Where do babies come from? I mean, really come from?

This entry is part 20 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

One of the things about a five and a half-year absence is you get a certain… backlog. Especially when you do things like answer questions and explain things about the hidden world behind our own. Some folks have wondered if I’m nervous if the current myth calls are quiet. The answer there is, simply enough, ‘no,’ because I’ve got dozens of questions that stretch back into the mists of time.

Which is not to say I won’t answer a newly asked question in a timely fashion. Writing is many things, but it’s not fair.

Today’s question was asked back on Monday, September 7, 2007 by a gentleman (I unwarrantedly assume) hight Joel Wilcox. Mister Wilcox asked:

Where do babies come from? Not sex or cells or the stork … where do they really come from?

It’s a fair question. One that mythologists, hacks and eight year old children (and Piers Anthony, who at one time or another was each of those things) have been asking for roughly as long as the species knew what a child was. Now, having had the scientific explanation short circuited (and rightfully so), and the traditional stork answer forestalled, the question remains.

Where do babies come from? I mean… really come from.

*** *** *** ***

There is, of course, a deeper question one could ask. Where does life come from? That answer is beyond the scope of this article. Another answer beyond the scope of this article is “does life begin at conception” or other such things. Why? Because your humble narrator is chickenshit and not going near any of that crap, thank you very much.

No, what we’re going to discuss are the actual babies themselves. Not the conception and development of fetuses, not the genesis of their souls, and not the marrying of one to the other. Ask your parents about the first, if you’re unfamiliar. Ask your preferred priest or spiritual guide about the second — or bring it up in one of the open myth calls and I’ll think about giving you the answer. Getting me drunk is another good method, as is bribery. As for the third, ask your country’s legislative body.

Regardless, ‘babies’ didn’t just show up one day. Believe it or not, there was a pretty involved development process, which started not with offspring but with human beings themselves. You see, for quite some time sentience was the purview of the spirits, nymphs, daemons and the like, and mortality was exclusively represented by animals. And not even the more intelligent animals — no dolphins, no gorillas, no sparrows–

What? Oh. Oh yeah. Sparrows are shockingly intelligent. Their dumb act is just that — an act. When the behind the scenes crew worked out the evolutionary links for us to discover later, they actually connected the velociraptors straight down to the sparrows. And, as Jurassic Park taught us, velociraptors were intelligent enough to develop information technology. But I digress.

Anyhow. It was decided by upper management that the mundane world was not being put to appropriate productive use by the beasts of the sea, land and air. Possibly because they weren’t only dumber than a sack of hammers, but couldn’t even recognize a bag of hammers. As that was ultimately deemed a waste, the R&D department was assigned a project to develop a mundane sentient species capable of complex tasks and personal intellectual growth while also being gullible enough to be talked into backbreaking manual labor.

When the specifications came down from the appropriate authorities, they were given over to a team of muses, nymphs and the minor gods and spirits of metal and stone. And among all those luminaries, the best pure engineer an Oread named McIntyre. McIntyre was one of those geniuses who could marry aesthetics and functionality into a single form. She had been successful in developing giraffes, giving them a unique ecological niche while also making them funny. Similarly, when it was discovered that otters couldn’t get at the delicious shellfish they craved, and most of her unit wanted to give them giant claw hands, McIntyre quietly added a patch teaching them to hit the things with a rock.

Confronted with the requirements, McIntyre took her time and carefully designed the first concept human. Said concept human was significantly more streamlined than the first generation, of course, and some of her team added fins, but it got the gist right and it was leaps and bounds above the six-foot tall furred pig with the spider legs that the competing team came up with. Getting the contract, McIntyre and her team set about creating the first production humans.

However. There were no babies included in the design document. It’s not that the idea was unknown — there were puppies and kittens and the like already implemented in production animals. However, there wasn’t any reason to include a reproductive system, because the human tech brief specified immortality. There really wasn’t a need for human beings to die, at least in the original design specifications. Humans could conceptualize, could plan, could remember and record information. That led to new truths, and everyone involved with the design process saw no good reason to introduce an end of life cycle. After all, no one was getting paid to produce these humans. No one wanted to add in planned obsolescence given no direct benefit.

