Brain in a jar book 1, p.1
Brain In A Jar: Book 1, p.1
BRAIN IN A JAR
A SERIES OF NOVELLAS
ALL MATERIAL © COPYRIGHT MARCUS FREESTONE 2017.
Bath, England - March 2346
The prospect of having all his internal organs replaced by a computerised system was weighing on his mind somewhat. Kip nervously opened the brochure and scanned the introduction. Even though he knew that this was by far the best option, realistically his only option, he was still wary. At only fifty one he had been confidently expecting another sixty or seventy years of productive life, so it had been a great shock to be told that he needed this drastic procedure or he wouldn't even make sixty. As a scientist himself he had maybe fallen prey to the hubristic opinion that his species had successfully consigned all organic diseases to the rubbish heap of history (along with, of course, rubbish heaps and most of the other perverse mistakes of the industrial revolution).
So long as his brain was unaffected then he would be able to carry on with his work but, as a biochemist, he was all too aware of the complications of the ecosystem that is the human body. Although this procedure had been successfully carried out thousands of times over the previous few decades, and none of those people had yet died of anything organic or any complications of the operation itself, he was still trepidatious. This was his first experience of any kind of health problem and he supposed that he was merely suffering from an attack of perfectly understandable nerves at the prospect of plunging into the unknown. Even though he understood the science of the procedure, it would be physically and emotionally an entirely new experience to have people putting him to sleep and chopping out large parts of his body.
Kip had no worries about the financial aspect of the eye-wateringly expensive medical procedure. As a precocious student he had filed several chemical patents, two of which had been developed and earned him tens of millions of dollars. He had never married and had no children or expensive tastes and so had been able to pursue his scientific enthusiasms unhindered for the last thirty years. This was the first impediment that had ever interrupted what he had always assumed would be an easy and comfortable life.
He flicked his tablet onto the next page of the brochure and tried to focus. He understood all the science but the legal jargon was beyond him. There was also some stuff in there that looked like science but didn't make sense to him. He supposed that they had to cover themselves even though they had performed thousands of procedures over decades without a single problem arising. Doubtless a vast swathe of lawyers had earned millions for themselves by writing all this unnecessary blather; in his experience as a scientist the lawyers were mainly inadequate, uneducated people who could only get their kicks by obfuscating everything and confusing people. He had originally been determined to read all seven hundred plus pages of the document but he was developing a headache and it was a waste of time anyway. For two days he had tried to read the whole thing but it was exhausting. He had gone back to the beginning to have another go but he knew that he would never make it to the end. There was no reason to believe that after fifty years he would be the first person to experience a problem with the procedure; he knew that all the fail safes were as next to infallible as made no practical difference. He also knew that without the procedure he would become seriously ill within a few months and then have to face a slow, painful and totally avoidable death. He had no dependants and his colleagues would carry on his scientific work if the worst did somehow happen, so what the hell was he worrying about? He clicked to the end of the document and wrote his signature in several boxes with his fingertip, then, taking a deep breath, he clicked the consent button. Within a few seconds he received an acknowledgement and was told that he would have an appointment time for the procedure by the end of the day. Had he known exactly what GSKM really had in mind for him would he still have consented? That was a question he would never be able to answer honestly.
He stood up and walked to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Kip had never been that attached to his physical self but he found himself thinking that, strangely, he would miss having organic lungs, kidneys and a heart. In practical terms it would make no difference to his life, except to prolong it by several centuries (at least that's what the brochure claimed, though only another couple of hundred years would tell if that was scientific fact or merely part of the sales pitch; after all, once you had died, you couldn't exactly sue GSKM, could you?). No, he would carry on much as before, but would he feel any different having a computer in his chest and stomach? How far could you go, how many things could you replace, before you stopped being human? Kip had always found the media frenzy and philosophical debates around post humanism to be of little importance, but now that he had signed the consent form he was being forced to come off the fence. Would this make him an android? So long as his brain was unaffected then, as far as he was concerned, then he was still exactly the same person. After all, having an artificial knee didn't turn you into a robot, and how was having your organs replaced any different? No, the brain was all that mattered, everything else he had was just a meat vehicle for the three pound lump of neurons in his skull. Over the coming years Kip would remember that thought and this day and ponder upon it at length.
As he poured the tea he found himself more than usually aware of his body. He would also reflect on this in times to come and ask himself whether, deep down, he really had understood all of the GSKM brochure and known what was about to happen to him, but still gone through with it anyway. He was of average height and appearance and considered his brain to be his best feature by a long way. Not that he was by any means a stereotypical clumsy, socially awkward professor - far from it - but it was nonetheless an undeniable truth that he had dedicated himself wholeheartedly to a life of the mind, and most aspects of the physical world had just fallen away into insignificance over the years. He had never managed to sustain a physical relationship where the pros outweighed the cons, and all his colleagues who had partners, and especially children, suffered from what Kip saw as unacceptable interference with their scientific work. Now that he was faced with this drastic operation he was glad that he wouldn't have anybody fussing around him. All his friends were scientists of some description and they would surely accept this as a minor inconvenience and he would soon be back at work and everything would carry on as normal.
