Monday, October 03, 2011

Jack... in progress.

I'm of two minds posting this piece. It's my workshop piece and rough, but I think the process is just as important and interesting to see. It's an idea that's been running around in my head for a couple of months, but I haven't been able to get it on paper until now. I decided the class was the best place to work on it, as it isn't the kind of writing I normally do. It needs to be fleshed out a bit, but I'm getting down the bones here.


    The vidscreen pinged and Will slid across the desk to face it. He touched a button on the screen to activate the transmission and a face appeared. It was like looking at a younger version of himself in the mirror.

    “Hi,” he said, “You’re going to be a little disoriented for a while. Don’t worry, it will pass. My name is Will.”

    The face on the screen looked puzzled. “Where am I?” he asked.

    “You’re in a hospital, of sorts.”

    Will had known all along how hard this would be. That’s why they selected a relative to be a part of the awakening process. The ideal match was the grandfather-grandson pairing. What a family member might lack in the psychology department, they made up for with the ability to assist the patient with their sense of identity.

    “Was I in an accident? I can’t remember anything. I can’t even remember my name. It’s on the tip of my tongue.”

    “It’s John, but everyone called... calls you Jack,” replied Will.

    “Jack... yeah. I don’t remember the accident. Was I hurt badly?”

    “It was pretty bad, yes. You were in a hospital for a while,” said Will.

    Jack’s eyes dropped and he looked at his body. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He examined his body for evidence of injury. “I don’t seem hurt.”

    “They fixed you up as best they could.”

    “I feel fine now,” said Jack. “Am I allowed to have visitors?”

    “For now, they want you to remain isolated and keep communication just between us,” replied Will.

    It was then that Jack noticed Will’s eyes. There was a golden ring where the iris would normally be. He started to speak and then halted.

    “My eyes?” asked Will.

    “Yes. I’m sorry. I’ve just never seen anything like them.”

    Will leaned closer to the vidscreen and the golden irises contracted. “It’s early 21st century technology. I had them done when I was about eighteen. They grow them in the lab now. Too much of a hassle to have them replaced now with bioprosthetics. I’ve gotten used to them.
    “Bioprosthetics?” asked Jack.

    “Prosthetics made from human stem cells. It took a long time for the ethical considerations to be worked out. They debated it for years in Congress until it became less of a moral issue,” explained Will.

    Jack paused for a moment. “Did they use bioprosthetics on me?”

    “No. You were a... special case,” said Will.

    “Tell me about the accident.”

    Will knew that this moment was why he had been chosen to do the awakening. He was to deliver the news that could only come from family. “It was a car accident. You were driving home for Christmas and a car lost control going the opposite direction on the interstate. It crossed the median and hit your car.”

    “I remember,” said Jack. “I remember hearing somebody crying. Were there other people in the car?

    Will looked at Jack’s face in the vidscreen, struggling to remember. “Your wife and boy, David were in the car.”

    “Are they ok?” asked Jack, growing frustrated.

    “David was in the car seat and didn’t get hurt. Your wife...” Will swallowed hard. “Your wife, Ann... she didn’t survive.”

    Jack remembered Ann. He recalled her voice, but not what she looked like. “Why the hell can’t I remember?” he yelled at the screen.

    “Like I said, it was a bad accident. You’ll remember more in time,” said Will.

* * *

    The vidscreen pinged and Jack rose from his bed to answer it. He’d still had no visitors. Two meals had been delivered by the small hatch in the wall. He’d taken a wholly unsatisfying shit on what he’d hoped was the toilet. There was no water in the bowl, but there was a button that, when depressed, eliminated his waste with a suction sound like an airplane lavatory. The vidscreen pinged again and he touched the button to answer.  He saw Will’s face, his mouth smiling, but forehead creased with concern. Since their first conversation, he’d begun to recall bits and pieces of his life.

    “Why can’t I see my parents? Why are you the only person I’m allowed to talk to?” asked Jack.

    “Jack, there’s a lot you don’t know... a lot I need to explain to you,” said Will.

    “So start explaining,” demanded Jack.

    “After your accident, something happened. A lot of people died. Most people died.”

    “What do you mean, ‘most’?” asked Jack. “Was there some kind of nuclear thing? Terrorists? No, wait... let me guess. A meteor?”

    “No, Jack. No terrorists... no dirty bombs or meteors. It was germs. And not even bioterroism. It was plain old germs. It boiled down to overuse of antibiotics. There was a superstrain of bacteria that was resistant to antibiotics. There wasn’t much to do but watch people die.”

    “My parents? What about David?” asked Jack.

