…….Striding with purpose into his smallest but most carefully monitored laboratory, Adelmo picked a bit of microscopic lint off his pristine lab coat and flicked it away.
…….German by birth, Adelmo was fussy, demanding, and humorless. He was also a MacArthur Fellow, the recipient of a so-called “Genius Grant”, so his methods were rarely questioned. The lack of strict oversight or pushback from his leadership allowed Adelmo to take chances that other scientists couldn’t.
…….Under diffuse lighting, Adelmo checked each of the four chambers quietly burbling away. He was prone to checking in on his most cherished project at least twice a day. Observing the specimens and making verbal notes into the end of his pen, which contained a small micro-recorder, was like a meditation.
…….“Specimen One: progressing as expected. Specimen Two: temperature below optimal but not critical, faulty connector to be analyzed by Jorgensen later today. Specimen Three: growing faster than expected. We suspect genetics of the subject and will research the husbandry. Specimen Four: normal and on track.”
…….The spoken words fluttered up to the cloud where voice-to-text translated his words into a tidy lab journal app to be cleaned up late. He would review and clean them up later. But for now, he was awaiting a visit from a dignitary and everything had to be perfect. Over the past week, he’d driven all of his postdoctoral research assistants and his long-suffering administrative assistant crazy with meticulous preparations.
…….They muttered about him in the breakroom, not knowing that the building’s ventilation system carried their every sound to a certain place in Lab 2. There was a small X made of electrical tape on the floor to remind him where acoustics were the best.
…….Satisfied that the specimens were fine and the lab was spotless, Adelmo felt ready to receive guests. With that, it was to the “X marks the spot” in Lab 2 just down the hall where he headed next.
…….“I will be so glad when this day is over. Where are we going after?”
…….“Let’s do that Irish pub. The one over on Spruce.”
…….“That’s it. First round is on me.”
…….“Sweet, I’m going to need two, or ten, or—you know what, let’s just start with a round of Jameson. Doctor Frank has just about worn me down. Yesterday I actually drafted a letter of resignation. I was just so…done.”
…….Adelmo wrote a few notes on a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. He knew the acoustics worked both ways and avoided the recorder pen while standing on the X. They called him Doctor Frank–meaning Frankenstein–for the exploratory and cutting-edge genetics work he did.
…….His postdocs often questioned his work, though the institution never did. He knew how to push right up to that vague gray line between scientific progress and a violation of ethics. The postdocs who questioned him soon went away. Scott was the voice of the letter writer, and Adelmo made a note in ballpoint. He didn’t need naysayers, not today. Not any day.
…….“Doctor Fischer?” said Melissa, with her characteristic sharp tone meant to snap him out of a reverie. “The guard at Mulberry Gate called. They’ve just passed security and will be at the door in ten minutes.”
…….Adelmo nodded. “Good. Tell Emily and Jasper to meet me in the lab.”
…….Adelmo scratched his chin thoughtfully. “I saw an email from Receiving that the new spectrometer is here. Tell Scott to conduct a receiving inspection. If all looks good, have him coordinate with Logistics to have it installed. They’ll know where it goes.”
…….“Very good,” Melissa said, spinning on her heel to exit. He liked Melissa. When she started, she had been sloppy and undisciplined, but he’d molded her into the perfect assistant. She could predict his needs and knew how to aggressively block his calendar. He wished he could have two more just like her.
…….Three enormous black SUVs turned the corner and lumbered up the drive. Paper signs marked three reserved parking spots, and in well-coordinated fashion, the vehicles parked then men in dark suits poured from the flanking vehicles. Major Brody Jones, chief aide to the general, slid out of the center vehicle and smoothed the front of his uniform slacks. With aching joints and an air of fatigue, five-star General Max Emerson emerged from the vehicle, found his footing, and strode with purpose toward the building’s front door as security flanked in around him.
…….“You watching the time, Jones?”
…….“Expectations are low.”
…….“What’s the kook’s name?”
…….“Fischer, sir. Doctor Adelmo Fischer.”
…….The general grunted with a nod as Jones opened the door to allow him to enter. “Welcome, General Emerson. Right this way.” Melissa said as she badged them into three different doors down the long corridor, noticing that at each doorway, one or two of the security crew peeled off and stood to the side. She’d seen her fair share of dignitaries, and this level of security meant the General was somebody important. She’d done research and had been unable to find any information about him, not even a press release when the Army made him a five-star. She called in a few favors with trusted insiders and still came up with nothing. The General was a ghost with good security; she had a pretty good idea what that meant.
