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Lost in Transcription

1,609 words

  • (This story's audio version was shortlisted for the 2023 British Science Fiction Association's Award for Best Audio Fiction)

  • (This story's text was longlisted for the 2023 British Science Fiction Association's Award for Best Short Fiction)




DOB: February 1, 2024, 


v.                                                                                           CASE NO.: 2045L-CC2357



The following is a transcription of the interview between the adopteé Francisco de Jesús Williams [born Francisco de Jesús Hernández Ortiz] and the adoptive parents James and Patricia Williams, requested as evidence for the case of Williams v. Bespoke. The interview was conducted by Erin Roach, a representative of the Bespoke Adoption Agency, Inc., and the certified translator José María Morales-Smith. It is to be noted that Francisco de Jesús Williams was fourteen years old at the time of the interview on September 13, 2038.


BESPOKE: We’re recording now.

MRS. WILLIAMS: Is that really necessary?

BESPOKE: I’m afraid it is. Memory loss is quite a common secondary effect of this particular procedure, and some people need to be reminded that they agreed to do this.

MR. WILLIAMS: How often does it happen? 

BESPOKE: Memory loss? About eighty percent of— 

MR. WILLIAMS: No, I mean—

[Door opens]

BESPOKE: Come in, Francisco, come in and sit. 

TRANSLATOR: Entra y siéntate, Francisco. 

[Door closes]

MRS. WILLIAMS: Hi, Francisco. Nice to meet you. 

MR. WILLIAMS: Thanks for coming, son.

FRANCISCO: ¿Ellos no hablan español? ¿Pero, entonces, cómo se supone que vamos a . . . ?

BESPOKE: What’s going on?

TRANSLATOR: He’s worried about not being able to speak with them himself.

BESPOKE: Tell him that the language won’t be a problem. We’ll fix that soon.

TRANSLATOR: No te preocupes por el idioma, ellos lo arreglarán pronto.


[Chair moves]

BESPOKE: Don’t worry about it. The standard package includes the language exchange. We’ll take the English of a native speaker from one of our branches in America and swap it with Francisco’s Spanish. We can also give him an accent, if you want. We can make him sound southern or British or whatever you prefer. Bespoke has branches all over the world.

MRS. WILLIAMS: What will happen to the other child?

BESPOKE: The other child will be fine. When the time comes for them to be adopted, we’ll insert the language they’ll need to adjust to their new family and everybody’s happy, right? 

MRS. WILLIAMS: I guess, but—

BESPOKE: Now, we also have the premium package, which would allow Francisco to keep his Spanish while also receiving English. And we have the platinum package, so you can make him a personalized polyglot with all the languages you want him to speak. The price of the platinum package—

FRANCISCO: ¿Qué tanto andan diciendo?

TRANSLATOR: He wants to know what are you talking about.

BESPOKE: Tell him that we’re fixing the language problem. And to shut up.

TRANSLATOR: Están solucionando el problema del idioma, ya cállate.

BESPOKE: As I was telling you, the price will vary depending on the number of languages you want your new child to speak and the relative rarity of each one of them.

MRS. WILLIAMS: Relative rarity?

BESPOKE: Yes. We calculate the value of each language depending on the number of living native speakers within our system. Finding an orphan who speaks English or Chinese is relatively easy, but it’s not that simple to find one who speaks Euskera, for example.

MR. WILLIAMS: And it’s necessary to take the language from someone else?


BESPOKE: Well, not really. People can technically acquire a language as a skill through study and immersion, as our translator did. But it is a long and hard process—it can take months, even years. It would be necessary to find a private teacher for Francisco and take him to his lessons every day, or to invest your own free time in teaching him. And he might not be able to start school in America right away until he’s fluent enough to communicate with teachers and classmates. Are you really willing to wait that long to start living a normal life? 


BESPOKE: Besides, the standard package is included with every adoption. There’s no extra cost for you to exchange his Spanish for English.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, now you’re talking. 


BESPOKE: Well, if there are no more concerns about the language . . . 


BESPOKE: Excellent. Now, José, please inform Francisco about the decision the Williamses have made. We need him to agree before we can continue.

TRANSLATOR: Ellos quieren que hables inglés. Si aceptas el trato, harán un intercambio de idiomas y ya no hablarás español. Sin embargo, podrás comunicarte con tu nueva familia, vecinos, maestros y compañeros de clase en los Estados Unidos.

FRANCISCO: ¿Y no puedo tomar clases de inglés y ya?

TRANSLATOR: Sí podrías, pero eso tomaría demasiado tiempo, y los Williams quieren continuar con su vida normal tan pronto te mudes con ellos.

FRANCISCO: ¿Y entonces, por qué no mejor adoptan un niño gringo que sí hable inglés?

BESPOKE: What’s the problem now?

