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HUMAN REMAINS  By George Athanasiou

When Bernard Fry’s time came, he was ready to go on his final journey. Flanked by his family: wife, children and grandchildren, he passed away peacefully in his sleep, an old man. As the world watched the funeral on their com-screens, a national holiday was declared. In the eyes of those left behind and those still to come Bernard Fry would live forever. Perhaps he would come again, because what Bernard Fry did, changed the world.

***

            “One day Mother, when I become rich, I’ll buy you a brand-new set of teeth and Father, I’ll buy you a brand-new leg,” Bernard said over breakfast. 

            “Prosthetic or real, son?” asked his dad.

            “Definitely real, Father. It’s amazing what they can do these days,” said Bernard. 

            “Who knows, we might be alive three hundred years from now,” said Mrs Fry.

            “You never know, Mother.” 

            “Have you heard the latest, Albert? They can stop ageing,” Mrs Fry said turning to her husband.

            “Yes, I know, Betty. It’s exiting, isn’t it?  Pity most people won’t be able to afford it, though,” said Mr Fry. 

            “We’re going for it, aren’t we, honey?” asked Mrs Fry. 

            “For sure! I want to be teaching as long as possible, darling. That way we can give our son the best of everything for a long time,” said Mr Fry. 

            “Well, if they can postpone the ageing process for as long as they’re saying, it’ll be for a very long time indeed, Albert,” Mrs Fry replied. 

            Organ transplants and limb replacements had been popular for many centuries. By the time Mr and Mrs Fry had celebrated their bicentenary, replacement organs and limbs for worn-out old ones grown in a laboratory were available.  This advancement was often referred to as the next great leap for humankind, but only the elite could afford these. Prosthetics was the way to go for most people including the Frys.  Organs could be bought on the black market too, but often they were substandard.  It wasn't too long before the Frys became almost completely prosthetic. When you’d been around for as long as they had that was inevitable but they had another reason. They wanted to keep their only son Bernard “human” for as long as possible. They wanted to have enough credit set aside for “spare parts” for when he needed replacements. In Bernard’s case the need for a very expensive spare part came around sooner than anyone had expected.

            “Bernard will wake up soon, Mr and Mrs Fry. We replaced his heart this morning. The new heart was grown from genetically modified stem cells tuned to your son’s DNA. It’ll need to be replaced in about two hundred years,” the nurse had told them at the hospital. 

            “Will he make a complete recovery, Nurse?”  asked Mrs Fry. 

            “Yes. He won’t even have a scar, and he won’t need any drugs. He’ll be as good as new,” said the nurse.

            Neo-San Francisco was still being rebuilt after “the big one.” The finishing touches were being added to the city. Bernard’s family couldn’t afford to pay the exorbitant rent. They had just spent a substantial part of their savings on the acquisition of the new heart for their son. The family lived an hour and a half outside the CBD. They had no problems paying the rent for much of the previous year because Mr. Fry had traded his left kidney for enough credits to keep them going. He didn’t have many real organs left to play with after that. All Mrs Fry had that really belonged to her was her left arm and brain that had been genetically engineered to last longer in the days when she could afford to pay for it in her life as a schoolteacher. The three of them lived in a three-room apartment on the tenth floor of a building nestled between rows of identical skyscrapers. She had met Mr Fry at school about 170 years before. Her memory had indeed held up very well. She had been all real then, “original" as they said. Mr Fry had taught at the same school and had swept her off her feet. Then they had Bernard. He was a perfect baby conceived in a laboratory to exacting specifications.       

 

            “What’ll it be? Mr and Mrs Fry, blue eyes, blonde hair, high intelligence perhaps?” asked the genome consultant. 

            “Yes, of course. I teach Neo Chinese and English at school and I love poetry. I hope our son will grow up to be a writer,” said Mrs Fry.

              “I teach Science and Social History. Perhaps he could be a teacher?” said Mr Fry. 

            “For a thousand more credits we’ll eliminate all possible genetic defects like myopia, glaucoma, cardiovascular disease and throw in a ninety-five percent chance that your son will become a Neo-Pulitzer Prize winner free of charge,” added the consultant. 

            “I’d give an arm and a leg for that,” said Mr Fry.

