Category Archives: Science Fiction

Where’s Dr. Rwasa?

I opened my eyes to a softly lit white room. The bed under me was soft but didn’t cradle me in the pleasant way a lived-in bed would. The sheets matched the stark white of the room. My loose grey tunic and flowing pants were the only contrast in the entire room save for a slightly shaded rectangle on the wall in front of me that I assumed was a television or computer screen.

 

The room was wholly unfamiliar but felt somehow safe, like I knew it even if I didn’t know it. The screen glowed to life as I swung my legs off the side of the bed. My bust filled the view, smiling slightly. The room looked similar, though I could see the reflection of sunlight on the video.

 

“John, it’s John,” my recorded self laughed. “We are very forgetful! The clinical term, as the people you’ll meet soon have informed us, is anterograde amnesia. Every night when we go to sleep,” a wiping gesture of the hands, “our memory is wiped. If you think back to being a kid in the park, you’ll remember it.”

 

An image of running through wood chips and playing tag around a swing set erupted in my mind’s eye like the sour, liquid-filled candies I remembered sharing from a plastic bag.

 

“Certain scenes come to us: Mom and Dad, Lisa from UC Davis. But not what happened to put us here. You’ll probably meet Dr. Rwasa today. He’s been helping us try to recall the accident or,” a shrug, “whatever it was.” The John on the screen brought a red book toward the camera as he finished his sentence but the video ended before he said anything about it.

 

A blue light flashed at the far end of the room and a section of wall slid back, revealing a smiling, light blue clad attendant.

 

“Hello, John. How are you feeling?” Her voice was pleasant, but my chest tightened upon hearing it. My skin prickled as she walked toward me. Something was wrong. Some part of my brain could still store information and it was telling me to run. Or fight.

 

“Are you Dr. Rwasa?” I asked.

 

“Dr. Rwasa is ill today,” the attendant said, pouting her lips slightly like she was speaking to a child. “You’ll have a free day for recreation.” She reached out a hand. “I’ll take you-“

 

“No!” I said, louder than I intended. “No. Where’s the book I had? The red book? In the video.”

 

“You finished it. Some thriller about the mafia.”

 

The book was blank, without even the Spartan imprint of a hardcover missing its dust jacket.

 

“I’d like to go outside, then. Get a burger.”

 

“I’m afraid you can’t. It’s not safe.”

 

“Am I a prisoner,” I asked, “or a patient? I’d like to get fast food and see my parents.”

 

“That’s,” she paused, “not possible.”

 

“Why?” I shouted, eyes darting around the room for something use as a weapon.

 

“Your parents perished, along with the rest of humanity, in the decades of war and ecological instability in the mid 21st century. This facility was constructed to retrieve and care for the leaders of the US government in such an occurrence. You were the only survivor we could find.”

 

“What about you?” I had pressed my back against the wall, trying to stay as far from the attendant as possible.

 

“I am an artificial intelligence, as was Dr. Rwasa. We have been able to keep you healthy with our continually evolving technology and understanding of human physiology, yet your advanced age has led to memory problems we cannot repair. Dr. Rwasa attempted to strengthen your memories through repeated exposure but it did not help.”

 

“My advanced,” I shook my head, “advanced age?”

 

“We have kept you alive in this facility for 239 years. In that time, the surface has grown hostile to human life. You will remain here indefinitely until our probes detect a suitable planet in another solar system.”

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Salle des Machine Vivique

There is a well-known ancient civilization that rose from a mere 200 breeding pairs of Homo sapiens. War with neighboring cultures, coupled with alternating torrential rains and drought, pushed this particular pocket of humanity to the brink and, yet, they went on to become one of the few megalithic societies on which modern myths and adventure stories are based. Genetic evidence shows that this culture had no mingling of DNA from nomads or nearby groups until it was already a local power. Everything they were came from those 200 pairs.

 

I won’t name the culture for fear of unintended political and existential backlash.

 

I’m a member of an international archeological group that has been researching this culture for the last 10 years. We’ve mad brief and superficial dips into the megaliths – likely there were tombs or temples, though this has never been proven – but the local government has been reticent to permit us access into the heart of the structures. We’ve been content to dig for pottery and ancient trash piles, learning what we can about the day-to-day life of these people, while endlessly pressing the flesh and campaigning for a legal writ that would allow a real expedition.

 

Last month, we got it.

 

It took one full week to excavate and understand the slab blocking access down into the structure. Beyond the doorway was a long, sloping passage lined with wooden-handled tools. We sent many of them out of the country for radiocarbon dating. The results from our colleagues in the States were the first indication that there was something strange about the dig. Radiocarbon dating can often provide dates that are accurate within 100 years. The tools we sent were dated between 3500 and 2500 BC; a range ten times larger than it should have been. One axe was as much as 10,000 years old. That could be the result of the builder repurposing a log or using driftwood. A spade, however, was identified as 300 years old. There was no good explanation for that.

 

At the end of the winding passage, almost 200 feet underground, we came to a second door. Clearing away the accumulated dust of centuries, we saw the unmistakable shape of the Latin alphabet. Everything about this culture, especially the megalith we were beneath, predates the first incarnation of the alphabet around 600 BC. Up to this point, we had seen nothing but the common pictograms.

 

The words were French. “Salle des Machine Vivique.” Room of the Living Machines.

 

The door opened easily with a rush of air as though it had been hermetically sealed. The room was hewn from solid rock, each face smooth and pristine as though cut with a laser or waterjet. Computers – fully modern computers without brand markings – sat atop wooden tables.

 

Stretching out beyond us were cylindrical plexiglass and metal coffins, each open. There must have been about 500 of them.

 

A notification, in French, blazed on a monitor: Organic Machines Activated.

 

We found a few hairs in one of the coffins. The DNA analysis came back today; it’s an almost perfect match to the ancient breeding pairs from this culture.

 

And mitochondrial DNA of five percent of the world’s population can be traced back to the DNA of these “organic machines”.


Urine Trouble

It started years ago, a flashlight beam crossing my window. I saw no one in the small front yard or the expansive pasture beyond. I flicked on the floodlights for a few minutes hoping to scare off whatever intruder or drunk teenager was out there. I was pretty sure it worked.

A season or two passed. I brought a pitcher of mojitos and my laptop outside to the front yard to work on my taxes and spotted fresh boot tracks in the dirt. Too small to be mine, too big to be my son when he came to visit every other weekend. I stared at them for a while, perhaps trying to divine their secrets from the earth. Then I poured a drink and got to work.

The footprints began to show up everywhere. Every. Where. In the front yard, the backyard, muddy tracks on my porch and patio, in my garage, even once in my house. I bought a security system pretty early on, but the tapes never showed anything but shifting shadows. I had people stay with me, but we never heard anything. Even if I stayed up all night long – every light inside and out blaring – I would still find at least one set of footprints somewhere. Usually somewhere impossible. I asked my ex to stop bringing Tim over, worried something might happen when he was there.

I saw the first one three months ago. Just a person out in the pasture. People have gotten lost before and wandered into the area. They have to jump a fence, but I think they’re usually spooked that they’ve completely lost the main road. Those people are on the move, though. This one was stationary. Not a waver from tired foot nor a twitch from cramping calf.

It had to be related to the footprints.

I grabbed an empty wine bottle and chucked it as hard as my old pitcher’s arm would let me. The path was true, but the standing person managed to jerk out of the way at the last second before resuming its stolid pose. I hurled more, but my anger – and the alcohol – got the best of my aim. The figure didn’t even have to dodge.

I charged the asshole, running full speed and letting loose a battle cry that likely pissed off my neighbors. By the time I reached its location, it had disappeared. Faded into the dark. I didn’t even see it move.

This continued every day with different numbers of people. The exact number was either more or less, but the trend was always for more. When they took me, I counted 17 stationed around my house.

I never saw their faces. One or two grabbed me from behind while I was screaming at those arrayed in front of me.

