Flash Fiction: Open-Source Minds

Posted on 12th July 2008 by Ryan Somma in Pure Speculation - Tags:

“Break it up! Break it up! You’re in a feedback loop!” Ms. Moriah had grabbed the two boys by their shirt-collars and was wrenching them apart. Within moments, her thoughts were interceding between their minds, just as her arms were pushing apart their bodies. Alvin and Cory were both breathing hard, staring at one another in uncomprehending silence. Neither knew what had happened to them.

Ms. Moriah took a few deep breaths, her mind composing a proper way to reprimand the students and educate them simultaneously. The boys’ attention turned to her expectantly, observing her mind’s thought-processes.

“Cory, you misunderstood. Alvin’s anger was not directed at you personally, but at you as an opponent in the game. Alvin, you must realize that you must temper your competitiveness with reason. Cory is not just an inanimate player, but another person. You can’t be angry at the concept of an opponent, without being angry at the person fulfilling that role.”

Ms. Moriah took a deep breath. “I know that’s a bit metaphysical for your young minds, but I don’t know how else to explain it. Each one of you got angry because of the other’s anger, and it spiraled out of control into a fight. You must always keep your emotions your own. Understand?”

“We understand,” Cory spoke for both he and Alvin, and Ms. Moriah could sense they did grasp the concept, thanks to observing her construct the explanation in her mind.

“I’m sorry Alvin,” Cory said.

“I’m sorry I got angry from your anger,” Alvin replied, and good feelings propagated among the three of them. Dopamine rewards were so much nicer than adrenaline.

“Very good,” Ms. Moriah said, standing upright and brushing the grass from her dress. “Now you boys go to the rest room and wash up. You’re both covered in dirt.”

“Yes Ma’am,” they said in unison and marched off the playground together, taking their feelings of reconciliation with them.

Their absence made her aware of another consciousness present, “Ms. Moriah?”

She turned around to find Astra’s father standing nearby, where he was admiring her rear just moments ago, and was now respectfully suppressing his desire to admire her figure from the front.

All men thought like this, so neither of them felt awkward about it. She found him attractive also, but with him being married and she in a long term relationship, they quickly put this unproductive, instinctual line of thought aside, which spoke volumes about their emotional maturity. Some people were so overwhelmed with their baser desires, they had to be prohibited from the Web altogether.

Astra’s father was a curious man, with a mind open to learning, and was most interested in her as a teacher, and how her mind worked to communicate ideas to his daughter. He was hoping to gain some pointers for how he could communicate with her as well. Ms. Moriah admired this, and Astra’s father was energized by the admiration.

“Pleased to meet you,” Ms. Moriah said, stepping forward to shake his hand.

“The pleasure is mine as well,” he replied, and with that, they were good friends.

Flash SF Story: The Way of the Dinosaurs

Posted on 5th July 2008 by Ryan Somma in Pure Speculation - Tags:

“I don’t understand why we have to leave Earth for a stupid space ship anyway,” Tory, my 10-year-old daughter, griped. She had been a muttering, grumpy bundle of joy all day as we loaded belongings into our assigned shuttle.

“Because it’s time for the human race to grow up and join the galactic community,” I reminded her patiently.

“But why do we have to give up Earth?” she snapped. “It’s our planet dad!”

“It’s not our planet,” I countered. “We were just using it as a home until we got smart enough to leave. It’s all the other species’ turn to use the Earth now, to evolve and see what they come up with.”

“Newsgrrl said the heavy metals in the soil will show our cousin species that we were here,” Tory said, piling her toys haphazardly on a box exactly opposite what I’d instructed her to do.

‘Newsgrrl’ was Tory’s new favorite podcast, a political pundit protesting the off-world human migration, providing a young girl, seeking to assert her intellectual individuality, a million ways to protest her off-worlder dad.

“When we’re gone, the trees and plants will take over everywhere we lived,” I said, “and they will pull the metals out of the soil so nobody will know the difference.”

“Newsgrrl said it’s silly to think we can just leave Earth without people finding evidence that we were here,” Tory lectured. “Newsgrrl says we’re going to look pretty stupid a hundred years from now, when our cousin species find out we were here.”

“A hundred million years from now, the next species to evolve intelligence will look through the geological strata and fossil history to find a mass extinction, dramatic climate change, and a layer of unusual metals and compounds in the rocks our soil will become,” I explained carefully. “They will hypothesize natural causes, like meteor strikes and volcanic activity, for all of those findings.”

“Our civilization was here a whole twenty-thousand years,” Tara quipped. “You can’t hide that.”

“We were leaving technological evidence here for only twenty-thousand years,” I countered. “That’s only point-zero-zero-zero-two percent of a hundred million years. We changed the Earth a whole bunch in that blink of an eye while we were growing up, but now it’s time to let another species grow up, something completely different. That’s why we’re taking all the large land animals with us when we go, so something completely new will evolve.”

“It’s still not fair,” Tory’s bottom lip stuck out, pouting, and I realized my error in trying reason with her on such a high level.

“Don’t you want to meet your new online friend, Qili, in person?” I asked, referring to the female exchange student from our more-advanced cousin species.

Tory nodded reluctantly, “Yes.”

“Then we have to go to a new and better place,” I said gently. “Qili’s great great great grandparents, great times ten to the sixth power, had to leave Earth, just like we’re doing now, 65 million years ago. If they didn’t, the mice from way back then would never have grown up into people, and we wouldn’t be here today. You don’t want to keep our next species-cousins from growing up, do you?”

“No,” she answered sullenly, and I knew I had won the argument. It just had to sink in with her. After a moment, she asked, “Is Qili a real life dinosaur? Like a brontosaurus or a velociraptor?”

“Yep,” I answered, resuming our packing. “Just like you’re a real life mammal, like a girraffe or lion.”

Tory gave me a skeptical look, and I knew another argument was forthcoming.


Prescience, Futurism, Hard SF… Go See WALL-E

Posted on 30th June 2008 by Ryan Somma in Mediaphilism - Tags: , ,

WALL-E's Curiosity Gives it Purpose

WALL-E’s Curiosity Gives it Purpose
Credit: Pixar Studios

Great Science Fiction films come out so rarely that I am overjoyed when a movie like Pixar’s WALL-E hits the screens. This is one of those rare SF stories that ventures into the distant future, a place so alien most SF writers don’t want to touch it.

WALL-E leaps more that 700 years into the future to a dystopian time where the human race has evacuated the Earth after burying it in trash. Waste Allocation Load Lifters Earth-Class (WALL-E) robots are left with the task of cleaning up the planet so humans may one day return. Only one such robot remains, WALL-E, with a cockroach as a companion, where all the other bots have long-since broken down.

