Take Away The Tears

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Conscripted Lieutenant Lovemore Vulgaris, Human Corp Designer, tweaked the parameters, and twizzled his chair back and forth while the computer program processed. He glanced at the mug of coffee on his desk, but it had gotten cold, and anyway, there was a dead fruit fly floating in the scum of milk.

He debated drinking it anyway. Coffee would be one of the things to go soon. It wasn’t a priority crop anymore. People would have to learn to do without it. So would the fruit flies.

His computer let out a little bleep, and he glanced at it. Loading complete. Lovemore scrolled through the results.

Fingernails, toenails, hair.

(Illustration by Mitchelle Lumumba from Image by kjpargeter on Freepik)

He did a quick background search on each of them, then accepted the program’s suggestions for toenails and hair, but left the fingernails. Fingernails were important for picking things up. They created counter-pressure. But toenails were basically pointless. And, honestly, making hair was just a waste of energy. Better to redirect that energy, maybe work it into improved tooth enamel. Maybe that would reduce dental issues, be less strain on medical systems.

Lovemore nodded at his reasoning, made some adjustments, and re-ran the program. Then he leaned back in his ergonomic chair and yawned.

So far, he had managed to skim off over fifteen kilos of unnecessary weight. A lot of that was due to the reduction in maximum height and potential muscle mass. Smaller people would need to eat a lot less food, which meant less demand on the quickly shrinking globally available farmable land. Plus, policies were already being introduced which would limit what people were allowed to do. Limits on travel, meat, wasteful uses of energy, all that. Lovemore was just creating the bodies to match the reality. He felt like an artist, an architect, designing the best people for the future.

Also, it meant no more gym bros. Probably no more gyms. Lovemore grinned at the image of the slender, petite future person displayed on his screen. He was saving the world, one protein shake at a time.

Earlobes. They could definitely do without those. He flicked his own. Silly things, earlobes.

And wisdom teeth. Most people needed to have them taken out anyway, so why bother growing them to begin with? He added it to the list of things to delete.

He re-ran the program. It was running quicker now that it had fewer variables to work through.

The computer bleeped. Appendixes. Gallbladders. Lovemore did a few minutes of research, and considered. They did provide some gut function, but they could also go horribly wrong, and that cost a lot in hospital materials. He marked them down as maybes, something to discuss with his supervisors.

Setah, at the desk across from him, had fallen asleep in her chair. They’d both been here for days, conscripted into the Human Improvement World Task Force because of their design skills and backgrounds in computing. And also because of their wobbly morals. She had been in a Siberian prison prior to this, arrested for her involvement with an underground baby mods project. He had been working for the Lunar Escape Colony, before it got shut down for tax fraud and legally dubious sciencing. Lovemore had never even made it to the prison gates, he had ended up here instead.

Bleep. Palmaris longis. He’d never heard of it, and had to look it up. A vestigial muscle in the forearm that did pretty much nothing. Easy. He scrapped it.

Lovemore grinned again. He didn’t think Setah had gotten as far as he had. He wasn’t positive, but he thought it was probably a competition. He was sure someone at induction had mentioned something like that. He was sure they had mentioned benefits for the person who designed the best future people. He wouldn’t even need coffee to power him through, the adrenaline of winning would do it. The grin turned into a yawn.


Prefrontal cortex. Lovemore paused. The system was showing him a big chunk of brain, but he was running out of options. What if… he checked the work order. It was extremely vague. What if he proposed two contiguous human lines? One with a fully operational prefrontal cortex, and one without. Or, well, a line with a reduced prefrontal cortex. They would obviously still have to be able to walk and talk. But, it would mean a whole category of people with fewer needs and gripes, people who could provide physical services.

Lovemore nodded and flicked his earlobe again. Yes. He liked this. There would be the full-brained ones, people who could guide humanity into the future. And the people who just did what they were told. The thinkers and the doers. The brains and the brawn. Queens and drones.

He made some notes, gave the program the new instructions, and let it run. He glanced down at his coffee again, then wondered if he had time to make a new cup. He didn’t want to risk waking Setah, though. Not when she might see his plans. Not when he was this close to winning.


He checked over the outputs. The queens were basically finished. Small, lightweight, minus a few vestigial leftovers. He would still have to decide about appendixes and gallbladders, but otherwise, they looked pretty much perfect. Queens fit for the future on a resource-limited planet.

The drones, though. They could afford to lose a little more.

Lovemore made an executive decision on the gallbladder and appendix situation. Also, did they really need middle toes? Or so many vertebrae? Noses and chins that stuck out so much?

And, that downsized brain wouldn’t just mean a lot less thinking. It would mean a lot less feeling. They probably wouldn’t need to make tears. He deleted the lacrimal gland.

He leaned the side of his forehead against the heel of his palm. He really would need to catch some sleep soon. Just as soon he perfected his future people. He glanced at Setah, who was drooling slightly. Maybe he would suggest that she be made into a drone. Start the rollout early.

Uncaffeinated Conscripted Lieutenant Lovemore Vulgaris would be the best Human Corp Designer.

He re-ran the program.


This story previously appeared in Elegant Literature Magazine. 
Edited by Mitchelle Lumumba.


Emma Burnett is a researcher and writer. She has had stories in Apex Magazine, Radon, Utopia Magazine, MetaStellar, Milk Candy Review, Elegant Literature, The Stygian Lepus, Roi Fainéant, The Sunlight Press, Rejection Letters, and more. You can find her @slashnburnett, @slashnburnett.bsky.social or emmaburnett.uk.