Well, almost no one.

“We’re designing mundane creatures,” McIntyre snapped at Geisel, a centaur middle manager that oversaw her unit, “You can’t make them open-ended — the terrestrial environment isn’t designed for it and their mental storage capacity is too limited.”

“You’re being too modest,” Geisel said, somewhat distracted. He was coordinating multiple projects at that point, and honestly he didn’t see much future in the bipedal thinking creatures. At least, not compared to Project: Cheetah or Project: Marmoset. Things that were a little more photogenic. So McIntyre bothering him over trivialities wasn’t his favorite thing. “I’m sure they’ll be just fine.”

McIntyre rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I’m the one who designed them,” she answered, “and even if cognitive storage works much more efficiently than we’ve modeled, I’m telling you mundane immortality is a bad idea. Mundane existence isn’t designed for it. It’s why nothing else out there is immortal.”

“Nothing else is capable of thinking about its own mortality. Don’t you think it would be cruel to give them the capacity to anticipate their own deaths?”

“I think cruelty takes a lot of different forms.”

“Yes, well. Besides, if their lifestyle is finite, we’ll need to keep replacing them.”

“We designed them to be self renewing!” McIntyre was getting irate.

“Oh, like it’s efficient to have them sitting around hatching eggs!”

McIntyre took a deep breath. “They’re mammals,” she said through clenched teeth. “They bear their young live.”

“Oh, right. And you’re mad we took that out? Being capable of understanding the pregnancy process would be more cruel than contemplating mortality. Though the mating urge was a good idea… They’ll enjoy that so much they’ll work twice as hard just to impress each other.”

McIntyre took a deep breath. “You know what?” she said. “Fine. Fine. Do whatever you want.”

Geisel smiled. It was a condescending smile. “Of course. Look. These… humans… are about to have a test run. At this point, it’s all shaking out bugs anyhow, and they’re having trouble over at Project: Cheetah. Why don’t you go work with them? We’ll get your subordinates to finish up and perform initial Q and A.”

“It’s ‘QA.’ Q and A means ‘question and answer.’ And wait — you’re taking me off the project? Why — because I won’t roll over and accept a stupid idea?”

“Not at all. Obviously you’ll be involved and if there are any real problems you’ll be brought back in full-time. But right now, Project: Cheetah’s run into a few snags. It seems that they’re spinning out and going off the test track whenever they really get up to speed, and nothing seems to help. Maybe if you put some of your expertise–”

McIntyre closed her eyes. Her head hurt. “They’re felines,” she said. “They have retractable claws, and they’re missing active deployment during the full run. Set them to stay deployed. That’ll give them all the traction they need even at speed. Now can I get back to work?”

“You see? That’s why we need you on higher visibility projects than these… bipeds. This is… well, it’s a good project and all, but there’s bigger fish in the sea, you know.”

“I know. I helped design them. And there’s no bigger project in this firm right now. These humans are going to define us for the next hundred cycles, Geisel.”

Geisel chuckled. “I’m sure you think so,” he said. “But really. Have another look at those giraffes of yours. That’s the kind of project that has staying power. These humans — they’re just another platypus.”

“I had nothing to do with the fucking plat–

McIntyre. Don’t you swear at me or to me. You’re on cheetahs. Get going.”

McIntyre stared, then threw her hand up, making an aggravated noise as she stormed down the hall.

Geisel watched her go, then turned to leave. He saw a satyr watching him from the water cooler. “Oreads,” he said. “Am I right? Sometimes you wonder why they left the mountain in the first place.”

The satyr frowned. “My brother married an oread.”

“Oh — what I mean… I mean–”

“Whatever, racist.” He left.

