I did not expect to find myself a father. It did not happen the usual
way. I had not slept with a woman, nor had an orphan suddenly thrust
itself upon me. But when I first saw her, I could not help but wonder.
It took little enough time to be certain.
"How do you do, Rolf? I am Hugh Thompson, a biologist."
I introduced myself readily to the blue-haired agent, hoping he would
not discount me from his mission on account of my age. Though he was
only a year older than me, something about still being in the teenage
years dampened many of my attempts to be recognized on an equal level
with older adults. True, he did not know my age just from looking at
me, many people actually thought me older than my nineteen years based
upon my features, but I could not help having some reservations.
"I came when I heard about your quest. I value all life, including
biomonsters'. I am willing to fight to defend weaker life forms
I spoke awkwardly, though I tried to stay in command of myself. I was
naive, full of knowledge but not the wisdom to use it. I was the
leading expert on multicellular organisms, and their genetics fascinated
Rolf accepted my help, and I expected to experience a chance where I
could make a profound impact on my world. I was not wrong, as time
would later prove, but I did not expect the profound impact that chance
in return would have on me.
When I first met Nei she was entertaining Amy in the kitchen of Rolf's
house. The agent introduced her to me and at first I was surprised to
see such a genetically engineered creature. She looked so human, with
bright eyes, an expressive mouth, and a sense of humor. I found I could
quite easily ignore the long, pointed ears that came out high on her
head. It did not occur to me to connect her to the Biosystems. She
looked to be the wrong age, and I did not find it incredible to think
someone else would try to create sentient life, perhaps even based off
of my own work. Nei pumped my hand energetically as she greeted me and
asked if I would like something to eat.
Before I knew it I was seated at Rolf's breakfast nook and Amy was
telling me about their findings in the Biosystems Lab. She, Nei, Rolf,
and Rudo had found the lab's recorder, something that I thought had
perished during the series of explosions that wrecked much of the
"I understand you were a biologist there," Amy told me.
I nodded. "I wasn't there during the accident though. My associate,
for lack of a better term, recommended I take the night off. If it
hadn't been for that I would have spent most of the night there as
"I see." Amy held her mug of tea in both hands as she sipped from it.
"The thing is, the recorder told us that two years ago a creature was
created that shouldn't have been. A massive power influx from Climatrol
caused the thing to make a rapid growth. Its creation is what threw the
the climate control systems out of whack. I was hoping you'd know
something about it."
I shook my head. "There were hundreds of experiments running at the
time. Any number of them could have been affected. If only one of them
was, searching through the data records would be like looking for a
specific pebble in a rockslide."
She seemed disappointed, but I spoke the truth. Before the disaster the
Biosystems Lab prided itself on the level of output it had. Mother
Brain spoke to it often, and the scientists there took it as a measure
of her esteem. I don't recall what I thought of her then. I think I
was too absorbed in my own thoughts to mind the whims of an entity that
never concerned itself directly with me.
But Amy's words brought back memories, as did the appearance of Nei. I
could not help but remember my own experiment in the Biosystems two
* * * * *
"It's a pleasure to be working with you, Dr. Stevens."
I shook my supervisor's hand when I met him for the first time. I would
be assisting him in his genetic engineering of food plants. In return
he would help me fund and manage my own project. For a seventeen year
old biologist fresh out of college, it was an incredible bargain. My
own work would be secondary to his in priority, but my free time was my
own, and I could spend as much of it on my project as I wished. I
I remember the day I was through with the rough draft of my project's
procedures and objectives. My mood could only have been described as
bubbly, and no doubt Seed detected the unusual increase in the rate of
my heartbeat as I entered my lab.
"Greetings, Dr. Thompson," said Seed. Though a supercomputer of
incredible speed and intellect, he possessed a level of tact, even
friendless, that was unmatched by most systems. I was fortunate that
Dr. Stevens had allocated so much time that I could spend with Seed
"I understand you wish to begin your project today," the computer
I nodded, certain that Seed's visual receptors would pick up my
movement. "Yes, Dr. Stevens said that he'll have a support staff
available for me soon." I waved a sheaf of papers at the cluster of
monitors I always took for Seed's "face". "Plus I finished all the
preliminary work last night. We've got a green light all the way!"
Seed did one of his pauses I took for his version of a Palman nod.
"That is good on both counts, Doctor, though this system will do much of
the initial monitoring of your project's growth phase."
