Literary Services l Testimonials l Publishing List l Book Packager l John Nelson l Contact l Home

Chapter One

       I don't know when I first crossed the boundary between human and what 20th century Neo-Luddites would call transhuman, but I do remember, while in college, running over a cat in my new cruiser and wondering if I got any blood on my fender, with only mild concern about the animal whose life I had so abruptly ended. This was revealing, given my childhood affection for my Siamese cat, Slink, even given the usual callousness of youth. Of course those feelings—my school psychologist said I was feeling-oriented—arose before puberty, after which my first neural processor was implanted. They do repress feelings but the trade off in computational functioning is amazing. Later, when we were preparing to move to a techno-housing complex that didn't accept animals, my mother fed Slink rat poison and had animal control dispose of the remains. I was upset, even cried about it, but soon recovered —there were so many enticing distractions for a teenage boy with heighten technical proficiency in the new complex.
       Today's scientists would gauge the transhuman threshold by the number of terabits per second my neural processor can process, as compared to the average borny brain—that's what we call unenhanced Homo sapiens: a borny, given that they mostly accept the limitations they were born with. However, my employment test for K Industries, the private sector think tank for all levels of law enforcement, was telling. There was the standard IQ test—I scored more than 200—but the result for emotional empathy was high or at least for them. But, I was accepted and placed on the fast-track for surveillance work, where empathy could prove useful when dealing with the "borny problem," since its one of their chief characteristics.
       "Hey, Alan. Whatta got there?" Sherry asked, passing through the living room from the kitchen, wearing a see-through robe over her pink nightie and clutching her morning pep shake. "Is that a newspaper?" It was Sunday morning and I was reading it on the sofa, since we had nothing else planned, or nothing outside the apartment complex. This was a modern high-rise on the upper West Side of Manhattan, with a good view of Central Park through a wall-size tinted window, with all of its now lovely artificial trees gleaming, and the thirty-foot dike surrounding the island peaking through the buildings.
       "Yeah. The Times Sunday edition. Checked it out of the library archives."
       "Whatever for?" She shook her head, her short, red shag-cut hairdo shimmering as I readied my feeble explanation. "Don't bother," she added. "You're so fucking retro sometimes I can't believe it." She went back to her bedroom and closed the door. I could hear her cranking up the stereo to drown out an autoerotic session with one of her virtual playmates. I checked once and found that most of the programs were with women. I guess I should have felt reassured; truth is, it really didn't bother me. But, that's another story.
       I checked out the newspaper and a few paper books, because it was safer to record this journal in a subprogram of my neural processor, without detection, if I had this split 3D focus at the same time. Performing multiple simultaneous processes is what we're geared to do. But a non-computer interface, such as reading a book or writing on a pad, makes the monitoring of my mental activities via brain-wave scanners harder. I know that sounds paranoid, but welcome to the new post-techno world. Of course, according to the Techno Privacy Laws of 2050, no computer brain scans are allowed without permission. But K Industries, like other military contractors, often operates above the law, and I was fairly certain they monitored employees off the farm. Another precaution was that I downloaded my sessions and stored them on a remote device, wiping my processor clean each time. Of course, needless to say, I have to hide this kind of activity from my wife. We don't exactly live in a 1984 Big Brother world, but spousal loyalty is only as good your marital contract due date—ours only has three years remaining on it.
       So, why would somebody like me, as part of the techno elite of the so-called New World Order—talk about a retro term—with all the privileges of my class, risk such a dangerous venture? It's hard to explain in a purely rational way, but I can share an experience I had last year that seemed to propel me along this track. As part of my job in surveillance, I had to infiltrate one of the borny villages in the Midwest Sector and write a status report. I went in with a cover wife—Sherry doesn't work for KI, given her contentious streak, not that she'd be interested. Emma was a new recruit who also had mediocre EE test scores. She did need conditioning in order to act as my wife and sleep with me, but we hit it off and it wasn't a problem after the first week.
       The major challenge at first was acting as slow as the bornies—I should say, by our post-techno standards, since our average IQs are twice theirs—and putting up with all of the retro hassles like computers in which you could actually count the microseconds before a response, or we could. But, what really flustered me was the high-feeling expression of their society: I mean, people hugging and kissing each other in public, helping strangers rebuild their house or an old lady with her groceries and the Shakespeare plays in the park. The first time a casual woman acquaintance tried to hug me, I kept her at arms' length. So the woman blew me a kiss. Now I differentiate feelings from emotions, since, according to my psychologist, feelings are a natural function of the psyche, whereas emotions have some kind of mental component. I'm used to emotional outbursts in my world on a daily basis, but not all of this touchy-feely stuff.
       Something else that really bothered me was their church service, with all the singing and praising the Lord. We had chosen a born-again revivalist church over the Buddhist one, where you were expected to meditate for an hour. I mean, close down all my neural nets and don't think about anything for an hour. Impossible, I thought back then. Well, either way, this aspect of their society really confused me. The word God was never brought up in my family, and only as a primitive cultural fixation in my education. My public withholding of affection was suspect, and the only way Emma could open me up was with a marathon sexual session, which was almost as threatening, especially without stimulants. I couldn't wait to leave the place. (I later heard that Emma had dropped out, and at the time no one in our group had heard from her, so I thought, maybe she was on a deep-cover assignment.)
       But, it did provoke me into thinking that there was some lack in my life and in our society as a whole, and I began to wonder if we hadn't lost some essential quality as a species in our rush toward technological progress. We're not cyborgs; our neural processors are made from human brain cells—the idea of sentient robots has long been discarded, a sci-fi fantasy, as well as electronic mental devices—our transhuman advances a mere conditioning of living matter. But they do repress the feelings. So I felt compelled to pursue some kind of personal exploration and hopefully adjust my expectations. I was beginning to notice kinks in my behavior, and if I could detect them, other more discerning eyes could also spot them.
       Well, the company was impressed with my previous borny village report and wanted to send me on another recognizance mission, but I got a doctor's pass due to my ongoing psychotherapy treatment. Of course they know that and were just testing my progress, or my assessment of it, since they've probably reviewed the sessions themselves, despite doctor/patient privileges and the laws upholding it. It was all too threatening, or I wasn't sure what more exposure would bring—some kind of psychotic break I feared. But, I did need to address this issue and …
      "Alan, get in here."
       I looked up from my newspaper and turned to find Sherry standing in her doorway, the nightie pulled down to her waist, her lovely breasts glistening with sweat.                
       "My damn virtual broke down. Take a Bluie and get in here pronto … and screw me."
       She stepped back into her room, and I could hear her throw the device against the wall. I hurried in before another outburst was picked up by the monitors, and she got called up for more ECT—emotional conditioning training. That would've made my life a living hell again. Oh well, it was part of our contract, but I decided to modify that language if I renewed.
       Work was a real drag that week. I helped arrest somebody and that made me feel rather guilty. While the local cops and the sector police handle most crimes, from murder to financial scams and the FBI focuses on global problems like tech pirating and antigovernment activity, we are a privatized think tank for all levels of law enforcement, with outreach monitoring functions as well. That is, when the criminals are too creative or erratic, and they slip by computer watchdog surveillance and the kind of thinking employed by the public sector, they call us in. For instance, it just doesn't compute for them that criminal activity could be anything but goal—or agenda—oriented. With all the genetic engineering to weed out "bad" or "antisocial" traits from the population base, and the behavioral drugs mandated for anybody with such leanings, they just can't figure out "irrationals," as my boss would call them, or they can only "see themselves and their own motivations."
       The case we worked on that week, which had been referred to us by a government regulatory agency, was a pharmaceutical company, where somebody had tampered with the formula for one of their top mood enhancement drugs. The effect was to give the user a kind of old-fashioned psychedelic trip, the opposite of its maintenance function. The company had figured it was plant spore contamination, but when that was ruled out and it became obvious that one of their scientists had tampered with the formula and completely covered their tracks, the government had gone looking for subversive agents with political agendas, since profit didn't seem to be a motive. After thorough background checks, psych evaluations on all fifty of their scientists with access, they still had not found their suspect. So they sent us the video of their interviews and months of lab footage of the scientists at work, which we quickly scanned.
       To understand our methodology, we are definitely the creative types in the law enforcement area, not that any of us are artistically creative, just a little out there with our thinking. Our offices in mid-Manhattan are also unique with their large open work areas—no cubicle mentality for us—but with a fairly understated décor. However, our investigative sessions could be a little unnerving for outsiders, like government suits. On Monday we began examining the footage on the main vid screen with its 180° curvature. After thirty minutes I pointed out one of the white-coated scientists.
       Gene, the department head, a cuddly sort—or so the women say—in his early forties, freeze-framed his image as the man turned away from the camera.
       "He's smirking. I mean, that's a smirk, isn't it?" I asked.
       "He's smirking while he works, better than whistling," Beatrice added. She is an ex-political analyst, older and savvy with a cutting wit.