…….Adelmo delivered a brief discussion of his research in a dumbed-down way for laypersons. He gave the General the same talk he’d delivered to a visiting class of eighth-graders last week. He had about the same level of respect for the military that he did for eighth-graders. Well, that wasn’t quite true. Eighth graders could still turn into something useful. Army generals were beyond hope.
…….“What you are about to see is highly confidential. This work is groundbreaking, and we need to protect it at all costs. Is that understood?”
…….The General fixed Adelmo with a hard stare and pointed to the stars on his collar, saying, “You think I’m a security risk?”
…….“What about them?” he said, pointing to the others in the room.
…….The General turned to his staff. “Only Jones and me—the rest of you stay here.”
…….The black suits nodded and took a step back.
…….“Proceed,” said the General.
…….Adelmo led the two men into his inner sanctum. Other than his own team, no one had visited the special lab, not even the director of his own institution. He was both excited and nervous.
…….“General Emerson, I’d like to introduce you to two very talented scientists. Doctor Emily Jorgensen and Doctor Jasper Schultz. They have been integral to this work.”
…….The General shook hands, saying, “Let’s get to it. I’m on a tight schedule.”
…….“Absolutely,” Adelmo said, then led the way to the area with four chambers.
…….“Is that a lamb?” the General asked.
…….“Yes, chamber one is a lamb, chamber two is a piglet, three a calf, and four a fawn. We found these species to be the best test subjects.”
…….“What exactly am I seeing here?”
…….“In rough terms, what you see is an artificial uterus. This clear sac is made from a polycarbonate blend that is both soft and flexible. The envelope is filled with electrolytes that mimic amniotic fluid. The balance of minerals in the fluid varies slightly by species, but we’ve become very good at tuning that in. The umbilical cord is attached to this specially designed mechanism that provides nutrition. These monitors regulate the environment. Movement is normal and exactly as the fetus would do in the womb. You can see the calf is taking practice breaths of the amniotic fluid. We’ve grown twenty such animals, which are thriving and virtually indistinguishable from animals born from a mother’s wombs.”
…….“Fascinating. And what about humans?”
…….“We see no reason why this wouldn’t work with humans, but as you know, the governance for human trials is quite rigorous. Approval takes two years to attain, at a minimum.”
…….“What if you had both the money and approval to begin human trials immediately?”
…….“It would depend on the expectations of the research, but I would have no problem beginning right away.”
…….Emily and Jasper glanced at each other, then at Jones, then down at the floor.
…….“Jones, why don’t you take these two outside and discuss schedules?”
…….“Yes, General,” he said, leading Emily and Jasper from the room. Once the door closed, General Emerson fixed Adelmo with a rheumy-eyed stare.
…….“Here’s the truth: the Army needs soldiers. Kids are no longer signing up in the numbers they used to, but it’s more than that. The Army supports the Space Force in their long-term missions. We’ve found evidence of life-sustaining planets well outside our solar system, far enough away that using current flight technology, a twenty-year-old would be an elderly man by the time they arrive. I want to outfit our ship with several of your gizmos. Through a third party, we’ve quietly bought a bankrupt cryogenics facility and taken ownership of a large inventory of embryos. We have enough embryos to create a whole army many times over, but we need a way to grow them. The plan looks like this: we outfit our capsule with these chambers and a few people to run these things. We have a rolling plan of growing new soldiers to be trained by the older humans, and they in turn farm and train the next generation. By the time we arrive at our destination, we should have a wide range of soldiers of various ages and training to support any hostile conflicts. If the planet is populated, we take it by force. If the planet is uninhabited, we build a colony. Your science fosters exploration. What do you say?”
…….Adelmo thought about it. “There are logistics to work out.”
…….“Money is not an issue.”
…….“For you, perhaps.”
…….“Let me have a few moments to discuss figures with Jones, okay?”
…….“Why don’t you and Major Jones use the breakroom? Help yourselves to any food and beverages you find.”
…….“Most accommodating. Thanks.”
…….“Certainly. Right this way.”
