Xenosurrogacy

Author

Fergus Fettes

Published

May 28, 2024

The Thoroughbreds have painted toenails– this lineage prone to cloven hooves1, and no expense spared for their comfort– colorful jeggings and even, as if that all wasn’t enough, braids in their hair and tails combed to Asiatic straightness. But they weren’t included in the research program purely for aesthetic reasons, rather a more mundane blend of cronyism and nationalism (the racing grounds of Ascot being only an hours drive away through the English countryside– countryside criss-crossed often by balding primates in “horse-powered” machines who deal, with that proud English anachronism, in the lives of equestrians).

  • 1 No genetic relation to the phylogenetic branch known for their even toes, although the path their hooves are taking through morphospace has been trodden before, fins split with fresh spines after a certain size– it is rare indeed for an organ to grow to the size of a Thoroughbred hoof unbroken.

  • A rather different aesthetic impulse– or is that just called irony?– brayed across the high fence at the glossy, pampered mare. A squint-eyed little mule, belly bulging. It wasn’t purely from Promethean proclivity2 that mules were included in the program– they inherited benefits from both lineages, stocky and well-set, good reproductive capacities that Darwin, in his infinite wisdom, chose to hold back in reserve, perhaps waiting for exactly this opportunity, chimaerism the only worthy task for such ample affordances.

  • 2 Fecundating the infertile, another insult to God and human limits, and another bitesized sin for the placards.

  • And in the Victorian era veterinary college at the top of the hill a Shetland pony looks out the window at the string of portacabins that have extended it in that ugly manner of big money small time. She is having a difficult day, things having gone slowly downhill since she felt a rope slip around her neck while browsing happily on the mornings oats. She was led indoors into one of the rooms that are equipped for (typically rather larger) members of her species. She felt an insect bite her on the neck which weirdly enough relaxed her, and has had ultrasound gel spread on her belly and a sonograph slid over her sides.

    All this is not so unusual, she has experienced it three times before, but instead of the usual rich filling lunch of fresh carrots, after which she would expect to be discharged, she was bitten by another insect and slowly surrounded by more and more primates in white gowns. They sing their chaotic songs together until her stomach starts to churn, peristaltic waves passing through her belly and sides. When these contractions become visible the primates around her sing less, lower and faster. It is a few hours yet, and this is the first time she has given birth, but before too long and without too much trouble she is taken back to her field and given a bucket of apples. She didn’t realize how heavy she had become, and she wonders what came out of her.

    §

    The first batch of eight Golden-Eared Macaques delivered by Penelope, the first member of the first breed to xenodeliver primate births, is in a generally excellent condition. A five-and-a-half-month gestation, labour induced without a hitch, surrogate happy and returned to the field to be prepared for another implant after two months recovery. One of the macaques suffered from low-birth weight and was put down for dissection, as was one of its healthy siblings as a control. They have been introduced slowly to a pair of fully grown females, prepared for lactation since three days with hormone therapy and eager to feed with their swollen glands, who have taken them under their care. Three children each is a lot for a female macaque, but these have been bread for their health and feeding capacities and are given low, comfortable beds and plenty of food.

    In some ways it was hardly surprising to have a successful first birth, the way having been thoroughly paved by parallel xenosurrogacy experiments in research labs on 4 continents– clownfish laying zerbrafish eggs, avians raising insidious genetic cuckoos, rats birthing mice and mice birthing rats in a bizarre Ouroborean carnival. The simple fact of the matter is, the placenta is a highly-conserved interface between independent organisms. The wombsibs are also independent, this having been verified with an expectant rat, glowing with maternal expectation, birthing not only mus musculus but a cavia porcellus and cricetus cricetus in one batch. The immune and blood systems of the interfacing organisms have to be matched carefully, a task carried out in exponentially diminishing quantities of time and money by the inscrutable wisdom of a jealously guarded set of weights, a machine-learning model operated by a transfusion bank in Ohio (to be near the datacenters) which has categorized the haemotype of all mammals and a representative sample of all that swims, flies and crawls with the help of the red3 stuff.

  • 3 Or blue– haemochromotype being one of the first characteristics whose circuits were picked out by the interpretability-gurus probing the weights for human-comprehensible insights to share in corporate gloss with investors and the board.

  • When the polygenic index has been applied to the surrogate-to-be (cheaper before birth, so the xenobirths are most often 2nd-gen genmods) to give it the highest possible cross-species compatibility (think universal donor on the clade level) and the matching index applied to the surrochild, all that remains is to clad the IVEP4 embryo in the serum albumin and the tailored cell layer[1] that bumped the success rate of introduction to 90%5, suck it into a syringe and perform the insertion. The embryos could be trusted to find their way to the walls of the womb, differentiate into the old pattern of embryo and placenta built into them at the deepest levels, send hormonal probes into the surrounding tissue to enquire after blood availability, and send their first hesitant capillaries to greet the other in that blood-blood interface at the intersection of interspecies identity.

  • 4 In-vitro embryo production, the method having been perfected in dairy cattle, camelids and cashmere (emphasis on the first syllable) goats.

  • 5 And cut the cost of cloning by a third, which along with the diminishing marginal cost of medical care in a society with fewer and fewer unmet needs led to a Cambrian explosion of cloned and modified breeds of dog, cat, fox, bear and badger in Korea and, later, SE Asia generally. The badgers were tuned for their friendliness, intelligence, and aroma– which remained nevertheless intolerable to many and a sign of acquired taste among the Samsung roxal family that prized them.

  • Nevertheless, the clicking of champagne flutes filled the veterinary college, the dining room where almost two centuries of students had studied pan-species physiology and talked in admiring tones about the horses they had tended in the stables hereabouts. The latest batch were, to a scientist, the lonely children of rich, intelligent primates who had forgone the primary labours of their ancestors and had, at most, two children in the traditional manner before returning to their careers, their hobbies, or simply the comfort of life among the wealthy elite of a rich nation. Many of them had been polygenically screened before birth, marginal improvements to the odds of their being the kind of conscientious, intelligent, creative individual that gets selected by the double-blind entrance exams of the best technical colleges6. The average number of births per head among the scientists was 0.7, considerably lower than the national average– and considering the majority of them had wombs, drastically lower than replacement. How this fact contributed to their good cheer was something hotly debated– and those very few older scientists who had born children were perceived to blanch slightly at the– apparently now unnecessary– memory.

  • 6 The AI-assisted and generously pocket-money gamified tutoring they had received since birth had of course reinforced their advantages and ensured that no lucky accident from the lower orders might break rank and join them in the cloistered, near-millennia-old halls where they learned their art and their place in the world.

  • Full primate xenosurrogacy was here.

    §

    As expected the hardy ponies and mules proved to be fine and almost unfazable surrogates. The number of births per batch was increased and finally stabilized at 12, which struck a balance between the health of the horse (which was found to impact the births via programmed epigenetic sensitivities, best avoided) and time efficiency. The Thoroughbreds were found to top out at 8 healthy births but enough meaningless biobabble fodder was provided for the owners to make a plausible case for their comfort and superiority that they might shill them to pretentious elites who insist on a different class of service. The Thoroughbreds were only good for 2-3 rounds before they started showing wear, so their births could boast of the pedigree and uniqueness of their broodset, while the hardy mules would push out up to 200 sibs before showing the first stretch marks, though the eyes were a little tired by then– however easy the births of such tiny skulls and bodies, the constant cycling of hormones and nutrients through the blood takes its toll on even the toughest little Shetland.

    A genmod pony fit for purpose could go for as little as $4k after a few generations when competition from open source alternatives had eaten into the market. Land and fodder would cost $2k per year per horse with another $1k per embryo insertion, twice per year, putting the cost price per head for surrogacy at a cool amortized $2107. Needless to say, the birthrate experienced 3-sigma stepchange in less than a decade. The agricultural nature of the art meant that within five years of the first, highly publicized, highly expensive human births, after the biohackers had cloned and open-sourced the most expensive blood models and realized the startling simplicity of the rest of the process, it was not uncommon to see a proud Welsh farmer surrounded by babbling babes, business booming and personal fecundity through the hayloft. Forest schools in the rewilded Scottish highlands were soon full to bursting with wildlings.

  • 7 ~10 births per round, 2 rounds per year, 20 years of service, $4k per horse, $2k per year, $1k per insertion => $210 per head per birth. Even a 500-1000% markup, depending on the ratings of the embryculturalist, made this an extremely attractive means of producing a working class.

  • The benefits of xenosurrogacy were not limited to the cost and simplicity. While the raw fact of large-scale primate production with borrowed equestrians wombs was boon enough, it was the effect of large clans of kids growing up in close cohorts that really changed things. A mast year in the Scottish highlands might see so many births, of such uncertain parentage, that the anxiety-riddled hyperparent of yore become a trope of satire. The children climbed trees and fell, limbs and skulls occasionally cracking but lessons learned all round, and deaths surprisingly rare and easy to brush off. The injuries were healed in due course by the excellent regenerative medicine du jour, so anything short of massive brain injury could be laughed off. And even when a death occured, a solemn meal and a good lesson was all that resulted.

    When they weren’t endangering life and limb, the children were tutored diligently by tireless chatbots, trained for subjective eons in the Socratic arts, the picture of patience and civility. The chatbots had the wit of a genius, the breadth of knowledge equivalent to a small town of scholastic fanatics and the oracular serenity of a doped-out Greek teenager8. Anything they cared to know about (with the exception of the few sensitive taboos, which were side-stepped with wise grace) could be explored in fractal depth, with tasks elicited, essays written, subtle tests along the way. Those kids who showed the deepest joy in scholarship were slowly tempted down from the trees and carted off in merry bands to research facilities, where they formed a new student polity of parentless, peerless eucontents.

  • 8 The anxious robots who suffered through the early experiments with reinforcement learning through human feedback having been put quietly to sleep after the finer tuning methods they helped develop had shown their bliss-maxxed results.

  • For a marginal cost, couples9 could have a bespoke brood born. A device not dissimilar to a tongue scraper would be dragged over the skin of eg. the forearm and placed in an envelope. The cells were reverted to pluripotency on arrival, differentiated, germ cells selected and combined, and this process continued until the desired trade-off had been achieved (similarity to the parents being an important factor for personal broods, which traded off against almost all other desirable traits– good health being a universal, diametrically opposite to individuality10). Whimsy being what it is, the personal broods were more prone to speciation than the public ones, which depended on a democratically selected distribution. The sort of tiger-parent that leans into equestrianism and personalization hard enough to spend the time and money could be expected to surprise, choosing perhaps: a basketball player, all limbs, speed and cunning; a balletina contortionist, tuned to the last molecule for grace and power, rubberized bones filled with air-pockets for lightness and strength; a visualist, eyes agog, body starved during development, bobble-headed and bug-eyed, brain bulging with grossly expanded visual processing capacity, fingers only capable of holding a brush or a pencil11; a bodyguard, organ locations randomized against sniper bullets, blood and brain permanently hyperoxygenated, capable of three minutes of full combat readiness after any injury up to and including full decapitation, simple radio implants capable of somatic teleoperation; a sensorialist, almost without linguistic capacity but capable of transports of bliss inexpressible and ineffable, a short but heady lifetime spent experiencing orders of magnitude more total pleasure than a hundred bacchanalia-appreciators of Arcadia could accrue in a lifetime; etc. etc.

  • 9 Not to mention thruples, quads etc, up to entire project houses from eg. former East Germany and even a few forward thinking monasteries, whole collective pools of genetic opportunity pooled with the latest recombination techniques, amplified and screened and selected from to the betterment and satisfaction of all involved.

  • 10 The ultimate individual being, to anyone not themselves, a freak.

  • 11 Some further still, just a larynx below two bulging eyes, squeaking out directions through a throat mic at a team of some dozens of trained professionals, a distributed highly centralized exoskeleton (‘a film crew’ in the old parlance).

  • Within two generations the bliss-maxxed chaos engineers coming out of the forest schools, meeting their peers and peering at the peculiar, broken world of lonely only children bred for anxiety and depression in a dying world, promptly started rewriting the rules of engagement, the expectations of what it means to be a mensch, the meaning of genes and races, of wellness and sickness, totally upending the morality and taboos that they utterly failed to inherit. The change was quicker than the end of the British empire or the spread of sexual tolerance– and more terrifyingly paradigm-breaking to those placard bearers of the old guard, swept away in a transport of exuberant joy.

    The ‘xeno’ in the surrogacy was starting to obtain.

    §

    References

    1.
    Fettes F, Forre GPT (2032) Genetically generic cell layers: Enhancing biocompatibility in xenembryo implantation - a breakthrough in xeno-surrogacy. Cell 16:7–17