A Fifth Noble Truth

by David Agranoff


Story Copyright (C) 2007, David Agranoff.
Images Copyright (C) 2007, Rudy Rucker.
2,600 Words.




She had never seen anything so disgusting in her life. Jenn had braced herself for such sights as the transport lowered itself into Portland’s airspace but here in front of her, she wanted to gag.

Like a mountain the red ridge curved up into what looked like white snow cap Her neural access had searched the web and informed her that it was filled with pus. The slang according to the addendum was: whitehead. It was impossible for her not to stare at the woman.

Of course she had seen pictures of people who looked like this woman but being this close was different. Her skin was grey and dotted with red spots, her hair was shoulder length and red. It was all quite breathtaking example of a natural person but she could have lived the next thousand years and never see another white head.

The disfigured woman didn’t seem bothered or ashamed she even smiled at Jenn.

“Welcome to Portland.”

Jenn took a deep breath. She could smell the woman’s foul breath waft across the transport center. Despite whatever attempts at hygene the mint flavored tooth paste could not cover up a smell of garlic.

You’re among naturals my dear. You must except the reality of speech. Joel silent messaged her. She had remained logged into his net knowing that he was important resource. He monitored via CAMFEED and was not shy about offering his advice.

Joel was well known nano-surgeon who had retired after fifty years in the field to study sociology. His focus for the last twenty seven years had been the natural zones and the humans who lived there. He had researched at the European academy for the natural human and even once had visited Portland the west coast’s only natural city.

“Thank you.” Jenn spoke with a slight hesitation thankfully her vocal cords spoke with soothing harmony.

The woman was staring at Jenn, who wanted desperately to hire a taxi and head to the temple.

She has never seen an ‘Enhanced’ before; imagine how beautiful you must appear to these people.

“I’m sorry I don’t mean to stare. It’s just strange.”

Jenn looked around the transport center, this woman wore a uniform – accessing: Portland Transit Union.

“Working for the PTU you must have seen ‘enhanced’ persons before?”

“Me oh no, never before, in school we learn about enhanced persons.”

“I can’t imagine what the Portland schools have to say.”

It hurts my brain just pondering the notion. Joel sent a laugh with his silent message, in a less enhanced person with lower level mental organization this would have caused the receiver to chuckle. While still young Jenn had received more than 200 nano upgrades since her birth fifty five years ago.

“I know you enhancers think were all dumber than donkey shit but Portland schools have some of the finest natural academies on earth. You do know what shit is don’t you?”

From beyond the natural woman Jenn heard laughter. A monster or so he looked, the size of two humans this man looked to have a cushion balled under his shirt but Jenn quickly realized it was his stomach expanded to grotesque size by neglect born of his natural genes.

“Look she’s looking up shit in her net right now.”

Gross. I found it by the way. Jenn shot him a silent message.

I already know what it is. Excrement, naturals are so crass.

The natural woman shot her friend a look that Jenn mistook as telepathy. She had resisted all mental scans doing that in natural zones this could get you deported.

“I know what shit is.”

“Awesome you are truly advanced by the way what is your business in Portland?”

Jenn thought a moment about her answer. She knew the woman was about to explain the rules and regulations for visits to the natural zone. She also knew not to tell this woman that she had just accessed and downloaded the information before she even got a chance to tell her.

Naturals are dangerous, and unpredictable. Be careful she told herself.

“I’m here for spiritual enlightenment.”

The two natural humans looked at each other in surprise. Jenn could not believe how simple they were, so easy to read even without mental links. The woman smiled.

“That’s wonderful. I wish more of you folks would do the same.”

Please. You see how crazy this is. Jenn come home. Read one of my books.

The woman looked at a card for a moment before speaking.

“I’m sure you already downloaded the rules so I just want to run through the highlights. Accessing your net is fine, mental links with naturals is illegal. Pain vaccines of course are fine, self healing is fine but you are not allowed no matter how serious the situation to mentally heal a natural. Since you hardly sleep any hotel or hostel beds are given priority to natural guests…”

“I have total recall of all materials and full net access…”

“It’s my job remind you and look I never get to give this speech.”

I wouldn’t tell her that it’s because most enhanced people would be caught dead here.

