THE NEW HUMANS

by Gerd Maximovic

(Translation: Isabel Cole)

It's hard to emerge from pseudolife.

                The apartment Dr. Glanable entered had a spacious corridor, which was now filled with police officers. Most of them were young men, ill-groomed and unkempt, clutching their machine guns as if seeking a hold. Crossen, the police officer who had led the operation, waved Glanable down the hall. In passing Glanable sensed how these young police officers dressed in leather jackets had sweated out their fear.

                Several doors led from the corridor, some of them ajar, some of them shut. The doors at the end were wide open. Even as he approached, Glanable could see that the door in which Crossen stood led to the bedroom. Crossen crossed the threshold. Glanable followed him, pushing past a young police officer. He surveyed the bedroom with a single glance, the big wardrobe with the mirror in the middle, the window with the billowing curtains, and a bed below the window, a bed like a wide lawn, at the foot of which one could see a portable television set and from which a police reporter with cameras and batteries hanging around his neck and two policemen had just stepped back.

                On the bed lay two naked forms wrapped in summery sheets, sprawled chaotically across the bed as if in panic. There was a man, who lay face-down, and a girl, half-turned away from him, as if in an attempt to flee. Glanable knew the girl. It was one of the girls Maren had kidnapped from the glass retorts. Maren's back could be seen. It had been opened by a spray of shots which must have come from a machine gun. Maren's left arm hung over the edge, the other was raised to the pillow as if he had wanted to drag himself up to the window before the bullets hit him.

                Glanable could see the girl's eyes. They were wide open, and they seemed to stare at an event which they absolutely could not understand. Her face was waxen. A dark-red trickle, already congealed, ran down her chin. The blood of both could be seen all over the bed and on the brown carpeting. It seemed to have been spilled by the bucket. Glanable looked in vain for signs that the two had been armed.

                Glanable went around the bed. He knelt down next to Maren's body. He examined his face from the side. Maren's mouth was open, as if he had cried something out in his final moments. One wide eye, which stared glassily across the carpet, had an expression of horror and panic. Glanable was unable to prevent a slight flush from creeping up his neck. Crossen noticed Glanable's emotion and said a few regretful words, emphasizing that his officers had acted in self-defense. Glanable nodded as he went out, his dead creatures behind him.

                It had been the government's idea, the attempt to produce such artificial creatures in retorts. Unlike previous medical experiments, it was not a question of incubating the fertilized egg outside the mother's body or simply performing the fertilization there; they had proceeded on the assumption that it must be possible to use a new substance, a rapid catalyst, to speed the growth process of the human body, the nine months and the many years, to a few months by means of fermentation steering.

                A top-secret laboratory had been established in Washington. The core of this laboratory was a closed experimental room with a number of cylindrical retorts. Each of these retorts was about three meters high and wide. The retorts narrowed at the top, tapering away to a pear shape. A tangle of cables, coils and wires led to each retort, as well as tubes dripping the nutrient solution which was kept in containers under the ceiling.

                They were already experienced enough in genetic manipulation to control the growth of the artificial human from the beginning to the end, using matrices which emitted impulses into an artificial yeast. The control was taken over by a computer which filled half the laboratory. The point of the experiment - and this was why it was kept top-secret - was to produce new human material quickly and in whatever quantities desired. Since the experiment flew in the face of all the ethical principles in which humanity had ever believed, it had to be carried out in secret. It was also clear that this immeasurable advantage, as far as human material was concerned, could not be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy in the event of war.

                Glanable and his co-workers were very satisfied with the initial growth rates. After only a few hours one could watch the artificial creatures forming in the yeast at the bottom of the containers. They ran through all the stations of human development quickly, as if in fast-forward. The thumping of the artificial heartbeat could be heard through the glass walls. The cylinder was regularly tilted and rocked, the air, pressure and temperature were altered to provide the emerging life with a normal development.

                After two weeks it came time for the new humans to be born. The umbilical cords were cut, and a new apparatus made it possible for them to feed themselves by way of simple reflexes which they had already learned. Though they became larger day by day, growing visibly, their life was not all that different from that of helpless babies, who in a certain sense are little more than mere digestive mechanisms.

                The critical point of the experiment was the brain of the artificial humans. It had grown along in the process of the artificial maturation while remaining unable to enrich itself with the impulses which accumulate in the course of eighteen years. Thus, after two months and several days, when the phase of physical development came to a close, the girls and young men, some of whom had been bred with impressive physical proportions, were, as far as their mental development was concerned, blank slates on which any given text could be written.

                If they had had the intention of making up the mental development of the new humans at the appropriate speed which normal humans require, it would have taken years for the new humans to match their physical state of development mentally as well. This would also have meant that the temporal advantage, which after all was the entire point of the growth rates of the new humans, would have been lost again.

                Thus a procedure had been developed whereby a complicated dream machine was to transfer the consciousness of outstanding people into the artificial humans. The problem was that though the machine was able to transfer individual pieces and bundles of information, it was incapable of creating the cross-references and associations which the brain must produce itself.

