An Exclusive Excerpt from Max Barry's New Cyborg Novel, Machine Man

Max Barry blew our minds with his dystopian future novel Jennifer Government, and now he's back with Machine Man, a cyborg novel that he premiered in a different form on his website last year. Darren Aronofsky is already attached to direct the movie version.

We've got an exclusive chapter from Machine Man, in which Barry delves into the weirdness of bionic culture. Are you ready for the cybernetic future?

We were excited by Max Barry's experimentation with online publishing, in which he posted a page a day from Machine Man and charged a subscription. Since he finished the story, he's revised it extensively, and he had his blog readers vote among six possible covers for the resulting book. And now the finished product is coming out next month. We can't wait!

Here's an exclusive look at chapter 7:

An Exclusive Excerpt from Max Barry's New Cyborg Novel, Machine Man

I READ ONCE THAT YOU NEED TWO THINGS TO BE HAPPY: ANY TWO OF health, money, and love. You can cover the absence of one with the other two. I drew comfort from this idea while I was fully bodied, employed, and unloved. It made me feel I wasn't missing much. But now I realized this was unmitigated bullshit, because health and money did not compare with love at all. I had a girl in a hospital bed who liked me and I didn't know where that might go but I could tell it was more important than low blood pressure. It mattered more than a new car. With Lola in the same building, I walked with a spring in my step. That was true literally. But I mean I was happy, happy on an axis I had previously known about only in theory. I was glad to be alive.


WHEN I REACHED THE GLASS ROOM I NOTICED A LOT OF Z- SPEC WEARING LAB ASSISTANTS. THEY WERE grinning. At first I thought they were pleased to see me but by the time I reached my desk I suspected they were playing some kind of joke. "Hello," I said to one, and she said hello and her lips stretched wider. I settled the Contours and poked on my computer. They hovered, eight or ten of them. When I couldn't stand it, I said, "What?"

"Notice anything different?" I realized this was Jason. I hadn't recognized him at first because the Z- specs occupied half his face. I wasn't used to identifying people by their lips. I looked from one set to another.

"No."

"Nothing at all?"

"No."

"Would you like us to take off our glasses?"

"Not really."

Someone stifled a giggle. "All right," I said. "Take them off."

They pulled off the specs. Underneath, they had no pupils. That's how it looked. "We can't," said Jason. There was laughter. "We're still wearing them."

I rose in the Contours. Closer up, I could see flat silver circles swimming in his pupils. Tiny silver floating suns.

"We miniaturized. Now they're lenses."

" Z- lenses," corrected a girl.

"Silicon and gel on flexible polycarbonate wafers," said Jason. "You don't use your eyebrows to control the zoom. You blink." His eyelids fluttered. His silver pupils swirled like mist.

"I see," I said.

"No, you don't." More laughs. "Not without Z- lenses. Not really."

I looked at their proud, smiling, pupilless faces. I was being less enthusiastic than they wanted. But it was weird.

"Okay," I said. "Good work."


I WORKED ON PARTS DURING THE DAY AND VISITED LOLA EVERY EVENING. SOMETIMES SHE SLEPT. MORE and more she was awake. She lay with hair exploding across her pillow and put her hand on my arm as we talked. She could laugh and tell stories but she tired quickly and it was always over too soon.

"I've never liked my ears," she said. "Look. They're way too high."

"Too high for what?"

"For . . ." She smiled, let go of her hair, and slapped my arm. In the setting sun, she looked very warm. "For looks."

"They look great." I touched her ear. I couldn't quite believe I was allowed to do this, but I was. I was. "Your helixes follow the golden ratio."

"That's good?"

"I can prove it mathematically."

"I wish you'd gone to my high school."

"Your ears are excellent," I said. "For biology."

"Ah." She nestled a little lower in the pillow, which meant it was almost time to go. "I suppose you could do better."

"Well . . ."

"Tell me."

"I don't know. No. I couldn't."