Jenn thanked her again and accessed the control center on her luggage. It followed her out to the taxi bay. The sky was blue with only a few puffy white clouds. Portland had been known for its rain five hundred years ago before the climate crisis. Today it was apart of the earth’s global weather net. A team of para-weather experts on each major land mass were interfaced at all times perfectly timing weather patterns so all rains and uncomfortable weather patterns were scheduled around human life.



Natural communities like Portland have tried appeals to the government for natural weather. In the end these arguments were seen to be nothing more than ranting of Ethical Naturals’ who even among the few remaining communities were nothing more than a minority.

Few families left on earth or any of the near by colonies are so poor they can not afford gentic, nano or simple biological enhancements. In the 21 st century the natural class wars had been a dark stain on the evolution of the human race.

Developmental and physical disabilities became a thing of the past at least for families rich enough. Governments created warriors who became as common on the battlefields fighting over water as they had been in comic books only a hundred years before.

When the climate crisis was corrected, and human race was saved - the public accepted the power of science. The evolution began. Not one overseen by the march of time but an evolution that had more to do with wave of a magic wand. It was a great leap forward and for the first time in 50,000 years the human had taken a step up the ladder.


Darwin Ave.

It was the name of the street that both the Buddhist temple and the church of scientology were on near the river. It went through downtown and across the river before going up a long hill. Jenn saw the name and chuckled. Forty five years earlier she had read a book on ancient science, there was a footnote that mentioned a scientist name Charles Darwin.

She considered searching the database for more information of this man but antiquated science drove her mad. Some naturals found his work to explain nature’s ability to mange our development. Although the ones who believed in divine nature looked even further back into the past.

In this city Jesus and Darwin were both heroes. It had been an unnatural alliance between right wing religious fanatics and deep ecologically minded Luddites that had resisted all efforts at advancement. It didn’t matter if it was mother nature or father sky the point was none of them thought that human beings needed improving. Flat-earthers as Jenn’s father called them - were not to be reasoned with.

It didn’t matter if they prayed for our souls or tried blocking the labs science marched over the opposition and the human race enjoyed the comforts afforded them by advancement. Just as silent messaging helped put an end to ancient cell phone technology pentagon funded groups like DARPA, and corporations like NEThuman put an end to religion as the human race had known it for thousands of years.

Jenn had always believed what her father had told shortly after first gene enhancing ceremony.

“Search your net Darling, God cannot be proven. It is the people who hold on to these fantasies who never wanted us to be born.”

Something hit the surface of the auto – taxi, from the back seat Jenn’s neural net offered to drive but the computer responded with a ‘all clear signal’.

“What the hell?” a voice said from outside the taxi called. Jenn took a look and saw a person suspended in the air above two large tires. Accessing: Bicycle, Non motor transport. The driver of the bicycle had long hair that was twisted and dirty, and grotesque fashion statement he had a ring pierced through his lip.

There eyes met for a brief second. Jenn couldn’t resist, before she could stop her self she probed his mind. He had never seen an enhanced person before. Jenn quickly pulled out of his mind.

“God bless you.” The man said as the taxi pulled ahead. It was true what they say Portland was haven for freaks and believers – often both.


The Temple had been built in the last years of the 21st century during the genetic class wars. Taking up an entire block the city of Portland had welcomed refugee spiritualists. At the time no one could have foreseen the purging that religion would take but it made sense to enhanced persons who sought government positions. The voters agreed, and since automatic neural polling replaced outdated three tier government democracy was directly a state of mind for 80% of the world’s population.

Everyone was of course offered the ability interface at government terminals but with out constant net access and the mental ability to register the reality made voting the duty of the enhanced person. A responsibility few took lightly.

Able to devour entire libraries by the age of six, able to download any fact or instantly communicate with family, loved ones or teachers the idea of religion slowly phased out of human society. The endless stream of accounts downloaded to a trillion members of the enhanced democracy of religion’s bloody history had soured it’s grip on humanity. Losing faith became the most serious of upgrades.

“Faith did not make us what we are today.” The famous words Eva Dylan.


Jenn waited by the front door to temple. Three monks walked towards her, each bowed. In the distance she could smell the sweet fragrance of something burning. Accessing: incense.

“Please be welcome in our temple.”



Jenn nervously bowed, unsure she was doing the right thing. She walked into the temple following the three men. The man her net told her was most likely the Abbot smiled at her.

