The Extinction of Ursus Theodorus
by Ted Kosmatka
From behind chromed bars I watch her enter the lab. She is so
beautiful to me. Tall, fair skinned, and bipedal, she is everything that I am
not, but still she loves me. She tells me so when I do well.
She crosses in front of the cages without a glance and makes her way over to
the far end of the lab. My nose twitches involuntarily at the rich smell of
coffee she carries in a mug. My tummy rumbles in hunger.
For a long while she is intent upon her work. Sunlight pours in through the
big windows making her hair glow golden. I watch, studying her movements, as she
removes a rack of instruments from the autoclave with a long pair of crucible
tongs. She isn't smiling. I marvel again for the hundredth time at her long
limbs and slender digits. So dexterous. She removes a test tube from beneath a
large, glass condensing funnel and carefully places it in the centrifuge. She
made a game once of teaching me the names of these things in the lab. She is my
mother, I think, although I've never asked her.
While her back is turned I slither my forked tongue out between the bars as
far as it will go and taste the air, taste her. She is warm and alive. Healthy
taste. Friendly taste. I see she is about to turn around so I slurp in my tongue
and move to the back of the cage as quickly as I can. I would surely die of
embarrassment if she caught me like that. With my thick, stubby fingers I grasp
the bedding and wrap myself beneath its' soft fabric. I wait. Soon I know the
man will come. He will walk through the door swinging a breifcase from his hand.
He will take off his brown jacket and put on his white one. They will sit and
talk while I listen, then maybe they will let me out for a few hours.
Faintly, in one of the smaller cages beneath mine, one of my siblings begins
mewling softly. She looks up from her work for a moment; a concerned look
perched across her face.
"Three," she says gently. "What's wrong with you today?"
But Three only continues his crying; he's one of the older ones and so
doesn't understand very many words. She puts down her equipment and walks over
to our cages. Her face is on level with my cage and she looks in and smiles at
me. I try to smile back and she laughs just a little. She does that sometimes
when I try to smile. Her face disappears as she bends down, and I hear a click
as she opens Three's cage door.
"Come on, what's wrong? Come here little guy."
A moment later she stands and Three is cradled in her arms. A wave of intense
jealousy washes over me as I watch her stroke his fur. His short arms are slung
around her neck, his head pressed against her chest. He looks like me, or
rather, because he's older, I look like him, although she tells me I'm much
cuter and smarter. I'm basically an improved version of him, she told me once,
just as he was an improved version of Two. My name is Seven.
After a while he stops his irritating whining and she puts him back in his
cage. She stands and looks at me through the bars.
"He's getting so old," she says, shaking her head slowly.
I shirk off the cover and move to the front of the cage, pushing myself
against the bars. "So old," I mimic shaking my head like her.
She smiles again and this time I don't try and smile back because I don't
want her to laugh. "Pretty today," I say.
"You say that every day."
"Because you pretty everyday."
She just stands for a while looking at me with that smile on her face, and in
her eyes, smelling so pleased. I am her favorite, I know. She told me that once
when none of the other young ones were around, but I would have known it anyway.
She loves me more than any of my brothers.
She reaches up and unclasps my cage door. It swings open and I jump into her
arms. My throat starts making that strange ticking noise that I can't stop when
I'm happy. She calls it "purring", and it's one of the differences between Three
and me. She told me once that children prefer pets that "purr." More lovable,
she had said, but wouldn't explain what a "pet" was.
I lick her neck and she laughs. Her laughter is like food for me. It fills me
up inside. I want to make her happy.
She takes me over to our special table and sets me on top of it.
"I've got a couple of new ones for you to try today," she says, pulling two
small colorful books from a briefcase. "Which one would you prefer to try first,
The Curious Little Kitten, or My VR Friend?"
"Kitten, kitten." I say. Kittens are cats, and cats purr like I do, so I like
reading about them.
She puts the book in my lap and sits down in her chair to listen. "The
curious little kitten," I say, then flip the little cover over. My stubby
fingers make turning to the first page a little difficult, but finally it comes.
"There... was once a kitten... who was... born in a dark... cozy... close it?" I say, not
sure of the last word.