WALL-E is Solar Powered

WALL-E is Solar Powered
Credit: Pixar Studios

WALL-E has survived these 700 years because it has learned to recycle from the skyscraper-tall mountains of garbage it has assembled. WALL-E is inquisitive, experimenting with the world around it, playing with all the toys left behind from our shopaholic binge on Earth. Its curiosity has obviously also had a crucial role in its survival all these centuries.

WALL-E meets EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a vastly more advanced robot sent from the humans in space, in a “boy meets girl” storyline that makes WALL-E a stowaway back to the human ship, where we find a society of humans all turned into obese blobs floating on mobile beds which perpetually feed them commercialized media and “meals in cup.” Such a dystopian future is not difficult to imagine in our present society, where we are encouraged to buy things we do not need and consume nutritionless calories far in excess of what our bodies can burn.


Credit: Pixar Studios

Can WALL-E and EVE save the human race? See for yourself. I left the theater to find myself confronted with a world of brandnames, and a fascinating new perspective on them and what they are doing to our human evolution. Impacting our worldview is what good science fiction is all about.

I also had lots of fun playing with Disney’s WALL-E Website

Flash SF Story: Scriptures

Posted on 28th June 2008 by Ryan Somma in Pure Speculation - Tags:

“Father,” Demetrius’ voice trembled, his youthful blue eyes were swollen and watery, “I cannot absolve myself of these doubts.”

Lord Balthasar placed two firm and reassuring hands on Demetrius’ shoulders, welcoming this distraction from the unrelenting hunger pains that plagued them all, “It is uncommon for one to question their faith in such desperate times, when we need it most.”

Demetrius avoided the Lord’s eyes, replying, “I fear my faith is what has brought me into this crisis.”

Lord Balthasar squeezed the lad’s shoulders and gently shook him so that Demetrius looked up into his eyes, coming into the here and now, “It is not our faith that has imperiled us, but that of the heretics who persecute us.”

“But who’s to say whose faith is true?” Demetrius searched the old man’s eyes, pleading, but looked to the far dirt wall as the muffled sounds of explosions found their way into the bunker.

“Ours is the one true word. Theirs is an heretical text,” Lord Balthasar assured him. “Our texts are ancient, written by the hand of God himself. They cannot make the same claim.”

“But don’t they?” Demtrius snapped back at the Lord, his trembling increasing in intensity. The boy was practically in shock with his fear. “I have no proof these words were not written by man! If God wanted to adhere to the scripture, why didn’t he write it on the Moon, mountainsides, and tree leaves?”

Another explosion, closer now, shook the room so that streams of dust poured through the ceiling. The rest of Lord Balthasar’s flock whimpered and cried in fear. Demetrius’ doubting could not come at a worse time.

Lord Balthasar pushed the youth down onto his knees, “You must have faith that there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in philosophy!”

The boy instantly stopped trembling, and merely gazed up at the Lord in stunned silence.

Then the heretical battle chant roared just outside, sending chills through everyone in the room, “Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war!!!

There were only moments of life left to them now. Lord Balthasar dropped to one knee and the congregation followed suit, “Let us pray!”

Together, they recited from the holy passages:

What a piece of work is a man,
how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties,
in form and moving how express and admirable,
in action how like an angel,
in apprehension how like a god!
the beauty of the world,
the paragon of animals—and yet,
what is this quintessence of dust?

This is a short short SF story, less than 600 words, in the spirit of 365Tomorrows.

Movies You Can Skip: 10,000 B.C.

Posted on 10th March 2008 by Ryan Somma in Mediaphilism - Tags: , ,

10,000 B.C. tells the story of a tribe of people living in what is, to my mother’s best guess, the Himalayas. All year long, the tribe looks forward to when the mammoths come migrating through their land, so they can hold their great hunt. This is actually right about the time Mammoths went extinct due to climate change and over-hunting by primitive tribes just like the one in this movie. These are hunter-gatherers, but we don’t see them do much gathering, which would have been their primary source of sustenance. I guess they focused on gathering after they finished eating all the mammoths.

Somehow this is a multi-cultural tribe, some members look Caucasian, others Asian, others North American Indian, but they all speak English with an inconsistent Arab accent in dialogue that is meant to be primitive, but is actually just really really bad. I cringed every time a character referred to a long time as, “Many Moons.”

One day a blue-eyed girl shows up, the local shaman looks into her mind and predicts “four-legged demons” would come one day, meaning men on horseback, 6,000 years before the domestication of horses. And they do come, taking much of the tribe as slaves, including the blue-eyed girl, who our well-waxed hero must go on a quest to save.

This quest takes him through the bamboo jungles of Asia and India, where he is attacked by Phororhacos, a giant predatory bird that not only lived in South America, not the Old World, but was long extinct by this time. He then somehow travels through Africa (before reaching the Middle-East), where he gathers up many African Tribes into an army, including one tribe with bones sticking out of their chins, which made absolutely no sense whatsoever (seriously, somebody please get a photo of it and explain how that works).

Eventually, they arrive at the Pyramids at Giza, which are nearly complete 7,500 years before they were actually finished, and located alone in a vast desert that was actually lush farmland, a fantastic metropolis, and one of the most advanced civilizations of the time. There are also Mammoths being used to build the Pyramids… but whatever.

The Pyramids in 10,000 B.C.

The Pyramids in 10,000 B.C.

Instead of being run by the Pharaohs, the pyramids are being built by people claiming to be gods whose city has sunk into the ocean. Thanks to my Mom the New Ager, I now know they were referring to Atlantis, a myth probably based on the Minoan civilization, which was wiped out by a volcanic eruption about 3,500 years ago, 8,500 years after this movie takes place.

The slaves revolt, the oppressors are toppled with much slow motion dramatics (Yes, I know this is sort of a plot spoiler (If you’re one of those people who doesn’t know the good guys are gonna win.), but if you still plan on seeing this film after everything I’ve told you, then you deserve to have it spoiled.). The movie accurately depicts the pyramidion, the top of the Pyramid, was covered in gold leaf, but doesn’t bother to explain how the Pyramids were finished after the slaves push the pyramidion off to avalanche down one of the Pyramid’s slopes. I guess the Pharaohs could have come along thousands of years later and said, “Hey look at those half-built Pyramids! I know, let’s get some slaves and finish building them!”

The one thing the film does get right is that blue eyes was a genetic mutation that appeared between six and 10K years ago; however, this film was made before the fact was known. The director got lucky, which does give 10,000 BC one redeeming quality: proving the hypothesis that even a blind squirrel can find an occasional acorn.

