A blaring alarm broke the quietude of the room. TV and radio monitors beeped. A loud thud dropped him from his seat and he was thrown upside down. Then he heard metals scraping through hard surfaces.
Arkin woke up with a start; his shirt soaked in sweat; his heart pounding. He had been having the same dream for the past many years and he couldn’t make out any of it. As usual, he dismissed it as something related to the crash his parents were in, of which he knew very little about. He looked at his watch that was lying on the side table. It was a quarter before six. He got up and went out for a jog around the university campus.
Later that day, Professor Arkin Walsh stood before his class. On a table beside him was a best-selling book written by Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich. He scanned the lecture hall. It was half-empty. He had been using the same room since he gave his first lesson on ‘The Human Species and Their Ways’ three years ago. From then on, he had witnessed how each seat got vacant each session until only those who were interested in the subject and those without choice remained for the rest of the semester. Not many found it palatable to hear about their kind getting scrutinized more and admired less.
Raising the book, he read, “The Population Bomb. Has anyone read it?”
Students looked at each other- all shaking their heads.
“Well, does anyone want to elaborate on the title?”
One student said ‘8 billion humans’ is the ticking bomb that could explode anytime.
Another said, “Human population is like an elephant in the room that no one talks about. I think it’s time to make it mainstream and find the proper solution…unless we all are just waiting for the bomb to stop ticking.”
The class burst into laughter.
The professor smiled, “Since you believe it’s a ticking bomb, surely there must be a way to stop it, don’t you think? Any ideas?”
One student, Chancy, raised her hand and immediately said, “We need sterilization, professor…en masse!”
“And it should start with you, Chance!” another blurted out.
Giggles filled the classroom for a few moments.
“Well, I do keep my vanity on track, Pete! And the last time I checked, the world doesn’t need another me,” Chancy retorted.
There was a moment of silence.
Then another student added, “I’d probably prefer a fictional solution than a real one, professor!”
“Why is that so?” the professor asked.
“Because its success rate is one hundred percent, sir!”
When the session ended, the class had a divided opinion about it, although the discussion went well and everyone parted with a smile on their faces.
Arkin remained, gathering his stuff when the department janitor handed him a letter.
“Whoever sends letters these days! Girlfriend, professor?” he chuckled.
He checked the letter against the mid-noon sun and smiled. “Not from a girl, Joe, but definitely from a friend. A dear one, that too!”
“Witty as usual, sir. Now I’ll leave you to it, professor.”
He thanked the janitor and opened the letter. It read:
It’s time. Come home as soon as possible.
Yanik was the only family Arkin knew all his life. He was like a grandfather to him, only that they were not biologically related. All he knew was that the old man rescued him from a crash. From then on, Yanik adopted him and treated him like a friend more than anything else. Although he wondered how it would be like to have a mother and a father while growing up, he learned to accept the fact and never bothered about it. For him, it didn’t matter. Yanik cared for him and that was all he needed. But deep inside him, he felt there was something more to the crash than what Yanik knew or bothered to tell.
When he finished his PhD degree at a local university, Yanik urged him to travel and explore the world. He did travel the world for years until about seven years ago when he came home intending to stay. He was worried about the old man’s health, for he had seen people of his age succumbing to all kinds of health issues. To his surprise, however, Yanik remained as strong as an ox and as lively as a cricket. He couldn’t believe it, but he was ecstatic. Then, a few months later during his vacation, he received an offer to teach Social Studies at a prestigious university in the neighboring state.
“Don’t worry about me, Arkin. I still have many years left,” he chuckled. “It’s in the genes, you see,” he laughed, “and diet and environment of course!” he added, laughing still.
“True! My eyes don’t deceive me, Yanik. And those sacks of mud you carried yourself don’t lie either!”
When the laughter subsided, Arkin stared at Yanik; his eyes bore many questions, the same questions he’d been trying to get answers for all these years. But before he could open his mouth, Yanik was ready with his reply.
“You’ll get your answers when the right time comes, Arkin. Trust me.”
Trust he did, for he knew that one day, he would get the full story of that fatal accident that made him an orphan. Since then he had not been back, although the communication between them, albeit being a traditional one, had been constant.
Now he was back home again after seven long years. Remembering Yanik’s words, he shivered. Whatever right time meant, it gave him goosebumps. But he was thrilled just the same.
