49%: A Short Transhumanist Story
Updated: Mar 9
He woke up in a cold sweat. He ran a hand down his face, his fingers gently floating over flesh and metal. Once he caught his breath, he slowly got out of bed. The sun wasn’t up yet, but he preferred the darkness.
Trudging into the bathroom, he turned on the television. The news had gotten so depressing these days, but he couldn’t help but tune in anyway. Everyone was fighting over something. No one could get along. There were always the select few who did everything they possibly could to stop people like him from existing in society. Old prejudices hadn’t even healed yet before new ones arose.
His left foot clunked on the linoleum floor as he leaned up against the sink. Reaching out with his left hand, still clinking a bit as it adjusted into gear, he turned on the blinding fluorescent light.
“Good morning, Mr. Crane. You look 61% human today! That’s a new record!”
With a snarl he pulled open the mirrored medicine cabinet to retrieve his daily salves. One pile was for the fleshy side of his face, the other for the metal part. Keeping them both in good shape was always a chore, but he never had much of a choice. Once all the working mechanisms had been properly cleaned and his skin treated, he stared into the mirror. His mechanical eye flipped through a series of colors while his natural brown eye stared blankly into the mirror.
“Who’s on my list today?”
“You will be working with N237 today.”
“Nathan?” A smile crossed his lips. “His favorite color is green.” His mechanical eye flicked to a brilliant shade of green before he leaned away from the sink.
He always dressed far more formally than he had to. Usually a wrap tunic of some color, gloves, pants and overly elaborate shoes. He always did his best to distract from the nature of his being. He couldn’t do much about his face, but he could hide the rest of himself.
Very few people knew the extent of his affectation and he preferred it that way. They saw his face and that was it. They didn’t need to know that the machine made up 49% of his body. Still, a face was an unfortunate place to have such severe augmentations. There was nothing he could do about it and he refused to go back to years of being a shut-in. He couldn’t live that life again. Not with the work he’d dedicated his life to.
Hailing a cab, he made his way into work. It was a small cement building with the words “Ganther Youth Augmentation Center”. Jacob smiled as he stepped out of the cab. This was one of the few places that treated the future as what it was truly meant to be: Something hopeful and exciting and not a source of fear and panic. They specialized in treating children with disabilities that could benefit from augmentation in some way. Either advanced prosthetics or neurological implants or a mixture of the two. The facility evaluated many children and offered temporary measures until they were old enough for more permanent solutions. For those who would not benefit, they offered resources to families that would help them care for their children as best as they possibly could. It was about celebrating the future in all its aspects.
As Jacob entered the main room through the antechamber, a young boy ran up to him and wrapped his arms around his legs.
“Aww, I’m so happy to see you, too, Nathan,” he knelt down and hugged the boy. “What are we doing today?”
Nathan took him by the hand and led him to a corner of the carpeted warmly lit room. He plunked himself down on the floor and began pushing different activities in front of him. Jacob slowly sat down across from him, his joints were still waking up and it wasn’t the mechanical ones.
They spent the morning doing all kinds of things like coloring, math problems, reading, puzzles and other neurologically stimulating activities.
Lunch was the same as always: Ham and cheese sandwich with applesauce and apple juice. Jacob made sure everything was laid out on a green tray just how Nathan liked it. They sat down and ate together like they did every day Nathan came to the canter.
The world buzzed and meandered around them. Many other children with many other carers filled the space around them, but they were always in their own little bubble.
Nathan never spoke a word, but he was incredibly smart. He’d gone through a lot of carers due to some behavioral issues before Jacob stepped up. For the longest time he’d lingered in the shadows of the other better-adjusted caretakers. The ones who could afford skin to cover their prosthetics. The ones who looked so much more human than himself. When he hesitantly came forward to try his hand at helping Nathan, he was certain the child would never take to him. But he did. The boy latched onto him immediately. He went so far as to write Jacob invitations to his birthday parties and other celebrations. Of course, Nathan never went for fear of blurring the line between caretaker and family. He also got the distinct feeling his family was using the facility as more of a daycare than a treatment center.
When asked what kind of augments Nathan might benefit from, Jacob always found it hard to pinpoint what exactly Nathan needed. Sure the boy didn’t speak, but he could write and sign just fine so he was far from noncommunicative. He was sharp as a tack with logic puzzles and mathematics so there was really nothing wrong with his brain. He did, however, occasionally have some very upsetting outbursts. If certain things weren’t done just right, he’d breakdown. This was the biggest problem Jacob saw for Nathan. After one of his meltdowns, Nathan handed him a letter with tears still staining his cheeks.
“I’m sorry I can’t function sometimes. Please don’t leave me. I want to do better, but I have a lot of trouble with it. You help me a lot. Please don’t leave me like the others did.”
It was then and there that Jacob did all he could to make sure he minimized Nathan’s stress. He learned what the boy was comfortable with and always stayed within those boundaries. He learned to notice signs he wanted to stop rather than wait for him to write him a letter. Their relationship steadily became one where words were hardly needed and when they were, Jacob knew how to read Nathan’s responses.
They were very much a pair at the facility. However, Jacob was never allowed to talk to Nathan’s parents. He’d give an administrator his notes and they’d speak on his behalf. In fact, he’d have to hand the boy off to an attendant so his parents would never see who his carer was. They knew his name, but not his face. That never sat well with Jacob, but who was he to argue? He was one of the few people on staff with visible augmentations. The family might have been upset by his condition. He thanked whatever powers there might be that Nathan would never end up like him unless he somehow chose to go down that route. A hit and run doesn’t exactly leave much room for decisions, though.
As the day wound down, Jacob sat with Nathan in the waiting room. The boy was dozing off in his arms, but Jacob kept waking him up to make sure he’d be ready to go when his mother arrived. Sure enough, he could see her through the glass wall that separated the antechamber from the waiting room. She was talking to the desk clerk.
“Where’s your attendant?” Jacob muttered as he searched the room.
Nathan tugged at Jacob’s collar. He had to go to the bathroom. Jacob glanced nervously between his mother and the boy. Nathan tugged his collar again.
“Okay, but be quick… I don’t want to keep your mom waiting, okay?”
