We Apologize for the Interruption – Part 3

Faking her way through the pre-meeting small talk at Judson Memorial Church a few hours later, Peg considered taking the train to Mt. Sinai hospital, racing to the coma ward, and begging them to put her out of her misery. These people were far worse than religious freaks or communists or even civ lib hard-cases. This was a gathering of the seriously stupid.

When she’d arrived, Jayden’s mouth had dropped open in surprise. “I needed a distraction,” she’d said, brushing by and making it clear she wasn’t there to talk to him.

Unfortunately, this had left her alone to be hit on by Jayden’s leering co-conspirator, Darien. Darien was polite enough not to make a big deal about her In-Between status, but that was the limit to his manners.

“You wanna get wicked high after this?” he’d asked. He was a redhead, too pale and too thin, and he talked to her chest. She had never liked bony white boys, and Darien the tit-whisperer was not about to become her exception. She’d groaned as he tried to put his arm around her.

“Not interested,” she’d said firmly.

Hot-cheeked, she was now pretending to be interested in her handheld. She actually felt like tossing it through one of the stained-glass windows. She hadn’t been able to reach any of her so-called friends. Although, to be fair, they hadn’t exactly expected her to be available tonight. But she still pictured them, each taking one took one look at the In-Between alert, and ignoring her. Assholes.

Meandering through the packed room, she decided that being here, at Jayden’s radical anti-syn meeting after storming out on his ass, was proof positive that she wasn’t thinking straight. She’d floated around Manhattan, shopping and trying to keep herself occupied. Everywhere she’d went she was greeted with wide-eyed looks and suspicion. Security at two stores had searched her for weapons. This was officially the most messed day of her life.

“Hi,” said a short balding guy wearing glasses. Peg tried to smile politely. Hair implants weren’t that expensive and corrective vision surgery couldn’t even be called a proper upgrade. The anti-tech freaks were so bizarre. Why would anyone want to look like this?

“I saw the alert,” the man said spitting his words with a stutter. “Did you know, um-um-um, that Biomimetics covered up a secret study that proves the syns aren’t accurate? Did you know that? Did you?”

“Nope,” said Peg. “Excuse me.”

She turned and found herself facing a priest holding hands in a circle with three girls. Their eyes were firmly shut, but the girls all looked close to tears, hands white-knuckled in each other’s fists.

“In the name of the Lord our Savior, Jesus Christ, we ask your forgiveness for our trespasses,” the priest intoned.

One of the girls nodded emphatically, and Peg could see she was wearing a red pin with the words: “Suicide and Murder. Two Sins for a Syn.”

That’s it—I’m done. Peg looked around for the nearest exit. But it was then that Jayden called his meeting to order and Peg was pushed into the pews.

“Why do so many post-syns change their names after their surgeries?” he began, his voice projecting to the back rows with grace and ease. Peg was already irritated. It was such a leading question.

Jayden paced back and forth, and stopped in front of a young woman with a violet complexion.

“When we alter the human body, we change who we are,” he said. “And that’s okay. You’re beautiful, lady-friend. What’s your name?”

“Ocean,” the woman said, standing up to reveal a cascading mane of blue hair, which she tossed proudly. Peg had once considered a similar shade, cerulean, but decided it was too cartoonish. This girl didn’t have the bottle-dye variety; those locks were engineered.

“Ocean,” he announced, holding her hand up in the air like she’d won a race. “Isn’t she beautiful?”

Peg clapped politely with the room.

“We have nothing to fear from change. Those who are gathered here aren’t anti-science. We love life, in all forms. That is exactly why we must resist the syns.”

Jayden paused and looked contemplative. “I met a girl today, an In-Between.”

There was a murmur. A few people who had taken the time to ID her when they’d first seen the alert turned and looked, trolling for a reaction. Peg felt herself go clammy. Was he really going to use her like this?

“This girl, she’s beautiful too, smart and witty. Put me in my place real fast.” He smiled to himself. “Meeting her reminded me of the old com for Biomimetics. The ‘Knock yourself in the Head’ spot—remember that one?”

