Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Cognition

by Mike Wilson


According to the accident report, the victim had died instantly. The body was mangled beyond any hope of salvage, but the head -- the head was relatively undamaged, brain intact.

The remains were swiftly moved into an operating theater. The team of doctors moved fast. They opened the skull using a surgical drill and saw, sliced through the tissue and membrane within, and removed the brain, taking care to preserve the major blood vessels and several inches of the upper spinal cord.

A gloved surgeon carefully lifted the brain and lowered it onto a structure within a transparent cube that had been prepared as soon as word of the accident had been received. The brain rested within a cradle of plastic supports, and was irrigated with a chilled saline spray to reduce the need for oxygen.

Now the team had to work even faster. Under normal circumstances, brain and nerve tissue would begin to deteriorate within a few minutes after the flow of oxygenated blood failed. The lowered temperature extended that time, as did the cocktail of drugs -- usually injected into stroke victims, now blended into the cooling spray -- but every minute lost meant the death of thousands of neurons. Neurosurgeons attached flexible cartilage tubing grown from human cells to the major arteries using bio-compatible adhesives and shunts that held the blood vessels open. The tubing was already connected to a pumping system filled with synthetic blood; the pump was started immediately, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the tissue. Next, a second surgical team inserted hundreds of tiny electrodes into the grey tissues, guided by electroencephalographic displays. It was exhausting work, requiring extreme precision in a cramped surgical environment, and it took hours to complete the task.

Leaks in the blood vessel / tubing connections were found and sealed. Minute shocks were applied in sequence, in many different areas. Then, the team sat back and waited, watching the monitors. Some new brainwave activity displayed. Cheering erupted. Then, they settled down to analyze their results. A whole new avenue of research had been opened up.

####

Red haze. Unremitting. Ever present. Where was I? Where am I? Open my eyes. Nothing happens. I can't breathe. Am I dead? Flashes of color. Shadow and light. I must be dreaming. Relax, just go back to...sleep?

####

"Getting a strong EKG now. Patient One seems to have regained some consciousness," said Dr. Kagan with some excitement.

His teammate, Dr. Griggs, breathed a sigh of relief, and grinned. "Well, it appears we have done it, then?"

"We have done something, anyway. Exactly what remains to be seen. Is the vision monitor on?"

"Yes, Doctor. We are seeing the colors that the patient is presumed to be seeing, given the microleads inserted into his optic nerves. Patterns right now. Once the patient learns, he will be able to rotate the camera set by sending just the right impulses. That, and the audiopulse monitor are his window on the world."

"Well done, everyone. Up till now we have had some exhausting work. But our most challenging days lay ahead. Now we need to make the first human brain without a body comfortable, and enable it -- him -- to live some sort of normal life. This is the real challenge of the neurology institute."

"Well, if anyone can do it, we can do it, doc!" That would be Dr. Norris, consummate optimist that he was. But, thought Kagan, optimism would be needed a lot from now on. There was a poor suffering human tethered to life by wires and tubes, and he did not even know it yet. An ethical nightmare loomed. Well, one problem at a time, thought Dr. Kagan grimly.

####

More haze, this time not so red. Funny. Billy could not seem to wake up out of this crazy dream. He would fade into memories, and then back to this stupid haze. He experimented, and was able to finally focus in somehow on the lights-and-shadows thingy. Hey! It moved. He experimented some more, thinking it this way and that. It moved around for him, and the shadows changed. The shadows seemed to resemble shapes, but blocky shapes. Like people, seen through some kind of square, what was that? Kaliedoscope. That was it. He experimented. He tried to talk. Did not "hear", but rather felt something. And, the shadows moved in response to his attempts. Well, this was something anyhow.

####

Dr. Kagan barked, "He is moving the cameras! Susan, are you getting this?"

"Tracking and recording, Doc. Amazing."

The twin lenses mounted on a tripod near the brain-cube moved around, this way and that. And, all of a sudden, they could hear a burst of noise out of the loudspeaker attached to the vocalization centers of the brain. Patient One, AKA Billy Summers, was trying to talk for the first time since his near-fatal car accident 26 hours ago. The doctors congratulated each other, and then a group went home to get some much-needed rest.