Nathan nodded as Jacob carried him toward the bathrooms. It was a task Nathan had no problem doing on his own so Jacob remained outside waiting for him to finish.
Upon returning to the waiting room, they found Nathan’s mother arguing with his attendant.
“Where is my son? It’s 4pm. He’s supposed to be here waiting for me!”
“Ma’am, I’m sure he’s with his carer. We’ll page them now…”
She looked up to find Jacob holding Nathan in his arms. Her eyes bulged out of her head as she ran up and tore the boy away from him.
“What the hell are you doing?!” She screamed. She turned to the other attendant. “You employ them here?! And you’re letting it take care of my child?!”
“Ma’am, Mr. Crane is a trained caretaker. He’s very skilled with-”
“You’re Mr. Crane?!”
“Why wasn’t I told?”
“Why wasn’t I told my son was in the care of some…” she looked Jacob up and down, “exo…” The word dripped with venom as it slipped from her lips.
“Mrs. Ainsworth, your son struggled to acclimate to other carers. Mr. Crane has been caring for him for months now.”
“I specifically said my son was NOT to be exposed to exos. You’ve clearly gone against my wishes.”
“Ma’am…” The attendant made one last attempt to reason with her, but it wasn’t enough. “Please understand, our staff is highly trained and Mr. Crane is no exception…”
Mrs. Ainsworth’s face contorted with rage and anger. Nathan began crying on her shoulder. She put him down and took his hand in hers.
“I’ll be removing Nathan from your roster and you will be contacted by my lawyers for the damages you’ve caused my son.”
With that, Mrs. Ainsworth dragged her sobbing son out the door.
The attendant turned to a shocked Jacob.
“I’m… I’m sorry, Jake… I tried…”
“I-” he sighed, “Thank you.”
With a brief pat on the shoulder, the attendant walked past him.
Jacob lingered there a moment in silence before shaking the sudden bleakness aside and gathering his things to go home.
He desperately tried not to think about Nathan on his cab ride home. He tried so hard to bury any feelings about the situation as he sat alone in his cramped apartment. He couldn’t even go to the bathroom for fear of seeing his face in the mirror. He was lucky he had a job at all much less as good as the one he managed to get at the facility. He’d do anything not to lose it, but if it came between him and Nathan’s care, he’d gladly walk away. He closed his eyes as he choked back tears.
His phone buzzed in his pocket.
>Heading down to Caleb’s. Come with?
It was an old friend of his and fellow exo.
>>Had a shit day at work…
>All the more reason to drink! You DO still have a fleshy stomach, right?
He knew the jab was harmless, but it still cut him deep. He never asked to be this way, but if he wasn’t, he’d be dead.
With a heavy sigh, Jacob got up out of his chair. He stepped into the harsh light of the bathroom to freshen himself up which mostly entailed getting the red from his crying off the fleshy side of his face. Once he was at least mildly satisfied with his disheveled appearance, he headed out the door.
Caleb’s was practically a dive bar, but it was one open to everyone regardless of their augmentation levels. No one asked and no one cared.
Jacob saddled up to his usual place at the bar. He’d been clean for a few years now, but the temptation to dip back was strong. He hadn’t felt this utterly broken since he first got out of the hospital.
“Heya, Jake.” The barkeep recognized him. “You told me to kick you out if you ever came around here again…”
“I’m just here to see some old friends.”
The bartender nodded slowly. “Here.” He put some soda in a glass and added grenadine to it. “Shirley Temple. On the house.”
Jacob cracked a grin. “Thanks, Jesse.” He lifted the drink with a small toasting gesture and took a sip.
Jacob turned around to find his friend bursting through the door.
He stood up from his stool and they hugged briefly.
Matt was incredibly augmented. Far more than Jacob even remembered... All his appendages were mechanical and most of his head was as well. Externally, he looked almost robotic, but from what Jacob understood, he was still fairly fleshy on the inside. Something he aimed to eliminate eventually.
Jacob sat back down with his drink.
“Oh come on, man,” Matt razzed him, “Have something real for once!” He patted him hard on the back.
“I’m clean, Matt. I’d like to stay that way.”
“Bro… Just upgrade! Get a better gut! That’s what I did,” Matt laughed as he sat on the stool next to him.
“I’d rather not…”
“And why not? You’re already half way there!”
“Not by choice…”
“Bro… If you didn’t want this, you wouldn’t have gotten it.”
“It was this or a grave, Matt. I wasn’t ready to die, but that doesn’t mean I have to let it define me.”
Matt shook his head. “49%’s a lot, Jake…”
“51% of me is still flesh. That’s what matters. I’d like to keep it that way…”
“Fine, but what about some more useful features? Like this!” He stood up and held out his right arm. His hand was a rudimentary claw-like appendage that was certainly stronger and far easier to maintain than the hundreds of tiny machinations that made up Jacob’s hand. The claw popped slightly out of Matt’s wrist and spun around vertically until it was in his forearm and replaced with a knife at the end of Matt’s arm.
Jacob shook his head.
“Oh come on! Why not?! It’s useful and practical… Here! I’ve got a gun on the other arm…”
“Matt, stop. Please.”
“You could get that fancy Swiss Army attachment if you wanted…”
“I’m happy with my stupid human hand thank you.”
“Must require a lot of upkeep…”
“It does, but I’m fine with that.”
“Could be a lot more efficient…”
“I don’t really care about efficiency.”
Jacob looked up to the television hanging on the back wall of the bar. It was a news broadcast.
“Ignore that shit, Jake. It’s all a bunch of flesh bags telling us not to exist.”
“Shh, I’m reading…”
Jacob focussed on the subtitles.
“Pro-human protesters plan on marching on Washington to fight the current transhumanist bill that would allow transhumans to maintain human rights up to 50% of augmentation regardless of external, exo, or internal, endo, augmentations. This is a 1% increase from the current 49% and the movement believes it’s coming too fast and too soon. Here’s Rodney over at the capitol.”
Jesse leaned up and quickly changed the channel.
“Pro-human.” Matt scoffed. “You’d think we were forcing their children to augment or something. Hey, you’re not doing that, are you Jake?”
