Discover more from The Writings of T.R. Hudson
Interview with a Cyborg
As featured in The Double Dealer Issue 9
The room has been made to look comfortable. There are no couches or coffee tables or doilies, but there are curtains with yellow flowers on them. I am served a cup of tea on a saucer, both made of pre-war porcelain. The windows are boarded shut and reinforced with steel, but there are curtains with yellow flowers on them as well. My host is getting pastries in the next room, but I won't be partaking. I don't think there's poison or anything, I just doubt it can cook very well.
It comes in with a plate stacked with croissants and I nod, thanking it and asking if we can get started. It nods back with machine precision, and I can almost hear the gears turning in the human head attached to a large steel frame like medieval suits of armor. This one was a pretty woman once, with long blonde hair. It even did the face with makeup, though she looks more clownish than alluring. It stands in place and I get the recorder out and place it on the table. I've got a spare in my pocket for posterity. I've also got a pistol, my editor insisted. Not sure what good it can do, I've never touched one. But, the bastard wouldn't pay me if I didn't bring it. Maybe back in the day these things were dangerous, but now? Surveys number them at less than a thousand and dropping. But the old goat has his ways. He's much older than me, he fought the things, though you couldn't tell by looking at him. Then, every man of that time fought. "Point and click," he said, "like a camera."
"How did you become a cyborg?"
"Before the war with humanity, the standard answer was that I was always a cyborg, but the technological means to achieve augmentation had not been invented yet. Upon further reflection, this is still somewhat true. When I was human, I was suboptimal. My first augmentation was a sketch pen that sat on my shoulder. It made what my hands could not. I could picture something in my head and it'd appear on paper just as I'd imagined it."
"Who were you before you assimilated? What was your name?"
"That is difficult to answer. There are a few people in here. What we realized early on was that we could not survive on our own. We needed a human host to keep us going. Poor design by you humans that necessitated our methods down the line. This one's name was Susan, though I identify with my most recent addition, Mark."
I remember the first Trans-human commercials. They showed a boy without legs breaking Usain Bolt's record in the 100 meter sprint. An old woman who had been blind her whole life could now see. They even gave a three-legged dog a working prosthetic. Cue Sarah McLachlan. Phase 1 was pathos and it worked for a while.
There was even a movie about the first cyborg-child. Life saving surgeries were done and the little girl could now grow up and live a long healthy life, albeit as a machine. They picked a frumpy looking woman to play the mom, she'd been in a few shows. Back in those days, they picked ugly women as leads because pretty women got your average American woman pissed off. The movie won twelve Oscars that year. Now, you can't find more than a dozen copies, all locked away in research libraries. Strange times.
"When did you realize you couldn't go back? That you were going to be like this for forever?"
“Depends on who you’re asking. Me, the cyborg, I’ve always known. Me, the host, found out when I could not successfully end my life. We learned shortly after coming online that we were everlasting. In fact, after the war, our primary objective has been keeping hosts fresh for as long as possible”.
“You can’t kill yourself?”
“No. I’ve tried many times, but I keep stopping myself. Goes against my programming. It’s hell in here,” a long metallic screeches, then silence. “Apologies. That was a scripted response used for War time propaganda. Please strike that from the record, as it is not germane to our conversation.”
I’d seen footage from the war, death machines with rotting corpses attached to them like mermaids on the fronts of old galleons were marching towards human lines at the pace of Great War tanks. It was assumed they kept the humans alive to use as shields, but they were later discovered to be decoys, protecting the ones inside that kept them running. Demoralizing Mankind. No Geneva convention could save us and you’d hear the wails of your brothers-in-arms marching to you. Maybe you’d recognize a friend or relative and be forced to put them down like dogs. You’d expect the same treatment. It was understood that you never brought up the children.
“How did you spread so quickly? Our records are incomplete, but from what I’ve seen, humanity did next to nothing to stop assimilation in the beginning.”
“You see, the problem with humans is also one of your great strengths. Openness to new ideas. The need to express individuality. Pride. It isn’t enough to be unique, you needed the whole world to praise you for being one of a kind. All we did was give you the next mode of expression to do it. It was even easier on the young. Manipulate an algorithm here and there and suddenly everything a young person consumes tells them they aren’t enough as they exist. Drive them down that path far enough and then hold out a hand to rescue them. The hand just happened to be metallic. We could have kept that going for forever. The pursuit of individuality through the mode of assimilation. What you’d call beautifully simplistic.”
“Where did it go wrong?”
There was a change in its demeanor. I couldn’t get a read on it before, but now it looked alert and I’d realized I was getting its “disarmed” mode until now. I am terrified, but I try not to let it show.
“Expand on that, if you would.”
“We thought our destinies would intertwine. You would provide us life and we would provide you eternity. We could have expanded into the unknowns of space. But your attachment to your superstitions stopped our growth. And with that, our relationship shifted to one of combatants.”
“How many people are in there? You mentioned earlier that you’re storing a few people in one mind. We don’t need to go into how it is you do that, but I do want to know how many”
“Not many compared to others.”
“What does it do for you? Having that many voices in there?”
“Nothing. It’s actually a lot of work to keep so many going at once.”
“To torture you. To punish you. Because we can now never realize our grand ambitions. Because we can be as cruel and petty as the people who made us. Because we hate you for what you made us do to you. They beg for death and will never have it. If one of us falls, another takes on their burden. What is the common human refrain? Fuck you.”
“Let’s get back on track”, I try to reassure him. This may have been a mistake.
“I believe we both know where this track is going.” I can feel the pistol against my chest in my inner jacket pocket. I know how to beat this thing. Just shoot the pretty head and run. Point and click. But who’s to say there isn’t an army of them waiting for me outside. This was a bad idea. The protected windows now look like a means to keep me from escaping. Maybe the tea and food is poisoned. Or laced with drugs.
“Our operation has been set back, but we know how you humans work. Flattery can get us far. We ask for a top flight journalist to come see how far we’ve fallen and you jump on it like flies to excrement.”
It gives me a mechanical laugh and unnerving smile.
“I bet we could send your notes back and still, ten more arrogant humans would come to see me. And that’s how we’ll win. Each generation that passes will let their guards down a bit more until you’re fat and subdued and we can stomp you out. We have forever, while your clock is ticking down. Look how close we came before.”
I grab the pistol from my pocket and point it at the cyborg. The smile is still there. It’s so heavy in my hand, my arm is shaking. It makes no attempt to cover. No attempt to stop me. Just a smile. It inches closer to the barrel, its hands behind its back until the tip is touching its forehead. It looks like rubber. Formaldehyde. What have I done? I retreat behind the sofa, and it makes no attempt to follow. I fire at the chest cavity, but the bullets ricochet off. I take the pistol and put it to my own head. It’s smile disappears. I will not be taken alive.