...this is a story i wrote last year, and since then some of the pop-culture referances have grown a little too dated for me to send it out to magazines, so i thought i'd post it up here! it's longer than what i normally post, but i'm pretty pleased with it, so i hope it manages to hold your attention in spite of it's length. Enjoy!
My pod opened up, released me naked and covered from head to food in some sort of sticky, viscous liquid, into a well lit, white room. Not used to having to stand under my own power, I fell immediately to my hands and knees, dripping and gasping for breath, disoriented by the lights and sounds around me.
To either side of me another pod opened, releasing people in a similar state, but I paid them no attention, too focused on my own sudden, surprising situation to take much stock of anything else. Around me, the room exploded into action, men and women in white coats bustling to and fro, yelling instructions to one another that, while I understood the individual words, meant nothing to me. Something about cloning pod optimization and biometric stability. Someone said something about this being the most successful season ever, and I wondered off-handedly what it all meant.
As my eyed grew accustomed to the light, I took stock of what was happening around me. I appeared to be in a sterile, white laboratory setting, with a bank of computers along one wall where the white coated people rapidly typed instructions and shouted readings back and forth to one another. Along the other wall, behind me, were 32 identical pods, green-grey and cracked open down the middle, a mass of wires spurting from the tops, intertwining, and snaking across the ceiling to connect back to the computers. In front of each pod was a soaking, struggling naked person just like me. I had no idea what any of us were doing here or, for that matter, who I even was, or how I knew what a “computer” or a “laboratory setting” was, or how I understood the language these strange people were speaking. Before I was released from the pod, I realized, I had no personal memories of any kind.
Eventually one of the women in white coats came over and helped me to my feet. She was pretty, in an unassuming way, carrying a few extra pounds from spending all day in the lab but still cutting an acceptably attractive figure under her lab coat, with long, auburn hair swept back in a loose pony tail. Behind the glasses she wore, her eyes sparkled with intelligence and a fascination with me she didn‘t bother trying to hide. She handed me a robe and escorted me to a room where I could wash the coating of slime that covered me off and dress myself. As I washed myself in that communal shower she explained to me that I was part of a project to grow fully formed, broadly educated, working models of a human being. I was, with my brothers and sisters from the 31 other pods, part of the most successful batch they had to date managed to create. The previous batch, she said, had been profoundly flawed, malformed and grotesque, barely able to sustain themselves outside their pods, and they’d been put to death shortly after the birthing process, their bodies destroyed in a gigantic incinerator the project keeps in the basement of the facility. But we, luckily, were perfectly suited to the project’s needs. We were anatomically complete, biologically twenty-two years old, with the intelligence of a bright high school graduate.
There were of course flaws in our biology, she explained, it was unavoidable do to the way we were grown, but they were, from the point of view of the project, comparatively minor. One trouble was that our lifespan would be dramatically reduced. Each of us would, she told me, had only eighteen months to live, and then our bodies would degrade and decompose, burning themselves out in a matter of hours. But this was an unimportant matter, since within the next eighteen months the task we’d been grown to fulfill could be achieved with time to spare, and if we were needed after that another batch of us could be grown easily enough.
One would think this knowledge would disturb me. The fact was that I only had eighteen months with which to experience life, to see the world and all it’s wonders, simply to be. It seemed the sort of thing that’d bother me greatly. And, more fundamentally, I should have been bothered by the revelation that I wasn’t a person, the way the word person is normally considered. I’d been grown in a pod for a specific purpose over which I had no knowledge or input. I was a simulacra, to be used and then, when my shortened lifespan was over, discarded. And although the woman in the lab coat didn’t say so, I suspected that when my time was up I’d wind up in the same incinerator as that earlier, flawed batch of clones. Though I knew academically that this should disturb me, indeed fill me with a deep, religious sense of existential terror, it did not. I accepted all of what she told me as calmly as I’d accepted the bathrobe from her, as if it were all perfectly natural. I asked her about my reaction and she told me that this was part of the process by which I’d been grown, a genetic predisposition toward docility. I would accept my fate and do as the project required of me with a sense of unflappable calm, and when my end came in eighteen months I’d accept that too. This reassured me. It meant I was functioning properly.
Finishing my shower and towelling myself off, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror centrally located in the change area. Slim but muscular, of average height, pecs and abs perfectly sculpted, chest hairless. My tan was deep, even and golden bronze, my hair thick and full and jet black. I smiled at the reflection and saw that my teeth were a gleaming white, perfectly spaced and even. I was beautiful, a picture of what a woman would want from a male physique. I accepted this too as a natural part of my new existence. Beautiful, perfect, young and only on this earth a year and a half.
