With her hands inside the molded rubber gloves, Jessica peered through the microscopic viewer at four misty orbs, ghosts that glowed against the dark background of the biochamber. Her partner had started the cells last night. This one began as a single embryonic stem cell in a sodium bicarbonate solution but would continue to divide until it became a new kidney.
The syringe, permanently attached to the fingers of the glove of the right hand, was sterile but prone to sticking. As Jessica drew up the appropriate XenoMart solution and injected it into the dividing cells, she took care to give the plunger an extra pump for accuracy. Exact dosing accelerated the process. If her work continued to progress as planned, the patient would have his kidney by tonight.
She entered the code on the keyboard to initiate the creation program. By releasing electro-magnetic pulses into the cells at varying intervals, the program would work with XenoMart’s patented solution to direct the cell division. When the organ was viable, the program would shut off automatically. Usually, the end product was implanted in the patient within 24 hours of creation.
XenoMart had revolutionized the stem cell industry. It was a rarity that anyone in America died waiting for an organ anymore. Jessica’s lab was a manufacturing plant for all parts human, even bones and skin. She repeated the procedure, analyzing the patient’s chart for the correct solution and sequence to use. She would continue this until lunch, up and down each row of wired boxes. Across XenoMart, hundreds of labs like hers were churning out organs at the same time in exactly the same way. She was proud to be part of the miracle.
Of course, there were those who would say the process was murder. The stem cells came from embryos, fertilized eggs provided by couples for a fee. Rescuers believed that embryos were people and that Xenomart was trading life for life. They were a small group, but persistent. Rescuers said Xenomart used babies as replacement parts.
Rolling her chair to the next Plexiglas chamber, she placed her eyes on the viewer, and took up the syringe.
“You are always so damn careful with that thing,” a man’s voice whispered in her ear.
Jessica lurched back to look into the face of her partner.
“Edward, you scared me half to death. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Well, I do have a key card and as always, you lose yourself in this.” He pointed a hand toward the biochamber in front of her. Edward’s key card dangled from his lanyard and rested against his white cotton scrubs. Besides Jessica’s, it was the only other way to get in or out of this lab, part of Xenomart’s state of the art security policy, protection against the Rescuers.
“What are you still doing here? You’ve been up all night. Why aren’t you home in bed?”
“I stayed to tell you that I’m resigning,” Edward said. The corners of his mouth pulled downward, his eyes preoccupied with his shoes.
“But why? You do terrific work.”
“What we do — it’s not right, Jessica. We’re playing God here. I came to convince you to quit, too.”
“Edward, we’ve discussed this before. I don’t agree with your politics. Frankly, you’re beginning to sound like a Rescuer. Besides, a couple of people quitting will not make a bit of difference. Organ manufacturing is a huge industry. Love it or leave it.”
“You’re right about that. My quitting won’t stop anything. It would take a much bigger event. Only a tragedy would slow this rat race down for even a microsecond.”
“So, why quit?” Jessica asked, still hoping to change his mind.
“Because, as you put it, I don’t love it, so I’m going to leave it.”
Edward gave a thin smile and spread his arms. Jessica responded with a firm one-armed hug.
“Good luck, my friend. Stay in touch,” she said.
Jessica watched Edward walk toward the door and then slid her chair to the next row of boxes.
“This is wrong,” she said aloud. She glared at Edward.
“Haven’t you read the memo?” Edward’s face contorted into a cynical grin. “There’s a glitch in XenoMart’s program. Sometimes, it’s not turning off in time. It’s overgrowth.”
Jessica looked back into the viewer. The mass looked something like a large ginger root but it was the movement that was most disturbing. It appeared to be respirating. Of course that was impossible, the organs were never animated until they were attached to the patient. Still, just to be safe, she hit the incineration button on the side of the cube.
The thing was as large as the cube now, its throbbing mass pushing against the Plexiglas walls.
“What have you done?” Jessica yelled at Edward, who was standing in the open door to the lab. She slapped the red button again and again.
“I did what needed to be done,” Edward replied, and was out the door before Jessica could get out of her chair.
The Plexiglas split and the fleshy growth poured out onto the lab table.
Jessica headed for the door, reaching for the key card clipped to the pocket of her lab coat. Her hand met cotton and she looked down in alarm, patting her chest frantically. The badge was gone.
In a panic, she looked through the rectangle window in the door. Edward was standing there, watching her. She banged her fists against the steel.
“Let me out! Edward!”
Edward cocked his head to the side and held up her key card. He mouthed I’m sorry through the soundproof glass and then strolled away, shoving the key into his pocket.
Jessica turned back toward the lab, pressing her back against the door as the throbbing mass filled the room, each cell dividing more rapidly than the last. She had just enough time to wonder how many “tragedies” Edward had arranged besides her own.
G.P. Ching is a nurse and writer living in Illinois. Her first novel, The Soulkeepers, is currently on submission.