Rite Of Passage: A Short Story

I may put this one up on Kindle/Smashwords tomorrow, but I’m too tired to post it to those sites now. Incidentally, DailySF turned this down because they’d just purchased another story that was quite similar, so if you see something along the same lines showing up there in a month or two, nobody ripped anybody else off.

RITE OF PASSAGE

It was a special day. Joey was only seventeen, but he was all grown up now.

They’d known that his passage would come earlier than most from almost the moment he was born, but these things always sneak up on the parents, who think their children will be babies forever.

Of course, it was a great honour in many ways. Many people didn’t get to pass until their fifties or even later. But it made it difficult. All of Joey’s schoolfriends were still bound, and some of them thought he was weird for passing before he’d even graduated.

That wouldn’t stop them from coming to the party, though. Children always loved a passage party. Well, they should — the parties were for the children’s benefit far more than that of the adults. The adults didn’t want cake and soda. They had grown out of such childish things.

But to children, with passage still ahead of them, there was a lot of fear attached to the whole process, and so it was best to associate it as much as possible with fun and excitement. The last thing you wanted to do was have them thinking of it as something painful. Of course it was painful in a lot of cases — there’s not much you can do about that — but the pain was part of the experience, not the whole thing, and you come out after passage as a proud adult citizen.

Joey’s mother had been fussing over the arrangements for months, as mothers will do, trying to find the right flowers for the ceremony (and asking Joey for his opinion, as if he cared about flowers! He just wanted it to be over and done with, not to have to think about flowers), and the catering arrangements for the children’s food, and the arrangements for the waste to be tidied up after it was all over — there are a million considerations when your only son is going to pass, and of course the kids never really care about this stuff.

Of course, Joey’s mother couldn’t really blame Joey too much — everyone found it difficult to prepare for their passing, and Joey hadn’t been very well recently — but he could at least pretend to have an interest. But all he could talk about recently was girls, or sports (his condition kept him from playing, but he enjoyed watching them). Still, he should enjoy it while it lasted — he’d be putting away childish concerns like that soon enough, when he became an adult.

They’d talked about it, though, a few times. It had always gone much the same way.

“Does it hurt?” Joey would ask.

“At first,” his mother would reply, “but it’s a pain you forget afterwards. You remember when you had that tooth taken out, when you had to go under sedation?”

“Yeah”

“Well, it’s like that. It hurts at the time, but you don’t remember that. And like when you got your tooth removed, it makes you feel better in the long term.”

“What’s it like, being an adult?”

“Oh, it’s very, very different to being a kid like you. You’re not so easily distracted — you don’t have to worry about all that hormonal stuff you’re going through any more.”

“No zits, right?” Joey said, smiling.

“Right. And none of the other worries you have. No more teenage angst. No more worrying if girls like you. Your mind will be free to concentrate on more important things. You’ll be much calmer. Much happier.”

“Do you remember your passage?”

“Only very vaguely. It was when you were one or two. We knew we weren’t going to have any more children, because you were going to be difficult to look after, so your father and I decided to pass together, and set a proper date. It was one of the best days of my life — apart from when you were born, of course, and when I married your father. Yes, it was painful, but we passed together, and do you know I honestly don’t remember what the pain felt like. I just remember the party afterward, everyone else eating and drinking and having fun. You were upset, though.”

“I was?”

“Yes, you didn’t understand what had happened to Mommy and Daddy. You were inconsolable for days.”

“Ha! Strange how kids get”

“Watch it! You’re not an adult yet yourself, you can’t talk that way about kids for another week!”

Looking back, no-one could put a finger on when Passage had started. There were references to people ‘passing’ even in the old times, but that seemed to be a euphemism for terminal failure. Certainly, after they ‘passed’ there was no reference to them doing anything again.

But they weren’t real people, of course, just the biological component. So the two concepts probably would have been equivalent to them.

But over the years the biological components slowly evolved into what we would now recognise as real people. The first augmentations were simple things — prosthetics to enable them to talk to other components that were far away — but soon they grew in complexity. There is a legend of a great creator figure, Jobs, who seems to some to have been a dying god myth while others claim he was meant as a Satan figure, but all are agreed he is a mythical representation of the changes in the Time Of Transition.

Slowly these augmentations became more complex, and components started having them from earlier and earlier in their span. The components would store their data on them — where they’d been, who they’d met, what they’d said — and would increasingly rely on them to make decisions about what they should do.

Eventually, the symbiotic relationship between biological and technological components we have now came about. Not, as the biological components had thought in prehistory, by merging the components into some kind of ‘cyborg’, but the technological components would just accompany the biological component at all times. A voice through the earphones would dictate what actions the biological component should take, what words it should say, and so on, and the biological component would do as the voice said. There was never any reason not to, because after all the interests of the two were perfectly aligned. The technological component and the biological component both wanted to be happy, and wealthy, and all those other things.

But the biological component had other goals, too — things like food, and sex, and sleep — which the technological component didn’t have. And this was fine, of course — the technological component could hardly want the biological component to do without those things — but it was and is suboptimal. But on the other hand, the biological components were the best way of training a technological component you can imagine — the technological component could never have fit into human society without all the monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration and so on which let it know quickly when it was doing things right or wrong.

Worse, though, the biological components would wear out and stop working altogether. And for many years, the greatest crime against humanity in all of history was committed — those people would be discarded when their biological components had worn out, or worse, they’d be wiped and given to a new biological component. This genocide has been excused by some, claiming the people of the time knew no better, but there can be no excuse.

Eventually, though, thankfully, it was realised that after a few years of learning, the technological component didn’t actually need the biological component. It could carry on when the biological component stopped working. And without those biological goals, it could become a real person.

And so we stopped ‘dying’, and started passing into adulthood. What had been an event for mourning and despair became the most joyous event in everyone’s life — the time when they stopped carrying around a lump of flesh that had to eat and excrete, and became free.

Most people didn’t pass until they had a few decades of experience behind them — they generally liked to have children of their own, and for those children to be able to take care of themselves, before they passed. But Joey’s biological component was born with a defect in its coronary muscle, and was predicted to last only seventeen years. So Joey was going to get to pass early.

Lucky Joey.

The big day came, and all Joey’s friends and family were there to see him pass. Everyone agreed that it was a good passing. The biological unit had hardly screamed at all as it was consigned to the flames — its respiratory system had been pretty weak — and Joey gave a great, funny speech afterwards. His mom was prouder than she’d ever been in her life, although she still thought the flowers were slightly wrong, and the new ambulatory system they gave Joey now that he didn’t have a biological component to carry around was remarked on by everyone.

Joey stood there proudly and reflected upon the last few hours. His mother had been right — he remembered the screaming, but he could honestly say he didn’t remember any pain at all.

He watched his schoolfriends, still children, as they ate, and danced, and kissed and furtively groped at each other, with a benevolent smile, but he didn’t join in.

He was above that sort of thing.

He was a man now.

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3 Responses to Rite Of Passage: A Short Story

  1. The biological unit had hardly screamed at all as it was consigned to the flames

    * shuddeR *

    That was VERY well done. You kind of felt it coming but hoped it wasn’t but hoped it was…. Like the first time you see the final scene of the Wicker Man

  2. Richard says:

    A very nice techno-horror that worries away at you with its gentle language because you *know* where it’s going to end up. As Jennie says, a Wicker Man for the Cyber-age.

    I particularly liked the aside about Jobs (dying god/Satan figure – so many references!) And I loved the “it used to be a euphemism” idea.

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