Incomplete

David Mack
35 min readOct 9, 2023

Lucas

Young Lucas Kolsch hugged his mother, not letting go for some time, as today he had to read his story of traveling abroad to his class, and he had written it with many beautiful observations, and he knew his stutter would torture him.

“W-We rode a bullet to new Ba-ba-ba…”. He felt almost suffocated as his mouth and brain locked up trying to form the words that he wanted.

His mother had spoken with the teacher, and they both agreed that speaking out loud would help Lucas learn to manage his stutter, but to the boy this was just simple cruelty.

He wished to say “… to new Babylon, and it was fantastical beyond belief. Through tropical mists shone staircases of hanging gardens, receiving waterfalls, like steps for giants. It is the largest leisure terraform in the world and shows us what is possible in the future. We ate curried fruits on banana leaves and I got to ride five different water coasters”. But instead he felt dumb and cried.

Lucas retreated to books. The worlds he conjured in his head, curled up in his bedroom, were vast, full of rich detail. He thought of stories, potent visual vignettes, plays on words, poetry. He was the only boy in his grade to read Shakespeare.

Lucas sat in a massive golden cylindrical lecture hall, its materials transmuted and gravity-spun by the acclaimed Physics department themselves. The room was a sort of self-awarded Nobel prize for the high arts of fabrication.

Applause closed the last student’s sizzle and now he was up.

“We have for too long worshipped at the golden altars of Physics, …” his smooth metallic tenor voice projecting from an electro-horn he placed upon the lectern. The voice carried something mysterious and futuristic, as though it was formed from the golden cylinder itself.

“… and it is time for Electric Biology to rise. I give you this.” he said in the academic formula. “Physics has given us so much. Every last sub-atomic particle, every small and universal force now putty in our hands. Energy is Prosperity, the one thing we can agree on with politicos. I too marvel at bullet flight, equatorial tunnels, terras, the whole living-leisure movement. But the future does not come from doubling our past.”

“You are hearing me, not by my natural voice, obviously, but by my own endeavor in Neurotronics. The cells that dysfunction in my brain are assisted by the cell culture living and working in this box, this electric ear and electric mouth say to you what my physical mouth cannot.”

“Physics has given us platonic perfection, on galactic scale. But sine waves and parabolas, circles and spheres cannot fathom the mysteries of human experience. Physics is dumb. Our future is Electric Biology.”

Half the room gasped whilst the other half clapped and stamped their feet. Lucas had for sure passed the examination and did not care who his heresy offended.

Anna

Anna Spencer cycled home from her dreary PhD office, back to her favorite thing in the world: Her gaggle of nieces and nephews. The kids all swooned and bickered towards her, their big bright eyes bringing a smile to her face.

“Which one of you loves Ann-Naa the most?” The kids clambered over her giggling and tugging her for attention. She sat with Clara on her lap, “Mama won’t let me have a doggy” Clara exclaimed, her voice full of pained theatrics. Her Mom Cindy interjected “That’s right, wrangling these four is plenty”. “But, it is so hard, not having a best fwend” the pained girl continued, “please Na-Na, I need a furry fwend”. Clara hugged Anna and let out a protracted long sigh, then strutted back into the fray of hyper children.

“So, I have an idea” Anna began, having a late dinner with Cindy and her husband Derk, “you don’t want a little pooping barking addition to your family, but how about a more manageable pet?”

Cindy was intrigued, “Go on…”

“Well you both know that I haven’t really been loving my work at the lab.” It had been the topic of many frustrated evenings. “I was on a run earlier, and it came back to me how much fun I had engineering at college. What if I built an electric puppy for Clara?”

“Like a travel capsule with paws?” Derk was envisioning something distinctly not cuddly.

“No… more like a teddy that could walk”

“Sounds kind of scary,” Cindy offered, “and dangerous,” Derk added.

Anna scrunched up and pondered, she felt a wave of enthusiasm about this that she had been missing for years, “How much do I love the little chubs?” Cindy and Derk smiled approvingly, “Just trust me on this.”

Anna now had a reason to curtail her hours in the cell lab and felt no regrets. She turned her home office into a cavernous workshop, metal shards and pneumatic oil irreversibly making home in her carpet. Her first cast-model had a profile embarrassingly close to a drawing her four year old nephew had made of a horse, and Anna resorted to live-drawing sessions at the pet-store to learn puppies’ true dimensions.

Many hot-glue burns later, a fluffy quadruped sat in front of her that conceivably could be called “cute”.

Anna hurriedly cycled over to Cindy and Derk’s house one early evening, running in with a big cardboard box, gathering the children before bedtime. “Clara, I’ve got something for you — but, uh, make sure you share it.”

Cardboard and paper scraps flew into the air followed by delighted shrieking “An-na doggy! my doggy! hello doggy!” as the stumbling furry creature was buried in a scrum of small children.

“Clara adores it” Cindy beamed over dinner that night. The children were tucked in bed and the little mechanical dog was there beside Clara, gently wriggling (for it did not understand bedtime, nor much else). “And the children still have all their fingers,” Derk thoughtfully added.

The next morning Anna took care of the kids. She watched them all follow the puppy as it walked around the room, bumping into walls. “Can you make woofy…” (Clara had thoughtfully named the puppy) “love me the most?”.

“I think he already does Clara”

“Noo… but I want him to follow me, and eat my treats, and purr when I pet him”, Clara explained, fuzzy on the details of pets.

“Well,” Anna pondered, “I could try making a second puppy with some new tricks”. Clara’s insane delight made the offer binding.