So why was something nagging away at him and unsettling him? And why was he on some level afraid of GSKM and what was about to happen to him?
Kip chewed his fingernails and looked around the waiting room. All the brochures and multimedia presentations had assured him in a variety of soothing tones that twenty fourth century medicine was one hundred percent risk free. As a scientist he knew this to be impossible but nevertheless here he was about to have the operation.
The receptionist's smile was so perfect it could have been sculpted, which of course it was. As a result of quantum surgery, the only way she would ever exhibit another facial expression would be if the company made her redundant. 'All smiles remain the property of GSKM and will be removed from employees faces upon departure', as it stated in her contract.
Kip looked around the gleaming chrome and glass structure of the reception area and blinked again. He was starting to get a headache because he had neglected to bring his factor seventy sunglasses. This was because he had neglected to read that part of the brochure, the part that would have informed him that all GSKM employees had to have their retina replaced after ten years because of the damage caused by the gleaming interior of the building. Still, as the architect had pointed out, you can't put a price on design. Though he clearly had – four hundred and eighty million dollars.
The receptionist glided over to him on her hover boots, another totally pointless display of opulence as she was only about ten feet away, and gave him another consent form to sign.
"That's the seventeenth one," he protested.
"You wouldn't want us to give your operation to somebody else by mistake, would you, sir?" she smiled perkily, or rather she continued her permanent smile and turned up the perkiness a few notches. Her teeth reflected the chrome interior and only served to increase the intensity of his headache.
He signed it and was then handed a different Portacomp unit.
"Just a final DNA check and then you're ready to go," smiled the receptionist at a point somewhere over Kip's left shoulder where something more interesting or important was obviously taking place. He scraped his thumb over the small square of sandpaper and watched impatiently as it took a full six seconds to process his skin cells.
"I'm sorry about that, sir," she said, her smile seeming to become slightly less perky and more solemn, though in fact none of her facial muscles had moved one nanometre. She shook the unit and held it to her ear. "It needs charging. That's nothing for you to worry about, sir,” she paused fractionally to stamp the GSKM logo and a barcode on his left hand, “all done now. Somebody will be here to wheel you into surgery shortly."
"Can't I just walk there?"
"Don't worry, sir, all part of the service," she said. The undercurrent of her tone suggested that there would be dire consequences if he moved from the spot without medical supervision. He breathed a sigh of relief as she finally moved away and turned her radioactive smile onto somebody else. Nonetheless, alarm bells were beginning to ring fairly loudly in his head. Something in her eyes indicated that she knew something he didn't, something he definitely wouldn't like if he knew. Still, there was no backing out now.
A few days later, Kip woke up. He was disorientated from the anaesthetic but something didn't seem quite right. His vision and hearing seemed to be returning but he could discern no other physical sensations and something indefinable was definitely wrong. A movement caused him to focus his attention.
“Good afternoon, Mr.,” the man in the white coat tapped a few buttons on his Portacomp, “Johnson, how are you feeling now?”
“I can see and hear, but I can't feel anything.”
The man looked taken aback. “Well, obviously you can't literally feel anything.”
“I'm sorry, doctor, I don't understand.”
“I'm not a doctor, I'm a Customer Relations Interface Facilitator. You did read all the clauses in the contract, didn't you, sir?”
“Well... most of them. I only have a proton microscope,” he added sarcastically.
The man ignored the slight and raised his eyes to the ceiling. “I haven't got time for this today, I really haven't, it really is most inconvenient. Mr. Johnson,” he sighed, “you are now essentially a brain in a jar.”
Kip's stomach would have turned upside down, if he'd still had one.
“I'm a what?” he screamed, then realised that his voice remained at exactly the same volume. In all the confusion and sleepiness it hadn't hit him before – how metallic and distant his voice sounded.
“There's a lot more to it than that, obviously, but I really don't have time to go into all the technical details now. I thought you were a scientist? You should have read the small print.”
“But...” stammered Kip though his Synthetic Voice Unit. "I didn't sign up for this!"
"I'm afraid I have seventeen signatures that prove unequivocally that you did, sir. What exactly did you think the operation would do?"
"Well," said Kip, feeling deeply foolish, "I thought it would just, you know, keep me at the age I am now and prevent the further development of my disease by replacing my internal organs."
"That is exactly the procedure you have successfully undergone, sir."
"But I'm in a jar!"
The man in the white coat shook his head, tutted, and brought up Kip's contract on his screen. He held it up to the ocular section of Kip's Brain Nutrition Tank and pointed at it with his light pen.
