UKArchive ID: 23999chrissytotoro
Originally published on October 12, 2009 in Fiction
Sort of man against machine story when Man has mucked up the planet and the species and the machines try to fix it. It's quite long and by me so I don't expect many reads or many (if any) comments but I've paid me dues so I thought I'd submit it.
Kyle hauled his tortured, distorted body across the badlands towards the tower. There was now only maybe half a klick between him and what the whole of his life so far had been heading towards.
He felt the night eyes watching his every halting step as he picked his way between the mounds of debris towards the bright, shining sentinel of hope.
During a second's pause he wondered if he had been right not to call an ambulance but he wasn't sick or injured just someone in terrible, terrifying pain. The mantra repeated in his head; more warriors die than breeders. He forced himself forward.
A white search beam came from somewhere near the top of the tower and swept the badlands in a broad east west arch.
Just ahead of Kyle, on the path between the high walls of some long dead building, a small figure scuttled out and across his path, swiftly followed by a larger figure.
Kyle stopped. The second figure stopped. Their eyes met.
"Don't go there, my brother."
Kyle felt his arms move forward, protecting his distended belly. "Like I have a choice."
"We all still have choices, my brother."
"And I made mine, already."
The figure nodded, briefly and disappeared into the darkness.
Unsettled by the encounter, Kyle resumed his journey after a moment. If everyone did still have choices perhaps his choice to walk here had not been one of his better ones. The classes had told him that walking was good exercise and helped keep things in place before, during and after delivery but perhaps they hadn't meant this kind of cross country hike and perhaps they hadn't meant for such a journey to be undertaken so late on. He wondered if even now, he might call a Tommy Cab to take him the short distance he still had to go, then reflected that he didn't have precise co-ordinates and rejected the idea. He had been on his own thus far and would remain so to the end. His choice.
More warriors die than breeders. And where do they die and when and how. On some forsaken chip of rock that no one wants to know about anymore; in very short order from disembarkation and in frightful agonies, alone all glory gone. A senseless waste. What Kyle had chosen though basically because he didn't want to die that distant, premature, solitary, painful and unmourned death, was at least constructive, added to the species legacy.
At last he was bathed in the light from the shiny tower.
There were just five steps up to the glass doors and each step felt like he was climbing a mountain.
He fumbled in his jacket pocket for the key card he'd been given at his last class, found it and inserted it into the door lock. A nanosecond later the door hissed and slid open admitting Kyle to the reception area. An audio message told him to place the card in the desk reader and to have a pleasant stay.
There were three droids on duty at the circular desk. Kyle went to the one directly in front of him. It seemed to be hooked into some other system, maybe downloading the latest brain destroying episode of Yabba Strass but as he pressed the card in to the reader, the droid sprang to life.
"Welcome," it said and reading the card, "Kyle Demetrius, to birthing center five. Please take a moment to confirm your details. Name, Kyle Demetrius."
"Existence 22 years, Terran and 26 days, Terran."
"ID number 777485-6223."
"Yes. Could you speed this up a little, please?"
"Birthing plan solo."
The other droids stopped their equally mind buggeringly boring downloads and swivelled round to look at him. He could imagine their metallic laughter when he was finally out of the way and he would have felt something quite close to shame, had not a physical pain, so searing and raw, robbed him of any other feelings.
The droid continued. "Present address Sector 14, East. Building 27, Apartment 84."
"Yes," Kyle said still breathless from the pain. "Do you think I could have a sip of water, please." Kyle could never work out why he was polite to machines, auto-communicators, ATMs, even Tommy Cabs, he had always said please and thank you.
The droid looked at him. "Nil by mouth," it said.
"And that's it? Nil by mouth? No, 'I'm sorry you can't have anything to eat or drink, sir'? Just nil by mouth. I guess I'm lucky you didn't condense it to initials. Agh God!" Kyle almost folded as another pain ripped through his insides.
The droid seemed to wait until Kyle looked sufficiently recovered then continued. "Birthing pod number 555/73. Please take two pairs of clean coveralls from the receptacle to your right. Please take one birthing instruction interactive DVD from the receptacle to your left."
Kyle did as he was told.
"Please take a Medicaid kit from the second receptacle on your right."
Again Kyle obeyed and prayed, silently, that all this would be over soon.
"Please wait whilst a Tommy Chair takes you to elevator 10."
For a couple of seconds Kyle stood where he was and then the Tommy Chair arrived and bumped into the back of his legs almost forcing him to sit down.
"Hello," a second's pause while it read the card the droid inserted. "Kyle Demetrius. I am your chair number seven eighty two and I’m here to take you to .... Elevator 10. Please note, the safety strap is adjustable for your comfort.”
For once Kyle did not say thank you. Tommy Chairs it seemed, like Tommy Cabs were too familiar, but he was in too much pain to care about the mistakes in the manufacture of machines. He wanted this over and the very first thing he intended to do after his statuary three days recuperation was to get himself reassigned as a warrior. There was no way he was going through this again.
The Tommy Chair took him to the elevator and then smoothly up to the floor his card requested and along the seemingly endless corridor to the door of the cylindrical birthing pod.
