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‘The international cyborgs’ convention?’ The Doctor was about to hand the paper back when an idea crossed his mind. He turned to the front page and examined the masthead in detail.
‘What are you doing?’ Martha regarded him with amusement.
‘Checking the date. After all, the Guardian is notorious for its April Fool’s Day editions.’
‘And its typos,’she chuckled. ‘It’s not April Fool’s Day.’ She handed him her phone and he glanced at the screen. ‘It’s really a thing …’
‘They’ve got a website?’
‘Yeah – they call themselves “bodyhackers”.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Catchy.’ He carried on reading for a few moments.
‘They’re a mixture of people, by the looks of things,’ Martha continued. ‘Some of them have had surgical procedures. You know – like prosthetic limbs, that sort of thing. A few of them have augmented themselves, though.’
‘Augmented?’ The Doctor leant back in his chair and pondered for a while. ‘That’s one word for it.’
‘I’ll get some refills,’ she suggested brightly, and left him to read the website in detail.
When she returned a few minutes later, he looked up at her with a grave expression on his face.
‘There’s a world of difference between having a cochlear implant to let you hear, and having a chip embedded in your arm that lets you open doors.’ He handed the phone back to Martha and let her read the display for herself.
The Doctor had followed his nose through the internet and found an article about Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University. Prof. Warwick had been a leading proponent of cybernetics for many years, and – in the pioneer spirit characteristic of British scientists – had fitted himself with a number of microprocessors.
‘Oh, I’ve heard of this guy before. He doesn’t just open doors.’ She sounded quite enthusiastic about the idea. ‘Apparently he and his wife have had chips fitted so he knows when she’s thinking about him, and vice versa.’ Her face lit up. ‘How cool would that be?’
‘It would save a lot of missed calls, I suppose.’ He looked into her eyes for a moment, suddenly serious. ‘Your cousin …’
‘Adiola? Yeah – I know—’
‘That all started from experiments like this, remember.’
He became aware that a couple on the next table were eavesdropping on their conversation. He turned to them with a broad smile and pulled his psychic paper from his pocket.
‘Waterstones, Cardiff, Science Fiction Appreciation Society – fringe meeting.’ He put the card back and smiled again. ‘It’s only on occasions like this that the genre progresses beyond aliens and time machines’
He turned his attention back to Martha. ‘It’s a fine line between fiction and reality, after all,’ he said in a low voice.
She laughed. ‘If we’d written about all our adventures …’
‘Nobody would ever believe it – and we’d win a few awards for sheer audacity.’ He drained his mug in a single swallow.
‘Another one? Or do you want to go and …?’ She knew the answer before she’d phrased the question.
‘Texas, January next year? Why not? It’s got to be worth a look, hasn’t it?’
‘That’s what I was thinking. Pop along, check it out, make sure it’s nothing to worry about – back in the pub by teatime.’
‘Well, in not quite the words of my old pal Richard Rodgers, I’m just a guy who can’t say no.’
*
Hannah Reynolds eased herself into the comfortable armchair and looked into the eyes of the white-coated man sitting opposite.
She was in her early thirties, quite short and slightly chunky, with a vivid purple streak in her long black hair. Her arms and shoulders were covered in tattoos; some were expensive custom pieces, but the rest were messy DIY jobs perpetrated while drunk and/or stoned during her crazy teenage rampage.
Mike Harris scrolled through his laptop and pulled up the high definition photos of Hannah’s tattoos. As one of Wales’s leading cosmetic dermatologists, he’d been asked to repair the disfiguring damage of amateur body modifications on countless occasions. The NHS didn’t allow for this sort of treatment at taxpayers’ expense. Young single mothers like Hannah had little choice but to fork out for expensive laser removal, or bear the scars of their youthful indiscretions to the grave.
Mike had been drawn to Hannah’s case immediately it had crossed his desk. After their first meeting, he was certain that she’d be his ideal test subject. She was exceptionally attractive, and truly regretted the hours she’d spent being pierced, bored and screwed in the Valleys town she called home. Mike had spent a decade researching his revolutionary procedure in the laboratory, and now he was ready to take it to the next level – human trials. It had been given ethical approval, and Mike’s colleagues across the world were waiting for his preliminary results to be published. Hannah was healthy, intelligent, well-informed, and eager to sign up.
On any other occasion she would probably have ignored the small ad in Metro appealing for volunteers – but the money was good. Enrolling for an experimental technique and trousering a nice cheque at the end was better than scrimping pennies and submitting her epidermis to fifty-year-old technology, after all.
Mike leant forwards and took the clipboard from Hannah’s confident hands. She’d signed the consent form; there was nothing to stand in their way.
‘Now, Hannah, you do realise that this technique is still in its infancy.’ Despite their shared enthusiasm, Mike still had to observe strict professional protocol. ‘There might be side effects that neither of us can foresee.’
Hannah nodded. ‘Yes, I’ve read the literature. But let’s be honest – I could die in the dentist’s chair. If we didn’t take risks, Homo sapiens would still be living on the savannah because we were afraid of fire.’
‘I have to say, that’s exactly the sort of answer I was expecting from you.’ He scanned the form quickly and noticed that she’d left one box unticked. ‘You haven’t opted out of being identified in the published data. Do you want to mark that bit?’
Hannah sat up in the chair, pulled her sleeve down self-consciously to conceal the self-inflicted scar tissue, and shook her head firmly.
‘Mike, if you can get rid of these you won’t need to worry about my name appearing in the Lancet. I’ll be shouting from the rooftops.’
He laughed and countersigned the form with a reassuring smile.
‘Well, in that case, let’s get you booked in. I’m confident that in a couple of days’ time you’ll wake up feeling like a new woman.’
(To be continued …)
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