Nations torn down, new empires rising in their place! Technology racing forward at a breakneck speed, rushing mankind toward the cataclysmic final war that could end everything! Cyborg warriors! Vast armies of combat machines! Can humanity survive, or will the ambitions of empire-building industrialists destroy everything? And what will our species become once machine enhancement is the norm?
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About the Author
Raymond Long was born and grew up in England. He has degrees in Biochemistry and Biophysics, both from English universities. During his scientific career he worked in university and research council laboratories, two agencies of the British government, and private industry. He is now a full time author and editor. He has lived in Switzerland and Spain, but has now returned to his native England.
Read an Excerpt
Rachel Bond woke up. Her eyes were sore and her throat felt like sandpaper. Her head was as heavy as lead and ached with a dull, constant pain. As usual, the first thing she did was cough, bringing up great gobbets of mucus into her throat.
Hearing from the coughs that Rachel was awake, her mother came in and opened the curtains. The full light of day streamed in, stinging Rachel's hot eyes. As always, Rachel slept late, although she went to bed early. Her body was always tired from the battles her immune system fought against the constant infections coming in through her lungs.
"Rachel--Rachel darling--' Valerie Bond came over and knelt beside the bed, clasping one of her daughter's hands in both of her own. Her voice was unsteady and she was blinking spasmodically, fighting back tears. 'Rachel, I don't want you to get your hopes up too high--but--but, darling, we might have wonderful news. There are some people who think they have a cure for you!'
"A ... cure?'
"Yes, darling! A company in China. They called us this morning and they want to send one of their doctors to see you. They say they've invented a--a kind of artificial lung, and they're looking for people to test it on. And--and if they find you have the right kind of--of--' Valerie broke down in tears then, pressing Rachel's hand to her wet face.
"Mummy ... mummy...' was all Rachel could say. Her heart was leaping inside her. Could it really be true? She had spent her life in bed, unable to walk and often barely able to breathe. She had long held fantasies about cures of course, but she had thought them just dreams. She had never seen any real prospect ofbeing released from this living death in her bed. Could she dare to hope that this would make her normal?
No, that was not it, of course: an artificial lung would not make her walk. But would it cure her asthma, leave her free from the constant debilitating pain and tiredness? If it could free her from asthma, even going about in a wheelchair would be a whole new life. At least she would be able to go outside and feel the sunlight on her skin. She would only need to sleep eight hours a day like normal people and the pain, the weakness which were the curse of her life would be over. Could it really be true?
That day an Oriental man and woman arrived. They spoke to her politely in perfect but accented English, asking her a lot of questions about her condition. Rachel had answered the same questions a thousand times before. Then they asked her to sign two documents. One was a consent form which would allow their company, Liao Industries, access to her medical records. That, they said, was so that they could assess whether she had the kind of asthma that they could treat. The other was a non-disclosure agreement, guaranteeing that she would not make her involvement with Liao Industries known to anyone but her parents. There were NDAs for them to sign as well.
Rachel had never believed in God--the idea that someone could have made her this way on purpose was an obscenity--but she spent the rest of the day praying desperately to anyone who might be up there to make this cure real and not a cruel false hope. In the afternoon her mother rushed into Rachel's bedroom again and said that Liao Industries had telephoned. They had not made a final decision yet, but after an initial review of Rachel's medical notes, all the signs looked positive. They would call again within the week with a final decision.
After two days of fraught waiting, the answer came. Rachel had been accepted into the Liao Industries experimental treatment programme. More Oriental medical staff turned up and the house briefly became a hive of well-ordered, efficient, bustling activity. There was another consent form to sign. Rachel scanned over the text, but she knew that she would agree to absolutely anything that might end the nightmare she had lived all her life. Before long she gave up reading it and just signed it.
