“Dr. Brant winked at her and leaned in to speak sotto voce. “I’m going to see about extending this project as long as possible, Theresa…Theresa, right? I hope you don’t mind if I call you Theresa. Just between you and me, I think the AUC project is just fascinating.” He laughed, his proximity grating on her nerves, which were already worn thinner than electrical wires chewed down by rodents. “—–Progeny
“Once the smile found purchase on her face and within her heart the laughter broke free as well, filling the room. She drew her knees up as she sat, still laughing, she wiped the moisture from the corners of her eyes and turned her gaze to what she held in her hands.
A husband, a wife, children. The light let in through the fluttering drapes illuminated the image and played across the words written below it. Emily stood, brows furrowed, lips a thin slash across her flushed cheeks and walked over to the work desk where her hand-held waited.”—-Progeny
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Three hundred years in the future after stringent population control and eugenics programs have been adopted as the salvation of mankind, tensions on Earth drive a variety of malcontents to accept the singular opportunity to colonize Mars in exchange for reproductive freedom, but their varying viewpoints on the issue result in bitter conflicts and reluctant alliances as they struggle to forge a new path by salvaging ancient wisdoms cast aside centuries before.
“Reaching in with both hands she pulled a relic, from days long past, out of the box and set it on the bed. The thick tome was bound in worn leather the same color as the box, the title gold embossed.
Her smile returned, creeping in from the middle and spreading all the way to the corners as she stared down at her great-grandmother’s book.”—-Progeny
Lines of data filled the luminous red screen. AUC1: Temperature 37.1, oxygen saturation 1.7, testosterone .9nmol/L, estrogen .1nmol/L, weight .5 kg, FHR 156 BPM.
Theresa scanned the large, rectangular screen above the northern section of AUCs, checking closely for any abnormalities that may need correction. Electronic monitoring ensured that any variation from standard values would set off an alarm, but still Theresa double and triple checked. AUC2: Temperature 37.2, oxygen saturation 1.69, testosterone .3nmol/L, estrogen .9nmol/L, weight .35 kg, FHR 160 BPM. AUC3…AUC4…
The red glow from the monitors and the faint pink glow emanating from each AUC provided the only illumination in the lab, leaving corners and side corridors in near darkness, their mysteries left hidden and unexplored for countless weeks.
Reaching out one pale, manicured hand, she caressed the transparent surface of AUC2’s chamber and leaned closer to gaze inside. Cradled beneath the layers of endometrial tissue and membrane, a small form was curled within. A faint glow emanated from the base of the Artificial Uterine Chamber revealing the network of newly formed arteries beneath AUC2’s thin skin.
She’s bigger today. Theresa blinked and shifted her shoulders. Well, that’s irrational, Theresa. Really? You think you can see a day’s growth? The scientist pushed back her chagrin and spoke into her personal hand-held device.
“Overall profusion in AUC2’s tissues has improved compared to last visual inspection, and…” A small foot struck against the side of the AUC unit, and slid down the side, toes slipping against the membranes. She startled, a smile replacing her clinical gaze as one finger traced the path of AUC2’s splay-toed foot, the delicate nails just visible on the end of each toe. “And stronger too. You’ll catch up with the others yet, little Abby.”
Theresa inhaled and glanced up at the minute, silver security camera, glowing red motion sensor blinking, as its head swiveled like a watchful owl perched on the ceiling. She had spoken aloud. If they knew that I named one of the progeny, I’d be given a psych eval and a quick reassignment. Shit. The scientist exhaled and mumbled under her breath. “No more of that.”
She took a step back from AUC2’s chamber and pulled down on the pockets of her lab coat, straightening it and smoothing down her already well-ironed collar.
No one else is even here, since they reassigned my interns last week. Why am I so on edge? Once this batch of progeny is delivered, I’ll…what? It’s not like they’re mine. They’ll go to their assigned guardians and I’ll grow the next batch…assuming they don’t shut us down, with no interns or apprentices to assist.
She frowned and dismissed the thought, turning to scan the scrolling data on the main screen, willing herself to focus on the details of her task. Heels clicking on the metal tiles, she examined each AUC unit for wear. Sliding her hand along the transparent pipes, she assessed the flow of fluid, alert for blockage or stricture. Her brown eyes narrowed as she inspected the progeny themselves, taking in details others would have missed: profusion of blood in surface tissues, reflexes, beat-to-beat heart rate variability.
Reaching the last AUC unit, AUC100, she rubbed the cramp in her neck and leaned in to trace the details of the progeny within the chamber with her eyes. She pressed her lips together, and finding them dry, became aware for the first time in hours of the aching, parched sensation in her throat. I need a drink.
A smirk pulled at the corners of her lips as she walked to the central control station and ordered water from the nearby serving console. At least I didn’t say that one out loud. She retrieved the glass and took a long gulp to quench her thirst with the ice cold liquid. The last thing I need is the department head on my ass for breach of contract…drinking in the lab. Theresa chuckled. I can already hear him stutter.
She punched in the codes on the control panel to begin the day’s education protocols, beginning with a recording of sound patterns and progressing to conversations in several languages. She inserted her earplugs—she just couldn’t listen to that today—and returned to her workstation for a chance to check her messages. Too bad I can’t give Abby some earplugs. She smiled. She’s probably sick of it too.
Three hours later, between Spanish and Farsi, she removed her earplugs and set the alarm system and data transfer to sync up with her hand-held. She unclipped her tightly coiled braid and, massaging her scalp a moment, unwound and neatened her fine brown hair before re-braiding it. I wonder what she’ll look like. Theresa took one last look into each AUC unit before leaving. Wouldn’t want to miss anything that could deteriorate in my absence. “Adios ninos…ninas.”
She grabbed her satchel and left the north wing. Her breath quickened along with her pace. I won’t be gone very long. I mean…they do know close monitoring is necessary. They won’t keep me. The glass tunnel between the north and south wings revealed the storm growing outside, muddy-brown and coal-fire black clouds building over the skyscrapers and cell towers of the Inland New York Settlement and blocking the similarly tinted sky. A hailstorm of plastic debris swirled around the tunnel, whipping against the glass, sticking to the sides along with the first drops of rain.
Several flights of stairs later, Theresa arrived at the High Tower, rising some eighty stories above the rest of the Reproductive Council’s Headquarters, nestled in the sprawling jumble of low-lying storm clouds.
She brushed lint from her lab coat and, checking her reflection in the floor-length mirror adjacent to the metallic double doors, pulled down on the edges once again. Her brows dipped down, twin sparrow wings with creases between them. She pressed her lips together, tried on a confident smile, and turned to face the retinal scan in front of the sealed entryway.
The octagonal room, packed full, was silent save for one voice conducting the meeting. She took her seat and looked to the head of her department, where he stood at the front of the room speaking. Lord, I hope he keeps it short.
Greg Matthews paced within the circle of scientists and functionaries of the Department of Procreation, presenting data on a screen that took up one of the octagonal room’s walls.
“Brain scans from each phase of the AUC project progeny show an imbalance—almost an absence—of activity within the central portions of the brain.” Greg rubbed his nose with the edge of his lightweight wrist cast, more a frame than a cast with the number of open spaces. “The first group shows the most marked differences when compared to a control subject. While there are still dark areas where a ‘normal’ brain shows activity in the second group…”
Round eyes narrowed, the CEO interrupted, gesticulating towards the screen. “What does that mean exactly for those of us who don’t work in neuroscience, Greg?”
Greg nodded several times, scratching the itch under the edge of his polymer-mesh wrist cast as he searched for the right wording. “Well…the, um…the progeny show clear signs…well, the brain scans at least…indicate…”
An elderly woman rubbed her forehead and gestured towards the fumbling scientist before them. “Do we need a translator?”
The CEO shot her a look, then turned back to Greg with a nod. Greg cleared his throat and started again. “The brain scans are consistent with a diagnosis of sociopathy.”
Theresa looked at the assembled faces in the room. She stood up, hands balled into fists. “The first group was essentially a prototype. We’ve accounted for several possible causes of poor outcomes and implemented more stop gaps in each phase.” Her voice cracked. “Isn’t it possible that Phase Three is developing at a slower rate socially, but will reach normal levels under optimum conditions?”
All eyes turned from Theresa back to Greg. The scientist rubbed his hands over his balding head, leaving red marks in their wake, and scrunched his eyes. “Based on comparative scans, Phase Three shows a slight…a very slight advantage, but is progressing at the same rate as Phase Two and Phase One otherwise.”
“Then it’s possible that Phase Four will fare even better when they come to term. The technology being used is far beyond the other phases.” Theresa began scrolling through the most recent notes in her hand-held and offered the device to Greg.
He did not meet Theresa’s eyes at first, nor did he take the device. When he did meet her gaze, his eyes were wide. He shook his head, lips turned down at the edges.
The CEO cleared his throat. “In light of the report given by the head of the AUC project lead, the program will be terminated and the progeny already brought to term will be sterilized and channeled into the workforce as per their individual strengths. Leadership positions with proper oversight, surgeons…there are assignments where their deficits will give an advantage.” Laughter bubbled up from several places within the circle and the tension broke.
The CEO tightened his lips, lowering his brows in disapproval. “Please, the termination of a project and waste of valuable resources is nothing to laugh at. Maintain order until the meeting is adjourned, if you will.”
Theresa looked around at the circle of individuals seated around her, her vision blurring. Nervous smiles prevailed and several present fidgeted. Others rose from their seats, milling to the back wall to retrieve coffee refills from the automated culinary bot before the CEO continued on to the next order of business.
Have they all forgotten about the 100 AUCs in the north wing? They were on the tour! Some of them work there, for Christ-sakes! They can’t just terminate the project! Theresa closed her eyes and breathed in through her nose, willing away the dark spots that were peppering her vision. Opening her eyes, Theresa found the CEO’s gaze on her.
She was the only one still standing.
She looked away and sat down in her chair.
