hey would schedule a rain for this morning
, Dr. Thei Svengaard thought.
Rain always makes the parents uneasy â¦ not to mention what it does to the doctors
A gust of winter wetness rattled against the window behind his desk. He stood, thought of muting the windows, but the Durantsâthis morning's parentsâmight be even more alarmed by the unnatural silence on such a day.
Dr. Svengaard stepped to the window, looked down at the thronging foot trafficâday shifts going to their jobs in the megalopolis, night shifts headed toward their tumbled rest. There was a sense of power and movement in the comings and goings of the people in spite of their troglodyte existence. Most of them, he knew, were childless Sterries â¦ sterile, sterile. They came and they went, numbered, but numberless.
He had left the intercom open to his reception room and he could hear his nurse, Mrs. Washington, distracting the Durants with questions and forms.
That was the watchword. This must all appear normal, casual routine. The Durants and all the others fortunate enough to be chosen
to become parents must never suspect the truth.
Dr. Svengaard steered his mind away from such thoughts, reminding himself that guilt was not a permissible emotion for a member of the medical profession. Guilt led inevitably to betrayal â¦ and betrayal brought messy consequences. The Optimen were exceedingly touchy where the breeding program was concerned.
Such a thought with its hint of criticism filled Svengaard with a momentary disquiet. He swallowed, allowed his mind to dwell on the Folk response to the Optimen,
They are the power that loves us and cares for us.
With a sigh, he turned away from the window, skirted the desk and went through the door that led via the ready room to the lab. In the ready room, he paused to check his appearance in the mirror: gray hair, dark brown eyes, strong chin, high forehead and rather grim lips beneath an aquiline nose. He'd always been rather proud of the remote dignity in his appearance-cut and had come to terms with the need of adjusting the remoteness. Now, he softened the set of his mouth, practiced a look of compassionate interest.
Yes, that would do for the Durantsâgranting the accuracy of their emotional profiles.
Nurse Washington was just ushering the Durants into the lab as Dr. Svengaard entered through his private door. The skylights above them drummed and hissed with the rain. Such weather suddenly seemed to fit the room's mood: washed glass, steel, plasmeld and tile â¦ all impersonal. It rained on everyone â¦ and all humans had to pass through a room such as this â¦ even the Optimen.
Dr. Svengaard took an instant dislike to the parents. Harvey Durant was a lithe six-footer with curly blond hair, light blue eyes. The face was wide with an apparent innocence and youth. Lizbeth, his wife, stood almost the same height, equally blonde, equally blue-eyed and young. Her figure suggested Valkyrie robustness. On a silver cord around her neck she wore one of the omnipresent Folk talismans, a brass figure of the female Optiman, Calapine. The breeder cult nonsense and religious overtones of the figure did not escape Dr. Svengaard. He suppressed a sneer.
The Durants were parents, however, and robustâliving
testimony to the skill of the surgeon who had cut them. Dr. Svengaard allowed himself a moment of pride in his profession. Not many people could enter the tight little group of subcellular engineers who kept human variety within bounds.
Nurse Washington paused in the door behind the Durants, said, “Dr. Svengaard, Harvey and Lizbeth Durant.” She left without waiting for acknowledgments. Nurse Washington's timing and discretion always were exquisitely correct.
“The Durants, how nice,” Dr. Svengaard said. “I hope my nurse didn't bore you with all those forms and questions. But I guess you knew you were letting yourselves in for all that routine when you asked to watch.”
“We understand,” Harvey Durant said. And he thought,
Asked to watch, indeed! Does this old fake think he can pull his little tricks on us?
Dr. Svengaard noted the rich, compelling baritone of the man's voice. It bothered him, added to his dislike.
“We don't want to take any more of your time than absolutely necessary,” Lizbeth Durant said. She clasped her husband's hand and through their secret code of finger pressures said:
“Do you read him? He doesn't like us.”
Harvey's fingers responded, “
He's a Sterrie prig, so full of pride in his position that he's half blind
The woman's no-nonsense tone annoyed Dr. Svengaard. She already was staring around the lab, quick, searching looks.
I must keep control here
, he thought. He crossed to them, shook hands. Their palms were sweaty.
, Dr. Svengaard thought.
The sound of a viapump at his left seemed reassuringly loud to him then. You could count on the pump to make parents nervous. That was why the pumps were loud. Dr. Svengaard turned toward the sound, indicated a sealed crystal vat on a force-field stand near the lab's center. The pump sound came from the vat.
“Here we are,” Dr. Svengaard said.
Lizbeth stared at the vat's milky translucent surface. She wet her lips with her tongue. “In there?”
“And as safe as can be,” Dr. Svengaard said.
He cherished the small hope then that the Durants might yet leave, go home and await the outcome.
Harvey took his wife's hand, patted it. He, too, stared at the vat. “We understand you've called in this specialist,” he said.
“Dr. Potter,” Svengaard said. “From Central.” He glanced at the nervous movements of the Durants' hands, noting the omnipresent tattooed index fingersâgene type and station. They could add the coveted “V” for viable now, he thought, and he suppressed a momentary jealousy.
“Dr. Potter, yes,” Harvey said. Through their hands, he signaled Lizbeth, “
Notice how he said Central?
How could I miss it
” she responded.
, she thought. The place conjured pictures of the lordly Optimen, but this made her think of the Cyborgs who secretly opposed the Optimen, and the whole thing filled her with profound disquiet. She could afford to think of nothing but her son now.