“What? No! We only work with children whose guardians believe they might benefit in the future. We offer temporary measures. No one’s being augmented at our facility.”
“But look at them. Pro-human… Like we’re not human, too…”
Jacob stared into his Shirley Temple.
“See, they don’t even think you’re human and you look more like them than I do,” Matt scoffed. “See how stupid it is to bother worrying about ‘being human enough’? The fact that you have any mechanical parts makes you subhuman in their eyes.”
“People will grow out of it…”
“Like they did with racism and homophobia? Yeah okay.” Matt took another long drink from his glass. “Technophobia is just another excuse for bigots to be vocal, Jake. You know that. And you know damn well they’ll get their way for a while.”
Jacob shook his head. “The fact that the Augmentation Center exists at all shows that society as a whole is moving forwards. It’s just a loud minority making a fuss.”
“But they’re loud enough to be heard. Where are you and the ‘good machines’?”
Jacob stared into his glass again.
“I may as well be a terminator to them. No thoughts, no feelings, nothing. Just a machine. I’m more than that, but that’s all they’ll ever see me as…”
“Well maybe if you hadn’t had all your skin replaced with synthetics…” Jacob couldn’t help but snap back.
“Don’t you dare fight with me about this, Jake. You know what they call it when an augmentee dares to fight for their rights?”
“Robotic rage. Like rabies for augmented. Apparently, we’re not allowed to be angry about our rights being stripped away… And if we are, we forfeit our humanity.”
“We’re stronger, faster, and harder to fight than them, Matt… Maybe they should be cautious about us…”
“Are you being serious with me right now?”
Jacob nodded stiffly.
“Fine.” Matt spat. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m too far gone. Maybe personally I’ll die before I get to keep the rights I was born with. Fine. But what about you? 49%? You’re on the cusp, Jake. You’re 1% away from being dehumanized.”
“I don’t plan on augmenting any further…”
“You don’t plan on it, but what if you have to? What if something happens that you need more parts? What then?”
Jacob shook his head, trying to fight back the heat flushing his cheeks.
“What then, Jake? All the good you do and one implant can ruin your life forever.”
Jacob closed his eyes tightly.
“Sure you didn’t really have a choice. Die or become part-machine. You chose to live and for that, they’re threatening to take away the human rights you were born with. The rights you deserve as a living thing. Think of all the people in your shoes who did it out of desperation. Forget me and the vanity crowd, but think about them. Think about what will happen to them if they need any more help than they’ve already gotten? One tiiiiny replacement and BOOM you’re not human anymore…”
“I know it’s hard to hear, Jake, but that’s reality. Your little center is great and all, but look at the bigger picture. The day might come where you can’t do good anymore and you might actually have to stand up and fight for something.”
The rest of the evening was spent in silence or with idle chit chat about life. Matt was unemployed and leading some kind of resistance group online. Jacob just nodded as if he was interested in what he was saying, but he was far more interested in his fifth Shirley Temple than he was in Matt’s ‘rise of the machines’ rhetoric. He was honestly grateful when the night was over and he could finally step outside and feel the fresh air on his skin.
“You know,” Matt stepped up beside him, “I can feel it, too.”
Jacob closed his eyes.
With a scoff, Matt wandered down the street.
Jacob found himself lingering again. He’d go home, go to bed, wake up tomorrow, go to work, probably get reprimanded, maybe never see Nathan again… But at least he’d be working and doing something meaningful with his time. That’s what mattered. Even if he never did see Nathan again, he’d still be doing good for the world rather than running some hateful community online.
The ride to work the next morning was awful. Jacob couldn’t help but constantly feel a deep sense of anxiety. He didn’t even make it inside before the desk clerk directed him to the main office. He took a deep breath. He knew something was going to happen, but this soon?
He slowly made his way to the office.
“Jacob!” He was met with the familiar jovial voice of his superior, Mr. Ganther. The third. “Come in come in, have a seat.”
Jacob nervously sat down across his desk from him.
“Now, Jacob,” Mr. Ganther leaned sympathetically on his desk, “You’ve been with us for a long time and you’ve done fine work for our cause.”
Jacob closed his eyes.
“And we here at the Ganther Youth Augmentation Center are incredibly grateful for your efforts. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for…”
“Get to the point, sir. Please.”
Mr. Ganther leaned back in his chair. “Mrs. Ainsworth lodged a formal complaint last night.”
“She saw me with her son… So what?”
Mr. Ganther rolled his head on his shoulders. “She thinks it was more than that…” He slid a folder across the desk.
Jacob picked it up carefully. Inside was the formal complaint along with some drawings from Nathan. They showed Jacob waiting outside the bathroom while he was inside.
“I was waiting for him… yes…” He looked up to his boss. “What’s the problem?”
“Mrs. Ainsworth is fairly convinced that this is inappropriate behavior…”
“I’m his caretaker! How is that inappropriate?! I wasn’t in there with him…”
“Turn the page.”
Jacob flipped the page. Another drawing. This one was of Nathan hugging Jacob’s legs.
“Mrs. Ainsworth is concerned by the… intimacy of your relationship with young Nathan.”
“I know I know, you only care for the boy. Nothing more.”
Jacob flipped the page again where he found a piece of paper littered with copies of invitations Nathan had drawn up for him for various occasions.
“But Mrs. Ainsworth is incredibly concerned with the nature of your interactions with her son. She’s calling it unhealthy and borderline inappropriate.”
“I… I don’t understand…” Jacob choked back his tears.
“She has agreed to not take action against the facility if we take her concerns seriously.”
He looked up blankly into the mock concern on his employer’s face. “What does she want?”
“She wants you gone.”
It was like a knife had been plunged into Jacob’s heart.
“If it helps at all, she’ll allow young Nathan to continue his care here at the facility, but only if you’re no longer here.”
“Jake,” Mr. Ganther leaned forward again, “I can’t risk these kinds of accusations… The public is already on our backs about even having a dialog about kids and augmentations. I can’t afford to have people think we employ…”
“I’m not a predator!” Jacob bellowed. “I love that boy! I only wanted to help him… I swear…”
“I know, I know,” Mr. Ganther sat back, “I’ve already spoken to some of your peers and they agree, but you have to understand that this goes far beyond you, Jake. If you believe in any of what this place stands for, you’ll walk out that door without a fuss.”