Geisel took a deep breath. “Dumbass humans,” he muttered. “This had been such a good day.”

The initial run was about six thousand, and they were remarkable creatures. Handsome and beautiful, well muscled and intelligent — the humans of this original run would break your heart to see. And given that… well, why would you want them to die? Great art should be preserved forever, after all. They were deployed in what today would be called Northern Ohio just off of what we now know as Lake Erie. Now, you may have noticed that humanity’s actual origins, as we know them, took place in Africa near to Oldupai Gorge. This is true. Bear in mind these six thousand were a test run in a confined environment close to the pathway into the Backworlds nearest the test facility. Similarly, when I say that the first test run took five hundred years, understand that in those days time was a fluid concept. Of course, time is a fluid concept now as well — as is evidenced by the fact that as a kid the school year takes forever from September to Christmas, and indeed might never arrive, whereas for an adult June isn’t too early to begin shopping, because damn that’s coming up fast.

Needless to say, the team ran the initial tests over a course of five hundred years. And despite all of Geisel’s predictions about the relative worth of speed-based little big cats, they quickly looked like they’d be the firm’s signature product. At least, for the first couple hundred years. After that….

Geisel pushed into the observation post. “All right,” he said, rubbing his temples and clopping his back hooves. “What exactly is happening?”

Diamante looked up from her desk. She was a themisad — one of the eudaemons of good order — and she was head of the project’s quality assurance. She was also working far too many hours on this project, at least at this point. “Productivity started declining around year one-fifty,” she said, tiredly. “It’s been getting worse. They’re working fewer hours, they’re getting shoddier, and we’ve been losing some of them.”

“Losing some of them? What do you mean? They’re getting out of the test zone?”

“I mean they’re getting killed.”

“Ki– they’re immortal!”

“They don’t age and they don’t die. That doesn’t make them immune to falling off high places, or drowning, or being eaten by bears. Speaking of which, can we get the bears toned down a little? They seem overbalanced.”

“Bears are a different firm.”

“Oh, of course.”

“So we must have lost a few over time regardless. Why do you mention it now?”

“Well, for one thing they’re committing suicide.”

Geisel stared. “What?”

“They’re killing themselves.”

Why?”

Diamante sighed, and brought up a recording on the monitor. It was of a beautiful man, with reddish skin and dark hair, and eyes that fairly sparkled. Normally, at least. Right now, they seemed dulled. “–kill myself? Why wouldn’t I? What do I have to look forward to, huh? Another crop to plant? Another winter to endure? Another barn to raise? What more is there to life? What more can I see? What more can I do? There’s nothing for me in the future! There’s no legacy from me in the past — there’s just this oppressive, eternal now I’m stuck in! Now, if you’ll excuse me–”

Diamante stopped the recording. “There are others like that,” she said. “But you get the gist–”

“Yeah. Yeah, I get the gist.” Geisel sighed. “I need a cup of coffee.”

“You know… when McIntyre was on the project–”

“Yeah, yeah. We talked about all of this, once.”

“Is that when you canned her?”

“I didn’t can her! I moved her to more important projects!”

“Didn’t she end up quitting and starting her own design firm? Something about seaborne mammals?”

“That’s not the same thing as firing her and you know it.” Geisel shook his head. “McIntyre warned us that they’d start to have cognitive breakdown over time — too much information, too little change. I know, I know. Fine. I’m a big centaur. I’ll admit I was wrong. Now, do we have a plan to replace the lost humans?”

“Not really. We were just going to produce more if we needed them.”

“Ah — the old miraculous appearance? Mmph. They don’t like that, upstairs. ‘It’s mundane reality,’ they say. ‘They need mundane solutions.’”

“Well… we do have a reproductive system. And from all the sex these humans have, we can tell they like the mechanics. If we enable it–”

“Fine, fine. No, wait. How much work was done on the reproductive product before we took that feature out?”

“Almost none.”