"I know." I smiled. "I don't think much will be happening in the first
few months anyway. We'll have to wait until she's big enough to be
"She?" queried the computer.
"Nei," I replied, "my project. It's a nice name actually. 'Nei' is
'not human', but still like a human. It's hard to explain. One of my
students used to use that to describe my study habits."
"Nei," Seed repeated. The computer stirred as he committed the term to
"I plan on creating a sentient life form to assist us in the lab. I
don't know if you have had the information uploaded to you yet. My idea
is that robots have their uses, but they have their limitations as well.
It would be best, especially in a lab, to have a construct dexterous
enough to handle fragile equipment and move it from place to place. It
would be even better if that construct could assist in cognitive
processes as well.
"Neifirst will be my first attempt, then Neisecond, and so on. I admit
it's not very creative, but it will keep them distinct and it's so much
better than Experiment #14836 Subject A, don't you think?"
Seed had not made any comment. I almost thought he would. I supposed
even a highly sentient computer could not have a level of aesthetics to
match a Palman's. That may have been a gross misjudgment on my part,
because Seed was my best friend for the entirety of my stay at the lab,
but I could not help feeling some bias towards organic creatures. After
all, that was why I decided to create a new form of life in the first
place, because mechanics weren't enough. Seed, thankfully, was tolerant
of my pettiness, and at times I forgot there wasn't another person
behind the machine.
We would work together for a total of six months before the lab was
destroyed. The first couple weeks were relatively simple. Seed easily
found sequences of what he termed "biomonster" DNA that we could combine
with our Palman sample (once we got one). I told him "biomonster"
sounded like something far too harsh to mix in with a being designed to
help handle acoustic equipment. Seed assured me that it was just part
of the terminology. He displayed samples of what the actual creatures
looked like, and those he showed me appeared harmless enough; not much
different from Mota's indigenous animals. For simplicity's sake, we
narrowed the field of possible biomonster donors to one species. Seed
isolated the sequences for ear development and motor control. But what
he said a day later surprised me.
Seed knew I was working on the plant samples for Dr. Stevens at the time
and I expected him to be quiet as usual. He had been for well over an
hour when he suddenly stated, "We need a sample of Palman DNA."
The cell cultures in front of me had my full attention then and his
words barely broke into my consciousness. "Hm?" I muttered, glancing up
I scratched my head with the tip of a distillation rod. Not a good idea
if you haven't washed it mind you. Once I was soaking my head in the
sink and hoping that bluish black streak in my hair would not be
permanent, I was finally able to focus on Seed's statement. The
computer had a knack for making almost anything sound profound. Now
that I was more attentive I wondered why getting a Palman sample would
be such a problem.
"What's so bad about that?" I gasped as I fumbled blindly for a towel.
"Doesn't the Biosystems' storage have enough?"
"Palman DNA samples are frequently kept on file for purposes of genetic
mapping, but they are off-limits for experimentation. I'm certain you
are aware of that. If not I could refer you to Statement #5088 Section
C of the"
"Yeah, yeah," I muttered, wiping the water from my face. "So what do
you need me to do? Go to the local sperm and egg bank and get a few
frozen samples for us to work with?"
"I believe if I were a Palman my appropriate reaction would be to be
I chuckled at one of his rare attempts at humor. "Yes, I suppose some
people would be, wouldn't they. But I don't think that's what you're
getting at. Not like I relish that thought of doing that anyway."
"It would be preferable to have the entire phenotype of the donor
available for viewing, to know if there are any expressed mutations in
the DNA. Anonymous donors do not leave pictures for us to view nor a
complete medical history. Neifirst will be primarily Palman in
construct, so any such deficiencies must be noted and avoided."
I understood. It would not do to have a syndrome crop up in such an
expensive organism and watch months, even years, of research to go down
the drain because of it.
"Well," I said slowly, "I don't have any expressed mutations in me, and
my family does not have a history of them either. Granted it's possible
a latent one will arise in me once I hit middle age, I very much doubt
it. We'll probably have moved on to other things by then though."
Seed paused. "There will be complications with that. We will need an
egg, though an artificial host one can be created easily enough. And
you realize that as a male your sex chromosomes are XY, not the XX
required for a viable female. Are you considering changing the gender
I shook my head. "No. You can replicate the X chromosome well enough.
She'll have two identical copies. One of them will become a Barr body
anyway, and hopefully that will negate any harmful effects of having two
sex chromosomes from the same parent." A thought occurred to me.
