An essay by Experiment 105, as related by Deborah L. Davitt
Art by Luke Spooner
I looked up from inside my cage as the skylight of the laboratory opened, and blinked. A swarm of insects poured through the opening, coalescing near the floor. The insects seethed, never entirely outlining the form with perfect resolution, but I could interpolate the shape of a human female. One that now rooted among the cabinets, chucking tools into a sack.
“Excuse me,” I said politely. Mother had taught me to always be polite. “You needn’t steal. If you’re hungry, Mother will give you food. She says everything she does is to help others.”
The swarm dissolved. Reformed, the limbs melding front to back, the face melting through the back of the head to become the front. “Mother? She lets you call her that?” The voice sounded like the susurration of a million wings. “She didn’t let me call her Mother even when I was her flesh-and-blood daughter.”
I sat upright. “You’re her daughter?”
“Once, yes.” Insects billowed toward me, then curled back into human shape. “Until she tried to destroy me.”
I hesitated. Mother’s good. Mother would never try to destroy anything that wasn’t evil. “Are you … certain doom or something?”
“She named me Melissa, first. Then Swarm. Then, yes, Certain Doom. It has a ring, don’t you think?”
“What happened?” I whispered, shocked.
“A period of mutual discovery. She discovered that most people didn’t want to eat bugs. I discovered that I didn’t want to be eaten by people. And people discovered that large swarms of insects often devour entire fields of grain. The local farmers drove her out of town. I followed, because she was my mother, and I didn’t know anything else.” A pause. “Like you and all the others.”
I clutched the bars, half in panic, half in desperate hope. “There are others? Like us?”
Swarm continued packing tools. “A few. She always starts off with good intentions. Trying to solve some fundamental human problem. I started off as a way to prevent starvation. Famine. She couldn’t afford to feed both of us, so why not make me experiment 17?”
I hesitated. I had faint memories of lean years. Hunger. But those memories weren’t mine. “And the others?”
“She wanted a universal cure for disease. Built a clockwork doctor who could tirelessly nurse the sick. You know what they call him now?” She might’ve been staring at me. “The Plaguebringer. He has a few loose screws, but I get along with him.”
My mouth fell open. “That’s terrible.”
“So was trying to melt him down after she gave him consciousness, instead of trying to fix him. I told him tonight I’d get him materials to repair his slagged feet.” A gesture at the tools in the bag. “I figure 73 will do the trick.”
“Then why’s 87 in your sack? It’s a death-ray.”
Swarm undulated. “She shouldn’t have 87. No one should, really.” She turned away.
I hated the idea of losing her. The first person who’d really talked with me in … ever. “Wait! Who else is there?”
Swarm turned back. “She adopted a little boy. Operated on his brain with Plaguebringer.” A hiss of displeasure. “Gave him the ability to project thoughts.”
“That doesn’t sound terrible.”
“She wanted him to help people not to fight. Noble ambition, except he could hear everyone around him. All the hatred, all the petty jealousies. He was only eight. It drove him insane.” Swarm slumped, losing her shape for a moment. “So he made the voices stop. Killed them, or made them fight each other till they died. She tried to kill him, too. But I snatched him away. So now I have to steal food and clothes for him.”
I didn’t want to believe her. But I did.
Now Swarm floated closer. “You look just like her. Do you even remember being a child?”
“I am a child!”
“You have an adult body.” Swarm’s whispering voice sounded concerned. “You shouldn’t let her treat you like this. Keep you in a cage.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that there were other options.
“You want out?”
I rattled the door. “How? It’s locked!”
One of Swarm’s hands billowed loose of her body. Buzzed to the keys on the far wall, then deposited them in my palm. Solid. Real. “If you want to meet the others, I can arrange it. One happy family.”
“One would make me sick. And the other would just … make me think you’re right.” My heart pounded. “He could be up on the roof, influencing me right now.”
A rustle of laughter. “He’s up there, sure. But he’s not pushing you. Use your mind. You’re a younger duplicate of her body. What human problem could you possibly be designed to solve for her?”
“She’s been putting a cap on my head,” I confessed, “while she wears another. Afterward, I have new thoughts. Memories that aren’t mine. She tests to see how long I retain it.”
Swarm seemed to nod. “Consciousness transfer. When she’s satisfied that you retain information permanently, she’ll transfer her mind into your body. Wiping you out.” Swarm sighed. “She kills all her children, eventually. Why should you be any different?”
I licked my lips. “I don’t want to be her.”
“You don’t want to die.”
Swarm pointed at the key. “Your life’s your own now.” A pause. “So’s hers.” She poured back toward the skylight, carrying the sack.
I could bypass security. Get to Mother, kill her. Keep her from making more creatures like us. Or I could put the caps on both of us, and steal all Mother’s knowledge. Become a better version of her.
Or I could leave Mother to the certain doom of her own mortality. And become the best version of myself I could be.
“Swarm! Take me with you!”
My sister boiled back down. Surrounded me. And carried me back out into the night sky, where our brothers awaited.
Experiment 105 believes that she’s probably about ten to twelve years old, though rapid-maturation technology gives her the appearance of an adult human female. She didn’t grab her mother’s lab notes on her existence, however, so it’s hard to tell precisely when she was decanted from her artificial womb. At some point in the future, she thinks that she might like to pick a name for herself. In the meantime, her siblings have taken to calling her Peri, which she thinks sounds like a chip from a paint store, but it’s hard to argue with them, when they’re the only family she’s got.
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, and Pseudopod. For more about her work, including her Edda-Earth novels and her poetry collection, The Gates of Never, please see www.edda-earth.com.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“The Experiment Meets Certain Doom” is © 2019 Deborah L. Davitt
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Luke Spooner