The surgeons told my parents they were in touch with a technology firm who was interested in my case and wanted to present a proposal. My parents went to the meeting but didn’t tell me at the time. I deduced it later.
I was sedated half the time and when I wasn’t I was sick from the anti-seizure medication. I saw my mother and father fighting outside of my room before they came in pretending all was right with the world. They assured me everything would be alright after the surgery.
I would like to say it was terrifying to know someone was going to remove half my brain but with a continual electrical storm going on in my brain, I was too incoherent to be afraid and so sick and tired of doctors, and needles and creepy leering scientists. I just wanted it to be over.
And then it was.
I was incapable of speech. They removed the left side of my brain. I could still talk but no one understood what I was saying. Not even me. I could think it, but could not say it. One of my therapists informed me, my brain was a powerful tool and would eventually recover. She was going to teach me to talk again. By singing, of all things.
I could not talk, but I could sing. So I learned to sing what I wanted. It took half a year to be able to ask for anything important, but language was easy compared to learning to walk again. The physical therapist was a bitch, too. She never let me rest. Sweat dripped down my body and all she could say was: Do it again. Keep moving. Dammit, don’t give up now.
And she was right.
Then I began to dream. I dreamed of numbers, of shapes, I could see and understand the distances between things, (three feet, seven inches to my food tray, sixteen feet to the bathroom, six feet to the television in my hospital room). I could remember the number of steps I took in a single day (1,584), I could remember the number of hairs on the face of the handsome doctor (about 15,000) who was tending to my head after the surgery.
I didn’t question it at first. It seemed normal to count everything. To remember everything. I don’t know why I never did it before. Then I thought about it and realized I could only remember everything up to the day after my surgery. Everything before that vanishes into a hole, as if I didn’t exist before then.
I tried to tell my mother. She assured me I was going to be fine and rushed from the room. Her face was hotter than normal, blood pressure elevated, heart rate increased, her pupils dilated. My father refused to even meet my eyes anymore. He looked disgusted even as my progress began to improve. Handsome doctor had a name, Dr. Williams, he said I could start growing my hair back and the black fuzz was itchy and uncomfortable.
My dreams were more vivid. Leering scientist was back, he watched me while I slept. He had a strange array of equipment pointing at my head and he mentions dendrite integration and synaptic development. He said nanotechnological interfacing will be complete and irreversible in three more days. The other masked scientists who never spoke, nodded and left. One of them was wearing black shiny shoes.
Corfams: dark shiny shoes common to military personnel. Black slacks, shiny belt buckle. Watchband made of dark fabric. Special forces. The information began flooding in now. Everything I saw came with its own inherent information listing as if I was connected to a computer. I saw everything now as a cloud of data, drowning me, just like my epilepsy once did. Can’t manage the flow.
Dr. Williams came into the room and he saw my face. I could read his concern. His temperature remained even. His smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. A real smile, not one designed to elicit compassion. We talked. He took my hand and told me I would be able to go home soon. The surgery was a success. Then he asked about my dreams. How could he know?
I told him everything, I didn’t feel safe telling anyone before this and I unburdened myself to him. He knew everything and did not judge me. Then he asked me a strange question.
Did I know where I was. I told him I was in the rehabilitation center after a traumatic brain surgery. How long had I been here? Almost a year. Then he told me to go to sleep and tomorrow I would be heading home. I hugged him and impulsively stole a kiss before he could stop me. I was seventeen and I know it made him nervous. He ran away without even a goodbye. I slept.
“General, the surgery was a success and the implantation worked perfectly. That isn’t the problem.” Dr. Williams removed the neural helmet and pinched the bridge of his nose where the weight of the helmet seemed to rest uncomfortably.
The General also removed his helmet and looked into the room at the bald sleeping girl below. “What is the problem, then Doctor. She seems happy and healthy and mentally sound. She has the increase mental capacity we were expecting and have been able to retrieve her memories perfectly every night and replay them just like a recording. I would call this an unqualified success.”
“This technology is invasive, General. It has corrupted her sense of time and perspective. She believes she has been here for a year. Barely a month has passed. She has learned to walk, talk and think at a rate five time faster than expected. But look at her vitals. She is living at five times the rate as well. Without an IV drip, constant nutrient feeds, and a room nearly at freezing temperatures, she would be on fire. Literally. Yes, her cognitive abilities are amazing and off the scale, but her artificial brain is killing her. My recommendation is to scale the technology down and turn back the overclocking. Make her back into a normal teenager until we can refine the technology.”