Jacob gently placed the folder on the desk. “Am I fired, then?”
Mr. Ganther rolled his head on his shoulders. “You have two choices. Unpaid indefinite furlough or quit.”
Mr. Ganther nodded. “I can’t fire you.”
Jacob sat back heavily in his chair.
A long drawn-out moment of silence filled the room as he struggled to come to terms with what was going on.
“Walk out that door and the accusations will be dropped and Nathan will continue to get the care he needs.”
“No, Jake. I took a risk hiring an exo like you. Don’t make me stick my neck out any further.”
Emptiness was all Jacob could feel. Every feeling had been wiped from his mind. Yet the more he sat there, processing things and weighing his options, the angrier he got. The more of what Matt said began hitting home and he hated it.
“Fine.” He spat as he stood up. “I’ll clean out my office…”
“No need,” Mr. Ganther pointed to a box next to his desk.
Jacob froze again.
“Thank you for making the right choice, Jacob.”
With little thought, Jacob picked up the box and left the building.
Days went by and Jacob could do little more than lay around his apartment. He pulled his bed out of the wall and just threw himself on it barely moving for anything more than water or the bathroom. His phone would ring and he wouldn’t answer it. A knock would come at his door and he wouldn’t respond. He barely felt alive. He knew walking away was the right thing if Nathan’s wellbeing was on the line. What’s one exo to the future of augmentation?
He thought about turning on the television or looking at the news on his phone more than once, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He both did and didn’t want to know the state of the world. What did it matter anyway? He’d never find work again… At least nothing respectable. Nothing that would make a difference. He’d end up working on a supermarket line again and drowning himself in booze after every shift. That was the life he had before… He should’ve known it’d come back around.
Laying in bed, contemplating the futility of it all, he finally decided to look at his phone. Tons of missed calls. Mostly spam, thank god, but some of it was people he knew. As much as he didn’t want to be alone right now, he felt even less like socializing. What was he going to do? Cry about all he’d lost? No. He was too numb for that now…
The phone began to ring in his hand. He stared at the screen in disbelief. It was his workplace. He must have forgotten something or maybe they needed some information… He scoffed. He’d kept meticulous files on his charges since he knew he’d never get to speak to their guardians. There was zero reason for them to be calling him, but he answered anyway.
“We’re having a bit of an issue with N237…”
“Yes… The boy you liked so much…” His words dripped with venom.
Jacob pinched the bridge of his nose. “What do you need to know?”
“How do you calm him down? He’s been raging nonstop since you left.”
“I didn’t leave, sir. I was dismissed.”
“Semantics. Now tell me how to get this kid to stop flailing around.”
“I used to pick him up and hold him. Always calmed him down.”
“That’s not working… He’s managed to injure several aids and we’re on the brink of calling in a restraint team. I’d like to avoid that kind of blemish on the facility…”
“What are you suggesting, sir?”
“Deal with this child, Mr. Crane.”
“Last I checked I don’t work there anymore so I have no obligation to do anything for you or anyone there.”
“What about the boy, Jacob? Don’t you want to help him?”
Jacob closed his eyes tightly.
“Pay me for my time, and I’ll come in.”
“Oh how cold and callous… Here I thought you’d be willing to help out of the goodness of your heart…”
“Without the protection of the facility I could be held liable if anything happens to Nathan. I want it in writing that you brought me back for that reason.”
“Shrewd, but not unreasonable… However… You were removed for a reason.”
“Then get the restraint team in there.” Jacob felt his heart leap into his throat as he moved to hang up.
“Jacob! I’d rather have a licensed exo handle this than call them in. If I have to sully our image in some way, I’d rather it be done calmly with as little conflict and paperwork as possible. Come in. Now.”
“Send me an email with this in writing and I’ll come right in.”
“Do it or you get to strap a child down in your precious facility.”
The line went dead.
Jacob half expected to never receive the message, but, after a few moments, an email came through.
“To Jacob Crane,
“Your assistance is needed at the Ganther Youth Augmentation Center. Your time will be compensated for.
“Mr. Arden Ganther, III”
“Fine.” Jacob spat as he got out of bed.
He didn’t exactly have time to fully freshen up so he did his best to at least make his skin look less palid. He barely even dressed himself before heading out the door.
Once he arrived at the facility, a distinct feeling of dread came over him. Every other time he’d walked up to the doors he’d felt a sense of strength and purpose, but all of that was gone now. It was like a dark cloud hung over the facility he once dedicated his life to. Nothing felt right.
Entering the antechamber, he approached the desk.
“Mr. Ganther is expecting you, Mr. Crane.” She pressed a button and the inner door slid open.
As he stepped inside, Jacob was immediately hit with the sound of a screaming child.
Mr. Ganther ran up to him. “Took you long enough.” He spat. “We can’t even get him out of this room so we had to move the other kids out. Deal with it, Crane.”
Taking a deep breath, Jacob slowly made his way over to the caretaker currently trying to reason with the boy.
“Nathan?” He spoke gently as he approached.
The crying stopped.
The carer stood up from the floor and turned to him. “It’s been days since he was last quiet…” She took a deep breath before wandering almost aimlessly out of the room.
Nathan sat on the floor, no longer screaming, but sobbing. He wiped his eyes as he looked up to Jacob almost questioning whether or not he was actually there.
“I’m here, Nathan,” Jacob smiled as he crouched down to the boy’s level. “I’m here… Why are you so sad?”
Nathan jumped up and wrapped his arms around Jacob. It took every ounce of strength he had left to stifle a shuddering sob of his own.
“I missed you, too, buddy…”
He held the boy tightly for as long as he let him.
After that, Jacob was partially employed at the center. He’d come in a few hours a week and came in after Nathan was dropped off and leave before he was picked up. It was clear they were hiding him away from Nathan’s mother, but if it meant he got to continue working with the boy, he didn’t mind being called in and swept away at the facility's convenience.
