There were, obviously, laws against what Sara Kendall Winter’s daddy had done, but when you had the kind of money Mr. Winter had, there were a lot of things you could afford to ignore. Scientists had been cloning things since the turn of the millennium, mapping genomes and trying to replicate them in laboratories. People, for the most part, had said that that was pretty cool and turned back to playing Candy Crush Saga on their ever-shrinking portable computers. Clones had not seemed exciting or important when science first discovered them, a strange irony considering the sheer volume of movies, books, and television shows that prophesied clones taking over the world and killing all the natural humans. People did not see it as a problem that they could control the appearance of their offspring – they, themselves, intentionally, not just the genes they’d been born and forced to live with since the nineteen nineties. They could have the perfect Marilyn Monroe lookalike or the black-haired, pale-faced Goth they’d tried so hard to be with hair dye and eyeliner back in high school. It was up to them. That wasn’t a problem. It might not have been natural, but it was the natural progression of things, of science, of technology. Of the human race.
Sara Kendall Winter’s daddy had gotten clearance to have a real, natural baby the old fashioned way. She looked just like him. Mr. Winter got a kick out of how outsiders reacted to the resemblance. But that wasn’t the illegal thing, or at least not the most illegal thing, that he’d done.
Sara Kendall had grown up with the luxury of reading storybooks. Most children were no longer allowed access to real paper books. If they were given words at all, they appeared on an interactive, educationally optimized touch screen. But Mr. Winter could afford to do things the old fashioned way, even if that, too, was a little bit illegal. And thus Sara Kendall had learned about unicorns. Which brought them to Sara Kendall’s seventh birthday. Specifically, to her birthday wish list, which had only one item on it. She wanted the thing all Mr. Winter’s female peers had wanted when he was Sara Kendall’s age, back when all little girls read storybooks and dressed like princesses for Halloween: She wanted a unicorn.
So Mr. Winter had gone to the scientists, wired them a huge sum of money, and acquired a real, live, genetically engineered unicorn, which was now standing in his back yard, looking like it wasn’t sure what to do now that it was on land (a certain portion of its genome – perhaps too much? – had been borrowed from a narwhal). And Mr. Winter was no more certain than the mutant about what came next.
He couldn’t figure out what to feed the thing (seafood or oats?) or where to keep it. Sara Kendall was not supposed to see it until tomorrow. Mr. Winter just hoped he would be able to keep it alive until tomorrow. Sometimes these experimental species didn’t have a very long life-span. What if the unicorn died within a week and broke Sara Kendall’s heart? Sure, he could get another one, but he remembered a cat he’d had as a little boy, which had been run over by a car, and knew that his daughter would be traumatized even if daddy could replace the pet.
Maybe he should just get rid of it. The thing didn’t even look like a proper unicorn. It had a gray sheen to it, a bit like a seal. Unicorns were supposed to be white; even Mr. Winter knew that. What if Sara Kendall hated it? What would she say when the unicorn proved unable to fly or heal or talk or any of the magical things a real unicorn was supposed to do? It was just an animal – no, less than an animal; it was just a product of science, nothing magical about it. The thing was a fake, and Mr. Winter didn’t believe in fakes. That was why he’d had a real kid instead of a test tube one.
But real unicorns were magic, and Mr. Winter didn’t have any magic. Just science. And money. And a gray unicorn that still thought it was a narwhal.