I sat curled up in my tiny apartment. My mental breakdown just cost me my job. At least it happened at home where no one could see me, but… I couldn't go back. I'd rather be homeless than go back to the cold uncaring work of package handling. It was like every stupid box weighed down on my soul crushing me until I was a trembling sobbing wreak at the thought of going in that day.
If only I hadn't flunked out of college. Maybe my parents would still talk to me. I'd still have my awesome roommate. He said to stay in touch, but I couldn't even do that right. If my sister were here, she could help. I missed my big sibling; she always had my back, but she had to be drafted into the Terran Cosmic Navy to fight the affini threat.
Right, maybe the unstoppable murder plants would just finish me.
I slapped myself. I just needed one more chance. There has to be another job out there to pay rent. Maybe one that isn't soul crushing. I browsed my phone until I found a job opening with a Cosmic Navy research division. I almost dismissed it, as I was not qualified for lab work, when I saw it asking for test subjects. Then I saw the pay. Holy shit. Six figures.
Oh, there had to be a catch. I read through it and sure enough, it was listed as dangerous and required one to move into a government facility. Okay that second one was less of a catch and more of a perk. Free housing and a shit ton of money. Sure, I might die, but if I don't…
I worked up the energy to tap a few times and send my resume in. It was about all the energy I had for job hunting. It wasn't like they'd respond, right? Jobs never saw my resume anymore, probably the bot filtering mine out.
To my humble surprise, they responded. I got pulled in so they could go over everything about how I’d be leaving on a shuttle and staying away from Peragus for an indefinite amount of time. I filled out so much paperwork it was insane. Mostly NDAs but whatever. It's not like I had anyone left to talk to. I was also helping against the affini. A job with meaning was so much less soul crushing even if potentially fatal.
A few days later I was shipped off to some secret lab on another world. First time being off of Peragus was neat. Kinda scary but well the navy didn't need to know I was internally freaking out in a way that meant I was probably nonverbal. Without any reason to try talking I was going to pretend I was totally fine and sit perfectly still in my seat 100% intentionally.
So, the job ended up actually being, sit in this isolated room for months with little stimulation in between tests of varying degrees of invasiveness. Some of them were deeply unpleasant, others I wasn't even awake for. Also, I wasn't allowed to leave under any circumstances. The fact that it took me over a week to figure out I was a prisoner was well… Look, I never claimed to be bright or observant.
On the bright side, I didn't have to worry about housing, or food, or talking to people, or pretending to be a functional adult. What more could a guy ask for? A person ask for? Extended bouts of introspection between disassociation had me uh realizing some things that once came up with my old roommate Devon.
Devon was the coolest. Super queer which I was kinda jealous of since I was so boring and cishet. He knew how to rock a dress, skirts. How a trans guy could pull off femininity and masculinity so well was uh. I wasn't jealous. I mean definitely not of the masculinity. Who’d want to be a guy? Other than Devon I guess.
Anyway, I was having thoughts. I once asked Devon what made him decide to transition and he said. "I wasn't happy being a girl, and I sort of always wanted to be a guy. Besides, guys look so much better in dresses." I mean I disagreed with all of it at the time. I kinda still did, like have you seen a woman in a dress? They look so good! I wished I could look good in a dress like that.
It was thoughts like those and a realization that I probably should have maybe visited the GSA back at Xeria Tech that had me delving into the murky waters of gender. Like if not wanting to be a guy was enough then did that mean I wasn't one?
I spent months on that train of thought. Just sitting on an uncomfortable bed staring off into space thinking barely moving. It wasn’t awful. There was something a little zen about just not doing anything. I lost track of time after a while. Most of the days, I just disassociated and came too when the scientists AKA my wardens needed me for a test or something. Sometimes not even then, it didn’t matter I still ended up doing the tests.
So, after much time and many thinks in my headspace, I decided that maybe I should try being who I want to be and not who I am. Who was that? I called her Melanie. Also, I started thinking to myself with she/they pronouns. Was she a girl or were they something else? I sure as heck didn't know, but maybe a few more months might make me have another epiphany.