The Spiraling Web a Free Science Fiction E-Book by Ryan Somma

Posted on 29th February 2008 by Ryan Somma in Creative Commons Works - Tags:
The Spiraling Web

The Spiraling Web

Years of writing and rewriting this novel and peddling it around to dozens of agents have made me realize it could eventually be overcome by events and never be read. This is a hard-SF cyberpunk novel that I wrote in 2003, and have been rewriting ever since.

Here’s the pitch:

The cycs are not a computer virus destroying the Internet as everyone thinks, but a sentience naturally evolved out of our information systems. Flatline, a hacker with seemingly supernatural powers over information systems and a demonically disfigured avatar, has assumed leadership of the AI hive, overseeing their domination of the World Wide Web and plots their conquest of the world outside it.

Zai, handle “BlackSheep,” a blind girl in a world where medical science has all but eliminated the condition, travels to find her missing online friend Omni; however, an emotionally traumatic childhood experience with a virtual friend will not allow her to believe in the possibility of Artificial Intelligence.

Devin, handle “Omni,” straddles both worlds, the virtual and the physical. He sees a war, where one side’s victory, human or artificial intelligence, means the tragic demise of the other’s entire civilization. When Flatline locks him out of the Internet, Devin must successfully navigate the strange, alien world known as Real Life if he is to prevent total tragedy.

What are the ethical dilemmas we face as chatbots grow so convincing, they begin to deceive people, especially children? How will culture evolve in a world where we cannot build on others’ ideas because everything is copyrighted or patented? Who owns emergent intelligence in information systems? It provokes speculation as it entertains.

Available for online purchase through LuLu.

Also available as a free downloadable PDF. Lemme know what you think, even if it’s harsh criticism. : )

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License, meaning you can make all the copies you want, remix it, rewrite it, and even make money off it, but you have to give me credit for the original work and you have to give your derivatives a similar copy-left license.

To make writing derivatives easier, here’s the word document.

Have fun with it!

I also have a sequel written, titled Entropy of Imagination, which I will post sometime this summer once I have it polished. It will also be CC’ed.

“Simulation’s End” Posted to Oort-Cloud

Posted on 22nd February 2008 by Ryan Somma in Pure Speculation - Tags:

Miniscule zygotes,
Grow up to form memes,
Verily, Verily, Verily, Verily,
Life is but a real-time strategy game.

I’ve been playing around speculatively with this whole Physical World as a Virtual Reality concept and wrote a short story exploring some of the implications:

Anzel took a deep breath and closed his eyes as the cooling fans whined down, mentally calming himself with a meditation technique he’d learned in Tibet 3,000 years ago. A three-dimensional model of the student’s brain slowly rotated in the space beside the chair, the infusion of accelerant stem cells still swarming around it like bees around a hive, working overtime to finish all the last-moment neural connections necessary to accommodate the wealth of data the organ was struggling to soak up. In a few days, they would implant the network connection to remote data storage that would serve as a cognitive prosthesis for all the data soon to come.

The model vanished. The student had died, and now the system was resurrecting him.

You can read the whole short story here. It’s 2,500 words. There will probably be other angles I’ll want to explore with future work.

Anzel took a deep breath and closed his eyes as the cooling fans whined down, mentally calming himself with a meditation technique he’d learned in Tibet 3,000 years ago. A three-dimensional model of the student’s brain slowly rotated in the space beside the chair, the infusion of accelerant stem cells still swarming around it like bees around a hive, working overtime to finish all the last-moment neural connections necessary to accommodate the wealth of data the organ was struggling to soak up. In a few days, they would implant the network connection to remote data storage that would serve as a cognitive prosthesis for all the data soon to come.

The model vanished. The student had died, and now the system was resurrecting him.Fijn’s eyes fluttered open, as if from a lifetime of sleep, but it was only a few minutes since he’d gone under.

Fijn cast about, momentarily disoriented before focusing on his guide. “Hello Anzel,” he whispered uncertainly.

Anzel grinned warmly and nodded. Fijn did not refer to him as “Mr. Anzel,” as he had just a few minutes ago, before going under. His experiences in the simulation had made them social equals. Loosing his status as an authority figure was Anzel’s favorite part of his responsibilities.

“The colors were off and things didn’t taste right,” Fijn said at last.

Anzel nodded to signal his sympathy with the complaint, but corrected, “That’s how your ancestors sensed things.” Anzel remembered the era of Fijn’s simulation and catered his explanation to the jargon he would best understand without getting too technical, “Their brains weren’t wired the same as ours. They lacked the digital enhancements that give our perceptions and memory such clarity.”

“It wasn’t very real,” Fijn countered somewhat indignantly.

Anzel gave another sympathetic nod, but countered, “Were you aware of the simulation?”

“I…” Fijn looked down, recalling, “There were times when I had my suspicions.”

“I think you mean you had your doubts,” Anzel ducked his head, trying to restore eye contact. It was important to establish a connection to the real world during this period of acclimation. “Everyone has doubts, even today. You won’t truly grow suspicious until the 2800s, even the people who actually lived in that time period, and all those after them, believed they were living in a simulation. Today we take it for granted that all this,” Anzel gestured around himself, “is a simulation of some sort, but we cannot prove it.”

Fijn was frowning away into space. Anzel knew what was coming and tapped into his meditative conditioning for strength.

“My life’s work…” Fijn muttered at last, “it was all for nothing.”

“The knowledge you took from your life’s work wasn’t for nothing,” Anzel reached out and placed a firm hand on Fijn’s shoulder and shook him gently. “You have an entire lifetime of learning under your belt now. Soon you’ll have several lifetimes–”

Fijn cut him short, shrugging off his hand, “All those people, they weren’t real. My mother, my father… wife… daughters… That isn’t right. I spent that entire lifetime thinking I was going to be reunited with Sanya after I died, but she never existed.” Fijn finally met Anzel’s gaze, “That was very cruel of you.”

Once, when Anzel was new to this responsibility, he had told a student that life could be cruel, but that was not fair. What the students experienced was engineered, purposeful, and there was no way they could consent to entering the simulation until they knew what they were going into, and there was no way to know what they were going into without having them actually go into it.

“People will continue to enter and leave your real life too,” Anzel said carefully. “You’re real mother and father will eventually die, you might find someone to love, but you’re time together will be brief. You are very aware of this now, and you will grow ever more aware of it through more simulations.”

“You mean more lifetimes,” Fijn countered, “more meaningless lifetimes.”