Geisel nodded. “All right. Let the dev team know we need something for this. It doesn’t need to be much. It just needs to work.”

“You’ve got it.”

Introducing mortality wasn’t difficult, once they rounded up the original prototypes. The second run was also six thousand, and they were designed to degrade over time and expire somewhere around the 50 year mark. This would be adjusted in future runs — up to 200, down to 75, up to 125 and so forth. That’s really not germane to the discussion. Suffice it to say, the humans were now self-terminating, and they had every reason to want to create a lasting legacy — and offspring were a key component.

As for that offspring… well, remember. This was a rush job put in as part of a patch, without a lot of time being spent on the development. Naturally, it might not be… everything you might want from such a thing. Essentially, what they did was build in a morphing system. A man and a woman had sex. The reproductive system engaged. The product was released along with a massive rush of endorphins. Said product was the exact midpoint between the two.

Literally.

The sex of the child was randomly determined — roughly fifty percent male, roughly fifty percent female, with some overlap in the middle involving gender dysphoria, intersex, or other non-binary cases. Beyond that, every aspect of the child was essentially the midpoint of morphing from one parent to the other. So, if a startlingly attractive 19-year-old six-foot tall muscular man with deep brown skin, black hair, dark brown eyes and a good smile mated with a 42-year-old five-foot-two woman, slender, with pale skin, platinum blond hair, light blue eyes and a slightly dour expression, then the offspring who was produced (almost instantly) would be 30 and a half years old, five-foot-seven, with a somewhat bulky but soft body, mid-brown hair, muddy hazel eyes and a disposition charitably described as ‘mixed.’ His or her features would be the exact midpoint in appearance between the two — so even though both parents were beautiful, the resulting offspring would look… well, odd, at best. Further, since their personality and knowledge were set by the spawning process, once they were created they didn’t really need any more contact with the parents.

Naturally, since the offspring were created at the midpoint between their parents’ ages, their own time to exist was correspondingly shorter. A 30 year old male spawned by the mating of a 20 year old and a 40 year old would still self-terminate around 50 (or whenever), physically. So more replacements were needed more quickly after the first generations. And, since the second generation was already at the midpoints of the first generations’ appearances, their offspring were even more at the midpoint. Over several generations, pretty much the entirety of humanity was a uniform color best described as taupe, with steel grey hair and eyes, a medium percentage of body fat, and no distinctive personality to speak of.

This was not considered an optimal situation. And Geisel discovered to his horror that the humanity project was significantly more important to the powers that be than he had originally anticipated. And said powers were not happy, and he was in grave danger of losing his job.

“So what’s our options,” he asked his team, in a team meeting space.

“We go back to development,” Asperit Smith, a dryad lead designer said. “We pull everything back into alpha and we spend the next several years designing and implementing a proper reproductive cycle.

“Are you insane?” Geisel demanded. “We’re behind schedule right now! If we go back to the department head and tell her we’re going to be looking at a whole new dev cycle, we’ll all be looking for new jobs!”

Diamante, on the other side of the conference table, sighed, and looked away.

“What?” Geisel snapped. “What have you got.”

“You don’t want to hear it.”

“I — no. No I don’t.”

“She already did the ground work.”

“That work was purged.”

“She kept copies. You know she kept copies.”

“I don’t want her smug, superior attitude– besides, she doesn’t work here any more!”

Diamante shrugged. “So we pay consultant’s rates and hire her firm.”

“Diamante–”

“What choice do we have?”

Diamante–

“Seriously, Geisel! You were wrong and she was right. Get over it. What choice do we have?

McIntyre, flanked by her own senior team, looked around the development offices. “You painted,” she said, mildly.

“Yes we did,” Geisel grumbled.

She looked at him. “You were wrong about immortality. It caused problems.”

He looked away. “Yes.”

“So you revised to mortal without compensating, and threw in some half-assed offspring spawning mechanism tied to my reproductive cycle.”

“Yeah.”

“And now the bosses are pissed?”

