Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Almost Equal by Edward Rodosek

The Anti-G limousine slid a few inches over the avenue surface and stopped in front of the discreetly lit entrance into an upscale nightclub. Here, although only remotely removed from the vulgar strip of Las Vegas casinos, it was agreeably tranquil. A lady in a long dress with a low neckline dress entered a special compartment and a gentleman in a tuxedo followed her.

The huge stage spun slowly, and a new setting appeared. Sand was spread out over the floor; a thick, pointed stockade enclosed the battlefield. A tall black man with a trident and a net entered from one side, and a broad-shouldered Nordic with a sword and a shield entered from the other. The audience waited in silent anticipation, with neither a cough nor a restless rustle to be heard.

The black man swung the net, and the Nordic parried it with his shield. Both their weapons were quickly entangled in a useless jumble, which they quickly tossed aside. There was a clash of the sword on the trident, a swift attack, and an equally swift retreat. When one of the gladiators fell, he righted himself in a lightning-like motion and warded off a strong stroke with an even stronger blow.

The woman's eyes shone and her chest raised and lowered quickly. Suddenly, the gentleman's cell phone rang and he answered the call. Before he finished talking, the performance was over. Two attendants were carrying the dead fighter away on a stretcher. The other one was lamely making his way out of the arena, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

The gentleman didn't bother to ask his companion who'd won. There'd be another fight in a few minutes.


The earsplitting sound of the alarm siren woke me up brutally. A usually reveille at daybreak, just as every morning.

I swung my feet onto the floor and joined all the other cyborgs in our huge dormitory to gain a good place in the lavatory and in the long row before the counter in our eating hall.

Just another day in my life, I thought, which an endless routine of pain and hard work was. And I knew for sure tomorrow would be another backbreaking day like today.
During breakfast, there was the only time of questioning myself about the destiny that was waiting for me. Here, on lousy ‘Polygon Seven’ of the damned ‘Cyborg Academy’, I was told only that several hundred other cyborgs and I must practice to be ready to fight hostile aliens, should they attack Earth.

Not one of us had a personal name. We only had marks--CC for Cyborg Corporal and CP for Cyborg Private--and then a number. I'm a cyborg private, and my mark is CP-765. Simple and convenient.

We were all allowed to choose personal names for us. I have not chosen a personal name for me. None of the names seemed any better than the others.

I didn’t have any friends among the other cyborgs anyway. Cyborg Corporal-76 was the only exception. Maybe it was because he was leading our unit of ten cyborg privates, or simply because he was a real pal.


Whole classes of teenagers, with two teachers were hustling through the afternoon crowd, which was usual for Rio de Janeiro.

Several blocks down was the main entrance into a large multimedia hall. In the front of the hall, a huge holographic advertisement appeared.

‘The management wants to inform the esteemed audience members that they will see a live broadcast of real time events. There will be no acting, holotricks, or computer animation--only exclusive reality. A special control commission, composed of well-known personalities, guarantees the genuineness of everything that you will now see and hear.’

The holograph gave way to a scene of a gentle slope overgrown with grass. Several dozen soldiers turned up and darted into some bushes for cover. They were worn the colorful uniform of Spanish conquistadors, with pointed helmets on their heads and muskets in their hands. Suddenly, a cluster of arrows flew toward the soldiers. One of them slowly collapsed on his knees; then another one staggered. A throng of bronze-skinned men stripped to the waist, rushed out of the wood, and started to wade across the river. Some of them fell with the muskets' fire.

Then there followed a close-up. A soldier with a pierced throat was lying on the dry grass, one of his arms grotesquely twisted across his body. Everybody in the audience knew he was dead, although his body didn't appear that way. Screaming shouts from the audience demanded more blood. The following broadcast kindly complied with these requests for the audience was king, always.


CC-76 lit up his pipe and spat on the ground. “Tell me, CP-765, why on earth are you reading this damned book every spare time?”

I shrugged. “I suppose it’s because I simply like books.”

CC-76 took a quick look at me. “This book--what is it about?”

“Well, about real life. A historical book.”

“About real lives of real people?”

“Why not, damn it? We both know, deep in our hearts, that you and I are people. A special kind of human species.”