    “Your father survived and so did David. Your mother wasn’t so lucky.”

    “And you... You survived,” said Jack.

    “Yes. I survived. It affected my heart at the time. They replaced my heart with a continuous flow artificial unit. I don’t have a heartbeat. It was experimental then, but given the circumstances, many people got them. There were unbelievable advances in mechanical and electronic prosthetics. I ended up with an artificial pancreas, cochlear implants, a plastic colon, and replacement knees and hips as well as the eyes. Even my hair isn’t real. There are times when I wonder how much of me is really me.”

    “And I lived,” said Jack.

    “Yes,” said Will. “You did. You were in a coma when it happened.”

    “How do you know so much about me? Are you family?” asked Jack.

    “Yes, I am,” he said. “David was my father.”

* * *

    The vidscreen pinged and Will pressed the button. He had attempted communicating with Jack for two days, but Jack had refused to answer. They had monitored him and noted that he’d not eaten or even risen from his bed.

    Jack had dark rings under his eyes. “There are no mirrors in here,” he said.

    Will knew that the contradictions were starting to pile up in Jack’s mind. It was at this point that there was no script and he was unsure of how to proceed.
    “Why are there no mirrors? And how can I be your grandfather?”

    “Jack... I told you that you were in a coma for a long time, right?” said Will.

    “That doesn’t explain this. I can’t see my face, but I can sure as hell see my body. It isn’t the body of a grandfather. And it certainly isn’t the body of someone who is the grandfather of someone old enough to be someone’s grandfather.” Jack exclaimed.

    “Jack... coma wasn’t exactly the right word. You were in, what they called at the time, a vegetative state. You didn’t respond to stimulus and they were unable to record brain function. But you were special. You weren’t affected by the bacteria. And that made you very valuable scientifically,” said Will.

    “So they experimented on me?”

    “Yes... and no,” replied Will.

    “Well, did they or didn’t they?”

    “Do you remember how I said that there was a debate that lasted for years in Congress? It was finally solved by you, or rather, your case. When the bacteria began killing people, they decided to move those deemed “expendable” out of the hospitals. It was the early stages of the epidemic and they assumed that you would just die anyway. But before they could move you out, the bacteria swept through the hospital and you survived. They didn’t know why, but you did, so they took you to a research facility in Boston to study you.’

    “That still doesn’t explain things,” said Jack.

    “They discovered that you had a genetic mutation that had allowed you to survive. But the problem was, in order to isolate the mutation and be able to synthesize it... you might not survive the process. It went all the way to the Supreme Court until finally, a resolution was found. They digitized you.”

    “What do you mean, they digitized me? How is that possible?” asked Jack.

    “It wasn’t, or rather, they weren’t sure until they tried,” replied Will. The morality of utilizing someone who was in a vegetative state, that legally could be taken off life support and allowed to die, was a question that was only answered by making an electronic copy of your brain and storing it on a computer. David refused to let them use your body, so it became a matter of national security and they essentially commandeered your body for science. But you were saved here. They reconciled their decision to terminate your biological body by making an artificial intelligence proxy of you. You could live on.”

    Will turned off the vidscreen and went back to bed.
* * *

    Over the next few days, Jack refused to eat or answer the vidscreen. The first day, he flung the food against the wall. The second, he let it remain in the wall hatch. He didn’t really need to eat, nor was the food real. But the act of eating was part of the illusion. It was required to maintain that illusion. Everything, the room, the food, the airplane lavatory toilet, even Jack, were electrons flitting around in a server somewhere.

    Will watched on, dismayed.

    “Again?” asked the doctor?

    “Yes, although he came a lot farther this time.”

    “Give it another day,” said the doctor. “If he doesn’t respond or eat...”

    “I know,” said Will. “I know.”

    Jack stayed in bed. Will watched over the next day as his grandfather became hazy around the edges, like a dead fish that has been left in a fishtank. He wondered what his father would think of this. If, given this knowledge, he would rather have just let them strip mine him for his DNA and leave a shell behind. A shell certainly, but one that could be buried and returned to the earth. Will pulled up the other vidscreen. He called up the program “Jack in the Box” and hit a few keys.

Cancel       Restart       Delete

    He tapped the screen and it went dark. His golden irises opened wide and his heart continued it’s steady hum. And somewhere in the large server, the electrons rearranged themselves.

* * *

    The vidscreen pinged and Will slid across the desk to face it. He touched a button on the screen to activate the transmission and a face appeared. It was like looking at a younger version of himself in the mirror.

    “Hi,” he said, “You’re going to be a little disoriented for a while. Don’t worry, it will pass. My name is Will.”

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