Amanda stared, consuming him with her eyes. With her arms bound to the sides, she could not hold him. That was the worst cruelty. Even giving her this moment with her child was necessity, not compassion. She had read all the baby books. The newborn was placed facedown to encourage the draining of any fluid; the skin-to-skin contact encouraged her body to release its own natural oxytocin, to help with the final contractions to push the placenta free.
Her body had performed its ageless duty.
Spent, exhausted, she tried to stretch this moment for an eternity.
“My baby boy,” she whispered, tears streaking through the sweat of her heated face; she wanted him to hear his mother’s voice at least once. She willed all her love, christening him with the name murmured in the night with her husband, Mack, his broad hand resting on the bump of her stomach.
“My little William.”
But, sadly, the child was not her husband’s, at least not genetically. She knew some of the truth, saw the medical records in the terrifying note that sent her fleeing in terror out to the Seychelles. Still, Mack had loved the baby as much as she did. It shone in his face, even after the truth was known.
He loved you so much, William.
New tears flowed, for the family that was never to be.
Voices intruded, but she never took her eyes off her child.
“Petra, make sure you collect at least five milliliters of blood from the umbilical cord. We’ll need the sample serum-typed, in addition to the standard tests. I’ll also want to harvest some umbilical stem cells.”
Amanda listened, realizing the truth. They were already parsing her child into parts.
“Dr. Blake, the radiant bed is ready,” Petra called from the side. “I’ve prepared the vitamin K and the eyedrops. Did you want to perform the APGAR assessment?”
“No. You can do it. I should pass on word about the delivery as soon as possible.”
Blake shifted from the foot of the delivery bed to Amanda’s side. He reached to scoop up the child.
“No, please,” Amanda begged. “Another minute.”
“I’m sorry. It’s better this way. You did beautifully.”
She strained forward, a sob breaking out of her hoarse throat. “Nooo …!”
Ignoring her plea, he lifted William from her belly, taking away his warmth, leaving a hollowness that she knew would never go away.
Blake walked her boy toward a tiny bed under harsh lights—and the nurse with cold eyes. Amanda pictured the shining tray of silver dissection tools.
Her sobs turned into wracking cries. She rocked within the limits of her restraints. Still, she never took her eyes off her boy.
My little William …
Dr. Edward Blake stood by his desk, bone-tired and bleary-eyed. A deep-cushioned chair beckoned, but he remained standing. He didn’t want to be relaxed, not during this call.
“Yes, everything went smoothly,” he reported. “The genetics continue to remain stable. After we run the baselines, we’ll be testing the stability of the helix assembly under various environmental rigors and stresses.”
That was the purpose behind Petra’s macabre work in her lab: to separate out various vital organs—brain, heart, lungs, and others—to keep those tissues alive indefinitely, so that rigorous tests could be performed upon them. Amanda’s child was destined for that lab.
“I believe we have reason to be optimistic about this boy,” he finished.
“OPTIMISM IS IRRELEVANT,” the speaker countered, the voice digitally flattened and tweaked to an arctic severity—though Edward suspected that iciness wasn’t all computer-generated. “ONLY HARD FACTS MATTER.”
He swallowed. “Of course. We’ll start generating actionable data within the day.”
“TISSUE SAMPLES SHOULD BE HARVESTED AND COURIERED STATESIDE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.”
“Understood. I received the list. My assistant is already prepping stem and skin cells. We’ll have intestinal and alveolar biopsies within the hour, and cortical and spinal sections by day’s end. But I do have another question.”
Silence encouraged him to continue.
“The mother … was there a final consensus on what to do with her?” Edward could guess the answer. A massive graveyard had been dug into the jungles outside of his Somalia camp.
“SHE MAY STILL PROVE TO BE BIOLOGICALLY USEFUL. AS OF NOW, WE DON’T KNOW IF THESE RESULTS ARE BROADLY REPLICABLE OR IF THERE IS SOMETHING UNIQUE ABOUT HER GENETICS.”
Edward was surprised at the depth of his relief. He pictured Amanda’s tender love shining through the sweat and tears, the strength in her eyes when he took her baby away. That blend of toughness and maternal protection must have touched him more than he imagined.
Or maybe I’m simply tired, getting too emotional.
“Should we confine her here?” he asked hoarsely. “On Utopia?”
“NO. OUR PLANS REQUIRE HER TO BE SHIPPED BACK TO THE STATES.”
