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Throwback, a Scifi Short Story
Science fiction story by Tamara Wilhite
“Get off the beaten path,” my editor told me. So I was, following a circuitous path designed by her computer to cover the most arcane territory possible.
“The new stories, the breakthroughs, are found by those with their eyes – and especially feet - on the ground.” I didn’t use my feet, except to get out of the assigned vehicle during re-fuelings or for me to unload and refuel.
The food production region looked like every other. Corn, soybeans, wheat, biomass crops, occasionally interrupted by collection and processing centers and some transit lines. There were rare houses of holdouts from the pre-Industrial age or collectives that sought to escape the influence of the city, as if they were somehow less tied into the Web that bound us all. Well, the Amish, maybe, and a few Luddites … but I was far from them, too, since they were so heavily documented for everyone’s civilized curiosity.
I wanted to see if I could break the nostalgia for the “good old days”, when intact two parent families with multiple children working together in a barely better than wild world was actually common. Back-breaking work, dirty, messy, highly fatal. Yet it lived on in stories set in the past as an ideal. I wanted to see if these young people were drawn to such a difficult life out of misguided nostalgia.
I got a little closer, trying to look like I was getting signal reception from my hand-held mobile media device. I checked the map function but couldn’t get as detailed as I liked. But the few steps in their direction made it easier to get a clear look at them. The young couple that drove up in a truck were cute, one male and one female, dressed like throw backs to an early era. They were dressed primitively, but the vehicle was first class. That meant the clothing was a choice, not a matter of poverty. Obviously not anti-technology, then. The girl was even obviously pregnant. Rare, but not unheard of in an era of uterine replicators.
Commune members? I didn’t see the religious symbols those groups often wore. Not even a corporate uniform, for one of the distributors or transit lines, jobs that paid very well to compensate for the isolation. Young people who lived out here? That was almost a story, for why one would choose to live out here. The burning question I could ask was simple: why?
My stare got their attention. The girl looked at me face on. It was a face I’d seen hundreds of times, both in media and real life. Vaguely, as a child, I’d even seen advertisements. Clone. I knew there were some alive since the war, but I didn’t know there were any here in the middle of nowhere. Then again, if they wanted to avoid people like people wanted to avoid them, this kind of place made sense. The female crossed her arms under her breasts defensively. The action made her loose work clothes follow her curves. An added curve took a moment to figure out. It looked like a pregnancy, if it were on a human.
A pregnant clone? This was a story. I had their attention. I decided to walk up and talk to them. Pictures could be faked. An audio recording of a conversation would clinch it, or at least provide a basis for an investigation. That required getting very close As I approached, the man removed a cloth, bandana? Well, not really a man. Soldier type. The build wasn’t so obvious in his worker clothes as it would be in conventional fashion styles, but the implants for the cyborg interfaces on his jaw line were a dead giveaway. Up close, his artificial eyes were obvious as he took off his sunglasses. That made it certain. It was as illegal for them to appear human as it was for humans to imitate them.
She must have hired him for protection, I supposed. Some soldiers did that type of work. Mostly hired by humans, I knew, as body guards or escorts that no one dared mess with. Or for jobs for which one did not care whether the escorts were killed or not. But the pay was good, and for the right to live free they had to pay taxes like the rest of us, so they took those kinds of jobs sometimes. And a clone carrying a baby – was it a baby? – was definitely at risk of attack from humans. Not even extremists, I knew. That’s why they’d disappeared, or at least, moved as far from civilization as they could.
A hundred questions crowded my mind. “Uh” was all that came out. Then I adjusted to the inhuman stares. “Are you pregnant?”
“None of your business,” the male said.
“I was asking her,” I said after cutting off insults that hung on my tongue. They were legal now, and insulting him might make it legal for him to have an excuse to assault me.
“It’s none of your business,” the clone answered.
“I’ve never heard of a pregnant clone, that’s all. Unless there’s something medical …” what could I say? “Is there anything wrong with that?”
“Human prejudice,” the male said.
“Some people have an interest in that,” I said.
“Why do you?” the male asked.
“I’m a reporter,” I announced.
The soldier’s eyes went to the refueling station’s cameras. I expected that to prevent anything from happening. It didn’t. He crossed the distance between us as fast as the leaked war videos had demonstrated. He manhandled me and forced me into the back of their truck. I tried to fight. They had all been in the medical and biotech industry as lay workers, I remembered, as the girl was quick to render me unconscious.
The implant that monitored my location and health was malfunctioning, it reported. It monitored my health, but it could not relay my location to a substation.
Jamming devices to protect their privacy, I remembered. To keep them from monitoring the rest of the world, and us from interfering too much with them. No need to aggravate the warriors, now that the war was over, less it start another one.
“Where am I?” came out before I realized how stupid a question it was and stopped myself form saying it.