CC-76 shook his head. “There you're wrong, lad. Don't forget you're a cyborg, and the decisive difference is that we don't live. We just exist.”

I wanted to argue, but knowing he was right, I said nothing.

“Don't forget,” said CC-76, “that we cyborgs are property, an item in a stock book. Every cyborg has a market price that can be easily calculated.”

I felt a bit annoyed. “You're talking as if I were some kind of machine. But I'm a living creature. Somewhere I have a biological mother and father who–” I suddenly stopped.
CC-76 was watching me ironically, but with some benevolence. “Do you hear at all what nonsense you're talking? You best forget it. Tell me, about that book of yours. Just a few words.”

“Well, longtime ago there were many thousand of slaves without any right and a limited number of their rulers. They treated the slaves badly and had right to kill any of them without an explanation. One of the ordinary slaves called Spartacus was also unique in a way--a man who made history.”

“Go on.”

“One day he said that enough was enough. And then he started a glorious although unsuccessful rebellion of slaves against the superior force of their masters and suppressors.”

CC-76 stared at me. “Lad, you should be more careful in your choice of a hero.”


The historic ‘Kremlin Citadel’ in Moscow was veiled with huge, brightly illuminated advertising panels. All the squares and boulevards were teeming with people and we, about two dozen of cyborgs, were mixed among them. The expectations of the entire gathered crowd were great for the kind of fight that would be performed for the first time that day.

On the central square, a gigantic screen, composed of 256 regular screens, was erected. The well-known face of Oleg Suvorov appeared on it.

“Tonight you're going to see the newest world sensation--the real fight of our strongest battle-scarred hero with seven Siberian wolves! The fight will last until our hero kills them all or leaves the battlefield dead. The fight will start at eight o'clock sharp. Please remember to hold on to your ticket; immediately following the fight will be a raffle with sensational prizes.”

In the crowd two men were making to shorten the waiting for tickets.

“During our holiday,” said the fat man, “my wife and I were in Paris, France, and we decided to watch that new gimmick--you know what I mean?”

“You mean ‘The Real Fights’?” prompted the lanky man.

“Exactly. After the battle ended, they drove the dead bodies very close to our seats as they passed. My Elvira almost fainted away, I'm telling you.”

The lanky man nodded. “I can understand that. My girlfriend and I saw The Real Fights in Spain. I think everyone has to follow what's modern.”

“In Spain?” asked the fat man.

“Yes. To be exact, in Toledo, in the same arena where the most famous bullfights used to take place in times past.” The lanky man grinned. “I won a nice bet with a Spaniard. He was sure the Los Toreros would win the fight four against four.”


As every morning we began with exercise: a quick pace, sprint, then hurdles, crouching under barbed wire, climbing over high barriers, and swarming up the ropes.
I breathed hard and my pulse sped, but I persisted. If a cyborg failed with those tasks, he got penalty points in his personal file. More than thirty penalty points meant that a special inquiry board would judge about the cyborg's further applicability. All of us knew what that meant, but nobody ever talked about it.
After lunch, we attended lectures about how we should fight in various circumstances and with different weapons. Then we moved to the gym where we began with seven or eight fencing skills with odd Japanese names. I grabbed my partner, he grabbed me, we tangled, and we fell so hard we both lost our wind, but then we leaped and turned around, trying to kick the opponent. CC-76 directed us on our faults, intervened when necessary, and pushed us to attain an ever-greater combativeness.

After we took our showers, dinner was served, and even before we could finish eating we heard the siren for lights out. Only the emergency lights were left on. Despite the pain in all my exhausted muscles, I sank slowly into an uneasy sleep.
Suddenly, a regardless hand shook my shoulders to wake me up. It was my turn to go on the night watch.


On all the roads to the huge parking platforms around the hopeless crammed Wembley stadium all the vehicles moved at a snaillike pace Big Ben announcing the nine o'clock hour.

In an old-timer sat a typical family--parents with two kids, a boy and a girl. The father carefully stowed the parking ticket, and the family began to hustle through the crowd.

When they found their seats a tremendous uproar echoed from below. Heavily built young men with painted faces grappled with tattooed bruisers in black. All of them had large numbers on their backs. They were swinging knives, razors, iron bars, and nailed wooden clubs. Firearms were strictly prohibited since a stray bullet could wound the spectators.

