Borrowed Time

From the Story Arc: Ghost in the System

(posted Tuesday, November 01, 2005)

Khrushchev awoke to the blackness enveloping his bedroom, sheets and shirt soaked through with cold sweat, body trembling. He drew the back of his right hand across his forehead, wiping away some of the beads of sweat, while breathing deeply and steadily to control the trembling. The air scratched his throat, scratched and raw from his rapid, terrified breathing in his sleep. When he regained control of his still weak from terror body, he rose from his bed and propelled himself toward the bathroom, steel knee brace groaning with every step.

Carefully shedding his clothes, he entered the shower and turned on the water, relaxing under the warm flow. He emerged a short time later, cleansed of the horrors of his dreams, and dried himself with a towel. Looking up, he saw his reflection in the mirror above his bathroom sink. He stared back at himself, stubble growing on his shallow cheeks, a man obviously being consumed by nightmares… of his disease. He quickly turned away before the memories could come tearing back into his mind.

As he dressed, again moving carefully so as to avoid ripping his clothes on the metal contraptions that held the primary joints on the left side of his body together. The bones that had been drilled through to secure them ached maddeningly, as they did virtually all the time of late. He had tried to relieve the ache with painkillers in the past, but had quickly built up a resistance to most of them, and the only one that worked consistently had turned him into an addict within the space of a month. Breaking the addiction had been hell, especially considering that he had been only twelve at the time.

A car honked its horn as it passed on the street outside Khrushchev’s second story apartment window. Grimacing, he moved over to the window, pulled up the blackout shade that prevented all but the weakest of light from entering the room, and looked outside.

The dark of the night was held back by the sickly yellow glow of the streetlights and the occasional set of car headlights. A good number of pedestrians were out on the sidewalks, looking wearily down at the ground and not exchanging more than a few words in conversation.

It must be time for the graveyard shift, he thought, pulling the shade back down and plunging the room back into darkness.

Khrushchev leaned back in his chair, a smile creasing his face and a half-empty bottle of whiskey in his hand. He read the document displayed on his monitor once again and laughed. It was a hoarse sound, with a malicious joy in it that would have nauseated any normal person within earshot, had there been one. He raised the bottle slightly toward the monitor in a sort of salute, and then tilted it back and took a large drag of its contents, coughing spasmodically after swallowing.

“What the….?” his words slurred under his heavy breath. That was the last he spoke…two hits to the back of his head and he was out.

Time passes.

Khrushchev had awoken several hours later his head felt like it had been hit hard on something. After all the vibrant and colorful, swirling lights stopped, and lay unconscious on a rock ledge, bleeding from the edge of his mouth...

The head injury was serious, and there was nothing Khrushchev could do he couldn’t move in was living in a half waken half dream world. But even if he woke, what side affects would come from bumping his head? Would he wake up, unable to move? Would he wake up without his memory? Or would he be as lucky have neither, just a very sore head.

Around early evening he finally stopped searching, and sank to the ground in depression. He shivered briefly as the sensation of thousands of tiny crawling feet creeping over his skin, and bit back a cry of disgust. It didn't hurt, but neither did it feel particularly pleasant.

Khrushchev continued to drift into an uneasy sleep, curled up on the cold metal floor. Just as he’d be about to drift off, he'd have the sudden sensation of something crawling over his cheek or the back of his neck. Yet when he’d jolt awake, nothing would be there. Maddening.

Another hour passed as he'd lie in pain on the floor, sweating, shivering, and occasionally twitching involuntarily, before he’d finally drift off again. It was pitch black and he couldn't see worth anything. He touched his chest, and it clanked, like metal.

What felt like only a day had been actually a week that had past since he last fell asleep. The next morning when faint sunlight dimly penetrated the fog of the dark room, as the small particles of dust danced in the sunbeams Khrushchev’s eyes finally began to open, sweating, feverish, and shivering, without the strength or desire to rise.

