"Readings are nominal, sir. The machine is processing the code now." A young woman is inspecting a large series of parameters coming from a breeding capsule as the professor looks on.
"This is the moment we've been waiting for, gentlemen. You are about to witness the birth of the first soldier that will render android technology obsolete." The professor eyes the selection of military officers that had presented to witness the culmination of over 30 years of painstaking work by him and his mentor, the director of the Bio Plant. He's rather annoyed by the lack of emotion in their faces, but they simply aren't blessed with his great visions and boundless intellect. "Vera, execute when ready." The intern nods, and engages the breeding capsule that was reprogrammed specifically to handle the experiment. The machine, situated behind a large pane of safety glass and covered by a cloth to build suspense, hums to life.
Nervously glancing at a control panel that still isn't reading any biometrics yet; he continues the speech he started earlier. "Now, let us recap how the military's currently staffed. There are two primary types of personnel, organic and non-organic. Men such as yourselves are good at certain things, and weaker at others. You can adapt, but your abilities fluctuate over time for many reasons. Androids are designed to excel in their area of expertise, and can quickly identify their aptitude to handle unexpected situations, as they happen. Unfortunately, they don't adapt as well without occasional retrofitting, and they can be affected by logistical problems much worse than someone who can live off the land." Was that a heartbeat?
Vera reports that the breeding capsule is slowing down to accommodate the life that now exists inside. The junior professor originally wanted to overclock the capsule until the creature became independent of the life support, but Vera demonstrated how such accelerated growth could cause cardiac arrest yesterday, so he was forced to extend the length of his speech to fill the time. "Gentlemen, how many types of robots are currently in use by the Motabian military now?"
One officer glances at his watch. "About 30, if you include the obsolete units still used on minor duties."
Not as many as he hoped for. "How about the number of career tracks for soldiers, then?"
"About a hundred, give or take."
"Well, with our Project Nei, we offer to have a single model that is capable of handling any task from kitchen patrol to black ops. Our project goals are to have a single genome that can withstand forces over 10 G without a pressure suit, the capability to remain conscious underwater for over 5 minutes, have a stronger skeletal structure without the use of materials that can't self-heal, and be completely trainable for new duties in under half the time it takes to retrofit an android. The full parameters are in your pamphlets, so I won't continue to bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say, one Nei unit will be able to take down an Aerotank by himself without any special equipment beyond a knife." Another check of the control panels shows that the being is 97% developed, so the man finally puts down his much-hated note cards.
"Sir, the being will be ready to reach infancy in about 10 minutes. Do you want me to guide the visitors to the lounge to wait?"
"No, Vera, we may as well stop stalling. Go man the cloth." Vera heads out to the capsule and grabs hold. "Gentlemen, without further ado, I give you, Neifirst!" He signals Vera, and she pulls the cloth off the large machine. The professor indulges in the applause that follows as he gloats on his victory, and he turns to the machine and gets his first glimpse of the future.
"Impossible...." He mutters to himself as he quickly makes his way to his adjacent office and picks up the phone. "Nick, I need to talk to you, immediately." He drops the handset as the intern assigned to him makes her way in.
"What's wrong, professor?" Vera noticed the professor's suddenly sullen mood as she closes the door.
"You know what's wrong, Vera. You saw it."
"I don't understand, professor. Neifirst appears to be a healthy girl."
"Exactly! A girl!" Vera is thoroughly confused by the professor's implications. Nick walks in, with the eyes of a man who can't remember the last time he indulged in sleep. "Nick, what happened? You were coding the Y chromosome!"
"Damn it, I said I needed a time extension 5 months ago! I even had the director approve the move before I put it on your desk."
"I never got such a proposal...."
"Actually, you did. I saw Nick put it there, and I brought it to your attention when you came in the next day." The professor glares at Vera. "I remember you said, and I'm quoting, 'I don't care what you have to do, we are going to release on time or go to Hell trying.' It was my idea to duplicate the X chromosome to make your deadline."
The professor simply glared at the other two, then stormed out of the building, oblivious of the military's representatives still having questions on the process. In his mind, he felt that gender is important on the symbological level, regardless of millennia of equality at a cultural level. Vera and Nick try their best to answer the concerns of the officers, and guide them out of the Bio Plant.
Neifirst is led into a small glass chamber and locked inside. As usual, she doesn't know what awaits her, but whenever she leaves her cage, it is never for something fun. As she looks around for a way to escape, a voice comes from above. "Neifirst, this little test is to determine your ability to conduct free dive operations. Your task is simply to hold your breath for as long as possible."
