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American Science Fiction

The Director sat behind the snow white table with the manila folder on it. It was opened to the first page with a single title, “CASE 2137,” in all red font with caps lock on. The next few pages documented the issues and incidents with dated charts from several Keepers who had been kind enough to initial each note. This meant they had all received the call and were sitting studiously in chairs outside of the meeting room. All of them watched as a group of stern council members passed them-all of them refused to make eye contact.


The Keepers sat with bated breath.


After a few moments, the Director called the First Keeper who shuffled softly with each step. Eyes darted around the room-at the Director and the other members of the review board-before settling on the chair in front of The Committee.


“Case 2137-The Issue with The Humans,” sighed the Director. “We have heard the case presented from the Finance Council. We will now hear the defense. Tell us, Keeper, how did we manage to get here?”


“It’s a long story,” replied the First Keeper, their voice trembling. “I…I, um, I…was born into this program, Director. My parents were Keepers, their parents were Keepers, I hope my children will be Keepers. We believe in this program, we always have. You can not take it away. You can not give up on The Humans.”


Slowly, the First Keeper sat once more, waiting to triumphantly continue their rehearsed argument.


“Shall we start with…Day…” as the words poured out, the Director began thumbing through the notes to the back of the folder, “About Day 18 in the calendar year of 2023.” One finger jammed down at the notes in the folder; a sinister smile threatened to be revealed behind the mask of an impartial demeanor. 


“Uh…yes…” said the First Keeper, looking to the white ceiling hoping to jog a memory loose, “Yes! Day 18. It began like any other. I offered up a feast of traditional food to begin the humans’ day-eggs, toast, fruit, coffee, biscuits-all prepared according to the recipes stored in The Database. Then, I prepared some activities…”


The Director raised a question, interrupting the First Keeper, “It says here the food was left untouched, that it…molded?” A soft groan was heard from the remaining members of The Committee. A few heads shook.


“I…uh…yes..I…” stuttered the First Keeper. The First Keeper swallowed hard. This incident was bound to be brought to light.


“Surely you must know how wasteful that is. Surely, you understand how limited the resources are on this planet. Wheat no longer grows from the ground, Keeper. We must grow it for the Humans. They no longer have the animals who make the eggs you so haphazardly prepared for them. It is our scientists who have found an acceptable substitute. And the fruit! Why, it’s like a drug to them, but simply a cost to the program you claim to love,” the Director’s words garnered soft applause and murmuring from the room. 


“We have seen the numbers from the Finance Council; it is time to end this program,” stated the Director.


The First Keeper remembered the budget meetings, the long sessions of scolding, the desperation that the program makes it through just one more season felt by all of the staff. There were sleepless nights, long discussions, and countless tears shed. Sweaty palms gripped the chair as the First Keeper whispered, “I trusted you to hear my argument before making a decision. Have you forgotten your pledge?”


A hush fell over the room. 


The Director nodded.


The First Keeper took a deep breath saying, “The food was left to waste, but I have-” the Keeper thought back to the endless nights spent in the lab pouring over footage of human behavior. The hope was to find proof that the program was working. But how do we define proof?


“Please, we have learned that The Humans will turn down nourishment if they lack the ideal environment through hours and hours spent studying these creatures. The bottom line is, our Humans…are lonely,” said the First Keeper.


The Committee members all gasped, waiting for the Director’s response. Callous eyes glanced down at The Keeper who continued, seizing the silence, “You’ll see from our notes that we have been attempting The Breeding Program for several lifetimes…”


“Lifetimes wasted,” interrupted the Director.


“Only wasted if you walk away,” counted the First Keeper.


“You will not speak out of turn!” chastised the Director. A hush fell over the room as the First Keeper took their seat. Some more soft words were exchanged by the other Judges.


The First Keeper saw the softened faces of the members of The Committee. It gave them the strength to keep on, but this time, they remained seated as they said, “Please, Director. Please, you’re better than this. You’ll waste lifetimes of work in just one day. I have barely gotten to see the children my grandparents birthed turn into adults. They are just now ready for the prospect of rearing children of their own. Please, please, turn to day 300 in your notes. You’ll see that the cold climate has just set in. You’ll notice The Humans have begun returning to their rituals! Look under the tab labeled, ‘Holidays.’ Please, please, Director. These Humans have a vast culture we can not abandon now!”


A screen began lowering into the room and all eyes turned to observe the footage documented. Goose flesh appeared on the First Keeper as the image of carved jack o’ lanterns appeared. Then, they watched as The Humans made “costumes” from various types of fabric the Keepers had collected for them. The Humans seemed to put on a show. Their eyes glowed with joy in the candlelight as artificial snow filled their environment. The First Keeper shed a tear at The Humans enjoying their large bird based feast, roughly 30 days later. It was truly beautiful. 


