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Stories, Uncategorized

Coldborn

19 Nov 2015 1546z Draft 001

I am Martin Salese. And I am Coldborn.

Of course, that’s just slang. My birth records show that I was one whose birth came about through an “artificial womb.” My parents contributed egg and sperm and I spent nine carefully-monitored-and-regulated months in a technological marvel of steel, plastic and glass that perfectly mimicked (so its makers say) the human womb.

Because it’s made that way, it’s referred to as “cold”, like in “cold steel.” It’s to differentiate us from humans birthed in the ordinary, ancient way. Some people refer to that as “Warmborn”, but most of the time you just call normal humans that: humans. And you refer to humans born of the artificial wombs as “Coldborn.”

The technology is relatively new, so to speak, and wasn’t originally designed for humans. The great species die-off in the mid-21st century prompted scientists to find a way to save animals (plants were a relatively easy problem) even with the rapidly-dwindling populations. So they made a means for birthing animals that didn’t require living parents. And it worked.

Of course, what worked for animals can be easily adapted for humans.

Humanity was in no danger of dying off, yes. There were 6 billion humans in the first two decades of the 21st century. Today, in the first decades of the 22nd, there’s double that amount.

Oh, sure, it should be bigger. But the fact that there’s that many humans even after so much war, strife, economic collapse, plagues – yes, plagues – and shortages in food and water, I’m surprised we’re not struggling to survive as a species. In fact, we’re thriving.

Well, okay. Those who can afford to are the ones who thrive.

The rest? Like the poor plebes on Ground Level?

Well, too bad for them.

————

Contrary to popular belief, I am not an artificial person. I am not like some… thing someone or someones had made-to-order in some baby factory somewhere like some car or plane.

Alright, fine: there are Coldborn who might seem like that. Nations and organizations who can afford them do make Coldborn made-to-order. The richest nations have armies and police forces filled with “Warrior” or “Police” Coldborn. Men and women designed from birth to serve a purpose. The truly rich even have large parts of their civil service and administrations run by “Factory” Coldborn, supporting “Warmborn” humans and “Designer” Coldborn.

“Designer” Coldborn, you ask?

The process of birthing a human via the artificial wombs is expensive. Like I said, the technology is relatively new. I am something like the third or so generation of Coldborn, and perhaps the first where individuals who are not in the top tier of the richest humans could afford the procedure.

Genetics is a messy thing. In the second decade of the 21st century, humanity managed to completely map the human genome. By 2015, nations were already taking their first steps in manipulating human DNA.

And that’s an old hat trick, really. Before we turned to the artificial wombs to save the animals, we tried genetic modification. With… fascinating results. The progeny of such radical tampering with Mother Nature’s scions still stalk parts of the world today. Or overrun them, like with some of the Southeast Asian nations. Poor Cambodia.

For most organisms, what you can do with genehacking is limited to the… source code, to borrow terminology from the IT guys. No matter what you do, after two humans have sex (or, in the case of same sex pairs, get a surrogate), you can only work with the code that’s in the DNA of that little bundle of joy now growing in some mother’s womb. Tweak too much and you might get something like the Nephilim. The Chinese nuked Beijing just to kill the Nephs that took over their country. It took the Guardians ten years to finally kill the last one in the ruins of Old Chicago. Well, at least they hope they got the last one.

But what if you can tweak the genes as the organism forms? What if you can program the DNA from the ground up?

That’s the promise of the Coldborn: from conception, you can design us as you wish. A progeny made-to-order.

As I mentioned, states and the richest corporations took to the tech like ants to sugar packets. The Guardians finally fulfilled Plato’s lifelong dream by doing away entirely with the messy process of sex to literally make their next generation. The first Coldborn leaders of the world’s peacekeeping force, a legacy of the old UN, are now assuming their posts. There are Coldborn serving in parliaments and cabinets worldwide, or sit in Boards of the biggest corporations. The head of Europe’s largest conglomerate is a first-generation Coldborn, the progeny of the organization’s founder (who died without a Warmborn child, her womb having been removed in her twenties due to a cancer risk) and a man whose genetics was specifically selected to match and compliment hers (who some say is from one of the Royal bloodlines of Europe).

For the first two generations they were the only ones who could afford the process. But years after, a composite team working for the Adarna Group and the Phoenix Collective managed to simplify the procedure, introducing many new technologies and processes that made making Coldborn cheaper.

For governments and the biggest corporations, this meant mass production of made-to-order Coldborn. Today, the armies of the world’s biggest nations have elite formations with Coldborn; I suppose the humans among them are just good for cannon fodder now.

For many individuals not in the top tiers of even the One Percent… Coldborn presented many possibilities.

