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Thread: Fiction: Following Orders

  1. #1
    The Queen Zuul's avatar
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    Default Fiction: Following Orders

    January 12th, 2139 CE

    "What are those doing in my lab?"

    Dr. Theresa Barnes stood frozen to the spot in the doorway of the psy-lab. The door began to beep steadily, warning that it had been left open. Due to safety protocols it couldn't close with someone standing in the way, so it would just go on bleating like an electronic lamb crying for its mother.

    There had been half a dozen kennels in the lab when she had left on Friday night. In each kennel had been a German Shepherd puppy of exactly four months, three weeks of age. Technicians would come to care for them on the weekend, but all of their exercise and social interaction was to be kept in the lab.

    The kennels, puppies, their toys and all the other animal related equipment were gone. Liquid filled pods replaced them. In front of the pods stood a man. He was a trim and fit six feet even, yet his narrow features and a way he had of thrusting his head forward on his neck gave the impression of a weasel about to pounce. Dave Fischer, she remembered vaguely. Assistant Director of Research and Development, without any scientific training whatsoever. A suit of the worst kind.
    "You've been given a new assignment. The dogs were moved to the emp-lab," he said.

    "Goddamnit. What the fuck is an empath supposed to do with a war dog?" Theresa snapped. "They need to follow orders, not feelings."

    Dave flinched slightly at her tone. She had to remind herself that he was much further up the totem poll than she was. Whatever had happened for them to remove the genetically augmented dogs from her lab, swearing at the AD wasn't going to help.

    "This is coming from Lombardo himself. He wanted your lab focused on this project without any distractions."

    She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, trying to visualize her rage streaming out of her and dissipating into the room like smoke. The fact that Dr. Lombardo wanted her doing some other project meant that there'd be little arguing with it.

    "I do telepathic training, not the rent-a-wombs," she explained, trying to keep her voice very even and calm.

    "Those aren't wombs."

    Theresa narrowed her eyes at Dave, wondering if the man was an idiot or if there was something more to it. Stepping forward, she let the door shut behind her, the beeping ceasing at last. She crossed the room and looked over the five clear pods arranged in a half-circle. Forty years had passed since the artificial wombs had come into common use and the world was nearly unrecognizable as a result. Hormones and nutrients would be controlled from the moment a zygote implanted in it, being kept at the perfect levels. There was little risk or fear associated with pregnancy when it was all pristine and under perfectly controlled conditions.

    The fact that Theresa was genetically engineered yet had been born by a woman was a point of pride for her, something that was becoming rarer every year. The ebb and tide of hormones, the influence of a mother's choice in foods, all had left their faint mark on her. Those born from the artificial wombs were the fleshy version of factory made. Healthy, yet bland.

    As she came closer, she saw that the fetuses floating in the fluid lacked umbilical cords. There were electrodes and tubes clustered on their little bodies, but their bellies only had navels. Healed navels. Looking closer at their faces behind the tubes, she felt her stomach twist in disgust. They weren't fetuses at all.

    Spinning on her heel, she faced Dave, who remained calmly standing in front of the pods as he had since she'd arrived. "Why are there babies in those pods?"

    He got a tiny little smile on this face. It made his nose crinkle in a way that might have been cute on a child, but on a grown man it just made her want to slug him. "You're the telepath. You tell me."

    "Okay." Reaching out to him, she grasped his hand and pushed her way into his mind to start searching. He inhaled sharply and swayed back on his feet and her hand reflexively tightened on his.

    Snippets of thought stumbled into her mind like staggering drunks. As always, it took effort to translate them from an unfamiliar mind. Oddly, the first thing she got from his mind was Devlinari vs. the United States. The court case that had decided a corporate entity could be the custodial parent of a child. It was the result of a thousand little technological innovations and court cases and the steadily lowering numbers of workers. Corporations owned wombs, could patent human DNA, and had the desire to see the birth rate stay up. If people went back to breeding without every zygote custom made, birth defects and lowered life expectancy and signs of aging before the age of fifty could be expected. Worse, without mandatory sterilization and parenting licenses the wrong sort of people might start having children. It had simply been the sanest of choices, given society's priorities.

    Theresa released him, her lips pursed into a frown. "Legal guardians can't do this to their wards."

    Dave took a moment to adjust his tie as that perverse little smile snuck back onto his face. For a moment there was silence in the lab except for the hums and hisses coming from the pods.

    "That's assuming the wards count as fully human," he said. "Look, Dr. Barnes, I assure you the lawyers have been all over this. This is the second iteration of the biomechanical android project. They may look human, but it's been determined they fail certain key areas of sapience testing. There's little difference between this and the institutionalization of the mentally disabled during the twentieth century."

    So many angry counterarguments came to mind she didn't know where to start. The first experiments with the Mechs had simply involved treating them like normal children, raised by families. They had some differences and were specifically designed for taking on certain jobs, but they'd been treated like humans.

    Of course, she remembered what happened after that. The entire first batch of them had ended up nonfunctional by the time they were three. What had begun as an augment for technological interfacing had left them too prone to sensory overload. They'd scream if they were touched, be driven to fits over seeing certain colors, and slip into catatonic states for no apparent reason. It had been a spectacular failure and no one in his right mind would have tried it a second time.

    "The pods are for protecting against the sensory overload?" she checked. Dave nodded. "They're pretty useless if they stay in there forever."

    "And so for the next three years you and your telepaths are going to mentally train them. They'll have no choice but to accept the data you give them, which Dr. Lombardo believes will help them integrate sensations since they can't retreat from telepathy. It's all outlined in a file he mailed you this morning."

    As Dave started for the door, Theresa glanced back at the pods again, frowning. They cast a faint greenish light on the lab as the children floated in the fluid. One of them was twitching rhythmically, as if in response to some dream. She wondered what a baby could dream of if it had never been held. But then again, maybe they were better off never being held, never knowing what they were missing.

    "That's it? We're just doing sensory integration and subliminal education?" she asked as she glanced at Dave over her shoulder.

    He paused with a thoughtful look. "No, I suppose there's one more thing. One Dr. Lombardo thought you'd be particularly well-suited for, based on your experience with the dogs."

    "And what's that?"

    "Train them to follow orders."

  2. #2
    Wanna cuddle? RabbitMage's avatar
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    This makes me sad. For reasons I'm sure you know. The poor little Mechlets.

  3. #3
    A Groupie Marsilia's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zuul View post
    The fact that Theresa was genetically engineered yet had been born by a woman was a point of pride for her, something that was becoming rarer every year. The ebb and tide of hormones, the influence of a mother's choice in foods, all had left their faint mark on her. Those born from the artificial wombs were the fleshy version of factory made. Healthy, yet bland.
    Yay! You put that part back in!
    Last edited by Marsilia; 17 Aug 2010 at 03:21 PM. Reason: Let it be known that this is my 500th post!

  4. #4
    The Queen Zuul's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RabbitMage View post
    This makes me sad. For reasons I'm sure you know. The poor little Mechlets.
    This was hard to write, as there was a lot of stuff I wanted to cover or at least reference that I couldn't quite fit in there. It sort of came from an idea that always bugged me when I read Brave New World: okay, great, you've got this society with all your little worker bees grown in jars. Now how the hell did you make the leap from normal human behavior to that? This is sort of that intermediate step between the cultural changes owing to genetic engineering and an artificial womb and creating a hardwired caste system.

    Quote Originally posted by Marsilia View post
    Yay! You put that part back in!
    Of course I did! You were kind enough to give me your opinion. I wouldn't have asked for it if I wasn't going to listen to you.
    So now they are just dirt-covered English people in fur pelts with credit cards.

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