Protopolis

The third in a planned series of ten dystopian short stories, each addressing feasible but severe ways of resolving current real-world issues. This one focuses on animal testing.

It is not intended to indicate a bias for or against, just to look at how future generations might interpret issues we currently face.

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1. Protopolis - Standalone short story

Subject 17 worries at a patch of skin under his sleeve for a moment, then stops, as suddenly as he started. The action suggests itching, and irritation, though the face betrays no sign of discomfort. His hands fall, limp once again, by his sides and moments later there is nothing to suggest him having moved at all. Clarence glances at the plain, schoolroom-style clock on the wall to his left and notes the time in the green book, alongside number 17's details, together with a brief description of what he has observed. Clarence neither knows nor cares the significance of this information, but knows that the data miners are insistent to the point of rudeness in their need for detail. When first he started at Protopolis, he was decidedly uneasy around the subjects. He'd been told over and again in the training sessions that they are as cattle - substantially less aware even - that they can respond to basic bodily impulses but have no consciousness, no sentience. Clarence remembers watching the training video, and learning that the island's denizens are manufactured - grown in laboratories and then kept here on Protopolis for study. they are fed, watered and exercised, their physical health monitored. Their diet is uninspiring but balanced, and served to them via a drip-feed. Physically they are doubtless healthier than the majority of truehumans on the mainland. They have no vices, no desires, no ambitions. Save for the appearance and the carefully controlled and monitored bodily functions they have little more in common with a truehuman than does a potato. As to the exact nature of the experiments, Clarence is not possessed of any driving curiosity and moreover is fairly sure that the less he knows, the better.

He is semi-consciously aware that ethically, the subjects reside in something of a grey area. Lab-grown human beings give scientists the opportunity to trial medicines, cosmetics, biological weapons, on subjects who are physiologically identical to the consumers and targets of the fully-tested products, without having to test on animals - a process who's drawbacks had been twofold. The first was one of biology: Effects of a particular compound on a human, could only be categorically concluded when tested on a human. While different species of animals have varied similarities to humans, none are exact, and different species are needed to get the closest match for the various areas of human physiology, meaning that the facility to have available the closest matches to humans entails the keeping of a diverse menagerie, none of which is an absolute match. The second drawback was one of morality - the tendency of certain groups to put a value on the innocence and subsequent lack of choice of animals, that outweighed, in their minds, the intrinsic value of their own species. The need to defend animals on the grounds that they are not equipped to defend themselves had led to campaigns in the forms of variously politics and sabotage, whose outcome was ultimately the banning of all animal testing. Coupled with the high risks of releasing an untested product to an increasingly litigious public, meant that manufacturers had to either prepare to defend their products in courts of law, or find a rigorous and robust testing mechanism that did not involve tests on animals.

Clarence is aware that those of a more sensitive disposition than he, might question the rights and wrongs of the testing on protohumans, leading to endless debate and legal posturing, but he is paid handsomely enough to include indifference in his job description, and has never really been the type to ask questions anyway. The subjects are not self-aware and are kept in good health. Save for the occasional specimen who goes missing once in a while, they are more well looked after than most truehumans. Clarence's post is far too mundane for him to ever be privy to knowledge about where the lost ones go - he speculates that they are moved to other locations, or harvested for organs, maybe even stolen, and sold as macabre sex toys on the black market - but the initial unease has long since faded into boredom and disinterest, after watching them stand statuesque for months, save for the occasion tick, or itch, so it does not burden his conscience. The operation is, by necessity clandestine, but to hide it from the public, not from the law, which as yet has no position on the rights, or lack thereof, of protohumans.

Protopolis is an island, large enough for employee lodgings, and few administration buildings, a canteen and some sparse recreation facilities, but small enough so as not to attract attention. There is a small, mirrored glass building near the centre of the island, against a rock face, a building Clarence has never been inside, but which from the number of people he sees going in, he has been forced to conclude is either disconcertingly claustrophobic, or continues under the island - the latter seeming to be the more likely. On the few occasions that he does give it any thought, Clarence supposes that this is where the subjects are grown - the process used is something of a mystery and the facilities even more so. No one outside the main protofarm knows anything about how the protohumans are grown. The island isn't on any major shipping routes or flight paths, so the projects remain largely unmolested and unobserved. The tunics and shifts in which subjects are clad, are long and plain - anyone seeing them would only register them as beasts of the field, or possibly monks, if they happened close enough to recognise the humanoid form. the geographic location of protopolis is such that the weather is never very varied: Too far north to get any remarkable amount of sun, too far south for anything as unpredictable as snow. a more or less constant drizzle leaves the island as blank in expression and as lacking in emotion as its inhabitants.

The research is classified - Clarence's friends and family believe he still works on an oil rig, though even the wells which have not yet been completely plundered have long since dried up to the extent that only a skeleton staff is ever needed to keep the rigs working, and so promotion to Protopolis is not unusual for a redundant rigger. This is not public knowledge of course, but with very little in the way of social connections, having spent most of his adult life on the rigs, keeping secrets is not something which causes Clarence to lose any sleep. The pay is very good, and the work laughably simple.  Just watch the herd for eight hours at a time, making a note of any and all behaviour which strays from the default of standing still. In the early days, the cold, vacant eyes had been what troubled Clarence. Faces completely human and so effortlessly familiar, but for the glazed-over eyes, and too-relaxed jaw. Nobody home. No lights on even. Spending 8 hours a day watching them, So similar to people, yet missing anything which fundamentally would define them as such, the unease soon faded to boredom. What he had at first seen as sinister apparitions, he now saw just as fleshy automatons. No A.I. - a human brain, empty of all functions save those required for breathing, digestion and perambulation.

As Clarence replaces the green book on the table, he fancies he sees, on the very periphery of his vision, number 17 look over at him mournfully, almost pleading, but when he looks  
again, 17 is stood, as ever, motionless and expressionless. Clarence rubs his eyes and determines to switch off the gambling interface earlier this evening and try to get a proper sleep.

   *   *   *

As he rests a hand on a trembling shoulder just above his waist height, the doctor delicately moves a tiny switch just within his reach, from one to zero. A quiet, unintrusive piece of  
hardware just behind him issues three short beeps, then an unbroken tone, reminiscent of a phone giving a busy signal before abruptly cutting off. The shudders of the shoulder in his hand become slightly more pronounced and the doctor gives what he hopes to be a comforting squeeze. For a moment he catches sight of his reflection in the frosted glass of the window opposite and is struck by the irony of his playing God as he stands, arms outstretched, giving with one hand, taking away with the other. He masks a bitter smile and inclines his head slightly towards the bereaved, and is momentarily taken aback as his voice, even softly rendered, seems loud and intrusive in the small room, thick with grief. "I'm sorry. Please, take as long as you need. The orderly outside is James, he'll see to any requirements you may have"
He squeezes the shoulder again, turns, and moves with soft, considered steps towards the door, which he pulls to, noticing the sobs become more intense as he does. He puts a hand  
on James's arm and makes eye contact.
"See that she is as comfortable as we can make her. When she's done, move him down to the prep suite"
James looks back, "Protopolis?" he asks
The doctor indicates the green tick by the "donor?" sign on the patient's door, and nods, then heads off along the corridor.

   *   *   *

In another city, a different world, a consumer with a clear complexion and conscience to match, browses the hypo-allergenic facial cleansers, and finally settles on a subtle seagrass scented one, in an appropriately deep green bottle. Under the reassuring fonts of the Protopolis logo, it proudly, and truthfully proclaims "Not tested on animals".

 

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