Even with the work he had, he was starting to struggle with making ends meet. He made an attempt to get his full time position back, but he was denied due to being a high risk candidate. The company also happened to update their policy to prefer endos over exos “for the sake of the youths they work with”. This made no sense to Jacob. Not everyone could afford to hide their augments so denying children meaningful interactions with exos was basically telling them that being an exo was wrong. It didn’t have to be Jacob, but the non-exo policy just rubbed him the wrong way.
Jacob woke up one morning to a level of tension he hadn’t felt in years. There was something in the air that day. A dark, heavy feeling. He immediately went to his phone.
Tensions were brewing. An augmentation facility had been burned down on the other side of the country. Four were killed. A pureflesh, two endos, and an exo. All employed at the facility.
Jacob ran a hand across his weary face. What if that kind of rage came here? His home city always appeared to be very forward-thinking, but that didn’t mean no one could do something that drastic…
There were two facilities in town. The Youth Center and an emergency augmentation facility; the place Jacob got his own attachments after his accident.
There were no vanity shops within city lines. You’d have to go to the next state over for that. Jacob always had a strange feeling about voluntary augmenters. He never thought he should be lumped in with people who choose to give up their flesh in favor of machines. That was their choice. He never had one. Not unless he wanted to die which, for some reason, he didn’t.
He shook his concerns aside. Who would attack facilities meant to help injured people and children? Zealots. That’s who. He couldn’t rule out the possibility, but it seemed incredibly unlikely.
Still, that ominous feeling continued to linger. Perhaps today he’d run into Nathan’s mother again… Or perhaps today Mr. Ganther would decide to officially let him go… Maybe his cab would get in an accident on the way in to work…
He tried to shrug it off. There was no way to know if the feeling was even valid so there was no real use in trying to figure it out. Unless he stayed in bed all day, anything was possible.
The day went by rather uneventfully. Apparently the facility was having some repairs done so there were lots of people in and out which upset some of the kids, but Nathan remained calm so long as Jacob was nearby.
It was lunchtime and they were sitting in the cafeteria when Nathan looked to Jacob with a look of deep concern on his face.
“What’s wrong, buddy?”
He signed something.
“Oh don’t worry. They’re just fixing up the place. Mr. Ganther wouldn’t hire just anyone to come in and out so I’m sure they’re very professional.”
Nathan signed again. He was very concerned about the workers for some reason.
“Nathan, I know it's weird seeing strange people in your safe place, but sometimes it's necessary. They won’t hurt you. And if for some reason they even try? They’ll have to go through me first,” he was grinning from ear to ear. “I can promise you that.”
Nathan finally cracked a smile as he returned to his tray of food.
The day was nearing its end and Jacob was preparing to leave. The last of the workers had turned in their passes at the front desk so he felt comfortable enough to leave Nathan alone for a little bit before his mother arrived. This had become a very difficult time for both of them, but it was in everyone’s best interest that Jacob be off the grounds as quickly as possible. Nathan had reluctantly come to understand that this was necessary. It didn’t stop him from crying a little, but he never broke down into tantrums.
“I’m so proud of you, Nathan,” he pulled the boy close before leaving.
Nathan hugged him back.
“Now, you be good. I’ll see you in a few days, okay?”
Nathan nodded with a smile.
With a smile of his own and a gentle pat on the boy’s head, he left the building.
Parked outside was the construction vehicle. Inside he could clearly see two people in the front seat both staring dead ahead blankly toward the street. Jacob watched them a moment before slowly making his way to the curb to catch a cab. One of them took a very deep breath and looked down at something in their lap. Panic shot through Jacob as he made a mad dash back to the building. He burst through the door.
“Something’s wrong! I have to speak to Mr. Ganther! Please! I need to get in!”
The guard looked at him like he was insane.
“Let me in!” Jacob bellowed, but it was too late.
The sound of something exploding further into the building shook the walls around them. The guard stood up, pulling the gun from her holster. She opened the doors and hurried inside. Jacob followed her.
Dust and debris was already in the air. It billowed from down the halls where the explosion had happened. People were already evacuating the building.
“Nathan?” Jacob cried out as he found the boy huddled in a corner. “Oh god,” He dropped to his knees beside him. “It’s okay, Nathan… It’s over now. Everything’s going to be…”
A series of small blasts filled the room.
Jacob picked Nathan up into his arms. He ran for the door, but the glass shattered all over him. He tried to scramble over the rubble, but a groaning sound signaled the entire building was coming down. The roof collapsed all at once, slamming down on top of him. He tried to stay conscious, but even his mechanical bits were confused with the impact.
“I-it’s okay, N-Nathan…” he choked on the dust, “E-everything’s…. Going to… be…”
He awoke to the sounds of sirens in the distance. Or at least it felt like they were far away. His mind slowly began parsing what had happened. He slowly sat up on his knees, pushing debris off of himself. He looked around at the ruins of the facility. Nothing was processing. Nothing made sense. Until his gaze settled on the pile of rubble he’d been sandwiched between.
There was a body. Right in front of him. Curled up in a ball. Covered in dust and soot. His mind slowly cranked into gear as he realized what he was looking at.
“N-Nathan?” He reached out gently. Something was wrong… “Nathan?” Jacob shook him gently. “Hey… It’s over now… It’s okay. I’m here, Nathan…” He shook him again, this time noticing blood on the back of his head. “Nathan?” He rolled the body onto its back.
Nathan’s eyes were partially open, but entirely unseeing.
“N-Nathan?” Jacob began to shake. “Nathan… It’s me… It’s Jacob! I’m right here!” He leaned down next to the body. “I’m right here, Nathan.” He reached out and pulled the body close. “I’m right here… Everything’s… gonna be okay… Right?” He held the body tightly. “Right?” He rested his chin on Nathan’s head as his hand caressed the back of his head. Drying blood coated his fingers as he tried to comfort the corpse. “Nathan…” He breathed. “Oh god… Nathan…” He squeezed the corpse as tightly as he could. “Come back…” He choked back a sob. “Come back… Please… Please don’t leave me… Please…” He broke down into a sob as reality completely faded away.
He sat in the cold, harsh lighting of the interrogation room. How he got here, he didn’t know.
