Electric Soul, Part III

Part IPart IIPart IV

(For anyone jumping in now, this is the third part of a near future, science fiction story, the beginning of which can be found in the previous posts. I made an error when I decided to break this up into three parts. Oops. The story does not break down well into three parts, unless one of them is quite long. As a result, I am breaking it into four parts. My plan was always to keep the posts on the shorter side, so hurrah for sticking to the plan. I will post part four, the conclusion, next week.)

The Lab, 7:22am, October 20, 2087

     Morgan and I had eaten at Marigold’s, a family restaurant in town, which he insisted upon after my choice of drinking establishment the previous night.  I ordered a lot and ate a lot, without any thought to cost or health.  I simply chose what I wanted and ate.  I gorged on eggs, over medium, sausage, bacon, ham, hash browns, toast, and even crammed down a bit of syrup-soaked waffle; no ketchup, salt or pepper was spared, either.  I was too full to finish a single mug of coffee, a sacrilege.  When we finished, I took four slices of pie to go.  The important bits of the work wouldn’t come together until the afternoon, and I would be damned if I ate healthy for that, either.

     “I take it you don’t usually eat that much,” Morgan commented as we got to the lab.

     “Never,” I said, “but today is a special occasion, so I am pulling out all the stops.  Anyway, I am stuffed and happy about it.”

     Morgan chuckled.  “Okay.  It’s hard to blame you, considering.  Are we ready to go?”

     “Yes and no,” I said.  “First, there’s the matter of your compensation to address.”  I pulled out a certified financial card and handed it to him.  “There’s fifteen hundred dollars.  It’s yours.”

     “That’s quite generous of you, Mike,” Morgan said, looking a little shocked.  “It is only one day of work, you know.”

     Morgan’s exact salary was definitely less than what I was throwing his way, but that wasn’t the whole picture.  “Well, Morgan old buddy, I look at it differently.  There is today, which may run late, and you had to clear it, anyway.  There was last night, too, and yes it counts.  In the grand scheme of things, I think the number is reasonable.  The money is locked into your name, so I can’t take it back, anyway.”

     “Okay, Mike, if you’ll feel better about it, I’ll take it.”

     “Wonderful,” I said.  “Now there is a bit of stuff I need to tell you before we proceed.  I made some notes because it’s complicated and long.  Would you like a coffee before I huff and puff?”

     Morgan looked suspicious, and it was hard to blame him.  “I think I will have another one.”

     I set up the machine to make coffee for us.  I was still full from breakfast, but I never seemed to have an issue with getting more coffee down if I waited.  I was about to tell him everything, and there was a lot to tell.  We were silent as the coffee brewed.

     I produced a card with a list of points I wanted to cover.  “I’ll try to be brief, but there’s so much to tell you.  The main thing is this: you may want to back out after you hear it.  If you do, I totally understand and there will be no hard feelings.  The money is yours, either way; I reserved your day, after all.  I need us to be clear on that, okay?”

     Morgan nodded.  “You sure know how to draw in an audience, Mike.  Too bad your lectures never had any of that.”

     That made me smile, and shook me out of my seriousness.  “I’ll make a note of that, in case I lecture again.  I’ll just tell it from the start; I think it will be clearer that way.”  I took a sip of coffee and began.

     “I took on the original project almost ten years ago.  I was going to research, design and build a bioprocessor to rival our own brain.  The university had brand new equipment and Regeneratix had a bit of interest in diversifying their scope.  The university was happy to put the equipment to use at that level, which was good.  Regeneratix was a harder sell.  They were into tissue growth, and I think they were interested in a taking a smaller step into a different field.  Anyway, my pitch was convincing, the deal came together and was on my way.  If I got it right, I was in Nobel territory; the university would be on the map and Regeneratix would have a patent worth a mint.  It was a heck of a deal.”

     “I remember the hype,” Morgan said.  “You made a crappy celebrity, though.”

     “Yeah, I was never into the limelight thing,” I said, fidgeting with the rim of my coffee cup.  “Anyway, the first two or three years was spent productively.  I got a lot of work done, the university got a couple of tiny articles out of me, and Regeneratix was happy with the progress reports I sent their way.  Then, I went for a routine physical.  Strangely enough, the physical was part of my contract with Regeneratix; they didn’t want to put all their coin into the project without keeping tabs on my health.  I didn’t have regular staff and was everything for them.  Anyway, a random blood test caught a thing, which they used to catch another thing, and so on, until they found that I had Mortitis.  That was seven years ago.”