“Not meaningless, no experience is meaningless,” Anzel held up a hand at the imminent objection, “but I understand what you’re saying. In addition to the education you have taken from your lifetime as a paleontologist, you have also touched thousands of lives.”

Fijn’s eyebrows lifted curiously at this.

“You weren’t alone in there,” Anzel explained. “You were living on a planet with 6.5 billion other people on it, and we run several billion students through these simulations worldwide every day. I can guarantee you that, in a few years of schooling, running an average of 500 simulations a day, you will have developed a lifetime relationship with millions of people alive right at this moment.”

Fijn sat up suddenly, urgently, “My wife. I want to see her.”

Anzel held up a hand to pause the student. He logged into his ocular implant briefly and shook his head, “She’s gone back in, and is well into another lifetime. This might be difficult for you to hear, but you were not her first love.”

“I’m aware of that, she was heartbroken when I met her—“

“No, I mean she’s at a higher grade-level than you,” Anzel pressed the understanding into Fijn’s mind, trying to get him through the inevitable pain as quickly as possible. “She’s been running simulations since last week. She has more than 10,000 lifetimes worth of experience inside her now.”

Fijn turned dark, “Are you saying my thirty years of marriage was just a fling to her?”

“Yes. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Fijn trembled, his fists clenched and he appeared about to strike Anzel, but stopped, staring at his tiny hands. He frowned, pushing his eyes shut against the reality around him, and shook his head.

Fijn waited quietly, remembering his own first lifepartner. You never forgot your first.

“You took it all away from me,” Fijn muttered at last. “You didn’t have the right.”

“As your elders, we decided what we thought was best for you,” Anzel said. “Just like you had to decide whether to send your children to public or private school, discipline them in what you thought was best, and you made mistakes. This seems like a mistake to you right now, but you’ll soon understand.”

Fijn squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, refusing, “But the ethical questions! I had no idea what I was getting into!”

“You had no idea what you were getting into when you were born,” Anzel countered.

“You didn’t consent to existing, you were just thrown into it and you adapted. We’re simply accelerating your adaptation. People used to only get one shot at life, now we’re giving you a few million practice-runs on it before you have to deal with the real thing. Modern living is far too complex for anyone to live successfully with only a single youth to prepare them.”

Fijn was obviously trying to fathom this, so Anzel pressed ahead, coaxing, “What you need to do is go back into the simulation, live another lifetime, and then another one. Trust me, things seem bad now, but you’ll see it all in a whole different light after a few more lifetimes. Believe it or not, it will become quite routine.”

Fijn absentmindedly picked up the toy dinosaur he’d brought with him into the school, fidgeting with it the way he had before the simulation. This was a good sign.

“Are you ready to go for another ride?” Anzel prompted.

Fijn continued to shift uncomfortably, “I… I don’t know. I mean, I realize that lifetime was only a few minutes real time, but living an entire life time again feels like such a huge commitment.”

“Every minute your not in the simulation, it’s running without you. A hundred years have cycled through while we were having this conversation,” Anzel explained. “You’re missing out.”

Fijn shook his head, “Maybe I could just wait and hop on the next ride? How long until the whole of human history, past to present, runs through?”

“It will finish tonight, and tomorrow we’ll run through the whole thing again. You can come by tomorrow a little before this time and jump back into the timeline where you left off.”

“Are there other simulations?” Fijn asked.

“You mean realities where there are four spatial dimensions or where gravitational, strong and weak nuclear forces are slightly different?” Anzel grinned mischievously at this teaser of worlds to come. “You have to live through the whole of modern human history first before we can expose you to living in one of those universes. You’ve only lived one lifetime in our reality. You need to compile more wisdom before you can experience the completely alien.

“The healthiest thing for you to do is to go back in right now,” Anzel leaned in, trying to assure the student, “spend the rest of the afternoon getting more life experience. I know you’re wise enough from you first lifetime to know I’m speaking the truth.”

“I know.” Fijn acknowledged. “It’s just that—That last simulation wasn’t always nice.” The student became distant, recalling. “It was really scary at times. I remember that one point in my life, right after my wife had passed away, and I was having to declare bankruptcy… I—I don’t want to live through something like that again.”

“The simulation will never give you more than you can handle,” Anzel recognized the look Fijn was giving him, as if he were something alien. Anzel had wisdom no 16-year-old had in the 2000s. It was commonplace for the student to have an elder so young, but a lifetime spent in an era when wisdom came only with decades of physical life made it seem uncanny.

Reading this, Anzel tried to assure Fijn, “This world will seem familiar to you again with time. Trust me. You’ve spent eighty years living a thousand years ago, and only eight years in the present. You may be an elder there, but you’re still a child here, physically and emotionally.”

Fijn noticed the toy dinosaur now gripped in his hands. He gave it to Anzel, “An eighty-four year old man doesn’t play with toys.”

Anzel cradled the toy in his own hands, considering as it blinked and cooed softly at him. It was a simulacrusaur, a dinosaur unknown in the 21st century, and it was only discovered within the last two centuries through computer simulations, no fossil had ever been found.

“You know,” Anzel finally broke the silence. “Knowledge is a toy. Do you think you’re interest in Paleontology was purely academic?”

“I enjoy paleontology,” Fijn said with a hint of defensiveness. “That doesn’t make it any less an intellectual pursuit.”

“Not at all,” Anzel agreed. “The advanced intellectual nature of the interest only serves to make the game that much more engaging.”

Fijn frowned darkly, “My life was not a game.”

“If you look at it a certain way, you could—“

“My life was not a game!” Fijn shouted with adult rage his immature vocal chords could not manage and he almost choked on it. Gasping, he managed to continue, “My life was not a game. I was Edmond Gillcrest, paleontologist. I had fourteen pages worth of citations in my curriculum vitae. I had a loving wife, who I stayed up with for two days as she died. My daughter, Deja, is a professor of microbiology and Olivia works in nanotech. I have… I have… five grandchildren, who I left college funds for. Every one of them! I built a house with my own two hands! It will stand another hundred years or more! I left my fossil collection to the Natural History Museum in Aurora!

“I have spent my whole life trying to be a good person, to leave my world a better place than I had found it, to believe there was a purpose to it all, but now… now… Why?” Fijn looked up to him, pleading.

Anzel was silent. There was nothing he could do at the moment. Fijn had to work it out for himself. Analogies and metaphors for life were fun perspectives on it, but Fijn was still too young to appreciate them. Anzel didn’t have the ultimate answers anymore than anyone else.

Fijn swallowed and blotted at the tears on his cheeks with his sleeve, when he spoke, his voice was tired and ragged, “How old are you?”

