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This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Chapter 1: Coming of Age

Sneha lay wide awake as she looked out at the skylight. She hated the view of the stars from the building on the most primitive planet – Earth. She was stuck in a  planet used only for low-grade research, while the colonies thrived across the superclusters. Outside, some of the researchers sat and told stories of their travels. She marveled at how they felt no guilt, no remorse at holding her hostage.

She was surrounded by her family – almost 3000 other Snehas –  but she knew very well that she was not home. She envied the ones that had either perished or moved to another planet for experiments. They were free, she was trapped…  

She jumped up and paced around her room and stopped momentarily to peek at her mother’s picture on the wall. Tomorrow she would turn 23 – the same age when her mother donated her DNA for cloning experiments. As fate would have it, it was that batch of cells that led to successful, multiplicative cloning without errors. Her mother had been one of the most celebrated scientists of her time. Yet, here she was, just another number with no future and no permission to dream! She felt more restless than she had ever felt before. 

Sneha and the other clones had been designed and genetically altered and re-altered to follow orders. But in her case, somewhere between frozen cells and an acceleration incubator, nature had taken over. She was different! 

Sneha had known since she was an infant, sparked by moments of joy, resentment, excitement, and doubt. Soon after, overwhelmed by despair and anger and the will to be free. But she had her mother’s brains and knew she had to hide these emotions. No aberrations in clone samples were tolerated and she would be terminated if anyone were to know.

Laser focus on quality research had enabled humans to develop amazing vaccines against cosmic pathogens. It had also led to horrible deaths for many clones along the way. But they were just numbers, a homogeneous mass of experimental bodies that were dispensable to propel cosmic exploration. Her thoughts kept drifting as she slowly fell asleep.

The next morning she opened her eyes to the same dreary cell and remembered she was now 23. She turned to the screen in her room and realized that today they were prepping a batch of clones for travel to test new enhancement drugs against radiation damage. As she entered the dining area, she overheard that the new batch would travel to a newly discovered positron cloud. She felt her heart racing at the idea. She could just imagine herself on a ship deck approaching the ominous cloud.

She quickly snapped out of her dream. As she sat down to eat, she looked around at all the Snehas surrounding her.

Sn45XT34. That was her number.

They were all given numbers so that humans could identify them. She could tell each one of them apart but somehow humans could not handle the complexity of uniquely identifying clones in large groups.

The clones that would travel were huddled in one corner of the dining area with instructions. 

Her eye suddenly caught Sn45XT87 looking odd. She looked pale and her eyes were furtively looking at the guards across the room. Sneha watched her and realized that XT87 was panicking. That was odd…was she another aberration? Her mind was thinking fast. She realized XT87 was starting to choke …She got up and dashed towards her. She took off her number tag from her shirt as she ran. She shouted as XT87 fell to the ground “Move away from her, she might be infected” and immediately all the other clones moved away. She reached XT87 quickly and put her hands on her chest and started pumping. Deftly, she removed XT87’s tag and replaced it with her own. As she pressed the tag to the shirt she realized her heart had stopped beating: XT87 was dead! She looked at the guards and said simply “XT34 is not responding it seems”.

As she walked away to find XT87’s room, her head was trying to recall all the tests they could perform on XT87’s limp body. Her gait was nervous as her mind frantically played everything that could go wrong from here. Once inside the room, she closed the door and cried miserably, muffling her sobs. She felt like a criminal. A novice lawbreaker with a conscience! And now, all she could do was wait. Wait for what would happen next…

Read Chapter 2 HERE!


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

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