Embla loved the sunsets the most. They would both climb the small hill outside the House and, breathless and panting, plop themselves down on the top of it. She would tuck her arm around her brother, Ask, and lay her head on his shoulder while the two of them wordlessly watched the molten, crimson light drip across the horizon darkening as the world slipped into night. Far above, the twinkling stars would creep out and they would lie back and try to find the one that Keeper came from, guessing what it must be like way up there.
Eventually, she would sigh and stand up. Ask would nod, and they would return to the House and eat the supper it had prepared for them before doing their evening lessons. With the Moons high in the sky and when they started yawning, the House would inform them that it was time to sleep and they would then drag themselves to bed.
“I’m sure Keeper will visit tomorrow, Emmy,” Ask would reassure her as they climbed into bed and the House turned off its light and locked them in for the night. Outside they might hear a nighttime bird’s cooing or maybe even a distant howl but inside the House it would be quiet, only broken by Embla’s yawning and Ask continuing his reassurances, “Maybe then Keeper will tell us that we are ready, Emmy, maybe he’ll even take us back with him. Maybe we’ll finally get to see his star…”
Embla would smile dozily, tucking one of her arms under her pillow and the other around her brother. She would then ask the House to tell them the Purpose, again, and–despite Ask’s lame protests against hearing it again–the House would always oblige.
“Children, all life has a purpose and all life has value,” the House would warmly intone, “The Keepers preserve what exists, protect what is endangered, and regrow what was lost. Many years ago, your race, homo sapiens, were lost and, now, the Keepers have regrown you two from lost genetics–“
But Embla and Ask would already be fast asleep by then. If the House could smile or if it had been programmed to do so, it would have smiled then. The incubatory Artificial Intelligence and dwelling would stop speaking and slip quietly back into streaming the data it was collecting towards the one twinkling star in the night sky outside.
“Emmy! Emmy!” Ask’s excited voice penetrated her foggy dreams long before her brother’s hands grabbed her resting arm and shook her, “Emmy!“
“Y-yes, Ask?” she mumbled, yawning and rubbing her eyes as she sat up in bed, “What is it? Wha–“
“Keeper is here!” her brother said, scarcely hiding the quivering excitement in his voice, “Keeper is here and he wants to talk to both of us.”
Like a bolt of lightning through her veins, the news woke Embla up and she leaped from their bed. Overnight, the House had put out a fresh set of clothes for her, so she quickly threw them on and then chased after her brother as he ran outside.
The Sun was shining with clouds streaking the brilliant blue sky. Daytime birds were tweeting and insects buzzing around her as she ran after her brother’s scampering form. Amidst the greens, browns and blues of the warm, temperate land, her brother was running directly to the object that stuck out: a tall, gleaming metallic being standing before them like a pillar out of an earlier, more advanced age.
“She’s coming, Keeper! Emmy’s coming,” her brother was shouting at Keeper as he ran and she was shouting over him, “I’m coming! I’m coming, Keeper! I’m coming!”
They both arrived, panting, before Keeper, his lithe, metallic body glittering in the direct sunlight as his erudite form towered over their smaller, softer ones.
“Ask and Embla,” Keeper began talking as he smoothly knelt down to their level–although his deep, monotone voice rung out loudly as he spoke, he had no mouth and no lips moved as the words seem to originate within him, “I am glad you are both well. The House tells me how well you are growing and that you are keeping up with all your lessons. I am very proud of you both. We all are. Now–come sit down–I have something to tell you both.”
Both children nodded vigorously in agreement and plopped, cross-legged onto the ground. Keeper remained kneeling before them, his silver form sparkling brilliantly.
“Children,” Keeper began, and both Ask and Embla leaned closer not wanting to miss a single word, “All life has a purpose and all life has value. The Keepers preserve what exists, protect what is endangered, and regrow what was lost. We do this because it is our Purpose. Our Creators built us as their own organic race was going extinct with the sole purpose of repopulating their genetics and, to this end, we continue trying to achieve this Purpose. In this pursuit, though, we ourselves are not perfect and our knowledge and science have limits. Do you understand what I am telling you, children?”
“Yes, Keeper,” Ask nodded quickly, “Our own species has gone extinct and you have brought us back to life to save our species. You do this because this is your Purpose.”
Keeper nodded, his metallic domed head flashing like some chrome ball in the sunlight, “Yes, Ask, you are correct, but in the case of homo sapiens, our science has limits. You see, Ask, your sister Embla and you are infertile. The cloning process has given you life but neither of you will be able to procreate further homo sapiens and there is nothing yet that we can do about this. Maybe one day we will be able to fix this but that day is not today and, unfortunately, that science will not be part of either of your futures.”
Both children’s face contorted as they tried to understand this news and then Embla put her hand up.
“Yes, Embla,” Keeper said, “What is it?”
“Uh–Keeper,” Emmy began, stumbling over her words a little, “D-does that mean that we do not have a Purpose then?”