"You could, though."

"I like your biology," I said. "You have great biology."

"But . . ."

"Well, functionally . . ."

"Yes?"

"There are areas for improvement."

"Tell me some."

"Well . . ." I glanced at the mirror. It was hard to know how private we were.

"If you had to change something."

I hesitated. I touched her shoulder. "The clavicle. I guess that's obvious. It's not very strong. That goes for bones in general, relative to modern metals. We know how to do lightweight and strong a lot better than bones."

"I don't want to break." She probed her clavicle around my fingers. In the sunlight, her hand glowed red.

"Exactly."

"I like that you see past bodies," Lola said dreamily. "To . . . something else." She closed her eyes. I stayed awhile, her hand on mine, watching her breathe.


I MADE LAB 3 MY OWN SPACE, FORBIDDEN TO LAB ASSISTANTS. I COULDN'T CONCENTRATE WITH THEM around. They had always been loud and energetic, laughing at nothing, exclaiming over trivia like they were the first people in the world to synthesize a mated compound, but I had found this more tolerable before they had silver eyes. I began to dread walking into rooms, because of how they would look at me.

They offered to make me a pair of Z- lenses. I said I was busy. The truth was I didn't like Z- lenses. I should have. They were marvels. I might have built these. But I hadn't and that bothered me. I guess that sounds selfish. But I did not like technology I couldn't modify. I was not a user.

In Lab 3 I tinkered with the Contours, sifting through software, tightening code. For fun I drafted some arms. I was just playing around. I didn't plan on replacing my biological arms. Not right away. But the fact was I had artificial fingers and there was a limit to what you could do with those while they were attached to a biological arm. It was

the bottleneck problem again. So I dabbled. It was the best way to work: with no articular goal in mind. It allowed me to explore the most intriguing ideas, not the ones most likely to meet spec.

One of those kinds of ideas came to me in the elevator after leaving Lola. I rode down to Lab 3 and locked myself inside. I took out my ideas notepad and began to doodle. It was just a thought. I didn't know much about this area. I didn't know what was possible. But still, I liked it. The idea was to make Lola a heart.


LOLA MOVED TO A LIVE- IN SUITE IN THE UPPER SECTION OF BUILDING C. IT MEANT THAT TO REACH HER I had to leave one elevator and circumnavigate the atrium, passing by the lobby. As I clomped along, Contours pistoning, hooves clump- clumping on the carpet, heads turned. Mouths dropped. People in suits backed out of my way and people in white coats edged closer. They wanted to ask questions and tell me about related projects and ask if I would pose with them for photos. I didn't mind the attention but I was eager to see Lola and it slowed me down. So I found a back way, avoiding the high-traffic areas. Some of it was tiled and on my first step it splintered into a web of cracks. I hesitated. Then I continued.

"You should do a presentation," said Cassandra Cautery, leaning against the wall outside Lola's suite. She had been waiting for me. "Everyone's asking about you."

"Okay."

"I'll hold you to that." She laughed a little. I felt annoyed, because I didn't want to do a presentation. "How is everything? Are you happy?"

"Yes."

"I've seen a report on these, ah, these glasses."

" Z- lenses."

"They sound wonderful." She smiled. "I've never needed glasses myself. I've always had twenty/twenty vision. Just lucky."

" Z- lenses are better than twenty/twenty. They're about twenty/two." Cassandra Cautery looked confused. "Twenty/ twenty vision doesn't mean you have perfect eyesight. It's not twenty out of twenty. That's a misconception. It means you can see as well over twenty feet as an average human."

"I did not know that."

"If you have good eyesight, you might be twenty/eighteen. That is, you can see from twenty feet away what the average human can see from eighteen. Very good eyesight for a human is twenty/fifteen. Maybe twenty/twelve. But you'd need to be descended from a nomadic tribe." I eyed her blond hair. "I don't think you'd be twenty/twelve."

"Oh."

