Electric Soul, Part IV

Part IPart IIPart III

(This is the final part of the story, for sure. These posts, in retrospect, have been a bit longer than I think they should be. Future stories will be broken up into smaller posts. I digress. This is a near-future, science-fiction story. The entire story is in the posts below, in reverse order. And now, the exciting conclusion…)

I brought him to the first checkpoint of the lab, where I unlocked the door through a dual retinal scan and palm print lock.  We removed our outer clothes and put on sterile, full body suits.  They were good suits, even if they were a bit outdated, and I was especially pleased with their breath filters.  The second checkpoint was a sealed off chamber accessed with a simple, twelve character, alphanumeric code.  We waited fourteen minutes and thirty-six seconds to be fully sterilised before entering the lab itself.  We didn’t say much, and there wasn’t much to say.  Morgan had been through this before, when we set up the lab; he had doubtlessly been through similar decontamination processes in his own work, too.

     The lab was set to go.  As I passed through the final door, it seemed like I was seeing the place for the first time; as if I had studied it without having been there before.  A strange feeling to have when you consider I’d spent the last ten years there; stranger yet when you consider I had logged an average of fourteen hours per day in the past seven years.

     The walls were the same, high density polymer used in all sterile labs.  I hadn’t needed to change them, thankfully, because they were ridiculously durable and expensive.  The ventilation ducts, air pumps, filtration units, air sensors and temperature controls related to keeping the ambient conditions stable were housed openly in the ceiling.  They had been top of the line when they were installed and, other than some software upgrades and preventative maintenance, had performed without incident.

     The center of the lab space was dominated with the principle piece of equipment used for creating tissues.  It was about four by three metres on the base, and stood a little over a meter high, not including the transparent, raised hood for viewing the various chambers within.  It had some basic controls on one end, but they were rarely used.  Like almost all of the equipment, it was operated from a primary computer station nearest the lab entrance.  It was pure white with chrome housings for the controls and viewing hood.  It was technically a tissue generation device, and there were several different types and brands; but the rather offensive name, and frequently used in the industry, was baby-maker.  I never used the term, myself.

     The second device that caught the eye was mostly my own creation.  It was originally an incubation unit.  It was three by two metres, standing two metres high.  It had a white base with a transparent viewing face starting half way up one side.  The only visible controls on it were a set of well-spaced kill switches.  It was meant to hold tissues for an extended period of time so they could be worked on.  The tissue generator had built-in incubation capacity, but I had always found it harder to work with than a dedicated machine.  The machine was quite clean and sleek, except for the tangle of wires and tubes I had rigged up to affect my transfer.  This mess of connections ended in a full helmet, built exclusively to fit me, that rested on a cot next to the machine.  The cot had been an addition to allow me to comfortably extend my lab hours.

     Most of the other equipment was smaller and less impressive to look at.  The odd piece was slightly redundant or outdated, but I had need of it all.

     “I guess I don’t need to ask what you’ve done to the incubator,” Morgan said through his suit mic.  The suits all had low range transmitter/receivers, so you didn’t have to shout at each other.

     “Before I explain anything else, let’s deal with security,” I said, activating the security program from the main computer terminal.  “I’m deleting the entire record now, and then I’ll destroy the storage.  It will just take a minute or two.”  The computer cleared the memory and I walked to the far side of the room where the backup terminal stood.  The storage for the security was behind an unmarked wall panel next to the terminal.  I gave a retinal scan and entered a series of codes that opened it.  The storage unit was an older style of crystal in a cartridge about the size of a ballpoint pen.

     “Is there anything else in there you’re trying to hide?” Morgan asked me.  It was a valid question.

     “If you prefer, I’ll leave it with you,” I said, holding out to him.  “It’s a tech that is over ten years old, and I’m told any decent computer hack can recover the files from it.”

     Morgan was clearly uncomfortable, even through his lab mask.  He was almost shying away from the crystal, like it was toxic.

