Tag Archives: cyborg

The Interno

Prefer to do your reading on your ereader, iPhone, or other device? Download this month’s stories from the Store!

Spring sunshine was filtering through the Venetian blinds that covered Dr. Jefferson Parkindale’s office windows, throwing thin, evenly spaced rectangles of light across his desk and the floor. The scientist was reclining in his comfortable computer chair, feet up on the corner of his desk, shoes off, fingers interlocked behind his head. He sighed happily.

“I’m telling you,” he said to his guest, “signing up for the Interno program was the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s a wonderful technology.”

His guest was Dr. Graeme Carter, a longtime colleague and companion. They had worked on many research projects together over the past two decades, though their friendship had never truly extended beyond the walls of their offices and laboratories. “I’m happy for you,” said Carter. “You’ve done nothing but smile over the past three weeks! I’ve almost come to miss that old contemplative frown of yours.”

“Oh?” said Parkindale. His face drooped into a flatter, duller, somewhat distant expression, with a hint of a grimace. “This one?”

“That’s the one,” said Carter. “But on second thought, maybe I haven’t really missed it at all. If you’re happy, why not look happy, eh?”

Parkindale brightened up with another smile. “Precisely! Exactly! Still, what’s the saying? All things in moderation?”

“I suppose.”

Parkindale turned his eyes towards the ceiling and muttered to himself for a moment. “Too much smiling… Too much smiling… Yes, that’s helpful.”

“Er,” said Dr. Carter, regarding his friend somewhat quizzically, “so, I’ve been wondering… How does the Interno program work? I’ve only heard bits and pieces about it. When I heard you were having the procedure done I went online to do some research, but there’s very little information available, surprisingly.”

“Oh, the Interno is wonderful!”

“So you’ve said. But what is it?”

Parkindale swung his feet off of the desk and onto the floor and sat up straight in his chair. “What time is it?”

“Five past two,” said Carter. “Why?”

“That’s been two hours, then,” muttered Parkindale. “Sufficient for today, I think.” He reached over and twisted the blinds closed. “Too much sun time gets me hyper,” he said with a wink.

“Really? Sugar and caffeine do it for me. Have you had yourself fitted with a solar panel or something?” joked Dr. Carter.

Parkindale’s smile faltered for a moment. “Oh. No! How silly. Of course not. We humans function on chemical energy harvested through eating, not on solar power… What an idea! Have you ever been to Europe? Nice weather we’re having today!”

“Whoa,” said Carter, “relax. I was only joking.” He fixed Parkindale with a curious stare.

Parkindale smiled benignly.

“Anyways,” said Carter, “the Interno?”

“Ah, yes. In layman’s terms, the Interno is an expansion device for your subconscious mind.”

“You mean… an implant?”

“Precisely,” said Parkindale. “Exactly. It’s small, noninvasive, safe, reliable—”

“—and a long list of other marketing buzzwords, I’m sure,” said Dr. Carter. “But what does it do? How does it work? Beyond making you such a persistent smiler, I mean.”

“It’s marvelous,” said Parkindale. “Brilliant. To put it simply, the Interno automates all of the most boring, mundane, tedious tasks and chores of your daily life, freeing your full brain power up so that you can focus on what’s truly important.”

Carter stroked his chin. “What sorts of tasks do you mean?”

“Oh, the obvious ones, to start,” said Parkindale. “Brushing your teeth, combing your hair, other elements of personal hygiene. Taking out the trash. Scratching itches. Eating, if you want.” Opening a drawer in his desk he took out a bottle of lotion, rolled up his shirt sleeves, squeezed a little lotion into his hands, and began to rub it onto his elbows, and then his neck.

“And what does it look like, on a practical level, when you ‘automate’ those tasks? Can you still taste your food, or do you just ignore it altogether?”

“That depends on the food!” said Parkindale with a wink. “I rarely pay attention to my breakfast cereal, for example, but at the company barbecue yesterday I made sure I was experiencing the full pleasure of the steaks and hamburgers. Some of the small talk, on the other hand…”

“Are you saying you can even automate conversations?”

“Almost flawlessly!” grinned Parkindale. “Chit-chat is really pretty predictable, most of the time. There are a few gaps in the Interno’s social programming—it might toss out an occasional nonsequitor—but when you’re talking to someone like Susie-May Buttons from the BioChem department it’s doubtful she’ll even notice, honestly.”

“Fair enough,” said Carter. “So how do I know you aren’t automating this conversation right now?”

“Does it feel like you’re talking to the real me?”

“Well…” said Carter. He gazed intently at Parkindale’s face, studying his colleague’s somewhat plastic smile.

