He got the news one spotless afternoon in the fifteenth cubicle of the maternity ward. It was his wife’s third miscarriage. They had wanted a child so much that they were willing to undergo an insertion of hormonal regulation nanochips and vaginal restoration. However, she couldn’t hold the fetuses long enough to save them in an incubator. She expelled them in an explosion of blood and agony, which struck him in his chest, between his legs. He shook with spasms and shouted beside her as if they were miles apart from each other.
On more than one occasion, the couple had considered adoption. He was enthusiastic, but she couldn’t bring herself to love some child who didn’t carry part of herself, something that hadn’t torn pieces of her womb on the way to the light.
Perhaps for that reason, she wasn’t convinced when the doctor offered them a solution: a surrogate mother gynoid. A metal body clad in synthetic flesh, warm flesh, a swollen womb, an amniotic bag designed to safely contain a human embryo until its full formation. He trembled as he imagined being in bed with a woman made of digital codes, an artificial creature with his wife’s mask, like a lady of pleasure who roamed the red-light district.
But the doctor reassured him that he wouldn’t have to be intimate with the bionic woman if he didn’t want to. All could be done from afar, via in-vitro fertilization, implantation of a fertilized egg in the gynoid’s womb. Relegated to a corner of the house, she’d gestate the eagerly expected baby in absolute silence.
Despite her initial protests, he convinced his wife to go through the procedures. After all, the child would be entirely theirs, because the gynoid was constructed with genetic material from both parents. She agreed only because her desire to be a mother surpassed all others in her heart.
The gynoid arrived in a box with step-by-step assembly instructions. The assistants removed the nylon film that kept her pristine and showed her to the couple. The woman wrinkled her nose in disgust. The gynoid was an exact physical replica of the woman, with her thin lips, freckled cheeks, and green eyes fixed on no particular place. Her stomach wasn’t yet swollen, but the seed of new life was already growing inside her.
The woman closed the fembot’s eyelids to avoid looking into her own eyes and locked her up in the guestroom. They wouldn’t have to do anything else for the gynoid, because the battery would last more than a year. Linked to the home security system, she’d send notifications on her pregnancy’s progress.
The next few months passed calmly enough. She scarcely paid attention to status updates from the gynoid, because her desire to be a mother had dimmed as soon as the fembot had stolen her starring role.
He, on the other hand, monitored the fetus’s progress from his phone. At first, she scolded him for making too much fuss of the metal scrap in the guestroom. She’d worry when the birth was imminent, which was seven months away.
He hid his obsession. Night after night, under cover of darkness, he unlocked the electronic padlock and entered the room where the gynoid rested.
The man kept her in her hibernation state. He was content to feel her firm breasts and her warm stomach, which, month after month, grew with the new life inside. He placed his ear on her artificial navel and listened with intense concentration to hear the fetus's heartbeat. Everything must be fine, he told himself. The gynoid sent no alarm signals. Asleep in the dark, she could almost pass as his wife, with dark hair, with a faint smile hovering around her thin lips. He never thought much of sympathetic pregnancy—when his wife was pregnant, he’d never experienced morning sickness—but as the gynoid’s body changed beneath his hands, he felt his own mimic hers. He transformed along with the gynoid.
First, it was nausea. Then followed disgust, repulsion to strong odors, mood swings, intense cravings, and tooth pain. Fatigue settled heavily on his shoulders. A phantom weight began to bear fruit in his stomach. His wife paid no attention to him. She didn’t want to. She attributed his changes to work-related stress. She regretted having placed a human life inside a gynoid, which was a medical aberration as far as she was concerned. “Who knows how the baby will turn out?” she said. “It’ll be contaminated with invasive codes and nanochips before it sees the light of day.”
He paid no heed to his wife. When he felt the baby roll inside the gynoid’s stomach for the first time, he also felt cramps in his lower abdomen. His body began to turn into something unfamiliar. He dyed his hair dark and let it grow. Hormones surged through his body. His legs swelled. His breasts grew. He wrapped a bandage tightly around his chest to hide his changing body. And he wouldn’t make love to his wife. Sexual desire had faded out in both of them as soon as the gynoid joined their household.
He’d steal any moment he could to be alone with the bionic woman, rest his head on her lap, perceive the life inside her, lick clean the residues of colostrum, and extract milk that began to flow from her ample breasts. She was programmed to serve as a wet nurse in case the mother was unable to breastfeed.
In the ninth month, before the home security system issued a screeching alert, he felt contractions. He never expected the pain to be so great. He felt as if dozens of bones had broken at the same time. As if someone had nailed a red hot iron bar between his legs and tried to tear him apart. She never understood. She accused him of being hyperbolic and overdramatic. She opened the bedroom door. Unmoved by the gynoid's spasms, she called the ambulance, to have both of them taken to the hospital: the fake flesh scrap and her drama-king husband.
On the way to the hospital, the medics explained to the woman that her husband, without a doubt, suffered couvade symptoms during her pregnancy. They, however, fell silent when they realized their faux pas—the woman wasn’t a mother, but an egg donor. She shot a glance of disapproval toward the sleeping gynoid whose belly began to go down.
With a gentle exhalation, the gynoid gave birth in the ambulance. The man turned over on the stretcher, shouted, and pushed to expel the non-existent fetus. When he heard it was a baby girl, he asked the nurses to place her next to him. Instead of granting his request, they gave him a sedative to calm him down and placed the baby girl on his wife’s lap. She twisted her thin lips in disdain toward the clean alien creature. The medics decided not to turn off the gynoid. The wife had no breast milk, but the gynoid did.
He woke up in an observation room in the hospital. The nurses kindly told him where his wife, the mechanical wet nurse, and the baby were. More than anything, he wanted to be with his daughter. Soaking in the sun’s golden warmth, he walked down the hospital corridor, a smile on his face, a spring in his step. However, when he reached the room, his wife was about to put a pillow over the baby’s face. With the battery ripped off from her back, the gynoid lay lifeless.
He howled like a wounded beast and hurled himself at his wife, who kept screaming that they had created an abomination, a mistake, because something that grew in a scrap metal container couldn’t be her baby, a human being, a living creature, but an object made up of nanochips and codes.
They struggled and he pushed her. She stumbled, fell toward an aluminum table, and struck her head against its sharp corner. As she lay on the floor, her dark hair became drenched in blood. He dashed to the crib, carried his daughter wrapped in blankets, and pressed her against his chest. He fled without looking back. On the way out, he snagged a bottle of the gynoid’s breast milk from the fridge.
He hurried away into the darkness. When he reached alleys lit by commercial holograms, he plunged into them until he lost himself in the labyrinthine net of the city. He snuggled behind a group of dumpsters, away from invasive gazes. Beneath the flickering light of neon signs, he contemplated his daughter’s face for the first time since he’d saved her.
He tore his shirt and the bandage binding his developed breasts, and he placed the baby girl next to his nipple. From his pocket, he took out the bottle. Out of instinct, the baby moved her mouth toward the enticing scent and sucked both sources: the nipple that couldn’t feed her and the baby bottle with colostrum.
The man gazed at his reflection in a piece of broken mirror lying near one of the dumpsters. His wealth of dark hair cascaded over his shoulders. His face now had thin lips and a band of freckles across his cheeks. He looked, with eyes that began to emit green flashes of light, over the long length of his body until they reached his lower abdomen and legs.
The swelling in his stomach had finally disappeared.