Surprised, Edward absorbed this and ran various scenarios through his head. He had lightly sedated Amanda for the short hop from Somalia, to facilitate her passage through customs. But a trip to the States was a longer journey, with a much higher risk of exposure.
“How do you plan on moving—?”
He was cut off. “SHE’S INTENDED FOR THE FERT/INC LAB.”
Edward had to rest a hand on his desk. He’d visited the Fertilization and Incubation Lab only once—and once was enough. He immediately understood what was demanded of him.
“WE’LL EXPECT HER PREPPED AND AT THE DUBAI AIRPORT BY EIGHT IN THE MORNING,” the speaker finished.
“Consider it done.”
The line went dead before he got out his last word. They didn’t need to hear his acquiescence. It was taken for granted.
He remained standing for two long breaths. The relief he felt at Amanda’s reprieve drained away.
Better she had gotten a death sentence.
He tapped an intercom. “Petra, we’ll need the surgical suite readied.”
Her tinny response followed. “For what procedure?”
He told her, picturing again what he’d witnessed at the Fertilization and Incubation Clinic, that flawless representation of scientific purity, where morality held no sway, a world where only methodology and outcome mattered.
He felt bile churn in his gut.
July 2, 6:39 P.M. EST
Charleston, South Carolina
Kat stepped across the threshold.
Amy followed, shadowing behind her, quiet now after her initial cry of shock and dismay. The large steel doors shut behind them, closing on their own with a pop of pressure.
Kat knew they didn’t have much time until their escape was discovered.
With the doors sealed, the ambient light remained low, tinged slightly red, reminding Kat of working in a control room of a submarine during her years in navy intelligence, where the unique lighting preserved night vision. Or maybe the subdued illumination was meant to blunt the horrors residing in here.
A long hall stretched ahead, splitting two rows of tanks full of a pinkish gelatinous fluid. Thin translucent drapes that lined the front of the rows failed to hide what rested in those tub-size steel vessels. Kat stepped to the side and parted one of the curtains.
“Don’t,” Amy moaned, clutching her stolen baton in both hands, but she still followed, clearly needing to stay near Kat—not for protection, merely to remain near a flicker of humanity in such an inhuman lab.
Kat had noted the sign hanging above the hallway.
Here lay that purpose given flesh.
A naked woman floated shallowly in semi-viscous fluid, a gelatinous bed to prevent bedsores and to keep tissues moist. Her abdomen swelled with gravid promise, navel protruding, close to parturition. Her breasts hung loosely, never to suckle the life growing within. The patient’s head hung over the edge of the tub, eyes taped shut, neck arched back, as if waiting for her hair to be shampooed. But there was no hair. The bald scalp shone in the weak light, revealing sutured scars and wired electrodes snaking into the skull. Other tubes violated mouth and nose, all running to a rack of monitoring, ventilating, and liquid-feeding equipment.
“What have they done?” Amy asked in a horrified whisper.
Kat stared down the long row, at the other women resting in identical tanks, posed in the same frozen posture of torture, all in various states of fetal gestation. She understood what she was seeing. The women here had been reduced to no more than living brainstems—with only one clear function.
“They’ve turned them into mindless human incubators,” Kat said, trembling between impotent rage and bone-deep sorrow.
She gaped, unblinking, bearing silent witness.
This is where I would’ve ended up.
Amy wore the same mask of revulsion.
Kat shied from imagining herself here, unable to balance this monstrous act with the simple wonders and mysteries of her own pregnancies, of carrying those tiny lives inside of her. She staved off the paralysis of horror by remembering her babies’ first cries, the suckle of a tiny mouth on a tender nipple, the grip of little fingers, so demanding, so needy.
She pictured the other four buildings of the clinic complex, of the levels of research and development performed here: the cutting-edge retrieval and cryopreservation techniques for ova and sperm, the advancements in in vitro fertilization procedures, and the latest innovation in embryo culture and transfer. Many of the greatest reproductive and genetic scientists from around the globe worked here or had in the past. How many, if any, knew what trickled down from their groundbreaking research, seeping like toxic waste to pool here with poisonous purpose?
Kat swung away, knowing she had only half the answers to the mysteries here. She knew where to find the others.
“C’mon,” Kat said, sensing time running short.
She returned to the central alleyway between the rows. She had noted glass-enclosed offices at the back and headed there, striding quickly, with Amy in tow. As her mind raced, she considered various exit strategies. There was not likely to be a back door out of this lab, not with what this facility was hiding down here. The only escape was back the way they’d come, through those red steel doors and past that gauntlet of armed guards.