“Old enough to stop keeping track,” Anzel leaned forward and pressed the toy dinosaur back into Fijn’s hand. “Keep this. The more lifetimes you live, the more you will cherish knowledge over material gains, which you can’t take with you out of the simulation; however few people ever seem to grasp that concept. Keep this as a single memento of your journey’s first step, remember how you once cherished it, but no more.”

Fijn cradled the toy and it gurgled at him sweetly, blinking it’s amber-colored eyes.

“I want my mommy,” his whisper was barely audible.

In the blink of an eye, Anzel had contacted Fijn’s family to come retrieve their member. Fijn was an adult now, however an inexperienced one, and could make his own decisions. He was in his family’s hands.

“I’m allowed to let you go home tonight,” Anzel spoke as they waited, “but be sure to come back as soon as possible. Right now the person you are is defined only through the experiences of a single lifetime. You’re not a paleontologist who lived at the turn of the 21st century. You are an eight year old boy living in the 31st century, an eight year old boy who must live countless more lifetimes and age many more real-time years in order to finish his education. Do you understand?”

Fijn did not make eye-contact, and Anzel could detect tearing in the child’s eyes. Several very tense moments later, a young woman, maybe a few years older than Anzel, appeared in the classroom.

Fijn ran up and wrapped his arms around her legs, “Mommy…” he cried into her knees.

She smiled politely at Anzel, who smiled apologetically in return, before she shuffled out of the classroom and down the hall, leaving Anzel to contemplate tomorrow’s sessions with the child.

Anzel knew it wasn’t a failure. The child’s reluctance to live another lifetime in the simulator was natural. It still happened to Anzel from time to time.

He powered down the simulation port and considered it quietly. Some lifetimes were like really good books, they changed the way you looked at the real world, and you needed some time to appreciate that newfound perspective, enjoy it, assimilate it into your person, before you could pick up the next one.

Anzel nodded at this thought, he had seen the phenomena so many times, he did not question the truth of it. Fijn had simply picked up a really good book, and needed a little time to digest it.

Then he would return to the library for more.

What a Wonderful Trip It’s Been: Y the Last Man

Posted on 30th January 2008 by Ryan Somma in Mediaphilism - Tags: ,
Y the Last Man

Y the Last Man

I would love to go back and read through all the graphic novels I’ve bought collecting this series from its beginnings, but they’ve all been loaned out to people who loaned them out to other people and so on and so on. I did recently have the time to review my sister’s collection and enjoy how far this story has come in the last five years.

Something spontaneously kills all males of every species of mammal on Earth, with the exception of Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand. As the last man on Earth, he is pursued by neo-Amazons, who, like the Amazon’s of history, burn off one of their breasts for their cause, and want to kill him because he threatens their female domination. The Israeli army, now the strongest army in the world for including women in strong numbers, is after him. Not to mention the news reporters, politicians, and others interested in the most valuable person on Earth, the one bearing the last of the Y Chromosomes.

Today the final issue arrived, and it did not let me down. I was reminded of all the strong female roles that came into play, and all the logistics of a male-less world for the remaining gender to adapt to. Now that the series is complete, I can honestly give it the thumbs-up and recommend anyone interested in a well-written, thought-provoking series filled with great characters, social commentary, and science fiction themes pick it up.

This summer the final Y the Last Man will be included in the last graphic novel. I highly recommend them. There’s also a movie in the works, which I’m sure will be awesome; however, I can’t see it being superior to the comic or encompassing the whole story in a way that does it justice.

Vertigo Comics has Issue #1 (PDF) available for download, and the complete series (almost) is available for purchase online.

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Carl Sagan Appears in Atomic Robo!!!

Posted on 28th January 2008 by Ryan Somma in Mediaphilism - Tags:

Note: I’m getting a lot of hits on this post, so visitors might like to know that Carl Sagan made a second bad-ass appearance in “Atomic Robo” a little more recently too.

In issue #4 Robo gets knocked out and has a dream where Carl “Cosmos” Sagan asks Robo to fly shotgun on the Viking Mission. I think the author’s caught Sagan’s style perfectly.

Carl Sagan in Atomic Robo

Carl Sagan in Atomic Robo

“The Reluctant Transhumanist” Posted at Oort-Cloud

Posted on 22nd January 2008 by Ryan Somma in Pure Speculation - Tags:

I’ve posted my short story The Reluctant Transhumanist to Oort-Cloud. It’s about a young man sacrificing his humanity to pursue his dreams.

I’m gonna work on getting more stuff up there in the coming months. I’ve got a backlog of SF stories I need to get out of my writing folder that I keep getting distracted from polishing. : )

Crunch, the sound shook him out of his thoughts. He turned his head to where the doctor was working, but could only see part of her back from behind the surgical screen. One mechanical hand was missing from the tray, and his eye focused on the remaining left hand’s hollow wrist with the long thick screw in the center, contemplating its design.

Crunch, he understood it. A few loud popping noises followed and he remembered the sounds of having his wisdom teeth pulled. What a mechanical wonder the human body was, chemicals and electricity, bones and muscles.

* * *

The Reluctant Transhumanist

Alt+Tab brought up the browser window. F5 refreshed the stock market data. IDEO was $4.15/share and still climbing. Alt+Shift+Tabbed back one screen. F5 to refresh it. Two minutes left on the Honda 1000-horsepower generator and the highest bid remained only $812.33. Alt+Tab-Tab two screens over. F5 refreshed. RYSO at $27.83/share.

Ctrl+N opened another browser window and he keyboard-shortcutted into his stock portfolio. Alt+Shift+Tab back one screen. F5. RYSO at $27.52/share. Alt+Tab forward and purchased fifty shares, now five dollars below its average index. If it dropped more, he would buy more. It was bound to fluctuate above the average before month’s end.

The purchase confirmation returned after several agonizing seconds. Alt+Tab-Tab-Tab-Tab-Tab flipped through a screen with each keyboard tap. He rattled the transaction off into this month’s spreadsheet and Alt+Tab-Tab-Tabbed back to the auction. F5 refreshed its status. Highest bid was now $815.26, with forty-five seconds left. He trumped it up one dollar—F5–hoping, while the page reloaded, that the highest bidder had not entered a maximum bid. The page returned, now $817.26, there was an automated bidder in place.

Forty seconds left till the auction closed. A keyboard short-cut opened the calculator, and he rattled in the going rate for a used 1,000-horsepower electric generator on the number-pad, subtract the estimated resale time, converting minutes to dollars based on last month’s net profits divided by its 43,200 minutes, subtract free shipping, and then subtract an additional three-percent for margin of error: $922.05. He submitted the bid with twenty seconds left on the clock. If anyone bested it, they actually needed the generator and recognized the bargain.

