“Believe me.” Moore smiled faintly. “There are worse things than extended unconsciousness.”
“Your zombie switch.” It was out before he could stop it.
The Colonel didn’t say anything for a very long time. Then: “Just as a general rule, you probably shouldn’t take everything Sengupta says as gospel.”
“Okay,” Brüks said slowly. “What about that particular thing?”
A nod, barely perceptible. “It brings back — a few memories…”
A passenger in your own body, she’d said. Deaf dumb and blind.
“I didn’t think you could have memories,” Brüks said. “I thought that was the whole point. Just go to sleep, let the body run on autopilot.”
“So we wouldn’t feel bad afterwards about pulling the trigger, you mean. So we wouldn’t need therapy afterwards.” For the first time, Brüks heard a note of bitterness in the old man’s voice. “You’re thinking about the second generation. We first-gen types, we — stayed awake. Through everything. They told us it was the best they could do, at the time; they could cut us out of the motor loop but they hadn’t figured out how to shut down the hypothalamic circuitry without compromising autonomic performance. There were rumors floating around that they could do that just fine, that they just wanted us to stay awake — for debriefing afterward, experienced observer in the field and all — but we were such hot shit we didn’t really care. The sexy bleeding edge, you know. We felt like the first explorers on the post-human frontier.” He snorted softly. “For a while. Didn’t work out so well in practice.
“Anyway.” He rolled his shoulders, capped his hands over his knees. “After a few missions that didn’t quite go according to plan, they came up with the Nirvana Iteration. Blissful ignorance for all. They even offered me an upgrade, but I didn’t really see the point.”
“I do,” Brüks said.
“Do you now.”
“I’ve read the occasional exposé. I know some of the, the…”
“I think the word you’re looking for is atrocities,” Moore suggested.
“The word I’m looking for is war. Old-school, antique, guts in the mud. And sure, maybe sometimes it’s a necessary evil. But it’s not one anyone should want to remember, if they’ve got a choice.”
“I don’t know,” Moore said. “By the time I had one, it just seemed important to keep the lights on.”
“To bear witness.”
“To be an experienced observer in the field.” Moore raised an invisible glass.
The hab jumped a bit, to the solid omnipresent thud of great docking clamps snapping shut. The squeezebulb on the table wobbled back and forth. The Crown of Thorns, tied down and rigged for sail.
“I’m surprised they didn’t just dose you up with some BNST antagonist,” Brüks said after a moment. “Even if they couldn’t shut down the wiring for you early adopters, they could—”
“Oh, they were way ahead of you, Daniel. Had the whole PTSD thing covered, or they thought they did anyway. Snort a few cc’s of propranolol before you hit the ground, you could slaughter an orphanage and remember to pick up the milk on the way home afterward. What they didn’t see coming was how a conscious mind reacts to threats to its own survival when it doesn’t have control. You don’t fix that by blocking the hypothalmic pathways, that’s not mirror neurons or empathy or any upper-brain chrome. That’s sheer brainstem terror, and I don’t have to tell you the odds of winning an argument with your own amygdala. Doesn’t matter that your sub-basement routines are faster than you, or smarter than you, or that if you could take control in a tight spot you’d probably fuck it up and get yourself killed. You can tell yourself a thousand times but all that matters is that you need to run, you need to pull the trigger, you need to do something. And you’re trying to make your body move but you might as well be shouting at the moon. The meat just — does its own thing, and you’re trapped in there, and you have no say at all.
“You think being a passenger is a relief? Try being a passenger on the Redeemer Gyland.”
Brüks looked around the compartment, and through it: to a patchwork of twigs and struts, to tenuous spinning bubbles of gas infested by monsters and retrofits and sapient tumors. All bolted to a neutron-spewing furnace the size of a skyscraper, falling into the sun.
“For all I know,” he said, “I might be.”