THE BODY AS A SHIP
Mark Andrew Edwards
Harry Hermann cradled the antique mirror in his hands, stared at his reflection and tried to decide if he was still real. By his leg, a small model of a wooden ship rested as if it had run aground there.
He hadn’t intended to change. He was a proud man, but far too vain to impulsively swap flesh for metal. It had begun simply, if painfully.
A car bomb in Istanbul had taken both his legs off. Some leftover hatred from the 21st or the 20th -or knowing the Middle East, perhaps the 15th– century had bubbled up into the modern day, pressed a command switch and taken both of Harry’s legs off at the knee.
The Turkish police were terribly apologetic, terribly efficient and just plain terrifying, swiftly apprehending the perpetrators. They’d linked the young men to old Saudi money. Terribly embarrassing. The Sheik’s representative had given him a groveling apology, a suitcase full of Swiss francs and two new legs.
They were American-designed, Chinese-manufactured and installed by a Sikh who wore a gold turban in the operating room. Harry remembered that, the gold silk standing out among the grey surgical scrubs. Then he’d passed out, sedated, awakening with new legs.
They were better than his old legs. Faster and stronger. He’d been fifty when it happened, his knees had begun to go. Now he could sprint up stairs.
And did, until his heart became arrhythmic. Ran in the family, apparently. His grandmother Wanda sent a card, and she said, her prayers.
He could have gotten a transplant, from a donor or his own cloned tissues, if he felt like waiting six months for the fastgrow to finish. But the thought of waiting that long was almost unbearable. After all, Harry was a man of his times, a 23rd century boy, to coin a phrase. He had work, travel and other things he didn’t want to miss seeing on his new legs.
So he swapped it out for an artificial heart. Inpatient work, almost. They zipped him open, popped the old one out and swapped in a new, Yamaha synthetic heart . He was out the next day with a dandy new scar to joke about at the gym.
The new heart was what really changed his life. The bomb had just been the spark, so to speak. His new heart—self-regulating, self-repairing, constantly adapting—made him feel like a younger man all over again.
He ran every day. He took up skiing, taking lessons at the artificial glacier they’d created in western Nevada. His new legs worked on the slopes marvelously. He met a girl, started dating again.
That was what drove the next replacement. His new heart had given new virility to him but his twenty-five year old girlfriend had convinced him to get a very personal upgrade. So he gotten a telescoping, piston-driven, chromed machine (with the optional vibration controls, of course). For a while they’d played cyborg and Harajuku-girl.
Then he’d gotten a new girlfriend: prettier, older, more traditional. Harry decided to cover up his new member with something a little less garish. Nuskin was just on the market, the latest thing from Amgen. And, boy, had it worked. The Nuskin was softer, durable and quite responsive. It made his old flesh seem dull by comparison. He could even control the sensitivity by remote control, once he had the proper UI hookups.
The new UI required new eyes. So Harry had bought German, the best, while recovering from his whole-body Nuskin replacement. That took three agonizingly itchy weeks, but his new girlfriend was still waiting for him. She clung to his Nuskin chest when they made love and scratched at his back when he turned on all those optional upgrades. Harry could control his pain and pleasure thresholds manually after that.
She was a fight fan and got Harry interested in the sport. He started neo-boxing as a light-unlimited amateur, marveling at how long he could last. His new heart keeping him on his new feet and his Nuskin was tough enough to take twisting punches without breaking or bruising. But he couldn’t reach the top in his new hobby. Not while he had hands made of flesh and bone. That ate at him, not being the best. Besides, he told himself, he’d be more productive at work if he didn’t have to take pain meds to deal with the carpal tunnel he was developing.
So, Harry had replaced his hands and arms, getting a package deal that didn’t put too big a dent in the Swiss francs busily gaining interest in his bank. His new hands were Mitsubishi, top of the line, while the arms were Russian and 50% stronger than anything else on the market. Both fully supported Nuskin, of course. Harry made sure of that before going under the electro-knife.
Harry began winning his bouts. His girlfriend drifted off and there were tears or what passed for them from his Zeiss eyes. But there were younger, wild girls who also liked fighters. Harry didn’t lack for companionship.
But as strong as his legs and his arms were, there was only so much his back and spine could handle. After his fifth semi-pro match, Harry retired from sports, going back to work for AppleSoft. The desk job was easier on his back but Harry soon found he missed the excitement.
He was a young man still, not even sixty. His new hands flew over the keyboard tirelessly but he had a harder and harder time keeping up with the newer, brain-modded co-workers. He didn’t make the cut anymore. When his contract ended, his manager shook his head sadly and told him he’d need to find another job.
Harry didn’t, not really. He had money but the rejection stung his pride. Somehow that had hurt more than the increasing pain in his back. He went to a doctor about the latter. They did tests; his heart was still fine, still going strong, but his muscles were showing strain and there was spinal deterioration. Another genetic condition, no help for it. Only his grandmother, Wanda, had escaped the curse. Maybe she could donate some genetic material, help him find a cure.
He visited her at her farm. She was so small, so delicate and so plainly happy to see Harry again. She told him, she hardly recognized him anymore and her face was sad when she said that. He’d come for a bone marrow sample, a painless extraction nowadays, but he’d stayed for days. Talking, remembering. There was a little model ship at her farm, one she’d helped him build as a child one rainy day. No tools, just their hands and some glue. An old ship, built like in the days of Odysseus. She’d saved that ship, kept it as a reminder, she said. Harry assumed she meant it was a reminder of him.
He helped fix things up for her. She wasn’t upgraded at all. Alive through good genes, well water, and fresh jam, she said. Harry was sorry to leave her, her old fashioned way of living and her old memories of the world that was. But the hospital beckoned, a new life called.
Spinal replacement was discussed or new myomer-laced muscle threading (UnderArmor had some exciting new sport-models). But the recovery time for spinal work meant he’d lose years, even if he kept his mind busy in the internet. Harry knew himself, or thought he did. He wanted to live in the real world, enjoy adventures that weren’t virtual, date women who were actually women.
In the end, he took a deep breath – one of his last – and decided to go with a full-torso replacement.
That meant a major lifestyle change but, mercifully, everything he’d purchased so far was backwards-compatible.
He had a power plant now and a mass of nanomachine factories in place of his old organs. He’d been scared, for the first time since Istanbul. He needn’t have been. This was new technology but they seemed to have gotten the bugs out of his new GE torso. Covered in Nuskin, he had the body of a Greek god. And what better place for him to recuperate than one of the luxury resorts in Cyprus?