                The dream machine had been loaded with two different programs, one for the three young men, one for the girls, so that, if the experiment succeeded, they would be completely similar mentally, which was an entirely desirable outcome, considering the military purpose of the experiment. The thoughts were loaded by way of a control desk coupled to a computer. On a control monitor the process whereby the silky-soft matrices were leafed into the brains of the nine humans could be observed. One could look into the brains of the new humans, as it were, though on the screen they were colored to make them easier to distinguish.

                Due to the large capacity of the dream machine, a period of about two hours was scheduled for the process of organizing the consciousness. Naturally, the brains were built up from below, starting from the brain-stem, from the sense of smell, from the feelings and emotions. Looking at the young humans, one could see the effect which the process of their own development of consciousness had on them. Almost simultaneously they began to grope along their naked, virginal, rosy bodies. Just now with their thumbs in their mouths, they had set out to explore their immediate environment. They did this with closed eyes. But even as they now opened their eyes, hesitantly, blinking, one began to see certain differences. A young man in the right-hand retort, whose movements had been very slow as he felt his body, hesitant, as if he did not believe in himself, opened his eyes only halfway, and his eyeballs blurred immediately. And the machine overrode him, as it were, forcing more impressions into him even after he sank down to the bottom of the retort. Each new impulse which entered his head seemed to pull him up slightly, but at each lull in information he collapsed again.

                The other two young men developed splendidly at first. They opened their eyes wide, as if to discover the world for themselves. Though at first the expression in their eyes was dull and blurred, and though their lenses had to adapt to their surroundings first, now it became increasingly sharp and precise; as one could see from their eyes, they began to perceive even the glass retorts in which they were held captive as their surroundings, at the same time with the indication that they would soon leave their prison.

                The young man in the middle seemed to be furthest along. His face was quite fresh and rosy. His eyes gleamed. He gave the impression of an eager pupil who races through the material with enormous strides, growing conscious of the progress he is making. To look at his face, especially his eyes, he resembled a one-way street along which one could drive unerringly and with increasing speed. He had already grown so strong and certain that one could think that at any moment he would attempt to leave the glass retort.

                At this point a shadow crossed his face, as if a cloud had darkened the laboratory. His eyes, which just now had seen the world as if it was always radiant, flickered. It actually seemed as if the light which shone from within was wavering in its brightness. An enigmatic expression entered his eyes. It was as if all the unanswered questions in the world gathered in his mind, as if he, of all people, had to answer them.

                He opened his mouth as if to speak for the first time. But though his ability to speak should have been fully developed, nothing but a dry croak came from his throat. Now he began to babble. He raised his hand to his throat. Then it was as if an enormous fist had appeared out of nowhere and struck at him, as if it had passed over his head, as if it were erasing his brain. Now his face was a contorted mask. The fires outshone each other in his eyes.

                He began to twitch. It was as if his arms no longer belonged to him. The attempt to stand on his trembling legs was in vain. His body lay twitching on the floor. He foamed at the mouth. Although the glass in which they were all imprisoned muffled the sound, one could hear his raging and crying as if he wanted to reach the world far outside. At this point Glanable had already turned off the machine which ran this first young man.

                Before we turn to the third young man, let us look at the three girls. Whatever the two young men may have gone through, the girls were better off, from the point of view of the course of the experiment. All three of them were sweet, gentle beings suffused with a somewhat old-fashioned program. Society might have been in a period of transition, but for the purposes of the experiment it was considered more practical to assign the girls a more humble, subservient role, wherein their main duty consisted of pleasing the men and performing all work without complaint.

                And thus they had developed in the retorts. Before they had been beautiful shells, pretty masks, completely without consciousness, but now they blossomed in the constant stream of information. What their bodies alone could not give them was given to them by the purity of their thoughts, was given to them by the fire with which consciousness filled their bodies. They covered their nakedness fearfully, gazing out of the retorts with provocative gazes, without having seen the results of the development in the other two retorts.

                The boy in the left-hand retort, Maren, had gone through a development similar to that of the other two men, who were already finished. He too had felt his body. He too had breathed in the scent which had been blown into his retort. He too had opened his eyes, first somewhat hesitantly, then with increasing eagerness. As he learned, his face, too, was confident and radiant. However, at the point when he too had been thrown into confusion, he began to develop differently than his neighbors.

                The dream machine went on running in him as well. It may be that a few modicums of additional information reached his consciousness before the confusion began. No matter. He staggered visibly. The force of the thoughts which raced behind his brow nearly struck him down. But though he lurched, he did not fall.  On the contrary, his body had raised itself to its greatest height. There he stood in the middle of his retort, with flashing, bitter eyes. A moment later he tore the wires which connected him to the dream machine from his head and used the steel crown which had just lain around his head as a weapon to shatter the glass cylinder.

                The scientists flinched back as the glass of Maren's retort shattered around them. Sheer incomprehension could be seen in their white faces. A few stifled cries could be heard, but they fell silent at the sight of the - yes, of what? the monster? the abnormal human? the Frankenstein which stepped out of the retort? Unprepared for this eventuality, they gave the monster a moment's advantage.

