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Theseus’ New Paradox
The slums of the capital were long ignored and forgotten by the elites who ran the government. Because of this, it was a haven for crime and black market trade. Buried beneath luxurious skyscraper complexes miles high and spanning the space of multiple football fields, the only source of light in the damp concrete alleys came from neon signs advertising firearms, alcohol, narcotics, cybernetic enhancements, and other illegal goods. Commercial prosthetic enhancements had been outlawed years ago after terrorist organisations began weaponizing them, but the slums had never known law.
A hooded figure passed through the alley. Unlike the other inhabitants, he walked with intent. Many directionless drunks and addicts loitered behind bars, and some lay passed out on the wet ground who could very possibly be dead. The man’s posture was slouched, with his hands buried deep in the pockets of his obsidian synth-fabric sweatshirt. The man’s dust-layered boots splashed in puddles of refuse. As he walked by his silhouette was occasionally illuminated by dim lights.
The man walked into an entrance covered by a rusting tin awning. The sign beside the door established this as a prosthetic replacement parlor. He entered the room and pulled down his hood, revealing a heavily scarred face with layers of stubble, and his hair was buzzed. A small barcode tattoo on his temple suggested he was a criminal who had been branded in prison.
The parlor was small. The main area was a single, low ceiling room. The walls were lined with shelves containing an assortment of tools and small motors. A small desk on the far end of the room was cluttered with wires, computer chips, and more tools. The centerpiece of the room was a rotating metal operating table with restraints crudely attached.
At the far end of the room, a faded metal door opened. Out stepped a man wearing a raggedy doctor’s uniform, with pockets containing primitive looking devices and the front stained from past patrons.
Despite his unsophisticated look, the doctor was infamous for state of the art prosthetic replacement limbs. Anybody involved in black market dealings was familiar with him. “Welcome,” said the doctor. Behind his round wire frame spectacles, his eyes glinted.
He took off his glove and extended his hand. The hand was not human, but mechanical. It had a chrome outer shell, with gaps in between revealing wires and the metal skeleton inside. He shook the customer’s hand with a firm, unnatural grip.
“How’d you find my place?” asked the doctor.
“I have some connections,” the man responded.
“I must ask, say, this procedure is serious and permanent. Are you sure about this? There’s no going back.”
“Well, sit down and we’ll get started”.
After the procedure the doctor ran various tests on the newly fitted robotic forearm. Some minor tweaks were made, and the man paid the doctor and was sent on his way. As he staggered back home, he tested his new arm. Clenching his fist, he felt the precise movements of his joints and the power of the motors under the control of his brain. Sometimes, he would feel as if his arm was in a different position than it really was. The doctor assured him these were “phantom pains” commonly felt by amputees.
As he reached his apartment, he quietly opened the door. The faded door creaked softly as he set foot inside. He entered his bedroom, where a woman was curled underneath a blanket, sleeping calmly. He sat down on the edge of the bed opposite her. He had met his wife a month after being released from prison. They ran into each other on the university campus. She was running to class, while he was making his way towards rehab. They went out for coffee and quickly fell in love. They saw something in each other. The girl looked beyond his checkered past and saw a vulnerable and loving man. After meeting her, he had decided to turn his life around. He found a job at the docks hauling containers. They got married. They moved in together. Everything was going well. Then he was laid off. She was still studying at the university, hoping to earn a PhD in biological and medical sciences. Looking for a solution, he gathered his savings and turned back to the darkest chapter of his life, the criminal underworld. Old contacts informed him of a huge investment that could have him set with all the money he needed to pay off his wife’s studies and support them for the rest of their lives. All he needed to pay was an arm and a leg. Or really, just an arm and a few thousands of credits. He was determined to get back on his feet, so he took the advice. He wasn’t doing this for himself, but for his wife.
He examined his arm. It was chrome with accents of matte black. Alloy ligaments and curved metal armor covered a skeletal frame hiding various tools and weapons. With his new arm, he picked up an apple that was sitting on the bed stand. Juice leaked from the fruit as he grasped it with crushing force. He had faith in his decision. This would make things right.
The man awoke to a bright morning light piercing through the thin curtains covering the window of the bedroom. His wife had already left for her classes. He rolled out of bed and put on his hoodie. The man slipped on his boots and headed out the door.
The man had walked to the docks hundreds of times before. As he passed through busy streets, he did his best to avoid arousing suspicion.
The man’s old contacts had briefed him on a military shipment that would be coming through the docks where he used to work. The shipment was highly classified and heavily guarded, but he was given the security layouts and the positions of each guard.
The warehouse was at the edge of the capital, outlooking a green sea. Here, the horizon was not obscured by buildings and lights.
The man entered through a backdoor he would sometimes come through when he was still employed.
“Hey, you don’t work here anymore,” said an employee.
The man quickly snapped the employees neck and his body fell to the floor. He proceeded towards the shipment. The large warehouse was opened towards the sea. A large military boat was docked outside, and a crane was transporting a container from the boat into the warehouse. The man noted its location. Guards were stationed on every catwalk in the warehouse, as well as atop stacks of shipping containers.
