Written by: Frank Cormier
“That was the third rolling brown out we had this week,” Mike said to Nora, as he tapped his finger repeatedly on the clear crystalline shell of the power gauge, expecting the display to reset itself to 100%, as it seemed to do whenever he performed this nervous ritual anytime the electricity waned. “I wish the state had better control over these money grubbing companies and forced them to deliver a better product.”
“Honey,” Nora said in her classic even tone, “the battery backup system works just fine; there’s no need to worry.”
“Yes, there is,” he countered, “it could be a matter of life or death.”
“Death?” questioned Nora, “Why do you fear death when we live in an age that we can become immortal?”
Mike gave her a stern look as he chewed the inside of his cheek, debating whether or not he wanted to pursue this argument with her, again. He didn’t believe in the type of immortality society was peddling and had his reasons. She had her own reasons for accepting it, and neither could agree with the other’s point of view, no matter how much each defended their position.
“I’m going to make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner,” he said to avoid acknowledging the impasse and walked to the kitchen. Nora stayed where she was and concentrated on restoring the power to maximum level, sadly noting internally that their marriage had not been the same since she chose to become immortal.
A pot of spaghetti was boiling away on the stove as Mike absent mindedly stirred the sauce and meatballs, lost in his own thoughts. She had only become immortal three months ago, he knows that he still loves her, but it was not the same. He had to support her decision, that’s what a good husband does he believed, but couldn’t agree with it just the same. There were other alternatives that they could have explored, he silently said to himself.
“The procedure is painless,” Dr. Weiss assured Nora, sensing that she was nervous, not about the method to becoming immortal, but more about the after affect and how others might perceive her, “both physically and mentally.”
“Will I feel anything after the procedure?”
“Your central nervous system will be intact, if that’s what you are asking.”
She let out a sigh of relief. That was reassurance enough for her that she would still be human; after all Dr. Weiss was board certified and came highly recommended by her own doctor. No, her anxiety came from how her husband was going to react to her new appearance. Her “new self” would look very much like she does now with slight differences, according to the doctor, that would be barely perceptible to the “casual observer.”
Mike is not a casual observer; he is my husband and we vowed we would love each other forever, she thought as she signed the consent form.
“Power levels are back to normal,” she called from the parlor, “all systems are a go.” Seven flashing green LEDs were pulsing from bright to dim in a rhythmic pattern indicating all conditions were operating in the optimal range. Nora logged the events and then emailed them to Dr. Weiss once she was certain that her condition was stabilized.
“Honey,” Mike asked as he returned to the parlor, “can you smell this?” He was holding a plate inches from her face, wafting his hand over the heated sauce, filling the stale air with the aroma of the Italian delight, his mouth watering with anticipation.
“Scents are nothing more than electrical impulses,” she said, “and you know that I can’t ‘smell’ things in the normal way anymore. I don’t know why you insist on trying to get a rise out of me that way?”
“Just proving a point,” he said tersely.
“What, that you know how to push my buttons?”
“That’s all I can push these days.”
The arguments were getting more pointed lately. Why can’t he just accept me; accept that I’m still his wife, she mused. What is a life but nothing more than a whole bunch of electrical stimuli firing off in the brain, which in turn concocts a reality based off of those same impulses? Whether I have eyes and ears or sensors that perform those same functions, I can still ‘see and hear’ everything around me, she silently vented.
“Mike,” she solemnly said, “I’m still me. I still love you.”
“It’s ‘not’ still you,” he somberly added, “I don’t know what you’ve become, but you are not the woman I married.”
Nora wanted so much to cry at hearing these words but was unable to. Her new ‘eyes’ didn’t allow for tears to flow; however, she could ‘feel’ the emotion of tears welling up, unable to express herself so that he could understand just how much his words hurt. She tried her best to remind herself of the sage words the doctor had said about how others, especially a spouse, would treat her in this new condition, and that she needed to remain strong and not give in to their inability to accept change, deep down knowing and trusting in herself that she is still human at her core.
“The ‘Infinity Model 3000’ is state of the art science wise,” offered Dr. Weiss, the brochure of different models opened on his desk, his finger tapping the picture of the IM 3000 for extra emphasis. “It is the most economical model and comes with graphene infused ionized lithium rechargeable batteries, standard.”
“Lithium, ionized, what,” she confusedly asked.
“Each night you’ll need to recharge the batteries for a full six to seven hours,” he said, “especially in the first six months until we know what type of power load you’ll draw based upon your lifestyle choices.”
Nora’s eyes glossed over and she vacantly nodded in ascent, not entirely sure what she just agreed to. Dr. Weiss continued on about other “standard accessories” as well as several options to make the appearance of the host more humanlike, for an extra premium of course.
