A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 12

A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 12

“I trust you won’t feel offended if I seem a little . . . anxious, Owl,” she said. “I mean, I don’t doubt your competence for a moment, but this is all new to me.”

“And to me, Your Majesty,” the computer returned, and Sharleyan snorted. Now that was a reassuring thing for her “healer” to be telling her at a moment like this!

“Owl may never have personally done this before,” Merlin put in, shooting a nasty look at a tiny glowing light Sharleyan suddenly realized probably indicated the location of Owl’s visual pickup. “But that’s because he’s basically a tactical computer. Until he ended up as my librarian, he was in charge of dealing with weapons, not health issues. The medical computer which will actually be handling the examination did this hundreds of times before the Commodore and Dr. Pei stripped it out of its transport and parked it down here, though. All Owl is going to be doing is telling it to get started.”

“I see.” Sharleyan regarded Merlin gravely, fighting a desire to smile at his obvious exasperation with the AI. “But how much practice has it had since?” she asked, putting a deliberate edge of anxiety into her own voice.

“Well, as far as pregnancies are concerned, not all that much,” Merlin admitted. Rather against his will, she thought, and gave him a look that was just as worried as she could possibly manage. “It’s fully up to the job, though,” the PICA went on reassuringly. “And it’s already got your medical records on file.”

“Really?” Sharleyan blinked. “How did that happen?” she asked, her eyes narrowing as her lively curiosity was piqued and distracted her from teasing Merlin to get even for that trick with the cliff side.

“Oh.” For a moment, Merlin looked nonplused. Then he shook himself. “Uh, well, actually,” he said, “I had to give it your full profile. I used one of the remote diagnostic units one night. When you were asleep,” he added.

“When I was asleep?” She gave him the sort of look nannies gave young children who insist they certainly don’t know anything about any missing cookies. No, Ma’am! Not them! “And just why did you do that, Seijin Merlin?” she inquired rather tartly. “Without mentioning it to me, I mean.”

“Well, at the time, the Brethren still hadn’t agreed you could be told about the Journal,” Merlin said. “That meant I couldn’t explain it to you.”

“That meant you couldn’t explain it to me then,” she pointed out implacably. “It doesn’t say a word about why you couldn’t have explained it to me since. Nor does it answer the really important question. That would be the one about why you did it at all.”

Merlin looked at her for a long moment, then shook his head. He’d known this moment was going to come, he reminded himself. And he didn’t really expect her to be too upset with him . . . .

Sure you don’t, he thought dryly. That’s why you’ve been in such a tearing rush to come clean, isn’t it, Seijin Merlin? And why the hell does Owl have to suddenly start displaying spontaneous autonomous responses right this minute? If he’d just kept his damned mouth shut, like usual . . . .

“All right,” he sighed. “The reason I gave the medicomp your records — and yours, too, Cayleb,” he added to the emperor he knew was listening in from Cherayth, “was so that it could manufacture standard nanotech for both of you.”

“‘Nanotech’?” Cayleb repeated over the com, pronouncing the word very carefully, and Merlin nodded.

“Yes. Nanotechnology consists of very, very tiny machines — so tiny you couldn’t see them with the most powerful magnifying glass any Safehold optician could possibly grind. In this case, they’re medical machines, designed to work inside the human body to keep it healthy.”

“There are machines inside us?” Sharleyan knew she sounded a bit shaken by the idea, but that was fair enough. She was shaken. And not just a little bit, if she was going to be honest about it, either.

“Yes. But they’re so tiny no one would ever realize they were there,” Merlin assured her hastily. “And they won’t hurt you — or anyone else — in any way!”

“Should I assume from what you’ve just said that you put these . . . machines inside both of us?” Cayleb asked, and there was a faint but undeniable sternness in the question.

“Yes,” Merlin said again, and squared his shoulders. “You and your father were both going off to war, Cayleb, and I needed you both.” His face hardened and his voice grew harsher, harder. “I lost your father, anyway,” he grated, unable, even now, to fully forgive himself for that, “and I don’t plan on losing you, too. Certainly not to anything I can prevent! So I injected you with the standard Federation nanotech when you were asleep. And I did the same thing to Sharleyan after she arrived in Tellesberg. And” — he shrugged again — “if this is the time for coming clean, I suppose I should admit I did it for Maikel and Domynyk and . . . a few others, too.”