Part of the audience began eagerly to watch the fight, but the others seemed unaffected, many of them chewing fish and chips, drinking tea from plastic cups, talking with one another, and cracking jokes. Along the outer edge of the arena, the judges were circulating on electric scooters and taking notes, trying to scope out possible fakers. On the sidelines, first aid people were waiting. After the spectacle, they would cart away the dead bodies and the seriously wounded fighters.
The father of the family yawned and rubbed his eyes sleepily. He’d probably driven over many miles, and now he was obviously wondering was it worth all that trouble for watching nonsense like this. He sighed deeply and his face showed his gloomy feelings--oh, no, how much better those staged fights had been...


A northerly wind was blowing, and the night was extremely cold. I stamped my feet and blew in my fists to try to keep warm on my sentry point. It was the first time I had been on guard here, next to the command barracks. Normally, only human guards were allowed in this area, but lately some sort of flu had been spread among the humans, so I was ordered to the post.

I slowly moved nearer to the light that shone through the windows; it at least gave me an illusion of warmth. Finally, I came close enough to distinguish what was being said. Not moving, I examined the scene before me, ears tuned for the slightest sound that might reveal my illegal presence. I noticed one of the windows was ajar, and I could hear fragments of what three or four of the sergeants were talking about inside.

Holding my breath, I began to eavesdrop, numb with confusion.

On the opposite wall a huge holo screen was lit and I could see nearly the whole scene.

Several dozen well-dressed people were sitting at a long desk in a luxurious hall. They fell into low-voiced conversation. Then a large folding door opened, and the chairman, a dignified old man entered. He immediately sat down at the desk and started to read from a single sheet of paper.

The faces of the gathered stockholders gradually relaxed, and several of them even smiled. When the speaker finished, applause resounded in the hall. All leaped from their seats, striving to shake hands with the chair. Two waiters began to serve champagne, while everyone proposed toasts to one another.

I stood there motionlessly, a bit confused, nearly forgetting my own safety. Why this meeting was so interesting to the present sergeant? And why was so important to deserve a holovision broadcast?

Then the door of the hall opened again, and eager reporters entered droves, while several camera operators recorded the historical event. The chair started talking into the many mikes and tape recorders now in front of his face.

He was talking slowly, giving well-considered expression to his words. He explained ‘The Real Fights’ were the turning point in modern society. They were in striking contrast with so-called ‘entertainment’--movies, TV serials, and so forth--with its mere reenacted fiction. ‘The Real Fights’ did not lie to the spectators; they were offering only genuine reality. The spectators were prepared to pay for the truth, so they deserved to become it.

Besides, the first annual report of their corporation had proved ‘The Real Fights’ had brought the stockholders great financial success, which had no precedent.
At this very instant cognition flashed through my brain and it was like being struck by a thunderbolt. I was shaken to the core of my spirit. My thinking has degenerate to vagrant thoughts: loose fragments, impressions and partial memories swirled through my puzzled mind. There was nothing else I cared to think about at the moment.
I swiftly withdrew back to my sentry position, ruminating on what we cyborgs could do in that fatal situation. If anything at all.


Until my sentry shift was over at midnight, I hurried to our large dormitory, to the bunk of CC-76, and woke him up. I eagerly whispered in his ear, and he stared into my face, confused and undecided.

He finally got up, woke the other nine corporals, and they began to shake the sleeping privates. Without the wailing siren and the main lights, this took a lot of time. The cyborgs were sleepy; most of them swore, wanting nothing except more sleep.
I was eventually able to start speaking in the subdued blue light of the emergency lamps. I took a deep breath, speaking loudly because the dormitory was large.
“My dear comrades in arms, I'm sorry I must bring you this shocking news--but the people have been lying to us constantly, from the very beginning of our training. We were NOT preparing to fight against hostile aliens! Most likely, there are no such aliens at all. The people are in fact training us for their own entertainment--for bloody fights of cyborgs against cyborgs.”

A collective sigh that rose in anger emerged from the gathered cyborgs.

“We're nothing more than gladiators destined for the show named The Real Fight.