“This is the GSKM promise. Our unique, patented treatment will permanently 1) Relieve you of all aches and pains 2) Remove all signs of ageing 3) Cure all organic diseases and 4) Extend your life span to approximately seven hundred years. We have successfully fulfilled our promise to you, Mr Johnson, and you will be delivered back to your place of domicile when the next crate becomes available.”
"But.. but... this wasn't what I wanted?"
"Well," smiled the man, "there's not much we can do about that now, is there? GSKM have successfully fulfilled all their promises to you and it really is quite churlish of you to complain about their hard work."
He walked away, tapping his pen against his leg in irritation. “Why didn't he read the contract properly?”. Being only a lowly public relations functionary, he had no idea that the contract was deliberately worded in such a way that not even the most persistent lawyer would be able to dissect the myriad linguistic red herrings and discover that it did, after a fashion, say exactly what would happen to Kip, and what would be done with his body parts afterwards. He had been well trained over the years to deal effectively with GSKM clients and never show any emotion. Nonetheless, he had been very surprised to be taken aside a few hours ago and told that this procedure was somewhat different to the normal one, and that the client might well be more distressed than usual. He was briefed extensively on what to say and he hadn't put a foot wrong. Still, he couldn't help feeling sorry for Kip, who clearly hadn't known what was going to be done to him, and he only hoped he never had to deal with such a case again. Why this man had been picked out for such 'special treatment' he hadn't been told, and he knew that is was more than his life was worth to make any enquiries in that direction.
The next day Kip had the sensation of waking up, though in reality he had merely recovered from a powerful sedative. He yawned and stretched. At least, the part of his brain that used to stretch became active, but the electrochemical signals no longer had anywhere to go. Still, in his drowsiness he had the usual sensation of his body performing the actions.
Then he opened his eyes. After a few seconds he remembered the events of the previous day and began to scream. He screamed so loudly that his SVU began to distort and issue forth an unpleasant variety of feedback that somehow transferred itself to all the speakers in the house and grew into a veritable cacophony.
Kip lapsed into a stunned silence. He hadn't told any of his neighbours he was having an operation and he certainly couldn't cope with anyone coming in and finding him like this. He had been in such a state of shock and disorientation yesterday that he hadn't thought to check whether the driver who'd brought him home had locked the door on his way out. Nothing he could do about it now, he thought, so better keep quiet for the time being.
A few minutes went by while he tried desperately to think of nothing at all. One of the things about being a Jar Head, as the less disciplined members of GSKM were inclined to refer to him, was that thinking was sort of compulsory and would become even more so as the centuries passed.
He tried to recall which bits of the brochure he had skipped and was alarmed when a large display screen on the opposite wall suddenly lit up and presented him with the digital version of the brochure. It scared him that the device seemed to be reading his thoughts and he wished it would switch off.
He thought about the screen switching on and off a few times and it obeyed his thoughts instantaneously.
Being a scientist and having a natural curiosity, he made himself have the thought what else am I able to do with this display unit? He was presented with a mindbogglingly extensive menu that appeared to have several thousand sub-menus.
"That's no good," he thought irritably, "I need a simple overview to get me started."
Immediately some annoying music piped up and a smiling face appeared on the screen.
"Hello, Kip, and thank you for choosing the GSKM experience. Welcome to your Brain Computer Display Unit. This presentation will help you navigate your way through your wonderful new world." This was all delivered with a saccharine smile and vaguely patronising tone of voice. Kip stifled a scream as he was shown an animated mock up of somebody using a BCDU.
"Is that what I look like now?" he thought, staring in horrified fascination at a brain with electronic eyes, ears and mouth and a multitude of wires sitting in a glass unit suspended in a viscous liquid.
He brought his full concentration to bear as he was told all about his nutrition feeding tubes that only needed refuelling every five years and the digital interface that was wired into several thousand areas of his brain. Despite the shock that chilled his non-existent bones he couldn't help a moment of appreciation and wonder at the technical achievement of what had been done to him. He was then shown footage of the motorised wheelchair that he had thus far been too distracted to realise he was sitting in, though sitting was definitely the wrong word.
"Am I supposed to go outside looking like this?" he gasped. That was something that hadn't yet occurred to him - that he would ever leave his house again. Mind you, an estimated six hundred and fifty years in one room staring unblinkingly at a screen - what sort of life was that? The concept of living for several centuries was not something he had given adequate thought to, even when he mistakenly thought he would have a physical body to move around in.
What would happen if GSKM went out of business and nobody came to change his nutrition feed? He suddenly felt grief-stricken at the recklessness of plunging into this venture without thinking through all the consequences. Where was his scientific training when he'd most needed it? He took what felt like a deep breath and tried to calm himself. He didn't know that this was what was going to happen to him.
"Come on," he said to himself, "I must concentrate on this presentation."
Brain In A Jar: Book 1 by Marcus Freestone / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes