The congress debated the issue five 'months,' then put it on the ballot as a referendum. It was the only solution they could see. The individual members of the congress couldn't agree with themselves on the issue. The decision would be made by those who could make a choice, yes or no. They had just enough time to get it on the ballot.
No advertising was done. No support groups sprang up. The people knew the need and the choice. They knew the options. The choice would be made by each one who decided to make the choice one way or the other. It was made by twelve percent of the population who did vote. That wasn't unexpected. The turnout for the election was moderate. That hadn't been unexpected either. The count was done and checked and the people accepted the choice. There were twenty-three more votes to accept the offer of Kethis Laboratory. They would buy young men.
It wasn't an extremely populous planet. That was part of the problem. It was suddenly getting less populous fast. They needed healthy genetic material. The fourteen worlds The Way of Light church dominated in the Sector League had made it illegal to do in vitro fertilization eighty years before. They'd also made it illegal to import human gametes. Then the Chirardy sea mines had been opened and an algae had changed. It was eaten by the most common type of food fish. Fish was a major source of protein. By the time they'd identified it, they needed healthy genetic material. Kethis Laboratory had made an offer.
Major Addison took a deep breath instead of arguing. General Moshyan smiled ironically and she returned it. The reaction was why she was right for the job.
"General, they're going to be pretty dependent."
"I hope they are, Addy. By law, they're not people. They are defined as property. They're being 'built' for a purpose."
"I feel real... odd doing business with Kethis Labs."
"This is why they still exist. If there's a profit to be made in helping a world avert a disaster, they'll find a way."
"Sometimes I want to just pick up Sereband and move it to another sector."
"If you find a way, every person on the planet would cheer. Well, maybe not every person. Some might be unconscious. Meanwhile, we carefully keep the treaty that makes it a much less dangerous place to live."
"Tell me what I'm actually going to have and help me figure out what I'm going to do."
"I don't know, male clones. All tissue donors deceased. All rated 'superior.' We know they were capsule grown and link educated. We know they're the equivalent of eighteen sector years, but not how old they are. That's part of the process and secret. We know there are one hundred ready and there will be one hundred more in a half year. We know there will be one hundred every half year for five years. You were chosen to get our two from the first hundred."
"And take them from base to base to be milked."
"Addy, there are nearly thirty thousand women in the military of prime childbearing age. We have the organization to make it simple for them, even if they don't want to be more than an occasional visitor in a child's life. Personally, I hope some of them decide they're going to get baby the old fashioned way."
"Think about it. "
"Many of them have loves."
"They will decide whether to try again and again with their loves, in hopes they get lucky and a healthy ova and sperm make a healthy child. Or if they'll go with those loves to a clinic to start with better odds. Those thirty thousand don't all have a high percentage of healthy ova either. The ones I'm talking about are the young women who do and know we need their children, but don't have a special someone. Think about it, Major."
Addison did think about it. She had a great deal of respect for the general, as general, psychiatrist and best friend. Verid Moshyan expected her to figure out how to do something. She was currently working on what that something was.
Suddenly she stopped walking. The truth was the idea of women actually having sex with the clones was unpleasant. She wanted them to be domestic animals to be "milked." They had no rights and couldn't be freed because they weren't enslaved. One could only make slaves of people. They were things, and the attitude of the sector had begun to take root on her world.
She walked into the lovely park that fronted Army Headquarters in the capital and found a pleasant bench. The general had handed her more than an unpleasant assignment. She'd handed her a difficult and possibly dangerous one, if she did it right. They were young men even if they were things. Somehow their people had to accept them as both, without damaging the society, and it started with her and the young men she was going to get.
Sereband's military was a compromise. They did need to be prepared, but the threat they were prepared to meet was actually unlikely to be an armed force, if they were careful in how they dealt with the fourteen worlds where The Way of Light was the universal religion. They served as space police and disaster assistance, but their function in the society was to provide training and education. A great many young people joined for three to four years because of the educational opportunity.