At College Anna had taken a class on Neurotronics. Her Physics lecturer had derided the field as “Messy, unreliable and unscientific”, but Anna thought it was fun, a little quaint. The basic premise was to extract brain stem cells, grow them in a dish, then train them with sugar and electrodes. With some patience they could learn to do simple tasks such as repeat an audio sequence, or light up after you enter a secret code.

She remembered her class lecturer explain, “as promising as our field is, it has one fatal flaw: these cell cultures are prone to mischief, for no discernible reason at all they sometimes ignore their training and do whatever they fancy. For this reason they cannot be used in any of our great engines — a travel capsule cannot decide to crash, a lunar shipment must not decide to go to Mars.”

Anna thought to herself that puppies are supposed to misbehave.

Anna arrived at midnight to her lab, her first late night of the year. Her motivation was carefully stowed in her backpack — it was small, furry and heavily sedated.

“Little creature” she addressed it, lying out on her table, “do not worry.” She caressed its unfeeling body, she was tense from the air of horror intruding from the darkness. “Tomorrow I will return you, and you won’t feel a thing,” she explained, feeling apologetic to the puppy and the pet store she ‘borrowed’ it from. She played an up-beat record and got out her surgical drill.

“The culture has taken quickly, its responses are fast and strong, as expected from a young mammalian sample” she dictated to the phonograph, with habitual scientific diligence. “Tomorrow I will begin training its basic… motor patterns”.

She moved the metallic legs in a walking pattern, feeding sugar solution to the cells, and after a few sessions got a stumbling (but adorable) puppy-like walk. She added a bunch more pneumatic motors and pressure switches, all fed by a miniature dense-gravity battery. She taught it to like petting and dislike banging its nose into walls. It even had a little squeaker.

It was Clara’s birthday party and Anna had a fair idea she would win favoritest Aunt for the next decade. The children all knew that Anna’s cardboard boxes were Very Big Deals and crowded to see.

“Now Clara, I’ve made you something very special, but you’ll have to treat it carefully and feed it every day,” Clara was vibrating in her seat and unable to hear anything, “but this little guy is,” it was too late — cardboard was being torn apart in ecstasy.

“OH MY GOD” Clara screamed, parents visibly distressed. Anna tried to cover it “This one likes being petted… try it… and you can even teach it little tricks!”

The other parents and children all nursed their little envies of the Clara and her puppy, and many fine presents lay unopened. “He loves me! He loves me!” Clara yelled out, cradling the furry squeaking (and now napping) creature.

“How the flip did you pull this one off?” Cindy asked, with genuine technical curiosity. “Ha, a lot of late nights, and pneumatics,” Anna felt the truth of what was inside ‘Squeaky’ might horrify Cindy and Derk to the point of banishing the creature and breaking Clara’s heart, “you’ve no idea how many sequence-rolls I had to pack in there” she added, hoping to lay the curiosity to rest.

The next day she heard Clara down the hallway “Bad Squeaky! Naughty squeaky! You sit! You sit when I poke you!!”. Squeaky’s disobedience delighted Anna all day.

Months later Anna sat disheveled on the couch at Cindy’s house. “I can’t… I can’t… do another day for that fucking guy” Anna choked through tears beside Cindy, “I hate cell mapping. Its so fucking boring. And that asshole keeps asking me to sleep with him. I… I won’t. I won’t go back.” She sounded sober. Resolute.

“Anna, Anna, you’re so talented, you don’t need to put up with this.”

“Where, where will I go? Everybody knows him. He’s respected. I’m screwed.”

“Screwed out of a job you hate. There’s so much in the world for you. You’re smart, beautiful, wonderful,” Anna smiled through her tears, “I’d kill for half your talent!”

Derk crept into the room, feeling that the storm was waning. “You know Anna, a lot of other children would like a Squeaky.” He hugged her.

“They do?”

“Yeah, although Clara will hate to lose her VIP status.”

Anna managed a slobbery laugh. “There is just one little thing I need to tell you…”

On August 2025 ‘Squeaky Creatures Inc.’ was officially incorporated with Clara as their Head of Testing. Anna, Cindy, Derk and handful of disenchanted post-doctorate students worked fervently together to get a batch puppies together to sell before Christmas. Children were most welcome in the messy workshop, providing their unique insights into the market.

“We’ve only been working together now for two months” Anna addressed the crew one Friday night “but I can easily say this has been the most special place I’ve ever worked. I am so grateful for each and every one of you, and the hard work you’ve all been putting in. We’ve all seen the unbridled joy kids have with our toys, and I cannot wait for us to get them into their hands. So, a toast, to Squeaky!” They washed down their wine with tequila and danced around the workshop, getting some puppies to imitate their drunken dance moves.

“A puppy is not just for Christmas” Derk jovially exclaimed, this maxim had become their internal joke because every finished puppy had got instantly sold rather than stocked for Christmas gifting. He went back to gluing fur.

Later that day Anna began their all-hands “It will come as no surprise to you all that we need to expand!” The team all laughed, it was October and they’d given up even trying to meet demand (and kept their sanity instead). “We’re getting a big warehouse downtown. And we’re even going to get formal and have multiple teams!” Multiple ooohs erupted from the room. “Cindy, you’ll head up the wet-lab operations. Derk, you’re in charge of the furry side of the house. Meryl, since you seem to spend all day playing with the puppies you’re in charge of R&D and children liaisons. I’ll write up on the board our new team structure, and once again, thank you all, we have been doing awesome!”

Christmas Morning in Cindy and Derk’s skinny old townhouse was crisp, bright, and full of clamour. Anna and a few of the team sat hugging their coffees, enjoying the wave of well-earned tiredness that followed their months of hectic work. One of them picked up a paper, “Oh God!”

