And Brick By Brick, The Road To Hell Was Paved
Must be Halloween Time because this is one of my first attempts at a short story, way-WAY back many subtexts ago! I share with you out of nostalgia and a nice fear based adrenaline rush!
I jest, but honestly, I have such a soft spot for all my schoolgirl attempts at literature! You can take the space out of the sci-fi but you cannot take the science out of fiction!
Good and Evil. They go by many names, creeds, races, sacrifices, and indulgences. But their common denomination is human nature. We are neither inherently good nor evil. Those trademarks are carefully taught and defined by the vast world of manipulation around us.
Every one of us is capable of great service and great sin, but perspective draws the thin, stark line of interpretation. Grays of all shades and varieties exist, but we are learned out of our understanding to make room for the much more convenient truth of opinion. Therefore, we learn how to hide what could otherwise make us stand out for the wrong reasons. We repress those inner demons, as well as the angels, and race to reach all the societal standards of success others deem to make life and individuals worth something.
Desperate to be the richest, the prettiest, and most popular, we forget who we really are and become who they want us to be. Cogs in the circle of life, beating against nature’s conscience to become the commercialized version of what distinguishes moral from immoral behavior: control.
Several years ago, Vickie Hughes and Victor Minus, two high-ranking and well-educated scientists met, fell in love, and began working towards the common goal of solving the great biological puzzle of fertility. Of course, it was more than just scientific interest that spurred their passion for this subject. They themselves could not conceive. But rather than perusing the many fertility treatments available for such couples in their predicament, Vickie and Victor decided to pursue a new solution.
“I’ve got it!” Victor said as he rushed into their remote laboratory, so overcome by the excitement he picked Vickie’s stiff and subdued form up and spun her around.
“My god, Victor, what has gotten into you?”
She said when he put her down. Quick to run a calculated hand over her tight bun and coat, so not a hair was out of place for long. Since their struggle began, she had become more rigid and severe. Vickie had never been one to give in to her emotions easily if indeed she had ever allowed herself to experience them at all, but the shroud of gloom and shame her inability to carry a child cast had left her as close to an automaton as a red-blooded creature can get.
“The answer to our problems, darling!”
Victor was the opposite. He approached everything he did, from his morning porridge to his groundbreaking research in the biological animation of inorganic tissue, with a child-like enthusiasm capable of getting ahead of itself if left to its own devices. There was no problem that wasn’t exciting to solve.
They made up the two halves of a wonderful team. Where one lacked, the other expanded. So nothing was a weakness when they worked together. Victor often teased that they could take over the world if they were so inclined, but they settled for being in control of their own.
“Nature may have thrown us a curve ball, darling, but we’re going to hit a homer!”
Vickie rolled her eyes as a slight grimace curled the corner of her lips. It was both endearing and vaguely cringing when Victor tried to talk sports. It was like a clown attempting to compose Mozart and be taken seriously. Victor walked over to the lab table and took out of his coat a rolled-up sheet of what appeared to be blueprints.
“What’s that?” Vickie asked, coming to look over his shoulder with arms crossed and the skeptical imprint of apathy etched upon her brow.
“That’s our boy.”
Though he smiled with Cheshire confidence, Vickie, with a hand at her turtleneck’s throat, recoiled from the outline. Still, Victor’s armor remained undented.
“Nature won’t let us have children, so why not use what nature will let us have?”
Vickie shook her head, too shocked to comprehend.
“Our inventive minds! So what if we can’t create a child through the typical means? Since when has that ever stopped a scientist?”
“An artificial child?”
“Dear, we are not mere tricksters of gears and parts, but nature’s mortal hand. This will still be an organic child, but grown like a plant, like a beautiful flower, right here! With us there every step of the way.”
Though her hesitant posture remained frozen in its retrograde, a spark of pointed intrigue came to light in Vickie’s unnerving gaze.
“We play God?”
Whether it was the power or the possibility that cast this flare, one could not say.
“We use the best of each of us, our DNA, so it is our child in every way but one. We have ultimate control.”
The more he went on, the more resounding its illumination became.
“We play God.”
“We assist God. Why would he grant us such means if he did not want us to use them?”
Vickie’s breath was heavy in her chest as her eyes went from Victor’s to the blueprints of what could be everything she’s ever wanted without the sacrifice of her body and time. An actual biological child. What every woman at her age should naturally desire to prove the worth of her sex.
“What do you say, Vickie? Our boy… our Tommy.”
It did not take long for the pair to get to work on their child. To decode their DNA to pluck, splice, and reconstruct life’s equation to form the basis of what would become their perfect child. In a master stroke of eugenic construction, it did not take long before they moved on to the fermentation process. To grow an egg into an embryo into a baby.
