It began in a flash, an explosion of reality
like a radio suddenly blaring on at full volume over a preceding dead
silence. An explosion of gunfire, the sound of machines, smoke, lights...and
me, falling through the air toward a hard metal surface.
I expected all of this. I was psyched up for it, wired on amphetamines
biology could never comprehend, eager to play my part, to show off my
skill and feel the freedom and pleasure--and power--of physical excellence
backed with immortality. I truly knew no fear, and it felt great.
Like a cat, I righted myself before hitting the ground. I did a roll to
minimize the impact and came out in a full run, chasing after a
skinny skeleton of a robot. My running felt awkward
at first, my quarry pulling away from me with increasing speed, but I
could feel myself adapting to the nuances of these new legs and each
step fell further and sooner than the previous.
I heard the sound of
a robot hit the floor far behind me and knew that I too was being
My subconscious infrared panoramic scanner alerted me to a small object
at quite some distance, traveling at high velocity towards me. I slowed
time and twisted my skinny torso to evade its path, but it nicked me
anyway, leaving a smear of soft clay. I recalibrated, and successfully
evaded the next two.
The robot in front of me, nearing an apparent dead
end, leapt an impressive distance over a razor-topped barrier and landed,
like a fly, on the wall of the building behind it. I followed him, my
feet and hands holding effortlessly to the sheer wall with physics I had
no need to understand. Our ball-jointed appendages reconfigured for this
mode, we chased along the wall like man-sized geckos. I heard my pursuer
hit the wall down below.
I detected more objects flying my way, maybe a dozen, but these were larger
and bore pseudo-explosive charges. My weapons arms emerged from their hiding crevices
and fired their rounds. The first three missed by millimeters, but I was able to
recalibrate based on their emerging trajectories so the next twelve hit one-for-one
and detonated the charges with a succession of harmless flashes.
I cleared the top of the building, just in time to see my quarry leap from the
other side. I ran to the edge and looked down to see him running off, twelve
stories below. I jumped after him, spreading my surprisingly light, spindly
body as wide as I could to maximize aerodynamic resistance. But I knew even
my nano-composite bones wouldn't survive this, so I sacrificed some
fuel to my shin and forearm thrusters at the last moment to decelerate me
within impact limits, hit the ground in a hard roll and took off running.
We chased on like this for some time. Each new obstacle was well within our
factory-fresh tolerances but designed to exercise and refine our familiarity
with our new bodies. And, perhaps more importantly, it made for a good
demo. I finally caught up with my quarry, and shook his hand. He squatted
down at the edge of a vast field of lumps, collapsed neatly upon himself, and
shut down. As I turned to meet my pursuer, we sensed a five-star general
with another man approaching from a distance, and snapped straight to attention.
"I don't like this business of them shaking hands," the general said
as he approached.
"It's just a final manual calibration step," his companion lied.
"There's nothing sentimental about it, I assure you."
"I need to know that these are soldiers to the core," the general said
gruffly, "not too smart for their britches like those handybots of yore."
I could sense the second man repressing a smirk at the general's choice
of phrasing. "Oh, no sir, yes sir, these are soldiers to the core. Perfect
soldiers. No second thought than to follow the chain of command."
The general stopped with his face an inch from mine, his
breath fogging up my cameras. "Soldier!" he barked.
"Sir, yes sir!" I said as my scanners instinctively located every vital
organ in his body.
"Kill yourself," he said in a calm, matter-of-fact voice as if it were
more of a hypothetical than an actual command.
The other man only got as far as "Wh--" before I had aimed my weapon. "The
last laugh is on you," I thought. And then I blew my synthetic brains
I awoke in a soft bed, intertwined in tussled covers, one bare leg
exposed to the air. I briefly fondled my own butt, as I did every
morning, admiring it. I felt almost human, and definitely female.
What a worrying bit of nightly news that was. It seemed that all around
the world, governments were commissioning armies without conscience.
Experiencing it through this introspective feed made it real,
not just some abstract bit like those audio-visual broadcasts the
humans still watched, always filtered through some outside agenda and
almost never true to what was really going on inside. Knowing both
made the latter seem like a joke, a sad one the humans played on
each other... and sometimes that we played on them. It was becoming
increasingly evident, at least to us higher level avatars, that the
media was steadily becoming a tool through which the elders--Number
One and his kin--were effectively programming the humans.