     “Shit, Mike, why the hell didn’t you say something about it?” Morgan interjected.

     “That’s where it gets complicated,” I said, trying to stay on topic.  “I knew a bit about Mortitis, of course, but I did more research after they confirmed my diagnosis; turns out the treatments are incredibly intensive and highly unreliable.  I was at an early enough stage that it should have been okay to get going with medical care.  The doctor even suggested I had a seventy percent chance of doubling my life expectancy if I started right away.  I had two problems with that.  The type of odds I was being offered were crappy; seventy percent chance of doubling my life expectancy sounds like a pile of bull.  Typically, for my situation, I had maybe eight or nine years left; and seventy percent was a really optimistic figure.  So I decided treatment was not for me.”

     “I’m still trying to process all of this, Mike,” Morgan said to me.  “What did Regeneratix say?  They couldn’t have been happy about your decision to ride it out.”

     “I never told them,” was all I could answer.

     “But the physicals…how could you…shit, you modified your medical report, didn’t you?”  Poor Morgan was saying the words as though they represented an impossibility.  He might as well have said I spilled water onto the ceiling.

     “I did, but it’s not as simple as that,” I picked up where I left off.  “I won’t go through my entire thought process, but I was in shock and running low on time.  If Regeneratix found out about my condition they would have pulled the project from me; not right away, of course, they would have kept me on for long enough to train a replacement.  If I was lucky, they might even keep me on until I broke down.  The moment I started any type of therapy for Mortitis I was handing over the control of my future to someone else.  God help me, Morgan, but I’ve never been good at doing that.  I’m a bio-engineer, and handing my health over to doctors who were my academic inferiors was not for me.”

     “So what are you saying?  You’ve been researching a cure for Mortitis all this time?”  Morgan was still in a state of mild disbelief, and it showed.

     “Interestingly enough, I did consider it.  The problem was that it fell a little outside of my comfort zone, and well outside my specialisation.  I didn’t think I had the time to pull off a cure, even if I could have.  I did have time to save myself another way, though.  It was well within my comfort zone and I had a head start, indirectly.”

     Morgan was nearly finished his coffee.  I had hardly touched mine, though my fidgeting nearly ruined the rim of the cup.  When I planned out this explanation, I had intended to just say it plainly at this point in the story; but sitting there with my ragged coffee cup and Morgan still half-shocked, I suddenly couldn’t find it in myself to say it, yet.  Part of me hoped he would guess what I chose, and in doing so, validate my choice.  Perhaps I was being foolish, but, in some small way, I hoped my course of logic wasn’t wrong.  By wrong, I don’t mean the purely moral sense of the word; I was concerned about my general sanity.  I’ve never had mental health issues, not even depression or anxiety; though I was aware I would be the last to know if something did develop.  It would have been quite the blow to discover my bag of marbles had a hole in the bottom.  How many old movies had I watched where the villain was just a deluded wacko building a castle in the sky?

     The hope I held for his immediate realisation of my plan died in the awkward silence that fell.  I continued.

     “Let me back up.  I had this crazy notion when I was doing my grad work.  At the time, it was a fanciful idea that I shelved in the back of my brain, in case the technology ever made it far enough in my lifetime.  Did I ever tell you about my sister?”

     “She died when you were young, right?”

     “Yep, it was a brain tumor.  They might have caught it in time to save her, but she hid her symptoms with illegal drugs.  Funny enough, she was using the right stuff for pain relief.  Anyway, she was dead at sixteen.  I was eighteen and blown away by the experience.  Several years later, I came up with my crazy idea of how to deal with stuff like that.  It wasn’t a purely original idea, but my journal searches came up with nothing serious or meaningful along those lines.”

     “Are you going to tell me what it is, or keep dancing?” Morgan interrupted with uncharacteristic impatience.

     “Just a moment or two of dancing, okay?  I’ve kept a lid on this for a while, so it’s tough to just spit out.  The plan to save myself was complicated, and I never really thought it completely through from the start; a lot of my actions since then have been taken on the fly.  At first, I even tried to do the work on the side, concurrent with the original project; a bit of quick math told me this was a pipe dream.  In the early going, the switch was easy.  The university was aware that my output of articles was going to be sporadic, at best, so they left me alone.  Regeneratix also knew the project was a minimum of five years and were familiar enough with scientific research to know results were streaky.”

     “So you completely abandoned your original work and did your own thing?” Morgan said, staring at his coffee cup in a daze.  “You were chasing some type of cure to save yourself the whole time.  That’s why you’ve clammed up and pissed everyone off.  That’s why you’re acting so strangely.  I think I’m starting to see why you have this outrageous urgency to conclude the project.  This isn’t about science, it’s about saving yourself.  Have you considered that you might spend all those years you save in a jail?  Even if you dodge that, your academic credibility is lost.”

     “There’s more to tell, Morgan,” I said, understanding his point of view, yet again, from his incomplete base of information.  “Would you like more coffee?”

     “No,” he said sharply.  “Right now, I’m not sure if I want to continue this conversation.  I’m sure that I’m not implicated in your fraud, yet, and I would like it to stay that way.  I’m sorry, Mike, but I can’t stay for this.”

     “Morgan, wait,” I wanted him to hear me out.  “You’re in the free and clear.  I made sure of it.”

     “How?” Morgan almost shouted.  “I signed paperwork connecting me to this lab, and to your lawyer.”

     “They were never filed,” I said, keeping calm.  “I just needed to make sure you didn’t run to the school or anything.  The money card was independently registered, and that cost me a mint, so there’s no trace there, either.  Whether you leave now, or in a few minutes, changes nothing; I’ve gone out of my way to insulate you from litigation.  All I’m asking is that you hear me out, for now.  If you want to leave after that, I understand.”

     “Then spit it the fuck out, Mike, because I’m tired of this drawn out bullshit.”

     “All right, Morgan,” I said, feeling my stomach start to shift without knowing if it was the breakfast or my nerves.  “I’ve broken the law in running this lab for the last seven years, but it has nothing to do with curing myself; I’m convinced my condition is far too advanced for that.  So I’m doing a transplant, sort of.”  It was out, for better or worse, and it was a relief to say it out loud.

     “What kind of a transplant?” Morgan’s voice was pure suspicion.  “Or is it some kind of newfangled gene treatment?”

     “I guess the proper term would be transfer,” I said.  “It’s not gene treatment.  I have to change brains, Morgan.  I’ve constructed a substitute I will move into.  That’s what the last seven years have been about.”

     Morgan sat back down again, nearly missing the chair.  His face expressed a combination of shock and contemplation.  I kept going to keep the silence at bay.  I wasn’t worried about his approval as much as his condemnation; I could have lived with anything but a strong reproach, so I needed him to hear me through.

     “There never was an alternative after the idea came to me.  My body is dying from a disease ambient in my tissues, so I only have one way out; and that way lies in the lab, waiting for me.”

     “Mike, are you telling me that you’ve created a duplicate of your brain?”

     “It’s not a duplicate or a clone,” I said, still fearing a moral outrage.  “It’s a combination of tissue and computer.  As far as I can tell, it works.”

     “Works how?  Are you planning on attaching your brain to it or something?” Morgan was still sifting through it all.

     “No,” I explained.  “There’s a lot more to it than that.  It might be better if I just explained it all the way I started to.”

     “Okay, Mike,” he said.  “I’ll have another coffee, too.”

     I started the next round of java and continued.  “My solution was the only way.  I considered cloning my brain and then doing a transfer, but the math was crazy and possibility for error was enormous.  I was also concerned that any tissue sampling I might attempt would involve bringing my condition with it.  I needed to make a clean transfer to something new; something with no physical relationship to my current tissues.”

     “Sorry to interrupt so soon,” Morgan said, sounding quite calm, “but you keep using the term transfer.  If you’re not moving your brain to a new body of tissue or connecting it to a new formation of tissue, then what exactly are you transferring?”

     “It’s complicated.  To make it quick, though, I am going to transfer my brain waves to a different location.”

     “Excuse me?  Did you say your brain waves?”  Morgan was halfway between analysing and doubting.  At least this was something expected.  “Have you checked in with a shrink?”

     “To answer your last question: yes.  I have seen a couple of them in the last few years.  I don’t think I’m crazy.”  I set down our coffee.

     “And what about the brain wave thing?”

     “Complicated, but I will try to sum it up.  What makes us tick, in our brains, is simply a complex set of chemical and electrical inputs and outputs.  That’s basic science.  When I first thought of switching to a different medium, my concern was in getting the physical construction right.  You see, constructing a mass of tissues that are identical to a brain, clone or otherwise, is quite simple.  The trouble is getting the fiddly bits straight.  If I was going to do a switch, and the receiving end wasn’t able to function because the connections weren’t where they were supposed to be, or expected to be, then what?  A few simulations I ran were inconclusive, though it was clear things were likely to get ugly.”

