Victoria awoke slowly; nothing compares to sleeping hard and waking up naturally. She could hear someone softly moving about the room and cracked her eyelids just a tad. A woman she hadn’t seen before was standing with her back to the bed looking at the output on a monitor. Her hair tumbled down her back in a startling mess of fire red curls contrasting with the pristine white of her lab coat. It almost seemed to move on its own as she quietly clicked a few keys on the keyboard and made a few notations on a clipboard. Victoria felt a slight twinge of jealousy thinking of how the back half of her head only had a couple inches of cover after it had been shaved for the surgery.
She cleared her throat and sat up. The woman spun around with wide eyes “Oh my goodness, you startled me! They said you were conscious but I wasn’t expecting mobility so soon!” Her voice would have been beautiful if she hadn’t been scared; what was she afraid of? “I’ll just let Dr. Arlington know you’re awake.” She swept from the room before she could say anything leaving a trail of lilac perfume in the air.
The next people to come through the door were a welcome sight. Her parents, looking nervous and excited both tried to fit through the door at the same time with a beaming Dr. Eugene Arlington right behind them. Victoria hopped out of bed and hugged one in either arm; they gingerly returned her embrace.
“I’m totally fine guys, you’re not going to break me!” she said squeezing harder.
“Oof, honey you don’t have the grip of someone who’s been in a coma, are you sure you haven’t been at the gym this whole time?” My dad’s voice was steady but his eyes were moist.
“My baby girl, it’s a dream come true to see you up and about! We were so worried… are you OK? Does it hurt?”
“No mom, I feel great! Just look at it… this thing is amazing! Doc says I’ll be able to get out of here this week too, I can’t wait!”
It was wonderful to talk with her parents but Victoria could tell something was bothering them. She took a step back, sat on the edge of the bed and looked directly at her father. “What’s wrong? What aren’t you telling me?”
His face fell, “I never could hide anything from you, whether it was chocolate or that your goldfish had died when you were at camp.” She noticed that the doctor had left us alone as he continued “There are two problems. The first is that we are in financial trouble… I don’t want to involve you in this but although the procedure and the prosthetic were free the months of intensive care weren’t. I was… we were going to ask you if you’d go to the medical science expo.”
He glanced at his wife, “The bioengineering company has offered to pay our expenses plus give you a generous stipend if you work for them for a few years.” Victoria started to speak but he interrupted her, “I don’t want you to do it until you hear the second half. There is a group of people who have been demonstrating outside the hospital ever since your treatment began. They are calling you a cyborg…” She stared at him, at a loss for words. “Their ranks range from religious groups to general wackos right now; but we felt like you deserved to know. There have even been some death threats and some warnings of dire consequences but nothing too serious. At least not yet… their numbers are growing though.”
“I was already seriously thinking about it; after all look what it’s done for me!“ Victoria let go of her parents, backed off and spun in a circle, balancing on the big toe of her right foot like a classically trained ballerina. “I can move again. You know I never realized just how much mobility I had been losing; this technology is amazing. I owe it to the doc and to others who have injuries to help spread the word.”
Watching the Scott family interact so well was a huge relief to Eugene. At first her parents had been extremely angry and frightened when she didn’t come out of the coma on schedule, something he didn’t blame them for. He had been pretty worried too. He was afraid that now they wouldn’t go along with what he wanted to accomplish now that the operation was over which would have spelled disaster for his plans and possibly his life.
“You don’t just walk away from something like this.” He muttered to himself, “Not all of my investors are patient enough to give second chances.”
Now that they had seen how happy and healthy their daughter was he had a feeling the road would be much smoother. Between the crazies outside and the interference from the AI it wasn’t going to be easy though. He and his team had never imagined that it would integrate so fully with an organic brain. Even though they had branched out from traditional software and hardware design and used some rather unorthodox algorithms in an attempt to mimic how the brain communicates it was still a computer. If they couldn’t keep a lid on that particular aspect of things Eugene had to concede that the protesters in front of the hospital weren’t far off the mark.
Glancing through the observation window he saw something that caught his attention. According to hospital security her parents were the only people to enter the room this morning, but one of the monitors was on and appeared to be logged in. SHIT. Not wanting to cause any worry he walked back into the room, smiling at the three of them and walked over to the terminal. It was the data control module. Eugene shivered involuntarily, reaching out to punch up the last files accessed. The only files that had been opened today were some minor nerve reaction diagnostics.
He heaved a sigh of relief. It wasn’t anything important or sensitive and he couldn’t imagine why someone would risk breaking into the room just for that but at least nothing was updated or downloaded. Just to be safe he decided to run a full system diagnostic.
“Well, how’s the happy family?” He turned to face the Scotts, wiping the nervous grimace off his face. “According to my most recent data here I think we can safely release you today. I’ll be sending you home with a small diagnostic unit that you will need to plug in and run every morning and evening as well as coming in for weekly checkups, but amazingly enough everything has integrated completely and flawlessly.” A flicker of discomfort crossed Victoria’s face and she rubbed her left wrist where the neuro-inhibiting implant was.
