It’s Earth-like, but not quite Earth.
And isn’t that always the way? The Company sells it like it’s a goddam resort, and it turns out to be just another exoplanetoid with shitty nightlife, surrounded by a barely breathable atmosphere infused with sulfur/carbon particulate.
The Company doesn’t care, of course. Not after you’ve signed on. After that you’re a mere interstellar underling. And if you don’t like it, you can catch a ride back on the next cargo shuttle – and fuck you.
The planetoid in question was 46 Catalan-5.9, but most of its human inhabitants called it Catatonia. I had other names for it I might share with you some other time.
They paid me to keep an eye on the Company’s cyborgs. All fifty of them. I have a Master’s Degree in Organic Biomechatronic Psychology, which would make me an ace office monkey back on Earth. I was even on my way to having a Doctorate Degree, once. But I got into electro-synthetic narcotic opiates, and my Doctoral thesis ended up reading like an indefensible Hunter S Thompson novel.
So, there I was.
The psychology of cyborgs is weirder than you think. To begin with, their neuroanatomy differs radically from that of humans – big surprise. And the last three generations had been plagued with defects. They wanted to masturbate but didn’t have the equipment, which caused a lot of tension in general. And they dreamed like sons-a-bitches. Even when they were awake, which was 90% of the time. But their dreams were never about puppy dogs or whiskers on kittens. They were always about the ukulele apocalypse, or zombie dilithium crystals, or something else on an ever-growing list of inexplicable shit. Think of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, powered by banks of psychosis inducing cobalt-oxide nano-batteries. The result was like a violent form of diode activated human dementia in subjects with 250 IQs, accompanied by extreme personality changes and severely impaired reasoning, but without the ultimate cognitive decline that we all wish upon our ageing evil uncles.
It made them expensive mechanical maniacs with fleshy coatings, the effect of millions of abnormal neuro-nuclear transistors in their wistful little Pakistani-made IC chips. The Company worked on the problem back Earth-side. But the Pakistanis were the lowest bidder. And they’d signed a twenty year contract, which made them difficult to motivate. And until the problem was solved, I was guaranteed a bizarre mode of corporately funded psycho-cyborg counselling employment, as long as I wanted it.
Now, it was never my job to get personal with my clientele. I didn’t stare wonderingly into their creepy fixed-iris tartrazine eyes, and ask them about their algorithmnic hopes and aspirations. Mostly, I asked them who they wanted to tear apart that day, and left it there.
But sometimes there was a subject who sat across from me, on the other side of the titanium reinforced glass, for whom I had a strange sort of empathy. And one of them was an Ursa.5 Class labour cyborg named Buster.
In his kind of work, Buster didn’t require a 250 IQ. So, his circuit neurosis was minimal. But he had too much time on his hands, because he was waiting for the Company to deliver a replacement elbow joint. It was meant to replace the one he broke lifting a five hundred pound container of butter scotch pudding cups off of a warehouse shelf. Butter scotch pudding was very popular on Catatonia.
As a result of all this free time, and a naivety only an Ursa.5 Class labour cyborg can have, Buster had been doing chump jobs for humans — running numbers and playing lookout for nefarious activities. He’d been sucked into it by an evil cadre of space mafia called the Black Hole Gang, or BHG. And yeah, I know it’s a goofy name. But I can’t be held responsible.
The planetoid’s cities were set up like cities back home. There were three of them, then. Each owned by a separate corporation. The one that me and Buster lived in was called Area 2, but was generally referred to as Schtooperville.
It was mostly factory and industrial park squalor. Just like most of planet Earth. But the section of the city Buster worked in at that moment was a little bit different. It was called Jupiter Street, a two mile long strip mall of sex shops, Jack in the Boxes, Olive Gardens and 7-11s. It was also where human Area 2 workers went to spend their dough. There was gambling, whores, booze and drugs. And even a few illicit electro-neuro stimuli plugins, the average machine offering up to 180 exabytes of serotonin saturated neuro-ecstasy goodness.