"Besides, we can arrange the DNA so that the egg will be fertilized as
though it was no different as in nature, except that it will be in a
I did so, and I was surprised by the level of detail I was able to throw
out. I also realized that some people might call my methods sick or
revolting, since my DNA was essentially being mated with itself. Incest
in the greatest degree, I suppose. But I would be careful. The
biomonster DNA would factor in as well, so she would not be entirely
related to me. Genes have a way of interacting with each other on a
subtle level, and I was certain her Palman features would not too
closely resemble mine.
The next few months were fruitful, though Seed remained a little
pessimistic on the outset. She grew somewhat swifter than a normal
Palman child, a fact Seed and I took into account as a side effect of
having biomonster DNA spliced into her. Neifirst became visible as a
tiny speck in her life capsule at two months of age. I watched her
daily, and Seed often displayed magnified videos of her on his various
screens. She was so tiny, but I could already see her limbs and head.
She lived! Oh, but when would she be ready to be born?
One evening, five months after her conception, I was prepared to spend
another whole night watching her. She was bigger now, and I could see
the small pointed ears that would make her an invaluable help in
acoustic experiments. If only they turned out right and her dexterity
developed correctly. She rolled over in her capsule and I believed she
would be an energetic child.
"I think you should take the night off, Dr. Thompson," said Seed. "You
have been here every night for the past two weeks. I don't believe you
have slept much."
I grinned. "It's called caffeine pills and catching catnaps at board
Seed seemed to frown. "I do believe you owe it to Dr. Stevens however
to be wide awake when you assist him. If he notices your dereliction he
will take away the support staff you need for when Neifirst awakens."
"True," I sighed, "but it's getting close now, perhaps another month and
she'll be ready."
"Dr. Stevens is on mandatory shift tonight. I will ask him to come in
here should anything happen. He in turn can notify you."
At that point I really did feel tired, and I happily took the
Biosystems' teleporter back to my parents' home in Kueri. When I
crawled in bed that night I slept with the ardor of the dead. Little
did I realize how literally some of my coworkers would do just that
before the night was over.
My mother told me the news when I awoke late the next morning. The
Biosystems had been destroyed overnight. Something terrible had
happened there, but no one knew exactly what. My first thoughts were of
Neifirst and Seed. Despite my parents' protests I was dressed and out
the door before they could even hand me a bag lunch, which they were
normally very good at. I must admit having a researching biologist for
a teenage son must not have been easy for them, and all things
considered they supported me very well.
When I got to the teleport station I immediately asked to go to the Lab.
The clerk wouldn't allow me. I was calmly informed that the Biosystems
was off limits to civilians until further notice, whenever that would
be. The news was not hopeful. I bought two telepipes from the item
store and teleported there myself.
I found the entire circumference of the lab had been cordoned off and
police robots tramped about the area, warding people away. Though I
wanted to dash past them, I knew such a measure would be futile. I
could see partially into the lab through the massive front doors, and
the sight of broken life capsules, their occupants and lifeblood
splattered across the flooring without remorse, filled my heart with
despair. Even if I managed to get inside, I knew I could only find
shattered remains where Neifirst's capsule was.
After that day I found new work in a smaller lab in Paseo. I
accomplished much, though I never again attempted to create sentient
life. I tired of the commute from Kueri to Paseo everyday, and once I
earned enough money I rented my own apartment on the eighth floor of one
of Paseo's skyscrapers. It offered a magnificent view of the lake to
the south, and when I looked at its beauty I thought I could finally
forget that there had ever been a Neifirst.
* * * * *
When Rolf had us camp for the night outside the mountains of Uzo Island,
I was able to have my first private talk with Nei. Everyone else was
asleep around the periphery of the camp and the two of us remained by
the fire on watch. Tomorrow we would attempt to scale the mountains in
search of the maruera tree. Rolf was thankful I was with them so that
they could distinguish between what was a maruera tree and what was
I watched Nei as she in turn watched the fire. Her movements were deft,
I had seen her agility in battle, and her ears could have been the right
shape. They were longer than I had seen in Neifirst's, though she was
still growing at the time. She had purple hair, the same color as my
own, and then there was her name, Nei, the name for my project series.
If someone else had made her from my notes, it was possible they had
kept that name and dropped the ordinals after it. But as she turned to
look at me I again remembered that she could not be the right age. Even
though Neifirst had grown faster than Palmans, it had not been this
fast! And Nei's eyes were brown. My were green. I did not know if
that was a side effect of biomonster DNA or because she was someone
"Something wrong?" she asked.