…….Adelmo shooed away his postdocs and sent Melissa to her desk in reception. Alone, he stood on the X and listened, scribbling notes and formulating a plan.
…….“I was prepared to be disappointed, but this is good,” said the General. “We need to lock this down. What do we have in our war chest?”
…….“Our line item from Congress looks to be 82 million, sir. We carried over 25 million. If the President signs the budget, we’re just over a hundred. We operate on sixty or so and can allocate as much as forty for this, but I suggest offering ten and seeing where this goes. If we spend twenty it would still be a bargain.”
…….“Let me see what I can do.”
…….“Say, Addy, let’s go back to your lab. I want to look at those chambers again.”
…….“Of course, follow me.”
…….The General closed the door behind them and got straight to the point. “Man to man, I can use this. What do we need to get to work?”
…….“Before we talk numbers, I need to show you another part of my research. It’s over here.”
…….“I just want to lock this down,” said the General.
…….“You’ll want to see this. Not even my assistants know about it.”
…….Adelmo took a key out of his pocket, unlocked the cover over a number pad, punched in a sequence, then used another key from a chain around his neck to unlock the door.
…….The sealed room inhaled as the door swung open. Adelmo turned on a light switch, and the General followed him inside. As the General looked around his eyes went wide.
…….“Using a similar technology to the artificial uterus, I am able to tweak the amniotic fluid in a certain way to suspend life.”
…….Under his breath, the General muttered, “…six, eight, ten… You’ve got a dozen adult humans in here. Who are they?”
…….“General, I think this technology might fit your plan. Imagine training a twenty-year-old Special Forces soldier, suspending them in my chambers, and releasing them exactly when needed. We grow your army inflight and use these chambers to preserve the best of the best to lead the fresh troops.”
…….The General looked from chamber to chamber. “You can reanimate them? Fully? With no decrement to brain or physical power?”
…….“No loss of memory or physical ailments?”
…….“No. It’s as if they go back into the womb in a suspended state and are reborn intact. Just as needed.”
…….“I have one last thing to show you.”
…….“There can’t be more!”
…….“Through here, General.”
…….They entered a room located in the corner that was the size of a small closet. There, under a focused spotlight, was what looked like an ordinary 3D printer.
…….The General looked at Adelmo with a shrug. “I know what that is, son.”
…….“Of course, but I am a genetics and matter specialist. I have modified this 3D printer. It will create anything you want.”
…….“I fail to see how this–”
…….“No need to carry food or water or any provisions when it can be created on the printer. There would also be no need to carry spare parts as this easily creates duplicates. Any mineral. Any metal. Anything. Only minimal resources are needed to feed the printer. It will transform, replicate, duplicate, and expand simple matter. For a flight as long and critical as you describe, I suggest three units, two running fully operational and one backup. General, you can transport already trained forces, create new soldiers, and feed and outfit them all in a space the size of this small lab. That has to be worth something.”
…….The General stepped backward into the room with the human chambers and ran tallies in his head. He tapped his fingers, adding and subtracting numbers. It was perfect.
…….“What’s it going to take to close this deal?”
…….“It won’t be cheap.”
…….“No, I imagine not.”
…….“Money, of course. But I need assurances.”
…….“Money, freedom from liability of any sort,” he said, nodding to the bodies in chambers.
…….The General’s face remained passive.
…….“And a Nobel. I’ll write up in what; you make the award happen. This year.”
…….“A lot of money, indemnification, and a Nobel. That’s it.”
…….“Pending negotiation of the dollars, Doctor, you have a deal.”
…….The two men shook hands and the General left.
…….Adelmo smiled to himself. He had found the perfect application of his life’s work.
…….He walked over to Chamber 12, the newest subject, and looked at the male human inside while devices pumped life-sustaining fluid.
…….“And you see, Scott? That is why you never question my methods. I am always right.”
…….Adelmo opened the sealed door, turned off the light, and turned back over his shoulder to look into the room.
…….Born with the eye of a writer and the heart of a story-teller, Karen Fayeth writes work colored by the Mexican, Native American, and Western influences of her roots in rural New Mexico and complemented by an evolving urban aesthetic. Now living in the San Francisco Bay Area, when she’s not writing, shooting photography, or painting, she works as a procurement manager for a research laboratory. Karen can be found online at karenfayeth.com