                But there also seemed to be something in Maren's posture, in his gestures, in his gaze, which commanded respect, esteem, even submission. It was as if he had balanced his consciousness on one point, as if he had pulled together all ideas to one single idea, as if he had taken a few still purposeless steps through the laboratory for the sheer sake of action, from sheer will. The completely naked man, still rosy, still gleaming from the efforts behind him, holding the steel ring with which he had shattered the retort, planted his feet like a striding king.

                Then he looked at them almost at the same time, with a terrible, roving gaze, restless and yet clear and full of depth in which the information which he now gathered ran down as if to the bottom of a deep lake. With this one look he seemed to judge them once more, what he was to think of them, seemed to assure himself of what he already knew and what he had figured out in his brief life. Up to this point no one had gotten it into his head to stop Maren.

                The scientists' paralysis at Maren's confident, determined posture still had not passed when the artificial human, in a second, terrible gesture, shattered one of the retorts holding the girls. As if the soles of his feet had grown insensitive from long practice, through autosuggestion, he walked through the shards of glass and pulled the girl out of the remains of the retort.

                Then, with the girl at his side, he reconsidered. Like a small child he climbed onto one of the tables of the computer console and armed himself with a sharp tool he found there. Now for the first time the people who stood about, unable to grasp the miracle which had occurred, began to move. Maren, grabbing the girl again, stopped this movement with a single gesture.

                The hatred could be seen flaring in his eyes. It was strange to remember the two that way. They had both stepped naked and helpless into a world which could only exist as fragments in their minds. Really one might think that they were at the mercy of their lords and masters. Even the moral conditioning which told them that in civilized climes one did not run around the way they, of necessity, had to, was an inhibition in their psyche.

                And yet. Despite all the snares which morals and respectability had set in their minds, which is especially true of Maren, it seemed that the will to survive was stronger, it seemed that there were no second thoughts, no barriers beyond the will to live, to maintain themselves, to have their will. In Maren's eyes one could clearly see that he would even have been willing to kill if they had prevented him from fleeing the laboratory, for which he had now had them give him the clothing. Thus, pure will at first, he had escaped.

                It was still unclear where Maren had spent the time between his escape from the laboratory and the moment when he and his girl were shot. Dr. Glanable hoped that he would learn something about it from the police report which Crossen agreed to let him look at. After leaving the corpses, he went to his apartment, not to the institute. A letter which must have been delivered that morning, with no return address, lay by the door.

                When he tore open the letter, still standing at the door, and immediately began to read it, at first he had difficulty deciphering Maren's awkward handwriting. "Dear Doctor!" went the letter. "I am writing you because I do not know who else to turn to. Due to the circumstances in which I was brought into the world, I have no one who could understand me but you. I want to assure you that I regret it deeply if any unnecessary damage was caused by my escape from the laboratory. And I want to ask for your understanding for the fact that I had to take the girl with me, but I couldn't live outside all by myself.

                "To some degree I can frame the problem which troubles me, and which I ask your help in solving, from the information which you planted in my consciousness. I would like to describe to you how I have fared in the last few days as I mingled with people. It is strange: in the ethical values which you planted in my consciousness, and which must, after all, be anchored in all people's consciousness, the human being and his dignity are of primary importance. According to a phrase which I recall, all human beings are brothers!

                "Now, you will understand that I had difficulty coping with other people despite this maxim. As we walked down the street it seemed as if all eyes were upon us. I had the impression that a guard stood on every corner, with the task of making sure that everyone was behaving according to the rules, which could not be familiar to all of us. I found that even if one departs only a tiny bit from this role, one is made nervous by this general oppression, that one attracts the attention of all the passers-by as if one were a wounded animal which the others pounce on like easy prey.

                "I must admit that the idea that all human beings are brothers was confounded at every step by my observations. At a train station, for example, I saw ragged, run-down figures holding bottles of red wine, who had quite clearly fallen from the grace of society without anyone caring about them. How can something like that be possible?

                "In the short life which I have led outside so far, I once saw a traffic accident. Two cars collided at an intersection due to the carelessness of a pedestrian. Both drivers were severely injured. Now, it is clear that people can make mistakes. I also realize that not all of the onlookers could have the necessary medical skills. But what I do not understand in this connection is that the people crowded up curiously to the bloody scene as if there were something particularly desirable to see.

                "Several traffic cops who had arrived at the scene had difficulty making way for the ambulance through the crowd. I even saw that several bystanders who absolutely refused to move, and even took photographs, had to be beaten to drive them away so that the ambulances would not be impeded in their work.

                "I am writing you, dear Dr. Glanable, to show you a few examples from a plethora of observations which I have made in these brief days of my freedom - my freedom? - and my life, so that you will know what I want to speak to you about and so that you can help me to clarify the contradiction in my mind which I am unable to solve. Although we have of necessity behaved somewhat suspiciously, we believe that we will be safe in Dr. Brownmiller's apartment. I am writing you the address here and ask you to come as soon as possible. Your Maren."

CONTENTS