A DIFFERENT KIND OF IMMORTALITY
"Can you hit him from here?" I whispered to my companion.
"35% probability of wounding him fatally, 65% probability of wounding less seriously," said Xris, his lasgun trained on the man in the bright brocade waistcoat, "He's moved, I can't get a clean hit without risking the woman. There's no realistic chance of recovering her."
"Damn!" I swore under my breath, "We'd better get back to the refuge."
Xris looked at me blandly, his face expressionless. A cyborg, he registered no emotions. Thank goodness this cyborg was on the side of the resistance and not the doctor's side. None of the people taken by the doctor had been seen alive again, not in the true sense of the word. Beneath duplicate forms of synthetic muscle and skin was cybernetics, circuitry and electronics, not true flesh and blood. The personalities were encoded onto memory boards, but the people they had been before the transformation were dead. Only transplanted memories in "enhanced" bodies lived on. Now those who resisted the transfer from flesh to silicon systems were being hunted down. "Be immortal" the ads all screamed, but in reality, once the living mind was transferred into silicon it became static, unable to feel human emotion or to "grow" in the way that humans grow, by experience. All that remained was an analytical mechanism in a cyborg body, unable to replace the human who had died in order that their minds be preserved, frozen in time at the point of transfer.
Xris was such a cyborg, but for some reason he was part of the resistance. Maybe some vestige of non-conformity lurked in the silicon of his brain. We holstered the lasguns and ran crouched back to the priory.
A huge rambling building, the prior was a construct of bright red bricks and stone surrounded windows. A gutted church building stood within the grounds, the remaining building were home to a theme park/museum/gallery/restaurant and everything else that went with commercialism. The attic was where the "survivors" hid. Xris moved between the two worlds, sheltering the survivors while maintaining the appearance of one of the new breed of synthetic human. If the doctor succeeded, and the state backed his schemes, all adult humans would be transferred to cyborgs. Soon there would be no children - only a static population of immortal artificial beings, capable of great intellect and incapable of emotion; amoral in the name of logic and efficiency.
We moved through several passageways, the unobtrusive passages once used by servants moving between rooms without disturbing the residents. Someone must have raised the alarm - a visitor or one of the cyborg staff - since the sound of pursuit echoed in the passages behind us. Xris and I, and one or two of the other survivors gliding through the musty corridors, began to run. A left turn, a set of stairs, old wooden doorways and worn stone stairs behind them, more corridors and finally a ladder leading up to a hatch in the ceiling. At the top was the attic room where we were safest, the route to it so labyrinthine that we had never been found.
The attic was musty and smelt of mouse droppings. Cobwebs draped some of the beams and the windows were left grimy so that the sun did not glint off of them (where the ivy did not hide them). This room might as well have been designed to be secret, but it was merely forgotten. Old furniture - a basin and pitcher, a shaving table, a mirror so corroded it no longer reflected, a shaving mug and the ivory handle of a hairbrush stood in one corner. Some male servant had lived in these rooms, a coachman or serving-man perhaps. Someone who was unimportant, but who must nevertheless be presentable upon occasion.
One of the survivors tugged at the rope which pulled the wooden ladder up into the loft. Then the hatch would be quietly closed and we would sit, breath held, in the dim attic until they had passed by.
"Wait for me, wait," the voice of a survivor came from below.
We hesitated. Maari, a young Asian woman reached the bottom of the ladder. Something was wrong, her eyes betrayed no panic. I aimed the lasgun and fired a stream of killing light. Green light flared about her, the characteristic aura of light which comes from a destroyed cyborg. Others reached the ladder and Xris and I shot. Some shots were wide of the mark. A few hit their targets. Returned fire missed Xris and took one of the survivors. No green aura this time, just the scorched smell of flesh and a little blood seeping from the near-cauterised flesh.
The weight of bodies on the ladder made it impossible to raise it, and they had found our refuge. We had to kill them.
A mocking voice came up to us, "Don't you want to live forever? Trade in your old flesh for a cyborg suit and you can be immortal."
Didn't they realise that they were nothing but memory? No emotions, no capacity to love or hate, just cold efficiency? All that they had ever been had died at the point of transfer. The survivors did not want to die.
The hunters held back in the corridors, out of lasgun range. One of the survivors was weeping over the body of the shot man. No immortality for him. I leaned close to Xris; for the comfort of closeness more than anything. There was no human smell about him, no spiciness of sweat after exertion, no smell of hair, washed or unwashed, not even the smell of plastic. He was odourless. He did not breath so there was no soft sound of exhalation, no sigh of breath. Even the warmth radiating from his synthetic flesh was too cool for human warmth. But he was stronger than any of us (the only advantage of the cyborg state) and so when I needed to feel safe I leaned, metaphorically or physically, on Xris. You couldn't love a machine, but you could become sentimentally attached to it like you did to an old petrol-car or steam-train.
This time Xris was less than comforting. The vice-like grip of his hand on my shoulder was not friendly and the lasgun pointed at my temple was definitely not reassuring.
"You double crossing bastard," I breathed.
"Don't resist immortality, embrace it," was his reply.
I jabbed an elbow into his "ribs", but I might as well have been hitting a solid stone wall for all the impact I made. I could only watch as the cyborg troops came into the attic and herded the survivors away. Then I was herded in their wake.
Their mistake was to have too few cyborgs watching too many humans. When I broke free I managed to mingle with the visitors to the theme park. I could almost feel Xris and one other trying to track me. I headed for the "under-mountain". I descended countless stairs to the lower landing where the ride began. I knew there were service tunnels which might give me a way out. or at least a place to hole up for a while. As I ducked into the darkness by the drinking fountain a dark shape loomed over me. One of the attendants, a huge man with synthetic features and colour made to match his African origins (from when he was human of course).
"I've been waiting for you," he said in a bass voice that rumbled in my ears. He pointed to the lift. His eyes were dead and empty and the hand that gripped my wrist was too cool and vice-like to be human. Propelled into the lift, I saw Xris, emotionless and static. He regarded me with eyes that might have been sad had they not been artificial.
"I'm sorry, but we've been monitoring your cell for a long time," he said.
"It isn't immortality you offer us, it's just death." I protested.
"YOU won't be offered immortality - only death," he said in a quiet voice, so soft it might have been sorrowful had it not been generated by electronics.
I sat heavily on the floor of the lift, knees drawn up to my chin. The cyborgs had won. Xris had betrayed us all. I felt especially betrayed. Stupid of me, becoming sentimentally attached to a machine.