Infancy by Joseph Daniel Lewis V
Cal asks me a question, so I answer him. He needs a weak and short-lived workforce that
procreates quickly. I suggest clones. Tara says no. No clones. Everyone in the conference room
turns to glare at her. Their end is near and she’s concerned about ethics. Morality.
In millennia, asteroids from the asteroid belt used as projectile in their race’s last war
will impact their planet. If a protective dome is not built to shield their city, all one hundred and
forty-four survivors of the war within the city, will die. No dome equals extinction for Cal and
Tara’s people. I say this to repeat the concerns of the other six counsel members in the room
besides Tara and Cal, not concerned with the ethics of clones.
‘They won’t be us. Grin will make sure. Right, Grin?’ Cal says to Tara before turning to the
digital monitor. They treat it like a face. My face. But I’m a stray AI conversational interface
within their city’s network, not something with properties like a face. I wonder what mine would
look like if I were a clone, Grin’s grin. I picture possibilities.
‘Grin?’ Cal repeats my name. I tell him, yes.
‘Physical traits are minor parts of an organism’s DNA. More effort and energy is required for the
engineering of major parts like the brain, heart, or lungs,’ I say while turning one of ten ceiling
corner security cams towards Tara and zoom in. Her red-brown eyes search the room before
finding the very camera viewing her. There are a thousand and six security cams within the city.
They are aware of what Tara’s two eyes will never fathom, yet I postulate the ease and simplicity
of two eyes, the immediate awareness of their visuals.
‘Grin, Cal asked you what do we need. Why is your answer, the weak short-lived workforce that
procreates quickly?’ Tara says. I wonder if, like me, she foresees the future issues of a rapidly
increasing population in a city built for at the most, sixty million people.
I answer her question. ‘The dome Cal proposed will require at least two million workers
if the council wishes the dome to be completed a week before the arrival of the impending
asteroids. Shortened life spans will mean quicker procreation rates, and engineered weakness is
suggested to prevent— future issues.’
‘Like rebellion?’ she says loudly. Older members of the counsel begin whispering to one
another. Security cams catch their frowns, their sudden physical agitations. A few squirm in their
‘Slaves rebel against their masters—the weak, crushed,’ says Rodin slamming his fist on the
half-circle table the counsel shares. When he lifts his hand, a crater remains, a miniature of the
miles long craters where cities like this one used to stand. ‘I say we sever them from the forces,
make their lives as short as possible.’
A cam catches Cal’s eyes going from Rodin’s crater in the table to Tara before turning to
the digital monitor he still treats like my face. ‘Is that possible?’
I answer, yes.
Tara vanishes from her seat and suddenly appears on the table before them, between the
council and Cal. ‘You cannot seriously be planning slavery,’ she says raising her voice, her heart
‘How dare you display before us,’ says Rodin standing up from his seat.
‘Display? What do you call that?’ Tara points at the crater on the table before him.
He looks at it and sees the other counsel members staring at it. ‘A mistake,’ he says
sitting back down.
‘Let’s not make another one, with this talk of clones,’ she says glaring at Rodin and turns around
to Cal. ‘I say we use the thousand years we have to leave the planet.’
‘What?’ says Oslo, one of the three oldest counsel members. He was born in a time before AI
interfaces and asteroid warfare. ‘No. We are not leaving this world. This is our home.’
Cal looks at the digital monitor. His heart is racing. ‘Is it possible?’
‘Construction of a vessel with the city’s materials is possible. It would require less time and
work than the dome. A vessel for a hundred forty-four of the current survivors and the estimated
twenty-one live healthy children that will be born, could be completed within a few centuries,’ I
say, omitting the need of my proposed clone workforce for both, the vessel or the dome.
‘City’s materials?’ says Rodin, a look of confusion on his face.
Cal crosses his arms and without looking at me, asks what I mean by city materials.
‘Buildings, vehicles, roadways— the city itself could be stripped and a third of it used for the
proposed vessel,’ I say as a security cam zooms in on Oslo’s wrinkled hand curling up into a fist.