They wanted to take her to China the same day. They brought a stretcher into her bedroom and eased her onto it. Rachel was carried out of the house and had a brief taste of sunshine and blustery wind. There was a large van, black and unmarked, waiting for her with its back doors open. She was carried in and the back doors closed. There were no windows, but the inside of the van looked like a hospital room. Rachel was transferred to a bed and Valerie got in too, and was given a seat at the head of Rachel's bed. Then they were underway. Tired after so much excitement, Rachel slept much of the journey away. When she was awake, her mother was there, smiling down with a careworn smile. Valerie's expression matched Rachel's feelings: hope mixed with worry. Valerie sometimes clasped Rachel's hand, but there was little they could say to each other that had not already been said. There were other people in the back with them, but when they spoke to each other it was quietly and in their own language.
During one of Rachel's waking periods she was transferred from the ambulance to an aeroplane, the inside of which looked even more like a hospital room than the ambulance, and a better-equipped hospital room too. There was a flight, again passed mostly in sleep. When it ended Rachel was taken out of the plane on a stretcher. It was night outside, a night full of unfamiliar scents. In the distance loomed monolithic airport buildings. In the bright lights of the aeroplane stood another ambulance. This one looked like a real ambulance, white with coloured lights on top, with writing on it in an unfamiliar script. Now they were in China, close to their destination. Rachel didn't sleep much on that final drive, though it seemed to go on for a very long time.
Eventually the ambulance reached a hospital. Rachel knew hospitals, and this looked better than most she'd seen in England. She was put in a spacious room full of machines. One wall was a single large window facing east, but as it was night there was little to see. Rachel was introduced to Dr Susan Yuan, who would be supervising her treatment personally, and Dr Lu-Shan Pang, director of the experimental lung programme. Dr Yuan sat with Rachel and told her that she was at Ning Da Research Hospital in Manchuria, and explained what would happen to her. The first stage in the treatment was to create an environment ideal for Rachel's health. The air would be purified to remove disease vectors and allergens--after a moment Dr Yuan saw Rachel's incomprehension and explained that disease vectors meant germs--and they would adjust the air temperature and humidity until they found ideal levels for Rachel's lungs. That should reduce her symptoms, and then they would be able to slowly reduce her medications. But because they were keeping the air pure, Dr Yuan explained, everyone who entered would have to wear a clean-suit.
Weary from her journey and the excitement, Rachel listened without much comment and then slept. When she awoke it was late afternoon, the next day she supposed, and through her window she saw distant mountains capped with snow that gleamed like magic in the fading sunlight. There were people in the room with her, all wearing shiny pale blue rubber suits and helmets that enclosed their heads in transparent plastic. A nurse smiled and greeted her in heavily accented English. Her mother and Dr Yuan came in wearing the same kind of suits. Valerie said that Rachel's father was settling affairs in England, and would join them as soon as he could.
During the first few weeks they monitored her, taking blood samples from time to time. She was allowed to sleep whenever she liked, and to start with she woke later and later each day, so that she saw less and less of day's fading light in the morning. She spent some days without any sight of daylight at all, just night's darkness outside the window.
Then one day was drifting into sleep, piercing light flared in her window. That dragged her back to wakefulness and she looked out. A tiny spot of intense light gleamed between the dark jagged mountains below and the twilit sky above. Joy and fascination filled her as the sun rose over the mountains, and the mystery of shadow crept back to reveal first this rise and then that in the mountains' side, while some valleys stayed nighted still. She managed to stay awake watching the morning unfold until the sun was high above the mountains. Each day after that she stayed awake longer, eager to see the sun reveal her mountains piece by piece. The mountains of Manchuria enchanted Rachel, and she wove dreams about them. She pictured herself a fairy or spirit dancing on the snowy caps as the wind blew around her in the dawn, icy but unable to do her harm.
As the weeks passed she got stronger: the tiredness that had dogged her all her life was lessening in this sterile, controlled environment and she coughed less. That left her lungs less sore and ragged, and there was not so much fluid in them as there used to be. Susan Yuan was pleased with her progress and told her that soon they could start cutting her medication. Rachel had many ups and downs over the weeks that followed, but at the end of it she was clear of all medications and felt better than she had at home in England with all her drugs. She had adjusted to the Chinese day, and woke before dawn every day to watch the glorious sunrise over her magic mountains.