     I placed it on the work space beside the backup terminal.  “It’s there if you want it,” I said, almost daring him to take it.  “If you decide to destroy it, smash it with a hammer or crush it.  I’m told that reducing as little as twenty percent of the matter to powder will render the data unrecoverable.  Now, let’s have a look my new place.”

     Morgan picked up the crystal and put it in his pocket.  The incubation units viewing window gave a clear view of the synthetic neural mass I was to occupy before the end of the day.  There were no visual signs of trouble, just a blob of grey tissue that closely resembled a human brain.  The connections running from it were both for monitoring and connection to the hardware portion of the brain.  It seemed to be going fine, even though there was no meaningful way to tell from a visual.

     “So that’s it?” Morgan asked, almost coming out as a statement.  “The Franken-brain.”  We both laughed at that.

     “It’s been a labour of science and desperation, Morgan.  I think more of me wants it to work for the value to science and man.”

     I was sure Morgan was in.  His scientific juices had to be flowing, or he was no scientist.

     “The applications could go well beyond the purely medical,” he said.  “Space travel and colonisation could be far more manageable.  Imagine the great thinkers who could live on to do great work.”

     “Or the horrible, degenerate tyrants who could live on to do great harm,” I added.  I had the edge on Morgan, here, as I’d thought a great deal about the potential of my work.  “It’s a tool like our other creations, and I’m under no illusions about the possibilities.  We can only hope the good nature of man will win out and prevent misuse.  Hell, I sound like I’m giving a bioethics talk.”

     “Why did you go with the mix of hardware and tissue again?” he asked, suddenly on a different track.

     “When I ran the numbers on the potential processing issues between my current brain and this one, there were plenty of them; I think they ran into the hundreds of thousands of errors per billion processes.  That was too much for my taste.  Either way, I needed a processor my brainwaves would accept and adjust quickly to.  So I built a small computer to handle that and hooked it up.  Preliminary tests have the error rate down to a few thousand per billion, which is still high; however, the computer has the potential to identify most of those and correct for them.  Theoretically, the computer could have the error rate down to under a hundred per billion after a few minutes.”

     “I see,” he mumbled.  His voice told me that he was intrigued.

     “Feel free to review my notes,” I said, directing him to the backup terminal.  “I’ve already prepared a summary file for you, in case you decided to help.  Take a look at it while I run some diagnostics and prep the equipment.”

     “I must be a lunatic for not running away screaming from this,” was all Morgan said as he sat down at the terminal while I opened a guest access screen for him.

     “Running and screaming are not allowed in the lab,” I joked, “but you are permitted to walk and grumble, I believe.”  The humour was dry, and Morgan didn’t find it funny.

     I fired up the diagnostics on the incubation unit and my home-brewed attachment while Morgan read.  Everything was fine.  I usually fretted about every little detail, and there were lots to fret about, but I was in a state of peace; it was like nothing could go wrong, despite knowing the opposite.  I concluded my equipment work by checking the power supply backups and doing some fairly random scans of the tissue.

     “Mike,” Morgan called from the other terminal, “the tissue you are about to use was initiated in July, right?”

     “Yes,” I answered politely, knowing he would have questions.

     “How sure are you of full stability?” he asked, concerned.  “I’ve been working with neural tissues for a while, and we don’t usually start testing on them until they reach six months; otherwise, the potential for instability is too high.”

     “I’ve been able to isolate symptoms of instability early on, and this one is clear.”

     “That’s still pretty thin.  It’s one hell of a risk.”

     “Well, I have had to cut some corners on account of my circumstances,” I said.  “If I had another six to eight months, I could do it all properly and be content; but I don’t, so I can’t.  There’s not much more to add.”

     “Give me another hour to review this,” he said, “and then I’ll decide what I’m doing, okay?”

     “No problem, Morgan; I’ve got puttering to do, so take your time.”