University level classes were taught on every base and every class hour counted as four duty hours. It was considered the appropriate way to get tech training as well. She'd joined for that reason and gone from advanced tech training, to university classes, to officers' training. She had two doctorates. Most over the rank of captain did. Most first sergeants had at least masters degrees. It wasn't a requirement for any rank, but there was always something interesting being taught and degrees just accumulated once one had the basics. They were highly educated, well trained and under threat.
The threat wasn't the disaster which had struck. It was the situation it had put them in. In any other sector, they could have done in vitro to assure healthy children, aborted damaged fetuses, or yelled for help and every planet in the sector would have sent healthy gametes.
They were one of nine actual democracies in the sector. The other worlds called themselves democracies, but they were functionally theocracies. If the church didn't like it, there would be a law passed against it. If you didn't agree to the law they wanted, you could find yourself fighting a "holy" war. And so, there was a sector league and every inhabited world sent representatives to 'rubber stamp' the laws they were forced to accept.
There was no abortion, no genetic engineering, no divorce... Human life was precious and perfect and marriage was holy. If you weren't sure you wanted to spend a hundred years or more with someone, you didn't do it. Couples didn't just separate either. Sex with someone besides the spouse was illegal too. It was a minimum two year prison term if you were caught. Proven prostitution was a minimum ten year sentence. The only law the church hadn't gotten passed, that she could think of, was the one making any sex outside marriage illegal. They'd tried that one when people had stopped getting married. They'd backed down when the nine planets had proposed a tax on them to help support a prison population of several billion.
On Sereband, almost no one got married. Those few couples who did had usually spent fifteen or twenty years together already. It was the same on the other eight who wished their worlds were in another sector.
The church itself puzzled her. The belief was simple and reasonable. Basically, it all works and there's some reason for it. The problem was the church hierarchy had determined exactly how humans were supposed to 'work,' and it was becoming less tolerant of people who didn't agree. And still growing, even on Sereband. No religious group could "minister or hold services" on military bases, but there was a The Way of Light church near every gate of every base.
She'd never been in one. She'd started to go 'just to see' when she'd been a private, but the hair on the back of her neck stood up when she put her foot across the threshold and she'd turned around. She hadn't thought about that in a long time. She suddenly shivered. She had the distinct feeling she'd barely escaped the 'jaws' of something.
Bennett Tulaga was thinking about the church of The Way of Light at that moment too. They'd moved fast enough the church hadn't had time to react. It had been very close on Sereband, but they had voted to accept the contract. He and a large number of others had worked very hard to make it unbreakable and seemingly reasonable. No one who actually knew how much each clone 'cost' would tell anyone otherwise. He smiled at the pang of guilt he felt for being 'pleased' Sereband had suffered a horrible disaster. The opportunity had been grasped with joy, but all of them at Kethis would have worked desperately to prevent it if they'd known...
The danger, of course, lay in the unpredictable reaction of the church. They'd done everything they could to prepare for it, but that was basically be wary and ready to move fast. They could suddenly be defending themselves against fleets of 'believers' who, of course, did not have church sanction, but showed the 'nobility of their spirits and the Light of Faith within them.' They could be running for the other side of human space with the militaries of fourteen worlds chasing them too, but it was much less likely. He stopped enumerating the possibilities and took a deep breath.
He had faith too. He believed something helped when you were doing the best you could to help. He was smiling when Andris Kobe walked through the open door of his quarters. Hers were across the corridor on the huge Kethis Laboratory Station in orbit around the gas giant they called Stripes.
"You're not as nervous as I am."
"I'm not sending my children into the bear's den. Are they ready, Andris?"
"Yes. They understand they exist to save a world. All of them said they wanted to do it. I've talked with each individually and so have the others. They believed us when we said anyone who didn't think he could handle it should not go. I have a hundred sporting a lovely script C on their left cheek. Frabee wants one."
"He's not a clone, Andris."
"Well, that's a matter of interpretation of the term. It's the reason he exists too, Bennett. He's the proof the technique worked."
