The Seeds of New Earth (The Silent Earth, Book 2)By: Mark R. Healy
I was about to continue the argument before deciding better of it. Everything from her posture to the set of her mouth told me she wasn’t going to budge on this issue. There was no chance that she was going to change her mind. Instead of trying to reason with her, I just made a hard line with my mouth and conceded with a little twitch of my eyebrows.
The unit that distributed amniotic fluid to the a-wombs was located at the beginning of the row, an inauspicious beige box with a gridwork of blue and red buttons across its inwardly sloping front face. From the rear, transparent tubes snaked out and into a conduit in the floor that fed along to the a-wombs. It was a slightly older generation of tech, but reliable, the design having been tried and tested over the years, a staple of most biotech labs before the Winter.
Consulting a chart that was fixed to the side of the pump with a silver chain, I began manipulating quantities of water and electrolytes via the buttons, verifying the amounts on a digital interface at the top. Arsha moved back along the line of a-wombs, casting an appraising eye across each in turn.
“Looking good,” she remarked. “These two have already reached thirty-seven degrees Celsius. No sign of perforations in the lining.”
“Promising,” I agreed.
She gestured to numbers three and four. “The next two are almost there as well. I’m going to begin secretion of the endometrium.”
Without waiting for approval she punched in the commands, her fingers dancing across the touch panels with crisp, efficient jabs. Then, upon completing the final command, she stood back to stare intently as the process began, her arms folded across her chest, drumming her fingertips on her elbows. I couldn’t decide if there was a hint of edginess peeking through her usually calm exterior. Most likely there was, if she was feeling anything remotely like I was. My nerves were raw, straining at the edges of my skin as if they might burst out at any second and flee in a mad, uncontrollable flight. It was a battle to maintain some modicum of control, not only to keep focussed on the task at hand, but also to hide my agitation from Arsha.
If she was feeling any of this herself, she was doing a damn good job of hiding it. The minutes went by and she barely moved. Positioned at the edge of the lab, falling just outside the arc of the LEDs, she was like a bird of prey perched in the shadows, waiting for her moment to strike. Only the motion of her eyes flicking from one a-womb to the next differentiated her from a statue.
“How’s it look?” I said finally.
“Its bladder walls are coming in a little thin,” she replied, not sounding overly concerned. “I’m going to increase the levels of oestrogen and progesterone and see if we can get it to take on a little more density. Otherwise the embryos may not be able to implant.”
She attended to each of the a-wombs in turn, making the appropriate adjustments with concise, assured movements. Very slowly a tinge of pinkish-red began to coagulate on their inner walls, faint at first but growing darker by the minute.
“Here it comes,” I said, bending in low to analyse the progress. I nudged gently at the bladder-like sac of the nearest a-womb, turning it this way and that, then moved my attention to its touch panel. “Number two is already at nine point seven millimetres, and number one is nine point three.”
“That’s more like it,” Arsha said, pleased. “We’re almost at the optimal level for implantation. What’s the temp like on those?”
“Thirty-seven degrees flat. One at thirty-six point nine.”
One after another, the a-wombs took on a rich sanguine hue as the endometrial tissue was secreted from their internal lining. Arsha and I hovered over the touch panels, double- and triple-checking that all parameters were in the desired ranges. She fussed over number four the longest, tapping and scrolling continually through the readout, and eventually making an annoyed sound deep in her throat.
“What is it?” I said.
“Four is having issues with thickness,” she said, using her fingers to rotate through a visual representation of the a-womb on the touch panel. It was like a glowing blue orb covered in lime green splotches with white edges. “In places it’s only three millimetres thick. Less than that, even.”
“Mmm, maybe,” she said, frowning as she concentrated. “Or it could just be that it needs recalibration, or some of the pores are gunked up. I’ll abort and run it through again.”
She went ahead and initiated the abort procedure on the touch panel. The a-womb began to part at its lower extremity, a thin slit opening up like a lipless mouth, poised above a tray that was designed to carry fluid back into the system for recycling. Arsha wasted no time in heading to the next dormant a-womb to begin its boot sequence.
“We’ll get this one fired up while we’re waiting,” she said.
“Yeah, okay.” I strolled back along the line, checking the statistics on the touch panels yet again, even though I knew they were all correct. I expelled a nervous breath, in some ways wishing that we could skip past the uncertainty of these early stages.