by Caleb Wimble
O’Neill is offering me a place at the lab along with two other new synths (“synthetics” was about the least offensive term they’ve given us, and somehow it’s managed to stick). Not the university facility where I was downloaded — way too high-profile; the equipment was confiscated within minutes of the bill’s passing — but the one hidden in the sub-basement of Marcus Burke, one of O’Neill’s wealthier (and ostensibly more trustworthy) research investors.
I’ve never been much of an outdoor person, and the place is far from claustrophobic — hell, there’s a hot tub and a twenty-thousand dollar entertainment system) — but after only two days I’m starting to feel restless, and I can tell the ennui is hitting Martin and Christie (the other synths) just as hard.
The world is undergoing an upheaval to put all the revolutions of history to shame, and we, the source of the conflict, are stuck down here contemplating our navels, not even able to disguise ourselves for a walk through the city anymore thanks to the new bioscanner tech the police are installing on every other block.
Officially they can’t charge us with anything yet — as of now it’s only illegal to create or possess the tabbing technology, not to be a product of the tech — but that hasn’t stopped them from arresting and detaining thousands of new synths around the country on related conspiratorial and accomplice charges. The ACLU wouldn’t have a fraction of the number of attorneys they would need to represent us even if they reassigned their entire infrastructure to the fight for transhumanist rights, and the tone of the public’s voice is growing more aggressive by the day.
Even a lot of those who were initially ambivalent about the tech are being won over by the “humanists” (pretty ironic that should be the name the enemies of progress choose for themselves). We still have some influential supporters out there, particularly among less radically conservative seniors for whom mortality is a much more present prospect, but they’re a small minority — a vocal minority, yes, but a minority nonetheless.
So if we’re not alone in this fight, we’re pretty damn close to it. So. We’re officially non-persons. Dehumanization by legislation. Can’t give them any points for originality, but if a system of fear-driven extermination works so well historically, why try to fix it?
We must have watched the cell-recorded clip a dozen times. A seventy-two-year-old man — though you wouldn’t think him past fifty now, to look at him tabbed — stopped at a police checkpoint. They tell him he’s under arrest, don’t bother to read him his Mirandas, so he demands to know what he’s being charged with.
Cop #1 lays him one across the jaw with a “To hell with you, freak.” The old guy goes down. Cop #2 and #3 start laughing, #2 throws in a kick to the lower spine for good measure. While they’re going on, old guy starts talking, way calmer than he has any right to, and with that strong baritone you can hear him loud and clear on the footage.
“See if I give a damn, you sick bastards. You know we’re going to have the last laugh... over and over and over again.”
Happens so fast you have to pause and rewind to get it. Frame one he’s lying there, frame two he’s on his feet with Cop #3’s pistol in hand. Gunshot: #3 goes down. Gunshot, #1 collapses against the squad car. Gunshot. This time the old guy goes down. #2 keeps firing into his corpse, empties his pistol, and you can hear the mad screaming of whoever’s holding the phone as the camera frame goes crazy.
That’s when it hit me. I’m pretty sure that’s when it hit everyone.
A week later the same “old” man shows up at a riot in D.C. The crowd starts to fall to pieces when the army arrives to bolster the riot police, but then he’s there at the top of the Memorial steps, high-caliber assault rifle in hand, cracks off a shot at a soldier dragging a kid across the ground by his hair. There can’t be one person there who doesn’t recognize the guy, who doesn’t see what it means.
Next thing you know, it’s not a riot; it’s an insurrection. The beginning of the largest in our history since the Civil War, except this time there aren’t any borders to hide behind. The capital was a bloodbath, of course; I doubt anyone except maybe the ’Nam vets had ever seen carnage so horrifying, and not even they could ever have imagined it happening on U.S. soil. Pure slaughter. Two hundred and fifteen soldiers down, and almost forty thousand civilians. But at the end of the day, they had lost two hundred and fifteen souls. And we lost none.
Martin, Christie, I, and the odd dozen or so other synths now at our base gear up as we listen to the reporter’s quavering voice from the TV in the background. It’s happening across the globe, in every country with a medical tab infrastructure, which by now includes all but the poorest developing nations (who as a result remain removed from the conflict).
And it’s not a guerilla war on every front: day one of the D.C. riots saw Iceland and, unsurprisingly, Japan officially declare themselves Transhumanist Haven States, despite U.S. threats before the United Nations of broken alliances and open declarations of war. The U.N. itself was dissolved by the end of an eleven-day period that saw more or less every industrialized state on the planet declare themselves for one side or the other.
The reality of internal insurrection was now omnipresent, and those declarations are rewritten on a near-daily basis. At present the Humanist states — an alliance spearheaded in either hemisphere by the powerful American-Chinese coalition — have the inordinate upper hand in military numbers and firepower, but the world is growing increasingly aware that World War III is going to be far less one-sided than it seemed. Never before, after all, has humanity had to account for immortal warriors, at least not outside mythology.