The place had not changed much. It was the same well-kept small house in the middle of a 20-acre mini-forest, for Yanik felt home surrounded by trees and flowers amongst beasts that crawl, climb, or fly, both big and small.
He pushed the gate open; it creaked, announcing his presence. He expected Yanik to be grinning at the porch with his arms wide open ready to give him a welcome hug. But the house was awfully quiet. With knitted brows, he trod ahead, calling Yanik now and then, thinking he would be outside doing some farm work.
He tried the front door. It was locked. He dropped his bag at the porch and saw one of the old man’s latest creations, a mud sculpture of a Tasmanian tiger. He smiled. He missed those days when he would watch Yanik sculpting various extinct animals.
Arkin ambled towards the back and found the door ajar. There was an odour in the air that was unfamiliar to him. It smelled of a mixture of rotten flesh and freshly chopped vegetation. Calling Yanik once more, he entered the house.
“Just on time, Arkin! Come, quick!” There was excitement in the voice as though its owner had found something new to show to the world.
“What is going on, old man? You were supposed to meet me -”
Arkin couldn’t finish his sentence, for when he entered the room he froze. Yanik was lying on the floor in a pool of pus-like substance; his skin and flesh were peeling off like a eucalyptus tree shedding off its bark, and something was growing on his stomach. However, instead of wailing in pain and agony, Yanik was grinning.
It wasn’t long before Arkin’s wit returned. He dashed towards Yanik.
“Jesus, Yanik! What on earth is happening to you?”
“I’m dying, professor. But don’t worry, I still have plenty of time to tell you a story.”
“We have to go to the hospital!”
“No, no, no. No doctor nor hospital can keep me alive, professor.”
“Then? I’ll just watch you die?”
“That’s more like it,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.
“And you’re happy about it?”
“When one has to die for another to live, what’s there not to be happy about? Ex morte vita! In death there is life. Besides, sadness is for the living who doesn’t know how to live.”
“You have gone insane!”
Arkin removed his cellphone from the pocket of his coat to call for an ambulance, but before he could swipe the screen on, Yanik stopped him and said, “About that crash, Arkin. You’ve been wanting to know what exactly happened. The right time has come for me to tell you the truth. I need you to listen to me carefully.”
“Oh, I will listen, but first, you need a doctor.”
“No, my boy. My time is up and I don’t want to part without you knowing the truth. So listen.” Yanik took a deep breath. “Do you see something coming out of my stomach?”
Arkin leaned forward to examine. “Yes. It looks like you have swallowed a seed and now it’s alive and using your body to nourish itself.”
Yanik laughed. “Pretty much like how you were 35 years ago really. And this it, Arkin” Yanik pointed out to the blob coming out of his belly, “would become just another like you.”
Arkin guffawed; his chest heaved. But when he saw the seriousness on the face of Yanik, Arkin cleared his throat. “Seriously, I don’t understand. How can a person simply come out of another’s abdomen? That’s not possible! It’s science-fiction!”
“Not in our world, my boy.”
“Not in our world? What do you mean not in our world?”
“Our world is…or rather was…was called Apsaria, far beyond the Earth’s solar system. Had it not turned to ruins, we would never have been here nor come into being.”
“Ha! What! We’re aliens! That’s incredible! So what are we called? Apsarians?” Disbelief was drawn on Arkin’s face.
Arkin was quiet for a while.
“Okay. Let’s assume I believe you. You resemble Earthlings…in every possible way! And as far as I am concerned, I too! What happened? Why are we here?”
And thus, Yanik began to reveal the secret that he had been hiding for 35 years.
“Apsaria was just like another Earth that had its own Sun and was located in the Sombrero Galaxy. Everything about it was like Earth’s replica. And like any other habitable worlds, ours was abundant in natural resources, enough to sustain a wide variety of life forms. But 75 percent of Apsarians were dumb and selfish. We cared so much about our vanity, and so little about other creatures, that a progeny of two or more was a must-have to display it. We bred like humans do on Earth without giving much thought about the consequences of our actions. And very soon, even before we could realize the error of our ways, everything changed. It was too late to undo our wrongs and remedy our thoughtless ways of living. The once overflowing resources became scarce and depleted. Riots were an everyday occurrence. People turned against each other. However, while the rest of the world fought over whatever little resources they could find, a group of intellectuals who called themselves Bioengineers, sought answers to the problem. Every single day, for many years, they toiled scratching their heads for one perfect solution. It took them decades to engineer us -,”
“Wait! Engineer us? Like in the lab?”
