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Cynthia's Choice

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"And what had she been like, Dr. Cynthia Jane Baruch, 200 years dead now, and how much had she secretly shaped Athos, all unbeknownst to the founding fathers who had hired her to create their ovarian cultures? She who had cared enough to put herself in them? The very bones of Athos were molded to her pattern. His bones."

- Ethan of Athos, Chapter 15

Dr. Cynthia Jane Baruch shut down her comconsole in frustration after she read through documents her brother Daniel sent her about how the United Brethren handled childcare.

What was so frustrating was that she could not identify any major problems. Of course not, they wouldn't tell me about mass child abuse, would they? But she had to admit, she was disappointed to find that these misogynist cultists were actually presenting a better picture of themselves as fathers than she had expected. Some of them had young children (all boys, of course) and the videos all indicated that, aside from being indoctrinated in a misogynist cult, they were doing well. The Bureau of Child Welfare had inspected their child care center, and found no violations, so it was not just propaganda.

But what if they do succeed in settling their own remote planet, and the Bureau of Child Welfare no longer supervises them?

Daniel had also sent her their plans for how they would manage child welfare if they had their own independent government. It seemed scarily utopian - attempts to make utopias often made dystopias, did they not? But she could not pin down any specific problems there either.

"Any random female who gets herself knocked up can be a mother," Daniel had said. "That even applies to the men who get them pregnant, no matter how unfit. The social duty credit system will ensure that only suitable men will become fathers."

Cynthia had been very close to her brother when they were young, which made it all the more shocking when he had become a member of the United Brethren cult. How could possibly believe that women were the origin of all sin? Ever since he had joined the cult ten years earlier, he had cut off contact with her - until now, when he wanted her to develop ovarian cultures which could last centuries.

From a professional point of view, it was an intriguing challenge. Active ovarian cultures - that is, ovarian cultures which had eggs withdrawn from them on a frequent basis, as opposed to the ovarian cultures which were prepared as reproductive insurance against infertility - were generally used for, at most, thirty years before they were retired. That was fine, since they was easy to replace. Yet on a planet without any humans with ovaries, especially one which refused all contact with such humans, replacing ovarian cultures would be extremely difficult. There were, of course, ways to extend the life of an active ovarian culture, possibly allow one to be in constant use for centuries, but since no research group with sufficient resources had shown interest in the question, the methods were mostly untested. And much would depend on the initial preparation of the ovarian cultures...

She reviewed a section of Daniel's latest vid message again.

"When I first accepted the Grace of God, you kept on trying to convince me that women were as good as men," Daniel said. "I never questioned that women could be good in the absence of men. It is putting women together with men which creates sin. Men must be separated from women in order to become their best selves. For example, because women have always been around to take care of children, men have rarely been able to fully develop their paternal instincts. You would probably phrase it as 'men have exploited women for millenia by making them take care of the children without giving them the credit they bloody well earned.' Yet though we use different words, I think we can agree that, without women, men can finally fully embrace the gift of fatherhood. If you really think that men do not appreciate women enough, then let us test ourselves."

Cynthia had to admit that the idea of foisting 'women's work' on a bunch of misogynists had a certain appeal. However, she was not going to sacrifice the well being of real children to get that satisfaction.

Now, it was getting harder and harder for her to think that being raised by the United Brethren would be so bad for the children. Would it matter if they were being raised as misogynists if there were no women around for them to hurt? In fact, these United Brethren seemed to be better parents than ... a lot of people who were parents.

She looked at one of the vid messages Daniel had forwarded to her. The face of an earnest young man appeared.

"Dear Dr. Baruch," the young man said. "I am Conachar Urquhart. I understand that dealing with men must be as difficult for you as dealing with women is for us. However, I believe that this is God's will, and that if you help us, God will help you.

"I volunteer as many hours as I can at the child care center, and I feel that this is my calling. However, though I am responsible for the children, I am not as responsible as a parent would be. I believe having a child of my own would help me truly understand the Grace of God. I pray nightly that God will grant me the grace of a son.

"I pray not just on my behalf, I pray on the behalf of all of my brethren, and on the behalf of our sons. Our sons will only be healthy if they come from good ovarian cultures. It is difficult to find a reproduction specialist with integrity, but Brother Daniel vouches for you, and we all trust Brother Daniel. God bless."

