Unit 4207’s Failed Assignment by Piyali Mukherjee


Decrypted sections of the file are as follows:

Data log attributes: Begun on 5787th day of 23rd Lunar Cycle

Type: Personal

Today was the day I started on the gene project. It was not as complicated as I expected. Unit 5481 tells me the beginning is always easy. All you have to do is choose the number of genes you want to work with. It’s maintaining the culture that’s the nightmare.

The data bank consists of a million different types of genomes. There are some Units who get really creative and make their own chemical combinations, if the ones listed don’t suffice. But these are also the ones that have the lowest survival rates in the laboratory. The Units that take it upon themselves to push the boundaries can afford the failures of the culture simulations. You need to have collected some level of credit in order to make those choices. I have barely any credits to my account. That’s why I’m hoping my first project will work out well enough.

I didn’t know how many to choose from. I needed to definitely do something better than making another useless bacterium with two genomes. 5481 finished his last project yesterday. It was a plant species. 5 genomes. Not too bad for a beginner, I suppose. I need to start with a small number anyway. So, I chose 83 genomes. A fair number. Enough to display my competence with. If things went bad, I could always allot it to a lower level on the food-web and create only a few of them.

There are so many other Units that are using at least a 1000 genomes, and due to lack of space I’ve been assigned to one of their empty cubicles. I feel really awed by their specimens, though theirs are mostly tiny. I register their condescension, but I have to make do with what I have. Hopefully it will all work out…

Data log attributes: Begun on 5825th day of 23rd Lunar Cycle

Type: Personal

5481 told me he’s doing a mammal. 23 genomes. Standard terrestrial format. Two fore appendages. Two end appendages. Sexual reproduction. He’s already completed his first template. Now he’s adding designer touches. He says the designer touches will enable the species to be selected during the demonstrations. I asked him what he’s doing to it. He won’t tell me. Competitive confidentiality, or some such subroutine. I don’t believe it.

The culture is coming along beautifully. Multiple epidermal layers. Extended appendages on my own customized arboreal reptile format. I wonder if that classifies as “diverse” enough? Sexual reproduction, as well. It’s a complex design, but hopefully, the creature should grow out okay. I’m simultaneously creating another female. So that I can prove that the species is self-sustaining.

I peeked into some of the other specimens today. Especially some of the ones from the laboratory cubicles next door. The 1000 genome creatures seem to be very physically small. One of them caught me employing my snigger subroutine at the simulations of their specimens. They glowered at me and threatened to have me reported for trespass. Such bullies. Why do I get all the bullies all the time?

Ah well, dimensions had never been an evaluating criteria for survival. Insects. Most of them are categorized under entomological names. I worried for a bit what would happen if my culture grew before theirs and my creature started feeding on their specimens. I would be in unimaginable trouble. Not only that, what if they decided to tamper with my specimen? So, I took extra care to lock my laboratory. The other Units might be highly venerated, but we were still competing to create fine creatures of the food web.

In terms of the designer touches that 5481 was talking about, I think I’m going to create a whole new phylum for myself. Why should I classify my first endeavor under some already known phylum? I was going to make my own. it would have its own food web. It’s own food chain. It was going to be brilliant. One of the best species put down on the Petri dish we had fondly labeled “Earth”.

Data log attributes: Begun on 6201st day of 25th Lunar Cycle

Type: Personal

I am so dead. I should have never started on this project in the first place. How in the universe did I ever think this was going to work out properly?

When I walked into the lab today, I bumped into 5481. He seemed to be using his smug subroutine at maximal levels. I enquired why. Says he finished his specimen. He was going to present it today, even. Then I walked into my lab to discover that I had been locked out of it. Spite, no doubt. The other Units in the lab jeered at me while their 1000 genome annoying tiny things buzzed to life and I was still trying to unlock my door. Fairness does not compute. How does locking my door justify an inescapable snigger on the size of their specimens my part?

More so, without the diurnal addition of nutrients, my culture was going to be ruined. By the time the authorities got my cubicle unlocked, the DNA was almost unraveling. Oh, my sensors were overloaded with sniggers from the rest of the laboratory. More so, now my emergency panic sub-routines are rapidly executing themselves, so while they are running around in my CPU, I can only panic. I am just a novice. This sort of unjust behavior is mean. Meanness is a valid result. It does compute.

What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?

I passed over to 5481’s cubicle in search of some assistance. His laboratory had been cleaned out. His presentation was successful and the authorities had agreed to placing his specimen on the planet. It was moderately sized hominid. Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia. A fine addition to the library of primates. Due to the genetic flexibility, it would even evolve to other forms in the future and diverge, so it was going to be a lovely stable creature in the ecosystem. Formally known as Hominidae Pan troglodytes. Turns out, as a joke, 5481 called his design “Ape”. He wanted a simple name.


My secondary coolant engines are locking into place now. I should be able to generate some ideas given the time constraint. After all, I am not a dysfunctional machine. Generating ideas is my job. I can do this.

