Home > The Human Son

The Human Son
Author: Adrian J. Walker

— ONE —

 

 

YOU AND I were born with a purpose.

Mine was to save the world.

Yours was to remind us why it needed saving in the first place.

Your rebirth was a loud and visceral affair, quite at odds with the tranquillity of your extinction. When the last human died—a lady named Hanna from a place they called Sweden—there was a day of peace during which we sat upon hilltops and in forests and by the sea, and nothing ran but rivers. Three hundred of us encircled the corpse in Stockholm. We laid her out in the appropriate way, dressing her in a simple frock with her hands folded over her midriff and her white hair combed and neat.

The Earth turned through day and night. Snow fell, and for the first time in a thousand years the planet was permitted to rest.

But when you emerged from the fluid in the Halls of Gestation that long rest was shattered. You spluttered as your lungs filled with air, a look of terror wrinkled your face, and then you screamed. It was a sound like no other I have heard.

I have been a custodian of this planet for five hundred years. I have seen every type of animal give birth, from the gloop of a lamb onto straw to the squirming of grubs to the craning of an eagle chick’s neck as it breaks through its shell. And I have seen death too. I have witnessed leopards spring, claws slash, fangs tear, owls swoop, a doe’s flesh removed from her back as her face turns to the winter sky and her blood stains the snow. I have seen all the wonders and horrors of evolution and guarded them well, but I have never heard a scream like yours.

That wail. Full of fear, full of darkness, full of woe. As if existence was pain. To hear it was to hear a being that had been given life in the last place it would choose to live it.

Perhaps, on some level, that had always been true.

I pulled you from the amniotic sack and held your wriggling, pinched body up in the glare of the laboratory lights. Your head slumped forward, your limbs flailed, your eyes rolled. You were useless. Blind, weak and utterly at the mercy of the world.

If it had not been for my sister, Haralia, I would have assumed the birth had gone wrong. Perhaps, I would have thought, I had miscalculated your genetic coding—a highly improbable scenario, of course, but one in which my only course of action would have been to place you on the table and terminate you.

I did not, however. Because of what Haralia had said.

Some months before she had warned me: ‘They scream, you know. Humans. When they’re born.’

Haralia’s expertise is in animal husbandry whereas mine is in atmospheric chemistry, so she knows more about these things than me.

‘Every human birth was so,’ she went on, brightly, for my sister is a joyful being. ‘A helpless remonstration against itself. A struggle without the strength to succeed.’

So I did not kill you. Instead I marked my chart.

My own birth was not like this at all. I remember it very well. The first face I saw upon opening my eyes was Dr Nyström’s laboratory technician, a nervous, undernourished man named David who wore broken spectacles. In those first seconds my mind was filled with light and knowledge. I could already feel the world being absorbed and processed by my nervous system. There was no fear and no question of what I was, or why I was here. I was a being of peace and reason and nothing would sway me from my purpose.

The man named David blinked, frowned and muttered things to himself. I already knew more about him in those first few moments of my life than he had ever been able to know in his own. As I stood up, the fluid from my birthing tank ran down my body, and every trickle’s calculation sped through my brain. At once I knew the trajectory of every rivulet down my neck, bosom, and spine, across my buttocks and legs.

Dr Nyström made us in your image, only somewhat taller and leaner, with finer features. In her eyes, we were perfect examples of your species.

In fact we were nothing of the sort.

David staggered back, smiled, and said hello. I gave him the greeting he desired and stepped out of the tank. I towered above him. He offered me a towel, which I watched for five seconds, absorbed in the difference between its crude weave and the coloured shells of the tiny creatures that wandered through it, as if through a forest.

Now supremely excited, David dropped the towel and held up a mirror. I looked away from it. I already knew the dimensions of my face and the pigment of my skin—a mild ashen cream with freckles on high cheekbones. My eyes are a deep green, like all female erta.

No, I was not at all interested in absorbing bouncing photons from polished glass. I was altogether more interested in the nine others like me, my siblings, who had also stepped from their tanks. Beyond us stood our mother, Kai, a member of the High Council. She watched us with interest, and we watched her back. Already, we knew our purpose.

Our births could not have been more different.

Your cry was now in full force. Having accepted Haralia’s advice that there was nothing unusual in this, I made the necessary checks. Orifices, eyes, fingers, toes. Confirming that you did indeed have the requisite number of each, I cleaned you and swaddled you in a blanket. Then I left the Halls of Gestation, carrying you in my arms.

You were born early one Spring morning within a mountain, where the Halls had been built five centuries before, overlooking the forest city of Ertanea and the sea beyond.

The sun was yet to rise and the pines stretched out beneath a veil of perfect white moonlight. There was a frost in the air so I tightened your blanket and pulled over my hood as I followed the wide steps down. Our galaxy arced above us. I spotted Jupiter close to the moon and a distant constellation I had not seen for some months. I made a note to examine it later, when I had more time.

I found Boron slumbering by the stone wall at the bottom of the steps and awoke him with a nudge of his nuzzle. Then, holding you in the crook of my arm, I climbed upon his back and let him carry us home.

It was dawn when we emerged from the forest and long shadows drew out across the brightening meadows. You had found peace beneath the canopies, but when the sunlight hit your face your eyes opened, rolling around. You began to cry again, and this time you had no intention of stopping.

The noise unnerved Boron, who snorted steam and scuffed his hooves, but I managed to settle him and we trotted on down the track.

When we arrived at my settlement, Fane, your cry had become a repetitive pulse. You knew nothing else, apparently. This was all you could do.

I released Boron into the paddock and walked across the stone square. Some of my fellow villagers were already awake and peering through their windows, no doubt wondering what the disturbance was. Jakob was at the well, filling his pail.

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