“But . . . why?” Sharleyan asked.

“Because it will keep you from getting sick.”

“Sick from what?” Cayleb asked.

“From anything,” Merlin said simply.

“What?” Sharleyan blinked at him again. Surely he didn’t mean —

“From anything,” Merlin repeated. “You’ll never have cancer, or pneumonia, or even a cold again. And if you’re injured, it will help you heal more quickly. A lot more quickly, in fact. Actually, that was one reason I hesitated to inject it. If a healer happens to notice how fast one of you recovers from a cut or a broken bone, it could lead to . . . questions.”

“Wait a minute,” Cayleb said. “Just wait a minute. You mean neither of us will ever be sick again? Not ever?”

“Exactly.” Merlin sighed yet again. “I don’t have the anti-aging drugs to go with it, even if we dared to use them in the first place, but that much, at least, I could do And you were both too important to what we’re trying to accomplish for me not to do it, too.” He shook his head, and his expression was still hard, like something hammered from old iron. “I can’t keep you or Sharley from being killed in an accident, Cayleb, and we’ve already had proof enough I can’t guarantee you won’t get killed in some stupid battle. But I will be damned if I lose either of you one minute before I have to something as stupid as a frigging germ!”

Sharleyan felt her own expression soften as she recognized the raw, genuine emotion behind that response. She still wasn’t entirely certain what a “germ” was, although she thought she had a pretty good idea. But that wasn’t really the point, and she knew it. No, the point was that Merlin Athrawes was still Nimue Alban, as well, and that Nimue had lost her entire universe nine hundred years before. Just as Merlin Athrawes knew he was going to lose his entire universe — or all the people in it who mattered to him, at least — as well. She’d tried before (without, she knew, succeeding) to imagine what that must be like, how it had to feel, for someone who so obviously and deeply loved the friends he knew must all ultimately die and leave him behind. Now, as she looked into those sapphire eyes — and they were eyes, damn it, not bits of glass and metal and “technology!” — she knew that however important she and Cayleb might have been to Merlin’s great task here on Safehold, that was only a part — and not the greatest one — of his true motivation.

Silence hovered in the buried stillness of “Nimue’s Cave,” and then Sharleyan Ahrmahk reached out. She touched the PICA in which her friend lived gently on the forearm. And she smiled.

“I hope you won’t be offended if I point out that it’s just a little cool in here — even for a Chisholmian girl — to be taking off my clothes, Doctor.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Merlin assured her with an answering smile, his blue eyes softening as he recognized the deliberate change of subject. Or of emphasis, at least. He put his hand lightly over the slender one on his arm for a moment, then waved the same hand at the waiting examination chair. “Just stretch out on the couch, here. Owl will handle everything from there.”

Sharleyan looked at the elevated chair again and shrugged, and he extended that same hand once more. She took it, stepped up onto the stool beside the chair, and seated herself. The examination couch’s surface moved under her, conforming to the shape of her body, but that much she took in stride. She’d already experienced the same sensation with the recon skimmer’s flight couch, after all.

“So I just lie here? That’s all?”

“That’s all,” Merlin confirmed.

She gazed at him for perhaps another two seconds, then drew a deep breath and leaned back into the couch’s embrace.

“Just go ahead and relax,” Merlin encouraged her, and her eyebrows rose as the seijin’s voice shifted. Its deep, masculine timbre flowed higher, shifting into a throaty contralto Sharleyan had never heard before. It remained recognizably Merlin’s voice, somehow, yet the empress realized suddenly that who she was actually hearing, for the very first time, was Nimue Alban, not Merlin Athrawes.

She turned her head, looking at him, and he smiled. It was a gentle, oddly sad smile, and she cocked her head, looking a question at him.

“I haven’t gotten to be Nimue in a long time, Sharleyan,” that contralto voice said, “and it occurred to me you might be a bit more comfortable with her than with Merlin, under the circumstances. Besides, you’re here for something Nimue always wanted to experience. Children — babies. . . They weren’t something responsible people were bringing into the world when she was alive. Not when everyone knew the Gbaba were going to kill us all, anyway.”

Sharleyan reached out, laying her hand gently on Merlin/Nimue’s forearm once more as she recognized the sorrow behind that smile.