TRANSLATOR: He’s asking if it wouldn’t be easier to adopt an American child who does speak English.

MRS. WILLIAMS: Doesn’t he know why we chose him?

MR. WILLIAMS: Didn’t you tell him before coming here?

BESPOKE: We told him the most important part, and he agreed with it, so don’t worry about it. Trust me, he’s willing to do anything to live the American dream. Or, put another way, to escape from Mexico. Anyway . . .


[Papers shuffling]

José, please tell him that he was chosen because he has the same birthday as Harper, the Williamses’ child. We’ll make a copy of her memories and paste them into him so he can start his life in America as if he’d always been there. He’ll know the neighbors, the extended family, his classmates, and everything about his new hometown in Wyoming from day one. No time wasted with introductions and formalities—isn’t that wonderful? But memory osmosis only works with a minimal age gap, and preferably no age gap at all. Since we couldn’t find a child born on the right date in the United States, we had to look a little below the border.

TRANSLATOR: Fuiste elegido porque naciste el mismo día que Harper, la hija de los Williams. Harán una copia de sus recuerdos y te los transferirán para que puedas comenzar tu vida en los Estados Unidos como si siempre hubieras estado ahí. Conocerás a los vecinos, los parientes, compañeros de colegio, y todo sobre la ciudad donde vivirás desde el principio. Pero, la ósmosis de memoria solo funciona con diferencias de edad muy pequeñas o ninguna. Como no pudieron encontrar a alguien con la fecha de nacimiento adecuada en los Estados Unidos, tuvieron que buscar en las sucursales de México.

FRANCISCO: ¡Oye, espera! A mí nadie me dijo nada de esto, ¿qué va a pasar con mis verdaderos recuerdos? ¿Lo voy a olvidar todo?

TRANSLATOR: He’s asking what will happen to his real memories. 


BESPOKE: Tell him . . . there’s a chance he might forget something.

TRANSLATOR: Hay una probabilidad de que olvides algunas cosas. 


FRANCISCO: ¿Realmente es necesario que me adopten? Yo sólo quiero ir a los Estados Unidos, y ellos sólo quieren que le pase un poco de mi salud a su hija, ¿verdad? ¿No hay una manera de arreglar esto sin que tengan que alterarme todo el cerebro?

TRANSLATOR: He wants to know if it is really necessary to be adopted.

BESPOKE: Yes. We talked about this, Francisco. You can’t legally go to America without being adopted. Besides, the procedure requires both your explicit consent and your parents’ authorization; that’s why they have to adopt you.

TRANSLATOR: Sí, es necesario. No puedes ir legalmente a los Estados Unidos sin ser adoptado. Además, el procedimiento requiere tanto tu consentimiento como la autorización de tus padres; es por ello que tienen que adoptarte.

BESPOKE: Do you get it now? 

TRANSLATOR: ¿Ahora lo entiendes? 


BESPOKE: Excellent. Now, James and Patricia, do you have any more questions?

MRS. WILLIAMS: I don’t think I do.

MR. WILLIAMS: We’re fine.

BESPOKE: Well then, I think we’re ready to close the deal. I’m going to read the agreement aloud. Are you ready? Fine. Do you, James and Patricia Williams, hereby agree of your own free will to legally adopt the minor child, Francisco de Jesús Hernández Ortiz, to raise him as your son, and to assume legal responsibility for his American citizenship process and medical expenses from now into perpetuity?



BESPOKE: Thank you. And now the boy. Francisco de Jesús Hernández Ortiz, do you understand that your adoption by James and Patricia Williams implies that your memories shall be altered, your native language changed from Spanish to English, and that you shall be required to donate the blood, cells, and organs necessary to improve Harper Williams’s health state, even if doing so reduces your own life quality and expectancy?

TRANSLATOR: Francisco de Jesús Hernández Ortiz, ¿entiendes que tu adopción por parte de James y Patricia Williams implica que tus recuerdos deberán ser alterados, tu idioma nativo cambiado de español a inglés, y que será requerido que dones la sangre, células, y órganos que sean necesarios para mejorar el estado de salud de Harper Williams, incluso si al hacerlo se reduce tu propia calidad y expectativa de vida?


FRANCISCO: Sí, lo que sea.

BESPOKE: You have to say it in English, like we practiced. 

TRANSLATOR: Tienes que decirlo en inglés, como lo practicaron. 



BESPOKE: Please, don’t get up yet. We still need to sign the documents and get through a lot of paperwork. We don’t want the boy to sue us when he’s older, right?



Abigail Guerrero is an aro/ace and ESL author from Mexico. Her work has appeared in Bloodless: An Anthology of Blood-Free Horror and in the literary magazines The Voidspace, Toil & Trouble and All Existing Literary Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @_gail_guerrero.

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