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art by Shannon N. Kelly

The Procedure

L.E. Elder teaches first grade in a public school in Louisville, KY. He used to be an attorney in a large NYC law firm and co-authored a treatise on international intellectual property that you would not find entertaining. You might, perhaps, enjoy his short and flash fiction, some of which is still posted on the internet at Ideomancer and Every Day Fiction.

She was having too many seizures. That's what the doctor told her.
"The remaining bio-residue is not functioning properly, " said Dr. Thiel. "It is beyond repair. You'll need to undergo a procedure."
Anna was an old woman, a very old woman, one of the oldest. And, although she'd had all of the latest upgrades, she was having trouble processing the doctor's words. Perhaps it was that lingering bit of bio-residue mucking things up. She stared without comprehension at the doctor's burnished face.
"What he means, Mom"--it was Cindy, her daughter--"is your organic brain-- what's left of it--is failing. It needs to be replaced."
Cindy spoke in the crisp, firm, condescending tone she might have used with an errant child. If she'd had a child. If there were children anymore.
"My systems are functioning perfectly, Cindy, you needn't use that voice," managed Anna to preserve her dignity.
"Ms. Williams," interceded Dr. Thiel, addressing Cindy, "this event may be having some... emotional... effect on your mother. She is, after all, one of the last Non-Alltechs. She may have formed an... empathetic... attachment to her bio-residue."
Non-Alltechs. There used to be another word for Non-Alltechs, a word that Dr. Thiel chose not to use.
Cindy was not mollified. She turned to her mother.
"What difference could it make, mom? I'm Alltech. Tony's Alltech. Dad would be Alltech too if he hadn't died too soon. You're more than 90% Tech yourself, as you well know. I hope you're not being racist."
"I'll have you know I marched--both your father and I--we marched for Tech rights before you were even born."
"Of course I know, Mother. You did it for Tony."
Dear, damaged little Tony. Her firstborn. Rebuilt. Saved. Improved.
"Anyway," continued Cindy. "You hopped the right train, mom, seeing how the Bios are extinct and it's just you and a handful of others that have any organic tissue left. There was no future in it. We're the humans now."
Ah, Cindy had used the word.
"So what does that make me?" Anna asked quietly.
An awkward moment passed.
"A person," offered Dr. Thiel. "A person who is malfunctioning, who is... sick. Come to the clinic tomorrow. We'll schedule the Chamber for you at 9:00 a.m. It's a safe and simple procedure. We'll remove the bio-residue and its support system, make a few software upgrades and you'll be out by noon. You won't need to inject medicine. You won't have any more seizures. Ever. You'll be well."
How could she refuse?
Anna knew that Tony would be there for her that evening, as soon as she opened herself to the Net. Tony, the fragile being they'd brought home to die. The doomed baby saved by the miracle of the new technology--technology that the cyberpharms couldn't get approval to install in healthy human brains and bodies until they demonstrated it could redeem fatally defective humans like Tony. This technology had made Tony, and those like him, better, better than they ever could have been, better than the wholly human. And then, of course, the healthy had begun clamoring for the implants, the prosthetics, the brain enhancements.
The widespread "Teching" of the human race bred a host of legal and practical problems. What rights should Techs have? They were faster and stronger than ordinary people. They processed information at astounding speed. How could they be permitted to compete with mere Bios? Should Alltechs--persons with no remaining biological content (and her Tony had been one of the first)--have rights as persons under the law? There were demonstrations, riots, assassinations. There were days when Anna and her husband, Daniel, Tech Rights activists both, thought the world would be torn apart.
They were such fools. Most of the Techs themselves stayed out of it. They were smarter (of course). The triumph of the Tech Rights movement was foreordained. In time, each Bio, each human, had to decide whether to suffer and die, or go Tech. And, in time, each Bio, each human, did one... or the other.
And then, there was no one left to oppose Tech Rights.
Daniel, for all his pro-Tech activism, chose death. The children didn't know. She never told them he'd had a choice.
"I'm not a hypocrite," he said on his final day. "You know that, Anna. I love Tony and Cindy. I respect them. I want them to enjoy their full civil rights. They deserve it, godammit."
"Shhh, calm down," said Anna. "Don't upset yourself."
Daniel smiled his familiar, crooked smile. "You're right. The days of passion are past. Like me. Don't give me that look. It's my choice. I love my children, but I am different from them. I'm a different being from them. Not a better being. I consider myself in no way superior. How could I? Just different. Mortal. I am a mortal man. And it's time for me to go. I need to die, to be what I am. That is my right."
And he'd died. And Anna had had to decide for herself, with her children's input, what to do when her systems failed--her heart, her kidneys, her eyes, her hearing, her limbs, her memory. She chose life. She chose Teching. Again and again the gleaming silver Chamber had descended, darkness had engulfed her, and she'd emerged changed. A part of her former self gone forever. A defective portion. A liability. Piece by piece she had been replaced. And tomorrow, well, tomorrow the final piece would go.
Not that it would or could make any difference.