They sure were keeping me long enough for that to happen. They stopped talking to me pretty early and I didn’t mind. I was never the talkative sort. In fact I hadn’t spoken for weeks at that point. I had nothing to say to them. I just laid around like a helpless little labrat and zoned out between tests and thinking about gender.
I tried using my voice a bit just to see if I could and it was pretty raw. Turns out not using your voice for so long made it hard to talk right. It didn’t help that it was so male while I had shifted my head voice in the wake of my sort of gender revelations.
It didn’t matter I probably wasn’t leaving, and to everyone here I was basically an object to be handled and used. I guess I didn’t mind too much, or I wouldn’t if they were more gentle about everything. They were all kinda rough jerks.
A few days later after testing my voice, I paid attention during one of the tests and found out what the whole experiment was. Cloning! Like, not just genetically identical babies, no. What they were trying was to clone someone as they were. Mind, body, the whole shebang copied into another person. Clone an army to fight the plants. Genius idea navy. Totally worth the tax dollars. I almost hoped the affini would win at that point.
I kinda felt bad about my clones. Scratch that, I felt really bad about my clones. They'd come into the world just to deal with all of this bland badness of the lab and it was partially my fault. I guess, I shouldn't think like that because they'd come in fully believing themselves to be me as I am now… that was even sadder. Those poor gender confused not-guys!
To think my biggest regret was that there might be more people stuck being me. I was a monster. No one deserved to be me. Except me, but that was debatable. Well, if I ever meet my clones, I was going to be the nicest damn Melanie I could be to them. They deserved it for having to deal with this.
Honestly, it was easier to care about hypothetical copies of myself than it was to care about me, the original. Thoughts about my new clone selves filled my waking thoughts for the rest of my stay. I felt for them so much.
A blaring noise woke me from my sleep. I wanted it to stop so bad. I was trying to sleep. They always let me sleep in silence… Wait, was that an alarm? Uh… shit was that gunfire? Maybe the affini were here to eat me. I'm not really much to eat at this point.
It all just made me think, poor clones. I never got to say hello and that I was sorry for them having to be me. A curse of either being a motionless thing in a cell or a constantly anxiety ridden mess wondering how to survive the next day. Sometimes both, like that day. I was lying down in my cell motionless and an anxiety ridden mess.
The gunfire stopped and the door to my containment cell opened. My cell was the most boring drab white awful place to be and suddenly vibrant green vines covered in a rainbow of flowers entered. So colorful, I thought a pride parade was entering my room. They formed a rather large woman standing almost twice my height.
"Hello little one… Oh dear, you look so unwell. Are you okay?" She had such a pleasant voice. Very kind words too, was this really the monster destroying humanity? Honestly the scientists were worse than her.
I raised my hand and made a so-so gesture. I wasn't in the mood to try using my voice again. I hadn't used it in so long and well… I didn't really use it much before I got stuck here.
She sounded so concerned for me as she said. "Can you not talk, flower?"
I shrugged. Fuck if I know. I almost wanted to try, but then I'd find out the answer and… I kinda liked living in ignorance of how bad off I was.
"Oh no. I assure you flower that we'll take care of you. The Affini Compact is here and you are safe with us." Wow, the news was so wrong about the big bad aliens. They were so friendly.
She brought up a vine with a flower in front of my face. "I'm going to have you take a nap. I promise when you wake up, you'll be nice and safe. Somewhere far far away from here."
My thoughts went to my clones. I never met them; they might not even exist, but if they did they deserved this kindness more than me. I had to ask for them. Alright, time to try out my voice. "Ah…" Wow, that was awful. Try two. "C-Clones… save them…" Wow, that actually hurt to say. Okay, I got the words out no more talking.
"Clones? Petal, we'll save everyone here don't you worry. Just take a deep breath and relax. We've got you. Everything's going to be alright.”
The adorable little terran did as asked and drifted off to sleep. The words he spoke were concerning. Our information on terrans was that they didn't utilize cloning. I was going to have to check after I got this little one to safety.
After a short trip back to the Asterales to drop the little one off, I was back in the research facility on the remote terran world. I searched over the primitive laboratories and found it. Found them. Two poorly made clones of the little one. They were close, but the cloning work was that of an amateur. They did manage to get them to physical maturity.
I dove into the records while the others finished up clearing out the place. The notes on neural pathway copying were rather intriguing. The more interesting part was that they had already done it. Poorly.
I had personally done a large amount of work in the Terran Cotyledon Program. I knew their physiology, neurology, and psychology better than most. So, when I looked at their notes… Those clones were broken and would be in agony if they were to be woken up.
One of my colleagues interrupted my investigation. "Calytrix, we've secured all the terrans… What are those? Those poor little terrans, why haven't you freed them from those tanks?"
"Aerva, they were cloning. They made a mockery of their own kind and if we let those two out, they'll suffer." I told her. I startled myself with the sound of my own agitation. These terrans played with life without understanding it first. The worst part was they got close. Close enough that we had to help those two as independent terrans while they were suffering.
"Roots, really? Those poor little terrans. Surely something can be done, perhaps putting them on class-Os like the cotyledons" She places a vine on my shoulder.
"The holes in their neural pathways would diminish the help of the class-Os significantly. They are broken worse than some of the cotyledons and I promised the terran I found I'd save them." That poor little terran was more concerned about them than himself.
Aerva really wasn't seeing it. She didn't understand terrans on the level I did as her field of focus was so different. "There has to be a way. Some means to help them."
"They'd need their brains finished. Completed. They'd then need their bodies molded to match their minds so they don't feel discomfort. Then of course they'd have to be integrated into a society where an original copy already exists. But doing all of that would mean discarding their current minds entirely…" I slowly convinced myself with my own ramblings.
"Right and we can't do that because that would be little more than killing them."
Shit she had it backwards. "No, that might work. I just have to finish them. Make them who they were supposed to be." I got excited. "I can fix them. I just have to redo the neural pathway cloning correctly."
"Calytrix, are you sure that's ethical? That's beyond adjusting them to their best selves. You're talking about almost entirely replacing their brains with one of someone else." She stood between me and the two incomplete terrans.
"I'd be fixing them, just like the class-Os but better. Their current neural pathways are close to the little ones. I just need to take these two and some scans of the little one and I can make them whole." I had to save them. Like I promised the little one.
"But the ethics."
I grew loud. "This is doable! I would give them the lives they'd have had if these terrans were even half as competent as us!"
She was quiet as we locked stares. "I-, fine. Take them, but don’t let your hubris hurt them."
I sent a ruffle through all of my vines to calm down. "I'll be careful. They won't wake until they’re perfect."
She smiled. "Alright. I'll keep it quiet about how you're saving these two. I figure some might disagree with your methods if they find out."
"I don't need the secrecy. Once they are fixed, the others will realize I was right to do it."
She waved a dismissive vine. "Of course, what was I thinking? Need help carrying them aboard the Asterales?"
"If you don't mind."
We made our way back to the ship, careful not to disturb the dormant clones. Explaining what was going on while I took them to my lab was a hassle. A number of forms had to be field out before I could begin and an oversight committee was formed on the ship to ensure I was acting in the best interests of the sophont clones.
I had to requisition the little one before he woke up, or rather before she woke. As I mapped out her brain and psychology, I learned she was not male. I updated her records with the compact as soon as I learned such.
I kept her under for much of my work and when she was awake, I wiped her memories. I didn't need the little one waking up to find out what was happening just yet. They'd wake up with their last memory being me saving them from that wretched place.
With her memories and mind frozen in place I worked tirelessly to copy her mind over to the clones. I also began finishing their bodies. Their bodies needed to be perfectly identical to how the little one saw herself to eliminate any possibility of causing them distress upon waking.
I did however bring the little one back to optimal physical health while she slumbered. Her time in that prison was not kind to her body. It was the limit of physical changes I could do before she awoke. Anymore and it might trigger the panic attacks that her mind was prone to.
Aerva pestered me a few times about what to do with three identical terrans. The answer was simple. I'd have them wake up together and none would know which was the original and which were the clones.
She did not take that idea well, but I had probed the little one, Melanie's mind. She would be more than accommodating to her companions. In fact, they all would be much happier not knowing. It took time to convince Aerva and the oversight committee of this. Thankfully, they did not interrupt my work.
I glanced down upon the three identical terrans, as perfectly the same as I could make them. They'd need help when they woke, but for now I could revel in how adorable the three were. Not just their cute little terran bodies, but the beautiful mind I had mapped out and learned the entirety of.
They were going to be independent terrans when I brought them up, even if all three Melanies would better flourish as florets. It had been too long since I had one of my own and my week of work on the three was making me possessive.
As I was finishing up, I submitted my paperwork to have them in my wardship to ensure that all of my work was indeed successful and be there to alleviate any problems they had transitioning into their lives as independent sophonts.
My real reasons were different. I knew my work was flawless. They might not be perfect copies but the differences would be so minute they'd never know the difference. The real reason was because I wasn't ready to let them go. If they decided they wanted to be independent I would respect that, but until such a time I wanted to watch over her. All of her.
The day came and I requisitioned a room to have them wake up as new intakes. They'd be observed by the committee who would see that I was right that they would be best woken up together. The committee just wanted a controlled environment where they could roll back the memories and separate them if need be. It wouldn't happen. I knew them. I knew her. They would be happy to meet each other.
I woke up very confused. I had just been in that awful cell when a burst of color and kindness saved me. Now… Now I was in bed far more comfortable than the one in my cell. Which was great. Honestly, I felt better than I had since long before that imprisonment. The only thing wrong being that I had no idea where I was and the walls were still that awful sterile white. I wanted the color that I saw for that brief moment back.
Now, I skipped over the super big unavoidable things in the room. The two identical individuals also sitting up in the triangular room with perfect triangular symmetry. They both had their own beds and looked at me the same way I looked at them.
My clones. They were my clones… actually I might be the clone and one of them might be the original. Wow, that was messed up, but I was going to act like the original and be super nice to the poor misguided souls that got stuck being me. They deserved better.
"Hey." We all said at the same time startling us all into silence. I noted my voice sounded much better than in the cell, well better in that it sounded like I wasn't gargling something awful. It was still too male.
"Uh…" We did it again. Wow this was awkward. "So, like uh sorry?" Yup we kept doing it.
We all took one deep breath. "Welcome to…" this was getting frustrating. I just wanted to tell them I'm sorry and that I'd be there for them to help however they needed.
Watching my clones’ faces, which were clean shaven and I loved that, they seemed to display emotion in a very familiar way. The way I did and wow was I easy to read. I could practically see my own thoughts in their heads.
So, they all had identical thoughts to me. That means they'd think whatever I thought so I just had to think happy thoughts at them or at myself because to them that'd be from me. Okay this was giving me a headache.
"You two want a hug?" We all asked. "Yup." We all got out of bed favoring our right sides. My legs felt better and looked much less emaciated than before. We walked into the center and gave each other a group hug.
"Sorry you have to be me." We all apologized to each other. Which was funny in a weird way. I'd never had two people be nice to me like this. I started tearing up and I saw them tearing up too.
A look was all it took to know they felt the same way, and that broke me. I started sobbing. They understood me and that… that was beyond words. I never had people be nice and understanding. And they were me. I wasn't nice and yet they acting just like me made me cry because they were nice.
It took us a moment to calm down and I reached out to reassure one of my clones only to have them do the same. A few moments later we pulled each other back into the hug crying. "I-I'm sorry. Y-You deserve better than me." hearing them say and mean those words right back just took away my ability to speak.
We held each other until we all calmed down.
That was when a door opened and things began to change.