clicked on the PDF document then entered the password.

Then she saw the title page:   

BRITAIN’S BRIGHTER GENERATION
Future Policy on Human Fertilisation and Genetic Screening

Looking at the screen, she realised she had four hours before they came for her.

 *  *  *

Both Andrew and Darren tried not to stare as Dr Acharya rubbed her immigration tag with the heel of the shoe.

The truth was that neither of them had seen one before. It was only because her skirt was knee length that they got a glimpse of it. Both felt slightly voyeuristic as they caught her discomfort, both physical then emotional. As soon as they noticed she had caught them, they averted their eyes without saying anything.

“Well, we have the results of the ultrasound. First off,” she said monotonously, “the sex - now you didn’t specify a preference, but I’m sure you would like to know.”

Both nodded.

“It’s a girl.”

Darren and Andrew cooed paternally and pressed each other’s hands together as they smiled at the doctor.

She turned her monitor towards them to reveal the triangular shot of the baby moving in black and white.

Andrew could virtually hear Darren’s mind go through the names he’d been writing at the back of notebooks for the last two weeks. He bit his bottom lip at the strange form moving in the flickering light.

“As you know, the CVS showed a positive for sickle cell anaemia which were able to eradicate. So that is all clear now.”

Darren smiled.

“Generally, the pregnancy has been smooth. There is nothing to worry about, Mr Burns. The last ten years have seen remarkable improvements for cloned-womb pregnancies. In fact, next week I will be able to tell you your little girl’s due time within ten minutes.”

She looked at Darren sympathetically.

“Please, you must not read tabloid scares. Your little girl is doing fine. Your insurance covers you during the full period of gestation with an automatic further fertilisation should there be any unspecified problems. You have greater protection than in a regular pregnancy.”

“Thank you, doctor,” he replied, feeling somewhat foolish.

“Now, I also have the results for your CPD Plus. We have a complete genome sequence.” She handed over the file to Andrew, who - in turn, shared it with Darren.

“Most of this makes little sense, doctor.”

She smiled.

“Well, that is a good sign! First the nice bit: your little one will have blue eyes, and brown hair - just like her daddy.” Andrew squeezed Darren’s hand. “She’ll probably be quite tall. Again. Like daddy. There is a low risk of obesity, depression and other personality disorders.  There are low probabilities for cancer, autism and diabetes.” She has rolled her chair towards them and was pointing a pen at the relevant bit of the page.”

“If you look here, you’ll see that even Huntington’s and Parkinson’s have less than a ten per cent chance. So generally, all clear.”

“Generally?”

“The test showed up one issue. Page 19. There is a strong chance she will grow up to be gay.”

“How strong?” Darren asked.

Andrew shot a glance at Darren. As the doctor turned to her monitor Darren gave an apologetic look to his husband.

“Over 90%. That is - I admit - unusually strong. But the CPD Plus is considered 98% accurate.”

Darren did not say anything. He thought about joking about his big gay genes but somehow he doubted Dr Acharya would find it funny. He was not sure whether he did either.

“Now we can resequence that if you like - but I would say you would still have a 50-60% chance that she would be homosexual. I would need your consent, of course. Another option is termination.”

“Termination?” It was Andrew who spoke, startled that one option had not been mentioned.

“Yes, we just close down the womb and you can start again. You can always choose another prototype or, some potential parents pay for several cloned packages for peace of mind. You can take as long as you need but the sooner you decide, the sooner we can get a fresh womb for you.” She rolled her chair back and looked at her diary. “By Monday, we can have another ready for insemination - if you decide to terminate today.”

Dr Acharya smiled.

Andrew wanted to get up and throw something - his chair, anything. The red mist had descended. He put his hand to his forehead and caressed his temples before letting out a short, bitter laugh.

“So, do you need any time before you make your decision?”

*  *  *

They called the room that the Department of Health used for media interviews the Control Room. It was, in fact, just a bare room with minimal furnishings and the departmental logo on the wall: Making Our Health Great Again.

Frankson was sitting in front of the logo, a make-up assistant applying the finishing touches and an aide quietly briefing the minister from a plastic folder of departmental statistics.

“Going live in two minutes, Secretary of State.”

Automatically the aide took a few steps back and brushed her hair off her face; the assistant put his kit back in his box and busied himself away. Frankson quickly adjusted the ear piece and then looked towards the camera as the live button turned red.

There was a pause.

“Thank you for inviting me, John.”

Once again, the room fell silent as the first question came from the interviewer.

“Of course, it is a challenge. But I am lucky that my predecessor did so much to meet the challenges we face… No, I think you’ll find that the report totally exonerated him and Clark leaves office with his reputation enhanced…. Yes, enhanced.”

Frankson frowned in the next silence.

“No. I do not accept that at all. There was no cover-up. The allegations were not hushed up. I really think that this kind of gotcha journalist is typical of the media. People aren’t interested. What they want to know is how this government is protecting them from future threats and improving the nation’s health and well-being… Well, I just think the media should mention that once every so often.”

The aide was standing two or three metres away but could feel the tension ease as the minister got into attack mode.

“Well, you make my point, John! Where have you mentioned the fifty Virgin health centre that have temporarily opened up to deal with the problem. Or the fact that our vaccine programme has been more successful than ever… No. I don’t accept that. The vaccine scheme has operated above capacity this year.”

 Frankson smiled in the silence.

“No. I did not see it. Buzzbokz is hardly on my daily reading. And I think the government’s position on these sites is quite clear. Well, you can hardly expect me to comment on leaked documents. It might not even be genuine.”

Frankson smiled again.

“Well, that’s what you say… Look, the fact is that that this has been one of the most pro-LGBT governments in history… Sorry. I just don’t see the ban in those terms...“  Franson’s finger started to jab towards the camera before she put it back into her fist. “John, John, I know it is your job to make mischief but can I just say this? This is a government that believes in freedom. Absolutely we are not going to legislate for the compulsory termination of foetuses who show genetic abnormalities such as homosexuality. It is much better to let people make these decisions themselves.”

Frankson’s eyes stared at the screen.

“Thank you very much, John.”

The aide took a few steps towards Frankson and silently gave a thumbs up sign. Frankson stood up, turning to look at the red button of the live feed.

“Fucking queers,” she said. “They’re really worse than parasites.”

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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