Part One – Part Two – Part Three (coming soon)

557.7 nanometers: the wavelength of oxygen green, the color which our perky tour guide kept saying would be so bright, so vividly pronounced.  I could see it, barely, if I squinted.  But mostly, all I saw was gray.  Gray shapes rippling weirdly across the midnight black sky.  Seeing the aurora borealis in person is not as awe-inspiring as the nets would have you believe.  I guess I’d been spoiled by all those photos and holos (digitally enhanced, I’m sure) that I’d seen online.

How ironic, I thought, that my normal, natural eyes struggled to show me this natural beauty while my new cyborg friend (if I may call him a friend) could easily perceive so much more.  My view was near grayscale; his was no doubt rendered in vibrant Technicolor.

If only I had synthetic eyes of my own. I wondered morbidly what that would be like.  I imagined those eyes… those ocular implants… came with all sorts of neat features. Magnification, sharpness and saturation filters… or maybe adjustable exposure and shutter speeds, just like in old-fashioned cameras… or perhaps you could switch which parts of the spectrum you were observing.  What must the aurora look like in infrared or ultraviolet?

Or maybe that wasn’t how it worked at all. Maybe the cyborg processed this whole spectacle as pure data, a series of zeroes and ones.  Could there be beauty in a binary data stream? Maybe so, from a cyborg’s perspective.

We were out there for nearly an hour watching those wispy, indistinct lights come and go.  The rest of the tour group seemed properly impressed, oohing and ahhing at the right moments.  I spent the time shivering by the cyborg’s side, trying to make idle chitchat; but the cyborg, it seemed, was pointedly ignoring me.

Finally, the tour guide said it was time to leave. The cyborg turned and marched back to the hover vehicle.  I followed, treading carefully across the snow and ice, but it was impossible to keep up with his long strides.  I ended up being one of the last people to climb back aboard.

My brother was glaring at me.  That was a conversation I was not prepared to deal with just yet.  I walked right past him, all the way down the center aisle.  The cyborg had taken the same seat as before, right up front.  There was a bit more headroom there, near where the pilot’s bubble protruded from the roof, and a bit more legroom as well—almost enough room for the cyborg to fit comfortably.

“Is it alright if I sit with you?” I asked.

“It is my understanding that this vehicle does not have assigned seating,” the cyborg responded.  I decided to take that as a yes.

“Look, I’m sorry,” I said, sliding into the empty seat.  “I didn’t mean to offend you.  I’m not prejudiced against cyborgs.  That’s not how I was raised.  I mean, I guess some people in my family are prejudiced, but my mom isn’t, and neither am I.  My mom always said we should feel sorry for your people, for the things that were done to you.”

“You and your mother are in error,” the cyborg replied.  “It is prejudicial to assume that we require or desire your pity.  We do not.  We are what we are, and the manner of our existence is neither inferior nor superior to your own.”

“But I thought… what about the mutilations? By the mecha-corporations…?”

“I am not mutilated.  I was born as I am.”

“You were born with cybernetic implants?”

“No, you misunderstand my meaning.  We cyborgs, as you choose to call us, are genetically modified in the womb.  We are thus born ready to receive cybernetic augmentation, and our brains are engineered to process cybernetic input.”

I scowled.  To me, that sounded even worse than the mutilations I’d read about in history.

The cyborg continued: “The augmentations themselves are incidental.  Components are changed as we grow, or are replaced as they become damaged or wear out from overuse.”

“So all this…” I gestured feebly at the cyborg’s body.  “You don’t feel all this is… dehumanizing?”

“Your choice of words reveals much,” the cyborg said.  “You presume I am not human.”

I noticed then that an eerie silence had settled over the passenger cabin.  Even our perky tour guide had become uncharacteristically quiet.  So I kept my voice low—not quite a whisper, but low enough that the people around us could not easily hear me over the dull thrumming of the hover engines.

“I… I didn’t mean… but after the Mechanoid Uprising, your people did declare themselves to be a separate species.”

Homo machinae and Homo sapiens are still members of the same genus, even if we are not classified as the same species. The common name ‘human’ may be applied equally to us both.”

I frowned.  This was starting to feel an awful lot like talking to my brother. He too liked throwing around this sort of scientific jargon, though in my brother’s case he did it just to make himself sound smart, not because he really understood what he was saying. I glanced over my shoulder and saw my brother sitting alone in the back, staring out the window at the passing landscape below.  Sulking.  Typical.  I wondered what he’d think if I told him he and this cyborg had something in common.

I turned back to the cyborg and, to my surprise, found him staring down at me.  All of a sudden, I felt very small, like a child, sitting there beside this hulking, half-metal man.  It was the first time since we’d gotten back on the hover vehicle that he’d deigned to look at me—not even the slightest glance when I’d sat down beside him.  It was a bit disconcerting, and more than a little intimidating, but I tried to keep my emotions in check.  I could see two tiny reflections of myself in those mirror-slick orbs the cyborg had in place of natural eyes.

“Please allow me to backtrack to an earlier point in this conversation,” the cyborg said.  “Perhaps…” but then he hesitated.  “Perhaps, since you apologized to me… perhaps I should apologize to you as well.  Before coming to this planet, I received programming on the manners and etiquette appropriate for your world; and yet, I have still behaved rudely. I have also acted in a prejudicial manner, in my own fashion.”

I frowned.  It took me a moment to process what the cyborg was trying to tell me.  His apology—the idea that he would even attempt to apologize—ran counter to everything I thought I knew about cyborgs.  But then I smiled.

“Oh well, that’s okay,” I said, looking up at him again.  “I guess you might say we’re both only human.”  And then, like an idiot, I started laughing at my own joke.

“I do not understand what is humorous,” the cyborg said.  “Your statement was correct.”

To be concluded….

Part One – Part Two – Part Three (coming soon)