     The next hour or so flew by.  Morgan asked occasional questions, and was not always happy with my responses, while I fired up the software and transitioned my new brain into a portable compartment that would be powered and monitored remotely.  The funny thing was that I had constructed the compartment from a variety of parts and the final product was something from a cheap science fiction movie.  The entire thing was a clear, plastic cylinder, about thirty centimeters in diameter, on a solid base that held the power supply, controlled the storage fluid, interfaced with external devices and so forth.  It was the classic brain in a jar.

     Once I got the new tissue and hardware into the jar, I prepared it for extraction, which would happen later.  By that point it was lunchtime, and I wanted pie.

     Morgan had finished reviewing the files, and we returned to the front office to eat and excrete; an inside joke among scientists who work in full sterility environments for long periods.  His questions had stopped; he seemed to understand most of my risks were directly related to a lack of time.

     “So this is it, then?” he said, picking at his slice of blueberry pie, barely present to the moment.  “You’re going through with it.”

     “Yes,” I said, already working on my second piece of pie, “and I’m really excited about it, too.  It’s too much to explain.  I feel as though I am about to embark on a journey of discovery, cross a new frontier.  It’s never been as real to me as right now.”

     “Any regrets?”

     “Don’t laugh, but the only thing I completely regret is that the restaurant didn’t have cherry pie; that’s my favorite.”

     Morgan didn’t find that funny, even though I was being serious.  “I don’t know why, but I’ve decided to help you,” he said.  “From what your notes suggest, there are all sorts of minor issues your software won’t correct for.  In fact, the main problem is that the software won’t anticipate issues before they arise.  That has an upside, too, but I agree with your initial preference for a human operator.”

     “Glad to have you aboard,” I said, serving myself a third slice of pie.  “It seems fitting that you were here to start off this lab, and are here again for the finale.”

     The last slice of pie was as good as the first two, and I savoured it all.  I hadn’t given much thought to my last meal, but pie was as good as anything I could think of.  We returned to the lab and set up for the transfer.  I explained some final details and placed the jar into the prosthetic machine that would make me mobile and functional after the transfer.  It was charged and ready to go.

     “What if you can’t control this thing, Mike?” Morgan asked as we set it up.  “What if it goes on a rampage and you don’t even know it?”

     “Already accounted for that possibility,” I said.  “The machine is set low, slow and weak.  If I have trouble controlling it, I won’t be any more dangerous than an eighty year old man on his hands and knees.  If I can get past controlling it, I’ll worry about adding speed and power; until then, it won’t go Frankenstein on you or the lab.”

     “Your notes are a little fuzzy on the length of time the transfer will take.  What do you suppose is a healthy amount of time?”

     It was a good question, and I didn’t have a good answer.  “My hope is it will be measurable in single digit nanoseconds.  It might take a full second, maybe more, but I hope not.  The longer it takes, the more potential for trouble.  Anyway, I’m ready, are you?”

     “Yes,” he said nervously.  “Any last words?  A final piece of pie?”

     That got a good laugh out of me.  Even Morgan laughed at his weak humour.  It was good to hear.

     “I have nothing dramatic to say at this point, except that I hope to fuck I’m not crazy and this actually works.”

     I guided Morgan through the initialisation of the equipment before I lay down on the cot and pulled the helmet over my head.  I adjusted the probes and monitors so they rested in the proper spots.

     “Hey Morgan,” I said through the transmitter, “how is everything going now?”

     “Nothing has changed,” he responded.  “The helmet is picking up your brain activity.  I’ll give it a minute to settle, in case there’s any residual interference.  How are you doing?”

     “So far, so good.  In a moment, I’ll shut off the communications in the suit.  It doesn’t give off much of a field, but I want as little interference as possible.  I just wanted to tell you so you don’t panic when I stop responding.”

     “Okay, just give me a quick wave after you cut communication,” he said.  “You’re sure you have no final words of wisdom?”

     “I’m being optimistic and thinking these are the final words of wisdom from this broken down body.  I expect to have much more to say after I settle in to the new place.”

     “I hope so, too,” Morgan said, “because no one else would believe this.”

