|Disclaimer: The characters and situations of 'Space: Above and Beyond' depicted in this story are legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century Fox Television and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended. The opinions expressed herein are those of the characters and not of Kofi Anan. Questions, comments, and catapults can be directed at email@example.com or lobbed at draegonhawke over AIM. Thank you for reading!
Summary: The men of the InVitro Authority Philadelphia Facility and how they cope.
'S' is for SILICATE
Robert Tang wasn't a romantic. Monitors never were. Leave that for the petrie-geeks in the big facilities--the labcoats who had nothing to do with their own lives but construct others, splicing complex genetic code as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. Which, Tang supposed, it wasn't.
The InVitro Authority had come under flak when it was created. So many people had insisted that it was playing god--but when Tang walked through the Tank Room, he couldn't help but think the detractors blathering idiots. Whatever this was, it didn't elevate humanity. (Look at them. They're made from the same stuff as real humans. It's just flesh and bone and gore, so that's what we are, too.)
The labcoats had their fun--long before the InVitros were born, they were designed almost from the ground up. Some of them were meant to be soldiers--stronger, faster, more endurance and keener senses than the average natural-born. Some were designed to be scouts or medics. Some were designed to be laborers. Sometimes, it was obvious from their bodies. Sometimes it wasn't--the Monitors just had to go with what the labcoats provided them; the genetic specifications, and the fitness rubrics.
But judging by the rows of puppy-dog eyes that stared up at him whenever he walked into one of the Indoctrination Rooms, Tang didn't think that "Fitness For Designated Purpose" was the only thing the labcoats thought about. One InVitro he had trained had literally had duotone hair--stripes, like a goddamn tiger or something. Subtle, but natural. He didn't know how long it took to figure out how to warp the genes for that--didn't know how much of the IVA's budget went down the drain for those stupid things. Minor amusements or romantic distractions--yes, the labcoats had their fun.
Olson and Walters were in the Decantation Room, pulling out the next batch of soon-to-be killers and soldiers. Tang was going through the slides, sipping warm water and massaging his jaw. InVitros' brains were built differently--they had to carry the capacity to obtain language through into maturity, or things would be very difficult outside of the tank. But not much could be pumped into their brain before they were decanted--muscle memories could be imposed, certain predispositions could be introduced, but English itself--and for some, Hindi, Mandarin, Arabic, or whoever the bosses' bosses' bosses' felt irrationally worried of at the moment--had to be taught after birth. And it was Tang's job to do it.
(Damn,) he thought, looking through the primer speeches once more. The program called for immersion in the language--and, with the piss-poor funding the Philadelphia facility received, with the lack of qualified staff, it was pretty much going to be him and Walters. (If we could get an AI to do this, it would be so much easier. Then again, if we could get the AIs to do stuff for us, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.)
These last few batches, he had started with the alphabet. Why not? It had always made more sense to him to leave it for later--when they had a grasp of language to build on--but since the program cycled its focus with increasing complexity, it wouldn't matter in the end. A central strategy for Indoctrination was repetition. (And by that logic I should be the most loyal man on Earth.)
He prepped the first slide, looked it over with a critical eye. "'A' is for America," he muttered. "America loves you."
He allowed himself a snort--now, when there were no IVs to wonder about it. (America loves you. 'L' is for lies.)
"'I' is for InVitro. You are InVitros. I am your monitor. You were born two days ago. Hello."
Tang had given up long ago looking for any sort of understanding in his charges' eyes. There was never any. Soulless--that's how he thought of them. Strong bodies, but blank minds. Tools for later use.
"'J' is for jurisdiction. You are InVitros. You fall under the jurisdiction of the InVitro Authority. The InVitro Authority administers justice. 'J' is also for justice.
"'K' is for kill. To kill an enemy is to protect America. America loves you. That is why you will protect her. 'L' is for love. The love of America is the greatest love you will ever know."
(The only love you'll ever know.) Tang didn't snort. now wasn't the time for derision. None of you tanks will ever know what real love is. Get used to the substitute.
"'M' is for Monitor. I am your monitor. America loves you. That is why you are monitored. To be monitored is to be free."
On the fifth night they erased one of the InVitros.
Walters drew the short straw, and got her at midnight. She followed him to the Decantation Room and sat on the edge of a table, where he severed her spine with one precise strike. Her organs would be preserved and sent to hospitals where they might be needed. Her brain would be sent back to the labcoats so that they could figure out where they had screwed up.
Walters walked out of the Decantation Rooms looking as ruffled as he ever did, but he chuckled when he met the eyes of the people waiting for him. "I want a shower," he remarked, peeling off his latex gloves, "but more than that, I want a stiff drink. Bars close at one. Think they'll let me in like this?"