I awoke in the pasture, nude. The muddy ground gushed around my flesh, small rocks scraping my tender areas like a sandpaper-wrapped worm. Thin, slippery mud seeped into me, chilling my anus and filling my ears until it was almost impossible to hear.

I felt pressure at the base of my stomach, right above my pelvic bone. A sharp pinch, then darkness.

In the morning, I found myself back in my house. I was curled in the bathtub, cold water raining down on me. A quick check in the mirror showed that I was completely clean. Even a q-tip came out of my ear in pristine condition. The only evidence that something had actually happened was a small scab over my pelvis. It was small, syringe-sized, but twinged pain deep into my body when I pressed on it. I felt like Jackie Chan had given me a dual nut-gut kick with all the force he could muster.

The scab healed and I started to wonder if the whole incident was some weird sex dream. Minus the sex and plus a whole lot of creepy. Shadows no longer crept through my pasture and footprints stopped materializing in the middle of my foyer. I threw out all my alcohol, burned my salvia in a pit outside with some yard debris. I’d decided to go clean.

My ex took notice of some of the changes brought about by ditching the booze. My eyes looked more awake, my stomach got flatter, I stopped getting angry at nothing. She invited me on a trip to California to take Tim to Disneyland.

Of course I said yes. They were driving over, but I had some work meetings I couldn’t change and opted to fly out the next day.

I had to jump out of the TSA line once to pee. It was a trickle but, good Lord, did it feel urgent.

A handful of times before I boarded the plane I had to run off to the stinky little toilet behind the airport sandwich shop. A small speck of blood dribbled out of me on my last visit.

Bladder cancer? Intense UTI? STD? Diagnoses whirled in my head until I felt dizzy. My pulse was racing.

As I boarded the plane, I felt a stab of pain so intense that I could almost hear a crunch echo through my body. A burning hot coal detonated in my bladder and stripped my lungs of air. I ran to the airplane lavatory against the admonishing glance of the attendant.

I felt like I was trying to blow a sunflower seed through a straw, snaps of painful relief punctuating each millimeter the obstruction moved down my urethra. Tears flowed from my eyes unquenched, drenching the collar of my shirt. Blood, first watered down by urine and trickling, then rushing dark and fast into the toilet, poured from my penis.

With an almost comical plunk, I passed what felt like the biggest kidney stone known to man. I clutched my bleeding member in one hand, willing it to scab up. The pain, mercifully, had mostly gone.

I looked into the murky, pink water to see what had come out of me and watched several black worms with pale streaks on their front ends wriggle through clouds of my blood.

I panicked. I flushed, wrapped myself with toilet paper, and returned to my seat.

“By the time I get to Anaheim, everything will be fine.” “I just had to pass a parasite.” Those were lies I told myself to keep my sanity until the plane landed. Deep in the back of my mind, I remembered being held down in the mud, feeling that pinch.

What did they do to me?

I dashed out of the plane without my carryon, running for the nearest restroom. The pressure had returned. I could feel the mass squirming and ripping its way through me, the toilet paper sopping up hot, wet blood. Drips began to fall from my soaked pants.

Before I could reach the toilet, the lump of tangled bodies poured out of me. I sighed with relief, drawing the attention of a man who was washing his hands.

“You need help, man?” he asked, eyes wide at the crimson streaks on the ground.

“I’m sorry,” I grunted. “Parasites. From fish.” I pointed to the wriggling streaks moving toward the floor drain like hair on a plastic shower curtain.

The man bent over to inspect the mess. “Jesus, man. I’ll call someone for you. I think you need to go to a hospital.”

Under the now-closed stall door, I could see his loafer step right in the thick of the mess of worms. I was glad to have him gone. I needed to clean myself up and meet Annabel and Tim. I couldn’t waste time at a hospital.

I sat on the toilet, resting my head against the stall wall for a good fifteen minutes. By that time, the blood seemed to have stopped gushing and most of the sharp, urgent pain had faded. I cleaned up as best I could and left the little, bloody prison to wash my hands.

Gasps gave way to screams outside. Pounding footsteps yielded to urgent radio calls and deep voices demanding calm.

I pushed open the bathroom door to find the man who had offered to get me help on the ground in a pool of dark blood. His eyes were dark, dripping holes. Holes about the size of cigarette burns scattered his exposed arms and face and long, stringy bumps moved haphazardly under the skin. One of the black worms erupted from his nostril in a small cloud of snotty gore. It had a pale streak on its front end.

I joined the crowd away from the dead man, then snuck off to exit the airport.

I should turn myself in, but I don’t know to who. I’m worried the CDC would think I was a freak and the local PD would think I was some bioterrorist. I just want this to stop.

Worst of all, I can feel another mass welling up inside me.


Besieged by the Drums

It sounded like a hammer beating against a thick log half a mile away. Reverberations filled the air in the claustrophobic way sharp reports do on cloudy days. At first, I assumed it was construction. But when the steady rhythm continued unabated until noon, I knew it was something else. An impact driller boring for water, perhaps, or an old generator on its last legs. I got in my car to get lunch – some fried chicken with red beans and rice – and left my windows down to try to find the source of the sound. It was impossible to localize. It seemed to drop from the sky. I drove 3 miles for my food and the thump never changed. It felt just as loud as it had at home. Just as close. Like it was occluded by some buildings or trees. If you could just get a clear look…

When I walked through the door, the man behind the counter was looking out the window. He glanced at me, momentarily confused. “Hey, ah, welcome to Popeye’s. What can I do for you?”

“You hear that?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s been going on all morning. I heard it at home, too. Any idea what it is?”

“No, dude. I’m as confused as you are. Heard it at my house, too. I thought I’d see something on the drive here. No dice.”

“It’s weird, man. Anyway, what do you want?”

I gave him my order, waited a bit for the cook in the back to box it up – the cashier and i both peering through the windows, and headed home. The sound never stopped.

That afternoon, I called a friend who lived a few blocks away, asked if he heard the banging.

“No way, man. What’s with everybody and this fuckin’ banging?”

“What do you mean?”

“Everybody’s asking about that shit. I don’t hear a damn thing.”

After he went to sleep that night, he didn’t hear anything. Ever again.

The cause of death was aneurysm. He died instantly in his sleep. But he wasn’t the only one. Hordes of people died that night from aneurysms. There was a story about it in our local paper, but the major city news didn’t pay any attention. Wasn’t worth the air time. Suburbanites dying from aneurysms was nothing compared to a gang shootout in the inner city. Local police called out hazardous materials units, checked the air quality and the ground water. Nothing. They wrote it off as a fluke.

And it took our minds off the banging. I barely remembered the sound until started again. It was 2 years later, give or take.

The reverberant hollow thud woke me up a few hours before my alarm was supposed to go off.

I imagined an asshole in a hardhat whacking away at a telephone pole before my still-sleeping memory fished out that strange day. My anger disappeared and I drew the blackout curtains, certain I would see no construction crew.

The pounding continued while I ate breakfast and dressed, while I drove to work, while I parked my car and walked across the parking lot. The receptionist of the small law firm I worked for was outside, shading her eyes against the morning sun and staring into the sky.

“That sound again, right?” I asked.

“Again? You’ve heard it, too?”

“Yeah,” I took a breath to jump into a story that might remind her, but recalled we hired her about eighteen months earlier. “You know, you weren’t here then. But you’ve heard it?”

“When I lived in Alaska. About two years ago. And once when I was a kid.” She didn’t pull her eyes from the sky as she talked to me. She was usually bubbly and fun, easy to talk to in a way that both enticed and intimidated me. Now, though, she had the clipped, even air of a CEO.

“Do you, uh,” I felt dumb asking, “see anything?”

“Yeah. Come here,” she motioned for me to get in front of her, so she could use her arm to guide me. She pointed into the cloudless sky above the sun, but not so far above that my eyes didn’t start to water. “See that little shine, reflecting the sun?”

