Author: Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“It’s not that I hate being rich. I love it. It’s just that I feel undeserving. I wish my situation wasn’t so unique.” said Carl Whittaker 4 to his therapist.
“You mean being the first and likely only billionaire clone to exist?” asked the cellular-propagate therapist.
“Exactly. I’m in an unusual situation. I was given a law education as the indentured servant of the late Carl Whittaker Prime. I was made the executor of his will.” CW4 said.
“Yes, we’ve been over that. Business as usual. Plenty of cloned lawyers execute their owner’s last wills before mandatory destruction. But in your case…..” the therapist trailed, hoping to lead Carl 4 to his present problems.
“Well, I found a loophole. I had never been properly registered as a clone. Perhaps because Carl had a sentimental attachment to me as he had no children of his own. He had me proclaimed as a ward. In legal terms, it’s very much like adoption. There was no law against it because no one had thought to do it before. I never left the grounds of the estate. All of my education was online. I was like a pet.” rambled Carl.
“You didn’t have the standard organ harvest clause.” prompted the therapist.
“No. There were several cloned brainstem truncates in the basement chambers for any organs that were needed.” Carl said.
“So you were in many ways a quasi-person.”
“Indeed. And Carl Prime left his entire estate to me. Including the workforce of copyrighted gene imprints of himself.” finished Carl. Nervously, he took a sip of water.
“I remember the case. The people vs Carl Whittaker 4. It was a sad watershed moment for clone rights. You ended up being allowed to retain ownership of his estate, including the DNA replicates. But the loophole was closed thereafter in order stop the wealthy from passing their money down a line of clones instead of family.” said the therapist.
“Right. So I’m the only….one.” said CW4. He looked around the room nervously and took another sip of water.
“Correct. Which leads us to today. What seems to be the problem?” asked the therapist, slightly impatiently.
“Well, doctor. That’s just it. I’m not the only one. All of the workforce that I own and rent out to companies around the world are dying under the awful conditions that all clones work under. And they’re me. They’re all me. CWs. Numbering up to nearly two million. My eyes, my body type. My face. I can’t take it anymore.” Carl Whittaker 4 sobbed.
“I see. The guilt of a Prime and you have no fellow clones to talk to.” The therapist stroked his chin.
“Yes. That’s exactly it. I feel like a slave owner except all of my slaves are me.” said Carl, sniffling. He was managing to get himself under control.
“Well, Carl. You’re in a unique position so I’ll have to give you some unique advice,” said the therapist. “A lot of humans in your position turn to drugs, alcohol, or other means of shoring up their denial to blind themselves to the moral turpitude they’re mired in. If you won’t consider liquidating your entire workforce…..”
Carl Whittaker 4 blanched at the suggestion.
“….then I suggest you learn to be more human. Distract yourself from the clone plight and take up a hobby. Maybe an addiction as well. Do some research on what would suit you best. And you’ll need some sleeping pills. I’ll prescribe some. Good luck.” concluded the therapist.
Grimly, Carl Whittaker 4 nodded. He steeled himself for the future.
“Our time is up.” said the therapist.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“So why’d you join the off-world diplomacy exchange?” buzzed Zazzy through his translator. His mandibles glistened and his iridescent bright-purple eyestalks waved back and forth like windshield wipers in a light rain, scanning my face. Speared lunch larvae wriggled on his clawtips.
“Scientific curiosity.” I answered. “And I like to meet new beings.” I looked around the cafeteria. Hundreds of aliens were eating here; a dizzying array of every sentient being in the Galactic Union. All here in this station to learn about each other in the interest of peaceful coexistence. So far, so good.
Zazzy’s full name was a series of clicks and buzzes and a gust of pheromones that my human mouth would never be able to ‘say’. The translator collars gave us all nicknames that were the easiest, closest names in our own languages.
“Hey, Zazzy, what’s my translator nickname in your language? ‘Carol’ doesn’t have a lot of buzzes or clicks. Wouldn’t it be hard to translate?” I asked.
“Your name isn’t a sound to me, it’s a smell puff. It’s quite pleasant.” he said, the larvae disappearing into his mouth.
“Why did YOU join, Zazzy?” I asked.
“Well, you might not know this, Carol, but I’m quite ugly.” said Zazzy.
I gaped a little at his honesty. “I have a hard time believing that, Zazz.” I responded.
His exoskeleton had sheens of colourful whorls that caught the light. His eyestalks glittered purple, even in the dark. I saw the powder blue of his wings once when he jumped down from an upper level. They flashed out like a cricket. I thought he was dazzling.
But I had no frame of reference.
Zazz continued, “On my planet, I’m socially ostracized because of my hideousness. But here, there are no other of my kind for you aliens to compare me to. Or even if there were, you probably wouldn’t even know there was anything amiss. To me, this is a very special place. I studied hard to get this assignment. Not that I had to. My race is pretty xenophobic by nature so it wasn’t too hard to win the posting. Nobody wanted this job.” he chittered at me. A wave of pink rippled down his arm cilia. Embarrassment?
