Beta and the other clones got to work immediately. Beta didn’t have any firsthand knowledge, but she believed her teachers when they said the children’s colonies were much better behaved than the natural-born schools. Choosing exactly who should be cloned led to a very subservient and intelligent community.
The new assignment quickly behind her, Beta looked around the room before starting in on the review work. Her classmates all had their heads studiously bowed over the screens. Beta had great affection for the others. Not only were they fellow students, but they were the only constant family she had. Teachers and caregivers came in and out of their lives but this cohort had been together for fifteen years. They had been raised together in the dormitories, learned to walk and talk and read and calculate and exercise and cook and clean and care for themselves and each other together.
And now, this class was going to determine their futures. Because society told them that they were soon going to need to specialize and give back to the communities that had supported and raised them for so long. Supposedly, Beta and everyone else’s abilities and talents had been analyzed for their entire lives and would help determine their assignments. Beta, however, suspected that science and statistics had determined what her career would be long before she was born; that she had been cloned with the intention of filling a projected position in twenty years.
A large proportion of Beta’s cohort would be trained for human care—either within the children’s colonies or with the geriatric class. With modern medicine, the elderly were living longer and longer and the group was always expanding. And to provide adequate touch, mental stimulation, nutrition and education to the children, a huge corps of caregivers was needed. The world had learned over the years from dismal orphanages how not to care for parentless children. The children’s colonies were actually a warm and wonderful place to grow up in. Society funded and knew how to take care of the people it created. But it took an awful lot of work. No wonder so many humans were opting out of parenting. The toll on two people to provide for a single child was enormous both financially and emotionally. And really, what was the payoff? So much invested and so little return for the parents. Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on a single child and then that child was sent out into the world and provided for him or herself and paid taxes and contributed to society, but it never trickled back to the parents in any concrete form to repay them for their childrearing efforts.
At one time, everyone had been so worried about overpopulation. When the birthrate dipped below the replacement levels of 2.1 and kept falling and falling, people were thrilled for a while. Environmentally, a decreased population was excellent news. But, it didn’t take too long to realize that a falling population equaled economic disaster. There were simply not enough workers to support the aging class. New support systems were in place now, but Social Security in the United States and other programs like it had gone under before people could understand how to deal with the upside down demographics. It was the first time in the history of the world that sustained underpopulation had wreaked havoc on economic systems—systems that had been created with the supposition that the human race would never cease to expand. The government had created the cloning systems to prop up what everyday humans were failing to deliver—human capital in the form of workers.
People could opt in to the cloning program upon their death, much like they could choose to be an organ donor. Beta had heard that most people chose to be included in the selection pool. A lot of people liked the idea of giving their genes another lifetime of opportunity even if it was for a clone. But, not many people were actually chosen to be replicated. There was always a careful balance between natural reproduction and the cloning program. Governments aimed for a very slight population growth to sustain their economies. Governments could afford to be choosy about which characteristics they gave second life to.
The advantage to natural conception is that sometime genetics deals an amazing hand and society ends up with a genius. Of course, most naturals are just ordinary folks. And the harsh reality of random conception is the unintentional creation of a psychopath. But society had been dealing with evil for millennia. And society would continue to deal with the whole range of human variation, because for whatever reason—religion, biological drive, hubris—some people still decided to go natural and create and raise their own children. The cloning program was a safeguard to keep society running steadily while humans constantly introduced surprises to it.
Beta looked up as Professor Emil and three members of the board entered the room. This was it. This is where Beta would receive her Pathways assignment. She had imagined that there would somehow be more ceremony when she found out what her future held. “Students,” Professor Emil began, “as you well know, this Pathways class is where your futures will begin to divide, where you will begin to specialize in the career that has been chosen for you. We believe that each pathway will be well suited to your unique talents and abilities. This will be an opportunity for you to give back to the society that has raised and nurtured you. We thank you in advance for your humility in accepting your assignments. Please stand when your name is called.”