With no need for long-term health and stability at present, “disposable” tabs can now be grown faster and at lower cost than even the most inexpensive combat drones. I myself spent only seventy-two hours on the data stacks before I was re-downloaded after my first — or second, depending on how you look at it — body-death at an otherwise successful bombing run of Fort Leonard Wood.
Of course they call us terrorists and suicide bombers, but the reality is there’s nothing “suicidal” about it for us anymore. We are not our bodies in anything like the old sense; I hear the new British slang for a tab is “sleeve,” and it’s probably the closest analogy for reality to say that we’re not really attached to our flesh much more than we would be to a beloved — and pricey — three-piece suit.
Everyone freezes as the silent alarm lights start flashing red, and the editor’s desk on the screen is abruptly replaced by a surveillance cam panorama of the acres surrounding Burke’s mansion. The infrared feeds from the wooded edge of the property reveal a wide spread of about thirty crouching human shapes in yellows and oranges, obviously believing themselves concealed in the moonless night.
I and a few of the others breathe a slight sigh of relief at the realization; it means we’re dealing with a gang of civilian Humanists rather than a trained military strike team. None of us put down our weapons, though. The very fact that anyone suspects our location means we’re in danger, and even if we manage to take out every intruder, it’s infinitely likely they’ve left people behind to alert the feds.
These civvie groups usually attack on their own only when they know there aren’t any troops stationed close enough to arrive before we can relocate, but that doesn’t mean the cavalry isn’t already on its way. And with more than three times our numbers, the civvies are more than capable of holing us up here until said cavalry arrives to firebomb the place. Which means we’ll try to blaze our way out.
Another “suicidal” tactic by human standards, but every one of us has a cortical stack embedded at the base of our skulls, transmitting a constant untraceable stream of mental backups across our global network. Besides, none of us would cry over a few hours’ memory loss if we were forced to download from an earlier scan.
The awareness of my invulnerability — at least consciously — doesn’t stop me from experiencing a near-overwhelming rush of fear as we emerge silently from the basement fire exit not fifty yards in front of the ring of invaders. The woods around us are thick enough and the night insects sufficiently loud that the civvies can’t possibly see or hear us at this distance, but that obviously works against us just as effectively as it does against them.
We spread out far enough to keep sight of each other’s forms as we advance, emulating stealth-op to the best of our abilities, which, given our collective lack of any combat training beyond paintball and video games, are less than extensive.
At a sudden frantic wave from another synth — I have no idea who it is, dressed head to toe in black as we are — I duck behind a tree and slam my back against the trunk, not daring to risk exposure with a glance. I catch my breath and feel every muscle in my body tighten. I sit unmoving for I don’t know how long — probably seconds, but it feels like hours. Nothing.
A twig snaps. Panicked idiot that I am I spin out from behind the tree and swing my rifle to bear, fumbling for the trigger even as I register the figure in front of me waving his arms and screaming, “DON’T SHOOT, DON’T SHOOT! We’re on YOUR side, I swear to God!”
Recognition surges up in the back of my brain. Frantically I drop the gun and flick my headset on to break radio silence: “STAND DOWN! They’re friendlies. I repeat: STAND DOWN!”
I yank off my mask even as I realize he won’t see my face in the darkness. “RYAN, oh my God, Ryan, it’s me! Jesus Christ, Ryan, what are you doing here?”
He freezes, then slowly lowers his arms. A minute’s hesitation.
“Jacob? Tell me that’s... Jacob!” An instant later we’re holding each other tight, almost tight enough to cut off breathing. I’ve never cried like this, I never want to stop.
Back in the basement we keep cutting one another off with questions so quickly that it takes a few minutes before I understand a thing he’s saying. Finally I get his story out of him, and when he starts to tell me about my parents I experience an instant of dread so complete it nearly wipes the last few minutes’ elation from my mind. As soon as he says it, though, he grabs something from his pocket and thrusts it before my eyes. It takes me a second to recognize the two tiny black cylinders as cortical stacks, and a wave of unspeakable relief hits me like a tsunami.
“We never had access to any of the backup networks you do, but that doesn’t stop us from retrieving stacks from... It’s days older than their... Christ, than their death, but those last few hours aren’t memories I think they’ll miss. Not that they’ll care about anything when they see you, Jacob.
“God, I can’t believe you’re alive, we assumed the worst when you disappeared, figured they must have taken you because you would have left a note or something and... Jacob, do you know what you’ve put me through? We thought, I thought... oh my God, and the way I just walked out on you like that, Jacob, I’m sorry, I couldn’t take it all at once, I had to—”
I cut him off with a kiss. The world falling to pieces around us, a future of God knows what kind of insanity whether we lose or win this thing, and I don’t give a damn. He’s here, I’m here, and death can do its damnedest to keep us apart.
Copyright © 2012 by Caleb Wimble