Constant infections had racked Rachel's body all her life, but gradually her weak immune system fought down all those she had brought with her. In this sterile environment they were not replaced by fresh ones, and so eventually she was free from all infection. No longer enflamed by allergens and infection, no longer worn ragged by constant coughing, her lungs healed to a degree. Her immune system no longer had to work overtime and so her general energy levels improved, and she needed less and less sleep every week until she was down to nine hours a night. Eventually they started her on a very light exercise regime, pulling down on handles that lifted very light weights. The work made her heart beat faster, an unfamiliar and exciting feeling. Slowly the weak, flabby muscles of her arms began to develop tone, growing harder and more defined.
Then, when the doctors were content with her general state of health, Susan Yuan told Rachel that they were ready to go ahead with implanting the artificial lung. The operation was scheduled for a few days later. The intervening days were filled with eager, nervous anticipation. Susan gave them detailed explanations of what would happen: Rachel's human lungs and parts of her nasal cavity and throat would be removed and replaced by artificial implants.
Finally the big day came. Rachel's parents stood by her bed and clasped her hands before she went in, the thin plastic of their suits coming between skin and skin. Valerie couldn't suppress a few tears. Susan assured them both that Rachel was in good hands, and she was wheeled into the operating theatre and anaesthetised.
Waking after the operation, Rachel's first sensation was a stiffness and general discomfort in her chest. She reached up to touch it, but the nurse on duty put out a hand and gently restrained her arm.
"Your chest has stitches. Please, do not touch.'
"Right--sorry.' Her heartbeat quickened at the unfamiliar sound of her own speech. 'My voice--I--oh--my throat--artificial now--'
"Yes. Your voice will sound different.'
The doctors and her parents came in and made a big fuss of her, asking her how she was, all beaming with smiles. Rachel tried to be the happy, grateful girl but tiredness dragged at her. It was like before she had come here, a step backward. That evening she was given a bed bath and she could see the huge red line of stitches down her body. Her entire chest had been cut open. A sensation of discomfort under her chin told her that there were stitches there too.
But the tiredness was gone the next day. The discomfort of the stitches was nothing if this meant she was going to be well. When she was out of hospital, would she be healthy? She could still not walk, of course, but would she be able to breathe freely without falling sick? Would her long years of constant exhaustion and pain be over?
Rachel recovered from the operation, and the discomfort in her chest and throat soon passed away. Before long she felt better than ever. When the bones of her chest had knitted back together and the doctors had performed extensive tests, they declared that she was ready for exposure. This was it. This was the true test of the technology. The medical staff at the hospital were obviously all willing it to work, very hopeful, but at the same time Rachel knew that they had that last nagging doubt that it might not turn put as they hoped.
Rachel had been hoping to go outside, but the cautious doctors would not allow it straight away. Instead they put her in a wheelchair and took her into an 'exposure room'. This room had the same controlled atmosphere as her sterile hospital room, but to this they admitted a small puff of air from the outside world. Rachel noticed no difference, and after an hour of such exposure she was wheeled back into her normal room. An hour of exposure followed every day, and everyone waited with baited breath for any disease symptoms to show up. But none came. They increased her exposure time to two and then three hours a day, but there was no effect. Pleased with those positive signs they started changing the temperature and humidity of Rachel's room, and still she was healthy.
Then one day Susan Yuan told her that they were going to completely remove all sterile precautions. The air purifiers were switched off and Rachel breathed the same air as the rest of the hospital. The staff and her parents took off their rubber suits and plastic helmets, and Rachel was able to feel her mother's hand on her face for the first time in months. Still she stayed healthy, and at long last she was able to go outside.
They wheeled her out in the middle of the day, and Rachel felt the sun strike the bare skin of her face through the cold, clear air of an almost cloudless Manchurian day. She tried to draw in a deep breath, but there was just a tugging inside her chest. Of course, the implant only drew in air at a pace it considered necessary. She wanted to sniff the air, but she could not inhale. And besides, that sense was lost to her, because so much had been replaced with implants. Inside her nose and lungs there was only deadness, but the tang of cold air on her skin was exhilarating feeling after so many years lying in bed. Tears burst from her and she wept with joy.