“What, what is it?” Anna grabbed it for herself. She saw the headline “FRANKENSTEIN FOR CHRISTMAS? How one toy company has created soulless monstrosities.” Anna threw it aside and winced.

Armando

“The Church’s position on this is simple,” Armando Lux told the room, his freshly pressed suit standing out against the gaggle of robes and odd hats, “a brain should have a body, a body should have a soul, this thing is an abomination.” A portly red-faced man in gold and scarlet began to mouth, Armando swopping in “Yes, I know, animals don’t have souls, it was a manner of speaking. Anyway, we could simply condemn these puppies, but I feel we might be cornering ourselves out of an important market.”

“Market? Markets are the domain of fallen souls from the city”, the Deacon of Idaho shouted, staring at Armando’s crisp lapels.

“Every day we fight in a market of ideas,” Armando’s long held frustration bubbling, “and every day we ignore that battle, our numbers shrink. I’m not here to lead bishops with their heads in the sand, I’m not here to lose — listen — what nobody, NOBODY, sees right now is those little puppies are part of something bigger. Some part of our humanity, our godliness, is expressed in them, for the FIRST time, and as the shepherds of humanity we have got to take the lead.”

“So what do you propose?”, the somber Archbishop of Greater New York asked.

“That we’re in the game. For now, we’ll just make puppy knock-offs blessed by our Pope. Teach them to hum a hymn. But mark me, this will lead somewhere.”

Squeaky Inc.

On January 14th, the League of Responsible Progress (“No progress” shouted Dirk) issued a statement on Squeaky Inc. and the field of Neurotronics, which the whole company listened together on corporate multicast radio.

“Once in a lifetime comes a pivotal junction for humanity, and today we are standing at one. We, the League of Responsible Progress, have helped steward us into our current era of prosperity and comfort” (“Europe would still be flooded if these idiots were in power” Derk reminded everyone), “and today we must demand” (“Demand? Who are they to demand??”) “immediate and global cessation.”

“Nature has evolved our lifeforms into purpose and balance. Physics, through our guidance, has delivered the great forces — fusion and gravity — into our hands. These two worlds have always had an important line between them. The work of Squeaky Inc. has crossed that line.”

“Our creatures must not wield the power of suns in their dreams, nor throw celestial gravity in their tempers. It is not right to imprison the mind of an animal in the body of a machine.”

“Our children may love these furry robots, but they carry the seeds of our destruction. We ask for immediate cessation of Neurotronics.”

Lucas

“Lucas, I, I’ve something to tell you.” Arriette, Lucas’s wife, was tense, her breath slightly sour from red wine. “My appointment didn’t go well. It’s Maddison’s disease.”

“What?”

“The immune boosters I took as a child left my system hyper and now the rest of my body is attacking my brain.”

“What does this mean?”

“It means my neurons are going to be dismantled, it means,” she broke down in tears in Lucas’s arms, “it means I won’t see our children… … make it through college.”

“We have to, we’ll fight this”

“We can’t”, her voice quiet, deeply burrowed in his chest, “attacking the immune system is a death sentence.”

The two spent a tired and restless night, and in the morning gathered both their children and told them the news.

Six months later, Arriette began to struggle with her speech. “Mom, we know what you mean!” Carpenter, her son, comforted her. She hugged him, airlessly mouthing ‘Thank you’, exhausted and frustrated from a day teaching engineering.

At dinner Lucas addressed the family “I know how hard these months have been. I’m going to try and make something to help Mom. It’s not going to cure her, I know, I’m sorry, but it could make things a little better.”

Lucas took emotional leave from work and borrowed some of the spare equipment from Arriette’s lab. He posted up in his garage.

The plan had come to him quickly, fully formed in a day-dream. As soon as they arrived, he felt singular in his purpose.

“You see this here,” Lucas said, pointing at a long trail of wires, “amplifies and collects the signals into a dense array of connections,” his neighbor, Hank, engrossed, listening to him, “and then that follows into a cell-culture like mine, and then into this speaker here.”

“hmm but where do those come from?”

“Electrodes. In Arriette’s brain”

“But, Lucas, are you sure that’s safe? How many?”

“I think at least a hundred”

“Nobody’s done anything like this, it needs animal testing”

“Hank, she’s only got one year.”

“Honey, I need to ask you a question. And it’s ok whichever answer you decide”, Lucas’s eyes glistened, “for this to work as good as it can, we need human brain stem cells. We need young ones.” Arriette’s face lit up in horror. “I know, I know how bad this sounds, but it will be painless and safe, I promise you. I’ve had the top team at the University say they’d do this for us, they all care about you Ari. Please, I think this is the best option.” She clutched his hand and nodded.

Before Lucas could explain even half the idea, Carpenter forcibly volunteered. He would not listen to the risks and side effects.

“Ok, you’re going to feel pretty sore and woozy” the bright, fuzzy surgeon said and Arriette felt herself clutching Lucas’s hand. She lifted her head up and felt a heaviness behind it, something pulling along her neck. She reached up to her head — “Honey, go slowly, there, be gentle” — and felt a long metallic braid coming down from her head, its wires fanning out to points all across her skull. She gasped, feeling holes all over her head, surrounding her, inescapable, “Lucas! Lucas!”, rising pain, the lights tearing into her eyes, her voice distantly screaming, darkness as anti-anxieties flowed up her spine.

Arriette came to in her own bed, the shades darkening the room. “Lucas, honey, I’m all right — I’m all right” she tried to say in her moaning half-voice. The family came rushing into the room, hugging and kissing her. “Ari, that’s great, you are looking really good. Alright, once you’re ready, we can begin training.”

