Foreword to all issues:
You are reading an issue of the Present Punk Graphic Novel, a series of standalone illustrated short stories. Sometimes extreme, sometimes banal, always asking how close we are to science fiction’s darker side.
BIONICS WITHOUT ANTIBIOTICS
I thought Justin was jealous. He was so put off when I told him about the latest gig I had nabbed. “It’s a month of rent!” I said at one point, exasperated by his silence.
“Yeah, it’s a lot,” he replied after a moment. After staring at my drink a while, I asked him what was wrong.
“I just don’t understand how you can do something so demeaning. Even if it’s a month of rent,” Justin said, taking even more time to reply than before.
“What do you mean?” I asked, taken aback. I never considered Justin to be a prude, and it’s not like I would be even showing that much skin. But as I looked at his darkening expression, I realized that his response had nothing to do with what I’d wear for the gig. No, it was was a different kind of puritanism: my endearing, frustrating, and edgy friend was about to have one of his political rants. Oh dear.
“It’s not fake, Justin. I really love BioBody’s new arm augments. You realize this is the first time arm augments this intuitive have been made available at the $100-a-month price point? This is–I mean, if I could have had these as a kid, I would’ve been thrilled, but the market just wasn’t there yet. Now the tech of the future is here at an affordable price. So it’s not fake, I’m genuinely happy to represent this product’s introduction.”
Justin’s face contorted as I finished.
“That’s what I’m fucking talking about, Sophie.” It started as a half-whisper, and continued into a hiss.
“You have no sense of anger at the fact that you have all these augments in the first place. This whole augmentation thing, it’s a crime. You should be indignant, not cheerleading it.”
Despite being used to his contrarian takes, I was genuinely dumbfounded by this one.
“It’s called being grateful, Justin. You should try it. When you’ve lost what I have, you’re grateful modern life allows for solutions that wouldn’t have been available in the past–“
“No! These ‘solutions’ aren’t modern at all. They amputated you, just like they would’ve in the 12th century for the same damn infection. Chopped off half your arm, and called it a miracle. And at least then the medieval prosthetics didn’t scan your brain for the local lord.”
“That’s a ridiculous comparison,” I managed to reply.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he continued, evidently seeing himself as on a roll. “Back then, the royal families got the same plagues as the commoners. Nowadays the only ones who can stay whole are the plutocrats.”
“There’s always been inequality, Justin. It’s life. No one loves this, but be realistic. Do you really think we could’ve afforded to come up with solutions for antibiotic resistance in everyone? That we could’ve just pumped money into research and figured out how to outsmart a million different superbugs? I’m grateful to have arms, Justin. And I find that being grateful is good for my health. I’m not saying this passive aggressively–you should try it.”
We didn’t speak to each other for a while after that. But one day, about a month after that fight, I was walking down Old Town and saw a familiar figure staring up at a giant advertisement being projected from downtown.
Suddenly feeling bad about our fight, I walked up to him. He turned around and–oh god, it’s the 21st century. I had no excuse to gasp. A guy walking buy gave me a dirty look for being so rude.
But he was just different. The augments didn’t even look fit for a face.
We went out for drinks at the same bar. No ill will, we both felt bad. And Justin filled me in.
“Nothing complicated about it,” he said. “I got sick. Some rare thing that escaped the Arctic’s ice, loves the mammalian eye. Spread to the rest of my face. Doctors said I’m lucky. Barely managed to chop off the right side before it spread to the rest of my body.”
“…I’m so sorry.” I said it quietly. I meant it, though.
“Don’t be. I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier. Yeah, I wish I could’ve afforded better-looking augments, but at least I can see after losing my eye, right?”
“Justin, you don’t need to–“
“No, it’s true. Yeah, I miss my old face. But at least I can see, and even better than before. Ah, hell, ya know what? Let’s have a toast: to the innovators behind today’s latest biotech.”
Right after the toast, Justin murmured something I found a little strange, but didn’t think much of. I assumed I misheard.
Until three days later, when I saw the news.
“Maybe I’ll thank them in person.”