Tang glanced over his colleague's bloodstained apron--despite his best efforts, some had splattered up onto his face--and shook his head silently.
"Screw that," Walters said.
"I could drive to the fuel station and pick up a six-pack," Olson offered.
"I want a real drink," Walters said, rubbing absently at one of the splotches of gore. "Scotch. Maybe vodka."
"Don't think they carry it at the Hole."
Walters looked around. It was now 12:43 and he had a big day tomorrow. Another batch to be decanted. "Yeah," he said, giving Olson a tired grin. "Yeah. A six-pack will be fine."
Some new guy--Perry--was taking care of the new batch of blank-eyed meatshields. Tang sipped his warm water outside the Indoctrination Room. It took too long to train these damn things. He still couldn't carry on a conversation with any of them--not that he particularly wanted to.
He geared himself up for the eighth day of his teachings. Still on the alphabet. For the thousandth time in two years, he swore that he would kill himself if he had to do it again.
"'Q' is for question. You will raise your hand if you have any questions. The Monitors will answer all your questions. You will ask questions so that you can serve America. America loves you.
"'R' is for rules. You know the rules of the InVitro Authority, Philadelphia facility. The rules of the IVA will govern your life. America also has rules. These rules are called 'laws.'
"'S' is for silicate."
Something sparked in one of the InVitros' eyes. Tang paused, anticipating the moment when the first hand would rise--something important in these first stages, something trained out of them later. Now, it meant comprehension. It meant advancement. It meant that they knew what he was telling them.
But the spark faded, and Tang went on without disappointment. There was no way to dash a man's hopes if he didn't have any--as much as the InVitros learned that, under his tutelage, he learned it just as well. "Silicates are terrorists. They hurt America. You will learn how to kill silicates. To kill a Silicate is to protect America. America loves you."
On the tenth day a hand went up.
Tang walked slowly to stand in front of the InVitro, placing his palms flat on the table. (Establish dominance by meeting their eyes. Neither show approval nor disapproval by anything other than your words. Be a consummate Monitor at all times.) "Yes?"
"Monitor," the InVitro croaked out, the word harsh and untested in his throat. "How can we kill a Silicate?"
The first time he had been asked a question like that he had to fight not to smile. Now, who knew how many godforsaken batches later, any excitement the moment held had been slowly but surely leeched out. He looked directly into the InVitro's eyes. "'T' is for training. You will undergo extensive training. This training will teach you how to kill silicates. To become soldiers. To protect America."
He waited for another question. None came. Slowly, he straightened up and walked back to the front of the room.
On the eighteenth day the InVitros could recite the alphabet backward and forward on command, a chorus of mutters and awkward voices. They could identify the letters in isolation and in words and sequences. They could identify likely pronunciations when presented with common terms and phrases. Tang put away the slides and wished that he could burn them to ash. Knowing the IVA, though, the replacements would come out of his paycheck.
Vocabulary was next--the usual, which meant useful, stuff. Military ranks. Orders. Technical names, locations, dates. Strategy and tactics by the book. By the twenty-first day every InVitro in the batch could translate military and civilian time back and forth in moments, and knew all the time zones and conversions by rote. By the twenty-ninth they could identify fifty-six different types of fortifications the AIs might use and the proper approach to taking each of them.
Once, when he started the job, Tang had wondered what to do if one of the IVs started lagging behind. They never did. Their brains weren't set up that way. It had sucked the thrill of success out of the Indoctrination curriculum, and Tang never thought of his job as "teaching." Now he told anyone who asked that it was "data entry."
On the thirty-fifth day Tang passed out their first assignment--comprehension, extrapolation. An old AI transmission in light code, outlining attack plans. The InVitros were to determine what targets were to be attacked, and guess what targets would likely follow.
(These are your primers,) Tang thought as he passed them out. (These are your fairy tales and your bedtime stories. Enjoy.)
The InVitros went placidly to work. Three hours later every single one handed in a paper with the same answer--neat, tidy, by the book, and historically accurate. (The great successes of the InVitro corps.)
"I want to get married," Walters said one night, deep in his cups.
Tang stared at his own can, which had been cool when he started and was now unpleasantly lukewarm. "Not me."
"I don't want children," Walters defended. "Oh no. They ever looked at me with those--those empty eyes--I think I'd snap their necks. I really think I'd do it."
Olson flipped open the cooler, but all the ice had melted. He fished another beer out, leaning back in the institution-standard chair. "Can you imagine teaching the things?"
"Oh god," Walters laughed, and looked over at Tang. "I'd hire Rob, of course. Just seat the kid in the back row."
Maybe it was his imagination, but Tang swore something was floating in his alcohol. "I don't think babies work like that."
There was a moment's pause. "...I'm never gonna have kids," Walters said.
Ten days later, they got another new guy.
His name was Killian Riley, and he took a job with the IVA because noplace else would have him. He was hardly a joy to work with, and Tang halfway suspected that the only reason he didn't try to damage any of the InVitros was because he knew they could damage him right back. But this was hardly a job that needed social skills.
On the eightieth day, Tang started his batch on the gym. By the hundredth all of them could bench at least a hundred eighty pounds, and all but two could bench more. When he tested their reflexes all of them snapped from pose to pose like tight springs. (Even silicates act more human,) he thought vaguely. (What in hell are we doing here?)
They went through textbooks in record time.
By now, a hundred and forty days into the program, every InVitro could read at an adult level whether the subject in question was a newspaper (not that they got real newspapers--no, IVA propaganda was and would remain the staple of their literary diet), a US Army handbook, or an anatomy and cybernetics textbook. The Indoctrination slides, however, remained noxiously simple.
There was one bright spot, though. The InVitros no longer raised their hands. The time for questions was over--now all they needed to do was obey.
(Obey the way America wants you to obey. React the way America wants you to react.)
Tang started smoking on a whim, but quit four days later.
A hundred ninety two days in, Tang and Riley took them out into the Yard to run obstacle courses and break into fortifications. In an uncharacteristic act of humanity one of the IVs slipped halfway up an embankment, smacked his head against the corner of the concrete wall, and opened a gash from his temple to his shoulder. Riley was on him at once, dragging the massive form back into the facility.
Tang stayed with the rest of his charges, making sure that none of them showed too much interest in their fallen comrade. The point wasn't to get them to worry about each other. Work together, yes; form bonds, no. Friendship was too often the precursor to mutiny. He made them run through the exercises three more times than were usual, just to be sure that the incident would be put well out of their mind. Riley came back later, and they herded the sore and exhausted IVs back to the Barracks.
Tang turned to Riley when they were out of the Barracks wing. Riley threw up his hands. "Damn tank's bought it for a week or more," he said. "Sent him off to get stitches."
Tang groaned. He didn't have time to play catch-up, and a week of sitting on the sidelines would make him hopelessly far behind. "We can erase him, or we can send him to the Omaha facility," he said. The Omaha facility, at least, might get some use out of him.
"Erase him," Riley said.
"I'll get Walters to drive him to Nebraska, next chance he gets," Tang said.
Riley rolled his eyes and muttered a few choice words about Tang's parentage, and took himself off. It wound up not mattering; over the next two days, the InVitro caught an infection and died.
They sent his body to the organ reclamation clinic, and reflected that it was probably better in any case.
On the two-hundred forty-seventh day, Tang taught the InVitros the first way to kill a human being.
On the two-hundred fifty-first day, they had to erase another. Perry drew the short straw.
Tang, Walters, Olson and Riley sat around the makeshift lounge--this time, with their scotch at the ready. Another batch was coming out tomorrow. Tang was reviewing his ABC's.
An hour and a half after Perry had walked off to fetch the tank, Walters rolled his eyes and fingered the bottle's neck. "The hell is he doing in there? Jack-o'Lanterning the kid?"
"Anyone want to check on him?" Olson asked. No one responded.
Tang brushed his hair out of his eyes--it was getting rather long, and he needed to have it cut. "...hell," he finally said. "The sooner he's done, the sooner we can drink." (Maybe he forgot where the spinal column was.)
They walked into the Decantation Room to find Perry dead in a pool of his own blood, chest ruptured in three deep gouges. For a moment they all just stood and stared, as if this had really come as no shock. But they didn't say anything.
('K' is for kill. 'M' is for monitor.)
Without a word, Tang turned around and walked out of the room.
He walked down the hallways, past the Indoctrination Room, past the barracks, to the fire escape. He swiped his passcard--even in a fire, the damn things would be locked--and stepped into the chill January air. It pierced his lab coat like a knife, cutting straight to the skin and from there to the bone. It was a clear night over Philadelphia, and the lights of the city were scattered all around him like glowing beads in the darkness.
Robert Tang doubled over and laughed until his throat was raw and the tears running down his face threatened to freeze.
Then he went back inside, ignoring the belated commotion from the Decantation Room, and opened the scotch. He had a double day of work tomorrow, with alphabet in the morning and training blank-faced young folk how to kill their elders in the afternoon. He might as well get drunk while he could.
On the two-hundred fifty-second day of one batch and the first of another, Tang stood in front of a lit screen with a serif letter "A" dark on the wall. He stood with his back ramrod-straight, looking with disinterest at the row upon row of empty eyes before him.
"'A' is for America. America loves you," he solemnly intoned.
- end -
© magistrate November 2005