####

Day 2

Billy had been dozing some. Or at least that is what it felt like. All dreams and memories. But normally he moved his limbs around in bed. This time, there were no sensations. He tried to move things, and all he felt was tingling in response. He still could not see very well. And then it hit him. He and Melissa had been at that party. They had driven home against the advice of their friends. He had thought he was just buzzed, not too stoned. Everything was looking up. His relationship with Melissa was getting better and better, and he had hoped to consummate the "act" that evening. Then, they were going down the road, taking curves way too sloppily. The truck had loomed up oh so fast... Then, disjointed images, pain, sharp and intense. He recoiled from it, tried to think of something else. Melissa. Her blonde features, her smile, her reassuring voice...there, that did it.

He focused in on the light-and-shadow thingy. There was a blinking or something going on there. He moved his focus around some, and found that he could move away from, or closer to, the blinking. And then he felt-heard the tapping. It was like someone knocking at his door, only there was no door, just a place that was registering...bursts of sound. Some of them he could almost parse out. He concentrated. If this was an afterlife, it was stranger than he had imagined. No heaven, no hell...just this collection of oddities. He was assuming that his form was that of a bodyless soul. All it could be, he reasoned. What was that infernal buzzing now?

Patient Specialist Courtney waved her hand in front of the stereo cameras again. "Hello? Hello, Billy? Can you hear me, Billy?" As if in response, the cameras moved around some, and then back to her. The attending physician nodded, pleased. "Hey Billy, my name is Courtney. You are going to see a lot of me from now on. I'll be working with you to see if we can communicate better. OK? OK. I'm going to show you some numbers on cardboard, and count, over and over. If you understand what I am saying, try to move your eyes up and down." She launched into a routine where she displayed large cards with numbers, and words. The binocular lenses moved some, but not much. If Billy understood, he was not letting on. More likely, he was still trying to make sense of his new situation.

####

Day 7.

Specialists conferred. Patient One had been making sporadic attempts to move his binocular eyes, and it was thought he could see some things, but not very well. He had made various attempts at utterances, but they came out as bursts of noise from the loudspeakers. He and they both seemed to be reaching out, but definitely not connecting. They reassured themselves that at least the brain, and patient, appeared healthy and functioning at a high level. The bleeding had stopped, and the brain in its saline bath appeared healthy and lustrous. The Patient was alive, but trapped. They had to find a better way to free him somewhat.

It was decide that they would upload a software revision into the main computer processing the impulses going both ways, and add to the terminal leads implanted in the brain. This was going to be attempted in one fell swoop. They would add a mild sedative to the mix, insert the additional leads, and reboot the main computers, reloading the software. Billy would get better vision.

####

Suddenly the world slowed down. Billy imagined his breathing slowing, chest moving up and down in heaves. Only he couldn't feel the breathing -- it just seemed like he was. A dreamy sensation came over him. The now-familiar buzzing noises were saying some things, it seemed to reassure him. Okay, whatever. Not going anywhere anyway. He drifted into and out of a dreamy state, images flitting by from the past, mixed with blocky colors and sounds. There were changes.

####

Courtney was patiently repeating the sequences, when the sounds occurred. They sounded a lot closer to English now. She could make out, "Where am I?...Who...You...Melissa? Is that you?" And some more garbled words. The extra microwires implanted in the vocalization area seemed to be doing the trick. Now if the ones implanted into the vision and hearing area did as well, they would be making some real progress.

"Billy, hey. I'm not Melissa. I'm sorry, Billy. Melissa died in the accident. She is gone to a better place, Billy. But we saved you, though..." The binocs moved to her, and slowly went up and down. Dr Kagan rushed in. "What on earth are you telling him this for." She put a finger to her lips. "Turn off the mics!" Kagan yelled. Courtney complied. "I was just trying to explain to him..."

"It is too early for that, dammit. Now you have upset him. Look at that." The binoc eyes were swiveling crazily around, and there were what sounded like sobs coming from the speakers. They could barely make out a "no...no... oh God, why didn't you kill me too...why am I still here..." The doc looked at Courtney wide-eyed.