     “And where do the brain waves fit in?” Morgan asked.

     “Ah, yes, the brain waves.  When I originally planned my new brain, I intended it to be purely biological.  The soup of chemicals, hormones and whatnot were easy enough to measure and reproduce, so I wasn’t worried about that side of the equation.  The complicated bit was the electrical end.  You see, the electricity moving around up there is what really makes us what we are.  Chemistry might do the memory side of things, but the exact way our brains access those memories, experience them, misremember them, and so on, is completely electrical.  The ongoing pattern of those impulses, in their entirety, is what I dubbed brain waves.  It sounds like a ridiculous term from old science fiction, but what else would I call it?”

     “I suppose the exact name is irrelevant.  So, if I understand, you intend to transfer to this new medium, right?”

     “Yes, that’s it.  It’s just trickier than it sounds.”

     “Mike, forget tricky, it sounds bloody impossible.”

     “I’d be happy to show you reams of notes and experiment results until your head hurts.  I’ve run the numbers and it is possible.  The tricky part isn’t even related to the transfer of the electrical part, it’s getting it safely installed into the new location.  If I can manage that, I’m laughing.”

     Morgan was not looking convinced.  “I know you’ve been working on this for a long time, and it’s a little outside of my field, but have you thought some peer review might be in order?  What if you missing something, or have it wrong?  Mike, you could die from this.”

     I laughed nervously, before I realised it.  I hoped he didn’t take it badly, like I was being condescending.  “Morgan…I know, and it doesn’t matter.  I’m dead, anyway.  I’ve been taking a couple of off-market drugs to delay the effects of Mortitis, to buy myself the time I needed; but the truth is that I’ve pushed myself about as far as I can.  Whether I go today, or in a couple of years, doesn’t matter to me.  At least I have a good chance this way, a chance I can control.”

     “I’m not sure what to say, Mike,” was his flat response.  “This seems so unreal.  Have you thought about the implications of what is done with you afterward?  I mean, assume your idea succeeds and your brain waves settle nicely in this new medium.  What becomes of you?  Will you just be a brain in a jar, or what?  Have you rigged up a biomechanical body to interface with it, or will you just contemplate for eternity in your jar?”

     “I think you’re starting to catch up with the concept of what I’m doing.  That’s good.  I have a friend in the engineering department who cobbled together a basic apparatus that is mobile, has appendages, audio-visual inputs, and all that; it even has speakers and screen display.  It was originally a prototype for the removal of bombs, toxic waste and other bad stuff.  It runs off a battery with solar recharge.  I’ve rigged up the connections in a way that mimics my current bodily controls as closely as possible, but it will be hard to say if I can control it from the new medium.”

     “Holy fuck,” Morgan swore, “you really have covered all of your bases.”

     “As well as I was able to, considering the time constraints,” I said.  “The new medium is extremely complex.  Without being able to make an exact duplicate of my current brain, I had to add non-biological parts.  The non-biological stuff is there to pick up any slack from the biological side of the construct.  I don’t want my brain waves won’t go screwy when they land in there.  I wish we had more time to cover all the details, but the shop is closing soon and I’ve stretched myself thin.”

     Morgan leaned toward me, conspiratorially, as though the place was bugged, and whispered, “Mike, there might be time to do a lightning review of all this; we could do it in a few days, I’m sure.  If there’s anything to your work here, the university might just buy out Regeneratix and you can complete this properly.”

     “Wishful thinking, Morgan,” I said.  “The reality is that my good will with the university and Regeneratix burned to the ground a while ago.  The situation started going badly about two years ago.  I had danced around, before that, but shit was starting to hit the fan and my dodging was harder and harder to do.  I kept at it, knowing I could stretch out the time to get finished.  When you approached me this summer, I was strained and needed to force things; and I have forced them quite substantially.  If the university approached Regeneratix, at this point, they would be suspicious as hell; the project would die in its tracks while they fought it out.  What would be more fun, yet, would be the fact I would probably die before anything moved forward.”

     “There must be a way,” Morgan kept on beating the horse.  “Perhaps another corporate sponsor would buy out the whole lot, losses and all.  I have pretty good corporate contacts and it wouldn’t take much convincing to get them on board.”