Did you know that some feminists view the Coldborn as a form of liberation? The artificial wombs, they say, represents a freedom from the burdens of childbearing. No more will women be pressured to keep the race alive by carrying its children. Technology has provided a way in which the next generations of humans could be born without demanding that women do it.

There happened a flurry of ovary harvesting and banking, followed by a lot of tying of Fallopian tubes. Women who could afford it renounced even their “designed and designated” role as humanity’s continuity mechanism, saying that if the race wanted to keep existing then it should turn to the artificial wombs.

Some people were horrified by this, of course. Me? I have female colleagues who did these things and they are some of the nicest people. At least to me. They always smile so nicely at me.

Of course, the Coldborn also presented the LGBTQ new possibilities. Before, their only recourse to having children was either through surrogates or undergoing risky, unsure operations to change their basic body structure. Again, the source code was in the way.

But with the artificial wombs, same sex couples didn’t need to implant what wasn’t there at their birth just to have children (outside of adoption). There was even a procedure made during the “Digital Noah Project” to save the animals where the genetic code in a sperm or ovary could be encoded into an artificial sperm or ovary. This complimented the artificial womb well, as two men or women could have a child of their genes, finally.

And then, of course… there’s me.

————

My parents are wealthy, but not fabulously so. They weren’t born to wealth, nor did they have extensive properties. My father rose from the ranks in a subsidiary of the Adarna Group while my mother worked her way through college and then law school. Both were busy individuals so they found no time to sire kids.

As a (then) mid-level manager in an Adarna subsidiary, my father go the chance to participate in some experimental trials regarding the Third Generation artificial wombs. He talked it over with mother, of course. There was some initial misgivings – was this natural, after all? – but counseling and recalling favorable Vatican pronouncements on the issue of the Coldborn (my parents are Catholic) helped allay their fears. And they so wanted to have children yet keep their careers. So they signed consents and waivers, gave their sperm and ova, and… here I am.

Normally, you’d think that making a child via the artificial wombs meant just, well… making a child. Mixing the genetics from sperm and ova to conceive a human being. That is, of course, the basic principle in both Warm and Cold births.

But for Coldborn you can get more. Like I said, you get to have the opportunity to ensure that the product of the process is up to your spec. From conception, the scientists and technicians who oversee Coldbirth monitor every step. There is no need for ultrasound, even, as you can be clearly seen in visual feeds from inside your tank. The parents of a Coldborn are not anymore the first to see them on an ultrasound feed, but the technicians and health professionals who monitor the Coldborn fetus as it matures.

Even better, the parents of a Coldborn can tweak our genes even before sperm meets ova. The genes of every human being alive today (or, at least, the documented ones) are mapped since many systems now use genetics for their biometric security scans. Even then, Coldbirth technicians map the genes of each contributing parent based on the materials they donated. Then, the parents are asked what to do with the code.

There are the basics. Congenital diseases are erased. Genes that could be problems are fixed. Cancer among the Coldborn is virtually unheard of because not only do the genetechs correct our DNA pre-conception but they insert code that makes our DNA manufacture cells that act as regulators. Our genes are tweaked to make us so much more resilient to disease and fatigue. Like any Coldborn, I have immunity to various diseases encoded in my DNA. I don’t even know what a cold feels like.

And I heal faster. Of course, really rapid healing is the province of the military Coldborn. I can’t survive an amputated limb as much as you Warmborn can without proper medical attention. But the nicks and scratches of ordinary life, plus the occasional dislocated shoulder or twisted ankle won’t bother me much. You need to see a doctor for your pulled Achilles tendon. I just have to not stand on it for a day.

Then, parents have options. In my case, they went for the classics: high intelligence, quick learning, keen senses and genetic aids to help me be more sociable. Also, I don’t need to sleep as much: four hours will do. I also have other things in my DNA that makes me use calories more efficiently and keeps my body from accumulating bad deposits like fat or the like. That was expensive, since extreme physical tweaks are harder to code, especially if the source DNA wasn’t built for it in the first place. My parents are thinkers and doers, not athletes. Which is why I still go to the gym on a regular basis, especially when you have a large Jollibee branch where you work and where you go home.

My parents also gave me some environmental compensators. I have genes culled from both Inuit and Bedouin that helped their bodies cope with the extreme weather in their locales. I certainly won’t survive a night out in the Arctic or an afternoon in the Sahara, but at least I won’t feel as uncomfortable in really hot or cold climates.

Yes, I know I live in a climate-controlled part of town. But some of my friends are extremophiles and go to some of the more dangerous places in the world when it comes to climate or weather. And if they, Warmborn as they are, can go there, how much more a Coldborn?

————

I could have gone to law school, but my mother is a Metropolitan Judge and those things have pressures. Neither do I find my father’s career engaging, a slave to the desk and datalink.