$922.05, his bid came back. Fifteen seconds left. It was as good as his or not worth any more time. Alt+Shift+Tab-Tab. F5. $27.32/share. He submitted a purchase request for another 100 shares, the stock symbol, whatever it represented, grew more undervalued each second.

His stomach moaned and he winced. He was one-hour thirteen minutes overdue for a meal, but, as usual, could not afford the break. A ping sound alerted him to a new e-mail, and he noted the subject with satisfaction, “You Were the High Bidder” in the screen’s bottom right-hand corner. That meant he had approximately twelve hours to find a buyer for the generator. Yet another clock joining the cacophony ticking inside his head.

He double-clicked on the script he kept tucked into the screen’s bottom corner. An entry box appeared and he Ctrl+C cut and Ctrl+P pasted the auction description into it. With a few quick modifications, he hit the “OK” button. The script would now automatically put the generator for sale on seventy-two local newspapers’ classifieds boards nationwide with an asking price of $1,599, ten-percent below the going rate for a used generator.

He tabbed back to refresh another stock display with one hand, reaching for the MRE lying on the desk a few feet away. $4.92share. MRE forgotten, both hands zipped back to the keyboard to sell all 2,000 shares of IDEO for an estimated profit of $52,356–after taxes.

Again he reached for the MRE, but another ping nabbed his attention, a reply to his ad in the Chicago-Sun, six hundred miles away. He verified the generator included output modulation, making it safe for delicate electronic equipment. He toggled back and forth between sentence fragments to check on other stocks and auctions.

The e-mail vanished across the Internet and he snatched the MRE, cutting open the thick plastic with a dirty knife and quickly shoveled the cold chicken sludge down his throat with the blade’s flat edge. The little he tasted was unappetizing. The year’s supply of Meals-Ready-To-Eat was several years past what was considered appetizing, but that was a quality issue. The nutritional value remained, providing the 2,000 daily required caloric intake, plus 60-grams of protein. Its antiquated state allowed him to acquire the whole supply for exactly $365, one-dollar a day, a savings of $715 dollars a year.

He yawned and shook his head to clear the impending mental stupor. Yawning was like his moaning stomach, symptomatic of another neglected biological need. He snatched the bottle of pills sitting beside the discarded meal wrapper and popped one with a few gulps of water from his ever-present jug. Modafinil was intended for the treatment of narcolepsy, but allowed him to completely avoid sleep without ever growing fatigued.

Every couple of months he would forgo the medication to catch eight-hours of actual sleep, but only because he needed the mini-vacations to refresh his mental state. Dreams were important, without them this all lost purpose.

Purpose, he looked up at the poster on the wall behind his desk, at the cool clear blue waters, glistening sunlight across miles of warm beaches, the finish line, reward for years of sacrifice.

Another ping returned him to the monitor. There was a buyer for the generator who already secured the deal with a direct payment into his escrow account. He smiled, that was a net profit of $677 for one hour and twenty-two minutes work, off and on. He could even have the auction seller ship it directly to this buyer.

* * *

It was 5:00 PM. The mail’s presence was guaranteed at this time of day and he was anxiously awaiting an excuse to get away from the three flat screens. Shuffling through the living room, past the kerosene heater, which only cost two-dollars a day in fuel vice the three dollars in electricity his condo’s central air system consumed, he came to the front door and scooped up the pile of letters on the floor there. With a quick glance through the mail slot for packages outside, he swiveled and sorted through this fresh batch of paperwork on his return trip to the office, formerly bedroom.

The bills were obsolete. He quickly identified them and threw them into a basket for record keeping. All of his expenses were settled online through automated transactions. He merely reviewed them for consistency, and, occasionally, efficiency, before moving on.

There were the collector’s cards he had won in online auctions. Each of these lightweight envelopes represented a few dollars profit, meager, but essential to maintaining a steady and diversified income. These were all part of his regularly scheduled online financial games. What he was hoping for wasn’t here.

It was now one hundred twenty days past due. The contractor was not returning his phone calls nor had they responded to his written inquiries. Now his only remaining option for getting payment was legal action. Not only would that cost him in representation fees, but every hour he spent in the legal process was hundreds of dollars in potential income abandoned for something as intangible as justice. He had to let it go.

His fingers ached, and he set the remaining envelopes down to rub his knuckles, but this action no longer helped. The pain was deeper than massage could penetrate; it was in the very tendons and muscle attachments. It concerned him, and his cursory research into repetitive stress injuries validated those fears. The physical malaise could only heal through the impossible: an extended break from the keyboard.

Stretching his fingers and popping each joint one by one for relief, he shuffled back to the bedroom, popping the kerosene heater off on the way. Settling down to his desk, he opened his project planner and removed the delinquent income from his net profits. It was a painful loss, over the rest of his projected life span it would cost him thousands in compound interest, setting him back months, but ultimately just a drop in the ocean of transactions.

Again the fingers ached and he grew nervous, as if this minor pain might grow into a malignant, crippling disorder. Pulling a wool blanket around his legs and over his shoulders, he tried to sit straight in his chair, fighting the urge to huddle forward against the encroaching cold. He could no longer spare the two-dollars a day, $60 a month, and $240 per quarter-year length of winter’s season. Besides, the cold was good for his hands.

* * *

“Love you too,” he said, hanging up the phone and swiveling back to the monitors. His mother had cost him nearly half an hour’s productivity, and while he tried not to resent the distraction, throughout the entire conversation he felt like he was sinking, falling behind in the race. The race, of course, was against his finite lifespan and maximizing the proportion of it spent doing nothing on those distant beaches.

He did manage to redeem the time somewhat, keeping his hands in a pot of hot water. Ice water was the most effective at alleviating the pain, but the numbness hampered his WPM, increasing typing errors, and cutting into his productivity. Not good.

Yet the pain was also cutting into his productivity. A full ten-percent of his time, two hours and forty minutes a day was now spent fighting the pain. Painkillers cut into his profit, massaging and stretching his fingers cut into his time. The pain was a liability, and he dreaded the only guaranteed solution he found online.

Unacceptable, he thought, banishing the option from his mind and stared up at the poster of paradise on his wall. It would detract from his quality of life. His present life was qualitatively in the negative, but the solution to his tendonitis would reduce the quality of paradise when he finally reached it..

Dear Valued Customer,

This automated reply is in regards to your recent inquiry about item #1000101

He crumpled over the keyboard half way through the sentence, balling his hands into painful fists. He was trying to finish modifying the transaction confirmation letter, but the strain was too much. The pain overwhelmed him.

