Pembroke was a small, balding man in a lab coat, doing his job. He smelt of faintly irritable resignation and wore a microphone headset for dictation. He wheeled a small device alongside, a combination EEG/ECG on a spindly stand, serving mostly as a tray for less esoteric medical instruments.
The stretch of wall before him was formed into a series of frosty white ovoids, taller than a man, standing on end; as he stood there he pressed one of them into place with a thump and click before proceeding to the next, where he laid his fingers upon a glossy blue square. The pod slid forward, its hood unsealing with a hiss of air and sliding upward.
Pembroke spoke into his mic. "Expression µ-53, Red Group. Sample Lilac."
Inside the pod was sparsely upholstered with sterile white flocking, casketlike. Laying upon the slightly tilted bed of the chamber was a human form. Its skin was nearly as pale as the gauzy fabric, delicate, but possessed of a faint green cast which its surroundings emphasized. Starkly contrasting this was an unruly, longish mane of wavy hair, red like a red crayon, edging over into magenta here and there. Other than eyebrows which echoed this extraordinary tone, the figure's body was hairless.
At first glance, the individual was female, possessing breasts almost too developed for its slender form; but below its waist it was just as decidedly male, penis and testicles descending from its pubis. Its frame was a bit too coarse and broad for an average female, too delicate and lightly-muscled for male average, of middling height. Androgynous. Its face was expressionless and similarly ambiguous.
Attached to the figure's skin were numerous adhesive disks holding sensors for electroencephalograph and electrocardiograph. Tubes led from its nose and mouth, extended from crosses of tape at its inner elbows where needles were inserted.
Pembroke studied the small monitor with which the pod was appointed. Its display resembled a CRT but was not. One of its lines blipped upward lugubriously at intervals. Another two juddered faintly but were largely immobile. The rest were completely flat.
The display gave Pembroke a more succinct analysis, that Sample Lilac was as inert as the rest, but for the sake of consistency he proceeded with physical examination.
"Pupils dilated and unresponsive. No response to touch stimuli, no response to pain stimuli. Respiration shallow, barely present. Cardiac activity present but listless, approximately forty beats per minute. Brainwave activity flat."
Pembroke clicked his tongue and resealed the chamber before he went to the next.
"Expression µ-53, Red Group. Sample Lily."
The hood hissed upward to reveal another figure, also mint-skinned and red-haired, also androgynous. Identical to its neighbor. Pembroke read the displays and went through his ritual, but this sample was also comatose, and afterward he left it to the peace of its white coffin.
The results he was noting were unsurprising, which was why he was in the gestation lab alone. If any of the samples proved viable he would call in post-gestation technicians to assist him, but every expression which had completed this phase had produced a set of identical corpses. This one appeared no different. Of Red Group, samples Lotus and Lupine had emerged with no involuntary nervous activity; they were dead. Lily and Lilac had a heartbeat, were breathing, but never woke up. This was better than Blue Group, whose constituents were entirely lifeless.
Pembroke opened the last pod in the row. "Expression µ-53, Red Group. Sample Lavender." A figure identical in appearance and immobility to the previous two was revealed.
The researcher leaned in to regard the monitor, and made a small, contemplative sound. All channels were active, enthusiastically so. Frowning, Pembroke put the monitor into self-check mode, watching as it blinked and twiddled, went blank, then lit up exactly as before.
"Er, monitor shows expected EEG activity," he said despite the obvious contradiction. It wasn't expected at all. "Cardiac activity fifty-five beats per minute, approximately. Looking at the pupils now...." Pembroke carefully parted the lids of the left eye with forefinger and thumb, and shone his penlight into the sample's eye. "Contraction of the pupil when light--"
The figure's eyes fluttered open and it drew a sharp breath, lifting its hands to weakly seize the lapels of Pembroke's coat.
Pembroke jumped back a step, startled. "Jesus," he spat. He quickly gathered himself. "She's awake," he said. "Sample Lavender is conscious." He slipped the light into a pocket and carefully peeled away the tape holding the mouth tube in place, as the specimen's eyes tracked wildly back and forth. Freed of the tube, she took short, uneven breaths, watching what her hands were doing. Then she lifted her head.
"Respiration, heartbeat increasing... eighty-five, ninety BPM. She's looking at me."
Lavender opened her mouth. "Explain," she said in a soft, hoarse voice, tinged with anxiety. It was a plea, or a command. "Explain." Her hands slipped from his coat, hung limp and trembling before her, and she looked away.
Pembroke clicked a switch, turning his dictation set into an intercom, and spoke into it. "Matt?"
A voice crackled in his ear. "Done?" it asked, jocular.
Pembroke glanced up at the specimen, who had withdrawn into her pod and crossed her arms over her chest, holding herself. "Yes, you could say that," he said evenly.
"Prometheus. Today we were scheduled for emergence, of expression-- µ-53, Red and Blue Groups. Anything new to report?"
"No. The memory encoding is still off, and it's taking all hindbrain functions with it. It's all blanking."
"So the new emergents are inviable...?"
"All of Red Group is comatose or dead. Blue Group all dead."
"Not all. Sample Lavender is aware."
"Yes. It was conscious. It spoke."
"This is news to me."
"She woke less than an hour ago."
"Lavender's expression doesn't vary from the others in her group. So...?"
"Er, that is to be determined. We think that her crèche was contaminated during gestation."
"She is damaged and therefore she functions. So we have one positive sample with unknown composition."
"And everything else is dead."
"My team will go over the logs for Sample Lavender top to bottom and find out what happened."
"Examine Lavender in depth and determine if she's of any use, if indeed we discover how to reproduce her."