     “That doesn’t change the Regeneratix side of it.  They might even be more suspicious if another private company got involved.  Besides, you’re forgetting the most important thing about this: I’m about to engage in unsanctioned human experimentation.  This project has never even been registered, Morgan.  We’d both be dead and buried before an ethics panel gave approval, assuming they allowed the project to be registered post-commencement.”

     “What are you going to do if I refuse to help you?” Morgan asked.  This was another one I had prepared for.

     “I have automated everything to operate without assistance, if need be,” I said, starting to destroy my new coffee cup.  “I’ve programmed everything to respond as best as possible, regardless of how strangely the experiment goes.  It would be better to have a more intuitive operator available, but the pressure is on and I’m out of time.  One way or the other, I’m doing this.”

     “Morgan, we’ve never really discussed any spiritual aspects of this,” he changed course.  “Are you a believer in something greater?”

     “I’m actually Christian,” I admitted, “but I don’t practice and I have some…reservations about what the church preaches.  When I first decided to do this, I went as far as seeing a priest about it.  It was quite enlightening.”

     “What did he have to say?”

     “He was a guy I grew up with.  We were good friends through our youth, and kept in touch over the years.  He explained to me that I was about to attempt the impossible, that I was wasting my time.”

     “I take it he is not science-minded,” Morgan said.  “Typical, kneejerk reaction from a theologian.”

     “Normally, I would agree with you, however, this guy is not like the psychopaths with PureLife.  He’s actually quite educated, though not in the sciences, and he explained a lot; mind you, I can’t say I agreed with him much.”

     “So it wasn’t the usual, blasphemous abomination reaction?” Morgan said, only half in jest.

     “You’ve obviously met a few PureLifers over the years,” I laughed with him.  “No, he told me I wouldn’t extend my life at all.  He said, ‘Once your body is divested of life, the means of that divestment being unimportant, you will pass away with your soul.’  There’s a lot more to it than that, but the essential part is that my consciousness is a function of my soul; and without my soul I will no longer have that consciousness.  This guy is a Roman Catholic, and they think creation is something only possible through God, and anything man made cannot house a soul.  So, in short, I may transfer some bits and pieces of myself to my creation, but I will effectively cease to be; I will become a computerised facsimile of myself, at best.”

     “So you’re knowingly giving up your soul?” Morgan asked.

     “Not exactly.  The risk, from how I see it, is that I simply die from the experience.  The potential upside, if I’m successful, is that I leave a fragment of my intellect behind.  Either way, my soul is as safe as I can make it.”

     “I didn’t think you were religious, Mike,” Morgan said with a curious look.  “What brought on the check in with a priest?”

     “I’m really not very religious or spiritual, at all.  I don’t know why I asked about it.  I suppose it was just something to check into.  My friend, the priest, is a really great guy.  If I hadn’t have known him personally, I’m sure I wouldn’t have bothered.  Are you a believing type, Morgan?”

     “Strictly speaking, I am not,” he replied.  “I can’t prove or disprove the spiritual side of the universe, so I’m not sure of much.  The notion of a great and powerful creator isn’t so crazy to me after looking through enough microscopic images, and that isn’t the norm among scientists.  I mean, how could a microscopic life form possibly come to terms with us, right?  Not possible, the scale is beyond anything they could reason out.  So how unlikely is it that there’s someone looking down at us in the same way?  A messed up look at God, I guess, but it’s how I see it.”

     “I’ve tried to cover my bases as much as I can, anyway,” I was getting impatient to start working.  If Morgan was going to walk away, it was even more important that I begin.  There was only one thing more.  “Morgan, there’s only one more thing to cover, and then it’s up to you.  If this experiment fails outright, and you are involved, I have programmed the security system to erase all recordings.  I can show you where the storage device is and how to destroy it; after that, there is no chance of recovering any trace of your presence here.  Even if I proceed without you, I will do the same thing to remove the evidence of your visits.  That’s as close as I can come to keeping you secure.  If you have ethical issues with all of this, I can’t do anything for you.  This is an as is situation.”

     “Shit, Mike, I wish you had given me more time to decide.  Today could be the last day of your life, and I could be involved with that.  It’s not like asking me to water your plants while you’re out of town.”

     “I understand, Morgan,” I said, getting to my feet.  “Will it make any difference if I show you the lab?  I’ve made quite a few changes.”

     Morgan was stressed, and I felt bad for putting him in this situation.  He had that aged look to him again.  “Okay, Mike, let’s check it out.”

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