What About My Humanity?, by Igor Ljubuncic



Updated: January 11, 2017

This story was originally published in Allegory ezine Volume 28/55 Fall/Winter 2015 edition.

Teaser

Sparepart wasn't a very creative name for a man, he knew. Which was probably why they had given it to him.

He was, after all, made from human bits and pieces left behind in the warehouse.

Sparepart stepped out into the weak, jaundiced January sun, looking up at the silver sky striated with chemical fumes, forming into long, windy clouds. The city of Mech pumped all its worth into the frigid air, earning the rich folks in their habitats a few more hours of warm, electrified leisure.

The road, what was left of it, did its best to snag Sparepart's clubbed feet, mismatched toes and callused heels, reminding him that his deformities were more than a random genetic flaw or a childhood accident, the likes that afflicted his colleagues. His disfigurements were intentional.

A year ago, the president of Earthana had asked for another ten percent reduction in production costs, finding the needs of the two hundred millions workers too high for his liking. In his eagerness to please the company, the mayor of Mech had promised to reduce, and reduce he did.

But with humans already down to food and water filtered from feces and body stamina maintained with mandatory injections of drugs, there had been very little to cut down on. Except maybe start recycling what was left from the dead.

Gripping a battered copy of Marry Shelley's The Modern Prometheus in his badly stitched three-fingered hand, Sparepart lumbered on, limbs creaking, wobbling.

Sparepart knew his official designation was Experiment 0003. He had no idea who the other two attempts might have been, but he was the first working example of a man built entirely from human leftovers found on rusty, ice-crusted shelves of warehouses and factories.

If he proved successful, they told him, there'd be virtually no expense in financing the next generation of workers.

So they had told him.

He did not like it.

Sparepart glanced up at the towering metal spires, rising high through the red and pink smog, becoming life bubbles, where the rich sat, above the heavy layer of toxins. In a way, Sparepart pitied them. They never got to taste the air, the rotten eggs and plants. Sulfur and ozone.

All around, chimneys from power plants, refineries and mills belched more and more poison, struggling to keep up with the demand, drawing the last ounce of mineral from the hard, almost dead soil, vomiting toxic miracles just so that the rich could enjoy one more hour of light when the darkness set, one more heated night.

And for what?

Sparepart did not understand why anyone would bother. It was not like there was hope. The planet would not suddenly gush in greenery like it used to be nine hundred years ago. Those days were gone, and they were not coming back.

Yet, life slimed by, and the humans toiled and toiled.

Sparepart moved through the filthy streets of Mech, past rusty houses and shops, past abandoned machineries that housed families now, his pair of legs not quite identical in length and shoe size making the best use of pockmarked roads that had seen no cars in centuries, stepping into acid-filled pot holes and cracks, watching his slightly disfigured shape reflect in brilliant shiny vomit orange and placenta pinks.

Not a pretty sight, but luckily, he just had one eye to see it all.

One ear, because that was enough to hear and respond to instructions from work supervisors, one lung, because two would be a waste of good material. Except for his limbs, he was mostly down to one organ where nature normally intended two. That was called efficiency in managerial circles.

He lumbered past other humans, who watched him with a wary, mistrusting eyes of their own. Not that you could see the eyes behind the midnight-black goggles.

Poor humans. They had to cover their faces and skin for protection from UV radiation. They had to use respirators so their throats would not burn. They had to dress in thick clothes, because the permanent storm made it bitter cold.

Sparepart had no such worries. His skin blistered and flaked, but he could not feel it, because they hadn't given him any pain receptors. His one eye would gradually lose sight, but not before his kidney or liver ceased functioning. Most of the organs were synthesized anyway, made from pig and plastic and nanotubes.

Our ancestors wanted a green world, he mused. Look at me now. I'm the perfect example of their dreams and aspirations. 100% recyclable - and reused - human.

Almost.

His anger was genuine, pure, and it hadn't been put there by the technicians.

Earthana erstwhile employees watched his naked form totter past, his bio-liquids sloshing in their containers attached to his back. He had all kinds of fluids there, to keep his limbs from rotting, to slow down the effect of radiation, to make him workable and limber and useful for several months until he wore out.

They had invested so much hope in him. Should the experiment work out as planned, there would be no more need for breeding. Or it might be reduced to marginal numbers. Why waste resources of raising children for six or seven years before pressing them into the workforce, when you could grow adults from items on a shelf? It all made perfect sense.

Maybe the mayor would get a promotion after this.

Sparepart looked up, at the rich men's spires, blurring away into the brilliant pollution.

Everything had a price.

