The Human Question

By Ivan Bucalo

sfgenreWhat is humanity?

That word conjures, to me, images of love, laughter, pain, and tears. Sigmund Freud thought that the death drive, the urge for self-destruction, was as powerful as the urge to reproduce. This seems less paradoxical to me everyday, and more like a bad practical joke on God’s part. I see a storm of contradictions trapped and reverberating against one another on this great little microcosm we call planet earth, and I wonder if it’s all worth it in the end just so we can call ourselves human.

In the years leading up to our downfall, the very worst our species had in it reigned free, without the rules and limitations we once took for granted, and I saw violence, corruption, and an all-too-familiar hate. That question of why played over and over again in my head like a broken record. The very first thing you learn in any military history course is that it never ends, and you’ll learn about the particulars fuelling the tragedy of our species, but not why it must be so. Philosophy will tell you that it’s hard wired into us, psychology will say so too with its own bent, but there’s a missing link there somewhere that’s kept me up many, many nights throughout my life.

I’m a man of science — a biologist. I see a world of patterns and commonalities, so precisely methodical in its composition as to shatter your faith in the notion of freedom. Every feeling and every thought we had and ever will have comes back to deoxyribonucleic acid and the rules inscribed within it. We value our own humanity because it gives us hope that we’re more than just patterns in a sea of many. To go against it is to descend into madness. But maybe that’s the only choice we have left.

I sit alone in the incubation chamber, half-asleep, and I watch these two miracles move up and down in time with their breaths, suspended in the life support tanks. The lieutenant returned about three hours ago and held a debriefing on the outside situation, and I needed to clear my mind, so I sit, and I watch them. The girl takes marginally shorter breaths than the boy, and periodically their breathing will synchronise at the peak of an inhale before they diverge once more into their own respiratory architectures. Their very existence, in spite of all odds, is miraculous. Freud and all those heartless bastards be damned. How dare they whisper in the breath of mankind and call it the word of God. None of us deserves that right. Once the genetic realignment process is complete, the boy and the girl will be free of that death drive, that hatred, the anger that, for our entire history, has always prevailed in the face of rationality and logic. From that point on, no computer, no simulation can predict what will happen — but I know that it will be better. And for that, they must be safeguarded at all costs.

‘You need rest.’

My neck cracks as I rotate my head to see Wilkins in a Hawaiian shirt overlaid with a lab coat, white slacks, and slippers. We established the facility eight years and thirty-five days ago. The real work began much earlier, with experiments and computer-run simulations in the crucial gaps between what the government paid me to do. In a room of four hundred experts and minds of distinction, he, a young man with money and vision, was the only one who understood, who saw what I saw.

‘Your eyes are bloodshot.’

His voice has changed since we began. It once had verve, a lyricism to it. It’s filled with something else now, something that I fear and make sure to keep note of and scrutinise often. I turn my head back to the tanks, and I continue to watch them. The wires and tubes tighten around their forms, but any spatial readjustments would interfere with the genetic realignment process. The lab readings indicate an imminent breakthrough. An imminent breakthrough. I can feel it. I can see it.

‘Can I speak with you, James?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘James, we — ’

Wilkins’ problem is that he follows his heart far more often than his mind, but he has always found a way of maintaining some semblance of balance until recently. I worry about him. I worry about the project, and all we’ve done here. Here he is before me, at one o’clock in the morning, and I know exactly why. Two hundred and twenty was the figure the lieutenant officially declared at the debriefing, the highest recorded termination count for an outside mission. It is an unpleasant business, but I cannot let it bother me half as much as it does him.

‘Do you understand what I’m saying, James?’

‘Yes. We’ll discuss it tomorrow.’

There’s a brief moment of silence before he turns and begins to walk out. He stares at them, and I can tell he’s uncomfortable at their sight. We’re hindered by this inexplicable linkage of what it means to be human and physical form. He begins to walk out, and I notice a bulge through the back of his lab coat, around the waistband. When he reaches the door, he stops for a moment to check if I’m still looking at him, which I am, before panicking and stepping out, locking the magnetically sealed door behind him. Tomorrow, I will speak to him. Then, I will speak to the lieutenant. None of us can afford faults at this point in the process.

The boy lets out a short, creaky groan. That is not a fault.

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About The Author

Ivan Bucalo

Ivan Bucalo currently studies Media at the University of Adelaide. He is an avid lover of literature and film, but his heart will always put precedence on a good novel. His favourite authors are Marlon James, Cormac McCarthy, and of course, the immortal Stephen King.


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