Monday, October 7, 2013


by Fred Warren - 

“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.”

Darkness had fallen outside Jiro Sukahara’s little house, and stars twinkled like tiny gems in the sky. Crickets and frogs joined the chorus of cicadas droning in the trees, and Jiro’s nightingale was trilling merrily from a perch somewhere atop the roof.

John Milton didn’t like the turn this conversation had taken. Why is Jiro so upset about the colony using cyborgs? It’s like complaining that we eat beetle steaks. He sipped his tea, a little too quickly, scorching his tongue and spilling a few droplets onto the table. “Cyborgs are more machine than anything. They’re the property of their owners. Hundreds are bought and sold legally every day.”

“This particular market preys on the destitute of the lower levels. They’re taken and modified against their will.” He sighed. “Even little children. You’ve perhaps heard of ‘Frankie dolls?’”

John groaned. He would choose the most awkward example. “Yes, but…those are therapy devices for sterile couples. They’re only harvested from among the brain-dead…hopeless cases that would be euthanized anyhow….there’s a strict quota, and it takes a murderously expensive permit to get one. Nobody would…”

“Nobody? You’re a trader. You understand the laws of supply and demand better than I do. What would you say if I told you twenty-five new cyborgs of that variety have been added to the Avenir network in the past Founding alone?”

“Impossible. The permits…”

“Forged, along with their network credentials, not that anyone in authority is paying much attention.  You’re defending this phenomenon rather vigorously. Is it because you owned a cyborg yourself?”

John could feel his face beginning to flush. “That has nothing to do with it. I bought him legally. He was a violent criminal scheduled for execution. He chose cyborging instead.”

He? Do you use personal pronouns for all the machines you own?”

“This was different. We spent a lot of time together. He was my valet. Best I ever had, human or otherwise. I never abused him.”

“Did you think of him as human?”

“Cyborg brainware is very sophisticated. It was hard to tell the difference sometimes.”

Jiro rocked back on his heels. “And that is my point. A surgically-modified person is still a person, no matter how extensive the modification. Inside each cyborg, buried more deeply in some than in others, is a human soul that demands the same reverence and dignity you and I expect. This colony has fallen into a grave injustice, and to my own shame, I’ve watched it happen and taken no action to stop it.”

The chaplain wasn’t angry…he was distraught. Agonized. He’s not trying to box me into a rhetorical corner, he’s baring his soul.

John was silent for a few moments, then he reached across the table and lifted the teapot to refill Jiro’s cup. “Even if you’re right about all this, you can’t blame yourself for what we chose to do.”

“My hands aren’t any cleaner. The Dreamers employ cyborgs to maintain our life support pods and their connections to the station. Including mine.”

“I don’t see much hope of changing things from here, barring the sort of dramatic intervention you’ve said is taboo.”

“A large ship may be turned by a tiny rudder.” Jiro leaned forward. “I have a plan to singe Avenir’s collective conscience…but I’ll need your help.”

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