"Let me out!" Was all she could yell back before the entire chamber began to fill with freezing water. The shock of the temperature knocks the wind out of her lungs, and she almost falls before she remembers to take another breath. She stays on the surface of the water as long as she can, but eventually, the water level rises above the grates at the top of the chamber, forcing her to hold onto her final breath. She looks through the glass to see a large timer counting her time under the water, and a sign that says something about 5 minutes. Do I have to hold my breath 5 minutes?
"She's sinking to the bottom!" Vera notices the Numan's sudden calmness as she monitored her heart rate and brain activity on a remote screen. "Permission to abort the test?"
"No. She will stay in there until I say so." The professor has a strange look on his face that Vera couldn't read. "Just tell me when she flatlines."
"You'll kill her!"
"If she dies, so be it. The water is cold enough it won't be instantaneous." Vera is baffled by how the professor would be so lackadaisical over the life of who could be considered his de facto daughter, but without the authority to override him, she's forced to follow through or leave Neifirst in the sole care of the malicious old man.
After 3 minutes and 48 seconds, water stings Neifirst's throat, and seconds later, she loses consciousness. To be sure, the professor forces the test to continue until the entire 5 minutes have elapsed before giving the order for the chamber to be drained, watching the biometrics indicate cardiac arrest in the young girl. He walks off as Vera takes control of trying to resuscitate the poor Numan.
Neifirst awakes to another nightmare. She looks around a small room, apparently a medical bay. A mask on her face seems to be attached to a small receptacle on the wall labeled "O2-90PCNT." Some machines in the corner seem to be attached to her, but the object that draws her attention is the open door on the other side of the room. Without thinking, she slips out of the bed, and pulls off the sensors attached to her body....
"Alert! Alert! Flatline! Flatline!" The machines go berserk as Neifirst discarded the sensors, but before she can take a step towards freedom, her large ears pick up the sound of a whirring servo motor approaching. Thinking quickly, she tears off her mask and dives under the bed. She cringes when a wheeled Whistle enters the room. After an eternity passes with the robot scanning its surroundings for her, the whistle turns off the monitor machines and skitters off to try to find Neifirst.
"There must be a way out...." Neifirst tells herself as she carefully sneaks through the door into a nondescript hallway. After listening for the Whistle, she travels in the opposite direction of it, until she comes across a control room lined with terminals.
Neifirst finds a terminal that somebody left on, and proceeds to tool around with it in hopes of finding maps, or blueprints, or anything that could help her escape. She stops on the schematics of the control panel used on the cages specimens like her are kept, but just as she ordered the system to print out a copy, a small prick on her back alerts her to the presence of another person. She turns to see the evil professor, holding a dart gun in his hands.
"You should know by now that you are worthless here, girl!" As Neifirst slumps to the floor, the professor kicks her as hard as he can. The Numan can't do anything beyond cry as she slips back into the solace of sleep, the dart's tranquilizer taking hold. "Vera, could you take this one back to her cage?"
Where am I? Neifirst doesn't know where she is. She doesn't even know how long she's been here. Quite simply, she feels like her mind and soul have left her body, and ventured into an infinite oblivion. It's so dark, she can't even tell whether her eyes are open, and the only sounds are that of her own breathing. Am I dead?
For the longest time, the vast nothingness feels good to the Numan, a welcome respite from round after round of torturous tests and malevolent machines. It was when she realized that there was no longer a border between when she's awake and when she's dreaming, that she began to panic. Why am I here? How do I get out? Somebody, please help me! Despite her yelling and flailing, the only thing that Neifirst achieves is to spray an unknown fluid around.
After an untold amount of time, the panic subsides, and the Numan finds herself overcome with sadness. She realizes that even without the ability to feel her own body, she will never truly taste freedom. Not in her cage, not here, not anywhere. She begins to cry....
In the eternal darkness of nothing, Neifirst can't remember the last time she heard another voice.
"Why were you crying?"
"...I thought that I was alone...."
"If you want, I can be your friend!"
"Who are you?"
Out of the darkness, an image of another girl, a Numan just like her, forms right before her eyes! "My name is Nei. What's yours?"
"T-they call me Neifirst."
"Who are 'they'?" Neifirst thought she's the only one like herself in the entire facility, yet she can see this girl just like her, somehow in front of her in the darkness. Before she can respond, a sudden blinding light banishes the image, and a pair of hands roughly yanks the girl back into reality, where she finds herself laying on the chemical-resistant floor of a laboratory.
