Dr Romanoff screwed the filtration unit back into its housing. The whole delivery system had been redesigned from the ground up, the incubator had been modified beyond recognition.
He’d spent particular care over the calcium supply– increasing its throughput tenfold. Weeks of work were spent re-designing the synthetic uterus gauze, the final transfer system for nutrients to the embryo.
He’d also scanned over every inch of the DNA he stitched together in the first trials. There were always improvements to be made, but he could find no systematic faults with them. Weeks of scouring every scientific article ever written on degenerative genetic bone disease yielded nothing but further questions. Research into the genes that control calcium uptake, absorption and bone formation had required months of investigation.
Had he slipped up somewhere? Cut a fraction too far into a crucial gene? The analysis of samples taken from the two foetus that had survived provided no clues. Besides, both his experiments had displayed the symptoms. What were the chances of making the exact same mistake with two specimens?
It must have been an environmental factor.
He’d analysed the blood and bone samples. They had told him little he couldn’t have worked out through observation. The bone density was at thirty percent of what it should have been. They bent like young twigs.
He couldn’t work out why.
But he had to try again.
Once again he used the resources of the GEK laboratories on the ruse of a research paper into the genetic analysis of a bacteria that had been developed to produce oil-based fuel.
He spent three times longer than the originals. He checked, double checked, and triple checked each and every nucleonic bond where he integrated in the genes. He scoured every chromosome he’d touched for defects but found none.
He had managed to prepare four embryos from his sample. Two he had made minute mistakes and scrapped.
He would keep one on ice, if there was an early failure like his previous attempt he could flush it and quickly resume with the spare.
Turning to the mechanical incubators, he felt a moment of excited nervousness unscrewing the panel that held the uterial gauze. This tiny mesh, suspended in a soup of nutrients, would anchor his experiments in place at the core of the device, feeding them what they needed to grow. However messy nature was, he couldn’t fault it’s elegance. Imitating the womb was a difficult task.
Placing it delicately on the desk he moved to open the cool-container. The first specimen of batch two was suspended in a vial of sterile liquid. All he had to do was deposit it on the gauze and hope….
* * *
The first few weeks were agonising. He peered through the transparent Perspex for hours at a time, but there was nothing to see – not even a lump of cells.
He checked the readouts, dials and analysis systems every few minutes. They remained gloriously unchanged. There were no problems.
One month in he’d become more lax. He checked the readouts every hour. He visually inspected the tiny clump of cells every day.
Then, on day thirty eight at seven fourteen pm he closed his eyes while recording the latest results in his log.
He paid for it dearly.
He had been careless when mixing the nutrient soup that day for Specimen Two B. The glucose powder had clumped together into a thick sludge. Of course, he’d envisioned such eventualities and fitted a fine filter to the system to protect the embryo.
Except that the filter quickly became blocked. The pump that replenished the liquid bath strained against the blockage but couldn’t shift it – just pushing it further into the filter.
The foetus would probably have survived without nutrition for the thirty minutes it took for him to spot the problem. But not without oxygen, which had its delivery system through the same liquid medium.
It was dead by the time he woke, and cleaning the filter would do nothing.
The first thing he did was diagnose the cause of the incident, he ensured the mixture was of the correct consistency on the other incubation systems. Secondly he begun a design for a warning system for the oxygen sensors.
Such a simple mistake cost him months of work and irreplaceable materials.
But this was why he had a backup. By the next day Specimen Two B was replaced with Specimen Two D.
* * *
He cursed as the sample results flashed onto the screen.
All three of them were still not absorbing enough calcium.
The latest, S2D was performing much better than the others, with a bone density reaching the thirty fifth percentile.
But he was trying to design something that was better than human. All he had created were failures.
* * *
S2A and S2C were born unceremoniously. One died within moments. Its skull was too soft to protect the brain. It killed itself with a short muscle spasm. The other fared better or maybe it was just luckier not to hit its head so early on.
He took samples and left them until nightfall. At least they were quiet.
He disposed of them like the others, but it pained him to leave his most successful unattended for so long.
* * *
Dr Romanov blinked at the result.
He re-ran the sample but it came out with the same warning. He tried his backup. Maybe it was contaminated.
But they all agreed.
He’d run a modified sweeping protein analysis. Not something he could perform in his flat. He’d had to commandeer a piece of machinery from the laboratory again, coming in from his voluntary sabbatical using the same excuse; results from his research needed corroboration.
A standard flag had been raised, not something he’d even been looking for but part of the set of tests he’d built his own from and never got around to removing.
‘Warning. Lower than normal detected levels of antimüllerian hormone and dihydrotestosterone conflicts with input Gender: male. Check input accuracy and sample ID.’
How could that be?