Wednesday, 4 August 2010


It's a truism that sometimes the most well-meaning acts can have the most unfortunate consequences.

The patient before me is one Andaz McClintok, although he doesn't answer to that name – none of my patients will answer to their birth names – but I will not humour him by addressing him the way I know he wants me to, the way he is used to being addressed. This is not spitefulness on my part, believe me. Andaz and the other thirty-three like him have got to adapt to their new lives now, whether they like it or not, and part of that adaptation involves having and using a personal name.

A course of intensive physiotherapy has reversed some of the severe muscle atrophy in this patient, but underneath his white hospital gown, his arms and legs are still stick-thin and he cannot as yet walk unaided. His skin is still dead-white and it will take some time for the pigment to build up enough for him to go outside safely. His hair will never grow back, of course - all his hair follicles were destroyed to prevent hair growth interfering with his Interface. His scalp is a smooth white egg apart from the tracery of thin red scars spidering over its surface where the Interface connections were surgically removed.

He eyes me dully as I sit down opposite him and wish him a good morning. His breakfast tray lies nearby, untouched. His gaze drifts down to his hands folded neatly in his lap - still thin and clawlike despite the therapy.

"Andaz. Andaz?" I repeat his name until I manage to break into his reverie and he looks up at me – either that or he's just fed up of hearing his name over and over, "Andaz, you have to eat. We talked about this, didn't we? You agreed to start taking your meals last time I was here. Don't you remember?"

He looks at the tray with the same lack of interest as he looked at me – and at everything else, then allows his gaze to settle once more on his folded hands.

"Andaz, look," I say, trying to bring him back to the here and now once more, "I know you're not used to eating. I know it must be strange and distasteful, but this is how things are now, you have to accept this. Dr Maddizon says your digestive system is fully functional now so please, at least try something."

I place the tray in front of him. The food's not bad, actually, and smells appetising even to me. Maybe the smell gets to Andaz too because, after a minute of so of incurious staring, he gropes for the plastic spoon next to the bowl and guides a wavering spoonful into his mouth. I can see his jaw working as he moves the food around inside his mouth, getting all the different flavours – or so I think.

He lets the spoon fall back into the bowl and pushes the tray away again.

"Don't you like it?" I ask, "I can get something else brought in?"

"No flavour," he replies. His voice, so long unused, is hardly more than a croak.

Suddenly, he buries his face in his hands and does the most human thing I have observed him do so far – he begins to weep, his body convulsing with great wracking, utterly abandoned sobs.

On an intellectual level, of course, I know perfectly well what this poor shrivelled man must be going through – I am a trained psychologist after all - but it is only now that the full force of the loss he has endured, and the utter hopelessness he must be feeling, really hits me.

The Compassionate Uses Act of 2657 was meant to do good. It was meant to put an end to what was essentially a form of slavery.

It had long been the case that only the human brain possessed the necessary complexity and processing power required to navigate a starship safely across the void – and only the rarest type of brain, at that. Children were tested at age seven – and those precious few who passed the tests were Interfaced, becoming, in effect, a starship's living heart and brain. Their frail human bodies were replaced by a sleek metal hull, as their ears and eyes were replaced by long- and short- range sensors, able to scan the full width of the electromagnetic spectrum, not just the tiny slit of the visible available to ordinary humans. Their limbs were replaced by Tachyon-Ion converters and all of space was theirs to roam.

They had had no choice as children.

We gave them no choice as Ships.

With the advent of sufficiently advanced neural net AI to replace them, it was decided that we, as a society, would undo the injustice we had perpetrated against the ship-children as they were called. We would free the poor creatures "trapped" inside the remaining thirty-four starships still in existence.

The ships were ordered home and, once there, their human pilots were disconnected and brought here. The ships themselves were dismantled.

As I say, sometimes the most well-meaning acts can have the most unfortunate consequences. We have freed their bodies, of course, but in so doing, we have deafened, blinded and crippled them.

How can the flavour of a bowl of soup compare with the subtle 'taste' of millions of different particles as they stream through your detectors?

How can seeing the most beautiful landscape compare with being able to survey the majesty of the very stars themselves in all their glory?

How can walking or running compare with gliding along the curve of space at near lightspeed?

"Oh, Ship," I whisper, "What have we done?"


  1. What indeed!Such a human action to replace, to convert, to alter and think it better.It reminds me so much of adoption.

  2. Wow, Argent, I am enjoying your science fiction phase.

  3. The epitome of an epic journey. Captivatingly written.

  4. Can I get the rest of the book?

  5. Von - Yes, I can see the parallels, having just visited your Once Was Von blog. My mother was adopted because she was born out of wedlock. She was a little bit luckier than some though, as she was adopted by her birth mother's cousin so was able to stay in the family. I think she still carries with her a sense of not being wanted though, even now. She did make contact with her birth mother but the latter wasn't interested in her and even passed her off as a cousin whenever she introduced her to anyone else. Very sad.

    Titus - I'm glad. I love Sci-Fi myself and it is my preferred genre.

    ER - Thank you. I think it needs a wee bit of polist here and there but I'm quite pleased with it.

    NanU - I have wondered whether this story would bear extending and, if so, what would happen. Maybe the psychologist would try to help the ship-children (now adults, of course) in some more practical way. Sadly, since I've said the ships were dismantled, there's no going back for them...

  6. Oh I like this! It reminds me of some science fiction I’ve read before. Now I’ll have to try to remember – it was a series of books. Hmmm…

  7. Bug - I was probably kind of inspired in part by Anne MacCaffrey's books. The first one was 'The Ship Who Sang' and there some others as well which I never got around to reading. This story just sort of popped into my head the other night.

  8. OK so i thought this was really well written

    I think the human/computer interface thing has been done quite a bit, but i really liked your slant on it

    Great stuff

  9. DFTP - Thanks for your thoughts. The computer/human thing certainly is a staple of SF. i wonder, if we ever advance that far, how our society will actually deal with these things?

  10. That was an absolute delight. I have such respect for writers who put themselves out there and bring me with them.

    Big fan.


  11. Pearl - Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, much appreciated and glad you enjoyed.

  12. Beautifully written. Looking forward to Harold. (I hope you are doing Harold this week.) Thanks for the words, by the way. Thanks to you and Don't Feed the Pixies I get two weeks off thinking of new ones myself. Yippee!

  13. Raven - Thanks for reading. I am doign a Harold this week. Just about to get started, having done my mini.

  14. fecking love this!... one of myself and the ronalds favourite programmes was/is farscape, with the jim henson creatures etc.. pilot was a lovely beast who was 'joined' with Maya the living ship.... The idea that a human is wired into a ship is really cool and very dark.. and I love the fact the good old p.c brigade fecked up.. again!.. excellent writing!

  15. Watercats - Oooh, Farscape! I did think about Pilot and Maya as I was writing this, actually. I do like the idea of humans becoming part of something bigger like that. And yes, those pesky PC feckers meddled and got it dead wrong.

    Reading this story again this morning, I notice there's a few problems with it - the tense is all set in the present, but the first paragraph hints at the narrator already knowing about good intentions leading to bad things, but at that point, he had not realised how devasted Andaz is. Hhmmm.


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