Weary, pained and high as a kite, I lower myself onto a low-backed swivel stool. I could use some reassurance, medical attention and sympathy right now. There’s none to be had from the very old, fat-gutted, shrivel-faced dead guy; the Synthetic doctor is coldly indifferent to my existence; leaving the inactive Synthetic, my absent mother and the men outside with the machine guns.
The persons on this list have effectively zero interest in me, except as a target or their whipping boy.
I hold my bleeding belly and groan; deeply depressed.
The doctor is untroubled by my torture. He has retracted the bed’s cushioning from around the old man and shoves the body onto the floor. I wince at the sound of loose flesh slapping against the metal plate and soften my groans in case similar treatment is directed at me.
A muffled boom of another RPG rocks the trailer on its suspension reminding us that Ernest and his crew haven’t forgotten about us; and they are eager to get in.
The doctor positions himself on the vacated bed which reinflates to enclose him with two words; ‘Prescribe - diagnose’.
“My body is failing. There’s no time to program an auto-run, you’ll have to assist.”
“That Synthetic is for the recently deceased General Liang down there. Fortunately he’s still in psycho-stasis since the transfer was not initiated. I will be making use of it instead.”
I look at the naked, ancient body sprawled on the floor.
“Really? You can swap bodies? Isn’t he gunna be pissed when he finds out you took his?”
I’m accepting this premise of mind transference with casualness normally difficult to pull off. However, these drugs allow me to calmly accept an alien landing or a monster appearing from another dimension right this second.
“There’s ample memory space in these data banks to hold up to twenty minds. He’ll get a new Synthetic after we relocate to a more secure clinic. Now shut up! We’re out of time. I need you to perform several post-operative processes.”
“Can you please use as much of your miniscule intelligence as possible for a few minutes? It is merely a matter of following the prompts. Not overly taxing, even for Sub-IQ. Or perhaps you’d like me to put you out of your quite obvious misery, and ask your mother in here instead.”
Insulted and afraid, I straighten against the fiery pain that spreads against the medicating flow of drugs through my system.
“I’m not a Sub-IQ...”
“Shut up! New subject, patient commands, terminal override until unconscious. Refresh data capture cycle, set neuron activity at conscious, pain suppression on, imminent death.”
Hopefully he isn’t talking to me because I don’t have a clue what any of that means. The black hugger-helmet suspended above him is attuned to these commands. It unfolds thickly cushioned, stumpy tentacles and silently lowers itself from the roof, dragging coils of thick cabling down with it. The helmet’s padded fingers reach the doctor’s skin, and it feels its way around his head until properly positioned. Only his face is left exposed.
I’m torn between staying silent and voicing a last, very important question I have.
My dithering dance of indecision is hard to ignore.
“For Christ’s sake, what is it?”
“Well, umm I was just wondering... what about me? I’m shot.”
He makes a valiant attempt to allay my fears.
“Yes. Of course, you’ll need tending. Do as I say, and when I am revived in about thirty minutes, I’ll take care of your little problem. Good enough?”
I nod unhappily. I’ve been ‘taken care of’ before.
“Listen closely; no, wait, you’ve get the brain of a scrambled maggot; get something to write with. I’ll do most of the steps, but once the electrodes are inserted, I won’t be able to complete the procedure.”
A cursory rustle through files lying about the bench behind me uncovers a stylus, but the clipboard with the pressure sensitive plastic is out of arm’s reach. Too bad, I’m not moving.
“Press the options in this order. ‘Upload’, wait for ‘upload complete’ to come up. Select ‘transfer to host’ and ‘confirm’. Got it? A child could do it. It’s just a few buttons. Do this correctly and you’ll be well rewarded, I’ll owe you my life.”
Oh, the sincerity. We’re to be best buddies now too?
I busy myself scratching the initials of each option into the monitor frame. Before I can spin the chair around to ask him to repeat the steps I’m pre-empted by the arrival of a critical state. A machine attached to the bed beeps urgently.
“Organ failure! Upload! Upload!”
I jump at his shout and jab the upload option repeatedly. I turn back to watch in fearful fascination as the helmet contracts tighter around his head. A giant robotic arm swings smoothly from its cabinet above me, unfolding its limbs and displaying its sharp tools and attachments. In any other circumstance this type of activity would make me run. I do roll the chair backwards until I reach a safe corner in case it decides I am more interesting than its newest patient.
The arm extends an orb to scan the doctor’s head closely. It then selects a slim drill bit which extends from one finger-like digit. The drill spins up to speed with a high pitched whine, hinting at what is about to occur. I’m about to cover my eyes when by the arm jerks forward to rapidly drill a series of holes, with great speed and dexterity, into the doctor’s skull.
