This year, for National Novel Writing Month, I am not writing a novel. I aim to use it to write more short stories, and try and write more challenging ones for me. Ones that try to be more ambitious in their scope, or explore ideas I am interested in in some new way. This is one of those, a response to what is best called cyborg fiction – that introspective science-fiction about the meaning of humanity in a transhumanist world, about being a machine. I dearly love Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell and even, in lighter handlings of the story, Full Metal Alchemist, Astro Boy and Robocop. I think these stories are if anything even more timely the closer science comes to the science-fiction prosthetics they depict – in a real life where transhumanism is discussed seriously as a possible future for mankind, asking questions about whether it is morally acceptable, and where boundaries should be drawn is vital.
My perspective, which comes across very plainly in this piece, is that transhumanism is entirely the wrong attitude to approach this technology from; rather than considering the idea that “mankind” (as argued generally from positions of privilege, and at times implicitly referring only to those privileged humans) needs uplifting to something beyond human, a better use of technology would be to give everyone equal opportunity. Before one can even begin considering what comes after humanity, humans should try to give everyone a fair opportunity in the world as it is – rather than creating an introspective circle dedicated to “improvement” of the lives of the already affluent and healthy.
Thus I wrote my own, arguably Oshii-esque, internal monologue of a cyborg. It is more than a little Robocop…
There are days for discretion, and discipline, and upholding the weight of public expectation. And there are days when all that matters is hurting someone very much.
On those days, a certain level of brutality is needed, the brutality that only very high-power weapons can bring. One would think this would be more enjoyable for those delivering it, but perhaps it is for the better it is not, because being the sort of person who does not enjoy it is what sets one apart from the victims.
Slung over my back is a shotgun, which in a fit of nostalgic engineering has a lever-action that wrenches new shells into position with a satisfying bit of physical feedback. I know that firing it at the sorts of ranges I will be fighting at will cause distinctly unpleasant things to happen to my enemies, but for once I do not need to worry about this. My day-to-day life is one of outward professionalism, of being the one who cannot and will not. Peacekeeper. Today that is going to be allowed to slide, because it has been decided that someone needs to die.
This thought rattles around my head and with some disgust I realise I am looking at the opportunity to kill the way a dog looks at an offered treat. I am fulfilling the expectation that those who dislike what I stand for hold. The belief that it is only the public eye that separates a just hero from a vicious killer, the belief that behind every uniform is the potential for mass murder. I can rationalise what is about to happen to myself without issue, but it is a thin justification for anyone else.
Years ago I used to be a human through and through, unquestionably fleshy, mind filled with ideals. Years ago a gun quite a bit like the one I am carrying now did distinctly unpleasant things to my body and I cannot fully remember what happened after that except there was immense pain, and an indistinct period of time spent in a hospital, and I came out of the experience distinctly stronger but at the same time quite different. Perhaps one of the side-effects nobody expected of the process of being changed from the feet up into someone else was that I ended up apparently quite sanguine about what should be done to the person who did it to me. They had been concerned I would set myself to the task of bringing the individual in question down, for he was an individual of some power and influence, and that I may even abandon my ideals in doing so.
All my life, all my time spent wearing a uniform, I have been taught to be better than that. It is quite the irony, I feel, that I should be now given with a breezy handshake and the signing of papers outsiders would consider quite unacceptably utilitarian the right to do what I have been taught not to. For a combination of reasons nothing to do with my maiming, the man who maimed me must die. Do they think that sending me to do it will be some poetic justice, or was I simply a name on a list deemed suitable to be among the number who must set their morals aside for a day of extrajudicial catharsis? Either way I am sitting alongside a number of my comrades waiting to go on a mission that will be carefully engineered to go wrong in a way that ensures the right people end up dead in a way that the public will, without doubt, agree they had it coming. Outside of our helicopter, chiefs in smart uniforms are telling waiting reporters that this unusual deployment of police force is nothing to be concerned about, that the public need not worry that some people who are not showing their faces are going somewhere undisclosed in the dark.