"Twenty/two is about the same as a hawk."

"Oh," she said. "Well."

"I'd like to see Lola," I said. "If that's okay."

Cassandra Cautery nodded. She seemed preoccupied. I left her in the corridor and went inside.


LOLA'S SUITE HAD A LITTLE TABLE. AT NIGHTS A NURSE WHEELED IN A TROLLEY AND UNCOVERED PASTA or slices of unidentifiable meat. It was not particularly good food but it was the best part of my day. I cut things with a blade installed in my machine fingers and Lola watched me do it. One night I reached for the salt but Lola had already moved it to her side of the table. I looked at her. She was drinking from her glass of water. "Salt," I said, but she just nodded and kept drinking. She drained half the glass. When she set it down, she picked up a napkin and dabbed her lips. She tapped salt into her soup and handed it to me. I stared. "What?" she said.

"Nothing. It's just . . . nothing."

"What?"

I put down the salt. "You locked the salt while performing an unrelated task."

She blinked. "You mean drinking?"

"Yes."

"You can't wait five seconds for salt?"

"I can. But salt is a shared resource. If you're going to lock it, you should use it as quickly as possible, then release it. You can't leave it locked while accepting an interrupt."

"I got thirsty."

"Then first return the salt to general availability."

"Just in case you happen to want salt in that five seconds?"

"Yes."

She stared at me. "Really?"

"Otherwise you compromise the system."

"What system?"

"The . . ." I waved my hands. "The system."

"There isn't any system."

"Everything is a system. Look." I leaned forward. "What if I had your water and I suddenly decided I wanted the salt? And instead of giving you back the water I just sat here waiting for you to release the salt, which you didn't because you were waiting for the water? It's a deadlock, that's what. It's catastrophic system failure. And you're probably thinking, ‘Well, I could just ask Charlie to give me the water in exchange for the salt.' But that requires you to understand my resource needs, and violate process encapsulation. It's a swamp. I'm not saying it's a big deal. I'm just pointing out that locking the salt like that is incredibly inefficient and systemically dangerous."

Lola snickered. "You're insane."

"I'm not insane. It's a fundamental principle. You're insane."

"Regular people don't bring fundamental principles to the dinner table."

"Well," I said.

We ate. "Explain that again," said Lola. "That stuff about locks."


LOLA BECAME WELL ENOUGH TO WALK AROUND. SHE HELD MY ARM AND SHUFFLED ALONG CORRIDORS IN her little cotton gown. We graduated from short strolls to circuits. The floor was almost empty but for plants in large gray pots. There was an area near the elevators where one wall was all glass and we gazed out across the Better Future lawn and watched the sun set. It occurred to me that I had never seen anyone visit. I asked if there was someone I should call. She rested her head against the side of my arm and said nothing for a while and then, "No."


THE NIGHT PAINS WORSENED. I COULDN'T SHAKE THEM. I WOKE TO BLINDING CRAMPS IN NONEXISTENT feet, the sensation of my legs curling back on themselves. I was still treating it by strapping on my old- model legs but it was no longer enough. I began to attach them before going to sleep. It was awkward and uncomfortable but better than fumbling with

straps in the dark while my amputated muscles screamed.

I decided to leave the Contours on for a night and see what happened. It was a good idea because I didn't like taking them off anyway. It was like becoming a cripple again, every night. I wasn't sure how I could lie down but I was forgetting that compared with them, my weight was practically zero. All I needed to do was hold on while they bent in two places and rotated the bucket seat. I couldn't roll over. That was awkward. But discomfort was not pain so it was a big improvement. Pretty soon I couldn't imagine ever taking off my legs again.


I ARRIVED IN THE LABS ONE MORNING AND THERE WAS A GIRL IN A WHITE COAT WITH EYES AS BLUE AS A Bunsen burner flame. I didn't put it together until I passed another girl with violet eyes and then a guy with emeralds. By the time I reached the Glass Room I was prepared. Sure enough, Jason's eyes glowed mahogany. "You colored the Z- lenses."

