The surgeon put away her tools; the procedure was finished.
Two years before, the national government had finally collapsed after years of chaos and incompetence. Left to their own devices, the people of her city had begun to self-govern. They had little money to spend, but plenty of ideas and knowledge – the city had always attracted scientists and intellectuals, and now that the age of working for a wage was more or less over people were looking for a new outlet for their energies.
The city had begun to hold assembly meetings to facilitate self-government, and at one of these meetings it was decided to perform an experiment: the city would design an experimental human being. These people wouldn’t be stronger, faster, more intelligent or more powerful than the existing human race. In fact, they’d have the same range of strengths and weaknesses as anyone else, with one difference: they’d be entirely uniform in appearance, with identical faces and bodies. To tell individuals apart, you’d have to touch them; a chip implanted in their bodies would tell you who you were with. The point was to discover whether relationships could be enhanced by replacing sight with touch as the primary mode of relating.
The bodies on the bench in front of the surgeon stirred; the chip that was supposed to bring them to life seemed to be working, at least. They sat up, then swung their legs over the side of the bench and stood. They smiled and asked permission to touch the surgeon, just as the design specified.
Relieved that the project appeared to be successful so far, she gave her permission. The three embraced. When they’d finished, they smiled again; each now knew who the other was, and could begin to talk.
The surgeon asked her new companions to follow her to the week’s assembly, which was due to meet to discuss the project’s progress. The three left the laboratory and began to walk to the gathering point. The surgeon felt anxious. She knew some people were suspicious of the project, and who could blame them: creating a new breed of identical humans probably didn’t sound like a good idea to most people. If the assembly weren’t convinced that the project was worthwhile, she’d have to bring it to an end by deactivating the chip, and although this would involve no physical pain it would be hard: her first touch-based encounter with the newcomers had been powerful, and she felt that they were already friends.
The three made their way into the crowd and sat on the floor, waiting for their turn to speak. Once the agenda items had been settled, the chair invited the newcomers to speak. They stood, and speaking in turn, said:
“We haven’t been here long, but we’ve been implanted with a collective memory chip, so like you we can remember what it was like to have no agency: when we had no direct control over our lives and communities, but simply voted every four years to allow others – who did not share our interests – to take decisions on our behalf. During that time, we were alienated from each other and didn’t recognise all the things we have in common; we forgot how much we can do when we work together instead of competing. We’re not here to replace you with a new breed of identical automatons; we just want to play our part in the process of learning how to fully relate. If you’d like to shake our hands or embrace us, please just ask; we’ll be happy to know you.”
The new humans sat down. Moved by the speech, their companions at the assembly came towards them and they began to touch; the experiment had begun.