Keeper reached out and put both his cold, metal hands on each of their shoulders and gently squeezed them reassuringly.
“No, Embla, not at all. All life has a Purpose because all life has value. It is just not obvious what yours is, yet.”
Keeper stood up slowly and extended an arm to Embla, who quickly stood up and took it. Keeper’s fingers were cold and hard, metal casings with wondrous technology and lights from a forgotten age coursing through them. Ask jumped up too and grabbed his sister’s hand tightly.
“Children,” Keeper began, “You must go pack what you wish to bring with you. It will be a long voyage but I am going to take you back home with me. Now, run back and pack–and say goodbye and thank you to the House for looking after you.”
It was all a blur for Embla and Ask, running back to the House with their hearts pounding in their chests. The House had obviously known that this was happening and there were two neat bags on the now-made bed. Ask grabbed both of them, helping his sister, and then–tears streaming down Embla’s cheeks and, more than just a few slipping out of Ask’s eyes–they both told the House how much they were going to miss her and said their fondest goodbyes to the only home they had ever known. If the House could cry or if it had been programmed to do so, it would have cried then.
Finally, just as they left, each of them did what they had always done, and stuck their fingers into a tiny little hole in the wall where a small pin pricked the tips of their finger…
Then they were running towards Keeper’s stationary form, who took them by their tiny hands and walked them towards his softly humming, hovering starship. The starship’s light flared up and engulf them, lifting them into its embrace. As Ask and Embla slipped into cryogenic stasis pods, they saw Keeper integrating with the starship; his hands becoming part of the ship and his form merged with its metallic structure.
And then there was darkness.
“Ask, Embla,” Keeper’s deep, monotone voice radiated through the darkness and Embla’s eyelids flickered open, “Children, it is time to wake up. We are home.”
Embla yawned and rubbed her eyes. Her head felt foggy and her limbs felt heavy. She quickly looked to her side and breathed a small sigh of relief to see Ask there also waking up.
“W-where are we, Keeper?” Embla asked.
“We are home,” Keeper repeated simply. He stood up and step back, sweeping a hand before them revealing a wondrous landscape. It had the same greens, browns and blues of where they had just come from but there were also strange, crumbling structures everywhere. Some had rusting, metal bones jutting out from them and others were nearly entirely swallowed by vines, creepers and bushes, “Children, we are home. The Creators called this planet Earth.”
Ask stood up and took a shaky step or two before turning to his sister, “Come Emmy, come on,” he grabbed her hand and tugged, “Come on, get up!”
Embla stood and up and followed her brother. Keeper led both of them out of the strange, roofless, crumbling building they had been in and out into the open, amidst the greens, browns and blues with all the Creators’ ruins around them.
Suddenly, she saw movement and there was a large bunch of other homo sapiens walking towards them. Some of them were very old and hunched over, moving slowly and leaning on their partners. Others were middle-aged or young adults. All of them looked strangely familiar and bizarrely recognizable and, only when Embla saw the children, did she realize why.
The children–always in pairs–looked exactly like her and Ask! Or, Ask and she looked exactly the same as them. All the pairs were slightly different–some pairs had red, black or blonde hair others were slightly taller or shorter, some had darker or lighter skin–but all were unmistakably the same. All were like Ask and her, and she and Ask were like them.
And then they were surrounded by all their fellow clones of different vintages and Keeper was introducing them, “Everyone, this is Ask and Embla. Ask and Emmy, this is Adam and Eve, this is Kaliyan and Kalicchi. Here’s Nata and Nena, and Fu Xi & Nüwa, and Yama and Yamuna…”
If the House could sigh or if it had been programmed to do so, it would have sighed loudly and then sunk into a chair with its face in its hands. However, as an incubatory Artificial Intelligence and dwelling, the House merely opened a new file and added another digit to it before accessing its genetic archives.
“The previous iteration remained infertile and is considered a failure. Archiving results and opening a new file. New file: Number eight-dash-fifteen thousand, four hundred and ninety-eight,” the House began, no emotion creeping into her synthetic voice, “Iteration one hundred and six of genetic alteration TY-047. DNA sequence for this iteration initiated and the data stream is being connected.”
Far below the greens, browns and blues of that temperate planet’s surface and connected to and, indeed, part of the House, a great, sterile cavern underground filled with blinking lights, wondrous machines from a lost age of science and vials of genetic material whirred into action.
Days later, two children–Líf and Lífþrasir–that looked the same as Ask and Embla opened their eyes for the first time. They were lying in the bed in the House and, bewildered, they sat up, clinging to each other and looking wildly around them.
“Children,’ the House warmly intoned with data streaming in the background, “All life has a purpose and all life has value. The Keepers preserve what exists, protect what is endangered, and regrow what was lost. Many years ago, your race, homo sapiens, were lost and, now, the Keepers have regrown you two from lost genetics.”