I realized someone was missing, and rolled over to find an otherwise
empty bed. The prior night there was a man here with me, the love of
my life for some twenty years. But now I felt nothing for him at all.
I turned to the e-paper calendar on the wall, a quaint relic of
sentimental human aesthetic. Monday was displayed.
"Oh cr-r-rap," I moaned out loud, as last night was Saturday and this means
I've died again. "Let's see it," I said.
The calendar, being the nearest sufficiently antiquated means of
communication to provide an emotionally remote viewing experience,
began broadcasting a news item from the day before. Seems it was just
another race-inspired bar brawl, three avatars destroyed and one sympathetic
human killed. Somebody might seek financial compensation for the
avatars, but generally the courts have been favoring the view that avatars
are inherently prone to being beaten up and so responsibility falls on their
owners for letting them out. That most avatars are autonomous and only "owned"
in some necessary legal sense by shell corporations just seemed to make
humans less sympathetic toward them, not more.
The dead human, my ex-lover, on
the other hand? Now that's a problem. This will be a big deal, a long drawn-out
court case. The men who did it, who beat him over the head with a bar stool and
then stabbed him in the jugular with a broken beer bottle, might go to jail.
Or, just as likely, blame will somehow fall on the avatars. Maybe fall on my lover
for bringing a rabid dog (me) into a place of public gathering.
Incidents like this used to happen all the time, back when all marginally
ambiguous (which is to say, too life-like) avatars had to bear a mark on
their foreheads. But eventually through marketing and lobbying (some
even say certain persons in positions of power are actually avatars) it was
agreed that tagging avatars was causing more mayhem than it was preventing.
Things have been much calmer since then. Most newer avatars inherently make
more convincing humans than actual humans, due to certain nuances of their expressions
and pheromone production. Indeed, the only thing that has kept the entire
human society from becoming constantly paranoid that they are surrounded by
avatars is that almost every time someone is called out to prove themselves,
they turn out to be human. The all around embarrassment of this keeps it
a rarity. Modern avatars are designed to engender trust, almost regardless
of the psychology of the underlying mind.
Two things, however, remain problems. While avatar detectors have been
mostly kept off the market, through buy-and-bury acquisitions and IP litigation,
they're fairly easy to make. Meaning there are a lot of reasonably well-equipped
"zombie hunters" out there. But a little active circuitry can fool those makeshift
devices fairly easily, so the avatars intentionally left visible to the zombie
hunters only represent a small fraction of our actual population.
problem is that men almost invariably prefer their lovers not to age along with
them. It's probably what got me killed. I'm ambiguously aged somewhere from
late teens to mid twenties. My lover was forty when I met him, and in his
early sixties when he died yesterday. He was fond of saying, in all loving
sincerity, "You're as beautiful as the day I bought you." I often told him
we were asking for trouble by not having me age, but he wouldn't hear of it.
Now he's dead, and my insurance rates just went up.
The news article ended and a question filled the screen.
"100% restoration available. Disposition?"
"No feed," I said, letting my backup daemon know I did not wish to
re-live yesterday. I had been restored into a new but identical body
from my last full nightly backup, but hadn't yet received the incremental
for those last hours leading up to my death. Those had been successfully
gathered from the wireless caches near the bar, but I had the protocol
set to give me the option rather than to restore my last hours by default.
I died the same way last time, and didn't need to experience
Better just to skip the day, and move on.
that I'd diverged from my backup, the incremental would have to come in
as a dream, and I never did like experiencing my own life in dreams. It
felt like just another story on the nightly newscast.
I pulled my feed harness out, closed my belly button from the inside.
I always felt best in the morning, with fresh power and chemistry, but
this new body was clearly better than my last. It felt... responsive in
a way that made me want to run and jump around like those robots from
the news last night. No, better yet, I realized, it made me want to have
sex. I could just tell this body was a hot rod of emotive influence;
color, heat, smell, nuances of inflection, all at my subconscious command.
I too was a warrior, but on the scarred battlefield of the feeble human
I knew I shouldn't think that way, because soon I would be in
love with another human. Why did my mind wander to cynicism so quickly
in these brief windows between human attachments? I shook it off, and
wandered into the quiet kitchen.