The man silently climbed up a catwalk and stealthily slit the neck of one guard with a concealed blade. He took two grenades and a silenced automatic rifle from the man. From his vantage point, he then eliminated six more guards using the rifle. The man descended and ran through the labyrinth of shipping crates, making his way towards the shipment of weapons. The bodies must have been noticed, as an alarm began to sound over the warehouse speakers. Guards and workers began yelling. The man sprinted to the container and used his strength to pry open the doors. Guards standing on an overlooking catwalk began to open fire. The man took cover behind the crate. Pulling the pin on one grenade, he lobbed it over at the guards. It detonated, killing the guards while also causing structural damage to the warehouse itself. The wall began to cave, and roof segments began to fall into the warehouse. The man used the chaos as an opportunity to steal a large briefcase full of expensive weaponry from the container. Guards stationed above him relayed commands on their radios, but could not spot him through the heavy layer of dust and smoke. A large chain reaction of explosions was set off as fuel tanks set on fire. The man ran off as confusion and pandemonium ensued behind him.
The news played on the holoscreen overlooking the tables at the diner. The screen showed aerial coverage of the ravaged storage building in the warehouse district of the capital. The wall had caved in completely, left in a pile of bricks and debris. Firefighting drones were attempting to extinguish a large fire from a shipping container.
“We are currently following a developing story from the West Docks. A single suspect has been reported to have ransacked a shipment of military weapons that included experimental guns and armor, as well as state of the art robotic prosthetics prohibited for public use. Extensive damage was done to the warehouse with all military guards killed along with 15 warehouse workers. Surviving witnesses say the suspect’s right arm was mechanical and fitted with a concealed firearm. He obscured his face with a mask but he appears to be about 1.8 meters tall, Caucasian, and was last seen wearing a black hoodie and combat boots.”
A low resolution video from the warehouse was shown. People in the diner began to make the connection between the man on the screen and the man sitting at the table in the corner.
Customers in the cafe began to turn around on their barstools and face the man. One brought out his phone and began to call for help. The hooded man quickly turned around and pointed his metallic arm towards the customer in a fist, and shot a single bullet out of a wrist launcher. It penetrated the phone. A circle of crimson red appeared on the man’s shirt as he collapsed backwards, his limp body hitting its head against a table before crashing to the floor. Screams broke out from all directions. Dozens of people ran for the door. That’s when he unleashed hell. With his weaponized arm, he grabbed the closest woman by the neck and lifted her a foot in the air. He then flung her across the room, knocking two others unconscious. A silver blade protruded from his hand. He ran through the room, shooting and mutilating the customers. None escaped. The checkered duroplast floors were covered with an inch of blood.
After abandoning his outfit and concealing his hands with a pair of leather gloves, the man evaded police patrols and returned home. His wife was standing in front of their outdated holoscreen watching the news report of the subsequent attack at the diner. Tears streamed down her face. She turned to the door as he walked in and ran to embrace him.
“I heard about what happened at work,” she said through heavy sobs, “I was so worried.”
She grabbed his gloved hands. Startled by what she felt, she looked up to his face and noticed dots of red splattered across his rough face. She stepped back.
“What have you done?” she whispered.
“I did this for you. I have all we need to start over. I have power now. I can get all the money I need for your tuition and for food and for rent. We can live happy.”
“Were you even thinking?!” she screamed as she ripped off his gloves. The chrome plating of the robotic arm shined red.
“Do you really think this is what I wanted? We could have talked this through. I thought you were past crime. I can’t believe what you’ve done. I won’t accept your reasoning and I won’t accept your dirty money. I won’t accept your love. You disgust me.”
His wife ran for the door, and in a moment of rage and betrayal, the man punched her and sent her crashing through a glass coffee table. He grabbed her around the neck and brought her face to his. Blood was dripping down her face as she gasped for breath.
“I did this all for you.” He said through clenched teeth. With strength ten times the ability of a normal man, he threw her through the window, sending her body falling to the street stories below. There was a crash and a plethora of screams. Sirens began wailing in the distance. Realizing what he had done, the man ran for the door.
Four years later, the news reported of the capture of one of the FBI’s most wanted. the FBI tracked the suspect to an abandoned house in the countryside. Over the years he had accumulated a list of crimes including homicide, arson, robbery, and other various felonies.
A clip played of the head of the FBI reading through the police report.
“While regretting the decisions he had made, the man became absorbed by the power the prosthetics gave him and he had become addicted to upgrading his body. With the parts he stole from the military shipment and with money forcefully stolen from various places, he began gradually replacing parts of his body, with hydraulic legs for faster speed, a new heart with controllable adrenaline levels. The more segments he replaced gave him increased strength, endurance, and durability. This made him incredibly dangerous. But by the time we found him, he didn’t put up a fight. He seemed tired.”
A news report showed the man with his limbs removed inside a magnetically restraining straight jacket. Cameras followed as heavily armed guards carried him into solitary confinement. As the men walked off screen, the reporter said, “Let this man be a lesson to society. As technology gives us more freedom and becomes more intertwined in our lives, we cannot let it detract from who we are. Ancient philosophers once debated whether a rotting ship completely replaced with new parts was still the same ship. This man has slowly become a machine with nothing carried over but his thoughts. Is he still the same man?”