(Excerpt from the Paragon Times, October 14, 2005 page A-1)

How will the world react to mankind's first Cyborg?

Crey Industries announced yesterday that they had begun updating the world's first Cyborg with human emotions. The Cyborg body, developed by Crey engineers, is the housing of the brain of Mr. Khrushchev Rostov, a Ukrainian steel worker from Kiev. Suffering from various forms of cancer Mr. Rostov had little of no chance of enduring a normal life. While his mind is still functional and his will is still strong, his ailing and nearly crippled body has left him with out work an unable to support himself. After years of living at Kiev’s largest hospital going through numerous life saving procedures it was determined that there was little left that could be done, to help save Mr. Rostov’s life. One of the nurses watching over Mr. Rostov explained his situation as grim. “All these bags, all these tubes are a constant source of pain reducers…what he must be going through is sheer un-human pain. He lays there and whispers to us… and I can see tears fall down his cheeks. This poor man needs to stop suffering he needs to be with God.

"With essentially no ties to this world…no family…no friends; he was a perfect candidate. We basically came in and said 'We can cure you', and he said to go ahead with the whole thing," said Crey Industries own lead engineer Frank Davis, the designer of the Cyborg. "Mr. Rostov listened halfway through the pitch and had a smile from ear to ear. It was the first time he had been happy in some time."

Not only was Crey Industries willing to donate, but it also invested a combined total of thirteen billion dollars in its further development. Says Chief Technology Officer William Phelps "We believe the advancement of human-enhancing sciences is a worthwhile investment. If it were not for the generous donations given to us Mr. Davis, Khrushchev would not be alive today."

The operation was undergone on the third of October. "The tough part was the brain," said head surgeon Pierre Poullan. According to Crey representatives, an estimated $200 million dollars was spent on the five minutes alone it took to transfer Khrushchev’s brain into the mechanical frame. "It took about seventeen hours to successfully transfer and connect Mr. Rostov’s brain to his frame," said Poullan.

The frame, which cost an estimated four billion dollars in money and over five million dollars in the designing process, has been specially designed with enhanced limbs and body parts, essentially making Khrushchev a super-human. "Our donors have big hopes for Mr. Khrushchev," said Davis. Indeed they do. NASA and similar space agencies around the world have already lined up appointments and tests for Khrushchev’s new body to see how far it could go in space travel. "This is incredibly big news in the astronautical field," said NASA chairman Bob Sykes, "If Mr. Rostov’s body is what Crey says it is, well... it could mean a new way of thinking about how to travel into space."

The US Military also has high expectations. Says General Harper: "We are dealing with a new kind of soldier. If Cyborgs can be built en masse and transported into battle, they could easily turn the tide of any battle." Government officials have already ordered Crey to conceal the design specifications for Khrushchev’s frame and are taking steps to prevent Cyborgs from falling into terrorist hands. "It's a big worry in the Pentagon. If some rogue terrorist network began producing Cyborgs, they could very well take a small country hostage," said Harper.

Khrushchev’s frame also includes a computer port, which allows him to operate computers liberally. "It's like having another muscle," said Davis, "You can bend your arm. I can lift my leg. Mr. Khrushchev can surf the internet. As long as Mr. Rostov can transfer his electrical brain signals to the computer, it's like having another body part." For this reason internet security specialists are hoping to produce web-surfing Cyborg policemen to catch hackers and make web sites more secure. The US Military, however, does not share the excitement. "Who knows how much a Cyborg can control on the internet? If a rogue Cyborg stormed an urban town, he could very well hold the entire country hostage." Other opposers to the operation fear the character of Khrushchev, who they say could be a dangerous man if given powers above his own. Despite the opposition, Crey continues to improve on Cyborg connectivity, and is even beginning to make additional enhancements. "We're hoping we can advance the technology even further by the end of the year," said Davis.

This in mind, we must as humans ask ourselves a question: Can we allow Cyborgs in our midst? The world may never know.

To be continued…