By Julian Michels
(Karl Rasmussen helped write this chapter but has now jumped off authorship of this project in favor of some other work. As a result, this ship is currently dead in the water, though it very well may be my second novel, someday...)
For a while, white was all there was. I can’t even say that white was all I knew, because I didn’t know. How can you know anything, without self? There was never any point of reference. I am told I had the mind of a genius, but there were no ideas, no thoughts.
Subject 2 had been a tragedy. At this point, there was no other way to say it. The initial stages went well. Complete direct nutrition delivery was a success, and the Gene Therapy Electrical Muscle Stimulation program not only created a healthy adult body, but managed it in just the scheduled 18 months from inception to adulthood. Even the brain was healthy. Healthy. Doctor Brian laughed inwardly. If her brain’s just healthy, then mine is mush. No, neural functioning wasn’t the issue; the host of neurologists and neuropsychologists could attest to that. Cognitive functioning had been the problem since the beginning. Selfhood. After everything, all their talk of “an alternative to the obsolete binary approaches of yesteryear”, Transhumanics stood stymied by the same block as their egghead competitors in theoretical computer science.
Selfhood. Subject 1 didn’t develop it at all. She never awoke.
Whether Subject 2 did was a matter of debate. Some said only a self-aware entity could possess the prescience to suicide. Others said, it didn’t take a genius to throw yourself down a flight of stairs. The fact was, they’d never know.
Daniel, who was responsible for her that day, was fired. The deaths of two of the subjects had raised alarms in the investors, who began to grow doubtful of the project’s success. Not only that, but a number of people resigned from Transhumonics en masse, each claiming that the experiments were inhumane, that they were dangerously close to playing god. Fortunately, Transhumonics’ influence with the DoD had meant that passing a mass gag order was cake. That, and there were still two subjects left. Two more chances to prove that this experiment meant something.
Brian stood in front of a door simply labeled Three. He didn’t really feel like being here today. After what happened to Subject Two, being the man responsible for the next subject was worrying. Someone in the company had it out for him, he knew it. He knew that his partner, Charlie, knew it too. Both of their asses were on the line. “We can’t fuck this one up, Charlie.”
Charlie gave a nonchalant shrug. Bastard could reamin calm in a damn firestorm. “Relax.”
Brian gave a sigh. “That’s great, Charlie. And which one of us loses their job next? You think they’re going alphabetically?”
“Even if this one is another bad case, we still have Four. Hell, it might be a gender thing.”
“Does your wife know you feel that way?” Brian chuckled. “I know how she gets.” He cracked an imaginary whip in the air.
Charlie froze. “God, don’t remind me of home.”
Brian chuckled under his breath.“Right, lets go in. And try not to get me fired, would you?”
The first point of reference were the men, creatures of noise, hands, eyes, mouths. The next were the words. I’d heard words before. Endlessly spoken from the walls of my pod, patterns to learn from, patterns to master. But in that pod, what were words? They meant nothing until I heard them from the creatures of noise, hands, eyes, mouths.
“Hello, Three. Welcome. Rise and shine.”
Three sat at a table in the room, curiously poking at the plate of vegetables set in front of her. Brian and Charlie stood watching her, taking notes on the whole process. Brian whispered to Charlie. “Well, so far she seems stable. No signs of incoherence or mental trauma.” Yet, he added in his mind. Given their luck so far, this was just too good to be true. Brian looked back up at Three, who had began to arrange the veggies on her plate.
“What’s she doing there? She’s just moving them around. Two had immediately grasped what they were, but Three is… playing with them?”
Brian wasn’t sure what to make of it. Yes, two had figured out the vegetables quickly, but she had shown no interest, no joy at her discovery.
“There, Brian, see, she has got it!”
Brian snapped out of his reverie, looking up at Three, who had indeed taken a bite out of one of the carrots on the table. She then picked a tomato, bit it, and repeated the process with each vegetable in turn. “Seems she is trying each one. Seems normal enough.” Brian responded.
“Ah, shit. She’s playing with them again.”
After trying each vegetable, and examining it, Three went back to shuffling the vegetables around on the plate. “Ah well. Maybe she didn’t like any of them. Better move on to fruit.” Brian went over to Three, and the plate, but stopped when he looked at it. “Charlie, come over here. Look at this.”
Charlie looked up from his notepad, and approached the table. “What? You mean the plate? What’s the matter…” Charlie stopped when he saw the contents of the plate. Each vegetable had been placed in order of family… tubers, lettuces… she had even noticed that the tomato was an odd man out, a fruit in a plate of veggies. “But how would she… we haven’t moved on to books yet, have we? Where did she pick this up?” Three seemed to be done with the plate. Now, she was looking up curiously at the two scientists.
“I dunno, Charlie. This is… well… I think our job security might’ve just gotten a helluva lot better.”