I remember great swathes of articles in the free press that were dead against it. But the government rags? Well, of course they would be for it! You have to remember the great problems facing us at that time. Poverty, disease, famine, overpopulation to count but a few. What we were proposing to do, if it could be done, would have opened up a whole new world not dependent on food, fuel, shelter or heat. What we were proposing to do was to redefine man himself.
However, in spite of the clear explanation provided above, I have a theory as to why we were given such generous funds and resources with which to accomplish our goal. For centuries, mankind had advanced. Fire, iron, steel, silicon, graphene. Then nothing. A great halt with the lingering threat of retreat. "They are dumbing down in schools today!", "Look at the dross we watch on our tele-visors!", "The governments got to do something!".
I think we were that something. My theory is that our leaders were looking for one further advance. One further step towards something new, something different, something that had never been done before. Something that would say to the people "You struggle on but not in spite. Look at our great achievements! Onwards, once again, into the morning of the new day!" And so on.
Our leaders needed a new intellectual revolution badly. But worse than that, they needed a spark. Looking back now, it was naive to think we could be that spark.
The first problem was finding a suitable subject. I argued at length with my colleagues about whether we should seek out a male or a female. For some reason I was adamant we needed a male. Schmidt advocated the female of the species. Her argument, which was entirely reasonable and well put, was that the equipment was relatively easily to replicate. She offered that the increasing vanity of the species from the 20th century onwards, together with the pressure placed upon women by man in the pursuit of some lofty image of perfection, had meant that we were already half way there in terms of production and materials. Indeed, she was quite right that since the dawn of the 21st century, mankind has been capable of replicating all the "finer" points of the female body and anatomy. Why I do believe that some males during this period were paying for lifesized dolls to keep them company in the absence of the real women with whom they were so dissatisfied! How peculiar!
But no. For some reason it seemed tantamount to me that to complete our challenge with maximum exposure, in both the free papers and the government rags, we seek out a male subject. My logic? You know, I don't think there was any logic. Something inside told me that there was something intrinsically beneficial to the team morale in working on a male body as opposed to a female. Perhaps I agreed with Schmidt more than I realised. What's the point in a new endeavour when its largely been done already?
Our disagreement on this subject could have easily stalled the whole process or, indeed, brought the very program itself to a halt were it not for John Smith. Good old John Smith. Down on his luck. Tears in his eyes. Blood on his hands (his own I was assured). Were it not for my chance encounter with Mr Smith, whom I stress had nothing to live for anyway, I do wonder where we would be today.
You will, of course, be aware that his name was not actually John Smith. Heavens no! For you see, his real name was the first thing we took. The second was his eyes.
It always amazes me the reaction you get when people begin to find out more about the processes involved in robofitting. "The eyes go first!?!" Well, yes. But would you rather they go last? Would you rather watch through your own eyes as we slash and burn, cut and swathe our way through your limbs? Would you rather see for yourself what you really look like on the inside after several decades of pollution inhalation, smog, smoke, human waste and dirt? Trust me. It is a kindness taking the eyes first. It is a kindness.
John Smith had tired old eyes alright. That's what Schmidt used to say anyway. Poor Schmidt. She wasn't meant for this work.
You dare not ask John Smith where he had been, the things he had seen. The first fires that burned deep in this man were long extinguished by the time he stumbled into our offices, blind drunk and filthy. All that I saw behind those dull, listless spheres was the faint smoke that signaled, perhaps, a bright flame once burned in this subject (a scientist must never be 100% absolute on such matters of the arts).
To find out the truth behind those old eyes was not worth the price paid for their acquisition in the first place. They were dark brown and trodden upon. Better out and burnt.
Not that we paid John Smith. He wouldn't need the money when we were done and as far as we knew had no dependents.
The whole process took about 3 months back then. Isn't it funny to think we can do a whole retrofit in a weekend now? Marvelous! The eyes were initially quite tricky. Pulling them out, strand by slime ridden strand. And let us not lie about poor old John Smith. Anesthetic would have been advisable. That was when Schmidt checked out. But funds were tight.
Once the eyes are out we shave down the sockets and insert the graphene replacement. Graphene is such a brilliant material. It does everything! Such a tremendous conductor, so malleable, but most perfect of all - so dull in colour and lacking in vibrance. Emotionless. Dead. Precisely the point.
We actually had quite a funny discussion about what type of device we should use to replicate the visual intake of the human eye. The obvious choice was micro camera but would you believe my assistants insisted upon ultra sensory perception receptors? Ha! I believe we were working very late the evening that particular suggestion was made. I very quickly reminded them that our purpose was to robofit and replace, not upgrade. This was a transfer! Not a face lift.
We put the microcams in once the graphene has been appropriately moulded. Obviously we don't turn them on anymore as the statutory censor, in his infinite wisdom, has decreed that it is cruel to force retros to watch the rest of the process of the fit. Bloody admin. What do they know? Bureaucracy! That's the sickness you must fight. Not science.
We turned Mr Smith's on immediately, of course. Don't judge me though. You must remember that this was a step into the unknown even for a group of hardened and dedicated bio mechanicals such as us. We needed our subjects' notes far more than we needed our own observations, as well informed as they would have been I assure you.
After the eyes we do the externals. Arms, legs, pelvis, shoulder. I am not ashamed to say that on my first leg I nearly passed out a la poor young Schmidt. When you spend years and years in textbooks reading about the different properties of various metals, alloys and gases, you tend to forget about the most prevalent substance in the human body; blood. Once a leg is severed through the pelvis, short of the torso, you have precisely 5 seconds to burn that wound shut. Those 5 seconds, in the early days, were the absolute worst for me. Gushing, curdling, thick and viscous. I thank the heavens that my assistants were so well trained.
