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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Sci-fi · #1729879
The crops in this garden can't be consumed, at least not in the usual way!

They call it Stand-By Mode; we're in the last phase of it, eight hours remain until my third cycle of duty is over. I can't believe it, twenty-one years total, three cycles of seven years. I'm not sure I can do it again, but somehow I must--my very life depends on it .I've contracted with the Billings Institute for twenty-eight years of service; and when you sign a contract with this place, they hold you to it--or else.

But of course that's the way it has to be. Everything here is carefully regulated, nothing is left to chance; the stellar reputation of the Institute is based on total control. It is a man-made paradigm of perfection.

My kids are all in bed now--all fourteen of them, seven boys and seven girls. All wonderful kids, and over the past six years and three hundred and sixty-four days I have grown to love each one of them. But that always happens. That's what makes my job so horribly difficult.

Tomorrow each one of them will celebrate their eighteenth birthday. Imagine what it's like being "Daddy" to fourteen kids who all have the same birthday? Let me tell you, it's a unique experience.

The day after tomorrow, when I start my fourth and final cycle, I'll inherit another fourteen charges, all of whom will be eleven years old, and the whole program will start over again. Thank God it'll be the last time. I'm getting too old to continue. I suppose I should be used to it by now. In some ways I guess I am, but even The Billings Institute with all its technology and inexhaustible financial resources cannot eradicate some aspects of the human spirit. Love, for instance, is talked about and instilled; programmed and refined; rehearsed and discussed; but it's not the same, true, wholesome natural love that dwells within the human spirit--not really. Like everything else here, it's fabricated and counterfeit. Human perfection can only be taken so far before it collapses; and like all things scientific it must, when taken to the outer limit of theoretical construct, reach a singularity and ultimately become meaningless.

Earlier this evening, about ten o'clock, Joey knocked at my door. I knew it was he before I opened the door, he's always been the spokesman for the group. Over the years whenever the group needed some information that was not part of the rigid program, or had a problem that needed special attention, Joey would be the appointed representative. I've never lied to Joey or to the group, for that matter--except for tonight of course. It was extremely difficult for me to do but I managed. All he wanted was some additional information about tomorrow, simple stuff, like what kinds of things they needed to bring with them for the trip in the morning.

"Nothing special," I told him, "everything will be provided. It's your birthdays, remember? It's our surprise to you." I smiled at him and he accepted my explanation without further questions. He trusts me completely. But why shouldn't he? They've been programmed to trust and obey me unconditionally. Joey smiled back, gave me a mock salute and went back to his pod to tell the others.

Looking out my barred window, as I'm doing now,. the amber mercury vapor lamps seem to enhance the sterile austerity of the night. The small courtyard that separates my quarters from my kids' pod, which they nicknamed The Victory Garden, six years ago, now appears eons and light years away, totally intransversable, beyond the scope of meaningful dimension. How many thousands of times I have walked that short distance, day or night, in sickness or health, asleep or awake, to attend their every need. I dare not try to quantify the range of responsibilities I have been entrusted with, or the many roles I have had to play to insure my kids' happiness, safety, and well--being; but any real parent will know exactly what I mean.

Although I cannot see nor hear them, I know there is a team of workmen located close-by in our sector, making plans to renovate The Victory Garden the moment the bus leaves the compound in the morning. By noon nothing will be the same. Their rooms will be meticulously cleaned and sanitized; their personal effects will be destroyed; even the air that circulates within their rooms will be vacuumed out and replaced with sterile air so that not a single molecule of air that had entered their bodies' will remain in existence. The Institute cannot risk the slightest possibility of contamination. The cost is beyond comprehension, but then, perfection does not come cheap.

When you stop and think about it, The Billings Institute is quite a remarkable place. Place may not be the best word, "Separate Reality" is a term that comes closer to the truth.

Construction of the Institute began eighty years ago, back in 2025 when the government sold what used to be known as Yellowstone National Park to a group of Swiss and Japanese investors. The Primate Engineering Labs, or PELS, were the first structures to be built. Geographically located in the exact epicenter of this mammoth campus, the PELS occupy an area forty-two miles in diameter and serve as the hub from whence all roads emanate. Twenty-eight radii extend out for miles in all directions, bifurcating at irregular intervals so that smaller roads can give rise to yet smaller roads that again branch into even smaller conduits that ultimately feed all sectors of the Institute. Clearly, the architects and engineers who designed and built the Institute used as their model the primate circulatory system. It was a most appropriate choice.

Now, over four thousand buildings including schools and colleges, shopping malls and entertainment centers, administrative and diplomatic offices, botanical research centers, and housing facilities comprise what is known as the "hardware" of the Institute. Over a quarter million people are employed here, making the Billings Institute the single largest corporation in the world.

The Institute first began as a philanthropic enterprise whose sole mission was to find a cure for the AIDS virus and eradicate it from the globe, a task which, most happily, it accomplished

But, as the saying goes, winning a battle is not the same as winning the war. By the mid twenty-first century, new diseases evolved and became so widespread and virulent that all humankind was threatened with extermination. Many, if not most, of these diseases went. unclassified, all of which were lethal and affecting virtually every tissue of the human body at the molecular level.. Millions of people were dying annually from what appeared to be simple ear infections, minor lacerations, or fungal infections. It appeared the HIV retrovirus had once again assumed a new and even more lethal schizophrenic personality; it had learned to evolve into a parasitic bacterium which attacked and fed off vegetable matter. Any food ingested that contained this sub-microscopic Leviathan meant certain death to the new host. For once inside the human circulatory system, the bacteria proliferated so rapidly and with such deadly efficiency that no tissue of the body was exempt from invasion and total destruction.

In 2031, Doctor Radcliffe Billings, for whom the Institute is named, identified the bacteria responsible for the disease known as "Lucifer's Syndrome" and proposed a theory for its treatment. The proposed treatment, however, was ultra-radical, employing techniques that raised moral and ethical criticism trans globally.

By 2036, with the earth's total population reduced to a mere 3.2 billion people, The World Conference Of Physicians agreed that no other alternative method was practical or conceivable, and permission for Batchling propagation was granted.

Embossed in marble across the front fa├žade of the main administration building read the words: DEDICATED TO SOLVING EXTRAORDINARY PROBLEMS THROUGH EXTRAORDINARY MEANS. A Machiavellian decree to be sure, but given the current state of humanity at that time, a most comforting precept nonetheless.

I've never much cared for the term "Batchling." It has such a sterile and mechanical sound to it, not the kind of word one easily associates with human life. But I cannot complain. To do so would be pure hypocrisy, for soon I will have dire need of their special service--and for them, I must be grateful.


Joey leads the pack across the visitors parking lot to the waiting bus. A couple of the girls fumble around in their purse for an extra touch of lipstick or dab of mascara. I have decided not to see them off in person. I'm not sure I'm a good enough actor to suppress the sadness which fills my spirit. In my heart I know what we are doing is right. These kids have lived a short but wonderfully idyllic life. They have known no want or misfortune. They have been genetically engineered to a level almost beyond human perfection. They are all brilliant scholars, masterful artists and accomplished musicians. Each tissue in their body has been permanently and totally immunized against The Lucifer Syndrome. Only their bodies are safe from the scourge.

As the bus pulls away. I wave feebly from my window. I know I will never see them again. They will be flown to Denver where they will be taken to The Billings Center For Population Enhancement.

Several dozen teams of surgeons will stand poised in the various operating theaters where the Batchlings will be taken to have their organs and body fluids harvested and readied for assimilation into the waiting faithful employees of The Billings Institute--those of us who have fulfilled our contractual arrangement.


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