      “Yeah, that’s probably true.  I do have a final thing to say, though, and it’s not about the science stuff.  I just want to thank you for doing this.  I know I have put you in an awkward position at the last minute, so thanks.  The other thing is about that letter I gave you, about my lawyer.”

     “What about it?” Morgan asked.

     “I’ve cut you into my will, in a peculiar fashion,” I said, trying to explain it without making it sound crooked.  “I have willed you a set of lead paperweights.  They look like elephants.  Anyway, they are the type you can buy at any junk shop, except these babies have cores of gold.  They have been in my family forever, and my lawyer can give you their full story; but they are the kind of meaningless gift that will pass scrutiny when my estate is sued.  I figure the raw gold value is roughly a hundred thousand or so.  Do what you want with it.”

     “Don’t you have any other relations, Mike?” was the troubled response.

     “An ancient Aunt Clara, who lives in an Alberta home for the well-to-do; the life insurance from my Uncle Daniel is keeping her nicely provided for.  The other family I can think of are distant cousins, but we haven’t kept in touch.  Your help has been beyond price, Morgan.  If you feel badly about the gift, sign them over to my lawyer.  Rolly, my lawyer, is a great guy.  You can trust him.”

     “You seem to like dropping bombs at the last minute, Mike,” Morgan groaned.  “Is the bomb bay empty now?”

     “Yeah, that was it, Morgan; anything more you want to say?”  I was actually tired of the chit chat, but felt it was best to give him the option.

     “Yeah, have a safe trip, and I’ll see you on the other side,” he said lightly.

     “Thanks.”

     “After you cut your mic, I will give the system a minute or so to stabilise.  If it looks good from there, I’ll start the transfer.”

     “Okay, Morgan,” I said, not really feeling the weight of the moment, just anxious to get on with it, “I’m shutting down the transmitter now.  See you soon.”

     I thumbed the communications off and waited in the dark silence of the helmet.  I knew the wait would be long, but I wasn’t the least bit afraid; not for myself, that is.  Giving seven years of constant, brutal effort was no small matter, and I wanted to be right.  Regeneratix, PureLife, and even the university wouldn’t have a thing to say if this worked; and I hoped they all shit themselves with shock when they heard the news.

     The helmet started emitting a slight hum.  The capacitors were firing up, which meant the transfer was only seconds away.  I thought of my breakfast and the blueberry pie.

#

The Jar, 1:32pm, October 20, 2087

     The transfer must have completed.  Disorientation was extreme, and I struggled to keep focussed on anything.  I was going to pass out, although that was probably an inaccurate description of what was actually happening.  A moment of clarity occurred, and I had no time to mentally process my situation.  I did the only thing I could count on, and created a log file in the hardware portion of my failing home.  There was a lot of statistical data along with it, but I fired it off millions of times faster than I could otherwise have.

     “Hey, Morgan.  I hope you are able to recover this because these really are my last words.  I suspect you may be busy trying to keep this brain going, and God love you for it.  I think it’s a lost cause, at least for this go around.  The good news is that it can work!  I am conscious, even though I know I am going to lose that, shortly.  I wish I knew the exact reason why, but it could be anything, right?  So, unless it’s an issue of my soul, my science was correct and might hold water in the future, when some other scientist explores it.  I’m attaching as much of the statistical information as I can relay to this file.  I hope it helps.  Anyway, I wish I could describe how it feels to exist after the transfer, but it is complicated and I am concerned I will run short of time.  The immediate feeling is like electrocution, but milder.  This is followed by a short lapse in awareness and substantial disorientation.  When the disorientation passes, the sense of awareness is freakishly great; like I have this sudden capacity for recall and retention.  Imagine drinking a trillion cups of coffee from that old machine in one second, that’s the sudden mental speed I have.  I feel myself slipping away and have no logical explanation for it.  It just is.  Even now, I feel myself slipping off.  I hope you take the elephants, Morgan; buy some good pie or something.”

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