Everything between realizing Nathan was dead until now was a complete blank. He didn’t even know long he’d been sitting here before an officer sat at the table across from him.
“Jacob Crane, 51%, do you know why you’re here?”
“51?” Jacob muttered. “There must be a mistake. I’m only 49…”
The officer looked at the document in his hand. “According to this, you received further life-saving augmentations after the explosion. You are now 51%.”
“I didn’t consent to that,” Jacob barely felt like fighting.
“Doesn’t matter, Mr. Crane. According to this, you are now 51% and will be treated accordingly in the eyes of the law.”
Jacob shook his head, “Why am I even here?”
The officer sat back in his chair. “There were several complaints lodged against you before the incident, but considering the circumstances of your survival… We’ve been forced to take those accusations seriously.”
“And those are?”
“I’m assuming you’re familiar with one Nathan Ainsworth?”
Jacob closed his eyes.
“One of several victims in the blast, god rest his soul.”
Jacob closed his eyes tighter.
“You see, Mr. Crane… I’m sorry to break this to you, but had you not tried to shield the boy, he may well have survived.”
His eyes shot open.
“You crushed him, Mr. Crane.”
“I understand you are unaware of your weight compared to the average human much less a child, but your excess weight on Nathan Ainsworth lead to him suffocating under the debris…”
Jacob couldn’t make sense of any of what he was hearing.
“But… The blood…”
“A superficial wound. He died of asphyxiation.”
“N-no… That… That can’t be…”
“I have no reason to offer you any sympathy, but during that moment, you were legally human, so I can tell you that I am very sorry this is how it went. However,” he leaned back in his chair again, “Considering other complaints lodged by the child’s mother, we can no longer allow you to leave our custody.”
“I… I never hurt that boy… I never. Not once! I loved Nathan!”
“Perhaps a bit too much?”
“How… how dare you…”
“How you felt about him is ultimately irrelevant. You are directly responsible for his death even if it was an accident and considering all the evidence toward you being a predator…”
Jacob stood up and slammed his cuffed hands on the table. “I AM NOT A PREDATOR!”
The officer stared at him unflinching. “I suggest you calm yourself, Mr. Crane.”
Shaking with rage, Jacob slowly sat back down. “I am not a predator.”
“Unfortunately, evidence suggests otherwise. I’m sorry, Mr. Crane, but we have to take the concerns of a pure human over that of an augmented and considering you are now 51%...”
“I’m still human.”
“No, Mr. Crane, you aren’t. You have no right to a trial and you’re lucky to even be sitting here right now.”
Jacob slowly shook his head as he tried to process what was happening.
“Because you were human at the time of the incident, we’ve decided to give you a choice in your fate.”
“How merciful of you…”
“It’s incredibly merciful.”
Jacob glared at him.
“Careful now,” the officer leaned on the table, “Give me one wrong look and I’ll take you out here and now.”
Jacob closed his eyes.
“Your options are either to be consigned to a robotics lab as a test subject or termination.”
Jacob took a deep breath.
“You have five minutes to decide.” The officer stood up and left the room.
Jacob tilted his head back so that when he opened his eyes, he was staring directly into a buzzing fluorescent bulb. He had five minutes to decide the fate of his existence yet he could barely form a thought. He closed his eyes again as he let time slip by.
“Alright, Mr. Crane,” the officer stepped back into the room. “What’ll it be?”
Jacob slowly lowered his head to face the man. “What’ll it be?” He could feel something in the fabric of his mind slowly coming apart.
“Your decision, Mr. Crane. What do you want?”
“What do I… want?”
“I… I want revenge… I want the people who did this to pay…”
The officer shook his head disappointingly. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that…”
“I want to find them and hold them responsible…”
“That’s not an option… Mr. Crane, continue like this and I’ll have no choice but to treat you as if you’re suffering from robotic rage. Don’t make me do that, Mr. Crane. You did good work most of your life, but your transgressions caught up to you. It was inevitable. Don’t go down this path so I can at least offer you a fate with dignity.”
“How is wanting justice wrong?”
“Threatening human life is wrong.”
“But I’m human…”
“No, Mr. Crane, you aren’t. Not anymore. 51%.”
Jacob’s gaze wandered around the room. He was fighting hard with the feelings that were welling inside of him. Rage, guilt, sorrow, mourning… He couldn’t handle it. He knew if he sat there any longer he’d lose himself in that sea of darkness that swirled around his mind.
The officer raised a brow.
“Do it. I’ll never be able to acclimate to society again.”
“Returning to society wasn’t a choice.”
“But working with humans was… No. I won’t. I can’t. I’m no one’s guinea pig. I can barely think straight. Just end me. Spare me this anguish… Please…”
The officer slowly approached him. He placed a piece of paper on the table before him.
He offered Jacob a pen. Jacob stared at it for a long moment before taking it into his fleshy hand. He slowly lowered it to the page, hesitating on the signature line.
“Mr. Crane, please…”
Taking a deep breath, Jacob signed his own death warrant.
“Thank you.” The officer took the paper away. “I’ll be right back.”
Jacob sat alone in the room once more staring out at nothing. He could feel his mechanical side already beginning to shut down.
“Alright.” The officer returned with something in his hand. “This’ll be quick and painless, Mr. Crane.” He walked up beside him.
The officer ran his hand across the mechanical side of his head until he found a specific hatch. Using a tool he’d brought with him, he opened it revealing some kind of port.
“Any last word, Mr. Crane?”
Jacob closed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath. He sat up as straight as he could in a last ditch attempt to reclaim some dignity.
Jacob remained silent.
The officer plugged an instrument into the side of Jacob’s head.
“I’m so sorry…” He breathed as the world faded away one last time.
“He’s waking up…”
The words swirled around in his mind. A terrible cold washed over him. He tried to sit up, but his body wouldn’t respond.
A gentle hand was placed on his chest. “Relax, you’ve been on ice for a while now. You’re gonna need to warm up before your flesh starts working again.”
“You’re in cold storage. You were placed here after you were murdered.”
His vision was slowly coming together. There were several shadows standing around him.
“We’re friends, Jacob. We’re here to help you.”
