It all started with an accident and a left forearm.
Car accidents were rare, but not unheard of. Even traffic-steering AI’s and automated vehicles weren’t infallible.
All Jake remembered was a sudden impact, a brief burst of searing pain and then, darkness.
He awoke in a hospital bed, pulling up heavy eyelids. The first thing he saw was Linn, his wife, portrayed against a background of milky glass walls, brightly lit by the ceiling LED’s. She leaned in and kissed him on the forehead.
“Jake, baby, are you okay?”
He frowned and nodded.
Opening and closing his mouth a couple of times, Jake noticed he was parched. Looking around, he also noticed that Linn was clasping his left hand with both of hers. He didn’t feel that, though. What was equally disconcerting was that through the nearly translucent skin parts, he could see black rods. Bluish lights flying around them, inside his arm, like capricious will-o’-the-wisps.
His frown deepened.
“Water… please,” he stammered.
Linn nodded and got up, releasing her unfelt hold.
The sound of a scraped throat. A doctor had entered. “Mr. Jacobs, good to see you’re up. How are you feeling?”
Linn handed him a cup of water, which he accepted with his right hand. His left one seemed to deny service.
After a gulp of fresh water, Jake answered. “Okay, I guess.” He looked at his left arm. “What…?”
“Ah, yes. Unfortunately, large parts of your left forearm were beyond salvation. For the rest, your injuries are quite minor, a few scrapes and bruises.”
“I can’t feel…”
The physician interrupted him. “Don’t worry about that, the neurons are still in the process of forming connections with the semi-organic signal transmitters in your new arm. Also, the bioplast casing will darken to match your skin tone. Over the next week or so, your arm might tingle. That’s a perfectly normal response, though.”
“But it’s not my arm. I mean, not really.”
“Soon,” the doctor said, “it will be.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.” Incomprehension made Linn’s face contract into a landscape of lines and ridges.
“Why would I? This one,” Jake waved his left arm, “is so much better than this one,” now he waved the right one. “It’s stronger, I can shut off the pain receptors, it doesn’t age, and any issue can be fixed easily.”
Linn threw up her arms. “I can’t believe you’re serious. Listen, I’m happy it’s working out well, I really am, but it’s still a prosthetic. It’s not your arm.”
“Yes it is, Linn, it really is. It is my arm. And more than that, it’s an updated version.”
His wife shook her head. “You just… I…”
“You what? Don’t you see that this would make me stronger? Faster. Better.”
“But it’s madness!,” Linn blurted out. “There’s nothing wrong with you, there’s no sane reason to do this. I can’t even believe you’ve been able to talk the surgeon into doing it.”
He shrugged defiantly. “I didn’t have to. He was quite interested.” He drew a breath and forced his features to mellow. He walked over to her and held her contorted face in his hands. He couldn’t help but notice how much more information he got from the left one. Every pore in her superficially smooth skin was as clear as a lunar crater, the rush of the blood beneath the surface of her cheeks as obvious as a wild river’s whirl.
“Listen,” he said, looking in her bright grey eyes, “I want to do this. I’ve thought it through. Besides,” he was ready to unleash the unfairly harsh argument he had prepared, “if the accident would’ve been worse and my injuries, and subsequent… alterations, more extensive, you wouldn’t have stopped loving me, would you?”
She jerked back, incredulity leveling her frown. Her voice trembled. “That’s so unfair. I…” She was looking for words but failed to find the right ones. With brisk steps, she left the room and slammed the door.
Jake fell back into the sofa, looking out of the large window of their flat on the 82nd floor of one of the new inner-city scrapers. With a swipe of his hand over the glassy surface of the coffee table, he reduced the window’s transparency, obscuring the smog clouds from view.
He reassigned his gaze to his left arm. He flexed the fingers of his left hand a couple of times.
Indistinguishable from the right.
Yet so much better.
Jake was happy to see Linn when he arose from the forced slumber. But she didn’t hold his hand this time. She sat in the corner of the room, glaring at him. She seemed angry at herself for being there.
He smiled meekly – almost apologetically – at her before turning his attention to his arms. From the shoulder down, both his left and right arm lay limply by his sides, the strong lightweight carbon skeletons still visible beneath the translucent artificial skin. Between the fibrous cables that replaced his muscles and sinews faint blue lights played hide-and-seek. He couldn’t move them yet. He was already looking forward to the familiar tingling that would accompany their increasing functionality.
“Happy now?,” Linn asked, unable to fully ward the sharpness out of her voice.
With a serious countenance, Jake replied positively.
She rolled her eyes.
The doctor walked in. “Aha, Mr. Jacobs, I thought you might have come out of sedition by now. Good to see you. Everything alright?”
“Wonderful. All went according to plan. In a week or so, your new arms should be in full working order. I also wanted to thank you. People like yourself are helping our research along famously.”
