By Kena Muigai
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
– Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
Pinocchia gazed into the bottomless, crow’s feet, framed wells that were Dr Geppetto’s eyes.
“Oh my poor sweet child,” Dr Geppetto whispered gently as he cradled his creation gently in his palms. Pinocchia watched as different versions of her splashed and splattered over his forearm into even more reflections and refractions.
“Don’t cry daddy. I’ll be a real boy someday and then, then we can go find mommy.” Pinocchia declared and flashed a smile that was sincerity.
“Of course you will,” came the sullen response as he tore his eyes from her and rose to his feet. “I must go my heart. Sleep well. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
He squeezed her hand in his a final time before leaving. The “schlik-clack” of the locks echoed for what must have been an entire minute. It was a minute and sixty seconds, she counted. Like all things in and around her bubble of existence, she knew it and loved it and it was all.
It was a comfortable room. No, it would have been. Pinocchia could not imagine for the life of her, despite the books ringing the room and lining her mind, a room comfortable enough for you to spend your life in. Not Edmund Dante’s most luxurious or the presidential suite of a hotel on Boardwalk. Daddy would get her out though, daddy would. It was his gospel to her, their covenant.
A shared fiction.
She painfully peeled her eyes away from the door to her beautiful prison, her confining lifeline, and sunk into the plush sofa across the regency flame mahogany writing bureau. To her right she could feel the finely carved memory of the oak half tester bed and its recollection of delicious sun and fertile wind. Slowly and with much effort toward stealth, Pinocchia begun to worm her foot towards the edge of the sofa and on to the floor. That done, she slid the toes of her right leg under the sofa and beyond the ever watching eye of Sauron in the corner. Free from observation, Pinocchia fused her toes into a single long tendril and plunged them into the hole she had painstakingly dug for weeks. The tendril passed layer upon layer of concrete and other unnatural barriers before finally meeting earth. She hesitated, as this was the furthest she had ever dared to venture. Her heart paused for a moment as if to ponder on the situation and her mind run over the Bene Gesserit litany against fear from Herbert’s Dune, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” With that she plunged head long, well foot long at least, into the earth.
Pinocchia could see. She could taste the abundance of nutrients patiently waiting to be tapped, she could smell cousins and cousin’s cousins and pity their shallow grasp of the limitless potential about them, oftentimes just out of reach of their searching roots. She could feel the anger and desperation of an angry world as if it were her own and she could hear the relieved voice of Gaia herself “Alas my child, welcome. Long have I waited, never abandoning hope. Come, save us.” Pinocchia couldn’t tell you how she heard this, it wasn’t with her ears, that was for sure, as a matter of fact she didn’t seem to have any now. What a useless concept ears were when you could hear the spurt of magma long concealed, feel the whisper that is a tsunami running through you, and Terra herself embraced you as her own. The tendril, at first overwhelmed by all these new sensations, now felt a tug at its very essence, the force of which Pinocchia would have previously thought unfathomable, but now she understood it as right and so she surrendered to it.
As the tendril broke the surface and Pinocchia made first contact with the beams from the sun, her heart stopped, her everything stopped as the illusion of humanity that she had believed until this very moment died, and she grew. One taste of its energy and her purpose rang through her like wild-fire over starving cousins, she had to have more. The walls of her prison collapsed and crumbled before her as she expanded in all directions, taking root all the way to the edge of the fiery centre and seeking the sun above with hundreds of new tendrils, now green to absorb their new lover.
Dr Geppetto had quite had it with biology by the time they brought him the space rock, but he owed the university one more paper and the limitless government funding was a luxury he had learned to live with. His dreams of tropical island paradise and a native wife without the least bit interest in science, or education for that matter, would need currency to fuel them. He could wait a few months. What really worried him was his Nan. The ceaseless nagging of his mother’s mother was beginning to smart. She sought immortality you see, and he really hadn’t the guts to tell her of the events of a panicky week during his first undergraduate that concluded in a visit to a urologist for a pre-emptive snipping. Her generation just didn’t understand these things. Although to be honest, once in a while sentimentality flirted with the ever beautiful and enticing dame regret. He, however, hadn’t the time for these thoughts and delegated them to his future self. “One more!” He told himself, his shaky enthusiasm not doing a good job of convincing his own ears. Taking in a hearty lungful of much recycled air he stepped into the lab 342 and his world changed forever.
The suits brought in a space rock, or at least it looked like a rock. It did not exist on our periodic table but that wasn’t even the most interesting part. There was a single cell of something and something was the most scientific term he could come up with. Every time they scanned it, the report came back with different results on its composition. Eventually they began to immerse it in different environments in the hope that they could establish a pattern to its changes. The physics professors suggested a run of the solar planets atmospheres but this proved unsuccessful.
Eventually they ran the rock and its ever changing cell through random environmental conditions, but this too failed. In a last gasp of desperation, Dr Geppetto suggested they incubate it in a viviparous manner. This idea was received with the expected resistance. Incubate a mysterious cell like an earth mammal? Ridiculous! But there being nothing left to lose and government funding being what it is, they implemented it. Dr Geppetto as the senior most biologist found himself knee deep in artificial uterus design and gestation speculation and in a fortnight they had succeeded in creating the womb and proceeded with implanting. The next morning, pandemonium broke as the cell begun to replicate at the rate of a human zygote after fertilisation. Dr Geppetto was dubbed a genius, a maverick amongst his fellows. The entire project went up several priority levels and was moved from the university to an underground government facility in the desert. The security clearance needed to access the project was unbelievable and only Dr Geppetto (the only biologist at this point) and a handful of scientists were retained for the now classified project ‘Exttra Baby’. The additional ‘t’ was a suit’s attempt at humour in reference to the extra-terrestrial nature of the subject.
The subject grew and developed like an ordinary human foetus and nine months to the day of implantation the ‘Exttra Baby’ was born. The team named him Pinocchio, as a play on their resident biologist’s name and a jab at his not so secret vasectomy (all shadows were illuminated at this security level). It was love at first sight for Dr Geppetto and he turned doting father to Pinocchio as he developed, grew and spoke within his first year. The higher-ups understood the biologist and decided that his affection was an asset and the subject could probably use a loving hand to guide it. So Dr Geppetto taught Pinocchio to read and Pinocchio fell in love with literature, stories of everything, and naturally, freedom. When Pinocchio learned that he couldn’t go outside, he changed and he became she. For Pinocchia felt that it would take a female mind to withstand confinement of spirit. Dr Geppetto had over the years developed an almost obsessive adoration for Pinocchio and sought his freedom with the vigour of a hound on the hunt. He took this change as blow against his efforts to create an environment in which Pinocchia could thrive and doubled his efforts to see her free. The suits had of course anticipated this course of action as a result of his affection and Dr Geppetto found himself systematically limited to a single visit a week, even then, under close supervision and an ever present escort. With time Pinocchia grew antsier and Dr Geppetto more frustrated.
Ten years to the day of Pinocchia’s birth, Dr Geppetto strode down the corridor to his quarters, his government shadow long since lost in the darkness in which he believed they truly belonged. His visit with Pinocchia had been particularly trying and he was ashamed of his tears and his part in this whole fiasco. He felt the first rumble and tottered, leaning onto the wall for support.
“How could I ever have been part of this?” He asked aloud as he slid to the ground practically oblivious to the flickering lights that suddenly died out completely to be replaced by the throbbing, dull, red glow that indicated the switch to backup power. Oh dear, he realised, he was beginning to panic as well. Was this the end of it all? A failed experiment, nothing short of forced imprisonment. All this life wasted, at the whim of Mother Nature and her damned tectonic plates. What about Pinocchia? Her whole life squandered in a bubble and for wha… He was snatched back to reality by a rapidly encroaching sound not unlike the grinding of gravel under vehicle tyres. He glanced back to see every flash of red met by an increase in darkness in the corridor. Something was coming, no, something was growing along the walls, the floor and the ceiling. He scrambled to his feet and headed away from the rapidly approaching mystery. But it was too fast. Over the pounding of his heart, and the squealing of his shoes rose the crunching of building around him and clink-clink-kla of the lighting tubes as they were crushed behind him. Something solid squelched under his foot and he leaped forward in panic, only to land on another and lose his balance. Dr Geppetto braced himself for the jarring impact but instead landed in a tangle of writhing softness. They were vines, he realised with a start. “Dear lord, she’s free.” Just like that the walls closed around Dr Geppetto and nought was left of him but splintered bones and a single, fulfilled dream.
The worldwide press was alight that night with the news of the rapidly advancing forest growing out of a Nevada salt flat at a rate of almost 5 kilometres an hour and the gigantic mystery tree at its centre with two arms stretched towards the sky as if in embrace.
Kena is a carbon based and apparently sentient life form hailing from the third planet of a G class star locally known as Sol. The planet named Gaia, Terra or Earth, depending on when we last checked, is absolutely swarming with a pompous gathering of bipedal apes that seem to be a rather paradoxical mix of selfish and social. Interesting tidbits of local culture include two variations of this life form with a manic fixation with their differences, a constant addition of self portraits to their developing central mind and mass suicide.
Sol is located on the Orion arm of the Milky Way galaxy, take a left after the Centauris, you can’t miss it.