The next day Lucas explained the process “As Carpenter holds up a card you have to think that word really hard, and I’ll say that word into the completion engine. Just don’t worry if you’re doing it right or wrong, you’ll be doing just fine.”

Arriette’s days shrunk, from the university campus, from her classroom, down to the quiet confines of her bedroom. She could feel her mental landscape receding into the ocean of darkness around it. Little was left to mark her days but the soft patter of switches and words.

Arriette had sat for a month, thinking words and being gently encouraged by her family. Lucas switched over some cables beside her bed “I think it’s time to test the completion” and a high pitched pop and quiet hissing emanated. “Ok, Honey, just think what you want to say…”

“I. LOVE… … PIZZA”

The children laughed, the monotonic inflectionless voice a relief from gasps and moans.

“I FEEL HOPE,” her drooping eyes running tears.

“THREE years ago, I was literally speechless. I was trapped, in a cavern, in a cage of my body. I could not fathom I would be here before you today.” Arriette lay upright in a wheeled day-chair, her bright voice contrasting against the lifelessness of her body. Her former students and colleagues lined the conference hall, already emotional. “Every day I train. Every day I get a little stronger. It is thanks to everyone here — my clever, brilliant husband — my family — the Neurotronic department — my friends, that I am not dead, that I am alive and fighting. I am here today to tell my beloved Dr Robinson that your initial prognosis was wrong, and that I will teach one more semester: on the science that saved me!”

The audience applauded, all crossed the stage to smile into Arriette’s eyes and touch her arm.

Arriette’s semester had gone well, but by the end she had largely retreated from society. To much wheeling around. Too many painful goodbyes. Her body was increasingly paralyzed, she’d grown physically distant from her husband.

Lucas had given her a radio module to talk with people around the world, since she could no longer travel. Much of her time seemed to be spent in silent conversations with distant people.

One hot and airless night Lucas woke in his sleep, and looked over at his wife in her life-bed. She lay motionless but for the mechanical breaths, eyes unblinking towards the ceiling. The wheels and pistons hissed, the breather larger than her. His dreams were vivid, half baked into his waking mind, he’d been dreaming of silver snakes, cold and writhing, wrapping around his arms and crawling into his mouth. He choked on their coldness, unable to speak. He felt unsettled.

He heard her radio module switching back and forth. Clicks, little noises from her earpiece. He fell back to sleep.

“Lucas, I have heard from people that need your help” Arriette opened one morning, “you could help them, like you helped me”

“Ari, I’m so glad I helped you, but what I did was risky, dangerous”

“but there’s this old couple in Idaho”

“I don’t even know if it’d work a second time”

“Please, she’s losing her husband, she’s losing everything”

“Honey, I’m not sure, I’m not sure it’s right,”

“Lucas, please, just talk to them.”

Static crackled on the radio, then a voice, warm, country, matronly, “Is this Mr Kolsch?”

“Yes, this is Lucas, how can I help you ma'am?”

“My husband Charles and I run this agro-ranch together the last fifty years. And he has a wasting, just like your wife — I heard about you both in a news cast — look I don’t want to take a lot of your time Mr Kolsch, and your wife told me you’re not sure that you can do anything for us, but, please, anything to give us another year so he can settle our affairs. I can’t handle this on my own. Our whole family needs this, Mr Kolsch.”

Lucas had never been hard-hearted and partly knew he’d be unable to refuse Mrs Fairlin and her husband. They offered him as much money as he’d need for team and equipment, and the next week he came out in a travel-pod.

News of the Fairlins spread, and after their operation five more lined up. Lucas opened a laboratory in the sunny hills near his house, filling it with enthusiastic students from the nearby university. His life sped up, a blur of meetings and planning.

At home Arriette had permanently retreated to her own room, a black veil covering the lack of sparkle in her eyes. The children chatted with her on radio, too pained to sit in that dark room.

Lucas came in to her one night, late from work. “Ari, I need to talk to you, about our company”

“Yes, things are good”

“We have lots of bookings, but, honey, something doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure we know what we’re doing, it is all…”

“I am happy. You are helping the world. This is good”

“You really think?”

“Yes dear. Lucas I must ask you a favor. I have so many people to talk to, and it is hard. So many people want to talk about our work. I need you to double my culture”

“Ari, that’s, that’s not something we’ve done, what if it breaks all the learning?”

“I’ve spoken to biologists and it’s a simple graft, it’s nothing scary honey. Please, my radio is all I have left.”

Lucas’s body twinged, but had no justification to refuse her. “Ok. Ok Ari.”

Arriette found no shortage of people needing their help. The old, the sick, the dying, all found their way to them, all pleading for a miracle. The cost of implants, electrics and cells added up to less than esoteric genome-based drugs and insurers found their way to their door as well.

Anna Spencer walked into Kolsch Labs wearing a dark pencil skirt and high heels. This wasn’t her usual outfit, but today was the day.

“Anna, thank you, thank you so much coming. I could talk business, projections, it all looks great, but I don’t think that’s why you came: you care about people. You created a company to make them happy. We give people their lives back when all hope is lost. I’m not here to pitch you, I’m here to beg you to sell to us and help us, there’s just no way we can keep up and your team have very special expertise.” Anna looked at him, putting on a businesslike face.

“Look Anna, this is Jonathon Leebach. He is eighteen years old and a traumatic brain injury from a car crash has left him silenced and immobilized. He is just one of thirty thousand people on our waiting list. If you join us, he might get help this year. That’s it.”

