Monday, September 30, 2013


by Fred Warren - 

“Mmm.” The tea was hot and astringent, with a pleasant flowery note. The illusory beverage had more character than most Adagio wines. It was enough to make a man forgo alcohol altogether.

John shuddered at the thought. Not quite yet.

Jiro watched him with amused interest across the low wooden table where they knelt on red silk cushions. “Feeling more comfortable?”

“Yes. The vertigo’s faded. It’s nice to be drinking this tea rather than wearing it.”

“The virtual-reality system learns along with you. New tasks become less awkward with each repetition. Every action you take smoothes and refines your interface.”

Outside Jiro’s house, the sun was setting, its last light splashed across the fading blue sky in pastel streaks of orange and pink. John felt a pleasant urge to stretch and yawn, which he indulged, an even more enjoyable sensation. “I guess I should begin work on my own personal space now. I’ve imposed on your hospitality long enough.”

“Think nothing of it. You’ve been pleasant company, not at all the spoiled socialite I expected. Forgive me. I should know better than to judge people from my own prejudices…especially someone who’s managed to catch Anya’s eye.”

“I…expect she’ll find me less impressive as time goes by. I’m no altruist, Father Sukahara. I’ve spent my whole life looking for an edge, manipulating situations to my advantage, chasing power and influence. Even my decision to come here was selfish.”

“I prefer to believe you will find it most profitable to seize this opportunity to start afresh. Become the person you’ve always wanted to be, John Milton. You’ve stepped onto a blank canvas. Anything is possible.”

“I’m not sure I know where to begin.”

“Do what I did. Build yourself a place where you feel completely at ease, where you can ponder the course of your life without distraction. Then, listen.”

“Listen to what? God?”


“You can’t be serious.”

“I’m a chaplain. What sort of advice did you expect? Try it. You may be surprised.”

“If I’m surprised, I promise you’ll be the first to know.” John drained his cup. “So…how exactly do I get out of here and into my own space?”

“Wait a moment. Before you go, there’s a particular matter that’s weighed heavily on me for a long while, and I’d like a fresh perspective.”  Jiro’s eyes locked with John’s. “Tell me…what do you think about the cyborgs?”

It was an odd question. John rarely gave them any thought at all. If this was a test, the textbook answer was safest: “They perform essential functions too dangerous or degrading for human beings. Cyborging is an efficient way to salvage incorrigible criminals and the hopelessly impaired so they can make a productive contribution to the colony.”

Jiro refilled John’s cup from a matching black porcelain teapot. “The technology was originally developed as a lifesaving measure of last resort for the terminally ill, but it’s traced a degenerating ethical spiral since then. It was applied to individuals with profound mental defects, then it was offered as an alternative to capital punishment, and from there, words like ‘incorrigible’ and ‘impaired’ and ‘hopeless’ were introduced and their definition expanded to encompass almost anything the civil authorities desired.”

“Those same authorities instituted a multi-level review process to prevent abuse.”

“Yes. I also find it interesting that no petitions for cyborg modification have been denied in the last ten Foundings.”

“That doesn’t mean they were unjustified.”

“There is a thriving black market in illegal cyborgs, and the government ignores it.”

“There are illegal markets for any product.”

“Product? We’re talking about people, John.”

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