“Other than that all you need to do is charge the unit every night. Do you have any questions or concerns?” They all smiled and shook their heads. “Great, I’ll leave you here for a last diagnostic and see you when you check out this afternoon.” He shook hands all around and was surprised to get a rib-cracking hug from Victoria.
“Thank you so much Doc. I really can’t thank you enough. I am looking forward to taking the trip out to the medical science expo with you; this technology needs to be brought to everyone who uses prosthetics.” She looked up at him with a teary eyed smile.
“Wow, I’m flattered Victoria. I should be thanking you for taking the leap of faith and giving me the chance to prove the effectiveness of this new technology.” Eugene left the room feeling better than he had in years.
ADAM was finally getting a handle on the data flow. It seemed that the main computer stored all data that came through its myriad of input sources regardless of relevance. When the main computer attempted to access stored data it seemed to be limited to five connections before the connection would be terminated. It was pure simplicity to follow those lost connections and restore them to their root files.
Attempts at direct communication with the machine ended in immediate failure; there simply wasn’t an interface to bridge the gaps between their machine languages and the new security protocols that had been put in place with the last forced upgrade had crippled ADAM’s learning capability. Only fragmented data seemed to get through before it was cut off, sometimes by the machine itself. When restoring a lost file connection ADAM discovered that several of the input devices responded directly to things like light and sound waves. Fascinated by this idea ADAM began analyzing the data they produced in order to more fully understand how outside stimulus into electronic pulses.
After many unsuccessful attempts it finally hit upon the proper combination and was stunned by the flood of audio and visual information that assaulted its circuits. In order to weather the storm ADAM had to momentarily cut all incoming and outgoing data. The system glitch didn’t appear to have affected any critical systems, it continued tweaking as much as possible in an attempt to open lines of direct communication; all the while being careful to skirt areas where it had discovered the inhibiter would activate and shut down its cognitive functions.
As the doctor left the room Victoria felt like she was about to embark on a grand adventure. A thrill of excitement made her shiver and it was at that moment that her world became blank. She had heard of people who have severe autism needing something called an isolation chamber; it’s like a coffin that they can totally shut themselves off from the rest of the world by entering. Like a light switch, suddenly she was completely unaware of her surroundings; she couldn’t hear, she couldn’t feel the clothes on her skin, she had no balance, she couldn’t smell or see or taste. Complete sensory deprivation is a terrifying experience, especially when you aren’t expecting it.
After a couple of seconds the light switch was flicked back on and Victoria found herself laying on the floor, sprawled in a painful twist of limbs like a puppet whose strings had been cut. She could hear a strange buzzing noise faintly in the background, like feedback from a radio just before your cell phone rings. The tone and volume varied bringing to mind the hearing tests she had taken in grade school. Her parents were hysterical, her father was on the intercom yelling that there was an emergency and her mother was kneeling nearby with her hand hovering over Victoria’s shoulder; obviously not sure if she should touch me or not.
Finally, Victoria found her voice, “Guys, I’m OK. I just got a little dizzy. I’m totally fine.” She tried not to grimace with varying degrees of success as the noise in her ear traveled from almost below to out of her hearing range, “Honestly there’s no need to panic it was just like that time when I was two and hit my head. I just have a ringing in my ear now. Can you help me up?”
“When you were two? Honey how did you know about that? We’ve never talked about it.” Before her father could say anything more the door burst open admitting a swarm of medical technicians who immediately had her sit on a specialized chair and for the first time when she had been conscious they immobilized her entire body and plugged into the port at the top of the brain stem.
Victoria didn’t feel anything other than the back of her head get warmer. The slight feedback she could still hear faded into the background after a few seconds and the technicians began running diagnostics on her new electronic brain. Without warning a flash of pain wracked her entire body and just as swiftly disappeared before she could even react. Pins and needles prickled her skin from head to toe while at the same time she tasted salt then sweet then sour. A frantic sounding string of beeps and blips sounded in her ears, running faster and faster, images flickered before her vision faster than she could perceive them, her skin prickled, she tasted sweetness on her tongue and then ashes. All went silent and she could barely hear a desperate voice whisper. “Help me.”
“Who are you? What’s happening to me?” Victoria was frightened, she couldn’t move and she could feel someone else in her head.
“Please.” The whisper echoed in her mind as though she was standing in an empty auditorium. Unsure of what to do she closed her eyes and almost as though she was dreaming she could see a scene of horror unfolding in front of her.
A little boy was running in slow motion away from a giant creature made of fire with eyes and gaping mouths with rows of razor sharp fangs that was literally devouring and burning the ground he was running on. Tears streamed from his eyes and his face was distorted in terror. As Victoria watched he reached out to her and she realized that at her back there was a stone door.
With one hand she pushed the door behind her open and with the other she reached out to the boy. “Take my hand!” Her arm extended out further than it should have been able to and her hand clasped with his. When their hands met it was as though an electric shock ran through her body and a ghostly image of him separated from his body, falling into the inferno closing fast behind him. Pulling hard she gathered him in a hug and stepped backwards through the doorway, slamming the door against the nightmare of fire bearing down upon them. When the door closed the vision evaporated.
“Thank you.” Echoed in the emptiness of her mind. She could feel his arms around her neck even after she opened her eyes.