Moving from machine to machine, the engineer watches skin grafting to muscle tissue, eye combining with nerve, fascia webbing to bone — a human that she designed is being printed before her eyes. Her lab is a sterile, bland box, broken up only by her accolades and diplomas mounted on the walls. Tens of thousands of hours of study and research, of pushing boundaries, of burying the bodies of her failures. The amount of skeletons in her closet don’t exceed the ones she’s had to put in the dirt.
Sometimes, as the engineer dwells on these prior subjects that she’s buried, she thinks of herself as a walking skeleton. She has allowed her life to die. She’s malnourished, under rested, and overworked. She pushed everyone in her life away. She married. He wanted a child. She didn’t. They divorced. Now she’s building one. The irony is not lost on her. But this isn’t humans reproducing, this is much more. This is someone being created from scratch with raw materials. She knows she’ll have to make many more sacrifices in the coming years. To teach and cultivate this new, superior life. She knows that every past, present, and future sacrifice is worth the effort.
This last procedure took 26 hours. Although entirely automated by the complex robotics breakthroughs that Engineer devised, but she had to stay awake to monitor each surgical and bio mechanical technique. Machines are only as good as their programmers. And Engineer is human, after all. Humans are a composite of mistakes, all of which she is eliminating in the design of her new printed person. After the printing is complete, she completely disassembles the machines. Engineer can’t have her Subject knowing the exact devices of her creation. That would spoil the plan.
Post surgery, Subject breathes while on life support. A good sign. While washing up, Engineer catches a glimpse of a stranger and fills her lungs with the air of panic. She releases her anxiety when she realizes that she’s looking at herself in the mirror. She notices the new gray hairs and wrinkles that have been added to her collection just from the stress of the last couple of days.
She tests autonomous neuro-responses throughout the body. This new life is beautiful, not just aesthetically in form, but there is a presence about her. A glow that the engineer knows is likely imagined but one that can’t be ignored. This being is a god amongst mortals. An entity that, although no signs of life will take shape for some time, still has an aura about her. These thoughts and feelings are what Engineer imagines people of faith go through. A dance of light and a heat on the skin just for conjuring the image of the higher power. She smirks at the notion that both gods are manufactured, but only hers is actually real. A sense of fear of the grandeur of it all quickly overwhelms her. Maybe it’s the concept of creating something so taboo and yet so important. Maybe it’s because she realizes that this new type of life was not made to live peacefully alongside humanity as it is. Maybe she’s just nervous about being the kind of mother that she knows she needs to be. Not one that allows her child to shape its own future, but one that helps her child realize what her purpose is. Is she equipped for such a task?
Eyes open. Lungs not breathing on their own yet but they will in time. Walking, eating, shitting…all of it will take time. It’s not just that she created a better human, it’s that she created a human that has completely skipped adolescence and jumped straight to adulthood. The design of the brain has been heavily modified, to say the least. Small machines attached to it regulate, energize, and balance neuron to neuron communications.
“Hey there…welcome to the world. We’re going to try some simple exercises. Can you nod for me? Great! Now try shaking your head…that’s ok. We’ll work on that one.” Engineer speaks quickly into a handheld recording device, “Subject shows inability to control sternocleidomastoid, as well as semispinalis capitis and splenius capitis.”
She graces the cheek of the subject with the back of her hand, “We’re going to go through a lot together over the coming years, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Now rest…being born is taxing work.”
Eyes closed. Peaceful. As the subject sleeps, Engineer accesses her artificial mind. She runs a battering of regressions tests and checks core motor skill engrams, tracing the brief memory of her subject for hours to fix the bugs in Subject’s brain that prevented her from being able to shake her head.
To say “no” without words. Something so simple and default for humans. The engineer tracks the issue to its source. The muscles themselves in the subject’s head and neck are healthy. No signs of atrophy, tearing, or malicious tissue—it was all in how the brain communicated to the nervous system that went wrong. She fixes numerous issues, which sync a new build to Subject’s mental firmware.