As I recovered from the time spent atrophying in hospital I made every effort to get back to work, because I had the idea in my head that the way to get revenge on the man who hurt me was to show it had not slowed me down. I showed off my mechanical body, the hard work of the surgeons and engineers who had brought me back from the edge of death. I was, for the purposes of my duty, indestructible, unstoppable, implacable. I did not show this through any theatrics, any grand cases of striding into firefights or burning buildings, but through simple tireless execution of the same duties I had before as an enforcer of the law. I had almost died through not being good enough. Now I was better.
What did all this achieve? Not a great deal, did it? I worked hard to not become a celebrity. I was injured in the line of duty, recovered and carried on. If, in the course of my duties, I had maybe been given the opportunity to arrest the man who did it, I would have happily had the attempted murder of a police officer as one of his crimes. It is not even as if this process is particularly exceptional. For sure, mine was a severe case – most people could never afford almost an entire body – but these were principles and procedures available to anyone who needed them. Yet nevertheless, the unspoken expectation is that I should enjoy the chance for revenge.
That is the only way I can see this being interpreted. The man who nearly killed me will die in a bloody raid on his villa, because such criminals never come quietly when the police bring heavy weapons against them, and there is a very good chance I will do it. Then I will say it was regrettable, and maybe doubly so if one of the others in this helicopter goes through what I went through, because that will keep the public happy because the public – or some of them – have few qualms about things playing out like the movies. For them, bloody vengeance is the expectation. For a few, that it is not the norm is a problem. And for them, all the work we have done to remain respectable, to stop being the people who took the easy way out, is a sign of weakness. Those are the forces arrayed against me on one side, a public who are outwardly glad we try to be unimpugnable but are happy for those morals to be allowed to slide when it is someone else dying. On the other side will be those as circumspect as I about the motives of the chiefs, those who will see this undeniably as proof of the psychosis of the cyborg. For them the carefully planned escalation of violence will be self-evidently artificial, my presence not random chance but a calculated move to ensure there is that escalation. My killing the man a simple act of revenge, the failure of justice. The possible maiming of my comrade an acceptable loss intended to normalise the conversion of police into cyborgs by creating photogenic victims of crime.
They are cynical thoughts I cannot stop from cycling around my mind and yet I do not believe them. Or maybe I do not want to believe them. I want to believe my presence here was random chance, that it is simply my bad luck that I am here on a mission that I abhor the clandestine nature of. I want to believe that the police chiefs really do see my existence as a regrettable, isolated incident that should be avoided – not a chance to turn tragedy into publicity. I want to believe that it is not the natural mindset of the cyborg to want reparation or vengeance for their past disabilities, that that sanguine acceptance I showed in hospital is made possible by the merging of mechanical processor and human emotion. Perhaps most of all I want people to realise that cyborgs like myself do not want to be seen as superhumans. When the first steps into mechanical bodies were made, all the talk came from people already at the peak of fitness, or at least at the base level of fitness that society considers able-bodied, about wanting to become more. There were the tiresome arguments in favour of enhancing humans to fight harder, win at sports, work better. Enhancing humans, while so many humans deserved to be brought up to the level of the people talking about making themselves better. I suppose I was enhanced by this. I can certainly run faster, and work harder. I was enhanced from the bottom of the pyramid up to the top of it, but I am happy to consider myself as only back where I was. When I lay in hospital I did not worry about coming out of it better, I worried about coming out of it at all. Maybe the people who talked about exceeding humanity should have thought back to all the saccharine publicity pieces they fed to the public to make them donate money to hospitals and so on – all the children who “just want to walk again”, all the sick people who “want a normal life,” and directed their research into making that happen. The dispossessed are expected to be happy wanting a normal life while the capable and healthy look to staying ahead of the pack.
That is why I do not want to appear to be a bloodthirsty super-soldier restrained by a uniform to defend the peace. It would give everyone what they want, it would show that the natural, desirable endpoint that all cyborgs pursue (for the highest-profile member of a group is always representative of the whole) is to be better, to operate on an unbelievable level. It would show that the desirable endpoint that all police pursue is to operate outside the justice they enforce. It would go against everything I have lived for.
And yet there will always be days nowadays when all that matters is hurting someone very much, on the say-so of someone who does not want to do it themselves.