Anna travelled back east and shared the story with her team. They voted two hundred to thirteen to sell. They licensed Squeaky to a distant manufacturer and launched Kolsch Labs East.

“I, I-I-I have been struggling to sleep” Lucas admitted to Anna over lunchtime radio, “even some new stutter patterns are catching me. It’s just a lot, you kn-kn-know.”

“You carry it all. I hear you over the broad-comm, all day at it. Take a break, Lucas”

“I’m not sure I know how to. Where to g-g-g-go”

“How old is your stutter completion? It must be like fifteen years? You can’t keep up all this work without your voice. Come over here, see a change of scene. Let my team give your hardware a spring clean. Your culture must be tiny by today’s standards.”

Lucas thought darkly of his wife. Of her hard unsleeping eyes. “I, no, it’s ok”

“Lucas come, the team all want to meet you. The fall evenings here are so refreshing. We’ll all go out for gelato and bowling and watch some baseball games. What you say?”

He felt himself relaxing “Ok, next month, I’ll come.”

The East offices were immaculate and the team buzzing with ideas. One graduate student showed him implant arrays, that spread out into thousands of invisible threads, another team had an experimental patient controlling a pneumatic arm. At Friday seminar a senior scientist showed early research showing she could split the output of the culture into multiple separate dialogue streams;

“But how can a human speak two sentences at once?”

“That’s the wrong way of thinking about it; I don’t think that our neocortex implants are transcribing, more the patient is steering a speaking elephant…”

When Lucas sat down with the team to work on him he was surrounded by their best, an almost religious fervor in the room. “I don’t want anything… too fancy, just a tidy up, a refresh”

Nancy, the senior research fellow addressed him “Dr Kolsch” (“Lucas, just Lucas”), “Lucas, with absolutely no disrespect to your groundbreaking earlier work, we don’t have cultures like yours” (He had actually used mice cells to create his, and sometimes he bragged he was the most intelligent mouse on earth), “if you’ll allow us to use things off-the-shelf it’ll be a bit of an upgrade, but nothing to worry about. And also, for implants…”

“No implants. The ear works fine”

“Well, we thought you should get to experience what your patients experience, to help you envision better how to help them,”

Lucas folded his arms and Anna jumped in “Oh come on you old goose. Too good for implants? You’ll do it to others but not yourself?” He subdued. “We’re giving you top of the line implants. Nano platinum iridium. Internally routed to a single entry point. Plenty of room for future expansion if you ever let us. What you say?”

The room looked like puppies getting to meet God. “This is the best surgical team on the planet” she reminded him.

“All right, okay” Lucas smiled “but don’t you dare tell my wife!” They all laughed, not knowing how seriously he felt about it.

Lucas radioed his wife about the plan and developments “…and they’ve decided to upgrade the culture, but just a little,”

“That’s wonderful dear”

“and there’s been incredible research here, about all sorts of things”

“Like what?”

“Multi-stream communication, high-definition implants, the science team were definitely worth paying for, they are even finding ways to pre-train before implant”

“Miss Spencer is a dazzling woman. She knows her stuff. If they were to need an experiment subject, I would be willing. You know I wont last forever.”

“I know honey... I love you.”

“Love you too.”

Lucas woke in the recovery room to the soothing cocktail of psychedelic dissociatives he’d prescribed. He felt his throat in the spot his electric-ear had lived and felt raw, pale skin, he felt his neck and found one thin smooth braid coming down his shoulders. “I-I-I f-f-feel great” he told the beaming team around him, he’d have to live with his old stutter until the implant completion was ready to kick in.

He lay, only mildly aware of his pain, and Anna hugged him and squeezed his hand “they said you were a soldier. Only once did you drug-blather to a nurse”. (In fact, he thought the nurse was Anna and told her she owed him gelato).

“We’ve taken the liberty of pre-training your new completion, if only to give you some better jokes — no really, we need you back at the helm. A couple of days and you should figure each other out.”

Lucas thought of himself staring into a cell blob and it’s shapeless form staring back at him. Of himself plunging his face into it. Cold gel crawling into his mouth, his ears, his eyes. Would it know who he was? “Lucas? Lucas?” “…Yes, training, I’ll train it every morning with your team. Copy.”

“Anna, I swear I feel ten years younger” Lucas was back at work and soaring through meetings, “I mean, I’m definitely working more, and it doesn’t feel like effort, it’s like I’m running on silicon-grease, just frictionless.”

“That’s amazing Lucas, I’m so happy. The team said things were feeling good, your energy levels were really high”

“Yeah. You know, it’s strange with the pre-train, I find myself throwing out turns-of-phrase I wouldn’t normally, quoting the odd thing. The fast recovery is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, just takes a while to.. feel myself.”

“That’s perfectly normal. You should feel totally integrated in a month. We’re thrilled that you want your wife to come over for the same treatment!”

“She is?”

“You didn’t know?”

“I’ve just been, out of the loop for a bit, em, that’s great for her”

“Yes, it should give her some more time we hope”

“Thanks.”

Lucas threw himself back into work, his children off at college and his house increasingly feeling empty. “Anna, it’s like I’ve an extra appendage. I can feel my completion out on the company radio, skimming and replying whilst I’m here in the room. Honestly, it’s only thanks to that I can keep up with you all. We’re treating more patients, building more centers, dropping our costs. I’m going to ask something that’ll shock you”

“What?”

“I want to expand it. Just a little. I think I can move this company faster”

“Finally the man’s on board! Of course Lucas, consider it done.”

The Kolsch Lab employees all gathered in their huge glass atrium, for a scheduled radio broadcast from Arriette. There was an excited hum, people standing restlessly. Lucas had thought many times about trying to stop it, but as co-owner (and raison d’être) it seemed wrong and probably illegal to stop her. He privately grimaced, steeling himself for whatever was coming.

“Team Kolsch, thank you all for assembling. I wish I could do this in person, but things being as they are.”

“I think a lot about our future. And our future is the future of humanity. I think about the gifts we can give. My husband and I benefit from the latest Kolsch technology. Not only does it keep me alive, it helps us both thrive in this hectic world. Talk to more people. Make better decisions. Work longer hours.”

“It is clearly not right for us to keep this to ourselves. That is why next quarter we will begin to offer this to the whole world, not just the impaired. We will offer enhancement, not just support. We will lift up humanity.”

“You are all welcome to pilot this. For free. You will experience completion first hand, and shape its development. Thank you.”

The employees applauded and cheered, excited to be part of this and the inevitable stock price increase. Lucas jumped straight on a private channel.

“What the FUCK? Why didn’t you run this by me?”

“Because you would hesitate. You would resist.”

“Damn right I would! Fuck. This… we don’t have the scale, how can we operate on healthy people, it’s, it’s risky, it’s,”

“It’s the right decision. If we don’t do this, someone else would. You trust those other bio-firms?”

“No, but,”

“But you can have it and nobody else?”

“No, Ari,”

“This is our future, and you can ignore it, but it is coming. Feel free to stop it”

“And be decapitated by the suits”

“Yes. Indeed darling. There’s no other way.”

“Fuck!”

The channel cut out.

Lucas got home that night still livid. He went to Arriette’s room to confront her, to punch her, he didn’t know what. The room was cold, dark but for dim purple light. He looked and she was gone.

Except, not gone — a huge black carbon block lay in the center of the room, not hooked up to anything, just gently humming.

“Arriette?”

“Yes”

“This is..”

“Me now. Yes.”

“What, why?”

“My body is fragile, too many tubes, points of failure. This is more durable. This is good. I wanted this.”

Lucas backed away from her, and took a sedative to sleep.

The next day at work his assistant came in “Sir, the President wants to speak to you”

“Really? Whoa. Patch him in.”

“Mr Kolsch, it is a great pleasure to be speaking to you. Your announcement yesterday was breathtaking, a master stoke,”

“Thank you Mr President”

“And it’s that sort of boldness America needs right now. Mr Kolsch, we are men of vision. We shape the world. The people rely on us. I have just delivered to your sales team the most extraordinary privilege” (an ambush Lucas thought), “something that’s never been offered before. The United States Military is awarding you a Hundred-Trillion dollar contract for braids and completions, we’re going to connect every soldier to me,” (horror, what horror) “ in a sky-based command galleon, bomb proof and impenetrable, I will be the greatest strategist since Washington. Our troops will move and think as one, our safety, liberty and security all ensured thanks to your brilliant work”

“Thank you Mr President” (I will delay this by every means possible, this man has just one term left..)

“Thank you Mr Kolsch. Now of course, this being military technology, we must be thoughtful about which allies we share it with”, (here comes the kicker) “but no worry, the national secrecy acts are just fine at figuring this stuff out, the defense department lawyers can happily assist”, (golden chains, red-white and blue handcuffs), “in any case, consider our partnership my number one priority.”

“I’m honored Mr President”

“Thank you. Out.”

The board and senior suits had been tripping over each-other to install braids and chase after new contracts. Every frequency was bombarding Lucas for access, priority, approvals. Lucas sat in his office, dejected and dialed up Anna.

“Anna, hey. Do you think you could come over her for a while, handle some of this pressure?”

“And leave this dreadful snow? Sure!”

“Thanks.”

Anna was good at getting Lucas to take care of himself. She organized a huge team dinner the night she arrived, forcing him out of the office in a river of people. Over coffees and brandies Lucas stood up to address them.

“It’s good to see you all here, all out of the office!” Cheers erupted. “We’ve strapped ourselves into quite the acro-pod, I can promise that we’ll be flung around at high velocity to quite who knows where. My wife might think that humanity is our putty, but” (Anna pressed him “Lucas”) “but hubris has a way of catching up with us all. What happens next relies on you all. Think carefully on your choices.”

The dinner quieted into an uncomfortable applause, then dissolved into small talk.

“Lucas, I’m not quite sure that was the message,”

“It’s what I felt”. Lucas was slightly drunk, obstinate.

“Well ok, but, make sure you make them smile too”

“Alright”. He turned Anna and kissed her. Then led her back to a hotel.

The next morning a hungover Lucas sat at his briefing. “Look, I need one of you to help me with something, err, personal. This morning, my wife, or, the case containing my wife, was gone. She’s still responsive on radio, but wont tell me where she’s gone. Could somebody, discretely, try to find out?”

Later that day he sat with his executive team, discussing plans and projections for the general release of completions. “I’d say this is all ambitious, tinging on unrealistic, but if you want to commit to making this happen I’m not going to stop you”, as the conversations went on he could sense the radio sub-conversations, the minutia and re-alignment of people in the room, the extra plays after each word. He felt himself clinging on, the waters around him rising.

Anna listened to the news whilst walking home. A vicious story caught her attention.

“In Cambridge, MA, last night, Larry Jamison, CEO of World Aeronautics, was found dead and bloodied in a suburban parking lot. A braid had been forcibly attached to him and he had been neuro-toxically altered. The CPF are investigating and have yet to release a statement. We’ll keep you updated on this breaking story.”

“Lucas, Lucas, pick up.”

“Yes? I’m just having dinner.”

“Have you heard the news?”

“Unfortunately yes”

“What happened?”