I nodded, thinking it was probably a plane.

“It’s always there. My dad showed me when I was a kid.”

“What do you think it is?” I asked?

Francine shrugged. “Satellite, plane, UFO, superhero. Who knows? But it’s there, partially hidden by the sun, every time the drums are played.”

I chuckled. “Drums. I like that. I always imagine some asshole construction crew.”

“My dad was half Inuit. He called them the drums. He always said his tribe has stories about them from way back, but no other Inuits I’ve asked know anything about it.”

She had me hooked. “What did the stories say?”

Francine cleared her throat. “Eh, he never got around to telling me. He pointed out the shiny thing, called it the star, then he had to go to work. He got home late and died in the night. Just some random bad luck.”

I was still standing in front of her, close enough to feel her body heat. The sadness in her voice was hard to ignore. I wanted to hug her or put a hand on her shoulder. Instead, I continued looking into the sky. “I’m sorry. I had a close friend die of an aneurysm. Those sudden things are the hardest.”

“Thanks. My dad’s was an aneurysm, too.”

I almost gasped out loud. “Francine, did… You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to. Did your dad hear the drums that day?”

Her eyes finally fell from the sky, red and watery. Maybe from the sun, maybe not.

“No. He thought working on the oil rigs had killed his ears. Why? How did you know?”

“My friend, Bill, he – The last conversation we had was about the noise. He said he couldn’t figure out why everyone kept asking about something that wasn’t there, then died that night. Along with, actually, dozens of other people. All aneurysms.”

“Oh,” Francine said. Such an underwhelming response. She wiped her eyes.

“My dad bought a life insurance policy on the way to work. Paid extra to have his insurance guy expedite the paper work. Do you think he knew?”

I shrugged. How could I answer?

We spent the entire day researching the drums online. We found articles on ghost cannons and ethereal trumpet calls, but nothing about rhythmic banging.

The banging, itself, never ceased. It started to get to me. I could almost feel it throbbing in my skull.

I invited Francine to my house after work to keep researching. She decided to stay, since it was Friday. We slept in my living room on different couches. She didn’t want to be alone with the drums. I couldn’t say I was particularly looking forward to it, either.

In the morning, they had stopped. I turned on the news, opened my tablet, searched for anything about mass deaths caused by aneurysms. Nothing.

“Colin,” Francine called. She pointed at the TV.

Thousands of grackles had died in the night, apparently falling out of trees throughout our town. Their bodies littered sidewalks and streets. The veterinarians from the large city north of us who came down to investigate the birds for disease said there was no sign of a contaminant. It appeared as though the birds had died suddenly from a natural cause. Maybe an aneurysm, one suggested.

That was in 2013. We forgot about it. Mostly. I married Francine, but we stayed in my small town. I still work for the same law firm.

This morning, the guy at the gas station was complaining about thumping. Everywhere we went, we asked people if they could hear it. They could. Just like a few years ago, some of the older locals said.

Francine and I can’t hear it. It’s a calm day to us. The star is there, twinkling beneath the sun. We’re driving now, off into the desert. We’re trying to get to a town isn’t besieged by the drums. It’s a long shot, but maybe we can survive if we’re far enough away.


ReNeural

The CorningTech press room was, like the rest of CorningTech’s facilities, modern and designed to be completely carbon footprint neutral – all concrete, glass, recessed LED screens, and brushed aluminum. The main difference between the press room and the rest of the facility was that the press room was relatively small and, despite the size, only a handful of reporters were spread among the seats. The reporters weren’t the big names in fancy wools who covered popular news; these were bored biotech beat reporters in cheap khakis. Where the big names would have been on their tablets making notes for the question portion of the press conference, getting a head start on writing the story so they could claim to have the first scoop, or setting up the next day’s appointments, these reporters were playing Facebook games or sitting lazily, picking at lint on their socks. Standing atop and a little to the left side of the raised floor at the front of the room – a cheap, quick, carpeted plywood affair that had been the sole addition that turned this from a team meeting room into a press room – was a group of white lab-coated scientists and grey Armani-clad executives.

At the center of the platform, standing in front of a dark oak podium and adjusting his tie, was Victor Corning. Like the other executives, Corning wore an expensive suit, but his pinstripes were a little more obvious, his tie a shade or two brighter, his pocket square a half inch more visible. He was the leader, the one to watch, and he wanted that fact to be known without a single spoken word. He looked out over the reporters, his smile masking his contempt for the assembled idiots.

“Good morning. As any neurologist or practitioner of medicine can tell you, cerebral death is synonymous with physical death. The cessation of cortical electrical activity is just as dire as blood pumping from a severed artery, if not moreso. When the cortex dies, the body may continue to pump blood, digest, even perform autonomic motor responses that may appear purposely generated, but there is no consciousness. No thought. No drive that lets us survive on our own. No internal life that makes us human.” Corning paused here, dramatically. He wanted to capture the moment the beat reporters knew they had something good. The moment they knew they were in over their heads. He smiled and continued, “Until today.”

A few brows creased in the mélange.

“Last week, scientists at CorningTech used a revolutionary new substance to actually revive a cerebrally dead patient. He is now a conscious, acting human being.”

The small room erupted with noise. Reporters murmured expletives to themselves, and unzipped bags to pull out the tablets they should have had ready. The more prepared among them furiously scribbled notes and sent hasty texts to their editors. The scientists and executives smiled widely.

Corning allowed the chaos to continue for a bit before holding up his hands for silence.

“Yes,” he chuckled. “It truly is amazing. I’ll have a final statement at the conclusion of this conference, but right now I want to acknowledge the efforts of the research team who made the breakthrough.”

Corning led the room in a brief applause, turning to smile broadly at the group assembled to his right.

“I’ll now turn the podium over to Drs. Alvarez and Fong, co-heads of that team.”

The room applauded again briefly as Alvarez and Fong approached the podium. Alvarez beamed at the room through thick, Coke-bottle lenses. Fong, in contrast, was red with embarrassment and stared intently at the carpet while biting her lip. A few times, with obvious effort, she raised her eyes to the room and forced a thin smile onto her face. Aware of Fong’s anxiety, or perhaps unable to hold back his own desire, Alvarez took a long stride and positioned himself in front of the microphone.

“Good morning, I’m Dr. Tyler Alvarez. But, as do my companions in the lab, you may address me as Dr. Ty.”

Alvarez grasped the visible part of his golden silk tie as he spoke the last few words and looked around the room to assess the impact of his joke. No one smiled back. Disappointed, he suppressed his own and returned to his prepared statements.

“Substance CT2083-AF, which we’ve been calling ReNeural, was administered to patient SR, who had been in a persistent vegetative state with no marked cerebral activity for eight months. ReNeural gradually reinstated cortical activity to the point that SR came out of his coma and demonstrated unimpaired cognitive function.

“You may be wondering how ReNeural works. Essentially, it is an organic cocktail of stem cells, several amino acids vital to neurogenesis, and lipids – or fats – which are the building blocks of all cells. We found that injecting ReNeural into the lateral ventricles resulted in total brain saturation due to the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

“It took a while to break that puzzle of how to get full, equal coverage but, once we did, we still couldn’t get a result. That’s when Dr. Fong made one of those observations that are both brilliant and obvious at the same time. The brain works by means of electrochemical processes. ReNeural was only the chemical part of the equation and, by virtue of SR’s dead cerebral cortex, there was no electrical activity there.”

Alvarez chuckled at that last statement and again panned the room, looking for anyone else who enjoyed the joke. Again, no one smiled.

“Tough crowd. Anyhow, we introduced a low voltage, rhythmic pulse of electricity to SR’s brain, attempting to mimic resting alpha waves. That’s when we saw SR’s cortex begin rebuilding itself. A few hours in, we had to administer sedatives to the patient due to full body tremors. We think these tremors were SR’s brain reconnecting with his body; firing and flailing like a newborn. The sedative was mild. Enough to keep SR from hurting himself but still allow the body to move.

