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Authors: Colin Sullivan

Nature Futures 2 (10 page)

BOOK: Nature Futures 2
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The morning's first birdsong surprised her. The night hours had flown by. Regan, the Batemans' two-year old, began singing softly in the adjacent room. Eshe imagined the small girl, lying in bed, enjoying the sunrise colours lighting up the walls. Snippets of
Frosty the Snowman
Did You Ever See a Lassie
Are You Sleeping, Brother John?
were strung together in no particular order. Madeline stirred in Eshe's lap. It would be time for another feeding soon. Before she stood to get the bottle, she submitted her first and only comment to the discussion.

“They sing with simple joy,” she typed, resisting the urge to shout. She carried Madeline to the window. Eshe looked up at the brightening sky, laughing quietly with giddy wonder.

Sarah K. Castle (
) is a geologist and science-fiction author in Flagstaff, Arizona. She's been published in
Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly

Reach for the Stars

Priya Chand

The holes widen into craters while I sleep.

The day is a blur — but that's school. No one pays attention anyway.

“No time for dinner,” I say, my toes cold where they touch the linoleum.

Mother looks at me, wielding her spoon as the soup bubbles over. “I don't like this. Why can't you go natural?”

Unaugmented reflexes. The team would drop me. The schools wouldn't like that. Career suicide.

“I have to make captain.”

She goes to eat and I go to the Chamber. Sit. Pincers lift my scalp away, layer by layer until the air hits my brain. I feel nothing. No pain.

Wires seep in, reinforcing my sensori-motor cortex. Brodmann's areas 3 and 4 — neurobiology was last year. Every detail is at the tip of my fingers, fresh as the day I learned it.

When the plate comes down to secure the electrodes, my foot twitches. The device locks, then my skull is replaced. Back to normal.

No, not normal. The only parts of the Moon we've explored are its impact craters.

*   *   *

No one can beat me. We're all augmented, of course, but they haven't spent hours brainmapping and it shows. One girl keeps driving the ball into the ground. Should've elevated precision. Idiot.

Later, we have pizza to celebrate. I can't remember how to eat it, but I watch the others and my mirror neurons fire zip-zip-zip and it's there. Fold and cram.

Mother is making tea when I get home. I tell her we won. She nods and sniffs the pot, adding spices I've never had the time to learn about. Still, the scents are soothing. I yawn.

The stimulator disintegrates during sleep. There'll be a fine metal dust on my bed in the morning. Mother changes the sheets every day, I watch her tuck the linen in while I brush my teeth and comb my hair.

I wake to a pale arm near my body. Shriek — it's creepy. Mother runs in, brays nervous laughter and as my synapses reconnect I start laughing too.

It's mine. My arm.

Test Wednesday. Active augmentation is banned so I use it to study, to help me best comprehend maths and higher logic. The stimulators — two this time — target my thalamus, strengthening the corticothalamic loops. This is more effective than direct stimulation of the prefrontal cortex. There are plenty of data to confirm.

As the machine disengages, I hear a slickness, a ‘gloop' where the air rushes to fill the gaps between torn brain cells.

Everyone does it. It's perfectly normal.

Studying takes 20 minutes. The memories slide into vacant spots, the barrage of signalling drenches my hippocampus. I feel those pathways strengthen, standing out like veins on a bodybuilder. My mind is a muscle.

I ace the test. I come home to tell the woman in the kitchen about it. She says I call her Mother.

“Like mater,” I say. Latin last semester, an accelerated programme for premeds. They tell us to come to class augmented, but you can't practise medicine on stimulators. I'm waiting for the FDA to finish phase IV trials. It'll be legal soon.

“Yes, exactly,” she says. Mother. Mater.

Dura and pia, my hard and soft mothers; I wonder where she fits in, her sharp bones and unexpected curves. I look for her in the layers of my head, which fold back for the anatomy pre-practical.

Fine motor skills.

My hands don't shake. I lay out the fetal pig's heart, ventricles exposed. I extract its smooth brain, a strange grey-yellow in a formalin fug.