"It's only cosmetic." Jason wheeled his office chair closer. "But people like it. What do you think?"

"Does it interfere with function?"

He shook his head. "You just set the chip to filter a particular frequency."

"That sounds like extra complexity. Another potential point of failure."

"It's working pretty well."

"Never sacrifice function for appearance," I said. "It's poor engineering." But they did look nice.


I SET ALPHA TO WORK ON HORMONE REGULATION. BETA ON SENSORY ENHANCEMENT. GAMMA ON A bunch of things around arms. My ulterior motive was to deprive them of free time, to slow the progress of Z- lenses. It seemed to work. Then I got interested in them myself and realized I could make them shift into the nonvisible spectrum, so I could see infrared or ultraviolet. I didn't know how exactly this would be useful but I could see it could be done. I spent a few days hacking out a prototype, in glasses rather than lenses because the technology was the same but without the delays of miniaturization, and put them on. In infrared, the world flared red and purple and people looked like glowing brains and hearts. My Contours had three hot spots around the battery and hooves, but were otherwise frozen black. In ultraviolet not much was different except lab coats and some lights and surfaces, which shone. That was a little disappointing. But I felt better about Z- lenses, and stopped trying to delay them.


I CAME OUT OF LAB 3 AND THEY WERE WAITING FOR ME. MIRKA, WHO USED TO INFILTRATE ME WITH needles, stood awkwardly at the front. She looked different. I mean, besides the fluorescent green eyes. Jason nudged her, but she didn't speak. "We did it," he said.

"Did what?"

"Found a way to regulate the spleen." He reached for Mirka, then hesitated. "Show him."

Mirka lifted her shirt. She had a very toned stomach. I noticed this first. Then the metal patch.

"Basic electrical stimulation," said Jason. "The tricky part is hitting the right nerves. But of course we could leverage a lot of our earlier leg work."

"Leg work," sniggered somebody.

"Notice Mirka's skin. We're flooding her with estrogen and thylacine. Can you see the difference?"

I looked her over. She didn't smile. But she looked good. The difference I had noticed was health. She was a more attractive version of herself.

"Her hair is thickening, too."

"You went to human testing without asking me?"

"Um," said Jason. "Yes. Sorry. We were going to ask. But you said not to disturb you."

"You could have waited."

"We could have. Yeah. Sorry."

I stared at Mirka.

"Did we do wrong? Because we just wanted to be like you. Be our own guinea pigs."

Mirka said, "I am happy to do it." Against her flawless skin, her eyes shone like a cat's.

"It's just a harmless way to test our organ- management techs," said Jason. "Just proof of concept. That's okay, isn't it?"

I couldn't think of a way to say no. "Yes."

Jason looked relieved. There was some laughter. "I thought it would be." Somebody elbowed him. "We're so excited about where this is going." I nodded, still distracted by Mirka. "It's all happening," said Jason.


SO OF COURSE BY THE END OF THE WEEK HALF MY LAB ASSISTANTS HAD BEAUTIFUL SKIN AND GLOWING hair. I kind of saw this coming but still it was a surprise. In the sciences, looking good was usually a negative. It implied you wasted time on outdoor activities instead of building something useful. Even using hair product or makeup suggested misguided priorities. Like you thought how things looked mattered, instead of how they worked. We liked to look at attractive people. We expected it of our movie stars and TV characters. But we did not respect it. We knew physical attractiveness was inversely correlated with intelligence, because look at us.

I was used to gazing around a lab and seeing acne and dark- ringed eyes and skin the color of a corpse dragged from a lake. Hair all over the place, or strangled in ponytails. These were signs of a good lab. Now it was like a laboratory in a TV commercial for skin- care products. Not quite. They were still awkward and poorly dressed and overweight or deathly thin. But still. It didn't look right.


