The Incubator

Shannon Wardell
The Incubator
Jay was screaming at me -
“How could you do that?! I told you specifically not to touch Anything. You know how nervous and worried Lena and Dr. Chris are. They will explode when I tell them that the incubator lid doesn’t close anymore. And why not – because you f***ing broke it. Why did you do this? They trusted me, and now I have to tell my best friend and her partner that their babies, Jodie and Julie, are now in danger. Why could you not simply obey my clear wish? There are complicated temperature-regulating mechanisms that I don’t even understand that are super important for Jodie and Julie to survive the parasite that they are afflicted with – I’m just following Dr. Chris’ instructions while they are out of town for the weekend. I don’t know how to fix it, and you know less than I do about this incubator. I told you not to touch anything. How can I trust you ever again? You crossed over a line that you never had any right to even approach. No, do not even think about trying to fix it or touching anything again, including me. Get away: You are a monster.”
My brain was trying to process all of this information while Jay frantically tried to contact Lena. Yes, I had touched the lifting lever apparatus that regulated the incubator lid, to which was mounted an array of sensors, wiring and timers. There were several hinges with resistance springs, beneath which protruded a 25 cm long black cylinder about 1 cm in diameter with a metallic surface and a metal plunger coming out of one end that appeared to control how far the incubator lid was open.
While Jay had been cleansing the two lower basins, I had noticed that the facing plate where the metal lever apparatus was mounted to the front plastic wall of the incubator was bent, as though by force. At the time it seemed fully innocuous and not even worthwhile mentioning. Curious, I had carefully examined the mounting plate and the lever. I had not noticed in any way that I had altered any setting at all, yet now the incubator lid no longer fully closed, which it had done less than five minutes ago. Indisputably, a 4 cm opening between lid and wall was now clearly visible, one resulting directly from the position of the very lever that Jay had indeed told me not to touch.
The temperature had not changed dramatically over the past half-hour, let alone five minutes. The digital thermometer on the wall read 20.8° C, which was acceptable for right now. But come evening the temperature would cool well below tolerance levels and the lives of babies Jodie and Julie would be in danger. I felt miserable, mumbling apologies while my mind launched into high gear trying to discern what had happened and how this precarious situation could be remedied.
Lena and Dr. Chris did not answer, no doubt immersed in research. Unable to figure out answers, my mind flagellated itself: why had I inspected that mechanism without first pointing it out to Jay? My curiosity had – once again – compelled me to touch forbidden fruit: why? Was my curiosity to blame, or rather a simple inability to follow instructions? I can follow a direct order from whomever is in charge, but I do want to know the reason behind the order. I admit that this trait makes me a problematic soldier. It also makes me harder to mislead, which has saved my skin a few times when the person giving me orders happened to be lying to me (power can corrupt, imagine that!), but now it wasn’t my skin on the line, rather two innocent babies. And time was running out.
Jay was convinced that I had broken or readjusted something. The evidence clearly demonstrated that something was not right; I was guilty even though my actions could not be shown to have caused the non-closing incubator lid. Yet I had crossed a line, had transgressed a boundary of autonomy.
If someone states, “No Trespassing,” it does not mean “No Trespassing – Unless You Want To,” right? That I had noticed something apparently not in order – so what? If my neighbor has a “No Trespassing” sign on his fence, but I see his roof in flames: should I remain at the fence, yell a warning and if his family burns up say simply that it was his own fault? Or should I break his order and possibly save someone’s life?
Turn the situation around: if my house was burning and I had to choose between breaking his order or dying, can I really be blamed for saving my life? When do clearly expressed orders cease to have moral or ethical compulsion? Obviously, my mind was trying to justify my earlier transgression. Yet history is riddled with countless incidents of people following blindly orders that run counter to moral and ethical values.
Why was I thinking at all about such abstract ideas when what really mattered most was what would happen to those babies when the sun went down? This obsessive over-analysis of my own culpability of course came from my own helplessness to do anything helpful.
Right then (and not before!), a glimmer of hope glanced into my head. Jay and I were on our way back to the incubator after making our rounds, she still furious and ignoring me completely. How beautiful Jodie and Julie had looked earlier that morning as we had first lifted the lid, the sun bathing the interior with a golden amber hue. Jay and I had not noticed any temperature change, but now I suspected that the sunlight had indeed been strong enough to trigger the temperature regulator inside the incubator. We would soon find out as the dusky sky had begun to cool.
Hustling around the last corner, we both gasped – with relief, for the regulator had already fully closed the incubator lid; further examination ensured that everything was in perfect condition, with Jodie and Julie innocently oblivious to our worries. Jay called Lena again, this time reaching them to assuage their frantic worries.
Later that night, with Jay asleep in my arms, I recalled that particular bittersweet sensation earlier at dusk upon realizing that everything was ok, that our screaming drama had all been based on an imaginary figment of fear and desperation. Nevertheless, at the very same time I had indeed transgressed a direct order, had intentionally stepped over a border that I had been expressly forbidden to cross. Would I have obeyed Jay’s order if Jodie and Julie had not been the two cutest baby turtles I had ever seen?
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