“I always knew I’d never have a child,” Nimue said quietly from behind Merlin’s face and mustachios. It was the most bizarre thing Sharleyan had ever witnessed, yet there was a strange, perfect “rightness” to it, as well.

“I knew it was something that could never happen to me. But I never realized, never imagined, I’d be standing here today, watching someone who is going to become a mother.” Nimue laughed sadly. “It’s ironic, isn’t it? I always expected to die young. Now I’m nine hundred years old, and — who knows? — I could be around for another nine hundred. And I’ll still never have a child of my own.”

“Oh, yes you will,” Sharleyan said softly. “This child is yours, Merlin . . . Nimue. This child will live, will grow up, only because of you. Cayleb and I would never have met without you. I would have died at Saint Agatha’s without you. Charis would be a burned and slaughtered ruin without you. The Group of Four would win — Langhorne would win . . . without you. The Writ says a child is more than just flesh of its parents’ flesh, and the fact that it lies about so many other things doesn’t mean it lies about everything. Whatever else happens, Cayleb and I will always remember, always know, this is a child we share with you, as well as with each other. And I swear to you, Nimue,” brown eyes looked deep into eyes of sapphire blue, seeking the centuries-dead young woman behind them, “that one day, whether Cayleb and I live to see it or not, all the world will know that, too.”

They looked at one another for several long, silent moments, and then Merlin smiled again. There was still sorrow in that smile, but there was more than that, as well, and gentleness, and the swordsman’s sinewy fingers patted the slender, female hand on his mailed forearm.

“Well, in that case, why don’t we go ahead and get this done?”

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38 Responses to A Mighty Fortress – Snippet 12

  1. John says:

    This is getting interesting!

  2. Mike says:

    Weber clearly has a “thing” for health issues and aging. Just about every book he has ever written seems to have the main characters with artificially extended lives, enhanced bodies, near-total resistance to disease, etc.

  3. Mario says:

    Whyo, why don’t we go ahead and get this done?”

  4. Paul Breed says:

    @2 artificially extended lives, enhanced bodies, near-total resistance to disease, etc
    If you could have it today can anyone here over the age of 30 say you would not choose the same?
    (Under 30 and you might still feel your immortal) David is old enough that I’m sure he can hear the clock ticking….

  5. Mike says:

    Paul, sure. I’m 43.

    But in EVERY book? It seems rather excessive.

  6. Grant says:

    It’s not excessive, it’s science fiction. It’s future technologically advanced societies, of course medical tech is impressive. And it’s not really that much of a theme.

    The Honorverse had prosthetics, regen, prolong and some genetic engineering going on etc… but they didn’t really have the super enhanced bodies and nanotech biological hardware that you see in things like the Dahak series. And here? Merlin might have the super-body going on, but Merlin isn’t human. As far as I can tell the Adams, which were representative of the average human when the Federation fell, lived along time and had the nanotech immunities but they weren’t all that physically enhanced for strength, speed, durability, etc…

    So, everyone develops *something* along the lines of giving themselves a boost… so? Expecting them not to have ANYTHING along those lines while they’re off developing hyperdrives and stuff is, frankly, ridiculous. I always find it weird when humans are running around jumping between star systems like it’s nothing but they still can barely seem to properly treat a cold…. cause you know, it’s not like any society EVER worries about medical concerns near as much as figuring out how to send ships zipping around the galaxy. That’s why the NASA budget is 50 times the size of anything spent on medical research in this country. Right?

    (FYI: NASA budget for 2009 was like 17.6 billion. Medical research blew through at least 100 billion… easy.)

  7. Sigh says:

    I’m 22 and I have to say that it sounds like a good deal to me. Can I get my eyes fixed so I don’t need glasses thrown in. Oh yeah and a cure for my Asthma.

  8. laclongquan says:

    Boyo, you are ignoring the most important thing in your argument.

    In all those Other novels not many heroes or main characters got killed by illness/diseases. That alone is enough to make a unbeliever of us readers. All those medieval settings and they didnt be brought low by viruses, bacteria, plagues, and whathaveyou, hah? We dont even mention how much mileage would be lost while they are sick.

    An advanced civilization, either in magic or in science, must base its roots on advances in health and life-science. If you have access to advanced knowledge and you fail to avail yourself with health-thingies to improve your own, all things you will get is just fool’s gold. The last hope of humanity to defend against the genocide aliens and the health nano tech doesnt even get used even when they can? please! That will sound like humanity is too idiotic to deserve saving.

    To conclude my ranting: yes, david do the right things in concentrating on health nano tech when he can. For what reasons I dont care, just that he do the right thing.

  9. John says:

    this series is by far my most favorite weber work… when are those arcs going up on ebay?

  10. Karina says:

    This was a wonderful moving scene. I liked having Nimue back for a bit and I’d wondered whether she’d had childhood friends growing up as the 1st book did say that they knew things were going badly so that her father didn’t want a kid. I’d also wondered if Merlin had told Cayleb as part of his revelations of who and what he was. I wish he’d mentioned that what he did without their permission was somewhat unethical per Federation law. I doubt it will happen, but I’d love to hear a conversation between the three where something about the Arthurian legend gets accidentally reveiled to Cayleb and Sharlyan. Being smart cookies they get courious and get Merlin / Nimue to spill the beans about their namesakes.

  11. Karina says:

    Used the wrong pronoun there – I should have said his / her namesakes.

  12. Virgil says:

    I notice he mention an anti-aging drug. But I would seem to me that nanotechnical medicine would do the same job. I mean just repair the damage that aging does to the body.
    As for Nimue/Merlin as a PICA, in RAH, Time Enough For Love the transplanted a coumputer AI into a cloned body.
    Why not Merlin when his job is done. Why not put the medical computer to work on the anti-aging drug its got to be in their database. Like the hyperdrive designs lol.

  13. Daryl says:

    @7 Sigh, I had laser sight correction, am now over 60 and have 12/12 vision (12 font not 20 thus better)so it is likely that you too could get rid of your glasses with today’s tech. I wonder if Nimue’s DNA is filed away? If so eventually a clone could have a child that was genetically the same as a kid of hers, & be an aunt, or tube it and actually be a mother. @11 I imagine that the antiaging techniques would also rewind the telemores so you wouldn’t simply be a very healthy old person.

  14. Kim S says:

    Does no one see the shadow of Shan-Wei? Just think for a moment on your own life and what role religion has played in it. You can accept the CoGA has lied, you can accept Nimue and the tools she’s given, BUT! Now place yourself in Sharleyan’s spot. Sharleyan is alone, with Nimue, in the Cave of Wonders. You are the ruler of and empire and you can truly trust very few people. Nimue injected you with tiny machines, the terror of unrestrained technology. You had no say. My best analogy is a technologic rape, forcing your will and views on others without their permission. There is a fine line between leading or guiding civilization forward and ‘I’m doing this for my best interests.’ Shan-Wei was to be insidious, pulling you in slowly then damning your soul.

    What else is Nimue willing to do against others will’s. Why not just assassinate the Council of Four by nanotechnology? What are Nimue’s ethics? I thought I knew.

    I can still understand the exigencies of giving the nanotechnology to Caleb and his fater before the war though.

  15. Peter Z says:

    @14 Really good points. In the end I bet each of the characters recognize that Merlin stepped over the line, at least that’s how I read it. That said both Cayleb and Sharleyan would probably have accepted the nanites when given that option. The key to their acceptence in this snippet was that Merlin made his mistake for some very human reasons. Those human driven errors are why Cayleb, Staynair and Sharley can see and trust his/her humanity behind the viel of cultural taboos. Merlin may for all intents and purposes be a demon in body, but what drives that body is as human anyone on safehold shaped by human experience, strengths and weaknesses.

    As for your excellent points on how this smacks of devil(Shan Wei) worship, think about the cost of what Langhorne decided for all humanity without their say. He threw all this away, the health, longevity, productivity all of it. That has a cost to the lives of humans alive on Safehold. What better way to illustrate that cost than to show an expectant mother what was with held from generations of children? A life free from siickness and early childhood death. What moral argument can be made for the morality of restricting technology that can do what these nanites can? Where does this take away from one’s relationship with God? Is an omnipotent God so jealous that He requires men live their live little better than beasts of burden as a suitible form of worship? Is such a god worth worshiping?

    These arguments will be made either in the story or behind the scenes and alluded to. Unless these questions are addressed no one will leave the CoGA and our story becomes one describing how advances in technology can subjugate 8 out of 10 people worldwide in semi-industrial societies.