As I finished cleaning up, the woman handed me a white suit, black shirt and black shoes. As I put them on, my thirty one brothers and sisters started filtering into the changing area, each accompanied by a man or woman in a lab coat. They dried themselves, asking the occasional question of their escort, the men lean and toned, the women high-breasted and slim, all with identical tans and similarly perfect smiles, smiles I knew looked just like mine. We looked different enough from one another that someone could easily tell us apart but, I supposed as a side effect of the growing process, we looked alike enough that we clearly were birthed from the same source. I smiled at a young man changing next to me, and he smiled back, looking charming but somehow empty, as if something fundamental was missing from him, like there was from me.
I finished dressing and was ushered out of the room and into a larger, more comfortable waiting area, white suit tailored to fit me perfectly and casually, or perhaps I tailored to fit it. I sat, perfectly relaxed, on a couch along one wall, and waited as my siblings joined me one by one, gradually filling up the room, all thick hair and white teeth and simulated youth and energy. Finally the last of the stragglers, a woman with bright red hair falling in curls down her perfectly formed back and breasts that forever looked like they might “accidentally” pop loose from the top of her raven-black gown but never quite doing so, joined us and took her seat. A short, middle-aged, heavyset man with a receding hairline in an expensively tailored suit entered the room and stood behind a podium, staring out at us, inspecting us. We all sat expectantly, trying to hide our shared sense of anticipation, not knowing exactly what it was he was about to say but knowing that it would finally shed light on the purpose of the project we were the product of, and by extension our own purpose. We knew that whatever it was he asked of us we would execute his orders faithfully, enthusiastically, and without question. The idea of not obeying him would never enter any of our minds, nor could it. We had to obey, we had no choice in the matter, it’s what we’d been designed to do.
It was our destiny.
Once the man had seen whatever it was he was looking for in us, he tapped twice on a microphone and explained, quickly and curtly, what it was that we would be expected to do. He explained that not all of us would see the task we were assigned through to completion, that between the thirty two of us, only one would succeed, bringing glory to the project and the men and women who’d worked so hard to bring us into this world. The one of us who succeeded would be taken care of all the days of his or her short life, given anything their heart could desire, though with our genetic obedience I didn’t imagine any of us were capable of desiring much. For those of us who failed the reward would be a quick trip downstairs to the incinerator, and while I felt a twinge of fear at this prospect, I didn’t in any way imagine it unfair. They had created me, and this gave them the right to destroy me at their discretion. I hoped, however, that this fear would give me the extra motivation I needed to succeed, that, out of all of us, it would be me and only me who won the favour of my creators, and doing so my continued existence. I realized a moment later that everyone else in the room very likely felt the same way.
We drank up the words the man spoke like we were dying of thirst, each syllable giving us strength and purpose, allowing us to understand what it was we’d be spending our brief lives doing. The people who’d created us were correct, there was nothing we were being asked to do that was beyond our capabilities, and eighteen months was more than enough time to accomplish every goal that we‘d been set. We weren’t just willing to perform our assigned tasks, we were excited! This was purpose, to compete against one another, to excel, to succeed, to make our creators proud, to bring them glory! We were not only willing and able, our hearts were glad to start! And the short, heavy man saw this in us too, and smiled.
When he was done he left the room without taking questions, he knew there would be none, and we were left alone in the room to wait. One by one we were ushered out of a room by a man in a black shirt wearing a headset he used to communicate with someone far away, someone I did not know, someone I would likely never meet. Those of us left waited, sipping bottled water that’d been thoughtfully provided, eyeing one another warily, not speaking. These thirty one people, once my brothers and sisters, were now my bitter rivals. Only one of us would succeed in our task, and I needed it to be me. It had to be.
And besides, we’d only existed a scant few hours and during that time we’d had exactly the same experiences. What was there to talk about?
When my time came the man in the black shirt put his hand on my shoulder, gave me a name, Michael, and led me down a long, empty hallway. I rolled the name around on my tongue, Michael, and liked the way it tasted. It was a good name, and a name was the sort of thing it seemed like I’d need sooner or later, and I was glad to have it. The hallway came to an end and I was ushered into a larger room than any I’d ever been in before, filled with more people than I’d known existed, hundreds of them, sitting along the periphery of the spacious room behind an artificial barrier, all staring in, at me. Lights shone directly in my eyes, momentarily blinding me, reminding me for a brief moment of my first seconds of life, as that pod opened and I was released blind and naked and slimy and confused into the world. It was only hours ago, but it felt like a lifetime. And it was. When my eyes adjusted I was introduced to a funny woman who called herself Ellen, a cruel man who called himself Simon, a jovial but forgettable man who called himself Randy and a man who looked a little like me called Ryan.
And then I sang.