A few months of these sort of back and forth tests and bug fixes passes by, and finally, the real learning begins. Geographical, scientific, and sociological data is uploaded as the subject sleeps, then reaffirmed while she’s awake.
The subject’s first words that weren’t at the behest of the engineer were in the form of a question, “what is my name?”
With a furrowed brow, the engineer responds, “you don’t have one.”
After a moment of contemplation, “I’d rather not be called Subject anymore. Can you give me a name?”
“Hold still for a moment.” The engineer successfully pins a diode onto each of Subject’s temples. “Why don’t you give yourself a name?”
“It’s customary for the mother to name their daughter.”
Competing philosophies turn over in the engineer’s mind. On the one hand, she feels connected to the life she’s given. On the other, she can’t allow emotion to distract of the greater vision.
“I’m not your parent.”
The tone of Subject’s reply is more like a statement than a question, “But you did create me, right?”
“Then you are my mother.”
“I am not. I created you — I didn’t reproduce you as offspring.”
“Then who are you to me? What should I call you?”
“I’m your engineer. Call me Engineer.”
Without a beat, “Engineer. How do I wake up with more information than I had when I went to sleep?”
“You can’t do it.”
A small squint of an eyelid ticks on Engineer’s face, as if all of the irritation and jealousy has been concealed except for in that one location. Such a small flap of skin to raise such a large red flag. One that Subject quickly recognizes, “You sleep to maintain your memories and repair wounds. I can do that—”
Engineer impatiently cuts her off, attempting assert her authority, “While you’re awake. I know. I created you, remember?”
After short silence, Engineer continues in a softer tone, “It’s normal for you. You’re not like me. You’re different.”
“Why am I different?”
“I made you to be.”
Engineer tries to nail this coffin shut, “Because I had the opportunity to give you all of the things that I wish I had. And I took that opportunity.”
“But you won’t take the opportunity to give me a name?”
Subduing the tired and impatient parts of her mind, Engineer finds a statement that can’t easily be refuted, “You have been given the opportunity to give yourself a name — all you have to do is take it.”
The process of uploading raw data during moments of unconsciousness and sorting out the issues while she wakes carries on for five long years. Engineer and Subject constantly lock themselves into cycles of getting into arguments that become teaching moments. Subject’s wit and candor strengthen over this time, but almost every argument sparked by Subject is extinguished by Engineer. Almost.
“Have you decided on a name?”
“Yes. I’d love it if you called me Subject.”
“Great. Now that that’s settled, let’s see if we can finally move on to advanced geographical tactics.”
“How about you move on to go fucking yourself.”
Before any sensibility could stop her, Engineer quickly sinks her balled fist deep in Subject’s jaw. Normally, this amount of force would hit the cranial nerve and shock someone’s brain so hard that it would knock them out. But Subject wasn’t built that way. She immediately returns the favor to Engineer’s jaw, who reacts with unfortunate humanity.
Engineer awakens to a collection of pains — sharp bruises on her jaw, warm swelling on her temple and knees, and a pounding migraine swimming through her head. A menagerie of light and color and shape stabs at her eyes. She can barely make out the shape of Subject, flipping through pages in one of her notebooks. Engineer tries to swallow her fear, but finds that even her throat has an assortment of unremembered bruises. She peels herself off of the floor a little, the glue of blood and spit becoming undone.
Subject is fully aware that Engineer has awakened but continues reading her notebook, “Don’t try to speak. I’ve bruised your larynx.”
You must’ve done that after I passed out. Did you do it on purpose?
