A STRUGGLE FOR PRIMACY
I can see him clearly through the window, John Walton, looking not a day over fifty. Revolting! Cloned flesh adhered to a metal skeleton, a computer brain inside. A stain upon all that is moral and pure. A man who thinks he is above death.
I try to picture what I need to do, but cringe at the thought of it. But my very disgust, my horror, my loathing, only reinforce my determination. My mission must be completed. Those who would live as gods must be brought down, the world must be made safe for the rest of us.
After his granddaughter has tucked her children in and gone up to bed with her husband, I wait another twenty minutes. He remains in the living room, the lights out, watching the flexidisplay.
I go through a last minute check: the battery pack is charged, my rifle loaded and ready. I inhale deeply and exhale, once, twice, three times. Then I’m off, out from behind the tree, moving across the yard. I heave the brick through the window and swing the sight of my rifle to eye level.
At the sound of shattering glass, he stands and turns. The first shot is clean, his right temple sheared off by the bullet specially designed to fragment into buckshot on impact. His hand jerks up to the side of his face, he screams in agony, but then his pain suppression algorithms kick in. His eyes flash in anger, and he scans the lawn, searching for me.
As he begins moving in my direction, I steady and aim again. I squeeze the trigger, but he’s moving too quickly, too unpredictably. Having located me, he’s run to the window, swung over the ledge, and launched himself onto the lawn.
You self-righteous little wretch, he sneers. You think bullets can hurt me? You think I would spend millions to build a fusion to load my mind into and they wouldn’t bother to make it bulletproof?
He calmly walks towards me, menacing, confident. I swallow hard to quell the feeling that I’m in over my head, and train the sight on his left temple. The second time I do not miss, his left hand flies up to the side of his face. Behind him, lights are flickering on inside the house. He pulls his hand away and holds it before his face, looking at the blood in the light streaming from the windows. The metal revealed under the flesh that’s been stripped away glints coldly. Revulsion rises in me once more. Despite all my preparation, every fiber of being being screams at me to get away, to run away from this monstrosity that’s been shot twice, but advances nevertheless.
What are you, an ecowarrior convinced people downloading themselves into fusions will ruin the Earth? A religious nut certain that I’m a monster in God’s eyes? A humanist who’s concluded that fusions will be the downfall of humanity? It won’t matter. As long as we control the corporations, it’s just a matter of time before you lunatics are eliminated.
I toss my rifle. I’m from Human, All Too Human, I force myself to say, knowing that I need to engage him, to keep him distracted. As I reach down to unclip the two electrodes, I mechanically begin reciting our organization’s literature, Those who seek to fuse themselves, those who seek immortality, are the very people who have spent a lifetime bending the rules, hoarding riches for themselves, trampling on the ability of others to make their lives better.
He’s less than five feet from me. I begin raising the electrodes, one in each hand. Then somehow, my hands sweaty and shaking, I lose my grip on the left one. I fumble for it, but he’s right on top of me. His right arm curls back, and then flashes forward, the back of his hand whipping across my chin and sending me reeling.
Survival of the fittest, he laughs. I deprived no one of anything. Every last penny I made, I earned.
Lying on the ground, an empty death staring me in the face, there’s a strange gathering sensation in the center of my chest. A wave of determination takes hold and rejuvenates my will, steadies my hands. I fumble for the missing electrode in the grass. By taking credit for the inventions of others, by lobbying the government to rewrite the tax code to your benefit, by paying everyone in your employ substandard wages, by acquiring and dissolving any competitor who was even the slightest threat. At last, I’ve got it. The will to power taken to the extreme . . . He lunges at me and clamps his hands around my throat.
Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same, he says. His hands are tight around my throat, but not so tight I can’t speak. Say it, say ‘I’d have done the same’
I manage to click the electrodes into place, one on each temple. Say it!
I would . . . I know I have mere seconds to flip the switch, never.
In the time of a thought his hands tighten, a ring of iron around my throat. Feeling as though my trachea will burst, I fumble for the switch around my belt. The edges of my consciousness start to blur.
Bzzzzt! My fingers blunder over the switch, the super-magnet kicks on. Every bit of data in his brain is instantly demagnetized, wiped forever. He twitches, his face still frozen in a hateful snarl, his hands locked in place.
I push him off of me, but his grip does not loosen, instead tearing at the flesh on my neck as he topples. Desperate, I try to pry his fingers loose, to no effect. Realizing I have but moments left, I focus on a single, sustaining thought: For some of us, there are causes worth dying for. That’s what it means to truly be human. I imagine I must be smiling as my awareness fades . . .
Food for Thought
1) Advances (whether genetic, pharmaceutical, or technological) appear to be on the way that will allow us to extend our lifespans further and further. Should we make use of them at all ? If so, how should we decide who can benefit from such advances? How should we balance the wants and desires of those who have been around for great lengths of time and accumulated much to themselves with the wants and desires of those just starting out?
2) What obligations, if any, do people in positions of power, whether financial or political, have to those they have power over? Do people who have great wealth have a greater obligation than others to do good with the resources they have? If so, are the wealthy in today’s society living up to those obligations (especially in comparison to the wealthy in our recent past)? If they are not, what can we do so that the next generation of wealthy have a greater sense of their obligations? Have them study philosophy?
3) This story is told from the point of view of the narrator. How did this affect your perceptions of the two characters and the issues around them? Do you feel that the media today does a good job of portraying fairly what life is like for members of all classes and subcultures?
4) The United State was founded on the back of a rebellion, many deaths, and much suffering. Can a rebellion ever be just? Under what circumstances? Are there circumstances under which a rebellion is not simply just, but under which people have a moral obligation to rebel? What, if anything, would have to change in America for the conditions to be right in the twenty-first century?
5) Following up on the concept of rebellion, many people who commit mass murders today (some of whom are called terrorists) believe they are doing so for a just cause. If you feel conditions call for a rebellion, what criteria can you use to determine if you are right or if you are insane? In a world in which many people are invested in preserving the status quo, or are preoccupied by distractions like television or social media, what is an appropriate response to injustice? Peaceful protests? Civil disobedience like tying yourself to a tree? Open rebellion? Quiet acceptance?
About the Author
Brian Cato pursued dual majors in philosophy and chemistry at Brown University. He worked on and off as a synthetic organic chemist for major pharmaceutical companies for ten years, taking breaks to spend a year teaching English in China and to write. His novels draw on his unique training in rational thinking and the scientific method as well as an abiding interest in the phenomenon of the mind, the genesis of identity, and the persistent irrationality of the human creature, himself included. His website can be found at www.briancato.com