Peg knew it. A happy looking woman running to keep up with her overly energetic rat-dog bumps her head against a wall. The camera zooms into her brain and shows a few neurons dying and then her brain compensates, forming alternative pathways. It was relatable and comforting. The idea was that if the nanobots messed a few neurons, or the algorithm was a bit off, it didn’t matter. Biomimetics’ margin of error was still less than the damage done by knocking your head against a wall while chasing a rat-dog. Negligible.

Peg found herself nodding with the room.

“So this girl I met, let’s call her Sunshine, she’s still got her brain, right? But right now the zombie docs in Jersey are busy making a copy, the syn. But what if we were to stick her syn into someone else’s body?”

The tabloids were always feeding the fear that a newly constructed syn could be switched in transit—so you ended up in the wrong body. It had never happened, of course. This was kind of disappointing. She had sort of expected more.

“Okay. So now, some unfortunate random has been body-snatched by Sunshine.” Peg stole a glance at the rows of people listening in rapt silence.

“Now, let’s wake up our two Sunshines, the original and the syn. Hell, let’s sit them down for tea together. No big whoop, right? After we finish serving scones we’ll just put both Sunshines under again and fix the mistake—do as we should have the first time—incinerate Sunshine’s brain and put the syn in her body. No harm, no foul. Right?” He took a deeper breath and punched his words. “Am I right?”

Peg sunk into her seat. Her heart was beating so fast. She took loud, shallow breaths through her mouth.

“Imagine seeing your syn staring right back at you in another body. Would there be any alternative other than to admit that the syn is a distinct person?”

He shook his head in answer to his own question, and thumped his fist on the dais. “No! The fantasy, the story you tell yourself about going to sleep and waking up to live forever is broken, shattered, vaporized the moment you face your copy and acknowledge its separateness.”

“So what’s left?” Jayden asked his audience, extending his hand to recognize anyone with the answer.

“What’s left?” Jayden still demanded, his voice increasing in volume, building in the crescendo of his finale.

“Excuse me.” Peg pushed past the people seated in her pew. “I feel a bit sick.” It was no excuse; she was both dizzy and nauseous. She hurried down the aisle.

“Sunshine!”

Peg froze mid-step. Everyone in the church had turned to watch her, wide-eyed. Jayden was pointing in her direction. “What’s left, Sunshine, when the mirage is gone?”

Peg ran for the exit. She ignored the excited whispers, ignored Jayden.

***

At their morning appointment, Sonar’s expression was hard and unreadable. Peg was hung-over from a night of drinking alone in her apartment.

“I’m just saying that I might change my mind. I’m allowed to change my mind. It’s my right.”

“It is,” Sonar said carefully, eying her tablet. Was she thinking of having Peg taken in? No! She couldn’t do that, the regs were clear. An In-Between could change her mind.

“Do you remember why you wanted to do this in the first place?”

“Of course.”

“When you first stepped through that door you wanted the surgery right away. You were furious you had to do twelve months of therapy to qualify. You had just watched your mother die,” Sonar said, tempering her tone. “Do remember what you said?”

“Yes,” Peg was crying now and it was hard to get words out. “I remember.” She remembered all right. “Some people say that maybe you lose a few minutes of time, or that it’s not you, not exactly, on the other end. But I had… I had just watched my mother break into a thousand pieces. She was completely stripped away, and it wasn’t an upgrade that did it. That was all natural, and no matter what an upgrade would have done, at the end… that—wasn’t—her.”

Sonar settled on to the cushion next to her. A comforting arm slipped around her, and Peg melted. She buried her face in Sonar’s shoulder and tried to catch her breath.

“Peg, you only get one shot at this being covered by your insurance. I don’t want to watch you make a mistake you’ll regret.” She passed Peg a tissue, and continued. “Honey, don’t think that I would ever stop you if you were sure. Talk it through with your grandmother before you make a final decision.”

“Nana’s not even taking my calls,” Peg said. The bitterness in her tone was impossible to cover. “No one is. I’m a social pariah. I’ve had to hang with randoms. Loser randoms.”

Sonar clasped her hands together. “That’s my fault, actually. One of the ways we try to prevent In-Betweens… What I mean is, meaningful interactions—positive or negative—can be very stressful.”

Peg’s tears dried in an instant. “So can being isolated,” she hissed. “Did you geniuses ever think of that?”

“Of course we have.” Sonar returned to her own chair, putting her infuriatingly detached expression back on. “These are hardly ideal circumstances.”

 

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