“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

“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.”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 at 4:00 pm and is filed under Dumbspeech, fiblet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

22 Responses to ““If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.””

  1. Daniel

    As always, you leave me wanting more.

  2. Paladin

    Well, please keep tormenting us with these brief glances until the real thing comes along.

  3. Steve Halter

    This is shaping up to be very interesting. What sort of control mechanism is there for the zombies? Some sort of Friend vs. Foe indicator? Otherwise, just pointing them in the right direction and hoping could probably lead to unfortunate results for the “zombie controllers.”

  4. Peter Watts

    Dude. What is that gravatar you’re using? It looks like a cat riding bareback on a giant blue banana slug.

  5. Steve Halter

    Lol — It’s our old cat sitting in the middle of a blue hippo pool float. He was all ready for the water. Of course, that particular cat hated water with a passion.

  6. Nestor

    I’m digging the glimpses, but as a piece of exposition it’s a bit reduntant. Being a passenger in your own body is scary? Wow, never woulda figured that one 🙂

  7. Peter Watts

    Yeah, lack of context is always the problem with isolated snippets. In this case the whole “passenger” thing had been set up in the context of personal responsibility; how much of a relief it must be to know that whatever your body did, you were not to blame. Given the kind of things these people are expected to do, being a passenger is way scarier than being culpable.

  8. Sheila

    … lead to unfortunate results for the “zombie controllers.”

    there was that other fiblet where a virus had uncontrolled mental zombies.

    I’d want a hovering sombrero to keep me out of the way. (invoking the specter of TMBG as a ward against Sir quoting Queen’s dystopian specter). Where hovering sombrero is the name I scrawl on my semi-autonomous camera drone.

  9. Greg

    Interesting stuff. Can’t wait to get it.

    Btw, Blindsight is getting a lot of love in an informal poll of “the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years” over at Charlie’s website:


    This comment was my favorite by far:

    “+1 for Blindsight, for all of the above reasons, plus the fact that just when I lost hope that anyone else can provide cranial humping similar to OGH, Watts came along and did it longer and harder. :-)”

  10. Hljóðlegur

    Sounds pretty cool so far; also, I can see the scene from the description.
    Can I assume this is on purpose – It sounds as if the amygdala is in the brain stem, not above but connected to it; it’s an interesting confusion, thematically. The construction sheer brainstem terror, and I don’t have to tell you the odds of winning an argument with your own amygdala brings up the question: which is me? If an event that is mediated by the brain stem talking to the amygdala is in conflict with “me,” what am I? How many neurological systems have to be in sync for The Self to make a decision that is the will of that Self?
    Should be an interesting book.

  11. Hljóðlegur

    The spine surfs alone, so saith the rulebook. Seriously, though, what is Hey, Hovering Sombrero supposed to be about, anyway?

  12. Josh J

    Marry me.

  13. Sheila

    Hey Greg,

    cranial humping similar to OGH

    This cranial humping thing sounds interesting. What is OGH?

  14. Peter Watts

    Our Gracious Host. aka Charlie.

  15. Lynn

    Can’t wait to read the full novel. I love these bits of interesting/ terrifying knowledge you give us in your work. Amazing stuff.

    On the topic of disassociation, I’ve actually experienced moments of this feeling before. The best way I can describe it is like watching your life through a TV screen with a very distant sensation.

    I doubt it would be as disturbing as watching oneself commit atrocities, but it’s still a really odd kind of feeling.

  16. Alex

    +1 to Blindsight @ Stross’s place. Also digging the snippet. MOAR.

  17. Ken Kennedy

    Gah…work, man, work!! We need to read this whole thing ASAP. Want.

  18. That One Guy

    Peter, is the title line a reference to Rush or Ayn Rand? I’m hoping the former.

  19. Waldheri

    I was fascinated throughout the fiblet, but you had me at “sapient tumors”.

  20. Peter Watts

    @That One Guy: Rush. Although I feel obligated to point out that those guys did refer to Ayn Rand as a “genius” in the liner notes for 2112.

    Also, I’d be interested in whether or not Neil Peart actually still even believes in free will. He seems like a well-read kinda guy.

  21. Val (demoscene version)

    Thank you for the view through the eyes of a zombie.

    As much as the consciousness cutoff switch scares me (even though it isn’t a new idea, for some reason Gibson wasn’t able to squick me as effectively, perhaps because I had less life experience when I read the applicable books, I refer to the meat puppet whorehouse in one of the Sprawl series, early on) . . . the idea of a dissociating experience the equivalent of consciousness curare scares me even more.

    Well done.

  22. About My Gravatar « Interesting Things

    […] gravatar features a photo of TazMan sitting in a Blue Hippo pool float. peter Watts had asked if it was a blue banana slug but I think the tusks pretty much point to a hippo. However, it occurs […]