            Bernard did become a writer. He wasn’t very popular at first, but he had a small following. He sat at his desk before his personal com-screen in a warm sun-lit room, contemplating his next piece of work. He saw his writing appear on the virtual page as he spoke the words that he was scribbling into an old notebook using a ballpoint pen, a primitive instrument that had been relegated to antiquity especially when you consider that he was living in the midst of the tactile computer age. No manual input devices anymore. Speech and hand gestures operated the sorts of devices that were the norm by the fifth century after the solar burn. In his time, the conventional word processor, too, had become a museum piece, replaced by a sort of multi-purpose teaching machine.                    

            The story he really wanted to speak about was his own, but he did not know where to begin.

            "We are the sum of our experiences,” he said.                                                                      As long as his family’s credit line never dried up, his life would continue. The “human” experiences would go on. Real limbs would replace real limbs. Real organs would replace real organs over and over. But Bernard Fry was worried. Although he began life as a child who grew to become a man, he was destined to become a robot and go the way of his parents. The money would eventually run out. 

            But Bernard hadn’t expected what was about to happen to him and his family next. But it did happen. Bernard, in his own little way, changed the world and the fate of his family forever. 

            Bernard saw the future of the human race.  He sensed what was coming. As a teenager, he read an obscure book by one Mary Shelley called Frankenstein. Few had ever heard of her or seen a copy of the book anywhere. All that was known about the author was that she died over two thousand years before the burn. One of the few known copies of the work had lain forgotten, gathering dust in his father’s book collection. Inspired by the book, Bernard took it upon himself to find a way to reverse the kind of future it alluded to. The trouble was that that future was now and Bernard was a part of it. It was a true story, he thought. The book’s premise, that you could build a man from spare parts, was what the world had accepted as the norm. Through Shelley’s book Bernard saw a better world. He did not want to live in a world surrounded by monsters made up of spare parts cobbled together with electronics and steel, for the sake of longevity. 

            It was then, Bernard Fry realised that he had never really “lived” his life. He had merely glimpsed it. He didn’t really know what it meant to be human. The trouble was very few people did. He knew what he had to do. Bernard Fry had to die a natural death. He turned his back on prosthetics, organ and limb replacements. He announced his intentions to the world via com-link. He read more widely, wrote more poetry, sailed around the solar system, gave speeches, played anti- gravity golf and left home to get married. The wedding had been attended by a plethora of ‘hybrids and ‘fleshies.’  

            “One day I will grow old and my organs will eventually fail. I will experience death, too, but I will live my life to the fullest while I can, together with my wife, Amy,” he had told the guests at the reception. He even got his very own fan club and com-screen holographic channel. Meanwhile advertising endorsement requests kept coming. His family was treated like royalty. He received the Neo-Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the Neo-Nobel prize for Peace. There was even a movement to elect him to the World Congress. Bernard became a very wealthy celebrity.

            “It is a great honour for me to receive the Neo Nobel Prize. Over many years,  my parents had sacrificed life and limb to afford me the life that I have now. I am sure many others have done the same, but I do not recognise my parents as human anymore. They have sacrificed their humanity to keep me human. Others have sacrificed theirs to keep you alive. Follow me. We must restore our humanity or we will perish!” He told the large gathering at the awards ceremony. It was there Bernard Fry made his big announcement. He announced the first legal reprinting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in more than one hundred years.                                                                         He also started a foundation that gave everyone the choice of becoming completely human again. There was a catch though, under the program there were to be no more human or prosthetic upgrades. The first people to take up Bernard’s offer were his parents, who returned to teaching. Bernard’s family were proud of him and all that he stood for.  Many others saw Bernard as the saviour of humankind. Death by attrition was gaining a cult following. Like him, many people rejected prosthetics; others turned their backs on organic parts, too. They craved to experience death, because to die of natural causes was part of being human. Some of those who listened to Bernard’s message even found God. 

            “We have tried to put ourselves among the Gods, but in doing so we have almost lost our humanity. Everything lives and everything dies. Perhaps death is not the end,” he told them at his parent’s funeral. 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein became the biggest selling book of all time.

***

            A voice rang out that seemed to come from within the prosthetic’s positronic brain.                        “The Bernard Fry Holo-space Memorial Center will be shutting down in ten minutes. Would all patrons kindly unplug themselves and remove their helmets. The Centre will re-open tomorrow at 9a.m and you can “feel’ human once again in our state-of-the-art virtual theme park.”

            “Wouldn’t it be nice to be human, Dad?” P75X said.

            “We just might have been once, son. Tomorrow we’ll go to the zoo and you can see them for yourself, the last of the Frys…”

            “You mean the ones in the glass cages?”

            “Yes. They used to be called human…”

 



 


 
 

 

 

  


 



 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
 

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