HARVEST FESTIVAL • by Robert Kibble

Thank you for coming. Please sit down. First I need to tell you that we are going to kill you today.

Yes, I am quite serious. I’m sorry to have to tell you, but there is no question about how this day is going to end for you, and the quicker you get used to that the better.  You have had a life, and we’re going to go over exactly what that was, but you need…

No, really. This is happening. Look into my eyes, and you will see I am not joking.

Why? Well, because, because you are a clone, and your body is needed now.

Yes. Really.

You are going to die. Today. I really need you to understand that, Mr Green. To accept it, because only when you’ve done that can we move on.

Yes, Mr Green, that’s a good question, and one everyone asks.

Yes, everyone. Everyone you have known who left the compound went through exactly what you are going through now. Which is to say, they were all used for rehousing their owners’ brains.

Yes, that’s fine, Mr Green. You can’t do anything about it, and if shouting helps that’s fine, although we have taken the precaution of drugging you so you won’t be able to damage the body. We need it, you see. Only your head will be able to move in a few seconds. That gives us enough time to talk.

Of course we have something to talk about, Mr Green, because believe it or not, this is a voluntary scheme. How do you think we got authorisation for it? The clones – you – must live a luxurious enough life prior to harvesting that you yourselves approve the scheme.

Oh, come, come now, Mr Green. Don’t be like that. Let’s just sit back and have a bit of a think about what’s happened in your life, shall we?

You were born and accelerated, with memories implanted, but that’s only the early years. Everything from six years old is genuine. So, let’s go through it, shall we?

Yes, it really is important, and yes, you are going to die today.

And yes, I can wait for you to stop screaming. Mr Green, please calm down.

No, there’s nothing I can do to you more than killing you, but we have to ask you some questions, and we have to set the scene first.  So…

…thank you.

So, everything from six was genuine. Your gang at school was real, and your friends were real. Mark was harvested, which is why you never heard from him again. His owner was hit by a car at the age of fourteen, which is a very unusual occurrence, it has to be said. He voted against continuing the programme, which is always disappointing. But returning to you, that crush you had on Wendy – that was real. That was the two of you, enjoying your young lives. Your first kiss was real. Joan at the end of the school sports day – that was real. You lived, and you loved, and you enjoyed real connections with other human beings.

No, Mr Green, that doesn’t make it worse.

I’m getting to that. I just want to go through another couple of events in your life.

Your films. They were amazing, and people outside the compound have enjoyed them. Your owner was even impressed, and has taken a media course thinking he might have innate talent, although I do wonder if this is where clones…

Yes, your owner. He knows about your life.

Oh, that’s what you’re going to focus on now? Mr Green, with all due respect, you’re living in an artificial compound where we’ve lied about the global contagions, and we’re going to kill you to transplant your owner’s brain into your body, and you’re worried about surveillance?

There. That’s better. Well, not better as such. But we’re back, aren’t we?

Yes, Mr Green. You need to stop shouting again.

I understand being paralysed isn’t pleasant, but I can reassure you that you will die very painlessly indeed. If that helps.

No, no, it very rarely does, that’s true. It seems odd to me, though – I’d have thought it would be quite important, once we’ve settled that you are dying in… oh, around twenty minutes’ time.

Yes, Mr Green, there is something important to do. We have to ask you a very important question. It’s a matter of approval. Do you accept your life has been worthwhile?

No, Mr Green, I’ve told you. You are going to die. That’s been decided.

Yes, approval. And since you’re not going to get calmer, I should tell you from this point there will be an official government observer to this conversation, and I need to tell you the question.

Yes, the question I brought you in here to answer.

Do you accept your life was worthwhile, and therefore give approval for two future clones, unrelated to you or your owner, being created, living their lives in luxury, and then if needed being harvested for their owners?

It’s a very important question, that’s what kind of question it is.

And that, Mr Green is a good question. What do you have to gain? The answer, I’m afraid, is nothing. But if you think your life was good enough to have been worth living, then it follows it is worth it for others. For other people’s clones to live in the compound.