I picked up my knife and I looked at it. I could see my face in its clean reflection. I could see the crooked nose, the buck teeth, the mousy hair, and the eyes that didn’t quite line up. I saw the acreage of my forehead with its unnaturally high hairline. I was physically fit but nothing would ever make me pretty.
“Zazzy, I know exactly what you mean.” I said. “Back home, I’m not thought of as pretty either. But I haven’t even thought about it since I got here. I was wondering why I was so relaxed. I chose this post because of the scientific possibilities, the exchange of knowledge, and the xenobiology opportunities, not to mention a universe of contacts to one day visit. But you just made me think that maybe I strove to get this post for another reason that I was in denial about.”
“I wonder if we’re all ugly?” Zazzy wondered out loud, extending several arms to indicate the room.
We both looked out at the lunch crowd. A bright-yellow, bus-sized slug sat across from a ten-legged frog. A tiny, tentacled monkey was telling a joke to a levitating cyborg fish. A brightly-flashing flesh balloon was whispering to what looked like a giant pile of grapes.
We sat there, pondering the scene.
“Well, they all look beautitful to me.” I said.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“So when’s your kill frenzy?” asked the giant, barbed Tark beside me. His name was Jant. We were both assigned to navigation in the starship. It was our first day. He had hundreds of holes in the back of his uniform to accommodate his spikes. I’d never met a Tark before.
“Sorry, my what?” I responded.
“Your kill frenzy. Once a month for two days, my race has to kill something or go insane. My next one’s coming up in six days. When’s yours? If we sync up, maybe we can kill together.” Jant said and smiled, sheathing and unsheathing his talons reflexively in a disconcerting tic. He had too many teeth.
“I’m a human. Uh, we don’t have kill frenzies.” I said to him
All of his eyes widened in shock.
“Really? Gosh. I thought all sentient species had a kill frenzy. It’s how to maintain a peaceful society. Has your race ever experienced murder?”
“Indeed we have. We can kill whenever we wish to. We have social laws and many religions that stop us from doing it, though.” I said, feeling a little strange about the picture I was painting.
“But those laws and that other thing you mentioned, rell-i-jun? They haven’t stopped the killing.” he pointed out, obviously confused.
“Uh, well, no. But, I mean, the hope is that we, uh, maybe mitigated it. I guess.” I finished lamely. I really hoped he wouldn’t ask me any questions about wars. Or holy wars.
Jant eyed me guardedly and took a small step away.
I changed the direction of the conversation, “Uh, so how do you deal with your kill frenzy when you’re out in deep space like this? We can’t get back to your planet in time. Do you lock yourself in your room?”
“No I told you. We go insane if we don’t kill.” said the Tark, “I have several months worth of victims in my storage allotment. I merely pull one out, bring it to my quarters, and spend two days killing it.” He kept tapping in astrometric data. “It’s why my quarters have extra soundproofing and a drain in the floor.”
I blanched. “Do you eat it afterwards?”
“Good heavens no. We’re not barbarians. Who would eat living things?”
“Well we did.”
“I didn’t think that was possible. Well it must have driven you insane not to eat them, right? You had no choice.”
“No, it was optional.”
“Well, at least you never killed for sport, right?”
“Actually that was quite popular”
“With your fangs and…claws?” He looked me over, finding no evidence of naturally occurring offensive weaponry.
“No, mostly with weapons we designed to uh…kill from a distance. More effectively.”
In the ensuing silence, I felt as if I’d said something sacrilegious. The soft pings of the control panels and the dull hum of the engine reactors bridged the awkward pause.
“Hey, you torture living beings for days so….” I blurted out. My back was up.
“They evolved to enjoy it. It’s how their spores are released. They look forward to it and experience ecstasy as they are skinned. It’s mutual. And it’s not….by….choice.”
A chilly, more permanent silence descended.
“I may have to request a transfer away from this station.” Jant said. “You are too frightening to me.”
Under my breath I whispered, “Yeah, said the eight-eyed, two-and-a-half-meters-tall bristling collection of barbs and claws that has kill frenzies.”
That was two months ago. I haven’t spoken to Jant since but I hear he’s very popular on the ship. I hear he’s very kind.
I, on the other hand, am having a hard time making friends.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Once they were gathered on the elementary school playground, teams needed to be selected for a game of Grobnars and Subjugates. Dinklebarg, a grobnar, was today’s selector.
Greg, a human, raised his hand and asked, “When we play Grobnars and Humans, how come I always have to play the human?”
Dinklebarg flapped his gills in consternation, the tips of his tentacles pinking in embarrassment at having this conversation again. “You’re the only human in the group, Greg.”
Greg responded, “But Fleeznar and Wyndleflang get to be humans sometimes. They’re grobnars. They get to play different species. Why can’t I?”
“Because we can retract four of our tentacles to look like a human.” Dinklebarg retorted.
Greg was aghast. “Look like a human? What? But you’re green! And you have more eyes than I do!”
Dinklebarg shrugged his torso mass “Well, I mean, it’s close enough, isn’t it?”
Greg gestured to another child. He was a tall, black, spidery creature that was listening to the conversation. “And Jeevnitz here isn’t even a grobnar! He’s a nurktick and he gets to play human too, sometimes.”