CASSANDRA CAUTERY LEFT A MESSAGE. WHEN I DIDN'T RESPOND SHE LEFT THREE MORE AND EVENTUALLY A young guy in a neat suit with thin glasses came into the Glass Room and knocked. Everyone looked at him because nobody knocked in the Glass Room. You came in, did what you had to, and left. He looked from one assistant to the next and finally his eyes landed on me. "Dr. Neumann?" I stared at him, because come on, I had titanium legs. The suits were like that, at pains to not notice me below the waist. It made me yearn for engineers, who stared and pointed and stopped me for questions. Although then that made me miss the suits. "Cassandra Cautery is wondering if you have a moment." I looked through the green glass at my assistants running through remote- control tests on a pair of robot arms. The second I left, they would start dueling with them, I knew. "If not, I'm happy to wait." He looked around for a chair.

When we reached Cassandra Cautery's office, he knocked, smiled once, and walked away. "Enter," said Cassandra Cautery. I opened the door and thunk- thunked inside. Her desk was piled high with sky- blue folders. "Charlie." She came around her desk and peered into my eyes. "Are you good?"

"Yes."

She closed the door. When I turned around, she was staring at my hooves. I had torn up some carpet.

"Sorry."

"You're just walking around in those now?"

"Yes."

"We should discuss that. I'm not sure it's a good idea to take them outside the labs. From a product- testing point of view."

"I need to spend time in them to refine the nerve interface." This was kind of true.

She waved this away. "That's not why I brought you here." I waited for her to say why she had brought me here. She walked to her desk, shuffled some papers, turned back,

rested her butt against the desk, and folded her arms. It was a very comfortable pose. Like from a catalog. "There's a lot of excitement about the products coming out of your

area."

"Okay."

"In particular, the Better Eyes and Better Skin."

"You mean the, uh, Z- lenses and the hormoneregulating-"

"I'm using their marketing names. It's what . . ." She fluttered her hands. "This is all coming down from on high."

" Okay."

"I didn't actually expect you to go cosmetic, Charlie. I thought this was going to be more, you know, hard- core medical." The skin between her eyes sharpened. "Are you

wearing Better Eyes?"

"No."

"I haven't tried them." She shrugged lightly. Her eyes were a light blue. Attractive. But not neon. "A few of the senior managers have. They were a big hit. These are the colored ones I'm talking about. No one was really in love with them before that. We thought they were a strictly scientific product. Because, obviously, you wouldn't want to walk around with white eyes. Now they're functional and cosmetic. It's . . . well, it's a dream." Silence. "I went down to your lab yesterday. You were locked away. But I saw your assistants. Using the, uh, the Eyes and the Skin. It's . . . well, it's amazing. They look great. I couldn't believe it. I literally could not believe they were the same people. Because I've been down many times, Charlie, and it used to be, no offense, but they were not an attractive bunch. Which is fine. That's how we expect our scientific people to be. I

don't mean expect. I mean that's how it usually is. The people with technical smarts go into the labs and those of us with, you know, social skills, if you like, we go into management. I'm not saying we're better looking. I'm just saying, there's usually that division. If all of a sudden someone like me suddenly, I don't know, put a metal patch on my head that made me supergood with computers, you lab people would freak right out. Wouldn't you? You'd think, ‘Wait, who's this chick with the cheekbones taking over?'

You'd think, ‘Hold on, I spent my whole life figuring out how to be good with computers. I work out every day on computers. Now somebody can have that from a patch? That's not fair.' " She nodded. "It's like worlds colliding. It's a little like that. And I'm not saying stop. Absolutely not. This is what they hoped you'd do, times a thousand. It's a success, but so much of a success it almost becomes something else entirely. Do you see what I mean?" She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. As her hand came down, it stroked her jawline. "Do you know how often I go to the gym, Charlie? Every single day." She laughed. "I don't know why I told you that. That has nothing to do with anything. So where do you think you'll go next?" She placed her palms on the edge of the desk. "Tell me."