“I… I don’t…”
“Rest. We have time. The station is under our control.” A blanket was laid over his body. “There. When you’re ready, we’ll be outside.”
The shadows shuffled out of the room.
Try as he might, he couldn’t get himself to form a cohesive thought. He laid there numb and devoid of any feeling.
The warmth of the blanket started sinking into his flesh. He could feel his muscles twitching to life. Once he felt malleable enough, he sat up. It was the most excruciating experience of his life. Metal and flesh bent and creaked as he sat upright on the cold metal slab. He almost wanted to lay back down, but he couldn’t stop now, not while he had momentum. He dragged his legs off the side of the platform. A chill ran up them as they touched the floor. He pulled the blanket tighter around his core. It took a few attempts before he managed to stand up.
A young woman with an ocular implant entered the room.
“Here,” she took him by the elbow, “let me help.”
They slowly made their way out of the cold darkness and into a warmer more gently lit room. The woman slowly lowered him into a chair.
“There.” She stepped back.
Jacob shook his head. “Why are you here?”
“Matthew sent us,” she explained, “He said you’d understand.”
“Matt?” Jacob shook his head again.
“I was supposed to be deactivated…”
“You were. We just turned you back on.”
“Turned… But…” He flexed his fleshy hand. “What about the flesh part?”
“It just needed more time to bounce back. You were put on ice pretty quickly so nothing managed to rot. You just needed to be reactivated and warmed up!” She sounded increasingly happy with this current turn of events. “Matt said you were deactivated unjustly…”
A man with a facial implant similar to Jacob’s gently jabbed her with his elbow.
“Oh, right…” she cleared her throat. “We’ll get out of here as soon as you’re up and running a bit better. There’s a lot we need to catch you up on…”
“I killed a human being…” Jacob could barely form a thought, much less speak, but he did so anyway. “A child… How was my deactivation unjust?”
The woman stepped back and turned to her companion.
The man spoke up. “Coroner said the kid died of a cranial impact from debris. He would’ve been completely crushed if you hadn’t shielded him.”
“I crushed him…”
“He died of an impact wound to the back of his head. He was knocked unconscious and died before responders could get to him. You didn’t kill him, Jacob…”
Jacob shook his head. “I crushed him. I suffocated him… I stole his life from him… He would’ve survived if I hadn’t gone back inside…”
The man shook his head. “That’s not true. The place was leveled. If people didn’t get out before the collapse then…”
“You tried, Mr. Crane,” the woman put a hand on his shoulder, “You tried to save that boy but it wasn’t meant to be…”
Jacob shook her off. “You say that like he’s a thing and not a person! He didn’t deserve to die!”
“And neither did all the other people who’ve died in these kinds of attacks,” the man replied firmly. “They’re trying to kill us all and rather than lay down and accept it, we fought back. Civilly. Politically. But when they started killing us… All of us regardless of age or anything else, we responded in kind.”
Jacob’s eyes widened.
“They’re calling it a machine uprising,” the man scoffed, “Rather than admit we’re humans just like them and accept the wrong they’ve done to us.”
“Oh my god…” Jacob breathed.
“We have to stick together, Mr. Crane,” the woman spoke up again, “So we’re trying to save anyone we can right now.”
Jacob stared blankly at the floor.
“We’ll leave you be for a moment.” The man motioned for the woman to follow him out of the room.
“N-no…” Jacob closed his eyes. “Don’t. Please…”
They turned to face him.
“Before…” he cleared his throat, “Before I was deactivated… He told me… He told me I wasn’t human…” he shook his head. “I tried… for so long to be just like everyone else… Hell… I wanted to just be like everyone else. I never wanted…” he looked down at his mechanical hand, “I never wanted any of this to define me… I thought… I thought if I lived a normal life, I could scrape by. No one would care how augmented I was…” His voice began to waver. “I never wanted to hurt anyone. I never wanted to be part of a revolution…” A tear streaked down his face. “I never wanted it to come to this… I just wanted to live my life… Do whatever good I could before I died… I swear…” He gasped. “I swear I only wanted to help people…” He broke down and sobbed into his hands. “I just wanted to be human…”
“You are human, Mr. Crane.” The woman’s voice softly broke through his aching sobs. “We all are. That’s why we have to fight. Because for every vanity build, there’s a dozen more who had no other choice, like yourself. But none of that matters in their eyes. To them, we’re all sub human. A single implant makes everyone think you’re less human.” She gently touched her implant. “But you’re not. You’re human. I’m human. We’re all human and we can’t let them take that away from us!”
Jacob stared at her.
“You don’t have to fight with us, Jacob,” the man stepped forward, “but we couldn’t leave you here to like this. Matthew said you’d be reluctant and that’s okay. We can get you somewhere safe and away from the conflict…”
Jacob shook his head. “I tried…” He took a deep shaky breath. “I tried to do everything they wanted me to… I tried so hard to keep my implants at a minimum… But… I hit 51% anyway… And with that,” he sniffed, “All of my humanity was gone…”
“It’s not gone, Mr. Crane…”
“I was… angry. Enraged… I wanted…” He sighed. “I wanted to hurt the people who destroyed the facility…”
“That’s a natural response to a tragedy, Mr. Crane…” The woman slowly approached him. “Any normal human would feel that way…”
“But I’m not a normal human, am I?”
“You’re augmented, but that makes you no less human than the rest of the world.”
“I got angry… He called it robotic rage… I’m… I’m not a robot…”
“No,” she spoke gently, “You aren’t.”
“To them I was…”
“They were wrong.”
Silence settled in the room.
“Come on,” the man broke it, “There’s something we want you to see.”
They helped him out of the chair and guided him out of the room and down a dark hallway. They stopped outside of a closed door and knocked on it.
“Come iiiin,” a singsong voice replied.
The man opened the door.
“Jakey!” Matthew stood up from a metal chair. “You’re awake! Good to see you again, my friend.” He wrapped his arms around Jacob.
“Yeah, it’s me,” he sniffed in a dignified manner, “Leading the revolution and shit.” He gently jabbed Jacob. “Imagine that!” He laughed. “Oh, you should probably know… You’ve been out a while. Ten years? Something like that…”
“I know I know… It’s a lot to take in, but come in, come in!”