It was not that Conachar Urquhart was particularly good with words, it was that he spoke in a way which felt so sincere. Cynthia could not help but wish that he could have the child he so clearly wanted. Back in the days before she realized that she cared more about her profession than becoming a parent, he was the sort of man she would have wanted as a co-parent. Well, aside from being brainwashed by a cult.

Cynthia clutched the Star of David on her necklace. She only practiced Jewish traditions at large family gatherings these days, and her family were secular Jews anyway. The Jewish community she grew up in embraced full gender equity. However, she knew that historically, the relationship between Judaism and the social status of women was - complicated. Thinking about some of the things she had learned about in the Jewish history classes she had taken as a teenager helped her see the United Brethren from a different perspective.

Traditionally, Jews were supposed to have biological children, if possible. Cynthia was fine with ignoring that tradition, and she did in fact help many people - including some Jews - have their own biological children. Nonetheless, she could not help but think that, if the United Brethren did establish their own separatist society, whoever had given them their ovaries would truly be genetically fruitful and multiplying ... and according to the orthodox rabbinic tradition, if the ova are Jewish, then the children are Jewish too...

Yeah, Cynthia did snicker at the prospect of a planet where everyone was Jewish, yet none of them knew it. Alas, that would not be professional. For the sake of genetic diversity if nothing else, only a minority of the ovarian cultures, at most, should come from Jewish women. Thank G-d for gene-cleaning - Cynthia was aware of the many genetic diseases which had once plagued the Ashkenazi Jews.

There was an incoming vid call from Daniel.

Cynthia's first impulse was to ignore it, but after a moment, she found herself answering it.

"Cynthia!" Daniel said.

"You're talking to a woman," Cynthia said. "Isn't that against your religion?"

"To advance the welfare of the brethren ... contact with women is sometimes permissible. I am willing to do much more than that, for the brethren."

"Oh, you are going to offer me something else just to get me to work on the ovarian cultures?"




Cynthia blinked. "What do you mean?"

"I know that, ever since I joined the brethren, that you have been wanting me to come back."

"You would leave the brethren?"

"If that is what it takes for you to agree to prepare the ovarian cultures to the best of your professional abilities, yes."

It was true. During those first few months, Cynthia had pleaded with Daniel, sending him emotional vid message after emotional vid message. She had hoped so fervently that he would see the error he had made. As the years went by, that hope had faded into sadness.

And here he was, finally willing to come back. Some part of her had been yearning for this for a very long time.

"Do you still believe in the tenets of the brethren?" she asked.

"Of course."

So he would not be coming back because he recognized that joining the brethren had been a mistake.

"According to their - your - beliefs, what would the consequences of you returning to the normal world and associating with women again?"

"I would be damned to hell."



"Ah, is the deity you worship so unmerciful that he would do that to you even if it's for the good of the United Brethren?"

"I do not know what His will is, but I am willing to accept eternal damnation if that is what it takes to save the souls of countless brethren, born and unborn."

Cynthia knew that Daniel was being entirely serious about this.

"No," she said. "I - I really want you back. But not on these terms. I don't want you to do something which you believe will lead to eternal damnation."

Daniel stared at her. Please don't stare at me like that.

One of the things which she had loved about her brother is that he had always taken her seriously. That was part of why it had hurt so much when he had joined the United Brethren. The thing was, he also took himself seriously. If he was willing to literally face hell for this ... Cynthia was scared of the measures he might take to get those ovarian cultures.

"I'll do it," she said. "In spite of everything, you are still my brother. For you, I'll do it."

Daniel's face lit up. "Thank you, oh, thank you. I cannot express the depth of my gratitude. God bless."

Cynthia cut the vid call.

I really am going to do this, she realized. I am going to prepare ovarian cultures for this whacko cult.

It was a huge project, bigger than any other project she had led in her career so far. It was so big, that right now, she wanted to only think about a smaller question - should she give her own ova to the United Brethren?

If she donated her own ovary, it was unlikely that Conachar Urquhart would choose her eggs to have his sons. But if the United Brethren's plan actually worked, and they established their own society, then eventually, even if it was centuries in the future, a descendent of Conachar Urquhart may have a child with a CJB - Cynthia Jane Baruch - ovum.