"Um . . . well . . . arms."

Her eyes flicked to my metal fingers. "I'm up to speed on the arms. They like where you're going there. How about teeth?"

"Teeth?"

"I'm just throwing ideas out there. Spitballing. Are you thinking of doing anything with teeth?"

"No."

She stared at me.

"If you're talking about . . . some kind of solution to your . . ." I gestured toward my jaw.

"No. Of course not."

"Because if a dentist said your teeth were too close to nerves to move, that's probably right."

"I don't care about the diastema, Charlie. Okay? Let's be clear. This is not about me. This is about you wanting to chop off your goddamn arms." I blinked. "And let me tell you right now we are going to have a serious conversation about that, because I'm still pissed about the fingers. You didn't go through proper channels. You took it upon yourself to crush your hand and I didn't know until afterward. I took care of it. I did what had to be done. But I did not appreciate being cut out of the loop. You want to do destructive testing, you come to me first. Is that clear? I can be reasonable." She spread her arms. "I'm here to help. But keep me in the loop, Charlie. Keep me in the loop."

I coughed. "Okay."

"Here's the thing. Imagine we're building a body." I opened my mouth to say I was building a body, but she held up a finger. "And it's a wonderful body, one everyone is very interested in getting right. The ideas for how to build this body, they mostly come from one particular brain. That brain is important, wouldn't you say? Crucial. While we're building this body, the one thing we must do, the absolute top priority, is to keep the brain safe. Well, to me, Charlie, the body isn't those Better Legs you're wearing. It's not the parts. The prostheses. It's the capacity to produce them. The body I'm supposed to be building, Charlie, is a department with the ability to create bio- enhancement products. Do you see?" She nodded. "I think you do. And you're the brain. You're the one part I must keep safe." Her brow furrowed. "What are you doing?"

I looked down. I was rubbing the heel of one hand against my titanium thigh. I guess I had been trying to knead it, to restore blood flow to a part that ached.

"Nothing."

"Don't say ‘nothing.' "

"It's phantom pain. Nothing serious."

"Phantom . . . ?"

"It's common. It's nothing. A glitch. A technical hiccup." Her jaw set. "This is precisely what I'm talking about. When I hear things like this, do you know how I feel? These . . ." She gestured at my legs. "These technical phantoms? They make me feel like plucking the brain right out of the body and putting it in a jar. That's what I want to do. Put the brain somewhere safe, so no matter what happens to the body, what mistakes may be made, it will be okay. Do you understand? The need to separate the brain from

the body?" "But I'm the body. I'm the brain and the body. They can't be separated."

"Imagine they could," she said. Silence. "I'm interested in making parts for me," I said.

"Not just other people." She stared. Then she smiled. "Well, I think we understand each other. Tell you what. You keep doing what you're doing, I'll see what I can do from this end. To mesh your reality with that of the company's."

"Okay."

"What about a tooth with a phone in it?" she said. "I think I saw that on TV one time."

"Um."

"That would be functional. That would be very functional. Not that you should cancel the cosmetic stuff. Everyone loves the cosmetics. But if you felt the urge to, I don't know, put phones in teeth, I think that would be your call. Because you're the scientist. You're the ideas man. You know?" She laughed.

"Yes," I said, although I didn't think I did.

"I'm glad we had this chat. I really am. Thanks for making time, Charlie."

"Okay," I said.

"And keep me in the loop."

"Okay." When I reached the door, I looked back. Her cheek was bulging, her tongue in there, exploring.


LOLA'S SUITE HAD A BALCONY. THE SEASON WAS TURNING BUT IF SHE WRAPPED UP IN A BLANKET WE could still sit and watch the flitting of car headlights and streetlamps. She leaned over the railing and shivered. "If you close one eye, the cars look like toys," she said. "Like you could flick them with your finger."

