Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Fear of Man

by Ros Jackson

The irony of my situation has not escaped me. I got modified in order to survive, and to live longer. I should live three hundred years in this body, barring accidents. Barring murder by some crazed New Age ecopurist cult who see themselves as the self-appointed enforcers of the Laws of Nature. It's 2097, they ought to realise it's too damn late to oppose the march of science now.

I test the walls,which look soft, but don't give a millimetre. How did I get in? Escape seems impossible. The only part of me I can get out is my voice, and nobody's listening. I sit cross-legged on the floor. Vint Nielson, aged 28, rest in peace. I wonder what people will say about me at my funeral? Except that I won't have a funeral, a gravestone, or even an obituary. The garbageman who takes out the bag won't know that it's me in there, and my family won't know I've died.



Peters returns, this time on his own. He's less stiff, and he comes right up, slapping his hand on my cell wall with a cocky arrogance I hadn't noticed before.

"Get lost," I say.

"I came here to watch the freakshow."

"Me too."

"You're not even human. You're monstrous. You have no idea what diseases you've helped to spread, the depravity you're bringing down on us. What crimes did you commit before you had to change your face, you scum? Murder? Rape? How many throats did you slit, whoremonger?"

Why does he hate me? Is he afraid?

"Does he tell you to say that?"

"No." He reddens and backs away at this, though.

"Spare me the lectures, Peters. You need to think for yourself, instead of 'Yes, sir, no, sir, lying thieving cancer, sir.' It must bother you that you won't live past eighty. Don't tell me you've never been tempted."

"Of course not!"

I have struck a nerve.

"And your leader, do you think he's really as young as he says he is? I've seen the files. He's modified too. A hundred if he's a day."

"You're a liar, he was right. You're an insect, a cockroach! I'll see you die in pain. I'm going to enjoy it."

He strides out, pausing to turn the lights out. As it is early morning, I can only interpret this as a snub.

With the lights out I focus my remaining senses. The room is comfortably warm. I can hear the ticking of the clock in the lab, as well as some more outside the room. It is probably the antique timepieces I saw as I came in. I can hear people talking, but they are quite a distance away. The smells of disinfectant, air freshener, and my own sweat fill the air. There's a faint hint of wine. I'm no expert, but it has the insipidity of an organic variety. I pick this up with my enhanced senses, which have often surprised me. It seems strange that I can detect so much through these solid walls.

Venison wafts in, mixed with the tang of loganberries and pepper. I can pick out every vegetable served, each herb on the meat. They are pretty barbaric, these Organics. Hardly anyone else eats real meat nowadays, but these people defend their privilege madly. I don't see the deer protesting about its right to be eaten, but animal rights mean nothing to these people. I don't waste my time wondering whether they will be bringing me some leftovers. I am the deer.



They suggest I'm some kind of pervert, guilty of a crime against nature. It wasn't like that at all. I lost my job at the power plant when it went fully automated. I didn't want to lose my home. There's no work for the unmodified and poorly qualified. I left school at 20, and a year ago I had neither the funds nor the aptitude for long years of study. It's qualifications inflation ~ I would need a wheelbarrow full of worthless bits of paper just to deliver pizza. I had just enough in the bank to pay the clinic's deposit, so I went ahead and booked the operation.

I went in expecting to see something sparse and sterile, like a hospital. The place was more like a tattoo parlour, with images of exotic creatures papering the walls. They looked like comic book heroes, and I immediately said " I don't want anything like that."

"I'd take them down," said the female doctor, "but they brighten the place up a bit."

She showed me a catalogue of second-generation genetics.

"These are sequenced using the Change of Gene software. It's wholly artificial, so there's no danger of unexpected... flowerings."

Most looked very human, to my relief. I chose a model called Buzz because it appeared to have no unusual features.They all cost the same amount, which was more than I like to think about. The doctor ran a program which showed me how I would look. She suggested a few cosmetic changes, and I concurred. I had never liked my weak chin. She was herself almost impossibly beautiful. She took a swab from my throat then disappeared for several hours. I waited in the lobby, unable to distract myself. Returning with a full syringe, she injected me in six places, three on each side of my body.

"Go home," she said, "You'll need to get some rest."

Transformation was not instantaneous. It operates like a cancer. Gradually the new genetic material worked its way through my tissue, replacing it with improved matter. Not even the original brain remains, although by some miracle of science memory is perfectly preserved. Did I sign my death warrant in favour of some soulless clone? I don't think so. I now have an entirely new brain, but I didn't feel the change. There was some tingling as nerves died and regrew, but nothing as vulgar as pain. I had a ravenous appetite and ate like a starving man. This was necessary to fuel the change, which took place over only two days. I was able to watch my skin changing bit by bit, gradually taking on the light tan of the new, improved me. I'd recommend it to anyone.



"Hello."

Cerise interrupts my reverie, switching the lights back on.

"Cerise. I hope you haven't come to gloat over the condemned too."

She wrinkles her button nose.

"You may call me Miss Coldwood. I came to see how you are."

She's not like the others. If I can gain her trust she may help, but she keeps her distance as though she is wary of me. I hang my head and lower my voice.

"My head's woozy and my legs are weak. I don't think I have been acting myself. I feel ... unwell. Did you enjoy your meal?"

"I ... Are you hungry?"

She's a softer touch than I hoped.

"Starving. Are you going to let me have one last meal?"

Her full soft lips take on a determined expression. I want to kiss them.

"It won't be your last. But I`m not allowed to breach your containment."

This gives me an idea.

"A PVC containment cube. That's pretty dirty for people like you, isn't it?"

"It's not PVC, you idiot. It's a particle wave generator. Unlike you, we Organics work with the environment."

I see it now, three units. One above, one behind and one beside the cube. Each generates two waves which form the walls.

"Very clever."

"We like to think so," Cerise says.

"Cerise."

It is the leader.

"Cerise, what are you doing in here?" His tone is brisk and acidic.

"I was just - "

"You must not talk with the intruder alone. He will lie in order to gain your sympathies. Go and help Peters with the newsletter."

She trots away. The leader turns around to glare at me.

"You leave her alone."

His voice is full of icy menace.

"Miss Coldwood came to see me. I couldn't send her - "

"Silence!" It's the first time I've heard him raise his voice.

"One more word to my niece and I won't wait for a decision from our president. Do you understand me?"

I nod, just wanting him to go away. He checks the room briefly, scowling all the while, then leaves. I don't think he can stand me either.