By Craig C. Lipman
Wesley Tingey via Unsplash
“Sergeant Asher, you are at forty-seven percent, three points below the required percentage to qualify as human. As a cyborg, you no longer qualify for veteran’s benefits. I’m very sorry.”
Army Sergeant Ivan Asher was stunned. The words were clear; his cybernetically enhanced ears were far better than the ones he had been born with. But his brain, both the organic matter and cyber implants, were having problems assimilating what the Space Veteran Administration official just told him.
Asher was sitting in a cramped stall inside a small, undistinguished room in a Space Veterans Administration building in San Francisco. A dirty glass panel separated him from the counseling official who sat before him in a small grayish room. Asher had wondered why such a panel was necessary. This was not a prison; there were no inmates to keep from fleeing. But now he understood. It protected the staff from the violence that people, or former people, threatened to unleash when they learned they had been dismissed from the human race.
Hi, Mom, Dad, this is your son, Ivan. I’m no longer a member of the human race and might be a little late to dinner.
Asher’s neuro-optical lenses focused on the face before him. The pixelated features of the diminutive, nondescript man came into focus. The lenses’ target crosshair centered on the space between the man’s eyes. The crosshair was green; Asher’s cognitive implants determined the individual in front of him to be non-threatening. Asher was beginning to have doubts.
Leaning up from his chair, shaking like a small quake, Asher asked, “I want to speak to your supervisor.”
The official slowly took in a deep breath, a minor act of frustration attuned with Asher’s unwillingness to accept his fate. “Sergeant, no Human Autonomous Rating Measure decision has ever been overturned. This decision was carefully considered based on the amount of cyborg augmentation necessary to keep you functioning.”
“You mean algorithms.”
“Yes, they’re part of the evaluation process.”
Asher felt his massive cyborg arms powering up, priming for violence. The crosshair over the bureaucrat had changed to yellow, the color of potential danger. There were just some things the human part of his brain couldn’t control.
Asher had almost been blown apart by an improvised explosive device while fighting separatists on Luna. He had lost his limbs, part of his pelvis, and suffered major head injuries. He had survived, but based on the HARM rating, a scale the military used to identify the level of ‘humanness’ a person retained after cyborg augmentation, he was at forty-seven percent, three percent below what was necessary to qualify as human and thus receive VA benefits.
Three points. THREE. FUCKING. POINTS.
“God damn you!” Asher roared. “I’m a vet! I fought and almost died for my country! Who the hell are you to tell me I’m not human? Who the FUCK are you to decide?”
The man hesitated. His mouth opened and closed. He started to reach for something near the monitor in front of him and then stopped. His eyes momentarily glanced to the right, then back to the front. It was as if the clerk was trying to hint at something, to communicate—
Asher’s fist smashed through the glass with so much force he could reach in and grab the man by the throat.
“It’s not me! It’s not me!” the counselor gibbered, trying to free himself from Asher’s grip.
Asher pushed his way through the broken glass window, ignoring the glass shards picking at his skin and sending the man flailing to the floor.
“If it’s not you, THEN WHO?”
The man motioned to the door behind him. “In there! In there!”
Without hesitating, Asher grabbed the doorknob and wrenched the door open. Inside, he found a small desk with a computer mounted to it. Its lights blinked various colors but all turned red when Asher moved towards it.
The computer might have been one-hundred percent computational device, but Asher and his cybernetically enhanced fists were determined to make that number much, much lower.
Craig Lipman is a veteran and a founding member of US Military Veterans of Columbia University (MIA ’04). He is currently a Department of Defense analyst working in the National Capital Region. He has published stories in 365 Tomorrows, Stars and Stripes, and the Veteran Writing Community’s After Action Review.