"Thank God there are only four like her."
"Shes our fault," he said, and paused to reach down and massage his calf.
"Maybe, but Mother Natures still a bitch," Freedman said, watching him with her hands on her hips.
A small airlock at the end of the concrete corridor cycled them through to the main floor. They were now fifty feet below ground. A guard in a crisp green uniform inspected their passes and permission papers and compared them with the duty and guest roster at her workstation.
"Please identify," she told them. Both placed their eyes in front of scanners projecting from the counter and simultaneously pressed their thumbs onto sensitive plates. A female orderly in hospital greens escorted them to the cleanup area.
Mrs. Rhine was housed in one of ten underground residences, four of them currently occupied. The residences formed the center of what was reputed to be the most redundantly secure research facility on Earth. Though Dicken and Freedman would never come any closer than seeing her through a four-inch-thick acrylic window, they would have to go through a whole-body scrub before and after the interview. Before entering the viewing area and staging lab, called the inner station, they would put on special hooded undergarments impregnated with slow-release antivirals, zip up in plastic isolation suits, and attach themselves to positive pressure umbilical hoses.
Mrs. Rhine and her companions at the center never saw real human beings unless they were dressed to resemble Macys parade balloons.
On leaving, they would stand under a shower and soak their plastic suits with disinfectants, then strip down and shower again, scrubbing every orifice. The suits would be soaked overnight, and the undergarments would be incinerated.
The four women interned at the facility ate well and exercised regularly. Their quarterseach roughly the size of a two-bedroom apartmentwere maintained by automated servants. They had their hobbiesMrs. Rhine was a great one for hobbiesand access to a wide selection of books, magazines, TV shows, and movies.
Of course, the women were becoming more and more eccentric.
"Any tumors?" Dicken asked.
"Official question?" Freedman asked.
"Personal," Dicken said.
Excerpted from Darwin's Children by Greg Bear. Copyright© 2003 by Greg Bear. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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