Picture credit: ThisisEngineering RAEng

Temple wanted to be a machine. So did the other transhumanists in our group, so did I at one point. I too imagined replacing all my soft body organs with superior synthetic versions that would enable me to live longer, to solve aging. I too was keen to download the contents of my brain onto a new substrate material that could endure way beyond the current span of homo-sapiens 1.0, and even keep me alive indefinitely. That is, until I fell in love, with common flesh and bone.

I had known Temple at high school, we were like two peas in a pod. Equally good at Maths, Computer Science, Physics, equally bad at Arts, Music and the Humanities; equal in height, build and disposition, and for a while inseparable. We lived in the same street growing up in competition, pushing each other, reaching the same academic qualifications and then dropping out roughly the same time as we both impatiently hunted for work. But there was one mountainous difference between us, at least in my eyes, he was straight, I was not.

Our group of like minded transhumanist believers formed a company dedicated to finding new scientific solutions to aging. Temple adopted the role of chief experimenter, using his own body for prototyping. He applied a kind of avant-garde mentality to a pragmatic subject. He started out with sub dermal sensors, fitted just below the skin, they monitored his vital signs sending the data back to his cell phone via Bluetooth. The control module was a thin matchbox shape bulging from the inside of his forearm. It had a comedic, hideous look, a brutish attempt at progress. His next project was to insert magneto receptor coils in different locations in his body. They gave him an enhanced sense of balance and of magnetic field perception. At first, it freaked him out and he kept reacting to some random sensation or ghostly presence, hidden fields that no one else detected. He flipped himself over for no apparent reason like a gymnastic tourettes sufferer. He began walking strangely, taking long deliberate exaggerated steps as though he were wearing clown shoes. From there, his ambitions knew no bounds, his super graphene spring knee replacements didn’t particularly rub against social convention, but when he scheduled his first bionic eye operation in a private hospital in Zurich, aided by several scientists within our group, I began to feel an increasing sense of panic and misplacement. I tried to get into his head with some indirect questioning.

“Temple, what percentage human would you say you are now, ninety nine percent? If you were able to upgrade all of your organic functionality, leaving say the lubricant and outer dermal casing, at what point would you say you crossed over from humanity to machine hood?” He looked up at me suspiciously from his screen. I pushed on. “At what exact point would you declare yourself a machine, and would it still be you or, would you sense a new identity, a new soul even?”

“Look Abel, right now I just want to keep my body going, keep myself healthy and alive long enough to reach longevity escape velocity, when medical science has figured out the cures to all the big problems and we can stick around for as long as we like.”

“But what would that be like, really? Have you thought about how long it would take for you to get tired of living?” He looked up at me again without answering. “I’m going to bet that somewhere deep down in a place that you can’t replicate with a computer, you don’t believe this is one hundred percent possible.” His response to this was a cynical sideways smile and shake of the head. He was planning another big operation and I felt on the verge of hyperventilation. Perhaps I didn’t have the same belief as the others in the group, I wasn’t as sure of the science as they were, maybe everyone was deluding themselves. I turned his shoulders to face me.

“Is there any part of you that doubts what the group believes in?”

“Doubts the future of transhumanity? No.”

“Could all this just be a new religion, taking place of the old belief system, a substitute to ward off death and eternal damnation?”

“Shit, Abel. Where has all this come from? You know the arguments. You’ve argued the arguments. It’s just a matter of enough time, we will get there, human beings will make the transition.”

“But we need something to believe in right? If not religion, then transhumanism does the same job. At least the majority need something, some pretend they don’t and then lean on science or philosophy anyway.”

“You’re just talking about hope.”

“Yes, hope, and love…” I quickly continued not allowing him a chance to question me. “You’re going to have to stop blaspheming with ‘Jesus, God and Christ’, change it to ‘Intel, Google and Elon.’”

But that hope began to wither when the battery in his sub dermal implant started leaking acid into his bloodstream. Just tiny amounts, but the effects were horrifying. He was in agony, his skin bubbled, he vomited copiously and spent days in a stupor with a temperature of 102F. The bionic eye didn’t work either. Sometimes his vision intensified dramatically in colour, clarity and distance, but then it would falter, fizzle and distort like a dying cathode ray tube TV. He became as frustrated as I was at my slow internet speed, and as antagonistic as I am when video buffers on my computer.