Still, an uneasiness nagged her as she opened her mind to the Net. Tony was waiting, as he always was. She scanned the image of himself that he projected for her. It was an old one. A very old one. But it comforted her, as she knew he intended. He was smiling. His light brown hair was long and tousled. His skin tan. He looked young and carefree.
"How ya doing, Ma?" he asked. "I understand you're having a little procedure tomorrow."
"It's minor. The doctor says there's nothing to worry about."
"Dr. Thiel sent me your entire file. He's right. It's a very safe procedure. All the same, I wish I could be there. It's just that...."
"Oh! I wouldn't dream of it! You're so busy. I know you're working 24/7 on the new designs and all. It's such a simple operation. Cindy will be with me."
"I knew you'd understand, Ma. Good luck tomorrow."
"See you soon," she'd signed off by some instinctual reflex.
She hadn't really seen Tony in more than 40 years. Always on the forefront, he was a SuperTech now. She understood from Cindy that he was motile, although no longer bipedal, or even recognizably humanoid. But he was capable of prodigious multitasking, extraordinarily intelligent, and heavily involved in the design of the next generation of Tech enhancements. Anna understood from the Net that these new designs would finally free Techs "from the tyranny of their biological origins."
Anna thought about her procedure and something that Cindy had said. She forced a smile and whispered, "The train is leaving for the next station, and I'll be just in time." Then she closed her mind to the Net and shut herself down.
Anna drifted into the dream. She was young again and fully human. Fragile as any Bio, but without fear. The sun warmed her skin and a soft wind cooled it. She breathed in the scent of flowers and tasted her salty lips with the tip of her tongue.
Anna stood, barefoot, at the crest of a hill. Grass and clover spread beneath her. With a joyful cry she ran heedlessly down. Of course she fell, skinning her knees, but she managed to turn her body horizontally, channeling her momentum into a dizzying, roll that carried her to the bottom. She lay there in the thick, tickling grass, squinting against the light of the spinning azure sky.
She waited for her lover, and he did not disappoint her. He never did. He took her hand, gently pulling her into a sitting position and stared down at her with his dark, soulful eyes. He wasn't Daniel, but there was something of Daniel in him. And something of Paul, her first, foolish, childish love. And something mysterious and otherworldly from the dream itself and not from her waking life at all. He knelt beside her and kissed her wounded knees.
"Anna," he said, "I've missed you."
"But I'm always here," she laughed, seizing his bare wrists and pulling his hands to her heart. "Always, some part of me is with you. My best part, my truest self, never leaves here."
She saw doubt in his handsome face, and pulled him closer.
"Really. This... you... are my world. All the rest is just, is just...."
She froze.
What was "all the rest?" What was her life outside her dream?
The sky darkened now, and Anna felt she'd broken a taboo--bringing thoughts of the waking world into the dream. She sought her lover's embrace, but found she was suddenly alone. Around her, the dream slowly melted away leaving Anna floating, weightless, in utter darkness. In panic she reached out into the blackness, and, for an instant it seemed she felt the faintest, human touch.
"Mom. Mom. Wake up, Mom. It's time. Wake up."
It was Cindy.
Anna stretched and shook her head. She didn't feel at all rested.
"It must be the stress," she thought. "Stress because of the procedure. It's ruined my sleep."
Anna looked up. Cindy was smiling at her.
"Well," said Anna, "you certainly seem happy today."
"I've upgraded my interface, mother," she said.
Indeed, the sour, pinched look that characterized her daughter's visage was absent entirely.
"I'm surprised you didn't do it sooner," said Anna.
"Oh," said Cindy, happily, "I'd been using an interface projected to reflect how I'd develop if I'd remained a Bio. As long as you maintained your bio-residue, I concluded it would be most comforting for you. But, after today, you should be free of any lingering Bio prejudices."
Anna was silent and remained that way until they reached the clinic.
After that, it was all routine. Cindy ushered her in. Dr. Thiel came out to greet her. They brought her into the room with the Chamber. Anna walked onto the illuminated X and began to take off her clothes. She felt the darkness of the tube above her.
"After the procedure, you'll feel fine," promised Dr. Thiel. "Still, I recommend that you shut down higher level functions for a little while when you get home."
"Oh, I intend to," said Anna. "I was having the most interesting dream. Perhaps I'll find it again."
Both Dr. Thiel and Cindy stared at her blankly--as if they were the ones with processing problems.
"Fascinating," said Dr. Thiel at last. "There's nothing on the Net to suggest it could be possible. Not with such scant bio-residue. I'll need to do an upload."
"What?" murmured Anna.
"You're still having dreams, mom?" Cindy asked.
"Why, yes," said Anna, standing naked now beneath the glistening Chamber.
"Dreams," said Dr. Thiel, shaking his bald, metallic head. "How atavistic. Well, Anna, you'll never be troubled by dreams again."
And the Chamber engulfed her.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Author Comments

I sketched out a draft of this story years ago. More recently, I was introduced to the ideas of Vinge and Kurzweil. Although this story is a mere whimper to their bangs, I thought it was worth finishing and submitting. [Little things often have outsized impacts on we humans. Thus Daily Science Fiction's focus on flash fiction.... -Editors]

- L.E. Elder
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