I know now that man has a soul. But I also know that at the end of a robofit that his soul is left behind. Discarded with the other waste materials of hair, skin and bone. The initial question that intrigued me when we began robofitting was actually one of theory rather than pure science. I wished to know, would the man still be the same once the fit was complete? When the soul is left behind?
Imagine you built me a boat. A small, unimportant, quiet little wooden boat. Complete with rudder and oars. Imagine we gave it a name. Imagine that we took to sailing our boat at every opportunity. So much so, infact, that within a couple of years many of the panels of wood needed to be replaced. Imagine we replaced them. Further years pass and now the oars and rudder need replaced. Dutifully, we attend to this need. More years pass. Again, the wood once more needs replacing, such is our love for this boat the frequent journeys have ironically left her weak.
At what stage does the original boat cease to be? Can we truly say that the name we gave to the boat at the start is carried by the boat we sail in today? When the wood has been replaced twice over, together with new rudder and oars?
With wooden boats the answer is yes. It is with memories that we bind names to objects. The object itself is meaningless. It is the shared memory of the boat's occupants that fix the name in place throughout however many repairs are needed.
Apply this to the process of the fit and the answer is unclear. Would the man still be the same once he was a retro? You will recall that Mr Smith has had his eyes fitted, his externals completed and all that remained was the torso and the skull. Or for those romantics, the heart and the head. We leave the heart for last. Maybe we are romantics too.
As an aside, had you interviewed me 15 years ago I would have taken issue with the name "retro" being applied to our finished work. There is nothing retro about what we do. It's clearly an advance, isn't it? Whether you think it is a positive one or not, it remains an advance. But let the rags have their headline. Let them have their small victory. We make retros. So it goes.
The head is remarkably straightforward these days thanks to modern advances in digital memory capture. However, in the beginning this was as difficult a step emotionally for the subject as it was for the scientist. I gave this task to my least favourite assistant.
In the beginning we required to record all relevant, useful and desired information from the subject, note it down at our computer portals, and then upload to the silicon unit that would later form part of the skull robofit. Painstaking is not the word. You will recall I said before that the process is much quicker now. That is largely due to the fact that we no longer need to write down all that the subject wishes to draw upon in his new vessel.
John Smith had stories. Thousands of stories. So many stories that an assistant of mine, who shall remain nameless due to her many years of dedicated service prior, left the program on account of her "morality issues". My better lessers stayed on, with excruciatingly long shifts, and got the work done. But it was a draining process. Listening to a half man recount a lifetime of heartbreak, joy, rejection, love. With dead eyes.
I was not there for this part of the process, of course. Not through lack of gut! No! By this stage the free papers were becoming ever more vitriolic in their accusations towards us. Someone needed to man our PR front. What kind of spark would we be without good PR? A spark that ignites a revolution or a spark that begins a new intellectual renaissance?
The first question I answered when I sat down in front of the associated goons and ghouls of the free press and the government rags was whether I had any children. An interesting start, and in my naivety I blithely answered no. I didn't see the relevance. The second question came and the relevance hit me like a train, "Are you aware that John Smith has several children?". Again, the answer was no.
It was a bad start alright. This man who came to us in the dark of night and signed all the necessary paperwork had more of a connection to this world than he had initially let on. He lied. Such flaws.
I cut the interview short. What can I say? I fled. I steeled myself that the papers and rags would get behind us once they saw the finished product. But at that stage the question flared up in my mind again "Would he be the same man?".
So the heart is last. When it goes its still beating. It's replacement? An impressive looking feat of science that can essentially be boiled down to a galvanised rubber pump. Nothing too impressive at base level, then. And the original? We iced it. For posterity.
The question then, is it the heart or the head where the soul dwells? I am no further towards answering that question, even now. I will tell you this, however. In 58% of observed fits thus far the heart has beat faster when the skull fit has been completed. For me this suggests a final struggle before the inevitable surrender. In the absence of a purely human mind, with the control being exerted by the silicon unit in its place, where does this struggle come from? The heart alone is tissue. I feel there must be something extra. Something we have not yet encountered. An unexplained, additional desire to go on. A desire that, if it is not located in the heart permanently, retreats there when threatened or at the final moments before death.
But is he still the same man? There are many ways to answer that question. I could return to the analogy of the wooden boat and say that as long as you tie your memories to this new creation then he is as consistent as you wish. However, with cold eyes, steel limbs and total absence of the softness that we find reassuring in human flesh and touch, there are few external observers who are happy to observe any kind of continuity of being at the end of a fit.
What then? If the external observer rejects the person as being the same, do we ask the unit itself what it "feels" when it cannot feel ? Do we ask the unit to explain to us its "thoughts" when it is only programmed to think like John Smith? We can. But do you ask your toaster its opinion of your morning breakfast? Do you ask your hyper radio to choose the channel? And can your televisor hold you and sooth you? Can an electric toothbrush be your lover?
I asked John Smith how he was feeling we we booted him for the first time. His answer was that he felt nothing but emotionless. I asked him if he could imagine feeling happy. He said he could not envisage that scenario "presenting itself under current operating conditions based on all observations available". Go figure. I asked him, finally, if he could imagine feeling sad. Again, he could not envisage that scenario.
Why do so many sign up? What is it about the extremes of human emotion that millions have chosen this procedure over the peaks and troughs of love and rejection, of hope and fear? I cannot answer that question. I am just a bio mechanical. I am not a human behaviourist or psychologist.
So I ask you, finally, before you condemn me, think of me purely as a builder. Or, indeed, as a repair man doing the best with the tools available. I did not break those who came to me. I only tried to fix them as best I could.