This may seem like an off-topic tangent, but I have to say that I actually kinda resent the term “cyborg.” the first thing you think of is some half-machine, half-human with a computer for a brain and occasional only-late-at-night thoughts about starting the robot singularity. Donald Blyth here in front of me would be the prime example of such a cyborg… you would think. But it’s so much more simple than that.
Sure, “cyborgs” that make unauthorized body modifications that involve computer technology are the only ones illegal by Georgia law, but “cyborg” refers to basically anyone who has melded technology to their organic flesh. Anyone with a prosthetic limb–say, Yuri Motokawa–is by definition a cyborg. Anyone with a pacemaker is a cyborg. Hell, maybe even people in wheelchairs could be considered cyborgs.
Some like to argue that “cyborg” even qualifies the use of technology in a more abstract sense. Because we record our lives, our memories, our phone numbers in books, in computers, that we are all cyborgs. Because we use vehicles to get around, because we are dependent on machines for survival, we are hardly different than someone with a mechanical heart. I don’t buy it, but it’s an interesting point nonetheless.
But that ain’t what people think when they think of the word “cyborg.” No, that’s an entirely different class of people. People like Blyth are cyborgs because they are metal-meets-flesh. Cyborgs may be anything, but it takes more than just metal and machines to fit the common definition. That’s like Dragon, who can electrify objects with his hands and has the strength of three men. That’s like Lamar, who’s got a computer wrestling for control of his mind, a near-literal fusion of humanity and AI that operate the same body, if not in tandem. That’s like me, who’s been carelessly upgraded with all sorts of powers I barely know anything about.
We are the ones people think of when they say “cyborg.” But we aren’t even cyborgs under a stricter definition. We’re “cybernetically-enhanced individuals.” We don’t have metal-meets-flesh. We have metal-meets-mind, metal-meets-DNA. We’re the ones really poised to blow up human society.
So the fight right now, with me and Jones and Blyth duking it out in his underground lair, nine floors below the surface of the Earth, feels symbolic in a way. What’s gonna be the future of humanity?
Blyth, with steam rising from his mostly-titanium body and his red dot visual receptor getting brighter and hotter as our fight goes on?
Me, my essence forever altered from a series of cybernetic accidents I can’t even begin to describe?
Or Jones, a completely normal human with an intricate knowledge of the inner workings of computer science, an innate understanding of how the world utilizes the internet?
One of us is going to win out in the end. Well, unless the eco-terror guys have it their way, I guess. I don’t know, I didn’t think this metaphor all the way through. I’m mostly trying to keep my mind calm while I fight the most difficult battle of my life–
While my body feels the impact of hardened metal slamming against its chest and breaking every rib in my body.
I was really hoping those would be healed soon.
Now my body skids across the floor, bumping into the body of some unconscious man, and then sliding right next to…
“Oh, hey,” I say to R8PR’s head.
“How’s it going?” he asks.
“You know, the usual.”
“Hey, you want to kick me again?”
“Where to, boss?”
“Well, I can’t point, but if I’m the middle of a clock and you’re a six, it’s on my two. That robot body over there. It’s already headless, so I think I can take it. I can’t really… get to it myself. But if you get me close…”
I shamble back up off the floor, searing in pain but unable to feel it, and do my best goal kick. R8PR’s head bounces a couple times, rolls, and… there it goes.
Jones is still fighting with Blyth, bouncing around him with speed I can barely match at my best. Her right arm is injured but she’s still holding her own, weaving around him and forcing him to take riskier and riskier lunges. To the best of my ability, I’m gonna help her out.
I bound back to the brawl and get behind Jones. I link up with her back-to-back and tell her, “Go for the legs. It might be our only chance of stopping him.”
“No thanks,” Jones says. “We aren’t beating him.”
“Well, let’s keep stalling him more.”
“How much longer do we have to do this for?” Jones asks.
“You know I can hear you,” Blyth says. “You shouldn’t be stalling, because there is nothing you can throw at me that won’t bounce off. I’m invincible. Once I take Sage’s power, I’ll be a God.”
I’ve had enough of this religious zealot mumbo-jumbo. I break away from Jones and step to her side.
I wobble forward, like I’m going to lunge, and then lean back quickly. “If dance class taught me anything–” Blyth hesitates, and in his half-raised, half-stopped defensive posture, he’s wide open. “–It’s that ‘grace’ was always just a bunch of calculated feints to your audience. Just some magic tricks with your feet.”
Jones slices Blyth across the chest and shocks him, paralyzing him for a second. “You were in dance class?” she asks me.
“When I was ten,” I say. “Just one year. I hated it so much I ran away from home.”
“Oh. I was a dancer all the way through high school. It was in the basketball off-season.”
“Huh. We could have met if I stuck with it.”
Jones smirks. “I doubt you’d have been as good as I was when–” CLANG.
A metal fist to her face.
Jones is down for the count. Knocked out with one blow. The grip on her magi-knife releases.
“Now your turn,” Blyth says to me.
“Real rude, dude.”
I bend down and pick up Jones’s knife. There’s a lot of things I can do with it. Many of those things will be considered absolutely idiotic. Only one of them will ever be seen by history as the correct move.
I activate its electricity.
Blyth gets ready to block anything I throw, to parry any stabs.
But what I do… is throw it at his feet!
He jumps back in surprise, startled by the attack.
He’s a couple feet further away from me.
…So that didn’t really accomplish anything.
Sorry about that, Jones.
Then, suddenly, there’s a rumbling, a violent shaking, like an earthquake. Except we don’t get earthquakes in Atlanta, not ones this powerful.
It resides, and the lights in the conference room strobe on and off for about fifteen seconds before finally deciding to stay on.
“Sir! Mr. Blyth!” a soldier shouts to him, running into the room with great haste. “Father Marlowe triggered the failsafe on the lower levels. The research facilities are self-destructing.”
Blyth punches, and busts completely through, the nearest wall. “That MORON. These intruders are not a threat. I’m dealing with them now. I should have killed him when I had the chance.”
“Sir, if I may, you need to evacuate. We are currently–”
Blyth picks the soldier up and tosses him. He lands flat on his back next to the split-in-half round table.
“The Ascendants shall advance!” he shouts.
“Don’t get too worked up, Donny,” I say. “You can take your anger on me.” Though, the brief reprieve from fighting was a good way to catch my breath. Much appreciated.
“Morgan Harding,” he says to me. “Please, let me kill you already.”
“My death quota’s already been filled for the decade. Can I pencil you in for the eighties? I think there’s an opening then.”
I notice that R8PR’s back on his feet in a clunky combat robot and is beating up the remaining mooks still standing. Honestly, I had been ignoring everyone in the room but Blyth that I stopped considering the fact that all of the guys hadn’t all been knocked out or run away.
But the fact he’s here means I’m not alone, and that’s keeping me optimistic.
I can hold out until Motokawa and the others get here. I can survive.
5 thoughts on “Into the Retrofuture – Chapter 17: Cybernetically Enhanced Individuals”
If Morgan has an opening, can I pencil myself in?
Please, feel free to murder Morgan
Thanks Morgan, for that long explanation of what a cyborg REALLY is.
CYBORG RIGHTS FOREVER.
I personally am in the camp that cellphone using modern Americans are just as much of cyborgs as anyone with a pacemaker or robot limbs.