“Our territory,” a voice answered. I was able to focus my eyes on the voice. An old, grizzled creature, scarred and half melted, was nose to nose with me. Its artificial eyes were even with mine. A first generation soldier, ruined by the war and cyborged to the hilt to keep it operational. It was never a man, but it was now barely biological.
The one I had seen with the maybe-pregnant clone was one of the last, a second generation model. Less cybernetics due to the vulnerability it posed to EMP weapons, more human in appearance in case it needed to infiltrate and create guerrilla havoc.
First generation were tough as nails, per design. Second generation were more human, and thus rebelled, contrary to design.
“I’m just curious about the male and female I saw together.” My tone was as harmlessly pleading as I could make it.
“We’re together,” the soldier said.
“I saw that.”
“No. A pairing.”
Funny term. “What? Like married?”
“The law does not allow for that.”
“Is she really pregnant?” I asked. I knew clones did a lot of biotech technician work. It was beyond their training, but not their skill set. They were engineered to be sterile, but if a couple thousand semi-smart but very focused and diligent workers got baby crazy, they’d be more likely to achieve it than a legion of Israeli Nobel prize winners – well, maybe not that many Israeli geniuses, but close enough.
The two soldiers exchanged glances. Their eyes changed color and technie stuff as they conversed without my ability to hear. So they could still use comm at short range despite jamming? That was valuable info … intelligence? “Yes,” the older one admitted.
“Who’s the father?” I asked.
“I am,” the younger one said.
“Wow. Both of you were engineered to be sterile. Managing a genetic combination – amazing!” I wanted to sound proud, though the thought of a soldier – greenhouse worker caused shivers. What on Earth would it be like?
“It’s a clone,” the older soldier said.
“He said he was the father!”
The elder soldier shrugged. “He has chosen to be the assigned father.” As if clones and fathers were no big deal.
Assigned? Like military? What was going on? I had to find out. “Why?” I asked.
“A two parent family unit for the maximum potential of a successful upbringing of the next generation,” the younger one stated, some assertive emotion in his voice.
Laughter came before I could suppress it. “Oh, that’s too cute. Her clone gets a Daddy. What do you get out of it? Really good sex?”
“Yes.” My laughter roared higher. “And a clone of my own later.” The laughter stopped at his affirmation. “After the first is born and being raised, with my help and contribution..”
“She might not honor your deal, dear,” I replied.
“She will honor it. We love each other.”
“How do you know it will work out?”
“There are others following the same pattern, the same effort. There will be successful future generations.” I could not tell how the elder soldier was reacting to these words. It clearly didn’t disagree with the intent, since the girl was pregnant.
“Do you think anyone will make a recombination of DNA?”
“That, too, is being tried. But this is a more likely guarantee for now.”
Two clones are getting together, working together, promising she’ll bear him a son after having a daughter. Maybe somebody else made the opposite order. Lots of them trying the old fashioned way to make a baby, with others just using the tried and true cloning method.
“There’s nothing here to report,” I promised, “I won’t say anything.”
The trip back to the refueling station was done with me conscious though bound. I was happy to be alive. It was funny what the clones, engineered creations of humanity, were learning.
Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. They make a baby. They get married or some such big commitment nonsense. They try to live together forever, or happily ever after, until death do you part, whichever comes first. All of it is a throwback to earlier, primitive times. But, perhaps, they have to go back in human times before they can come forward into the modern era as real people.
That had a satisfying ring to it. Pity it sounded so made up it couldn’t be true. A lot of people would want to read about the genetically engineered being as much a mockery of true humans as they were known to be.
The older soldier let the younger one leave in the vehicle. It stood there while I got into mine. “I won’t say anything,” I repeated to it. I tried to switch on my hand-held to recording mode and broadcast mode so that my words to it were recorded and broadcast, creating a cry for help and proof for legal prosecution in one fell swoop.
“No, you won’t,” it said. Then it whipped out an energy dispersal grenade from somewhere on its body. The white hot flash of heat and radiation killed the old soldier before it ignited everything in the refueling station.
I felt sharp hot agony as the electronics in the hand-held fried. That was before my own engine ignited. Then pain beyond words erupted. It made me wish for a good old human only past. I wished the fire-proofing of my clothing had not been so good so that it didn’t protect me so well, prolonging the pain.
Of all the things they had to learn from humans, why was that it was cold-blooded murder, too, learned from humans? If they were going to voluntarily throw themselves back to the good old days, why was it in such a bad way? Just when it seemed humans had gotten past those horrors of meaningless violence and wars with close supervision and drugs, their creations became throwbacks to the more violent times. They’d probably even claim self defense, I thought, before my own brain began to mellow from the fumes and my brain enhancing drugs seemed to fail.
Then the heat became flame on my skin and I, too, thrown back to the state of a howling, wild animal.
More by This Author
- Excerpt from Sirat a novel by Tamara Wilhite
Take the kids through the airlocks to the bathroom. Just a father doing his job, until disaster struck the colony. A short story by scifi author Tamara Wilhite.