Instead, I put my technology-given talents to good use and tried for the most mentally-demanding work these days: a Datanaut. I mean, after all, my parents designed me with the brainpower of maybe two humans. What was I going to do with it?

We are the bastard children of data scientists and political and economic analysts. We combine both hard data science with the magic of intuition to make sense of the sea of data humanity lives in today and make predicitions.

Initially, there were misgivings since the reliance as much on intuition is a necessary part of being a Datanaut. To be a Datanaut is not all logic and math. You have to be able to… feel something in your gut about the data you’re looking at. You need that in order to dive deep into the spaces the data lives in to see at a glance what is and what could be.

People think that just because I got decanted from a steel-and-plastic tank instead of coming out screaming from some woman’s vagina that I’m as cold as the vernacular names me and mine to be.

Alright, maybe I do come across as some cold, calculating bastard from one of those old James Bond movies. The man-machine villain who only cares about world domination and damn the monkeys and children.

But what can I do? My mind was designed to be a computer when I was born. I don’t know if my parents realized that. They should, of course. Part of the process of Coldbirth involves some very good algorithims (that I and my company are trying to better) that predict the outcome of any genehack. They made me with high IQ potential and high sensory sensitvity. A very good processor paired with very good input feeds. What else could I be?

And, of course, there’s the prejudice. What, you think being born (supposedly) perfect is all rainbows and unicorns? People think that the Coldborn have too many advantages against ordinary humans that things are stacked in our favor. Maybe that’s true: Coldborn were barred from the Olympics for a time because we’re designed to be faster, stronger and tougher, after all. Today, we just have our own categories. We were also barred from Jeopardy for a while, and debate tournaments. Or Chess. Or even Scrabble contests.

But, listen: I’m just like you Warmborn, only my source code wasn’t just left to chance but also modified to make me, well… better. I can’t deadlift the pounds Henry does in the gym, alright? Besides, bulking up like that isn’t my style. Guy looks like he’s applying for the Space Marines and not part of my mother’s legal team. Neither can I beat Sarah in parkour. That girl’s part cat and monkey, I swear, which would be strange because she’s Warmborn.

Is it my fault, though, if I can process data faster than the supercomputer we have in the coldroom? The stupid thing only has its optical chips to work with. Even assisted by the VI, the thing can’t do what we humans do and that’s making connections based on leaps of logic. The best programs we ever made backed by the best hardware we ever designed, even now in the 2100s, can’t ever match the things the human brain can.

I’m human like you, dammit.

I’m just better.

————

Hell, if I was so much better than you, how come I don’t have a partner?

Remember those tweaks my parents gave to make me more sociable? Did you think those were some magic genehacks that gave me the affability of the world’s greatest charmers or the oratorical skills of Mark Antony?

No, my friend. The only things the genetechs could do was find any gene that said I’d be susceptible to depression and remove it. They put a tweak on my code that ensured my brain would not suffer much chemical imbalance.

See, even here in the 2100s, humanity still does not understand much beyond the physical.

I have a heart, too, you know. Being Coldborn doesn’t mean we’re cold, heartless organic robots.

I mean, look: just last month, I managed to predict how one small startup in the boondocks of Tajikistan would be the next big thing. A couple of people are moving up to my floor today, all the way from Midlevel, because they hedged their bets on my prediction.

Or how about that special project I did for the Ministry of Defence? How many Warmborns did I save after I pointed out the flaws in their operational doctrine for a hush-hush little thing? No, I can’t tell you what it was. They’ll kill the both of us if I do.

I do fractal art in my spare time, for pity’s sake. Art! Sure, the art world still thumbs its nose up science-based artworks, but have you seen how beautiful patterns can be under your own direction? It takes quite a bit to know how one push or pull here and there will end up with the results that seem so sublime.

But for all that I am, I can never predict how women can be.

That explains the clothes, huh? Why is it that dating in the 22nd century still feels so complex? I’ve analyzed battle plans and corporate strategy. I made sense of all those. But women?

Dammit, the head of my security team is signalling that I have to go. I thought they said this part of Ground Level was relatively safe? I mean, you’re not totally in a bad place here, right? Doesn’t stink so much, too, although I suppose the filters in my nose are helping. See? Having hypersenses isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Got to go, then. Yes, you can keep the food. I paid good money for that pile and she wouldn’t eat a thing because it’d make her fat and was I making her fat, she asked. Which led to a whole host of other shittery and by the time I realized things had escalated quickly she was storming out the door.

Well, there’s my ride. Funny that they sent a tricked-out model. See that blister on its nose? That little chaingun could rip a battalion to shreds in seconds.

Thanks for listening, friend. Although I suppose you have nothing better to do here beside this drum that’s on fire.

I am Martin Salese. And I am Coldborn.

But I’m human, too, dammit.

If I was such a perfect thing, would something in me break so easily?

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