“Fucking technology…can’t live with it, daren’t live without it.”

“For fear of what… impotence?”

“Fuck yeah.”

This became a typical exchange in our increasingly infrequent conversations. After consulting a surgeon friend and having the leaking implant removed from his arm his mood recovered for a while and my hope began to return, that is until he booked his bionic ear replacement. He said he wanted to hear things being spoken a mile away, detect notes in a piece of music at a purity that no one else had experienced; pick up sounds and codes on wavelengths only dogs and whales can hear, eavesdrop on other worldly communications between insects and listen to the sound of plants growing cell by cell. Essentially, he wanted to slow his life right down and observe it micro second by micro second. He was losing his mind. The other transhumanists in our circle shrugged this off as ambition.

“He just wants to push the envelope,” said one.

“He’s searching for physical immortality, it’s like he’s a living lab, an explorer, a Darwinian presence among us,” enthused another.

“His goal is to live forever by achieving singularity through transformation of his body and auto-algorithmically developed mind, and leave Earth to colonise the Universe and seed the next dimension,” espoused a true believer.

The ear transplant didn’t work out and, worse still, leaked a continuous stream of pus down his neck and all over his shirts. His health deteriorated, he had virtually stopped eating and didn’t go out in the daytime. I became distraught at the sight of this husk of a man who had once seemed so vital to me in his “inferior” suit of flesh, with his “wet brain” atop his “wet machinery” as the transhumanists would have it. I resorted to pleading.

“Temple, I don’t recognise you. What have you become? Are you any more fulfilled? Do you think that twenty or thirty years of bionic tinkering can supercede millions of years of evolution? Yes, I know about Moore’s law, the pace of computing, but it isn’t enough for you in the here and now. I still admire the goal, the goal is honourable, ambitious and laudable. And I truly believe someday science can help humanity escape the biggest obstacles to our continuing existence. But now I want you to come back to manhood, at least for a while, and at least do me the honour of outliving me.”

“Fuck you, Abel.”

The control chip he wanted inserted in the top of his skull was supposed to tap into his cerebral cortex to stimulate and analyse neural data on his emotional, thinking and reasoning behaviours. He would then drive commands to his brain remotely through his 6G signal processor in his handheld device. Finally, he would download brain patterns onto a solid state silicon system, it was the beginning of his journey to take remote control of his brain and transfer the whole structure onto a longer lasting substrate.

“Temple, have you ever thought of just downloading your brain into a bucket of stones, something that would last the test of time, stones, rocks, they can remain undisturbed for millions of years. Maybe they could hold the information indefinitely?”

He sighed with gargantuan effort.

“Abel… you talk so much shit these days.”

“But you know silicon can never replace natural brain material, it’s inert, the brain learns and unlearns and evolves because of the plasticity of its connections, its flesh and nerves.”

He wasn’t in the mood to hear this. “You always were a dumb ass, Abel. Way back in school, I always knew you didn’t have any vision, or ambition, I knew you would never make it beyond mediocrity.”

It hurt, but I still loved him deeply, I was obsessed. I couldn’t leave him now, there was no way back. He used to be such a beautiful creature, dark but soft, lithe, shady and mysterious. My feelings were unrequited, and more than a little desperate. I just couldn’t accept what he was doing to himself; gradually turning his heavenly form into a ghost of a human. He was becoming too weak to reason with, too weak to live with, and I was the only one who really cared about him. I had to do something to stop him. So in the end I killed him, to stop us both.

Steve Smith

About Steve Smith

Steve Smith began writing articles for trade magazines before turning to short fiction, developing a narrative style informed by the raw material of a suburban childhood to the wider landscape of a global adulthood. He has been published in several UK and US magazines and lives in Bristol England

Steve Smith began writing articles for trade magazines before turning to short fiction, developing a narrative style informed by the raw material of a suburban childhood to the wider landscape of a global adulthood. He has been published in several UK and US magazines and lives in Bristol England

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