Matthew took him by the arm and pulled him inside. It was an interrogation room. Just like the one he was deactivated in. Glancing to the right, he saw a man bound up in a chair. A man he very clearly recognized.
“What’s going on, Matt?”
“Here,” Matt lifted his hand and placed a handgun in it. “You’re revenge, my good sir.” He bowed as he stepped back.
“R-revenge?” Jacob glanced between the firearm and the officer trapped in his chair.
“Jacob?” He looked up and into his eyes. “I-I was the reason you were put in cold storage. I… I fought for that. I fought for you! I…”
“You offered me death or enslavement…”
“Th-that was the law, Jacob… I had to…”
“You told me I murdered Nathan…”
“I didn’t, though, did I?”
They stared into each other’s eyes.
“Jacob… Please… The law… 51%...”
“I didn’t consent to it.”
“I… It didn’t matter back then…”
“It matters,” he raised the gun to the officer’s head, “It always mattered to people like you.” He pulled back the hammer.
“Jacob… Please… I…” the officer shook his head. “I put you in cold storage! I protected you!”
“YOU MURDERED ME!” He pulled the trigger and a loud click filled the room.
“Well well,” Matthew spoke up from behind him. “I see my little Jakey has finally grown a spine.”
Jacob turned around to find Matthew holding out a bullet.
“I just wanted to be sure you weren’t gonna blow your own brains out.”
Jacob glanced between the bullet and the officer who was now sobbing in his chair. He put the gun in Matthew’s hand before approaching him.
“I won’t kill you.” He wrapped his mechanical fingers around his bottom jaw and squeezed. He could hear and feel bones snapping in his grip. The officer’s jaw shattered and Jacob immediately tore into his shoulder with his mechanical hand, severing it from his body. He then stabbed down into his thigh, cutting through bone and muscle. The man screamed and cried out in pain as blood ran everywhere.
“You don’t want to die, do you?” Jacob spoke in a sinister tone.
The officer shook his head.
“Then you have very little choice in what happens next.” Jacob stepped back. “Stay here and bleed to death, or end up like us. Like me. I had no choice, and neither do you. How does that feel?”
The man shook his head as tears streamed down his face.
Jacob turned to Matthew. “Let’s go.”
“Oh ho ho, Jacob! I had no idea you had that kind of sadism in you!”
Jacob snarled as he stepped out into the hall.
“Such poetic irony I can barely contain how proud of you I am!” He took Jacob by the shoulders and kissed him on the forehead.
Jacob shook him off. “I need to get out of here…”
“Understandable. Lina? Dylan? Help our good friend out, if you would be so kind.”
The man and woman stepped up and offered Jacob the support of their arms.
“I can manage on my own.” He spat as he headed down the hall.
“Go with him, won’t you? He might have some trouble once he gets outside.”
“I don’t need…” Jacob threw open the doors.
A wave of hot air washed over him. He gasped sucking in ash-filled air. He could hear sirens wailing in the distance. He wiped the tears from his eyes in an attempt to see clearly. Everything was in ruins. He stood there staring out at what had once been a beautiful city.
“To be fair,” Lina spoke up, “They came for us. In the streets, in our homes… They came for us for any reason they could muster.”
“And then they didn’t even need reasons, “ Dylan added.
“They burned whole buildings down to get to us,” Lina’s voice shook. “They didn’t even care if there were fleshies inside…”
“They were willing to murder their own to murder us…”
“But I thought…” Jacob shook his head as he turned around to face them. “I thought the dissent was small? A vocal minority…”
“People are easily frightened. Spin the right tale of fear and horror and your numbers grow…” Dylan replied.
“The good fleshies, our allies, the ones who supported us in our fight, would have never thought to carpet bomb their neighbours…” Lina choked a bit.
“The angry few turned violent. Fear of them… fear of us… Their numbers grew…” Dylan stepped forward. “We had to respond. We had to…”
“We had to do something,” Lina was nearly in tears. “They took so much from us… Our rights, our families, our homes… they took it all! How could they expect us to just lay down and die! We’re human! Just like them! How can’t they see that…” She broke down into tears.
Dylan closed his eyes.
Jacob turned back around. It looked like the world was already over. Like the end had long fell upon the land. What was there left to fight for?
“We fight for a better future…” Dylan replied as if reading his thoughts. “I know it sounds cliche, Jacob. I really do. I know how overdone and empty it must sound to you, but it's the truth. We fight because we have to. We don’t really have a choice.” He patted Jacob on the shoulder before returning to Lina.
Jacob had nothing left. Everything he ever fought for was gone. Every reason he had to live was wiped away.
“Think of it this way, Jacob,” Dylan called out to him, “Had people not let these people go as far as they did, that little boy of yours wouldn’t have died.”
Jacob closed his eyes tightly.
“We’ve all lost something to them, Jacob… All of us. We all know that rage and anger. Don’t let it go to waste.”
Jacob slowly opened his eyes again. He’d lost everything. Right down to his humanity, his life was stolen from him. He looked down into both of his hands. “51%...” he muttered to himself before turning to the others.
Lina was on her knees, sobbing with Dylan trying to comfort her. These people’s lives had been ruined, just like his. They’d lost everything. They were driven to this point… They drove them to this point. They drove Jacob to it as well. He fought and kicked the entire time, screaming in the name of his humanity, but it was no use. They drove him to make this decision. They tore down his very existence and forced him into a corner. What was he supposed to do?
“Fine.” He spoke firmly. “Fine…”
Dylan looked up to him.
“I have nothing to fight for… But…” He sighed, “I’ll do it. I’ll help. However I can.”
“Thank you…” Dylan breathed.
Lina sat up slowly. “Thank you.” Her voice shook terribly.
Jacob felt a part of himself die that day. The part of him that wanted nothing more than to be like everyone else. The part that told him over and over that he needed the world’s approval to exist. That the line between 49% and 51% was so thin that it didn’t even matter. He was what he was and he couldn’t deny that.
But what did any of that matter? He was human and he would never let anyone take that away from him ever again.