Dr. Chrono had stopped paying attention to faces.
He saw so many of them, day in and day out, that committing them all to memory was a strain on his mind. These days, if he recognized someone by their face, it was largely a coincidence. It was much more important to know someone’s position by their clothes and ID information, and by their voice. If they were capable of speaking, and they were speaking to him, that meant that they merited attention from him (most of the time, anyway).
The clones in the pods didn’t speak. They weren’t awake, and so they couldn’t. They were all in various states of generation, so some didn’t even have faces or anything recognizable about them. The ones that were far enough along to have faces, however, were the ones that Dr. Chrono had to be the most concerned about. If a clone died while they were indistinct, disposal was a lot easier than it was when features had begun to surface. A distinct clone required disposal like that of an actual cadaver; some of the more sentimental scientists insisted on holding brief funerals for the ones that “didn’t make it.” Furthermore, the farther along a dead clone was, the more resources there were that had been wasted in its failed creation.
For Dr. Chrono, not bothering with the faces of the clones he was generating was not so much a matter of not getting attached. Instead, it was a matter of not thinking too hard about the fates those faces might meet. Rarely was a clone made without some kind of purpose; there were plenty of naturally-born humans without purposes. Some of them were intended as specially-tailored adoptee children, either from someone unrelated to the commissioner or intended as a replacement for someone who was related to them. Dr. Chrono considered those the lucky ones, for at least they could approach a normal life. There were no guarantees about their families, but at least they would have one.
Others were intended as engineered elites in some field or another. There were the super soldiers and the born scientists who were intended to either further humanity’s runaway technological development or enforce the government’s runaway grip on the law. Certain parameters were adjusted in these clones so that the sting of not having a normal upbringing was lessened, but a few always somehow managed to feel the absence of normalcy in their lives. That feeling that something was missing was always detrimental to the clone’s performance, to the point that an entire discipline of psychology had evolved around addressing it.
The least fortunate of the clones were the born servants. The ones intended as drone bodies for people rich enough to afford new body uploads didn’t count, as they were never intended to have their own consciousnesses. There was indeed a class of people in the world who wanted servants for various purposes but did not want to have to deal with the specific red tape of hiring a “natural” person (or were doing the thing that could never be done to a “natural”). Instead, they exchanged a significantly higher price tag for shady, loosely-enforced laws that were often ignored in favor of letting the privileged do as they please.
Dr. Chrono had heard the stories. Clones could be subjected to all manner of abuse under the table; looking too deeply into a clone’s fate was an easy way to permanently lose any remaining faith in humanity. That was something he knew about firsthand. There was even a not-so-secret ring of “clone hackers” that knew how to upload minds into conscious clones, effectively trapping them in their own bodies.
Thinking about the endless but often grim possibilities for each clone made Dr. Chrono sigh heavily and scratch near his whitened, fluffy mustache. His colleagues often asked why he didn’t just upload into a younger body instead of staying middle-aged, and his answers changed every time. Said answers were always cryptic and sounded vaguely like excuses, but his refusal to elaborate generally shut the curious ones up quickly. Then again, people mostly knew better than to cross one of the world’s top clone engineers.
Climbing to the top of this field took Dr. Chrono years of hard work, and if he thought that if he didn’t show it at least a little, people would forget his service to the field. It probably did border on an abuse of clout at times, but everyone abused something these days. If shoving his position in people’s faces was the worst thing he did, that put him quite a bit ahead of most people. Not that it particularly mattered; it took more than a supposed moral high ground to be ahead of anyone in this day and age.
Humming an aimless tune to himself, Dr. Chrono browsed the rows of clone pods via his computer. So far, everything seemed to be in order. All the clones were properly arranged by purpose, and no one parameter seemed to stand out as abnormal. Though a passerby might have thought that he was breezing through the readouts rather quickly, he was just that fast at assessing the information from each clone pod. It helped that major changes rarely happened from day to day, and if they did, they stuck out obviously enough to get caught and addressed.
At one point, Dr. Chrono stopped his browsing and clicked back, because he finally managed to detect something that stood out. Located somewhere in the middle of a drone clone row was a certain clone that, for some reason, was slated to have higher than average intelligence. The old scientist squinted at the computer screen and confirmed that his eyes were not deceiving him. While not the strangest or most dangerous error, it merited filling out a report at the very least. It could be a computer error making a projection that didn’t exist, or something was indeed off in the clone’s chemistry that he could adjust.
Alternately, one other explanation remained: this clone was intended to be a new body for someone struggling with a brain issue. The interface between mind and brain had yet to be fully cut; if the brain wasn’t adequate, that could slow someone with even the most radiant personality. The mind could be uploaded, and with the proper brain tissue, it would function completely again. Granted, the upload had to be done quickly after the issue was detected to avoid the erosion of memories, but if caught in time, someone would be able to move on in a new body like nothing had ever happened. The mind and body separation was a strange and arbitrary distinction, but in the age of brain uploads, it existed.
Shaking his head and changing the tune he was humming, Dr. Chrono filled out the report, then proceeded on to reviewing the other clone pods.