2036 – 2037
Zee’s world changed very quickly. They took her away from her room with the trees and the bark chippings on the floor, with its comforting, natural smells, and instead placed her in a much smaller, darker place. They gave her no more fruit; just tasteless mush that she would throw against the wall in a temper until she got too hungry and finally realised that the silent Hairless Ones who attended her would bring her nothing else. She tried to call to them at first, but they ignored her. But worse than her change in conditions was the loss of Har-oo-ko, her only friend. After she’d attacked the male, Har-oo-ko had been taken with the rest of her things, and now Zee was desperately lonely. She reached for the males who brought her food, trying to groom their black, smooth skin, but they either ignored her, or kicked her. Soon, she learnt to stay in the corner when they came.
No one talked to her, and no one played games. The light in the small room never changed, so she didn’t know if it was night or day. She had no materials to make a nest, and nothing at all to occupy her mind. She made noises, hooting and calling and saying her name over and over, trying to get someone to pay attention to her, but there was no one beyond the door to listen. She pounded her flat hands against the cold floor, throwing furious tantrums, hurling herself against the walls. More than once she managed to knock herself unconscious. When she woke, her wounds were tended to, but she never saw anyone except the ones who brought the food.
Gradually, she withdrew into herself. In desperation, she plucked at her own hair, grooming herself until the fur she could reach became patchy in places, revealing her mottled brown skin underneath. She was sore and miserable, and hungry, because they never brought her enough food. After a while she stopped trying to make anyone pay attention to her and sat glowering in silence, unkempt and filthy, for her room was rarely cleaned. She squatted listlessly in her own filth, rocking slightly on her haunches, eyes unfocused. She didn’t understand what had happened but, for the first time in her short life, Zee had a sensation of time, of continuity. She knew things had not always been this way, that there was a Past, in which warm memories of Har-oo-ko dwelled, and a Present, in which she was left to suffer in the darkness. Of the Future, she had no inkling. Her sense of self was not developed enough for her to fear further neglect, or even to long for death. Her sole survival strategy was to react to her environment. Slowly, her mental world grew smaller and smaller, until the close walls of the chamber became the limits of her entire universe, and, day by day, she forgot the kinder, better times. Zee was alone, as she had been in the beginning, the only one of her kind that she knew of. The Hairless Ones were strange, unknowable presences. She did not know what she was or where she belonged. She was nothing, just a dark, filthy hole. And that was how she was found by the scentless male.
“What is the meaning of this?”
Her dull gaze momentarily focused on the shadow standing in the doorway. The light outside was brighter than the dim illumination of her cell, but she no longer had the cognitive ability to envisage what might lay out there, if she ever had.
“It is dangerous, Hoshi-san. Our orders were quite clear.”
“Dangerous, yes, but also an expensive investment. Is this how you treat my valuable property?”
“We…we didn’t know what to do with it…we have fed it, kept it as clean as we can. But it’s just a monkey.”
“It is far more than that. Dr Haruko worked very hard on this project. She would be distraught to see her subject treated in this manner, I am certain. Never mind. We will salvage what we can of this business in her absence. I see the potential here, even if you and your department do not.”
“She killed a man, Hoshi-san. One of the scientists in the genetics lab.”
“I know the story. Clean her up. It is time to move onto stage two of this project.”
“Stage two? I was not aware there was a stage two…”
“Neither was Dr Haruko.”
The door closed. Belatedly, Zee lifted her balding head slightly and let out a hoarse, plaintive, “Ha-oo-ko.” It faded into the darkness.
Things changed again, somewhat. For a long time, life was strange. She would eat the same tasteless mush they always gave her, but then start to feel tired afterwards and, inevitably, would lapse into unconsciousness. Normally she slept fitfully, but now she would always wake up as if from deep, restful slumber. Her perception of time, already eroded by her maddening confinement, became even more fragmented. She felt as if she slept for days at a time, and noticed odd changes to her body. Even more of her hair was missing, in odd, regularly-shaped patches. She found looking at the neat rectangles of bare flesh uncomfortable, and would run her fingers over the puckered scars left there too. She had no explanation for it, no understanding, but she knew she disliked it. She began to throw tantrums again, but it achieved no more than it had in the beginning.
She started to get sick. She had never been sick before, and didn’t know what was happening. Her food wouldn’t stay down, and she threw up as much as ended up in her stomach. But she grew fatter, not thinner. She became aware of a swelling in her abdomen, a heavy paunch forming, and she became ungainly and fragile. Her flat breasts began to swell and become tender, and she no longer bled. She grew to loathe her changing body, and in her slow, conservative mind, she began to connect it to the periods of unconsciousness she experienced and the scars that now criss-crossed her. Finally, she snapped and began to howl for hours and hours until her voice became a thin rasp in her throat. She clawed at the wall, seeking the trees she’d almost forgotten, and she tried to recall the name of the Hairless female who had been kind to her once, but it was lost. She pulled our great clumps of her hair and threw herself into the walls again. Zee still had no concept of death, but some part of her sought oblivion, and she cracked her head against the wall over and over, until blood dripped to the floor. Eventually, Hairless Ones entered the room and they held her down. A sharp, shining thing moved towards her, and then she slept again.
“What’s wrong with her?”
Zee did not remember waking up. Her whole body ached. She tried to move, but something prevented her from standing. A chain. She looked blearily around her. The room was unchanged, but now two tall shadows loomed over her.
“She was poorly treated after the accident.” It was the scentless male speaking.
“Accident? I heard she chewed a man’s skull to pieces.”
“She is an animal. They wanted to destroy her. This confinement was a compromise, albeit not a very good one.”
“An animal…” One of the figures crouched down beside her. He was a Hairless One, with very pale, grey eyes. She met his gaze expressionlessly. “Not an animal. She’s half human, isn’t she?”
“In a manner of speaking. A humanzee.”
“Zee…” she whispered.
His eyes widened. “She speaks?”
“More or less. Her creator consciously modelled her physiology after one of our hominid ancestors. Her intellect surpasses that of even a great ape. But she is not human.”
“No. I can see that. Stage two is progressing?”
“Yes. Since we have lost the resource of Dr Haruko, we have been forced to abandon dreams of engineering further hominids. However, she is not sterile. She can breed, as you can see.”
“Does she understand what’s happening to her?”
“It is unlikely. She was alone most of her life. Her only social contact has been with humans. There is no one to explain even her own body to her.”
“No wonder she’s scared.”
“You can’t tell?”
“I am not a zoologist. Do you feel kinship with this creature, Petyr?”
He brayed, and a memory of Har-oo-ko stirred in Zee. But then it was gone again, like a ghost. “No more than I do with you, Makato. Still…this is a fascinating breakthrough.”
“I agree. And you see the potential, of course.”
“I do.” The Hairless One stood up again and they both looked down at her. She buried her face in the unyielding ground and cradled her swollen belly. She felt something move within and was overcome with a fresh wave of terror. “A race of creatures; intelligent and adaptable, able to wield tools and follow instruction.”
“But without the imagination for insurrection,” the scentless one added, “without instincts of their own. A species waiting to be moulded to our needs. An engineered species. How can anyone object to the treatment of animals that we created ourselves?”
“If you are squeamish, Petyr…”
“Not at all. You know me better than most, old friend. Proceed with the plan.”
“It will not be easy. We only have a limited number of frozen embryos, and establishing a breeding population will take time.”
“We have time.”
They left Zee alone again in the darkness. As always, the noises of the Hairless Ones carried no meaning for her, but a seed of fear was planted in her for a reason she would never be able to articulate. She put her arms around her stomach and felt another unnatural shift inside her. Her body was wracked with sudden cramps, and she descended into hot, wet dreams of agony and dread.