“Tell me Nora,” he pressed on, “what did you dream about last night?”
“You know that I am not able to dream like I used to,” she said with a sadness in her voice. “We couldn’t afford that option. Besides, what is a dream but nothing more than some type of altered reality the subconscious manifests in the mind in an effort to make sense of all of the sensory inputs that stimulated the consciousness of one while they were awake?”
Oh how she wished she could dream! She would never tell Mike that either. He would only use it against her in future arguments, much like he has used not eating or not sleeping against her lately; besides, the taste of food is just another stimulus for the brain and she doesn’t require the nutrients anymore to survive, just uninterrupted electricity, of which there was plenty; well, most of the time. In some sense electricity was immortal as long as humans found a way to tap into the energy source, it would never run out.
“What about sex Nora? Do you miss that?”
“I don’t miss ‘sex,’ but I do miss intimacy. I still –”
“Still what!? Have ‘feelings’ in that metal box of yours you call a body?” he snapped at her.
So there it was, she thought. He can’t have sex with her and that is why he resents her. She hadn’t thought about sex since taking on her new form. She wondered if that was something lost in the download of her consciousness to the IM 3000. Sex with Mike was always pleasurable, she remembers that, and now there was no way for them to be sexually intimate. But if she hadn’t taken this form, the cancer would have taken her life within the year. It was the only way she could survive, exist, and still be in his life, surely he has to understand that, surely the tradeoff was enough to override his base desires….
“I’m sorry,” she said, her metalized mouth opening and closing to give the appearance that she actually uttered the words. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Mike suddenly felt ashamed of his behavior and asked for her forgiveness. His emotions bubbling over, getting the best of him. He placed his arm around her flesh like coated shoulders and could hear the small electrical motors in her neck whirring as she repositioned her head so that it rested on his shoulder, sitting in silence.
“Can some of the options be added later?” Nora asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” Dr. Weiss offered as he stood, “each model is custom built to exacting specifications and adding them later is cost prohibitive.”
Nora nodded her head indicating that she understood. She had one additional question but was not certain how to ask it without raising the suspicion of the doctor, and decided she would research the answer on her own once the procedure was complete. She felt all alone at the moment, as Mike could not bring himself to join her in the doctor’s office, he was against this decision, but knew he would be waiting for her once it was completed. She said a silent prayer, and then stood to follow Dr. Weiss into the preparation room adjacent to his office.
“Mike,” Nora said, lifting and then turning her head to face him, the small electrical motors coming up to speed and then silencing themselves once her head was in position, “I was being selfish and thought this the only way to survive. I should have listened to you more closely.”
“No, I’m the one being selfish,” he sincerely offered. “Will you go with me to Dr. Weiss’ office tomorrow?”
“I want to ask him if I am a candidate for mechanical immortality.”
She didn’t know how to respond to his question, thoughts racing through her mind, some happy, some sad, but not one solid one jumping out at her to give her the definitive answer she was hoping for before responding. Did she truly believe that life was nothing more than electrical stimuli? It seemed so since her transformation. Or was his belief of an immortal soul the correct answer? There was no way to prove that. Did becoming more rational in her thoughts and beliefs result from the transference, a side effect so to speak, one that she doesn’t fully comprehend, but feels the effects anyway?
Eight hours later, the new Nora appeared from the office of Dr. Weiss. The procedure was simple and straight forward; a helmet with what appeared to be thousands, if not millions, of electrodes fixed to it was placed on her shaved head, the cut hair to be used on the new Nora; a smaller, but equally complicated device was surgically attached to the base of her spine, glove like devices were slipped over her hands, and the most uncomfortable part was when the “eye stimulators” were placed over her eyes under the eyelids. The eye stimulators contained millions of needlelike points of contact and one large center pin that was injected straight into the iris to make contact with the optical nerve.
“I apologize for the discomfort,” Dr. Weiss said as he placed the eye stimulators, “but the patient needs to remain awake for this part so that we can register the images in real time, assuring that the proper connection was made to the visual cortex.”
Nora was sedated and unable to respond, also due in part to the large breathing assist device that had been inserted into her lungs through her mouth. There was also another device attached to her tongue that clamped it in place, making contact with the millions of taste bud cells, measuring their outputs for conversion directly to the IM 3000.
The setup time for the transference took almost seven hours to complete, whereas the actual download of her consciousness, and she hoped her soul, took approximately ten minutes.
How little time was required to transfer all that was human about her caused her to reflect on how little she believed she had accomplished in her forty-two years in life? Surely they had to miss something about her existence, she thought? Four decades of living and breathing and memories reduced to a mere ten minutes. She would need to ask the doctor about that on a follow up visit, right now her immediate concern was for Mike.