The drugs mixed and splashed in rhythm with his legs. He liked the sound. It reminded him of his design, his purpose.

And of his anger.

He walked past corpses awaiting collection by the technicians. Most were mangled, ruined things, but there was always something you could salvage. The brain ought to be the most valuable thing, he figured, because it could not be easily remade in a factory.

There, a child. Most of its organs must be fine. An older man with a missing limb. Well, perhaps his intestines or eyes could be installed in two other future workers. Sparepart walked and stared. He did not see wasted life but rather an abundance of opportunities.

Soon enough, a shadow obscured his path. A giant tower of brushed steel rose, covered in rust. From afar, it was an elegant spire, with curved limbs, a proud achievement of the human race in their struggle against nature and its own neglect. Up close, you could see ragged welding lines, where hot metal had dripped casually, scars from machinery and the elements, jagged edges, dents, sharp holes.

An abundance of opportunities.

Ignoring people around him, he put the old book in his mouth, laid his fingers onto the nearest ledge, and pulled. He pushed his two toes of each leg into narrow gaps between bent plates of metal, and began climbing. There was blood leaking down the rust face, but he did not care. He could not feel it.

No one commented as he rose above their hunched, diseased forms. They just watched stupidly, unable to comprehend his deeds, his motives. Above the layer of pollution, the rich lived. Everyone else tried to survive on the surface of the planet. It was as simple as that. Why this naked man would be climbing defied their logic.

In his former life, Sparepart would most likely have joined them in their silent, apathetic protest. Not anymore. With his life reduced to a bunch of numbers on someone's productivity chart, all he had left was clear, fresh anger.

They hadn't just stitched and glued him up into a new life. They had accidentally given him resolve.

Three fingers on each hand wasn't much for climbing, but he had drugs sustaining his polymer muscles. There would be no pain, no exhaustion. He was built to perform at the peak of his capacity.

Slowly, carefully, tenaciously, Sparepart hunted for crevices and thorns of metal, using them to propel himself higher. The wall became steeper as the tower buttresses narrowed down. But higher up, there was even more wear on the old steel. Sheets of rust peeled off like skin. He jabbed his toes into footholds, buried his fingers between groaning plates, scratched at rivets and screws, held on to shavings and filings and notches in the metal. The wind lashed at him, the sun glared through the haze of lethal colors, but he endured them all with a tight, toothless smile, and continued upwards.

Hours later, he couldn't see the ground anymore. It was lost in a sea of pink and purple. Above him, the sky was no longer silver. It had a bluish sheen, and the sun was beating with a yellow hue almost true to its name. The moon was there too, and some of the stars, something he had only seen in the propaganda messages. Clouds scudded past, beautiful and deadly, all of them man made.

However, Sparepart was more interested in the large sphere of glass at the top of the spire.

As far as he could see, hundreds of towers rose into identical objects, each one a home to this or that family. Privileged, rich people, who had gardens and medicines, swimming pools, clean air, and other perks of the past.

Their wealth and status decided their share inside the spheres. Lesser government officials and company managers lived a hundred to a sphere. Company managers enjoyed more space, with perhaps a dozen other colleagues and their families inhabiting their tower. Somewhere to the north, a hundred kilometers away, the president of Earthana had his own giant bubble, all to himself.

And here, the mayor of Mech lived and slept.

With his wife and his daughter.

Sparepart stopped climbing as he saw one of the copter ferries wobble out of a bubble hangar and glide toward its destination, pushing sideways into the strong winds. You couldn't hear the engines over the roar of unbreathable air singing around the metal structure.

He watched carefully, pressed against the icy steel. No one would consider searching for life on these spires, he knew, but there was no reason to tease their eyes with movement. He waited, and blessed be technology, he could wait.

In the past, there used to be armed guards protecting the rich people's homes. But over time, the need had vanished. The last riot had happened in 2966. Humans no longer had any desire to fight the reality, and the rich lived too far above their heads to even bother.

Gods of Olympus, looking down at their creations.

The cameras were gone, eroded by the wind and dust and sleet. Barbed wire, electrical fences, flying patrols of armed helicopters, drones and motion sensors, they had all been gradually phased out as humanity lost resolve. Precious materials could be invested elsewhere, to help heat and feed the rich, rather than waste time protecting against nonexistent threats.

They had been right, for the most part.

Until now.

He resumed climbing.

Soon, he reached the bottom of the sphere. Thick glass, with metal struts and supports holding each pane tightly shut, with the interior hermetically sealed from any exposure. The lower levels of the bubble held all the necessary underpinning of a rich man's home. Water, feces, filtered air, and steam rushed through a maze of cylinders and pipes and tubes. You couldn't really guess what was happening inside the machinery, but you knew it was working, living, beating. Like the insides of a man. You had all that red mess inside every human, functioning to a tune of a higher biological magic, but in the end, it made sense, like the sphere's innards.