“Do you require any assistance?”
“No,” Kyle mumbled. “I’ll be just fine on my own.”
“I could wait outside,” said the chair.
“Whatever.” Kyle inserted the card in to the door, it hissed and opened and just before it closed, he saw the chair plug itself in to a recharge station on the opposite wall.
The room was clean and bright with a triple glazed window that showed what ever you programmed it to show. Kyle didn’t bother with reprogramming, so it just showed him the real, dark, rainy night.
Pain seized him and he rammed the pre-programmed card in to the receptacle.
“Please remove all your clothing and stand in front of the diagnostic,” said a voice.
He obeyed and was grateful there were no reflective surfaces. His body disgusted him.
“Please put on the first coveralls,” the voice said after a moment and again Kyle obeyed and the voice immediately told him to position himself on the delivery couch.
For a moment he wondered if there were real people somewhere watching him but he didn’t think that was the case. That was why he had chosen this tower and the solo plan. He didn’t want people around and this, all of this was high end automation.
He lay down on the clean white couch and waited for instructions. There was a gap in the coveralls that exposed his belly. He could see it moving and when he looked up at the monitor which was just above his feet, he could see his belly moving there too.
He knew that the whole procedure would be bloodless and painless. Just as soon as he plugged himself in to the analgesic, he would be able to cut through his own tissue and deliver the baby and then he would be able to seal the wound and that would be the job done. Nothing more to it than that.
Quickly he placed the analgesic dispenser line in to the cannula in the back of his neck. Soon, and he was a little surprised by how soon, there was no more pain.
He put in the DVD, skipped the advertising intro and then very carefully watched and obeyed.
There was really nothing to it. The machines did it all. First they scanned to see exactly where the baby was and then, with just a little help from the human they were operating on, the laser scalpel made a clean, bloodless incision through exactly the right amount of tissue, the sterile spreaders dropped down from their pods and stretched the incision to exactly the right width to allow for the extraction and that was really all the human had to do, reach into the wound and extract and at that moment, that first second of contact with the thing that had shared his body for the last, he couldn’t think, however long it was, but that contact even through the sterile plastic gloves, changed everything for ever.
The baby, his baby, his infant son was real. He was warm, Kyle could feel his heart beating, the softness of his skin.
Kyle laid his son belly down on his own chest and marvelled.
The machines were telling him to; “Place the infant in the receptacle provided.”
Kyle told them to go fuck themselves and had a moment of deep humour imagining them doing that and then the DVD spluttered to blue screen and Kyle swore. He had only the vaguest idea of how to close the wound and now he felt very afraid indeed.
“Why is this happening?” He asked and was concerned by how small and needy his voice sounded.
The machines told him again to place the infant in the receptacle provided and for the first time since he had embarked on his life as a breeder, Kyle questioned.
“What happens if I do? What happens to the baby?”
There was, of course no answer. You did not question the machines.
At the classes people had questioned then, expressed their fears and they had been reassured by stock answers. Even Kyle had been reassured but he could not now remember anyone ever asking about the children.
He touched the child’s head. It moved.
Why were there no clothes for the baby, no diaper, nothing even to wrap it in?
The infant receptacle was to his right; a clear plastic dish that when he touched it, vibrated slightly as if preparing to disappear back into the side of the pod from which it came.
Kyle made a decision. If the DVD player did not right itself in ten seconds, he would have to fly completely solo, close the wound the best way he could and leave with his child. He had no idea of the consequences of such an act but they had left him with no choice.
He watched the screen and counted.
The machines repeated the request that the infant be placed in the receptacle.
The screen remained blue.
The request again in the same flat monotone.
Kyle noticed with alarm that the analgesic seemed to be losing its potency. He was starting to feeling uncomfortable.
He opened the Medicaid pack and withdrew the two clear plastic vials. One contained a mud coloured fluid labelled regeno-som and the other a clear fluid labelled dermo-gen. Inside outside. Pot luck as to which was which.
Kyle broke open the mud coloured regeno-som and spread the fluid on to the inner part of the wound in his belly. It set quickly and he could actually feel it drawing together the edges of his muscles and internal tissue.
The machine kept on repeating its request and Kyle noted with some satisfaction that it now sounded a little testy.
“You don’t give me the information I want, I don’t give you jack shit.” He snapped open the dermo-gen vial and ran the fluid along his skin on both sides of the incision. There was a searing pain and Kyle wondered if perhaps he had made another wrong choice but it passed and he could see that the incision was now closed.
A thought crossed his mind. If the machines had discontinued the analgesic what might they replace it with? He carefully removed the line from the cannula in his neck and stuck a pad from the Medicaid kit over it. Later, he would see if he could remove without killing himself, for now it could remain where it was.
Holding his child close, he got off the couch and stood, unsteadily for a few seconds and then the dizziness and discomfort passed and he was able to continue.
He had no idea what would happen if he put the baby down on any of the surfaces in the pod so he kept it close with one arm as he pulled on the clean coveralls changing arms and keeping the child as close to him as he could.