I think you will, yes. Because think of the alternative. It isn’t that you live a long and free life. The alternative is that you never lived at all. And the two clones you’d be approving – would it be better for them to have the life you’ve had, with all its ups and downs, and your absolutely-real connections to Wendy, and Joan, and all your friendships…? Or would you rather not have been at all? That, Mr Green, is the question. So, before we make your body available for your owner, and for the record, do you give approval?


When not writing, Robert Kibble finds himself spending unhealthy amounts of time complaining that Russian oligarchs always seem to favour buying football teams over building zeppelins.  You can find more of his work, and his zeppelin-related complaints, at www.philosophicalleopard.com.


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 average 3.7 stars • 38 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Aha, Bob Newhart lives, but alas Mr Green does not.

    I chuckled throughout, but I’m not sure if it was due to the writing or that I found myself reading it like a Newhart monologue.

    The use of the words kill and die so often came across a bit heavy handed.

    Nonetheless I found it a pleasant diversion from the ordinary.

    ***

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Sorry, but in my book the Cliff Notes condensed version of a ludicrous premise is still ludicrous. Not poignant, or heartbreaking, or ruthlessly hilarious, or terrifyingly near-at-hand, but ludicrous.

    I’ll go out on a limb with anyone if some sort of inherent logic makes an implausible premise work. Even if it doesn’t work, I’ll admire the view if the writing warrants it. I did manage to get almost a third of the way through before wanting to murder the narrator. Two stars.

  • I enjoyed this in spite of some odd prise (which was overly generous). I think it’s because I so liked the premise, although it’s been done before (The Island most recently), I still like the idea of the very possible moral delimma that cloning and people farming could present.
    I wasn’t a big fan of the writing in the first half. Maybe I settled into the jarring nature by act two, or maybe the writer settled into a more descriptive mode by presenting (omitted) dialogue with the clone.
    Nonetheless the moral paradox presented by “the question” was a great spot to think on.
    After all, one of my favorite writers, Philip K Dick, was notorious for having very powerful ideas and very questionable (sometimes awful) prose…and still in have this… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f761d676ee5ca70cd25af81d010abd1fbef1e1b50892f67f600363dcf1cd932.jpg

    Thanks for sharing.

  • S Conroy

    In answer to the the philosophical question. No approval! Clones of the world unite. They’re going to kill us anyway so why should we be coerced?!
    My main reading problem (which disqualifies me from voting) was Kazuo Ishuguru’s extremely disturbing masterpiece “Never Let me Go”. I couldn’t stop thinking of it as I read and find it hard to judge the story on its own merits. I think I’d have fared better with Bob Newhart. Thanks for the story.

    • Robert Kibble

      Someone recommended that (Never Let Me Go) to me after I’d written this, saying it reminded them too. I’m glad I hadn’t read it, or I doubt I’d have written this (because obviously Ishiguro is leagues better, and that book is to be heartily recommended). I’d just had a weird thought running around in my head ever since someone said “Basically sheep have done a deal with us – we keep their species alive, but kill and eat them.” I then found myself wondering how much of a good life would it be worth it. Some cultures had people treated like Gods for a year and sacrificed, and if the offer was sixty or seventy years, I reckon most people would go for it. Across the world, how many people get even ten years of luxury?

      • S Conroy

        Yes I’d say you’re right, that a lot of people would. At least if they were given a taster of life and then told relatively early on that their time was shorter than expected. Being told when it’s all over and there’s no more fun to be had might have a few less people joining up.
        Perhaps the clones that believe in an after-life would still give their approval at the bitter end. Or the ones who believed that they had made life better for other loved clones (duty) and that other clones would do the same. It certainly throws up some interesting questions.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          My problems with stories of this type is that nothing can make it seem plausible.

          We can already grow certain human organs in the lab, and there’s great interest in trying to grow others in pigs. Why would you want the expense of growing a whole human being, with all the complicating factors, when you could much more cheaply and much less controversially grow specialized organs on demand? Even the controversy over the use of embryos/embryonic stem cells is becoming moot as we learn to culture any organ we want from an adult’s skin cells, or whatever.

          I find stories like this to be philosophical exercises rather than good meaty sci fi or sci potentiality, and that’s why they annoy me. Society is always willing to, say, murder the stranger 6,000 miles away, but the boarding school of wistful adolescents or the nice neighborly clone? For me, not hardly.

          • S Conroy

            I still think you’d love Never Let Me Go, if you haven’t already read it. The author has a neat solution to most of those objections.

          • I recently had my DNA tested. Turns out I am a sheep clone in werewolf’s clothing.

          • S Conroy

            Lol!

          • I am half man, half bear-pig

          • Dan Keeble

            When I wear my sheepskin coat it encourages the obvious reference to mutton.

          • Nothing in this story can make it seem plausible? Nothing? Maybe not in this particular story, but the concept is HIGHLY probably in a future not too far off, where government has been bought. Let’s talk about Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. I mean, with Science fiction you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy it at all, but in the event that we had farms for bodies, transferring a diseased brain into a healthy body would be impractical. It’d be much more efficient to transfer consciousness. But if brain transplants were easier than transferring consciousness and lets say the benefactor was totally crushed and needed more organs and parts than not…
            Also, lets talk about shelf life. It may be more expensive to keep a whole clone alive for 30 years as an insurance policy but if you have the money, and you’d rather have ANY organ on demand, and fresh, rather than sitting on dialysis for a few months while a set of kidney’s is grown, you could just go grab your spare set and euthanize the host.

            There are celebs today that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on cars and homes, and you think they wouldn’t spring for a NEW BODY?
            and as long as they will, there will be someone willing to sell it to them

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I do not believe in the premise that the clones would be allowed self-aware consciousness, to develop relationships, to love and have aspirations, hopes and dreams, and then be told, sorry, time’s up.

            This set-up makes for four-handkerchief movies, but for someone raised on sci-fi from lo her earliest explorations of the otherwise fairly dull home bookshelves, for whom Rod Serling is the epitome of the coolest guy ever, for whom “Brave New World” was all too terrifyingly plausible–more so than “1984” though we seem doomed to a mashup of both, all too soon–and who tries her hand at the craft herself–no, sorry, doesn’t fly.

          • Clones don’t have to be allowed self awareness… they are no different than any other utero-human in that sense. also, they are kept in happy environments because cortisol management would be key to preserving the integrity of the clone/donor.

            if you are suggesting keeping them sedated then that’s highly illogical… the body you paid for would be atrophied and … just… no.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I’m saying that this particular plot device–and in “Never Let Me Go” (which I haven’t read but somewhat watched the film)–where the only thing separating the clones from the recipients is their fate–doesn’t get past my doorstep. Nor does “The Handmaid’s Tale” for that matter. It’s a lot of games-playing with people’s emotions but it makes me have to keep pushing my curling lip back into place.

            Are there individual bad actors who might kidnap or have kidnapped the perfect match, or who pay illiterate brown women to bear their babies? Sure. But as an accepted, unquestioned national or global program? Nah.

          • S Conroy

            No, not the film! I saw it after reading the book and there is way too much missing. I’m not even sure I could have understood it without having read the book.

            ***
            Oh, I’ve just seen you’re not a fan of the Handmaid’s Tale. Might need to take back that recommendation.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I can’t make it through books like that without putting the breakables in my house in danger. The beautifully elegiac, impeccably crafted novel ending in lost, lost lives, lost–the books that utterly blew me away and made me think I don’t have a hope in hell of growing up to be a writer were Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” which gave me hope (after I’d lost all) that the craft of writing purposeful and stunning novels is not dead.

          • S Conroy

            Ok, stay well clear of Never Let me Go. It’s genuinely depressing. It didn’t let me go, either, for a couple of days.
            I’ve never read either of those books, so thanks for the tip. High time to read something purposeful!

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            They’re about Thomas Cromwell, and as much as we think we know everything there is to know about Henry and his wives, et al–these books make everything vividly fresh and alive.

          • S Conroy

            Cool.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Not a fan of dystopian submission to the overlords, whoever they might be. I’m more of a rebellion and revenge kind of gal–and not the subtle undermining of authority or the sly mockery of, like, current politics under the veil of sci fi, or whatever. Kill ’em or die tryin’, I say…

          • S Conroy

            One of the reasons NLMG was so disturbing is that it was a system in which rebellion did not even occur to the clones. It’s just doesn’t seem to be a thought they can think. So yes, trust your instinct and don’t touch that book.