The next morning, I can't tell left from right.

“There's a special report on,” Mother/Mater tells me over breakfast. I take the cereal one bite at a time. Yes, I hold spoons with my right hand. Problem solved. “The postmortem on John Li.”

John Li wanted to get into Harvard. John Li got addicted to augmentation, skipping sleep so the stimulators wouldn't disintegrate overnight.

And then he killed himself.

“I don't have the time.”

“It's the weekend.”

“Finals are next week.” One slot, one thousand students. I have to be the most perfect of all.

Huddled over my notes on the renal system, drops of blood where the sealant missed gluing my skin together, I hear the TV. Expert commentary on John Li's brain. “Scarred.”

I imagine the Moon, welcoming every meteor to its blank surface. No strata for protection. You can't be a blank slate forever.

*   *   *

Last day of exams.

I wake to metallic dust on my pillow. I sleep on clean sheets; we must have a robot for that.

Brush, eat, test.

The second it ends, I follow 30 others to the bathroom. We discuss how poorly scanned the holograms were, blurring the lens, stroma and cornea together, ha-ha isn't that ironic.

The joke falls flat. There's too much awareness of how little separates us. We can't wish each other good luck; that's the only difference between getting in and not getting in when you're identically gifted.

The proctors shoot disapproval as we wipe our ears, but this is the future. Silver smudges on our fingers and brains like the Moon.

Some want to ban nontherapeutic stimulation, but that's pointless. Normal students forget plenty, no studies show significant deviation from the norm.

We are the future.

I look in the mirror to straighten my hair, but I can't tell which anxious face is mine.

Priya Chand graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in neuroscience. She's since found that writing stories can be as mindbending as conducting experiments, and is looking for a way to combine the two. Find her @writelies on Twitter.

Tea with Jillian

Brenda Cooper

On 25 June 2054, Technical Nurse Paul Castle brought a program he had been working on for three years into Shady Acres Nursing Home. He'd pieced it together from bits of open source available on the web and from some failed research of his own, which he had hoped to turn into a thesis project. He had tested it with crowd-sourced volunteers in Thailand. He'd done it for a patient, and because memory fascinated him.

This morning started like every other. Paul arrived early and perched at his desk, which had a view of the common kitchen for his wing, the long hallway between rooms, and of images from every room in the building. He did this just to watch the most beautiful of the robots in all of Shady Acres prepare Jillian's breakfast. She worked with precision — like all robots — never spilling a drop of the oatmeal, adding exactly the same number of raisins and the same amount of sugar. The robot stirred in a half a cup of milk the same way every morning, and added the appropriate sprinkle of tasteless vitamin powder. Then she poured a glass of faux orange juice and glided down the hallway from the common kitchen to Jillian's suite.

That was the moment Paul thought of as his meditation, his reminder to be as precise as Jillian's robot nurse, as beautiful as he could manage in every interaction with the staff and residents.

There were other robots, of course. Some looked like people. Other residents chose the cheaper and more mechanical option of wheeled bots with screens or air-displays on them and metallic arms and hands for dispensing medications, making food and helping with bedding. These often ended up decorated; his favourite had stuffed golden retrievers tied to the large central post so their heads and ears flopped around as the robot negotiated stairs or tight turns. That one belonged to Patrice Mallo, who had been a good enough dog breeder that she could afford a single-room suite. For her part, Jillian dressed her caretaker in scarves and hats and gloves, and sometimes in evening gowns. On the morning of the 25th, Jillian had dressed her robot in pink.

Jillian owned the Penthouse. She had inherited a great pile of money from a grandfather, but she'd lost her ability to do more than shuffle the halls, and now she needed help cooking and cleaning and — on some days — remembering her name.

Jillian was the loneliest person Paul had ever met. He stood in for family on visiting days, and spent 20 minutes with her and the robot and Jillian's robotic dog every afternoon at the end of his shift. He had a real dog, and parents to go home to, but just like his day started with Jillian's breakfast, it ended with her cup of tea.