"That's what I've been trying to tell you. He is talking almost normally now. With a little more work, we'll be having conversations!"

"I must admit, the implants seem to be working far better than we could hope for. But please, please in the future, try not to upset our patient..." He gestured at the now still binoculars. The speakers were silent. Billy had gone somewhere inside himself and hid. Kagan thought to himself, now if only they could get him back out again.

####

In a packed conference room at the Neurofuture institute, a team of senior doctors and researchers were meeting. It had been suggested that they upgrade some speech and hearing software modules ever so often, based upon test results with Patient One, AKA Billy. The latest sounds coming out of the speakers had closely resembled speech. Considering the fact that the computers were translating impulses designed to contract vocal cords, comparing them against a library of prerecorded speech units, and assembling sounds out of it all, this was a great accomplishment.

"We are really breaking ground here folks. But we need to continue work on the speech areas." Said Dr. Kagan.

"I know, I know," replied Griggs. "Reformulating and reinstalling the sound libraries is not a simple matter, but we're working on it."

"So how are we with vision? Can Billy see any better?"

"He is responding faster to the flashcards and symbols. There is a definite correlation to most of the binoc-lens movements. And judging from the latest sound results, Billy seems to be trying to interact with Courtney."

"Just a few more weeks, then, is it agreed? For Billy to make definite sounds in response to unprogrammed, random requests, to prove he is a living person, and not some faked-up program?"

"Not impossible," said Griggs. "But anything can happen here. I mean, just look at us. We are the first team of docs to transplant and keep alive a human brain containing a human person, without any kind of body whatsoever!"

Someone in the room smirked, "Frankenstein, move over." Kagan shot back, "Knock it off, we are supposed to be professionals here." The snickers died down quickly. "Now, unless anyone has any more to add, I recommend we conclude this meeting -- there is still lots of work to be done. Oh, and ladies and gentlemen: Good work." His grin was professional. The meeting was over. The team went back to their respective workstations and labs scattered throughout the Institute.

Meanwhile, Billy was dozing in his misery. He had raged and cried silently inside, and now, faded back into semi-consciousness, helped along some by another dose of mild sedative they had administered. He was at their mercy. But, he reasoned, perhaps someday they would rig him up with a pair of legs or something. He sure hoped so. He dreamt that he was trying to run through a grassy field, but the grass held onto his legs somehow and he couldn't make them move. Melissa and another girl were further down a meadow, laughing and calling to him. He kept trying to yell back at them, but they didn't seem to hear him.

####

Another tragedy happened. Careless teenagers drinking, smashing into an oncoming vehicle, strewing bodies and debris all over two highway lanes. Luckily for the institute, one body had an intact head and skull. Phones warbled and played tunes in several doctors' homes. It was Kagan, trying to pull together his team again. He had an OR prepped for a second trial brain removal and mounting. Other doctors would call him a bit obsessed, but he would say he was merely trying to expand the range of options for living for the human race. In either case, most of the players were able to rush into work on an early morning, so they swung into action once again. The second cube was already installed and prepared with nutrient solutions and microlead implants. They just had to get the brain out and get it reconnected. They went to work, furiously -- they were a very committed team.

This brain was female. There were minute structural differences, owing to hormonal and physical differences. So this was almost like a Patient One all over again.

"See how the Hippocamus is sized differently. And this structure over here..."

"Yes, yes, doctor. Now let's get her sewn up here, before we lose her. Cells are dying as we speak..." Ordered Dr. Kagan.

"Okay, okay. Sewing the carotid now. Give me that needle, will you?" grumbled Dr. Griggs. "Just trying to educate the residents, doctor."

"I understand, but this is not a run of the mill surgery. Lets keep it moving here."

Griggs glared at Kagan. "Yes, Sir." The team went on in tense silence. Even then, they moved professionally, fluidly, rapidly sewing up major arteries onto skin growths. A few hours went by, and then it was time to implant the leads and stimulate the new brain. Her name was Sandra.

####

"Courtney?"

"Yes, Billy."

"How am I doing...lessons now.?"

"Very well, Billy. I can understand you, and you seem to be able to understand me. We are making good headway here." She smiled at the binoc-eyes. They had been mounted on a new tripod, one that had some other facial features put on, as well as a head of hair. It was almost as if she were talking to a 'he' instead of some anonymous brain behind everything in the glass cube. "You are getting some rudimentary Math and English done, so we know your brain functions are coming back. But it will all take time."

"I had the dream again last night, Courtney." Oh no, she thought, not again.

"You know, the one where I was running across the grass. But it was like I was awake, too. And you know what? I was actually able to run some this time, not feel stuck."

"That is great, Billy."

"Courtney? Do you think they can make me some legs someday? And a body? I don't want to be just a brain in a case. If they can keep me alive this way, they should be able to give me a body, don't you think?" The Eyes focused in on Courtney, sitting in a chair nearby.

She sighed. "Billy, they can only do what they can do. We should take this one step at a time. Now can we get on with your remedial English? You were really tearing it up here a minute ago..."

Silence. The artificial face moved back and forth, away from her. "Billy? Come on now." He was going to sulk for awhile now. Darn it, she thought. "Well, I guess it is time to knock off for the day. I hope you feel better tomorrow, Billy."

"Turn on ..TV ...me please?"

"Okay, Billy, whatever." She moved over to the wall-mounted screen and switched it on. At least this seemed to calm him down, although how much of the video he could discern was still open to conjecture. At least this gave him something to focus on besides his loss. If they did as well with Sandra as they did with Billy, he might gain a new friend more rapidly than he could even believe.

####

It was time. The new brain was transplanted completely in its module, resting and being irrigated with a constant saline-nutrient bath. It was also being fed a steady diet of artificial blood, oxygenated and impregnated with nutrients. They had made some improvements to the design, and they were hoping that Sandra would come to cognition in even better shape than Billy. The monitors sprang to life. Strong EEG. Pulses were applied. The resulting signals indicated wakefulness.

Her artificial face, a step up from the crude eye-binocs, came to life. It swiveled around, and the eye lenses focused and unfocused. Static bursts were gradually replaced by "Who ...Where...Where am I...": The speech contraction libraries were performing well.

"Sandra? Sandra, can you hear me?"

The face swiveled some, and then stopped at the figure of Courtney. "Sandra? How are you?" She persisted. The docs exchanged grins. Patient Two had detected outside speech the first time out. "Sandra, say hello. My name is Courtney..." She continued.

"...C-Coutr-ney? Hello. Hello, Courtney. Are you an Angel?"

They all exchanged looks. "No, Sandra. I am a nurse. You are in a hospital. A lot has happened to you, Sandra and it will take awhile to explain it all. In the meantime, we need to work with you to improve your speaking abilities. "

"I can't see, I don't think. Are you there? Where am I?"

So many questions. This would take awhile, thought Courtney.

####

"Courtney, you sure look hot today." said Billy, in an amorous mood.

Courtney sighed. Here we go again. "Thank you Billy. Now, it you would stick to the program a minute here, we can finish your math."

"How about you take off some clothes, and then teach me Math. One plus one is me plus you." The face moved up and down. Courtney supposed that he was laughing. Or, maybe he was just trying to show her...

"Hey, Billy. What does it mean when you move your eyes up and down like that? Are you laughing?"

"You of all people should know, Courtney. I'm trying to show laughing. As you can see, I don't even have a real face here to work with, so I have to improvise."

"All right. I didn't mean to pry, just trying to verify it."

"Why did you monsters bring me back to life if you couldn't even handle the result?"

She stared at his pseudo-face. No movement. Then, suddenly, the up-and-down shaking.

"Just kidding, Cort. I'm glad you saved my life. Lets get on with the math, hon."

She was not sure she liked his tone of voice, if a synthesized voice could have a tone. But, nervously, she proceeded to go over some math problems with him. His intelligence was quite good, she realized. Almost too good. They continued with the math drills.

####

Sandra was coming along. Drs. Kagan and Griggs were pleased with the latest review.