The procedure only takes several seconds and the artificial man grimaces throughout. Flaps open in the body of the helmet and thin electrodes extend and are neatly dipped into the bloody holes. His face writhes through the gamut of human emotions as they are deeply embedded.
Suddenly the doctor’s body arcs and then flops in a relaxation only death can deliver.
The whole exercise looked pretty painful, even for a Synthetic.
The weapon he clutched clatters to the floor from nerveless fingers. As soon as the robotic arm packs its equipment away and refolds itself I sidle over and pick it up; delicately; expecting it to go off with a wrong touch. I place it gently on a bench, pointing away from me.
Then I wait while the complex machinery processes a human brain. It literally hums with power and the air warms noticeably as heat pumps overwhelm the cooling system. Finally, a quiet descends and briskly turning fans slow. The helmet releases its grip and retracts the wires from the Synthetic doctor’s brain as it lifts.
It occurs to me that I’m in a room full of corpses.
So, is that it? What an anti-climax.
I return to the terminal. The screen flickers with several options and confirmations. ‘Upload complete, patient deceased, mind transfer ready to initiate, confirm multiple subject packaging, partitioning, multiple channel mode, dominance.’
Shit. He never mentioned all this crap. The initials I’ve scratched into the monitor don’t equate to any of these options.
‘Power supply low’ is counting down a flashing timer in one corner of the screen.
Damn. The power cell is being sucked dry rapidly now that the computers are off the turbine’s teat. I better hurry if I’m to complete the transfer so he can fix me up. Under pressure to perform I shrug and press ‘Confirm’.
I look worriedly at the Synthetic for advice. It doesn’t move or blink.
Another option flickers into life. ‘Partitioning’.
Indecisively I tap at the screen and it obliges by rolling over several more options.
Shit, what? Hell, that’s not right. Where’s the ‘back’ button.
There is none. I push on, trying to beat the countdown.
I waver and then press ‘yes’ twice, since there is no ‘whatever’ button.
‘Deliver Multi-Transfer’ blinks on the screen for a second and then disappears, leaving a very slow moving progress bar to begin a long crawl across the screen.
Relieved my duty to him has ended I am mildly confused at exactly what I’d just done. I do not ponder it for long; I’ve got better things to do, like looking after myself. Having watched the doctor initiate his own scans I’m sure I can get this equipment to at least medicate me. That way I’ll be ready for the doctor to rip this bullet out when he rises from the dead.
I get up, shuffle over to the bed and bend over the doctor’s damaged Synthetic. A few presses on the bedside buttons make the cushioning material retract. I shove the broken body off the bed to land on top of the General, and lie down in its place.
I strain to remember the commands to activate it. What was the first thing the doctor had said?
The bed closes around me tightly. Oh, good, something I’ve done has worked. A screen above me reacts attentively; awaiting orders.
The bed takes readings from my body and delivers them for my viewing pleasure. It also finds the bullet lodged in my stomach without being prompted and displays an ultra-sonic picture of it. The foreign object is highlighted, and now that I can see the hot little bee it makes itself felt more acutely.
“New subject, patient commands.”
The screen prompt faithfully checks off these options.
“Fix me! ... Repair! ... Medicate! ...”
These non-jargon commands are ignored. I fall back on the doctor’s previous commands. Throwing caution to the wind I repeat his steps, figuring an option useful to me must be amongst them.
“Umm, refresh data capture cycle, neuron activity at conscious, high pain, imminent death.”
The hugger helmet lowers towards my face like an enormous spider.
“Oh shit. Back up. Whoah. Wait a minute!”
It reaches my face, firmly grasping my cheeks to immobilise my frantically shaking head. The stubby tentacles touch and probe, and inexorably slide around to grip the top of my skull tightly.
“Do NOT stab my brain!”
“Who ya talkin to?”
Mother chooses this moment to reappear.
“Ma! Shit, I’m stuck. Don’t touch anything!”
“Don’t touch what? Oh, that nasty man is dead is he? Who’s that under him? What ya done now?”
She moves away from the corpses and hovers at the terminal I’d recently been operating, examining the screen myopically.
Her finger is hovering intently.
“Is there a ‘release’ option on the screen? Tell me what it says but don’t touch anything.”
“No. It says ‘Repeat procedure for new subject’ an a whole bunch of ovver junk. Where’s the 3D? Ahh, this must be it. ‘Upload’ might get the satellite.”
“It’s not a fucken 3D. Don’t touch UPLOAD!”
Either her touch or my shout causes the helmet to brace my head even tighter while the robotic arm unlimbers from its cabinet. The buzz of the high speed drill turns my blood to ice and I scream so loud something tears in my throat. I’m spitting blood and the drill hasn’t even touched me yet.
It whines and purrs around the back of my head and I am fully aware what is about to happen. That knowledge does not lessen the electric fire that blasts into my brain along with the stabbing drill bit, but it does perfect my shrieks...