       "Let's isolate this guy, all the footage," Gene insisted. So we used facial recognition to pull up all his coverage, about three hours of it over a six-week period, which we processed in minutes. He wasn't smirking as if he had a condescending attitude, but had an odd or superior smile at times.
       "Let's look at his blood work and physical exams." The blood work was normal, but his eye-examine showed slightly dilated pupils. "He's high or something, but it's not organic."
       "Maybe, it's interior, some kind of natural high or mystical state," I offered. Everybody scrutinized me as if I were the suspect.
      " What have you been smoking, Alan?" Jeffrey asked. If there was a real outlaw druggy amongst us, it would've been Jeff.
       Gene gave this possibility serious consideration, while the others continued to mock me. "Alan's right. The superior attitude, dilated pupils, no drug trail. It's got to be interior."
       Bart, the new guy, shook his head. "How do we go to the Feds with that? It's flimsy as hell." He was pudgy and smarmy and nobody liked him.
       "We do a full profile on him, from childhood if necessary. Bring in the scientists. Given this guy's specialty and access and the drug tampering, they can figure out how he could have done it."
       "Based on a guy with a smirk or suspicious smile?" Bart asked incredulously.
       By Wednesday the guys in sci-fi, as we call them, came back with an assessment as to how Dr. Leonard Quirk could have changed the formula without detection. But again, that wasn't proof. They had scanned his neural processor, but he had been flushing it daily—definitely suspect behavior. Fortunately, or not, given your civil rights position, Dr. Quirk was brought in by the Feds for "drug" interrogation. They have truth serums today that make Sodium Pentothal look like aspirin, and together with brain-wave scanners, they got him to confess. When asked why, he said, "I wanted others to see God."
       "Boy that's fucked up," Bart said.
       "So, Gene, what's going to happen to him," I asked.
       "Well, normally, when nobody's hurt, they would use behavioral modification and drugs to recondition the perp, but this kind of thing scares them."
       "Yeah, when there's something inside your head they can't quantify," Beatrice offered.
       "I figure ten years, and he's a vegetable when he comes out," Gene said. "And they'll circulate his gene genome here and to police agencies abroad, to catch this tendency before it spreads."
       I looked around at the others, and we all were thinking the same thing: as if this was strictly genetic or chemistry-based, but nobody was willing to air that opinion in public, since we were also being monitored.
       Gene turned to me. "I told the guys upstairs that you nailed him. You should get a bonus out of it."
      "Wow, that's great," I said, smiling at the hidden camera in the ceiling.
       On the way down in the elevator after work, Bart asked Beatrice and me if we wanted to get a cup of coffee. Since neither of us drank much of the stuff and he knew it, we figured Bart had something else on his mind. Since the genetic basis for alcohol and drug addiction had been somewhat weeded out of the genome, the most popular stimulant of the day was still coffee and its derivatives. Maxi's was a new chain, with a retro Art Deco style of furniture and posters that appealed to the post-modern artist types or the pseudo intellectuals. But it also offered a smooth coffee blend for those winding down from their day, instead of revving up, or taking a break. It was also chatty and loud and thus harder for others to monitor conversations.
       "You know, the whole thing with this Dr. Quirk is really fucked up," Bart finally said after the waitress had served us and walked away.
       "Yeah, kind of thought-police stuff," Beatrice added, sipping her cappuccino.
       "Bart, I thought you said his motive was fucked up," I added.
       "Well, it was, but squeeze-drying his brain isn't the answer."
       "No, I agree. But, if you remember our contract, we agreed to carry out operations and not question the results." When I don't know or trust somebody, I usually give them the company line.
       Bart glared at me as if I had changed my leopard spots.
       "So, we don't take responsibility for our actions? Is that it, Alan?" he asked.
       "We can always leave and take our conscience with us."
       My attitude seemed to upset him. "You sound like one of the politicals. Bucking for a promotion, are we?"
       "No. This was a bad one, but mostly we're a force for good and the results are justified," I said.
       "And we're not supposed to question them otherwise?"
       "As I said, we can always leave."
       Bart stood up, electronically paid his bill, and walked out on us.
       Finally Beatrice turned to me. "Let's go." We paid and headed out of the coffee shop and strolled down the street. It was winter but at this latitude still in the 50-degree range in the early evening, so we were dressed fairly lightly.
      As always, the street lights passing through the green, overhead, UV environ screens cast an eerie glow. "I figured this was safer," she said.
      I nodded my head.
      She glanced over at me. "So, you think he was profiling you?"
      "I trust Bart about as far as I can throw his fat ass," I told her.
      "Aren't we paranoid?" Beatrice laughed, squeezed my hand and said with a smirk, "Say hello to Sherry for me."
      I watched her walked down to the underground; she lived downtown, and I headed home for another fun-filled weekend with my rather deranged wife. Since we couldn't afford to fix her virtual computer yet, and she seemed to like our last "session," my romantic services were in high demand. Lucky me.
      Apparently Bart was working undercover for Internal Affairs because Monday he was transferred to another unit in our division, for more of the same I assumed, and I was scheduled for an appointment with Dr. Klaus. Of course, that isn't his real name—none of the higher-ups use given names in intelligence. Since he's the company psychologist and the government's security compliance officer, he had probably picked a name out of an old Nazi film to make him more menacing. He needed it because at five-foot-five, with his baldpate and retro eyeglasses, Gerald Klaus wasn't physically intimidating. Of course, that was for effect as well. My session was set for the end of the week, but on Wednesday there was an opening and I was notified after lunch to see him at two o'clock. A typical mind game ploy to throw you off-balance.
      I took the elevator up to the 18th floor and walked down to his office. While sitting in his rather pleasant waiting room, with impressionist paintings on the walls and classical music piped in, I tried to clear my emotions, figuring the room was wired to check one's anxiety level. After fifteen minutes, the holographic receptionist told me that he would see me now.
      "You have a lovely glow, dear," I said, opening the door to the inner sanctum.
      "As if I haven't heard that before," she replied, rolling her eyes and flirtatiously twitching her nose at the same time. I almost did a double take.
      Unlike the waiting room, Klaus' office was all chrome and glass, with simulated black leather chairs and dark abstract paintings on the walls. The whole set-up was so yin-yang that I had to suppress a smile.
      Dr. Klaus pointed to a padded chair with head and armrests across from his glass-top desk. He was wearing a brown suit with a dark shirt and tie—very post-Nazi. I could almost feel the monitors clicking on as I sat down. The glass was actually a slightly tilted horizontal computer screen, which no doubt flashed readouts of my bios. "And you can smile, Alan. I'd expect nothing less. The room set-up is all so obvious."
      I laughed. "Yes. Isn't it though?"
      "Well, it does unnerve some."
      I nodded my head.
      "Alan, everybody is impressed with your read on Dr. Quirk, which together with your astute analysis of Reborn Village, shows particular … talent, if I may use that word, for some of the thorny problems in contemporary intelligence work." He paused for a moment. "But, you seem reluctant to … grab the brass ring, as it were."
      " You mean, putting off another borny village assignment?" I asked.
      Klaus stared at me for long a moment. "Well, there is that."
      "As you've no doubt read Dr. Bowman's notes, I had a severe reaction to their high-feeling level, and we're working to understand it."
      "Alan, everybody in our techno society, especially our community, has this kind of reaction. Our technological world, while offering amazing benefits and safety to those of us at this level, does tend to suppress the feeling function, as Jung would say." He sat back in his chair. "I've consulted with Dr. Bowman, and he agrees that this kind of therapy could take another year."
      "Really. I thought we were making good progress."
      Dr. Klaus shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sure, but I take more of a hand-in-the-fire approach to such … dilemmas."
      "Such as," I asked reluctantly.
      "Reintroduction to the same set of conditions, to consciously deal with what arises, or recreate the stimulus and deal with it in a controlled environment."
      "Put me back in the field, or …"
      "Or, put you in a psyche ward for a week where the emotions run quite high." The doctor glanced at his monitor screen and frowned, apparently not getting the desired reaction.
      "It's the feeling, not emotions, we're talking about, and I don't believe you can … simulate that," I said.
      The doctor gave me a rather odd look. "Well, there's always sexual therapy?"
      "Really. Twenty women and a water bed?" I joked.
      "More like Reichian therapy, or an extreme form of it," Klaus added with a cynical laugh. The Nazi was coming out of the closet. "It tends to bring repressed feelings to the surface."
      "I thought Wilhelm Reich's work was totally discredited?"
      "It just took the right conditions to find it relevant." He had a thought and smiled. "A hundred years ago, any red-blooded male would've jumped at such an opportunity. Shows how far we've come … or not."
      I started to wonder if Sherry's little tizzy fit and the subsequent rededication of our sexual life wasn't orchestrated by them. These thoughts and the attendant emotional reaction were apparently lighting up Heir Klaus' monitors, much to his delight. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a second, and brought the reactions under more control. When I opened my eyes, Klaus was staring at me with clinical interest.