"This one is coming up to speed faster, thanks to the implant refinements," said Dr. Kagan.

"Yep. I wonder if it is time to consider prostheses for these two," replied Griggs.

"Prostheses? You mean, like arms and legs? A body shell?"

"Sure. As long as they are interfacing with computer speech, hearing and vision hardware, we can think about putting the whole package together. The trickiest part, as I see it, will be the balancing mechanisms..." said Dr. Griggs.

"No, that part will be easy compared to the problem of funding this whole operation. We are using every scrap of funding as it is, including some that is in a grey area as far as usage, if you gather my meaning."

"I understand. Well then, how about if we could rig up a simple mobility cart. Nothing like limbs, just something to roll the brain around -- give them the sensation of movement, at least? "

"I think you feel sorry for these patients that they cannot walk around like the rest of us. Doctor, you have to realize that these are experiments. They would not even be alive if it weren't for us. "

"These are also human beings, even if they do not have a body at present. And as such, they have some rights, don't you think, Kagan?"

"Oh, come on. Don't get all bleeding heart on me. The next thing you will be suggesting is going live and soliciting help from the ACLU!" said Dr. Kagan.

"Well, you should know -- someone is bound to talk sooner or later. It will get out. And when it does, there will be a lot of demands. These are sentient people. Unless we turn off their life support, or rather kill them, we have to accord them some rights. If not, we will be paying a hefty price for it. Lawsuits from parents, for one. Brace yourself, Kagan. It's coming whether you want it to or not."

Dr. Kagan stared at Dr. Griggs. "I've had enough of this -- I need to do some reviews..." and strode out of the office. Dr. Griggs sighed. There would probably be hell to pay for all of us, he thought to himself.

Drs. Norris and Kagan were all smiles. "Let's do this thing and get it over with," muttered Kagan.

"Keep your shirt on," replied Norris, still smiling for the sake of the nurses, and Billy, who was watching the proceedings intently. It was the big day; the day they introduced Sandra to Billy. Two encased brains hooked up to machines...

The vita module containing Sandra was wheeled in by attendants, to some polite applause by the assembled group of doctors and nurses. Her face, mounted atop the brain module, swung around and surveyed her surroundings, before finding the module and Billy.

"Well, hello there sweetheart. I must say, you are a knockout!" said Billy.

"Hi there. So there really is another one like me in here..."

"Of course. I am number one, you are two. How are you doing, two?"

"My name is Sandra. And aren't you Billy?"

"Yes, sorry to be messing around. If I had a hand I would offer a handshake."

Some titters emitted from her speakers.

"Was that a laugh? Hey, no fair, they made it so you could laugh."

"Well, I wouldn't worry -- maybe they will give you an upgrade," said Sandra.

As they chatted, enjoying the novelty of another like themselves, the assembled group mostly stayed silent. That is, until Dr. Griggs spoke up.

"Someday Billy and Sandra may be able to shake hands, if we can proceed with development of prostheses as we planned."

Dr Kagan dropped his jaw, then clamped it shut. Some of the nurses stared at him. Billy turned his face, and then asked, 'Are you working on some hands and legs for us? Can this be done? You are keeping us going, after all."

"Well, now, Billy...We have to be patient with these things. Just getting you and Sandra to this point was a gigantic undertaking, and it will take much more funding to move forward..."

"Well, doc, I hope you didn't bring us back just to suffer in these tanks forever. We are still human beings, you know. We need the sensation of moving around a bit. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful and all, but you know what I'm saying?"

"Billy! You should consider yourself lucky!" chimed in Sandra. It sounded as if she was trying to yell, but the voice synthesizer only increased the volume without changing the quality and timbre.

"Now, now. We can work on these issues in the future. Today is all about celebrating what we have achieved to date, as Dr. Kagan said. We have advanced neuroscience tenfold just by having you two here -- you can consider yourselves pioneers, contributing to the future health and well-being of the human race. With your cooperation you are performing an invaluable service. Billy, your names are going down in history. The first human to walk on the Moon; the first one to land on Ceres, on Mars. Now, the first one to stay alive without a body," finished Norris.

