MARCH 3, 2054
THEIR TREADS TUCKED tight to their bodies, their wings outspread, they headed north in tight formation. From above, the sun glimmered off their metallic flanks, sending their coalesced shadows adrift over the ridges and combs of the open desert. Below lay only silence—that primordial silence that lives on in the wake of all that is lost, of all that is squandered.
At their approach, the silence was broken. Every grain of sand hummed in tune with the roar of air through their ducted fans. Tiny creatures, wrested from their heated slumbers, stirred from their hiding places to sense their coming.
Then, pausing in their trajectory to map ever-larger arcs, the Mothers fanned apart, each following her own path. Rho-Z maintained altitude, checked her flight computer, homed toward her preset destination. Deep in her belly she bore a precious payload—the seed of a new generation.
Alone, she set down in the shade of an overhanging crag, sheltered from the wind. There she waited, for the viscous thrum of a heartbeat. She waited, for the tremble of a small arm, the twitch of a tiny leg. She faithfully recorded the signs of vitality, waiting for the moment when her next mission would begin.
Until, at last, it was time:
Fetal Weight 2.4 kg.
Respiration Rate 47:::Pulse Ox 99%:::BP Systolic 60 Diastolic 37:::Temperature 36.8C.
WOMB DRAINAGE: Initiate 03:50:13. Complete 04:00:13.
FEED TUBE DISCONNECT: Initiate 04:01:33. Complete 04:01:48.
Respiration Rate 39:::Pulse Ox 89%:::BP Systolic 43 Diastolic 25. RESUSCITATION: Initiate 04:03:12. Complete 04:03:42.
Respiration Rate 63:::Pulse Ox 97%:::BP Systolic 75 Diastolic 43.
TRANSFER: Initiate 04:04:01.
The newborn nestled into the dense, fibrous interior of her cocoon.
He squirmed, his arms flailing. As his lips found her soft nipple, nutrient-rich liquid filled his mouth. His body relaxed, cradled now by warm elastic fingers. His eyes opened to a soft blue light, the blurred outline of a human face.
DECEMBER 20, 2049
URGENT CONFIDENTIAL. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
Request your presence at a conference to be held at CIA Headquarters, Langley, VA.
December 20, 2049, 1100 hours.
Transportation will be provided. Please respond ASAP.
—General Jos. Blankenship, U.S. Army