“Yup.”

McIntyre nodded. “You’ve already gotten a P.O. approved for my team?”

“Yes. How fast can you deliver?”

McIntyre shrugged. “I’ll need to see what happened with the design — but really, not long. Though it’ll take a certain amount of behind the scenes processing even after we finish.”

Geisel didn’t look at her. “Fine.”

McIntyre was an oread, as we said before. The oreads were the nymphs of stone and mountain, and naturally she worked best in rock. She designed her concept art via sculpture — tiny children, optimized for delivery via the female reproductive system after joint initiation by both parents. Once the process was initiated, the genetic codes for both parents would be sent back to the facility, and used to select traits that would be sculpted into the final product. It was a bit cumbersome — moreso than McIntyre would have liked — but they were short on time and too much of the original design had been compromised. She had to borrow quite a bit from primate birth processes to get out the door on time, though she couldn’t imagine any human would mind some structural similarities to other primates. Why would that ever be a big deal?

Regardless, the concepts were approved. The third generation human designs were released. They were born, they lived their amount of time, and somewhere in there they birthed children. The population increased, the resulting children were raised by the parents, giving the parents investment and giving the children to develop their own personalities and have their own experiences.

Oh, there were still problems. The control mechanisms that McIntyre had intended to put in, causing initiation of the process to only occur when both parents consciously decided to do so, had been scrapped as useless back in the first generation humanity test. During the second generation, the mating urge and pleasure from mating activity had been increased, so that the increasingly less attractive humans would still… you know… mate, so population would increase faster than the demand for replacement workforce. And the automation systems put in place to select traits and apply them to the base models wasn’t perfect, and could develop artifact errors of one kind or another. However, the system worked well enough that they were able to ship only moderately late, and the success of the project was substantial.

Naturally, the initially spawn offspring became known as babies.

Today, the same processing facilities develop babies, after the process initiation is completed. They’re transferred to the parents via a delivery system that puts some in mind of large birds, though we won’t go into that. And then they’re born. They’ve had to massively increase their processing capacity, of course, but that first processing system — the one developed by McIntyre herself — still produces some of the best babies — so when you see babies that are so babies, they’re inevitably babies McIntyre. The newer processors were put into the same complex, which has only expanded, so pretty much the entire operation still happens in the Backworlds sections of Northern Ohio, on Lake Eire.

So, having explained all of the above? I’m now able to definitively answer Joel Wilcox’s question:

Where do babies really come from?

Cleveland.

Admit it. Everything makes more sense now, doesn’t it?

Series Navigation<< Mythology of the Modern World: Aren’t I Just Ripping Off John Hodgman?The Souls of Toys >>
Tags: , , , , , ,
  • masonk

    I did not see Babies McIntyre coming. I am ashamed.

  • Eric Burns-White

    Notes! We’ve got notes!

    There aren’t actually a lot of notes for this particular myth. There should have been — I could have named more of the spirits in ways evocative of creation myths, but in the end I didn’t.

    McIntyre was named after terms coined by David Willis and his cohorts. In his case, it was a negative — a situation might be hopelessly babies. So babies. So babies it was Babies McIntyre.

    Thus.

    Geisel was named after Theodor Seuss Geisel, or ‘Doctor Seuss.’ He’s not a particularly Seussian character, mind, but one of my favorite creation myths of all time came from his television-only special The Hoober Bloob Highway — a terrific story about the choices a newborn soul could make if he decided to descend down the Hoober Bloob Highway and be born as a child.

    McIntyre was an oread because of the preponderance of creation myths that involve humanity being sculpted from the Earth. Prometheus sculpting mankind. God creating Adam from the dust. Hippolyta creating her daughter Diana from the clay. Pygmalion. So, the best and most brilliant of the animal developers was herself a nymph of stone, rock and the mountain.

    Cheetahs really are one of if not the only felines to have non-retractable claws. In their specific case, it really is to give them additional traction as they employ their stunning speed.