“We were very pleased to hear your request to come study with us. May I ask why would an enhanced choose to study the teachings of Buddha?”

Jenn logged off of her silent messaging account, and cued all information databases related to advanced Buddhism. This was the moment she had feared for years now, the line was before her and it was time to cross it.

“I’ve downloaded the four noble truths of Buddha quite by accident and I was struck by them, especially the concept that desire is ultimately responsible for suffering.”

“One who detaches themselves from material or social desire they cannot be wounded by anything. Those who are complete and free from desire, delusion and ignorance are connected to the universe, whole and complete.”

Jenn smiled. Connected, what did a natural monk understand about connected? While he spent day and night praying with three sticks of burning incense she was connected with a neural net at 98.5 gds to over fifteen trillion net databases on sixty human occupied worlds.

Jenn stopped.

“Excuse me abbot, have you read about Eva Dylan the pioneer of the human 2.5 project?”

“I am not fond of her work I’ll be honest with you.”

“She once said “Suffering, death, sorrow will be no more as our future will hold no desire we cannot give ourselves. The enhancement of the human is the end of desire.”

The monk smiles and considers her before taking a sigh.

“You see Buddha in her words.”

“Wouldn’t enhancement be the nirvana that followers of Buddha seek?”

The Abbot offers her a seat on the meditation mat.

“You can download and assimilate the words. You can study the teachings of Buddha for all of the thousand years your people believe you can live. You will never understand.”

Jenn gets comfortable on the floor, it is always difficult talking to naturals, Joel had reminded her many times not to talk to them like children.

“You have no idea what I am capable of, I don’t appreciate your condescending tone.”

“I know what you’re capable of, and I know what you are unable to accomplish. The further you drive your mind and body away from your soul the further the fifth noble truth will be.”

“The fifth?” Jenn squinted, while her mind searched all available databases. “The four noble truths were Buddha’s first sermon; there was never a fifth noble truth.”

“I believe your wrong.” The abbot relaxed assuming a meditative posture.

Jenn sat and crossed her legs on the floor, she was feeling something – uncomfortable. It was a feeling she had little understanding of…tension. The abbot grinned and put his hand on hers. His rough skin felt strange on Jenn’s hand.

“It’s ok.”

She didn’t feel ok. Her mind raced through every database should could access and while she shifted through thousands of references to the four noble truths no search yielded a fifth.

“Suffering is life.” He told her.

“The first.”

“Desire leads to suffering.”

“The second.”

“The cessation of suffering.”

“The third! Exactly!”

“The way to leading to the cessation: the eight fold path.”

“Yes but there is no fifth.”

“You’re sure. Are you?”

He laughed. Anger swirled through Jenn, an emotion she had not experienced since her emotional enhancement when she was three years old. While parts of her brain worked to understand the emotional turmoil she was also researching expanded databases looking for more enhanced search patterns. She felt suddenly naked and alone for the first time in her life. She had never been without information.

“You’re a liar. This is a fraud. It just isn’t possible.”


She had an understanding for the first time in her life why natural persons resorted to war and violence. Anger was powerful, it seemed to direct one to aggression. She could imagine her hand slapping the smile off the abbots face. She wanted to crush him.

“If I can not access the information, it simply doesn’t exist.”

The abbot rubbed her hand, he meant to comfort her but his touch only served to enrage her.

“You win. I believe there is a fifth noble truth but it is one only recently discovered. To folly and fail is apart of the human experience, there is nothing more noble than to be human and embrace it. Enhancement is desire.”

Jenn thought carefully about his words, her nets waited for interface, but she tried to follow the logic of his words and search the parts of her brain left unenhanced. It wasn’t until that moment that she ever considered it.

There was not one function of her body not affected by lifetime of upgrading to every one of the latest inventions.

“What are you? What have you become?” The abbot asked but saw on her face that for the first time in her life she was truly without an answer.




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About the Author



David Agranoff is a Science Fiction and Horror author who spent time in prison for the first amendment and eats massive amounts of vegan food at his home in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of the collection Screams from a Dying World and co-author of The Gutter Limits both available from Punk Horror press. 2008 will see the release of his first novel Hunting the Moon Tribe and he is currently working on a dystopian cyberpunk novel and blogs book reviews and points of view on a regular basis.  


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