"That word is closet."
"What is a closet?" I ask, trying out the new word.
"It's a place where people hang up their clothes when they aren't wearing
"Oh." I wish I had clothes.
I read her the rest of the book, all the while expecting the man to come in
at any moment. He usually arrives just after the woman. Today he is late. I am
nearly done with the second book when he finally bursts into the room so fast
that it startles me. His face is red and he smells very unhappy. He slams his
clipboard down on the table and collapses into the swivel chair next to her.
"That bad?" she says.
The man just looks at her for a while, not saying anything at all. His eyes
cast about the room, then softly, he answers her. "Worse than you would
The woman gets a funny look on her face. She stands and carries me back over
to my cage and puts me inside without shutting the door. "Stay inside, ok?"
"Kay," I say.
Now she smells unhappy too, and that full feeling inside my belly is gone. I
want her to be happy again, but I don't know what I can do. I poke my head out
of the cage slowly. They aren't looking at me. I watch and listen and sniff the
The woman walks back over to the man and sits down. "What's going on? What
did the promotional board say?"
A long sigh from the man. "We over shot the mark on Seven."
My ears perk up at the sound of my name.
"What are you talking about?" she says, leaning forward in her chair.
"The board says he's too smart. The reading thing backfired on us. It
really got them in an uproar." The man gestures toward the books on the
"Well, that shouldn't be a problem. We can stop teaching him. His clones will
"You don't understand. It's not just that he knows how to read. It's the fact
that he's capable of learning to read at all. The promotional board rejected him
as a prototype. They want us to start again with Six as a template."
I can smell the woman's disappointment now. I'm not sure exactly how, but it
has something to do with me. I'm the cause. I try hard not to mewl, but it's
difficult. I don't want to be like Three.
She stands up, her face getting red like the man. "Why?" she asks.
"They're afraid of controversy. Pressure from the animal rights groups. There
have been designer pets on the market for years now that could mimic human
speech after a fashion, but never anything like Seven. They're afraid of the
public's reaction. The legal aspects of it alone have them petrified. Images of
civil rights lawsuits danced in their heads."
"Civil rights! It's supposed to be the perfect pet," her hands moved as she
talked. "A companion for the old, a playmate for the young. They will just want
to please, nothing more."
"I told them all that. Don't you think I tried? They are simply not ready.
They said he learns too fast, and to be honest with you, I can see their point."
The man's eyes dart in my direction. "He doesn't forget anything."
The man smiles, trying to cheer her up. "They did however, like the
appearance. A little teddy bear. Oh, and the name. They loved the taxonomic name
you thought of, Ursus Theodorus. They got a little chuckle out of
The woman was glaring at him. 'There has got to be something we can do. Seven
represents a year's work for both of us."
"Mary, they threatened to pull the plug on the whole project. If you want to
know the truth, I was barely able to convince them we had a viable course of
action in Six. Besides, they liked most aspects of what we've been doing. We
just need to make a couple of changes. No big deal."
"What about Seven? We'll be able to keep him in this unit, right?"
The man looks down at the floor, then reaches up to loosen his tie. He sighs.
"They were emphatic on that. They want him... uh, terminated, and his records
purged. We are to continue on as if project seven was never advanced to
"What," the woman shouts, scaring me badly. Her mouth stays open and she
looks over at my cage. I pull back inside, knowing she caught me eavesdropping.
"Mary, it took three hours of negotiating just to get them to agree to let us
continue with the project at all. We should be happy we still have funding."
For what seems like a long while I huddle in the rear corner of my cage.
Neither of them speaks. Minutes go by until the man gets up and I see him walk
across the room to the door. He turns and looks back in the woman's direction.
He opens his mouth like he is about to speak, but doesn't. I am happy to see him
Eventually my curiosity gets the better of me and I peek my head out again.
The woman is sitting in her chair. Water is dripping down her cheek in small
drops. An overwhelming sense of sadness is coming off her, and soon it is too
much for me so I retreat back into the corner of my cage. Wrapping myself in the
bedding again, I remind myself to ask her later what the word "terminate"
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