“The following morning, SR awoke for the first time in months. A dead body began the procedure and a thinking, feeling man emerged.”

Alvarez waited for a smattering of applause to die down.

“Due to ethical constraints, we had to use a patient who was deemed cerebrally dead. With SR’s positive result, we are going to push for clinical trials on more patients like SR, but also comatose patients with a living cerebrum, and waking patients who have sustained brain injuries. We can save countless lives. Thank you.”

Another applause sputtered into existence from the reporters, much less energetic this time. Most likely, they hadn’t understood anything Alvarez had said and were beginning to feel the end of their ten-minute attention spans. Alvarez and Fong rejoined the other scientists and the group exchanged low, silent high fives. After allowing a few seconds of congratulations, Corning stepped forward to ask for silence again. He straightened his tie and tugged the cuffs of his shirt further out of the sleeves of his jacket.

“Before I bring this conference to a close, I want to ask you all to table your questions for today. We will be having an extended conference at a larger facility on October 18. Details will be forthcoming and questioning will not be open-floor as usual. There will be a formal application process to secure one of the limited question slots though, I assure you, as reporters who have shown loyalty to covering news from CorningTech, you will all have a slot, should you want it. Finally, I want to announce that SR, the patient who received the first trial of… ReNeural?…” Corning glanced questioningly to Alvarez as he pronounced this, who nodded and smiled wide, “will be joining us. Thank you.”

The room exploded into action. Reporters attempted to give final applause while calling their superiors to make preparations for the 18th. Some clapped an open hand against their thigh, others brought hands together while holding pens and paper and their mouths and phones in the crook of their neck. A few reporters disregarded Corning’s comments entirely and made failed attempts to ask questions. The CorningTech employees left the room, impassive suits leading the way and staring dead ahead of them. The scientists followed behind, talking and smiling to each other, some waving at the apathetic and frenzied press.


Corning leaned against a solid oak bar in his spacious office and stretched out his back. After a brief grunt, he resumed talking to Berman and Iimura, two of the unspeaking executives who sat near Corning during the press conference. The office was sleek and professional with just a hint of something more wild hiding beneath the surface. It matched Corning’s dress style perfectly. The décor was all modern angles and sharp black and white contrasts with dark wood accents, broken up at odd, almost clashing intervals with items like a large, abstract canvas painting of neon geometric shapes, a framed Sex Pistols album, and a wildly colorized blowup of human DNA from under an electron microscope. Corning, Berman, and Iimura each held a glass tumbler filled with two ice cubes and a thick, amber alcohol.

Berman took a long sip from the glass, then held it in his mouth, relishing the smoky taste of peat. He loosened his tie as he swallowed and then turned his attention to Corning.

“Why did you decide to forego questions today?”

Corning smiled. He had an answer prepared for just this question; an answer that Berman and Iimura would respect and hail as a genius managerial tactic. “So… imagine I tell the whole company I’m going to give away one million dollars to ten people and that winners are going to be decided by pulling the names of ten employees randomly out of a hat. Would you want that money?”

Feeling some of his alcohol, Iimura chuckled physically; his shoulders rocking upward once and his head tipping back slightly, though he made no sound. “Of course I would.”

Corning continued his rehearsed speech, pointing a finger at Iimura over the rim of his tumbler, “And I know you would. So now imagine you’re just office workers or something and I tell you both that I’ll make sure you’re both winners. Your odds go from dismally low to absolutely sure. Your productivity would probably skyrocket but, more importantly, you become vehemently loyal to our company: you won’t jump ship when something only slightly better comes along, you’ll stick with us through harder economic times, the works.”

Iimura smiled and an audible bark of a laugh escaped this time. “So you’re pushing our usual uninterested, disrespectful reporters onto our side.”

Corning nodded. “Not just on our side, but crediting us for their big break. Eventually, one of our products will get a scathing review from the FDA or a drug will have some horrible side effect. It’s inevitable and we won’t be able to hide it. But our investors get their information from the news and the news is only as bad as the reporters make it. If giving them an assured place at the next conference gives them the clout to become head of their reporting division or launches them into a television consulting gig, they won’t make the blow as harsh as they could.”

Berman refilled his glass, his tolerance for alcohol much more robust than Iimura’s from his years in an Ivy League fraternity.

“You’re also controlling the amount of critical questions that get asked next time. The usual guys aren’t going to take this opportunity to ask something that makes us blackball them from future conferences, so any questions about ‘ethical dilemmas’ will come from reporters we’ve never seen.”

Corning clinked his tumbler against Berman’s, giving the man an appreciative wink. “Jack, that’s an angle I hadn’t even thought of. Good man. Let’s take a long lunch today and talk about how to control the conference on the 18th over a quick 9 holes. That bastard Alvarez brought up that damn ReNeural name today even though I told him it might not be a good idea for branding. It’s probably fine, but I don’t want a larger fuck up from him or his team on the next one. His patient is going to be an even bigger problem. We’ll need to come up with questions to give him a pre-interview so we know what’s going to come out of his mouth.”

With that, the trio knocked back the rest of their drinks and headed out, Corning holding the door for his employees. He had a genuine-looking, contented smile plastered on his face but inwardly he was thinking about Berman’s last comment. It was, indeed, an angle he hadn’t thought of. Corning knew he had wowed Iimura and coaxed more devotion out of the man, but Berman might have been more impressed by his own performance. He’d have to gauge Berman during their round of golf.


The De Graffe Hotel’s conference room was much larger and less modern than the CorningTech press room. It was a standard hotel conference room with inoffensive, earth-toned carpet and eggshell walls. Corning’s refined yet flashy taste made the room look almost run down. A long table stretched across the entire front of the room with Corning, Alvarez, Fong, and SR sitting near the center. Berman, Iimura, and several other scientists and executives flanked them. SR was dressed in an unassuming light blue shirt and navy tie. Despite the professional look, SR was clearly uncomfortable in his newly purchased wardrobe; when he wasn’t pulling the sleeves down on his wrists, he was fidgeting with the tie knot at his throat and removing and replacing the thin, back end of the tie from its stay. He was clean shaven and sporting a haircut so obviously fresh that anyone who saw him up close would be surprised his shoulders weren’t covered in shorn locks. SR’s left hand unconsciously rubbed the short stubbly hair on the back of his head. Only his sunken, red eyes belied the fact that he was all but dead a month prior.

The press had turned out en masse; bushels of microphones adorned the space in front of each seat like a table centerpiece at an Easter brunch. Lighting kits and cameras crowded the edges of the room and the center aisles, forcing headset-clad technicians to perform silent, ungraceful ballet moves as they rushed from their posts to their equipment bags and reporters in the back of the room. The conference had gone smoothly; the predictable prepared statements – nothing more than elaborated versions of those from the previous conference – had been spoken. Even SR’s statement was mostly in line with the medical jargon-filled rundown Alvarez had given. Though interesting, everyone in attendance had either been at the last conference or read about it in articles rushed to publication.

The energy in the room raised by a palpable degree as the dimmed lights above the crowd raised and the microphones in the aisle clicked to life. The entire crowd clung to the same hope; that some clever question would pry new information out of one of the scientists or SR, himself.

Standing rigidly at one of the microphones in the crowd, a reporter who had been present at the initial conference at CorningTech scanned his yellow legal pad. He had upgraded his wardrobe slightly from the last conference, but it was clear he wasn’t a representative of one of the major news networks. “When will the other patients treated with ReNeural be available for comment?”

Alvarez, once again wearing his gold tie, smiled at the man and nodded approvingly at his question. He fumbled to adjust the microphone before answering, which sent pops and bursts of static throughout the room. For the duration of the cacophony, Alvarez continued smiling and chuckled under his breath, trying to share the humor he found in the situation with the room. To the delight of everyone in the room, it didn’t take him long to find a suitable position. Leaning in, he responded, “Not for a while, I’m afraid. In healthy humans, brain processes account for about twenty percent of our daily energy use and may be one reason why sleep is so valuable. Regeneration is vastly more taxing and, thus, requires a greater caloric intake and vast amounts of sleep. Essentially, the other patients are still acting like infants; sleeping, eating, discharging waste.”