We're appointed solely for mortal combat, for exiting shows either live or before the holovision cameras.”

Several voices uttered, but CC-76 hissed angrily, and silence returned to the dormitory.

“This was attempted on the earlier cyborg generation on Polygon Seven, and it proved very profitable. However, the people now need new fighters because the show must go on. The spectators want real blood and real death. And we cyborgs are more than convenient for that purpose.”

A subdued murmur was heard, and I waited until it died away.

“We're easily exchangeable, we're well trained, and we have no other choice. If any cyborg disobeys the order to fight, the humans will eliminate him. And there are attractive lures as well. He who survives a fight he needn't fight again for a certain time.”

Several cyborgs lifted their arms, but I paid no heed to them.

“Next week, the commander of the ‘Polygon Seven’ is going to decide where each of us must go. The most skilled and smartest of us will appear in spectacular single fights, and all the others will be in a mass slaughter. It is already prepared, without asking us, of course. Who cares about the cyborgs?”

The windowpanes on the fa├žade reverberated from the cyborgs’s angry screams. I saw their faces boiling with rage as they waved hands and firmly clenched fists.
I raised both hands until the tumult died away. “My brothers in misfortune, we must withstand the people's tyranny! Now, at once, for tomorrow will be too late. First we must make a plan and come to an agreement about our immediate actions.”

CC-76 spoke. “Just tell us what we need to do, and we'll do it.”

I stared at him and at the excited faces of my comrades. They obviously recognized me--a simple cyborg private with the mark CP-765--as their leader.

“Okay,” I began, “this is my plan.”


That night, cyborgs were on guard duty on all the posts except in the sentry tower at the main entrance of the ‘Polygon Seven’. Our messengers told them what was up, and they joined us right away. The night was quiet, and nobody except us seemed to be around.

We descended the stairs and crushed through the main entrance, wearing socks and holding our boots. Once outside, we began to run toward the small shed where the personal weapons were. We had to take the blasters and ammunition before we could attack the main hangar where the heavy weapons were stored.

Everything ran smoothly until CC-76 forced the lock on the entrance of the shed. All the sirens on the ‘Polygon Seven’ began to roar, the threatening sound piercing my ears.

The inside the shed was dark; we couldn't find the switch anywhere. Cyborgs hustled among the high shelves, stumbling over boxes on the floor, grasping what was close at hand. Somebody yelled the blasters weren't loaded, and everyone began furiously ransacking the place for cartridges.

Inside the commanding dormitories, several hundred yards away, all the lights went on. The sentry on the entrance tower aimed the floodlight on the shed and began to fire at us with a machine gun.

Disorderly and mostly at random, we tried to fire back. Near the main hangar, we could hear the consecutive ignition of chain trade vehicles. I realized that our attempt to attack the main hangar now would be suicidal, so I roared the command to retreat into the main building.

My comrades were confused and scared; they crowded together, competing with one another about who'd be the first safely inside. Somebody fell on the ground, and some others stumbled over him, a soul-stirring moan uttered from the crowd. Two cyborgs were sitting on the stairs: one with a wounded leg, the other holding his bleeding shoulder.

Somehow, CC-76 succeeded in gathering three or four cyborgs, and they began shooting against the officer's dormitory, covering our retreat. They uttered painful groans and ceased fire for a while. We made good use of the respite and ran into the main building.


The situation in the main building was disastrous. All the lights in the dormitory were lit, making every one of us an excellent target for the people outside. The instant I entered, one of the windows smashed into pieces, and a large scorched hole appeared on the opposite wall. There were no switches, for the lights were always turned on from the officers shed. Finally, CC-76 fired at the main plug with his blaster.

We were in the subdued dusk of the emergency light source once more. Cyborgs lay on the floor and leaned against the wall. Most of them were nearly paralyzed with panic. Several more windowpanes burst, and an enormous quantity of glass splitters was strewn all over the floor. The cyborgs that hadn’t had time to put on their boots had bleeding feet.

I ordered them to make as many protective barriers as they could and they began to push overturned bunks, bedside tables, and everything they could tear from the walls. Some inexperienced cyborgs started to fire at random from behind the heaps of objects, and I roared at them not to waste valuable ammunition. Confusion was total.
But I knew there wasn't any confusion among the people outside. Surely all the videophones available in the officer's shed were being used, and the commander of Polygon Seven was probably demanding immediate reinforcement.