“We know Potter's the best there is,” she said. “and we don't want you to think we're just being emotional and fearful â¦”
“ â¦ but we're going to watch,” Harvey said. And he thought,
This stiff-necked surgeon had better realize we know our legal rights
“I see,” Dr. Svengaard said.
Damn these fools!
he thought. But he held his voice to a soothing monotone and said, “Your concern is a matter of record. I admire it. However, the consequences â¦”
He left the words hanging there, reminding them that he had legal rights, too, could make the cut with or without their permission, and couldn't be held responsible for any upset to the parents. Public Law 10927 was clear and direct. Parents might invoke it for the right to watch, but the cut
be made at the surgeon's discretion. The human race had a planned future which excluded genetic monsters and wild deviants.
Harvey nodded, a quick and emphatic motion. He gripped his wife's hand tightly. Bits of Folk horror stories
and official myths trickled through his mind. He saw Svengaard partly through this confusion of stories and partly through the clandestine forbidden literature grudgingly provided by the Cyborgs to the Parents Undergroundâthrough Stedman and Merck, through Shakespeare and Huxley. His youth had fed on such a limited past that he knew superstition could not help but remain.
Lizbeth's nod came slower. She knew what their chief concern here had to be, but that was still her son in the vat.
“Are you sure,” she asked, deliberately baiting Svengaard, “that there's no pain?”
The extent of the Folk nonsense which bred in the
atmosphere of popular ignorance filled Dr. Svengaard with resentment. He knew he'd have to end this interview quickly. The things he
be saying to these people kept intruding on his awareness, interfering with what he
“That fertilized ovum has no nerve trains,” he said. “It's physically less than three hours old, its growth retarded by controlled nitrate respiration. Pain? The concept doesn't apply.”
The technical terms would have little meaning to them, Dr. Svengaard knew, other than to emphasize the distance between mere parents and a submolecular engineer.
“I guess that was rather foolish of me,” Lizbeth said. “The â¦ it's so simple, not really like a human yet.” And she signaled to Harvey through their hands, “
What a simpleton he is! As easy to read as a child.
Rain beat a tarantella against the skylight. Dr. Svengaard waited it out, then: “Ah, now, let us make no mistakes.” And he thought what an excellent moment it was to give these fools a catechism refresher. “Your embryo may be less than three hours old, but it already contains every basic enzyme it'll need when fully developed. An enormously complicated organism.”
Harvey stared at him in assumed awe at the
which could understand such mysteries as the shaping and moulding of life.
Lizbeth glanced at the vat.
Two days ago, selected gametes from Harvey and herself had been united there, gripped in stasis, allowed to go through limited mitosis. The process had produced a viable embryoânot too common a thing in their world where only a select few were freed of the contraceptive gas and allowed to breed, and only a rare number of those produced viables. She wasn't supposed to understand the intricacies of the process, and the fact that she did understand had to be hidden at all times.
âthe genetic Optimen of Centralâstamped savagely on the slightest threat to their supremacy. And
considered knowledge in the wrong hands to be the most terrible threat.
“How â¦ big is â¦ he now?” she asked.
“Diameter less than a tenth of a millimeter,” Dr. Svengaard said. He relaxed his face into a smile. “It's a morula and back in the primitive days it wouldn't yet have completed its journey to the uterus. This is the stage when it's most susceptible to us. We must do our work now before the formation of the trophoblast.”
The Durants nodded in awe.
Dr. Svengaard basked in their respect. He sensed their minds fumbling over poorly remembered definitions from the limited schooling they'd been permitted. Their records said she was a creche librarian and he an instructor of the youngânot much education required for either.
Harvey touched the vat, jerked his hand away. The crystal surface felt warm, filled with subtle vibrations. And there was that constant
of the pump. He sensed the deliberateness of that annoying sound, reading the way he'd been trained in the Underground the subtle betrayals in Svengaard's manner. He glanced around the laboratoryâglass pipes, square gray cabinets, shiny angles and curves of plasmeld, omnipresent gauges like staring eyes. The place smelled of disinfectants and exotic chemicals. Everything about the lab carried that calculated double purposeâfunctional yet designed to awe the uninitiated.
Lizbeth focused on the one mundane feature of the place she could really recognize for certainâa tile sink with
gleaming faucets. The sink sat squeezed between two mysterious constructions of convoluted glass and dull gray plasmeld.
The sink bothered Lizbeth. It represented a place of disposal. You flushed garbage into a sink for grinding before it was washed into the sewage reclamation system. Anything small could be dumped into a sink and lost.
“I'm not going to be talked out of watching,” she said.
Dr. Svengaard thought.
There was a catch in her voice.
That little catch, that hesitation was betrayal. It didn't fit with her bold appearance. Overemphasis on maternal drive in her cutting â¦ no matter how successful the surgeon had been with the rest of her.
“Our concern is for you as much as for your child,” Dr. Svengaard said. “The trauma â¦”
“The law gives us the right,” Harvey said. And he signaled to Lizbeth,
“The whole pattern's more or less what we anticipated.
Trust this clod to know the law
, Dr. Svengaard thought. He sighed. Statistical prediction said one in one hundred thousand parents would insist, despite all the subtle and not so subtle pressures against it. Statistics and visible fact, however, were two distinct matters. Svengaard had noted how Harvey glared at him. The man's cutting had been strong on male protectivenessâtoo strong, obviously. He couldn't stand to see his
thwarted. Doubtless he was an excellent provider, model husband, never participated in Sterrie orgiesâa leader.