I put my arm around her waist. Or where her waist must be. It was a thick blanket. She looked up. Her lips parted. Then we both turned to look inside, at the nurse moving

around Lola's bed, collecting crumpled tissues from Lola's bedside table and dropping them into the trash. "She always turns up right before you," said Lola.

"Really?"

"When you're not here, I hardly ever see her."

The nurse caught my eye and smiled through the glass.

"I would like to leave." Lola put her arms around me and squeezed. "I would like to go somewhere nobody is watching."

It was a good idea. I hesitated.

"When you've finished your work, I mean."

"Yes."

"I don't mean you should stop your work."

"There could be a recuperative stage coming," I said. "To do with the arms."

"Really," Lola said. She touched my sleeve. Every one of my hairs stood up. There was nothing like biology for sensory feedback. I hadn't been able to get close to it. "I like your arms." Her hand kept moving. It reached my metal fingers. "But I like these, too." She rested her head against me. "The ones you made yourself."


HEADING BACK TO MY BUNK, I DECIDED TO SWIPE A POTTED PLANT. LOLA'S FLOOR HAD DOZENS, AND those cheerful splashes of green really made a difference. I wished I could put some in the labs, but couldn't, because of contamination. I could brighten up my room, though. I carried the plant and set it in the corner.

The next day I got serious about feedback. The surprising thing was how little research there was. Papers were speculative, describing experiments that might be useful if other people filled in other great gaping voids. They opened with statements like: To date there has been little interest in the problem of replacing sensory function lost in amputation.

It irritated me. You could walk into an electronics store and for three hundred dollars take home a game console with a gyroscope- equipped dual- feedback resistance controller that shook and pushed to emulate in eighteen different ways the sensation of driving a tank across a battlefield. But restoring touch to someone who'd lost an arm, that wasn't of interest. Those people got a claw from the 1970s. That was problem solved. We had the technology but in the wrong places. It wasn't the morality that bothered me so much as the inefficiency. It was a misallocation of resources. And I knew that logically companies should spend a hundred million dollars on a game controller rather than a prosthesis that let a man feel again. But every time I read that, lack of interest, I wanted to kick someone.

I pulled the entire team onto it. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Omega: about a hundred people. By the end of the day they had self- organized into hierarchical structures for task delegation and reporting. I didn't care about this. I just told them what I wanted done and let them figure it out. In this sense they were like a subroutine. Like the path- finding tech in my legs. I could see the sense of Cassandra Cautery's body analogy. On the third day, Omega hooked a girl into a nerve grid and made her taste colors. Alpha built a skinlike alloy that seemed promising until it put three thousand volts through one of them and they had to deal with Human Resources. But despite setbacks, we made progress. By the end of the week the nerve interface was two- way, capable of transmitting gross sensation. It was indistinct, every touch wrapped in cotton wool, but I could close my eyes and know when an assistant poked a mesh array. Everyone was very proud. But this wasn't because of our brilliance. It was because nobody else had tried.

I went back to the arms. They were titanium and servomagnetic and could rotate 360 degrees on three independent axes. One night I sat there staring at them and realized there was nothing else to do. They were the smartest things I had ever built. And, not wanting to boast, I had built some smart things. Once I created a microbe that ate garbage. You could open your trash can, throw in your scraps, and an hour later they would be gone. The microbe ate them. It didn't get through QA because if the microbe got out, it would eat everything. There were concerns about a trashcan- eats- man scenario. Which was not the fault of the microbe, in my opinion. My feeling was that someone should come up with a safe receptacle. But anyway. There were no such problems with the arms, because the only person whose opinion mattered was me.

I retired to my bunk and retracted the Contours. The plant I'd stolen the week before was slumped over, brown and shriveled. I hadn't watered it. The lack of natural light may have been a problem, too. I felt annoyed. There was something pathetic about an organism that couldn't even live if you left it alone. This was maybe a little hard on the plant, which had been removed to a hostile environment, but still, it reminded me why I was doing this.