It was not fair. Why was flesh so frail? He was only… three…? Maybe four…? years into this and already his body was rebelling, falling apart under the strain. It was unacceptable. The project required at least eight years of dedication, maybe less with a little luck.

Forgive me hands, he thought to the cramping digits. I know, it was supposed to be finished by now, but I was young and I failed to take into account inflation… volatile markets… and…dishonesty.

He leaned over onto his hands, squeezing them between his bony chest and knobby knees. Make the pain go away. Anyone should be capable of making it in a free market in a free world. It just requires hard work, dedication, and resignation.

Managing to look up at his computer, he found his project plan displayed on the middle monitor. Why hadn’t he maintained a history of its modifications? Ctrl+Z. Ctrl+Z. Ctrl+Z. Ctrl+Z. Undo. Undo. Undo. Undo. It was no use. He could not walk backwards through the years of changes, could not look up the rational behind them. He was slave to the project plan, prisoner to his own past reasoning that he could no longer recall. Sure it felt right, sound, logical years ago, but what about now?

The far right monitor held the current status of one of his many stock portfolios. He squinted, not at the portfolio, but at the advertisement playing in a continual loop to the screen’s right. Red arrows radiated from a pair of hands, casts appeared on those hands, like the useless supports he wore now, which failed to provide any ergonomic support, a waste of profit. A red blinking “X” appeared over the now empty casts on the screen, and he knew what came next. It was the only way.

He shed the blanket, stood up, and lumbered downstairs. His overcoat waited beside the door and he blew on it to stir up the dust. It took some time for him to figure out the laces on his boots, but eventually drew them tight around his calves.

Only then did he notice the bathrobe, the thermal underwear, and thick beard belaying his purpose. No matter; he pulled the overcoat over his shoulders and felt sufficiently presentable. The black, wide-brimmed hat near the mail basket fit snuggly over his head and, more importantly, shielded his eyes. The eyes were important. Finally he fumbled through the mail pile for the keys and his wallet, the final components. Another clock started ticking as he searched for them.

* * *

The metro station still wasn’t accepting debit cards, a dilemma he failed to account for with a cash alternative. By the time he managed to find an ATM machine, he was an hour behind schedule, but the aching hands prodded him onto the train anyway. An additional hour was a setback, but abandoning this errand would compound the net loss.

He sat on the train, staring at his hands nestled in his lap. He held up his right hand, then his left, rubbing the fingers together, feeling the texture of his fingerprints. More people got on the train the closer it came to the city, but the low brim of his hat protected him from noticing them. He examined the tips of his fingers, pausing at a paper cut he could not remember receiving on his index finger. He poked it, grinning at the sharp, uncomfortable pain this caused.

A hangnail on his thumb brought another pause as he fiddled with it, summoning nostalgia for hangnails past. The fingernails were short from his constant gnawing, more efficient than getting up for the clippers and more persistent as well. Long fingernails were bad for productivity, interfering with typing and such. Plus it was possible the act of chewing them recouped some of their protein value.

He wiggled the digits, feeling the cool winds play between them. He stroked his overcoat, enjoying its soft, velvety texture. Hands were such wonderful tools, all the more tragic how they had failed him.

A large woman sat down in the neighboring seat, and he stopped playing. Setting his hands down in his lap again, staring at them, thinking. They were actually quite clumsy things, he told himself, inefficient, a distraction.

* * *

The train’s loudspeaker announced his stop, and he made a clumsy effort to get up. The overweight female passenger sitting beside him realized, too late, his intention, and when she finally got up and stepped out into the isle, fresh passengers were boarding, forcing him to push against their current, struggling to escape the train.

He made it onto the boarding platform, there were passengers milled around the train’s doors. There was never enough room for all the people in the city. He burst from the crowd, stumbling forward in surprise at the sudden freedom. The mall doors were straight ahead, and he wasted no time passing through them.

The mall was another river. The low brimmed hat and overcoat pulled tight around him offered some protection, but the lights, sights, and sounds overwhelmed nonetheless. He marched across the ceramic tiled floor with purpose, but was actually still trying to compose himself, to focus through the surrounding bewilderment both dizzying and frightening.

Without eye contact, so important in gauging people’s intentions, he was left to estimating the trajectory of their lower halves. So he stayed to the right, which prevented him from walking into the oncoming pedestrian rush, but stalled him with intermittent window shoppers. He navigated around these with some difficulty and awkwardness.

His breathing grew heavier, panicked. His skin crawled with heat, ears burning, and he imagined them glowing, blood red. When his vision blurred so that he could not recover focus, he turned halfway into the nearest store and huddled against the faux marble columns framing the entrance. He remained there for some time, pressing the brim of his hat and nose into the plastic, eyes closed, breathing patiently. He was exhausted, wondering how he would ever get home and how he even got here.

He stroked the cold marble with the fingertips of his right hand, then the backs of his fingers. Without this tranquil oasis, he might have continued fighting the crowds until he dropped dead of exhaustion. He looked up and around, eyes avoiding the staring onlookers. His destination was fifty yards away.

He memorized the route before leaving this sanctuary, visualizing himself successfully navigating it several times over. Shuffling along the storefronts, he counted the forks in the walkway, and crossed over to the other side at the appropriate intersection. Once there he merged with the flow running in the opposite direction and cut over once more to enter the clinic.

“May I help you?” a soft woman’s voice asked, when he paused inside the entranceway, taking deep breaths. He looked up slightly, and took a few cautious steps into the room. Again she prompted him, “Do you have an appointment?”

“Yes,” he almost whispered, lifting his head high enough to catch a glimpse of the pretty receptionist before lowering the brim of his hat again and gave the fake name, “Ajoy Singh.”

“You’re expected Mr. Singh,” she said, and he drew his overcoat around more tightly, imagining the woman staring at the bathrobe and pajamas underneath, “If you’ll just take a seat, the doctor will be with you shortly.”

He heard the receptionist notify the doctor of his arrival and, before he could sit, another woman’s voice called at his back, “Ajoy?” he turned around, timidly, without looking up, “Right this way please.”

He shuffled past the lab-coated woman with the high-heel shoes into a brightly lit hallway. She directed him into one of the many rooms along the corridor. It was an office, warm and comfortable. He sank into the large leather chair at the doctor’s urging.

She sat down behind the desk, and he saw her set down a digital recorder, “Do you mind if I record our conversation? It’s for legal purposes.”

He shrugged, “Yes–I mean, no. I don’t mind.”

“Thanks,” she started the recorder. “You requested a surgical procedure we offer at this augmentation clinic, would you mind repeating that request now?”