Holding on to the tower's scarred face with one hand, Sparepart reached behind him and yanked a container of acid free of its human-tissue socket. Skin and muscles pulled with a wet noise, and a scattering of red pearls dashed toward the ground, blood turning to ice pellets within seconds.

He had just ruined his digestive tract, Sparepart knew, but it did not matter.

He stared at the transparent liquid inside its vessel. This was his months' worth of artificial gastric acid, highly concentrated, and fed into his artificial stomach through a drip needle. Then, he thought briefly of the torn patch of muscle on his back, and almost imagined the tingle of pain that any normal human would feel. It was all blistered and frozen already.

Who cares.

He smashed the acid container against the sphere's glass.

The protective shield was built to withstand the violent weather. It wasn't designed to fight the pinnacle of recent human engineering. The glass hissed, warped, misted, bubbled, melted.

The hole was big enough for a naked human to slither through.

He was inside the sphere.

There was no alarm. The machinery continued pumping and sucking and buzzing, but there was already condensation beading on shiny metal surfaces.

Moving up, he stepped past old toolboxes, left by the human engineers and technicians who were occasionally brought in for repairs. They must have been killed afterward, so they couldn't bring dissent and wonder back to the surface. Not that it mattered. No one had any sympathy left in their worn souls anymore.

Sparepart did have, though.

He heard movement, and then saw one of the environmental drones glide forward, trying to inspect the machinery. A dumb thing, it paid him no heed, and it kept bumping into his foot, trying to get to the far corner of the sphere's lowermost platform, to get a new reading.

Sparepart moved his misshapen leg and let the robot hiss past. Somewhere, someone would get a report, and they would dispatch a repair team. It would take several hours, much more than he needed.

He spat the book into his hand, and went toward the perforated staircase leading up to the next level. A rubber-lined door slid open automatically, and he stepped through into a small compartment, the door hissing closed. A wall of compressed air blasted the cramped capsule, and the external atmosphere was purged. There was another door in front of him, with a manual latch.

He waited for the safety light to turn off and turned the handle. The actuators moved the thick metal plate aside, and Sparepart stepped into a different world.

Opulence led him toward his objective.

He had never before felt grass under his feet, and the sensation was strange. Devoid of pain, he barely registered the tickle of tiny green blades on his rough, irradiated skin. But through the hardened calluses and sores and scabs and blisters, he felt as if someone had hammered a living lighting up his leg. It was exhilarating.

What did the ancestors called this? A garden? He crossed the lush patch, wondering how it would smell if he had a nose and nostrils, memories of things he had read in books flickering in his head, foreign thoughts mingling with the bleakness of his existence.

Several levels up, the sphere was wide, with trees growing through cuts in the metal flooring, with projectors and speakers trying to create sights and sounds of nature the humans had only seen and heard in ancient archive videos.

The massive living space was empty. The mayor and his family were elsewhere.

Sparepart kept on searching.

The next chamber did not have a door. It was a triangular room, flush against a section of the pane, bright sunlight striping the inside. There were more toys of every size and shape on the floor, the chairs, the bed. A small shape sat on the giant mattress, holding something in its hands.

Sparepart paused.

He had planned this differently, but now, his mind raced.

Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change, he remembered reading.

"Hello," he said, his voice strange, even to his his one polymer ear.

The girl raised her head, and her eyes went wide. Surprised, but unafraid.

Why should she be afraid? Whatever was there in her life to cause her fear?

"Wow. Who are you!"

Sparepart was astonished by her perfection. Clean, pink skin without any blemishes or scars, clear eyes, long, lustrous hair. She had all ten fingers. She looked like an image from a book, a magical thing.

"I am Sparepart," he rasped in his best voice.

"I'm Letitia. Are you my present?" the girl asked.

Sparepart would have blinked, if he had any eyelids. "Pardon me?"

"Daddy promised me a big present for New Year's. Are you my present?"

New Year. Yes, the rich people celebrated the advance of integers on timekeeping boards, he recalled. A memory of ancient times, when Earth had still had seasons, and months meant something. A time when people had still worshiped spiritual beings.

Before humanity had lost all hope.

What did they use to call it? There was & Christmas, was it?

"Yes, I'm your present," he said at length.

"Are you a machine?" Letitia asked, head askance.

"In a way," he admitted.

"Why do you have only one eye?" she blurted, pointing.