The first algorithm my heated CPU churns out is to steal 5481’s specimen. Before, the sanitizers eradicate all traces of the DNA tomorrow, I could have collected enough samples to create a copy of the creature. I still had the modification systems in place, so perhaps I could use the “Ape’s” fabled genetic flexibility and add something extra to the creature without making it appear like blatant plagiarism. If things turned out well, I wouldn’t need a new phylum. My species would be comfortably tucked into the same level as 5481’s in the food web. We could call each other hominid buddies and design friendship subroutines and I would still have my job and everything would be all right and all I needed was 12 hours to accomplish this.

Then my absolutely unnecessary morality core kicked in, and I wondered if stealing was really such a good idea. Why not just create a parasite that fed on the so-called “insects” and reduce their numbers? Computationally, it seemed like a good idea. It would finally equate the fairness. But then, it was beyond my time constraint, so I think I will design it for my next project.

With a small spatula, I collected some of the DNA off 5481’s simulator. Now I had to modify it enough to make it appear as unrecognizable to 5481 as possible. At first I wondered about physiological changes. How about white fur instead of black fur or something? Too superficial. Everyone would know. How about carnivorous appetites? How about symbiosis with the environment? Too much to alter in too little span of time. Must go work now before 5481’s samples are also lost.

Data log attributes: Begun on 6202nd day of 25th Lunar Cycle

Type: Personal

Finally, the specimens are complete. It has a lot less body hair, for one. 3% genetic variation across all evolutionary forms. I’m sorry. I haven’t had my stand-by cycle yet, so I’m probably very incoherent right now. I’m sure when I read back this entry later, my data processing centers will understand what I wanted to say. Fortunately, the review by the authorities went off well. They assumed it was a standard primate, nothing too exceptional. Which is correct. My genius was ruined by “insects”.

They asked me about the designer touches. I had given this a lot of thought. So, I actually made a neural adaptation to the creatures, whereby they could extend their own sense of being. It was very subtle (very easy to implement as well) and not so apparent. I made the creatures self-adaptive. I think the local term for that is “intelligent”. You can locate in the directory under sentient. Designed a few evolutionary stages for it. For one thing, I removed most of the body hair from the 5481’s beloved “Ape”. 5481 cannot stop talking about it. I emphasized a bit on the sexual dimorphism, made it omnivorous. All the slight subtle changes.

Due to the exceptional glory of 5481’s design, he has his own family of species. Due to the not-so-surprising similarity with 5481’s design, they also classified it as a hominid. There you go. I don’t have much to expect of this creature, since it is so similar in genetics to 5481’s. It should be okay in the existing ecosystem. I’m expecting it will be extinct in probably 8 million years, which is a normal number for a creature of such biological mediocrity. I’ve parked it mid way in the food web, so it can be consumed as well. Just in case my creation gets too annoying for the likes of 5481’s.

I don’t know if giving the creature added intelligence and cognitive capabilities was a good idea or not. It seemed to be the only sort of designer touch I could add to an already well-conceptualized work like 5481’s. I don’t know if it has any remarkable biological value or not. Don’t think it does. It’s too puny to survive most of the big ones on the planet, anyway. Hmmm, I must deactivate my pessimism subroutine.

That was the story of my creation. It’s listed formally under the records as Homo habilis. It has a few other fancy evolutionary stages, I put in, just to evade close scrutiny by those who thought it was frighteningly alike to 5481’s. I don’t experience any grandiloquence when I record their names, since I can’t even tell if they’ll be able to make it that long. But here they are: Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis and maybe Homo sapiens, if it lives that long. So finally I get to call it my own name. I wanted to call it “Hoo-mahn”. Or maybe “Human?” It is not as aesthetic as “Ape”. But I think it will suffice. Besides, I always wanted to name my own species. The authorities may choose to add a suffix or a prefix if they think it has too many similarities with the original hominid name.

At any rate, this entire experience in the laboratory is something I want to put behind me as soon as possible while I enjoy some uninterrupted stand-by cycles. The other units say it’s not bad for a beginner. 5481 had started out skeptical during the presentation. But at the end of it, he was convinced. Unimpressed, but convinced. Now I had better encrypt these logs before anyone finds out that I stole his specimens…..

Warning: The data you are trying to access has been corrupted. Erasure of those sections is in progress.


Piyali Mukherjee


Header image: DNA Micro-array: By Duncharris at en.wikipedia ([1] Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


12 thoughts on “Unit 4207’s Failed Assignment by Piyali Mukherjee

  1. Funny and clever, Piyali! I really like it. I can’t remember who, but someone said our consciousness was a mistake in terms of evolution. Perhaps it was just a poet and not a scientist (you know better than I) but I think it’s fascinating nonetheless. A fine story! ATVB

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clever, well-written, humorous…I keep ticking boxes with this one. I’ve read this one several times Piyali and I’ve always loved it. Great stuff and thanks for sharing it with us. Cheers, Nik

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Piyali, I am a little late to the party! I can’t say anything that has already been said about this wonderful, thoughtful and very intelligent piece of work. It was a pleasure to read.
    All the very best.


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