Parkindale raised his eyebrows and kept smiling.

Carter studied his colleague’s glassy eyes.

Parkindale smiled.

Carter studied his colleague’s even-as-clockwork breathing.

Parkindale smiled.

“Well,” said Carter again, “you seem real enough, I guess…”

“Then what’s the difference either way?”

“Um,” said Carter.

Parkindale laughed. “I’m pulling your leg, of course, Graeme. Of course you’re talking to the ‘real me’. I only use the Interno to get out of boring conversations.”

“Right…” said Carter, squirming a little in his chair. “Still, the whole concept of this ‘Interno’ does bring up some awkward questions, doesn’t it?”

“Like what?”

“Well, what happens your ‘conscious’ brain while you’ve got yourself set on ‘autpilot’?”

Parkindale leaned back again in his chair and surveyed the ceiling. “It’s a little bit hard to describe. I guess you could call it a sort of ‘out-of-body’ sensation. Depending on what you’re automating, you feel detached from your physical senses, and your brain is set free to wander where it will, or to focus intently on whatever it chooses. My scientific work has never been more productive, and my leisure time has never been more relaxing. I’ve begun to write poetry, Graeme. Me, writing poetry. Can you believe it? Granted, it isn’t very good poetry…”

“So does the Interno affect your personality, then?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t think so,” said Parkindale, “not significantly. Do you think it has affected mine?”

“Hmm.” Carter thought about this for a moment. “It’s hard to say, to be completely honest. You’ve always been a bit, er… eccentric. If anything, you’ve been eccentric in some different ways recently, that’s all.”

Parkindale furrowed his brow, while continuing to smile. “How so? Can you be specific?”

“Oh, it’s nothing too big,” Carter assured him. “You’re a bit dreamier, a bit more absent, and I suppose that makes sense. The constant smiling… Again, I’m not complaining about it! Simply observing. And your habits have changed. There’s, er, the lotion, for one. I don’t remember you ever using the stuff before.”

“Always good to keep your skin and joints well lubricated!” said Parkindale.

“‘Lubricated’?” said Carter.

“Moisturized, I mean,” said Parkindale.

“Right… And you’re always perfectly punctual now.”

“The Interno has some very useful clock and day planner software!”

“And this one’s a bit weird, but when you walk, you always seem to go the exact same speed… The rhythm of your footsteps lines up pretty much perfectly with this one song I keep hearing on the radio, actually.”

“Do people normally walk at inconsistent speeds?” said Parkindale.

“Well, sometimes people are in a hurry, or sometimes people are just kind of strolling gently along. You always seem to be on kind of a steady march.”

“Interesting,” said Parkindale. “Like this, you mean?” He stood, stepped out from behind his desk, and paced the length of the office, his socked feet marking a very distinct and even beat across the carpet, thap, thap, thap, thap. He spun on his heel when he reached the wall and paced back, thap, thap, thap, thap.

“Yes,” said Dr. Carter. “Just like that. I can hear the song in my head.” He hummed a little melody softly.

“I see,” said Parkindale. He swung his feet back up onto his desk, rolled his pant legs up, and began applying lotion to his knees. Staring at the ceiling, he muttered, “Varying walking speeds… Varying walking speeds… I’ll have to see if I can get myself a firmware update for that. I mean, get the Interno a firmware update, of course.”

Dr. Carter shifted in his seat awkwardly. “I do have one other question,” he said.


“What happens if, hypothetically, the Interno gets stuck somehow, say there’s a glitch in its software, and it doesn’t turn the autopilot off when you want it to? I’m speaking purely hypothetically, of course.”

Dr. Parkindale waved one hand dismissively. “You’ve been reading too much science fiction,” he scoffed. “That article in the Enquirer was complete speculation and sensationalism. The Interno is very well programmed. It’s loaded with fail-safes and auto-quits and resets and antivirus programs. It’s virtually impossible for the Interno’s systems to break, or be defeated. You’re statistically more likely to be hit by a hovercar than have something go wrong with your Interno.”

“Yes, but—”

“Really, Graeme, there’s no need to be so paranoid. If there’s one thing I’ve been learning more and more, it’s that you should really try to approach life from a positive perspective rather than a negative one. Don’t think about risks or drawbacks or worst-case scenarios. Think about opportunities, benefits, goals, targets, dreams… Being fitted with an Interno has definitely shifted my perspective towards the positive things. I’m sure it would work for you, too!”

“Er, maybe,” said Dr. Carter, standing.

