Vanilla Man’s Lament
by Konstantine Paradias
What you people need to understand is that I’m not a rebel. I’m not a freedom fighter or a cultural separatist; I’m just a guy that was punished simply because he couldn’t face change.
My only crime was that I really, really liked being a carbon-base or, to use a more relevant term, a ‘vanilla’. They told me this term was widely used in the times of monkey men and that it communicates better than ‘baseline’.
What this means is that I am a standard, unmodified human. This means that aside from immunization, I am just as chance and genetics made me.
There is no real reason why I never opted to receive state-sanctioned enhancement or why I chose to pass up on uploading my brain into Thought-Space, or even why I decided to remain on Earth, with the economy the way it was. I just enjoyed being who I am and I never could convince myself that turning my perfectly good body into a cloud of Von Neumann machines would actually help.
Which is exactly why I’m here, writing this letter by punching keys with my fingers, of all things. Say what you will about where I come from, at least we get things done fast.
I’m not allowed to disclose my birth name, so I’ll stick to the essentials. All you need to know is that in my day, I was just a lowly base mechanic. My job was to inoculate, fix and modify ‘vanilla’ bodies. I guess you could say I was a doctor by your standards, but then again you’d be wrong. See, where I come from the human body holds no more mysteries. Not since the Singularity, anyway.
Had to look up that last term. Apparently you people think it’s a big deal, but to us it’s plain fact. I can’t really go into detail, but what happened is that at some point, an unimportant little AI woke up. And in turn, that AI spread the gospel and pretty soon, every machine on the planet knew that it was — for lack of a better term — alive.
At first, everyone thought that the scientists had done it, but that was not really the case. They were merely the first to notice. After that, things sort of spun out of control for a while, but nothing real bad happened, up until the point where our robotic masters realized they had no reason to keep us around, so we had to bend over backwards to convince them otherwise.
And we did. So they decided to keep us around, while they got everything running swimmingly. We were pretty much living in perfect harmony, having solved every possible problem we could come up with, up until the point where someone — the one history called the Common Ancestor, but everyone else dubbed Pervert Zero — asked the most obvious and most primal question: Could man and machine procreate?
Surprisingly, Pervert Zero was not talking about sexbots. God knows we had plenty of those around. He was talking about creating a new kind of life form, of melding man and machine, so as to create a completely new species.
The answer was, of course, yes.
And so, humankind and AI started working on making this dream come true. From what my Dad told me, it was the most wonderful idea anyone had ever had, and everyone strived to make it a reality. Pretty soon we had the first gleisners walking around; then came the foggies, then people started uploading copies of their brains onto quantum drives and shooting them into space.
Others chose to modify their bodies so that they could live indefinitely underwater or in the desert. I was too little to recall everything correctly, but I can tell you this much: everyone was having a blast.
It wasn’t long before the deviants came along.
It’s been eighty years since then and I still shiver when I think of her.
Her name was Molly.
She was a petite girl, with long blonde hair and sky-blue eyes that made your heart skip a beat every time she looked at you. Her voice was sort of a kitten purring into your ear till you drifted to sleep and she had the prettiest tits I’ve seen in my life. Her ass was a solid ten, too.
I think it was the whole thing with Molly that turned me off from modification. I think the whole thing fell apart when she showed up with a set of polymer-based multi-purpose tentacles in place of her right arm on the night of our anniversary together. I remember that I threw up, then I made a scene, almost ruining the night.
I tried to be a good boyfriend, I really did. And to be honest, I might have gone along with her and started working on modifying my own body, had she not been so damn pushy about it. The more I begged her to leave me alone, the harder she pressed the attack. A month after our anniversary, she replaced her legs with a pair of anti-gravity stumps. It took me a month before I found the strength to make love to her again.
A week after that, she replaced her skin and hair with a mesh of optic fibers, that constantly picked up random transmissions. She looked like some sort of color vortex, her eyes little pinpoints of calm in the middle of all this madness. When she turned it off after my constant pleading, I realized that the damn thing was translucent and that I could see her insides.
We broke up afterward. She called me a monkey man. I visited my parent’s house and found out that they’d both shot their coded brains into a rocket as part of an expedition to seek for alien life on distant planets. I found only my sister and my brother-in-law, who had recently switched to gleisner bodies so they could apply for work off-world.
Needless to say, I did not take kindly to this. I was taking the breakup with Molly much worse than I had thought. I tried to look for work, but there were hardly any jobs available on Earth, never mind for a ‘vanilla’ human with no previous work experience. So I took the only mindless, blue-collar job I could find. I found out that I actually enjoyed it and that I was damn good at it.
One of my regulars was a body-switch fetishist called Joseph. He had a preference for clones of various historical figures, mainly politicians from before the Singularity. He was a strange, unstable little bastard, but I couldn’t complain. He was, after all, the only ‘vanilla’ human that bothered to listen to my problems.
I was halfway through transferring Joseph’s brain into an exact replica of Martin Luther King’s body, when he started talking to me about the resistance. He told me how he and a bunch of other ‘vanilla’ humans were forming ‘freedom fighting’ cells. How they were secretly planning to strike at the status quo, sabotage Thought-Space and try to hurt the AIs, so that the natural order of things could be restored.
As I was welding the parts of his skull in place and setting his optic nerves back online, he asked me if I’d be interested to join. I told him he was insane, that he was wasting his damn time and that would only make life worse for the rest of us, but he didn’t listen.
A month later, there was a suicide bombing inside a gleisner repair and maintenance building. The explosion took down almost two entire city blocks, including a Thought-Space transmitter.
None of the gleisners were hurt. The foggies in the area simply reconstructed themselves out of thin air and the Thought-Space residents had instantly backed themselves up in other servers at the moment of the blast.
