The Seeds of New Earth (The Silent Earth, Book 2)By: Mark R. Healy
“You okay?” Arsha called out.
“Yeah. I, uh… I guess I’m just a little anxious.” I shot her a look. “Aren’t you?”
She continued to tap away without turning to look at me. “Not really. We’ve made the preparations. Everything looks good so far. We’ll be fine.”
Not for the first time I wished that I could harness some of that indomitable self-assurance she possessed.
“I’m sure we will,” I said, but my voice lacked the same conviction.
Number four, the aborted a-womb, was beginning to drip crimson fluid, the colour draining from the sac as it sluiced out of the slit. It was like watching a red jellyfish bleed to death, I thought oddly, and on the whole it wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience. I knew that it wasn’t a living thing that was dying, but it evoked powerful recollections of people I’d seen shot and blasted to bits in the White Summer, lying there in agony and bleeding out while I stood by, powerless to prevent their demise. I could still hear their voices, see the blood squirting between my fingers as I tried to apply pressure to their wounds. In the chaos there had been no one to help – hospitals had been overrun or destroyed, emergency response units abandoned. Every man for himself. The end of society.
After a few moments I turned away and busied myself at some unnecessary task, occupying myself by any means possible so that I didn’t have to stand there and watch the blood, the reminder of those bleak times.
Within a few minutes there was a soft beep. The a-womb had resumed its initial translucent white appearance, the touch panel indicating that the procedure was complete. Reluctantly, I moved over to it. There was still burgundy-coloured fluid dribbling away in the drain below, like deep arterial blood. I tried to ignore it, bringing up the diagnostics on the touch panel and setting the routine in motion to try to determine the cause of the fault.
“These diags are going to take almost twenty-four hours,” I cautioned, carefully watching the progress meter.
“Doesn’t matter, number eight is looking good,” Arsha said. “We’ll use it instead.” She spun on her heel and headed over toward the cryotank positioned at the front of the lab enclosure. “I think we’re ready.” She gave me a grin. “Let’s get these little guys on their way.”
She knelt before the bulk of the cyrotank, a long, sleek cylindrical thing of black metal with a single argent stripe along one side, and began keying in digits on the control panel, which caused a sliver of the casing to pop out. From this fissure, wisps of steam emanated where chemicals from the colder interior sublimated in the relatively warm air of the lab. With a pair of laboratory tongs Arsha gripped the protruding piece and lifted it delicately into the lab enclosure above, easing it into a transparent tube that provided a controlled environment in which the specimen could thaw. The tube filled with vapour, appearing for a moment like a cylinder of pure smoke, and then it became clear.
“One down,” Arsha said.
“We’re on our way,” I breathed, edgy.
“Yep, won’t be long now. Let’s initiate the fluid insertion for the a-wombs.”
Obediently, I returned to the pump that regulated the amniotic fluid and double-checked the settings I had keyed in previously. Satisfied, I then set it to distribute small quantities of liquid to the a-womb membranes. The insides of the tubes that snaked away from the unit bubbled and swirled as the fluid spurted through, and with that the procedure was underway. Walking along past the a-wombs I could see the amniotic fluid begin to dribble into the thin walls of the sacs, and the touch panels began to populate with new data as sensors detected the ingress.
“Looking good here,” I called out.
“All right, I’ve got two of the bioengineered embryos thawing now, which leaves me two to go.” She craned her neck around the side of the enclosure. “Are you sure you want only two of the others prepped?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
I moved back to watch Arsha manipulate the remaining embryos, her hands making careful and deliberate motions as she transitioned the slivers from the cryotank to the thawing tubes. After completing the sixth and final sample, she returned the tongs to the rack and gave her neck a rub, grimacing as she rotated her head to loosen up the muscles.
“Are you all done over there?” she said.
“Yeah, it looks good.”
“Then we have about half an hour to wait.” She looked about for another task to which she could attend but, finding nothing, shrugged her shoulders. “Let’s take a break,” she suggested.
We stretched our legs down in the secluded alleyway that ran alongside the building. Arsha stood with her back to the brickwork, her legs angled out in front of her casually as she idly twirled a lock of hair around her finger.
She noticed me pacing nervously and said, “Stay strong, huh?”
“Easy for you to say. I don’t know how you do it.”
She glanced along the alley, then stared off into the distance thoughtfully.
“Did you ever see the guys who used to come out here to smoke?” Arsha said. “Back before the Summer.”