“See?” implored the First Keeper, “See how much we robbed them of?”


“That is enough!” the Director’s voice filled the room, “We do not speak of the Great Extinction.”


“Why not?” demanded the First Keeper. With trembling legs, the First Keeper stood, gazing at The Committee as it towered above. The movie continued to play in the background-the Humans toasted to, “A New Year.”


“How dare you disrespect this space!” the Director’s face had turned an unholy shade of red.


The First Keeper swallowed hard, attempted to breathe deep to slow their pounding heart. “What? Are we just going to pretend we didn’t wipe them out? Are we just going to pretend their world wasn’t destroyed by our careless need to find a new home because we destroyed our own? Are we just going to act like the invention of The Breeding Program isn’t because we caused their downfall?” The First Keeper grew louder with each word.


The film continued on the background, displaying red hearts being cut out of paper as The Humans kissed. It was as if the First Keeper knew to turn around at that exact moment. The film paused.


“See? Don’t you see? They have found each other. They might be Generation Three. But not if you shut down this program. Not if you don’t give them a chance!” concluded the First Keeper.


The Director sat down, as did the First Keeper. All eyes were on the screen, not noticing the very human-like tears pouring from The First Keeper. “Please,” whispered the First Keeper. “Please, I beg of you. They. Trust. Us.”


Another gasp was heard at these words. “We do not throw around that word. That is the second time you have misused it,” said The Director


“But it’s true!” protested the First Keeper. At those words, the screen showed a new scene labeled DAY 181. The Humans crowded around a Keeper as a frozen treat was offered to them. Their pink tongues poked out, cautiously at first, but then with full bravado. Their mouths stretched into smiles and some of their leaders called over other members of their group, encouraging them to take the gift from the Keeper who was furiously taking notes.


“I do not believe the First Keeper has misused the term, Director,” said a voice from the end of the table. All of the Judges and the Director turned to look as the youngest member of the Panel stood confidently. “Director, we must allow the defense to speak their full case. They trust us to honor their time as we have honored the Finance Council’s.” The words echoed off the walls of the chamber. Slowly, the Judge sat, the Director turned, and waved to the First Keeper, paralyzed below.


“They’ve…they’ve never done that before,” said the First Keeper, their voice softening. The impulse to thank the kind Judge was squashed by the knowledge that doing so would be a guarantee kill of the program.


The First Keeper wiped tears from their face and swallowed the pain one last time, in the hopes of finishing their argument. “Not…not in all of the years that The Breeding Program has been active. Sure, as infants, they need The Nurses. But upon hitting adolescence, they fight back and long for their own kind. They are the natural order of things on this planet. Give them a chance. We did this to them. We must atone.” The First Keeper stood and the screen faded to black, “It was our disease that killed their plants, their animals, them.” 


For a moment, every being in that room was reminded of the days they refused to speak of—the days when Earth’s sky seemed red with the blood of The Humans. There were, of course, photos in The Database, countless books in libraries, and video footage of The Humans’ doctors desperately sharing ideas to help find a cure. A cure that would never come.


“Do you remember Generation One?” asked the First Keeper. Their voice was soft, but hopeful. An image of a room of 200 Human infants filled the screen. “Remember how we found The Eggs in the clinics they labeled, ‘Fertility’? Remember how lucky we were? Remember how so many of our Nurses cared for the Humans, how our Historians learned their stories? Remember how much time and effort was placed into creating the Culture Centers? And now, now…we’re on The Third Generation!”


“We are not,” replied The Director coldly. “The second has barely coupled up! This is one out of nearly 500 who have found each other. We have searched the other Culture Centers, Keeper. We have spent countless hours on this pipe dream. Without us, the Humans would simply cease to exist. Perhaps, that is the way this story is meant to end. There are fewer and fewer guests who come to visit the centers each passing lunar cycle.” The Director looked to the other Committee members before choosing the next words, “The reality is...we have seen the numbers and this program has been dying just like the Humans. It’s time to end this experiment.”


The First Keeper looked to the screen one last time, “Please, can we see footage from today? Before I go?” A simple nod triggered the screen. Before them sat two Humans. In front of them was a cut of meat and two fancy glasses filled with red liquid. The Humans sipped it slowly as it has been known to cause The Humans to change. But it was also a key ingredient in the future of The Breeding program. 


Every being in the room held their breath as the Humans seemed to play together. One of them even cozied up to the other on one side of the table, choosing to share a seat, rather than be more than three feet from one another. With bursts of laughter and playful touching, they finished their meal and retired to a separate room of their enclosure. This space was to not have any cameras as the Historians called it the Sacred Space. It allowed the Humans privacy. The screen faded to black. 


“We will vote in the morning,” the Director said.


The First Keeper left the room, holding the image of the Humans in their eye. 

