This poem came out of the November 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from Trevor Edwards and my_partner_doug. It also fills the "experiments by evil scientists" square in my 6-10-13 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Diminished Expectations.
WARNING: The following poem (along with its notes) contains unethical science, human experimentation, extreme ableism, violence against women, child harm and child death -- plus people working against those things. Consider your tastes and current mindstate before deciding whether to read onward.
Those with the money and the power
wanted certain things, specific things,
which the scientists were pleased to pursue
for the promise of funding and supplies.
They wanted a way to control the Diminishment,
to choose what features their human livestock
would or would not develop.
The scientists tried cloning.
It failed because the Diminishment
damaged the genes too much,
left them fragile -- which is why
the defects occurred in the first place.
The scientists tried genetic engineering,
searching for the switches
that could turn things on or off --
eyes, ears, noses, mouths,
arms and legs and soft pink skin.
That didn't work either;
the Diminishment blurred its tracks
so that it was like trying to read ink in rain,
and even the unmodified body
was difficult to decipher --
not that it was legal to experiment
on normal humans.
Then the scientists discovered
that they could copy and paste bodies
using a bioprinter.
It wasn't perfect;
they had to work with preborn babies,
so they required female vessels
to carry the copies to term.
It wasn't perfect;
they had a success rate
of about seventy percent
in matching the copy
to the original.
In the remainder,
another twenty percent
were also Diminished
but with random features ...
and the final ten percent
were inexplicably normal.
Since it was, of course,
illegal to experiment on normal humans,
that posed a problem for the scientists.
They were fortunate that their employers
did not ask too many questions
so long as a steady supply
of Diminished livestock came through.
Sometimes they could even juggle
the twenty percent between orders
to use up what they had.
The last ten percent were quietly disposed of,
sometimes dead but sometimes still alive,
along with the leftover Diminished
who could not be matched to any order.
That was "inventory loss."
These things happened.
There were those who learned
what was going on,
because people who live
in the undersides of a city
always hear about the ugly things
not whispered in its clean glass towers.
Some wanted children
but could not bear their own.
Some wanted to strike back
against the conquerors.
Some just felt that nobody should die
for the crime of being born unblemished.
So there sprang up a network
of people who watched the printing labs.
When they could,
they liberated the female vessels.
More often, all they could do
was watch for the dump trucks
to unload fresh cargo,
then search through it for the living.
This one thing all the gleaners held in common:
they never left a breathing baby behind,
whether or not what they found
was what they wanted.
They gathered in secret to talk and trade,
passing the perfect infants to parents
who wanted to raise them, in exchange
for their help in rescuing the less desirable.
Yet there were, too, young adults of the Diminished
who wanted babies more like themselves,
and charity workers from the orphanages
who still felt that all life was precious.
For every misprinted infant
who made it out of the lab alive,
there were caring hands to catch them.
There was someone waiting
to wash them clean and
dress them in warm clothes,
feed them and cuddle them
and rock them to sleep.
For everyone who wanted to make a difference
in their miserable, war-torn wreck of a world
there were hungry mouths to feed
and crying hearts to comfort.
And if, sometimes,
a scientist driving a dump truck
disappeared never to be heard from again,
battered body secluded under a mound
of tiny corpses ...
well, these things happened.
* * *
This bioprinter piece provided the original inspiration.
"Science Without Humanity" is one of Gandhi's deadly sins. Without values and ethics, science tends to get into trouble, particularly with unethical human experimentation.
Cloning is one way to replicate lifeforms, although it does not copy teratogenic deformities. Genetic engineering is a precise way to modify traits, but it's difficult and complicated. The Diminishment causes a mix of teratogenic, genetic, and other effects.
Forced pregnancy and forced surrogacy are forms of violence against women. They violate the fundamental right of bodily integrity, among other things.
Infanticide is one way of dealing with unwanted babies. China's one-child policy has famously led to many human rights abuses including a rise in female infanticide.