Charles C Cole
of the whole found wanting
distinguished members of the committee, longtime Congressional supporters of
innovative biological technologies. Thank you for your invitation. I am Dr.
Corbin Kasselton, Vice-president of Development for Koenig Industries. I’ve
returned today after a three-year absence to present key facts surrounding the
recent unfortunate events at our Kit Carson Testing Facility in Los Alamos.
CEO Koenig was unable to attend and asked me to convey his
deepest regrets over the tragedy, as well as his sincerest hope that this
still-immature science may be reviewed and discussed in an open and
As you’re probably aware, the synthetic life form known as
“the polysapient” was initially created for the altruistic purpose of
colonizing an untamed planet. Once “Poly One” had landed, he could
theoretically sever a finger or toe and grow a companion or two fairly quickly:
the benefits of a distributed neuronet (skin cells that act collectively like a
Science finally co-opted the glorious simplicity of
fragmentation as a means to reproduce, like a sea star, using a technique of
self-mutilation called autotomy. If one terranaut expired, the mission momentum
could continue unabated; Poly Two and Poly Three would carry on. Ideally, many
hands would make light work, an especially useful philosophy while scaffolding
Earth Beta some lightyears from Earth Alpha.
You’re probably wondering why Poly looks so familiar. Even
award-winning neobiologists develop fanboy crushes on celebrities. Therefore,
Poly was designed to resemble a certain stand-up comedian who portrayed an
astronaut in an otherwise science-free movie. The actor generously, if
narcissistically, donated his DNA for the continuation of our species.
“Mr. A.” was full of national pride when originally
contacted, but genuinely uncomfortable the first time he met his remarkable
“stand in.” It seems nobody likes a mirror image with a mind of its own.
Although he joked about using Poly One as his stunt man in his next film, all
incoming communications with the research facility ceased immediately upon his
We were about fifteen months before launch when our
colleagues at the Department of Defense formally requested a copy of Poly for
their own purposes. It was, after all, more advanced than a clone. Clones, at
least the animal subjects I’ve heard about, take valuable time to grow to
From limited sample tissue to life as an individual
contributor, the polysapient fully matured in days versus months. The synthetic
cells that made up its neural net were programmed to replicate at rates never
seen in nature for such an advanced being.
As I understand it, the DOD wanted an original
high-definition, multi-camera digital recording of Poly “evolving” at their own
facilities, documenting the process from A to Zed. Just as it was leveling off
following departure, the transport plane exploded over the base and the
As a result, Poly mass-fragmented in a manner in which it
had never been tested; it burst. Hundreds of mini-Polys the size of fingers
fell like ice pellets over the uninhabited desert—where they grew unobserved.
In prior testing, I must report now, we had successfully
cultivated a Poly Two. Creation, it turns out, is easier to achieve than
philanthropy. The units were assigned the simple task of moving a pile of rocks
from one corner of the grounds to another about sixty feet away, using shovels
and wheelbarrows. We wanted to validate their natural spirit of collaboration.
We had hoped, being similar in design, they would be similar in nature.
Almost immediately, however, a scuffle erupted as Poly Two
demanded the newer, shinier shovel used by Poly One. Blows were exchanged. Poly
Two got the upper hand and was about do something with a large rock for which
we had not planned when we neutralized him. We thought, perhaps, he was a “bad
copy” and tried again.
This time we had two different piles of rocks, a similar
mission, but one that allowed the units to work independently. The aggression
displayed by Poly Three was, if anything, more intense, resulting in a similar
We destroyed the two copies lest they be misused. We then
contacted the DOD and explained that we felt, while overall the experiment had
been a great success, using a team of Polys was not a good idea. Rather than be
disappointed, the military leadership was intrigued and, I daresay, excited.
Put simply: we suspected the more pieces created, the more self-serving they
Which brings us to the explosion. While NTSB was focused on
the cause of the disaster, nobody was focused on Poly. A lone sentry checking
the perimeter fence five nights later reported seeing “an approaching black
mass.” It was a sea of Polys, each trying to be the first to report back to
base. As he called out to them, they appeared to run, to surge.
As one grabbed the fence, the nearest competitor pulled it
violently away. A third climbed over the two. A fourth grabbed the third by the
legs and tossed it violently aside. A fifth steamrolled into the pack,
scattering them. A sixth leapt onto the fifth and bashed its head in with a
This changed everything. Suddenly, everyone was grabbing
rocks. Others, in defense, began punching and clawing. The guard radioed for
help. He fired a few rounds in the air. There was a pause as the mob realized
the soldier had a better weapon than they had—and they wanted it.
They hurled themselves against the fence. They were on him,
tearing at him, as a jeep with three other soldiers arrived, who immediately
called for additional support. Suddenly the jeep became un objet du désir. The
soldiers didn’t have a chance.
The compound was locked down and everyone moved to
underground bunkers. The facility commander managed to contact a small tactical
unit. His dictate: “Make sure the fence stays whole, but keep your distance and
In the morning, the remnants were recovered and destroyed. Just
like the two cats in a certain limerick, “excepting their nails and the tips of
their tails,” there were no Poly survivors.
Charlie C. Cole, email@example.com, of
Windham, Maine, who wrote BP #74’s “Kilkenny Man” (+ BP #73’s “Please Remember
Me”; BP #71’s “Pioneer Justice…”; BP #70’s “Deep Time Salvage” and “The
Substitute Husbands”; BP #69’s featured “Cosmic Bull’s-eye,” “Midas & Medusa,” “The Return
the King,” and “The Second Mrs. Brindle”;
BP #68’s “Ice Dreams,” “Lady of the Lake,” “Methuselah,” & “The
Tenant Inside Me”; BP #67’s featured “The Far,” “The Telesthesians,” & “Transmigration”;
#66’s featured “The
Subtle Hydropathist,” “The Cruel Season,” & “Wet Coriander”; BP #65’s
“Performance Art”; BP #64’s “Calendula and the Other Man,” “Holiday Greetings
from the Witness Protection Program,” “The Last Day of the Ugly Man,” and “The
Monkey Who Talked Too Much”; BP #63’s featured
“Mirror Twins,” “Remembering Hyperopiac-Man!”,
“Rules for Civil Disengagement,” and “The Rug Man”; BP #60’s “Larva Speaks” and
“Personal Contact”), loved his
undergraduate years at a small, rural Maine college where he could concentrate
on “being a writer” (and magazine editor). In the summer of 2011, he “awoke”
much older when he noticed the internet had made publishing so much more
accessible. He lives with his family in Maine on land once owned by his
great-great grandfather. He is
previously published in alongstoryshort, bewilderingstories, The
Blue Crow, The Sandy River Review, and The Café Review.