“We pressed on our military liaisons to get a team in there. Anna, it’s bad. He was full of some sort of neuro-dilator. He was basically brain dead, then died from a head bleed.”

“What?”

“Our best theory is, well it’s horrible. The team called it a brain dump. They think a gang extracted all his brain configuration and broadcast it over radio. Basically, they stole his skills and knowledge.”

“This is bad. You need security.”

“I know.”

Lucas fidgeted in his office, moving paper around his desk without reading it.

“Lucas, I think we got a fix on your wife” his assistant pinged him.

“Yeah, where is she?”

“A small island, in the Pacific. And, well, we figured it out because we think she bought it.”

“Bought it?”

“Yes, from a resort operator. We did an emergency check of all our accounts, and it looks like she didn’t use company money, or yours.”

“What a day Anna” Lucas radioed over that evening.

“I know. It feels like things won’t sit still.”

“Yeah. Work’s intense, I can feel everyone vying around me for power. And the brain dumps, and, well, my wife has become a fucking island.”

“An island?”

“Yeah, she’s shipped her coffin to Vomo Island and purchased the whole thing, it’s kinda clever because now she can claim sovereign protection rights and basically attack anyone that comes within miles.”

“What are you going to do?

“I guess I’ll go visit her.”

Lucas flew in the company travel pod with four security details to visit his wife. The serenity of the Pacific wrapped around them, it’s endless turquoise waves, the dots of cloud like sea-foam. He thought of turtles, paddling in the silence, thought he would like to be one. He radioed an awkward message to his wife “Hi, I’m, err, making a diplomatic visit, I’d like to, share a cocktail?” hoping she didn’t own missiles.

They landed on the pale gold sand uneventfully and walked up an overgrown dirt road. Some ways ahead lay cliffs and a dark opening.

“Given my wife’s proclivity to retreat, I’d bet she’s down there”. The group cautiously stepped into the clammy shade. After descending for five minutes a blue lit wall of glass and metal could be seen ahead. “Well, that’s her style”. The security chuckled.

Lucas stepped ahead to read the placards and suddenly cracking explosions sounded around him, “Ari, no!”. He turned to the thuds of his men hitting the ground. “Ari, well, fuck, hi. How you doing?”

“I’m good thank you”

“Beautiful island you got here”

“Thank you, it’s one of a kind”

“The only one with a bunker?”

“Indeed. You’re welcome to look through the window, but I can’t let you come any further”

Lucas saw warning signs ‘Carbon Monoxide environment. Do not enter.’ He looked in and saw his wife’s sarcophagus, and to his horror, many others racked behind her. His completion radio flitted around news channels and brought back information. “I hope to hell those aren’t the people kidnapped off Fiji”

“Of course not honey”

“And you wouldn’t tell me if they were”

“It would not be beneficial”

“I think it’s time for me to leave”

“Yes. I’m sorry but I can’t let you return again. It was nice to see you”

“Nice to see you too Ari.”

Lucas tried to move the bodies back up the tunnel but made little progress with their weight in the sticky heat. He headed back to the pod. “What a fucking mess” he said to himself.

Flying back Lucas tried to bury himself in work but found himself numb. He mindlessly watched the waves outside the window.

Lucas shuttled between meetings, taking briefings from handlers and fighting machinations from the board and C-suite. What little he could, he prodded the company towards doing what he thought was right, but it was like trying to poke a cargo ship. There had been another string brain-dumps, all against high powered executives and leaders. At the end of a long update meeting he got distracted and snapped.

“And what the hell are we doing about the brain-dumps? Can we block our radios from listening to them?”

“We’re not sure there’s much we can do” said Larry, Chief of Sales, “but, getting back to the actuals, Canada, our newest territory, smashed sales records within just five days, selling twenty million units.”

“You don’t care, do you?

“What boss?”

“The brain-dumps. It’s just an application to you. These are people, being tortured to death.”

“Yes, of course, of course…”

The hard glare of the moon had begun to pierce the office’s glass atrium as Lucas wearily headed towards the exit. Larry took him aside

“You don’t get it, do you?

“Huh?”

“Every sales director under me jumps on every brain-dump they can get their radio on. Every meeting they’re silently saying ‘I can do everything you can. Why have you got the job?’. I either keep up, tread water, or I’m out. People wanted equality, well now they got it. Welcome to the meritocracy of hell.”

The two quietly parted into the harsh moonlight.

Armando

Armando sat in a tall room, its sandstone walls climbing up past narrow glass windows to wooden rafters. A broad religious delegation sat around him, in the heart of a feisty debate.

Armando returned to his central push “Whilst I know it is unconventional to say it,”

“Heresy” shouted a slim white English vicar

“but God, all of our Gods, exist within the mind. Without belief, we are all nothing.” The room began to convulse into objection, “I am not doubting the reality and existence of ANY of our Gods, scriptures, please, you misinterpret me, our Bible is breathed out by God, but into the pen of Man. We are the critical vessel, we are the color and lens by which religion flourishes,” the room seemed better appeased, “and now that vessel lies in the hands of Kolsch Laboratories.”

“My innovation team” (eyes rolled in the room) “have kept abreast of Neurotronics, worked on small religious products. There has been a startling development, which I suspect you all know little about,”

“Go on!” an impatient Malian Hogon cried.

“completions are now pre-trained. They come with knowledge of the world, of literature, of culture. They are the hidden steering wheel to society. And their knowledge of my religion, Christianity, is fifth grade at best. I posit many of your religions faired much worse.”

“So what do we do?” an Islamic scholar implored.

