The receptionist wore a monocle and Peggy-Sue, who was nervous enough when she came in, was visibly trembling as she went to sit down. Toby put his arm on her shoulders to reassure her, his hand looking like a paw in the subdued lighting of the waiting room with the thick, dark hair casting shadows that make it seem denser than ever. He pulled a chair next to hers, dragging it across the Italian-tiled floor with a dull screech that got a reproving look from the receptionist. He ignored it, and got the chair there anyway, and tried to comfort her.
"She's judging us," whispered Peggy-Sue, turning her head so she could hide her face against his shoulder. The thick muscles there shifted slightly to let her nestle in. "They're never going to let us do this."
"We've got their money," said Toby quietly, but he wasn't sure either and she could hear in it his voice. He might be able to order the ranch-hands around with the assurity that came from knowing he could wrestle any two of them to the ground and pin them, but here it was a different world. A more sterile world, where people in white coats with letters after their name looked at you over steel-framed glasses and judged you.
Something pinged quietly on the receptionist's desk and she consulted a screen in front of her.
"You may go in now," she said, her voice barely audible even in the silence. "Go through the door on the left and you're in room 103."
Toby nodded and he and Peggy-Sue stood up. "Better than room 101, hey?" she said, laughing nervously.
"Is it?" he said, and she realised that he didn't know the reference.
"Yes babe," she said. "Yes, it definitely is."
Room 103 was panelled in a soft-brown wood that Peggy-Sue didn't recognise but had a warm glow under the ceiling spotlights. A large, leather swivel-chair was on one side of an empty desk, and there were slightly smaller but still leather-upholstered chairs on the other side. Away from the desk was a low glass coffee-table and a small couch. They sat on the couch, their knees pressing against each other, wondering who they would be meeting.
"Good afternoon!" said a breezy voice as the door opened and a grandmotherly woman came in. She had large pink glasses on that extended out from the side of her head; they must have made it look like the whole world was just a laboratory cage to her that she was peering in. She had a knitted shawl around her shoulders, a plaid skirt and sensible shoes and not a white coat in sight. In one hand she had a slim brochure. "Oh, you're sitting over there! Let me just...."
She grabbed one of the leather visitor's chairs and started to drag it over to the table, so Toby jumped right up to help her. The chair moved easily with both of them pulling it, and then she was sat around the coffee table with them. She set the brochure down on the table.
"I've read the brochure," said Peggy-Sue. She pronounced it "Brooch-er". "I know – that is, we know what we want."
"And that is?" The woman's eyes were twinkling.
"The model 812," said Peggy-Sue.
"Now that's unusual," said the woman. She leant back in her chair, the leather squeaking and flubbering beneath her. She grinned. "It sounds so rude," she said. "I just love it. Anyway, that's an unusual choice, almost everyone in here asks for the Supermodel, 104. Pretty much 90% of people come in wanting that."
"Not much point going for beauty," said Toby. He sounded slightly hesitant. "I mean, you're working with our genes, right? Not putting other people's in?" There was a note of pleading in there now.
"Absolutely," said the woman. "But you shouldn't think that because you don't think you're supermodels that you haven't got that genetic potential. There's beauty in all of us, but we express it in different ways."
"Well, she'll be growing up on a ranch," said Peggy-Sue. "Beauty ain't a great thing there, better to be homely and strong enough to make No mean No."
Peggy-Sue and Toby looked at each other, and then back at the woman.
"So... can we have it?" asked Peggy-Sue. Her eyes were wide, and her mouth had fallen very slightly open.
"I have a couple more questions," said the woman. "But yes, if you can afford it then you can have it. We only ask these questions to try and help you be sure that you're making the right decision. It's not like you can return the baby after it's born and ask for a refund."
Nervous laughter from everyone.
"So, why model 812 though? Even allowing for what you've said, that's the strongest model we offer."
Toby looked at Peggy-Sue and their hands found each other. They clutched for a moment, and then Peggy-Sue nodded.
"Well," said Toby quietly, "and I hope this is covered by the patient-client confidentiality clause...?" The woman nodded. "There are concerns that we work with that are part of the space exploration program."
He left the words hanging. The woman picked the brochure up and flicked through the pages until she came to model 812. Her eyes scanned down the details again, and she slowly smiled.
"That's definitely forward planning," she said. "And I'm glad you told me. There are a couple of additions we could make that might suit you."
"You mean...?" said Peggy-Sue, barely able to get the words out.
"Yes," said the woman. "The Babybank will be accepting your application."