Jake couldn’t suppress the smile that spread across his face. Linn snorted and stormed out of the room, causing the doctor to raise his eyebrows.
“It’s nothing,” Jake said, “she’s just having a hard time accepting this. But she’ll come around eventually.”
The surgeon nodded thoughtfully. “Well, I hope it all works out. Besides, there’s something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
His two new arms worked marvelously. Not a hint of pain, and many hints of capabilities beyond anything he could’ve ever dreamed of with his first, un-upgraded pair of arms.
“But you see how well it worked,” he pleaded.
“No,” Linn replied sternly. “You said you were done. You promised.”
“Yes, I know. It’s just…”
“I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal out of this. We’ve got the money, and it’s still me. Just with stronger parts.”
Linn shook her head vigorously. “It’s not about the money. It never was. It’s… If you replace all your parts, are you sure you’re still the same?”
“Come on, Linn. It’s not like I’m having them tinkering with my brain or something. I’m getting a better body, that’s all.”
“But you’re fine as you are. You don’t need this. I don’t want to wake up next to a robot.”
“You wouldn’t.” He got up and walked over to her. Gently he grabbed her hand and put it in his. “Here, now tell me you feel the difference with before.” She looked away. He softly cupped her chin and swiveled her head back towards him. “Well, do you?”
Suddenly she looked him straight in the eye and he wasn’t sure he liked what he saw in hers. Some fundamental barrier. A warning perhaps. Averting her gaze, she said: “I’m not sure I can cope with all this, Jake. I…” She turned away from him and left the room.
Waking up was harder this time. It felt like he’d been under for substantially longer. Well, that was to be expected, the procedure was a lot more complex this time.
He slowly turned his head left and right. Linn wasn’t there. He frowned and sighed. He could move his arms and head, and that was it. He moved his hand across the bed’s railing and the sensors in it made the head-end move up silently.
His body looked like it was made out of clear jelly. Except for his arms. The black skeleton of his legs gave a sturdy impression and the compact fiber sheafs of his new muscles rippled softly as they were patiently set into place by their sinewy ends. Beneath his onyx ribs the coils and tubes that were the new inhabitants of his abdomen provided a path for whirling dark and less dark fluids. And in the flickering constellation of small blue lights, there was one that shone as large and bright as a nearby sun. His heart. Version 2.0.
Someone came in.
“Linn?,” he asked hopefully before looking up.
“I’m sorry, just me,” the doctor said.
Excitement and embarrassment struggled for supremacy in Jake’s facial expression.
“She’s been here earlier, but left a few hours ago.”
The surgeon, still in his smock, looked tired. The man sat down.
“Is everything okay?,” Jake asked with a small taint of worry creeping into his voice.
“Oh, yes. Just a long day, that’s all. All went smoothly, Mr. Jacobs. But you’ll have to stay here a week for observation. We have to make sure that your… internal workings… function properly.”
“In the meantime, I suggest you go through the self-customization options of your new body. I’ve sent the full details to your foltab.”
“Thank you, I’ll do that.”
“Good. If there’s anything, you can always contact me via my personal ID-cue. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back.”
As the physician left his room, Jake unfurled his foltab and began browsing the specs of his new self. And he consulted the accompanying catalogue of bodyfications and other upgrades.
“No Jake, I’ve told you plenty of times: enough is enough. I’ve had it.” Linn’s shoulder slumped and a vertical ridge formed between her eyebrows as she recognized that she wasn’t getting through to her soon-to-be-ex-husband. “You’re addicted, you’re taking this too far too soon.”
“Nonsense, Linn. You’re overreacting, clinging to archaic notions of what it means to be human. Why settle for failing flesh when you could be so much better?”
Exasperated, Linn threw her arms up in the air. “It’s not about that, Jake. If you want to be a robot, fine. But I want a man.”
Jake snorted derisively. “Come on, Linn. That distinction no longer exists. You just can’t handle progress.”
She shrugged dismissively. “Tell yourself whatever you want. I can’t have any more of this.” She swallowed. “Goodbye, Jake. I wish you the best of luck with… everything.”
He shook his head. “Linn, wait…” But it was too late. Her imprinted suitcases followed her out of the door, like ducklings sauntering behind their mother.
That night Jake sat on the roof of the scraper, his lung-analogues filtering out the fine dust and counteracting the smog’s detrimental effects. It was reasonably clear. He could even see some stars. Linn just didn’t get it. He was better now than he’d ever been. Stronger, faster, healthier. But he was still the same person. If she wasn’t able to see that, well, so be it.
He got up and tried to watch the few stars twinkled above him. It would be nice if he could zoom in. His throat tickled and his eyes began prickling. Under his breath, he cursed his flawed head. Now there, standing on his shapely new shoulders like a ruin in the midst of a modern city, was something that could still use some improvements.
The operation had already been scheduled.