  16. Tabasco says:

    @ 15

    Thank you, that is exactly the argument I would’ve made, even if you did it a lot better that I ever would.

    Also, I think that anyone who’s been whining lately about wanting more scifi in their Safehold can go home happy.

  17. Douglas says:

    @8: While I agree that Weber was right to have advanced medical sciences portrayed in so many of his series, I must disagree that any advanced civilization has to “have its roots” in them. Most of his civilizations portrayed have (in my opinion) their roots in more physical sciences. In addition, modern Western civilization has its roots (again, in my opinion) in transportation – mostly of goods to the place where they’re sold (the market) and again to the place where they’re used.

  18. Michael says:

    Starting late in snippeting does have some nice perks. These are really meaty snippets.

  19. David H says:

    I believe Merlin has anti-aging drugs in cold storage
    but does not trust them because they are so old. I do wonder if OWL could not make more in the med-bay,even if they could not use them, because it would be hard to explain someone 120 looking 20 something.

  20. Bill says:

    Hi, It seems like this visit to the cave is for a routine checkup and not for anything very critical at all. I wonder if the familarity with the cave could be setting the background so that we can have an seriously dammaged PICA taken to the cave with the help of Owl and repaired? Canon ball taking Merlin’s head off etc?

  21. Michael says:

    I don’t see how anti-gerone drugs could be at all useful in the current story arc without confirming to the world at large that the recipients literally made a Deal with the Devil.

  22. Peter Z says:

    Anti-gerone drugs will only serve useful as a plot device to keep the same characters around through a larger portion of Safehold’s march towards the Gbaba. I suspect that David hasn’t decided if he will write about Cayleb et al or an entire new crew. When he decides which way to go for stories 5-10, Merlin will discover whether the drugs can be salvaged or not.

  23. robert says:

    @14, 15, etc. Clearly Sharly is being mischievous.

  24. Grant says:

    @16: Dude, a body scan and talking about a nanite injection isn’t exactly burying us up to our necks in cool future tech revelations to the Safeholdians. It’s a nice start, but if this kind of thing is the full extent of what we get to see before they leave the cave considering all the potential for what we COULD be getting treated to during this visit, then I’m finishing this section of the book extremely dissapointed.

  25. robert says:

    An aside. The eARC of Mission of Honor is out on the Webscriptions site. If you still plan on waiting for the book’s official release, sans typos, stay away from the Honorverse forums on DW’s own site and on the Bar. There are unlabeled snerks galore on those forums, the damn pigs!

  26. RobertHuntingdon says:


    Bill, there was textev in an earlier book (I think it was OAR) that so long as Merlin’s power system (and presumably central OS & memory storage, assuming they aren’t one and the same) wasn’t destroyed, and that a mere cannonball wouldn’t even dent the armor around that portion of his body, he had nanites that could essentially rebuild him from scratch given sufficient time. So I don’t think that theory will work out.


    I’ll certainly take some health-improving nanites too. And while it’s certainly unethical, I forgive him too. I’m not sure how I’d react in their shoes, but I’d sure hope that I’d accept it as they did.


  27. RobertHuntingdon says:


    Wow that’s weird. No snippets at all (here at least) and the eARC is already out? Not that I’m complaining at all, mind you, but still, that’s unusual.


  28. Drak Bibliophile says:

    RobertHuntingdon, David Weber had said that he wants to start the snippets in March.

    With the early release of the EARC, he may decide to start earlier.

    I’m preparing the snippets (from the EARC) but am also waiting for the word from DW.

  29. robert says:

    @27 The eARC annoucement includes 9 “sample chapters” of which 2 are just a quote from one or another character. So do I spend $15 for the ARC or $17.82 for the hardcover? I’ll wait for the paper version. But I must tell you that reading the sample chapters makes that very hard to do. Chapter 9 in particular is riveting.
    But, Robert, considering how much qvetching was going on all over the web about having to wait yada, yada, it isn’t so surprising that the ARC is out now. Especially with all the ebook angst and uncertainty that the iPad has raised.

    @28 Drak, when you start snippeting please consider starting with Chapter…never mind.

