WARNING: The following poem includes descriptions of war crimes, birth defects, and cultural irresponsibility. If these are touchy issues for you, please think carefully before reading.
"The Beginning of the Diminishment"
It began with a chemical weapon
intended to pacify enemy populations
by blunting or exaggerating the senses.
Then they realized that
sometimes the effects were permanent.
Then they realized that
sometimes the effects were inheritable.
There were babies born
without arms or legs or both,
without eyes or ears, nose or mouth.
Other times, certain body features
would be enlarged, exaggerated into caricature.
There could be extra parts,
or bodies twisted together in bizarre union.
The skin often had
a pallid, lumpy quality
as if formed out of clay.
There were so many of them,
scattered across a vulnerable population,
that it was impossible to provide good care --
most wound up in orphanages
founded by the conquerers in an attempt
to escape the disgrace of what they had done.
This is what it has come to:
the stockpiling of human larvae
like so much livestock.
They are laid out in rows:
here is a boy without eyes
and with oversized ears,
a girl without a mouth,
a boy and a girl
with neither eyes nor ears.
None of them have
arms or legs;
all of them have
the puckered white skin
that mark them as
Their names are chosen
at random from a list;
these four are called
Reverence, and Innocence.
Many such infants die
of fatal defects
or touch starvation
or some more subtle
failure to thrive.
Others live and even grow,
becoming toddlers, children,
adolescents, and eventually adults.
The question is raised
as to what use can be made of them.
In the hands of the conquerors,
it is unlikely to be anything good.
* * *
Here is a list of virtue names, such as used for the Diminished in this setting. Puritan orphanages sometimes picked names off a list like this.
Teratology is the study of developmental abnormalities, including damage to single individuals that can't be passed down. Evolution features changes in inherited traits. Traits that can be passed down commonly include hair and eye color. Sometimes damage occurs in ways that impact the genes, becoming inheritable.
Birth defects have been linked to chemical weapons (such as depleted uranium) and pesticides (such as atrazine) and herbicides (such as Agent Orange). The specific details associated with the Diminishment include some science-fiction aspects but are largely inspired by actual damage done by chemicals.
Tetra-amelia syndrome is a birth defect in which all arms and legs fail to develop. The genetic version is rare, but chemical exposure is another cause. With proper care, people with this condition may be lively and healthy. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to that kind of support, especially in poor and/or war-torn regions.
Humans need touch, especially as infants. Touch starvation can cause failure to thrive, or even death.
Ableism is a widespread problem. People with disabilities face higher risk of discrimination, exploitation, abuse, and hate crimes. Civilized countries have laws to protect disabled citizens, but the problem remains. The shabby treatment of the Diminished is inspired by many examples of mistreatment across time and territories.