"Thinking," I replied, looking now at the fire. "Nei, I don't mean to
be rude, but do you ever think about your creation?"
She was silent for a moment. "Yes, frequently."
I nodded awkwardly. "What do you think of the person who created
"I don't know."
"Do you know where you were born?"
"A lab. Why?"
"I'm searching for some answers and I'm hoping you can help me."
She smiled weakly. "I'm afraid I can't. I don't know what you're
looking for and I don't think you're going to tell me."
"You're right. I'm not. I can't until I'm sure." I shook my head.
"It would hurt if I'm wrong."
Nei reached out and clasped my hand. "And it will hurt even more if you
* * * * *
I think Nei knew, though I said nothing more of her origin since that
night. I encouraged her as a member of the party, and together the
eight of us fought our way to the peak of Climatrol. But there I saw
something I could not understand. How could there be two Neis? Nei
stood beside Rolf, yet there was a copy of her beside the controls to
the climate system.
The other Nei spoke, narrowing her eyes to us as she introduced herself.
And I was forced to listen with growing horror. "I am Neifirst, I was
born two years ago from the product of a Biosystems experiment combining
humans with animals. The people felt the experiment was a failure and
thus tried to kill me. But I escaped, and stole DNA data from the
Biosystem. I have created monsters to wreck revenge on the people who
so carelessly and selfishly played with life. But there is another Nei
within me: a Nei who is trying to stop me."
"It can't be... You don't mean?" Rolf stammered.
"Yes, that is the one that you call Nei. The one you think is a friend
is a monster who despises all people!"
"No, I don't hate humans!" said Nei. "I separated from Neifirst because
it was so terrible in her! Of course it is terrible to be born a
monster! But I couldn't stand by while you tried to get revenge by
"Fool! You say such things, but you are powerless to stop me! Just try
"I don't want you to make any more monsters! Do you understand?"
I wanted to scream for them to stop. Thousands of implications pounded
me. My fault! My fault for all this mess! Perhaps I had been foolish,
selfish even, but I would have been there for her. Could she
remember; the way she drifted in the nutriatic juice as I watched her
daily? I had not realized until now how much I cared for her, for both
"You can't fight!" I shouted out all my anxiety as Nei made her first
attack. She did not hear me and I made to lunge myself between them.
Rudo immediately caught me about the gut with one of his arms,
inadvertently knocking the breath from my lungs. He was fearful of my
intervention. But Nei shouldn't have had to fight alone, even if Rolf
and the others thought it was her wish.
I had to watch, helpless to stop them, and wondering where, when, had I
erred. Neifirst was beyond reason now. As I watched her vengefully
strike down Nei, I knew she would only view me as the epitome of Palman
folly. No matter the intentions, the results were all that mattered. I
finally realized her pain.
My shoulders slumped as Nei fell. My friends raised their weapons about
them in preparation for the oncoming battle. I did not want the line to
be drawn, but it had, and I could only stand beside it.
I flipped my laser knife from its sheath and activated it. Its steady
hum reassured me as I lifted my acidshot in my other hand. The line had
been drawn and I would have to pay for the mistake I had made. Nei,
Neifirst, and I all would, but only I would have to live with the
knowledge of my burden.
The battle was difficult. Neifirst was more powerful than my
predictions estimated. Could the power surge have altered her physical
development so far from its genetic code? I found myself determined to
find the answer. We attacked, dodged, and healed; all for our own
reasons. I held no thoughts of vengeance in my heart as did Rolf. All
I could feel was a numbness in the pit of my stomach, but that weight
gave me the strength I needed to survive the fight.
When it was over, not a single one of us was uninjured. Rudo leaned
heavily against his laser cannon and Rolf cradled Nei's motionless form
in his arms. He called Nei's name plaintively, but there would be no
I realized then what it meant to be a father. The desire for a better
life for her had filled me. I wished I had been there when she had been
born, that someone had alerted me. I wanted to know what it
would have been like had I the chance to raise her. If I was there,
could I have made a difference? I would never have let anyone kill her
on account of her being a "failure". Who were they to judge her?
Neifirst might have been a contented being, without a need to split
herself from her tamer feelings. Fatherhood was so much more than
merely having a child that possessed my genes. It was the desire to
nurture, protect, and for her to carry my dreams in her heart.
There in the heights of Climatrol, Rolf cried for a sister. Our
companions mourned for the loss of a friend. I wept for the death of a