2017-11-05 20:30 fiction science-fiction short-story Benjamin Brood


He decided to go with REPLorg instead of ORGCon. There were just so many more options with REPLorg. You had REPLhart of course — their most famous product — but there was REPLung, REPLeye and now a REPLrewards program if you started a REPLbeasts farm to grow REPLcells. It seemed like there was a lot more flexibility. Also there was that ORGCon scandal a few years ago, the news reported that soil hackers had subverted an entire harvest.

Soybeans weren't cutting it. He'd been doing soybeans for a few years at a huge loss. When the REPLorg man showed up on his farm, he was, frankly, a bit pissed off. There had been bio guys around before. That one time COWSAC had come by to try to get him to attach genetic nutrient meshes to the sides of his cows, to grow antibody factories they said, and maybe later even stem cells. But that was bullshit. There was a guy the next town over who'd tried that and he just ended up with his cows screaming in pain and apparently the alterations created some new breed of vicious crop fly as a side effect. He'd had to scratch the whole herd, leading them into a ditch and blow-torching them like it was some goddamn jungle war.

"What we've got here," the REPLman said, "is made possible by the long term investment in advanced soil biologics." It was a well known fact that the unintended consequences of mass scale farming and genetic engineering was an ecosystem that allowed almost universal bio-templating, providing the human race with the ability to grow the organs its decrepit, aging population needed to survive the same way they'd grown corn and wheat and pumpkins and so on.

REPLhart grew in big red batches. REPLorg even provided the neutral harvest bags.

He joined the program that year. Scrapped the soybeans. REPLorg said he was ready to go as far as his soil was concerned. He'd had to attend a seminar. He'd sat for hours in an uncomfortable metal hotel chair while other farmers recounted successful crop yields and big profits, interspersed with REPLorg guys showing charts and graphs and walking them through the harvesting process.

Trucks arrived the next day. The seeds came in long pink rolls, each small compartment filled with a viscous maroon liquid. It took a little bit of getting used to, but for the most part he just followed the detailed instructions.

The first year was great. He started with the basic program, like they suggested, with hearts and kidneys. In the autumn the REPLharvesters were filled with ripe organs — each glutinous bag was money in his bank account, he thought.

Encouraged, the following year he started a REPLbone program, which grew in huge off-white clustered stalks. And he tried some REPLastic, a cartilage replacement. Although that year he did have a nasty case of bone mite. But REPLorg was really responsive, they had an army of robotic sprayers out in his fields right after he called it in. That night he stood on his porch watching the glow from the mite compound, eerie and beautiful across the open country. However, a percentage of that crop was lost. Some of the kidneys came out underweight too. "That's OK," the REPLman said, "we can probably still use most of them either for kids or for the government discount system. Poor people and so on." And he made good money out of that crop anyway.

Things were going well. And since he would talk about it with other farmers in the area, he got a referral bonus from a farmer who signed up to grow REPLeyes on a large parcel of land where previously there were grape vines. REPLeyes grew in small pods along similar trellises, you could see them from the road, occasionally winking. Although the sonic scarecrows were set up, birds still made off with eyeballs now and then and there were areas of the road littered with them, crushed and desiccated.

Soon enough, he thought, we'll be eligible for the REPLrewards buyback program, almost totally free organ replacement. It was satisfying knowing he was growing, probably, the very heart and lungs that he would trade for his current set.

The next year REPLorg bought ORGCon. It was announced with a lot of fanfare, and he and other top tier, highly productive farms were invited for a REPLorg company celebration in Wichita.

"You should go," his REPLman said, "it'll be fun and everything is on the company dime naturally, a weekend where we get to thank you for all your hard work and you get to be the first to hear about what we have coming up. Also a couple of other surprises!"

That weekend a long limo showed up at his house, the bottom edges dusty from the long dirt road. He grabbed his suitcase, the first time he'd gotten to use it, and kissed his wife goodbye. He wanted her to go with him, but she didn't want to go. "All those REPLmen give me the willies," she said. But she told him to go, go have fun.

He didn't know how to talk to the limo driver and he was awkward and he tried getting in the front passenger seat but the driver stopped him and told him to get in the back where there was snacks and beer courtesy of REPLorg. He felt strange about it, but it felt good too, like he was important. The beer was even the kind he liked. Driving on the road he knew so well, looking over crops of vital organ stalks sprouting from genetically rich soil he was lucky to have, he thought it looked different, it was different and he couldn't describe it, and it made him uneasy. But the beer was good.

The ride into Wichita was long and he flipped through the REPLorg brochures they'd placed next to the snacks. He flipped through them several times. The usual company stuff. A picture of a woman holding up images of her heart before and after — one heart brown and weak and sad and the next was plump, a vigorous dark red. And there was a picture of some thin woman, a model of course, with her arms outstretched, head back, an open mouthed smile, something between a victorious scream and an orgasm, pointing up to the bright cartoonish rays of a pharmaceutical sun while standing in a waist high crop of what looked like fresh REPLglands. Heh, heh, he thought, they wouldn't take that photo near harvest time, you'd never even see the woman cuz the stalks would be so tall!

He also read the apparently endless disclaimers, which made up a good half of each brochure, printed in very tiny type. This gave him a headache so he drifted off to sleep just as the limo was hitting the highway.

When he woke up they were pulling into a Marriott. He saw a large convention sign blinking "WELCOME!", flash, "REPLPEEPS!", flash, "OCT 13–15". The limo driver stopped the car, got out and opened the door for him and moved to the trunk to get his suitcase. A doorman from the hotel hurried over and opened the lobby doors, welcoming him in a practiced sugary tone without any accent whatsoever.

The desk clerk was likewise professionally kind and issued him an official convention lanyard that was such a bright orange he had trouble grabbing it since his eyes couldn't stereoscopically fix its place in three dimensions. When he held it closer he saw tiny holographic REPLorg logos printed into the material.

He took the empty elevator up to his floor where the abstract pattern on the dense carpet responded to the lanyard with small tasteful explosions of the words "WELCOME JOHN!" with various emoji. His room number blinked on the door when he got near it and opened with corporate efficiency, a hush of market tested sandalwood. He put his suitcase on the stand and gave the bed a half-hearted bounce followed by an agreeable grunt. There was a meet and greet in the hotel bar soon and he didn't know what to do with himself. He dug around inside his suitcase for his tie, the only one he owned, for weddings or funerals. It had been his father's tie. He carefully worked out how long it would be until he had to put it on.

He walked into the bar exactly five minutes after the event began, his lanyard flickering his name in a rotating circle above his head. He was relieved when he saw his local REPLman, the one he started with. "Hey! Great to see you! There's a lot of people I want you to meet," the REPLman said, enthusiastically sipping some mixed drink, "but get yourself a drink first — open bar!" Other than a few weekend beers he wasn't much of a drinker, he let the bartender just make him whatever he thought was best. He sipped it and didn't think it was very good, but it was something you could hold in your hand and that made him feel better.

There was a relentless sequence of introductions, and small talk he didn't understand, company things, whereas he was comfortable talking about the weather. But it didn't go badly, he thought, and he did meet another farmer like himself, a guy from the opposite part of the state who was happy talking about the nitty-gritty of irrigation.

Towards the end of the evening his REPLman got up on the small stage where a sleepy, beleaguered DJ had played a slurry of non-offensive pop songs. The REPLman was drunk and he careened through several bits of required REPLorg tract. Then with a sloppy, loud flourish he told everyone to drink up because they would all get free livers. He awkwardly grabbed a string, yanking on it several times, that released balloons from the ceiling. "All of you! Free livers! Courtesy of REPLorg!" He said the livers would be credited to their REPLorg accounts and redeemable any time after 30 days — so they would still have to suffer tomorrow's hangover ha ha ha.

In the morning the people congealed around the breakfast buffet, politely but clearly without infinite restraint, lined up for coffee. The faces that appeared garishly animated by the bar lighting last night now looked haggard and splotchy, dark circles and dandruff and wrinkles like gray plowed fields.

There were several talks scheduled for the day with breaks and lunch. He hoped the lunch wasn't fancy, fancy food they had in these places gave him an upset stomach. For a moment he wondered if getting a new stomach would make any difference.

For the next few hours he heard about the new REPLprograms. There was a crop called REPLskyn that was ready to farm — it grew in 6x10 sheets rolled up in a spiny cactus, and was ideal for farming markets in the southwest. It came in lots of different colors too, although economic projections greatly favored the lighter varieties.

They also revealed the newest REPLfarm monitoring system. This was an implementation of high altitude balloon drones that watched everything happening, 24/7, on the farms below and fed this into some sort of artificial intelligence. It would alert authorities faster in cases of fire or terrorism for instance. The presenter reminded everyone about the events in Illinois, not that anyone needed reminding, it was constantly referred to, if not explicitly then implicitly. But we have an even better solution to these kinds of problems, he said, a long term solution. "When we all come back after the break we'll begin our main presentation, I'm sure you'll agree it's a very exciting time and we've got some very exciting things to show you, you'll be the first to know about them because we love our REPLfarmers!"

The presenters had done a good job building up excitement. The lights in the auditorium were gradually dimmed, so now in a twilight that felt vital and anticipatory, the audience stood and walked up to the lobby. This too had been transformed and was dark and filled with overlapping holographic ad clips, ten or twenty second ultra-hi res promos that loosely led into one another using a friendly context engine that was both in the background and impossible to ignore.

He could hear the excited sub-chatter and shuffling of feet from the audience. He heard small portions of different conversations. Could it be they had solved the problem of brains? The rumors bounced from one end of the lobby and back again. There was disagreement. Too hard, some people said. Not practical, others claimed. The biological hurdles are insurmountable, one man said. REPLorg attendants carried around trays of rush and expensive single malt whisky. He opted for the rush.

They stood around the lobby for a long time. It seemed like a long time. Why didn't they call everyone back in? The holo-ads appeared to have accelerated or maybe the frenetic pace was due to the rush which made him break out in a sweat. The constrained expectations were reaching a climax however, the volume in the lobby had gone from a tense hush to a roar. Then the auditorium doors reopened, and projected angels, tastefully branded with the REPLorg and Marriott logos beckoned the crowd in with chimes and an artificial voice that was politely threatening. After sitting down, the lights went out completely and a single spotlight came on, center stage.

There was Mark Spellman, the CEO of REPLorg, in his trademark sports pullover and running pants that every other young entrepreneur tried to copy. Gone were the days of microphones, he stood on stage connected by a larynx laser, no doubt backed by a dedicated, expensive, fully staffed touring apparatus. Spellman paused, spun on his heel, walking meditatively up and down the stage while applause rose and became a standing ovation. Spellman let this continue for a while, then raised his hand several times and frowned to indicate the applause had reached the limits of decorum.

When things had quieted down enough he began to speak clearly, methodically, with a well rehearsed cadence. "What are we?" He said in a profound but also accusatory tone. "Are we this?" He pulled at the chest of his tracksuit. "Are we this?" He pointed in a sweeping motion across the crowd beyond himself in the dark. "Or are we this?" Suddenly, around him, and behind him, a variety of images and representations of the human brain sprung up, illuminating himself and the audience in a flicker of medical hues.

"For so long now we've been afraid of saying it. And we've been afraid of calling the brain what it is, just another organ…" The brains became hearts and kidneys and lungs, a rotation of the REPLorg catalog. "…until now!"

The images around him coalesced into a single spinning placement, an icon as compelling as the world's best graphic design firms could create, a fat cartoon outline of a brain, colored in a gentle spectrum, with the familiar REPLorg font the word "REPLbrayn". And the animated icon quivered, precisely, with little jolts.

The audience went wild. This is what they'd been waiting for. The icon faded and the screen behind Spellman began playing footage of what was obviously a REPLfarm. Spellman narrated.

"For several years we've been working hard and in complete secrecy on developing REPLbrayn. What you see here is a fully functional REPLbrayn farm at an undisclosed location."

The camera moved closer up to the crop itself.

"Look at this, it may seem familiar, but it isn't corn, or lungs, or hearts. The basic bio-husk may look the same, but I guarantee the inside won't."

The shot lingers on a table, to one side is a stack of husks, and a gloved hand grabs one from the pile and roughly pulls down the tough fibrous layers.

"As you can see here, the husk contains an entire, miniature organism used to nourish and pattern the raw brain matter. We experimented over the years, unsuccessfully, with growing the brain in isolation, just as we'd done with other things previously, when it occurred to us we knew how to grow the rest of the organism and its crucial systems, why not combine these techniques to create a biological framework for the brain itself."

The husk was removed. Then with a crisp SNAP the head was taken off. The body was thrown into a bin with the others.

"After harvest the remaining biomass, a protein rich set of tissues, can then be repurposed for the usual things — livestock feed, pet food, low grade protein filler in fast food — REPLfiller if you like. But the brain harvested — in under a year I might add, in under a year! — is a completely blank organ, ready to be imprinted and implanted!"

More applause. There were murmurs of excitement and incredulity in the crowd, some technical in nature, and others espousing enthusiasm about stock prices.

"But where do we go now?" The background video faded, the REPLbrayn icons reemerged with overlays of maps and paths and generic animated dotted lines indicating movement and progress.

"This is where you can help. You can help because you're the best we have, you're the best REPLsales, REPLfarms, and REPLdistributors in the whole organization!" More applause, with several loud, punctual and self-congratulatory WOOTS.

"When you get back to your rooms tonight — after the party of course — you'll find a small imprinting device. You can help us by letting it do its work, by being the first in this clean, safe new world to be free!"

Here the surrounding holo-ads became things similar to those in the brochures, images of butterflies and women jumping in slow motion, ecstatically. And images of smiling, satisfied, healthy older people embracing one another with all the fresh erotic energy of a twenty-five year old.

"To be free, to live without degeneration, without dysfunction, to be free to think healthy, positive thoughts and contribute to your families, and country, and company, and to be everything you can be!"

On cue the clips changed back to the REPLbrayn icon with the tagline "be all you can be" dotted by classic fireworks that if you looked a little closer you realized were neurosynapses firing colorfully.

Spellman gestured thankfully, pointing and motioning to unknown individuals in the audience. The standing ovation rallied with a collective chant of "Spellman! Spellman!" But Spellman didn't wait, he gave a final wave, the lights went out and he was gone. The chanting continued for a while, until the house lights came back up.

That night at the party the mood was giddy and undefeatable. They'd been energized, they would never forget the victories of REPLorg and how they, together, as a company, would change the world.

He got drunk. Somebody helped him into the elevator. When he returned to his room, stumbling, the door opened with its pleasantly designed swoosh. He staggered forward a few steps then flopped onto the bed. Dizzily, he looked around himself in a way that only made him slightly nauseous. He saw a flat black box on the nightstand. It wasn't huge, maybe a foot and a half square, a flat black cube. He sat up and laboriously, as weariness came over him, moved himself closer to look at it. It had a single small red light in the exact center of one side facing him. As he stared at it, the light turned green. There was a tingling sensation.