There were weeks of evaluation, with the doctors making ever more confident claims about how well everything was going. Rachel started to ask tentative questions about when she would be going home. The doctors shied from this question, and Rachel decided not to press the point. Then, finally, Susan Yuan sat down with her to talk about the future.
"Well, Rachel, I think that we can now declare the respiratory treatment a complete success. Your artificial respiratory system is working perfectly and you are no longer suffering from respiratory infections or from the effects of allergens.'
"So now--now we would like to offer you a place in our artificial spine programme.'
"What!' Rachel shrieked.
"We did not tell you before, because we could not go ahead with the spine operation if your respiratory system did not work. We did not want to disappoint you. But now you can be our first patient to have both the artificial respiratory system and the artificial spine.'
"Yes--yes, of course! I--I--oh thank you, Susan! Thank you!'
So Rachel was transferred to another part of the hospital. Susan Yuan came with her, still her personal supervisor, but Dr Pang was left behind. The head of the spinal implant research unit was Dr Khaled, who didn't look Chinese. The pre-operation tests were briefer here, only a few days, and then another operation followed. Rachel woke up with a strange feeling in her back, and tried to move. There was no response and panicked for a moment, before she remembered what they had told her: her body would be kept paralysed with drugs for several days until it was confirmed that her flesh had grown onto the implant as it should.
For those days, Rachel could not even open her eyes. Her parents and Susan Yuan were there most of the time, telling her what was happening, holding her hand, and giving her a feeling that she was not cut off from the world completely. She was fed intravenously, lying inert all the time, feeling the bed wheeled around occasionally as she was taken to other rooms for scans. Then after a week or so Susan Yuan told her that they were stopping the paralytic drug, and in the morning she should be able to move.
Rachel slept fitfully that night, all excitement, and in the morning she woke with a jump. She had jumped--her body had moved! She opened her eyes and saw the room was dark. Then a night-light came on and a nurse approached her, smiling.
"You are awake. How do you feel?' As she spoke, she drew a small box from her belt and pressed a button on it.
"Uh--uh feh--pruh, prutteh goo.' Rachel panicked at the sound of her own voice. 'Wuh--wut rung--wuh cun uh sp-spayk rut?'
"The paralytic not completely gone from your body. It will improve better.'
"But muh voy bux--umflunt--'
"You voice box is an implant, but your lips and tongue are flesh.'
Rachel grunted and relaxed. She tried to raise her arms and they responded, pressing up into the sheets. Then she moved her legs. Her body was working, moving again.
Susan Yuan and her parents came in, and Valerie asked her all sorts of questions until Susan told her it would be best to let Rachel rest. Her parents left, and Susan advised Rachel to try to sleep and not to try to move her back until the doctors said so.
By mid-morning the last noticeable effects of the paralytic drug had worn off. Rachel was given a light breakfast in bed, glad to be able to eat it with her own hands. The intravenous drips were removed from her body and then the real work began. Susan Yuan and Dr Khaled took up places on either side of her bed, and a technician stood with a camera at the end of the bed, filming the big event. Beaming with pride, Dr Khaled asked Rachel to try to sit up in bed.
Rachel took a deep breath. She put her hands down on the bed on either side of her chest and lifted her body up. There was a sensation like nothing she had ever felt before inside her back, as if thousand of tiny creatures were wriggling about in there. It was not painful, just rather strange. Slowly, carefully, she pushed her body up. Her arms were hardly doing any of the work. She was sitting up using her back, something she had never done before. As she raised her upper body, there was a look of intense concentration on her face. Then when she was up she lifted her hands off the bed completely, and broke into a broad grin at her success. Susan Yuan burst out in expressions of congratulation, and then called in Rachel's parents. Valerie wept at the sight.