“Think about it,” said Parkindale. “Consider it. I can get you a good referral, help you jump the waiting list. It’s not too expensive, either. Just $5,000 for installation and $500 per year afterwards for regular maintenance and software updates. It’s a bargain!”

“I should really talk it over with my wife, but I’ll let you know what I decide,” said Dr. Carter, stepping towards the door.

“Tell her there’s a couples’ discount—the second unit is 50% off!”

“I will,” said Carter, as he exited into the hallway and bustled off.

Dr. Parkindale smiled at the closed door.

He smiled.

He smiled.

He squeezed some lotion onto his elbow.

Behind his smile, deep inside himself, some fading part of him screamed.

Two Minutes to Midnight

Prefer to do your reading on your ereader, iPhone, or other device? Download this month’s stories from the Store!

The expansion wars had changed things. Gell Miller saw it everywhere he looked. The climate of life was different. People were more wary, tenser. They smiled less, joked less, and spent more time looking at the ground. Everyone on the sidewalks walked a little faster; everyone on the hovertrain held their umbrellas and briefcases a little tighter. Gell had been affected as much as anyone, and more than most.

For the past few months, Gell had taken to moonlighting as a bartender at a dingy pub on the ground floor of the Jirage hotel in Li Phan. All things considered, it wasn’t too bad for a second job. Most of the night he got to sit at a stool behind the bar, resting his feet after long, tiring days as a teamster on the stardocks. The regular crowd was small and undemanding and had usually headed home by 11:30, leaving Gell to daydream his way through the last couple of hours of his shift, thinking about the past, when one job had been enough, when he’d still had a brother and a sister-in-law, and longing for the future, when his houseful of nieces and nephews would be able to help feed themselves.

One of the downsides of working at the Jirage was that it was close to the spaceport, which meant that it attracted its fair share of off-world guests. Every now and then they would find their way down to the bar to drink off their hyperjump lag or kill some time before their taxi arrived. The aliens tended to sequester themselves in dark corners, hiding their inhuman faces behind high, stiff collars or growling into their acidic, imported beers with gravelly, low-register voices that wavered in and out of the limits of human hearing.

Gell had learned that the safest way to serve his non-human customers was to leave well enough alone. Travelling aliens were rarely interested in small talk, so he stayed behind the bar, one eye watching for refill requests and the other scanning the net on the screen built under the counter.

Tonight was one of the quiet nights. The regular crowd had all gone home, the counter was clear, and the pub was empty other than a couple of frog-like doads stretching their long legs in one of the booths in the back. Human customers didn’t often stay very long when they realized there was a doad in the room. Recent peace negotiations hadn’t defused the heightened tensions between the two species. No one expected the ceasefire to last for long, anyways. Gell could see that the doads were nervous, sitting here in the heart of one of the most heavily human planets in the system, but in the fashion of all business agents, both human and alien, they were doing their best to drown their nerves in alcohol.

A newscast was playing on the wall-mounted screens. The anchor was detailing the increased rates of species violence in Li Phan over the past few months. Just this morning a young woman named Danika Erlin had been killed by an illegal immigrant, a doad who had smuggled himself onto the planet aboard a merchant shuttle. The anchor’s lips were turned down in a tightly rehearsed display of concern as he welcomed his guest analyst, a human sociologist who was widely known for his extreme proposals to completely shut down alien immigration.

Gell changed the channel.

Shortly before midnight a tall, powerfully built human entered the pub, his right arm tucked against his side in a cloth sling. He was young, maybe mid-twenties, and was wearing an old jacket, heavy boots, and a scowl. His eyes were dark and downcast.

Gell heard the tone of the doads’ conversation change, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up a little. As the man stalked up to the bar, eyes cast down to the floor, Gell did a quick mental count of the number of drinks he had served to the aliens over the past hour. Must be something like three pints of beer each. Was that too much for a doad? It was in his policy booklet somewhere. He should have been thinking about that. They were big, heavy creatures (no, not creatures: people, Gell reminded himself), so conventional wisdom would suggest that they could probably handle a fair amount before completely losing their heads, but every alien’s blood chemistry worked a little differently.

“Can I help you, sir?” said Gell, loud enough to be heard in the back of the room.

“A double shot of vodka,” the man mumbled, pulling up a bar stool, “and keep the bottle handy.”

Gell reached under the counter and procured a glass and a bottle. “What’s the occasion?”

“Do I need one?” The man downed the double shot, holding the glass somewhat awkwardly in his left hand. “Another.”

Gell poured out two more ounces. “People drink for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it’s a celebration. Sometimes they’re mourning. Either way, maybe I can help.” He put a little extra emphasis on the last word and flicked his eyes towards the doads, who had stopped talking and were now openly watching the counter.

“I don’t need your help,” growled the man.

Lowering his voice, Gell said, “Planning to start something with that busted up arm of yours?”

No reply.

“Let me guess… It’s a doad’s fault you’re wearing that sling, isn’t it? Maybe you got jumped in an alley and you’re out looking for revenge. Fine. Who am I to get between a man and his death wish?”

Glaring at Gell, the man held out his glass for more.

The bartender held onto the bottle. “Sure that’s a good idea, son?”

“Pour me another.”

“Sure, fine. Like I said, it’s your funeral.” Once more Gell filled the glass, and in a moment it was empty.

The doads were muttering to one another again, Gell noticed. They were probably reluctant to start a confrontation inside; there were security cameras. Outside was another story. Maybe if Gell kept the man at the bar long enough they’d lose interest.

“So, what did happen to your arm?” asked the bartender, trying to get the man talking.

“What time is it?”

Gell was caught off guard by the non sequitor. He glanced at his watch. “About two minutes to midnight.”

“Time for one more, then,” said the man.

“What happens at twelve? Gonna turn into a pumpkin?”

“Something like that.” The man downed his drink and leaned on the counter. “I’ve got surgery tomorrow. I’m not allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight.”

“Getting your arm fixed up?”

“Joined the army. Volunteered for a special program. They’re going to replace it. Weaponize it.”

Gell had heard of the experimentation the army had been doing with biomechanical “upgrades” for its soldiers, but he’d never met someone who actually seemed to support the idea. “So, what, you were going to lose the arm anyways and figured you might as well get something out of it?”

“No, arm’s fine. It’s just prefrozen. Nerve-deadening preanaesthetic. Makes the recovery easier afterwards, supposedly.” The man used his left hand to lift his right arm out of the sling, held it over the counter, and let it drop. It flopped onto the counter with a thud, completely lifeless. “Can’t even feel it,” said the man.

There was a small tattoo on the palm of the hand, a heart with the initials D.E. underneath.

The doads were following the conversation from their booth. This target seemed to be getting more and more tempting for them. Not only did the man have one completely ineffective arm, but he was also about to join the human military. Gell thought he could see the aliens licking their lips with their long, narrow tongues.

“Why would you do this to yourself voluntarily?” Beyond the need to keep the man talking for his own sake, Gell was legitimately curious.

The man chuckled ruefully. “Call it a clean slate.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

Nodding towards the limp appendage, the man said, “This hand has some stains on it, stains that don’t come out easy. New hand won’t have any stains.”

“Sure, but it’ll be the army’s hand,” countered Gell, “and they’ll just order you to go stain it some more. Violence is violence, son.”

The man slowly shook his head. “That’s not the kind of stain I mean.” He rubbed at the tattoo on his palm with his finger, and Gell noticed that the skin around the ink was chapped and dry, as if the man had been scratching at it.

The doads rose from their table and approached the counter, mean looks on their faces. Apparently they weren’t the most patient of species. Gell muttered, “Speaking of getting your hands dirty…”

The man looked over his shoulder and stiffened as the doads approached. When they were ten feet away, he reached into his jacket, withdrew a handgun, and turned it on them. His deadened right arm swung off the counter and hung at his side. The gun shook in his grip.

Both doads recoiled.

“Pay and leave,” the man directed, his voice cracking. “Today I don’t need much of an excuse.”

The aliens cautiously reached into their back pockets, withdrew handfuls of bills, and dropped them on the floor. With their webbed hands held out in front of them, they backed out the door and into the street.

The man swung his arm back onto the counter and placed his gun beside it. Gell allowed himself to breathe again.

A minute passed. Finally Gell broke the silence. “You… aren’t supposed to have that in here.”

“Put me in a uniform and I am. Allowed to pull the trigger then, too.”

Gell thought of the six little children at home, only two of whom were his. He thought of his brother, shot down while flying escort for a merchant freighter, and his sister-in-law, a Marine, caught in an ambush while on patrol. He said, “When you’ve got that uniform on, the bullets go both ways. On either side of it, someone ends up dead, leaving people like me behind to deal with it. Who’re you gonna leave behind, son?”

The man narrowed his eyes and stared at the tattoo on his palm. Gell saw the initials again and made the connection. “Danika Erlin. You knew her?”

“What time is it?”

“You think she’d want you to do this?”

“What time is it?”

“You think you can bring her back?”

“What time is it?”

Gell relented. “It’s 12:03.”

The man hesitated, rubbed the tattoo, then grabbed his glass. “Pour me another drink.”