The robot girl would bring in the tea, leaning down and setting the lacquer tray precisely between them. They talked over this tea, small talk about the weather, about Paul's dog Maximus whom he picked up at the end of every day and walked through Central Park. Sometimes they talked about Jillian's past, and when this made Jillian cry, Paul would dry her eyes and ask her why. The most common answer was: “I miss being home. I miss being young and spry and beautiful.”

On 25 June, Paul spilled his tea on the table, so that some of the hot liquid splashed Jillian across the shoulder. This gave him an excuse to slip the data pearl from her necklace as he dried it off and add his program to her interface jewellery.

It took two days before he began to see results. The first thing he noticed was a change in the way the robot walked. Her hips slid right and left as she walked. It wasn't quite feminine, but neither was it robotic. He imagined Jillian walking that way when she looked like a fully fleshed version of her metal companion. The idea made him smile.

At tea that day, Jillian looked happier. Her hands still shook as she held her china cup, her orange lipstick still missed the corners of her mouth, and her thin hair still clung to her cheeks. But her eyes were brighter and she gave him a smile that he imagined was just a touch more aware.

Weeks passed.

The robot began to join them for tea, to talk to Jillian about her past in a soft, silky and metallic voice. The two spent more time together. They bent their heads over books. The robot girl watched vids with the old woman, so close that metal touched skin often enough that Paul had to powder the old woman's legs so she wouldn't be burned by the friction of the robot's movements. Jillian even named the robot after herself, calling her Jilly.

Over tea, Paul spoke softly. “Does it help you when Jilly can keep your memories for you?”

“Yes.” She paused. “I like it that when I talk to her she can recall the way the garden smelled after one of Poppa's parties.”

“Are you happier?”

“Yes thank you. I know you helped to do that.”

He hadn't expected that. “How?”

“Jilly told me. She remembers the day you spilled the tea, and how it felt to have the interface gone and returned, and how more kinds of things I want to tell her get stuck in her head so she can take them out for me later. She says you have made her into my mirror.” Jillian took a sip, age-spotted hands shaking so the liquid almost spilled from the cup. “Thank you.”

Brenda Cooper's latest novels include
The Creative Fire
The Diamond Deep
, both out through Pyr and available wherever books are sold. Brenda blogs about the future of nature at
. She lives in Washington state, and rides bicycles, walks dogs and works as a technology CIO.


Robert Nathan Correll

“Hey George!”

A blast of cool, processed air entered the room as my new boss strolled in.

I stopped typing. “The name's Ben.”

“Not today.” He threw another requisition on top of the towering stack of papers already on the desk. “New request just came in over the squealer. It's a priority — something about farm animals.”

I glanced over the sheet. “Sure. Just give me whatever sample you've got of this guy's writing and I'll get on it as soon as I finish this.”

“We don't have anything. Just a list of titles and a name. This guy's stuff must have got lost at the beginning of the Big Crash. There are no samples. Go wild. And do it now. That,” he indicated my current project, “can wait. Two days.”

“Two? I usually have at least four to pound one of these out.”

“Not this time. I told you — it's urgent.”

“Looks like he did a book on livestock and what else, some kind of single-year history? What's the rush?”

The boss sighed. “Some idiot let an old beta version of the Omnipedia out on the web and there are links to this guy all over it. Download requests are hitting us from e-readers all over the country. You're it, George.”

*   *   *

“Hey, Ben — the guys and I are going out for a drink to catch the daily newsview. Want to come?”

I stopped typing and sighed. “Not today, Muriel. Priority request. Boss says he needs it yesterday.”

“Seriously? Look at you — sweating it out in this little closet on that ancient P. O. S. all damn day … why do you put up with it?”

“Boss says it's verisimilitude. You guys all get to use those telepathic scribes, but that doesn't sound the same as what you get out of a typewriter. Something about cadence.” I shook my head. “Besides, those things record everything that goes through your head. Doesn't that bother you?”

BOOK: Nature Futures 2
2.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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