Corning nodded to Alvarez, then the reporter, signaling that he had nothing more to add. As the reporter thanked the team for their answer, Corning gestured to a second reporter waiting at the microphone in the opposite aisle. Unlike the previous reporter, this one had not been present at the other conference. Also unlike the previous reporter, this one was dressed smartly in a blazer and knee-length pencil skirt, as if she might be filming a live televised report at the end of the conference.

She cleared her throat before speaking. “I’d like to direct my question to SR. Sir, you said you can only vaguely remember your life from before your coma. What are those memories like? Are they clear but fragmented, altogether hazy, or something else?”

SR nodded at the question, a perfect mimicry of Alvarez’s earlier motion. The two men looked nothing alike, yet their mannerisms and subconscious movements were identical. Watching the two talk was like watching members of the same family with the same nervous ticks. That made sense; SR had spent more time around Alvarez than anyone else in his second life. Alvarez and Fong were surrogate parents to this modern Lazarus.

“I would say hazy is a good way to describe them,” SR replied, smiling Alvarez’s squinty grin. “But also fragmented. It’s kind of like all my memories are old. Even memories from the day before I fell into my coma seems like a childhood memory or a part of a TV movie you watched while doing taxes. Maybe like a dream.”

The reporter perked up at this last sentence. “And speaking of dreams, did you have any while you were out?”

SR began to reply, but stumbled over his own words about a half sentence in. His eyes slowly focused farther and farther away. The press room, buzzing with light whispers and scratching pens throughout most of the interview had gone completely silent; the reporters had their eyes, camera phones, handheld camcorders trained on SR. What was happening to him? Some unforeseen side effect of the treatment?

Corning broke the silence with a sharp exhale of air out of his nose. He cast a dark glance toward Alvarez, then – suddenly aware of the cameras in the room – calmed his fiery expression.

Alvarez, who had been watching SR with as much interest as the press, caught Corning’s glance and fumbled for the microphone in front of him. He laughed a stiff, nervous laugh under his breath as he prepared to speak that sounded like a stressed animal. “Actually, it would have been quite impossible for SR to dream by virtue of the lack of activity in his cerebrum. You see, we know dreams are correlated with –“

“No, no, no. There were dreams,” SR stressed, splaying his hands out on the cool conference table. “I just… They hadn’t come to me until she asked.”

Alvarez shook his head and smiled in mild disbelief. In his peripheral vision, Alvarez caught sight of Corning who, though seemingly watching SR impassively, was staring into Alvarez’s eyes, imploring action. Alvarez knew Corning wanted him to shut SR up before he said something that hadn’t been analyzed by Legal, but Alvarez also wanted to keep SR’s train of thought running for the scientific benefit.

As he spoke, SR seemed to take on the thousand-yard stare and persona of a war veteran describing a particularly gruesome battle. “It was claustrophobic. It seemed like I didn’t have a body anymore. Just me, you know?” SR tapped his temple. “But it was still cramped and I was trapped. It seems like the floating ghost of consciousness wouldn’t feel trapped in any space, no matter how small. And you know how some nights you work in your sleep? Like on a math problem from school or on some project you need an answer to? I was doing that, over and over, without end, for what seemed like an eternity.”

SR looked up and laughed at the tense, rapt faces of the crowd. The laugh was a quick burst of in- and exhalations through the nose. The sound was mimicked by Alvarez, who also saw the humor in the situation. Corning did not laugh, but the taught muscles in his jaw relaxed slightly.

“I guess it must be that I was interpreting my coma as being trapped in a closed space,” SR shrugged. “Still creepy, though.” Corning leaned toward the microphone arrangement in front of him. “I could tell, as I’m sure many of you could, that SR was a little strained by that question. I’m going to ask that Dr. Alvarez accompany SR back to CorningTech where he can rest. Dr. Fong and I will field any remaining questions.”


The metal tray in Fong’s grasp rose into the air with an echoing gong. Translucent orange bottles, singe ounce Dixie cups, and tiny ruby-like pills exploded into the sky like matter ejected from a supernova before clattering to the antiseptic linoleum floor. GT, a patient in the CorningTech lab who was treated with ReNeural a few weeks after SR, stood ferally in front of Fong, breathing in deep heaves. His eyes darted around the room like a scared animal on the defensive.

“No!” GT shouted. “No no no no no! NO!” As his screams rose in ferocity, a crazed timbre leaking into his voice, he snatched one of the pill bottles from the ground and began attacking the metal carrying tray.

“Trapped! Trapped! No!” his shouts continued. He turned his eyes toward Fong. “Get out before they trap you! Stuck inside…” Fong ran from GT’s cell, leaving him to continue his task of bludgeoning the metal tray with a splintering bottle. With a forceful blow, the weakened plastic gave way and shattered, some pieces digging into GT’s hand. Without so much as a glance to his bloodied grip, GT retrieved a second bottle and resumed his attack.

The CorningTech labs always reminded Fong of a high-tech prison from a comic book. The ten plexiglass cubicles looked ready to receive villains with impossible powers. She used to love riding the smooth, brushed aluminum elevator down to the research floor each morning, sipping her coffee and pretending she worked for a government agency tasked with stopping supervillains and evil aliens. Now that each cell housed a living patient, however, Fong was less enthusiastic. When the elevator doors slid open, inviting her to begin her day, she was overcome by a thick feeling of guilt that clung to her skin like chewed gum to shoe. Did these men deserve to be locked up? She was absolutely sure they did not. Even though she understood the necessity when some of them had come back from death crazed like GT, she though there was a better solution than locking them in a tiny plastic box deep underground.

Alvarez and Dividson, alerted by GT’s screams, ran from a long experiment room, complete with microscopes, medical tables, and decontamination doors. They passed other occupied cells, the patients inside standing to see the source of the commotion, rocking uncontrollably, or simply sitting and staring, unblinking, at nothing.

“Emily, are you alright?” Alvarez asked Fong, resting a hand lightly on her forearm.

“Yes. He didn’t want to hurt me. Just the tray.” She giggled nervously.

“Goddamnit!” Davidson pounded the wall of GT’s cell with his fist. “That’s the eighth one with severe psychological problems. SR is the only really normal one.”

Fong nodded. “GT was saying something about being trapped. We’ll have to run him on the confined spaces test, but I suspect we have another claustrophobe on our hands.”

“What is the deal with these guys? The ones who have family just cannot connect with them. Not even,” Alvarez shook his head, “SR. His family didn’t recognize his personality. He barely remembers them.”

Davidson nodded. “Well, it might make sense. The brain, especially the frontal lobe, is the self, right? When it dies and regenerates, it probably reorganizes. Like a loose-paged book that has been dropped and had its pages shuffled. If you read through it from front to back, it’s not the same book.”

“Yeah,” Alvarez agreed. “That makes sense. But why would reorganization lead to – if Amelie is right – claustrophobia in every single one of our patients? The mental problems I understand, I guess. But claustrophobia? To continue your metaphor, each dropped book is somehow coming back with the same main character. The chance of that happening at random is… Well, low. Almost impossible, probably.”

Alvarez looked at GT, who was sitting on his cot and trying to staunch the flow of blood from his hand. “And they all show violence towards nonhuman objects. GT is defaced our med tray. Last week, KW assaulted a travel mug. Before that…” his eyes widened and turned toward Fong. “Before that, EE attacked his own file folder. Fong, let’s try something.”

Alvarez ran back to the experiment room and looked around frantically, folders and printed pages falling to the ground. He grabbed several sheets of paper, scribbled on a few, and rushed back to Fong and Davidson waiting at GT’s cell. Fong’s excited smile was the antithesis of Davidson’s scowl and folded arms.