I tried to chase away a feeling of foreboding.

I didn't want to admit what was obvious--an inexorable fact. We, the cyborgs, had no chance. We had never had a chance, not against well-organized and excellently equipped people.

We managed to seize nothing but small arms, and they could be effective only for a short distance. The people outside had all the weapons they needed. And what they didn't have yet, they would get soon from headquarters--heavy guns, armored cars, ground-to-ground missiles, bombers, and all the computer support they needed.
I knew the people did not intend to fight against us from a close range. Why should they risk casualties? They would simply stay at a safe distance, out of the range of our blasters. And then they would shoot at us with everything they had. They would shoot as long as a single rebel was alive, until every cyborg was dead, until only smoking ruins of the main building remained.

For what seemed an eternity, ominous silence permeated the main building.

The people were most likely waiting for the reinforcements they'd ordered. Nobody outside brought up a megaphone to call us to surrender. That meant there wouldn't be any negotiations at all. I was afraid the people had firmly decided on settling the thing with us once and for all, perhaps as an example--a warning to all the other cyborgs on Earth the people were not to be trifled with.

After that, there would never be another cyborg rebellion anywhere.


I squatted next to the windowpane to await anything suspicious outside. On the left and right, other cyborgs leaned against the wall. Behind me, CC-76 sat on the floor with the unlighted pipe in his mouth. Our glances met, and he nodded to me encouragingly.

Through the broken window, I could see eastward to where a wide, dark plain extended to the high mountains on the horizon. After a long time, the darkness gradually began to vanish, and then I saw a dreadful sight. Countless numbers of armed vehicles were approaching across that plain. Dark, menacing war machines, a threat of inevitable death.

My hands clung to the blaster, my pulse increased, and my jaw squeezed compulsively. All the cyborgs around me watched the same scene in horror, and all of us surely knew what destiny we could expect.

However, we were also united as never before. All of us--cyborgs, clones, non-persons, numbers--had been educated as slaves, as obedient servants or clowns for people. We were no longer prepared to accept that role. We were not adaptable enough to submit to destiny. We are too dumb to realize that life, even life spent on one’s knees, was better than outright death.

There was instantaneous lightning, a series of flashes, coming from that remote plain. The first grenades exploded around us moments later. One of them struck the roof of our building, and countless splinters of concrete and bricks scattered everywhere.

The day broke quickly. I noticed in the air... What could that be, for heaven’s sake?

Around us there were half a dozen odd things, things I’d never seen before, things I could not identify. Those could hardly have been weapons. The glimmering cylinders were about a foot high and levitating freely in the air--thirty to fifty feet above the ground, all the while briskly moving around.

And then a sudden awareness pervaded me.

Of course. Those were the automatic holovision cameras with their antigravity drives. The people wanted to shoot a movie about our rebellion. Such a grandiose mass slaughtering of cyborgs would be a unique opportunity. Hundreds of millions of spectators could see these wonderful scenes of the biggest ‘Real Fight’ in history.
Something snapped inside me.

I was no longer scared. I didn't give a damn for the danger. My breathing became deep and calm once more, and I knew that I'd hit anything I aimed at. Now sitting next to me, CC-76 leaned against the wall, his pipe still in his mouth. He stared at me and fidgeted in a strange way.

“What is it?” I asked bending down as the next blast crashed.

CC-76 took his pipe out of his mouth. “I want... to ask you--well, something important.”

“Now? Then ask me right away, damn you, before we both–” A new explosion drowned out the rest of my sentence.

CC-76 put his mouth to my ear. “Look, my personal name is Wayne. And I want to know what yours is.”

I gazed at him in amazement. “What?”

He had to raise his voice because of the uproar. “It seems foolish to me to refer to you as just a number. Not now. I want to know which personal name you've chosen.”
I coughed and wiped the dust from my forehead. “Oh no. Don't you see we're going to die right away? Now what damn difference does my name–”

But Wayne's face was so earnest and full of expectation that I simply couldn't turn him down. Not here, not now.

“Call me Spartacus.”


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