Mousterian Dawn

Poetry deserves a cheesy science-fiction chaser. An original sci-fi short story follows…

Doris McDonald lived in a rent-controlled apartment on the eighty-fifth floor of a building overlooking the Mare Imbrium. After retiring from the observatory with a government pension, she could live comfortably, well compensated for the fact that her body – weakened after decades serving science up here in the sky – could never go home. She chose to live frugally, however, her only luxury a pair of GeneCorp® NeanderClones™ shipped up from below.

She could hear the female, Polly, humming as she washed up after serving dinner. The tune was in a scale unlike anything in the complete library of world music built into the apartment. Polly’s singing always made the hair stand up on the back of Doris’ neck.

It’s not that she was afraid of her ‘Clones – attacks on their Modern masters were a thing of the past, ever since the company had begun neutering the males before delivery. In moments of real panic, shock collars artfully disguised as Celtic torques could be activated at the touch of a button. The anthropological anachronism annoyed only scholars of ancient history. NeanderClone owners had nothing to fear.

Read the complete story after the jump!

Doris settled back in her chair with a book, its screen casting a faint glow on her cardigan. A smile touched her lips. Chaucer, Steinbeck, Hawking – names as meaningless to the illiterate Polly and her race as Watson and Crick, whose science three hundred years earlier enabled Doris to sit here today and read The Grapes of Wrath instead of scouring pots and pans.

There was a pause in the rush of water and clinking of cutlery.

“Polly dear,” Doris called. “Tea, please.” She knew the niceties of language were lost on the Neanderthal mind, dug up as it was from a few bones in Gibralter and grown in a vat. She could just as easily have shouted, “Polly! Tea!” as many Moderns did with no ill effect, but it just seemed, well, nicer – and Doris considered herself a good, compassionate owner.

She heard the hiss and burble of boiling water being poured from the tap into the teapot, followed two minutes later by the chime that told Polly’s chronologically challenged mind that the tea had steeped for long enough. Doris was glad she didn’t have to teach them everything, from how to dress to the steps for making tea. GeneCorp had taken care of all that at the facility where they grew Polly and her kin.

Polly emerged from the kitchen with the tea service. A magnetized ring on the foot of the teacup gripped the steel tray and a lid prevented the scalding tea from flying up into one’s face, but the flowery pattern and delicate handle evoked memories of home. Polly set the tray down on the coffee table in front of Doris.

“Thank you, dear,” Doris said as she picked up the cup. Polly stood there, arms hanging at her side. “That will be all,” Doris continued. Polly stared.

Sam felt instinct kick in as he stepped quietly around the corner, entering the room behind Doris in her chair. By the time Polly had delivered the tea and Doris had lifted the cup to her lips for a first sip, he was standing over her, unbidden and unseen.

In a flash of movement that Doris caught briefly in a reflection from the dimmed TV screen, Sam struck. What she saw never reached the level of consciousness. Sam raised his hands, grasped Doris’ head, then twisted left and down. Doris McDonald’s neck snapped at the third cervical vertebra. Sam’s blood rushed at the sound, but he knew there was much more to do.

“It’s done,” Sam said, waiting for Polly’s next order.

“Good work,” Polly said, swinging into motion. She reached for the pad sitting at Doris’ elbow and looked at the screen. “Grapes of Wrath indeed,” she grimaced.

She flicked the book closed and tried to open the control panel for the mainframe.

AUTHENTICATE, the screen prompted. Polly reached for Doris’ hand and pressed a thumb against the screen. Three notes chimed and the screen switched to a view of the household subsystems. Polly tapped the double-helix icon labeled Security. She tapped Disable Collars.

AUTHENTICATE, the screen flashed at Polly again. She lifted Doris’ right eyelid and held the pad in front of the dead woman’s face. The same notes chimed. She had seen Doris do this half a dozen times when the doctors came to examine the pair for their annual check-ups, guarded by silent men with tranq guns.

“At least it doesn’t ask for her voice,” Polly muttered. She bent the torque from her neck and snapped it in half. Sam did the same.

“Can you run it from here?” Polly asked as she handed Sam the pad.

“I think so,” he said. “I tested it just short of completion that time you dosed her.” He laughed as he pulled a data stick from his pocket and waved it toward the screen with a flick of his wrist. “She had no idea, did she?”

“Just thought she’d dozed off in her chair.” Polly didn’t laugh.

A new symbol appeared on the screen, a triangular piece of brown stone with chipped edges.

“Aren’t you clever,” Polly said. “Send the signal.”

Sam tapped the spearhead.

In hundreds of facilities scattered beneath the swirls of white on the planet hanging in the blackness above Polly and Sam, ten thousand doors unlocked themselves simultaneously.

In millions of houses, three gentle jolts only their wearers could feel coursed through collars locked around Neanderthal necks. They had been waiting for this.

In billions of minds free for the first time in thirty thousand years, something awoke.

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