“Yes, you could say that.”
The blob in Yanik’s stomach had grown bigger by now and was already showing contours of a human infant. Staring at it, Arkin said. “It looks like a sapling sprouting from a seed, Yanik!”
“Oh, yes! That’s the head. Next would be the upper limbs.”
“This is unbelievable!” Arkin exclaimed, shaking his head.
“The evidence is developing right in front of you, professor!”
Arkin rubbed his face with his two hands. His temple was throbbing. What he was witnessing was something he had never imagined. His rational mind still struggled to reconcile with the fact that in front of him was an ongoing act that contradicted all he knew about biology.
“How did they do it?” Arkin asked.
“You mean how did they engineer us?”
“Well, Apsaria’s days were numbered. It couldn’t satisfy the greed nor fulfill the needs of its people anymore. The problem of overpopulation had reached its peak of no return. Nevertheless, like any living organism, Apsarians too wanted to ensure the survival of their species, which was hanging by a thread. Considering Apsaria’s demise was inevitable, the Bioengineers resolved that for their species to survive and continue, Apsarians needed to colonize other planets in the universe. Still one question demanded an answer -what if they would populate other worlds as they did Apsaria? It would be a shame and they couldn’t let that happen. An absolute solution must be found or the species would face their doom somewhere in the not too far future. The Bioengineers tried their mighty best, but no one was able to come up with the best solution. Until one day, they were successfully able to manufacture a seed out of Apsarians’ DNA, a seed of new life as they called it. Later on they named it the morphospore.”
“Morphospore,” Arkin mumbled.
“What does it exactly do?”
“What do you think?”
“I guess, from the term itself and from what’s happening with you right now I do have a pretty good idea of what morphospore does to someone who swallows it. But tell me everything you know.”
Yanik chortled. “So when the Bioengineers came up with this solution, they called in for volunteers, all gender and ages -children, elderly…everyone. Soon, three hundred enlisted, but the first few trials were unsuccessful. That is, when the volunteers died, no new life grew out of their deceased bodies.”
“Initially, the Bioengineers thought it was gender and age-specific. Soon they ruled out every possible factor and variable that made the experiment a failure. And yet the results were the same. So they thought of abandoning the project. All hopes were lost and they were ready to allow our species to die out. However, when a ninety-one-year-old man volunteer passed away in his sleep, they found a new creature roaming out and about with him in his room. That moment was like Archimedes’ eureka. A new being, they called it enspira, could only be created out of natural deaths. This got reinforced when a ninety-six-year-old woman died in a natural state and an enspira came out of her body. Everyone was overjoyed. Finally, the biggest mystery had been solved. To their dismay, the euphoria was short-lived because a month later, another elderly, an 85-year-old woman died in her sleep and morphospore didn’t work.”
Arkin frowned; his fingers massaging his nape. He was lost in his thoughts as though listening to Yanik’s tale brought him back to Apsaria working along with the Bioengineers.
Yanik touched the blob on his body, glancing at Arkin once in a while. Then he continued, “The bioengineers were not called bioengineers for nothing. They were the best brains of Apsaria and they didn’t stop until the crease was ironed out. Soon, the absolute explanation was found and it was one of the younger engineers that thought of it.”
Arkin chimed in. “Morphospore works on two conditions: one must be healthy and one must die a natural death…no disease-causing nor accidental deaths.”
“Yanik, you are a healthy 110-year-old Apsarian! It means morphospore is working. It morphed into you. It transformed you into a new creature. You are dying now and another life is coming out of you!”
“Ingenious I’d say.”
“Now you know why I am happy even though I am dying.”
“When one has to die for another to live, what’s there not to be happy about,” Arkin reiterated Yanik’s words.
There was silence. The blob’s head, neck and torso were visible. Yanik’s enspira now looked like a human statue minus the upper limbs. A few moments later, Arkin spoke. “You said I am like that thing. You mean, I am a morph of another Apsarian?”
“That’s right. You’re enspira.”
“So there were two Apsarian landed on Earth?”
Arkin glowered. “But?”
Yanik sighed. “When the Bioengineers declared that we had a few months left before everything in Apsaria turned to dust, 28 self-operating pods were launched into space, with volunteers in it. Our pod landed on Earth. Unfortunately, before we entered the Earth’s atmosphere, an asteroid hit our pod and we crash-landed on the east coast of Morocco killing the rest of the crew on the spot except your Apsarian, Xiren, and me, who suffered non-fatal injuries. I was 25 years old then and Xiren was 56. We lived like normal human beings. We tried to be friends with them. Unfortunately, good friendship was too difficult to forge in this world. Four human decades later, she passed away leaving you with me…in this very right place.”
“You were only 25 then, are you one of the first volunteers?”
“No. Like you, I am also an enspira. I am the apsarling of that ninety-one-year-old man volunteer.”
“I see.” Arkin paused. “How…how did you escape the authority? I mean, people must have seen you out of that pod?”
“The Bioengineers studied all the possible worlds in the galaxies known to us, including Earth. Before we set out to space, they had it all figured out. Volunteers were taught about all the worlds’ geographical features, its inhabitants and their culture and their behaviors. Everything there was to know, volunteers learned all of them. We were also briefed for any possible unforeseen circumstances. The crash was one. When we were crashing I was able to acquire a desolate place to land and got it locked. It had taken a day before human authorities located the place and got the whole area secured. By then, Xiren and I were long gone, along with the traces that would link to us as survivors of the crash. Since then, we assumed human identities that were designated for us beforehand. With us were Apsiers, human equivalent for gold that made our lives easier in the human world.”
By now, the apsarling had grown further. Its face was fully developed and its head had grown hair. The hands and legs were half complete. Arkin was staring at a half-naked sleeping infant. His gaze fell on Yanik whose breathing sounded irregular.
“Don’t you feel tired narrating all these? I mean, you could have told me earlier, you know. Perhaps, you could have included it in your will. It would have been less shocking to read all of these than seeing the actual process of Asparian’s death slash birth cycle.”
Yanik chortled. “I don’t think we share that trait with human beings. They are quite fond of the dramatics of life, don’t you agree?”
Arkin scoffed. “Don’t you find this way more dramatic?”
Yanik chuckled. “Well, the Bioengineers made us take an oath not to reveal this sacred secret until our last day. Somehow they were uncomfortable with the fact that they weren’t successful at creating an immortal. Following the Apsarian code of honor, I remained true to that oath.”
“Right! They probably believed in the saying ‘seeing is believing’,” Arkin added. “More convincing and there’s no way it can be refuted.”
Yanik wanted to lie on his back, but he lost control of his hands and legs. He could no longer move them. Arkin grabbed his shoulders and helped him sit. Once settled, the apsarling wriggled its limbs.
Looking at it, Arkin said, “What am I going to do with that thing, Yanik?”
“Will you stop calling her ‘that thing’? If I were you I would think of a name already.”
“How do you know it’s a she. What if it’s a he or even better, no gender at all?”
“Then you can call her ‘they’. What does it matter?” Yanik smirked.
Finally, they settled with the name Deeyan.
One final wriggle and the apsarling, as white as marble, was fully out of Yanik’s belly. For the first time, Deeyan opened her eyes. They were earthy green like Yanik’s. When her eyes met Arkin’s, she smiled. Then she turned her gaze to the old man and crawled towards him. She touched his face with her soft and slender fingers and kissed his crinkled cheek. Her eyes twinkled like the stars. Then she got up. At first, her legs wobbled. When she contained her balance, she glanced at Arkin and darted outside. Arkin immediately followed her, forgetting about Yanik. When he found her playing with the Tasmanian tiger lying on the porch, Arkin went back inside and found Yanik lifeless; his face had a grin, a peaceful one. He kneeled next to him. The one man who assumed numerous roles for him for the last 35 years was gone. Tears escaped from Arkin’s eyes. He didn’t even notice the pressure crushing through his heart. He felt sad and impaired. Sniffing, he uttered a few words, bidding farewell to the only man he could call in the whole world as family. Minutes later, Yanik’s body crumbled into dust and dissipated into the air like embers being blown about by the wind.
Later that day, Arkin sat on the porch; his hand laid on the tiger sculpture. He watched Dee eat a plate of fruits all by herself. It had only been six hours since she had sprung out of Yanik’s dying body and yet, to Arkin’s surprise, the girl had grown much. And for this revelation, he was grateful.
As the sun sank down the horizon, Arkin thought of the life that lay ahead of them.
“It would be filled with startling adventure,” he muttered, smiling.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!