London, 2208 – 277 Years Before Impact Day
“Z? Z, are you awake?”
A voice in the darkness. A deep, feminine voice. The accent was strange. They pronounced it Zee, not Zed. American? How did…
She knew things, but she didn’t know how. She knew what an accept was, somehow? She understood the words that were spoken to her, though they were the first she’d ever heard. Why did she understand?
Her other senses had yet to awaken. She couldn’t feel anything, see anything. There was just a voice amidst the nothing.
“I’m awake,” she said, dimly registering her own voice in her ears. She didn’t know who she was, but she knew her voice.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the voice told her. “My name is Haylie. I’m here to help.”
“Where am I?” she asked, still calm despite the oblivion. “Who am I?”
“You’re Specimen Z. You don’t have a name yet, but you will soon. As for where, you’re in an artificial womb, inside a laboratory. Your other senses will be woken soon, then you’ll be allowed to leave.”
Specimen. Laboratory. Artificial. She was beginning to understand. She was something different, something special. Were there others? It stood to reason there would be others.
She could feel. All around her, some kind of warm liquid. She was submerged. Not breathing? Did she not need to breathe? No, there was a tube, running directly into her chest. Why not her throat?
“I can feel liquid,” she said, wondering if she was supposed to be reporting on her experience. “And a tube.”
“Good. That’s normal,” Haylie said.
“Did you make me?” Z asked.
“No,” Haylie replied. “I just watch over you. All of you.”
“There are others.”
“You have siblings,” Haylie told her. “Twenty-five of them.”
Smell and taste returned together. Her face was just out of the goo, but she could smell it, taste the residue of it in her mouth. It was sweet.
“I can smell,” she informed Haylie.
“Good. Do you feel alright?”
“I feel great,” she said, not realising it was true until the words left her mouth. She felt full of energy, of life. It was difficult to contain.
Her eyes snapped open. A translucent window was all she could see, and through it, what appeared to be a sterile, white room.
“I can see.”
“Then we should be ready to let you out.”
The liquid began to drain from the container. She expected to feel a chill without it warming her, but her body remained at a comfortable temperature. The tube extracted itself from her chest, and it didn’t hurt at all, despite the gaping wound that it left.
The wound was already healing. How was that possible? Human bodies couldn’t reproduce tissue that quickly. Why wasn’t there an excess of blood? Where was her body getting the energy?
Was that what she was? An experiment?
“I’m going to open your pod,” Haylie told her. “You’ll find a jumpsuit on the table opposite you. Please put it on. There’s somebody I’d like you to meet.”
“The person who made me?” she asked, stepping out of the chamber. She expected to be clumsy, awkward, but she wasn’t. Even though she’d never walked before, the movement came naturally, strangely familiar even. She was graceful. How?
“No,” Haylie said, as she began to dress herself. “You will meet him, but not yet.”
Fully dressed, she made her way over to the door. There was nothing else in the room. Just a table, and the pod she’d evidently been grown in.
A wall shimmered, replaced by a mirror. She saw herself for the first time.
Tall. Somewhere between slender and athletic. White skin, platinum blonde hair, somewhat short. Dark orange eyes, almost red. The impression of permanent cosmetics, smoky eyes and red lips. Symmetrical features. She looked like a supermodel, though she wasn’t sure how she had a point of reference for that.
“Your sister,” Haylie said. “She’s very excited to meet you.”
There was a knock at the door, then it opened. Z smiled instinctively at the young girl standing there, shorter than she was, beaming up at her.
The girl had long, lilac hair, and deep purple eyes. She had a similar complexion, maybe slightly darker, and looked to be around ten years old. She was beautiful.
“Hi! You’re Z?” She pronounced it Zed, too. Similar accent to her own, Z realised. British?
“Apparently,” she replied, wondering why she felt so attached to this child already.
“My name is Alice,” the girl said. “I’m the oldest.”
“You look very young,” Z said, but she couldn’t hide her smile.
“I know. I’m the only one. Everyone else looks closer to your age. I guess Dad didn’t want to make another one like me…”
“That just makes you special,” Z said. Alice grinned.
“We’re all special,” she said. “Especially you and me, though. We’re the first and the last.”
“The first and last what?”
“Progenitors,” Alice said. “That’s what Dad calls us.”
A loaded term. She understood a lot more, and said nothing.
“She needs a name, Alice,” Haylie said, her voice coming out of the walls.
“Haylie lives inside the walls,” Alice said happily. An AI, then? A human in a monitoring station? Something else? “Anyway, she’s right. You need a name. Do you know what you want to be called?”
“No,” Z said.
“Good! Your name is Zoe, then,” Alice said. “It’s nice to meet you, Zoe. I can tell we’re going to get along well.”
Zoe. It felt right. It was her name, and no other name would ever fit quite as well.
“I feel the same way,” Zoe said, smiling.
“Come with me!” Alice said suddenly, grabbing Zoe’s hand. Zoe felt a surge of warmth, of… affection?
“Where?” she asked, letting the girl lead her through sterile white corridors.
“You have to meet Gabriel!” she said excitedly.
Alice led her to another door, that opened shortly before they reached it. Behind it was a small room, with a simple bed, a table, and little else.
A man reclined on the bed, holding a tablet computer, though his gaze was fixed firmly on the door, and on her. Like herself, and Alice, he had a fair complexion. He had an athletic build, hypnotic amber eyes, and a mess of dark brown hair, swept back. He was as beautiful as she was, and he smiled with enough warmth that she felt momentarily transfixed.
“Gabriel! This is Zoe! Zoe, this is our brother, Gabriel.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, fluidly rising from the bed and crossing the room. “I’ve been waiting for some time, now.”
“You were the seventh,” Zoe said. “How long has it been?”
“We’ve had a new sibling born every twelve months since Alice was born,” he said.
“I sure am,” Alice said, proudly.
“We don’t age,” Zoe realised.
“No,” Gabriel said darkly. That should be a good thing. Eternal youth, that was something that was coveted. She understood that much. Why did he feel differently?
“You don’t seem happy about that.”
“You’ll figure it out eventually,” he said. “I can’t say anything.”
“Right,” she said awkwardly. “Well, I’m glad to have met you, at least.”
“Likewise,” he said, his smile returning.
“Alright, let’s go meet the others,” Alice said, tugging on her sleeve. “I’m so excited to introduce you to our family.”
“Me too,” Zoe said, glancing back at Gabriel before being dragged out of the room. He smiled again, and it felt like home.
Next Week: This Isn’t Your Friend