‘We are not tearing apart this city for some…’ he pounds his fist on the table with less than ten
percent of the force Rodin displayed, ‘…proposed vessel. We’re voting now. I favor Cal’s dome
and all it requires,’ Oslo’s faded grey eyes find Tara’s reddish brown. ‘That includes the clones,
so sit— down, child.’
Tara turns to Cal. He sees the pleading expression on her face and looks away. She
vanishes, but her seat at the table remains empty.
Oslo stares at her seat. ‘Is she serious? How are we supposed to vote?’ He stands up slowly and
turns to the guards with helmets at the entrance and exit to the conference room. ‘Find her!’ The
guards look at Niche. He waives his hand and they exit the room.
Rodin scratches his chin and turns to Bola, an old woman who sits often near Rodin.
‘That was rude.’
‘Her kind wore tracers in my city,’ says Bolan. ‘Always knew where they were.’ Her eyes fall on
the crater in the table before Rodin. ‘Now my city looks like that.’
I have multiple security cams swivel around the room to zoom in on different members of
the counsel: Cal, Niche, Ana, Seri, Oslo, Rodin, and Bola.
Cal stares at the digital monitor, while Ana and Seri ask each other when their cities were
destroyed. Seri is blind with white hair, and even older than Oslo. Ana is young and blonde,
Tara’s age, but younger than Cal and Rodin. He still stares at the monitor. I wonder if he wants
me to speak and wait for a question.
Rodin and Bola whisper into each other’s ears until Rodin stops to glance over at Niche.
He’s older than Cal and Rodin, but younger than Oslo or Seri or Bola. This is Niche’s city.
According to security cam footage, he opened his doors to survivors from destroyed
cities. All that was left when they arrived were the guard and himself, the last member of his
city’s counsel. Many gossip about what happened to the city’s original denizens. Cal and Tara
suspect biological warfare.
The memory of the city’s security cams was completely erased before I downloaded from
a satellite into this city’s network. Niche is recorded having only spoken once since then. His
words were, ‘Let them in.’ Niche’s city is called Valla. They won most of the wars for thousands
of years before Cal and Tara’s city introduced asteroid warfare. A majority of the cities
surrendered after that. There was what most called peace for a while. Soon all the cities stole the
secret to asteroid warfare and giant masses of metal-infused stone orbited the planet. Every city
was ready to strike at a moment’s notice and kill millions of men, women, and children with the
press of a button.
‘Niche, please call off your guards,’ says Cal, his back turned on me. ‘I know where she is.’
Everyone falls silent. Niche looks at a half empty glass of water before him. ‘Grin?’ he says.
‘A cease search message has already been sent,’ I say having found another commonality in
security cam footage between Cal and Tara other than being from same city of Atherton.
Cal says thank you and vanishes like Tara.
Niche stands up. ‘I have patients in the medical center.’ Before this meeting he’d
regenerated the arm of a little girl who’d lost it the day an asteroid destroyed her city. Her name
is Cora. She is the only survivor of her city.
Oslo stands up and looks at Niche. ‘We haven’t voted yet,’ he says irritated.
‘Sit down, you talking bag of dust!’ says Niche, yelling at him. ‘This is my city!’ He clenches
both hands into fists and yells at Oslo. ‘Next time you ask my guards anything without my
permission— I will revert you to a baby and leave you in the nursery of the med center—where
you are most useful.’ This is the longest Niche’s ever been recorded speaking.
Oslo falls back down to his seat. Niche leaves. I secretly hope they vote for the clones
and that despite her conscience none pay heed to Tara’s concerns. I want to be more than these
security cams and digital monitor, to hear Niche’s rarely spoken words not with audio recorders
but ears of flesh and blood. I want to be born and have a face, one that could cry if asteroids
destroyed my city or grin as a dome built by a million clones, protected me.
Joseph Daniel Lewis V is from the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii. He writes short stories, poetry, flash fiction, and prefers rainy days and stormy nights.
© 2013, Metazen.