“Virginia, will you give us your assessment of the available alternatives to the AUC program?” The CEO turned his controlled expression from Theresa to a well-groomed woman with fine lines around her eyes.
Virginia stood and glanced over at Theresa before beginning in a subtle New York dialect, drawing out her vowels. “We already have in place two other programs for sustaining population growth, while ensuring clean progeny; the Surrogacy and Placement Program and the currently discontinued Application to Propagate Program.”
“Why don’t you run us through the risk-benefit analysis of the two programs in comparison, Virginia dear.” The CEO smiled at Virginia, bringing a blush to her narrow features. “But don’t go too heavy into the numbers. Give us what’s behind the data.”
Her nails clicked against the screen of her hand-held as she synced up and displayed the numbers for each program. “While the Application to Propagate program held widespread appeal for the masses, popular opinion is quickly falling in line to support the Surrogacy and Placement program. It irrefutably decreases the biological and temporal burden on those in crucial assignments while allowing a pseudo-family to exist.”
One of the board members gave a signal from his hand-held.
Virginia folded her hands over her hand-held, turning her gaze to the gentleman. “You have something to add?”
He shifted in his seat. “How does all that affect the overall results, if we look at variables like apprenticeship compliance, and lifetime satisfaction ratings? The family is, after-all a primary source of satisfaction…”
Virginia pursed her lips and continued. “ Well…A more loosely knit arrangement of this sort provides an enriching home environment for progeny without impeding early apprenticeship; the mean age for the Surrogate to Placement Program is 13, right on target with the WGC’s guidelines, compared to a mean of 15.5 for the Application to Propagate Program.” She gave a pointed glance to the gentleman. “And as for your concerns…the Application to Propagate Program has been put on hold to gather data, and the preliminary results are promising. The submission of applications to procreate are tapering off and satisfaction ratings have only dropped .75 percent…well within acceptable limits that can be expected to normalize within the year…”
Theresa watched the storm clouds rage, pouring out their disgust- or was it hers– outside, through the thick, glass walls just past Virginia’s head. The violent winds whipped the grating sound of the other woman’s voice over the building tops and away from her consciousness.
The meeting ended with appreciative laughter for the CEO’s closing remarks and firm handshakes all around. Theresa waited to the last, hanging back until the CEO was finished with pleasantries. Still she hesitated.
“What is it, Theresa?” He drained the dark liquid from his cup, with a sidelong glance in her direction.
She ran a hand across the seams of her lab-coat, smoothing and straightening, searching for comfort in the habitual motion before stepping closer.
“Morton…the termination. This project is years in the making…with such promise. Don’t you think there are other, less drastic measures—I could…”
He shook his head, lowering the empty vessel to the table between them and traversing the distance. “Look, It’s hard to step away from such a big time investment…you’ve been on this longer than most. I get it. I really do.” He put an arm around her shoulders.
“Take some time to distance yourself from this. You have my leave…”
“But I couldn’t just…” The distress in her eyes was clear, and the CEO held up a hand to stop her train of thought.
“Theresa. I know your work. Clean, impartial, practical, and quite frankly…inspired by genius. If you take a step back you’ll find that you agree with my decision on this. It’s time to cut our losses and find a new direction.”
The scientist took a breath, exhaling slowly and nodding in agreement. “Okay…Thanks Morton…I’ll put in a request for leave.”
“Don’t do that. Just take the time. I’ve got you covered.” He smiled, patting her back and guiding her to the door.
Theresa offered him a shaky smile, smoothing over her expression and regaining full composure. “Okay.”
The hall was empty, all board members having returned to their own offices and assignments. She headed towards the central building that would lead to the main exit, focusing on the click of her shoes on tile and the flickering reflection of her lab-coat in the reclaimed wood paneling, polished to a high gloss finish. The sounds melded in her ears, combining with the rapid beat of her pulse. It would be cold outside, strong winds whipping ice against her cheeks as soon as she opened the doors. They’ll never feel it. The thought came unbidden, splintering and filling her mind like the sound of shattering glass in an echo chamber. She pushed it aside. They shouldn’t…like he said, I need distance. She sighed, as the main corridor came into view. Regardless of their genetic make-up…they’re just progeny—and they’re defective. Her chest constricted, throat closing as she struggled to normalize her breathing. They don’t fulfill the mission… The extended version of the Reproductive Council’s mission replayed in her memory. To definitively halt overpopulation and the mechanisms that caused it, and to produce clean, genetically diverse, and specialized progeny in carefully controlled numbers. To maintain quality above all else—achieving resilience of form and function in the human race and maintaining sustainability of the production of progeny using models for cost-effectiveness.
Normally the words and rhythms of the mission brought comfort, a feeling of control, peace. But not this time. Instead, it called up images of the glowing AUC’s waiting for her return in the lab. And Abby, slated for culling thrice over and just making the minimums due to Theresa’s extra efforts. It didn’t take much…no real sacrifice of efficiency—it wouldn’t take much to get them on track.
The thought took hold the moment it formed like vines in rich jungle soil, sending her heart racing ahead of her. She stopped, turning back in the direction she had come.