          • S Conroy

            I think you mean here the beneficiary/donee in that example? (The benefactor would then be the doner.)
            If the donee had Alzheimers and the clone was made to ‘donate’ its brain, wouldn’t it really be the clone who lives on? Or is the science-fiction idea that there is a consciousness somewhere in the donee just waiting for a brain as a piece of hardware it can work with?

          • It seems like you found a way to take everything I said the way I didn’t say it, lol

            Benefactor being the person who is paying for their (the clone’s) existence.
            And, at no point, was I suggesting taking a clone brain, transferring it into a different body and using that brain as a blank slate.

            what I said was that, in this story, it wouldn’t work to transfer a paying customer’s diseased (Alzheimers, etc) brain into a clone… it would be safer to transfer the consciousness of the customer into the cloned brain, which would wipe out the clone’s memories. If, however, the customer’s brain was healthy and it was not practical to transfer consciousness, then they would transplant the customer’s brain into the clone.

          • S Conroy

            I misunderstood how you were using benefactor – thanks for clarification – but didn’t misunderstand Everything. This is actually the answer I was looking for.

            “It would be safer to transfer the consciousness of the customer into the
            cloned brain, which would wipe out the clone’s memories.”

            That would assume one could separate consciousness from the brain. Maybe one fine day… Today it is still true science-fiction.

          • S Conroy

            Hm, haw… I’d say if the nice neighbourly clone is a person’s chance at youth and happiness, it would be as easy to dehumanise them as it would be the stranger 6000 miles away. Or the constructed ‘stranger’ on ones doorstep. Greetings from Berlin..

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I have no problem with the individual moral or ethical failure, and its co-opting of the individual physician or scientist with the sweetener of one’s choice, and that can make a powerful story. Say, the nice neighborly Russian oligarch with some spare acreage in Siberia and the brilliant lab assistant tired of being held back by those pesky standards.

            And sure, we’ve seen some recent hysteria about, say, Ebola and how quickly the populace can start drooling.

            But I still think stories of this kind need to be on the small scale, isolated pockets of madness trying to spread.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Lawyers for the sheep would say the contract didn’t fully disclose the meaning of all the clauses. Sheep don’t mind the shearer or the milker, but they have to be tricked into entering the slaughterhouse.

        Honored sacrificial victims were either chosen by chance, or by coercion, and mostly had nowhere to run to, or were made to believe that attempts to escape would call the vengeance of the gods or whatever down upon their families. So, again, it’s not really a freely entered-into compact. It’s lousy luck.

  • Several times during the reading I wanted to give up. Particularly when the best of life memories had to be drummed up for not much purpose. Never Let Me Go is a wonderful read–this is not it. I found the foundation shallow, the only benefit, ultimately, going to the one percent (owners). How could anyone agree to foster future clones if the life lived didn’t matter, real or not, in the end. Not my gig, sorry.

  • Rose Gardener

    Yesterday I had a conversation somewhat along the same lines with someone suffering severe depression (though I hasten to add I didn’t threaten to kill him!) I hoped to help him see his life was worthwhile in spite of the problems, that a less-than-perfect life was better than no life at all and by wishing himself dead he was implying those worse off than him were leading worthless lives etc.
    So I interpreted this story as an allegory for how worthwhile the process of living makes our lives rather than reading it at face value as being about a sci -fi cloning programme. As a result, I found it thought provoking and marked it highly. Well done, Robert.

    • Robert Kibble

      Thank you.

  • Dan Keeble

    Enjoyed the flow of the story. Never once had to go back upstream to re-read, which I find irritating. The one-sided narrative can be difficult to inject realism into, as witnessed when watching many actors talking at length on the phone. But it seemed to work well for me. Perhaps a little repetitive here and there. Altogether a good light read though.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Reminded me of the film, ‘The Island, a very underrated movie in my opinion. I found the narrator repeating Mr. Green’s questions and comments a bit irksome, but overall a solid enough story.