She was eight when her body rotted away. A virus. They were able to save her brain, and for the last ten years she’d been living inside an android body.
The body had never become hers. The physical attachment was miraculous, whole, but she’d never consciously connected with it. When she raised her hand or turned her head, she felt acutely that this was not her hand, that this was not her head. And though she saw the world around her, she did not see it with her eyes.
She knew her body was gone. The biological body was destroyed—she’d seen it rot. Yet, she couldn’t shake the belief that her body still existed and that her consciousness must find it.
Her android body was that of an eight-year-old child’s. It had always been a temporary body, an experimental body. She was an experiment. Was it possible to transplant a brain into a hybrid bio-android body and have that brain thrive, grow? Could the brain accept and even transform a semi-organic mechanical body?
The answer for many years had been negative. The brains had thrived, but for only two or three years, suddenly, mysteriously withering away. Except one. That brain had survived but the man had gone insane. The brain was in a lab, being studied.
She was the first child. And now she was a woman. Or her brain was a woman; she needed a woman’s body.
“Your new body won’t be anything like the body you have now,” the doctor told her. “Advances in bio-mechanical engineering in the last few years have been remarkable. Miraculous. And I don’t use that word lightly. You’ll be what we all want to be, what we all will one day be. Your body will last over a thousand years. You’ll have a hundred times the strength, speed, stamina. All your senses will be phenomenally alive.”
The doctor herself was an experiment. Her injured spinal cord had been replaced with bionic circuitry. At first her body had been in chaos, but slowly she realized the chaos was the many consciousnesses that inhabited a body: primary brain, primal enteric brain, reproductive, microbial, parasitic.
“You’ll be happy in a woman’s body,” the doctor told her.
Her adult body was being carefully “grown” to match her brain. Every few weeks she came to the lab to see it. Not that she wanted to but because the doctor insisted. The doctor felt it was important to the transplant’s success that she form an emotional attachment to the body as soon as possible. It had hair now, lovely reddish brown hair like she’d asked for, and inside the android was a mechanical version of her brain, testing and stimulating the body.
“I predict that in twenty years we’ll all have android bodies,” the doctor said. “It’ll be our basic human right. Our frail biological bodies will be mere incubators. Sadly, we’ll lose most of the microbes, bacteria, viruses that have evolved with us, the billions of consciousnesses that is the human ‘mind’. But we’ll attract new microbes—no doubt we’ll carry a good many with us into our new bodies. And we’ll evolve, physically and mentally, into better beings. Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we lived forever?”
“Will we? Live forever?”
“That is the hope. The goal,” the doctor said, smiling. “But perhaps one day we’ll discover that consciousness isn’t eternal after all. Well, you’ll find out, won’t you? You’re our pioneer. Don’t be frightened. Yours is an exciting, enviable journey. And you won’t be alone for long. Remember that. You won’t be alone.”
She wasn’t excited. This wasn’t her dream. Her dream was to return to her old body. She didn’t want to become something new and different. She wanted her old self; she hated this self that wasn’t one thing or another. She stared at the new android body which was so tall, with breasts and wide hips and a brain of its own—why should it have her brain?
On her way home, she wanted to scream, but then was distracted: the aftermath of a traffic accident. There was blood on the street, a body covered up. Onlookers paralyzed. Death.
All she could think about was running away. But how could she run away? She needed a body to run and all she had was this android body, which was old and starting to fall apart. She had to be good and sensible: her new body was the envy of the world; a self-healing body that would require almost no maintenance. It wasn’t as if she was really human now.
“Why don’t I feel lucky?” she cried out.
“Lucky? Do you need something?”
It was Blue, the household android. Neither male nor female, wholly mechanical and yet alive because it could ask you questions and make you feel better. Blue was only six months old, with artificial intelligence that surpassed a ten-year-old child’s. According to the brochure, Blue’s intelligence was always growing. To fit the needs of your family.
“Blue, my new body will be better than yours. Does that matter?”
“Yes. A new body is an improvement.”
“Blue, do you think of yourself as an android?”
“If I were you, what would I think of myself?”
“You are not me.”
“No. I’m only half android. Maybe not even half. Physically, I am more than half, but the other part of it—I don’t feel the android. I’m in the android but I don’t feel the android. It’s not me, it’s not a part of the real me, it’s an alien me. But in my new body, I’ll feel the android—and I’ll become—even not more me.”
“You are always you.”
“Most of me rotted away.”
“Yes. I see that you are old. You are an old android.”
She begins to cry, and to accept the body growing in the lab, a body that does not need her. She does this by writing a story.
Dreams of Humans
My nights are filled with dreams of humans. Homo sapiens. Sometimes I am Homo sapien, diseased of mind and body, crying the kinds of tears I’ve only read about.
In the books they left behind, lands and children are split asunder by kings driven mad by mortality.
To live just a century. Knowing one is born to die. Desperate to procreate, to leave behind at least a span of genes that will constantly mutate. I think I too would be driven to insanity.
I keep reading their books. Illness, old age, fading beauty, strength, hope. Courage and acceptance too.
And I look at my body, organic and nonorganic now inseparable, horrified at how vulnerable we once were. Eons ago, we were Homo sapiens, our bodies uncontrollable, fed on by bacteria and parasites, needing oxygen and water. If we fell, we broke our bones. If we did not eat, we died. Feeble, we needed machines to help us lift the simplest of things. Scars remain. Cellular memories. Phantom pain disrupting.
She rewrote this part of the story over and over as her brain left one body for the other. Her third body. The truth she couldn’t see was that she didn’t remember her first body except as an abstract absence. Her second body was not an absence but a frightening place of disorientation which had turned her into an alien. You will grow into the new body. The new body will grow into you. Scars remain. Cellular memories.
“What are you saying?” the doctor asked.
“Scar tissue is good. It means you’re building, healing. It’s a necessary, important bridge. Sleep. Try to sleep. Your dreams will be chaotic but when you wake up, you’ll be strong, ready for your new life. Your new existence. Sleep. Dream.”
In her dreams she begins writing again.
My nights are filled with dreams. I am human. A genetic sketch. I look at my body, organic and nonorganic. I look at my body, organic and nonorganic.
The body, an amoeba, a single cell, to ocean to land and back to atom, mass and energy, transmutation, reinvention, recycling, were, am, will be, forgetting to become because immortality is being and waking over and over again—
The story previously appeared in Queen Mob’s Tea House, 2/9/17.
Edited by Marie Ginga
J.A. Pak is the author of Lottie & the Temple Cat Quahr and Romance of the 3 Djinn. Her writing has been published in Litro, Lunch Ticket, Joyland, etc. More of her work can be seen at Triple Eight Palace of Dreams & Happiness