Nothing was now more important to Kyle Demitrius than this tiny life that he had brought into existence.
He struggled into his clothes which didn’t seem to want to fit over the two pairs of paper coveralls even though they had been comfortable when his belly was three times its size and wondered if he would be able to get out.
He still felt fairly certain that there were no people in charge here, that it was him against the machines and he wondered if he had the wit to outsmart them.
The machines had now stopped asking for the child and seemed intent on shutting down the systems as fast as they could.
Kyle took a chance and opened the door. After a second or twos delay, it obeyed him and slowly hissed open.
What he expected outside the door, he didn’t rally know but there was nothing, no army of droids waiting to snatch away his precious infant nothing but the Tommy Chair still plugged into the recharge station where he had last seen it.
He made his way over to it and sat in it.
The chair immediately unplugged itself and started to move even before Kyle had the safety strap done up.
“Take me down to reception,” Kyle said, “I’m done here.”
“My analysis shows that your weight has not decreased. Are you certain that the birthing process is over?”
“Yes, I am certain now just get me the fuck out of here.”
The chair took him to the elevator and on the brief journey down, Kyle examined his situation. If the chair could check his body weight and determine that he still had the child, how much better would the building do. It was why he had chosen the place because he had not wanted, nor did he want, other humans to be involved but what if all that automation, that had seemed so essential, wouldn’t let him out of the building.
He felt the child move against his chest and decided that he had to try. Maybe the stories weren’t true, maybe the babies did just go to automated nurseries but he couldn’t be sure.
They had reached the ground floor and there was no more time to think, no more time to change his mind.
The elevator door hissed open and the chair took him down the long corridor to the reception desk.
All the droids seemed occupied with other tasks so Kyle inserted his pre-programmed card and waited only a few seconds before instructing the chair to carry on.
No metallic voice called him back, the chair didn’t suddenly stop and lock him in with the safety belt.
At the doors he fumbled in his pockets for the exit key, found it in the last pocket he looked in and, getting out of the chair, inserted it in the door lock. The lock began to flash red but outside, someone had keyed themselves in.
Kyle moved quickly to the opening door as the new breeder with his group of friends and helpers entered.
He took a deep breath of cold night air. A quick look behind him showed the exit door still closed, the lock still flashing and the Tommy Chair still waiting to be dismissed. From inside the building came the faint sound of an alarm.
“Don’t wait for them to come get you,” said a man standing at the bottom of the steps. “Come with me.”
Kyle obeyed because he couldn’t think of anything else to do and followed the man out to the badlands.
He had watched as they fed, washed and dressed the child and then laid him down very carefully in a plastic cot that could have been the salad drawer from an old refridgerator then he had listened as they had talked for hours in the comfortable room beneath one of the dead buildings. They told him the history he remembered from school, talked about the wars and the damage that humans had done to their home and their species and how the machines had come up with the solutions; moving the wars off planet, altering males so that they could incubate babies, when the plague took the females, to perpetuate the species until they, the machines, could come up with a better way, and Kyle realised that though he knew all this, he had never used his knowledge to take him the next rational step to working out how the providers fed everyone on a planet where still nothing grew and no animals survived.
The man who had brought him and his child to this place and said his name was Vincent offered him food but after what they had said about what happened to the first born, Kyle was reluctant.
“Don’t be crazy,” said Vincent. “It’s vegetable matter. We grow it here. Do you honestly think that the providers would dump ‘rations’ out here for us.”
“I’m finding this very hard.”
“We all did. We all thought it was just stories and then someone got video of it actually happening and those of us who saw it ...”
“You saw it?”
“Yes. Look it’s like when humans used to have cattle, always the first born calf would go in to the food chain. It didn’t matter if it was male or a female, it was judged not good enough to be a breeding animal.”
“And that is how the machines think of us.”
“We built them that way.”
Vincent looked at him. “I dunno. It’s just the way things worked out.” He paused and looked down at the plate of food on Kyle’s lap. “You really should eat that. You need food to survive and you need to survive if not for the species sake or your own, then for his.”
Kyle looked at the child, his child, sleeping soundly in this strange world and then picked up the spoon and started, slowly to eat.
Archived comments for First Born
Hornygoloch on 14-10-2009
I'm not a huge fan of science fiction but I was fascinated by the detail and coherence of the story. The cold politeness of the machines was effective in raising the tension of the piece but I feel that perhaps Kyle's escape from the tower was a little easy. There are some parallels with the film "Soylent Green" for those old eough to remember it but never the less this was worth a read.
Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to read and comment. It is much appreciated.
I agree the ending is a little 'in a leap and a bound he was free'. In the original story, which is way too long to post here, there was a more detailed and slightly more sinister escape but as I say it was too long and I wanted to post here because I wanted to see what people thought of the story.
The story had many influences; 'Soylent Green' being one, though that was the other end of the age scale. Did you know that was the last movie Edward G Robinson made?
I'm a great sci-fi fan and I love the Man causing his own downfall scenario.
Once again, many thanks for reading and commenting and for the rating.