I tried to avoid Jupiter Street. Enjoying the debauchery offered there ran counter to professional standards set out by the College of Organic Biomechatronic Psychology. But like I said, I tried, and mostly fail. So, fuck the College and all of the hyper-anal paper pushing wieners who ran the joint.
I’d observed Buster occasionally on Jupiter, as he plied his new found trade in an alley that snaked off of the street, the one that ran just parallel to Chinatown and under the open windows of Wicked Alfreda’s House of Cosmic Ill-repute.
I saw him there, sitting on an old upside down crate with Chinese lettering and a picture of a plump Chinese boy smiling at his mysterious golden good fortune.
What Buster did there was watch the staircase that lead down to the entrance to the Tunnel. He got $25 a day for his trouble, and enough erotic CPU massage to get him through to the next morning.
His instructions were simple. Ignore the familiar regulars who walked past and down the stairs. And fight to the death anyone he didn’t recognise, rather than let them sneak by.
“To the death,” Tito the String Durante told him. “Knife ‘em. Get ‘em on the ground and kick their fucking heads in. Break their necks with your good arm. Hit ‘em here, like this.” The String made a karate chop gesture to the back of his own neck when he said this.
“And if I catch you talkin’ to any of your degenerate goddam cyborg buddies while you’re on the job,” said the String, “I’ll drive a screwdriver so far into your chipset that you’ll need a keyboard and a mouse to scratch your ass. I’ll cut your fucking head off and use it for voice mail. You understand?”
Buster sort of did.
We can see from this that Tito the String was some kind of psycho cyborg-phobe. Most probably because he was a pimp, and cyborgs don’t go in for the kind of all you can eat, pay as you go S&M scene that he ran in the Tunnel beneath the alley.
So, Buster just sat on his China boy box, and watched the leather and latex regulars slide on by with their whimpering Company executive slaves.
Sometimes after he was done work, I sat with him and talked small talk. Concepts he understood. Like forklifts, and the molecular structure of haemoglobin based hydraulic fluid fusion mixtures, and pi to the hundredth decimal.
He told me once that the thing he regreted most was his inability to love. Then he asked what love was like. He wanted to know the difference between romance and loving one’s mother, fundamental things like that. I pondered for a moment, the ethical aspects of discussing a purely human experience with a cyborg so clearly experiencing what amounted to heartache. Especially when there was no context into which I could place an answer.
But then, because I was tripping on vodka and mescaline, I told him that love is like two asteroids travelling side by side in space, far away from humans. And the two asteroids have been together for a billion years, and love each other madly – their crazy trajectories, each other’s sexy cratered surfaces and the way that they would each playfully dip over the horizon of this planet or that that they just missed impacting and obliterating all together.
And then I told him that one day one of the asteroids unavoidably flew into the Earth and killed all of the dinosaurs, and that that ultimately made way for humans to evolve and create cyborgs. But the surviving asteroid was left all alone for the rest of eternity. And it wept, because that’s the way asteroids are, and it was very, very sad.
That was the first time I ever saw a cyborg cry. Not cry, really. It was more of a mineral oil sniffle, and a deep sigh followed by a long pause. But it was significant.
“That’s beautiful,” Buster said. “Now I feel even more hopeless, but kind of hopeful too. Does that make sense?”
I told him it did.
Then I told him that love can also be like being carved up like a cheap pot roast with a blunt knife, the kind of knife that hasn’t been taken out of a woman’s knife drawer for a decade.
But that we’d talk about that another time.
Buster’s replacement elbow never arrived. The Company decided it was too expensive. And a couple of months later, he was sent out on a garbage barge headed for the chromosphere of the sun that Catatonia orbits. I was able to retrieve his data storage before he went, though. And wrote the paper that made me famous.
You can read about me anytime on your Google Visual Cortex Implant®, at MWW.buster.tre.