“Please still love me,” she said to no one once outside the medical facility, standing by herself, waiting for Mike to pick her up, “I don’t have any more pain from the cancer, but suddenly I feel alone.”
A light breeze stirred some dust from the parking lot towards her. She could see the dust and sense the change in the movement of the air, but could not feel the wind as she once had been able.
“Honey, I know you don’t believe in immortality,” she said as non-confrontational as she could. “I mean mechanical immortality.”
“But it’s the only way that I can truly understand what it is you are experiencing,” he said, and then softly asked after a beat. “Isn’t that what you want?”
What was it she wanted? Such a basic question, yet so difficult to answer. Her memories cajoled her into thinking, even believing that nothing had changed between them; however, the reality of what is, is altogether different. What if something got missed in his transference? Would he still be capable of loving her? For all practical purposes, she was still human and so would he by default, and they could go on forever as a couple.
“Mike,” she said lovingly, “please allow me to share a few of my thoughts before interjecting your thoughts.”
He nodded once and held her gaze.
“The transformation,” she said as she began her explanation, “is not entirely what has been advertised.” Nora paused for a beat to let her words register, then continued, “You already know that I can’t dream the same as I used to, or eat meals let alone smell them, but there is something else… I can’t feel sensations like I used to.”
He opened his mouth to say something but she quickly silenced him by placing her finger on his lips. “Shhh,” she said, “let me explain.”
For the next few hours she shared with him the deficiencies about her sense of taste, of smell, of sight, of tactile responses being completely different; however, they still worked to a certain degree because the signals her brain received translated the sensations allowing her to experience them all. The biggest disappointment was lacking emotional feelings that were once brought about by those same stimuli. She told him how the wind was blowing around the day he picked her up and that her brain registered the event, even felt it on her skin, but it didn’t bring forth any emotional attachment to it like it did in her flesh and bone form.
She told him how the doctor said she could retrain her brain to “assign more meaning” to an event, which in turn would give her a more pleasurable experience, and that it would take some time given that she didn’t fully incorporate all of the “humanoid options” that were available. He did, however, assure her with enough time and effort, she would be “just as human as she was before” because the options she did have were fully capable of expression once properly conditioned. It was a risk she was willing to take at the time, but one now for which she has regrets.
“Regrets,” said Dr. Weiss matter-of-factly, via the teleconference screen, “is a common issue that all of our patients experience initially. You are no different and are experiencing it approximately within the same time period as the others.”
“Thank you for your reassurance,” she replied, “but I do have another question I was hoping you could answer?”
“By all means. What’s on your mind?”
“I don’t think I’m as far along as I should be with respect to ‘feeling’ things; emotionally that is… what if I never fully get there? Is there a way out?”
Dr. Weiss studied her image before responding. He was trying to properly assess what she said and what she was implying. In his eight plus years of advancing this technology, he had encountered some patients with emotional instability, which was mostly addressed by reprogramming some form of behavioral modification for the short term until the all the sensors acclimated to their surroundings, but Nora sounded different than the others.
“If you mean by ‘a way out’ as in terminating the contract,” he started with, “then the answer is no, since the design of the machine and interfaces, as well as the software that keeps all of the systems operational is proprietary.”
“No, doctor,” she said, “that’s not what I’m referring to –”
“I didn’t think you were asking for that. I put it that way to make sure I understood your intentions.”
“Okay, since you brought it up. What if I were not able to pay for the contract any longer, what would happen then?”
“We can modify the payment terms; we can make adjustments to the amount –”
“No, doctor. What would happen if a patient missed a payment or stopped payment all together? What then becomes of the person?”
“If you are having financial troubles, we can –”
“Dr. Weiss, I am certain you know I am not talking about any of that. I want to know what would happen if I decided to terminate the contract in lieu of taking my own life?”
Mike was now cleaning up the kitchen, doing his best to keep himself busy in hopes that his mind would not become preoccupied with her “condition” and what she just shared with him. It was hopeless… for the last few months her “new self” was the only thing that he did think about since she returned home from the treatment center.
It was correct to call it a “condition” he assured himself. He didn’t want to see her suffer from cancer, but now he doesn’t know which is worse? She’s almost a zombie he thought for lack of a better word to describe who she has become. He didn’t relish becoming “mechanically immortal” just to be with her either. There truly was only one logical solution…
“Nora, honey,” he said walking back to the parlor, “I know how we can make things right, but it’s going to take a leap of faith on both our parts. You know my thoughts about mechanical immortality, and you know I believe there is another form of immortality.”
She didn’t say a word, just nodded in agreement before he finished speaking, knowing his plan, unspoken, by the look in his eyes: They would exist eternally together outside of the mechanical world…
Copyright (C) 2016 by Frank Cormier. All rights reserved.