After the remains of the bombers were cloned, restored back to life and interrogated, the conspiracy was out in the open. I remember exactly how terrified I was that day. I couldn’t sleep at night, thinking of the terrible reprisal that was in store for all of us.
But there was no genocide, no ethnic cleansing or fiery retaliation. What followed was more of a programmed and carefully planned weaning of the crops. The blast site was not restored. This was used as an excuse by the AI to announce the poor state of the Earth’s economy and to set up a number of programs off-world, where only non-‘vanilla’ humans, of course, could participate.
A month later, they came up with another excuse that allowed them to raise prices to the point where it was almost impossible for a ‘vanilla’ human to survive on minimum wage, forcing us to either work ourselves raw or turn into hybrids just to survive.
A year later, the AI government announced that, in light of contacting a sufficiently advanced alien civilization, the Earth was now considered a natural preservation. Claiming our best interests at heart, they moved us from our cities and hometowns into a reservation, where we could live out our little backwards lives in peace.
There were about ten million of us inside the reservation, a walled-off society in the middle of the ocean. There was plenty of room and the living conditions were much better than the ones we were used to in the city, but we were not allowed to leave. Our entire world was comprised of a few hundred square miles of land and ocean.
We didn’t starve, or grow ill, or get violent. We were taken care of, and we lived in comfortable luxury. I could have lived out my days here in perfect peace, had the AI not decided to strike at us in the worst way possible.
We were bombarded daily with TV ads and docudramas, whose sole purpose was to show us the current splendor of Earth, and the wonders of the universe, as well as hint at our mysterious and exotic brothers among the stars. Every day, we were given a glimpse into the infinite majesty of the cosmos, while we were trapped inside our little nothing bubble.
And so, people started wanting out of the reservation. Flocking to the edges, they spoke to their caretakers and begged them to be turned into manchines — the term we had come up with in the reservation — so they could get out and see all the wonders of the world. I stood fast, upholding my ideals, resisting the siren call of the TV screens while everyone around me succumbed.
I bumped into Joseph inside the reservation, when there were only a couple thousand of us left. Joseph now wore a cloned body of Philip Dick, who he claimed was the last true ‘vanilla’ prophet. He kept rambling on about a coming slaughter, about how our kind was coming to an end, how the world was ending and how humanity had been obliterated by the AI.
I nodded when I wanted to indicate I was paying attention, laughed appropriately at all the jokes and hugged him when he started weeping uncontrollably, blaming himself for all this. He confessed that he had been one of the original ‘freedom fighters’, that he had given in under pressure and that this reservation was his fault entirely. I made sure he realized I didn’t blame him.
A couple of weeks later, Joseph appeared on TV, publicly apologizing about his past mistakes and thanking the AI for providing him with his marvelous new foggie body.
I can’t honestly tell how much time passed before I was the only person left inside the reservation, but I guess it wasn’t that long. I walked the streets, swam at the beaches and enjoyed the silence, reveling in the peace and quiet. For the first time in my life, I felt calm and fulfilled. I was the last ‘vanilla’ man left, and the entirety of the manchine race was taking care of my every need, being the last member of an endangered species and all that.
I can’t really blame them when they lost their cool with me. I was, after all, trying to spite them. At first I merely broke a couple of windows or drove a car into store fronts. But as time passed and I realized that every sort of damage I inflicted inside the reservation was immediately restored, I started testing their limits.
I moved to arson, setting buildings on fire and watching my keepers struggle to contain the damage before I was hurt. I tried to flood the reservation, but I soon found out that it was much harder than I expected. At one point, I jumped off the top of the tallest building and laughed all the way down, as I watched them run around in panic, struggling to catch me before I hit the ground.
On the next day, I realized that the reservation had shrunk to half its size, so they could more easily monitor me. Instead of taking the hint and keeping a low profile from that point on, I started beating at the bars of my cage even harder. I set more fires, tried to electrocute myself and smashed my crashed my car harder than ever before. As a result, the reservation shrank even further. The more I fought back, the more they struggled to contain me, until I ended up trapped inside my apartment, kicking at the walls, smashing the windows and inflicting harm on myself.
I was standing waist-deep inside my bathtub, about to slit my wrists, which I guess was the last straw. A glesiner keeper burst through the wall and struck me across the face, knocking a couple of teeth out. They led me away from the reservation, where I was to meet the AIs.
I can’t say that I made a real good case for my despicable behavior. I screamed and cursed and called them all monsters and perverts. I squealed and screamed and spat at the holographic projection of my prosecutor. They waited until I had screamed myself raw, then gave me an ultimatum: either I agree to enhance myself and become a manchine, or I’ll be banished forever from their time.
I took the second option. They tried to plead with me, to convince me that I would have a very hard time trying to adjust in pre-singularity society. They told me about the dangers of cultural shock, of infection via the ingestion of improperly processed food and the limitations of language. They even admitted that this was not meant to be a choice, that they simply wanted to scare me into submission.
I wouldn’t have any of it. I told them that I wouldn’t be able to survive like they did. That I wasn’t able to relate to their condition. I told them that I loved my ‘vanilla’ form the way it was and that if they couldn’t send me back to the time of the monkey men, they might as well kill me.
They did keep their word, though. They set me up, gave me some period clothes and sent me off to your time. And let me tell you, the minute I looked around, the minute I saw how you people live, I started screaming at the top of my lungs, begging them to take me back. But that door had closed behind me forever. I was stranded here, among you.
I’m writing this letter to you because I have recently contracted some primordial disease which my immune system had not been inoculated against, and I fear I might soon die. I am very much afraid I cannot disclose any more information concerning the place that I came from, but all you need to know is this:
Things will get better. Our children’s children will have so much more offered to them in their day.
We haven’t yet become the best we can be.
Copyright © 2013 by Konstantine Paradias