Inventions of the Future: Man in a Can

Tom stomped down Service Corridor B of Space Station Zephyr, swearing steadily. The servo on his left rear leg was locked up again. His gait was so uneven he had trouble avoiding toppling into the walls. He could go to the Veteran’s Body Shop, but they would just lube it and send him off again. No replacement parts were available at this time. At least not for those who had sacrificed everything for their empire.

Tom had started life as a tank grown clone on the colony of Kanker Five. He had been happy, wired into the hive, always knowing which task to complete next. He had been created for a purpose and he had the satisfaction of fulfilling it.

He came to the door that separated Service Section B from Service Section C. He checked the sensor readings for the other side. No oxygen, no heat. He gave the code to override the locking mechanisms and swung his damaged leg into hard vacuum.

The Resource Wars had changed everything. We need organic units, said the parent company. No time to grow new ones. Because the hive wished it, he volunteered.

They put chips in his brain so he could pilot solo deep space missions. They replaced his bones with an engineered material so they would never break. They replaced his internal organs with more efficient synthetic models. They optimized his soft tissues for hibernation. Eventually, he became a whole new man.

The door closed behind him and he wobbled down Service Corridor C. Gravity was always stronger here, close to the Allied Interests offices. His destination was close now.

The modifications had not upset him. His original body was weak and vulnerable, optimized for a planet bound life. By the end of the war he was more durable than the ship which carried him. Once he survived an ambush by floating in the void until backup arrived.

Tom moved slowly in the high gravity. He slid into the ancient rec room though a side door which had long ago frozen half open. This was the oldest part of the station. All the technology worth recycling had been stripped out and the hull was being used as a physical buffer between the newer station sections and space debris.

When the war was over he naively assumed he could return to Kanker Five. He missed the buzz of the hive. He missed the instant communication where he was never misunderstood.

We have invested too many precious materials in you, he was told. For the good of the empire we must reclaim them.

He expected them to give him a new vat grown body. They did not. They scanned his neural structure and printed it on a blank robot brain and stuffed him into a tiny, ancient exploration unit.

The hive no longer had a place for him. He could serve no purpose there. He would be useful to the maintenance crew on the station as long as he could remain mobile.

He settled into his docking station with his bad leg sticking out. He felt relief as the connection closed and the charge trickled into his batteries.

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