“Hands,” he said, a tremble in his voice. “I need new hands.”

“And the reason you are requesting this procedure?”

“Carpal tunnel syndrome,” he said, rubbing his fingers, “chronic and crippling. I can’t continue my work with this pain.”

“Is your employer demanding you undergo this procedure?” she asked.

“No,” he replied, “I have no employer. It’s for me, personally. I mean—I’m self-employed.”

“I understand,” she said soothingly. “We get more people in here for this procedure than you might expect, although eyes are our primary product.”

“Yes,” he whispered loud enough for her, “I know.” He gestured at his eyes, hidden below the brim of his hat where she could not see. They rendered a clean image that did not give him headaches or make him squint. He need not even blink with them.

“This procedure isn’t the same as ocular augmentation,” she said in a gentle, but serious tone, “The prosthetic hands we give you won’t provide any feeling, and although this is an outpatient procedure, you will go through an acclimation period. They will take some getting used to. You will have more strength, and find your typing skills enhanced, but you won’t be able to receive tactile sensory input through them.”

He nodded, “I am aware of that.”

“You also need to be aware that the procedure is not reversible,” she added. “If, in the future, you decide this change isn’t for you, you won’t be able to have your old hands back. You’ll go on a waiting list for donors. It could take years and it might not ever happen at all. You will be the last in line for hands because you gave yours up of your own free will. If we do find you new hands, they won’t be as functional as the one’s you have now. The nerve connections are never perfect. For that reason most of our customers prefer to stay with their prosthetics.”

“I’ve researched this,” he said.

“Have you researched alternatives?” she asked. “There are many treatments for your condition now.”

“Yes,” he shook his head. “None were acceptable. I don’t have the time for therapies with questionable success rates. I need certainty. This procedure will keep my life on schedule to an early retirement.”

She was quiet for several seconds before asking, “Are you a transhumanist?”

“Transhumanist,” he muttered the word thoughtfully.

“Someone seeking salvation through technology,” she explained. “We get them in here all the time, looking to upgrade their biological parts. Immortality’s their ultimate goal.”

He considered the concept, and shook his head, “Not a transhumanist.”

“Okay,” she said with a touch of concern, “It makes no difference if you are or not. Now I just need you to fill out some release forms.”

Although the doctor offered systemic anesthesia, he preferred to stay awake through the procedure. The prospect of being unconscious while strange people cut off his hands was too disturbing. He lay down on the surgical table and stared up into the bright lights while a young man applied localized anesthetic to each arm through an IV drip.

The doctor abandoned the small talk early in the procedure. His one-word responses to her questions were unencouraging. So silence reigned, and his only clue that his hands were gone was when the electric scalpel stopped humming.

Out of the corner of his left eye, he saw their replacements. Silvery things of elegant design, their wrists were hollowed out and a thick screw was visible in the middle. He went back to staring up into the light. It was calming and helped his mind wander.

The bright incandescence burned deep into his retinas and he imagined a warm sun in a light blue sky. He was lying on that rocky shore, enjoying the cool breezes occasionally sweeping off the ocean, washing away the sun’s accumulating heat. He did not have to wait for Spain to enjoy the beach. It was only a few hours away. He could go in the summertime. It need not be like this.

He could settle for another beach, in South America someplace. What was so special about those beaches in Spain anyway? He had never visited one. He was betting his life, his health, his hands on a daydream, retiring thirty years ahead of schedule for something he was not even sure was paradise. This was a world of possibilities. Why stay chained to a desk for another ten years?

Crunch, the sound shook him out of his thoughts. He turned his head to where the doctor was working, but could only see part of her back from behind the surgical screen. One mechanical hand was missing from the tray, and his eye focused on the remaining left hand’s hollow wrist with the long thick screw in the center, contemplating its design.

Crunch, he understood it. A few loud popping noises followed and he remembered the sounds of having his wisdom teeth pulled. What a mechanical wonder the human body was, chemicals and electricity, bones and muscles.

* * *

The doctor saw him into the waiting room after an hour of observation, his head light with painkillers. She was obviously concerned over his refusal to stay a few more hours and run through some adaptation exercises. She provided him with an intricate puzzle box to practice with, and he noticed the company logo and phone number on one side.

“Welcome to Humanity, version 2.0,” she said flatly, as if this were her routine clever catchphrase, but was completely out of place with him as the patient.

He tried slipping the puzzle into his coat, but couldn’t find the pocket. The hands worked well from the start, he could grab and manipulate things, but they still felt like clumsy extensions. He held them against his chest without looking at them, and they twitched nervously, mimicking his old habits. Only now the fidgeting failed to assuage his anxiety. He hoped that would change eventually.

He walked unsteadily through the lobby and paused at the clinic entrance, watching the mall traffic rushing by at breakneck speed. After a moment he turned back, finding the doctor and receptionist still watching him with concern, and averted his eyes to the floor.

He requested they call him a cab.

* * *

It took an effort of will and intense concentration to pull out his wallet and extract the debit card to pay the cab fare, but he managed. Retrieving his keys was another matter, pulling his pocket inside out with them. He left it this way, choosing to get back inside and give them the real test. On the way in, he was met with a pleasant surprise as the wrist swiveled in a most unnatural fashion when he turned the doorknob.

Shuffling into his office, he dropped into his chair and quaffed down two more Modafinils. He easily ripped open an MRE barehanded and poured its beef stew contents down his throat, chasing them with a glass of water. Then he swiveled to face his three screens, placing the ergonomic keyboard in his lap.

The inbox was a good place to start. Opening his e-mail, he selected from the list of unanswered correspondence, one requiring a fairly lengthy and customized reply. Waiting for the message to load, he reached up to chew at his forefinger absentmindedly. The tingly metallic taste, like licking a battery, reminded him that bad habit was no more.

When the reply window opened he practically attacked the keyboard, amazed as the words flowed from his brain, through his hands, and onto the screen. There were no errors, no misspellings or improper punctuations. The artificial hands automatically corrected for the occasional miscommunications between mind and body.

It was incredible. His productivity would certainly benefit, and he made a mental not to document the improvement in quantifiable means. Like his eyes, these were another upgrade.

He checked his investment portfolio. The cost of the hands was a setback, and it would take them several years of improved productivity to pay for themselves. He reminded himself they corrected something detrimental to his life’s plans, his obsolete biology.

The inflation rate had risen unexpectedly and some of his better performing stocks were forecasting slower growth rates. More setbacks. He winced a little at the throbbing in his head and looked up at the poster of paradise. It had gotten a little further away, but with these new hands he could now run a lot faster.

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