The (not so) secret lives of biocybes
When I was asked to write a blog about my biocybernetic character, Admiral Branden Kel-Paten, one of the first things that came to my mind was this bit of dialogue between Captain Tasha “Sass” Sebastian and Doc Eden Fynn as it appears in Chapter Six of Games of Command:
Eden closed her eyes briefly. “I don’t know how to explain this but there’s an emotional resonance that shouldn’t be there.”
“Are you sure? The U-Cees built their strategies around the fact that between the cybernetics and Psy-Serv’s emo-inhibitor programs, Kel-Paten is one six-foot-three deadly emotionless sonofabitch. That was the whole point. No emotions to sway decision making. Only cold, hard, clinical facts.”*
It pretty much sums up his character and it’s, well, pretty much a lie. Oh, Kel-Paten is a six-foot-three biocybe. That’s fact. But emotionless? Anyone with a modicum of computer experience—and a relationship with Murphy’s Law—can tell you, programs don’t always operate as, well, programmed. Part of the reason is that the programs always contain a human element. And part of the reason is that programs always contain back doors—supposedly secret ways of gaining access for “maintenance” purposes.
Did all this figure in to my thoughts when I was creating Branden Kel-Paten about a decade ago? Not in the least. That kind of justification came later. I grew up watching Star Trek, both the original and later versions. Mr. Spock, in all his stoic glory, was to me later echoed in Commander Data. Both characters fascinated me. Like many fans, I avidly watched for those episodes where the psychological training (Spock) or psychological programming (Data) failed. I wanted to see them struggle with what we struggled with: Emotions. There was almost a pious purity in those two characters’ abilities not to be affected by feelings. The writer in me—even way back then—wanted to mess with that.
So when I had my joyously irreverent and out-of-control character in Sass Sebastian, I could think of no better partner in crime than Kel-Paten. Heat and ice. Emotional hurricane meets unbending oak tree. And I threw in a touch of Pinocchio—secretly, Kel-Paten wants to be full human with all its messy complicated emotions, as long as he could center those emotions around Sass.
What’s the appeal with that kind of character? I was asked to address that as well in this blog and, to be honest, my answer right now is probably not what was in my mind over a decade (or more) ago. It could be that we prefer flaws (emotions) to perfection (emotionless data). It could be the conquering of the seemingly unconquerable, and that works in both directions—Kel-Paten saw as impossible the fact that Sass might love him:
He angled back towards his console and tried to concentrate on the problems at hand. They were lost in a malfunctioning shuttle, out of range of help from any sort of civilization as they knew it. That should be the problems he needed to address. Not that he was on that same shuttle with a woman who’d never see him as anything other than a ‘cybe…
And Sass found herself torn between duty, admiration, and her own self-doubts:
She couldn’t stop thinking that to him, she was his green-eyed vixen. She wasn’t remotely a vixen, and she never considered herself more than passably attractive. To be the subject of such undeserved passion…It almost made her more nervous than when she thought he was the enemy.
I think the appeal is that most of us have played one or both parts in our lives. We know self-denial, self-doubt. We know “…if my friends knew the real me, they’d never speak to me again.” Of course with Kel-Paten, the risk was greater. If his emotions were revealed, he faced termination. But there are many kinds of death, psychologists tell us. Physical and emotional (and all things in-between). When, as a writer, you get to play with those parameters and get to do so in science fiction romance, it creates nothing but havoc and fun.
The best part is the melding of the two: clinical intellectualism opens itself to the delightful and frightening messiness of emotions. And wild and fragile emotions find solidity and acceptance from the stable intellect.
And you do that all while battling the bad guys and grasping for that one thread of hope called love:
Kel-Paten leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers together as he studied Sass.
“That would mean abandoning this ship, hijacking the Traveler, locating Fynn, Serafino, and the furzels, locking them in a transbeam, and getting everyone on board, off planet, and through the jumpgate. Without anyone at the outpost taking retaliatory action. And without any more enemy fighters waiting to blow us out of the space lanes when we arrive.”
Hell of a list. And a hundred things that could go wrong. A hundred ways to die. “Piece o’ cake,” Sass quipped. “Anything else?”
“Yes.” The perimeter warning chimed. He turned to it then slanted her a quick glance. “Don’t forget you still need me when we get home.”
*(all quotes from GAMES OF COMMAND by Linnea Sinclair, Bantam Books. Sass and Kel-Paten also appear in the novellas “Seven Months of Forever” in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF FUTURISTIC ROMANCES and “Mission: Nam Selan”, in TALES FROM THE SFR BRIGADE.)