"I don't need any more," he smiled dryly, lipless mouth stretching.

"So what do you do?" the girl pressed.

"Do?"

"Do you sing? Or dance?"

Sparepart stepped closer. "Not quite. But I have other skills."

"Like what?"

"I'm indestructible," he said.

"Like the sphere?" Letitia slid off the bed and approached him.

"Yes, like the sphere." He heard a noise, and he thought it was the mayor, but it was just a small drone rolling past. One of the household cleaners or such. "Where are your parents?"

A small hand pointed to the level above. "Sleeping."

"And why are you not sleeping?"

Letitia shrugged. "I had a bad dream."

"What about?"

"There was a monster."

"And..."

"And I woke up."

Sparepart remembered reading a book about a child who'd go to his parents' bed, whenever he'd have a nightmare. Nowadays, most people barely dreamed, their brains drenched in drugs that kept fatigue to a minimum, so they could work more hours.

"So why didn't you go to them?"

The girl shrugged again. "Daddy says leaders must not show emotions. Leaders cannot be afraid."

Sparepart put a hand on the girl's shoulder. Oh, they should be afraid. They should.

"You're cold!" Letitia squirmed away.

"It is okay to be afraid," he whispered, not sure if the words were intended for the girl, or himself. Or the mayor, who slumbered in his own, sheltered world, oblivious of the intruder.

She squirmed. "Do you want to play?"

The sudden change was startling. But then, he had never met a child her age who hadn't already fought and killed to survive, or spent the last year or two holed in some manufacturing plant, pushing buttons and levers, or turning gears and keys. Children, he remembered reading, used to play once.

This girl had done him no injustice.

This girl was innocence reincarnate.

But she was, just like him, a product of the cruel world.

"Yes, we will play," he said. "But not here."

"Where?" she asked, a grin lighting up her beautiful face.

"Outside." He pointed.

She frowned at the bright, toxic world. "Daddy says it is dangerous out there."

Sparepart touched his chest. "But I come from outside."

"Really?"

"Yes. Come." He extended his three-fingered hand.

She hesitated, squirmed again. One small shoulder jerked up. "I don't know."

"I can teach you how to fly," Sparepart said, looking into the copper-hued swirls of toxic wind and cloud outside the smooth, heavy glass. He could see several copters converging toward the sphere. Technicians, most likely, sent to investigate the anomaly in the sensors readings inside the mayor's sky home. They would take a while flying in, fighting the storm.

Letitia brightened. "Really?"

He smiled again. "Yes. But we can't do it here."

She hesitated.

"I am your present, remember."

Hesitation.

"You can trust me."

Hesitation.

He lowered his hand. Sparepart made his joints fold down, so he could kneel in front of the girl. "We will be friends."

"Friends?"

"Do you know what friends are?

She nodded.

"Yes. Let us play, Letitia."

"What's out there?" she asked, her tone tinged with curiosity.

"It's a big world. Huge. With millions of people."

"People like you?" Letitia was staring at his stitches, he noticed.

None quite like me. "All kinds."

She was silent, pondering.

"Can I take Vic with me?"

"What is Vic?"

She walked away and lifted one of the soft toys off the floor; to Sparepart, it looked just like any other bag of plastic and nylon. "This is Vic," Letitia declared cheerfully. "He is my friend. Daddy won't let me play with other children until I'm older, so I have Vic to play with me."

Sparepart stood up. "Of course, he can join us." The copters would be docking in soon.

"Will you teach Vic how to fly, too?"

"Yes." He extended his hand again, and this time, she touched a tiny, warm finger to his own. Just before he stepped out of the room, he turned and tossed the old, frayed, acid-eaten book onto the bed.

They started descending, platform after platform, the girl watching him with childish excitement and wonder. He stared back, smiling softly.

There was no pride in what he planned, but his organs were set to fail all too soon. In a way, the finality did not bother him. But the fact they hadn't even given him a proper, human heart maddened him.

It wasn't even organic. It was just a can with several valves and a timer, counting down to zero.

My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine, he remembered reading.

I ought to be happy that I have my brain, my memories.

But what about my humanity?

They finally reached the pressure cabin. They stepped into it, and the door to the sphere's rich interior slid close. The safety light turned bright orange. The air pressure built up.

Sparepart glanced down at the girl. "Are you ready, Letitia?"

She nodded. Her tiny hand clutched Vic tighter.

"Let's fly then." He swiveled the big latch on the second door.

A blast of icy air slapped them, and in her shock, Letitia clutched his leg tightly.

Limping from his uneven anatomy and the weight of the girl, he led Letitia into his reality.


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