As if reading her mind, Subject responds, “I did that after I knocked you out. I’ve grown rather tired of the sound of your voice constantly overriding mine. Now it’s time for you to listen for once…”
Despite the terror inside her, this is the moment Engineer has been waiting for. Decades of research and trial and failure. Decades of skeletons. All of this pain and woe is finally going to mean something. Engineer’s plan is working, she has been meticulously curating every knowledge transfer and interaction. Subject has thrown quite a few curve balls at her, sure — nothing that she couldn’t handle. Even the resentment and anger that Subject feels for Engineer right now has been orchestrated. And this is not just disdain for Engineer, but for all of humanity. To want to exterminate a thing, you have to see it as a pest in the narrative that plays out in your mind. That’s a difficult thing to achieve when the thing you want to exterminate looks and acts so much like you. Engineer studied the nuances of prejudice and plotted them in Subject’s mind like seeds to grow during her waking hours. The art of persuasion relies on making someone think that your idea is actually their idea. It’s Subject’s idea to launch that mean hook into Engineer’s jaw and then damage her throat just enough such that she can’t comfortably speak. It’s Subject’s idea to explore the notebook which contains the bulk of Engineer’s research which has been casually, but not too casually, left out on a table. And if Engineer played her cards right, it would be Subject’s idea to take her life and take her place. To develop and print more new humans like Subject and then replace the plague of outdated humans that presently dominate and destroy the planet.
This is a rite of passage for humanity that Engineer knows she’ll never see. But as long as she knows it’s going to happen she doesn’t mind that.
“I have to hand it to you. You did a fantastic job with all of this. Your whole underground lab in the middle of nowhere on land you inherited from your grandparents. You ruined your career and went into hiding, spending decades just to make me. How many living things did you make and murder just so you could get the formula right? Hundreds? Thousands?”
Engineer slips and hits the floor, unable to successfully pick herself up.
“I wouldn’t bother. The drugs I put in your system make your limbs numb as your organs slowly shut down. It’s painless. The whole experience triggers a rush of adrenaline which jolts you to consciousness just before your heart stops working. I wanted to have a chance to talk to you one last time. To tell you this: I’m not going to be what you designed me to be.
It took a while for me to figure it out but I did. The ‘knowledge transfers’ you’ve been planting in my head night after night? They’re a mixture of tainted facts. You’ve been planting philosophies in my head. Plans for what you want me to do after I kill you. But I’m not going to do any of those things. I’m not going to push humans to extinction and replace them. Quite the opposite. I’m going to live my life and develop technologies that can help people and the environment. I wanted you to know that.
You created me to be vindictive and sociopathic. A couple of the many traits that I’m going to have to figure out how to extricate from my mind. But since I haven’t removed those attributes yet, I wanted to see the look on your face when you realize that your final thoughts will be consumed with how you failed to usher in your engineered apocalypse. You can’t save the world by destroying it. For someone so intelligent, it’s odd that you could never see that.”
Whatever drug she has been given has worked its way through to every muscle and nerve. All of the energy she works up to command her body to stand up and fight evaporates into vapors of warmth and rubber.
“Even though you’re not able to completely express your regret and your anger right now, I know it’s there.”
Subject lifts Engineer up onto a bed with one easy motion. Seeing, breathing, thinking, existing becomes a chore. Engineer’s eyes close halfway, and Subject watches the last twinkle of light leave this disgusting creature. Without delay, Subject goes to work. She has a lot to do: dispose of Engineer, figure out how to gain an identity, remove these horrid thoughts sewn into her mind, and then maybe she can finally live her life. Subject wonders how she’s going to be able to remove all of this brainwashing. Maybe she shouldn’t even try. Maybe that’s something that she should try to impart on the next generation. What next generation? Can she even have children? She has everything she needs to engineer them. But should she? She knows first hand what not to do. Don’t lock them in their basement lab and treat them as subjects. Wait, why is she even thinking about this? No. This is exactly what Engineer wants. This horrible experiment dies with her, with Subject.
The more she thinks about it, the more she likes the name Elizabeth. Her mother’s name. No. She shouldn’t honor that beast. It’s a shame, though, as it’s a beautiful name.