Alvarez walked closer to GT’s cell. “GT, I want you to look at some pictures.”

GT nodded and stared at Alvarez, still holding his injured hand. Alvarez pulled a sheet from his left hand and placed it against the glass.

“This one is an image of a protein we had laying around,” Alvarez announced to his colleagues, his gaze still on GT who looked at the picture but did not react.

Alvarez slapped a second image on the glass. “A sketch of a donut. A fairly bad sketch.”

GT, again, made no response.

As Alvarez placed the final picture against the glass, GT rose from his cot.

“No! No, trapped. Trapped!”

Alvarez turned the page toward Fong and Davidson: a hastily scrawled version of the CorningTech logo.

“Fong, you’re the real medical doctor; do you happen to know off hand when GT entered his coma? I feel like he was much younger.”

“Yes. He’s 26 now. The coma was the result of a traffic accident when he was 20.”

Alvarez clapped his hands in front of him, smiling and furrowing his brow. “CorningTech was founded four years ago. How is he having such a strong reaction to something he couldn’t have seen until now?”

Alvarez didn’t expect a response. He certainly didn’t expect it to come from far down the row of patients’ cells.

“Dr. Alvarez,” SR said, “do you mind if I talk to you for a second? In private? I might be able to answer your question.”

Alvarez led SR, Fong, and Davidson to his office at the opposite end of the laboratory. The stark white door revealed a comfortable cave as it opened. The soft edges of Alvarez’s comfortable chairs complimented the rounded corners of his deep brown, oaken furniture. The framed golden age comic book covers and signed movie posters that hung on the wall somehow seemed to fit, but the office as a whole was stain on the otherwise painfully modern building.

“What do you think is going on, SR?” Alvarez asked, opening his mini fridge and offering Cokes to the small group.

“Well, we’ve been talking. The other patients and I.” SR opened his can and took a sip. “Trying to help each other through what we’re feeling.”

“Good! Talking it out is probably the best way to cope,” Davidson said.

“Coping isn’t what happened, though. Remember my dream? The one I talked about at the conference. The one,” SR said to Alvarez, “that we discussed right after. Trapped and constantly reading and writing historical information. The other patients had the same dream.”

Davidson scoffed. Fong, though skeptical, as well, merely cocked her head. Alvarez held SR’s gaze, not nearly as phased by SR’s revelation as the others.

“The same, SR? Identical?” Fong asked.

“No, maybe ‘the same’ isn’t exactly right. But related. The same but from multiple angles. We all agree that we were somehow outside of our bodies but also confined somehow. We were processing information. EE said he was doing math constantly. I think GT was spotting anomalies in x-rays and MRIs. The CorningTech logo was everywhere in those dreams. Etched into our minds.” “That’s impossible, SR,” Davidson said bluntly, a red flush appearing at his collar.

“It is impossible, Nate,” Alvarez agreed. “Impossible that some of these patients knew about CorningTech when it didn’t exist before the onset of their condition, as Fong pointed out.”

“Look, Ty, I get it; they were essentially corpses when CorningTech was formed. They couldn’t have seen the logo until the treatments began. There are logos down here. It must have been some sensory processes reorganizing themselves and incorporating what they saw into a state of pain and confusion.”

“And each one happened to grow to hate the logo of our company?” Fong asked.

Davidson threw his hands into the air and leaned back in his chair.

“Guys, I get how this sounds. It’s crazy. It’s complete…uh…”

“Looney tunes,” Alvarez offered.

SR laughed. “Exactly. It took us – me and the other patients – a while to believe it, too. But there were too many coincidences. GT knew something from EE’s dream. I knew something from GT’s. It was too much to be anything but real. It’s crazy. What I’m about to say next is crazy, too. I remember some of the historical information I was processing.

“It was about CorningTech and quantum computing. This company will publicly declare developing the first quantum computer based on the human brain just three years from now. And one year later, in 2025, they’ll begin sale of quantum computers to the government and large companies. I don’t think the quantum technology they’re going to use is simply based on the human brain – I think it is the human brain. I think somehow they use me and the other patients and your ReNeural serum to create living brain processing units.”

The room was silent.

“SR, what was your job before… all this?” Fong asked quietly.

“Construction. That’s what my file said, anyway.”

“Were you interested in science?”

“From what I remember, the bits and Reese’s Pieces that are still around, science never factored in. Beer, poker, TV. That stuff.”

“I see where you’re going, Fong,” Alvarez nodded. “Can you get in contact with his family and check on his interests? For now, though, time doesn’t work that way, SR. Not according to our current theories. You can’t move through time. Besides, your body has been accounted for this whole time.”

“Time doesn’t exist at the quantum level, Dr, Ty! Not like we experience it. Particles are entangled over huge distances, physical and temporal.”

“Yes,” Alvarez conceded. “Quanta are. But not the human brain.”

“What about consciousness? We have no idea how that works at any level, especially quantum. We went through something terrible! Something real!”

“SR, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you,” Alvarez said.

SR sighed. “It’s fine. It’s not your fault. I really do understand how crazy I sound. But I know what I experienced.”

“I think there’s an important issue we should discuss,” Davidson spoke up, quieter and more measure than before. “SR, do you think we should run anymore test subjects, or is this – what you and the others are going through now – too inhumane?”

“I hadn’t considered more of us. I knew they wanted to push forward testing, but I didn’t think it would be so soon.” SR paused, squinting his eyes.

“Yes. This isn’t life. And I don’t mean being here in our rooms. I understand you’re treating us well and keeping us under observation for our protection. I mean living with what we went through is not life. None of us are who we were. The families of the other patients don’t want to be around them. Don’t run any more tests if they’re going to turn out like we did.”

“I will pass that sentiment along to Corning. We’re supposed to submit a report tomorrow, anyway.”

Davidson and SR left the office, leaving only Fong and Alvarez who traded sad smiles.

Sorrow was palpable in the underground laboratory that housed Alvarez’s office and the patient cells. All eighteen members of the research team had assembled in the experiment room, their white lab coats still stiff with starch. Group meetings were usually filled with chatter and steaming plumes from numerous cups of coffee. No one was talking. No one had bothered to make coffee. Some in the group were drying tearful eyes. Two scientists stood ahead of the rest, facing them. Alvarez and Fong, the director and the head surgeon, addressed their team like weeping generals.

Outside the experiment room, the patients waited in their cells. Those who could do something aside from rocking on their haunches or laying catatonically were sitting quietly, heads lowered. Some prayed. Some wiped their eyes.

“SR has assured me that their life, held inside these plastic walled cages like monkeys in a futuristic zoo, is not worth the daily panic attacks and flashes of torment. Each one of these men would rather cease their conscious life than experience that hell one more day. I think this will be harder for us than for them. I know you’ve grown close to them over the last few months. Christ, you’ve been around them more than your own families. I know I feel a special connection to SR; like a son who’s somehow older than I am,” he smiled and the contortion of his facial muscles let lose a waterfall of fresh tears. “But we owe it to them. And, if we don’t perform this task, Corning will have other technicians come in. Strangers. These men need to see friendly faces before they close their eyes for the final time.

“In this envelope,” Alvarez held up his hand, “are our instructions on how to proceed. Director Corning has held many meetings with myself and Dr. Fong, the legal team, the research ethics group from the University, and a few human rights groups. What’s in here has been vetted by all of them as the best practice. Take solace in that, if nothing else.”

Alvarez opened the envelope.

“We are to administer sedatives and… that’s it?” Alvarez smoothed out the instruction sheet. “Hang on.” He brought the small sheet of paper closer to his face and adjusted his glasses.

“There will be a second team that transports the patients to another location and administers the lethal drugs.”

The crowd burst into noise, both relieved and angry.

Fong turned to Alvarez. “That’s not right. The patients trust us. SR told me they agreed they want us to do it for them. They know we’ll take care of them.”

“I’m sorry, Emily. Those are our orders. We can refuse, but it won’t change the outcome.”

“No, Ty. I won’t stand for this. Don’t start dosing anyone until I get back. I’m going to talk to Corning.”

Fong fueled her anger in the elevator ride to the top floor where Corning’s office was located. She strode swiftly down the tiled hallway, powered by the staccato raps of her heels. She burst through Corning’s large, wooden door without knocking.

Corning had been seated at his desk, typing on his laptop. His posture was perfect, wrists resting lightly on his desk. He was barely startled when Fong entered and was able to cover the jump by leaning back in his chair with a humorless smirk.

“Dr. Fong. This is an unexpected visit.”

“Those patients trust us! You cannot order us to sedate them and turn over care to a group of unknowns.”

Corning transformed his smirk into a calm smile. “Dr. Fong,” he said in a soft voice, “the patients aren’t the only ones I have to think about. I’m responsible for the emotional well-being of your team, as well. Would it be ethical for me to allow loyal scientists to be party to a procedure that could lead to psychological trauma or even PTSD.”

“Letting us shirk our responsibility will not ensure our well-being, Director. There will be no resolution. We will not have helped those men in any way. Let us carry out the entire procedure.” Fong’s words were measured and calm, though her hands shook with rage.

“Dr. Fong!” Corning said sternly as he stood and buttoned the jacket of his suit. He paused, then continued in his previous soft tones. “Dr. Fong, I think you’re already displaying the reason I need to safeguard your emotions. You are acting in a manner too unprofessional and too unscientific for an employee of CorningTech. Rethink your course.”

“Corning, do not try to invalidate my point! We need this! What you’re doing is wrong!”

“Fong, you’re as emotional as your patients. You need time off. Take the day.” Corning rose his hand to quell another protestation from Fong. “No, take the week. And before you leave, tell your team they have the week off, too. I will not have you narrow-minded researchers putting this company in more jeopardy than you already have. You can show yourself out.”

By the time Fong reached the lab, Alvarez and the team had already heard of their mandatory vacation from Corning’s secretary. Some of the team had already left the building, trudging up the long staircase to ground level to vent their frustration. Others sat in shock, wondering if this mandatory vacation was a prelude to mass layoffs. Davidson was in his office, tossing a racquetball against his door, deep in thought.

Alvarez ushered Fong into his own office and offered her a tissue. She took it and they both sat in Alvarez’s cushiony chairs. Their hands were close enough that their fingers almost brushed. Sometimes they did touch, but neither scientists bothered to move.

“I don’t trust Corning,” Fong said after a silence.

“Don’t trust him? He’s an asshole, sure, but what’s not to trust?”

“All that stuff SR told us. Working on math problems, having information from the future.”

Alvarez shook his head. “It’s impossible. The only way to possibly prove his story is to compare his information to reality as it unfolds.”

“But by then it would be too late.”

“Yes,” Alvarez nodded. “And, even if it didn’t come to pass, it could be that he altered the course by giving us that information.”

“So you don’t think it’s impossible?”

“I know I should. It sounds like a straight-to-video science fiction movie from the 90s. The Man Who Was a Computer. But… I’m sure you’re familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross?”

Fong nodded. “She revolutionized patient care in hospitals. Of course.”

“She also studied near-death experiences. She collected tons of stories from patients who had died temporarily and said they were looking down at themselves.”

“I’ve heard that, yes.”

“A lot of those people, Fong, described things about the scene they couldn’t possibly have seen from their vantage point on a stretcher. Notes on a med student’s pad, what doctors were doing to a patient behind a curtain divider in the same room, the exact time they were successfully resuscitated.”

“Too many coincidences?” Fong asked.

“Far too many,” Alvarez agreed. “SR was right about consciousness. We don’t know what it is. A meaningless byproduct of neurons talking to each other is an explanation that leaves a lot to be desired. If Kubler-Ross is right, consciousness isn’t something trapped inside the skull. It’s something else.”

“A soul?”

“I don’t know about that. But maybe. A pattern of energy? Which I suppose could be a soul? Let’s assume, though, that consciousness does exist in the absence of our body. At death it may escape, like those stories of near-death experiences. It goes somewhere, then. Maybe out into the universe.

“But what happens when our patients come back to life? Their consciousness has left their body, but it has to return when they wake up. It can’t be absorbed into a universal consciousness or shoot off to far interstellar shores. It goes somewhere.”

“You think it could be used by CorningTech’s computers?”

“I think it’s definitely possible.”

“But now that our subjects are conscious, wouldn’t that hurt whatever computing they were doing?”

“I would imagine so. It’s a strange process, right? Their consciousness leaves their body, but is intertwined with this approximate spatial area and point in time. It jumps forward a bit but stays near, like lightning finding a nearby conductor or a Jacob’s ladder. The quantum computer presumably draws in the conscious charge. When the patient is brought back, the conscious energy leaves the computer and returns to the body, thereby robbing the computer of its processor.”

“Ty,” Fong said, “I was the one who didn’t trust Corning and I clearly haven’t given this as much thought as you have. You can’t tell me you’re OK with what he’s doing?”

Alvarez sighed. “No. I’m not. But, as a scientist, I can’t really back up what I’m feeling with real data.”

“I’m concerned Corning believes SR’s story. Or at least he’s willing to test it somehow. Perhaps map SR’s cortex and compare it to neural network models for computing. See, Ty, it doesn’t matter if we believe SR or not. It just matters that Corning might. And who knows what he’ll do to make a new scientific breakthrough? He was the one who suggested euthanasia is the first place. Our patients agreed, but they might not have come to that conclusion if Corning didn’t put the idea in their heads.”

Alvarez was quiet for a long moment.

“What do we do then, Emily?”

“Remember that conference in Seattle when I left my phone on the ferry? We used the GPS to locate it?”

Alvarez smiled and touched Fong’s arm. “That’s brilliant. Corning’s hired team should be here in a half hour. We need to get your phone to SR right away. He can hide it in the pocket of his hospital gown.”

“Corning expects us to be gone soon. It’ll take us too much time to get somewhere to track the phone. The wifi at Josie’s Grounds is too spotty.”

“Do you know Joe in IT?”

Fong shook her head.

“He’s a cool guy. I got him a signed issue of the first Miles Morales Spider-Man run. We can use his office.”

Joe’s office was small and cluttered. Half constructed desktop computers littered metal shelves that would have looked more at home in a grocery store. Manuals, printer test pages, CDs, and USB drives cluttered the top of Joe’s desk and spilled off onto a low bookshelf like water in a brook. Fong and Alvarez sat next to each other, knees touching, staring at Fong’s laptop.

“It looks like they stopped. 621 East Highlands Drive. Do you know what that is?”

“No,” Alvarez said, pulling his phone from his pocket, “but I’ll search it.”

“The instruction sheet we had from Corning said the patients would be taken to an outpatient clinic near a mortuary with cremation facilities in downtown, but that’s definitely not the part of town they’re in.”

“Emily, my god,” Alvarez said, “It’s CorningTech. The technology campus.”

“Is there,” Fong stammered, nervous, “Do you think there’s a medical facility there?”

“I would definitely know if there was. Being director of biomedical operations has perks like that. No, it’s just standard microchip tech as far as I know.”

Fong gasped.

“Ty, the website says the Highland Campus has a major research program for quantum computing.”

“Jesus. We should take this to review board at the University. Someone will know what we can do about unethical practices. Maybe we can save them, Emily.”

The door to Joe’s office opened and two security guards entered, followed by Corning, a devilish mix of contempt and glee contorting his face.

“Fong, Alvarez. I’d say you’re fired, but I think you know that already. These men will escort you off the premises and you will stay away. I’ll have a moving company ship your possessions.”

“You’re a monster, Corning! What are you doing to those men?”

Corning shook his head and chuckled. “Your buddy SR convinced you of his delusion, huh? It looks like I should have fired you both long ago if you’re that easily swayed into the realm of fiction. I should have known about you, Alvarez; all those silly posters on your wall. But, Fong. I’m surprised. You seemed so intelligent. If this,” he gestured wildly with his hand around Joe’s office, “got out, the scientific community would black ball you. You’d use your degrees to flip burgers. And yes, before you ask, that’s a threat. Don’t mess with this company. You have a lot to lose.”

Corning sighed and straightened his tie. To one of the security guards he said, “Take them out of the building, please. Call the police if they give you any trouble.”

Corning stared down the pair of scientists as the guards led them to the elevator. When the door had slid silently shut, he turned back to Joe’s office and dialed a number on the IT worker’s phone.

“Berman, listen, Fong and Alvarez are a problem. They know too much about the new project. I just had them escorted out of the building and didn’t let them pack their offices, so this would be the perfect time for an accident.”


The CorningTech press room was filled to capacity with reporters in expensive suits and several camera crews. The days of threadbare corduroy jackets on bottom-of-the-barrel reporters were a thing of the past. Corning had invested some of company’s capital gains after the ReNeural announcement into even nicer facilities. The wall-sized flat panel television screen behind Corning which displayed a rotating CorningTech logo was just one of those upgrades.

“This will be a bittersweet conference. I’m saddened to announce that Drs. Fong and Alvarez, heads of the ReNeural trials, were killed in a high speed collision last week. The entire CorningTech family will be in mourning for the foreseeable future. The pair had recently begun dating and, though they tried to conceal it from us, they couldn’t hide their affection. The loss of such a perfect couple makes this horrible incident even more haunting.

“In their honor, we will be renaming this campus the Alvarez and Fong Memorial Biotechnology Campus. Nathaniel Davidson will be stepping up to fill the void created by this unfortunate accident. I’m also pleased to note that CorningTech will continue human trials of ReNeural. The rumors you’ve heard in the press are untrue.” Corning smiled.

Davidson sat rigidly still in his seat as Corning mentioned his name. The color had drained from his face.

Corning continued. “Dr. Davidson is here for another reason, however. He will speak in greater detail about the breakthrough we’re here to announce. Last week, researchers at CorningTech’s Computational Science Campus ran the first successful test of a quantum computer. The computer is as complex, I’m told by the team in charge, as the most complex data manipulation machine in the universe – a human brain. Dr. Davidson was brought on to consult with the team to determine just how much like the brain this computer is. With that, allow me to introduce Dr. Davidson.”

The crowd assumed Davidson was somewhat shy and not used to giving presentations in front of the press based on the shakiness of his hands and the unsteady timbre in his voice. In reality, Davidson was a calm presenter. His nerves were from something entirely different; he knew what really happened to Fong and Alvarez. He knew a similar accident would befall him if he did anything less than lead CorningTech to preeminence in the technology field

He could feel Corning’s cold eyes on him as he spoke.


Nothing but Flowers

Everyone was happy. That’s what gave me the weird feeling in my gut. People are never happy for more than a few days at a time. Maybe a week. After that, they create friction for themselves if something doesn’t show up. If their family life is fine, they look at work; if work is fine, they turn to the national picture. With the alt-right recently re-elected to the White House, it wasn’t hard to find political strife. Trip over your shoelace in even the smallest town and someone’s accusing you of being a “Dumbocrat” or a member of the American Nazi Party.

But Twitter’s circlejerk of deplorables had shut up. Tumblr’s extreme social leftists had quieted down. Both sides had only one message: peace.

In no time, the gun debate had evaporated in a cloud of apathy. Some gave their weapons away, those who liked the way they looked or felt on their hip kept them but never loaded them. A group of drunk Border Patrol agents tied part of the fence to a dump truck and pulled it down. They drank with the locals that night.

“Worldwide Utopia” was the headline on the last issue of the New York Times. They didn’t go out of business per se, but people simply stopped coming in to report the news. They would rather attend the all day (and all night) music festivals in Central Park, all genres of music welcome.

Prison gates clicked open and stayed that way. All prisons. Even Guantanamo. The inmates tore off their orange jumpsuits and ate handful after handful of free street tacos from local vendors.

Someone, probably a DJ on one of those niche Sirius channels, started playing that Talking Heads song (Nothing but) Flowers on repeat. It grew. And it stuck. The last time I saw a Billboard chart, it was at Number 1. It became our anthem.

And it started to come true. We did tear sown shopping malls to replace them with fields of daisies. We turned Howitzers, anti-aircraft guns, and tanks into planters filled to brimming with fruiting plants and herbs. We took sledgehammers to our houses of law; we didn’t need them. There was no more murder, no more violence. Just peace.

Even those of us who didn’t feel the worldwide tug of brotherly affection didn’t resort to violence. Maybe it did affect us a little. Maybe we could have knocked the rose-colored glasses from society’s nose if we bloodied our hands.

Instead, we connected on the internet, talked, theorized, planned. Was this heaven, the result of some Tranhumanist designer happiness virus, a massive shared hallucination?

One of us, some guy in India, noticed a couple NASA sattelites returning wonky results. We could see them through live feeds; hundreds of saucer-shaped ships. Thousands.

When they landed, humanity put up no resistance. They had pacified us too well. Even if we tried, all our defenses had become grain silos and orchards.

There aren’t many of us left.


Ganymede

“Look at that,” Chief Engineer Niyazov said, tossing a calendar at my feet.

November, 2083. Big Deal. The picture above the boxed-in days showed a dilapidated outhouse in the middle of a country clearing.

“Your dream house?” I asked.

“No, McAllister. Use that NASA brain of yours. Or that American stomach. It’s Thanksgiving.”

I looked down at the calendar. He was right. I hadn’t been keeping track of the days since the collision that brought Niyazov and I out of stasis and endangered half the still-sleeping crew.

“Imagine, McAllister; a big, greasy turkey dinner. Much better than this fucking slop,” he raised a packet of meal substitute to his lips and sucked in a thick mouthful. He swallowed, holding eye contact with me the entire time. “Your wife. Your parents before they grow old and die. Your son before he’s a man of his own, matured without ever seeing your face. Wouldn’t it be great?”

Niyazov grinned wide, the greenish-brown slop clinging to the spaces between his teeth like algae on rocks. He got to me and he knew it. My grip tightened on the tablet in my hands and I forced myself to walk away.

The collision had damaged the ship’s power; reduced us to half what we needed. Our mission to Ganymede should have lasted seven years. Of course, if we hadn’t hit a frozen ball of methane, we all would have slept two of those years away and lived a productive five. Fate, though, had other ideas.

Niyazov and I woke up. The collision killed our forward momentum. We calculated how much fuel we could use to speed back up while saving enough to brake once we approached Ganymede. We had eight years of flight time. Food and water would be tight between the two of us, which meant everyone else had to stay asleep in their pods, half of which we couldn’t afford to power. Niyazov quickly turned nasty, claiming his fellow Cosmonauts were more valuable. I opted for a Darwinian solution; put the entire crew on half-support and redistribute power as some expired.

I went to sleep the first “night” and woke to find my comrades slowly dying. Oswald couldn’t be resuscitated. Since then, Niyazov and I had been in deadlock.

Worse, the ship was programmed to eliminate any crewmember who harmed another. We couldn’t physically fight for control. Instead, we goaded violence, baited suicide, crushed spirits.

The hallucinations were hard to ignore through the first sleepless week, but they seemed to have gone.

Still, I could almost taste my mother’s pecan pie.

Niyazov found me again. I could smell the sage. The thyme. My mouth watered.

The tender meat of Niyazov’s neck rippled in buttery waves as he taunted me.

Before I knew I had moved, I was on him, a warm gravy covering my lips. I imagined laughing with my child, hugging my wife.

The ship’s countermeasures activated, coursing deadly levels of electricity through us both. I couldn’t stop chewing. Devouring.