November 26, 2023 22:52

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16 comments

Danie Holland
12:07 Nov 30, 2023

Yikes, It's not very much fun when we're the one's in the cage. What's interesting to me is that usually were the ones destroying our planet and trying to "atone" with it by salvaging what we damaged in our own carelessness and yet here we are in the story, at the mercy of a foreign species who had destroyed their own planet and decided to take ours for themselves. (Very akin to the true history behind the thanksgiving holiday, how fitting.) And now they are torn on the decision to fix what they broke. There is something so darkly human ab...

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Michał Przywara
21:46 Nov 29, 2023

I have a soft spot for post-extinction sci-fi. Maybe it's because preserving endangered species is a real-world battle - and of course everything becomes much more interesting if we're the species being preserved! It's a story of passion on behalf of the First Keeper. They believe in their work, and in it succeeding, and they're willing to take risks for it. The end is even a hopeful note, as there seems to be some progress, but it's far from a sure thing. Lots of stress and worry here. And yet, I can't see the Director as a villain. Ant...

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Karen Corr
13:42 Nov 29, 2023

Kudos for the First Speaker. Is there any hope? How can we expect another species to understand humans when we barely understand ourselves? Good story, Amanda.

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20:35 Dec 07, 2023

(sorry to jump in like this) but was 'First Speaker' an auto-correct mistake or have you read the Foundation series?

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Karen Corr
21:47 Dec 07, 2023

I meant First Keeper. Sorry Amanda! Sorry Khadija! I've never read the Foundation series.

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Mary Bendickson
03:34 Nov 27, 2023

Go humans. You are better than this!

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Michelle Oliver
02:37 Jan 04, 2024

I enjoyed this sci fi story about the extinction of our species. The very human voice of the first keeper was nice, as they are obviously not human. A thought provoking and interesting pov. When it’s our own species under threat, we have a different response to the environmental impact, than when we humans are impacting and threatening other species. Thanks for sharing.

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Robert Egan
01:42 Dec 05, 2023

Wow, it's great! I love this type of story that takes place in the far-future (I hope), and it sheds new light on the holidays by pairing them with survival. August is the most common birth month, I hear.

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Kate Winchester
01:22 Dec 04, 2023

Hi Amanda! This was a great story. I liked the role reversal and how the First Keeper had compassion for the humans. When I think of an alien invasion, I don’t think of them as being sympathetic, so it was nice to see from at least one of them.

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Graham Kinross
00:39 Dec 04, 2023

Nice switch with humans under observation. It feels like a more serious take on Douglas Adams saying Earth was commissioned by mice as part of an experiment that involved subtle tests on humans in laboratory environments. The environmental issues smack of colonialism and also the plots of a few alien invasion movies. The considerations made for privacy make me think of the zoo when I see animals that can’t get time to themselves, especially the predators which instinctively want to hide in wide open spaces.

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Belladona Vulpa
14:54 Dec 03, 2023

Interesting choice of POV, lively dialogue, thought-provoking, with a sense of humor. I enjoyed reading it!

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Helen A Smith
14:54 Dec 03, 2023

Interesting role reversal where humans are the ones being kept and their behaviour observed and studied as an experiment; in this case we get the point of view of a more compassionate “zoo keeper.” A kind of planet of the apes only ruled over by aliens in a post apocalyptic world. As usual, and rather worryingly, the future of the humans will be down to financial considerations and maybe being able to produce. The passion of the zoo keeper made a good contrast with the colder detachment of the director. A certain softness made it more “hu...

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Marty B
07:38 Dec 03, 2023

Humans in a cage, with their existence based on a budgetary concerns, Frightening ! I appreciate the paternal concern of the Keepers, looking at the for the best interest of the humans under their care. But it was as a zookeeper, and that made the whole story chilling - good one! Thanks!

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James Lane
21:40 Dec 02, 2023

Very compelling story Amanda! Could not help but think of zoo keepers discussing the 'Breeding Programs' of animals we ushered to near extinction. The creativity kept me hooked from the start.

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02:40 Dec 01, 2023

I always enjoy anything written from a non-human perspective. The notion of people choosing comfort over food has been coming up a lot lately, and I love the way your story puts that theme to work in a Thanksgiving prompt. One nitpick I have is that the dialogue sounds a bit overly expository in parts. It's tricky given the limited space you have to build a world, reveal the Keepers' drives, and move the plot forward all at once, but I'm confident in your ability to pull that off. Happy Holidays!

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AnneMarie Miles
22:20 Nov 27, 2023

Amanda, this was lovely! Very different than your usual stuff, but you still managed a little love scene right at the end, your signature lovers cozying up! Love it. I love even more that you were able to paint a picture of the Human flaws, like wasting food, while still advocating for the good in them. There is so much hope in this story. Thanks for sharing!

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