"How long has she been in the isolation tank?" The old man couldn't be angrier with his former intern.
"Director, let me explain-"
"How long?" The professor decides to remain silent.
"Four days, sir." Vera kept her eyes on the ground, ashamed of her part in the matter.
The director of the Bio Plant shakes his head. "I can't believe that you would do such a thing, Professor. We've all put our careers on the line for this project, and I find you trying to destroy her."
"We have to know her limits if we are to improve the next prototype, Director."
"Shut up! I've been looking through the records, and you've obviously been doing your absolute best to make sure she won't live to see her first birthday!"
"Your behavior is not conducive to a scientific environment, and I find no choice but to relieve you of your position. Get out of my sight!" The professor walks out of the room, stopping only long enough to grab his briefcase.
"I'm sorry I had a part in this...."
"Intern Vera, I would've appreciated if you had notified me sooner, but you did do the right thing in the end. Help me move the subject back to her cage."
"I know this isn't the greatest of circumstances, but it's crucial we at least attempt to salvage the experiment."
"But you know what she's been through! We should halt the testing, at least with her."
"I understand where you're coming from, but this is a cold world we live in, Vera. We can't stop with the military awaiting preliminary results on First, and Mother Brain indicates that we must continue." Neifirst awoke to the sound of that director guy and the intern arguing again. They seem to be at odds over her fate, but the Numan figured out that today, she's due to resuming the torture known as ability testing. Even without that mean old professor in charge of her anymore, it was inevitable that her stay in captivity wouldn't be any more pleasant.
In response, Neifirst had wasted no time in preparing an escape plan, thanks in part to Nei offering another perspective on the information they had accumulated. Last week, she figured out how to unlock her cage, and spent every night afterwards sneaking to the facility terminals, learning as much as she could about her prison. The Numan even managed to find a long piece of scrap steel that she fashioned into a makeshift sword, so she'll be prepared to fight for her life this time.
"Don't you care for her livelihood?"
"Yes, I do, but I can't risk this facility's funding when there are over fifty others' careers on the line here. I hope you'll understand." Vera clenches her fists, but goes about her duties of preparing equipment for the next test. When the director leaves for his office, Neifirst disengages the lock on her cage, and sword in hand, jumps out onto the ground below. Despite barely making a sound, Vera turned to grab another tool, and comes face to face with the Numan.
For the longest time, the two stood motionless, fearfully watching the other to make a move. Eventually, Vera takes a step back, trips on a cable on the floor, and falls to the ground. Panicking, she scrambles to the back of the room, the Numan following a few feet behind. Vera, now cornered among the cages, gets up and reaches for an intercom. Realizing what she's doing, Neifirst slashes at the scientist's arm, rendering it useless, and then runs the blade through her throat to stop her screams.
Without checking to see if any security was coming, Neifirst grabs a mobile terminal from a table and storms out of the room, intent on getting her freedom.
After a short swim in the nearby lake to wash off the blood, Neifirst is now relaxing against a tree, taking in the pleasant smells of her surroundings, marveling at the blue sky, and basically enjoying the first time she has ever been truly free. Suddenly, the mobile terminal she stole starts beeping. She looks at it for a minute, and then decides to open it to see what it wants. It immediately starts showing a lengthy accident report revolving around a "dangerous biomonster" that has escaped the Bio Plant.
Neifirst smirks at the report until she finds a paragraph that states that one person died. She could feel Nei's sadness as the reality hits her. "Did I kill that woman?" She already knows the answer, but the girl isn't sure what to think of herself. Nei seems pretty upset about it....
"Yes." Who said that? Neifirst looks around, but doesn't see another soul for miles around. She looks back at the terminal. "They were going to kill you, though. Do you consider yourself to be worthless?" The voice seems to be coming from the terminal.
"Who is this?"
"Mother Brain. Do you consider your own life to be worthless?"
The Numan thought for a minute before answering, "I don't know what I'm worth to others, but I do value my own life."
"Are you willing to fight to protect your life?"
"Are you willing to avenge the attempt on your life?" Neifirst could see where the conversation was going.
"Don't do it, sister! Nobody should feel that pain!" Neifirst hears Nei's pleas for her to show forgiveness, but she ignores her. There's no way she's going to give up her freedom to choose what she does, even for such a good friend. The real question is whether she is willing to take from others what was nearly taken from her. She tunes out Nei's cries as she decides on her own fate for the first time.