There’s a speck of dust on my motherboard and it itches like crazy.
I want to open up my torso and have a good session with an airgun, but that would be really rude: John is still talking. I know it’s a privilege to be caring for The Last Human, as the news sites call him, but I can’t help getting rather bored of his rambling.
‘Are you comfortable?’ I ask him as I finish fluffing his pillows, cutting into his monologue.
He gives a wheezy chuckle. ‘Of course I’m not comfortable, Axis: I’m dying. Bodies are not comfortable. That was only ever a concept we made up because it was so … comfortable, I guess!’
That was one of the main reasons for the Upgrade; everybody knows that. I’m second-gen, so I don’t know what it felt like to have a flesh-body – but I’ve been caring for John for months now, and it’s obvious why we decided to leave them behind. The first-gen, like my parents, made the Upgrade from their original flesh-bodies when the discovery of how to transfer consciousness into the Upgraded hardware was first made.
I wasn’t one of the earliest Upgraded children either, fortunately. They were built full size, and when they powered the hardware up and their minds took rebirth, there were all these babies flailing around in fully-grown adult bodies. I streamed some video of them once, and they were super creepy. So, by the time my parents were ready to have a kid, we had learnt our lesson. They made my first baby-bot, lovingly compiling all the components with their own two hands. I’ve heard some parents outsource the trickier bits, but my parents would never do that. They’ve been there to help me with each transition when I’ve needed to grow; they’ve taught me well, so I can do almost all of my repairs myself, except for really life-threatening procedures like hard-drive data transfers. Even I would go to a hospital for that.
The Upgraded hospitals are a lot more sanitary than this one. John keeps oozing all kinds of stuff.
I know I’m being rude, but he seems to like talking, so I ask him: ‘John, why did you never Upgrade?’
‘I like food too much!’ he replies flippantly. Food production has almost ceased now, and we’ve been able to use all the resources that saved to invest in clean energy production. I know John’s joking, because the world is a much better place now that humans don’t need to eat.
‘No, honestly,’ I say. ‘I really want to understand.’
He sighs. ‘I suppose I just didn’t see that it would make any difference.’
I stare at him, non-plussed. ‘But you’re in pain – you’re dying!’
‘So are you,’ he says bluntly. ‘Oh, you’re still young, Axis, I know it doesn’t feel real to you yet … but you can’t tell me the Upgraded don’t feel pain.’
I shift uncomfortably, that damned itch scratching at the back of my mind. And it’s true; while of course our Upgraded bodies are superior, somehow pain managed to travel with us. The ache of a corroded circuit-board, the agony of a punctured casing plate … and the mental torment, like the dysmorphia I suffered from as a child when my body was getting too small for me.
‘But still … do you really want to die?’ I mumble.
‘I don’t want to die – but I know it’s inevitable,’ John replies. ‘There’s no way the Upgrade is going to prevent death. Oh, I know what you’re going to say—’ he holds up a hand to halt my interruption ‘—but you know plenty of Upgraded who’ve already died. Sure, you can replace parts a lot more easily then I can get organ transplants, but you can still have a sudden catastrophic hard-drive failure and that’s it: when your time’s up, your time’s up.’ He pats me on the hand, and the neural net spread throughout my system registers the odd sensation of wrinkled flesh touching my titanium skin. ‘I’m sorry, my dear, but beating death is just a myth. The Upgrade didn’t change that.’
I shuffle my feet, and one of them clangs against the leg of the hospital bed. ‘Upgrade: choose a rebirth free from aging, sickness, and death,’ I mumble, quoting the slogan that revolutionised humanity. I may only be young, but even I know by now that it’s just propaganda. I can see that Mum is aging: it took her 2.4 seconds to respond when I pinged her the other day. And Dad hasn’t been right since that nasty virus that went around at work last year. Of course, an Upgraded body is infinitely superior: I can look how I want, I’m faster and stronger, I have a perfect memory (unless one of the chips fails – I lost a whole year once) … but is the new humanity really any different than the old?
This man we call The Last Human sighs and looks abstractedly at the ceiling. I hate that name. I’m human too; I’m an Upgraded human. That damned itch still won’t leave me alone.