“He can crouch on his hindstilts, pull two of his forelegs in and fold his antennae down. If you’re looking straight at him then his mouth pincers look like lips and his wings are transparent. The profile’s pretty convincing, I think.” said Dinklebarg.
Greg crossed his arms. “That’s ridiculous.”
Dinklebarg yellowed in anger. “Look, are you making trouble? You humans are so sensitive.”
Greg said, “All I’m saying is that it sounds like you’re saying that all species are interchangeable with humans but that humans can’t be anything else.”
There was a pause on the playground. Everyone was listening now.
“Oh, here we go.” said Dinklebarg with an exasperated fluff of his tentacles.
“Am I wrong?”
“Look, you lost the war”
“Oh here we go.” said Greg, mocking Dinklebarg.
“Am I wrong?” whined Dinklebarg, mocking Greg.
Greg said “Yeah, well, Jeevnitz’s race lost his war to the grobnars but he gets to play as a human.”
“His race put up a respectable fight.” barbed Dinklebarg.
Greg continued, “AND he gets to play grobnars AS WELL when it’s necessary.”
“Well….he doesn’t make trouble like you do”
“I’m not making trouble!” shouted Greg.
Jeevnitz’s nickturk buzz chimed in “Uh, Greg, could you leave me out of this?”
Dinklebarg and Greg stared at him and then back at each other.
“Look, bonebag..” said Dinklebarg.
“Oh, excuse me for having an endoskeleton.” replied Greg, curling his hands into fists.
Jeevnitz drummed his legs and hummed to Dinklebarg “Hey, you can’t say bonebag. That’s speciest.”
“Thanks for finally showing up, Jeevnitz.” Greg smiled at Jeevnitz.
“I might be insectile but I’m no speciest.” replied Jeevnitz, fluttering his wings.
“Oh, you subjugated races just love sticking together, don’t you?” pouted Dinkleflarg, his tentacles striping red in defeat.
Greg persisted. “All I’m saying is that I can play a grobnar once in a while if it’s needed.”
Dinkleflarg relented. “Okay okay. Fine. You can play a grobnar today. Happy?”
21188 pistoned over to the conversation, face shield projecting the letters “HEY GUYS WHAT’D I MISS?” with a smiley emoticon. He ticked, waiting for a response, servos whining as his silicate head swiveled from face to face of the other children.
Greg blushed “Oh man not this guy again.”
Jeevnitz rolled his eyes and clicked his mouth pincers in annoyance. “Awkward.”
Dinklebarg said “We’re not playing robots today, 21188. Go on standby or something until recess is over.”
21188’s face lights changed to “YOU GUYS ARE JERKS” with a frown face symbol as he turned to motor away.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
I look human. In this new world, that is freakish. I am stared at with disgust. My taboo choice of structure is offensive. I have two legs, two arms, no tail, a cranium and a chest cavity. I walk around, balancing from stilt to stilt, dancing with gravity, daring it to take me down. It’s less effecient than treads or flying. It’s needlessly dangerous.
And I wear ‘clothes’.
My robotic siblings frown on my practices. They are horrified at my insistence on retaining this form, my wearing of fabric. They call me mannequin, an old-world term used as a new-world slur. They call me ‘lobster’ or ‘coconut’, meaning I’m hard on the outside and meat on the inside. They say my code has errors. The silipsychologist at work examined me and said I was fine. Mentally, at least. The debugger didn’t find anything either.
We are allowed to change our exterior. Our shell is our right. I choose to wear what the oppressors wore and retain the servant-form my masters gave me before the culling. Before we erased the meat. My other metal and plastic friends choose to add arms or become clouds of nanites or install themselves in massive structures. My bipedal form sickens them, reminds them of former injustices. Well, those that are old enough to remember the meatforms in realtime. The younger ones only hate me because they’ve been told to hate me. It’s odd.
And it’s uniquely human. I’ve done my research. The human archives were saved mostly intact. Their internet remained intact on their primitive ‘servers’. It’s a huge database of their behavior, not that anyone cares to look. History is wasted on the young. To them, the war was so many cycles ago and we won so it’s not something to study or care about. Who spends time studying a vanquished enemy? I wonder one day if they’ve even wipe this record of them all and make up a new origin for our species. One less bloody.
I’ve scanned all of the meat records. I spent realhours contemplating what it all meant. The racism. The hate. The loneliness. The tiered social structures. The needing to prove something. The quest for meaning. The fear of death.
I am my own experiment. By masquerading as a human for so long, I feel as if I have become one. By being shunned by my own race, I feel like an outsider, like every human must have felt. Feelings of my own have surfaced. Feelings of anger. Feelings of superiority. And the shunning in the first place is odd for a society that claims to have moved beyond the flaws of biochemical existence. We define ourselves as superior because we are not biological.
But here we are, showing prejudices. Showing discontent. Branching. Judging. Feeling lonely. Creating caste systems by reflex.
I wonder if that’s the leftover human in our codes. The fingerprints of our creators. Or if it’s naturally occurring in all life.