"Work with us, Billy. It will go better for all," added Dr. Kagan.

They had Billy mesmerized until Kagan threw in that last, and then it got his dander up some. He remained mostly silent for the rest of the ceremony, which ended shortly afterwards.

Billy had liked to dabble in drugs when he was walking around with the rest of his class. He was still the same old Billy. At this point in time, he understood that they were being continuously "fed" via solutions circulated with their artificial blood. He also understood that, when they system detected a shortage of certain nutrients, it compensated by increasing the dosage of this or that chemical. He was not sure if the mix included any illicit substances, but at night some days, he suspected there may be a sedative or something. So sometimes he would think about drug trips, or times he was mad, or sad, just to see what kinds of feelings he could induce. One an addict, always an addict, he thought with self-derision. Sometimes it seemed to him he got a rush after a particularly intense sequence of thoughts, mostly sexual fantasies. So, every night, he found he could at least get some semblance of pleasure. The days passed.

Dr. Griggs sat in an office near the vita room where Billy and Sandra were. He could hear them talking about something or other, muted electronic tones with a spice of their personality added. Their resilience was amazing. They seemed to be hitting it off.

Sandra was hopeful. Drs. Norris and Griigs had informed her that she was going to get an experimental link to the Internet. If it worked, she could cruise the net, "typing" and "clicking" by thought. They had to calibrate the keyboard and such. She was to be the first this time; if her setup worked, they could implant the capabilities into Billy's system. She reviewed the information they had given her, and did some exercises. Soon, she hoped, her life would get an added dimension. Perhaps Billy and her could IM each other in real time. Billy kept talking about his druggie stuff, though. He could not seem to let go of that, even after all he had been through. Sandra was hopeful that an Internet linkup would take his mind off such things. Time would tell, she decided.

Dr. Griggs and a nurse entered her room. She had been dozing some, apparently -- it was hard to tell at times. "Hello there."

"Hello, Sandra. How are you feeling today?" the nurseasked.

"About as good as can be expected, I guess. And you?"

"Fine, thanks. Listen, the reason we are asking is that something has happened with Billy."

"What? What happened to him?" boomed out of her speakers.

"Well, He seems to be in a coma. There is some internal bleeding, and the docs are trying to drain and stabilize him. But we need some information from you right now."

"Coma? How in the world? " was all Sandra could manage.

"Sandra, did Billy say anything to you about trying to manipulate his nutrient flows for any reason?"

"You know, like so he could get a high or something?" Dr. Griggs.prodded.

"Well, no, not really -- well, he did mention once how he wished he could still get high..."

"Okay. Fair enough. Listen, we are not blaming anyone here, but..."

"What could I have done? I'm not exactly mobile here, people." snapped Sandra.

"We think that Billy tried to jimmy his feeds to get a buzz. Whatever the case, there was a pattern of nightly imbalances. We thought at first it was nothing. But apparently he manipulated some endorphin levels quite well. He learned how to get stoned. It depleted some other chemicals..."

"Oh my god. The idiot!"

"As I was saying, it depleted some chemicals, disrupted the blood flows, and caused an aneurism in his brain. Right now he is in a coma. We are not sure if we can bring him out of it." said Dr. Griggs.

"That is awful. I was hoping to chat on the Internet with him, in real time. Or even a direct connection somehow..." She did not add the fact that she had some rather deep feelings about him. He was, after all, the only other 'bodiless brain' and a boy her age. They had a lot in common. Now it appeared it was over, at least for awhile. "Can you bring him out of it?" she asked numbly.

"As I said, we are trying. But it doesn't look good." said Dr. Griggs.

"Well, then there is nothing more I can tell you. You people seem to know it all." Then some indistinct sounds came from her speakers. She seemed to be crying. Griggs and the nurse looked at each other. Griggs finally said, "Sandra. We have to be going now, there is a high-level meeting on the developments. Please accept my sincere regrets. Don't do anything rash. Take care."

A strangled noise, and then, "OK, Doc, whatever. You take care too." Sarcasm. At least she was still all there, thought Griggs. They exited, hurrying to a meeting already in progress.

####

"Well, if it isn't the bleeding heart!" someone called from the back of the room. Griggs realized he was already in hot water, and had not said a word.

"I was talking to Patient Two. Someone has to look after them, you know -- that is the object of all this crap after all," Griggs barked at no one in particular.

Kagan gave him a funny look. "OK, Griggs. Please have a seat. We were just discussing Billy's condition. Patient One."

Dr. Griggs sat, grumbled, "I know what he is."

There was an uncomfortable rustling around the room, and doctors exchanged looks with each other and the nurses present.

Kagan continued, "As I was saying. Patient one seems to have stabilized. But he is not talking, indeed has been sedated fairly heavily. We intend to bring him out of the sedation gradually, and do some testing."

"Testing? What kind of testing, doctor?" piped up someone from the back.

"Reflexive response, that sort of thing. If there are firing patterns that match nominal matrices, then the next step is to try and wake him up. If not, then we wait, and let the brain try and heal itself.

"What was damaged in the aneurism?" asked another member.

Dr. Kagan launched into a detailed explanation involving damaged blood vessels and structures in the brain. He was now in his element, and time passed quickly. Finally, the meeting broke up. As the participants filed out of the room, Dr. Kagan spoke up. "Dr. Griggs? A word, if you please." Griggs looked at him surprised, then nodded in assent.

Soon the room was empty. The two sat down, facing each other.

"Good discussion of the brain structures, Doc. You really do know your stuff," Griggs said in a conciliatory voice.

"Thank you. Now, can you tell me what that outburst was I heard when you came in?"

"Sure, if you can tell me who called me a bleeding heart when I came in?"

"I did not hear that. Nor did I say it. Doctor, we don't have time for this right now."

"Well then I would appreciate it if it was stopped. We are all trying to break new ground. Just because I spoke up for the patients..."

"Doctor, with all due respect, you told the patients we were going to build them arms and legs. You know we cannot do that. If you keep that up, it puts us at risk." Said Dr. Kagan.

Griggs sat silent, fixed Kagan with a stony look.

"OK, OK. Tell you what. If you refrain from any more remarks like that, I will see what I can do about quelling those comments from the peanut gallery. Deal?"

Dr. Griggs got up. "You have a deal. Thanks." He walked out of the room. Dr. Kagan sat, thoughtful, and then soon left.

####

A crowd was gathered around Billy's machinery. Kagan burst in. "What on earth is going on?"

"It is bad. Looks like another vessel burst." said another doctor.

"I thought he was sedated."

"Yes, but we were reducing it gradually. We don't understand exactly what happened..."

Dr. Kagan quickly scanned the monitors. One in particular flashed some warning numbers.

"You increased the blood flow, and ruptured a vessel, you idiots!" he yelled. The whole group began to shout and argue. Meanwhile, Billy deteriorated. He was seeing visions of sexual gods and goddesses, all permeated with a red haze. He felt good, but it was as if he were watching a movie with black spaces in parts of the screen. Parts of him were dying, even as other parts were still enjoying the movie. He lasted several more hours, until the movie ended and the lights went out. Permanently.

In the next room, Sandra was pondering her future. She would just have to hope they came up with another bodiless brain like her so she could have someone she could truly confide in. In the meantime, there was still the Internet. She reviewed her exercises. There was always tomorrow. As she heard the shouts and recriminations coming from the next room, she thought to herself, We need more female doctors around here...

THE END


© 2009 Mike Wilson

Bio: Mike Wilson has been writing for several years, and lives in Des Moines, with his possessed cat, snickers.* When he isn't communing with extraterrestrials, he writes poetry and short stories, as well as a blog on the desmoinesregister website, and another at radical-readings.blogspot.com . One of Mr. Wilson's stories has been published in Tales of the Talisman. He finds time to work 43 hours a week at his real-world job as a cleaning specialist for FBG service Corp, and even weeds his garden on occasion.

(*A "possessed cat" is presumably one that DOESN'T chase things its owner can't see (usually at 3 A.M.). Editor)

E-mail: Mike Wilson

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