"He knows too much."
"He knows the statistics of the disaster. He knows we were working desperately to find a way to help."
"He knows we feel something is a danger to all of us and that's the real 'desperately.' He's caught the feeling?"
"Some of that and some is his situation here."
"He's useful and we like him."
"Running errands seems a bit mundane for a person 'built' to save a world, don't you think?"
"You want to let him do this. Why?"
"Actually who, Major Addison Addison."
"Her parents had the same surname. It's common for unmarried couples to give the child the father's surname, or at least some form of it, as first name. Hers evidently just couldn't resist. She's in what they call the 'bio corp.' She's not medical personnel or a biologist. She's a very hot pilot with doctorates in trans-light physics and colonial history. I read her doctoral theses. I was impressed with the one for history. Brailer recognized the one for physics."
"A hundred is a hundred, Andris. It makes an exception to the letter of the contract."
"Frabee said there should be one who has watched what happens on Sereband to talk to the next group. He carefully explained why he wasn't the right one for the job. I think he's right, Bennett. Only one of them can tell them how it feels to bear that kind of... burden. I've also got a gut feeling keeping Frabee from doing what he thinks he should is a mistake."
"Since your 'gut feeling' has led research on this station the right direction time after time, further argument would seem silly."
Frabee chose a partner. He surprised him into a sudden smile with a grin and wink and watched pleasure suffuse him. He remembered his first real smile very clearly. He decided to name him Terrance.
"Hi. I'm Frabee. You're Terrance."
"You don't get to pick a name. Somebody sticks you with one. In my case, it was stuck on before I was two cells. I was first of the batch. I've got six months of deciding who I am. I figured I'd give you a head start with a classy name. I remember my first smile. Oh, and my first real case of giggles. I was helpless. I laid on the floor and people just stepped over me. That did not lessen the giggles, and everyone who did was smiling. It won't be like that on Sereband, but the society is too healthy not to be worth it."
"I understand within limitations of which you obviously are aware."
"We're spermatozoa producing biological machines. That IS our legal status."
"We have none. That's a definition."
"Oh, I'm glad I chose you."
"You're speaking of more than giving me a name?"
"Yes, I am. Communications. Message to Andris from Frabee. I picked my partner. He's a cute little thing. I named him Terrance."
"I'm two meters three."
"Yes, and almost as gorgeous as I am."
"Since our appearance is not something we did, your seemingly smug attitude about it is confusing."
"Remember, I've been keeping myself in this shape. I also chose my hair style and my clothes."
"You're wearing the same thing I am."
"Blue covalls make my eyes look greener. Watch."
"What are you doing?"
Frabee rolled the sleeves, then pushed them above his elbows. He opened the top two fas strips, stood the narrow collar up in back and 'pressed' the open top into lapels with his fingers. Terrance was watching very closely. He was waiting for the slight look of confusion. He remembered that feeling too.
"The desire to touch is healthy, Terrance. We don't have a morass of societal attitudes to slog through, but we also don't have the experience of adolescence and sexual awakening. I haven't had sex yet, but I've gotten and given hugs."
"A hug wasn't quite what you suddenly had in mind?"
"No, it wasn't."
"Want to do something about it?"
"Like I said, I haven't yet. Of course, I wasn't in the same situation to start. Terrance, a pair of us are being sent to each of fifty organizations on Sereband. Places doesn't really say it. The government bought medical aid and gave the responsibility to various groups to see to it the purchased vaccine is widely distributed."
"Vaccine, it's how the people here see us, isn't it?"
"No, they see us as youths with all they can give us to prepare us for the task of saving a world."
"They don't see us as children, but the rest of you don't have enough actual life experience for the emotional tenor of the term young men. Youths was a compromise. Listening to people talk is wonderful. The discourses chosen for the link were very carefully selected to give us an appreciation of it. We're stuffed with facts and figures and the way to manipulate them as well, but those were just listed, not debated point by point. We got history in as unbiased a form as ever existed. We got the words of the great speakers to explain how people on each side of every conflict felt about it, not just who fought who where and on what date, or who won what election campaigning on what issue. So, have you run into anything you have a real opinion about yet?"
"Yes. I like what you did with your covalls and I don't have any personal objections to having sex with a male."
"Thanks, but I'll give you a bit of time to be sure of the second one."
"Oh, I'm quite sure. I'm also quite sure I'm... scared."
"So am I. Doing what you're sure needs to be done, even though it scares you, is the real meaning of courage. If there isn't fear to overcome, it can't be a courageous act. In my six months, I've learned the people here are courageous."
"Yes. The hierarchy of the church of The Way of Light didn't expect the people of Sereband to vote to accept the contract. You were readied because the people here hoped, not expected, they would. The church isn't popular on Sereband, but it's growing. It isn't popular on any of the nine democracies, but it's growing."
"I now understand the meaning of ominous."
"You now understand profit is not the motive for the research done here. They won't tell any of us that. It's a feeling that has to be absorbed. That's why I'm going and one of you is staying here to talk to the next batch about what happens to us. Terrance, I do know the six month interval was something they chose and not how long it requires."
"I don't know. If I did, I probably wouldn't be going with you. I don't know if it's shorter, or much longer. They learned what had happened on Sereband eleven years ago. Artificial light was the stimulus for an algae to change, but it didn't do it by adapting to the light. It adapted to change. It produced a mutagenic agent. The algae in the oceans of Sereband is now slightly different in every habitat of the sea. It was always everywhere. They no longer eat fish for protein on Sereband, but the population is falling so they aren't in danger of starving."
"So many thousands of damaged children to care for, how can they give all of them the love... a child needs?"
"I've given a lot of thought to the understanding each of us has of love, Terrance. We're grown in a capsule, as it's called, and our life experience is computer instilled, but we know what love is. We recognize it instantly."
"We also don't have the same initial personality. It's one of the first things we realized. I now have an opinion that they kept us together as a group so we would learn we did not."
"You're right and they're amazed at how distinct your personalities are. All of us got the same basics, but the educational focus changed a bit after them. This one got a bit more social science, that a bit more physical. This one got a bit more music and that a bit more visual art. This one a few more great novels and that a few more poems. They gave us all they could to assure we survived the experience. People are going to try to kill us, castrate us, damage us physically and those are the simple threats to deal with. It's the reason behind those threats that's the most dangerous to us. We will be emotionally injured. They did everything they could to keep that injury from being crippling."
Frabee looked around at the rest of the group who had gathered to hear the conversation. He counted the number who met his eyes and nodded. He was pleased. One lifted his hand to catch his attention and spoke.
"I shall wait for the next group. I understood all you told us, perhaps even that which you did not say. I understand it will be a great deal more difficult to go when one has seen the injury done to you and experienced its echo in oneself. I will be able to do so. You have taught we need a leader and how he is to lead. I can do that as well. I know I am the right one to do it because I don't like it."
"Communications. Message to Andris. You can stop trying to figure out who not to send. The right one picked himself. I'm naming him George. He'll appreciate the humor of it about the third time someone sends him on an errand."
Andris burst into laughter. "Let George do it." was an oft heard phrase on the station. Giretta Padlum, a biochemistry lab aide, said it when she was busy with something and someone asked her to do something else. It had spread. It was the way they said, "Find someone else if you can, but I'll get to it as soon as I'm done with this if you can't." Frabee had been the someone a great deal of the time. Bennett grinned at her.
"He just told you it worked."
"Yes. They're different individuals to start with. It's what Sereband and, more importantly, the church don't expect."
"Terrance and George. I don't think he likes Frabee."
"Well, he likes it because of how he got it. He understands it was a term of affection for the bit of life we pinned our hopes on."
"I'm even more nervous about sending him now."
"Hiding our hope from them would be a terrible thing to do to them, Bennett. They have to see it in us to know we don't see them as things. That's what he's making sure they recognized. It's a defense he's sure they need."
"How are we doing on tissue collection?"
"Haskerty wants to collect from some still living."
"He has a "mental list" of very elderly who will probably be deceased within five years and have already designated their bodies for research."
"There's something special about them."
"They meet the criteria; brilliant, beautiful, long-lived and exceptionally healthy physically and emotionally the entire length of them."
"Some of them may be. I don't ask. I once asked if we were getting a good range of skills and talents. He told me Askya had said, 'a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker' and butcher had been the only difficult one to find, but he'd decided a farmer from a self-sustaining homestead qualified."
"I trust his judgment."
"We all do, or we'd be asking a great many more questions. Which, of course, is why the decision on who is his alone."
"So is the way he gets tissue. Remind him of it."
"Thank you. I think he needs the reassurance. If he didn't, he wouldn't have asked. He'd have just done it and given us the tissue after they were deceased. He's sturdy, but it's a hell of a responsibility."
"Yes, and he ended up with it because he stated we wanted successful people, not successful professionals, while we were all naming off great successes in our own fields. I had several I was sure we should try for. So did everyone else. He told me opportunity and environment were the reason one with math talent became a physicist of great renown and another a meteorologist whose neighbors liked him."
"He said about the same thing to me. That's when I pitched my mental list and Todra said, 'Thank you. You're drafted. I retire.' and we put her back to work here. He may have a personal criteria of men who became successful people against the odds of bad environments and lack of opportunity."
"No more speculation. Every time I do it, I come back to the Ursan experiments in genetic engineering of two centuries ago. If I have to swear to tell the truth in a court of law, I don't want to have to admit I even suspect some tissue came from men who were the results of the experiments. Which is why it bothers me Frabee is going."
"We just chose the healthiest sample each time. He's not engineered. He was selected, just not in quite the same fashion as the rest and he doesn't know it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. No one told him and there aren't any records of it. I'm sure he's figured it out, but he doesn't know it. He's quite capable of making the distinction."
"The unmentioned criteria for working here, being able to not help people you care about bear the heavy load you can see they're carrying."
"Just tell them you're there if it becomes too much to carry and you trust them to know if it does. Haskerty knew when he needed help with his."
"I've got mine settled in my backpack and my knees aren't buckling under it."
"I'm right across the corridor if you get a chunk you can't get packed alone."
"I love you too. Marry me."
"One of these days, I'm going to shock you and say yes."
"I expect it. I figure you'll stop getting a gleam in your eye, when you have off-station leave coming soon, when you hit about a hundred sixty."
"Um, speaking of which, I'd like ten days."
"There's a gorgeous new resort opening on Caliph Bay. They're making sure their new neighbors like them with a huge festival that's filling all the hotels in the area. I already made a reservation and a couple costumes for the festival, moved money to my play with account, lost two kilos so my skimpy black swimsuit looks good..."
"Yes. I'm sure you planned it for after this group has all been picked up."
"You're sure you'll need the distraction the first few days they're on Sereband."
"It will help keep me from just going after them all and bringing them home where they're safe."
"We gave them every defense we could, Andris, including physical skills."
"Cadry chose sailing. She said she was telling everyone because it was rather innocuous and someone had to come up with an example. I don't know what anyone else chose to include, but I know there were several duplicates and several that were, more or less, variations of the same thing. Prinsky expected it. He handed me a selection program before the computer asked for one. He thinks we should tell the reps who come to get them physical skills were computer selected and we won't know what they are until they're exhibited either. Except sailing, which was given as an example."
"It's good. Selection criteria?"
"The best all around physical benefit, then the most popularity to distinguish between variations. Prinsky said putting the physical first assured we didn't get catch instead of baseball."
"I'll tell them that's the somewhat crude example the programmer gave."
"I thought it was good too. I giggled the whole time I loaded the eight hundred twenty megs. Now, about Addison Addison."
"I won't tell her anything, but I'll talk to her."
"She'll hear what you don't say."
Copyright © 1999 Sharon L 'Spinner' Reddy
All Rights Reserved