The Wellborn

 The Wellborn ©

 For what is destined for us mortal men, there is no escape. 〜 SOPHOCLES, Antigone

Chapter 1

The light from hundreds of BioWombs cast a reddish glow in the cavernous room. The incubators were surrounded by partitions in an attempt to make the facility more intimate, but Rena knew sitting inside the decorative screen walls you could still feel the enormity, could still hear the faint hum of machines. The whoosh-whoosh of blood coursing through thousands of tiny arteries created a strangely uniform hiss. The sound made Rena feel light-headed as she stared down at the grid, at the expectants hovering over the radiant bio-machines, reading books or playing music to their babies.

An entire industry had cropped up claiming their products could enhance a fetus according to the expectant’s wishes. Hair and eye color could be chosen at fertilization, but nothing else. Not even sex, unless you had the misfortune of having three babies of the same gender. Only then was it allowed. Harmful genetic defects could be filtered out, but controlling all physical and mental abilities hadn’t been perfected. Even so, there were those who were opposed to even trying. A world full of perfection seemed somehow abhorrent. Would everyone choose the same characteristics? And how to protect the confounding dichotomy of creating both diversity and uniqueness?

As she stood on the helixalator, Rena watched the ground floor slowly recede. She watched the expectants talk and laugh and tap on the clear womb-glass that was the only thing separating them from their babies. She normally enjoyed spending time watching them suck their thumbs, kick their arms and legs, or do amniotic acrobatics; but today she was interested in the top floor, where life was just beginning. After three months, they would move down to the second and then, after three more months, to ground level, where the new parents, or parent, could wheel the baby out in one of the old-fashioned nineteenth-century inspired buggies that had become so popular, with their big wheels and enormous black canvas sunshades.

The room started to spin and so she turned away and stared at a spot on the moving floor of the helixalator. After a moment she was able to look up, but now kept her focus on a fixed point in the distance.

Security was tighter since the incident with the Otis girl’s ova. It had added fuel to an already heated debate surrounding the vote on a new bill the media had dubbed “The Antigone Law.” Having run the gauntlet of placard-wielding protestors in front of the building, Rena thought The National Ovarian Trust officials were right to be concerned. She was only able to wander around the facility because she was Peter Ewer’s “almost fiancée.” And she was also TNOT’s unofficial spokesperson. With her degree in communications and her media-friendly good looks, Peter—as head of the foundation—often utilized her assets when TNOT needed to make an announcement.

Normally, she would have been just as consumed by details of the tragedy as anyone else, but she had her own worries. She couldn’t dwell on them for long, though. Peter had been tacting her all morning. As a reminder, her iTact flashed a red light in the corner of her left eye. She was supposed to meet him at eleven; she wasn’t late…yet. Whatever he wanted could wait. She had been out of sorts all morning, and she needed to compose herself before she saw him.

She looked down at the grid again. When she awoke, she’d felt a need to come here, she didn’t know why.

No, that was a lie, she did know.

Her light-headedness subsided. As she stepped off the conveyor, she pulled out her antique Canon EOS-1V camera. Her real career was as an artist. She dabbled in every medium but, for the last few years, she was going through what she called her “photography phase.” That’s how she met Peter. He was acquainted with her father, the Senator, who had invited Peter to her show: Study in Red. The entire exhibit consisted of photographs of incubabies, but no one knew. Extreme close ups: veins and arteries, skin, and almost-bone. The bluish, twisted umbilical cord. The placenta. If a patron asked what she used as a subject, she would explain that she never divulged her subjects. She would say expectations taint the blank canvas that is the viewer’s mind. My job is to take the pictures, yours is to see. But no one ever asked. Except for Peter. He knew the minute he looked at them.

She had been photographing the incubabies for over two years. One of her friends was an expectant, and he let Rena come along for visits. She filmed his baby from implantation to its coming-out day. After, she continued to come to the facility, never losing her wonderment. Each time she looked through the lens, she noticed something different. The intricacies of building a life were remarkable.

The mid-morning light momentarily blinded Rena as she stepped out of the side employee-entrance door of the facility. She shielded her eyes and hurried toward a FasTrax waiting at the curb. The red light flashing in her eye was getting more persistent. She waved her right hand over the reader on the compact, two-passenger vehicle, opened the door, and adjusted herself in the seat.

“Ewer Foundation Headquarters,” she commanded.

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