Kate Osana Simonian
Monstrous Beings Through Time
Among the innumerable planets belonging to our species, there is Earth. Humans are not unique in any respect but this: they imagine a past and future. For this reason, we allocate cultivars to their oversight and care.
Our language has only one way to speak about what is not happening now. When something is not happening now, we say it is happening in an alternative universe. For example, in an alternative universe there exist ancestors of ours who have a sense of time, but memory and foresight, being barriers to progress, are evolving out.
I have always been in this cell. Here I rest, feed, and perform directives. Each day I am given three cleaning mattes. There is a green switch to effect my incineration, should I need it. Each day I use one whole matte to polish the switch.
When we envision this alternative universe, it is not separated from us through time, but somehow, through space. Though if you asked one of my species to point in the direction of said alternative universe, they could not, and would be hurt by the consideration.
In an alternative universe, there is a spot-fire on Earth: 1,000 humans have gone off-grid. They tear our chips from their ears. They hide underground with their animals and firearms. Restitutional Trips are the only time when I leave my cell. I go out of my cell and enter the transport with the other cultivars. Transports are the only time when I see other cultivars, but we never speak. The transport departs from our off-world center.
Our species does not talk about the future, there being no future worlds in existence. Past worlds, yes. Past worlds are currently occurring.
In my cell, I use my screen to expunge retrograde emotion. I watch acts of atavism. I watch a peer eat a human. I watch a peer spray seed. I watch a peer chew a hole in its abdomen and eat its own quivering egg. We do not do these things any longer. Pulses monitor my identification. My signs are optimal. A green light illuminates the switch.
In an alternative universe, the transport lands on Earth. We proceed with Restitution. White buildings cap tunnel mouths. Our troops blast off inhabited crenellations. Cultivars stream through the tunnels. The task of each of us is to lock onto a human: tag, sedate, and remove to the transport. I enter a shelter three stories down. Two adults of breeding age lie on the floor. One’s head is partly removed and the other’s back is rippled with metal chips. A child makes itself small against the brick. I strip it and examine its genitals. I tag its trunk: FEMALE JUVENILE.
In an alternative universe, my species colonizes the Earth. Humans are not the choicest bio-fruit, but they are warm and carbon-based and available. Rumors circulate that ingesting humans infects us with their temporal properties. These rumors are not true, but even if they are true, they do not stop the feast. To stop the carnage, humans are given a protected status. What follows is mass cribbage of limbs. That being said, we never eat them now.
Much information I cannot get from my screen because it is not germane. I cannot access a list of worlds under my species’ cultivation. I cannot access information about human behaviors that interest me, such as lying. Lying requires a matrix of preference fastened to a temporal framework: a human desires an outcome and makes fictitious statements to achieve it. Cultivars learn to tell whether a human is lying about the location of other humans or valuable materials in the settlement. We know that symptoms of lying include: avoidance of eye contact, fidgeting, and creased foreheads. In the interests of my work, more information on this topic is not germane.
In an alternative universe, each cultivar rests upwards in the transport with a human bound to their abdomen. Despite sedation, the JUVENILE FEMALE strapped to me remains cogent. I tell it soothing mythic stories, but whenever I stop it asks where its progenitors are.
Dead, I should say. Instead, I have an idea. It is in the nature of an experiment. I decide to lie: “They are at the rehoming facility.”
This placates it for a moment.
Then it asks, “How long till we get there?”
I often think of the human body: evolved to break, to be blind out back and forward-facing. The human spine is a folly of bone, each vertebra more ambitious than the last. The title of cultivar stretches around my being, or maybe, like a human spine, it supports me from within. The word is with me always, stretching through my iterations like a temporal worm, a parasite from which I can never be loosed. Cultivar. Cultivarvar. This worm might be my spine.
In an alternative universe, I render account. I input the JUVENILE FEMALE’s tag number and sanitize it. In the rehoming facility, the subject is distracted by the other human-cultivar pairs and performs whimpering behaviors. It asks where its parents are. I further sedate it. The subject is otherwise healthy. After processing, it will be rehomed.
In my cell, I feel strange. Although my vitals are optimal, I watch footage to expunge. On the screen, I see a peer hunker against a wall of a shelter. I see the FEMALE JUVENILE again, crouching against the brick. I look around, but there is no being in my cell except myself. The subject is before my eyes, but she is not present.
This sensation corresponds to accounts of human memory.
In no alternative universe do I have my own begats. Begetting splits one’s perception of time. Begettors sees the universe like a coin with opposing sides: one in which they are yet to beget, and one in which they have already begotten.
Disturbing, but I have begun to remember events from my past. I remember being larval. I floated in a blend of water and light. Pulses evaluated my fitness for breeding: I was not selected. There was a dark shift in the liquid that moved through me. I became a cultivar.
As a begat, I received from my screen a sensorium of earthly biologies. Pulses monitored my identification. My vitals were optimal.
I remember my first Restitution with the other cultivars, and how there came a moment in the shuddering hollow of the transport, when I realized that we would never speak. I remember not having a name for the fizzing sensation in my abdomen.
I remember the green switch. It has been with me always. It is a friend, if a friend is a thing that exists near to us, and endures through time. It always flashes me goodnight.
I am a good cultivar. I am not temporally extended. There is nothing that I like more or less than anything else.
My frightening thoughts continue. They are of things that are neither present nor germane. They correspond to accounts of human imagining.
I imagine, for example, that my new temporal sense will be detected and I will be incinerated. Then I imagine that I will not be incinerated but rehomed with like-minded peers to study human cognition, and that we will sleep in a large cell together with subjects pressed animal-wise around our abdomens. Then I imagine that I will live on Earth. These imaginings do not occur as actual events in the world, but in my own mind.
Meanwhile, I remain undetected. I adhere to my usual schedule of watching atavistic footage to expunge. Pulses monitor my identification. I am functioning optimally.
I wonder how many other cultivars have also developed this sense. How do they keep it secret? There must be many of them, like me, feeling this way. They must be detected or otherwise reveal themselves. If not, why is my friend that glows in the night so kind? So greenly available?
It is only because humans are temporally situated that they desire.
There is another outcome that I imagine, but that I do not like to think about. In it, I feed and issue directives and watch footage for a long time. In it, I live until I am no longer functional, fulfilling my duties while subject to the undetected imaginings that continue to cause me deep dis-ease. I am never detected. I imagine this future many times over. I imagine this until it is unbearable, and I know that it is my true and final destination.
Why do we preserve the human? What is compelling about the capacity to sense past and present? What makes such a gift greater than the ability to see through sound, or fold into a species-wide meta-consciousness, or massage time to slow down its passage? Why would we seek to understand a way in which we do not think, an alien capacity? These questions are not germane.
I touch my friend and wait for the incineration to begin. The button is not as smooth as I had imagined, or rather it is no more different to touch than most of the cell’s surfaces, which surprises me. Another surprise is that it turns a dull russet.
I sit before my screen and feel, for the last time, the stretch of a long temporal interval. I will take into oblivion my new and monstrous capacity. That it is infectious explains to me the absolute isolation in which we cultivars are made to live.
As I wait, I restrain myself from imagining what freedom my species will continue to enjoy with me no longer present, this restitution existing in no universe of mine.
Kate Osana Simonian is an Armenian-Australian writer of fiction and essays. She attends the English PhD program at Texas Tech as a Presidential Fellow. In 2017, she received the Nelson Algren Award and a Tennessee Williams Scholarship to the Sewanee Writers Conference. Her work has been published by, or is forthcoming in, Passages North, The Kenyon Review Online, The Chicago Tribune, and The Best Australian Stories. Ask her about her story collection and novel.