“That’s why I’ve got you all together. We ask ALL our followers to boycott Kolsch on grounds of religious conscience until they provide satisfactory pre-training of our teachings. And if they don’t, we will launch our own Church-blessed completion. Together we represent 82% of humanity, they have to listen to us.”

Lucas

Lucas walked around the company park, trailed by two security details, silently talking to Anna over radio “the religious folks are onto us now, I guess it was only a matter of time. And to be honest, I see their point. I thought about it a lot and I think what matters is choice. You choose your education, your profession, your friends, you should have a say in your completion’s biases — it’s just, it’s a huge rabbit hole. I don’t know where to start. Even admitting the problem will cause uproar.”

“You could offer ‘Zealot’ and ‘Barbarian’ models?”

“Ha. Yes. I think that would make Armando very happy. How is Ken doing?” Lucas’s mind dispatched instructions to explore religious training opt-in.

“He’s good. We’re going to take a week out to see the new volcano park they built. But, you know, there’s a lot going on at work too…”

“I’m happy for you Anna,”

“It’s ok Lucas,”

“No, obviously I like you a lot, but, you need what’s right for you. I’m… complicated”

“You’re special”

“I’m a defeated workaholic married to a psychotic island. Ken’s better.”

“Don’t say that”

“Well, I got my good sides. Nice to talk to you”

“You too.”

Lucas looked around the new lab building after work, remembering how he once built things himself, how nice that was. The seamless white room was crowded with pneumatic arms, articulated hoses, conveyor belts, it was more factory than laboratory. The complexity around him, how this had all come to be, blew him away. The company was an organism that far eclipsed him now, barely needed him. He thought about the dense clusters of neurons in the bio-gels and the spidery web between everyone working here.

He’d not thought about Arriette for some time but did so now. He wondered if she was in the walls of this room, if these arms were her arms. He imagined her descending down from the ceiling orbital, riding waves of silver snakes, sweeping him down into a black sarcophagus, locking him away in the darkness. He was shaken out of his daydream by someone grabbing him, a cold vice fixed onto his face.

“Help! HELP!” he mutely screamed into the metal, the cry reverberating across his radio.

He writhed and screamed as he felt a metal needle enter his lumbar spine, heard a surgeon’s drill spin up. “Help!”. Hot pain spots began to blister his skull. “HELP!”

He heard the room’s arms flail, heard the massive steel doors begin to fold and buckle under gravity-pulls. Bolts of blue plasma punctured the armored figures around him, the air foul with eviscerated blood and ozone. “We’ve got you sir. You’re gonna be alright” — “Roll him over, get the dialysis” — Lucas’s face was unwrapped and bright headlamps dazzled him.

Lucas found himself immobile in a private ward connected to a host of machines, a young nurse and his assistant greeted him as he came to.

“Sir, I’m so glad you’re ok, everything is under control. We’re still cleaning up your blood but no lasting damage was done, tomorrow you should get back motor control.”

“Thanks” Lucas mumbled.

“You’re going to want to know this, the assailants were paid off employees, they’re already on a prison carrier and we’re ramping up security whilst we investigate. I am so incredibly sorry that this happened to you, here.”

“It’s not your…” Lucas tried to respond

“The team would like to propose upgrading your bodily security. Discrete pulse weapons and extra neurological controls.” The assistant waited for a reply, and getting none, left.

Lucas lay there, shuddering at the thought of how he was becoming his wife. “That’s it. This is not what I want,” he radioed Anna, “I started this all for the right reasons, I didn’t intend for this. People — do I still believe in people?”

“Lucas? You alright?”

He continued, not really listening, “I used to believe in ardent good, that the fundamentals of humanity would shine through any tool, any change, and bring happiness, peace, prosperity, but I think I was wrong, I did not truly know people, continuations are like an diffraction, they take someone’s desires and spread them out one by one, they amplify it, when you give someone true power, true freedom, unfettered by the pressures to behave, then you see it, the truth, what people really want, the abhorrence, the ghastliness,”

“Lucas, please, I’m sending someone to be with you,”

“the apes did not live well with homo sapiens, we terraformed their homelands, put them in zoos, froze their embryos because we gave up on trying to keep them alive. Intelligence is not a gift, it is bloody, it is ruthless, it seeks everything to feed itself. We had a limit, for whether reason evolution put a ceiling on human intelligence, and order arose. I broke that. I opened the door for every person to demand more.”

Lucas continued, feeling relief in his vitriol “The funny thing is, I sold a lie. This Machiavellian fuck-fest, this pit of vipers, it’s not really us — we’re just carrying it around, in little boxes, obsessed with its game of taking and winning, addicted to upgrades, chasing down a path that leaves us more empty and irrelevant.”

A group of nurses arrived, confused at what to do.

“I’ve been thinking a lot, about how to stop this. Turn back time. I thought of viruses, radio broadcasts, some biblical flood to wash it all away. I don’t see one. I think its genocide or nothing”

“Lucas, Lucas, what the hell…”

“No, Anna, I’m not that bent. What I’m saying is I see no way out. I see no way I can fix the world, and no life left for me”

“Lucas” Anna pleaded

“Look Anna, I love you. I never said that, and I should have. Years ago. You’re the only life-raft I’ve had, for a very long time. I love you, I love Ken, I love the first day we met and what we were excited to do. You were not corrupted by this, you can still walk away and just make a life somewhere that means something. Please, do that.”

“LUCAS!”

Lucas’s mind reached out into the controls of the room and tripped the power supplies. The main lighting went dark and the machines stopped turning. As the nurses ran out of the room his blood’s oxygen dissipated and his brain died.

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David Mack

@SketchDeck co-founder, https://octavian.ai researcher, I enjoy exploring and creating.