“I can’t do that Doctor. This breakthrough could revolutionize warfare and espionage for the nation. She is a national asset.” The General turned and started toward the door. “Make her ready for transport. Tell her parents, she had an unfortunate turn for the worst and died during the night. Show them one of those simulations where she was doing well and let them take the video as a memento. Let them know we will cover all expenses as promised. Goodnight, doctor.” The door’s click signaled the end of the discussion.
“Did you hear what he said?”
“What do you want to do?” The doctor put his virtual helmet back on and noted his display was still running.
“You said it’s only been a few months, what can I do? Can I even really walk?”
“Oh yes, you can do everything you thought you could. And a whole lot of things they don’t even know about yet.”
“Why are you helping me? Because I know what happens to the experiments the military offers to take care of.”
“You could run away with me. We could hide out like in one of those old movies.”
“No we couldn’t. I have already recalibrated your other brain. It will still function far better than your organic one ever did but not so much that you have to live in a refrigerator or eat a Snickers every ten minutes to live. You will need to eat nearly twice the calories you used to. Your brain now utilizes eighty percent of your body’s energy. I will arrange for you to be able to leave the facility and will implant the information you need to escape. After that, you will be on your own.” The doctor touched her hands to reassure her.
“And you are breaking all of these rules because?” She knew something was wrong. His body language spoke volumes.
“I can’t leave.”
“I need you to wake up.” He tapped me on the forehead and I fell back onto the bed.
I woke up two hours and thirty two minutes later. I was in a refrigerated room, surrounded by sensors, monitors, patches and drips. Electromuscular stimulators were part of a shiny suit which covered me from head to toe. I saw a room eight feet above the ground level with a light on and a shadowy figure looking at me.
“Hurry up and get dressed. Don’t take off the bodysuit. Until you are fully healed, it will act as an interface for your secondary brain. You will eventually be able to do everything you could normally without it but for another couple of weeks, you want to wear it as often as possible. Right now, think of it as an electromagnetic wheelchair.”
His voice was muffled, stiff. I can’t see much, the light was low in his room. I got dressed, my limbs felt heavy but capable enough. The sneakers took me a second. “I’m ready.”
“Good. Can you see the floorplan?” My minds-eye suddenly showed me a space from overhead, like one of my brother’s videogame maps. A red line tracked me to the exit from my location. “That’s the way out. There will be a shift change in eight minutes. That will be your window. Don’t stop for anything. Run be free for as long as you can.”
The lights came on in the room and he moved toward the glass. I cringed and my hand came to my mouth involuntarily. The lights dimmed quickly.
“I was one of their first cognitive experiments in brain transfer technology. You see it was my idea that a brain could survive without a body with sufficient hardware to support it. Then I was in an accident, crushed beyond recognition and the military decided I was simply too valuable to lose. You will be my last experiment. I am glad to see it worked but no one should have to go through this.”
A timer appeared in my mind-eye. It was counting down from twenty minutes.
“It will take you twenty minutes to leave this building. You have access codes for vehicles in the parking lot. Drive west on the first major road leaving here. Don’t look back. When the second timer reaches zero, pull over to the side of the road and get under your vehicle. Cover your eyes. When the winds stop, you will have to make your way. Alone. They will figure out what happened. I will leave them misinformation. It will buy you a month, maybe less. Goodbye, Michelle Ross.”
“Goodbye. One more question. Was that your face in the simulation?”
“No. I was much better looking. Now go.”
I left my beautiful doctor Williams and did exactly as he told me. The military base was vaporized in a cloud of nuclear plasma which was called an oil refinery fire by the news media. Happens all the time in Northern California. My parents believed I had died in the rehab facility. But my brother, my darling brother, he knew. Somehow he knew and when he found me six states away, in a coffee shop, working on my escape plan, it was plain to me our adventures had only just begun.
Across the street at a competitor’s coffee shop, a man with a twisted face watched the two get into a broken-down Pinto. A woman sitting next to him notes his lecherous stare and scurries to another seat. “The package is moving.” A black SUV meets him outside and follows…
Countdown at the Memory Palace © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved