The world’s record for a surviving premature baby came into the world at about 4.5 months early. Jackson Hillbrand broke that record when he was born (experts estimated) two to three years prematurely.

This proved difficult for Jackson, as nobody he’d meet could ever recall his face, not having had any actual parents to copulate and provide his genetic structure any distinguishable features: eye color, skin tone, tooth count, finger count, whether he’d inherit horns, or a tail, or some other physical anomaly that was becoming more and more common since The Event.

Nor did he have a voice that could be recognized in any way. Most people would walk away from small talk with Jackson thinking he’d only mumbled some innocuous anecdote with no discernibly interesting plotline or moral obstacle to overcome. Something about a pair of mismatched shoes, maybe; or having shown up for a job interview on the wrong day, or to the wrong address, or for a position that he was in no way qualified for and would potentially leave him exhausted, addicted or dead, were he “lucky” enough to get it.

In fact, the only reason he was allowed to use the name Jackson Hillbrand, despite no parent to bestow it upon him, was due to an administrative oversight while being issued health insurance papers to ensure he’d remain a reliable worker: in the mines or factories, answering the customer support calls, serving short-order food, making government-sponsored abstract art installations, suppressing violent acts and uprisings.

The name Jackson Hillbrand was indeed the name of a late-20th century comic book hero much loved by the bureaucrat working in the state’s health insurance offices who’d used it on the premature man’s paperwork.

The hero Hillbrand’s sole nemesis wasn’t a traditional supervillain, but rather a planet-sized hyper concept which evaded form, measurement and description, but which many critics easily interpreted to be a metaphor for the slowly impending climate apocalypse. At the time of the comic’s popularity, nobody could have anticipated the rude inconvenience of the coming Event.

Being born so prematurely that the genetic, physical, and social-romantic conditions for life would not have physically manifested in the flesh-and-blood of his conception made Jackson a bit of a celebrity in those early years. He had the good fortune of coming into the world a fully-grown adult male of 40, and contrary to what some doctors speculated on at the time, Jackson did not grow in reverse, but aged from upwards from 40, albeit at a developmental pace of approximately 50 percent the average human aging process.

This was some minor comfort to Jackson, who’d occasionally suffer depression due to the fact of a lost childhood, or of having no fond or scandalous memories formed as a young adult: in college, the army, prison, or in the arms of a sweetheart with warm flesh and beating heart and no extra fingers or toes or any more terrifying physical deformities (despite the weird circumstance of his birth, Jackson appeared, for all intents and purposes, “normal”).

If it weren’t for his celebrity status, it would have been likely that Jackson could have roamed among the maturely-born humans completely unnoticed (lack of specific features or distinct voice, as mentioned earlier). Oftentimes, he’d wish that were the case, as the world had been getting colder and meaner toward anybody who failed to distinguish themselves. This, along with the increasing shortages of life-staples like clean water, filtered air and nano-narcotics, would lead to mass culls, regular live-streamed occasions ever since The Event.


At the age of 50 (or 10, if you counted from the day of his birth; or 45, if you counted using his rate of aging), Jackson decided it was time to find a partner, fall in love, get a license, and procreate. He hired the services of an online dating specialist. The woman assigned to his case suggested he pad his resume so as to not “freak out” (her words) any potential match: a few years in the mines, eventually being promoted to shift manager; a volume of published poetry; a doctoral degree in nano-genetics, specializing in synthetic blindspots, deafspots, noiselessness, stillness and artificial paralysis.

Jackson met Francis at the local fifth-wave coffee shop called Abattoir, built inside a former slaughterhouse and keeping much of the original equipment for decor. Murals on the walls depicted rows upon rows of The Deformed waiting patiently for their turns, all carrying one humble suitcase each (a quaint but anachronistic detail) and bearing just slightly confused expressions, but otherwise, placid.

Francis was a 25-year-old computer programmer working for the State who also cultivated hybrid insects in her free time. She left-swiped him because, as she explained, her anxiety disorder is triggered by “harsh features” and “pronounced traits” like slack jaws, droopy eyelids, furrowed brows, broken noses, cauliflower ears, open pores, moist holes, over-inquisitive looks, intensely expectant mouths. Jackson’s prematurely-born face pleased her.

For his part, Jackson found it incredibly difficult to arrive at an opinion of his date. He could not decide if she was attractive, interesting, sexy, or fun. He felt no desire in his mind, heart, or pants. The only thing he knew, however, was that he was growing tired of being alone.

The conversation turned to the future. What did Jackson see himself doing in five years? In ten? Talk of time made him uncomfortable and he began to perspire. He managed to say something about finding a home, or building one, or occupying one after the current homeowners were gassed off the premises and exiled out of town or culled.

Francis agreed it was a good plan, all things considered, knowing they were both on the right side of the Post-Event divide. She went on to talk about romance, sex, and making babies, asking him how he felt about those things. He said it seemed lovely. Only, he added, he was unsure if he’d be able to make a good parent.

Why not? she asked him. Because, he answered, he did not have any of his own, being born 2-3 years prematurely, before any human couple could have had the chance to meet, date, become intimate, and procreate together.

But, she said, we are always less than—or more than—the sum of our parts, but never, NEVER, equal to them.


She took him home and opened up her uniform to bare herself before him and he saw not one, but a collection of procreative organs covering her entire midsection and halfway down her thighs. Francis was created, she explained, from an aggregate of parental matter, comprised of dozens of male, female and non-binary participants, fused and injected into this proto-baby with the latest desire-based silicon insemination tech.

As the two lay naked in bed, spent, and smoking virtual cigarettes in the style of old Hollywood movies (circa 1970’s-1990’s), Jackson realized why it was that earlier, he couldn’t bring himself to be interested or attracted to Francis when they first met. He had been hoping to be interested in himself first, foremost, and all of his life, while believing he was incapable of Being Someone of Interest, having no genetic code or pre-linguistic trauma on which to found his personality.

Francis showed him how utterly “stupid” but “adorable” his thought process was. She would eventually tease him about it regularly, a routine of theirs which always ended up with the happy pair rushing to the bedroom.

They’d go on to have dozens of babies. So many, in fact, that by the time the majority of them reached the age of 12 (they were all born within 20 months of one another), the State was able to create a new killer-elite unit of Hillbrand super soldiers from this brood: a unit who would think and act as one.

The Hillbrand unit would go on to become legends in the Devastation Zones left over from The Event. Many comic books and an action film franchise would be based on them, earning astronomical profits which would eventually fund the final destruction of this wasted planet and the first new colonies on the continent-sized ships orbiting Mars.