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Eight Characters

Anya grew up in Singapore and moved to Melbourne to study law. After a few years of legal practice in Australia, she went back to school to study graphic design. She's now a designer in an ad agency in Melbourne, working in branding, illustration, copywriting, and digital projects. Off hours, Anya freelances and writes. She can be found on twitter at @anyasy.
"It's time," the nurse said. A digital countdown leaped over the wall. 0:99. 0:98. Countdown to the perfect hour. She had been sweating into her pristine white and blue uniform for an hour before this, getting ready. With her round face masked tight, her envy was visible only as bruises within her eyes.
0:88. The surgeon's arms were sheathed in state-of-the-art bionics. The mods could probably complete the operation even if their host body was unconscious, but they were set on manual today. The life of the mother wasn't what was at stake. The future auspices of the baby were in their hands. The surgeon would have to time the procedure exquisitely to pull the baby out into the right hour of the right day of the right week, month, year.
0:72. In a talk show a quarter of the world away, the fengshui master smiled as he was finally asked a question about the births. "Well," he said, careful to look into the camera, "the world needs saving. We can all agree on that, can't we?"
What do you mean?
"I'm Buddhist. But the will to survive crosses religion and faith. What I call the Hour of the Messiah is coming, or has come, depending on where in the world you are. People born into the Hour will be the luckiest children ever born."
According to the, what's it called? Eight characters?
"The shengchen bazi, yes, the birth chart. It's part of an ancient astrological concept."
All the kids that will be born in the Hour will be Messiahs?
"No, no. But they'd have the potential. It's a special Dragon Year, you know."
What happens if they all become Messiahs?
"What's wrong with that?"
0:62. The mother smiled dreamily to herself. As far as she was concerned she had already done her part as a mother and as a citizen. Labor was too risky to time perfectly. She'd elected for surgery. Her child would be born lucky even if the surgery had to be rushed. Her mother and the mothers before her had always sacrificed everything for their children, before and after birth. This was just the newest rethread of an old story.
0:51. "It's nearly time," the grandmother said, the matriarch of the family clustered in the waiting room. She had a watch over one wrinkled wrist, a relic of her years. Nobody but the old wore analog watches now. It was more bracelet than watch, studded with diamonds. She felt reluctantly proud that generations of wealth had taken her to this point. She was on the cusp of successfully buying the Messiah into her bloodline. She had not approved of her son's choice of wife before. Now, close to the dragon hour, she allowed herself to thaw a little.
0:48. The father was at work in the family business. There were deals to make, matters to oversee, board meetings to attend. The nurses had sent him a carefully posed photograph of his heavily pregnant wife in hospital clothes for the family records. That was enough for him where the process was concerned. He had no interest in the blood and bone work of birth and was glad that he wasn't expected to contribute. The deal was signed with a flourish. "Congratulations," the new business partner said. "Any time now, right? Birth of the luckiest baby ever?" Oh, that, said the father. I don't believe in that kind of thing. Just something to please my mother, you know how old folks get.
0:21. There are about 4 births per second in the world. From this point in time around eighty more children will fail to be born as the One. Luck is cruel even in the presence of a formula.
-1:18. The dragon child twisted in the arms of the doctor and let out a healthy wail. There were no further miracles.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 14th, 2019


Many people, including my own parents, still believe in bazi: in the idea that you can calculate someone's potential in life from details like the hour of your birth. People still try to have dragon babies. I hope you enjoyed the story.

- Anya Ow
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