  30. Virgil says:

    There is something you need to keep in mind, on the very micro level physic and biology become very close to the same thing. Is a virus truly biological or is is a chemical/mechanicl organizm. What is the difference between a retrovirus and nanotechnology.
    this is like 1100 years in the future. I am not sure off hand how far before the human race almsot became extinct. I dont know how far they are from earth now now the rate of expansion that the aliens are doing.
    so how soon will they find safehold.
    Were the founder insanes? with there desire to suppress technology.

  31. cedarcreekreader says:

    Followup tangent: yes, the eARC for “Mission of Honor” fell out of the sky yesterday and, 25% into the book, Baen and David Weber clearly are back on their “A-game”; big plot pieces in play and they definitely move. My favorites had been “In Enemy Hands” and “Echoes of Honor”; “Mission”, so far, reaches the same “peak performance”.

  32. Peter Z says:

    @23 Was that sarcasm, Robert? I did not read any mischief in her reaction to the news of Merlin’s having injected her with nanites.

    @24 Grant, we don’t have many neat futuristic gizmos operating in the story right now. I think DW is setting up how tech development will take another fork than it did on Earth. Recall that he is a historian at heart. So, he is using that love of history to show major inflexion points in history that define the major forks societies encounter. There are many elements involved and he is trying to be as thourough as he can and still tell a good story. Some of his fans, like me, appreciate this immensely. Sometime I think that I suffer through the SciFi to get to the story elements, especially the Safehold stories.

  33. justdave says:

    IIRC MWW said there would be ~3 books per generation of the Ahrmahks so I doubt the anti-gerones will factor in

    BTW don’t hold your breath for eARCs, remember this is a Tor book not Baen

  34. robert says:

    @32 Peter, I quote
    ““I see.” Sharleyan regarded Merlin gravely, fighting a desire to smile at his obvious exasperation with the AI. “But how much practice has it had since?” she asked, putting a deliberate edge of anxiety into her own voice.”

    A deliberate edge? She is definitely tweaking Merlin.

    Your response to Grant has a lot of merit–I agree.

    @33 Yes, justdave, but sometimes an eBay auction of a Weber ARC (Advanced Readers Copy?) happens and someone with more money &/or less patience than the rest of us gets the ARC.

  35. Grant says:

    @Peter Z: I have no issue at all with most of the story being largely devoid of overt appearances of future tech, there’s perfectly good reason for it and it works. But this is the ONE point “in the story right now” when we should be getting treated to some “Oooh, ahhh” factor.

    They’re IN Merlin’s super secret cache of wonders from the past… a place none of the major Safeholdian characters have ever visited before or will have opportunity to do much visiting of in the future if circumstances remain remotely consistent. Sharleyan just spent an hour surrounded by marvels of technology beyond anything anyone on her world has ever seen or probably even dreamed of… and the sum total description we received of the entire process was “*******”

    Now, we’re getting a little more satisfying experience with the Med bay, but come on, that’s just not right. Imagine reading, say, “National Treasure” the book (Don’t look at me that way, just pretend you would be doing that)

    We spend the entire story knowing there’s supposed to be this amazing, mind boggling treasure cache stashed away in this secret location. Finally the moment comes…

    “They locate the secret entrance to the treasure room, and the door swings open. They step through into the cavernous space beyond. “Oh wow… you’re not going to belive this!”


    “An hour later they all file out of the treasure room, loaded down with valuable trinkets,awestruck at belive the incredible sights they had just witnessed.”

    I’d want to punch somebody.

    Now I know that the contents of the cave aren’t actually the entire point of this book that way the treasure cave is in that other story, but it does happen to contain extensive examples of pretty much everything Merlin is trying to return to humanity so it’s pretty damn close. And we’ve been waiting for someone from Safehold to get into THIS secret treasure filled cave for THREE BOOKS. Spend a couple paragraghs on some descriptive passages when one of them finally gets in there and spends an entire hour being given the grand tour and let us know what they’re seeing and thinking anfd feeling!

  36. Cave:

    She sees a large number of stationary odd-shaped slightly dusty boxes, none of which are even vaguely recognizeable.

  37. John says:

    If Merlin gave Rockpoint the nanites as he said, I do hope they don’t regrowing his leg, that would be kind of awkward to explain

  38. Rekes says:

    Wonder if there will be some age-projection from the genetic data on the baby.

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