I’m a Pixel-Stained Technopeasant

Published on April 23, 2007 by

For an explanation of what that means, see http://papersky.livejournal.com/318273.html.

The following story of mine first appeared in the Probability Zero feature of the December 2006 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Upgrade

by Eric James Stone

Through the camera in the waiting room, Harry watched the customer. “Mr. Smith” was standing stiffly, ignoring the chairs and the table full of magazines. Though dressed in jeans and a gray sweatshirt, Smith wore an expensive privacy veil — one that fuzzed the picture even of Harry’s high-end Sony equipment.

Harry smiled. Some body upgrades were more acceptable than others — NeverSleep was popular among executives and lawyers, and artificial eyes had become a fashion statement after several Hollywood stars had gotten them. Something like a brain job was an embarrassment: it meant you weren’t smart enough with what nature gave you.

Despite the political controversy over upgrades, NHCA insurance would cover most of the cost. But hospitals had to report upgrades to the National Health Care Administration. For privacy, you had to go private. And private took a lot of money.

Harry opened the door between his office and the waiting room. After a moment’s hesitation, Smith walked in.

“Have a seat,” said Harry, indicating the chair in front of his desk.

Smith sat as Harry closed the door.

“You don’t need the privacy veil,” said Harry. “This office is secure.”

Smith pointed at the silvery mesh over his face. “I’d rather remain anonymous.” The distorting effects of the veil made the voice smoothly androgynous.

With a shrug, Harry said, “I guess I can accommodate you, unless you’re looking for brain enhancement. My surgical bots can’t work inside that veil.”

“I want a DSR.”

Surprised, Harry nodded slowly. Outside the military, a digestive system replacement was rarely done for non-medical reasons. Some very busy people liked being able to skip meals and get most of their energy by plugging into the electric grid, allowing the DSR to synthesize glucose by recycling body waste. But for most people, the added body efficiency was not worth the cost.

Harry sighed mentally as his professional ethics took over. “I need to warn you: Back in Washington, some people don’t like the idea of human upgrades: If God had meant for man to whatever, etc.” He waved his hand in little circles. “If the polls are right, people like that will win next month’s election. If they ban future upgrades, that puts me out of business.”

Harry leaned forward. “But if, as some of them propose, they ban the use of upgrades, you’ll either have to leave the country or die.”

“You’re being melodramatic. It’s almost certain the Supreme Court would invalidate a use ban.”

Shrugging, Harry said, “Almost certain? That still leaves some chance they won’t.”

“You’re not going to scare me off.”

“OK. Can you come in next week? I’ll have to order the system.”

“It may take longer,” said Smith. “I want one with the nuclear option.”

#

The TV on Harry’s wall showed a map of the United States, divided between blue and red.

“According to the exit polls,” said a pundit, “not only will the President be re-elected, but her party will gain control of both the House and Senate.”

Muting the TV, Harry picked up his phone and dialed the anonymous forwarding number Mr. Smith had given him.

“Yes?” The phone altered the voice so it couldn’t be recognized.

“I have the replacement you ordered.” Harry was careful not to give details, just in case the voice wasn’t Smith.

“Will Saturday work?” asked the voice.

“Yes. Do want to reconsider, given today’s results?”

“No.”

#

“The nuclear generator only replaces the need to plug in to recharge the system,” Harry said, going through the NHCA-mandated pre-installation waiver checklist. “You still need to eat occasionally. If you don’t replenish the raw materials your body’ll start cannibalizing itself.”

“No more than 45 days without food. I read the specs. Can we get going?”

Harry shook his head. “I have to remind you. Federal regulations, so you can’t sue me for malpractice. With regard to water: The DSR recycles what would normally urinate, but you still lose water through perspir–”

“I’ll have access to water. Eating and elimination were the big problems.”

“You still have to eliminate,” said Harry. “Recycling isn’t 100% efficient. If you don’t add food into the system, then only once every 60 days.”

“Just check all the boxes and I’ll sign the form,” said Smith.

#

As the surgical bots worked on Smith, Harry leaned back in his chair. Where was Smith going? What sort of environment called for this kind of endurance?

Under water made the most sense. A diving suit with a rebreather/gill system and a distiller to purify water would let him stay down for weeks. Navy SEALs probably did exactly that.

What was Smith up to?

#

Before Smith left, Harry said, “If you ever need any work done, look me up. I’ll probably be opening a clinic in Mexico after Congress bans upgrades.”

Smith chuckled; the privacy veil made the sound sterile. “Don’t be so sure of that — politicians need upgrades, just like everyone else. Have some faith in human nature.”

Harry snorted. “If I had faith in human nature, I wouldn’t be upgrading it.”

#

The True Human Act, outlawing most upgrade procedures, passed the House easily. The Senate took up the bill a week later.

Harry cancelled his appointments and watched the debate on C-SPAN2.

Smith was right: politicians used upgrades, too. Even many Senators in favor of the bill showed signs of vocal cord upgrades. Their voices were just too smooth, too resonant.

Senator Velazquez of Texas was no exception. His voice was firm as he took the podium. “My distinguished colleagues, I rise in opposition to this bill.”

Something about the stiff way Senator Velazquez stood looked familiar to Harry. He grinned suddenly and said, “Looks like Mr. Smith went to Washington.”

#

Seventeen days into Senator Velazquez’s filibuster, the Senators sponsoring the bill withdrew it.

THE END

Filed under: General

2 comments on “I’m a Pixel-Stained Technopeasant”

  1. RoAnn says:

    I love it. Very engagingly and cleverly written. Thanks for making it public!

  2. Audrey says:

    Great story, Eric, as always. Always a surprise! (Ending that is, not a surprise that you’ve written a great story!)