      "Where did you learn to do that? Yoga? Mediation? Some other Eastern practice?"
      "You mean reeling in my emotions?" I asked.
      It's different than that. From your brain-wave readings, it was more like a shift from one mode to another." He thought about this observation, and then hurriedly added, "Well, let's not go there, yet." He forward in his chair. "I'm not saying these are the only alternatives, but you're an asset we need to use and we have to figure out how to speed up this process."
      "I see. Can I have some time to think this over?"
      Dr. Klaus stood up. "Why, of course. Just don't take too long. There's a … pressing need for the evaluation of a certain critical situation in the field."
      "Okay. Give me three or four weeks." I turned and walked out without an exchange of goodbyes. As I passed the receptionist's desk, she stuck out her finger and my portable registered the electronic transfer.
      "You're next appointment is in three weeks."
      I didn't stop for further pleasantries. This meeting had been definitely unsettling, and I needed to get out of there and think things through for myself. Mostly I was concerned that my little therapeutic process had been recorded. It was a technique I had picked up in college, from a survey course on twentieth-century experiential psychotherapy, and had used ever since to deal with feeling and emotional upsurges. But, when I got back to the office, there was an emergency that needed my full attention.
      Gene quickly briefed me. "It's another recombinant viral plague, some wacko scientist was fooling with in his basement lab."
      "He released it?" I asked in alarm, looking around for my bio mask.
      "No. Didn't plan to, he says. Just part of his legitimate research, although he stepped outside the boundaries by bringing it home."
      "What about all the bio monitors at these places?"
      Gene just shook his head in frustration.
      "And his neural processor?" I asked.
      Gene shook his head. "The basement has lead-lined wallpaper."
      "Okay, so where are we?"
      "Well, before Undercover could contain him, the police stepped in and pushed him to the wall. Now he says there's a sample hidden at the university, which will be released if he doesn't retrieve it."
      "Let's see the vid footage," I said. The man, in his late twenties—a big guy for a research scientist—was in a fortified basement bunker, in a high-rise apartment building they were still evacuating. All we had currently was his tense face speaking into his vid screen.
      "Sci-fi has run all the visual and auditory tests, and the readings are mixed, but he could be telling the truth."
      The video was on the big screen and everybody was watching him make his declaration and then step back from the screen. He was wearing long pants and a sweatshirt, and with our 60 degree daytime winter temperature, it must've been really hot down there. There is no air-conditioning allowed for winter months.
      "Any other footage on him?" I asked.
      Carl, Bart's replacement, uploaded his interview with a science magazine. He was a PhD microbiologist doing independent research on recombinant viruses and their threat. It had been recorded in his basement a year ago about the same time. He was wearing a T-shirt and shorts.
      "Anybody see what I'm seeing?"
      Beatrice asked for a split screen of the two images. "It's hot but he's overdressed."
      "Check for blood stains on his clothes or any bloody utensils within view," I said.
      Billy ran the visual analysis. "No. Nothing."
      "So you think he's cut himself up to create a biological reaction to fool our readings?" Gene asked.
      "Ask the police what the temperature is outside the door?"
      A moment later, Gene looked up from his com-link smiling. "Guy says it's at least 90 degrees."
      Jeffrey did the mathematical computation. "Given all the variables, the statistical program rates this call as at best 50/50."
      "Beatrice. What's his psych profile?" Gene asked.
      "A little off, but not psychotic or anywhere near it, but who knows these days."
      We all stared at each other. Gene finally said, "I'm going to tell the police chief he's bluffing."
      "That's a big risk," Jeffrey said.
      "Well, while we don't get paid big bucks for it, it's the kind of assessment we're asked to make."
      Twenty minutes later, we learned that the police had stormed the basement and taken the guy into custody, and that, as I had guessed, his legs were pretty cut up and bandaged, to disguise his bio readings to back up his bluff. We don't exactly celebrate such calls, but we did close down shop half-an-hour early.
      As I was getting ready to leave, I asked Gene, "This wasn't a difficult read. Why couldn't they handle it?"
      "These city cops are the worst of the lot; they think like computers; it's all option-driven, no imagination or intuition whatsoever. That's why they need us." As we were heading out the door, he asked, "How did it go with Klaus?"
      "Something similar to our wacko. He put a gun to my head, but I don't think he's bluffing."

Return to I, Human

Literary Services l Testimonials l Publishing List l Book Packager l John Nelson l Contact l Home