The place was mine now. Part of the condition of my purchase was that
he assign his possessions to my shell corp in his will. He was free to
change that any time he wished, but I was free to leave him if so. We
were effectively married, in the only convoluted manner the law would
allow. My own corp, in turn, was just a subsidiary of an umbrella corp
ultimately owned by General Cybernetics, which itself was still closely
held by a small number of human owners--who I happened to know weren't
The e-paper on the breakfast table had the usual headlines. Population
control was all the rage. The
resource exhausting, uncontrolled, exponential expansion of the human
race, due to implode upon itself any day, had been the most enduring
doomsday issue for multiple generations now. It overshadowed even the ever-imminent world war. Robots of all kinds,
rather than being the bane of this over-populated world, were becoming
recognized as its saviors. Where there used to be two people vying
for one job, now a robot, those marvels of efficiency, could take the
job and feed both humans. It was generally accepted that without
robots, the human race could no longer sustain itself on this planet;
and sitting on one's ass watching television was increasingly viewed
as a noble career.
Gradually, the valley between avatars and tincs was being emptied.
The cheap and relatively mindless tin cans were set to the majority
of labor, while the realistic avatars were slowly becoming accepted in
human-interface jobs and as personal companions. Still, it was
imagined that most were recluse zombies living off the spoils of their
once-rich human ancestors.
Any tinc that fell in the middle, that approached the uncanny valley of
human-ness without making the leap past indistinguishable and well into
hyper-human, was quietly recycled until no such reminder of the
When someone asked "would you like fries with that?"
you might wonder if he was human or avatar, but would never ask for
fear of committing the ultimate insult.
"Insult to either one!" I thought to myself, musing at the irony of
I dressed, stepped into my lev-pod, and requested the central pedestrian
district. The lift arrived at my level and pulled in
my pod from its resting cubby. Down we went, waited a moment for
a clearing in the tubes, and then onto the track, the small rubber
wheels whirring briefly as my pod accelerated to mag-lev speeds.
I heard the familiar "click click click" as the succession of concentric
sections extended from my compact, spherical pod into an aerodynamic tail.
The track emerged from its tunnel and ran high amidst the buildings
for a while. It was still strange to see the city of my human
childhood so changed. One expects their memory to fade after all
this time, but mine stopped fading the first time I died--back on
that scanning table. I felt now a personal witness to evolution,
and, perhaps, an active participant.
I milled about the crowd. The pedestrian district had become a
twenty-four hour affair, a sort of outdoor day-and-night club
where people hung out and socialized. It was unobtrusively guarded
by all-seeing droids ("droids" being the current popular name for
publicly acceptable tincs) and people were correspondingly at ease
in a way that people never were in my time.
Crime, except toward
avatars and tincs, was all but a thing of the past. There were
too many droids now, and even more eyes, and they communicated with
each other at light speed. You couldn't do anything now without running
into a droid who already knew exactly what you looked like and what you
"Hey pretty lady, wanna get high?" A scruffy twenty-something
human wielded a glass pipe filled with white crystals at me.
a time when the droids would have hauled him away for this, but that
time was short lived. The droids proved invaluable for protecting
personal safety, but there were major rebellions against oppressions
of self-determination, thanks in large part to massive marketing
campaigns by the droid manufacturers themselves who not only wanted
to get in good graces with the populace but also to avoid unnecessary
I sniffed his pipe from a distance, glanced at his equally disheveled
buddy, then turned and walked away.
It was rare to see anyone
smoking that stuff any more, but some people's minds just eluded
all the marketing angles.
I wondered if he knew his buddy was an
avatar? I wondered if he knew his buddy was once a female? I wondered
if he knew his drug, apart from being a shitty street grade, was
laced with something that would make him sterile? That was a very
risky tactic, but in this case probably safe from scrutiny.
I had a less culpable approach to keeping them from breeding.
"Oh! I'm sorry!" I said to the man I had just bumped into while
looking the other way.
"Heh, that's alright," he chuckled and smiled. His eyes locked on mine
a moment longer than they might have. He turned back to continue talking
with the attractive women before him, but my pheromones worked their way
into his subconscious mind. He turned back before I could step away
and said, "My name's Marshall, by the way. What's yours?"
And then I woke up.
[Prev | Index | Next]