The stress of the past three years now gave way to the happy possibilities of years to come. So engrossed in its process, they felt like newlyweds. Alive once more in the act of prudent creation, Vickie’s depression eased and her life’s pursuits — now that she had a living child to call her own — became meaningful again. There was no fear of missing out or wasting the only window of time. She had to make this goal a reality. She didn’t have to choose between a family and her career. They were one and the same. She felt like herself again… that is until Tommy turned one and the reality of what having a child meant, hit both of their realities like a tidal wave.
It didn’t take Tommy long to outgrow their monitoring. To talk back and grow tired of his parents’ endless hours of monotonous research. By six he could easily run circles around them! What would have taken them months of intense study and troubleshooting he could do in a few hours of play! Scientific theory meant nothing to the boy. He saw everything as one giant game and approached it with the enthusiasm of his father’s child-like eagerness. Yet, unlike normal children of his age, he was never overpowered by his emotions or limited understanding of the world, due to possessing his mother’s clear-headed control.
I need to get my life back. How can I get my life back?
This became Vickie’s pressing question and concern. Wasn’t it enough to have the child? Must he take up every aspect of their lives?
“Now can we go outside?” Tommy said one morning when Vickie came to find her thesis on developmental tissue completed.
“I told you not to touch this!” She was furious. Why, just that night she had kept herself awake, reworking the part of the symbiosis analysis she felt was falling flat in the example. She was excited to see it worked out on paper. Yet there was Tommy, beaming over its completion, drawn up in crayon.
“No, what you said was that no one was going anywhere until you were finished with this paper, so I should mind my own until then. Now it’s complete, so, can we go outside now, please?”
Vickie’s eyes went small as her mouth pursed in the clench of subduing its chiding reaction.
“No, because I’m still not done with this paper. You are. Now go back to your table.”
“But I want to go outside!”
“We don’t know yet how your skin is going to react to the elements.”
“I do! Look!”
He grabbed Vickie by the wrist and drug her over to one of the many chalkboards they had set up, but the equation on its surface was half-erased, replaced by Tommy’s own unique brand of interpretation.
“Our work!” Vickie said, half breathless. “What have you done?”
“Proved I can go outside and play!”
Tommy was proud of himself. He didn’t care that Vickie was fuming over months of careful consideration, erased without so much as a warning.
“Do you know what this means?”
“Of course I do, silly, I wrote it.”
Vickie ran out of the room to find her husband just returning from a supply run.
“What are we going to do?” She said without greeting.
“What now?” Victor’s expression became grave as he headed into the lab.
Tommy was up on one of his stools, pouring something into his tissue sample from one of his mother’s beakers.
“What on earth!”
Victor ran over to grab the child off the stool, but it was too late. What had been the perfectly curated ecosystem for his non-organic tissue sample was now a dried-up wasteland. Slowly, he put down the giggling child as the realization of his destructive tendencies set in.
“It wasn’t going to work, daddy. It was suffering.”
Tommy nodded. “You successfully animated non-living tissue, daddy, but not very well.”
Victor’s eyes were wide with horror as he turned to the nodding Vickie.
“It’s a problem.”
“Not to worry, dear,” Victor nodded as he gave his wife a gentle kiss on the forehead. “I’m a problem solver.”
Victor said one afternoon, looking up from his work. Tommy was sitting close by, idly playing with a ghost cube. Instantly, the child perked up.
“Would you like to go on an adventure?”
The kid practically jumped to his feet.
“Yes, I would!”
“Come here then, I’ve got something for you.”
Tommy was hesitant by this inference and dubiously approached.
“Not another brainless puzzle or IQ test, I hope.”
Victor twitched. He had created those challenges for the boy!
“No, not another brain teaser, but a game.”
“A game?” Tommy asked, intrigued.
“Come with me, child.”
Victor held open a door at the end of the lab and motioned for Tommy to go in. It was a dark box of a room. Barren, with no windows and only one chair in the middle of its empty floor.
“Pretty stark father. Where’s the game?”
“Take a seat and I’ll get it.”
Tommy did as he was told, noticing the straps on the arms of the chair with wires attached, but his father came back before he could explore the contraption more thoroughly, holding a helmet. One that would cover the eyes of its wearer when put on.
“A virtual realty?”
“Yes, and no, Tommy. Here, let me put it on you.”
Victor helped Tommy place the helmet on his head. Everything got even darker and Tommy’s senses seemed to instantly dull. He could hear nothing outside of his own thoughts.
“Daddy!” He reached for his father, but his wrists had already been strapped in.
“I don’t like this!”
“Wait for it, son.” His father said into his ear over a mic. Then, suddenly, with the white light of a fluorescent bulb, a room appeared before his eyes.
“Now Tommy, this is your world. You are in control.”
“Can’t I just go outside?”
“Perhaps, if you behave yourself.”
“But I must warn you, Tommy, for every action there is a reaction, so it is important you follow the rules.”
“You will see.”
“Why can’t you just tell me?”
“Because then you wouldn’t learn.”
Tommy settled into his chair with a soft sigh.
“Oh, don’t fret, they are here to help.”
Suddenly, two figures appeared out of nowhere. One all done up in a white cloak, the other in black.
“Let me guess, good and evil? Isn’t that a bit predictable?”
“After all my hard work, that wasn’t a very gracious thing to say.”
Slowly, with the popping click of crunching bones, the dark one turned to him. The shroud falling from its shoulders to reveal the wiry exoskeleton of its metal framework body. The shrill sound of its nails, which hung like the claws of a vicious beast beside her body, dragging across the floor as she turned, made every pore on his skin stand at attention. Its eyes were black voids of color and soul. Its teeth protruding with the venom-laced grin of a jackal, causing its own tongue to bleed as it moved across the thin lips of its twisted smile, which raised its high cheekbones to a sharp point capable of doing just as much puncturing damage.
Tommy pulled back, frightened, in his chair.
“I’m sorry!” He said as he squirmed.
“Very good, Tommy, apology accepted.”
Suddenly the shroud dropped from the shoulders of the other figure and with its reveal came a gold and blinding light that seemed to envelop the other in its purity, causing it to seek refuge in the shadows of a nearby corner.
Once Tommy was safe, the light retreated into the form of its provider, who stood tall and pale. Like an angel standing before the sun, it gleamed with the innocent rays of the clearest crystal waters you could find here on earth, and Tommy was immediately humbled by its pleasant gaze upon him.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“How you wish to be. Have fun now.”
Tommy nodded, thinking he knew what this meant.
“Can you hear me?” Tommy said to the figures awkwardly.
“Hear you? Child,” Good replied with a shake of the head. “We are you.”
“So you want what I want?”
“That all depends on how you wish to get it.”
Subtly, Evil was perking up.
“I think I want my parent’s lab.”
“Why do you want that?” Good asked.
“Why wouldn’t he want that?” Evil challenged as it slinked closer toward their conversation. “He’s smarter than both of them! Just think of what he could accomplish!”
“Is that really what you want, Tommy?”
“It’s what’s important to my parents.”
“Oh, think of the wonders we could do!” Evil said. “Why, we would never be bored again!”
Tommy smiled and nodded to himself.
“Now Tommy,” Good implored.
“Oh, shut up!”
With a simple gesture of her right arm, Evil sent Good crashing into the far wall. Tommy gasped. Evil came closer.
“Think of it Tommy, you and me, your parent’s lab. The inventions, the formulas! The experiments! Oh! Just say the word Tommy and I can give you it all!”
“Word!” Came from behind Evil, for Tommy’s mind was still torn.
Evil turned only to be tackled back into the ground. Squirming under its throttling posture.
“His parents work so hard!”
“But they don’t have to, they have him!”
Evil’s legs came up around Good’s neck and, with the jerk of its double-jointed pelvis, reversed their positions.
“They just don’t want him!”
“Of course they want him! They made him!”
“But they don’t want to have him!” Evil brings joined fists down on Good.
“He loves them!”
Good catches Evil’s fists before they can land.
“And they love their lab!”
“Their lab is unnecessary!”
Good brings a knee up under Evil’s stomach and flipped it overhead and away. Landing crouched like an animal, Evil takes in the scene facing Tommy, head cocked in confusion, for he is the one who had spoken.
They both seem dumbfounded, but Tommy just smiled. He was too much like his parents and understood how to get what it was he wanted, despite the reality of what that might mean.
“The lab is unnecessary. I’m in control, now.”
Time means nothing when you are over the moon, and that is where the revelation sent Victor after Vickie told him the good news over a special night out. They were having a baby. A natural child! They had almost forgotten about their problems with Tommy altogether.
So imagine their surprise when they returned to their secluded dwelling to find it destroyed. All burnt up and exposed to the elements. All but the chair and the boy, who had been strapped down without a means to escape. Who now sat facing the sun, with the faint expression of a smile etched into what remained of him.
Victor and Vickie wanted a child. Tommy wanted to go outside. In their single-minded aspirations, it never occurred to them who it might affect outside of themselves.
We give everything we have to accomplish our goals and reach the righteous peaks of our beliefs, but more often than not we end up corrupting ourselves in their pursuit as we forget what made having it worth anything: life.
We just do what we can to outrun what we create, chasing meaningless fulfillment, and freedom from expectations.
Is control really such a good thing?