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Introduction to Life

Last time, we left Karen Zipslicer following Dr. Grieg around the Institute, being shown the experiments they perform on foetuses. The group is heading towards the end of its tour, at the ‘Decanting Room’…

The group stood by the exit of the maturation chambers. “Do keep up,” protested Grieg, “I can’t shepherd you all day.” Karen was last in his headcount, again. “You’re always at the back, aren’t you?” sneered Grieg. Eeyore had returned with a trolley. Upon the trolley was a baby in its womb-sac, ready to be born, but still in its jar. “And now comes a very important phase, of course,” said Grieg, signalling Eeyore to go through. “You can’t hang around during this phase,” he continued, as Eeyore walked through the next set of doors, under a sign that read: ‘Decanting Room’. “But, unfortunately, we can’t go in. There’s too much risk of infection. Only vital personnel are allowed in there.” Instead, Grieg led them left, through a different set of doors. “In that room, they’re always scrubbing and disinfecting themselves, to be on the safe side. It’s a tricky process, decanting. And after all the time and money invested on incubation, we don’t want to kill the infant at the moment we’re finally going to earn a profit. But here you can see my colleague…” His voice trailed off, as the group assembled at a window, observing the Decanting Room. Eeyore rolled the trolley in front of them. And then, without any ceremony, she sharply pulled the womb-sac from the jar, pinched it at one end, snipped it with scissors, and tore the sac open, revealing the baby boy inside. Karen felt queasy. Some of the trainees looked worse. The baby screamed. No wonder, thought Karen.

The next window looked on to an adjoining room, with the newborns lying in cots. They all looked normal, and healthy, though Karen realized that ‘newborn’ was not the appropriate word, as these children had not been born in the normal sense. The babies lay in a sequence of cots. Nurses walked around, checking on them, attaching tags to their feet, or feeding them bottles of milk. “And there they are,” said Grieg. “These are ordinary ones – no yellow labels in this batch. The yellow ’uns get decanted at midday. Now all that’s needed is to package this lot up, ready for delivery to their parents, or their business custodians, depending on who ordered them. It’s best to get them off the property as soon as possible. We don’t want to pay for their upkeep, or be held responsible if they fall ill, so we deliver them on the same day they’re decanted, if they’re decanted before three in the afternoon. Otherwise they get delivered first thing the next morning. As you can see, the nursery is packed right now, as we wait for the overnight batch to be sent out.” And with that, Grieg walked on. The note-takers scurried after, whilst Karen lingered, her fingers on the glass of the observation window. A nurse had picked up a baby, and was about to give it a bottle to feed. Seeing Karen, the nurse turned to the window, and shooed Karen away.

“You’ve had enough of me, I think,” said Grieg, as he led the group upstairs. Some tut-tutted and no-noed in response. Even the Gingers nodded their appreciation. “My portion of the tour is over, but you’re going to have a special treat before I hand out your first assignments. We’ve got a very important person in the building today…” having ascended to the next floor up, Grieg led the group down a brightly-lit and sparklingly-polished corridor, “… and she’s kindly agreed to give you all a pep talk on the importance of our work. And let me tell you, she certainly knows what she’s talking about. Wait, wait!” He halted and did another headcount. Karen was at the back. Her ankle bothered her again. She motioned to lean against the wall, then stopped herself, as she realized she was about to put her hand through a laundry chute. “Yes, you’re all here. Now, as I was saying, she’s one of our most important sponsors… the Institute bears her name… and she invented the artificial womb, as well as inventing vision-boxes and other modern marvels that have so improved the life of the common Lunderner. Yes, of course you all know who I’m talking about. And this is her office.” The door was already open. He leaned through as he knocked upon the doorframe. “The new trainees are here. Should I bring them in?” The response must have been positive; Grieg signalled them to enter. Because Karen was at the back, and because there was only standing room in the office, she could not see the very important person from where she stood. Grieg pushed inside, standing beside Karen. “Your Excellency, please allow me to introduce our latest crop of trainees. Trainees, this is Her Excellency, The Lady Emerald.”

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