Double dipping again, this time with the Storytime Blog Hop, and a great bunch of Speculative Fiction Writers from Holly Lisle’s Writing Classes.
“What about the ethical implications?” The old journalist glanced at her notebook, shifted her weight, and smothered an impulse to look at the boy, instead of the crippled man. Looking at Williams was difficult. Always had been. Tubes, wires, atrophy. The impossible angle of his permanently crooked neck, and now this. “To put it delicately, the ethical implications are…”
“What ethical implications?” The scientist’s words were jarring in the young boy’s voice. “There are no ethical implications. It’s not a person. It never has been.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Then, what is he?”
“Legally? It’s a very large mass of cells. The neural connectors were implanted before you could differentiate organs, not just before the law recognizes personhood. I assure you, there’s no gray area, whatsoever.” The boy shrugged, and wiped a thick strand of spittle from Williams’ chin. “Why go back and rehash questions that were settled two hundred years ago?”
She wasn’t prepared. She wasn’t even dressed.
The biggest story of your career, his secretary said. Come as you are, and meet him in fifteen minutes.
Her eyes strayed again—the boy was so young, just eleven or twelve, and solemn.
“Go ahead and look at it.” Williams’ face and mouth were as immobile as ever. The boy moved forward to be inspected. “I’m proud of my invention. A lot prettier than this old carcass, isn’t it?”
Her silence wasn’t tact. She was still staring at the boy, still looking for some hint of autonomy. He was clean, of course. Neatly groomed. Dressed in slacks and a vest. And he was flesh and blood. “He looks like a little boy,” she said. When she stood up, the boy wasn’t taller than her shoulder, and his hair was cropped close to his skull. “There are no scars.”
“Of course not.” The scientist’s amusement rippled through the boy’s voice. “There was no surgery. The brain and skull developed around the device.”
“So, he does have a brain.”
“In some form.” A sage nod from the boy. “Obviously, the autonomic nervous system is the same. I control its motor function with magnified brain waves, and the device transmits back a very rudimentary version of sensory input. It’s an assistive device, like my wheelchair.”
She didn’t understand the details that made such a thing possible. Maybe she wasn’t capable of understanding. She wasn’t a scientist, herself, and maybe that was why Williams chose her. “What do you call him?” she asked.
“A Bioautomaton. That’s what we wrote on the patent.”
She decided to focus on the human element. “He doesn’t have a name?”
“Not officially. My lab assistants call it William, when they think I’m not listening. Some of them like to talk to it. Tell it secrets.” The smile that twisted the boy’s mouth was Professor Williams’ smile. She recognized the cynicism from years earlier, when the man’s mouth still moved. “One of them insists on reading it stories, when she puts it to bed.”
She caught a thread of understanding, and pulled. “And you can hear those stories?”
“If I’m within range. Otherwise, she’s wasting her time.”
“Let’s get back on track, then.” She took a final glance at the Bioautomaton, to be sure it was truly indistinguishable from any other twelve-year-old child, and sat down. “Tell me about your invention. What all does it do?”
“It speaks for me, of course. You’ve been seeing that. I use it to perform self-care tasks, as well as professional, administrative work. Anything a personal attendant would usually do for me, and just about anything else I can think of. I can do those things for myself, now. With the automaton, my typing speed is back up to sixty, seventy words a minute, and I’m more productive than ever.”
She made notes. That much was automatic. She used it to buy herself time to think. “And the mother? How does she feel about that?”
The Bioautomaton shrugged. “The surrogate relinquished any interest she might have had in the product in exchange for a generous fee.” Professor Williams’ words, again. She couldn’t identify any expression or movement that belonged to the boy alone. The boy’s lips twitched. “She’s—“ A short in the connection, maybe. And then, again, more fluidly, “She’s well taken care of.”
“People are going to call it human experimentation. They’re going to call it immoral. They’ll want to know what made a mother sell her son for experiments.” She sat back, and watched; the man in the wheelchair did nothing; the boy’s back stiffened, and his right arm jerked, as if Williams had forgotten the exact signal to send, after years without his own muscles. “I’m going to have to tell them something. Because that’s the story.”
“The story is technology.” The boy’s voice rose with shrill rage, and the full force of a man’s will. Oh, yes. She remembered Williams’ temper. “It’s about what Bioautomatons can do for society. For science. For the paralyzed and crippled. It’s the kind of miracle transplants were, centuries ago.”
“You call that science?” She couldn’t look at the boy; she couldn’t look at the man. She grabbed her bag, and got up. “It’s slavery.”
“Go, then! I’ll find another reporter. It’s not hard. Finding you only took a phone call.”
“Don’t think I didn’t get my story.” She turned her back on both of them, and raced for the door. She had a deadline. She had the story of a lifetime. Mind control. Zombies. The readers would be rioting in the streets before Williams next reporter got the call.
She looked back—she wanted one last glimpse from the pinnacle of her career—and froze.
Williams—even though he hadn’t spoken a word in two decades—was red in the face, as if he had been shouting with his own voice, his own lungs.
And the boy… the Bioautomaton… smiled.
Hope you enjoyed it! Tell me what you think, and don’t forget to visit all my brilliant friends:
Katharina Gerlach Wet Kisses
Marie Lee Grandpa
Barbara Lund Changing Space
Juneta Key Instinct
Elizabeth McCleary Window
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