It was the start of long, slow training. Rachel's body was weak and soft after years of inactivity, and she had to learn to stand and walk from scratch, things she had never done before. She had to build muscles she had never used and to develop a sense of balance for the first time. She built up the muscles in her legs, and again there was the pleasant burn of exercise, the feeling of progress as they grew. The doctors and physiotherapists had to warn her time and time again not to do too much.
Progress was slow and steady. Rachel got used to using her back, to walking, to balancing, and her muscles swelled and took on firm tone. Her soft flabby body changed and became more athletic. Rachel was able to go outside and walk around in the closing days of the hot Manchurian summer, feeling the wind blowing over her skin, putting her feet into a river still cold with the melt-water of the mountain snows despite the summer heat. She exercised her mind too, no longer fogged by weariness. She made an effort to copy some of the words that the people around her used, starting with xiexie, 'thank you'.
When Susan Yuan heard that she said, 'You want to learn Chinese?'
"Yes--I thought--thought I should--'
Susan started to teach her as best she could. After two days Susan gave Rachel a portable computer with language learning software on it. The Chinese staff all seemed pleased, and soon Rachel was having very basic conversations with them in their own language.
One day, after some exchange of simple words in Chinese, Susan switched to English and said, 'There's one last operation we'd like to do.'
"Another operation? But--but there's nothing else, nothing wrong with me now.'
"Nothing medically wrong, no. This is just cosmetic. It is for the scars from your first operation.' Rachel reached up and touched the healed scar under her chin, a long thick heavy vein of roughness that ran down her throat and chest where they had opened her up to replace her respiratory system with the implant. 'We want to cover it up, make you look normal.'
"I ... yes. Thank you, Susan. Thank you. You've done so much for me...'
Susan smiled and touched Rachel's hand. 'We want you to look your best in front of the cameras.'
"We are going to show you off to the world. You are our best patient. The result of our greatest work.'
"This really is sensational news here today in Manchuria. Liao Industries has unveiled a huge leap forward in medical prosthetics technology. For the first time today we are seeing the fruits of a decade of work at Liao Industries' Ning Da Research Hospital in Manchuria. The researchers at Liao have managed to develop an artificial lung and an artificial spine. Today it was announced that both prosthetics have successfully been implanted into the same patient.
"The recipient of this groundbreaking treatment is Rachel Bond, an English girl who was unable to walk for the whole of her life as a result of spinal deformities. As well as that she had extremely severe, life-threatening asthma. Doctors had given her less than ten years to live and it seemed that Rachel would not see thirty until Liao Industries picked her out to be the first person to receive the double implant. Thanks to them she can now walk and is free from asthma symptoms.'
Rachel stepped out onto the stage, smiling nervously. She had been worried about the possibility of stumbling--her sense of balance was still not perfect--but the stage was flat and level. The people behind it all followed her onto stage: Raymond Liao, head of the corporation, with Drs Yuan, Pang and Khaled. Mr Liao and Dr Pang made brief speeches. Susan Yuan was by Rachel's side, obviously anxious that she should not be overwhelmed by her first public appearance. It was as though Susan wanted to hold her up and was standing there ready to catch her if she fell. But Rachel had not fallen in over two months, and she was not about to do so now.
Fortunately she was not expected to make a speech herself, and just smiled at the cameras. The reporters were obviously eager to speak to her, but behaved with restraint. Eventually they were allowed to question her.
"How do you feel, Miss Bond?'
"I--I'm just so--so glad to be out, out of bed. I mean, I spent ni-nineteen years sick in bed before I had the chance to get up and walk. And--and--they told me I was, I was going to die of asthma. I thought--I thought--I'm just so, just so happy to, to be--' Rachel was unable to go on as emotion overcame her. There was no lump in her throat as she no longer had one, but tears streamed from her eyes. Susan put a gentle arm around her shoulders. They were shaking.
Later, when the session with the press was over, a still tearful Rachel blubbered out her apologies. 'I'm--I'm so, so-sorry--I couldn't--couldn't t-talk--'
"No, Rachel, it was perfect,' Raymond Liao told her. 'I could not have asked for better. The press loves to see that kind of thing. Especially because it was real. People can always spot fake tears, but yours were genuine.'